Two questions are left with me from this weekend. First, do I have room in my life for a baby in a cave or a rambunctious three year old? Second, will I Christmas all year or will I forget until next year?
ONCE UPON A TIME…
Fairy Tales which are glimpses into our cultural psyche. They paint pictures of deeper bits of reality. ABC’s Once Upon a Time paints an interesting picture:
The town of Storybrooke is under a curse. The people there do not know who they really are because of the curse. There is one woman and a little boy who know the truth. The woman, the Evil Queen is doing everything in her power to conceal the truth. The little boy, proclaims the truth about the curse and the people’s real identities. The town thinks him crazy.
My 10 year old son said, “Dad, this is just like the gospel.”
Indeed it is son, indeed it is.
THE YOUNG, RESTLESS, AND RE…UH…FORMED…
At the end of every year people write their evaluation blog posts. Kevin DeYoung has produced his where he critiques the Young, Resltess, and Reformed (YRR) “movement”. I want to take a moment and give my own critique. I would encourage you to read his post to get a bit of background and also take note of his helpful suggestions.
I think Kevin is correct in his critiques. I would however add one and that is of dogmatic clarity. I think Kevin might argue that he holds to a similar critique when he argues for folks to go deeper into their ecclesiastical traditions. I am arguing here for something a bit deeper and more specific.
Whenever conversations about YRR come up there are three terms that are used almost interchangably: Evangelical, Calvinist, and Reformed. It’s as if to be truly Evangelical one must be a Calvinist and to be a Calvinist means that you are Reformed. These words actually h
old specific meanings and while they are connected, they are by no means to be equated.
To be an Evangelical means, in its most simplest terms, that one believes in the Trinity, that the Bible is the authentic and authoritative word of God, and that to be reconciled with God one must trust in the atoning work of Jesus. To be a Calvinist, in its simplest terms, means that one holds to the soteriological position outlined in TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints). To be Reformed means that one holds to covenantal theology as outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
What are the hallmarks of the Reformed faith beyond a Calvinist understanding of soteriology?
First, it is covenantal. There are only two covenants, that of works and that of grace. The covenant of grace is revealed organically through history. This means that the Scriptures are a unified whole without discontinuity.
Second, this leads to two distinctions practically. The first is a federal form of government, often times called “presbyterian” because it is built through a connectional system of representative elders. It also holds to paedobaptism because children are clearly included in the covenant community in Genesis and are never stated to be excluded.
This means that to be Reformed is very different from being a Calvinist. Calvinism is a part of being Reformed but it does not equate. The same can be said of evangelicalism. A Reformed believer, necessarily is evangelical, but it does not go both ways.
I think that we need to begin to more clear about who we are talking about as “Reformed.” Many Calvinist Baptists are equated with being “Reformed”. This makes the dogmatic waters muddy. Michael Horton and John Piper hold to very different positions on key issues. Why? Because Horton is Reformed and Piper is not, he is decidedly Baptist. Their differneces are good and healthy because they hold to different perspectives on the Scriptures. While they are in the same camp, these brothers do not share a tent.
Where do we go from here? I think that we need to let the YRR label go. It is not properly descriptive. It’s time to clarify the positions that are being held to because they matter. These variety of positions will further the conversations that need to happen. If we can understand that there are real differences between Baptists and Presbyterians and Non-Denominationals and whoever else we will be able to have real conversations about real issues.
I am thankful for Calvinist brothers and sisters of other traditions. But we have very real differences and those differences provide fertile ground for learning, growth, and development. In the name of unity we must not set aside our real distinctions but we must embrace them and allow the distinctions to draw us closer. When this happens, it will be evidence of maturity within the movement.
Unity in diversity ought to be the hallmark of the New Calvinist (the appropriate label for the shift)movement. Not a muddy murky sudo ecumenicalism that does not take one another seriously.
I KNOW HIM!
There aren’t many Christmas movies as good as Elf. It’s hilarious and it is also poignant. Like most other Christmas movies related to Santa Claus the issue at the center is belief, or the lack thereof. One of the best moments is when Buddy finds ou that Santa is coming to the Mall…
This scene has been in my mind for a few days now. I keep thinking about it’s illustrative purposes for me as a follower of Jesus. Buddy’s excitement is overwhelming and full of passion. It is clear that he loves Santa and that he desperately wants others to know him too. Look what happens when he finds out that the real Santa isn’t at the mall…
These two clips paint a picture that ought to challenge us as Jesus followers. We do not know an omniscient, legalistic, elf. We know the God of the universe. We know the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Isaiah 9:6 describes Jesus this way,
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upont his shoulder,
and his name shall be calledt
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Buddy the Elf loves Santa for who he is, he defends his honor, and desires for people to know the real Santa. When we think about Jesus too often we are afraid what people will think of us. Often times we shy away from challenging wrong understanding of who he is at the risk of offending others.
I want to love Jesus the way that Buddy loves Santa.
IS THE GRASS GREENER? AN EXPOSITION OF REVELATION 8:6–9:21
Grace111218reduced.mp3 Listen on Posterous
Here’s a link to the text: http://bible.us/Rev8.6.ESV
Here’s a nifty way to understand the letter of Revelation in a big picture:http://prezi.com/bin/preziloader.swf
Revelation on Prezi
TRADITIONS PASSED ON
See the full gallery on Posterous
Christmas is about telling stories and sharing traditions. I love hearing the Bride share stories with the Princess as she passes on the traditional sugar cookie baking. It is absolutely beautiful!
SHOOTINGS AT FERNDALE AND VT — WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD?
The picture is from the front page of the Detroit News website. Two shootings, one day, two different parts of the country.
The question that I see in my Twitter feed is simple: What’s wrong with the world?
The answer to that question is simple too: We live in a sin soaked world that is broken.
Does that answer sound trite? It’s not. You see living in a sin soaked world means that we should be surprised when good things and not the bad. We typically think of sin as a simple moral act of doing wrong.
Sin goes much deeper though.
It corrupts everything it touches. It makes all things broken.
Do you notice that we are appalled?
Think about it, we live in a world where we are surrounded by brokenness the way a fish lives in water, and yet we are shocked by these kinds of things. I think that’s because we experience the common grace of God on a moment by moment basis. This means that we experience the fact that God is with holding most of the evil in the world.
Occasionally evil is allowed to occur.
When it does we are shocked.
When it does we ask questions and we doubt.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Pain is the result of evil.
Evil is the reult of sin.
What do we do with sin?
It’s been dealt with for us. Jesus, lived, died, and resurrected to deal with sin, the results of failing to live in covnenantal relationship with God. He is the culmination of the story of God’s people where we find redemptive grace and reconciliation.
Today’s shootings are a reminder that we live in a broken and sin soaked world. They are a reminder that we need to deal with this sin. They are a reminder that we need to be in relationship with grace soaked redemptive God who is speaking through pain.
IF YOU KNOW A GIRL THEN YOU NEED TO SEE THIS.
I am a Daddy of a Princess. She is the apple of my eye. I love her desperately and want more than anything to protect her and keep her from crying. When I look around the world and see the standard of beauty that she is expected to live up to it makes me sick. Below is a great video that gives significant wisdom and insight.
If you know a female of the species, you should watch it.
