A Liberating Change of Perspective

Tonight, during Woodside Student Ministries, we did something a little different. Instead of me teaching for a half hour, I invited four of our leaders to the stage and had the students write down a few meaningful questions they would love to have answered by our team. It was a great night- and many of the questions were fantastic.

But one question in particular brought about an interesting response. The question that was posed was this: “what was the most significant event in your life.” The responses ranged from everything like “put my faith in Jesus as my savior” to “had a lunch with my relative where the conversation changed my whole perspective on life.”

After everyone had shared, one leader made a particularly astute observation. She noted that each of the events that had most significantly changed their lives were moments that changed their perspective from being on themselves to being on God or others around them.

That insight really floored me. It was not only true, it was a great, concrete, way to help everyone realize a crucial ingredient in really leaning into a life of godliness. We need to change our perspective from focusing on ourselves, to focusing on God and then others. But I had to ask a follow-up question to the panel: how do we do that? How could these students, how could we manufacture a change in our perspective?

That is no easy question to answer. Especially because, in my experience as a human being (and particularly as a selfish, misplaced-identity, slave to the opinions of others kinda human being), focusing on ourselves means placing too great a value on how others view us and therefore needing to prove ourselves. It’s an ugly game that I played very well for much of my life and still battle today. In my life it meant being guarded, cynical, fake, sarcastic, and (at least attempted) suave instead of being open, encouraging, authentic, genuine, and-ultimately- myself. It showed a misplaced identity- but even more dangerous- an incomplete gospel.

It’s the difference between a welcoming wave and warm smile compared to a stylish nod with a “wanna find out about how interesting I am?” conversation starter. It’s the difference between laughing off your corny mistakes and flaws verses fighting for everyone to acknowledge how legitimate you are. And it’s the difference between focusing your perspective in life on YOU verses focusing on who God is + what He has done.

This is a life changing difference. This is a “most influential moment in my life” kinda deal.

I was reading a blog on pastoral ministry this weekend and two of the points on “liberating truths for those who pastor” spoke specifically to this area. Let me share them with you- just change the intended audience from those who are working as pastors to fit whatever sphere of life you are- student, father, employee, friend…

GOD IS GLORIOUS, SO WE DO NOT HAVE TO FEAR OTHERS.

Effects of a faithless response.  If we fear people more than we fear God, then we might be reluctant to speak the truth. We will not confront people because we are worried they might dislike us or reject us. We might avoid difficult decisions to prevent upsetting people. Or we might second guess what people are thinking, because we are trying to anticipate what will please them. In discussions a fearful person will often glance at others to gauge their reaction.

Or we might treat sin not in relation to a holy God but in terms of what others think of it. In other words, respectability will matter more than holiness. We will treat public sins more seriously than other sins because we are driven by people’s opinions.

Only when the glory of God sets us free from the fear of man can we serve others in love.

Another potential symptom is that we gravitate toward activities that are up front. If our goal in ministry is to be admired, people’s opinions will matter more than God’s opinion. We become a slave to praise. Or there is a gap between our public and private persona. The holiness that matters to us is public holiness.

Effects of faithful response. If we believe God is glorious and that he is to be feared, then we will not be controlled by other people. Only then, in fact, are we truly free to serve them in love. When we are controlled by the opinions of others, we do for them so we can win their good opinion. Our actions are self-serving. Our aim is a good reputation. Only when the glory of God sets us free from the fear of man can we serve others in love. Then we are free to speak the truth people need to hear, not what they want to hear, and we ourselves can be vulnerable before others, rejoicing in God’s vindication or justification.

GOD IS GRACIOUS, SO WE DO NOT HAVE TO PROVE OURSELVES.

Effects of a faithless response. We might find our identity in ministry rather than in Christ and so overwork or make others guilty through our high expectations. Or we might envy others whose ministry is more successful or take pride in our success. We ourselves will take criticism badly, being defensive or defeated, because our identity is tied up in our achievements and not in Christ’s achievements on our behalf. There is a danger that our lives can become so busy and stressed because we are trying to prove ourselves that we do not model good news to people.

