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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Culture

Taylor Swift: Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!

I love pop culture.

Let me rephrase that – I love the products that pop culture creates. I love movies, music, literature, art…you get the idea.

girl-15754_1920I don’t like the personal drama that comes with pop culture icons. Like the “feud” between Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. Or Kanye West and Taylor Swift.

I don’t follow it.So I really don’t care much about Taylor Swift’s downfall or the end of her career. In fact, I knew nothing about it until a friend sent me an article and suggested a “Christ in Culture” response.

So here’s the rundown: Taylor Swift and her ex-boyfriend are fighting (in the public square). And people watching are jumping in the same way that middle school kids see two kids brawling and begin chanting, “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!”

No, Taylor Swift’s career isn’t really over. This is merely a blip on the radar for these pop stars. Like I said, their personal lives aren’t something I actively follow. But I believe that all of culture can be used as a springboard, places where we can use culture to dive into faith-based conversations. And I believe this story is no different.

As Christians we are called to be people of reconciliation. The Apostle Paul specifically says that we have a “ministry of reconciliation.” Part of who we are and what we do as Christians is to bring the world to Jesus. But I believe we’re also called to be people who seek reconciliation among all of humanity. This is why Jesus gives us steps in Matthew 18 on how to handle conflict when a friend sins against you. The ultimate goal is not payback. The ultimate goal is reconciliation.

But we don’t like to live that way. Reconciliation doesn’t allow for drama. In fact – reconciliation puts an end to drama. What would happen to all of the “reality” television shows if people practiced reconciliation? The industry would shrivel up. Reality tv THRIVES on drama and the complete lack of reconciliation.

dentist-428645_1920One of my favorite words is schadenfreude. It’s a word that describes our pleasure at the misfortune of someone else. One of my favorite movie characters is Steve Martin’s dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors.”He thrilled every time someone experienced pain and suffering. He became a dentist because he derived so much pleasure out of other people’s pain.

While the character is an over-exaggeration, it’s a completely human and natural response to take pleasure in seeing the misfortune of someone we don’t like.

Except it’s not Christian.

We’re called to be better than that. In fact, Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (12:15)

As people of reconciliation, as people who embody the character of Christ, we ought not to rejoice when others go through tough times. Even if we dislike them, the suffering of others should never be something we REJOICE in.

Like I said, I don’t care about the personal drama between pop stars. But I do care about how we as Christians respond to the suffering of those around us – even celebrities we don’t like very much.
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What do you think? Have you experienced schadenfreude?

Dear America, You Left the Christian Nation Behind

flag-1192625_1920A few days ago a friend of mine posted a video of British Prime Minister David Cameron. In the video, Minister Cameron was giving his annual Easter message from 2015 and made repeated references to Great Britain being a Christian country.

And American conservatives are going NUTS for it. I’ve seen comments from people telling the PM to “stick it to Obama” and thanking him for “having the guts to say what Obama would never say.”

Watch the video:

Here’s the thing that conservative American Christians needs to understand about this video and, the bigger issue at hand, our own history: AMERICA IS NOT A CHRISTIAN NATION! In fact, we left the Christian nation behind because our founding fathers didn’t want us to be a Christian nation.

There is still an official Church of England. There is no Church of America (not officially, anyway). One of the ideas of settling in America was that there would be nobody to force our form and manner of worship – we can worship how we choose. We were part of a Christian nation and we left it behind to pursue something else.

It is inappropriate to our history and our Constitution to try to force a national faith on America now. Don’t misunderstand me – I believe that the Christian faith IS the only way to God. I do not believe that we can force the country into a mold from which it never came.

America can’t “get back” to anything because it never started out that way. It started out apart from a national faith. This ALSO means we cannot misappropriate the biblical promises to Israel and claim them as applying to the United States of America. They are not ours to claim. We are not God’s chosen people. If we humble ourselves and pray then God will not heal America and restore it to its pre-Cold War greatness.

That is NOT biblical. We can serve the one, true God from any nation on earth. We can serve the one, true God no matter which party is in office. My God is bigger than partisan politics and international borders.

If you can’t get down with that, perhaps your god is to small…

Dear Cam Newton, Jesus Tried to Tell You

football-801047_1280I don’t know Cam Newton – never met the man. So I confess, everything I know about him comes from the news and his public actions. He seems to be a very talented athlete, and superstar athletes have their own brand of swagger.

A lot of people call it arrogance. It sure does feel that way sometimes. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, was constantly accused of being arrogant. I understand that performing at that level requires a certain amount of confidence. But at some point the confidence moves into arrogance, especially when you’re flaunting performance in the face of your opponents.

Since I don’t know the man I can’t say where his confidence/arrogance balance is – I just know that it can be a fine line to walk for any of us. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete to wrestle with that balance. Jesus talked about humility. The Bible tells us:

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” ~ Luke 14:7-11

Sure enough, even superstars get humbled.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t know Cam Newton. I try not to make assumptions on his character and personality, since all I see is a public persona. But the words of Jesus are important for superstars and nobodies. Humility is a quality we would all do well to embrace.

