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.]
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
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. (www.gospeljourney.com)]
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!
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 axis.org/review, 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. . . .]