If our goal in ministry is to be admired, people’s opinions will matter more than God’s opinion.

We will be functional legalists who think behavior matters more than motives, who want to avoid mess in favor of respectability, or who condemn those who do not measure up. We will impose a set of expectations on other people that wear them down under the weight of joyless duty. If we do not believe God is gracious, then we will not want our sins to be exposed, so we may not ask people hard questions about their spiritual life for fear of being asked in return.

Effects of a faithful response. If we rest on the grace of God and find our identity in Christ, then our lives and ministry will be characterized by peace and rest, joy and freedom, confidence and humility, compassion and kindness. We will not rejoice when others fail. Our concern will be to bless rather than to impress. We will not need the affirmation of other people, and we will be free from the need to defend ourselves. There will be a transparency and vulnerability about our lives because we do not feel the need to hide our sin. We will create a context in which other people feel able to share their struggles. 

I love the style that this was written with- including the effects of a life lived in belief in the truth juxtaposed with one that does not wholeheartedly believe… it just brings to light the power behind these core principles: God IS glorious- and we must live in fear and honor of HIM- not others! God IS gracious- the gospel changes the very heart of how we live. That last paragraph is just so poignant. If we rest, focus, on the gospel’s truth in our life we can be people with freedom, confidence, humility, compassion, and complete kindness. Gone is the need to impress, look good, prove we are competent. We don’t need others to affirm us or respect us.

I believe that if I would live in the grasping of these two concepts- my focus would be forever changed.

What about you? Where is your focus- yourself? In what ways does your failure to believe God is ultimately glorious and gracious end up surfacing? What will you do the next time you start to feel the grip of that?

If you’re interested in reading all of the article I quoted by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, you can find it here: http://theresurgence.com/2012/11/07/4-liberating-truths-for-those-who-pastor?

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Sound and Meaning (Ben)

I’d like to delve into songs I’ve been listening to lately, so expect this to be a long running series with both great music and poor choices.

Music is powerful and influential. It’s ability to allow us to express ourselves (in worship, emotion…) is only surpassed by it’s power to teach. Songs teach actively. That’s why songs which not only communicate truth, but the most important truth, are uniquely powerful. Songs that continue to teach us the gospel are the most powerful songs.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a particular song daily.  I use it as my approach to God and my approach to the day. I listen to it, play it on the guitar and sing it, pray it… each day after the morning routine (wake up, workout, breakfast, shower..) and before my time with God or leaning into work. It helps me to frame my perspective on the day and on my position as a child of God (adopted, for those at THIRSTY this past weekend).

The song itself is not the power, only the message it communicates. It is an incredible vehicle for preaching and teaching me the gospel once more so that once more I can put on the new life and walk in the light. Its something that I must do every day, otherwise, the day is spent in my own power for my own means. Can you relate?

The song is titled “Quietly” and is written/performed by Daniel Renstrom, whom most everyone unfortunately does not know. His style is simple, but communicates the doctrines of the gospel more clearly than almost every artist out there. What they lack in emotional drive, they make up in soul reviving content.

Here are the lyrics

Quietly we come before Your presence here today, Agreeing with the Spirit as we come. And rags of filth are all we have when asked to bring our best, We claim nothing but Your righteousness

And we come to You Father Because of what He’s done. By Jesus our sacrifice was made. And we enter in Your presence Singing only by the Lamb and grafted we stand in awe of You again

So here we are this body crying out to You today, Our need of mercy once again is large. We know that You are the only one who can satisfy our hearts, Oh bind us like a fetter once again 

The doctrine this speaks is life-giving. Here are a some of the highlights to me as I mull through it each time..

