Archives For Culture

Fear Not, Little Flock

Erik Raymond —  October 24, 2014

I am thoroughly enjoying Michael Horton’s new book Ordinary. I hope to review it soon, but will doubtless be quoting from it for months.

Here is a sample:

I think that if Jesus were to return today, he might tell us to stop taking ourselves so seriously. “will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18, italics added). The gates of hell are no small matter, at least for us. We’re quite anxious. We have to do something about this (this being whatever we’re shocked by at present). America is in moral free-fall. The media are persecuting us. Churches seem to be losing their way. Radical Islam is on the march–not to mention the perfect storm of AIDS, famine, and war that has taken millions of lives in Africa. Every time we turn on the news, our compassion or anger is aroused–to the point that we become numb to it. And people in the pews are numb to it, especially when the church places still more burdens on their shoulders.

This burden of extraordinary impact weighs heavily, first, on the shoulders of pastors. But here is the good news: it is not your ministry, church, or people. You do not have to create and protect a personal legacy, but simply to distribute and guard Christ’s legacy entrusted to his apostles. You don’t have to bind Satan and storm the gates of hell. Christ has already done this. We’re just sweeping in being him to unlock the prison doors. You don’t have to live the gospel, be the gospel, do the gospel, and lead the troops to redeem culture and reconcile the world to God. We are not building a kingdom that can be convulsed with violence like other realms, but we are “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28, italics added).

The disciples surely had reason to worry about the world’s opposition. It was a little flock, and their King did not allow them to carry weapons. However, Jesus simply said to them and says now to us, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32) –Michael Horton, Ordinary, p. 119-120

Selfies and The Gospel

Erik Raymond —  December 16, 2013

President Obama remains in hot water for his selfie with Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. People are outraged not only at the setting, a service for a deceased dignitary, but also the act itself (unbecoming, juvenile, and narcissistic).

The fact is we are a world of selfies. Oxford Dictionary named selfie the word of the year in 2013. Even if we cringe at other people incessantly taking and posting personal portraits of themselves, we do it ourselves (even if we feel kind of dirty for doing it). The term selfie is a perfect term for us. We are a people who are uncomfortably and unhealthily drawn towards ourselves. And we like drawing other people to ourselves. We are, after all, about ourselves.

Selfie-ness is not new. It has been around since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided to make the world about themselves rather than God. They wanted God to be the supporting actor in story of their lives.

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Pastor Rick Warren was on Piers Morgan and answered a number of tough questions. In particular, Piers Morgan (as he is known to do) continued to press the issue of gay marriage. Warren, thankfully, answered tactfully, articulately, winsomely, and more important–faithfully. What a great encouragement. (Link)

I’ve always enjoyed those scenes in the old Westerns when a guy walks into a saloon. You know what happens next; the music stops, conversations stop, and people turn their heads to look at the alien who just walked into the room. It’s great television. Sometimes I feel like we are living the domestic version of this scene. Our family is considered large by today’s standards. My wife and I have 6 children (ages 2–17). We tend to do things together and when we roll in with the kids the music stops, the heads turn and people’s eyebrows give each-other hi-fives.

We have embraced the freakishness of it. You kind of have to. In a society where families are radically changing, both in terms of size and substance, the freak factor will only increase. We get funny comments ranging from the sarcastic to the sympathetic. It is always entertaining. However, one question that we don’t regularly get is, “What is it like?” Questions usually pivot on the detriment (time and money) rather than the benefit (to us and society). In this post I want to highlight a few of the particular benefits to a large family. We call it the benefit of “pack-life.”

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It is not uncommon to hear people toss around God’s name as the exclamation point of their frustration. Their angst or excitement is not usually directed at God but nevertheless his name seems to find its way into our canned responses (even in texts with “OMG”). In the last year I have heard an uptick of Christians engaging in the same routine. So here is the question, “Is it OK to drop OMG’s (Oh, my God!)?”

Answer: No (with some qualification).

The obvious Scripture here is the 3rd of the 10 Commandments:

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Ex. 20:7)

There is a command and a consequence. The command is don’t take God’s name in vain and the consequence is judgment. This should get our attention.

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What is the deal with March Madness? Every year millions of Americans become glued to their TV’s, computers and/or phones to stay updated with games played by teams they largely neglect the other 49 weeks of the year.

Several of my friends and I were discussing this last week and it became a helpful vantage point for better understanding the human heart and its insatiable thirst for glory.

