I intended to have my new year’s resolution post up by now (yes, I’m aware that it is January 25th). It obviously hasn’t happened, nor will it happen for at least another week, the reason being, we leave tomorrow for our annual snow retreat. I’m teaching this year on Repentance: Seeing Sin for What It Is, so I’ve been preparing sermons for the last month and trying to coordinate the details of taking 125 people away for five days. All that to say, the Void will be void for at least another week. We did create a snow retreat Twitter if that suits your information fancy, and we certainly would appreciate any prayers you might remember to say on our behalf.
We have been tasked to change the world.
As men and women made in the image of God, we’ve been tasked to take dominion on the earth. As Christian men and women, being formed into the image of Christ, we’ve been tasked to make disciples of all nations. These are no small opportunities or responsibilities; both dominion-taking and disciple-making involve changing the world.
Rightly so, Christians are often on the front lines of these cultural and spiritual campaigns, making plans and throwing resources like time and energy and money to reach their communities as well as foreign countries. No effort is held back, no expense spared to reach people for Christ and change the world.
But for all the attention and energy we give, for all the flash web sites we’ve made and contextualized clothing we wear and language we’ve embraced, for all the slick marketing brochures we pass out and “Christian” rock music we produce and play, for all the “relevant” and timely sermon series and Christian celebrity appearances, for all the cool Christian t-shirts, for all the gentle conversations we engage in, for all the evangelism programs and English translations and focused study Bibles/Biblezines, for all the WWJD and Livestrong bracelets, for all the Christian Facebook groups, it really doesn’t seem like we are changing the world at all. In fact, if anything, it seems like the world is changing us, conforming us into its image. We are far from being accused of “turning the world upside down” like the early church (cf. Acts 17:1-9, especially verse 6).
That’s what I want. I want to be a part of making disciples of all nations, starting right here, and turning the whole world upside down. So how do we do that?
The answer is simpler than we might think. It doesn’t require any money. It has nothing to do with web sites or worship styles. It doesn’t depend on knowing the culture, or being culturally relevant.
Becoming and being a disciple, as well as working to make disciples, starts with one thing. If we want to change the world, to turn it upside down, we’ve got to start at the beginning, with REPENTANCE.
Repentance is a change of mind, a turning about and away from sin. It is a recognition and lamentation and confession of unrighteousness, that results in new affection for, and a new direction toward, righteousness. Repentance is where new life starts. Repentance is where disciple-making begins.
Remember, Christ didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32)
Religious people are often some of the most arrogant people. They have an inflated view of themselves and they look down on others. Religious people sometimes give the impression that God should be happy to have them on His team, like He needs their innovations and influence. Instead, what He needs first is their repentance.
Today’s feel-good-about-yourself philosophy keeps us from Christ and salvation and spiritual health. We need to see how sick in sin we are, not how super we are.
I believe one of the primary reasons we as Christians are so worldly in our living and so ineffective in our mission is because we have forgotten about personal repentance and about proclaiming repentance.
When was the last time you gave lip to your mom, or lied to a friend, or lusted in your heart, or wasted your time, and then confessed your sin, asked forgiveness for your sin, and turned away in repentance from your sin? When was the last time you told a friend that the reason for their joylessness, may be because of their failure to repent?
In order to start at the beginning, this year’s Snow Retreat will focus on REPENTANCE: Seeing Sin for What It Is.
And to help us do that, we’re going to also consider one of the oldest and most influential figures in church history since the New Testament, a man on whose shoulders Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon all stood: St. Augustine.
Through Augustine’s pastoral work of preaching and writing and defending the faith and caring for his sheep, he changed not only his community and his era, in many ways he changed Western Civilization. He is a man through whom God was pleased to change the world. And I intend to make the case at the 09SR, that it was Augustine’s confessions, his seeing sin for what it is and repenting, that was the beginning of both his personal affections for God and his usefulness on God’s behalf.
Augustine turned the world upside down by turning away from sin. So can we.
A couple months ago I was having breakfast with some of the one28 staff men. Our conversation turned toward the subject of past one28 graduates, and in particular, the current spiritual state of those students. There are, as anyone might suspect, some students continuing to walk with Christ who are closer to Him than ever. There are other students who have given every appearance of walking away from Christ.
