Thursday, December 30, 2010

Equipped for the Task

When God called Jeremiah to the prophetic ministry, the poor priest from Anathoth wasn't sure God had the right man. "Alas, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am too young." I'm just a boy, he said, and I'm terrified of speaking in public. According to his own assessment, Jeremiah was not the prophetic type. That was a job for brave men who had the rhetorical prowess to shout down the naysayers and counter the critics. When Jeremiah looked in the mirror, he saw a little boy with a slow tongue. He didn't have what it takes to be a prophet.

God, however, saw things quite differently. "Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land--against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land." God looked into the heart of Jeremiah, where lay his deepest void and most humiliating lack, and said to him, "You are not a boy. You are a fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall; and you will stand against this entire nation!" Jeremiah looked at himself and saw youthful weakness, but God looked at him and said, "Strength and power!", and, behold, it was!

God called Jeremiah to a task that required a new name, a new identity--strength where there was weakness, fullness where there was void. God then equipped Jeremiah for the task by speaking into his void and weakness. God saw that which was not and called it into being. "Today I have made you a fortified city..."

You need a new name from God. Your void is crippling you, and you cannot fulfill his calling on your life until you hear that new name. The old names, the names you have given yourself or others have given you out of evil intent, are holding you back from God's plan for your life. The old names have to die, and the new name must come to life. God wants to speak his fulness into your void, his strength into your weakness, his abundance into your lack. God sees you as you are not, calls out "Strength and power! Discipline and character! Love and forgiveness!" and, behold, it is!

Your new name--your new identity--are manifested through the presence of God in your life. This presence is available only because Jesus has made it so through the power of the Holy Spirit. You cannot receive this new name if your are proud, selfish, or resistant. It will not come until you bend your heart to God. Only be near him, and he will equip you for the difficult task to which he has called you.

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Take On Tressel, TP, et. al.

By now you've probably heard about the 5 star OSU football players who sold various trophies and game-used equipment. This occurred almost two years ago, but the NCAA has just now found out about it and laid down the punishment. The facts of the case are these:
  • 5 players (including Terrell Pryor, Devier Posey, Dan Herron, and Mike Adams) sold various trophies, including gold pants (for beating Michigan) and Big Ten championship rings, and game-used equipment for a total of a little over $7,000.
  • Some players also received discounts on tattoos.
  • When the football program became aware of what transpired, they self-reported to the NCAA.
  • There was some form of internal, team punishment levied against the players.
  • The players have been ordered to return the money they made from the sale of these items and give it to charity.
  • The players have been suspended for the first 5 games of the 2011 season, but are eligible for the Sugar Bowl.
So those are the facts. $7,000. All of which must be repaid. A total of 25 missed games.

These five players are all juniors, and could decide to enter the NFL Draft rather than miss almost half of their senior season. However, with the labor unrest in the NFL, and their uncertain draft value, that is a risky proposition.

There are several things that bother me about this whole situation. First of all, why are these guys selling their gold pants and Big Ten championship rings? Those are items that you can't really put a price on, and it hurts me, as a part of the Buckeye nation and OSU alum, that they would treat our football tradition with such contempt. But I also know what it's like to need money, so I understand why a person might sell such things. I'm not excusing it, I'm just saying I get it.

Secondly, these five players have been suspended a combined 25 games for selling items that "almost" belonged to them for a total of about $7,000. Meanwhile, Cameron Newton's father Cecil tires to sell his son's football services to various schools in the SEC for $180,000 and, for these sins, Cameron Newton receives the Heisman Trophy and a trip to the National Championship Game. Keep in mind that the NCAA, according to its own rules, does not distinguish between a student-athlete and his or her parents, even in the recruiting process. The NCAA's actions are hypocritical at best, utterly corrupt at worst. As many have already said, they are clearly making up the rules as they go along.

Thirdly, a lot of Buckeye fans are calling for these five players to be suspended for the Sugar Bowl and even for Jim Tressel to resign. Seriously? Enough with the sanctimony. They've been punished three times over for what is not a criminal action, but rather a violation of NCAA rules. There were no boosters involved. There were no agents. These were five guys selling stuff they thought they owned to, according to multiple sources, help their families in the worst economy of their short lifetimes. Let me say this again: this was a NCAA rules violation, not a crime. No one can be arrested for this. The punishment they have already received is severe, and some of you want them punished even more? I put it to you that your sanctimonious calls for increased punishment (and even Jim Tressel's job!) is nothing more than a mask for your sense of vengeance, which only rears its head because you have an idolized view of Ohio State football. You expect more character out of these 18 and 21 year old kids than you do from yourself. Enough. You're being a hypocrite. They've been punished enough, and I would even say unfairly, given the NCAA's history of inconsistency on rules enforcement.

Jim Tressel should keep his job. These five players should play in the Sugar Bowl, and not be suspended any games at all. They are paying back all of the money, after all. They have clearly expressed their remorse, and tOSU has done it's due diligence to report everything to the NCAA. They are, in my opinion, above reproach. And I believe, given the circumstances involved, these five players should receive some grace. And I would say that even if they were Michigan athletes.

God Who Wants To Father

This is the time of year when we celebrate how God sent his Son into the world, to become just like us in order to save us. This, of course, implies that God is a parent of some kind--and we see, from Scripture, that, while he is supersexual (that is, beyond sexuality), he reveals himself as Father and Husband--consistently male. (There are also instances where God reveals himself as motherly, but the male descriptors are far more common.)

Does this mean that being male is inherently better? Of course not, for God created both men and women in his image. Neither is qualitatively better than the other. Because God is supersexual, all gender is found in him, and yet he cannot be sexualized. Had God revealed himself as female, as a Goddess, there is little doubt that he would have become sexualized and objectified like the goddesses of other ancient cultures.

But I also believe that God revealed himself primarily as Father because there is one very important thing that only a father can do, and that is to call the child into true personhood. It is from the father's voice that we hear our name, our identity. There are myriad things that only the mother can do, but as a child moves into adolescence and young adulthood, they are waiting to hear the masculine voice saying, "You are a man", or, "You are a woman".

I'm convinced that the greatest threat to our culture is missing fathers, and fatherlessness has reached epidemic proportions. We have tried to make do without dads, but we simply cannot. Humans aren't built that way. The government has been subsidizing fatherlessness among the poor classes for decades, but crime and destitution have only increased. Money is no substitute for the masculine voice.

But God wants to do something about this. He wants to father this generation of fatherless souls. As always, he wants to enact his plan through people. God wants to father this lost generation, and he wants to do it by raising up men to be the husbands and fathers he has called them to be. We have a generation of children--many of them fully grown and into their 30s and 40s--who have been unable to move beyond adolescence because they had no father to tell them who they are. God wants to tell these people who they are; he wants to initiate them into full personhood, and he wants to do it in partnership with the men of the church.

Don't be upset that I'm not issuing a call to women, here. It's not the women who have fallen asleep; it's not the women who have disappeared. The women have not been negligent, but the men have. Men, this world needs you, desperately. You need to wake up. You need to engage. Don't be distracted anymore; don't let the world lull you to sleep. God has a task for you, and it's going to take everything you've got and then some. The world is falling apart, and God is asking you to help him put it back together. In the words of Homer Simpson, "Heroism is calling. Will you accept the charges?"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

God's Aching Heart

I was reading Jeremiah 2 this morning, and like you find in so much of what the prophets wrote, we see God's heart, wounded and broken by Israel.
What fault did your fathers find in me,
that they strayed so far from me?
You can hear the hurt in his voice. He had loved Israel; he had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, through the trials of the desert, and finally into a land of their own. And they deserted him. They abandoned him. "It's no use!" Israel declared, "I love foreign gods, and I must go after them." Again and again, Israel broke God's heart.

If I were God, there would only be so much of this that I could take before I completely shut myself off from humanity. But God didn't do that. Instead, he opened his heart up all the way, to everyone! In Christ, God has opened the doors of the kingdom to everyone, and by doing that he opened his heart to be hurt and betrayed at a rate far beyond what Israel had ever done.

How many billions and billions of times has God been betrayed since then? If everyone who has ever believed has betrayed God as much as I have, that is an unfathomable amount of heartache. Yet he has not become cynical. His heart has not become hard. Before Jesus came it was just Israel, just one people group; now it's the whole world to whom God has opened his heart. We have wounded him time and time again, yet still the doors of his heart are open wide. Still he loves each new generation.

This is remarkable. So much hurt. So much betrayal. So little love returned. So little obedience. And yet he continues to love as he has from the beginning. What an amazing God we have!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Slumbering Masculinity

Yesterday I posted some thoughts about men and changing the world that garnered some acceptance and some, shall we say, disagreement. Today I'd like to elaborate a bit by sharing some thoughts from a wonderful little book called Crisis in Masculinity by Leanne Payne. I strongly urge you to pick up this book; it is excellent.

