Four men sitting in a room, a presbyterian, a church planter, a worship leader and a baptist… it reads like the beginning of a bad joke doesn’t it? But these four men with a passion for Christ, the church and the highlands of Scotland have decided to record a series of podcasts and you are invited to listen in, so here is the first.
It’s holiday club time again at our church and all hands were on deck to transform our squeaky clean new church into the mythical city of Ancora where many adventures lie ahead for those who pass through it’s gates, not least of all those people who had to make that transformation happen. There was little point me being involved in this work of art. My own children discovered very quickly, probably around the age of 2, not to ask dad to draw anything for them, they could do it so much better themselves. However, my wife and number 2 child were heavily involved so I tootled along to survey progress and was immediately dispatched back home to gather a Laura Ashley throw, 4 matching cushions, 2 lanterns and some Christmas tree lights, all required to add to the “ancient eastern look” that was required.
So duly dispatched I got back to the house and was thinking as I picked up the throw from the back of the couch “will this return from the mystical east in one piece and usable or is it doomed to destruction at the hands of hoards of holiday club children”. Almost immediately this phrase popped into my head “everything we have is for the service of the King”. My initial concerns were for the safe return of a piece of cloth but as a Christian I believe that everything I have has been supplied by the hand of God, on loan to be utilised for both my comfort and enjoyment, and to be called into his service whenever it is required.
So our family have temporarily relinquished ownership of a Laura Ashley throw, 4 matching cushions, 2 lanterns and some Christmas tree lights, our lovely new church has become Ancora for the week and a collection of people of all ages, from many occupations have given up a weeks holiday, and many hours of “leisure time” before this, all “in service of the King”. We live in a world where many people try to find fulfilment through entertainment delivered through technology (see previous blog). Can I suggest an alternative approach to life and fulfilment, a life dedicated to “the service of the King”.
We all have a tendency not to want to serve anyone else but ourselves, and the idea of handing over control of our lives to someone else is not really the modern way. Even those of us who claim to be Christians find being servants of God, our King, somewhat of a challenge, but the reality we have discovered is that it is only through this surrender that we find fulfilment. And the more we surrender to more we find fulfilment.
So to you Christian, can I encourage you to use all you have and all you are in “service of the King”, and to those of you who seek fulfilment why not come along come along and visit us here at Culloden-Balloch Baptist Church (Ancora for one week only) and we will willingly help you discover your servant heart and help you find the fulfilment you desire.
Pokémon Go has taken America (and now the UK) by storm. If you’ve seen people on the streets of your neighborhood peering into their phones, you’ve witnessed their attempt to catch mythical creatures that appear in various places. Pokémon Go is a cross between geocaching and augmented reality games, and the results have been astounding.
As the Washington Post reports:
Pokémon Go has already been downloaded more times than the dating app Tinder, and it is rapidly encroaching on Twitter, which has been around for a full 10 years. Nintendo’s stock soared nearly 25 percent Monday because of the game — its biggest gain in more than 30 years.
It’s a mania, or it’s magical – depending on your take.
If you’re a parent who has questions about the game, check out this primer from Tony Kummer about what it is and how to avoid potential dangers (like, crossing the street without looking both ways!). Two friends of mine, Chris Martin and Aaron Earls, offer good advice for churches, as does Joshua Clayton of Southwestern Seminary. And there’s been some controversy regarding appropriate places to play. (Arlington Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum? Uh, no.)
It would be easy to wave off this game as just a silly fad, and certainly most people who have taken it up are just having a little fun. But perhaps we have an opportunity here to step back and ask a few questions.
Why is this game so popular?
Why is it popular right now?
What need does it momentarily meet?
The popularity of Pokémon Go tells us something about American life in the 21st century. Many people experience the world as flattened out and devoid of wonder, and they worry that our society seems to be fracturing. These feelings create pressure points in our culture, and Pokémon Go provides a fleeting sense of relief.
