Culture

THE GOSPEL ANTIDOTE TO THE EPIDEMIC OF LONELINESS

by Debbie Huber

Upon opening Facebook the other day, there was a picture of my family that I had posted a year ago with a notation from Facebook: “we care about you and your Facebook memories”.

Wow!  Facebook cares about me?  The place where I can show family pictures, see pictures from friends and acquaintances, find out about real AND fake news, argue with others without looking them in the eye, not be accountable to anyone, keep my struggles safely hidden from public view…

Right after seeing this I read an article that referred to a major study that was recently presented at the 125th annual convention of the American Psychological Association by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.  Data from hundreds of studies involving millions of individuals was analyzed. This analysis found that “social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death. And each one of these factors was a more significant risk factor for dying than obesity“.  

More significant than obesity?

Marriage rates have been steadily declining and families are having less children.  Families are separated by miles, divorce, estrangement, and just plain busyness. Schedules are busier and family activities dominate any possibility of free time. Neighbors come and go without ever interacting with one another. Many people live their lives without having anyone truly know about them and care for them.  

There have been multiple studies that suggest that frequent Facebook users do not feel more connected at all; they “actually experience feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, and depression.”

Sometimes we are alone by choice by putting up walls because it can be too painful or fearful to be vulnerable to others. Or we just want to live our lives for ourselves without the baggage that comes from being accountable to one another. 

The Bible does have an antidote to this epidemic of “loneliness”.

We were made for relationship with one another but it is not necessarily how the world defines relationships.  God demonstrates what a healthy relationship is through the relationship between the Father, Son, and the Spirit. A relationship of fellowship, working together, and enjoyment of each other’s company. 

God calls us to relationship with himself through the gospel. We were “separated from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12-13)

God made us to need Him and also to need one another. In Genesis 2 He says that “it is not good for man to be alone.”  We were not created to make it in this world alone. 

Real, lasting, satisfying relationships within the context of the gospel brings reconciliation between us because we were reconciled to God through Christ when we were without hope or without God in the world. We have relationship with one another even when it is difficult or inconvenient because we know that Christ died for our relationship to be restored to God even when we were “difficult” and far from Him. 

Be prayerful and watchful for the lonely around you. Seek them out face to face.  Be helpful when they need it, speak of the things of God to one another.  In light of what Christ has done for you seek reconciliation when there is division.  The Gospel will be on display in your lives.

And if you are the one “putting up walls” or on the fringes because you are fearful to be vulnerable or too busy remember the gospel!  You were not meant to go it alone in this world. The gospel tells us that we were made for relationship with God and with one another. Serve, help or become a part of a small group.  Ask God to help you to care for and be vulnerable with others. Preach the gospel to yourself daily and pray that the gospel will be lived out though your relationships.

 

PLAY-DOH LOVE

Love is wonderful

Love is popular

Love is deeply misunderstood

It is virtually impossible to find someone who has never been loved (humanly) and has no love for anyone else.

Yet, love for most people lies in a fog of misunderstanding and selfishness.

It’s hard to find a song, a book, a movie or therapeutic expert that gets love fully correct. This means we live in a world so confused about its favorite topic, that we don’t recognize pure love when it looks down from a cross at us.

It is not that people know nothing of love, the problem is that they don’t accept the baseline of love, because they don’t listen to God who is the source of love. If we don’t build on a solid foundation, we won’t end up with a structure that lasts.

Our world loves to think of love as something we can shape out of our own perspective and values. But Alex Duke is correct when he said, “Love isn’t Play-Doh”.

One of the problems with Play-Doh love is that none of us want to be loved according to someone’s pulled-out-of-the-air-according-to-their-own-desires perspective. The reason is simple, it’s not actually love and it doesn’t work out well for the people receiving it.

Of course there is an even bigger problem, counterfeit love is unacceptable to God and will not lead us to him or his kingdom.

When we don’t shape our understanding and practice of love by the teaching of Scripture and the example of Christ, we are left with emotions and interpretations that have much more self-love than true love.

If you want to know love, you must know God!

Alex Duke gives us a good synopsis of the problem and answer to “Play-Doh” love in this article, “Love Is Not Whatever You Want It To Be”.

Love is too precious to get wrong, and life is too short not to start correcting that error today.

 

DIFFERENCES DISAPPEAR IN CHRIST

by Debbie Huber

People tend to be drawn to others who are similar to them by the world’s standards. The friends or those that people spend the most time with outside of family tend to be of similar age, or have similar socioeconomic, academic, cultural, or ethnic backgrounds. 

But as Christians we are brought together by something greater. 