Ms. Payne identifies the crisis in masculinity today by first looking to the past:
Men, affirmed as men by their fathers and the men of the community, were by and large free to mature as husbands, fathers, and leaders. In secure possession of their gender identity, the great majority of men moved from the chest, as it were, out of hearts freed from the legalisms of childhood, the narcissisms of adolescence, or the perfectionisms of an adulthood spent futilely seeking self-accecptance (or even the affirmation of parents). Now, however, what was once the exceptional psychogenic factor has become, unhappily, a ruling feature of the culture at large. ...Generally speaking, we now have a generation of sons whose fathers, for several generations back, have been unaffirmed as men. The father who is unaffirmed in his own masculinity cannot adequately affirm the son in his.
So what are the consequences for a man of being unaffirmed in his masculinity?
He will be unable to accept himself. Men who are unable to fully accept themselves lose to one degree or another the power to act as father, husband, and leader. In short, in at least some part of their personalities they remain immature and become increasingly passive and unable creatively to initiate the changes needed to lift themselves and their families out of the inevitable quagmires of life. The power is within them to do so. The masculine qualities and gifts are there, but they have not been "affirmed" into life.
The trouble with our culture today is that the vast majority of men are walking around with a slumbering masculinity. It has not been awakened. It has not come to life. Why? Because the sins of the fathers are passed down to their children to the third and fourth generations. Men with slumbering, unaffirmed masculinity cannot awaken or affirm the masculinity in their sons; unfortunately, neither can their mothers.
It is the father (or father substitute) who affirms sons and daughters in their sexual identity and therefore--because gender identity is a vital part of personhood itself--as persons. ...The masculine within is called forth and blessed by the masculine without. It is thereby commissioned to be, to grow, and to mature.
...At puberty and adolescence we are listening for the masculine voice. It is the strong, masculine love and affirmation coming through that voice that convinces us that we are truly and finally separate from our mothers. We were born not knowing ourselves as separate from her. If we came to a sense of well-being or of being at all, it was through her love--or that of a good mother substitute. Her eyes, as we nestled in her arms, became the umbilical cord, the life-giving conduit of love through which our sense of being was affirmed, and we began to understand that we were separate and worthy entities in our own right. In other words, we slowly began the arduous task of separating our identity from hers.
The crisis in masculinity consists in the fact that this separation and affirmation of identity is not happening today. We do not come out of puberty and adolescence affirmed as persons. ...The step of self-acceptance ideally comes just after puberty. The key to taking this step, on the ordinary human level, lies in the love and affirmation of a whole father.
Mothers nurture their children to adolescence; fathers guide them through adolescence into adulthood. Our society has mothers aplenty, and thank God for them, but the fathers are few. Without fathers, boys and girls cannot become men and women.
We cannot pass on to the next generation what we do not ourselves possess. Unaffirmed men are unable adequately to affirm their own sons and daughters as male and female and therefore as persons. Until men are once again functioning in this vital capacity, women will continue to attempt to fill the gap in vain, and will continue to verbalize their pain and confusion.
There is, in short, an overwhelming amount of gender confusion in great numbers of men today. When men are healed, the pathway for the wholeness of women will be opened. If, however, men do not begin to find themselves as men, the same gender confusion, and on the same scale, will soon cloud the deep mind of women as well.
If you want to change the world, change the men. It's already happened, friends.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

If You Want to Change the World...

...Change the men. If you want to change the world, change the men who run it, work it, till it, and move it.

If you want to create a consumeristic society, delight men's eyes with pornography and children's games, forcing them to remain in a perpetual state of arrested development of juvenile maturity and interests. These grown boys will have no idea how to produce goods or create anything of quality; they will only know how to buy, use, and throw away.

If you want to create a ruthless society, abuse the men when they are boys and teach them that only the strong, heartless, cruel ones survive and get to the top of the food chain.

If you want to create a tolerant society, emasculate the men and shame them into neglecting their strength by telling stories of abuse and bullying. Use education to turn little boys into little girls and create a generation of feminized males that is more in touch with their emotions and more interested in the flighty fair of fashion culture than with strength, honor, and accountability.

If you want to change the world, change the men. That's the truth, and it's time for the church to stop ignoring it. It's time for the church to stop coddling men and idolizing women. God desperately wants to be the Father this generation so desperately needs, but he needs the church to step up and start producing men--real men--who build families where wives and children flourish, businesses where employees excel, governments where justice prevails. God will Father this fatherless generation through godly fathers raised up by the church.

If you want to change the world, change the men. Men, if you want to change the world, be changed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Featherless Biped

Beginning last Thursday night, a member of my family got sick with the stomach flu each night. Cyrus was first, then Zeke, Breena, Eisley, and finally me. But now the sickies are gone, and there is much rejoicing in the Holt household.

As a way of celebrating my recovery, I bought myself a book: Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson. The book title is taken from a passage in Jeremiah that absolutely rocked my world earlier this year. If you haven't read Peterson, I highly recommend him to you. His book, Under the Unpredictable Plant, was given to me at a major crossroads in my life, and his words greatly helped me to take the best road. I hope that, in this season of life, his words will be of equal encouragement to me.

Peterson's words at the end of the first chapter absolutely sliced me in half. Read this:
It is easier to define oneself minimally ("a featherless biped") and live securely within that definition than to be defined maximally ("little less than God") and live adventurously in that reality.
I know, right?! It's so much easier (and safer) to set expectations for myself so low that, regardless of what happens, I will always meet those expectations. It's easier to see myself as a featherless biped, a mere cosmic accident, then to define myself as "little less than God", created by him in his image, and being remade by him into the image of his son, Jesus Christ. The former definition offers safety, but the latter definition offers adventure. The former will be worn out walking with men, but the latter will outrun the horses, or die trying.

How are you defining yourself? Do you define yourself minimally, as though you were nothing more than a featherless biped? Or do you dare to define yourself maximally, as the Bible defines you, being "little less than God", created in his image and being remade into his likeness? Your self-perception has no relevance on reality, because the truth about you is that you are made to live adventurously in the reality that you have been created in God's image.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sexual Wholeness

I just read an article over at the Jesus Creed that outlines the ways in which sex traffickers target sporting events for prostitution. This isn't news to me because, through our young adults ministry, we've been getting involved in the issues of human trafficking and, thanks to Dan Clark and doma, we've been educated on the issue. Every time I hear about human trafficking, particularly the sex trafficking of minors, I become murderous with rage. My first reaction is to go buy a gun and seek out and destroy as many pimps and traffickers as I can.

That's probably not the healthiest reaction. So I've been trying to channel those energies into different directions, and I'm beginning to understand how I can be an abolitionist without killing the slave-traders. When we hosted a Human Trafficking 101 course at Heritage, Dan told us that the most important thing we can do to stop sex trafficking is to become sexually whole people who are aware of their sexual brokenness, and who are inviting God to heal them.

Sexually whole people don't have sex with prostitutes, and especially under-age prostitutes. Sexually whole people don't engage with pornography and supply money to the sex industry. Sexually whole people don't sexually abuse children. Sexually whole people don't create demand for these "services".

While I might find some dark joy in the deaths of pimps and traffickers, I know that new pimps and traffickers would arise to take their place. The only way to end sex trafficking and prostitution is to make it go out of business. The only way to make it go out of business is for me and you to become sexually whole people. The only way for us to become sexually whole people is to experience God's deep, transforming presence in the darkest places of our souls where our sexual brokenness lies hidden beneath layers of rationalization and disregard.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important message in the world not because it's the only way for us to get to heaven when we die, but because it's the only message that carries with it the power to transform us from the inside out. The deep, transforming, presence of God, to which we have access through the blood of Jesus, is the answer to all of the evil on earth and to all of the evil within you.

Let's be clear: Human trafficking exists because there is a demand for it. The only way to shrink that demand is for humans, especially men, to encounter God in the deep places of their soul, and to be made new in the power of Christ. What can you do to help drive the sex trafficking industry out of business?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sex | So What?

For the past several days I've been posting excerpts from my sermon on sex, based on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. In this text we see there are two cultural myths about sex: 1) I can do whatever I want with my body; and 2) Sex is just an appetite. There are also two biblical messages to counter those myths: 1) Your body is not your own. God bought it and moved in; and 2) Sex is the donation of your full humanity to another.

But, so what? What am I supposed to do about it? In this final post you'll find some thoughts on how to apply this passage to your life.


So what does all this mean? Well, let’s go back to the last sentence of our passage: Therefore honor God with your bodies.

This is the answer to all of your questions about sex: Does it honor God? Are you honoring God with your body?

When you have sex before marriage, you are disregarding God’s design for sex. You are not honoring him with your body. Does oral sex honor God? The answer is no, in case you were curious. Does masturbation honor God? No. Does any kind of sexual touching honor God? No. You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

But being a Christian is about so much more than not having sex before marriage. We talked about how sex is the donation of your full humanity to another. Well, there is a spiritual corollary to sex, something that is not a physical consummation with another human being, but a spiritual consummation with God. That act is worship.

