Echo Student Ministry Parent Forum


Alethiea – Relational Truth

Aletheia-1

What is Truth? Confused and perplexed by the case of Jesus, Pontius Pilate ends his conversation with a great question: “What is Truth?” This question is still being asked today. Philosophers have debated it; religion has made claims about it; and it seems like cultural attitudes about truth are always shifting.  The word that Pilate uses is the Greek word Aletheia. It is a word with rich meaning. It does mean truth, but it carries the idea of sincerity, actuality, and reality. It refers to what actually is. Is there something called “truth” that is defined as “that which corresponds to reality,” and if so, what does it mean for you and I? Truth is hard to define, especially now in the postmodern world. Some people think truth is impossible to define or know. Jesus called himself “the Truth” and taught that his enemy was the “father of lies.” This is one of the most essential questions for each of us to settle, because what you believe determines how you behave. Echo HIgh School had a four week conversation exploring the concept of truth, especially the nature of the spiritual truth in the teaching of Jesus.  

John 14:15-27 – 

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Of all the gospel writers, John explores the teaching of Jesus on truth most often and most elegantly.  Here, Jesus promises to his disciples that the Parakletos will be with them after he is gone.  He is an ally, an advocate.  He is literally “someone called in,” to help and to heal and to teach.  Jesus called Him (or it (pneuma), or her (ruach)) the “Spirit of Truth.”  He will guide us into truth, he will continue the process where God’s truth becomes known to humanity, something we call “revelation.”  This passage has some pretty cool implications: 

  1. Spiritual Truth can be questioned freely because it is durable.  Sometimes people treat “the truth” like it is made of glass.  It is very fragile, so you should handle it with care.  They limit their exposure to other points of view for this reason.  This attitude is what gives Thomas, the questioner in this passage a negative reputation. He has the nickname “doubting Thomas.” I think it is unfair, and more to the point I think it dangerous. Look at how he responded to the cryptic teaching of Jesus in John 14:1-17.  There is something remarkable about Thomas – he is not afraid to give a truthful answer: “I don’t understand.”  At this moment, Jesus is looking at a lot of confused faces. The other guys have no idea what Jesus is saying either, but they aren’t the type that will risk the question. They care far too much about what other people think. There was one among them who could never say that he understood what he did not understand, and that was Thomas. He expresses his doubt and his failure to understand, and the wonderful thing is the question of an honest man provokes one of the greatest sayings of Jesus ever. He has honest questions and is brave enough to ask them. Never be ashamed of having questions or admitting you do not understand something. God is not afraid of your questions, so Echo will always be a place that is open and honest about your questions. That means we are committed to giving honest answers even when they aren’t simple, and that no question is ever “out of bounds.” We are not afraid of doubt.  Doubt is often the invitation to explore an issue more honestly and to understand an issue more thoroughly.  Doubt often leads to deeper and more complete truth.
  1. Spiritual Truth should be held humbly because it is progressive.  This is a VERY important passage when it comes to understanding Jesus’ view of truth.  John 16:12-15 -12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