As we talked that morning, we wondered out loud if we as men, as a staff, and as a ministry, were doing everything we possibly could to prepare our graduates for the life outside of and beyond one28.
Of course, one28 is only a small part of a student’s development. A student’s family makes the biggest difference. The opportunities and education they get at whatever school they attend plays a large role. Many additional influences shape a student’s life as well. But the question still remains: are we maximizing our influence to prepare students for life after one28? In other words, are we doing everything we can to present every student complete in Christ?
The question has not been altogether off the radar over the last few years. When we tweaked small groups and had senior’s teach on Wednesdays and retooled snow retreat and studied soli Deo glori in the 04-05 “Year of the ‘S'” we had the question in mind. When we prayed for abounding love in 05-06, enlisting Jonathan Edwards’ help to get our heads out of broken cisterns and raise our affections we had the question in mind. When we looked only to Christ in 06-07 with Spurgeon, and when we played for keeps last year through Ecclesiastes and a snow retreat aimed at guarding the heart and had the staff teach through biblical manhood and womanhood, we had in mind our part to prepare young people for following Christ.
In one sense, we’re going to build on each of the previous years, since all of those themes have a proper place. But in another sense, we’re going to take a big step back this year, and start at the beginning. After all,
- you can’t get old without being born
- you can’t build walls that will stand unless you begin by laying a solid foundation
- you can’t eat ripe fruit unless you begin by planting the tree
- you can’t cross the finish line unless you start at the beginning
That’s the 2008-09 theme: Starting at the Beginning. And we’re going to start at the beginning in a few different ways.
On Sundays were going to study Genesis. Genesis may be the best and most relevant book in all the Bible to prepare us to think about our place in the world, to frame our beliefs about family and history and morality from the ground up. Genesis is the book of beginnings, especially as we study the early chapters of God’s story of redemption. We will study the beginning of everything so that students will be prepared for anything.
Rightly | Dividing
Then we’re going to do a Saturday seminar on how to study the Bible. God’s Word is the beginning of our understanding of truth. God’s Word builds us up, equips us for every good work, and helps young men keep their way pure. One of the most valuable things we can do, then, to help prepare students, is to give them tools to understand God’s book for themselves. If we want to succeed and make our way prosperous, we’ve got to start at the beginning with Scripture.
We’re also going to focus on service this year like never before. If we want to please God, we’ve got to serve. If we want to be a blessing to our families, now as a young persons, and later as a spouse or parent, we’ve got to serve. And if we want to lead others, we must follow Jesus’ example of servanthood. This generation seeks to be served and be given to. But that mindset must not to be the case for us in one28. In small groups and as a ministry, we’re going to provide opportunities and make a concentrated push to start at the beginning with service.
We’re going to ask the senior guys to teach most Wednesdays again this year. In a lot of ways, students leading students makes the biggest difference in the ground war of making disciples. When students lead, particularly the guy students, the health of our ministry is off the charts. When senior guys step up, that sets the tone and pace. We want our guys to be strong, and we want our senior guys to start at the beginning by leading as servants.
And finally, there’s snow retreat. I can’t unwrap the 09SR theme for another month or so, but I promise, it is going to challenge everyone to start at the beginning.
Now all that is exciting, at least to me. But it is worthless for students unless they come up to the starting line with us. If they don’t participate, if they don’t let Genesis lay a foundation for their thinking, or take advantage of service opportunities and the Bible study seminar and the senior Wednesdays and the 09SR, they will not be prepared and will not be more Christlike by the end of the year.
That means some students need to repent. Loving oneself or one’s sin or the things of the world will keep anyone from growing. A person in sin needs to clear the plate, confess sin and turn from it. He or she needs to start at the beginning. So here we stand, kicking off another school year. We are starting at the beginning. Start with us.
Our Tahoe full of five is about 90 miles north of Los Angeles as I write on my iPhone. I already can see the sun and taste the smog. This will be Shepherds’ Conference six for some of our one28 staff. We all agreed last night (when we departed around 7:45pm) that there’s not much better on our Christian calendar year than a week full of man singing, Scripture marinating, book buying, and black coffee drinking among friends. You’re welcome to check the Void for updates over the next few days, but don’t hold your breath, I’ll probably be busy male bonding.