Listen to Paul again. But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. We unite ourselves with Jesus in worship, and when we do, we not only give our full humanity to him, but we also give him our full hope for the future, hope for eternal life, for resurrection, and for heaven.

Uniting yourself with Jesus in spirit means giving him everything you are now and everything you hope to become in the future. It means not just giving your full humanity, but becoming fully human. Jesus was the only one of us whoever got this humanity thing right. He’s the only one who never screwed up. He’s the only one who never sinned. He is fully human. And guess what, despite what the DaVinci Code or the Gnostic Gospels would like to tell you, he never had sex.

You don’t have to have sex to be fully human. You don’t have to ever have sex to live a happy and fulfilled life. If that’s what you choose, you won’t be treated well, because our culture will not understand you. Even if that’s what you choose for a time, to not have sex until you get married—and I urge you to make that choice because it’s the only sexual choice you can make right now that you will never regret—but if you choose to not have sex until you get married you won’t be treated well. You know this. Our culture doesn’t understand that choice. Your abstinence will make others feel guilty and afraid. But I urge you to honor God with your bodies; and rather than becoming one flesh with someone else right now, become one spirit with Jesus.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sex | Biblical Message #1

When we read 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, we see two cultural myths about sex: 1) I can do whatever I want with my body; and 2) Sex is just an appetite. The biblical message that counters the second myth is: Sex is the donation of your full humanity to another. Now let's look at how Paul debunks the first myth.


Sex is not just an appetite, it is the donation of your full humanity to another. Now let’s debunk that first myth: I can do whatever I want with my body. Look back at our passage again. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.

As it turns out, when you become a Christian, your body doesn’t belong to you anymore. It belongs to God, and he has turned you into a house where he lives by his Holy Spirit. Your body is not your own. God bought it and moved in.

The implications of this reality are overwhelming, but let me just give you one: If you are a Christian, whenever you do anything, including sex of any kind, God is there. Now that might totally creep you out or freak you out, but understand this about God: God designed sex, but he is not sexual. God is what’s called supersexual, he is beyond sexuality.

You see, all the gods and goddesses of all the other ancient cultures were extremely sexual. They were dripping unhindered sexuality. Then the Israelites come along talking about this god called YHWH, and they never talked about him in sexual terms. He is beyond sexuality, yet he has given us this gift to be enjoyed according to his design, and not however we want. The bottom line is this: Christian, your body is not your own. God bought it with the blood and life of his son, and then he moved in in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sex | Biblical Message #2

I've been sharing excerpts from my sermon for high school students about sex, some of which was influenced by a sermon from Tim Keller. Using 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 as my text, I've written about the two cultural myths about sex: 1) I can do whatever I want with my body; and 2) Sex is just an appetite. This post will lay out the biblical message that counters the second myth.


Sex is not just an appetite. That is such a low, degrading view of sex. Look at this passage again. Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”

Don’t get caught up by the word prostitute. In those days you were either married or you were a prostitute. Christianity was the first social movement, religion, or institution to ever say, “It’s okay to be single.”

But Paul is quoting the book of Genesis here, and he’s saying whenever you have sex with someone, you become one flesh with them. Well, what does that mean? Perhaps you’ve heard of the phrase “the beast with two backs”? Well, that’s not what it means. The word “flesh” can mean a couple of different things, and in this instance what it means is “embodied personhood”. It means “full humanity expressed in your body”.

Sex is not about becoming one body with your sexual partner, it’s about giving your full humanity to another. Sex is the donation of your full humanity to another. This is the biblical message that counters the cultural myth “sex is just an appetite.”

God designed sex to be the consummation of a host of commitments that you make to your spouse. It’s the last commitment, the one in which you physically live and embody all of those commitments—the social, the legal, the relational, the responsibility, the mental, the spiritual, and the emotional.

There is no such thing as casual sex. There is no such thing as sex with no strings. That’s the fantasy of a screenwriter. Sex without those commitments is dehumanizing. Casual sex makes you less human; it turns you into an object of another person’s lust. It is not embodied humanity, it is embodied pornography. It is false.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sex | Cultural Myth #2

Yesterday I posted an excerpt from my sermon about sex that I'll be preaching to high school students. Using 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 as my text, I wrote that the first cultural myth about sex is: I can do whatever I want with my body. Now let's look at the second myth.


The first myth about sex is: I can do whatever I want with my body. The second myth is in verse 13. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.”

Now this one’s a little more complicated, so I’ll try not to get caught up in the details. Again, you’ve got the quotes, and this saying isn’t really about food. No, this myth says Sex is just an appetite. It’s just like hunger. When you get hungry, you eat food. Sex is the same way. When you get horny, you have sex. Simple as that.

The lie that our culture is telling you is this: You cannot be fulfilled in life without sex. A life without sex is like a life without food; you will waste away and die in about 6 weeks. You are a freak if you are a virgin.

This is probably a good time to tell you that God made sex. He designed it. God designed sex to be between a man and a woman who have committed themselves to each other socially, legally, relationally, responsibly, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Sex is the physical union that ties all of those commitments together. That’s why sex is sometimes called consummation, because the physical is the last of the commitments to be made, and it ties them all together.

So you are not a freak if you are a virgin. You’re smart, and you’re doing things in order. You’re not going to make the physical commitment before you’ve made the social, the legal, the relational, the responsibility, the spiritual, the mental, or the emotional one.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sex | Cultural Myth #1

Earlier this week our student ministry director, Runnin' Adam Walters, (I just made up that nickname, by the way) asked if I would be interested in talking to the high school students about sex on Sunday night. For those of you in ministry, you understand that talking to high school students about sex is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing you'll be asked to do. It's easy because you don't have to worry about keeping their attention. It's difficult because 1) their culture is always talking about sex; 2) they're always talking about sex; 3) they're always thinking about sex; 4) they're having sex (sorry parents); 5) they're horribly insecure about sex; and 6) almost nothing they hear about sex is true. So, naturally, I agreed. At the very least I'll get a few blog posts out of it.

My text is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, which reads quite nicely in the updated NIV. By the way, did you know that the NIV has been updated? True story.

Anyway, I'll skip the introduction of my sermon and all my ridiculous jokes, and post the bit about the first cultural myth about sex.


Our culture tells a lot of myths about sex, and we find two of them in this passage in 1 Corinthians. The first myth is right at the top, in verse 12. “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Do you see how “I have the right to do anything” is in quotes? That means that this was a common expression among the people that Paul was writing this letter to. It was part of their theology. He’s quoting them. “I have the right to do anything.” In other words, “I can do whatever I want with my body.” It’s my body, who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do with it. This is the first myth about sex: I can do whatever I want with my body.

It’s funny, because if you think about, when it comes to sex, we humans haven’t really changed much in the past 2,000 years. We’re still saying the same thing the ancient Corinthians were saying about sex. “I have the right to do anything. I can do whatever I want with my body.”

Let’s think about this for a second. Can you really do whatever you want with your body? I’d like to be able to fly. Can you fly? No? Me neither. So I can’t do whatever I want with my body.

But, you might say, we’re talking about sexually. Oh, okay. So you can have sex with whoever you want? Oh, only if they’re willing. Otherwise it’s a horrible crime, right? And there are other things you can’t do that we won’t even mention, but needless to say, you can’t do whatever you want with your body. You don’t have the right to do anything. There are limitations.

Paul’s response to this quote is interesting. He basically says, “Oh really? Well let’s assume for a moment that you’re right. You can do whatever you want with your body, but not everything is good for you. Not everything is beneficial to you. Not everything moves you forward as a person. You may think you want that, but then after you do it, you will immediately regret that decision.”

He goes on to say, “I will not be mastered by anything.” This means that the more you do whatever you want with your body, the more you will be unable to stop doing it. The more you have sex with whomever and however and whenever and wherever you want, the more you become a slave to sex. Your sexual desires will rule over you, and even when you want to do something else you won’t be able to.

Friday, December 3, 2010

God's Loving Presence

This will be the last post of my journey through Dick Staub's book, The Culturally Savvy Christian. This book has been very formative for me (we even got a kind comment from the author on one of the posts!), and I hope that you go out and buy yourself a copy of it--or you can join our life group and go through it with us for free, because one couple generously offered to buy everyone a copy! The last two posts have been about God's deep and transforming presence, and this one is about God's loving presence.