    Truth is progressive. Jesus had more to reveal, revelation was not over.  There is more to learn about God, there is more to know about Christ.  This is often misunderstood and the cause of much trouble in faith.  Often, people think of Christianity as something that was established once finally and perfectly, and that the only task for the present is to look carefully at what Jesus did and said in the past and that should give us all we need going forward.  I am not sure this works.  Jesus did not give a perfect and complete revelation about God’s kingdom to the disciples.  He could not have.  Revelation is progressive, and a person can only be taught what they are able to understand.  God has always worked this way: he meets people within the limits of their understanding and sometimes within the shortcomings of their culture.  This means that the Christian faith (and theology) must be alive, it cannot be the static and wooden practice of studying the past saying of a long dead teacher.  It needs to be more than that.  It is not only concerned with what God said and what God revealed in the past, but it must also be concerned with what God is doing and what God is saying and revealing now and even tomorrow.  This is SO important for the way we practice our faith.  It is a mistake to think of faith only in terms of ancient patters and established “truth.”  Our faith needs to be alive; it needs to be able to grow.  Our world has fallen victim to the opposite: to a dead and lifeless religion that is solely concerned with the past and pays no attention to the pressing matters of the present and the future.  Jesus describes here the possibility of a faith that evolves and grows to face the challenges of new generations and the complications of the advancing human story.  How does this happen, since Jesus is no longer with us? The accounts of those that knew him are left behind, but they are done.  There are not going to be any new discoveries about Jesus unearthed in a cave somewhere.  Jesus gives us the answer: He is gone, but he did not leave his followers alone.  He gave his followers the Holy Spirit; the “Spirit of Truth.”  The word we use to talk about how the Spirit brings God’s truth to us is called “revelation.”  It is like the lights come on.  This is a glorious promise if you can understand it and grasp it! This should help us deal with passages from the Bible that trouble us or offend our conscience.  There are many times when the Bible seems archaic in its virtues and even inferior in its ethic compared to the modern world.  Please understand me, I think that scripture has much to teach our culture about morality and ethics and the heart of God.  I think it is the supreme revelation of God’s character and nature.  However, there are times where what God revealed to ancient people in the context of their ancient culture seems backwards and inferior compared to what we know today.  This is fine if you understand that God cannot take humanity from the start to the finish in one step.  God’s goal is to advance us as a culture one step closer to the ideal of His Kingdom, and sometimes a step in the right direction doesn’t seem like it is going far enough if you are already advanced past that position.  However, if you were the one on the other side it might truly be as far as your legs could reach.  God needs to get people moving in the right direction, even if it is not all the way down the road.  God is a patient teacher in this regard.  This also means that God is not done yet helping us step toward his ideal.  When we look into the ancient truth of scripture, sometimes we need to discern the direction God was having humanity move to know how to continue down the road, especially when applying the text woodenly as it is written will not do.  There is progress in terms of redemptive movement.  Revelation continues because Jesus is alive and His Spirit continues to work within us guiding us into His truth.

  1. Spiritual Truth can be known relationally because it is personal.  Here is the most important thing to understand when it comes to spiritual truth.  You do not relate to spiritual truth like science relates to a bar of iron: as a subject relates to an object.  Spiritual truth is not very “objective.”  It is subjective, because behind spiritual truth is a person.  We should not study God like we study things in a laboratory, reducing him to a list of attributes, axioms, facts, and figures.  We study God like we get to know a friend.  This is how scripture is to be read.  You are reading stories, songs, and personal letters.  You are not reading a book full of facts about God.  These stories, songs, letters and such invite us to experience God in a similar way that the authors of these works experienced God.  We should not read scripture or come to church like a detached physicist listening to a lecture, but like a castaway on deserted island with a letter from his beloved.  There is so much talk in defense of “absolute truth” from people making claims about God, but I wonder if they are not missing the point.  I understand their fear: they fear that with the loss of the concept of absolute truth comes moral relativism and a lack of spiritual conviction.  However, their argument might not be accomplishing their goal.  We have to remember that when we are dealing with Spiritual Truth, the ultimate truth is not an objective principle but a person.  This person is one of such splendor, power, wonder, beauty, and glory that to know Him is to love Him, worship Him, enjoy Him and seek to please Him with everything.  Jesus didn’t reveal to his disciples the nature of propositional truth; he invited them to learn that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Reducing such a person to a list of facts and attributes is missing the truth by a wide margin. You can only really know the truth about God by experiencing Him, the same way you can only really know music once you have heard it. Music, like God, is more than intellectual comprehension; it is also emotional understanding.


#firstworldproblems – Affluenza
October 9, 2014, 1:14 pm
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Echo High School’s conversation about first world problems continued to cover some strange cultural territory.  In December 2013, a District Judge sentenced a North Texas teenager to 10 years probation for drunk driving and killing four pedestrians and injuring eleven.  This person killed four human beings and got off with rehab and probation.   Why? His attorneys successfully argued that the teen suffered from affluenza and needed rehabilitation, and not prison. The defendant was witnessed on surveillance video stealing beer from a store, driving with seven passengers in his father’s Ford F-350, speeding (70 MPH in a 40 MPH zone), and had a blood alcohol content of .24%, three times the legal limit for an adult in Texas, when he was tested 3 hours after the accident. Traces of Valium were also in his system. A psychologist hired as an expert by the defense testified in court that the teen was a product of affluenza and was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences due to his parents teaching him that wealth buys privilege. The rehabilitation facility cost Texas taxpayers roughly $700 a day. This entire story is INSANE, but it is true.  Affluenza might be the king of all “first world problems.”  Affluenza is a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.

