He Reads Truth (Judges): Deborah Judges Israel

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I have the privilege of contributing to He Reads Truth, a website of whose purpose is “To help men become who we were made to be, by doing what we were made to do, by the power and provision that God has given us to do it, for the glory of Jesus Christ.” They do this by providing scripture reading plans accompanied by reflections that can be accessed for free online or purchased as print books. For those of you looking to engage scripture in a fresh way, these studies/plans will refresh your soul and engage your mind.

What follows is one of the pieces I wrote for the Judges reading plan. You can find the full plan HERE.

 

Day 4: Deborah Judges Israel
Judges 4–5, Job 19:25–27, Psalm 68:7–10

There’s about a foot of distance between our head and our heart. And there’s only about four to six feet between our heads and our feet. But it takes so long for obedience to go that distance! Too often I understand God’s commands and priorities in my head, but I fail to feel their importance. I may know what God has spoken, but I’m slow to put it into practice.  

Sometimes this is a problem with the way I think about leadership too. I can wrongly think that the person who is the most articulate--the one who seems to hear God’s voice most clearly--is a great leader. But true leadership doesn’t just hear and speak. It puts words and faith into action (James 2:14-26). Barak didn’t have any issues with understanding God’s command to deploy Israel’s troops. He and Deborah both heard God speak (ch. 4, v. 6). But what held Barak back from true leadership was his lack of courage. He wasn’t brave enough to act.

I have sympathy for Barak. It’s hard to step out in faith when circumstances are stacked against us. From a merely human perspective, Barak’s mission was doomed to failure. God told Barak to deploy his troops on Mount Tabor, but the mount was exposed, bordered only by the Kishon river basin, which was dried up most of the year. If he’d deployed his army there, Sisera’s chariots could easily surround them and cut off their escape. This was a suicide mission. No wonder Barak found God’s command so hard to obey!

But in spite of the odds, Deborah and Jael boldly trusted God. Their courageous leadership succeeded where Barak’s petered out (ch. 4, v. 9).

Deborah boldly summoned Barak. She reminded him about God’s promise of victory. And, when he continued to cower, she bravely went into battle with him (ch. 4, vv. 6-10). God honored her faith and fought for the Israelites. From chapter five, we learn that the Lord poured down rain, causing flash floods that trapped the enemy chariots (ch. 5, v. 4). As a result, God threw Sisera and all his charioteers into a panic before Barak’s assault (ch. 4, v. 15-16).

Then, as the enemy Sisera fled on foot, Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, offered him a place to rest. Inviting the general into her tent was a risk. Sisera had hoped to carry off Israelite women after the battle--“a girl or two for each warrior”  (ch. 5, v. 30). He could easily have taken advantage of Jael sexually before he fell asleep. But God honored Jael’s courage (and quick thinking!) by delivering Sisera’s life into her hands (ch. 4, vv. 17-22; ch. 5, vv. 24-27).

Where can we find courage like Deborah’s and Jael’s? Where do we find the kind of obedient faith that is willing to go to risky, vulnerable places in obedience to God’s call?  This kind of leadership only comes from looking to the invulnerable God who made himself vulnerable for us. God’s own courageous mission teaches us courageous leadership. The Father loved the world and sent the Son. The Father and Son send the Spirit. The Spirit forms us as his church and calls us to courageously participate in his mission to the world. Even when we languish in courage, God promises to sends his Holy Spirit like abundant rain. He revives us, so that we can leave behind what hinders, step out, and boldly obey his Word (Psalm 68:9).

Kids and Church, part 4: Obedience over Knowledge

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Before jumping in here, read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

“… Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15b ESV)

When it comes to discipleship, it’s important to stress obedience over the accumulation of knowledge. This is especially true when it comes to your own kids. The temptation for parents is to simply give them the facts of faith, forgetting that the facts don’t lead to faith. Being able to apply those facts to real life is what obedience is.

