Monthly Archives: September 2016

“Prayer for Racial Reconciliation”

“Prayer of Racial Reconciliation”

By Dr. Bob Stouffer, Upper School Principal

Southside Christian School

Simpsonville, South Carolina

Monday, September 26, 2016


Over the weekend, I received an e-mail from a Southside Christian 7th grader whose heart ached for the racial unrest and division which exists in the U.S., most recently in Charlotte.


He asked if I would call Southside Christian to prayer, in this regard.


I am only too pleased to do so and I certainly regret that I had not been more proactive in my own leadership.


“Our Father [in heaven] cares deeply about racial diversity and unity, and as His sons and daughters, we should care deeply, too.”  (Anthony Moore, The Village Church, 10 January 2016)


In Colossians 3, Paul wrote, “. . .there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”

To the Ephesians, Paul wrote, that Christ “has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” (Chapter 2)


In that context, Paul was referring to the dividing wall which existed between Gentiles and the Jewish people, but isn’t the truth as applicable to the races?!


Please join me in prayer:


“Lord, on behalf of Southside Christian School, I confess my own sin.  I am a part of a majority race, and I have not always understood or tried to understand the perspectives of people from other races. 


“Jesus, you are the great agent of reconciliation.  I pray that You will soften our hearts and make us see not the color of people’s skin, nor their ethnicity, but, rather, their infinite value in YOUR eyes.  All of us are a part of the human race, descended from Adam and Eve.  An infinitesimally small percentage of our genetic make-up is related to skin color, and we know, Lord, that skin color really means nothing to the character of the person. 


“Gracious God, we thank you for making one human family of all the peoples of the earth and for creating all the wonderful diversity of cultures.

“[We beseech you to] enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship and show us your presence in those who differ most from us.

“Forgive those of us who have been silent and apathetic in the face of racial intolerance and bigotry – both overt and subtle, public and private.

“And take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts.

“Break down the walls which separate us.

“And help us to find that unity which is the fruit of righteousness and which will enable us to become your beloved community.

“Empower us to speak boldly for justice and truth and help us to deal with one another without hatred or bitterness, working together with mutual forbearance and respect.

“And work through our struggles and confusion to accomplish your purposes. . . .”

[adapted from “Sabbath of Support in Opposition to Racism,”]

I pray that Southside Christian is a leader of racial reconciliation in the Greater Greenville area.


I ask these things in the mighty and matchless name of Jesus the Christ.



“In Our Church”

I have seen a large enough number of examples at Eastside Presbyterian Church of Greenville, South Carolina to know that Pastor Mark Aufforth “leaves it all on the field” when it comes to leading worship through song, prayer, and preaching.  Such was again most definitely the case on Sunday, September 25, 2016.  If you would like to read my summary of and editorializing about his morning message, “In Our Church,” please read on. . . .

“In Our Church”

From a Sermon Series, “Helping One Another Follow Jesus”

By Pastor Mark Aufforth

Eastside Presbyterian Church

Greenville, South Carolina

Summary of and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Upper School Principal, Southside Christian School, Simpsonville, South Carolina

Text:  Ephesians 2:1-21

We are helping one another follow Jesus in our church.

We could spend a year in Ephesians 2.  The chapter is rich with great theological truths.

Let me pray that this imperfect man could deliver the truth of the Bible this morning.  May the Word of God be real in our hearts, affecting the depths of our souls — that we would understand [and live-out] the truth that salvation is wholly from God..

Three pastors got together for coffee.  All three had problems with bat infestations in their churches.  One pastor tried to use a shotgun, riddling the sanctuary ceiling with bullets but not solving the problem.  Another pastor trapped the bats alive and released them a distance from the church, but the bats beat him back to the church.  The third pastor said, “I no longer have a problem with bats.  I baptized and confirmed them, and they haven’t been back since.”

Ouch!  Is that the church?!

We look at God as one who can tweak our bad habits.  Most people in the culture would view Christianity as “behavior modification.”

Is this what Christianity is all about?  Yes and no.

We ARE healed by His stripes, but Christianity is so much more.

Adam plunged mankind into sin.  We are all dead in Adam.  In our dead state, we gratified our sinful desires.  We did whatever seemed right to us.  We could do wonderful things in our dead state, but we were doing what seemed right TO US.  It’s self-gratification.

Becoming a better version of ourselves is a false description of Christianity.  You can’t “dress up” dead.

An excellent illustration of that truth happened when I was 10 and living in Chile.  I was walking by the window of a home, and I could se a pyramid of flowers.  At the top of that pyramid was a baby in a beautiful dress.  The baby was dead.  People were mourning and crying.  They wanted her to look as though she were not dead.

We were dead in our sin. You don’t tweak dead!  So what did God do?  He made us alive in Christ!  The old man is dead.  We are new men and women in Christ.  He raised dead people!  And the life we now live is by faith in God.

Jesus shows us the model through His Resurrection.  [Adam sinned.  Everyone died.  Jesus lived and did not sin.]  He was the new Adam.  [He died.  He rose to life again!]  As a result, WE live again!

So what does that mean to us?

We have a new citizenship with God’s people.  

We are a part of a new reality, a new citizenship, and a new Kingdom.  This Kingdom supersedes all other kingdoms.  We have more in common with other Christians in the [most remote places of the] world than with our neighbors who do not know Jesus.  Knowing Jesus transcends us to a new fellowship.  Jesus is our King, because He has raised us from the dead.

What are the implications of that truth?

We’re not “home” yet.  We are aliens in this world.

How does that change us?

We are anxious about who will be our next President.  But we are citizens of a new Kingdom and King.  Our King calls us to respect authority and to be His hands and feet in the world.  The results are with Him.  We get uptight about controlling this world.  Following Jesus gives us confidence.  We are called to love well.  Jesus first, and everything else comes below that.  Only in Jesus can our souls be satisfied.  We are new creatures.

We are members of God’s household and family.

What does it mean to be in God’s family?

We have a glorious future!  Jesus is our brother!  We are royalty!

How does that change our walking-around lives?

We are the temple of the Holy Spirit!

We so often make Christianity individualistic.  It’s all about us.  Individualism has permeated our culture — and the church.  But we, as Christians, are gathered together as the church!  We are a holy temple!  There’s something that happens when we are together and not alone!

[In the American culture, we place so much emphasis on the family.]  You can divorce your spouse, but you can’t divorce your kids.  We idolize our kids and our families.  But that’s not biblical.  We’ve got to teach our children to be part of a body!  In Christ, the whole body is joined together, and God lives in that body of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit!  Peace, joy, love, unity, commitment, and power [are the results].

The family IS a critical element of Christian maturity.  But the nuclear family is not the most important element [of God’s plan].  We can raise our children, yet not help them to see their place in God’s Kingdom.

Church can be seen as optional.  I’m not talking about church attendance.  I’m talking about how we can help one another follow Jesus.  And an important way to do that is to gather as the church.

Remember Ephesians 5?  Christ presents His church as holy and blameless.  We [at Eastside Presbyterian Church] cannot escape that truth!  Jesus gave His life for the church!  The church is our new family!  We’ve got to think that way.

It’s not easy to be with people who are not like us.  Typically, churches gather people together who are alike, with common affinities.  But Christ weaves very different people together in His church.

We are new creations in Christ.  How shallow it is to be bound together by only those things which we have in common!  Do we get this?!  The call of God is to relationships with people who are NOT like us!  Do we avoid certain people even in our own midst?   God takes us to the point of discomfort — “perpetual discomfort.”  Don’t you love that?!!

We put the old man to death!  We live to Christ!  [By so doing] we see other people, who are different than us, as new creatures in Christ!

Can you imagine a church where people find complete acceptance?!

Can you imagine a church where people are honest with each other?!

Can you imagine a church where the ties are so strong that the relationships can’t be broken?!

Can you imagine a church where people are willing to be uncomfortable?!

Jesus got slaughtered so we could be in unity as the church.

Can you imagine a church that truly helps everyone to follow Jesus — and to love each other well?!!

There’s so much more to be said.

But that’s the Gospel.

And the Gospel changes everything!

“Serving God in Our Present Lives”

On Thursday, September 22, 2016, Pastor Colin Urbanick, Director of Discipleship at Southside Christian, challenged the Upper School students in their respective chapels to not just live for eternity but, rather, to be Kingdom advancers now.  If you would like to read my summary of and editorializing about his message, “Serving God in Our Present Lives,” please read on. . . .


“Serving God in Our Present Lives”

By Colin Urbanick, Director of Discipleship/Campus Pastor

Upper School Chapel

Southside Christian School

Simpsonville, South Carolina

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Summary of and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Upper School Principal


When I was a kid, the question I always heard was “What do you want to be when you grow up?”


I want to hear from you.  When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?


[Middle School students:  Teacher, scientist, military, President, police officer, large animal veterinarian]


[High School students:  President, a year-long life guard, garbage man to ride on the truck, truck driver, an archeologist]


We have dreams.  When I was growing up, I told people that I wanted to be a space man — an astronaut.  I thought it would be cool to float in zero gravity and to play with water suspended in the air.


I have a love-hate relationship with that question — “What do you want to be when you grow up?”


I love that we dream big, but that question also keeps us from being present where we’re at.  We get lost in that question.  We are too forward thinking.


The question should be “What do you want to be right now?”


It’s an unusual question.   We have a problem being fully present in our culture.  We love to be forward thinkers.  We think about what’s next.  “I’ll start tomorrow” is a common comment on our part.  We push things off.  Anyone in the room a procrastinator?  [Several hands went up.]. I struggle with procrastination.  Some of you are already thinking that you’re ready for the chapel to be over.