1. We live in a fractured world longing for community.
In the past few months, we’ve gone from bad news to worse. We’ve seen protests and riots, mass shootings and terrorist attacks. We are in the midst of a political realignment that has led to internal fracturing within our two-party system and an anti-establishment wave of populism that appeals to some of the darker impulses of the American populace. Meanwhile, our social media habits connect us to likeminded individuals, but further polarize our discourse and isolate us from the people in closest proximity to us.
But then, as if someone sprinkled fairy dust over the country, people of all ages decide to leave the loneliness of their homes and workplaces, go out into the streets, and catch mythical creatures through an app on their phone.
Police officers are playing the game with protestors. Many churches are sites for Pokémon gymnasiums. Kids who typically stay indoors during the summer are roaming the streets looking for Pidgeys and Eevees. As I walked the streets with my kids this week, neighbors came out to ask us what we’d caught and to give tips on finding where the rarest beasts lurk.
Here’s a report from downtown in a large city:
At one point someone yelled “THERE’S A RHYDON IN THE STREET!” and from my position I could see 50+ people all turn their cameras in the same direction to reveal the beast. For a moment there WAS a huge stony rhinoceros in the middle of downtown. It was real. For as silly as it was, I will never forget that moment. This game is unreal, it’s bringing people together.
Or consider this tweet from a veteran:
I’m a vet with PTSD. The last three years, leaving my yard was a chore. Today I took my kid to the park and talked to 20 random strangers. Thank you Nintendo.
The social aspect of this game is a big part of its appeal. In a world where we feel like people are pulling apart, a simple game provides a momentary feeling of togetherness.
2. We live in a flattened world longing for transcendence.
In a secular age, it is common for people to conceive of the world in terms of scientific cause and effect. We are less likely to be stunned by the magnificence of this world, and more likely to feel as if we are only cogs in a naturalistic machine. The secular mind, due to its rationalist foundation, must create meaning rather than discover it.
But suddenly, a game based on Japanese mythology invades the naturalistic machinery of the modern age. Pokémon envisions the world as if it were filled with kami that resemble the Greek gods of old. The creatures inhabit trees, rivers, and rocks, similar to the ancient Norse or Celtic myths that described a world teeming with fairies and elves. When you take the ancient myths that gave us fantastic animals such as centaurs and unicorns and place them within the animistic worldview of Shintoism, you start to see why the Eastern world of Pokémon feels both strange and familiar.
Part of Pokémon’s appeal goes back to childhood fascination with fairy tales, which we never fully outgrow. As G. K. Chesterton wrote:
“We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. When we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough.”
When my kids and I followed Pokémon tracks around the neighborhood in search for these mythical creatures, we noticed we were more aware of our surroundings. The bird that swooshed past us and alighted in a tree was more glorious than any Pidgey we found on the phone. I noticed three butterflies of different colors on my walk yesterday – insects I would have failed to marvel at had my senses not been heightened thanks to Pokémon Go.
The effect of fairy tales, Chesterton wrote, is to remind us that “this world is a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful…”
“Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense… Old nurses do not tell children about the grass, but about the fairies that dance on the grass; and the old Greeks could not see the trees for the dryads.”
The Longings and Limits of a Game
Pokémon Go taps into our longing for unity in a fractured world. For a moment, we are together, sharing the same physical space and playing the same game.
Pokémon Go also taps into our longing for something beyond the flattened, rationalist society of our age. For a moment, we feel the magic of the old mythologies and long for something beyond this present world.
Of course, this is all just a game, and like all fads, its appeal will soon wear off. These myths do not reflect the biblical worldview. They give us a few moments of fun, but no promise for the future. No game can provide lasting community or eternal significance; only the gospel can do that.
But as missionaries in this time and place, we should have eyes wide open to the pressures people feel in this fractured and flattened world, so that we can better tell the better Story, which, in the words of C. S. Lewis, is “the myth that became fact.”
Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.
We all live for something. Some purpose statement hides beneath all our desires and decisions, whether we know it or not. We do everything we do out of love — for something or someone. The question is whether that purpose (or person) is worth all the time, money, and energy we’re spending.