“Filthy Rags are all I have when asked to bring my best”

All my best is nothing but filthy rags- I am wholly unable to gain merit before a holy God. But, I can claim the very righteousness of Jesus as my own because he gave it to me at salvation! (Isa. 64:6- all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment, Eph. 2:8-9- not of works, so that no one can boast)

“We come to you father because of what He’s done… We enter your presence singing only by the Lamb”

We can go to God in prayer, worship, singing- talking to Him in His presence- because of the work of Jesus, the Lamb of God, paying for our sins, giving us righteousness and serving as our Great High Priest. (Heb. 4:16- let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace)

“Grafted we stand in awe of You again”

We, people not from the nation of Israel, a nation God had revealed himself to in special ways for centuries, have been grafted into God’s plan, God’s work, God’s power. Its both a wonder and a fearful responsibility. Its refreshing to realize God has been at work for centuries and we are only a part of His universal story. (Rom. 11:11-24- you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others)

“So here we are this body crying out to You today, Our need of mercy once again is large”

I approach God in the same way as our whole church, the Bride- standing only in grace. And always able to find mercy, though desperately wicked. (Jer. 17:9- the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicket, Lam. 3:23- Your mercies are new every morning, great is Your Faithfulness)

“Oh bind us like a fetter once again”

A reference to the classic hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” echoes the yearning of my heart: ‘I know that you are the best thing for me- the only thing that can bring joy and meaning- so just keep me walking in your ways!’

Daniel Renstrom can be found on itunes and http://danielrenstrom.com

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Thoughts on Being New (Ben)

Allow me the pleasure of beginning with a cliché expression: Man, time sure flies. A year and a half ago (almost) I got married and moved to Michigan to accept the position of Student Ministries Pastor at Woodside… and, simultaneously, I abandoned the blog like it was a sinking ship. Well, I dug up a potential post I had drafted just after we (the bride and I) moved to the mitten and I thought I’d welcome myself back by sharing something I enjoyed re-discovering a year and a few months later- what it was like to be new! So, these were my thoughts just a month into a new church, a new job, and a new state (thanks to the staff and friends at Woodside for such a kind and welcoming beginning):

It has been officially one month on the job for me at Woodside Bible Church. It has been an intensely busy time- filled with a lot of fun, a lot of decisions, and incalculable help from people who cared to care.

Being new can be a challenge. Whether that means being new to a job, city, state, or section of a familiar classroom. So much is unknown when you are new- the people, the history, the resources, the roles/hierarchy, the expectations and even the language. Since it has been a long time since I’ve felt “new,” I had forgotten what it felt like which naturally led to fear. It was (and really still is) a glance into what it feels like to be new to a community- new to a church body.

We forget what it feels like to be new once we become acquainted with our community. In fact, even though we have become comfortable, our desperate pursuit to dive continually deeper into our existing relationships and subsequent levels of acceptance blinds us to the plight of others who are in genuine need for a little help in a new environment. Our relational selfishness preoccupies us at the expense of those who are entering our environment for the first time.

I know that this is often the case for me. It is certainly a reality in youth ministries and churches across the world. Students and Adults alike are so concentrated on their existing friendships (because they want to be loved) that they (I) do not realize those outside of our community who are yearning to be included. In its purest form this is of course called a “clique.”

But my experience as a newbie has left some fresh ideas of how to help others feel welcomed and included. I know they work because they have meant the world to me. For the sake of this post, I will try my best to label each action from the perspective of the one welcoming even though I experienced them as the one who was welcomed.

  • When greeting them (and not just the first time) force yourself (and especially your eyes) to be obviously excited. Put a sparkle and a bounce in your personality, even if you don’t feel like it.

I’m sure it feels awkward, but it meant the world to me. When someone is new, they are looking for someone, anyone, to be genuinely interested in them. So act like they are “the most interesting person in the world”

  • Go out of your way to keep them informed of the backstory as conversations continue. Make sure they are in your friend’s circle as they talk and inform them of the tidbits that make what is being discussed interesting.

A new person is completely lost in discussion that are not centered around topics of interest to them (sports, pop culture…) and even if they are present for your conversation, if they feel lost- they feel out of place.

  • Treat them like they are the coolest person at the party (you know what I mean, picture the coolest person you know- then imagine how you act around them in a public setting). Go out of your way to acknowledge them at every opportunity, ask for their opinion on subjects at hand, and move your party to wherever they go. Even if it’s not true, giving them this honor will build their confidence in their role in your community.