Technology is too often a part of people on dates, who are eating dinner, and who are both on their phones!  Lauryn and I like to observe other couples, some of whom won’t say five words to each other during their dinner together.


I can’t stand people watching concerts or fireworks through their phones [and not directly experiencing the event].


What do you want to be today?  What do you want to be right now?  What do you want to be known by now?


This is an age-old problem.


You should have brought your Bible to chapel.   Turn with me to Luke 18:18.


Jesus has been on a kick of the Kingdom of Heaven.  In all of His teaching, the Kingdom is present in the midst of His people through Himself.


This is a famous story.  Don’t tune this out.  It’s Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler.  This man would have been knowledgeable of the law and well respected in his community.


The young man asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He’s forward-thinking.  He wanted to know his future.  This is not an unfamiliar question.  We ask, “How do I get to heaven?”  He wanted the golden ticket for heaven.  We have probably all asked that question in our lives.


This guy is struggling with being fully present.  He struggled with the same issues we struggle with today.  This guy was more concerned with the after life than his present life.


Jesus told the man that he knew all of the right things to do according to the law.


The man reported that he had kept all of the law from the time he was a boy.  He checked off all of those commandments.  Jesus had set him up for the win.  So he thought.


But things turn here.  Jesus told him that he lacked one thing.  He told the man to sell everything he had and to give his money to the poor.  Then, he should follow Jesus.  Jesus told him he needed to be concerned about his present life right now.


The young ruler was wealthy.  He became sad.  He walked away.  He was very wealthy. [He wouldn’t follow Jesus.]


We love to give this guy a hard time.  He was rich.   We think his wealth was why he couldn’t follow Jesus.  But that’s not entirely true.  There are wealthy people who are very generous with their financial resources.  He was not willing to give God his present life.  He was only concerned with the after life.


Jesus told the disciples that what was impossible for man was possible for God.


Peter told Jesus that they had given up everything to follow Jesus.


Jesus responded that his disciples must give up everything today for the kingdom of God.


We are are too afraid to give up our present lives, because we want to be locked-in for our after life.  We are paralyzed about giving up the fun of our present lives.


I had a friend who wanted to speak into the life of a young man who had ended up in a juvenile detention home.  He gave up his senior year to enroll in that school and minister to his friend.  He had an incredible impact on his friend and others on that high school campus.  He influenced the present life in a powerful way.

When I realized I was only giving God my after life, I realized I was cutting God short for what he could do with my present life.


I wanted to be a male nurse after all of my positive experiences with multiple surgeries and procedures.  I could make a lot of money.


That all spun on its back when I was a sophomore in college.  God wanted something different from me.  He wanted my present life.  I wept over that possibility.


I decided to give my every day life to God.


Before I came here, I was a Pastor in a church.  I had decided that I would give every decision to God.  I sensed that God was calling me away from what was comfortable and what I knew.  I had good friends.  I had a church that loved me and Lauryn.  God snatched me up to something entirely different.  I am privileged that He called me here to do this work.


You and I are “called” people.  If you give your life to God, it will not be boring.  But we delay our love for God.  We’re “engaged” to God, but we do whatever we want.  We are [basically] saying that we will get “married” in 80 years.  We think we can lock up things now and be good for eternity.  We give God our eternal life but not our present life.


Some of you have experienced this present reality with God.


God wants to do something incredible in you today.  God has sent us onto the mission field in this present age.  He wants to transform your every day life, your homes, your churches, and your school.


I have a better question than “What are you going to do when you grow up?”


My question is “How is Jesus present and active in your life here — today?”


Can people tell the difference between you or every-day people on the street?  What separates you from others who do not know Jesus?  Do your lives look identical?    Have you changed as a result of your relationship with God?  Have you committed your present life to Jesus?


Spend some time with God, and give Him your present life.  Tell Him you will do anything for Him.


Has God shaped some of your life, but not all of it?


Make a connection with your small group leader, pastor, or trusted adult; and make your commitment to living for God in your present life.  God wants to use you NOW.  Don’t wait.  God wants to do an incredible work in our lives now, if we are willing to be submitted to Him.


“The Holy Spirit and Following Jesus”

I love a Pastor who delivers sermons in attempts “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”  Pastor Mark Aufforth loaded both of those barrels and penetrated my heart in his “The Holy Spirit and Following Jesus” message at Eastside Presbyterian Church on Sunday, September 18, 2016.  If you would like to read my summary of and editorializing about Pastor Aufforth’s message, please read on. . . .

“The Holy Spirit and Following Jesus”

By Pastor Mark Aufforth

Eastside Presbyterian Church

Greenville, South Carolina

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Summary of and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Upper School Principal, Southside Christian School, Simpsonville, South Carolina

Text:  Romans 8:1-17 (The English Standard Version)

Life in the Spirit

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Heirs with Christ

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry,“Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

That’s heady stuff, isn’t it?   This is complicated.  We can’t help one another follow Jesus unless each of us [individually] knows how to follow Jesus.

Richardo Lockette, in 2014, broke his neck playing in an NFL game.  At the point of his injury, he was completely helpless and dependent on everyone, as he lay on that field.  He had been to 3 Super Bowls in a row.  Prior to his accident, he had dreams of a 7-room house and other possessions.  A year later, he was able to walk again, and he reflected back on his situation.   Physical possessions now meant nothing to him.  All that mattered to him was his family.  He retired from the NFL at 29 years of age.  He realized how temporary life is.  [The temporary brings no lasting pleasures.]

We need to keep “The Main Thing” the main thing.

We need to put to death the misdeeds of the body.  We must fight against sin.  We are to be done with the old nature.  But how do we do that?  By the power of the Holy Spirit, of course.  But we need an explanation of that.

Let’s look at two things today — (1) “The Main Thing” and (2) “The Endless Fight.”

What is “The Main Thing”?

Paul starts with “The Main Thing” in this passage of Romans.  He condemned the sin-nature and living according to the flesh.  We have a new identity in Christ.  We are “in Christ.”  We belong to Christ.  The law was powerless to save us.  We had tried to measure-up to God’s expectations in the law.  But all of us fail.  And the law condemns us over and over.  So God sent His Son as a sin offering.  God condemned sin in sinful man.  Jesus took sin on Himself in order that the righteous requirements of the entire law might be fully met.  [As a result] We are sinless in God’s sight.  There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.

That’s “The Main Thing.”  We are in Christ.  There is no condemnation.  This is called justification.  We are declared righteous [through the work of Christ on the cross].  There is no condemnation.

And the promises didn’t end there!  We are God’s children!  We cry, “Abba!  Father!” and He receives us!  We can’t mess that up [as devoted followers of Jesus Christ].

My younger daughters still call me Daddy.  I hope that never changes.  It’s tender.  No matter how angry I might get with either one of them, I am still Daddy, and I still love them.

But we forget.  We live like orphans, as though no one cares for us.  Yet we have this declaration from the Father.  He loves us.  He does not condemn His children.  This is “The Main Thing,” or we go off on tangents in our lives.

What is the problem in our Christian life?

Justification brings a one-time, once-for-all change.  Sanctification is a life-long process.

The “old man” is still there.  It’s like a headless chicken which is still moving around!  We need to see the shackles of our sin fall off.

We confuse justification and sanctification.  We too often believe justification is in jeopardy [because the old nature rears up].  But there is no condemnation!  He [Jesus Christ] who begins a good work in us will follow it through!

Let’s talk about “The Endless Fight,” then.

Christ raised us from the dead and gave us new life.  But we fight  [against that truth].  The old man is dying.  Our new nature loves Jesus, wants to know Him more, wants to follow Him.  If you can’t say that, you’re probably not in Christ.  For the person who is in Christ- who has received His forgiveness–the new nature allows us to follow Christ.

The old nature rears up.  We get proud.  We want to go our own way.  We are struggling.  We have to put our old nature to death.  We must not follow our sinful desires, which is “the road to death.”

Let’s say as an example that we start experimenting with “recreational” drugs.  We do harder drugs to get the feeling we experienced initially.  Pretty soon, we’re addicts.  That is no life!  We can say this about any addiction in life.  Addictions take us down a road of selfishness.  The pursuit of anything other than Jesus — that is the road to death.  Addictions even to really good things can take us down the wrong road.

So how do we put the old man to death?  In other words, what does sanctification look like?  There is much debate about this.

One camp says, “Obey.  Stop the misdeeds.  Develop better habits.”  That’s one camp we can call “The Mortification Gang.”

“The Grace Crowd” tells us, “Trust God and pursue Him.  He loves you!  Ask God to change you.”

The Grace Crowd calls the Mortification Gang “legalists.”  The Mortification Gang calls the Grace Crowd the “antinomians” (against the law).

Who’s right?  Is it completely physical [this change we’re going through in the process of sanctification]?  or is it completely spiritual?

The answer is “Yes!”  It’s both-and.  Both are true.  We can follow either one of those paths and forget The Main Thing.

There is no condemnation.  We are loved.  This has nothing to do about whether God loves us.  He loves us.  That is a set truth.

When we forget The Main Thing, the mortification side leads to arrogance.  We change our habits.  But changing those habits has nothing to do with us.  [Any positive change comes as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work.]  Change of behavior has nothing to do with our hearts.  We can do the right things with blackened hearts.  Also, if we can’t do enough to rid our lives of our technicolor sin, we can engage in self-loathing, because we can never live up to the law.  It’s about the heart.  Our behavior follows our heart.

On the grace side, we can forget that Christ died for us, and grace can become what we want it to be.  That’s cheap grace.  We forget what we were saved from.

I waver between self-loathing and cheap grace.  That’s quite a continuum, isn’t it?!