To paraphrase Jesus, “Embrace humility before humility embraces you!”

A Church That Loves Politics More than It Loves Jesus

I enjoy following politics. I really enjoy political races for office. I believe that citizens in a democratic republic (like America, if you didn’t know what we are) have a duty to cast votes and play an active role in the political process. It is the primary means by which we hold our leaders accountable and shape the vision and future of our society.

I enjoy my faith. I really enjoy Jesus. I believe that citizens of God’s kingdom (all of those who claim to follow Jesus) have a duty to be loyal to Jesus and play an active role in the life of God’s kingdom. This necessitates we understand the breadth and scope of Jesus’s life, mission, and call to those of us who follow him.

One of my favorite stories from Jesus’s life takes place during a visit to the temple. Jesus sees a bunch of merchants and vendors trying to make a profit selling sacrificial animals to worshipers traveling from out of town. The mark-up would have been considerable, and the vendors were there not so much to help those who needed to offer sacrifices, but to line their own wallets with cold, hard cash.

This was simply unacceptable to Jesus, and he goes ballistic. He starts flipping over tables and driving out the cattle and animals, jesus-clears-the-temple

and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbersden.” (Mark 11)

Then this week I saw a very interesting phenomenon.

During the Iowa Caucus, I saw many churches that had opened their doors and had become caucus voting locations. Pews were filled with voters carrying flags, buttons, and banners promoting their favorite candidate.

It got me thinking…

I’m pretty sure Jesus would visit these church caucus sites in Iowa and start flipping over pews and tables…

No, it’s not wrong for Christians to engage in politics. I think it’s a GOOD thing to do.

What I have a problem with is people turning our sacred spaces into political grounds. How can we worship Jesus and worship candidates at the same time? How can our sanctuaries be converted to multi-purpose rooms used for secular political activity? I’m not cool with it.

Our call as Christians is to influence and change culture, not let culture influence and change us. One of my favorite Ed Stetzer quotations goes something like this:

When you mix faith and politics you get politics.

This is what I see happening during this election cycle. Don’t let it.

Yes, vote. Yes, get election-978904_1920involved in the political process. Yes, make sure the right candidate takes office.

No, don’t mix the two. Jesus doesn’t ride beside our politics. He needs to be above our politics. Because he’s the Lord of Republicans AND Democrats…heck, even of the Socialists. Jesus supersedes politics.

Don’t get caught up in the political movement and sacrifice our sacred spaces and our very faith.

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What do you think? Are you okay with churches being voting locations? How do you respond to the blending of faith and politics?

The Next Great Catholic Sin: Hoverboards

father-873830_1920Father Albert San Jose seems like a pretty cool dude. While many clergy are stand-offish and difficult to approach, San Jose strikes me as the kind of priest that really connects with people where they are.

Of course, I only have one example to go on – his mad hoverboard skills! Check this out:

Right? MAD skillz, yo. Because it seems a lot of adults can’t pull off what this priest makes look easy, and videos of adults wiping out have taking the internet by storm.

But it’s not all fun ‘n games for the good Father. You see, his diocese disapproved of his behavior. Not only did the diocese disapprove, but they suspended the minister.

The diocese wrote:

The Eucharist demands utmost respect and reverence. It is the Memorial of the Lord’s Sacrifice. It is the source and summit of Christian life. It is the Church’s highest form of worship. Consequently, it is not a personal celebration where one can capriciously introduce something to get the attention of the people.

Okay, sure, I understand what they’re getting at. And, to be totally honest, as one who has been labeled blasphemer for some of my religious humor I’m not sure I’m unbiased in this case. I have a pretty fair streak of irreverence in me. Of course, Father San Jose played ball with the diocese, apologizing and promising that it won’t happen again.

But I think it SHOULD! Here’s why:

A Worldwide Church (that’s all of us who are followers of Jesus) that is earth-683436_1280willing to embrace culture (in this case a hoverboard craze) WITHOUT compromising its content will have a greater impact in people’s lives. This is the church that will set the world on fire.

This is exactly what the good padre did. Did he change the liturgy? Nope. Did he alter the meaning and significance of the sacrament? Nope. All he did was carry out his usual service in an unusual way. In fact, is it so far out of the realm of reason to imagine a priest walking among the people while singing, “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You”? If you can imagine him walking, why get upset when you add the tech? I applaud the priest for being creative in using elements from the world around him in a faith tradition that goes back thousands of years.

Even Jesus used the culture around him to make his points come alive. In the agricultural setting of the Ancient Near East, Jesus told stories of shepherds, farmers, and Samaritans. He used sticks, architecture, and the landscape to offer entryways to draw and keep people’s attention.

The Apostle Paul utilized the statue of a Pagan god to make a point about the one true God. Is singing God’s blessings on a hoverboard more outrageous than this?