We all remember and hate those times when we suggested something and got turned down by a group of people. If this happens when someone is new, the rejection is sure to burn deep and almost guarantees they shut themselves out. If they drift to the other side of the room, move your party with them once or twice. If they bring up a boring subject, entertain it for a while.

  • As they leave, inform them that you are so pleased to have met them. Mention that you can’t wait to get together with them again. If possible, let them know of a time in the near future you want to see them again (party, event, gathering). Then, inform them that they absolutely must join you and your friends next time- tell them they will have a spot with your crew.

While a good first visit is an important start, sometime the second visit is even more intimidating. Being assured that someone wants you back, AND wants you to be with them gives an intimidated person (aren’t we all) permission to approach you again in the future.

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Trellis or the Vine (Ben)

A few weekends ago a good friend, Dan, suggested to me a book to read. I was excited to follow up on the resource, but didn’t know when I would get around to reading it seeing that I already have about 2 feet worth of books I’m excited to read.

However, I looked it up to scout out the rap and think that this bit of reading will cut to the top of the stack.

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They have ears too (Ben)

Children often say things that show adult wisdom. “Out of the mouths of babes” we chuckle. But often we fail to realize the same intelligence that generates their words also interprets what they hear.

As I’ve been studying teen and youth culture the past few years, I’ve been struck by the number of articles and posts decrying the “sexualization” of young children. One can find new articles haranguing the fashion industry or a clothing line almost every week for their mature clothing choices targeting pre-teens. Parents, correctly so, are condemned for playing to their children’s whims and allowing them to buy, dress, and act twice their age.

But only on occasion do I hear anyone ever suggest that adults must change the things they say to their children.

Over the past month, I’ve paid close attention to that idea. Nieces, Nephews, Grandchildren, Neighborhood kids, I’ve listened to what people say about, and especially to, their kids. One thing I’ve noticed: while an adult may not dress their kid up for (moral/identity) failure, they sure do talk them into it.

Take this last weekend. Easter had everyone decked out in their, respective, best. The toddlers and children running around church were admired by each and every adult. Facebook solidified this fact for the remainder of the weekend. Even relatives from out-of-town were cooing over how adorable their friends kids looked.

Not to be “jonny raincloud” here, everyone did look adorable, but I wonder if that is the majority of what they hear? From birth on, most adults talk more about how “cute, adorable, beautiful,” and “handsome” a kid is than any other trait. I wonder if we aren’t all conditioning them to desire this more than anything else (proper clothing or not)!  Couldn’t we, just as lovingly, praise their joyful smiles, willingness to show love to their siblings, or happy attitude? That little girl in your Sunday school needs to hear these things far more than she needs to hear she is cute; it is by hearing any of these affirmations that she learns what to value.

I realize that values and desires  are more complex than this simple idea. But I believe that the affirming words shown to children play a huge role in the process. For instance, I can still remember vividly a summer evening working on the lawn as a child, no more than 10. I was trying (as best I could) to edge the front lawn as my mother and a friend of our family- Sandy- sat talking on the porch. That day I was determined to win against the lawn… and it was NOT easy work at the time. But at some point during my battle with the grass, Sandy called out “Ben, you are a hard worker. One day, some boss is going to be very happy to have you.” I remember her exact words, tone, and the feeling it gave me.

Now, plenty of people told me (through lying teeth) that I was a good looking kid. And plenty of times, I double and triple checked myself in the mirror hoping to get that same praise one more time. But ever since that day working on the lawn, I have especially longed to be known for working hard. Thank you, Sandy, for teaching me through your affirming words to desire something that matters. (shout out to my parents too, they didn’t let me go without praise in this area as well).

I wonder how different the lives of children would have been if, this past Easter, we had praised them for qualities that mattered more than their matching outfits and charming faces. I wonder what qualities you will instill in the kids who are dear to you through your comments in the kitchen or on their facebook pictures?