Our relationship with stuff is silly.  We worry about the model of our phone or the vintage of our laptop computers.  We look at a closet full of clothes and declare: “I have nothing to wear.”  We are addicted to more, and we don’t really have any plans to change.  This is a major issue.   Our consumption is off the charts.  Our culture is one of consumerism. How can we have so much, yet feel as if we have so little? This is one of the major causes of AFFLUENZA – the stimulation of artificial needs.  We forget how rich we are because we are a part of a system that constantly tells us we do not have.  If we don’t have it, our lives are spent trying to get it.  When we do get it, we don’t own it as much as it owns us.  We measure “economic success” based on the Gross Domestic Product, or Gross National Product.  The funny thing is, this might be the wrong measure. Think about a situation like divorce.  A couple spends high amounts of money on legal services, then they split into two households and spending goes way up.  This boosts the GDP, but does it indicate cultural progress or decline? If someone gets cancer, or there is an oil spill, or a forest was cut down for lumber…all of these things make the GDP rise but they might actually represent the decline of our culture not progress.  No one thinks that family breakdown is good for our culture, but the GDP loves it.  This is all to say that the answer for our deep spiritual needs is not going to be found in material goods.

What are the signs of Affluenza?

  1. CLUTTER - Too much stuff is not a good thing. We are the type that stockpile and hoard and accumulate, wanting what others have, always seeking more. Because of this, our calendars, our rooms, our garages, and our lives are full of clutter. Clutter is not just all the stuff that we keep around that rarely gets used. It is also the sense of urgency and the lack of focus and purpose with which we live. This is a symptom of not truly knowing what you need and what you want out of life. It is a symptom of living without laser focus and disciplined simplicity. It is difficult to filter out the ever-escalating demands for faster . . . newer . . . flashier . . . more. What we have to see is that this mentality is psychotic in that it has lost all touch with reality: we crave things we neither need nor enjoy. We buy things we do not need to impress people we do not like. Twice a year people in our neighborhood have a massive event where all the excess stuff in the community gets shuffled around to provide us with more money to buy more stuff. The idea of dependence on God should challenge our materialism and move us toward simplicity. Simplicity is a spiritual discipline that gives us needed perspective on our materialistic world. It allows us to see the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others. It is an inward reality that leads to an outward expression. It is more than just getting rid of stuff – it is an inner attitude of the heart that acknowledges (1) What we have we received as a gift of God, (2) What we need God will care for, and (3) What we have is available to others. Simplicity is basically this: Seek first the Kingdom of God.
  2. WASTE - We use it and then throw it away.  Much of our stuff is “designed for the dumpster.” Marketers use fancy terms like “planned obsolescence” to disguise their intention. They cannot have you truly satisfied by their product because you will never buy another one. Nothing is designed to last forever. Many things, like cell phones and electronics, are actually designed to fall apart or break down after a certain point. Other things are perfectly fine, but they convince you through marketing that they are out of style and need to be replaced. So we end up buying a new car every year, replacing our wardrobe with the latest fashions, and signing up for another contract with the phone company to get the “free” phone. What happens to our old stuff? It gets trashed. An attitude of waste comes from the assumption that the world exists for you, not the other way around.  Americans consume at staggering rates.  Each of us uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually.  The idea that the “good life” means having what I want when I want it and being able to throw it away wastefully when I’m done with it is not sustainable.  This is a value choice that means for me to enjoy life others must not.  For me to have more, others must have less.  Behind this behavior is bad theology.  I see this attitude all the time in the church: basically that the earth is doomed so we should use it up without concern.  I don’t see this in scripture.  In scripture, I see God entrusting the care of this earth and its resources to people as he invites them to partner with him in realizing his vision for the world. The initial instructions that God gave to humanity were to care for the earth. The first marching orders for God’s Kingdom included the idea of being stewards of creation. Our wasteful attitude is a direct violation of that.
  3. Dissatisfaction. You cannot possibly be thankful and content if you are convinced that you deserve more than you are getting! We want far more than we need.  We want a good number more things than we need and even more than we can actually use.  We’re satisfied.  We’re grateful.  We’re content with our PS3, until one day we play hear about someone else’s PS4.  Then we’re not content anymore, and we go back to our old and busted and ancient game system.  We’re satisfied with our accomplishments until we see someone who has accomplished more, and we then we don’t feel very good.  The Bible understands this tendency in our hearts.  Paul wrote to his protégé, a young pastor named Timothy, trying to protect his heart from this lie of lack.  Some false teachers at the time had fallen into the trap, and they began twisting God’s word to support their lifestyle of greed and exploitation.  1 Timothy 6:6 – “Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  Paul continues and tells Timothy to FLEE from all this stuff about lack and the pursuit of more! FLEE – run, go the other way, stay away from it, try to escape.  We tend to do just the opposite and play right into the other story, the story of lack.  And because of this we miss out on the story of contentment.  The road out of this dark place is through a simple prayer: THANKS.  “Thanks” shifts your perspective to what you have already received.  It shifts your focus to the blessing, wealth, health, love, mercy, and favor that you are already experiencing.  It gets your eyes off of what you lack and puts them on the abundance that you have.  It stops envy, comparison, and malcontent from ensnaring your heart. It is a very simple choice: I will choose to be happy with what I already have.