In our community at Grace Chapel we are currently studying through the Revelation of John. It’s a fascinating letter that challenges believers to remain faithful and true to the gospel until Jesus returns. A significant piece of the message is that the follower of Jesus will experience suffering. Life will not be all roses and puppies.
I have experienced suffering only as a child. My parents divorced when I was nine and that was painful. My grandmother, Mimi, died suddenly in a car accident the summer after my freshman year in college.
Those things were hard.
Now as an adult, who is a parent, and a pastor, I am learning that the admonitions about suffering in the Scriptures are real. This week God has seen fit to enroll Amy and I into Suffering 099.
It’s a remedial course. No credit given.
The frustration that comes from the deep seated selfishness that is present within me is ugly. Thankfully we are only dealing with pneumonia. It will pass.
Here’s to the hope of suffering well in the small so that when the big comes along we are ready to honor King Jesus in the midst of it.
I’M INVISIBLE. CAN’T YOU SEE ME? I WANT YOU TO SEE ME! A FRINGE REFLECTION.
There are few shows that speak to the human condition as regularly and poignantly as Fox Television’s Fringe. The most recent episode, “Wallflower” is a parable on the human need to be known.
Spoiler Alert — If you have DVR’ed the episode stop reading and come back.
The Fringe team has to investigate mounting murders around Boston. Murders that are apparently being done by an invisible man. They find that there is a man, Eugene, who has a rare genetic disorder that has made him invisible. He has figured out how to take people’s pigment from them so that he can be visible.
Eugene had gone through his entire life with nobody seeing him.
Could you imagine? Never being seen.
Alive, but not seen.
We all desire to be seen. Every kid at every sporting event, play, or performance scans the crowd looking for Mom and Dad. They want to be seen. My home reverberates with, “Daddy, watch this. Mommy, watch this.”
To be seen is hardwired into us.
Why do you think social media is so powerful? It helps us to be seen.
I love that Jesus tells us that he sees us and he notices us. He promises that God cares. We are not invisible and never will be. Because the one we can’t see, sees us.
THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE FACE OF CHRIST — REVELATION 6
This is a recent sermon I gave on Revelation 6.
Grace_111120_reduced.mp3 Listen on Posterous
It’s crazy when you begin to self reflect. I don’t recommend it. It’s not very much fun. You begin to grab hold of some things that you take for granted or take lightly and find that you need to change.
I love change.
I love changing other things.
I hate changing me.
Do you want to hear a confession? I truly enjoy social media. One night I was a Tigers playoff game and bantering back and forth with a number of friends on Twitter. It added to my enjoyment of the game.
It was all out “there”.
Last night a few of us started talking about Twitter. A comment was made that has stuck like a “splinter in the brain” and brought some of my self reflection full circle.
He said, “You guys put so much stuff out there it’s really hard to find what’s valuable.”
As a pastor, there is one thing I know, words matter. I desperately want my words to count and to have meaning. I want them to have purpose. Everything I do is all about words. When I started to write a blog I thought about why I blogged.
I have never thought about why I social media’ed.
So, here’s the deal, the way I use social media needs to change. That witty banter on Twitter? It’s going to disappear from the public forum. It will find its way into Direct Messages. Twitter is all about interaction. So there will still be some @-tweeting but only when it counts, when there is something to be gained by doing it. The posts will be fewer because what I put out there needs to have meaning. Typically, they will be connected to larger posts at Tumblr/Posterous.
Facebook? I will probably continue to use it the way I have been. Which is post things about my family, links, and various ministry related things.
What about Goole Plus? That’s been a different beast all along. I am not sure yet.
Foursquare? Is there value in people knowing when I check in? Nope. I will moving to Forecast and use it when I want it to be publicly known where I am going to be and for a purpose.
My hope is that when someone looks at my feed on Twitter, my timeline on Facebook, or my series of posts that they will quickly and easily find something of value and meaning.
As one of my favorite blog’s title reads, “Less Clutter, Less Noise”.
YOU WANNA TIP?
This is an image from an article that just hit my news stream and I am sure that it will begin to pop up in more and more places.
It’s one of those that picks up steam. It’s embarrasing and frustrating.
It begs a bigger a question…
What is the gospel?
Scot McKnight has done a great job exploding the Gospel myth that he refers to as “The Plan of Salvation”. The myth is that the Romans Road or the Four Laws are the “Gospel”.
News flash: They aren’t.
The Gospel is big and broad. It is the all encompassing story that makes sense of all other stories. Pay attention this Advent season. You may just hear the Gospel.
See the full gallery on Posterous
Part of the traditional hanging of the ornaments in our home includes Amy telling the story of each ornament.
The first ornament hung is always the same.
It’s hung in honor of my Mimi. Her legacy will always live because her story will always be told.
Over the course of the next four weeks we will be telling the story of another. He is the one who would come and culminate all the stories of all the world. His is the greatest story.
Do you know it?
LEADERSHIP AS INFLUENCE | CATALYST
Leadership As Influence
By Charles Lee
Leadership is often defined as influence.
In my opinion, everyone possesses the ability to “influence” or lead others in the general sense of the word, but not everyone is a leader (i.e., someone who functions in a publicly recognized role of guiding and/or influencing others). There are numerous individuals who influence the lives of many and yet don’t function well once given a key role of leadership in an organization and/or company.
The reality is that leadership in a formal sense requires a certain set of perspectives, values, and praxis that very few are able to carry out well. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some phenomenal leaders that are literally changing the landscape of our world. Here are a few insights I’ve picked up about what it takes to become a great leader:
- Pain Frames Purpose — Great leaders do not run away from pain, but rather, recognize that pain is what truly forms and informs their life purposes. It is not to say that they are sadistically looking for pain. Rather, their passions are often rooted in part by their experience of pain and suffering. Passion by definition is not only a reference to fervor, but also the willingness to move forward in the midst of pain.
- Collaboration is Necessary for Creative Innovation — Leaders recognize that they cannot and will not do it alone. Every great endeavor needs a team or community to help it flourish. Great leaders move from simply wanting collaboration to sensing a deep need for it. In other words, collaboration is not a nice add-on, but rather, a necessary foundation for moving ideas and people forward. In addition, innovative leaders welcome voices from unrelated fields to spark creativity and refinement of purpose.
- Courage Guides Decisions — Great leaders are marked by their courage in decision-making. They rarely lean towards the popular vote. Courage inherently implies that there exists a presence of fear and disheartening obstacles. Courage is the ability to move forward despite the presence of fear.
- Compassionate Justice Provides Perspective — No matter how tough a great leader may appear, deep inside they all care about the people they lead. Compassionate justice is a reference to a work that seeks to make things right with a posture of real care. It’s not simply about accomplishing the “task”, but more importantly, achieving something together without dehumanizing those participating. People ultimately “follow” a leader because they sense that they have their best interest in mind, even if it means that they go against the grain.
- Focus of Implementation — Great leaders don’t just talk, they do. They realize the hard work is in the implementation of their vision and courage. They don’t make excuses nor choose to sit on their ideas. They choose to move forward and figure things out along the way. Great leaders are focused on implementing better. There’s not satisfied with a 30,000 feet view. They also want to see what’s right in front of them. The focus is not just greater vision, but greater action. Great inspiration without great perspiration is nothing more than wishful thinking.