Justification is 100% of God, resulting in heart change.  The “have to” changes to the “want to.”  That only happens from the power of the Holy Spirit.  We must receive the Holy Spirit to believe what we hear about the Gospel, The Main Thing.  The Spirit comes because we believe the Gospel.

We can be proud of our own efforts.  We can be depressed when we believe we will never measure-up.

Justification was not cheap.  Justification was “expensive.”  It was bought by the Savior’s life!

I struggle believing this.  I would guess that you struggle believing this, too.  We don’t see unconditional love, and we see sin sticking-out all over the place.  We cannot leave sin behind out of a sense of duty or guilt.

The only power of putting sin away is to realize sin has been taken care of by Jesus!  That’s the Gospel!  That’s The Main Thing!

God is not rejecting us as a result of our sin.

Running to Jesus is our only hope and power over sin!  This is the power of sanctification!  Run to Him!  Run to Him!  Run to Him!

Paul ends this [Romans 8] passage starting in verse 33.

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God justifies!  Christ died for sin!  Jesus interceded for us!  And He was raised to life!  No one [and no thing] can separate us from Him!  We are more than conquerors!  We need to run to Him, especially when our awareness of our sin is strong!

This is the Gospel!  And the Gospel really changes everything!

“Remembering 9-11-2001”

One of the Southside Christian School teachers suggested that we take a few moments to remember the 15th anniversary of the attacks on the United States in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and New York City on September 11th, 2001.  Such is wholly appropriate.  Let’s remember that day in prayer right now.  Please bow, and let’s pray.

Father God, we pause to honor those who lost their lives on 9-11.  None of the current Southside Christian students has any vivid memory of this day; many students had not even yet been born.  But we can still pray on this day.  Many of us do, certainly, remember the events of that morning.

Thousands of American lives were lost in the terrorist attacks.

We pray for the families who still grieve the loss of life on that day.  We grieve with them, Father.

First responders lost their lives in heroic attempts to save their fellow countrymen.  We praise you for their lives.

We praise You, Lord, for the spirit you put into the lives of men and women who rush into harm’s way on our behalf — fire fighters, police officers, medical personnel, members of our military.

We also pray for safety in the future.  Keep us safe from those who would harm us here and abroad.

We pray from Psalm 91:  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. . . . ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’  . . . A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but [destruction] will not come near you.”  (ESV, v. 1, 2, 7)

Our enemies — those who sought to persecute us — destroyed human life on that day in 2001.

Jesus taught His disciples to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them.  Today, we do what is only supernaturally possible.  We seek Your Holy Spirit’s power to love those who would want nothing better than to take our lives and our freedoms, and we pray for those who persecute us and other Christians in the world.

Lord, help us not to be hopeless, as we remember this senseless loss of life 15 years ago, but help our hearts to soar with hope in a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present, for we truly do dwell in the shelter of the Most High God, and we most definitely do abide in the shadow of a the Almighty, our refuge, our fortress, our God in Whom we can trust!

We pray all of these things in the strong and matchless name of Jesus the Christ.


“Follow Jesus”

Cheryl’s sister, Becky, spent a few days with us over this weekend, so the three of us looked forward to our time of worship at Eastside Presbyterian Church in Greenville on Sunday, September 11, 2016. A GREAT morning of worship it was! If you would like to read my summary of Pastor Mark Aufforth’s sermon, “Follow Jesus,” please read on. . . .


“Follow Jesus”

By Pastor Mark Aufforth

Eastside Presbyterian Church

Greenville, South Carolina

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Text: Mark 8:34


Summary of and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Upper School Principal, Southside Christian School


A young woman wanted to go to college. One of the questions on the application asked, “Are you a leader?” She did not see herself as a leader, so she answered, “No.” To her surprise, the college accepted her as a student, because everyone else had declared themselves to be leaders, and the college needed at least 1 follower!


We all want to be leaders – leaders who are recognized for our leadership. We want people to follow us.


But the essence of Christianity is “following.” Christianity is about following, not leading.


I just read a book about the Civil War. What struck me about that book was that soldiers must obey orders, even if the orders are counter-intuitive. Soldiers become good followers by following orders.


That’s Christianity. We learn to be good followers.


What does it look like to follow Jesus?


Following Jesus requires “death.” It’s nothing less than that.


The cross is a symbol. Many Christians wear a cross around their necks. We too frequently look only at the “benefits” of the cross.


But the cross was an instrument of cruel punishment in First Century Palestine. The death took hours. The death was grueling.  Jesus carried His own cross. He couldn’t make it [to Golgotha]. Someone else took up His cross.


His hearers would have understood Him talking about taking up the cross. He’s talking about death to our need to be in charge. Death to living life on our own terms. Death to always thinking we know what’s best for our lives.


The American Dream is a National Anthem of freedom to pursue opportunity – a dream fueled for generations.


But that simple notion has yielded something else. The American Dream has become a set of “consumer expectations.” The Dream has become the “Expectation.” An expectation of comfort.


This, too, has become the #1 issue of the American church.   All of us have our individual expectations for the worship style, preaching, and preacher. The expectations of our culture have flooded the church.


Just this week, in Chile, we experienced below-zero temperatures of winter. It was cold at night, even in the wealthier homes. That would not be a consideration for us [in South Carolina]. I praise God for comforts. There’s nothing wrong with comfort per se. But we have consumer expectations in America [that we will never be uncomfortable].


Frank Sinatra popularized the song, “My Way.” We need to die to expectations for “my way.” We need JESUS in all things. What we have, He gave to us. We need to live life not as though God does not exist, but to rely on Him in all things.


Let’s look at sin – not a popular topic. Sin is an omission or transgression committed against God’s law [and God’s character]. Sin does not just involve legal language. We need to talk about sin in “relationship” language. Sin is about our break in relationship with God.


Adam and Eve sinned by breaking God’s law. God had created, and creation was good. Adam and Eve were perfect. [Their relationship with God was perfect.] But they lost trust in God and thought He was lying to them. They saw God as the enemy – a liar.


Do you see how relational this is? They broke their relationship with God through betrayal. As one of my seminary professors used to say, Adam and Eve[essentially] grabbed God around the throat and said, “I want You dead!”


Life is good. We are comfortable. We want God on our terms. We want God to bless our agendas.   Both sides of the Civil War thought they were doing God’s work. Jesus says we can’t want God on our own terms to be His followers.   It’s not our agenda. Pursuit of self brings destruction.


We live lives which are not satisfied lives. We constantly pursue happiness. We can even pursue the goal of “better follower of Jesus.” We are “less than.” We want “better,” even with Jesus. We are discontented. We chase fantasies and idols. Fantasies and idols distract us from Jesus [and His abundant lives for us]. We think we know best.


And Jesus told us to deny ourselves, to pick up our crosses, and to follow Him daily. His is a genius plan for our lives. He wants us to experience the joy of FOLLOWING HIM. He uses good things and hard things to put us on a path of contentment which can come only with Him.


We struggle with this truth. We must leave our different circumstances WITH JESUS.


Our money is His – resources for His Kingdom!


Our time is His – to be with Him!


Our families are His!


We commit ALL to Jesus, and we seek only to enjoy Him!


We must seek Him morning, noon, and night!


He is eminently worthy! [For the joy set before Him] He gave his life for us!


Now, that’s a leader we can follow!


And here are His promises: We will find Him whenever we seek Him and follow Him. We should enjoy the promises He offers in the Scriptures. This is Jesus!


Pick up your cross and follow Him!


That’s the Gospel, brothers and sisters!

“SCS Spiritual Life Conference Summary”

I experienced my first fall Spiritual Life Conference (SLC) at Southside Christian School on Thursday-Friday, September 8-9, 2016.  The North Greenville University praise team led the students and staff in worship.  Stephanie, Joshua, and Matt of the AXIS ministry facilitated the worldview teaching and learning activities.  Nick Theaux, Dean of Students, led all of the activities.  Vivian Welkner, Dean of Women, and Colin Urbanick, Director of Discipleship/Campus Pastor, had major roles in the organization for and delivery of the SLC.   If you would like to read my summary of and editorializing about the SLC, please read on. . . .

Spiritual Life Conference
Southside Christian School
Presented by AXIS Ministries
Thursday-Friday, September 8-9, 2016

Summary Notes and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Upper School Principal

Thursday, September 8, 2016

[Mrs. Vivian Welkner, Dean of Women and one of the organizers of the SLC, welcomed everyone to the conference, indicating that the school had been planning and praying “for a very long time.”  The purpose of the conference is to “give you the truth of the Word.”  Time, resources, and expenses have been committed to the spiritual growth of students.  Satan would want to distract the students.  None of us should “stand in the way of the Gospel.”  She asked students to focus and quiet their hearts for the messages they would be receiving.]

[Mrs. Welkner gave all of the students an opportunity to pray alone to the Lord.]

[Mrs. Welkner prayed for the entire SLC experience.]

[Dr. Sam Barfell, Superintendent, indicated the priority paid to helping students in their walk with the Lord through the SLC, expressing a hope that every day would bring spiritual growth to the members of the SCS community.  He introduced the AXIS team and his experience with the high-quality ministry.  One of their tag lines is “From Apathy to Action.”  Dr. Barfell said, “Apathy is an insidious tool of the enemy to make us lukewarm and neutral.”  Another tag line is “Learning to Live a Life-Long Faith.”  Dr. Barfell expressed his hope that all of the students would walk with Jesus for their entire lives. A third tag line:  “The problem is not unanswered questions; the problem is unquestioned answers.”  We want answers to our spiritual questions.  Apathy causes us often not to ask questions about our faith.  “Joshua and Stephanie and Matt will be teaching simultaneously through a multi-media presentation; the delivery is fast-paced, and the content is so good,” Dr. Barfell said.