But how do we teach them to obey? What concepts do parents need to keep in mind when it come to disciplining their kids? Here are three:

1. Teaching

Teaching will always play a role in discipleship. It has to. Those being discipled need to be taught correct doctrine. Without proper teaching, they are likely to be “tossed to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14) by anything that sounds close to truth. And, when it comes to teaching, parents need to remember it’s about more than mere information. We don’t just need our kids to remember a bunch of facts, but rather to help them see why the truth we are teaching is important.

To do that we have to break down the information into its three components: the precept, the principle, and the command. By precept, I mean the action or conduct that is being proposed through this teaching. By principle, I mean the rule by which that action or conduct is connected to the teaching. By command, I mean the authority behind the teaching. All three are necessary for teaching to be truly effective. Without all three components what is happening is not discipleship; it ends up being moralistic behavior modification.

2. Advising

To this kind of teaching, advisement or counsel must be added. In order for advice to be most effective, it must be personal to the person, their situation, and their stage of life. This is where we help those we are discipling to apply the teaching to their lives. While there are always general ways Scripture is applied to our lives, there are also specific ways it applies in the here and now. Helping those we disciple find those applications puts them on the path towards obedience.

3. Modeling

The final kind of teaching is modeling. Discipleship is most effective when the disciple-maker lives out what he is teaching. As we model what we are learning and teaching, those we disciple see how what they are learning is applied everyday. Obedience on our part can inspire obedience on their part. 

It’s not just what we teach them that’s important, it’s how we teach them that will bring about real heart change and the sort of obedience that is the mark of true faith. This is food they need as well as the kind of feeding Jesus expects.

The Jesus Way or The American Way

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
— Philippians 3:20
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Growing up I was enamored with Superman! (Let's be honest. I still am). And Superman was for truth, justice, and the American way! Superman shaped how I saw America. Superman was the greatest superhero ever. So, if Superman endorsed "The American Way," count me in.

But recently, my fond memories of the phrase, "The American Way," have been challenged. As I've watched the news and scrolled through Twitter, I've begun to ask the question, "What does the phrase 'The American Way' even mean? I am not necessarily trying to make a value judgment about whether or not America was great, is great, or will be great again. Certainly there have been things in our history... like slavery and 'abortion on demand' to grieve over. There are other historical movements like the Great Awakenings and the modern missions movement we can celebrate. But this is beside the point. The first question I'm asking is, "What is 'The American Way'"?

When asked this question, here are some of the answers people share. The characteristics and values that make up the "American Way" are: innovation, individualism, power, capitalism, freedom, "me first." So, now I ask, "If this is the "American Way," is this the "Jesus Way"?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
— John 14:6 (ESV)

In the Bible, Jesus calls himself the way, the truth, and the life. "The Jesus Way" is exclusive. He is the only way to the Father. Jesus's exclusive claims as our Lord remind us that, as Christians, we are not of this world. We are citizens of another realm.

And as we follow a "Jesus First" policy, we are changed into his likeness. C.S. Lewis put it like this:

Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life, we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call "good infection." Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else. 

As we are formed into little Christs, God will use us to shape and form others to walk in his way. This certainly requires taking responsibility. We can—we must!—take responsibility for the way we live and work in our homes, neighborhoods, places of work, and the public square. We must not permit the culture to dictate the way we go about our lives. 

Being formed into the image of our Savior is also a powerful way. But the power is not ours. It's the way of the cross, where God demonstrates his power--not through our ingenuity or our political or financial strength--but through our weakness. 

One of tools God has used to challenge my thinking about "The American Way" the book, The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson. Peterson highlights Jesus' way of humility. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:1-7:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

"The Jesus Way" is preeminently a way of humility, compassion, empathy, and serving others. As we celebrate the birth of our nation later this week, many of us will have more time with our close family and friends. Each day, we'll have choices before us. Will we choose a "me first" policy or one that is characterized by humility and servanthood?  It is great to be proud of the country we live in. But, this week, let's take pride pride in our new kingdom, the one that surpasses all we experience here.

Longing for likes: How to capture the hearts of Gen Z with a greater love.