I've blogged and preached extensively (for me, anyway) about agape love--a love that lays down its life. This is God's kind of love, and by this love we are transformed. We cannot be made like Christ simply by accumulating knowledge and experience; we become like Christ because we experience the depth of God's transforming love in our souls. "Soul wellness is ours only when the indwelling God, whose love is eternally available and utterly reliable, sustains us." (121)

"Only those who experience God's loving presence in the deepest places of their soul can be a loving presence in the souls of others. When touched by God, our deepest wounds can become our deepest well of compassion for the sorrows of others." (124) If we allow him, God can transform our pain and weakness into sources of compassion, empathy, and wisdom for our brothers and sisters. It is not a question of can God, but will you let God. His presence is liquid, seeking its own level in the deepest, darkest caverns of our hearts where the ground is both parched and fallow from the lack of water and light. His presence brings refreshment, healing, and eventually a harvest to the deep wounds of our souls. In this way we are transformed, not in manners of behavior, but in modes of being. "Our transformation is the result of God's presence in our life, and the evidence of God's presence is our embodiment of God's love." (125)

If you want to transform the culture, you yourself must be transformed by the rich, loving presence of God. "Today's Christians are often a mirror image of popular culture, wanting to transform the world without being transformed, wanting to prove Christianity intellectually without displaying the love that is the proof we are Jesus' disciples. The only way to enrich our culture is to be enriched personally, which comes when we experience God deeply and then embody God's loving presence. ...The culturally savvy Christian's goal is to embody God's loving, transforming presence in the world." (125)

I don't know about you, but I want to be that kind of Christian. I've only got one shot at this, and the greatest terror that haunts me is to think that I might go to my grave having lived a mediocre life characterized by the capitulation to popular culture rather than the embodiment of God's agape presence, by the stale shallowness of mindless distraction rather than the healing, soul-level transformation that comes from experiencing God deeply. True transformation--not just behavior modification--begins by experiencing God in the deep recesses of your inner being, and slowly but steadily grows upward and outward. The same is true, I suppose, of popular culture.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

God's Transforming Presence

Yesterday, while blogging through Dick Staub’s book The Culturally Savvy Christian, I wrote about the deep presence of God, and how we will only become deeply well when we experience the depth of God’s presence. Many of us seek to transform our culture, but we ourselves have not been transformed by God. In the next chapter of his book, Staub writes powerfully about the transforming presence of God.

Staub talks about his own journey with God, beginning, as many of us do, at a place of youthful zeal to transform the world. However, he eventually realized, “God wasn’t interested in transforming me so that I could transform the world; God wanted to transform me so that I could become fully human.” (92-3) The goal of transformation is to become fully human—that is, to be restored to the creature that God originally intended us to be, before we chose to rebel against him and exchanged our full humanity for a false divinity. The only one of us who has been fully human since Eden is, of course, Jesus.

“God’s transforming presence will change us, not so we can transform the world, but so we can experience God’s presence more deeply and be restored to God’s image more completely.” (93) The first thing that was ever true of you is that you were created in God’s image. Your being created in the image of God predates, and runs deeper, than your sin. This is why God is committed to your restoration, not your destruction. He wants to make you again what he made you before; and we know what that looks like because he sent his son into the world to show us not simply himself, but also ourselves. “Jesus did not come to make us better; he came to make us new.” (94)

“God’s original purpose is not our salvation or the evangelization of others; it is that we glorify God by reflecting God’s image through expression of the spiritual, intelligent, creative, moral, and relational capacities uniquely imprinted on humans.” (95) You are an image bearer of the one true God. Broken? Yes. Cracked? Yes. Beyond repair? No. God’s will for your life is not simply that you tell others about Jesus. (Though that is a part of it.) God’s will for your life is that you become fully human, that is, that you fully reflect his image in you by expressing those qualities that are unique to God’s image bearers: spirituality, intelligence, creativity, morality, relationship, and art. That we can sing and dance and pray to God and understand his ways and choose to lay down our lives for one another is truly remarkable! This is the image of God in you. These are the things that will become more evident in you as you are transformed by God’s deep presence.

Using Romans 12:1-3 as his guide, Staub lays out a process for the transformation to full humanity in three steps:

  1. “Restore God to the central place in your life by presenting your body as a living sacrifice.” (96)
    • “It is impossible to nurture God’s presence or to experience a personal transformation to our full humanity without acknowledging God’s centrality in each moment of each hour of each day.” (97)
  2. “Stop conforming to the world.” (97)
    • “Our minds have been squeezed into the mold of the thought patterns, beliefs, values, and behaviors of our fallen culture. …As we resist conformity, we will become highly sensitized to culture, recognizing the superficial, mindless diversions and seeing through the shallowness of celebrity.” (99)
  3. “Renew your mind.” (100)
    • “Most of us cannot recognize the contrast between the ideas and values that dominate our culture and those consistent with our faith, because our primary education has been in the ideas and values of our age and we remain illiterate about Jesus’ expectations for our life. …All the excitement about new paradigms, enthusiasm for relevance, and the sincere desire to transform church and culture will amount to nothing unless they are accompanied by the deep faith that produces transformed people.” (101-2)

Transformation is not about minding your manners or managing your sin or keeping all the mandates. God’s deep, loving presence transforms us into the image of Jesus, the one who was fully human, who perfectly reflected the image of his father.

In order to transform church and culture, you must be (and be being) transformed in God’s presence. He is with you every moment, and in every moment you can offer your body to him as a sacrifice that remains alive; in this way you will become fully alive! The world has a pattern, a mold, that it has squeezed you into. Break free from that mold by living in the presence of God, talking with him, hearing from him, obeying him. And, lastly, your mind must become new again. You must learn to discern the truth, because this culture is full of appealing and delicious lies.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

God's Deep Presence

So far, I’ve blogged through the first section of Dick Staub’s book, The Culturally Savvy Christian, in which he encourages Christians to be savvy (that is, to get it) about popular culture and the uniquely American brand of Christianity that has been influenced by popular culture, and which may be a part of our own Christian communities. He has harsh words for both popular culture and what he calls “Christianity-Lite”; they are not, however, the rebuke of a self-righteous Luddite, but rather a call to both to rise out of the mire in which they are stuck.

In the second section of the book, Staub urges believers to get serious about pursuing God’s presence in their lives, identifying three characteristics specifically: God’s loving presence, his transforming presence, and his deep presence.

In the chapter on the deep presence of God, Staub calls out today’s evangelical pastors, who, he sees, are more concerned about building their empires than knowing God deeply. “We need fewer entrepreneurial pastors and more pastors who actually know God deeply.” (71) Have we, as pastors, been seduced into pragmatism, defining success by results—numbers of attendees, numbers of salvations, numbers of baptisms—rather than on how deeply and intimately we, and our congregations, know God? Has the siren call of success caused us to run aground? Have we been deceived into believing that celebrity is an effective tool for building God’s kingdom?

God is the point. He has always been the point—the goal. But we evangelicals have substituted heaven for its maker. When doing evangelism, I was trained to ask, “If you were to die tonight, how certain are you that you would go to heaven?” We have made heaven the goal—or worse, escape from hell. But heaven is not our destination. “Popular culture believes that the destination is personal fulfillment, and the church generally teaches that the destination is heaven. In fact, our destination is God, and what we seek is not our inner self, nor do we seek some future bliss; what we seek is reunion with God now.” (72) What our hearts need most is not the promise of a future paradise or the actualization of our unique self, but rather the deep presence of the one who made us from scratch, knows us from Adam, and loves us from the cross.

Our culture and our churches will not be transformed until we are transformed. We must become well, and only people who dig deep wells will become deeply well. “Only God’s deep spiritual, intelligent, creative presence in us will draw people to him. Only the presence of deeply well people will transform popular culture, and only by going deep in God can we be restored to deep wellness.” (79)

God wants you to know him deeply. He wants to rescue you from the triviality and shallowness of popular culture. He wants to take you out of the kiddie pool and show you the ocean. “In God, we find springs of living water, the sustenance of daily bread, light in darkness, truth, the guidance of a shepherd leading his sheep, abundant life beginning now, and, after death, a resurrection that extends this new life into eternity.” (81) You are invited to become, not merely God’s fan or his follower, but his friend. You are invited, not simply to heaven when you die, but to the depths of God’s presence today—which is, in fact, heaven in the here and now. But you must pursue God. You must chase him. You must run after him with all your heart. “The well soul is available to the pursuer of God’s presence, but not to the halfhearted, superficial seeker.” (90)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Popular Culture • Redeemable

The reason Dick Staub is so hard on Popular Culture in his book The Culturally Savvy Christian is because he sees in it the possibility of incredible power for good. These wonderful storytellers could be writing the tales that would guide future generations into lives of wisdom and excellence, but instead they're merely hawking merchandise. The content of Popular Culture could be life-giving and soul-enriching, but instead it is mostly shallow, self-indulgent, hedonistic tripe. It could be a force for spiritual guidance and conversation, but instead it dumbs everything down to the lowest common denominator and invites us to write our own Scriptures and become our own gods.

Popular Culture must be redeemed. Fortunately, it is redeemable. While much of what we find in Popular Culture is the 21st Century version of Baal worship, there are elements which still seek to tell the truth rather than simply get ratings or sell records and merchandise. One piece that comes immediately to mind is one of my favorite TV shows of all time--LOST. I've blogged extensively about LOST, and even taught a Sunday School class using it as a paradigm for how Christians should engage with Popular Culture.