[Dr. Barfell prayed prior to worship with the North Greenville University praise band.

[Michael, a NGU representative, asked that the students and staff applaud for Dr. Barfell and to express their appreciation for Mrs. Welkner’s efforts with the SLC.  He introduced the praise band to the audience.  He asked everyone to answer two important questions:  “What is God saying?  And what are you going to do about it?”]

The NGU praise band played a worship set.]

[Stephanie kicked off the conference.]

We’re going to talk about stories.  We’ll look at a story you might enjoy.

[A clip of the movie Up was played, showing, in condensed form, a narrative of a married couple from meeting until old age, until the wife’s death and the realization that they had not experienced all of their dreams together.]

We showed you just 4 minutes of the first 8 minutes of the movie.  There was no dialogue.  You lock into the characters.  It’s really compelling.  Stories are compelling.

These sessions are called “The Threads.”

I am Stephanie.  One thing you should know about me is I love camp.  You should also know that my sister recently got married; I caught her bouquet.

My name is Josh.  This is me [as a child].  There’s a look of guilt on my face.  I was fascinated by toilet plungers.  I threw it around the house like a spear.  That was a long time ago.  Recently, I was in a really bad car pile-up.  I was in the hospital for 2 months.  Here I am learning to walk all over again.  The only difference between me and a toddler during this time was that I could talk.  I do not feel pain or temperature at half of my body.

Hi, y’all.  I’m Matt.  I’m from Michigan.  I love the word, y’all.  I grew up in a rural area of the state.  Here is my mountain bike.  I’d ride on dirt roads.  I went to college, and I continued to enjoy cycling.  This is a cycle-cross bike which runs $19,000.  NOT my bike.  I wanted to get a motorcycle.  My mom told me it was a terrible idea.  I bought one anyway.

We like random videos.  Enjoy this one.   [A windy day was blowing a mother duck and her baby geese on a beach.]

We’re going to work you through this storyboard of your workbooks.  If you are artistic, exercise your artistic abilities.  These visuals identify the concepts we are going to be talking about.

Stories are powerful.  We remember stories.  Why is that?  We live in stories.    We live in meta-narratives.   Truth is illuminated.

Stories build interest.

Tell someone your best “scar” story.  Where is your weirdest scar, and how did you get it?

[The students and staff discussed their “scar” stories in the stands.]

Meta-narrative means “big story.”  We’re going to be looking at story from 10,000 feet.

Stories have the ability to entertain.  Stories are captivating.  We want to watch and experience more.  Stories teach.  Stories illuminate something that is going on in our lives.  Jesus’ words are 35% story.  Stories warn us.  Experience is the teacher of fools.  How many of you have had something to drink which is awful?  We should learn from those experiences.

Stories guide us.  What’s going on in this picture?  The fox is below the tree.  The crow, in the tree, is holding a delicious cake.  The fox asked the crow to sing a beautiful melody.  The crow sang terribly, but he dropped the cake, and the fox was the benefactor.

Stories warn us.  Smokey the Bear warns us about forest fires.  He is a character in a story.  We respond to his call to prevent forest fires.

Every good story has six threads.  Setting, character, plot, conflict, crescendo, and resolution.

We want to look at the introduction from Romeo and Juliet.  I need a volunteer, someone who is dramatic.  [Laura Chapman, a sixth grader, volunteered.]

[Laura did a great job of dramatically reading the introduction of the play from the screen.]

We see the setting.  Shakespeare gives the entire story away.  We see characters.  We see the plot.  Conflict gets in the way of the story.  And resolution.  The introduction to Romeo and Juliet have all of the elements of a good story.

We want to talk about each of the threads.

We begin with the setting.  We learn in which world we are living.

[A video showed the setting of a Lego world with Batman and Alfred the Butler.  Batman did not want to talk about his feelings.]

The setting lets us know where we are.  In today’s world, I’m in a school.  I’m in a Christian environment.

The characters come next.  Some might say that people are “highly evolved animals.”  Christians say we are “image-bearers.”

[Another clip from Alice in Wonderland showed peculiar characters blowing force beneath the waters of an ocean.]

Characters don’t just exist.  They don’t just take up space.  A plot is important.  Why are we here?  Do our lives really matter?  These are important questions. We love plot.  I used to live for the plot of relationship.  Or maybe it’s friendship.  We see this in a song by Justin Bieber.

[A Justin Bieber song was played.  Lyrics were listed on the screen.  SEVERAL middle school girls knew and sang the words.]

I get a sense that you’re familiar with that song.  This song, “Cold Water,” calls you to drugs to deal with your troubles.  He is singing about being someone’s “life line.”  That’s part of his plot.  That’s what drives him.  That can be healthy or unhealthy.

Take a few moments to talk about what drives you each day.

[Students were given the opportunity to talk about that topic.]

What motivates you each day?  Is your plot a plot which can be taken away from you?

I ran a half-marathon.  During that season of my life, I ran a lot.  Running motivated me.  That drove me.  But I don’t want to make running the ultimate plot of my life, because, given a debilitating injury, running could be taken away from me.  Running was the plot during that phase of my life.

The conflict is when things get interesting.  Parents ask about your day and school, and you normally tell a boring story.   Conflict gets in the way of plot.

[Another clip of a movie was played, creating quite a buzz, especially among the middle school students.]

Aliens were coming.  Conflict leads to a crescendo.   Awesome stuff happens.  Will the boy get the girl?  Will the character finally get what he wants?  Does the Death Star blow up?

[Another clip was played of an exciting battle scene from the Star Wars series.]

We know that story.  The Death Star blows up.  That’s the peak of the story.

Resolution wraps the story up.  Things come together.  We love satisfying endings.

Spoiler Alert:  I’m going to show you the end of “The Hunger Games.”

[A clip from the movie was played.]

So, whether or not you wanted that to be the end of the story, it’s how the story ends.  All was right with the world.  She was still telling her baby about the horrors of the past.  She gave her own version of the end of the story.  Sometimes you have to deal with drama at the end of a story.

[Joshua:]. A story resolves.  And you don’t like the resolution.  My accident threw my story off. But that was part of my story.  I struggled with it.  If you experience struggles, you are not alone.  We struggle with our problems every day.  The Beatles told of that in “Nowhere Man.”

[A piece of “Nowhere Man” was played, with lyrics on the screen.]

Nowhere Man has no plot or nothing going on in his life.  We all struggle with and in our stories.  In “Shawshank Redemption,” Brooks discovered, upon release from prison, that his story was not as he expected.  He was released to a half-way house.  He took a job as a sacker in a grocery store.  He fed birds in the park.  He had trouble sleeping at night. He had dreams that he was falling.  He woke up “scared.”  He thought about robbing the grocery store to be sent back to prison.  He didn’t like his new life.  He decided not to stay.  [He hanged himself.]

Do you see why he struggled?  His new life of freedom was so different from his prison life.

Tolstoy says this:  “Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.”

We’re going to look at stories over the course of these 2 days.

Are you familiar with the story of Josiah?  Josiah had become king at 8 years of age.  He actually did a really good job.  His dad had been caught up in idolatry.  Josiah cleaned up the Temple.  The Israelites had lost track of their story.  Josiah wept in repentance.  He called the people back to God’s story.

You’re going to talk in your small groups about your stories.

Is the story that you believe the same story you are living?

[We released to small group discussions.]

[We returned for an activity period of small group bingo, trivia, and fun camp games, facilitated by Mr. Theaux.]

[We released students a grade at a time — ladies first — to lunch in the cafeteria, gymnasium, or outside picnic area.]

[We reconvened after lunch for the next teaching and learning period with AXIS:  “The Authors.”]

[Colin Urbanick calmed the audience, leading a period of stretching, and praying for the afternoon sessions.]

Have you heard the tale of the Mad Man.  He came into the marketplace.  He said, “I see God!”  Those who did not believe in God laughed at this Mad Man.  He said, “We are the murderers!”  And the people responded, “How did we murder God?!”  They spit into his face.  They said, “There is no up or down.  We are lost.  We stare into the nothingness.”  The Mad Man went into churches and said, “Are these not the sepulchre of a long dead God?!”  He walked among the people, weeping and groaning.  He said, “I’ll tell you where God is.  We have killed Him.  He is dead.  We have killed God!”

What you just heard was a portion of Nietzsche’s “Parable of the Madman.”  God is not dead.  We were quoting from a story of the world.  That story says that God is dead.

We want you to process the true storyboard.  We call this session “The Authors,” because we’re telling two stories about atheism.

If God does not exist, we write our own stories.

Why would we talk about things which are not Christian?  It’s important for us to know about the different worldviews of people all around us.  We should understand the Gospel AND the other stories in which people are placing their hope.  What’s their framework of reference?

In this session, we will examine Modernism and Post-Modernism.

“The Equation” — of Modernism — The world works through equation.

Balancing the good and bad in our lives balances our equations.

Each of these blocks represent the different facets of the world.

Modernism is all about clock work.  Everything has a place and order.  Everything fits into a system, much like a Rolex watch.

[A video advertisement for Rolex — “The Pursuit of Excellence” — was played — detailing the intricacies and order of clock design.  The oscillator was the heartbeat for the Rolex to “come to life.”]

Modernism would say that there is no watchmaker.  The world is a system of order.  Everything fits together and works.  Modernism worships the system.  We can’t monitor the unquantifiable supernatural, they say.  Modernism is simply the things in front of us.

[A clip from “The Matrix” was played.]

Even the things in front of us get hazy.  A system has been fine-tuned over a very long time.  The world is a very orderly system.  Draw a watch to represent that Modernism works for clock work.