Living life as a leader is a noble pursuit. It takes a special person to move beyond the romanticized version of influence.
Are you a leader? If so, our world needs you at your best!
Charles is the CEO of Ideation, a creative agency that specializes in helping organizations and businesses take ideas to implementation via innovative strategy, branding, design, marketing, web, social media, and innovative events.
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This is a very, very good article on Leadership.
Over the last few days I have been interacting with folks about a great many things. Something that has struck me is the cavalier attitude toward doctrine. Many of us no longer seem to think that doctrine matters. We say things like, “I am not a theologian, but…”
Here’s the reality: doctrine does matter.
What we believe matters.
It matters big time.
When hardship and conflict come it is what we believe that will determine how we respond. Because, what we believe matters.
I have been heart-sick over the way those who hold a similar theological position as I have responded to a book that came out recently. They responded with polemics and rhetoric (some even before they had read the book!). Most have not responded with discernment or charity but have looked for a way to hang a “heretic”.
I have also been thoroughly disappointed in the way that those from other theological positions have either blindly defended or tried to move themselves away from a position which is the logical outcome of their own.
I am more convinced than ever that what we believe matters.
Then I read David Fitch’s recent post over at Reclaiming the Mission and I understood again why what we believe matters.
David coherently points out the distinctions between a “coalition” and an “expedition”. As I read this post I kept thinking back to a friend’s description of Jonathan Edwards as an “experiential Calvinist” and another concept that has been rattling around my head, the “experimental Church”.
It is sad to me that those who hold to the Reformed view of theology (not Calvinist Baptists like Piper, Driscoll, etc…they are not Reformed and as a result they are not in view here) have struggled to follow Edwards. It makes me wonder if we don’t really believe what we say we believe.
It seems to me that if Reformed theology is true then it demands from us an expedition into the experiential and experimental Church.
Because if Reformed theology is true then it is unflinchingly pointing us toward Jesus and his Kingdom. This requires us to follow Edwards to the frontier. It requires us to step out and actually act on our beliefs in the sovereign God, the in-breaking Kingdom, and the imputation and incarnation of Jesus.
It is my opinion, that Reformed theology (not Calvinist Baptist theology) is best suited for a post-Christian world, because it necessarily drives us toward the lost, culture, transformation, community, and authenticity.
But, only if we believe it.
But, we will only believe it if it matters.
Over the upcoming weeks we will look at how our beliefs drive the mission and as a result help us to understand why doctrine matters.
WHAT’S WORSE? (PART 2)
In our previous post we saw how Jesus engaged the world. He entered in and sought to transform the culture within which he lived. He did so with passion, without regret, and in perfect holiness. He did so to the point that he was called a “drunkard” and a “glutton”. This is our model.
How do we apply it?
The first question that I hear murmuring is, “He was God. It’s different isn’t it?”
No. It’s not different. That kind of reasoning has no place here in the quest for the engagement of culture. It can’t. If it did then we ought to say, “He was God, therefore we shouldn’t disciple, because it’s different.” We could allow this line of thinking to go in any number of directions.
No, it’s better to say that Jesus did it, therefore, we must try.
The next thing I hear murmuring through your mind is, “Not everyone is called to this. What about the weaker brother in Romans?”
I hear your concern. I think in some sense it’s an appropriate one. I don’t think it should rule the day. The thinking becomes similar as the previous statement. The “stronger” brother has a responsibility to help the weaker grow. He should not flaunt his freedom (which is Paul’s concern) but should help his brother grow and become strong. To remain stagnant is not what Paul is arguing for.
How do we engage with a broken culture and transform it while maintaining our holiness?
That’s the question.
I think we first need to realize that we need to start at the place of discernment. We each have different capacities and different amounts of freedom. Some of us will be able to engage in different cultural activities and others will look elsewhere. These differences are what make us the body. Discernment requires us to pray, to study, and listen.
We must not allow discernment to be a vague form of legalism though.
To avoid this we must believe the best in those around us.
This caveat must not be a license to sin. The thing about sin is that you typically know it when you see it.
Along with discernment there must also be engagement. The engage means that we are moving out critically. We are not simply taking in but we are evaluating, critiquing, and seeking understanding. This also requires us to have a “telos” or goal of transformation.
If we are simply seeking to be entertained then we are not following Jesus’ example.
If we withdraw from the world then we are not following Jesus’ example.
If we engage, transform, and then begin to create culture, we are following Jesus’ example.
There is so much we complain about and worry about. What would happen if believers created culture on the basis of the Christian worldview? What about education? Politics? Art?
We would find films rated R, G, PG, PG-13 because life, reality, is represented by all of them. We would find horror films, we would find romance, comedy, action, violence, sex, redemption. We would find these because they are part of the Scriptures and reflect reality.
We engage culture because we are human. We seek to transform it because we image bearers.
THE POWER OF BEING GREAT
Last night I realized why it is going to be very difficult for the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup. Jimmy Howard is a very good goalie. However, when going against an elite goaltender there will be a significant difference in the way the game is.called. The whistles for Luongo were quicker and that made all the difference.
The Wings lost last night and it was because the whistles were just a little to slow on one end and a little to fast on the other. That was the function of one goalie being a hall of famer and another being a young player still earning his stripes.
WHAT’S WORSE (PART 1)?
As we near the end of this discussion on engaging culture a few concluding points need to be made. Primarily we need to discuss which is worse, sinful thematic elements, or subtle deconstructions of worldview. This is something that we struggle to figure out on a principled level in every aspect of our lives as Christians.
For us to get our minds around this reality we must first look at the life of Jesus to give us a glimpse of how we ought to live. To do that I think it will be helpful to take a look at Luke 7.
This section of Luke’s narrative begins with the story of the Roman Centurion. The Jewish context of this time was varied and it is hard to necessarily pigeon hole the average Jew into a group. However, there is one thing that we can be relatively certain of, and that is the basic distrust and dislike of the Roman occupation. This was understood to be an extension of exile. The average Jew would not have associated with Centurions. The leaders of Capernaum apparently did because this particular Centurion built the local Synagogue.
This story is remarkable because of Jesus’ statement, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
That is an abrasive statement, at best. That would be like a U of M football coach saying that OSU is the greatest football team ever, at a pep rally on campus at U of M. This simply does not happen.
But it did.
From here Jesus raises a widows son from the dead. He displays the justice and compassion of God.
Then we encounter a remarkable interaction between Jesus and John’s disciples. We couldn’t possibly enter into a full exposition of this passage, however, I want to point out verse 34. Jesus says, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”
Consider what Jesus is saying here. He self-identified with the immoral and broken of his culture. He did this to the point that the religious people called him a glutton and a drunk. Jesus stepped into the sinful world and engaged it so fully that he was challenged as to his own morality.
This section closes with a sinful woman, a city prostitute, forgiven. Jesus allowed her to touch him and caress his feet with her hair. She made him ritually unclean. Jesus didn’t care. He forgave her and sent her away in peace.
Jesus engaged the lost world and transformed it.
This is our model.
How do we apply this? That’s the next post!