Freedom and independence may be the purpose of choice among twentysomethings today. Clinical psychologist Meg Jay who focuses on young adults writes, “By the new millennium, only about half of twentysomethings were married by age thirty and even fewer had children, making the twenties a time of newfound freedom. . . . The twenties were now disposable years lubricated by disposable income” The Defining Decade).
The twenties have become this new kind of “paradise” in between childhood and real adulthood, when you can party hard, experiment with new things, and spend lots of money without feeling the consequences. We postpone becoming adults, or at least the responsibilities that come with being an adult, in order to enjoy a decade of gratification without boundaries and autonomy without expectations — a second, more sophisticated round of playschool before “real life” begins.
Jay shows that while twentysomethings are living it up, everyone else is wishing they were in their twenties. Teenagers are acting like they are twenty-one, and more mature adults are dressing and getting surgery to look twenty-nine, again. The “freebie years,” as she calls them, seem to be what life is all about, the height and pinnacle of human existence.
The Quarter-Life Crisis
After years of counseling twentysomethings — the new kings and queens of our society — Jay finds most of them aimlessly wandering and wanting. She writes (and she is not a Christian), “The postmillennial midlife crisis is figuring out that while we were busy making sure we didn’t miss out on anything, we were setting ourselves up to miss out on some of the most important things of all” — it’s the new paradise lost.
She watches single men and women in their twenties ride all the rides, satisfying every impulse and craving, and then crash into reality, wishing they had lived for something more fulfilling, safer, and more significant.
In the end, they weren’t really living for freedom. They were using freedom to live for themselves. And the more recklessly and desperately they lived for themselves, the more miserable they made themselves. The purposelessness celebrated on college campuses, and by Hollywood, may make for a great laugh and a good time, but it is an empty and short-lived reason to live. That kind of “freedom” enslaves us to ourselves, robs us of the life it advertises, and undermines the real reason we were made — to know and glorify God by enjoying him as our greatest treasure and ambition.
There’s an intense and exhilarating thrill in the freefall — but the parachute never deploys.
A More Mature Tragedy
Psychologists like Jay observe, and warn against, the devastating trend: You’re going to regret this in your thirties and forties! It’s true, and she offers lots of good advice about making decisions now with our future in mind. Yet her message ultimately just relocates our little paradise to a different decade — one with a more fulfilling, better paying job, a good-looking and productive spouse, two children, financial security, and the freedom to enjoy our more mature hobbies.
We rightly trade away the twentysomething playschool tragedy, but only for a comfortable fortysomething middle-class tragedy. David Platt describes the same disaster when he says, “We live decent lives in decent homes with decent jobs and decent families as decent citizens” (Radical, 105). John Piper offers a similar warning:
If you could just have a good job with a good wife, or husband, and a couple of good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and a quick and easy death, and no hell — if you could have all that (even without God) — you would be satisfied. That is a tragedy in the making. A wasted life. (Don’t Waste Your Life)
We think we’re living the American Dream, but we’re entertaining and cushioning ourselves to death. We’re wasting the one precious life God has given us to live.
While the world wastes away life — at twenty, or thirty, or seventy-five — we can live a different story about better news and a greater treasure. While everyone else is spending everything they have on something that will not last, we can quietly and confidently invest the little bit we have here into the infinite wealth we will inherit in heaven.
Platt says, “If Jesus is who he said he is, and if his promises are as rewarding as the Bible claims they are, then we may discover that satisfaction in our lives and success in the church are not found in what our culture deems most important but in radical abandonment to Jesus.”
The apostle Paul writes, “You yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2–3). All that looked so peaceful, secure, fun, and comfortable turned to hell in a moment — like being thrown into labor, but you had no idea you were even pregnant. And it never ends. You never escape.
But you don’t have to live for a peace and security that evaporates when you need it most. Paul continues,
Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:6–9)
It may look like we’re missing out for a few years here, but one day the whole world will see that we are the safest, richest, and happiest people who have ever lived, a people living for King Jesus.