The Bible tells us “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:21)

The worldly distinctions that once divided us no longer apply because the gospel is our shared foundation. We are united in Christ with an eternal bond that is not of this world. 

We can form relationships with people that may seem very different than us by the world’s standards because they are our brother or sister in Christ.  We should expect to see differences among us. 

These relationships set us apart from the world and are a testimony that we are united in Christ.

Take a step and seek out fellow believers of all ages and backgrounds.  Be intentional about these relationships because the bond is greater than anything of this world. And the world will take notice and our God will be glorified. 

LEADING OUR CHILDREN THROUGH AN OPPOSING CULTURAL

Ever parents faces the daunting challenge of how to walk our children through the influences and landmines of the surrounding culture.

In this Gospel Coalition interview, parents are given some practical thoughts on leading our children well through a culture which does not honor biblical values

SERMON LEFTOVERS 6.12.17

Love for God is not independent from him

 

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Why this sudden concern for hairstyle?

In the New Testament, the emphasis is on the heart rather than the exterior (Mark 7:20-23)

Paul is also concerned for the heart condition of wives participating in church services

Their participation in “prayer and prophecy” is assumed and encouraged

This was revolutionary compared to Jewish synagogues where women were not even full members

However, it appears some wives were taking this freedom a step further

The phrase head uncovered is literally: “having down from the head”

There is historic evidence for this being hair bound up on head, or a cloth covering

Once women were married, they kept their hair bound up – it was a cultural norm

For a wife to ‘uncover’ her hair in public was a declaration of her independence

Why were wives doing this while speaking in church service?

We have already seen the Corinthians had a high view of their spirituality

We will see in coming chapters they took pride in how their spiritual gifts we were used during services

Hair ‘uncovered’ declared:  I have independent authority straight from God

Paul responds by presenting a big picture view of ‘headship’

Paul brings up headship in v3 before he identifies why he does in v5

Lets us know all that follows is about Christ more than dress code

 

Paul points are strikingly current for us

1.  God’s design promotes dependence not independence

v3 gives a 3-fold list of headship with women in the middle of the list to show it is not demeaning of them

Headship is a statement of hierarchy and it implies submission

Both concepts are repudiated in our culture as being archaic

But the inclusion of Christ in this list clearly shows that is not God’s perspective

There is a hierarchy with the triune Godhead: Father – Son – Holy Spirit

The Son serves and glorifies the Father; while the Holy Spirit was sent by and glorifies the Son

v7 God created humanity in his image, which means we reflect his character

This includes embracing the concepts of authority and creation order (vs 8-10)

If women (or men) push off their headship – they reject God’s order

The women who did this, dishonored their ‘head’ – their husband

In that culture, a head covering was a ‘symbol’ of role acceptance (v10)

When we exalt our independence, we denigrate God’s order

Why does v10 add ‘angels’ to mix?

They are messengers of God’s glory

Paul also cited angels in 6:3 which shows that our obedience is part of the big picture of God’s reign

2.  God’s design brings completion not ‘contention’ (v16)

Paul shows that submission doesn’t mean we are being devalued (vs 11-12)

Men and women are interdependent, one is not better or more valued

Ultimately, we are all fully dependent on and submitted to God

As believers, we embrace God’s order because we trust him

  • Wives submit to imperfect husbands
  • Children honor imperfect parents
  • Church members submit to an imperfect local church

We have ample reason to trust that God’s goodness is built into his design

Each of our roles contains a God given ‘glory’ in it (v7)

This idea of glory means there is completion and joy when we accept it

Jesus himself submits to the Father to complete the gospel plan (1 Corinthians 15:28)

If we throw off God’s design all that’s left is brokenness

3.  Gender distinctions are God-given and shouldn’t be blurred (v14)

Homosexuality was prominent in ancient Greece and Rome

So, Paul uses the principle of God’s design to address blurring gender distinctions

It is another example of how we must not join the world in discarding God’s order

4.  Our cultural choices should always be God-honoring (vs 13-16)

Every culture expresses itself in ways that communicate values

Great Commandment people avoid choices that (1) dishonor God, or (2) weaken our testimony

Questions to ask ourselves:

  1. Do we dress to please people or God?
  2. Do we adorn ourselves in ways that are meant to demonstrate a rebellious attitude?
  3. Does our behavior flow with the world more than with God’s Word?
  4. Do we have attitudes that are dismissive of God given authority and institutions?

These questions are really about our love for God. We cannot love him and dismiss his design for us or this world

SERMON LEFTOVERS 5.08.17

‘Do You Fully Know Your Rights?’