#firstworldproblems – Overfed and Undernourished
September 22, 2014, 3:51 pm
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firstworldproblems

This is a long overdue blog update! I wanted to post some thoughts from the Echo High School series in the Spring of 2014.  We called the series #firstworldproblems.  This hashtag started appearing a few years back whenever someone from our over-fed, over-protected, and under-challenged culture was complaining about something silly. We are all guilty of it at one time or another. This was a series about the silly obsessions and self-absorption of our culture.

On this theme, I want to talk about relatively new problem for our world: for the first time ever, the number of overweight people is greater than the number of under-weight people globally. You would think that means that people are healthier than ever, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Many of these people are overweight but they are in fact under-nourished. They are deficient in essential vitamins and other nutritional measures. This is because of the rise in calorie-rich but nutrient-poor processed foods that have become a major part of the human diet, especially in developed parts of the world. Don’t dismiss me as a fitness and diet fanatic, I am FAR from that.  This is not just a physical issue. This issue reflects attitudes that have spiritual roots, and it is very important for us to talk about. We eat too much of the wrong stuff.  We eat too little of the right stuff. Taken together, these generalities point to a spiritual problem. We have issues with temperance.

  1. This is an issue of insensitivity. The hard truth about this is that you don’t often hear messages about this for several reasons. One reason is that many preachers feel hypocritical talking about gluttony and such, so they avoid it. Another reason is that we have done a great job insulating ourselves from this issue because of how we compartmentalize our lives. “This is not spiritual, it is just physical. My physical health doesn’t have anything to do with my moral center or my spiritual life…” Yet we are wrong. This issue is spiritual. Our problems with food have spiritual roots. On one hand, we eat far more than our fair share of the food in this world with little regard for those that go hungry.  When we eat and are satisfied, it should remind us that so many people go to bed hungry in our backyard and across the world.  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to pray not for “my daily bread” but for “our daily bread.”  This is not an accident.  We really do get a great deal more than “daily bread.”  This is not self-preservation or survival, but community. It begs the question: how does hunger exist in a world of plenty? In both the Old and New Testaments hunger is linked with those who have been forced by societal conditions into a marginal existence: the poor, the needy, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed. These people are particularly vulnerable to hunger because of their poverty. Even in famine, all will suffer but the privileged will be able to buy food from another land. Those on the margins do not have the resources. In Israel care of the needy was not regarded as an act of voluntary benevolence. The poor were entitled to such benefits. Underlying this practice was the assumption that poverty and need were due to a breakdown in the equitable distribution of community resources or to a social status over which an individual had no control (like widows and orphans). Thus, the responsibility for action lay with the privileged rather than with the poor themselves. By contrast, in our society it is commonly assumed that the poor and the hungry of the world ought to bear the major burdens of bettering their own condition. This attitude is thoroughly American: “Let them pull themselves up! Let them work to make something of themselves!”  Yet this attitude doesn’t seem very scriptural. What I am saying here is this is our problem to solve, because we are the privileged ones with more resources to manage. This is from Deuteronomy 15:

