NEXT – GEN CULTURAL NAVIGATION: Stonestreet & Kunkel’s Practical Guide

NEXT – GEN CULTURAL NAVIGATION: Stonestreet & Kunkel’s Practical Guide

News broke this week that noted evangelical leader Eugene Peterson, famed for The Message paraphrase of the Bible and many other works of spiritual theology, had come out in support of same-sex marriage. Then he backtracked but, as they say, the toothpaste was out of the tube and believers all over the country were flummoxed.

Can anyone be depended on to steer a true spiritual course through our tumultuous cultural waters? And how can we equip ourselves to stand with grace and truth when so many, it seems, are falling?

Many books are available to equip believers to think with the Biblical worldview. Among them are Chuck Colson’s master work HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE? co-written with Nancy Pearcy; THE GOOD LIFE, also by Colson and a little more accessible; Pearcy’s solo effort, TOTAL TRUTH; Abdu H. Murray’s GRAND CENTRAL QUESTION; Russell Moore’s ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel; the works of Ravi Zacharias and Os Guinness for those of a more intellectual bent, and of course the Breakpoint daily podcast.

All of those are helpful but none of them, save the Breakpoint daily, are as easy to digest and practical to use as A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO CULTURE: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkel. The book is targeted at parents and Christian leaders who are tasked with equipping teens to face the pressures of our cultural moment, but it is useful to wider audience.

Stonestreet is the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and well-known, with Eric Metaxas, for the daily Breakpoint podcast (www.breakpoint.org). Brett Kunkel, who has over twenty-five years working with junior high, high school, and college students, is the student impact director at Stand to Reason, and founder of a new organization called Maven (www.maventruth.com).

Their book is broken into four sections: Why Culture Matters; A Read of the Cultural Waters; Pounding Cultural Waves; Christian Worldview Essentials. All four are clear, concise, and easy to navigate. Each chapter concludes with four discussion questions. But for those who are secure in their worldview essentials yet still need practical tools for the day-to-day cultural situations being thrust upon us, section three, Pounding Cultural Waves, is worth the price of the book.

In it, Stonestreet and Kunkel take on eight hot-button issues every believer faces in all manner of environments including the hookup culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, addiction, entertainment, and racial tension. Each topic is further broken down into four sections that, in turn, reveal the false cultural narrative about the topic, restate the biblical view of it, suggest practical action steps, and forecast hope.

Christian high school and college students, professionals, educators, business leaders, government officials, and all manner of other believers stemming the tide of this cultural moment have reason to feel somewhat like Elijah of old, when the corrupt culture of Ahab and Jezebel held sway. When the knees of trusted leaders seem to buckle in the surf resources like this remind us that God has far more than seven thousand who have not bowed to the pressure.

I encourage you to read it, study it together with your kids and friends, and strengthen your knees.

 

BEARTOOTH PASS And the Glory of God

BEARTOOTH PASS And the Glory of God

“Every time you ride the pass you have to have a plan A, plan B, and plan C, and be ready to execute either one of them at any moment,” said my new friend and guide, Associate Pastor Rob Griggs of Word of Life church in Billings, Montana.

I soon had reason to appreciate his humility and respect for nature.

Rob grew up riding the Beartooth Highway, sixty-nine miles of winding road, stunning views and terrifying terrain that tops out at 10,947 feet between touristy Red Lodge, Montana, and the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone Park. It opens Memorial Day weekend, or as soon as they can get the snow off, and can close any day of the year for weather.

Rob’s words became prophetic as we rode out of the sunlit lowlands and into the pass. The sky grew dark and menacing, wind buffeted, rain threatened and the treeless, rock-strewn landscape felt more and more forbidding. Miss your footing or worse, overcook a turn on that road, and you are in for a thousand foot plunge on rock-strewn slopes.

But it was more than that. The power and proximity of the weather, thousands of feet up into the atmosphere and exposed as we were with no trees or buildings for shelter, the barren, austere peaks and fields of granite took on spiritual significance. Psalm 104:3 kept playing in the back of my mind:

He makes the clouds his chariot

and rides on the wings of the wind.

4        He makes winds his messengers,

flames of fire his servants. [1]

“I’m for plan B!” I said as we took a photo break near the summit. I was wearing summer riding gear: mesh jacket and fingerless gloves, and was already cold. The churning mass of dark cloud and rain pounding the peaks a half mile to our west made it clear we were also about to be wet.

He grinned and said, “I agree! Here, you might want these on the way down,” and handed me a spare pair of gloves. We beat a hasty retreat to some welcome shelter and hot food back in Red Lodge.