Spend your twenties, forties, and eighties searching for more of that stability, freedom, and joy.
Thumb author marshall segal
Marshall Segal (@MarshallSegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating (2017). He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife Faye live in Minneapolis
Insightful and helpful thoughts from Bob Osborne…
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about leadership is one I look back on with embarrassment. I was a young man working in Africa for UNICEF and CARE, two of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies, which gave me a certain perceived power. Native Africans deferred to me simply because I was an American with some responsibility.
This worked its way into me so deeply that I started believing it, which was toxic. When placed in leadership I ruled by the strength of my position—by dictate and fear. In Africa this is called the “Bwana Syndrome,” “bwana” being the “big man.” I became a bwana. My approach was to use others to accomplish my goals. I was building my kingdom.
God Overhauled My Life
When I became a Christian, though, God overhauled my life. I began seeing people not as objects to use but as people made in God’s image with unique abilities, passions, and interests. My responsibility as a leader was to serve them.
When Jesus spoke about big men, he said:
You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42–44)
As a leader in Jesus’s kingdom, I must see those around me and consider how I can serve them. How do I help them remove roadblocks to becoming all they can be in Christ?
Christ-Centered Leadership Lessons
There are many ways this aspect of Christlike leadership might play out for those of us who want our leadership to flow from our faith. Here are five:
1. Smash glass ceilings.
Most people have obstacles holding them down, keeping them from goals they’d like to achieve. They may believe they aren’t smart enough or talented enough, or aren’t in the right place. A leader can help people identify their “glass ceilings” and then smash through them.
This is a entirely different from looking at people only to see what they can do for you. I long to be a leader about whom others say, “He helped me achieve my goals.” Hence one of my work mantras is: “I care more about you and your faith in Christ than what you do for me or Serge.”
2. Model weakness.
Many approach work and other group tasks feeling a constant need to prove themselves competent. They spend their whole work lives worrying about their reputations and defending their right to be in their jobs. They seldom learn and grow. I want to be transparent about my struggles and weaknesses so that I model running to Christ—pointing others to Christ and his sufficiency rather than pointing them to a “strong Bob” who has it all together.
If you’re always trying to prove your own fitness as a leader, you’ll make others feel less fit and less empowered. And you’ll never have joy. So create an environment where admissions of weakness are not just allowed, but encouraged. It is invigorating to see the power of God at work as he meets us in our weakness.
3. Have fun.
When people don’t feel pressure to prove themselves—and when they feel cared for instead of used—relationships can flourish. Good leaders spend time with those they lead, without any agenda. They take them to lunch and are interested in their lives. They celebrate and give thanks together.
Godly leaders may even be able to pray with those they lead, and to come alongside them in personal struggles. To be that kind of leader, though, you can’t take yourself too seriously. I recently heard it said you can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can in a year of monthly, hour-long meetings.
4. Grow in Christ.
Only a leader who’s secure in Christ will be free to serve others. A leader whose identity is wrapped up in a job title or list of achievements is bound to end up defending himself and using others.
So be more concerned about your spiritual health and growth in Christ than you are about building an organization. Know that your supreme joy and lasting hope are found in belonging to Jesus. And out of that confidence, care for others will overflow.
5. Be spiritually curious.
One of our greatest desires is to be truly known and truly loved, but it’s so often an elusive dream. What do you think happens when you inquire about how someone is doing? It gives them a chance to tell you a little about themselves, and it gives you an opportunity to validate, honor, and bless someone for being spiritually curious.
It’s always amazed me that Jesus asked so many questions. A thoughtful question can profoundly encourage someone and strengthen their faith.
Only One Big Man
Jesus and his good news trains us never to think of ourselves as the big man. The only bwana is Jesus, and he practiced leadership by obeying his Father and thinking of others. He is the example for us, and his grace provides us with the ability to lead in a godly manner.
When we know that we are safe in Jesus—the big man who humbled himself for us—our insecurities fade and we are set free to love and serve others.