For more on Children and early-onset identity disorders…

CNN Story. Whose Fault? USA Today. Response to USA article.  Abercrombie.

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He’s still working on me? (Ben)

My brother, the famous Aaron Lee Hixson, has often told me that his favorite thing I’ve ever said was: “I’m a work in progress, but I won’t progress without work.” Frankly I’m surprised that it isn’t “I’ll let you live this time” – but not only is that a different story, it evidently isn’t true. A quick look at Facebook confirmed that, indeed, I am quoted as saying this – right after a Bible verse and after a Relient k lyric – I’m so honored.

The funny thing about this phrase (besides the fact that I don’t remember ever saying it) is that I always have wondered if it is even true! My college years were spend questioning, studying, and interacting with the idea of sanctification. Discipleship is a huge passion of mine – the driving force behind why I am passionate about vocational ministry – so sanctification was very important to me. Namely: since one is completely justified and sanctified through the atoning work of Jesus and repentance/belief (the gospel), how then does one live? By this I mean, sanctification cannot be an act of works (only grace)… so how do we grow in grace!? How do we put do death the flesh and put on the works of the Spirit?

These were questions I wrestled with (and continue to grow and contend with) during college. I found a lot of help and perspective through guys who had studied grace far me than myself… but the answers were always so abstract and difficult to nail down.

As I keep feeding myself with God’s Word, I keep my eyes open for articles and messages on the subject. Today I came across a particularly well worded and studied article. You can (and should) read it here. One thought I want to make though has to do with this phrase from the end of the post:

The real question, then, is: What are you going to do now that you don’t have to do anything? What will your life look like lived under the banner which reads “It is finished?

As I read this phrase, the first thought that came to my head originated from Sunday School song time: does the song “He’s still working on me” present false teaching? If one is redeemed, and sanctification comes from the inside out (read the article), does this song give the wrong impression?

Thinking and welcoming your thoughts.

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And all I wanted was some Sweet Tea (Ben)

So my time at “Safety Town” as a 4 year old paid off after all.

One of my first experiences with law, safety, and phone numbers came from a place called “Safety Town” as a child in Sandusky, Ohio. I was taught how to call 911 and was forced to memorize my home phone number (this was before cell phones were used, naturally). That was tough work for a thick-headed kid.

So I’m thankful that experience paid off and that I’ve finally gotten to dial 911 for the first time. But that is just me looking at the bright side.

Last night, after dropping off a guy who I had taken to a Brecksville-Broadview High School Lacross game (good game guys, you’ll get ’em next time) I found myself near a place I frequent: Chic-fil-A. Not wanting to miss a chance for a cup of Sweet Tea happiness, I pulled through. After being pleasantly served (thanks again, Jessica and Daniel- you guys deserve a raise) I continued home down route 82 westbound. It was about 9:45 pm.

Suddenly, I heard a LOUD pop sound. Confused, my mind started running through the checklist of possibilities. Engine? No, the sound came from behind me. Rock? It sounded like it was on the roof… probably not. Hail? I mean… it IS spring. Weirder things have happened. I pulled into a shopping plaza 100 yards down the road and got out to survey the car. I didn’t know how to process what I saw.

It was at night, so in the darkness, I wondered if this could be a shot-out window. There was a pizza joint in the plaza, and one of the workers was kind enough to give me a second opinion. I called the police and 15 minutes later they were done searching my car and instead searching the neighborhood.

I’m no balistics guy, so if you are, let me know what you think. But the police said it was definitely from some sort of firearm. The highlight for me was when the deputy called me over: “Take a look at this!” he said. pointing his flashlight along what he explained to be the flight path of the projectile. “It was going straight for your head.”

So I’m sitting here today thankful that God has a plan for me that includes today (so far.) And I think you should remind yourself of the same thing.

It could have been some kid with a bb-gun. It could have been something else. Either way, I’ve learned that this window is called a “quarter glass,” K9 unit dogs bark incessantly, and that your life could change in a hurry.

Wonder what God is up to…

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