With the new school year I have started a new teaching series titled Chaos to Creation: Our Identity, Value and Purpose in God's Greater Story. My hope is that our students can see that ultimately they belong to a story that is bigger than themselves, and that story is not about them. It's about Jesus. And being linked to Christ's story is far greater than having to make your own. God's bigger story gives us real identity, value and purpose. Without Jesus there is no meaning to life. With him there is everything! And this brings FREEDOM. Because it doesn't depend on us...but rather on Christ. And that is a surety we can stand firmly on!
What do you do when you feel like you are heading straight into a storm? I recently drove across the country to Denver, CO for a wedding. Toward the end of that first leg, as I was leaving Kansas and entering Colorado, a monster storm developed in front of me and I was driving straight into it. I could see at least one funnel touching down and I was surrounded by lightning and strong wind. It was crazy! Some cars had even pulled over to the side of the road to wait it out.
I feel like this often happens in life. We are faced with a huge life storm and it can shackle us in fear and cripple us. Being in this storm made me think of my own life storms and how I face them...how they can become paralyzing. When I was little the biggest storm in my life was my shyness; my utter terror of people, places and situations I was unfamiliar with. My senior year of high school I had to face the storm of injury and possible ruining of my baseball career. Fear crippled me and caused me to question who I was what my purpose was.
What is your storm? What is it that causes you to freeze and fear and doubt everything about who you are?
Identity, Value and Purpose in God’s Bigger Story
Galatians 5:1 tells us that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” And that is so that we may no longer be bound to the yoke of slavery. This is huge news! Jesus set us free so that we could be free. So that we could understand freedom fully and live in that freedom daily. This is almost a "duh" statement from Paul. Christ set you free so that you could live in FREEDOM. Stop living in fear and bondage.
Here is the first step. Our freedom is in what Christ has done, not in what we do. Only He frees us to live fully.
Because God’s bigger story tells me that while I matter, I am not the point. It would be foolish to say that the entire existence of the world revolved around us. But we live it.
The summer of 2010 I was in Hollywood, CA and happened to run into the filming of NCIS: Los Angeles on Hollywood Blvd. Somehow I was able to step into the scene and become one of the background extras for this particular scene of this particular episode they were filming. Once the show aired I was able to see the back of my head for about half a second...which was still cool I guess. But it would have been outrageous if I believed that this whole scene was about me. Even more outrageous if I believed the entire episode, season, and series was about me. And crazier still if I advertised it to everyone I knew..."this show is about me!" But that's what we do. God's greater story tells me that I am a character, but I am not the hero.
How is that freeing?
That is liberating because when we become the hero of our own story, life is a tragedy. If we take a look at our true selves, the me nobody sees, how we really act and think...we see that we make a terrible hero.
In Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years he defines a hero as: "A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it." That can only be said of one man. Jesus. Jesus is the hero that we need. He is the only hero that can tell us "It is finished."
Where is the hope?
1. God’s bigger story gives me an identity by telling me that because Jesus was extraordinary I am free to be ordinary.
2. God’s bigger story gives me value by showing me I was rescued and adopted by the Father because of what Jesus did for me.
3. God’s bigger story gives me purpose by reminding me that I have all I need in Jesus so I am free to live a life of sacrifice with boldness.
In Galatians 6:15 Paul stated that “…what matters is a new creation.” Nothing else. But He is the one who creates. He is the one who takes life's storms and renews, redeems and restores.
After I drove through the storm in Colorado there came a point where the sun reflected through the clouds the most amazing shades of red, orange, and pink. It really was remarkable how the sky and the entire landscape changed color before my eyes. The once menacing storm became a beautiful masterpiece in moment. It was stunning. Our Creator is stunning. Once I passed through the storm I came to a view that I just had to stop and marvel at. The picture at the very top was taken in this moment. I got to see firsthand a stunning example of new creation. Knowing that God desires to bring about a new creation in our hearts, minds and bodies can crumble the paralyzing fear we face when huge storms come our way. Fear comes when we hope in ourselves. Peace and joy come from trust in a hero who says" It is finished."
The Hunger Games...youth culture's latest phenomenon. And quite possibly largest. Opening weekend for the new Hunger Games movie sold more tickets than the first Twilight movie did in its opening weekend. And I'll tell you this much, nearly every kid I know LOVES this book series. The first time I heard about these books from some middle schoolers I was struggling to understand what made them so appealing. I wondered if this was just another Twilight fad...but then some 9th grade guys told me the same thing, they loved the Hunger Games, best books they ever read. And then I heard the same thing from college students...these books were awesome.