Fast forward a few days and the pass was a completely different experience as our family drove in a borrowed Suburban from the Cody, Wyoming side, up the Chief Joseph Highway, and northeast into Montana along the Beartooth. Bright blue skies, puffy white clouds, and gentle breezes brought out all the majesty and beauty of the peaks. The big SUV made the road less intimidating, the chill air less penetrating. Yet still, these mountains have a presence, a personality, a power that will not be taken for granted, that demands respect and not a little humility from the people that play on their slopes. “Enjoy me,” they seem to say, “But do not take me for granted.”

Beartooth Pass teaches me spiritual lessons. It makes me think about the maker of heaven and earth, who rides upon the wings of the wind. It reminds me to enjoy him, but not take him for granted. And it makes me want to take my friends to see him in all his terror, glory, majesty and beauty.

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Ps 104:3–4). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

RENDEZVOUS WITH JESUS: Alpha 2017

A new friend sat across the table at the local deli, eager to tell me what had happened to him.

“On the third week, when Nicky Gumble led in prayer, I prayed with him and gave everything to God. I told God I couldn’t do anything without him and didn’t want to try. Up until then I had some good days and some bad days, well, really a lot of bad days and some OK days, full of anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression. All of that is gone. I felt this incredible lightness after I prayed. I’m sleeping the night through now, and I’m so happy.”

That was in 2011, about five weeks into our first Alpha Course, and conversations like it have continued to happen ever since. That’s the reason our church will offer Alpha in September for the eighth time since 2011. I’m writing today to ask you to pray for the course and for friends you might invite this summer.

Haven’t heard of Alpha? Wonder what it’s like?

The Alpha Course is completely apolitical. More importantly, it isn’t built around a sales pitch of the gospel. It is a course, Christianity 101 if you will, founded instead on two fundamentals: Process and Community.

Learning is a process that happens best when we are in the presence of friends. This is what makes Alpha so enjoyable and encouraging. No one is pressured to “buy” anything and all questions are welcomed in a community of friends who’ve gotten to know one another through shared meals and laughter.

Alpha is for everyone. People who have attended church all their lives will enjoy it. Those who’ve never entered a church or considered Christianity will also enjoy it and come away enriched, with new understanding and new friends.

The Alpha Course Team, the people who make the event happen each fall, consists of two parts: task force, and hosts / facilitators. The task force prepares the meals and handles logistics. The hosts / facilitators make  guests feel welcome and facilitate small-group discussions. The only prerequisites to serving on the team are to have attended the course at least once and meet a few times prior to launch for prayer and training.

One of the most important things our Alpha team has learned over the years is that the primary reason people attend the course is because a friend has invited them. So even if you choose not to serve on an Alpha Course team, your prayers for and invitations to friends really count. Of course you’ll also want to attend with whomever you invite.

The coolest thing in the world is to sit with new friends, see the peace and joy on their faces, hear how awesome it is to know that they are loved and cared for by the Creator of heaven and earth, and know that we got to play a small part in their rendezvous with Jesus.

Interested? Visit  http://alphausa.org.

DISCERNMENT IN THE D.C. GLADIATORIAL GAMES

Politics is blood-sport where power is the prize and those who play it will stop at nothing to win.

I learned that ugly truth in a beautiful room in the house of one of the power players in Washington D. C. The owner, whose issue is tax reform, was not present, but had made his home available to another special interest group for a meet-and-greet. I was attending their conference as a guest who could offer an evangelical perspective on their issue.

As I sipped my drink and circled the room I came upon an older, white-haired gentleman, erect, clear-eyed and almost elegantly dressed compared to the rest of us. This old gent looks nice enough, I thought; I bet he can give me a real feel for their movement. So I introduced myself and asked something innocuous like, “I’m new to this. Can you tell me what drew you to this movement and what how I might help?”

With little more than his name and state as preamble he said, “Young man, this is about power plain and simple and I am willing to break your legs in order to get that power and defend my rights and achieve my purpose. If you are not willing to do the same you don’t belong here.”

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. If that’s what this is about, I thought, count me out. But that happened about ten years ago, and the more I watch the D. C. gladiatorial games, the more I believe he was right. While there are a few “Mr. Smiths who have gone to Washington,” honest people seeking to serve, we are witnessing a ruthless battle for power into which all have been swept. Those who have it want to pursue the agenda for which they were elected. Those who do not have it want to stop those who do and will fight dirty to win.

The question for us is: who is telling the truth? Answering that requires the biblical quality of discernment. It is what Solomon asked of God when he became king of Israel, “Give me a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”[1]

Discernment is the ability to see the character beneath the costume. It perceives the chill in the kidnapper’s eye as clearly as the fear in the real mother’s when threatening to split the disputed baby in half, as Solomon did in his most famous case.[2]

Like Gamaliel, who reminded the Sanhedrin of the fate of earlier messianic movements when he stood to speak on behalf of Peter and the apostles, discernment sees the whole context, remembers the rest of the story, not just the parts on momentary display.[3] It reads between the lines of testimony and sees that what is not being said is as important as what is.

