Monthly Archives: May 2009
For the better part of my Sunday, I felt like things were going really well. Our Sunday morning Celebration Service seemed to go well. The afternoon was warm and sunny. We played games outside, got the yard mowed and even had ice cream sandwiches. I would say that I thought my Sunday was going to go off without a hitch. Then an article popped up on my homepage. Not the article that I wanted to read on a Sunday afternoon.
A 51 year old man is being held in Wichita for the killing of one of the few doctors in the United States that practiced late-term abortions. The doctors wife was serving in the choir of their Lutheran Church. The 67 year old doctor was shot and killed.
Why is it that every time I turn around it seems that the church is giving the world another reason to hate us? When Jesus was on this earth, ministering to people, mentoring disciples and starting a revolution, at what point did we ever see Him take out a gun and start offing people that He thought were deserving of death? Where is that His example anywhere in Scripture?
As the physical life and ministry of Jesus was coming to a close there was an encounter.
It was brief.
It was intense.
It caused bloodshed.
Jesus was about to be arrested by the Jewish people in the Garden of Gethsemane. 600 men with clubs, armed for battle. Led to Jesus by one of His very own, Judas. One of Jesus’ most flamboyant followers takes out a sword and starts cutting people’s ears off. Jesus restrains Him and tells him to put his sword away. Then Jesus reaches down, picks up the severed ear of Evander Holyfield’s ancestor and heals it completely.
Now tell me; where is the example that, whether justified or not, the followers of Christ have the power to do things like this? This is just another sad example of a Christian person who has completely missed the point. Maybe this whole being a “light in the world” thing would be a lot easier if we weren’t running around killing people and trying to justify their deaths in our minds.
I have been a little wrapped up in some things lately and haven’t had a chance to blog. Sorry for those of you who are sitting around waiting to receive awe inspiring insights from the CA crew. I will try to be more diligent in the future.
It is a fine line that I have been wrestling with recently. There is one side of an argument that says the church should mix it up with the culture. In essence, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” At many levels I tend to be a subscriber to this philosophy. If those you are trying to reach are in the bar, go to the bar with them. If they are eating at Hooters for lunch, order the Honey BBQ wings. Okay, maybe that last one was a step too far.
Then on the other side of the line is this other argument. This argument too would fall back on Scripture to back up their point. Scripture teaches that “bad company corrupts good morals.” These people tend to be the separatists. The church and Christians should have nothing to do with the “pagans.” This is the side of the argument that gets really upset when the preachers car is outside the bar on a Saturday night even if he claims it’s a ministry opportunity. There should be a clear and distinct divide between the world and Christians.
I was raised more in line with the latter philosophy. As a 28 year old, I tend to understand and fall in line with the former. My question, as I wrestle with this at times is, “Is there a middle ground that is really where Christians should be aiming?” Is it only accurate to assume that Christians can only be one of the two? Or is there something in the middle that can provide answers to both? Something that can never be tarnished. Some answer that no matter how you splice it, when done correctly is God honoring and always reaches the person we want to reach. Is that answer out there? Does it exist? If so, what is it?
I have an answer in mind. It is mentioned in many places in Scripture. A few times in the gospels and a few times later in the epistles. I want to see what you think it is and what your thoughts are. No worries, I will eventually throw my answer into the mix. I’m just hoping to develop a deeper dialogue over the question. So, what do you think?
When I was young my parents made a list of TV shows we weren’t allowed to watch; The Simpsons, because Bart was a jerk, He-Man and The Smurfs because they used magic, G.I. Joe because it was too violent… When I got older a youth pastor gave me a poster that has a list of popular bands on one side and the “christian” alternative band on the other; If you like such and such you should listen to so and so… For my 15th birthday I got a t-shirt that had the Abercrombie & Fitch logo that actually said ‘A Breadcrumb & Fish’… Is this what the Bible means when it says to be in the world but not of it?
Stand back and take a look… the Christians and non all look the same, the music, the clothes, the magazines, books… Christians and non all drive the same cars, live in the same houses, eat in the same restaurants, think the same thoughts, download the same porn. As Christians we tell ourselves that we are living the life because we have bible verses on our t shirts and a jesus fish on the mini van. After a while we build our own christian sub-culture, we look at the “sinners” around us and say to ourselves “if they like it, it’s wrong” and we rid ourselves of it in the name of holiness. We only listen to “christian” music, read “christian” romance novels, wear “christian” t shirts, and look down our “christian” noses at our poor lost neighbors and think, “if only they would start wearing t shirts like mine…”
Jesus used the phrase “whitewashed tombs” to describe folks who think their efforts make them holy; clean on the outside, crumbling and decomposing on the inside. The Pharisees of Jesus day had their t shirts as well, they had their list of TV shows and musicians to avoid, the foods they were all to proud to not be eating. When it came right down to it, their “churchy” subculture did nothing more than feed their pride while the naked hooker, crying in the dirt at the feet of Jesus was heart-wide-open before the very throne of God. Nothing hidden. Nothing fake. Beyond the rescue of lies and fig leaves.