There will be no poor among you…if only you will obey the voice of the Lord your God…If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need… You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging… For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore, I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor…

  1. This is an issue of over-Indulgence – Behind this reality is an inability to tell ourselves “no.”  Paul employs a curious phrase in Philippians 3:17-21 – “Their god is their stomach.” This means they live for worldly pleasures.  We all know how our hungers and passions demand satisfaction, so we jump into action. This carnal way of life runs contrary to the ways of God’s Kingdom. Our culture has taken this to extremes. Everything in our culture is about having, consuming, and showing.  Fast cars, nice stuff, gadgets, gizmos, meals, luxury, and comfort.  Good enough is never good enough. Adequate is never adequate. Temperance is a lost virtue.  We don’t really know how to “go the right length and no further” in our culture that values extremes.  This is a moral issue, not just a health issue.  Pleasure is not bad, but when pleasure and comfort come before nourishment we are in for some trouble.  Our problem with over-indulging comes from our instinct to hoard.  Over eating is a way of storing up fat cells for use later.  We consume more calories than we need to live so when famine or hardship strikes, we will have some fat reserves to live off of.  The problem is that for many of us, our lives are far too comfortable and protected from such calamities.  The last time we skipped a meal was because we were too busy, not because we couldn’t afford food. When we read in scripture the commandments about the vulnerable poor, we depersonalize them and ignore them because we cannot identify with their plight of the truly poor. Especially in tough times, our instinct moves to selfishness.  The way of God’s Kingdom is to resist the instinct to hoard and choose generosity instead.  The provision of God might not be lacking in quantity, but in distribution.  Maybe God has given you more than enough so you can give to those with less than enough? I should be concerned not only with my needs, but with the needs of all.  Our culture of over-indulgence is far off the mark.

    Related to the malnutrition of the over-weight is our choice of fast and processed food. Wanting our food “fast” is symptomatic of other problems in our culture, and it also has spiritual implications.  We want our food fast; we want it convenient.  I have heard these same demands about church as long as I have been attending.  People want things on their schedule, the way they like it.  We carry over our consumeristic and intemperate attitudes into the way we interact with our spiritual leaders.  We want things that make us feel good instead of the things that will truly nourish us and feed us.  We settle for flashy, for fast, for superficial instead of going deeper.  Convenience should not be the determining factor when it comes to what we put into our bodies or our souls.

  2. This is an issue of imbalance – Eating is not a problem, and even eating plenty is not necessarily gluttony.  The Bible balances feasting and fasting, there are appropriate times for both.  Balance is the key.  An occasional indulgence is even appropriate.  The problem is when excess becomes every day! Our culture has no place for fasting, and it makes feasting irrelevant by turning every meal into an indulgence and every occasion into excess. We tend to go from one extreme to another.  Wisdom is what is needed to know when fasting and feasting should interrupt our constant lifestyle of temperance. Please hear me: this is not a message about weight loss or vanity, but it is a message about knowing when enough is enough.  It is crazy idea but it would change so much about our physical, emotional, and spiritual health: go the right length and no further.  Have the right amount of fun.  Eat until you are satisfied, and then stop.  Have a treat once and a while.  Learn the power of moderation and balance. This is what the virtue of temperance is all about: going the right length and no further. It is habitual moderation. Not just because it is good for your body but because it is good for your soul and even for our world. This virtue should be reflected in the way we use energy, the way we use money, the way we eat and drink and celebrate. Temperance is rooted in valuing eternal things over earthly things. Some people see God as the big killjoy in the sky, waiting to kill their fun and spoil the party.  Other people treat food itself like the enemy, like we should eat beans and rice only and enjoy a dessert at our peril! Church history knows of monks and ascetics that abused their bodies and denied themselves anything good.  These people have it wrong.  Imagine there is a road with a ditch on either side. Temperance is the balance of driving down that road, avoiding the ditch on either side.  Temperance is the ability to know when to abstain and when to participate. Balance is the key.