In one of those posts I wrote about my own understanding of how Christians ought to engage with Popular Culture:

My hope is that we can find a middle ground where Jesus is redeeming Culture, where we can find spiritual value in the art, film, music, etc. of the unbelieving world. This is a place where we are not afraid of the media of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, but where we can view it critically and redemptively--where we come to a show like LOST not expecting a full gospel presentation, but rather an artful glimpse of the image of the gospel. If we can manage this perspective, not only will we no longer be so exasperating to a cynical and unbelieving world, but we'll find doors of connection and evangelism opening for us that never would have opened before. Who knows but that God would want to use a silly TV show like LOST to bring some people into his kingdom.

There are a host of redemptive elements within Popular Culture--doors not only for the Gospel, but also for the cultural transformation that comes from telling the truth, pursuing the good, and creating the beautiful. This cultural transformation will not happen, however, unless individuals are transformed. As Staub says, "Any hope of restoring culture starts with restoring the individuals who make culture, and any hope of restoring individuals starts with rediscovering the origin of our capacities in the one who made us." (60) We cannot transform culture unless we ourselves are transformed. We must become well; and the only way to become well is to get serious about God's deep, transforming, and loving presence. More on this to come...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

*deep inhale of surprise, delight, and anticipation*

Okay, I'm really, really excited about this. The Violet Burning haven't put out a new record since 2006, and now they're putting out 3! Ahhhh!!! *head explosion*

the violet burning from the violet burning on Vimeo.

rock is dead from the violet burning on Vimeo.

the violet burning from the violet burning on Vimeo.

the violet burning from the violet burning on Vimeo.

3 albums. 33 songs. Coming in December.

Popular Culture • Spiritual Delusions

In the first chapter of his book, The Culturally Savvy Christian, Dick Staub describes the popular culture in which we live as having four dynamics: General Superficiality, Soullessness, Powerful Influence, and Spiritual Delusions. In previous posts I covered General Superficiality, Soullessness, and Powerful Influence. Today we'll finish this miniseries off with the Spiritual Delusions of popular culture.

Spiritual Delusions

“The teacher and the preacher tell the stories. The stories shape our beliefs and values. The beliefs and values guide our choice of an identity. The identity determines our association with a community or tribe. This entire system was once the domain of religion, but today, media culture has displaced religion as the mediator of the spiritual journey. How reliable is this new guide?” (21) Where are we going? Who are we becoming? By what principles is popular culture guiding us? Who has drawn up the map? When and how and why does popular culture possess the moral authority to be our guide? The answer to these questions is frightening.

“Today’s spiritual delusions are the product of misguided beliefs embedded in the sixties credo: I am the supreme arbiter of all things. Experience is better than reason. Feelings trump traditional mores. If it feels good, do it. Relativism trumps absolutes. There is no truth; there is only what is true for you in a given situation. Expression is more important than imaginative capacity or beauty. All authority and every institution must be questioned. You can’t trust anybody over thirty.” (22) To reasonable people, this philosophy—this religion—is easily refuted; but popular culture has taught us to abandon reason for relativistic pragmatism (Whatever works!) and self absorbed emotionalism (Whatever!). Rather than freeing us, this religion traps us within the worst of ourselves. It keeps us juvenile and shallow—exactly the types of people who make the best consumers!

The so-called pursuit of freedom of the 1960s has given way to the religion of affluence in the 21st century, something called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. It is moralistic because people believe that if they are good they will go to heaven. (What is good? What is heaven?) It is therapeutic because people believe that God wants them to be, above all, happy; he acts not as God or King or Lord, but as a Cosmic Therapist who helps you work through your issues. (What does it mean to be happy? How do we become whole? How do we become well?) It is deism because this God is distant and only involved in what you want him to be involved in. (What sort of God waits at your beckon call?)

Popular culture teaches us that we don’t need God to be spiritual. In fact, we don’t need religion or church or any other human being on the face of the earth to be spiritual people. We can love others well enough by ourselves, thank you very much! It tells us that we are the masters of spirituality—that we can pick and choose what is true for us and what works best for us. At the heart of the spiritual delusions of popular culture lies syncretism, the fusion of elements of different religions into one, personalized religious system. Everyone gets to write their own Scriptures and be their own priest and god. After all, I am the supreme arbiter of all things.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Popular Culture • Powerful Influence

In the first chapter of his book, The Culturally Savvy Christian, Dick Staub describes the popular culture in which we live as having four dynamics: General Superficiality, Soullessness, Powerful Influence, and Spiritual Delusions. In previous posts I discussed General Superficiality and Soullessness, and today I'm writing about popular culture's Powerful Influence.

Powerful Influence

Staub assigns roles traditionally fulfilled by religion and education—that of preacher and teacher—to popular culture. “Popular culture systematically preaches and teaches, informing its audience about which issues matter most, fulfilling an educational role once occupied by schools and a spiritual role once filled by religion.” (16) People today know Beyonce better than Moses. They’ve memorized the lyrics of Eminem but haven’t a clue about the poetry of David. They sing along with Lady Gaga but don’t know how to pray with Jesus, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”. Who are the teachers? Who are the preachers? Who are the influencers of this culture? They are our celebrities. Would you trust them to watch your kids?

Popular culture wields such power and influence because of the inherent power of Story, and the best storytellers live and work in Hollywood, where stories are told not for enrichment or education, but for money. “Told well, truthful, wise stories can provide insight, understanding, and illumination for a path to a richer life for all who hear, understand, and embrace them; misguided stories, however, can lead an entire population astray. People who believe they know the truth need to realize that cultural influence requires more than knowing the story; it requires telling it thoughtfully and artistically. Never has there been a greater need for wise, gifted storytellers who understand the story we are in and can communicate a better way gracefully and truthfully.” (18) Cultures become corrupt when they tell their stories for money instead of for the passing on of wisdom and communal identity.

Popular culture is, inherently, identity-forming. The stories and rituals of a culture provide meaning and identity for individuals within the community. Relationships within the community formed character in younger generations. “In the past, we imitated individuals who embodied our core values and whom we respected because we had observed their application of those values in everyday life. Today, our identities are often formed more superficially by adopting outward appearances and behaviors without regard for the internal values held by the originator, who, to us, is disembodied. Thus, people whom we do not know and cannot observe closely are influencing our life choices.” (20) No longer are our character and identity shaped by parents, teachers or pastors. All authority has been called into question. Now we wear masks, pretending to belong to the tribe of our favorite celebrity, never thinking that it is they who wield the most power and authority over us, dictating that we become shallow, mindless, soulless consumers of the products they sell to prop up their pop empires. They don’t care about you. They don’t know you. They don’t want to talk to you. To them, you are one of the faceless, nameless masses they control with a word and a rhythm. They tell you to rebel against authority. Perhaps it is time to ask where the power truly lies in this culture.

Indeed, the question must be asked: “What is the future of a society in which our identities are shaped by a multitude of impersonal, uncaring, commercially motivated forces instead of by people who know and love us?” (20) The answer, to borrow from Tolkien, is that we become Gollum. When our identities are shaped by an uncaring force we become less than human, slowly wasting away into the soulless, superficial depths of the kiddy pool until we drown because of the atrophy of our intellectual, spiritual, and moral strength and that apathy that overwhelms when popular culture has removed from us our will to change and grow.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

Today is Black Friday, and every year before this one I spent this "national holiday" sitting comfortably at home, smugly congratulating myself on not being one of those exhausted consumers scratching and clawing their way through the stampeding masses on safari for the latest toy, television, or gadget. Every year I scoffed at the idea of waking up at 3am to stand in line in the cold November air, waiting to rush madly into the local superstore in a vain attempt to quell my own (and now, my children's) materialistic desires. Every year I refused to participate in this cavalcade of consumerism--every year, that is, until this one.

My wife is very much not like me. I hate crowds. She thrives on the chaos of a packed parking lot and the buzz of a crowded mall. I hate shopping. It breathes life into her soul. But I love my wife very much, and because I love her very much, I found myself at a WalMart teeming with shoppers at 12 midnight on Black Friday.

We all stood idly by large pallets covered in wrapping paper, waiting for the signal to come over the intercom that the clock had struck 12:01 and the free for all could begin. My pallet contained Lego sets of 405 pieces for a scant $15. Cyrus loves Legos. This is a great value. I can purchase his happiness at Christmas and pass on the savings to Eisley and Ezekiel. These were the thoughts running through my head when an unintelligible voice cackled over the intercom and my fellow consumers began tearing through the wrapping paper. There was a rush from behind me as arms came flailing through every available opening grabbing at the blue boxes (the green ones were Duplo--lame) full of Junior's happiness. I grabbed my box and moved away as quickly as I could, searching out a part of the store less populated by overly motivated parents.

When all was said and done, Breena and I managed to get what we came for (and a little bit extra, of course--that's how they get you!) without doing too much damage to our bodies, our bank account, and possibly our souls. This is not something I would ever do by myself or for myself. I participated in Black Friday because I love my wife and I wanted to spend time with her in her world. And because of that, it was fun.

Black Friday isn't for me. Maybe it's for you. It's certainly a smart consumer choice if you're willing to sacrifice some sleep and physical comfort. You can get your Christmas shopping done and spend less money doing it. But, for me, Black Friday isn't about savings, it's about love. I love you Breena!