 

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

 

This may sound like a chapter to pass over quickly; who has a problem with food sacrificed to idols? The issue is how should a gospel-shaped community exercise our rights and freedoms?

Exercising freedom is a 2-edged sword:  as we cast off restrictions, we may also cast off responsibility

What rights and consequences were at stake in Corinth?

Controversy about eating food sacrificed in pagan temples

A portion of an animal sacrificed was sold in market; and part was used in temple dining rooms. These rooms were used for feasts or private functions

Some Corinthians knew the ‘gods’ of idols are not real. Their knowledge gave them freedom to eat temple food v4

Other Corinthians still struggled with their old association with idols v7, and some fell into giving old respect to idols

Apostle Paul had two concerns about how this issue was affecting the church

1. Pride in the hearts of those with a fuller knowledge vs 1-2

Yes, we have knowledge about idols, ‘but’ what about love?

Their concern stopped with the correctness of their position

Paul reminds them that God requires more than correctness

2. Paul was concerned about harm to those with weaker faith v9-10

Your freedoms have consequences for fellow-believers

Some will follow your lead to places that are unhealthy for them

 

The Corinthians were looking at their own rights and knowledge

Paul introduces a God-centered perspective that guides us just as well

1. Truth does not equal love; truth needs love v1

The Corinthians were lifting up truth, without the responsibility of love

Knowledge by itself ‘puffs up’; it builds us up in pride and selfishness

Love uses knowledge to ‘build up’ others

But they were using knowledge to ‘destroy’ i.e. to tear down

Don’t miss the significance of v3:  What does it mean to be known by God?

For God, ‘knowing’ is not detached from his intentional care

If God was only interested in truth, we would remain condemned

We saw in chapters 1-2, the Corinthians thought themselves wise, v2 this is proof you’re not

True wisdom is like a rope made with strands of knowledge, love and humility

2. Our rights and freedoms are to be used for the glory of Christ

v4-5 Paul affirms their correct theology about empty idols

Then he adds a declaration about the true God v6

Just as you know idols are nothing – realize that God is everything

God gives us freedoms, but we are use them on our knees

We are free to enjoy life in food, music, film, art; but these are not life giving

Colossians 3:4 ‘Christ is your life’ – let nothing diminish that

Beware false freedoms: the “freedom” to live unguarded, to be unaccountable, or to live for ourselves

3. When we misuse a fellow-believer, we misuse Christ v12

How we treat fellow-believers is a prominent way we reveal empty knowledge

‘Know’ this: God is displeased when we misuse one-another

If we refuse to participate in the responsibilities of our church – the rest have to carry it all

If we harbor negative attitudes and bitterness

When we come to our own negative conclusions, that is slander in our heart

When we refuse to pursue the gospel’s agenda of reconciliation

Principles to keep in mind when you struggle with fellow-believers

Your eternity will be shared with them

Christ formed the church, our covenant together is his idea

Jesus shed his blood for them and God is for them

HOW CAN WE KNOW?

A woman recently asked how she should respond to an accusation that we have all heard in various forms:

All religions are the same

There are many ways to God

No one can say they have the truth

How can you speak for God?

Here is a synopsis of my answer to her:

If God exists, then it is completely unreasonable to think that He has not communicated Himself to us. If God is wise and good, then it is beyond doubt that He has communicated in a way that is obvious and clear.

As people, we don’t want to be misunderstood. In fact, we become offended if we hear that someone is misrepresenting our thoughts, feelings, values, and opinions.

If clarity about who we are is important to us, how much more is this true for God. Having people get the truth right about ourselves is usually simply a matter of our pride. But getting the truth right about God is about our eternity!

In the end, it is ridiculous to admit that God exists, but then deny that anyone can know the truth about him. It is equally absurd to question whether there is a clear truth about him.

This leaves us with the question of how can we know the truth about God.

Many people in our world speak as if they can simply derive what God is like and what He will do from within their own mind. The problems with this are many.

How can anyone know what is in the mind of someone they have never met?

How can we determine the values and thinking of a Being who is eternal and transcendent?

What God will or will not do is certainly not bound or compelled by our opinions

The essential question is not, has God spoken?  It is how has God revealed himself?

The truths of God are first revealed in His written Word, the Bible. When it comes to the trustworthiness of the Bible, there is no religious book that can come near to its veracity.

God is revealed secondly, in the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ trustworthiness as God in flesh was verified when He arose from the dead, demonstrating His authority and power.

If there is truth about God that you don’t know – do you want to know it?

Are you willing to ask God to reveal Himself to you?