OBSERVATIONS ON THE CONVERSATION
There have been a few (and by a few, I mean more than you can shake a stick at) posts by people responding to a book by a Christian famous pastor and author. It’s reaching epidemic proportions. Almost to the point of being annoying.
I am not going to write about the pastor or the book (I haven’t read it, actually it was sold out at my local bookstore, so I couldn’t buy it).
What I do want to write about is the nature and tone of the conversation.
I am appalled.
I am appalled by the tweets, facebook posts, and one liners.
Social media is short form and is not the proper place for the kind of interaction that topics like this need. There are some topics that require more than 140 characters. Issues of Heaven and Hell certainly fall into that category.
This hit home for me last night after a weekly conversation called, Coffee/Doubt. We spent an hour dealing with this topic and barely scratched the surface. The questions were real and powerful. There was discomfort and passion. The conversation could have gone on for many more hours.
As we dive into the depths of what it means to be human and what it means to interact with the divine we must realize that the conversation will necessarily be long form.
I appreciate the long form critiques that are taking place on a few blogs. Sadly, blogs are typically group-think factories (this one is no different and yes I get the irony). You don’t necessarily interact with the blogs of those you disagree with. The comments of a dissenter are typically annihilated with polemic, by the readers, not usually the author.
This is the kind of conversation that needs to take place around the table where representative people can really talk through it.
This has always been the chasm. Scholarly papers used shoot past each other without either being read or digested. Books would be published and not really interact with one another. Magazines would publish response pieces that were inflammatory so that the magazine would sell. The bloggers preach to the choir. The tweeters condense it all into 140 characters.
My only solution is for the Church to engage in real dialogue. Face to face. Person to Person. That was the beauty of the ancient councils. The Church leadership would gather, dispute, worship, pray, teach and decide.
I like social media. I like blogging. I think they both have a place. But, I think they fall short as mediums for theological dispute (although I think blogging done right could be fantastic, a synchroblog on this issue could be worthwhile and helpful).
I just watched the Fab Five. I cannot even begin to express the number of emotions it brought up in me. So weird. I remember where I was when Webber called the timeout. It was the first time I had been to a sports bar, we were in Milford at my Dad’s and it was this little joint out on Milford Road. There was dead silence. With the exception of the one UNC fan.
Then we all sang karaoke.
GARDEN STATE: GOOD OR BAD?
In our second to last post exploring how to engage with culture we will be evaluating the film Garden State
. Remember the four key questions that we use in our evaluation:
- What does this tell us about God?
- What does this tell us about man?
- What does this tell us about man’s greatest problem?
- What does this propose for the solution to man’s greatest problem?
From here we would then compare those answers to the Biblical worldview. Let’s dive in…
What does Garden State tell us about God? Not much. God does not make an appearance in the film. It would seem that there is no sense of a divine presence. The characters in the film are apparently on their own to figure out the world.
What does Garden State tell us about people? It has much to say here. Zach Braff paints for us a crystal clear image of the fallenness of humanity. All of the characters are deeply flawed. One is a liar, one a thief, and the other on a quest to finally enter into reality. We see the darkest realms of humanity through the quest of the characters. The low point of the film is a journey through the heart of a hotel where you can see people behind closed doors, we witness the depths of depravity. We also learn that humanity is capable of great love.
What does Garden State offer as man’s greatest problem? Quite simply the problem is humanity itself. We find that those who are rich are just as awful as those who are poor. We find that those who are loved well are just as broken as those who are unloved. Humanity itself, Garden State proposes, is its own problem.
What is the solution to man’s greatest problem? The film offers the solution of forgiveness and sacrificial love. The turning point in the film is when the three main characters arrive at “The Ark” and meet the caretakers of the “Abyss”. They find that they are content, happy, and satisfied because they love one another self-sacrificially. It is here that the characters come to a turning point and are radically changed in their quest. The film ends by the thief sacrificing his ill gotten gains, the liar speaking truth, and the one looking for reality finally dying to self on behalf of another. All this is in the context of forgiveness given and received amongst the three and others.
There are many more themes and threads and similarly to our review of the Lion King (see Rob’s comment there) this barely scratches the surface (there are many connections to the Illiad, many sub themes, etc…).
Are there any bridges or connections to the gospel? I think there are many. This film is a great portrayal of original sin and the need for love and forgiveness. It is imperfect in communicating these things, yet, it provides a grid for some very real and clear conversation regarding these themes. There is not a single perfect character and every character needs love and forgiveness. I would suggest that this film provides a fantastic jumping off point for conversation and discussion of the gospel.
There are some thematic elements (drug usage, alcohol abuse, sexual situations) that are inappropriate for young viewers and should be discerned. However, as a presenting worldview it is significantly less harmful and may even be helpful as compared to the Lion King. That discussion is for next week.
A UM FAN NOT HAPPY ABOUT JIM TRESSEL
I am a pretty big University of Michigan sports fan. I enjoy it when that school down South loses and I hope that they are the first number one seed to lose to a sixteen seed in the NCAA tournament. I like it when they mess up in big games and lose their Bowl games.
I really do.
Today we learned that Jim Tressel would be suspended for two games and fined a good deal of money for lying to the NCAA (these were OSU’s penalties, more may be coming from the NCAA).
In this, I took no pleasure.
In this, my heart was saddened.
I have made many a crack regarding the man whom I refer to as the “Sweater Vest”. I even sent out the following tweet the moment I heard about Chris Robinson and Dan Wetzel’s article:
“This just in the Ohio State University cheats. #shocked”
As the story unraveled and more information was brought to light, I became less amused and more saddened.
By all accounts Jim Tressel is a man who pursues Jesus. He is, therefore, my brother. When a brother stumbles and falls it is heartbreaking. Tressel made a poor choice, lied, and got caught. This is not a football problem, it is a sin problem. I am prayerful that “The Vest” has men in his life who tell him hard things and that they are drawing alongside him now.
It is in these kinds of situations that those of who are called “Christian” must determine where our allegiances ultimately lie, with the body of Christ or a football team. If you are a Christian and a Michigan fan I hope that you will refrain from making light of this or taking shots at Tressel. If you are a Christian and a Buckeye fan I hope that you refrain from making light of this and overlooking the sin.
Friends, what we have here is a brother in Christ who sinned in a public way. Let us respond with truth, love, forgiveness, and mercy.
DO THE LENTEN TWIST
This morning as I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds fill up with what people were giving up for Lent a thought struck me. It was simple and profoundly un-original.
I began thinking about what Jesus did during those last forty days. The Scriptures don’t really give us a blow by blow. However, I think what we see is that Jesus did not give things up. Jesus drew closer to his disciples. He spent more time with them.
All this was in preparation for his death. We know now that he lives. Death could not keep him.
So, I think for Lent instead of giving up something, we ought to think about picking up something. Why not take the next forty days and draw close to Jesus? What would it look like if we did this? What if, for the next forty days we spent time in prayer, study, and community?
Oh, wait…it turns out that is exactly what Lent is supposed to be about. It’s not about giving up candy, coffee, or pop. It’s about taking a season of our lives each year to significantly focus our attention, to twist our thoughts to Jesus.
For forty days will you focus? Will you join me in doing the Lenten Twist (I know it’s cheesy, but hey, I like cheese)?