Popular Culture • Soullessness

In the first chapter of his book, The Culturally Savvy Christian, Dick Staub describes the popular culture in which we live as having four dynamics: General Superficiality, Soullessness, Powerful Influence, and Spiritual Delusions. On Wednesday I wrote about General Superficiality, and today we'll cover Soullessness.


Popular culture is soulless, and the more we thoughtlessly and passively engage with it, the more we surrender our own souls to it. “Though often devoid of spiritual, intellectual, or aesthetic substance, popular culture nevertheless thrives because the sustaining forces of today’s entertainment culture are technological and economic, not spiritual, ideational, or artistic. Despite its mind-numbing shallowness, popular culture appears alive and brimming with vitality because impersonal commercial interests are propping up and exploiting today’s spiritually, intellectually, and artistically anemic enterprise.” (11) Popular culture is not about art, knowledge, education, enrichment, beauty, or truth; it is about money.

Teenagers are uniquely targeted by popular culture because it thrives on youth. “Eight year olds are persuaded that they are teenagers already and then the twenty-five year olds are convinced that they are still teenagers. …For the first time in the history of our species the most vital, active years of a person’s growing life are dedicated to one major goal—self indulgence.” (Robert Bateman, 12)

“Humans have been transformed from producers to passive consumers.” (13) You are a bank account. Worse yet, you are a credit card—consuming more and more of the products of popular culture with money you don’t have. You are not a valuable member of culture because you produce something worthwhile or because you pursue the good, the beautiful, and the true. Your value is directly tied to your capacity for consumption. “The driving force behind the emergence of popular culture…is not a love of artistry or the good, the true, and the beautiful; it is the cultivation of a sizable, wealthy, impulsive generation groomed to be consumers from the cradle to the grave.” (13)

The whole exercise is ridiculous! “We buy things we don’t need, made by people who don’t know or care about us, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t really like!” (14) Popular culture promises us abundance—life to the full!—but in the end it dehumanizes us. From the perspective of popular culture, we are not people seeking depth and enrichment, we are a demographic and a marketing target. The soullessness of popular culture strips us of our humanity.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Popular Culture • General Superficiality

In the first chapter of his book, The Culturally Savvy Christian, Dick Staub describes the popular culture in which we live as having four dynamics: General Superficiality, Soullessness, Powerful Influence, and Spiritual Delusions. In this post I'll discuss what he says about General Superficiality, and will deal with the other dynamics in future posts.

General Superficiality

Staub describes popular culture as divisionary entertainment and mindless amusement. Too much of our time is spent in front of the computer or television, minds turned off, absorbing media that is free of useful knowledge or edifying messages—free, in fact, of anything that is good, beautiful, or true. More and more, we exist to be entertained. With every passing moment of this divisionary entertainment and mindless amusement, our real lives are disappearing into a bottomless pit of entertainment.

Reality television has, in fact, managed to marry divisionary entertainment with real life. “As we increasingly morph real life into entertainment and vice versa, entertainment is becoming our central reality, and real life is becoming subsumed in our entertainments.” (7) There is no longer a line between real life and entertainment, reality and fantasy. In a recent seminar at USC, Bill Nye the Science Guy collapsed while approaching the podium. Rather than rushing to his aid, every student in the room pulled out their cell phones, tweeting and updating their facebook statuses about the events unfolding before them. Although a man’s life was in danger in their physical presence, these students were so disassociated from physical presence that they could not distinguish between reality and entertainment.

The superficiality of popular culture is most clearly expressed in our obsession with celebrity. These days, you don’t need to do anything great to become famous; people are known for being known. One young woman described our celebrity-centered culture this way: “Those of us who are fans, we use these celebrity lives in ways that transform our own. I sometimes think that these are our gods and goddesses, these are our icons, and their stories become kind of parables for how to lead our lives.” (10) The pervasiveness of our superficial, celebrity-driven culture demands that we consider it thoughtfully. “What are the implications of knowing more about what’s going on in the personal lives of celebrities than we do about our neighbors, coworkers, or, worse yet, our own family members?” (10)

The superficiality of popular culture, coupled with its gluttonous consumption by the masses, is retarding the moral, spiritual, intellectual, and creative development of the majority of individuals within our society. We do not know how to think. We do not know how to behave. Our art is shallow and derivative. We believe in only ourselves. Popular culture has convinced us that our lives are not part of a Greater Story, but that we are the masters of our destiny, if only we would believe in ourselves and follow our hearts. It has removed robust theology and philosophy from the public discourse, replacing them with the paper thin platitudes of self-absorbed emotionalism. Reason has been abandoned for waffling, relativistic pragmatism. We are drowning in kiddy pools.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I've just finished reading Dick Staub's excellent book, The Culturally Savvy Christian. The tagline for the book declares it to be "a manifesto for deepening faith and enriching popular culture in an age of Christianity-Lite", and indeed it is. Staub's thesis centers around Evangelicalism's capitulation to the ways and forms of popular culture, which has resulted in a weak, insipid form of the faith he calls "Christianity-Lite". The way out, he postulates, is to deepen our faith and become deeply well, enriched people who are then able to enrich culture.

This is such an excellent book that, rather than giving it a one-time review, I'd like to spend more time with the material. I'll begin with this quote from the Introduction:

We've arrived at a crossroads in faith and culture. The Christian community has degenerated into an intellectually and artistically anemic subculture, and the general population is consuming an unsatisfying blend of mindless, soulless, spiritually delusional entertainment. We are caught between a popular culture attempting to build art without God and a religious culture that believes in a God disinterested in art.

The American Music Awards were on TV this past Sunday, and I watched some of it with my wife. The terms mindless, soulless, and spiritually delusional apply nicely to the dreck I saw celebrated that night. Neither a note of the music nor a syllable of the lyrics was true. It was all false--an ecstatic, hedonistic, autotuned Bacchae exalting the worst and most deceptive elements of our culture. And this is the culture to which Evangelicals seek to be relevant--to imitate and sanctify, if such a thing were possible.

We Christians are, in large part, intellectually and artistically vacuous because we have followed popular culture down the spiraling whirlpool of eros-replacing-agape, emotional sentamentalism, self-defining reality, and the victory of style of substance. We have elevated product over process and justified the means by the ends, which we have devastatingly misinterpreted. Though we set out to transform popular culture, we have been transformed by it. We have turned our pastors into celebrities, elevating them to god-like status while they produce to our liking, but then discarding them with the Paris Hiltons and Brittany Spearses of the popular culture machine when we are done with them. We have exchanged discipleship for consumerism, true community for celebrity-association, and transformation for trendsetting. We have turned the deep and vibrant faith of Augustine and Aquinas and Luther and Lewis into "mindless, soulless, spiritually delusional entertainment."

As a result, we are an insecure and fearful people embracing a decontextualized faith-substitute. We are biblically illiterate. We are theologically anemic. We are intellectually vacuous. We are artistically derivative. We are, in a word, unwell. This is not the way the people of the creating, redeeming, resurrecting God ought to be.

Monday, November 8, 2010


An excerpt from "Not the Way Its Supposed To Be", by Cornelius Plantinga:

What are some features of this [spiritual] flourishing? As Christians see her, a spiritually whole person longs in certain classic ways. She longs for God and the beauty of God, for Christ and Christlikeness, for the dynamite of the Holy Spirit and spiritual maturity. She longs for spiritual hygiene itself--and not just as a consolation prize when she cannot be rich and envied instead. She longs for other human beings: she wants to love them and to be loved by them. She hungers for social justice. She longs for nature, for its beauties and graces, for the sheer particularity of the way of a squirrel with a nut. As we might expect, her longings dim from season to season. When they do, she longs to long again.

What do you long for?

The point of our lives is not to get smart or to get rich or even to get happy. The point is to discover God's purposes for us and to make them our own. The point is to learn ways of loving God above all and our neighbor as ourselves and then to use these loves the way a golfer uses certain checkpoints to set up for a drive. The point is to be lined up right, to seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), to try above all to increase the net amount of shalom in the world.

What is the point of your life?

To glorify God is to do these things, and, by doing them, to make God's intentions in the world more luminous and God's reputation more lustrous. To enjoy God forever is to cultivate a taste for this project, to become more and more the sort of person for whom eternal life with God would be sheer heaven.

Do you long for eternal life with God? Would that be heaven for you?

Saturday, November 6, 2010


While putting Eisley and Cyrus to bed tonight, I asked them if they were glad that I was back from Charlotte. "Yeah!" they shouted.

"Did you miss me?"

"Yeah, we missed you." Then Cyrus asked, "Daddy, why were you in Charlotte?"

"I had to go to Charlotte because my Uncle David died," I replied.

"Why did he die?" Cyrus asked.

"Well," I stalled, searching for an explanation that would satisfy a 4-year-old. "He got old and sick, and then he died."

"Did he get sick because he ate lots of junk food?" he asked. Mommy is clearly brainwashing him.