“For even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Bob Osborne is executive director of Serge, a mission-sending agency with more than 250 missionaries serving around the world. He loves Serge because it’s an agency that believes missionaries need the gospel as much as anyone else does.
So I don’t usually respond to any of the comments that I receive on the back of sermons, well not in any public sense. But this time I feel the need. Not in any way to simply correct others but rather to help us to stand together amazed in the wonder of the gospel of Christ.
I preached on Sunday morning that the Christ would come from the lineage of David. This was a promise that God had made to David, God binding Himself in covenant (Ps 89: 29). And since God cannot lie, then the Christ had to come from that lineage. So Ray McLaughlin in the ‘Reformed Perspectives Magazine’ said this, ‘The Son of God had no inherent right to be the Messiah.’ God had bound Himself to David in covenant and He must be faithful. Thus far every bible believer is happy and content.
The thrust of my sermon was a desire to display the significance of Joseph in the light of God’s over-arching story of redemption, which centres upon His Son Jesus, who was and is the Christ. Joseph’s part was to take Mary as his wife, and, ‘to adopt’ her son as his own. This is what is happening through his naming of the child in Matthew 1: 21 and 25 (cp Is. 43: 1). Now in the same chapter it is Joseph who is clearly identified as belonging to the house of David (Mthw 1: 20). As he is in Luke’s gospel too (Lk 1: 27). So my point was that through ‘adoption’ Jesus is engrafted into the lineage of David.
But the strange thing has been the response from several folks. It almost seems as if adoption isn’t enough. The suggestion being that adoption wouldn’t have given Jesus the full rights of a child born naturally as others in the house of David. Instead of believing in the wonder and security of what adoption means we almost feel compelled to find another way in which Jesus came to be in the lineage of king David.
So the comment I have heard several times since Sunday expressed in a rich variety of different ways has been this one, ‘You must remember that it wasn’t just Joseph who was from the line of David so was Mary.’ Now quite aside from the fact that lineage is traced through the male line, this idea of Mary being from the lineage of David does beg a simple question to be asked; ‘How do we know Mary is from the house of David?‘ In actual fact do we even now what tribe she is from?
Many folk I’ve asked this question to have simply ‘assumed’ she is from the house of David. When asked why, the response has been along the lines of, ‘Well doesn’t it say that in the bible somewhere?’
Actually, no it doesn’t. Yes, we can make suggestions based on the differing genealogies in Luke and Matthew, but, we cannot even be certain about the tribe to which Mary belonged. But, some may counter, how else could Jesus be the Christ who is promised to come from the line of David? And that is the point that is concerning me. After all don’t we believe that adoption is enough to secure all the rights of full sonship? You see this is getting right to the heart of the gospel itself.
If we don’t believe adoption is enough in regard to Jesus becoming the Christ, then how on earth can we ever believe that adoption is enough in regard to us becoming the children of God. By faith we have received the spirit of adoption by which we cry out Abba Father.
If I can believe He, Jesus, is the Christ through adoption into the lineage of David, and that is enough. Then surely, I can believe that through the adoption of the Spirit I am placed into the very family of God, really and truly. With all the privileges of a real son that the gospel of justification brings. He was adopted into the family of King David that we by faith might be adopted into the family of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Isn’t the Christmas story just awesome!!??
I’m sure such folks are out there, but I’ve not personally met any Christian who hasn’t struggled with saying the same old things about the same old things in prayer. Before long, such repetitive prayer is boring. And when prayer is boring, it’s hard to pray — at least with any joy and fervency.
Note that the problem is not that we pray about the same old things. Actually, that’s normal, because our lives tend to consist pretty much of the same old things from one day to the next. Thankfully, the big things in life (our family, our church, our job, etc.) don’t change dramatically very often.
Instead the problem is that we say the same old things about the same old things. And prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning. The result of such praying is that we tend to feel like failures in prayer. We assume that, despite our devotion to Christ, love for God, and desire for a meaningful prayer life, we must be second-rate Christians because our minds wander so much in prayer.