THE LION KING: A WOLF
In my previous post I suggested a method for evaluating culture. We are going to begin with an evaluation of the beloved Disney film, The Lion King
The first question is, “What does this communicate about God?” The Lion King communicates very little about God. Actually, there is no sense of the divine. New Age philosophy is rampant where the created order is governed by the “circle of life”. As beings pass from life to death they become disembodied spirits and act as overseers. There is a mystical Ape shaman who provides insight for Simba throughout his adventure.
The second question is, “What does this communicate about man?” The Lion King communicates much about man. It presents a picture of humanity as having little meaning or purpose. The main characters go through life seeking to find their actualized potential. This is done through their good deeds or works. But, there is no overarching purpose, for at the end of the day they will be claimed by the “circle of life”. The Lion King also implicitly teaches a Hindu caste system. Where those born to significance and power retain that role based on birth. One cannot escape his caste. Finally, there is a clear and overriding fatalism that pervades the film’s characters.
The third question, “What does this communicate about man’s greatest problem?” Man’s greatest problem in the Lion Kings is other men. The lead characters must fight against the antagonists. Why? Because the antagonists are trying to escape their caste and live above themselves. The antagonists are lower level beasts seeking to rise above their place.
The fourth question, “What is the proposed solution for man’s greatest problem?” The proposed solution is works. Simba and the rest of his protagonist friends must do good to overcome their enemies and put down their attempt to leave their caste. The other side of the coin is that Simba must give in to fate and embrace his place in the highest caste, thus perpetuating the “circle of life”. This “circle of life” can apparently be shut down by those in the lower caste rising above themselves.
As you can see there are great problems with this film. It misses the mark regarding God and the divine. God is a personal and engaged being who sacrificially loves. Man is created in the divine image and their future is not sealed by caste or fate; but by their choices and responsiveness to their Creator. Each man will eventually receive exactly what they want. Man’s greatest problem is not other men, but sin. The broken relationship between themselves and their God. This cannot be solved or repaired by man’s good works but by the sacrificial working of God alone. The solution to man’s problem is monergistic and is accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Are there any redemptive aspects to this film? Yes, one. The key one being the role that community plays. It is through community and relationship that Simba is able to “overcome”.
The Lion King is a film that is deeply embedded with a faulty worldview. It embraces new age and Hindu philosophy. I would consider this film to be one that, while, whimsical, fun, musically good, and entertaining communicates a very dangerous worldview. The messages communicated will require a good follow up conversation with your children if they watch it.
CALVINIST, BAPTIST, REFORMED…HUH?
If you don’t live under a rock then you know that Rob Bell is coming out with a new book. This book is already causing a great stir among many in the theological realm. John Piper, Justin Taylor, and the like are all commenting on a book they have not yet read. David Fitch and others are using this as an opportunity to slam the “Neo-Reformed” “movement”.
I will not write anything about Bell’s new book until I read it.
I will write this: Calvinist does not equal Reformed.
The “neo-Reformed” “movement” is a label that has been given to people who are Calvinist and young and Baptist. By definition, you cannot then label them Reformed.
Because, Reformed theology is Covenantal theology which is not held by Baptists. They do not hold to a unified understanding of the Bible (while some may give lip service to this, their praxis denies it). Covenantal theology necessarily requires one to come to a position of paedo-baptism in one’s praxis.
Covenantal theology necessarily requires us to understand the Bible as a unified whole and that means that we must see continuation between Old and New Testaments. Calvinist Baptists see distinction here. They see a strong distinction between the people of God in the Old and New Testament.
If you are going to critique the positions of Piper, etc…please do so with the understanding that they are not Reformed. They are Calvinists.
To make this simple:
Reformed equals Calvinist::Calvinist does not equal Reformed
See this Amp at http://amplify.com/u/bs6us
THE QUESTIONS ARE…
Movies, music, TV, books, are all meant for our entertainment. Or are they? I would argue that while they may be entertaining, their primary purpose is to communicate. These are all means by which we as people communicate the stories of our lives.
When you sit down to read a book, listen to an album, watch a TV show, or watch a movie you are peering into the heart and soul of another person. You are hearing from them what they most deeply believe about life and truth. We as followers of Jesus must engage with this cultural activity critically.
We are a free people. We are also a called out and holy people.
Jesus sent us into the world to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16). Sadly most followers of Jesus pick one or the other. We need to be both. To be both means that we must learn to think and engage the world critically. Many Jesus followers also miss the “sent” aspect of the statement. This necessarily means that we must engage the world.
Here are four questions that if we would apply them to the film, music, and books then we will be able to think critically:
- What does this communicate about God?
- What does this communicate about man?
- What does this communicate about man’s greatest problem?
- What is the proposed solution for man’s greatest problem?
These questions can be applied to religion, politics, and the arts. These are worldview questions. The answers give us insight into the worldview of the communicator. From there we begin to ask another set of questions:
- How is this view similar to and contrast with the Biblical view of God?
- How is this view similar to and contrast with the Biblical view of man?
- How is this view similar to and contrast with the Biblical view of man’s greatest problem?
- How is this view similar to and contrast with the Biblical view of the solution to man’s greatest problem?
As we take these handful of questions we can begin to understand the good and the bad of various cultural pieces of the pie. There is nothing that should be taken in without thinking critically. Just because song is called “Christian” does not make it so. Over the next few posts we will seek to apply these eight questions to a few songs, “Christian” and “Secular” and see how they stack up. We may also take a look at some G-rated films and compare them to R-rated films to see which are more detrimental from the Biblical worldview.
Let the discernment begin!
GIVE ME A NEW LAW!
Derek Webb sings,
don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music
don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law (from “A New Law”)
This tends to be how the average Christian implicitly lives. Not many of us would say it aloud but we live this way. If it’s a “Christian” band then it’s good. If it’s rated “G” then it’s good. If it’s rated “R” then it’s bad. If it’s “secular” then it’s bad. We have created a new law to replace the one that Jesus freed us from. We have done so because we don’t want to learn “how to live like a free man”.
To be sure this is not a recent development. Paul was dealing with it in the first generation of Christians. In Galatians 5 he writes,
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)
Paul then goes on to exonerate the Galatians for accepting circumcision and submitting to a yoke of legalism. We do the same. Only we are most often guilty of doing so in the realm of pop culture and personal agendas. There is a balance, however, so Paul gives the following warning,
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
(Galatians 5:13–15 ESV)
Paul then discusses the role of the Spirit in our sanctification and restoration. We must not miss what Paul is talking about here. What he is saying is that we must learn through the tutoring of the Holy Spirit what it means to live free. He is calling the people of God to learn character and virtue. He desires them to come to adulthood and maturity in the faith.
Consider how we raise our children. When they are babies and young children we give them direct orders. We tell them what to do and we expect them to do it. As they get older we begin to give them reasons and try to help them learn why we desire them to do these things.
Why do we do this? Because we want them to become adults who can reason and discern the world around them.
Unless it comes to music.
Unless it comes to film.
Unless it comes to politics.
Then we teach them to read the label and the follow the “law”.
I have heard it said, “not every Christian is ‘called’ to engage culture.” Really? Here is the definition of culture, “An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning.” If we live around other human beings then we must engage culture, it is that simple.