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This weekend a church member sent me an article from the LA Times concerning Gay Marriage and the Bible. The article is an opinion piece by C.S. Pearce. Her basic point is that as the cultural acceptance for gay marriage continues to snowball it is only a matter of time before the majority of Christians catch on and become allies for same-sex marriage.

The article is more than a blind prophecy. Pearce evaluates history, the Bible and reason to support her optimistic forecast. Whatever her ostensible aim, Ms. Pearce’s evaluations do not have their reference point in the Bible but in the canon of her own experience. The result is strabismal. My goal is to interact a bit with the article and provide some clarity and consistency.

Pearce writes:

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“Why was that big guy hugging you and Mom in the middle of the road?”

That was the big question from our kids before bed last night. The story that answers it tells us something about us as image bearers.

After picking our son up from baseball practice last night we were headed home. In the grassy median of a busy four lane road I noticed a woman abruptly fall down. We made a quick U-turn and headed back up onto a side street. My wife went out first and then I followed after parking. We were quickly joined by another family. Upon further inspection the lady who fell was clearly out of it and pretty highly inebriated. She was also cut up, bleeding and bruised all over the place. Myself and the other guy were attempting to keep the woman from walking back into the oncoming cars. She certainly would have been hit if we weren’t there. Our new friends joined together with us to be the physical barriers for this woman until the ambulance came. This proved to be a challenge, but we worked together and got it done.

Our kids, watching this scene unfold then saw a perfect stranger, an African-American big enough to be confused with an NFL offensive lineman, hugging Mom and Dad in the median. They asked “why?”

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It’s been over 8 weeks now since protesters descended upon Wall Street to tangibly express their frustration. 8 weeks! That is 8 weeks of living in tents and among strangers in public parks. Initially in New York City and now spreading out to other metropolitan areas, it is clear that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protestors are continuing to gain momentum and news coverage.

What is not as clear is why they are “occupying” these parks. I should say it is not clear in an coherent, organized, precise direction.

On the other hand, their objective seems to strike a consistent tone.

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It’s summertime. The kids are out of school and enjoying the outside. At the same time, there is still an anticipation for the upcoming year’s activities. As a result we have come upon the season of fundraising car washes.

However, I have a problem. My beef is not with fundraising, car washes or with kids doing it. Instead it is with the practice of how it often gets done and the parents who allow it.

What in the world are parents thinking when they little their middle to high school daughters put on a bathing suit, stand on the street corner, and try to get customers to fork over some money  by dancing and yelling?

Has anyone made the obvious connection of what this looks like? Hasn’t it dawned on anyone that this is not a good step in child development? Granted the cause may be good, but what about the medium and the message? Think about it: you have girls wearing skimpy bathing suits, standing on the street corner trying to get some money?

Is this really the path we want to set for our young girls? If even subtly it communicates that they can get money in the flaunting of their bodies. It teaches them that there is nothing wrong with that.

It is a shame that neither parents, administrators, nor the people who crane their necks to look see nothing wrong with this. In one sense I’m not surprised that kids do it but I am that they are allowed to.

This is just another reminder of how alien the Christian worldview is, in particular our understanding of parenting, modesty and femininity. It reminds me of the unique and beautiful organization called the church and its role in the world. It also reminds me as a Dad of the priority of teaching and training my own daughters.

There’s work to be done. So, look away, keep your eyes on the road, and put that gospel to work!

One of the advantages to living in Omaha is the fairly eclectic musical tastes. I have seen this first hand this summer as we travel about to take in my son’s Legion baseball games.

During these games the home teams try to create a bit of atmosphere. As you can imagine music is a big part of things. With the various tastes in various locations, we get a grab-bag of music. Sometimes it’s classic rock, other times it’s hip-hop, still others country. It’s all over the map.

Through this I was surprised to find out something else that is all over the map: low-brow, lame, sex songs.

I am not surprised at what I hear with hip-hop music. I grew up listening to it. I get it. While I cringe, I know what they are doing.

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How do you handle guilt?

Cathy Lynn Grossman, writing in this morning’s USA Today insists that guilt is not a joke but rather, that it’s ‘essential’.

Grossman observes culture at large and then peers down into various religious systems to understand and deal with guilt. She talks to secularists, Jews, Roman Catholics, Lutharans, Mormons, and even evangelicals.

The consensus is that guilt is real; it is a fiber of our ‘psyches’ says one University Psychologist. With different people this guilt takes different forms. Grossman lists several, including ‘green guilt’ and ‘political guilt’. These of course are related to our role in the environment and politics. I can honestly say that I have not experienced either; but I’ll take her word for it.

Neither Grossman, the religious leaders, nor the man on the street would argue that guilt is real. The question then is what do you do about it?