So I read them. And just like that I was hooked. I will attest that this is an incredibly well written series, with plenty of twists and turns, including both romance and action and an overall good story. However, the books are quite violent and somewhat descriptive, including children killing one another in gruesome ways. Once I read it I was surprised that so many young kids have read this book and liked it so much. Personally, I would recommend this read to mature high schoolers, with the knowledge that there is some graphic stuff in these books. I would also encourage reading through these books together with their parents or at least having an awareness of what is being read so that conversations can be had.
The movie did not disappoint me. In fact, I was thankful it was not true to the graphic violence of the book so that it could be suitable for a broader audience. I really enjoyed the thematic interpretation of the book played out on film. And the way in which they did it pushed at the heart of the book; the underlined meaning of which Suzanne Collins was intending. The Hunger Games is meant to go after our culture and and specifically our love of reality TV. The Capitol, a bunch of appearance driven consumers who make a religion out of the Hunger Games like it is the Olympics. The de-humanizing the kids of the Hunger Games, and specifically Katniss, experience is intense and absolutely despicable for the reader. But isn't that what we do as we watch TV...following Survivor, or the Bachelor, or even sports games and politics. We objectify what is projected to us on the television and take the humanity out of individuals involved.
I don't need to go on and on about this...but there was one specific scene where Haymitch looks out of a window to see a Capitol family dressed in crazy garb, whose dad gives the kids some toy weapons. They get all excited and start mock fighting with each other. I couldn't help but think at that moment "I'm a member of the Capitol, I'm just like them." There are so many ways that I dehumanize individuals all around me, and if I'm not careful the media surrounding me will only aid in the tearing down of others the elevation of my own personal "life-bubble". The world revolves around me right? No...no it doesn't. Who knew the Hunger Games could be a light bulb above my head?
This Spring I have the fun opportunity to be the Assistant Baseball Coach at Normal Park Upper and it's been a blast! I enjoy being out on the ballfield with a bunch of kids who don't view baseball as the entire significance of their life yet...though one does need patience for middle school baseball.
Last Thursday, we had a game against another school and we had been losing the whole game. It was the bottom of the last inning and we were down by 3 runs and we were in the midst of a sweet comeback, bases were loaded with no outs. The other team was losing hope and their fans, who had been pretty loud and obnoxious thus far, were getting a little restless. So they decided to get up on the fence and heckle me as I was coaching at first base. Finally, something was mentioned that really demeaned our character which really got to me. So I calmly glanced over at the bleachers and stated, "Come on, that's an unfair statement." Which just opened up room for more uncalled for remarks.
That got me so frustrated. These people were saying crazy stuff that had nothing to do with baseball. They were clueless. And my desire to be validated boiled up within me until I couldn't handle it anymore. I'm Ben Loderhose...I played baseball all my life...I'm legit...I know what I'm talking about...
I had to win. I had to be validated. I had to prove my worth. That I was better than them.
Needless to say, that conversation went no where. And I soon realized that it did me no good. It actually had the reverse effect. So I just had to suck it up and take the verbal ridicule. I had to lose.
We ended up winning the game which was exciting. But all I could think about was my innate desire to be validated. To prove myself better than others. Why is that my natural tendency?
There is something within us that tells us that winning is better than losing. It is a very natural feeling. No one has to tell us that it feels better to win than to lose. We know it. And we constantly live life in the attempt of winning. We self-protect and self-promote because our greatest fear is that others will view us as failures...that we will be seen as nothing, worthless. So we fight against it. We fight hard. Whether it's in our attempts to please man or the more acceptable attempts to please God, it is all under the banner of self-validation. Whoa...yes, it's true. Our moralism before God can turn from glorification of God to glorification of man in an instant. The more we fight to win, the more we experience failure. Winning feels good, but it never lasts. And we are left isolated and alone. So we come up with other ways of winning worth, indentity and purpose for ourselves. Ultimately, we destroy ourselves.
But the beauty of our story is that if we are united to Christ OUR story is HIS story. Colossians 1:13-14 tells us that "the Father...has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Wow! The father has qualified us for the kingdom of the Son! We were once unqualified and are now qualified...once useless and now useful (Philemon 1:11)!
Why? Because Jesus won for us. Because Jesus won, we can lose...because he succeeded, we can fail...because he was extraordinary, we can be ordinary. Because we live under the banner that proclaims "It is finished!" we no longer have to fight to win. We already have victory in Christ. We have eternal and ultimate validation. "Freedom happens when we finally concede that we can't fix ourselves." (Tullian Tchividjian) That is what Jesus came to do...to "set the captives free" (Luke 4:18)
As I drove home from the baseball field last Thursday it struck me...the depth of Jesus' suffering. The God of the universe took my tiny little baseball game heckling times one million and went to the cross with you and me in mind. If anyone deserved validation it was Jesus. Yet he took the loss so that he could defeat death and sin and give us victory. It's Gospel freedom. And it's beautiful.