Jesus sent his disciples into the world. His desire was that they would be holy (check out this post about holiness). This holiness was not a self-righteous piety but being set apart for the mission of God. To be on God’s mission necessarily means that we must engage culture.
We must do so critically.
We must do so with eyes wide open.
We must do with discernment and wisdom.
So, how do we that? That’s the subject we’ll tackle next…
Here is Derek Webb’s video for “A New Law” for your enjoyment:
I just finished reading David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream. It’s a good read and really challenging. David successfully puts the ideas and concepts of books like Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat’s Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire
into terms that the average 40+ person can understand. His metaphors are great. His passion is obvious. I think for the most part his exegesis is solid too. Nothing really stood out as problematic.
I really appreciated the clarion call throughout the text to abandon all and follow Jesus. For this alone the book was worth the price of admission.
The place where I think the book really wins is the emphasis on discipleship. I am reminded again that Robert Coleman nearly 50 years ago really did know what he was talking about with The Master Plan of Evangelism
I hope that we who have read this book will take the Biblical command to multiply our lives through discipleship seriously. It is through the work of discipleship that the world is changed and transformed.
It is in the context of discipleship alone that we will see the kinds of things that are described in the book. Discipleship is the soil for radical Christian living and growth. Actually, it’s only “radical” because we’ve lost the focus. As Platt says, we have become too caught up in the big buildings, the cool programs, and the fog machines, to really be bothered by biblical discipleship.
I pray we will be willing to disciple one another. I pray that we will be willing to disciple our neighbors. I pray that we will simply obey the Scriptures that we taught as infallible truth.
On our way home from school I decided to break the news to Ethan. He had only one question, “Why Dad?”
Listening to all the talk about Miguel Cabrera and thinking about my own family’s history with alcohol and drug abuse, I am realizing that all of us are asking the same question. We feel a lot like this:
You know what though? We don’t want to hear the answer. Why would a man who has a great wife sleep around? Why would a person with a family who loved him turn to drink? Why would a kid with everything in front of her slice up her arms? Why does a kid with a great future waste it away sitting on a couch getting high?
We are constantly left with the question, “Why Dad?”
The answer, while simple, is profound. The answer, while simple, sounds weak coming off the tongue. The answer, while simple, is not what we want to admit to.
The answer is that the world is broken. Each of us are broken. There is a cloud of stink that sticks to us and we can’t shake it.
Some of us can go about hiding it really well, for a while.
Some of us can even hide it for our whole lives, but deep down we know it’s there.
What bothers most of us is that we know, “…but by the grace of God go I”.
What keeps any of us from doing these things? What keeps us from living out our brokenness in such a way that leaves us alone in a jail cell?
It seems like there are two are things. The first is that there is someone in our lives who is willing to fight for us. They make it clear that they are with us and for us no matter what. For me, it was my mother. I remember when my mom and dad were divorced and her telling us, “You will not become ‘those’ kids. Your Dad and I love you and we expect that you will become successful, hardworking, good men. This divorce is not an excuse for anything.”
She backed it up. Over and over.
The second is that there comes a point where individuals take responsibility for their own lives. There was a time, for me it was college, that each of us have to decide how we are going to live and whether or not we will take full responsibility for our actions. For those of us don’t get to that place we become like this:
So, how did I answer the question, “Why Dad?”
I told Ethan that we live in a broken world that is filled with broken people. Sometimes this brokenness gets the better of them and they do things they don’t want to do. That’s why we have each other and that’s why we need each other. Then I told him we need to pray for everyone we know who’s broken and hurting because God really does care. That’s why Jesus came here and that’s why Jesus died and rose again.
Because God, really does care.
How would you answer?
I don’t know you. I have not ever met you. I have watched you play baseball every summer since your arrival in Detroit a few years ago. You may be the best baseball player I have ever seen. Every night before I go to bed I see your life sized poster hanging on Ethan’s, my nine year old son, bedroom door.
You are his favorite player.
He’s never met you either.
Ethan and I cheer for you. We feel like we know you because you are in our home nearly every night from April through September (hopefully October too). Ethan wants to be a baseball player when he grows up and you are one of his heroes.
Today as I drove into work I heard on the radio about your DUI. My heart broke and my eyes filled with tears. I thought this is stupid, I don’t even know him. My heart is broken because I know that Ethan when he watches Sportscenter tonight or tomorrow will find out too. So, I know that he and I will have to talk about it.
I know that he will experience heartbreak.
I know he will cry.
I know I will hold him.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be you. The pressure you must feel everyday has to be overwhelming. To live every single day in a bubble because you play a boy’s game better than anyone else has to be one of the most difficult things there is. I don’t want to pretend to understand. Because I don’t.
I do want to say this, I am praying for you and Ethan will be too. Whether you know it or not you’re part of our family. You’re one of us, even though we’ve never met you. When you hurt, we hurt.
Miguel, I hope that you will set aside baseball for a while and get the help you need. I hope that some day soon Ethan and I will be able to watch you play baseball again. We will be praying and asking that God will heal your brokenness and that he will break the addiction to alcohol.
My hope is that you will realize that you cannot do this on your own. My hope is that you will realize that you are not invincible and that you need other people to come alongside you and care for you. Let them help. I also hope that you will realize that there is great grace, mercy, and community available to you in relationship with Jesus if you will repent and seek the forgiveness he offers.
Ethan and I will be praying and waiting.
YOUR GPS IS BROKEN
Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition is one of those books that jumped out at me as one that I needed to read. First, it was penned by Alan J. Roxburgh who has been a key player in the missional movement for a very long time. Second, the title alone highlights the fact that Roxburgh is not just talking recipes but is seeking to dive deeper into the heart of what is happening in the church today.
The text is broken out into two parts. The first is entitled, “When Maps No Longer Work”. In this first part Roxburgh makes a cogent argument that the world is not changing but has changed. The shift has occurred and our culture has moved from the “enlightenment/modern” understanding of the world to the “post-modern”. This means that our entire way of understanding the cultural terrain is broken.
Roxburgh uses maps as his key metaphor. He argues that each of us have internal maps to help us navigate our daily meanderings through life in this broken world. This is the primary function of worldview. They are to provide us the means by which to make sense of the world around us.
But what happens when the world is no longer what it once was? What happens when the maps no longer work?
This is catastrophic when it comes to leadership. Roxburgh makes great connections from the business world and from the world of philosophy to make his point that leaders must not use the old maps but must be willing to change their maps so that they can lead the community of God’s people toward reaching a lost world.
I think one of the best arguments he makes is in chapter 7 where he discusses the development of the internet and compares it to the culture at large. The internet was initially a linear connection of a handful of super-computers. It is now an interconnected web with no beginning or ending. This is true of our culture. The boundaries are being erased and as a result we struggle to even speak “multi-culturalism” or “pluralism” because inherent to both are boundaries.
The boundaries are disappearing, so argues Roxburgh, so what will the church do about it?
Part two, “The Map Making Process” seeks to answer that question. There are four key components to building a new map that Roxburgh discusses. The first is to assess and understand the changes that have taken place in your community. Unless we have a firm understanding of the lay of the land it will be very difficult to draw a new map. We must become surveyors of the new landscape.