No, the problem may not be you; rather it may be your method.
I believe that the simple, permanent, biblical solution to this almost universal problem is to stop making up your own prayers most of the time (because that results in repetitious prayer) and to pray the Bible instead.
Praying the Bible means talking to God about what comes to mind as you read the Bible. Usually you might read the passage first, then go back and pray through what you just read.
So, for instance, if today you turned to Psalm 23 in your devotional reading, after completing it you would come back to verse 1 and pray about what occurs to you as you read “The Lord is my shepherd.” You might thank the Lord for being your shepherd, ask him to shepherd you in a decision that’s before you, entreat him to cause your children to love him as their shepherd, too, and pray anything else that comes to mind as you consider that verse.
Then when nothing else in those words prompts prayer, you continue by doing the same with the next line, “I shall not want.” Thus you would go through the chapter, line-by-line, until you ran out of time.
By praying in this way, you discover that you never again say the same old things about the same old things.
While you can pray through any part of the Bible, some books and chapters are much easier to pray through than others. Overall, I believe the Book of Psalms is the best place in Scripture from which to pray Scripture.
In part that’s because the Psalms are the only book of the Bible inspired by God for the expressed purpose of being reflected to God. God inspired them as songs, songs for use in the worship of God.
The Psalms also work so well in prayer because there’s a psalm for every sigh of the soul. You’ll never go through anything in life in which the root emotion is not found in one or more of the Psalms. Thus the Psalms put into expression that which is looking for expression in our hearts.
Christian, here’s how you’ll benefit from praying the Psalms:
1. You’ll pray more biblically faithful prayers.
The Bible will guide your prayers, helping you to speak to God with words that have come from the mind and heart of God. This also means you’ll be praying more in accordance with the will of God. Can you have any greater assurance that you are praying the will of God than when you are praying the Word of God?
2. You’ll be freed from the boredom of saying the same about the same old things in prayer.
One way this will happen is that the psalm will prompt you to pray about things you normally wouldn’t think to pray. You’ll find yourself praying about people and situations that you’d never think to put on a prayer list.
Another way is that even though you also continue to pray about the same things, (family, church, job, etc.), you’ll pray about them in new ways. Instead of saying, “Lord, please bless my family,” the text will guide you to pray things such as, “Lord, please be a shield around my family today” if you are praying through Psalm 3:3, for example.
3. You’ll pray more God-centered prayers.
When you use a God-focused guide like the psalms to prompt your prayers, you’ll pray less selfishly and with more attention to the ways, the will, and the attributes of God.
Prayer becomes less about what you want God to do for you (though that is always a part of biblical praying) and more about the concerns of God and his kingdom.
4. You’ll enjoy more focus in prayer.
When you say the same old things in prayer every day, it’s easy for your mind to wander. You find yourself praying auto-pilot prayer — repeating words without thinking about either them or the God to whom you offer them.
But when you pray the Bible your mind has a place to focus. And when your thoughts do wander, you have a place to return to — the next verse.
5. You’ll find that prayer becomes more like a real conversation with a real Person.
Isn’t that what prayer should be? Prayer is talking with a Person, the Person of God himself. Prayer is not a monologue spoken in the direction of God. Yet somehow, many people assume that when they meet with the Lord he should remain silent and they should do all the talking.
When we pray the psalms, though, our monologue to God becomes a conversation with God. I’m not alluding to the perception of some spiritual impression or hearing an inner voice, imagining God saying things to us — away with that sort of mysticism.
Instead, I’m referring to the Bible as the means by which God participates in the conversation, for the Bible is God speaking. God speaks in the Bible, and you respond to that in prayer. That’s why people who try this often report, “The pressure was off. I didn’t have to think about what to say next, and the whole experience just kind of flowed.”
* * *
Want to experience these benefits for yourself? How about right now? Pick a psalm, read what God says there, and talk with him about it.
Donald S. Whitney