This is where things get interesting.

The Mormons said that they are guilty for not doing everything that they are required to do each week. The Roman Catholic was guilty for not raising the funds for charity. The Jews celebrate Yom Kippur (this weekend). In this holiday the faithful are  to write their sins on slips of paper, say prayers of repentance and then drop those sins into flowing water. Others speak of the moral end, guilt is the provocation from the conscience that leads you to do or say something to others and make it right.

The sum of what we have here is this: guilt is unavoidable and really unassuagable. The best you can do is try to respond in a way that makes you feel better. In this sense guilt is kind of dangerous and thorny.

This is really hopeless and not very helpful.

As a Christian reading this article I was disheartened that I did not read of someone proclaiming the diagnosis and answer to guilt. Of all questions to be put on a tee for us this is it. There was an evangelical in the midst of the article. I am not sure if he was edited or not; but from what I read he did not come anywhere near Jesus.

We do have something to say.

After all, it was Jesus who ‘made his soul an offering for guilt…’ (Is. 53.10). We do have an answer.

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Every once in awhile a news story comes along that really helps us to understand how we as a culture think. These are stories that blend in a bunch of social themes which represent our heartbeat. Today the baseball world brings such a story.

Last night in Detroit, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was just one out away from the 23rd perfect game in Big League history. A perfect game refers to a game in which the pitcher retires all 27 batters in a game without allowing any to reach base (via a hit, walk, hit batsman, or error). In light of the skill of the MLB hitters and the variety of ways that things can go wrong, you can imagine how uncommon this (each of the 30 teams play 162 games a year and baseball has been around for over 100 years!).

But the plot thickens.

With 2 outs in the 9th Jason Donald hit a ground ball to first and was called safe. The perfect game is gone.

With the benefit of instant reply the announcers and all at home could see that while it was a close play the runner was clearly out. Galarraga should have gotten the 3rd out and the perfect game.

This missed call has touched off no small amount of angst amongst baseball fans. They clamor for justice and accuracy. Umpire Jim Joyce’s imperfect call is considered a mortal sin.

But what happened next is surprising.

After the game the umpire breeches typical protocol and goes to see the pitcher. He admits that he got the call wrong and he apologizes.

“You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry,’ ” Galarraga said. “He felt really bad. He didn’t even shower.”

Joyce later told the news media:

“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it,” Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires’ locker room. “I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

There are a number of things that stand out to me in this story.

First, the clamoring for perfection from imperfect people. Hey, listen, I am a sports fan. I want the calls to go right. But we have got to realize that the human (imperfect) element is part of the game. Major League baseball prides itself on not using instant reply. Therefore, the guys are going to miss calls. They get 99% of the calls right. Now the ump and his family are being roasted on TV, Radio, & social media. Joyce’s family has even received threats. Now the people who love righteousness and perfection are showing their true colors. We see a billboard sized announcement and reminder of human imperfection and our distaste for it.

Second, the contrite apology. In a day and age where professional athletes and other public figures can barely say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” without amending 48 qualifiers and excuses, Jim Joyce’s apology is refreshing. It is short and genuine. He owns the issue. He wears the hat. He was wrong and he knows it. And he, as Galarraga said, feels bad. A good, humble apology is good and refreshing for our culture.

Third, the mercy. Armando Galarraga showed great mercy and grace. He could have gotten quite upset that Joyce missed the call. He could have petitioned MLB to reverse the call. But he didn’t. In fact, after the botched call he went back to the mound and got the next guy out. Our culture is not used to this. Galarraga knows that he is imperfect and he makes mistakes, therefore he can empathize with Joyce.

In a tangible demonstration of this mercy Galarraga brought out the lineup card to Joyce before today’s game. This brought a roar from the crowd and tears from the umpire. This too is good for us to see. It is good themes of imperfection, justice, contrition, and mercy to intersect with us. We need to see it.

Further it is good for Christians to see. It is good for us to see these gospel themes on ESPN and at the water cooler. This is just another example to remind us of the pervasiveness of sin’s effects and the far reaching redemption of Christ’s atonement. Christians could also stand to learn from the humility, confession, and mercy demonstrated by Joyce and Galarraga.

And don’t feel too bad for Armando Galarraga, aside from the privilege of being a millionaire and playing the Major Leagues, he was given a 2010 Coverette by General Motors today before the game. Not bad.

Art class was by far my most dreaded class throughout elementary school. The teachers were always nice but the bottom line was that I stunk at whatever I tried to make. I remember on occasion having to make something with either clay or paper mache or whatever. Sometimes I would psyche myself up and really get into it. I’d focus and think and work. But after 30 minutes or so I would look up and see what my classmates had constructed and think, “Dang, my art project doesn’t look anything like theirs’.”