Sound judgment also distinguishes a partisan player from an honest broker, a manipulative speech from a straightforward question, and a witch hunt from an authentic investigation. As Megan Basham, who attended the Comey hearings, reported on World Radio this morning, “Everything sounded so scripted that all the drama was taken out of it. The only thing that raised journalists’ eyebrows was Mr. Comey’s admission that he had leaked information to the press via a Columbia Law professor.”

No one person has access to all of the facts, so discernment in the D.C. gladiatorial games depends on reliable reporting based on biblical objectivity, or the “God’s-eye” view. It is impartial, fact-filled, and thorough and recognizes that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account,” including the biases of the reporter. [4] 

For that I can only recommend WORLD Magazine and World Radio’s The World and Everything In It podcast. You can get a risk-free three-month trial membership by going to www.getWORLDnow.com.

[1] 1 Kings 3:9 NIV

[2] 1 Kings 3:24 NIV

[3] Acts 5:34-39

[4] Heb 4:13

THE SELAH CENTER: New Help for an Old Problem

“We need to talk.” The message alarmed Tom because his girlfriend, whom he had dated since middle school, usually felt free to text anything. But this time she would only agree to meet in person. With his subconscious screaming, you know what this is! but his frontal lobe in full denial mode, he made his way to their favorite spot in the stairwell at the high school. The look on her face said it all, “I’m pregnant.”

If you can identify with the desperate situation in which these teens find themselves, and statistics tell us that about thirty percent of us can, you know what it is like to be unmarried, pregnant, or with a pregnant girlfriend, and totally unprepared. For over forty years the standard procedure for people in this situation has been to find the local abortion provider and “deal with the problem.” One in seven pregnancies still ends in abortion.

But a combination of improved ultra-sound technology, multiple stories of abortion-injured women, and Planned Parenthood scandals is causing more and more women to seek an alternative solution.

That’s the role that Southside Virginia’s newest crisis pregnancy service provider, The Selah Center, hopes to fill in ever greater ways as it observes its first anniversary in operation.

The Selah (pronounced Say-la) Center, located at 403 Virginia Avenue, between Pizza Pub and United Country in Clarksville, opened on May 26, 2016, has helped many clients in its first year with services including pregnancy testing, post abortion peer counseling, pre-natal and parenting care techniques for mothers-to-be. But Selah also provides male mentoring, peer counseling, and classes on finding a job, making and keeping a budget, and how to buy a good used car for future fathers.

The Center is also committed to the development of expectant moms as whole persons. Clients receive “Boutique Bucks” for each class attended that are then redeemed for diapers, wipes, bath items, children’s clothing up to 2T, and other baby care necessities.

Selah Center Executive Director, Christie Russell says, “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that God would ask me to join Him in this work.” But Russell, who holds a B.S. in Global Marketing Management from Averett College, and a Masters in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that over the years she had so many conversations with so many hurting young women, that when a speaker from the Tidewater Area issued a challenge to her congregation to open their own pregnancy center she found she could not say “No”.

With Transitions Pregnancy Services in Danville, and The Selah Center in Clarksville, Halifax County women and men now have two options for help during a crisis pregnancy. If you need help with a pregnancy, or you would like to donate, you can contact them at 434-362-2207, or find them on the web at theselahcenter.org.

STAYING PUT: Lessons from Long-Term Ministry

“Thank you,” seems inadequate for all of the honors I received from Faith Community Church  last Sunday. The church took the morning to celebrate my twentieth anniversary as its pastor, taking me by surprise in the process.

Some themes stood out in the comments, and others came to mind later, which might prove helpful to you someday. Call them Leadership Lessons from Long -Term Ministry, but many will apply even if you are not a preacher.

Preach the Word. Expository preaching, interpreting and explaining a passage of scripture in its historical, grammatical, literary, cultural, and biblical context, demonstrating how it applies to the listener and points them to Christ, is key to the vitality of any church or believer. It is a time-consuming endeavor that preachers either have to fight for against other demands, or are gifted with by a congregation. FCC made the decision long before I arrived to give its pastor, and by proxy itself, that gift. All of us benefit from it. Find a church that values this and you will usually find a healthy church.

Decide to stay. If you want to have a deep impact on a community you have to commit to the long term. Randy Pope, Eugene Peterson, Rick Warren, and many others advocated for this in their writings as I was preparing for ministry, and I believed them then. But now I’ve seen the generational effects of hoeing one row for two decades and the fruit is sweet. Warning: You cannot do long-term work without short-term rests. Build Sabbath into your lifestyle and vacations into your years.