 



Primeval – Stories from the beginning
February 3, 2014, 1:39 pm
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Primeval---Title

Prompted by the soon released film Noah, Echo High School just finished a 4 week conversation on the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis, a section often referred to as the “primeval prologue.” The book of Genesis is well named. Genesis means “origin,” and it is a book about beginnings. It addresses questions about the origins of the universe, life, human culture, evil, pain, and suffering. This section of scripture is a lightning rod for interpretive differences and passionate debate, and I think all the attention might serve to confuse the intended message instead of clarifying it.

The powerful message of Genesis’ early chapters is often obscured by modern debates regarding issues the text does not address and questions the text cannot answer. It is common today to debate what the book has to say about the origin of matter in terms of science, cosmology, evolutionary biology, and so on. People try to make the primeval prologue of Genesis into an alternative theory of origins, and the debate about whether or not to take Genesis literally or whether evolution or creation is behind the complexity and uniqueness of human beings.

We might be guilty here of reading modern questions into an ancient context, and in doing so missing the point. One of the keys to interpreting scripture is to allow the Bible to say what it wants to say, not what we wish it said. We have to avoid the temptation to let questions the Bible cannot answer distract us from the questions it is answering. Genesis is not a book about biology or cosmology. It is a book about theology. The tragic reality for many people is that they will miss the theology of Genesis because they are forcing on the text their questions about origin of species and creation vs. evolution. We can’t afford to miss the point, because the point is too important to miss!

Genesis IS NOT – a science book or a history book in the modern sense. Forcing modern questions and modern categories on this ancient narrative is futile and might actually lead to missing the point. It cannot answer questions that were not being asked (or even imagined) by its original audience.

Genesis IS – a story, or a collection of stories. It is sometimes poetic, sometimes narrative, and sometimes parabolic. Genesis certainly communicates to its ancient audience in the language and style of other such stories from the ancient world, yet it is unique. I think the question of whether or not Genesis is “literal” is the wrong question. The question is whether or not Genesis is true, and that answer is yes. It is beautifully and wonderfully TRUE, in that it is jam-packed full of TRUTH. Yet it does not need to be literal to be true.

I think we obsess in excess over the issue of literal vs. symbolic, as if truth can only be communicated in objective, modern, non-fiction styles. I think the idea of anything being truly “objective” even in the modern world is also silly. Even documentaries and modern journalism betray their bias. This attitude also underestimates how narrative was used to communicate value and truth in the ancient world. God seems to be more concerned with the heart than with the head, and stories and songs are the language of the heart and so they make up much of the language of scripture. Scripture actually gives us an example about how story can communicate truth without being literal. Look at the parable Nathan employs when he confronts King David about his sin with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12:1-7.

The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!…”

What we have here is a story designed to communicate truth best received by the heart and not the head. Nathan has the unenviable task of confronting and correcting a king that though himself above the law. He doesn’t do this with direct, didactic communication style. Instead, he uses the power of story to communicate the truth of David’s sin in a powerful and disarming way. Is Nathan’s parable TRUE? Yes! It might not be literal, but it is true. The rich man is David, the sheep is Bathsheba, the poor man that was wronged and abused is Uriah. In this case, we have both the parabolic story and the more “historical” story of David’s sin against Bathsheba detailed in the preceding chapters. How would we make sense of the story if we only had the parabole form? Would we be debating what color the fleece of the lamb was, or what town the man was from, or who the guest was that required the meal? All these questions are irrelevant to the point of Nathan’s parable.

For people that cannot wrap their head around the magic fruit and the talking snake and the flaming swords of Genesis’ primeval prologue, at least don’t miss the point of these stories because the details distract you. The fantastic and mythic quality of the stories fits well with the other such stories circulating at the time these were originally told. The question remains: does the primeval prologue of Genesis belong to the genre of parable or theological story or should it be read more literally? I tend to lean toward the side of “parabolic” history for several reasons. The narrative itself seems to suggest it with poetic structures and symbolic names. Adam means something like “humanity.” Eve means something like “mother of all.” The trees seem like symbols. There are parallelisms and chiasmus and other forms of poetic structures throughout the narrative.