"No," I said, "sometimes we just get old and sick, and our bodies can't live anymore."

"Why did he get old and sick?" Eisley asked.

Not wanting to scare her about death or say something stupid like, "Oh Eisley, we all get old and sick and then we die, even Mommy and Daddy"--that would not have gone over well--I searched for an answer but couldn't think of one. So, instead, I said, "Oh, honey, sometimes people just get old and sick."

Then Cyrus asked the clincher. "Did he have Jesus in his heart when he got sick?" What do you say to that?

"Yes he did," I said. But to be honest, I'm not very confident of that.

"Will Jesus heal his body?" Cyrus asked.

"Someday he will," I told him.

"I want to go to heaven with Jesus and God and everyone!" Cyrus said, excitedly.

"I want to go to heaven because Jesus loves everybody!" Eisley shouted.

So then we all prayed; Eisley first, then Cyrus, then Daddy. We thanked God for our friend Sophia, for almond butter sandwiches, and for bringing Daddy safely home from Charlotte. And they asked me to sing "Jesus Loves Me", which of course I did; and for the first time I can ever remember, they both joined in. And we sat there in the dark, singing about how much Jesus loves us. I choked back tears as I thought about Heaven, and how this moment was a little, priceless taste of eternal life.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I'm in Charlotte, NC, today. My uncle David died last week and the funeral is tomorrow. He was a great guy, although I only got to see him about once a year. He was always ready with a joke and I can only remember him laughing and smiling. His health took a turn for the worse about five years ago, and he finally succumbed last Thursday. He will be missed.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

We Shall Not Be Doormats

Here's the last bit of the sermon that I cut out.


Now, at this point, the question always arises, “What’s the difference between laying down your life and being a doormat? What about people who take your life away from you through some kind of verbal, physical, or emotional abuse?” Those are great questions that we need to reconcile with this core call of laying down our lives and not demanding our rights.

In those moments, my mind always goes to the scene from the Passion of the Christ where Jesus is talking with Pilate. He’s bloody and beaten, and Pilate asks him, “Don’t you know that I have the power to either crucify you or set you free?” And Jesus responds, “You have no power except that which is given you from above.” In other words, Jesus and the Father have agreed to this. You can’t take his life. He’s laying it down willingly. I think about that and I remember that Jesus was neither a martyr nor a victim. Nobody took his life from him; he wouldn’t have allowed that. He willingly laid it down.

Don’t be deceived. Agape is strong. Of all the loves, agape has the most backbone. It takes tremendous strength of will and courage to lay down your life. Agape is neither spineless nor gutless. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Agape talks back. Agape puts up the hand and says, “No. No farther. I will lay down my life for you, but you will not take it from me.” Remember, agape is a love that walks, not a love that lays down passively.

Agape forgives sins. Anyone who has forgiven the sins of another is no longer a victim, and agape frees us from the downward spiral of being a victim, always seeking revenge, always demanding more and more retribution. Agape offers the way out through forgiveness.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Make the Gospel True

Here is another bit of my sermon this weekend that didn't make the cut.


Is the gospel true in your life group? Don’t you want it to be? Don’t you want to be a part of a community where agape is active? Don’t you long for the gospel to be true in your church? The gospel happens when you walk in the light of a love that lays down its life. Do you want to impact the world for Jesus? Lay down your lives for one another, because that doesn’t happen in this world.

Several weeks ago, Andy Sieberhagen led the staff in a devotional where he took us deep into the mind of a long-term, overseas missionary. It was a terrifying experience! He told us that people go overseas because they believe that the Christian community they’re experiencing at home is worth giving to others and worth dying for. Friends, your life group and your church are only worth dying for if you are already laying down your lives for each other.

Dear friends, let us lay down our lives for one another, because this whole concept of laying down your life comes directly from God! And anyone who lays down his life for his brother and sister has been born of God and knows God.

Do you want to see God work in your life? Walk in the light of a love that lays down its life. Do you want to know God more? Lay down your life for your brothers and sisters. You can’t love God if you refuse to lay down your life for others.

What’s truly amazing is that when you walk in the light of a love that lays down its life, this whole thing that Jesus called us to actually works. It really works. Forgiveness happens, and you are set free from the cycle of victimization. Grace happens and relationships are restored and strengthened. Laying down your life for each other really does make you able to lay down your life for God.

I know that each of you wants to love God with all of your heart, but you can’t love God if you don’t love your brothers and sisters. You can lay down your life for your brothers and sisters because God has laid down his life for you.

What are you holding onto? What sin, what offence, have you not let go of? Who are you refusing to forgive? What right are you laying claim to that hurts others? What demands are you making of others—your friends, your family? Where are you refusing to die? What word is God speaking to you right now? Money. Shame. Hobbies. The Boat. Power. Free Time. Sleep. Where is God calling you to walk in the light of a love that lays down its life?

Jesus didn’t just walk in the light of a love that laid down its life, he is the light of love that laid down his life. Consider all that has been forgiven of you. Consider how patient he has been with you. Does that make you grateful? Does that make you want to sacrifice everything for him? Whoever sacrifices everything for God must also sacrifice everything for his brother. So how will you walk?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Gospel Opportunities

I'm preaching this weekend at church and had a lot of leftovers after I trimmed down my sermon. Here's a sample of what you won't here at Heritage this weekend.


We have a life group that meets at our house on Wednesdays. It’s this amazing group of almost 40 people, and I have heard some of the most unbelievable stories of God at work in their lives. I have seen the gospel happen there. I have seen agape in action in our life group.

But if you’ve been a part of a life group for any amount of time, you know that they’re not easy. Somebody’s going to get on your nerves. If you’re doing it right, there will be conflict. Now let me ask you something. If this is the Church, and life groups are where agape happens, and we all say we’re following Jesus, and we’re supposed to be walking in the light of a love that lays down its life, then why oh why, does it seem that at the first sign of conflict in a group it becomes, “Either they go or we’re gone! This person is bothering me so I’m just going to leave!”

We get hurt. We get angry. We get irritated. We get frustrated. So we withdraw. We leave. We disconnect from the group. Or we get snarky. We get vindictive. We get superspiritual. We form factions. We gossip. We assume the worst about others.

Are you serious? Pardon me, but I think you dropped your cross somewhere along the way. That’s not the gospel. That’s not agape. That’s not walking in the light of a love that lays down its life.

Every conflict in your life group is an opportunity for the gospel. Every conflict in your life group is an opportunity for each party to walk in the light of a love that lays down its life. Every conflict is a chance for the world to see that we work through our tough stuff instead of just walking away! Every conflict is a chance to become more committed to one another than we were before.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sufjan Stevens | The Age of Adz

A couple days ago I bought Sufjan Stevens' newest album, The Age of Adz. I had read some reviews beforehand and knew that it was going to be different than Michigan and Illinois, which gave me some hesitation about buying it. I really like the folk stylings of those albums (as well as Seven Swans), and I wasn't sure how I was going to deal with change. And now that I have the album...well, I'm still not sure.

The music is actually right up my alley, even more so than the folk music I had so much fallen in love with. It's a mix of orchestration, electronica, pop, and vocal effects that somehow manages to stay true to Sufjan in the process. He doesn't get lost in the technology, like I had feared would happen when I heard about the change in musical direction he was taking. He has such a distinct sound and style, and I thought that might disappear. Fortunately, it isn't.

The lyrics are, well...I'm not sure what Sufjan is trying to tell us. Some people think he's struggling to reconcile his homosexual inclinations with his Christian faith. Other people think he's telling stories from the perspective of multiple characters in his music, and some of those characters are females. Or is the whole album about Royal Robertson, the artist whose art and life inspired it in the first place? I don't know how to interpret the lyrics of The Age of Adz because I'm not sure what perspective he's writing from.

Is Sufjan gay? I don't know. Is he a Christian? Yes. Is he a talented artist who has managed to take his music in an entirely new direction and still create something both amazing and true to himself? What a ridiculous question. Of course. Do yourself a favor: Get real, get right with the Lord, and buy this album.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Making Disciples

Just before he ascended to the Father's side, Jesus commanded the eleven disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations...". I am a Christian because they were obedient.

Those guys didn't have a book to read on discipleship. All they had to draw on was their three years of walking with Jesus, of seeing how he built into their lives, how he turned them from doubters to disciples. And I think the trick of discipleship is that there is no trick. There is no program. There is no fast-track. It's just life together.

The reason you can't speed up the discipleship process is because you're making disciples out of humans, and despite the speed of our culture, humans move at a very slow pace. We take years to learn simple lessons. We don't get things until we get them, if you know what I mean; and nobody can tell you how or when you're going to grasp it. This is life. It happens as it is happening.

Jesus is leading the process. This is why I don't like to set goals or have benchmarks with others. I'd much rather hang out in the presence of Jesus and see what happens, all under the assumption that he will speak the words he wants us to hear. Who am I, after all, to have a plan for your life? Jesus is much better at making plans, and he'll reveal them when he decides to reveal them. There is no destination in discipleship other than full Christlikeness (which we will never reach in this life), and the joy is in the journey of pursuing him together. Anyone who genuinely and wholeheartedly seeks to become a disciple of Jesus will not fail to become one.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why Would God Allow...