Rather than shunning culture and trying to insulate the church, let us rather seek to engage culture in all of its insanity (yes, a hoverboard craze really is quite ridiculous). As long as we’re not changing the message of the cross, it shouldn’t matter what elements from the world around us we use.

The diocese talked about having the utmost respect and reverence for the Eucharist, but I’m not so sure Jesus himself was so full of reverence that he couldn’t appreciate the lighter side of faith.

While Father San Jose may never ride another hoverboard in church, I do hope that he continues to push the envelope and find ways to engage the people and culture around them – using their stuff to point to a timeless God.

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Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the piece. If it resonated with you in any way, please share it on your own social media platforms. Blessings!

Innocent Racism: Sooo…Exactly What Are You?

So this week a friend send me this video to watch. I was laughing so hard I nearly died laughing.

Seriously, it was pretty bad. Fortunately my wife was able to revive me. Then I watched it again.

Have at it:

While it’s incredibly funny, the video highlights an all-too-true reality: We judge people based on external qualities and then form opinions based on those judgments. I know what you’re thinking:

“Oh boy – here we go again. Another post on race.”

Well…yes. While some deny it or try to trivialize it, the truth is that this is a common experience in the world. As husband to a mixed-race woman I’ve been there and have heard people ask:

“So…what are you?”

“Where are you from originally?”

Here’s a true story – Years ago we were interviewing for a church position. We had sent in a resume, photograph, sermon sample, etc. The search committee called me to conduct a phone interview. Over the phone one of the deacons asked, “What ethnicity is your wife?” My response? “Um, why does it matter?”

We did not end up going to that church.

Our problem is that, in these questions we pretend that we’re not racist. But we are. If we weren’t racist why would we even need to ask the question? I know,  know. You’re just curious. You just want information.

Baloney.

That’s the kind of question you ask when you have a real relationship with and you end up having a conversation about family trees. It’s not something you ask someone superficially.

The Apostle Paul tried to address the way we view each other and the ways those views play out in behavior. He said that there is no class distinction in Christianity. There is not race distinction in Christianity. There is no gender distinction in Christianity. In Jesus the playing field is leveled. We are no longer this or that. We simply are. When you ask a person what he is and where he comes from you are taking away his ability simply to be.

That’s not Christian. Well, I suppose it too often IS Christian.

But it’s not supposed to be…

Why We Love to Hate Miley

Degradation

Social media seems to have erupted into a ball of fury against Miley Cyrus. At least in the circles in which I travel online. And I’ll be honest, most of my connections tend to have a faith background of some sort. So Miley’s behavior on the Video Music Awards (VMA’s) the other night was met with outrage, disgust, and a lot of judgmental attitudes.

I think it’s time that the “Christians” who have been complaining about the raunchy performance needs to consider a couple things:

1)      Stop putting blame on Miley’s parents for their parenting skills and personal values. No matter what, there comes a time when we are each responsible for our own behavior and actions. As much as I love my kids and try to instill values and manners into them, they are human beings with free will. They have to choose on their own the path they will walk.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is from the Old Testament. Israel’s leader, Joshua, is reminding the nation about everything God did for them. Then he puts a challenge to them – he says that they have a choice on the path they will follow. He tells them:

“Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

No matter what her parents did – even if they were the most fantastical and splendiferous parents into the whole gosh-darn world – Miley makes her own choices. I think she has made some crummy choices, but that’s ultimately on her, so stop judging her parents.

2)      The music industry in our society has been about shock and awe for a long time. Miley is merely another performer in a long line of performers who seek to shock audiences with  crass and sexual performances. Madonna, Cher, Britney Spears, J-Lo, Lil Kim, Shakira…the list goes on and on. Don’t be upset about kids watching the show and what they had to see. It’s not like they were sitting down to watch Leave it to Beaver. It was MTV’s Video Music Awards. Really…what were you expecting?

Let’s not kid ourselves – America tunes in to the VMA’s because we want to be titillated. The reason why many are expressing shock is because they never expected Hannah Montana to be the one doing the titillating. This is what we remember – what we WANT to remember:

America's Sweetheart
America’s Sweetheart

Don’t fault her for buying into the culture (a culture you were supporting by watching) – fault the culture that desires to tune into that behavior and refuse to engage with that culture. As difficult as it seems, Christians are supposed to remain a certain distance from the world. In it yet not of it. The Bible says:

Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

Don’t be surprised when people in the world behave like worldly people. Don’t be shocked. Someone without Christ has no reason to behave according to biblical standards and values. That also means we can stop judging (there’s a lot of that going around) Miley. We don’t have to judge and condemn her. Pray for her. It’s tragic to see people making horrible choices, but judging a worldly person on their worldliness really does no good at all. Well…maybe it makes us feel a little better about ourselves, right?

We can be better than that.

For God’s sake.

For ours…

Related Posts:
~ Miley, the Morning After

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