Modernism purports that we are born with a blank slate.  We can build our own achievements.  We accomplish in our own power.  We are human “doings,” not human beings.

Stephen Hawkins has written so many books against religion.   His sense of hope in the world is not God; his hope is in no boundaries, no boundaries of human endeavor, limitless opportunities for success.  Performance is the character of Modernism.

Plot in Modernism is all about progress.  We keep achieving.  TED Talks include “ideas worth spreading.”  We can change the world through our ideas.  Knowledge is pooled, and we progress as a society.   We are always moving in a positive direction.  Science allows us to better understand the world around us.  Technologies are sold to make our lives better and to give us power.

[A clip of Napolean Dymamite was played.]

We have science, technology, and economics.  We spread this knowledge around the world to make it more accessible to the entire world.  We experience greater comfort.

[An advertisement for the “Comfort Wipe” was played.]

Look at how far are have progressed!  This is an actual product for $19.95!

Draw a staircase of knowledge in your notes.  We are pursuing knowledge, progress, and comfort.

What gets in the way of progress is conflict.  Tradition can get in the way of progress.  Religion is tradition.  So many people see religion as standing in the way of progress.

[A movie clip showed Jodi Foster encountering stereotypical representatives of religion standing against a world culture which wants to progress, but which religion opposes.]

This is Modernism to a T.

Conflict leads to a crescendo.  “The Overman,” an evolved form of man, will rule over all men with a new standards of morals and ethics.  Religion is no longer needed.  God is not needed.  This evolved form of man epitomizes Modernism.  On your story board, draw a icon for “control.”

Resolution of Modernism is victory and overcoming the world that has been holding us back.  Modernists seek to “transcend biology to live long enough to live forever.”

[A movie clip from “Black Ops 3” showed a man who would receive a new form of mental hardware.]

We overcome the conflict with technology.  Single-cell organisms evolve into humans and finally into robots.  God is dead.   We are progressing on our own.

[A clip from “The Avengers” featured Iron Man.]

Antiquated thoughts are holding us back, says the Modernist.  We can raise the world to a whole new level.  Such is what happened with the Tower of Babel.  The resolution to The Modernist’s story is that we have overcome the world.

The hope of Modernism is that we are heading in a good direction.  We are making progress.  There is so much hope.

[A clip from “The 5th Wave” demonstrated this hope.]

“It’s our hope that makes us human.”  Is this hope legitimate?   Is this hope based on truth?  Modernism does not explain the world in which we live.  Progress has created technologies which becomes instruments for death.  We experience alienation.  The world is fundamentally broken.

Post-Modernists declared the world has no order.  There is no meta-narrative.  We need to be suspicious.  The story of Modernism is broken.  There is no progress.

[A clip from “The Office” illustrated the absurdity of Non Sequitur interactions of people with no real purpose.]

The setting of Post-Modernism is all about chaos.  Nothing is constant.  Everything is changing.  Like a lava lamp.  The only constant is change.  Chaos is king.  Suspicion is king.  We all love Instagram.  But every time I pull up a picture, I present truth to another person.  If I don’t like the pictures, we put on masks, hide our true identities, and we can be suspicious of every one.

[A clip from Season 1, Episode 1 of “The Walking Dead” was played.]

We are suspicious of newscasts.  “That’s not real,” we say.

You can say anything with a smile.

[A clip of an advertisement featured a man bulldozing a playground to create a power station.  He smiles as he is doing this work in front of children who would rather be playing on a playground.]

I need an 11th grade guy.

[Joe Day volunteered.]

How’d you feel about Justin Bieber?

“I wasn’t mad,” Joe said.

You look like a real believer.  This is your name tag.

How do you feel about the abortion debate?


Dude, that’s too bad, because you’re pro-choice.

Where I come from in Michigan, we do not have Chick-Fil-A.  Chick-Fil-A or Zaxby’s?


Sometimes, Joe lives a creative life, with conflicting messages.  He can’t make up his mind.  Joe is super-confused.  Joe ought to be conflicted.  He is wrestling with conflicting views.  That’s the world of Post-Modernism.  He can like whatever music he wants and different music with different groups.  He can be whoever he wants.  He can be a chameleon.  “It’s all about me.”

[Jim Gaffigan, a comedian, did a funny routine about “self.”]

Welcome to the world of Post-Modernism [the world of me, myself, and I].

This is a funky world.  The world is broken.  There is chaos.  So what is the plot?  The plot is ultimately what YOU want it to be.  There is no purpose.  The plot is pointless.  There are no real eternal implications.  There are no standards by which we are judged.  You can still engage in destruction, as we see I this song, “Sucker for Pain,” by Lil’ Wayne.

My response to that song is “That is messed up.”  It’s a catchy beat, but the message is a common theme of a world messed up.  Even if the plot is bad for you, you can create that plot for yourself.  YOU are the reference point.

What are our preferences?  It’s whatever we decide for ourselves.  I cannot say that your preferences are wrong.  We all choose for ourselves.  That’s how our plots work.  I sat next to a guy on a plane recently.  He was “running away” from his family.  I asked him about what gives him hope.  Nothing gives him hope.  He chose his own story and purpose.  He had no meaning at all.  Nothing drives him.  Nothing motivates him.  A white crayon is the icon for representing no point.

What do I mean by absolute truth?  This is right, no matter how you feel or believe.

Post-Modernists create their own truths.  But there is tension and conflict in “truth” which is measured against actual truths.

[A clip from “The Lego Movie” illustrated no consistency of reality.]

Post-Modernism is “Cuckoo Land.”  There is no meaning.

The Genesis account of the account of a man sinning against God illustrates the suspicion created by Satan.  Eve questioned God.  Suspicion has been around forever. Questioning absolute truth has been around for a long time.

And, now, the crescendo of the story is that you control your own world.  Modernism exalts order.  Post-Modernism touts chaos and looking after self through pleasures and chemicals which numb our pain.

So how does Post-Modernism resolve?  Scientists theorize about an absolute void at some time.  How hopeful!  [Facetiously.]. How encouraging!  [Facetiously.]. Everything that is will disappear.  Bertrand Russell said that “The human edifice is doomed to extinction.”

Frederick the Bear of YouTube fears “nothingness” and “not existing.”  Everything comes and goes in a blink of an eye.  The sun continues on an “inevitable countdown to death.”  Everything will be annihilated.  What is the point of anything?!!  All is doomed to non-existence.

Why go on?  Everything is doomed anyway.  Anything involving humans — everything we have developed — has been doomed to extinction.  That’s “just what happens.”  So we should make the most of our time on this earth.  [Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrowwe die.]

Is this world — which has no meaning and is a world of chaos — is that the reality of the situation?  That sounds very depressing.  We can experience pleasure now, but what about our existence after death?

My Mom is a hospice nurse who has the opportunity to speak with people who are in their last hours and minutes.  Christians have peace.  Those who do not know Christ are terrified by their “existence” after death.

[A clip from “ER” illustrated this point of a man who fears death.  The nurse tells the patient that he can interpret after-life as he wishes.  He wants to understand the meaning of life, but she is giving him New Age thinking which gives him hope.  He wants answers, but her uncertainty only made him more upset.  He was running out of time.  He said, “I need someone who will look me in the eye and tell me how to find forgiveness, because I am running out of time.”]

We have no hope in Post-Modernism. We can’t choose for ourselves.  We want to understand absolute truth.  Is there hope beyond this life?  We’re going to talk about this hope tomorrow morning.

I’m not assuming everyone is a Christian here.  Post-Modernism and Modernism infect us all.  I want to give you some time to reflect upon how those two worldviews have influenced your behavior as a Christian.

[Students had 2 minutes to reflect in writing.]

[We took a 15-minute break.]

[The AXIS people asked everyone to remove their shoes and for the girls to sit in the back and the boys to sit in the front for this worship set and the subsequent teaching and learning activities.  The students complied.]

[The NGU Worship Team led the audience in another time of worship.]

“The Judge”

You have just sung about the character of God.  Truth.

Anyone understand why we are sitting in this way?

We went to a Mosque last week to experience this.

We have experienced a lot of misconceptions about Islam.  Our perceptions are influenced by images in the media.  Only 7% of Muslims agree with the terrorism.  Muhammad Ali once said, “There is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people.”

We’re going to talk about Islam and the misperceptions we have about the religion.

It’s so easy to make assumptions about people who are different than us.  It’s often a matter of differences in perspective.

You can go on the street and talk to Muslims.  Again, we’ll explore the threads of the story line in Islam.

The setting of Islam is the idea of the law.  Sharia Law  is very black and white.  You obey the law, and you are blessed.  You disobey the law, and you are cursed.  Muslims make the Shahada pledge that there is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his Prophet.

Readings from the Qur’an indicate that Allah is God.  We can make the assumption that the Muslim God is the same God as the Christian God.  If we continue in the holy book of the Muslims, Jesus is presented in a much different manner.  Jesus was not crucified, according to the religion of Islam.  There is no redemptive story of grace.  The law remains.

The character of Islam is “slave.”  There is a list of rules.  One of the rules is to pray five times a day.  Muslims are a slave to the law.  The postures are meant to respect Allah in  prayer.

“The Crescent Project” indicates that “Allah is our creator, and we are like his slave.”

The plot of Islam involves the law being in place, with observant Muslims and cultural Muslims.  There is a deep divide between the religious and cultural Muslims.

[A clip of Conan O’Brien interviewing a Muslim entertainer illustrated cultural Muslim observance.]

Islam literally means “submission.”

The observant Muslim (1) confesses Shahada, (2) prays, (3) gives, (4) fasts during the daylight hours of Ramadan, and (5) make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Conflict in Islam involves idolatry.  Around 77% of the world does not believe that Allah is the one true God, which is idolatry to the Muslim.