Speak hard truth with soft words. Speak with grace and gospel faithfulness to the difficult cultural trends of the day and do not flinch. It will force you to examine yourself, be fair to others, and rely more on Christ. It will also stiffen the spines of your listeners.

Be with people one-on-one. Love them for who they are, where they are, as they are. Grieve with them, celebrate with them, honor them, and respect them. They will do the same for you.

Make sure you have a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy; a mentor, a brother, and a disciple, or trainee into whom you can pour your life. They will coach you when you are clueless, strengthen you when you are weak, and challenge you to keep growing.

Believe in people and don’t micro-manage them. Find good people, give them the goal and the support they need, and then get out of their way. Look for and expect their best, and they will usually give it to you. Related: recruit people to your team who are strong where you are weak. I learned long ago that I was too emotional and empathetic for my own good. That’s one reason I try to surround myself what I call “concrete rational” personality types who can help me stay grounded in biblical objectivity.

Pray more than you politic. Consensus building and deal-making have their place in life. But no amount of politicking can accomplish what prayer can do.

Plan ahead and then give your plans to God.  Every leader needs to be at least five months, and preferably five years, ahead of his organization. But as in war, so in ministry, no plan survives combat. Keep the goal clearly in mind, pay attention to the dynamics of the situation, listen to His Spirit and be flexible with the details.

Offend early and often. I’m a recovering co-dependent people-pleaser. It took years to realize that people come into churches and other organizations with all kinds of expectations of the leadership, some conscious, some not; some reasonable, some silly, and some outrageous. Trying to keep them all happy was suicidal. I learned to make sure they knew what to expect, and what not to expect, as soon as possible. It felt offensive to my empathetic soul to do this, to disappoint some people up front, and anger others. Thus the motto, but the proof — the stability and harmony generated by uniform expectations — has indeed been in the pudding. FCC’s Handbook has been a great tool for this. If your organization doesn’t have a handbook, you should write one, and then require everyone to read it.

Finally, hold everything loosely. Any entity you lead is a stewardship from God, including your family. It doesn’t belong to you and he can take it from you whenever it suits his purposes. Live with gratitude and open, up-raised palms.

Phil 1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [1]

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Php 1:3–6). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

GOD BLESS YOU DOGFACE

Two hundred and eighty-four combat missions in helicopter gunships over Vietnam, flying in support of the SEALS and River Patrol Boat squadrons along the Mekong Delta, followed by a stint with Air America, the CIA air force in Laos along the Ho Chi Minh trail, qualify a man to comment on the meaning of Memorial Day.

My late friend, Paul Steube, who flew those missions, was rightly proud of his service. Of flying with the Helicopter Attack Light 3rd Squadron (HAL 3) Seawolves, he wrote, “It was sort of like dancing around the sky, hurling thunderbolts at anyone foolish enough to reveal themselves by shooting tracers at us.  And they couldn’t touch us.  We were too good, too lucky, too cute, and we were so young. Lord, we knew we were something.”

It wasn’t until much later in life that Paul came to appreciate the role of the common, “dogface,” foot-soldier. That’s when he wrote the following tribute.

“I want to tell you something that took me 54 years to learn.  And I am so glad that I learned it in time to tell my brother (who was an infantryman).

I was a mustang in the Navy. That’s someone who gets a commission after serving as an enlisted man. After I’d been in the Navy for a couple of years, I was fortunate enough to get into the NAVCAD, or Naval Aviation Cadet, program.

Going to Pensacola! Going to get those wings of gold, the Holy Grail! It was a demanding program, especially difficult for me, but I made it. I made my five requisite carrier landings and got my Naval Aviator Wings and a commission as an Ensign.

Years later, in the observations memorializing the Fiftieth Anniversary of the D-Day landings, I learned about what some other people had done, and still do. And it finally dawned on me that I didn’t amount to a pimple on the behind of the noblest man on the field of battle: The Straight Leg Infantryman.

Usually not much more than a boy.

Usually given not much more than a hunting rifle.

Usually told not much more than, “Go that way and kill anything that tries to stop you.”

And thank God he does.

And that is why, if ever again I were in uniform, walking down a street or through an airport concourse, and I met a private wearing a small blue enamel rectangle with a rifle mounted on it, I wouldn’t stop to explain.  He would simply have to wonder the rest of his life, why did that Navy Commander salute me?

God bless you, Dogface.”

Study the killing fields of Pol Pot that ran with the blood of innocent millions after America withdrew from South East Asia and the truth of Scripture will stand: As long as sinful man remains on this fallen planet there will be ruthless aggressors who seek by violence to impose their will on peaceful populations. Thank God for the soldiers past and present who have died to defend them.