Whether you read them literally or not, the theological point doesn’t change. These stories were first told to answer the question: “Why are things the way they are?” Why are we filled with spiritual curiosity? Why do we look into the mysteries of the universe and wonder? Why do we long to be more than we are? Why do we crave to be connected to God? Why have we been cast out of Eden? These questions need to be answered whether you view these stories literally or not. Whether or not they are literal is actually not the most important issue. The most important issue is the theology of these stories, what do they teach us about the nature of humanity and our relation to God? How would the ancient audience have understood these stories? What story does the Primeval Prologue of Genesis tell? It tells a story of something beautifully made and tragically marred. A story of paradise created and paradise lost.

When the movie Noah comes out, maybe you should watch it with your teen and have a lively discussion on parable, truth, history, and ultimate origins.



Echo 2013 Review
February 3, 2014, 12:47 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Echo Middle School 2013

We had some excellent conversations about faith and culture in 2013!



Echo Parent Summit – Preparing for the college transition

Echo recently sent its largest graduating class ever out for their first year of college.  I have had many conversations with parents and college freshmen this month, some of them have been encouraging and some of them have been concerning.  Echo reaches many parents with older teens, and for them the college transition is very close at hand.  Others have young teens, and maybe you have even believed the myth that the college transition is a distant dream.  Here is the cold, hard truth: your child started the journey out the door the day they were born.  They will all leave, that is the way of the world.  How they will leave, whether they stay gone, and whether they succeed has SO much to do with how we prepared them for this challenge.  Your son or daughter will leave your door and go face the world with only the tools and wisdom that we have given them.  So what do you want to put in their suitcase? I am not talking so much about “what” as I am about “who.”  So much personal formation happens in this critical window.  

Asher Roth’s vision of college should be alarming to most parents. 

First off, we need to understand that the “script” has changed.  Your teen will enter a college scene that is different from the one you experienced.  College is much more expensive, morality is much more relative, the academic system has experienced shifts in attitude and focus, and the job market they will emerge into is totally different.  I recently heard of a dad talking about how he felt unprepared to help his son navigate the college transition.  He claimed that he went to college in the early 80’s.  His career path was suggested to him by a guidance counselor that knew him well enough to know his gifts, talents, and aptitude.  His tuition was completely funded by grants and scholarships, and immediately on graduation he started a job he worked for the next 20 years.  This kind of story might not have been normal for everyone, but it at least used to be common.  Now, the average student will change majors twice, 60% of them will use student loans to cover the cost (around $30-40 grand a year for a private 4 year college), attend 62 parties per year on average, and only 6 out of 10 of them will find a full-time job after graduation.  The more alarming reality for me as a youth pastor, and the one that Echo has looked most closely at, is the way that people statistically take a “recess” from faith during college.  We have been paying close attention to the research coming out of Fuller Youth Institute and adjusting our programs as a result.  Many students, even those that were involved in strong youth ministries (up to 40-50%) leave their faith in college.  This is alarming, but it is based on solid research.  How do we address this? Here are two “structures” we need to work together to build for each of our students.

1.  A Foundation they can stand on – This is purposefully preparing your teen for life without your guidance.  They are on the way out the door the minute they are born.  One of the things I notice is that young people have a hard time mapping out the “why” of college.  They need to have a vision for college, wandering can be an expensive experiment.  Most students will say that the goal of college is to get an education so they can get a good job.  That sounds good on the surface, but the truth is more complex.  The truth is that learning cannot be the highest goal.  It doesn’t really matter what our kids know if they don’t know what really matters.  From 18-25, huge questions are being answered about identity; not just what they will do for a living but what sort of person they will become.  They will form central convictions during this time that last a lifetime.  They need our help.  Their character will take shape dramatically during these years, as will their values, and those issues of “who” will both matter far more than the “what” of job/career. 