This week I'll be teaching on Paul's letter to Philemon and more specifically Philemon's slave Onesimus. I'm always blown away by what Paul writes in verses 4-7:
4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
Paul writes that Philemon has "refreshed the hearts of the Lord's people"...wow! What an encouragement. I often find myself wishing that in ministry our deep "love for all" the kids and our "faith in the Lord Jesus" would be a "joy and encouragement" not only to the youth and their families and the church, but to our city. Oh, what would it look like for Salt Life at North Shore Fellowship to be a refreshing experience for our Covenant families...AND for Chattanooga? I want our prayer to be that we would refresh the hearts of the broken, needy, poor, helpless, oppressed, sinful and sinned against. And through our love and faith God would "deepen our understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ."
At the Paideia Conference this weekend I was reminded yet again of how broken and empty and poor Chattanooga is. Some stats were thrown out that were shocking, such as: Hamilton County Schools have some of the worst graduation percentages in the nation...the infant fatality rate among African Americans in Hamilton County is worse than Ecuador and Paraguay (and those aren't abortions)...there were much more like that.
Where is Jesus in Chattanooga? How are we refreshing the heart of our city? I want our vision to look toward how we can do this better. Please be praying with this in mind. Ask God to work in and through us and create opportunities for us to love our city well. If you can think of ways we can do this better let's talk about it. I would love to hear your thoughts and input.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
5 which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
The ordinances of the LORD are sure,
and all of them are righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
I saw this movie a couple of Saturdays ago when it first came out in theaters. I'll be honest, I wasn't too excited about it and I didn't have very high expectations. However, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience in the theater that day. I found myself being drawn into the story...and there was a good story going on. The movie was more than a man standing on a ledge with random flashbacks. There was action and a beautiful look into the desire for redemption. And there were exciting twists along the way; including a nice little zinger at the end. It almost had a little "Ocean's Eleven" flavor to it.
As far as family friendly content goes there is a little bit of language to be concerned about...typical from a PG-13 action film. And there was a scene of a scantily clad woman for a few seconds, which was pointless to the story. There is also a slight bit of violence strewn throughout the movie, but nothing too intense.
Like I said, this movie surprised me. It is actually a pretty good film; one that gets your heart pumping and your mind circling. if you're looking for a fun movie to watch with your more mature high school students, this could be a fun one. Especially if you are seeking out the redemptive aspects of the story...and there are a lot if you are looking.
Well, those are my thoughts on "Man on a Ledge"...but I'm no movie critic. Hopefully it can be helpful in some way.
Sunday morning I taught Sunday school in the absence of Will Joseph (whose son was being born) and honed in on the topic of Words. I had just been a groomsman in my buddy's wedding the day before and was struck by the power of words. "I do", "I now pronounce you husband and wife", and Will Joseph's circumstance spoke to me..."It's a Boy!" We make such grand pronouncements and large statements with our mouths. Beautiful words that relate purpose and identity and calling. With those same mouths we tear one another down and shatter the image bearerness in those around us. James 3:2-12.
God spoke creation into being. That is a very important distinction. "let there be light" genesis 1:3. and with words he spoke to adam and eve and made a promise and covenant with them. But Adam and eve eventually believed the words of the serpent and shattered their perfect unity with God. So god made another covenant with them. and in John 1 we read that "the word became flesh." God's promise became reality. Jesus, in the flesh, is the reality of the spoken word. He is the answer.
I've been blessed to make several short term trips to Greece while I worked at Covenant College. On one trip we were visiting the ruins of Corinth and our tour guide was explaining some ancient greek context of the New Testament. At some point he and i got on to the topic of John 1 and he said to me, "you know, the Greek word Logos means so much more in our culture and context than just Word. the Logos is the being, the essence, the entirety. When we look at logos we are actually looking at the whole essence of a being, in completion. Jesus was the logos, not just the word but the completed word of God. Jesus as logos means he fulfills all things."
We have failed in how we use our words...that doesn't need much explaining. James 3; ephesians 4:29. We have failed and will continue to fail. The beautiful news is...God's word never fails. His promises are true and powerful God has made a promise and covenant with us and God's word does not fail. Where we have failed, God brought redemption in His word, the Word, the Logos, Jesus Christ.