Look at this timeline of Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, and Mormonism.  Muslim is a more modern religion.

Look at the region of Mohammed’s time.  There were many religions.  Religion was tied-up with commerce.  Mohammed went into a cave to pray, and he said a “revelation’ came upon him.  He determined there was no other God than Allah.  Mohammed went back to Mecca with “the real truth.”  He was rejected.  He traveled to Medina, where he built a reputation as a leader.  The story became violent.  Mohammed and his followers went of raids to force belief in their beliefs.  The progression from peace to violence. can be seen in the Qur’an.

“Fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,” the Qur’an asserts.

There is a conflict and disunity within Islam for how to resolve the matter of peace or violence in this story.

The crescendo leads to “ummah,” complete surrender.  Religious faithfulness will lead to political success.  The church and the state are one in Muslim countries.

This flag belongs to Saudi Arabia.  The sword is accompanied by the words of “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.”  Religion and the state are one.  Peace is coming, but everyone in the entire world must become Muslim, according to adherents of the religion of Islam.

What is the resolution to this story of Islam?  Works define the Muslim and resolve their conflict.  Good deeds must outweigh bad deeds.    Whichever way the “scales” tip, you either go to heaven or hell. Muslims are afraid of that day.  Allah can change his mind, based on their works.  Here is an area in which Muslims disagree.  Sovereignty means uncertainty to the Muslim.  To the Christian, sovereignty means assurances of our salvation.  Muslims yearn for assurance.

Such is not the message of the Gospel.  We’re no longer a slave to fear.  We are children of God.

Pharisees became so much about the law and rules.  They brought a woman to Jesus; she had been caught in adultery.  Legalism emphasizes the letter of the law and appearances and judgment versus the Spirit and the heart and empathy.

[A video of a poor cinematography with dubbed-in humorous legalistic statements from Jesus was played.]

These filmmakers are making fun of people who make Jesus out to be someone who He is not.

The Pharisees were out to “get” Jesus.   He would not put up with this legalistic mindset.

We can’t just “check the boxes” of religion.

Are we supposed to believe that Kanya West has actually produced a Gospel album?  The first song gives us lyrics about a “God-dream.”  It may seem as though West is “finally a Christian.”  But he really hasn’t changed at all.   His is the “Gospel of Kanya,” not the Gospel of Jesus.

Which of these words describe Christianity?

Destruction, torment, crying, killing babies

Getting saved, healing, casting out demons, holiness, and saving grace

The first set of words come from Psalm 137.

We tricked you.  Look deeper than the surface of the Scriptures.  The Psalmist was going to God with his sin, so God can resolve the matters.

The second set of words are from a song by “Florida Georgia Line.”

We’ve got this song with all of the words we “want.”  People actually believe this is Christian music.  This guy isn’t loving God.  He is loving a woman.  It’s not holy.  I don’t like all of these words that are being used.  “Holy, holy, holy, holy” are used four times in a row.

Think below the surface, or, if we’re not careful, we will miss the bigger story.

Look at these words:  violence, alcohol use, sexuality

These words:  a close relationship with Jesus, God’s pursuit of mankind, the doctrine of election

Which of these sets is from the Bible?

The first set is from Genesis.

The second set are words from “Sonseed” [played by a cheesy 70s or 80s band].

We’re talking about Christian ideas and words.  What do Christians look like?

Is it a checklist?  That’s totally wrong.

We have to think deeper.  Scripture presents a real picture of people’s sin and God’s desire for relationship and man’s obedience and righteousness.

How does legalism affect a relationship?  We can check boxes of going to church and still decide to sleep together before marriage.  Are we co-dependent, selfish, supportive in relationship?  Are our behaviors reflecting the truth of the Word?   Everything can look good on the outside, but hearts are not right.

[Stephanie:]  When I was in high school, I really wanted a romantic relationship with a man, but it never worked out.  One of my friends always had boyfriends.  On the outside, I would have been described as a really good girl, from my behavior on the outside, but, on the inside, God was not first, and my heart was not right.

What’s our response?  Do we throw out all rules?  No, that should not be our response.  Christianity is characterized by rule and order so good things do not “run wild.”  God is not trying to rain on your parade.  He does not want to limit your success.  That is why He tells us that He knows what is good for us.

We must surrender to the Lord to experience freedom and flourishing in life.

What does God want?  What does He want for you?

I would like you to discuss those questions in your small groups.

The judge emphasized the law, slave, works, legalism.

Legalism says, “God will love you, if you change.”

The Gospel says, “God will changes us, because he loves us.”

We’ve talked about a lot of things in this session.  I want to give you a chance to process the afternoon in writing.

What is one thing you will refuse not to forget.  Write those ideas down within the next couple minutes.

[Students did so.]

[I closed the day’s activities by pointing out that, while I understood AXIS’s use of the word, “story,” I prefer the use of “narrative” when referring to the Bible, because the connotation with story can be fiction, and the Bible is truth, not fiction.  I also complimented the students who were highly engaged throughout the day, asking them to be patient about how the AXIS presenters, on Friday, would take a biblical worldview against the worldviews of Modernism, Post-Modernism, and Islam.]

[I prayed to close the day’s activities.]

Friday, September 9, 2016

“The Giver”

Yesterday, we talked for about several worldviews, and, today, we’re going to look at the biblical worldview, the most exciting worldview of all.

[A video featured an African-American man declaring the Gospel.  God breathed into man, and he became a new soul.  He was placed in perfect paradise.  Man lusted after God’s job.  The sin-seed sparked mutiny.  We were led away by our own lust.  How do we fix it?  We were eternally separated from God.  We couldn’t fix it.  God doesn’t need our help.  How can our debt be paid?  The problem is sin, a cancer, separating us from a perfect and holy God.  This is us.  We can’t spray cologne on a corpse.  How good is good enough?  Good deeds compared against perfection?!  Good luck with that.  Even our good acts are an extension of our selfishness.  We can’t fix ourselves.  We should quit trying.  Sin brings death and separation from God.  Someone had to die in your place.  God is the only one to meet His own criteria.  God sent God to pay the penalty for our sin.  He wrote a check with his life.  We cheer at the Resurrection!  God breathes new life into us.  We must put our faith and trust in Him.  We must stand in full confidence of God’s forgiveness.  We will come to perfect unity by believing in Christ and Christ alone.  We. . .receive. . .life.  This is the Gospel.   (]

That story is crazy.  It doesn’t make sense.  But it’s absolutely true.

Yesterday, we talked about story.  There are threads to all narratives.  We talked about authors.  According to Modernism and Post-Modernism, we write our own stories.  Modernists have such hope in self.  Post-Modernists talked about the void and chaos of life.  We also looked at Islam.  Muslims are slaves.  They see themselves as slaves to Allah to earn Allah’s mercy.

Today, we’re going to look at the narrative of Christianity.  Jesus spoke in stories, in parables.  Jesus was the greatest storyteller ever — telling the greatest story ever told.  We’ll look at three parables to see what they have to say about our worldview.

Jesus’ audience included sinners and Pharisees.  These people identified themselves in their lives as sinners and Pharisees.  The Pharisees were upset that Jesus was hanging out with sinners.  These are two extremely different groups of people.

[Josh read the parable of the lost sheep.]

This shepherd was tasked with watching 100 sheep.  If I’m a banker who loses a large quantity of money, I will lose my job.  This shepherd understands the value of not losing a single sheep.

I was a good kid.  I went to Christian school.  But I wandered through life.  I was pretty mediocre in my faith.  I played the trumpet in high school and college — for 13 years — but I was never very good.  I wasn’t devoted to trumpet.  I had leadership positions at school and in church, but I was never devoted to God.  I wandered.

Let’s look at the second parable.

[Josh read the parable of the lost coin.]

A lady is responsible for silver coins.  She’s apparently very poor.  She has to look for that lost coin. . . . The most important point is that an effort is made to secure the lost sheep and the lost coin.  In the same way, God pursues us, even when we are simply wandering around.

I was wandering around.  I didn’t care.  I was apathetic.  Then I heard a quote from Brennan Manning.  God asks each of us, “At the end of your life, did you truly believe that I love/d you?”  If I truly believe that — that God is willing to search for me when I am wandering — that ought to change everything about me.  I need to tell people about my faith, my worldview.  I need to be devoted [to God].

[Stephanie read the parable of the lost son.   Josh interrupted her at certain points.]

When does someone typically receive an estate?  At death.  The younger son is essentially saying that he wishes his father was dead.  He didn’t care about his father.  His father didn’t matter to him.  The father actually gave him the estate!  The younger son squandered his wealth in wild living.  He wasted every single dime.  He wanted pleasure, and he wanted pleasure now.  He was forced to work with the lowest of all animals, pigs, in the Jewish culture.  He had hit rock-bottom.  He purposed to return to his father.  He came to his senses.  The younger brother saw himself as a servant more than a son.  He returned to his father, who ran to him!  The father gave his best robe, a ring, the fattened calf!  He threw a party for him!

This story is about my life.  On the night of my accident, I had been at a party, engaged in sinful drinking.   During the 14 hours between the accident and my surgery, doctors did not know if I would wake up.  There was great uncertainty.  In the back of my mind, I understood that I had turned away from God to my own pleasures.  I had hit rock-bottom.  I was suffering.  I knew at that moment that I needed to get my life straight.  I didn’t believe I was worthy to be God’s son.  God would certainly not welcome me back!  I had done my own thing!  In the midst of that [crisis], God unloaded grace and compassion on me!  I woke up!  The odds were not in my favor.  I know of two other people in the United States with my same injury, and neither of them can walk.  God welcomed me back!  He gave me a feast!  It’s incredible to see God’s grace even in the past 9 months.