The message appears on the big screen: “Please silence your electronic devices.” And amazingly the people obey. Moments before, they were texting, tweeting, and posting pictures on Instagram. But now they’re putting their phones in airplane mode. Ironically, the middle school girl, an iconic representative of the most tech-savvy, hyper-connected generation in history, is elbowing her dad: “Put it away. The show’s about to start.” When they go to the theater, even Generation Z, the iGeneration, stops to sit still. They’re transfixed by a story.

Tech-savvy, hyper-connected Generation Z

This largest segment of the population is longing to be affirmed, to be loved. The trouble is that they’re seeking love where it cannot be found.

Generation Z is everywhere. According to Lifeway’s Facts and Trends, those born between 1996 and 2014, ages 4 to 22 at the time of writing, now make up 24.3 percent of the U.S. population. That’s more than millennials (22.1 percent), Gen X (19 percent), and baby boomers (22.9 percent). This largest segment of the population is longing to be affirmed, to be loved. The trouble is that they’re seeking love where it cannot be found.

Just log in, and you’ll see.

Born at least a decade after the advent of the Macintosh, kids today have never known a world without the internet or cell phones. Pew Research reports that 92 percent of teens go online daily. And it’s no wonder. Technology training starts early these days. Code.org boasts that it has engaged 10 percent of all students in the world through its Hour of Code campaign. This means that a growing number of the middle school kids in church youth ministries are already skilled with Java; they’ve been learning to code since elementary school. Most kids have to go online each day to get their homework done. It doesn’t matter if she’s part of a homeschool co-op or attends a public school, the average Gen Z kid is familiar with applications like Google Classroom or Canvas. She uses them to take quizzes, submit and access assignments, and participate in class discussions.

Looking for acceptance online

Online is the place kids go to perform. And nowhere is that more true than in the world of social media. My grandfather’s generation sat at the breakfast table reading the morning newspaper. This generation gets up to check Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. It’s a new reality that requires an evolving social skill set. Danah Boyd, sociotechnical researcher for Microsoft Research, Data, and Society writes about the complicated social lives of networked teens. She explains how teenagers form a social identity online by managing their friends’ impressions. Boyd writes:

While what they present may or may not resemble their offline identity, their primary audience consists of peers that they know primarily offline—people from school, church, work, sports teams, etc. Because of this . . . teens are inclined to present the side of themselves that they believe will be well received by these peers.

In other words, today’s teens, through their use of social media, are doing what kids have done for generations before them; they’re trying to fit in. The number of comments, likes, and follows a teenager has—like the clothes he wears or where he sits in the high school cafeteria—communicates something about his social standing. What’s different for Gen Z kids is that smartphones have made this social pressure portable. As a result, the work of managing friends’ impressions online can become a full-time job.

A generation longing for justice and love

Many Gen Z kids embrace managing their platform with a passion. You can see it in the perfectly angled selfie sticks that capture faces aglow in the sun. The likes and love from friends bring confidence and pleasure. But the joy isn’t all self-indulgent. Being so connected socially has had the added advantage of helping many Gen Z kids develop empathy, realism, and a sense of purpose. The growth of the online world has exposed them to more diverse friendships, connecting them with others from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and cultural experiences.

They are also more aware of suffering and the world’s brokenness. Most Gen Z kids have grown up since 9/11, and they lived through the Great Recession at the end of the last decade. As a result, they’ve experienced the realities of war and financial loss in ways that touch them personally—family members who are disabled veterans or parents who lost their jobs. In light of these diverse experiences, Gen Z kids are largely tuned into social concerns, such as climate change, sexual abuse, human trafficking, the refugee crisis, and racism. Hashtags like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter tell the story. Generation Z is “woke,” and they’re looking for an opportunity to make an impact.

But for every Gen Z kid online happily posting selfies or crusading for social justice, there’s another who has been a victim of cyber-bullying or who has grown disillusioned. “Likes” come to be superficial. And if voices of justice remain online and unheard in day-to-day life, they seem superficial too. Many young people just feel overwhelmed—unable to process their emotions in the face of a world of hurt. Rising self-harm and suicide trends testify to the fact that it’s just too much for many Gen Z kids to handle. The world is not the way it’s supposed to be. And for kids who are sensitive to this truth, every news cycle can be experienced as a new wave of grief.