When we talk about The Church and The Culture we are talking about this glorious tiny point in space and time where holiness meets profanity, where the bride of Christ stands up and starts brushing off the dirt, where she drops the filthy, tattered rags she wore on the street corner and puts on a dress so white it blinds the world!
It isn’t the job of the church to run from “culture”, or to make our own little bubble within the world where we’re all home schooled, make our own clothes and churn butter; it’s the churches job to accept the harsh reality of what we were, what we are, and share this gospel, the fantastic life-changing truth with those who are still far off, those who have not heard that there is a dress waiting for them, a Grace, ice cold rushing water that can wash them clean and stand them before the almighty God, blameless and full of joy! Culture isn’t to be avoided, embraced or mimicked. Culture is this process of who we are, becoming who we will be. The Church isn’t outside of the culture, she is completely entangled in it. Christians aren’t better than the rest, no matter what their t shirts say. Christians are people. All The Church has to do to change the world is to remember that we are all in this together.
I have been preaching through a series of messages called, “Visibility Zero.” The purpose is to show that there are many things that we allow into our lives that prevent us from seeing clearly. We have broken down worry, discontent, unforgiving spirit, anger and favoritism. All of these things prevent us from seeing life as God intended us to see it. They simply keep us in the fog.
Just yesterday I spoke on favoritism. And I found this video illustration that I think near-perfectly captures the church’s mentality. It’s a deadly mentality. A mentality that I believe reflects in the overall sense that the church in North America is in decline. More on that maybe in a later post. In the meantime, watch this humorous video that I played in church on Sunday. SermonSpice is one of my favorite places to find illustrations like this. They do a great job over there putting resources together. Click here to watch. See you after the jump. Don’t forget to comment.
This is the article, from the China Post, Updated Tuesday,
April 21, 2009 1:49 pm TWN, By Lilian Wu, CNA Baby girl dumped into pot of boiling water dies CHANGHUA, Taiwan — The baby girl the nation has been praying for after she was dumped by her father in a pot of boiling water Saturday died Tuesday morning. Changhua Christian Hospital doctors said the baby died of multiple organ failure, and the doctors took her off a life-support system at 10:05 a.m.The 10-month-old girl, who was thrown into the boiling water by her father during a quarrel with the girl’s mother, suffered second-and third-degree burns over 84 percent of her body. The girl had been in critical condition since being rushed to the hospital by her mother after the incident. The father is being held in custody by prosecutors and could face homicide charges.
Really troubling isn’t it? After reading this article I noticed that readers could comment about it, so I started reading the comments. The comments typically followed the suit of “Pray for the baby, boil the father.” There were some deviations, like, one trying to point our how the stress put on men in Taiwan is what drives them to do things like this, but mostly it was sympathy for the baby and contempt for the father. Then I came across this comment, and here it is in its entirety;
“Oh… my god. That’s horrible. The child was completely innocent! How could the father do something like that!?! Rest in peace, little girl. [sniff] But then, I won’t say the father was evil in what he did, either. Heartless, sure, but not evil. What he did was not “wrong.” In some cultures, that sort of thing is actually considered okay, since female lives are worth so little. I absolutely hate the man, but maybe it looked okay in his eyes. Meh. Before anyone calls me “stupid,” or “heartless,” or “naïve,” I am NOT siding with the father. I just don’t think his act should be considered so horrible. After all, in the end it was just one (innocent, cute, soft) life. Think about how many people are killed each day on the battlefield, from murder, all those. Can this one life really mean so much? (Utilitarian view, maybe, but that’s how I see it.)”
I couldn’t believe it when I read it, my first thoughts were, “Is this person just trying to cause a stir or do they really think this way.” Now, I doubt this person is Taiwanese, probably a westerner living in Taiwan. How is it that you can look at a man (Taiwanese, Russian, American) who for WHATEVER reason takes his own 10 month old daughter and puts her in a pot of boiling water, and say, “I don’t like it, but it is not wrong, and certainly not evil.” How would you respond? Is it true that because it is considered “okay” in other cultures it is not wrong. I’m sure this type of reason would hardly be tolerated if applied to religions and governments. How can it be that the number of “Heartless” acts (not evil acts) is the quantifier of what is “okay” and not “okay.” Does a worse evil make a “lesser” evil, not evil? Is Morality simply the the preference of the individual? Does it not transcend beyond the individual and the culture so that I, who am from a different culture, can look at this and say “wrong.”