This first act was all about the younger son.  We need to talk about the older son’s story as well.  We see a window into the older son’s attitude.  Imagine one of your siblings taking a ton of money from your parents and then foolishly spending it.  You might think your sibling deserves judgment, but you see your parent throwing a party for him!  The older brother was really mad.  He said that he saw himself as more righteous than his brother.  The older son had been working in the field.  His work for his father was not out of a glad heart; he had been “slaving” for his father.  His work is an obligation.  He “has to” work.  He resented the party.  He had never even received a small party for his work.  He had never disobeyed.  He was righteous.  How does the father respond to the older brother?  He told his son that he had missed the point.  He essentially asked him to set his self-righteousness aside to celebrate his brother’s return.

I was the older son.  I was not arrogant but fearful before God.  I always felt like I had to perform.  I knew all of the answers at Vacation Bible Club. I was always performing.  I had to do well in school.  I felt like I was pretty good, but I still had a nagging fear that I wasn’t good or performing well enough.  I wanted to form the good habit of reading Scripture, but that reading became legalistic, a checklist.  I’d read 3 chapters a day, and I’d feel good; if I missed that activity, I’d feel shame.  I was slaving away for God.  I was seeking to earn God’s approval.  I didn’t feel as though I was a true child of God.  Such is the attitude of the older son in this parable.  The father had given his inheritance when he didn’t need to.  The father had thrown a party when he could have chided him.  The father also loved and welcomed his older son to the party.  This is beautiful.  I have learned the Father’s response.  I don’t believe I need to perform or earn my way to God.  My relationship is so much better than the religion I had built for myself.

[A video declared Jesus to be greater than religion.  A rap artist contrasted relationship with Jesus to religion.  Religion is just behavior modification with a long list of chores.  Religion is a “fake look.”  It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey.  We build facades of weakness.  Church is a hospital for the broken.  Jesus hated religion.  If Jesus came to your church, would they actually let him in?  Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums.  One is the cure; the other is the infection.  Religion says, “Slave.”  Jesus says, “Son.”  Religion is man searching for God.  Relationship with Jesus is God searching for man.  When Jesus was dangling on that cross, He was thinking of you, when he said, “Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do.”  It is finished.  He meant it.]

What is the setting of the Christian worldview in the parable of the lost son?  The setting is the village.  The characters are the father and the two sons.  The conflict is between the father and the sons.  The resolution comes from the love which the father lavishes on the younger son.  But the older son creates another conflict, with a crescendo and no resolution from the older son.

There are two very distinct ways to miss God. One way is doing all of the wrong things.  You can also miss God by doing all of the right things with the wrong motives.  If you had seen me in high school, you would have thought me a good Christian girl.  But I was doing all of the right things with the wrong motives.  I was operating out of fear.

This is actually the story we have been telling you.  The younger son was saying, “God is dead.  I’m going to live my own way.”  [He represents those who believe the atheistic Modern and Post-Modern worldviews.]

Think of the judge — Muslims before God.  They slave for God.  This is the older son of Jesus’ parable.

Think of the father.  He was the giver.

The younger son represented sinners.

Pharisees lined up with the law and the older son.

What is the hope found in these worldviews?  What is the source of hope?

In Modernism, hope comes from victory over struggles.

In Post-Modernism, there is no hope.  The world is broken and chaotic.

In Islam, the source of hope is works.  That’s terrifying.  Our works determine where we go after life on this earth?!

Where is the hope in Christianity?  Our hope is in the prodigal God.  God luxuriously lavishes resources on us.  His love is abundant.  His love makes no sense. It’s not based on what we are doing.  We are not worthy.  He calls us sons and daughters anyway.  The good news of the Gospel is that we have a party thrown by God when we repent and turn to Him.   If you’ve felt like a slave in the field, God still welcomes you into the party.  He’s crazy about his love for you.

Ask a question that is between you and God:  “How do you think God sees you?”  Do you think God is disappointed in you, and on what do you base that belief?   Do you believe God is pleased with you, and on what do you base that belief?

Think about these questions.  Process these questions.  These are important questions for the Christian life.

If you are a child of God who has repented and asked Christ to come into your life, He sees you as a righteous.  That doesn’t make sense [but that’s the truth].

If you believe you have it all together, you may not understand the Gospel.  We are all lost, destitute, and broken.  Only His Resurrection gives us hope.

It’s amazing to come from a Christian home and a Christian school.  But it’s easy to get apathetic about Christianity.  Real hope comes from this story of a Prodigal God.

“The Problem of Evil”

It’s been so much fun to be with you.

This morning, we talked about the worldview of Christianity.  Many people do not believe in Christianity because of the evil in the world, a common obstacle for people to become Christian.

[Lex Luther verbalized his thoughts about God in a video clip from “Batman vs. Superman.”]

David Hume came to the conclusion that there is not an all powerful God.

We believe that God is all-powerful.  We believe that God is both good and great.

We want to wrestle with this idea of evil, and idea which has been discussed for thousands of years.  It’s important that we address this issue at this time in your life.

“Everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the face,” the great philosopher Mike Tyson said.

Think of evil as a noun.  Evil is part of the world.  We all wrestle with evil.

[Talk about your definition for evil in 30 seconds.  The students did so.]

There’s no way you can figure-out the problem of evil in a thirty-second discussion.

If this ball of Play-Doh were all of creation, and I separate a part of the ball, it’s not so easy to separate good and evil.

Aquinas said, “Evil is the absence of good.”

Amanda Todd was in a relationship with a guy.  She sent inappropriate photographs through social media.  Another guy sent blackmail requests to her.  She attempted to commit suicide by drinking bleach.  On social media, people gave her advice about the proper substance to be successful in committing suicide.  This was atrocious.  Why the bullying?!  Where were the people who were there to support her?!   Evil can occur through action and inaction.

Some evil involves natural evil like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes — evil beyond our control.  Some evil is committed morally by human beings.

What’s more evil — natural evil or moral evil? Talk about that question with each other. [The students did so.]

It’s not an easy question.  Moral evil is evil because of a person’s choice.  Natural evil is challenging, too, because of a lack of control and the loss of life and property.

“If there is a God who is all-powerful and all-good, then evil would not exist.  However, evil exists.  Therefore, an all-good and all-powerful God does not exist.”  (David Hume)

We believe God IS all-powerful and all-good.  But evil does exist.

Some believe that evil is an illusion.  With the Modernist and Post-Modernist, evil is bad luck.

The biblical perspective is played-out in 5 acts.

Act I — Chapter 1 of Genesis — wholeness, satisfaction, justice, fulfillment, integrity, delight, and flourishing.  Shalom.  That’s how the world began.  This is unique to our Christian worldview.  God made a good world.  He declared it to be good.  He declared humanity to be very good.

What does it mean to be made in God’s image?  We have characteristics which are similar to God.  One characteristic, the Trinity, helps us understand how God was in relationship before all of Creation.  Father, Son, and Spirit were in relationship.  We were made to be in relationship with God.  Relationship is not contractual.  Can God make 2+2=5?  No.  That’s illogical.  [That conclusion does not match reality.].

If a man held a gun to my head to coerce me into dating him, could he make me go on a date with him?  Yes, the gun might compel me.  But he cannot force me, under my free will, to choose to date with him [absent the gun].

God gave us the ability to choose God or to choose not-God, which is evil.

Act 2 — Shalom is broken.  Everything and everyone is cursed.  Relationships broke down.  The origin of evil started with Adam and Eve.  Evil starts with us today.  Evil affects all of creation.  Creation is longing for wholeness again, but creation is still cursed.

Pause — Is God surprised by this?  No.  He understands evil.  An all-good God cannot tolerate evil.  Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave.  He found himself in a place of power, reuniting with his brothers.  [He forgives them and provides for his family.  “What man intended for evil, God can use for good,” Joseph said.]  The lineage of Joseph goes all of the way to Jesus.

We’ve just gone through a lot of intellectual terms.  Take a deep breath.

Evil is a personal, as illustrated in this scene from “Rectify.”  A friend has been falsely accused and jailed.

[Characters discussed this topic in a film clip.  God’s intentions are too big for human understanding, one of the characters said.]

Is evil cosmic cause-and-effect or random?

I have so many pleasant memories of camp.  This photograph gives me joy.  But the photograph makes me sad, too.  The camper on the far right died in an accident soon after this photograph was taken.  I had to wrestle with this situation.  I wouldn’t have wanted an intellectual argument.  It was a personal issue.  Why would God allow this to happen?  Because evil is personal, it has to be dealt with personally.

Act 3 — Promise — God called Abraham — all of the earth would be blessed through him.  Abraham and the Israelites were God’s people.  [It was personal.]. Men and women sinned.  We do face-palms when we read about how much God’s people failed.  But we all fail.  Failure — sin — are our problems.

[A video clip noted a number of different humorous failures.]

God doesn’t see us as failures.

Act IV — The Ransom — Jesus came.  He gave a marvelous act of self-sacrifice.  He followed the Father’s will.  And because of Jesus’ sacrifice, evil has been conquered.  We are victorious through Jesus.  But don’t leave the story.  The story is not yet “over.” God is still interacting with this world.  We still have unanswered questions at this point in the story.

Act V — Renewal — We’re caught between Act IV and Act V.  Death has been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus [on the cross and through the Resurrection].   Death, where is your sting?  (1 Corinthians 15). He will wipe away every tear.  Death shall be no more.  Tears shall cease.  He will make all things new.  The end will be exponentially better than the beginning.  But, now, we are stuck in the moment.