Are you willing to read the Bible and allow it to speak to you?

Are you willing to call upon Christ to lead your life?

Are you willing to respond to the reality God gives you?

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 5.01.17

“Every Life Situation is to Serve Christ”

 

1 Corinthians 7:17-35

Our attention is often be focused on the situations we want life to be in, rather than trusting and serving God where he has us. Paul addresses this in the context of three conditions which were common to life in first century Corinth

1. Circumcision vs uncircumcision vs18-20

Circumcision was basically a distinction between Jews and Gentiles

To the Jews, circumcision was important; it identified them as God’s people

The cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles was a major tension in the early church

Paul points to obedience before God as the issue that matters most

Our identity is not to be of our culture, it is to be of Christ

Racism is anti-gospel

All people are brothers and sisters in Christ, or they are those who need Christ

2. Slavery vs 21-24

In Paul’s day, a third of the population were slaves; the church was a mix slave and free

This slavery looked different than what we think of in American history

However, slaves held the lowest social status and had no legal rights

Paul encourages slaves that our status is in Christ

v21 Paul doesn’t dissuade them from seeking freedom

But freedom and responsibility are ultimately in Jesus our ‘Lord’ v22

3. Marriage and singleness vs 25-35

Paul is responding to a question from them

He encourages them to consider remaining single

We saw last week in Ephesians 5, that Paul is not diminishing marriage

He is pointing out there are factors worth considering

vs 29-31 gospel timing is limited – we should live recognizing the world is passing

vs 32-35 marriage rightly requires a lot of attention; singleness is a worthy option

Marriage is meant to be fulfilling, but Christ is our fulfillment

Singles shouldn’t feel obligated to marry, or be pushed toward marriage

Our culture exalts dating, especially among teens; instead exalt their service to Christ

 

How do we bring Paul’s thoughts into our culture?

1. God has given you your life v17a

Your gender, geography, generation, ethnicity, family, body & abilities are from God

These are all intentionally ‘assigned’ by God to be our reality

Because of sin, each of these realities bring baggage with them: cultural habits . . family dysfunction . . financial struggle . . discrimination . . disabilities

These are part of our reality, but they are not our identity

Believer, your identity is in Christ!  The fullness of gospel promise

We are to live in our reality – according to our identity

Our agenda is the gospel; and where you are needs it

2. Your life is for God v17b

vs 17-22 Paul describes us as being “called” 8 times

We have a variety of roles:  parent, spouse, employee, volunteer etc.

Our status in all of them is “called by God”

The significance is that we fill every role for God

In your marriage and on your job, look to God’s approval, not yours

This means God’s Word shapes how you conduct every role

3. Contentment is based on God, not circumstances vs 20, 24, 26

To “remain in our condition” is not an absolute prohibition

The principle is that we should ‘remain content’

We get caught up striving for our dream house, our soul mate, the perfect job and perfect kids

  • We become insatiable
  • We are easily dissatisfied

But we have the perfect Savior, salvation, and eternity

  • So be joyful where you are
  • Be fruitful where you are

4. How do I know what to do with my life?

God’s answer is clear, He wants you to be a Great Commandment person!

The answers we want about our job, relationships, and location, are temporary and secondary

The circumstances of life will always be lacking without Great Commandment living

And with Great Commandment living, the circumstances will always be fruitful

SERMON LEFTOVERS 4.03.17

Is our thinking shaped by Christ?

 

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

 

Paul corrects their misuse of freedoms

1. Paul is probably quoting their words of defense in vs 12-13 

They were using their freedom from OT dietary law as cover for temple feasts involving prostitutes

v13 implies they were also pointing out that since the body dies, how it is used is unimportant

2. Paul corrects the starting place of their defense

Yes, we have freedoms in Christ, but our rights are never our starting place

God, and how we honor him is always our starting place (v12 what is “helpful”)

When we begin with our freedoms, they will “dominate” us (this includes activities we use for escape)

Whatever doesn’t place God in his rightful place, is trying to take that place

 3. Paul then corrects their view of our physical body

It’s true this body is corrupt and will pass away; but that is only half the story

v14 God raised Jesus’ body and He will raise ours!  God values this body He created

Great Commandment living calls for God to be first in all that we are – all the time

 

Paul brings in the implications of our union with Christ (vs15-20)

He gives 3 you-should-know statements flowing out of our union with Christ

God is always our starting place in life, and Jesus is our starting place with God

 1. You should know that you have been joined to Christ (v15)

This is why the gospel is so powerful and our confidence in it is so great

If you’re a member (part) of Christ, think how obscene it is to take part of Christ into sin