I’m trying to think of a good question to solicit some responses, but it isn’t coming. How do we respond to a society that has lost its point-of-reference to the point that there is no distinction between right and wrong, good and evil. Where the baby girl can be “innocent” and the father can be innocent as well.
Cultural Awakening has been up and running for a little over a month now. I feel that there has been some great discussion and comments given to the different posts we have had. At this point I have failed to mention the team of contributors that I have pulled together to help me write different blogs from different perspectives. I know, I can’t see every side of any given argument. Heartbreaking, I understand. I want CA (Cultural Awakening) to have a broad perspective on different issues surrounding the church today in our culture and world. For that reason I have added not only different contributors, but also different topics that I believe will help give the readers of CA see and read different perspectives on the church. So without making you wait any longer, I want to introduce the contributors who have agreed to help the CA blog.
Being a Christian is supposed to influence every area of our lives. Not just Sunday morning from 10-11 am (or whatever time your worship services are). One of the areas that I want CA to focus on is the area of family and discipleship. This area is all about the day to day living and being a Christian. My main contributor for this area is Billy Johnson. AKA “The Kid Preacher” also attended the greatest Bible College in the United States, “Thee Central Christian College of the Bible.” :) I have enjoyed reading his blog posts and have admired his positive attitude and respect for his family. I think he is a great candidate to give us some great advice on how to BE a Christian on a daily basis, especially within the context of our closest relationships. Thanks Billy!
An area often overlooked by followers of Christ is our world of entertainment. Everything from movies to music. What’s out there anyway? Does it really make a difference in our Christian lives anyway? My friend Ryan Green will be answering these questions. IMHO, Ryan is one of the best writers that I know personally. I thoroughly enjoy reading his thoughts and listening to his music. He is one of the most talented people I know. I am so excited that he has agreed to put some thoughts on CA for me. I know you will enjoy hearing from him as well. Ryan is also from “Thee Central Christian College of the Bible.” Thanks Ryan!
And last, but certainly not least, is the area of the church in the world. What’s going on in missions? What does the church look like in places that aren’t called the United States? What challenges does the church face on a global scale? My friend Casey Bell will be here to help us understand this more. You can read his blog over at “Tryin’ to think it thru.” Casey has been a friend of mine for a long time now. I would describe him as someone with a genuine, servant’s heart. He is one of the most humble men that I have ever had the privilege of getting to know. I am very much looking forward to what he brings to the table at CA. I think his thoughts will be eye-opening to the followers of Christ here in America who may not have a good idea of what is going on around the world. God’s Kingdom spans nations and people outside of the United States. We should not lose focus of that. And go figure, Casey is also from “Thee Central Christian College of the Bible.” Thanks Casey!
So these are my guys. You can look forward to reading more from them in the future. You can read and hear their hearts as they attempt to work alongside many others in building God’s Kingdom.
A very interesting comment recently on this blog got me thinking about some things. For weeks now I have been mulling over some stuff in my brain. I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes I wish I did, then right after I think that I’m glad I don’t have the pressure of knowing everything. I confess, I’m tired of “doing” church. It seems that church has become more of a market (churchmarketingsucks.com). While the church does have to present itself in a certain way, I’m just beginning to wonder if what the church really is supposed to be is getting lost in a whirl-wind of marketing, branding & culturally relevant conversations.
I read a great quote from my wife’s cousin, Jared Moore, that goes like this,
“We do not become culturally relevant when we become like the culture, but rather when we model what the culture hungers to become.”
Do I think the church needs to brand itself well? Yes! Do I think we need to market ourselves better? Yes! Do I think we need to be culturally relevant? Yes! Do I think the church is losing the definition of what it is really here for in the midst of all these attempts? In some cases, yes! From my experience it seems that the people involved in the church just want to continue “doing” church as is. Even if you have to fake it to get through, just keep “doing” it. God is blessed with our half-heart efforts and sacrifices as long as we just keep “doing” church. I’m not convinced that this is a correct assumption. In fact, I think this attitude flies in the face of many Scriptural precedents. Namely that God is not interested in us just “doing” church to get by, but that He wants the entirety of our hearts and lives.
It’s time for the church to stop “doing” church. It’s time to start “being” it. Time to live out the glory of God in our lives so that what God stands for is reflected in what we stand for. It’s time to “be” the church right where we are. Are you standing in Starbuck’s getting a white chocolate mocha with skim milk, three shots of espresso and warmed to a sultry 160 degrees? Then be the church, be the reflection of God’s glory and what He stands for to the barista. Are you going to a ball game tonight? Then be the church, be the reflection of God’s glory and of what the culture longs to have where you are. Are you going on a date with that special someone? Then be the church, be the reflection of what God desires in purity in the car when you’re about to go inside. The stigma that we “do” church a certain way has run out of time with me. I don’t believe it works. You don’t need a bumper sticker that says, “Follow me to Jesus.” You don’t need a Godwitter account (and I don’t recommend it). You don’t need a Godtube (now Tangle.com) account. We need to “be” what the culture craves.