Like Job, we don’t understand why we experience evil and suffering.  Evil exists, and we don’t really know why it happens all of the time.  But we can’t say that God doesn’t love us.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  R.C. Sproul said that only happened once, and He volunteered [for bad things to happen to Him].  Jesus experienced horrendous evil.  The weight of sin was put on His shoulders.  Our God suffers with us.

My Dad owns a restoration business.  He empathizes with people who have experienced property loss.  He intends to make the space better than it was originally. God takes us in our broken state to a better place than we ever thought possible.

How can you be a part of God’s restoration right now — in your homes, in your relationships?

You’ve got to discover your purpose.  Life is not just about being saved and waiting for eternity.  Jesus talked about eternity.  But he talked more about what we should be doing RIGHT NOW.  We live in the “already-not-yet.”  We have victory, but we don’t have the full revelation of the victory.

Why do we still deal with evil if Jesus has conquered evil?  My Dad gave me an analogy.  He told me that the Allied forces invaded Normandy, and the war was coming to a close.  Everyone knew the Allied forces had won.  But there were still months of clean-up battles before all of the troops came back to the U.S.  Jesus defeated death, but we do not yet have the full manifestation of that victory.

Someone asked G.K. Chesterton what was wrong with the world.  He answered,  “I am.”  He didn’t mean he was responsible for all of the evil in the world.  But he recognized that we tend to think of evil as an outside problem.  Each of us is affected by evil through our own sin.  I could have done something good this week, but I chose not to do it.  That is sin.

Paul calls us to overcome evil with good, not just by being neutral or not participating in evil.  The world is messed up.  Each of us should do our individual parts to make a positive impact on evil in the world.

We may be able to answer all of the answers correctly on a Bible test, but, if we don’t act-out our faith, something is wrong.  We need to participate in God’s work on earth in our human lifetime.

A woman who felt that way was Mother Teresa.  She served the destitute with love and treated them with dignity when so many people left these poor people behind.  She felt depressed a lot of the time.  Mother Teresa struggled.  We are not the Savior of the world.  But we must do our part in overcoming evil with good, participating in God’s renewal of the earth!

“Spend Yourself”

Let’s take a super selfie prior to our last session together.

[Stephanie attempted the impossible task of photographing nearly 600 people in the stands.]

Go to, answer 4 questions, and receive 3 GIFs.

What’s one thing you can’t go without?  For me, it’s coffee and music.  Discuss that question.

[The students complied.]

Some said friends, dog, music.  The title of this session is “Spend Yourself.”  Everything in our life occurs in the “dash” of our tombstones.  We’ve been asking difficult questions.  But we need to act on our answers.  Francis Chan talks about this in such a great way.

[Francis Chan:  I tell my daughter to clean her room.  She doesn’t study cleaning rooms.  She cleans her room.  Jesus tells us to do what he says.  “Why do you call me, Lord, when you do not do what I do?” He asked His disciples.]

Thinking well is not enough.  I can go to an archery range.  I draw back the bow and never release?!  I’ve wasted all of my time.  We need to act on what we love.  The greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all of your mind, soul, heart, and strength.  The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbors.

In this box, please draw your response to “What do you think the world will look like in 2050?”

[I’m guessing a few students did draw.  Several around me at least discussed the question.]

You’re probably excited about the future.  But some are scared.

[A video featured a grandfather that there is joy in NOT having technology.]

Let’s talk about two stories.

George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948.  He gives an interesting perspective on the world.  Life is dismal.  The government is oppressing the people.  The government has power over every aspect of life.  We see this same idea today in ISIS, a group who is oppressing and ruling people by fear and violence.

The other story is Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.  This is a very different story than 1984.  There is no oppression.  Everyone feels good and satisfied.  They all take a pill to feel this way.  This is a much different outlook on the future.  The outlook centers on pleasure.

Whose prophecy came true?  Discuss that question.

[The students did so.]

We actually think a third story tells a perfect prophecy of where our world is today:  The Hunger Games.  The Districts represent 1984’s oppressive government.  Each District sends two kids to die in the games.  The Capitol represents the Brave New World, in which pleasure dominates the culture.

Let’s start in the Capitol.

Would you rather give up Instagram or Netflix, showers, or indoor toilets for one whole week?  Let’s see a show of hands for each. . . .

[Students raised their hands with each choice.]

There is a good sector of our world which does not have that choice.  People are oppressed by overruling power; we call this “involuntary slavery.”  They are slaves to poverty as well.  A total of 1.2 billion people are impoverished in the world.  That’s four times the population of the U.S.  These people are slaves to scarcity.  Half of these people are without electricity every day.  One out of 5 do not have access to clean water; they vomit, are constantly sick, and couldn’t attend work [even if they had a job].  Sickness dominates them 160 days of the year [on the average].   Disease, injustice, hunger, and death dominate these people’s lives.  Count yourself blessed.

In the Capitol, you are born, go to school, get good grades, experience the college life, get a job, buy stuff, have 2.4 kids, receive a raise, retire, and play golf.  This is really a lot like the American Dream.  Such can be troublesome.  We keep trying to accomplish in order to reach the next step in life.   This is “voluntary slavery.”  We are slaves to consumerism.  Around 53% of Millennials would rather lose their sense of smell than to lose their smart phones; we would rather post a picture of the food than to smell and taste the food.  Consumerism has us longing for me.  We’re not satisfied with 1 watch; we want 2 watches.  The iNap allows parents to occupy their babies with an electronic babysitter.  This is crazy, as we look around the world at so much poverty.

Think about abundance.  We are connected, yet lonely.  We have so much more we want.  We resemble the Capitol so much more than we would care to commit.  Ours is the most lonely and depressed generation which has existed.  So why do we keep pursuing stuff?  It’s a tragedy when people die seeking pleasure through drugs.  We can become slaves to pleasures that take our lives.

We are the most in debt, addicted, medicated adult cohort in U.S history (Benae Brown).

We throw away 40% of the food prepared or purchased in the U.S.

Look at this scene from Catching Fire, which illustrates the point.

[A clip was played.]

People were dying back in Districts, while people are throwing food away in the Capitol.

We have so much, but there is still something very much missing.  So much offered, and still so much suicide.

We are slaves to self-focus on our own comfort, pleasure, status, and possessions.

These are two contrasting worlds.  We have no idea there are such contrasting worlds. Both problems of involuntary and voluntary slavery exist.  Which should we address first?  Talk about that.

[Students did so.]

Stand up for the one you think you should fix first.

[Students stood up for each choice.  The younger grades generally wanted to fix poverty first; the older grades believed curing the self was the first priority.]

What is our purpose?  What is our place as human beings?  How do each of us address these two dilemmas?

Mankind has curved into itself, Martin Luther said.

I’m into ping pong.  I’m one of the best in the office.  I’ll never be good with a MacBook Air.  A computer is not designed to fulfill the task of a ping ping paddle.

We’re not doing what we ought to.  We’re not living-out our purpose.

James 1 tells us to look after widows in distress.  We must keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.   It’s not about me.  The Bible talks about the poor over 2,000 times.  In Isaiah 58, we are called to spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and oppressed.

There is actually an organization which started up because of this passage in Isaiah:  Heartwork.  Through Heartwork, you can experience a 30-day challenge on the YouVersion Bible; you read Scripture and you follow practices which simulate the poverty which others are experiencing in the world.  You can also fund a project; you could help finance orphanages, so babies are not being cast off to die.  Three girls in the Philippines banded together to send funds to rescue girls who had been caught in the sex trafficking trade.  There are people in Greenville who need your help.  Get involved.  Take action.  Help the poor.

Earlier, we had asked, “What do you think 2050 will look like?”  Now, I ask, “What do you want 2050 to look like?”  You will play a part in what the world looks like in 2050.  You have a talent.   What are you going to do about the problems in the world?  God has created you for a purpose.  Seek to fulfill God’s purpose.

It’s easy to self-focus.  We live in a narcissistic culture.  When you step outside of self, life is so satisfying.

[Francis Chan video:  “There is greater peace along the hard road.  All of the comforts will destroy you anyway.   Lose your life for Jesus, so you can find it.”]

Right before the parables we talked about this morning is the passage of giving up our lives, denying self, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus.  God has called us into a deep understanding of His love and His own sacrifice.  We can’t fix ourselves.  When God gets ahold of us, we give up our lives, dying to self, living in our proper place, surrendering to Him, and finding the most satisfaction.  It doesn’t make sense, but it’s true.

I want you to write yourself a letter.  It could be a line from a worship song or some of our teaching during the past two days that has struck you.

In a few months, you will receive these letters back.  No one will read the letter other than you.  This letter is between you and God.  Write about what you have learned.  Please keep the noise down, so people can think.

[The students took a few minutes to write those letters, handing them to Stephanie, Josh, or Matt.]

I want to conclude our time with one last story.

“The Rabbi and the Centurion”

I am a Rabbi.  One day, I encountered a Centurion.  He asked who I was and where I was going.  I asked how much he got paid.   He answered me with the same question.  “Who are you, and where are you going?”  He finally relented.  “A denarii a day.”  I, the Rabbi, said, “I will pay you that sum if you ask me that question every day.”

So, I ask you today, in conclusion. . .

. . .Who are you, and where are you going?

[Pastor Colin:  Answer that question, if you like.  But I would also like you to answer three more questions:

What did you learn during these two days?
What is one thing you’re still wrestling with?
What is one action step you can apply to yourself?]

[The students took a few minutes to answer those questions in their conference booklets.]

[Pastor Colin:  I want to pray.  It’s unfortunate that you have good experiences, you  come back on Monday, and nothing changes.  It’s important to answer those questions.  We’re going to continue to discuss those questions in our small groups.  Small groups don’t end today.  Let me pray over us. . . .]