When God is not our starting place, we minimize the great truths we have in the gospel

2. You should know that sex has a covenant purpose (vs16-17)

The world doesn’t start with God, so sex and its implications are only viewed physically. God gave sex to build a unique oneness in marriage. Its effects are more than physical

Just as we become one flesh in marriage, we are now one spirit with the Lord. This makes sexual immorality especially corrupting to us. It abuses what has a spiritual purpose

3. You should know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (vs19-20)

When you engage in sin, you take the Holy Spirit with you

When God is not our starting place, we think that our sin is a personal issue. God says no! 

v19 “you are not your own” – you are responsible for you, but you are not in charge of you

v20 you were bought with a price” – God became flesh, died, and took the wrath we deserved, our debt is great

 

What can we learn from the attitudes in this passage that seem culturally foreign to us?

1. Cultures change, but their foundational motivations don’t

Every culture exalts itself, rather than God; only the church is cross-centered

Keep in mind chapters 1-2, the world’s view of wisdom is upside down

All thinking, attitudes and opinions, no matter how culturally common, must be sifted by Scripture

2. Any defense of sin requires foolish self-deception

We can easily look with distain on the Corinthian’s behavior and defenses

Yet, every sin in your life is just as indefensible (this includes sins of omission)

Every argument you use to minimize your sin is contorted and foolish

3. Paul gives us two unchanging actions of godliness

#1  v19“Flee sexual immorality” (and any other form of sin)

Recognize that sin is dangerous . . we must go in the opposite direction . . with urgency!

#2  v20 “Glorify God in your body”

We don’t “flee” aimlessly!   We have a direction and it’s toward the person of Christ!

To glorify not a vague idea, it’s specific actions of making God far above all

This includes glorifying him “in our body”. So let’s “do” what shows God that he is far above all!

THE LIFE WE NEVER EXPECTED

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Book Review by Debbie Huber

“The Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children With Special Needs”

Knowing that I have a special interest and love for people with special needs, Kyle bought this book for me to read on my Kindle. As an occupational therapist I want to have a better understanding for the struggles of families with special needs. 

But this book is much more than what I expected. I believe that what the authors have to say will help all who read it have a better understanding of the goodness and dependability of God and His sovereignty over suffering. 

The authors, Andrew and Rachel Wilson, have two autistic children. The children were both meeting their normal developmental milestones until the age of three when their development started going in reverse. This is called regressive autism. Their challenges are many and they share their pain with raw honesty however this is not just a book about children with disabilities…

This is a book about God. 

I was expecting anecdotes about being parents of autistic children.  But in the midst of sharing difficulties and humor, the reader is pointed to the Gospel.  They share their journey to find that God is all sufficient through it all.

For example, the Wilson’s ongoing, earnest prayer is to get a full night’s sleep. That has not yet happened for them which is physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. Andrew says that “I think the greatest single challenge to my prayer life has been the fact that so many prayers for sleep have gone unanswered.”  But he has learned that even when we do not know why God is not answering our prayer, we can still trust him and be thankful. 

Andrew was having a particularly frustrating and angry evening while praying for healing for his children and feeling that nothing was changing.  Not knowing where to go in prayer he started to pray the Lord’s Prayer. 

“I talked to God and meandered through parts of the Lord’s Prayer I had never seen that way before.  God heard me. I heard God.” He says, “I remember… that praying for healing and blessing at this point, after spending a while responding to God’s love, knowledge, glory, and beauty, meant that my prayers for the children were framed in a right attitude of trust and security, rather than a sofa-thumping anger and frustration.”

Their perspective of God’s grace is so encouraging.  Andrew and Rachel know that they have so much and deserve so little which brings them to a place of humility and gratitude. 

They have begun to notice even the smallest milestones or graces from God every day.  They have chosen to celebrate God’s grace in how much they have and how little they deserve so bitterness is rooted out and gratitude thrives. 

Sometimes we want to “redeem” the story, to write our own happy-ending, to glorify God in the way that WE think is best.  But God’s timing and His ways are often very different from ours. 

Rachel shares a lesson which stood out to me in a new way: 

“So I have to remember: the story is not mine to save.  The pressure to write a story that makes sense of what has happened to us, as acute as it can feel, must be resisted; God is the great storyteller, the divine happy-ending maker, and I’m not.  I am a character in God’s story, not the author of my own, and it is God’s responsibility to redeem all things, to make all things work together for good…(including)every single thing that the curse of sin has touched or tarnished.”

I highly recommend this book to everyone who wants to love and trust our God more.