In reality, the church, the people who make up the church are the salt and light. We are to “be” what draws people to God, what makes them hunger for Him, what makes them thirst for what they are missing. The church is the catalyst, a group of people, who through their lives, direct people to the very heart of God. And that’s what we are. At the least, it is who we should be. Be culturally relevant, market and brand well. But don’t “do” to the point of losing the “being!”
Thoughts? Did I miss something? What would you add?
I have been trying to come up with something creative to add to the blog. Maybe a great new idea that no one else has ever thought of. A blog that would be so earth shattering that everyone in the entire world would read it, believe it and change their lives to live by it. Okay, so I think that was a dream I had the other night. However, I do want to try and keep things fresh. I want to post thoughts and ideas that are relevant and that can help people who are in the church world as well as those who aren’t. I want to use this space to open up a dialogue about culture and spiritual elements.
I was browsing another blog that I follow and ran across something that I thought was amazing. Rather than try and rewrite it to make it my own, I figured the best thing to do would be to offer you a link to go and read it. I think this blog speaks true to so many of us in the church world. I hope that if you are involved in a church in any way, that you will follow this link and read this blog. There are some great elements to it and I want to thank Mark Beeson for posting it. So here it is. Head over there and check it out.
**This post is a guest post by Billy Johnson, who writes at CA occasionally on the area of family and discipleship in the culture we live in.**
To my friends at the CA blog: I would like to make a book recommendation! One of the greatest cultural pitfalls that we face today is a “WorkAholicism”! We overwork our underpaid jobs and under love our overstressed families! This pitfall is not exclusive to men, but is definitely more common among them. For that reason, every dude needs to read Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley.
Andy teaches that we all cheat, the question is who we cheat! When we say yes to something, we say no to something else! We know this in the realm of health. When we say yes to the cheeseburger and fries, we say no to the healthy life we desire. But this truth applies to our families and work as well. When we say yes to things at work, we say no to aspects of our families.
If you read this book, you will learn to cheat strategically and intentionally. You will learn to not only make your family a priority, but make sure they feel like it. You need to read this short, yet powerful book!
I would speculate that there is no one reading this who hasn’t heard about the cultural phenomenon called “American Idol.” A multi-month talent show, designed to find the most talented singer in the United States of America who has not been discovered yet. Thousands line up at each location across the nation to offer their vocal charm to the entire world. This year four judges sat behind a table and would critique the performance of the contestant. More often than not the critique drew harsh words and tears. Every now and then the critique would draw tears of joy and a special, gold piece of paper that would be that contestant’s ticket to the next round in Hollywood. Personally, my favorite part of the entire show is the first two weeks when the contestants who are terrible singers arrive and display their non-talent. The judges (Simon Cowell) quickly remind them that they are talentless swine and they should be selling hot dogs on the street corner, not singing. It’s always funny to hear someone say what you are thinking.
While there are many culturally significant pieces to this show that the church could probably learn from, I want to share the one that I think about more often than not. In most churches I am what they call a Senior Pastor or Preaching Pastor. In essence, I am the person who does the main teaching at our church on a Sunday morning and I also lead in the vision casting for the church. How is it that one can go from a position like this to feeling like they are a contestant on a game show?
One week the comments are really bringing some high praise; “That was a great sermon preacher. You really nailed that one. You mailed it in. We really needed to hear that. Just keep those coming. Wow, are you listening in on our conversations at home?” This week’s performance was good. You passed with the judges and have lived to see another week behind the pulpit. Yet other weeks are different. There are little to no comments. But the more vocal judges, the Simon Cowell’s of the church say things like, “What did we do wrong to get a sermon like that? He sure is all about hellfire and brimstone this week? He sure didn’t hit on any of my spiritual needs this week. Where in the world did that come from? Did he even study this week?” This week’s performance is bad. The judges are upset. Your future rounds behind the pulpit are suddenly in jeopardy.
When did the church begin judging the usefulness on their pastors on their performance? Maybe it has always been that way to some extent. I would say that the church’s focus is extremely skewed by this perspective. Church is about transformed lives and people growing to become more like Christ, impacting their communities with the hope and grace of Jesus Christ. So why isn’t the evaluation of a church based on the amount of transformed lives? Why is it so much about the performance of a pastor? The church needs to get out of the American Idol mindset and back into the changed lives mindset. If our focus isn’t on changed lives then we simply fail to be what Christ died for us to become.