The second is the cultivation of a core identity. This core identity is developed from the Biblical narratives and calls people to a renewed confidence. It is a pushing down to the “regular folks” the mission of God and removing it from the hands of the “pros”.
The third is the “cultivation of parallel cultures in the kingdom”. This means that we must ease change into being by living out the new culture alongside those in the old. As more and more people live off the new map the old map will give way. While this is requires patient and slow change it is the way of love.
The fourth are “partnerships between a local church and neighborhoods and communities.” Roxburgh argues for the church to partner within its neighborhood to meet real needs and to care for the community within which it resides. These partnerships will help the church to ask the right questions and begin to draw an even more proper map for it’s world.
This is a great text. It’s strength lies in the critique of contemporary church culture’s ability to engage with a changed world. It’s weakness lies in application. While Roxburgh provides some good stories, the reader is left wondering, “How?”. I was expecting this from the start (thanks to a very well done introduction). The truly engaged leader will be spurned on to creativity and thoughtfulness.
CREATE. CREATION. CREATIVE.
Creation: the act of producing or causing to exist; the act of creating; engendering.
We are all little creators. We are designed to create. Some of us may do this ways we would call “creative”; poets, artists, authors, or painters. Regardless of how creative you feel, you as a person created in the image of God, are to create. This is what it means when the Scriptures talk about the “subduing” and having “dominion” over the creation.
We are to leave the world better than when we found it. We are to build, shape, mold, and design. This is what it means to be human. This is the distinctive difference between us and the animal kingdom (and opposable thumbs).
To be human is to create.
To be Christian should mean to create at the highest level. Sadly the creatives among us are largely ignored or cast out. A friend says that we plucked out the eye of the church (although we like musicians because they can be ‘used’ in the worship service).
When I look at the world today the Christians are at the bottom of the rung when it comes to creating. Sadly we do not create well. We used to (read here Tolkien, Lewis, Sayers, Dostoyevsky, etc..) and the music used to be the best (Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, etc…) but now we create for the lowest common denominator.
The church has co-opted pop culture and has done nothing to improve it, but typically is a poor mimic. “Christian” film is poorly written and poorly produced. “Christian” music tends to be meaningless drivel with the words “Jesus”, “Spirit”, and “God” thrown in to make it spiritual. “Christian” fiction is often overly sentimental with no real connection to the realities in the world around us.
I am not saying that everything is bad. There is good. But, on the whole, Christians are not creating at a very high level.
Christians would not be considered to be at the top of their crafts in the arts (with the exception fo U2).
But our creation doesn’t stop here. We must look at education, business, politics…everything and ask, “Where are the Christians”? In business it seems that many Christians are doing well (Chik-Fil-A, Interstate Batteries, etc…). In education the Church is holding steady at some places (Calvin and Wheaton) but it is largely on the outside looking in as more and more Christians retreat from the education system.
In politics…that’s another post for another time.
Here’s the bottom line: we can no longer whitewash cultural engagement with the adjective “Christian” and assume that means it is “Christian” because often times it is sub-Christian. More on this as we look at critiquing culture in the next post.
See the introduction to this post here.
I “LIKED” IT = I “DID” IT, REALLY?
We live in a unique time in the history of the world. If you don’t believe me check out this video:
Did I mention that video is a year or so out of date?
Regardless. The reality is that the world is a very different than it was just a decade ago. We live in a time where our world is more interconnected than ever through mediums such as Facebook, Twitter, and Wordpress. We are able to express our thoughts and ideas to the globe in a keystroke.
This is for the most part, in my opinion, a very good thing. It’s good because for those of who are seeking to make change we are able to express our ideas to the world at large in a way that is fast, nimble, and easily accessible.
There is a darkside. A very darkside. One that I think is something we must begin to unravel or it could become so epidemic that change will be a farce.
In the most recent edition of the MTV Sticky Facebook was the central theme. There was an article entitled, “Social Story Telling” which caught my eye. It did so because I like stories and I really like thinking about the new and different ways that we can tell in the emerging generations.
This article broke my heart with three sentences:
To support my friend in Egypt, I have already signed up for the virtual march of millions along with friends and 328,977 fellow Facebookers. We are all choosing to take a stand online in support of an event, enabling us all to attend an event digitally and making our voices heard in a non-physical way. (Much safer than getting caught short by a lobbed fire extinguisher). However, we are still able to impact on an issue that means something to us.
I had to do a double take. Did she really just say that through hitting the “like” button they are having an impact on an issue?
Yes. She did.
This is what I think of that:
This is the darkside of social media. “Virtual Participation”. The consequences are significant. As we consider how to build the kingdom of God in the emerging generations we must realize that our greatest difficulty will be to engage their participation “IRL” (that’s, ‘in real life’ for you older folks).
The kingdom of God will not be built through hitting a “like” button. It grows through the faithful obedience of a covenant people proclaiming the message of their King.
We cannot let the “like” button win. Huxley’s Brave New World with its unlimited entertainment is where we are heading. Will we as the Church sit idly by or will we call, train, and send a new generation of leaders to subvert the Empire of Consumerism Entertainment?
CULTURE WAR — THE INTRODUCTION
The Holy Spirit lives in those of us who have been reconciled by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those of us who are invited into and adopted as sons and daughters of the living God have received our new but old identity as ambassadors.
He gives us all we need to be who we are. This is it what it means to human.
What does this ambassadorship look like?
We create culture.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
(Genesis 1:26–28 ESV)
This is the cultural mandate. Created in the image of God and commanded to “subdue and have dominion”, this is our mandate.
There two sides to this mandate. The first is how are we doing as culture makers? How are we, who are called by the name of God, doing at creating?
The second is how are doing at critiquing and engaging culture?
The next two posts will address these issues.
THE NEW IS THE OLD
Where have we been in this quest for understanding the cultural engagement by Christians? Well first we saw that humanity is created in the image of God, second we recognized our epic fail, then we saw how the Law was given to keep on the straight and narrow, and in the previous post we looked at King Jesus.
The question we must now face is what does this mean for the Christian? If we indeed have been transferred from death to life by King Jesus through his bloody revolution on a Cross, what does this new life look like?
2 Corinthians 5 gives us the answer, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV).”
In the new life we are now ambassadors for Christ. Wait, isn’t that what we were called back in the first post: “God gives humanity a very specific responsibility and that responsibility is fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominon. We are to this as God’s ambassadors.”
You see we have been redeemed. Redeemed means, “to obtain the release or restoration, as from captivity, by paying a ransom.”
That’s right, restored.
What are we restored to? We are restored to our roles as ambassadors for Christ to the creation. If you say you are a creation you are not your own. You are an ambassador. You serve at the pleasure of King Jesus. You serve a particular purpose.
This ambassadorship is not a “special” or “unique” calling to a privileged few. It is for all Christians. This is our new identity, which is actually our original identity, only better.
How is it better?
The Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:7–15 ESV).”
This is what makes everything so much better. The Holy Spirit lives with us and is in us. How can we engage the world? We do it with the Spirit’s help.
The new is the old, only better.