It seems like all the most difficult questions of faith fall along the same general line: How can a good God allow evil to exist? Why would God allow natural disasters? Why did God let so-and-so die? Underlying these questions is another one: Is God really all-powerful? Is he truly in control? If he's not, then we desperately need to rethink our conception of God. But if he is, then how can he possibly be good?

These are difficult questions. The deists thought they had found an answer when they created a God who was omnipotent but disinterested. But when God becomes disinterested and distant, everything else--Creation, sin, the Incarnation, the cross, resurrection--falls apart. You may as well be agnostic.

Part of the difficulty of these questions is the way we understand the term "allow". Or, to put it in more theological terms, what we mean when we say "God is sovereign", or "God is omnipotent". We assume that, because God is sovereign and omnipotent, then he must give his approval to everything that happens in the world. On any given day a certain number of proposals cross his desk, and he rubber stamps some APPROVED and others DENIED. Those proposals which are approved, like Hurricane Katrina or the Haitian Earthquake, actually occur, and those which are denied do not.

I hope that seems silly to you, because it is utterly ridiculous to me. God doesn't have a desk or a rubber stamp. He is not the bouncer standing at the gates of the earth. He is the King, and his kingdom is in rebellion against him. God created an ordered paradise (Eden) and gave a tremendous measure of power to human beings, who then used that power to turn on God, which resulted in the loss of order and paradise. More accurately, our sin resulted in the loss of God's direct sovereignty over Creation, because if he were to exercise his power in all its fullness, there would be no more Creation. Now, in order to spare our existence, God exercises his power in humility.

Evil, sin, natural disaster, and death are not exceptional. These are normative for a world in rebellion against its Creator. They are not punishments, they are simply the natural course of events that follow from the overthrow of God's direct sovereignty over Creation. None of these exist within paradise. But outside, east of Eden, they are inevitable.

The real "allow" question, the one that doesn't make sense, is why would God allow his son to leave the throne room of the castle and come, unarmed and vulnerable, into the rebellious kingdom. Why would God allow his son to live east of Eden, where evil, sin, disaster and death are the norm? It can only be because he loves the rebels so much that he wants to save them from the foolishness of their own rebellion.

Knowing he couldn't directly coax or command them out of it, he sent his son to be just like one of them and to die at their hands. And then the King did the most amazing thing ever--he raised his son from the dead! And by raising him from the dead, the King said to the rebels, "I forgive you for all of your rebellions and your sins. See, here is my son, whom you killed, but whom I have raised back to life! Look to him and have hope that evil, sin, disaster and death don't have the final say, but that the last word belongs to me. Behold, everything is being made new!" The one act of evil that God did allow in this world--the death of his son--is the one act by which he is remaking the world and is restoring all things to a new and glorious paradise.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Church's Greatest Threat

If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard the alarmists warning of the imminent demise of the Church. We are in a culture war, they say, and nothing less than the existence of the Body of Christ is on the line. Threats from without, compromise from within—the threats are increasing and the pressure is mounting. We have to do something or the devil will win!

Now I’m no alarmist, but I do believe the Church faces a serious threat today. But the greatest threat to the Church does not come from liberal theology, secularism, materialism, any political movement, or even Islam. No, the greatest threat to the Church today is that most people who call themselves Christians have no idea how to read the Bible.

Far too many Christians never pick up their Bibles; and what’s worse, when they do, they misunderstand it and have no clue how to apply what they read to their lives. We are biblically illiterate. We think “God helps those who help themselves” is one of the treasured promises of Scripture. The Rapture has become one of our most beloved doctrines! And when a skeptic confronts us with a so-called contradiction in Scripture, we panic and our whole world comes crashing down.

The saddest thing about our current state of affairs is that it is entirely avoidable. This shouldn’t be happening. We have more access (in America) to the Bible than any culture in history. We have more translations, more publishers, more authors, more supporting materials than ever before! Of all the books in the world, the Bible should be the one book that, by now, we know quite well. And yet it remains a mystery to most.

I don’t believe that the Church is on the verge of extinction because of this. But we are immeasurably weaker. We are easy prey for false teachers. We are ignorant of the promises and commands of God. We don’t know the story of how we came to be who we are or where we are going. We are wispy. Our faith is thin.

The solution is to engage the Bible with our minds—to learn how to read the Scriptures well. This takes work, time, and focus. We can’t just pick up the Bible, open to a random verse, and read until something hits us in the face anymore. We have to pay attention to the other 99% that we usually skim over. We have to learn how to ask the right questions of the text.

Because I’m so passionate about this, and because I love to see people learn to understand the Bible, I offer a class called Understanding Scripture that equips you to read and study the Bible well. But if you can’t take my class (or a class like it at your church), there are still many resources available to you. Two books I recommend are Grasping God’s Word by Duvall & Hays, and How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee & Stuart. You don’t have to be intimidated by the Bible anymore. You can engage with it. You can learn to know it well, and to apply it to your life. Learning how to read the Bible well is the best answer to the greatest threat facing the Church.

Monday, October 4, 2010


God has been teaching me so much lately, but the most important lessons I'm learning are the ones that seem most basic, but are the hardest to put into practice in my life. They are the lessons of agape love.

Agape is a love that lays down its life. We see it most extravagantly at the cross of Jesus Christ, where the Son of God laid down his life to atone for the sins of all humanity. Agape is also a love that refuses its rights. This doesn't mean that we are spineless doormats, it means that we are strong enough to not become victims when someone else sins against us.

The hardest part about living a life of agape is dying to myself in all the tiny moments of the day. Just a few hours ago I was at a gas station, trying to use the air machine to fill up my tires. Somebody was parked right in front of it but not using it, so I waited patiently. When they moved their car, I started backing up. But then some other guy zipped around me and parked right in front of the air machine, only to let his wife out of the car to go buy something in the store. He wasn't even using it! I was so furious! I desperately wanted to hop out of the van and give him more than just a piece of my mind, but I drove off, cursing him under my breath.

Honestly, I can't even tell you what it would look like to have agape for a total stranger like that, but I'm sure it doesn't look like my passive-aggressive anger. But I can imagine that, if I had died to myself in that moment, and politely asked him to move so that I could fill my tires, he probably would have agreed. But I chose to be offended. I chose to be a victim.

In the tiny moments of your day, before you get angry, or offended, or choose to be a victim, take a second to consider what agape would like. Ask yourself, "How can I live a love that lays down its life?" This is what it means to walk as Jesus walked.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Spiritual growth happens when we obey God. In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to obey his commands, to "walk in" them. Walking in God's commands is a way of saying that your whole life is characterized by obedience to God.

The Hebrew word for "walking" is halakah. Jewish teachers came to use this term to describe a life of obedience. The halakah was a life lived in obedience to God's commands, and therefore it was the best life that one could find.

For some reason, we Protestants (Evangelicals particularly) don't often think that obedience is a necessary component to a spiritually healthy and vibrant life. Maybe it's the ideal of American individualism, or postmodern anti-authoritarianism, or a misunderstanding of salvation by grace alone, but we just don't think about obedience. We don't have a well-defined halakah.

But I can't think of any better way to grow spiritually than to obey God. Obedience often demands that we risk a step of faith or that we die to ourselves in some way. Obedience is active faith, and any time we take a step of faith, we walk with God.

If you're frustrated with where you're at spiritually, and you feel like you're not growing, it's probably because you're refusing to do something God is telling you to do. You need to take that step. You need to do that thing God is urging you to do. Only when you step out in obedience, when you live the halakah life, will you begin to see the transformation of character you're longing for.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rasslin' With the Kiddos

Fall is here, and that means a new ministry year has begun, and my work schedule has kicked into overdrive. It seems like everyday I come home exhausted, ready to lay down on the couch or just go to bed. I hate that feeling. I hate not having energy for Breena and the kids.

Today was probably the most exhausted I've been in a while. Ezekiel was up at about 4:30 last night, and then Eisley woke up at 6:20, afraid that the rain would bring thunder. We also went to bed super late because we stayed up watching a movie. Ah, the price you pay for some quality time as a married couple with kids.

But I was able to do something I haven't done in a long time--wrestle with the kids. Cyrus and Eisley are at that really fun age when you can pick them up and throw them on the couch. I call this Ba-Dooming them. Tonight the three of us were down in the basement for a solid half hour, wrestling, tickling, and having a great time. Eisley wanted me to throw her softly on the couch, which I did in slow motion. Then Cyrus said, "Throw me hard", so I picked him up high and threw him down on the old, raggedy sofa. They both screamed with laughter.

I thank God for moments like these--unorchestrated, unplanned moments of wrestling and fun. I love what I do, but I love spending time with my kids even more. Nothing heals my soul or revives my spirit quite like their laughter and delight.