  • Laying the right foundation means we create space for true doubt, wrestling, and complexity while they still have some adults to anchor them.  It means that we anticipate and even catalyze their searching and their questions.  One of the most common complaints students in the research have voiced is that there wasn’t room for discussion, doubt, and disagreement in their churches or their homes when it came to faith.  They were encouraged to have “blind faith” and not to think critically.  We want to introduce our students to the many logical challenges to the Christian faith while we can still have the conversation
  • Laying the right foundation means connecting them to a bigger story.  Students that live on mission: to serve and heal and restore the world, have a much better chance of surviving college with their faith in tact.  This is one of the reasons that a “gap year” is a very good idea for many college students.  Students can defer their acceptance a year, and that year is spent on mission.  It is not sitting around, it is spent purposefully serving the world and discovering who they are and setting their priorities. 
  • We want to a lay a foundation rooted in community.  Relationships matter, HUGELY.  One of the issues here is that it is difficult for them to duplicate the level of community they experienced in youth ministry in college and beyond.  There are campus groups, but many students find “adult church” lacking in the level of relational depth they crave.  We have to be better about integrating them into the life of the church, not as a separate little church for youth, but as vital members of the greater church movement. 
  • Laying a solid foundation means facing difficult tensions and boldly asks the tough questionsThis means we need to address the challenges they will face long before they leave for college.  They need some practice wrestling with the tensions and temptations that will face them in college.  Issues that need to be addressed long before they leave your house include:     Debt – the average college student will graduate with over $30,000 in debt.  That is a heavy load to carry if the average starting salary is under $50k and 40% of them will not be able to find jobs right away.  Parties – The average college student attends 62 parties a year.  This party scene is not even enjoyable to some, according to the research, but they feel like they cannot connect meaningfully without it.  They need help finding another answer to this need to connect.  Dangerous behavior – 40% of college students admit to binge drinking.  Everyone made some dumb and reckless choices in college, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to prepare our students to make better choices! Dangerous behavior includes digital irresponsibility, the pictures of their foolish choices may follow them forever digitally and negatively impact future opportunities. 

2.  A Net to catch them when they fall – We all hope that our child will succeed.  One of the hardest things about statistics is that we can assume hopefully OUR kid will defy the stats.  We hope we have prepared them to succeed, we hope we have given them the tools they need.  Still, we need to also prepare them in the inevitable event of failure.   They are going to mess up.  They are going to miss a class, to struggle with grades, to bow to social pressure.  They are going to be homesick or to be lonely.  How will they respond?

  • Grace – This is the most important thing we can teach them.  It is ESSENTIAL that they understand the heart of God toward them.  Your faith becomes robust and resilient when you learn how to get back up after you fail.  Many students think something like: well, I already screwed up and now I’m tainted, I might as well stop trying.  This is an actual conversation I have way too often.  This is why faith that is based on human merit or behavior will never work.  True Christianity is not about what we do for God, it is about what God has done for us.  Grace needs to be the face that loves wears when it meets imperfection. 
  • 5 Invested adults – 5 seems to be the magic number.  Do you have 5 different adult voices that are invested in the success of your teen? Adults that know them well, know their story, and want to see them succeed in life and in faith? A youth leader, a coach, an older sibling, they need 5-6 voices.  There are going to be so many times when they don’t want to turn to a parent, even if they have the best parents in the world.  What will the net look like that catches them?

These are actual interviews of college freshmen.  I can’t help but notice how much these students needed help in the form of grace and the wisdom of other loving adults! If your student was to fail, what net would catch them?



March 28, 2013, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

justinbaki:

This classic echo series was the foundation for last week’s Palm Sunday family service @ DCC.

Originally posted on Echo Student Ministry Parent Forum:

As we continue to talk about love as a choice and not as a feeling, Sunday’s echo experience brought us to one of the most challenging teachings of Jesus: the call to love our enemies.

Luke 6:27-38 records one of the times that Jesus issued this challenge. This is a revolutionary teaching about love. Jesus turns the conventional ideas about love and fairness updside down. When it comes to love, conventional wisdom says “love those that love you.” This is rational and logical; it happens naturally. It is an easy thing to love the people that are good to us. Jesus explains that for children of God, it is not enough. They are called to love their enemies.

Is this even possible? The word Jesus chooses to use here is agape, which is a different sort of love than the kind you would have naturally for your close friends…

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