EASTER, IT’S MORE THAN A BUNNY
As we continue to think about what it means to be culturally engaged Christians we must take a look at the turning point. Where have we been so far? First, we are created in God’s image. Second, we failed and failed big. Third, the Law was given as an overseer to show us our need for the Son. Now, we come to this place, the turning point.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:15–23 ESV)“
Paul is at his best here. He paints for us a compelling picture of a rupture in the entire world system. There was a new emperor in town and this one conquered through a criminal’s death. He won the day through blood being shed but not someone else’s, his own. Dostoyevsky argues in Crime and Punishment that all great men are proven great by getting away with murder. The King was so great that he orchestrated his own murder and then overcame through resurrection.
Then there is this phrase, ”…through him to reconcile to himself all things…“ It is this reconciliation that makes us human again.
Prior to the King overcoming death, we were in exile, not politically, but in our identity. We were exiled from who we really are: ambassadors to the King’s creation. We lived in broken relationship from our federal head who.
We were not human.
In relationship with the King through his reconciling work we become human again.
With reconciled identity and being and purpose we can finally be who we ought to be.
BOOK REVIEW: SURVIVING YOUR SERENGETI: 7 SKILLS TO CONQUERING ANY BUSINESS CHALLENGE
Surviving Your Serengeti: 7 Skills to Conquering any Business Challenge. It was given to me by a friend who said, “You have to read this. It’s pretty great.”
I was looking forward to reading it because I had already taken the leadership style inventory that goes with the book and found out that I was a “Wildebeest”.
That didn’t seem very inspiring.
You can read that last comment as “I was a bit skeptical”. I have read many books on leadership. I could list them for you but, my fingers would stop working. Swanepoel, has however, brought a unique twist to the game. He identifies seven key skills that a person needs to succeed in the Serengeti of leadership.
I am a pastor and so I read Swanepoel’s parable of the Serengeti through a bit of a different lens. I am not very interested in making a lot of money. What I am interested in is making an impact.
A big impact.
As I read I tried to imagine the Serengeti of church leadership and how the skills of the strategic lion, the enterprising crocodile, the enduring wildebeest (me!), the risk-taking mongoose, the communicating elephant, the efficient cheetah, and the graceful giraffe, would play out in our community.
The reality is that all of them, as Swanepoel states, are necessary. The skills that he highlights are at the principle level and cross the chasms business, education, non-profit, and wherever else leadership is needed.
I deeply appreciated the fact that in the Serengeti you could not go it alone. Each of the skills worked together for the survival of the whole. This is true in the church context as well. We must have teams who lead together. These teams must recognize the giftedness of the players and embrace one another’s special role.
I recommend you take a peak and think about what it would take to survive your Serengeti.
THE ENDURING WILDEBEEST
Like the wildebeest, endurance for us in its simplest form is the ability to exert ourselves for relatively long periods of time. More specifically, it’s all about the ability to withstand hardship and stress. We need to remain steadfast and persistent in the face of obstacles. It‘s often not the fastest nor the strongest one that wins the race, it’s the one that stays the course and goes the distance.
OVERLORDS, OVERSEERS, AND A GLIMMER
Last week I wrote that we have experienced an epic fail regarding our roles as ambassadors for the Creator to the creation. We rebelled and separated ourselves. We lost our way and began a corrupting process that led to shame and guilt (the first sin was Adam’s silence followed quickly by fratricide, that’s one heck of a spiral).
The story though is just beginning. Thankfully we are not the heroes or the centerpieces of this story. A good story needs a hero who desires something and overcomes conflict to get it.
The story that I am talking about has a hero, God. He wants something, relationship with people. So, what is he doing to get it? That’s the question I want look at.
It started in Genesis 3:
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
(Genesis 3:21 ESV)
If you look a few verses earlier you see that Adam and Eve were experiencing shame from being naked. So, God, kills a few animals and gives them clothes.
Shame is removed. A glimmer.
As time goes on humanity continues to go it’s own way. Through Abraham God calls out a people to be his own, the Hebrews. To these folks he gives the Law.
Have you ever read it? It’s remarkable. It’s merciful, gracious, and loving. Paul says it this way,
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
(Galatians 3:19–20 ESV)
It was an overseer. The law watched over God’s people leading them to him. If they would just follow it they would see him and know him.
What will God do? He sends his son…
“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:33–46 ESV)
It didn’t go well for the son.
Thankfully that’s not the end of the story. The death of the son changed everything. It opened a way for humanity to finally become, well, human.
In my previous post we looked at our identity as image bearers of the Creator King. We saw that humanity is called to follow its Creator in creation as representatives and ambassadors.
But, something is not right.
The original ambassadors for the King failed. They failed and as a result they sent all future generations into despair and exile. The man, Adam our representative head, was silent as his wife was deceived and drawn into sin.
From this moment on humanity was in a state of brokenness. We were lost and dead. The consequences extended to how humanity related to one another and to the creation. We no longer functioned as the King’s ambassadors but as traitors to the throne.
We corrupted it all.
We broke everything.
Separation was natural.
As a result we went to war to with our natural calling as human beings. We set aside our freedom for law. Enslaved by a self-centeredness that is tangible to every aspect of life.
We lost our way. Over time (about one generation) we forgot how to be ambassadors. We began creating things that did not bring glory to God.
We lost our calling.
IN THE BEGINNING…
Did you catch that? God created.
God made. God did. God acted.
What did he create? Quite simply, everything. He created it all and he did it well. You might even say perfectly.
One of the things he created was a human being, “male and female he created them.” We learn from Genesis:
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26–28 ESV)
The key word: tzelem — image. God made humanity in his likeness. Usually man made God in his likeness. In Genesis it’s the opposite. HALOT (a Hebrew Lexicon) points out that tzelem in this context leads us to the idea that man is God’s “viceroy, representative or witness among the creatures.”
What did God do? He created.
What is man? God’s representative in the world in his likeness.
What should man do? Create.
Look at the last paragraph of the passage quoted above. God gives humanity a very specific responsibility and that responsibility is fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominon. We are to this as God’s ambassadors.
This requires humanity to create.
The primary responsibility of humanity is to represent God among the creatures and in so doing we are required to create. This is what is necessitated by us being made in God’s likeness.
Many people today believe that the primary identity of a person is that they are a ‘sinner’. It is not. The primary identity of a person is that he is an image bearer of God. If we can begin to understand this we can begin to understand some things about how we are to interact with culture.
Now I am getting ahead of myself. For today let’s end it there. To summarize: Humans are image bearers of the Creator that are to represent their Creator among the creation.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
I am reading a great book by Dick Staub entitled, The Culturally Savvy Christian. As I have been reading it, I keep hearing amens and alleluias rumble inside my head. I think it’s because this guy has written a book that I would have loved to write.
I can’t write the book, he already did.
What I can do though is bring some focus to this little corner of the cybernet and discuss a bit what I think it means for the church to engage culture.
Welcome to the Jungle, it should be an interesting journey.
CAN YOU FEEL IT COMING…
It seems as though there is something huge waiting to break through. I can’t put my finger on it but there is something almost tangible enveloping my heart, mind, and soul. Have you ever felt this way?Naysayers don’t seem to have any power. The vision, the mission, the dream are in front of me and yet it seems as though there is a fog that causes me to not quite be able to fully comprehend.
So I actively wait.
Faithful to the things that are clear and before me.
Hopeful for the things that wrapped in the mystery of the fog.
Thankful for the sovereignly good God within whose kingdom I serve.