Sometimes I look up from my work and look around at other Christians and think, “Dang, my Jesus doesn’t look anything like theirs’.”

Stephen Nichols writes the compelling book addressing how America has molded and shaped a Jesus in accordance with her own desires throughout her short history.

Pivoting out of the Puritan Era, Nichols traces the various season of Christological makeover. He walks through the Jesus of the founding fathers to the Victorian Jesus (weak and effeminate) that clashed with the Frontier Jesus (tough and burly), through the ages of liberalism on up to the days of the Moral Majority.

In an early chapter Nichols (with help from Stephen Prothero) points out a great historical observation as to the declination of the American religion:

“In the early nineteenth century evangelicals liberated Jesus first from Calvinism and then from creeds. Second, following America’s Civil War, they disentangled Jesus from the Bible, replacing the sola scriptura (‘Bible Alone’) rallying cry of the Reformation with solus Jesus: Jesus alone. The final stage came when, in fulfillment of Thomas Jefferson’s seminal dream of religious diversity, Jesus was liberated from Christianity itself, which came into fruition in the midst of the post-1965 immigration boom.”

The interesting consistency throughout American history is the crafting and molding of Jesus for what ostensibly appears to be good motives but at the end leaves you holding your nose. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident then in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) industry. In his chapter “Jesus on Vinyl” Nichols shows the origin and growth of the CCM industry. It is not the fact that there is such a thing as the CCM that is so troubling, but rather it is the stale Christology that is so unabashedly promoted that causes concern.

Nichols quotes from several “Jesus is my boyfriend/girlfriend songs” to demonstrate the hollowness and frankly, the utter ubsurdity of singing about nothing when you are talking about Jesus who is, after all, everything

“Consider some of these lyrics from different songs of Rebecca St. James. In ‘Take all of Me,’ written by Marty Sampson, the first stanza ends with ‘Take all of me, yeah / all of me.’ She also croons, ‘Take me I am yours’ and ‘All I want is you,’ in ‘Pray.’ In her cover of Rich Mullins’ ‘Hold Me Jesus,’ she asks Jesus to, well, ‘hold her’ because here life doesn’t make sense, and she’s ‘shaking like a leaf.’ She adds in another song that she has fallen for Jesus ‘harder than the first time.’ All of these songs focus not on any act of God in history, not on the concrete events of Christ’s life and death and resurrection. These songs all lack exactly what Jon Fischer lamented as a great loss, linking Jesus’ love not to anything done in history but to the personal experiences of feeling Jesus near, of feeling him close during those hard times. Like a good boyfriend, Jesus show up at the right moment, says the right thing, and knows how to hug. Take out the name Jesus that occurs from time to time and these songs could be sung to a boyfriend.”

The morphing of Jesus continues through politics, commercialism, and the silver screen. And thankfully Nichols does a good job interacting with each. His writing style is clear, engaging, full of pithy assessments and biblically refreshing.

Overall I am very thankful that Nichols spent the long hours engaging with this topic so we might in a few hours, be more informed and where need be even corrected. The great lesson in a book like this is that when Christians skip Bible class they will spend their time in doodling a Jesus on their notebooks according to their imaginations. Christians must be informed and reformed by the Word of God. If we are not we will inevitably be back in art class molding a Jesus in our own likeness and then trying to sell him to the culture around us.

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FoxNews reported yesterday that a ‘pastor’ in Arizona was recently arrested and told that he could no longer operate his ‘church’. The reason? Because they worshiped Marijuana!

Apparently these folks were pretty zealous in their worship. They were pulled over transporting 172lbs of ‘deity’.

Members of the “church” said “using the hallucinogenic tea during worship helps them gain union with God.” Apparently God has now been redefined as a divine pothead?! Gaining unity with God through getting high…ridiculous. Once again we see the cross insulted. All of that agony, brutality and angst was unnecessary for union, for after all, according to Dan and Mary Quaintance and their church, union may be achieved through a joint and some tea.

Is it just me or does this not sound like something a bunch of burnt out pot heads came up with. I can just hear them tossing ideas back and forth as to how they can out smart the authorities and smoke as much dope as they want. And one genius in the corner pipes up with the brilliant idea to make a weed church where marijuana is worshipped.

This is truly a saddening display of Romans 1 taking root in exchanging the truth of God for a lie, and worshipping that which has been created rather than the Creator who is indeed blessed forever Amen.