Generation Z’s passion for affirmation, acceptance, and justice reveals something that’s true about every generation. We’re all made for more. Both the joys we experience in this life as well as our unfulfilled desires reveal deep longing for the consummation of God’s kingdom. C.S. Lewis wrote about it decades ago in Mere Christianity:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

Gen Z is longing for covenant love and kingdom justice that transcends their daily experience. They’re looking for commitment that’s more lasting than a social network can offer. They’re looking for a place where the work of justice is done and not merely talked about. How do we help this generation see that there is a Love that’s better than life (Ps. 63:3)? How do we help them see that true justice will one day roll across the world like ocean waves (Amos 5:24)? How can the church help Gen Z see that what they are longing for really exists?

Capture their hearts by living the story

It’s tempting to think that the only way to reach a hyper-connected generation is by making our youth ministry environments look more like a theater—more wired, gamified, and image-rich. Some might say, “If we want the kids to put away their phones and tune in, we should take them to the movies.” There’s an element of truth in this, of course. Youth pastors should be mindful about using effective communication methods. If you want the announcements to be heard, it’s helpful these days to post them on Instagram with a slick banner or photo. And video clip sermon intros can be more engaging for the YouTube generation.

But if our goal is to make disciples of the next generation, we’ve got to do more than capture their eyes; we must capture their hearts. Doing so will involve more than grabbing their attention then lecturing them about biblical truth—more than merely preaching the propositions and principals of Christian theology with engaging images. Gen Z needs to see a church that has been captured by Jesus’ more compelling story. We must show them that Star Wars and Marvel have nothing on Jesus:

  • Jesus’s story shows kids that their worth is not tied to comments or likes. They are valued as image bearers of the Creator King. If we truly believe this as a community, then we’ll honor the younger generation by inviting them to participate in the life of our community as equals. This begins with the children. Give them jobs to do at church outside of youth and children’s ministry events. Let the children pass out bulletins. Invite a middle schooler to sit beside a seasoned saint in the nursery holding babies. Invite young men to help set up chairs before meetings begin.
     
  • Jesus isn’t unaware of the world’s brokenness or our own. The Bible invites us to engage with a world that’s more contemporary than we sometimes care to admit. Invite Gen Z teenagers to open their Bibles to narratives from the Judges and Kings. Help them see that political egomaniacs, religious pluralism, and the kind of sexual confusion they encounter in their friend groups doesn’t take God by surprise. They see it all on social media. Don’t be afraid to show it to them in the Word. And don’t be afraid to confess your personal and corporate sins as well. Gen Z kids need to see a church that is actively repenting from racial discrimination, maltreatment of immigrants, and a lack of concern for the poor.
     
  • Jesus shows us a redemptive love that transcends superficial experiences. Gen Z kids need to hear the story of a brown-skinned Middle Eastern man who bears the wrath our misplaced love and social injustice deserves. This man, our Jesus, stood starkly against a superficial culture. A bold church that loves and knows him, will stand out today as well. It will be socially awkward at times. Calling out cultural sins, talking about hell from the pulpit, and practicing church discipline are nearly always socially awkward. But that’s exactly the kind of transcendent community Gen Z kids need to see.
     
  • Finally, Jesus promises a life that fulfills this generation’s deepest longings. Jesus promises us that true love can be found; one day, justice will be done. Gen Z kids need a maturing church that actively pursues these kingdom realities. Empowered by the Spirit, we must increasingly reflect the kind of multi-cultural, justice-loving community we’ll encounter when the kingdom comes (Rev. 7:9). So, invite the next generation to walk beside you as you do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Bring the teens along for a housing renovation project. Invite them to serve with you at a homeless shelter or crisis pregnancy center. And encourage college students to take advantage of opportunities to go on mission overseas or apply for a justice internship with a group like Love Thy Neighborhood.

This hyper-connected, hyper-concerned generation in on a quest for transcendent love. With bold love and kind invitations, let’s show them their value and invite them into a better story. Let’s help them put down their devices and find deeper satisfaction in Jesus.

This post first appeared at erlc.com