Category Archives: Cultural Reflections

Pressing Back Against the Vise

For some time now, it has been apparent that uniquely Christian & Biblically-informed values were becoming less welcome in our nation’s ongoing cultural dialogue. Those who hold such views are being squeezed to the edges of the conversation in the public square.  And that pressure is growing more intense as time rolls by.

For instance, in the past few weeks, we have again been hit with a series of news items that seem to present (or are interpreted to present) the fact that homosexuality and the accepted norm and that full-on national approval of same-sex marriage is inevitable. Or that late-term abortion is merely a necessary medical procedure of which no woman should be deprived, of little more importance than guaranteed access to emergency care for pneumonia.

Consider:

+Pope Francis, in an informal conversation with Vatican pool reporters on the flight back from his appearances in Brazil, was asked about rumors of gay priests and a so-called gay lobby in the Vatican.  One phrase of his response was hailed as breaking news: “If a person is gay, seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?…They should not be marginalized.” 

Major news outlets around the world (and especially in the US) described this as “revolutionary” and “a remarkable change of tone”. They wondered aloud if this would lead to openly gay men serving as priests, or to women being allowed to serve as priests, or even to a less strict approach to abortion. Never mind that the full context of the Pope’s remarks indicated nothing of the sort, and were in fact a nuanced and transparent discussion of Christian faith, sin, repentance, confession and grace that never retreated an inch from the Church’s teachings on homosexuality.

But that larger,more truthful context simply did not fit the social change agenda of news editors.

+ A few days later the headlines had changed to “Cosby kid comes out”. In a statement releases through her representatives,  Raven-Symone,the actress who played Olivia on The Cosby Show in the late 1980’s and has since starred on Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven, strongly hinted that she was a lesbian and was excited about recent court rulings on the legality of same-sex marriage.: “I am very happy that gay marriage is opening up around the country and is being accepted.I was excited to hear today that more states legalized gay marriage. I, however am not currently getting married, but it is great to know I can now, should I wish to. 

This article was the lead on CNN’s newsfeed for a couple of days. Interesting placement for news of a relatively minor celebrity. Again, editorial choice.

+ On the other hand, the press was almost completely silent while Dr. Kermit Gosnell was being tried for unspeakable horrors at an inner city Philadelphia abortion clinic. Healthy babies were delivered and then brutally, capriciously murdered by Gosnell.  Yet until there was pressure brought to bear on the journalistic guilt reflex, not a word was reported.

But then, when Texas state legislator  Wendy Davis filibustered against proposed legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeksof pregnancy (five months!) and require clinics to have access to hospital care should something go awry, the same press treated her as a moral, even patriotic hero on the order of Patrick Henry. They profiled her and made sure that that we considered  such important details as  the brand and color of  her running shoes and how she would stay on the floor for hours without going to the restroom (yes we went there) Little to nothing was written regarding the legal, ethical and moral positions of those who supported the legislation, which was widely described as enforcing new “restrictions on access to abortion”.

Why the discrepancy?  Editorial decisions and reporting choices explored a complex issue through only one lens.

Now without going into the whole culture war thing, without doing the whole Palin “lame-stream media” line,  it’s crucially important to realize why news items are presented in this way in the popular press– and how it relates to our calling to live as Christ-followers in this present age.

First, it is difficult for anyone to separate their moral values and viewpoints from their communication. I know we expect journalists to report all issues with a balanced, unbiased, and emotionally detached perspective. You know, “just the facts”. But that ain’t gonna happen — not for those with Biblically-informed values, nor for those who adhere to more secular ones. People see and say what they most genuinely believe.

But even more important is to note that that there is an external pressure being brought to bear against Biblical truths and values. It has always been this way. This world is no friend to grace and is under the sway of the enemy of our souls. He is the deceiving Serpent and also the one who not ironically, is called “the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph.2:2) His purpose is to resist all that is godly, holy, and gospel. To use all the means at his disposal to further that resistance–individual, institutional, technological–even though he is the “father of lies”.(Jn.8:44)  To make that resistance seem the most rational, natural, helpful, just, loving, patriotic and widely accepted position– even though he is a master of disguise, “masquerading as an angel of light” (2 Cor.11:14), giving unspeakable horror a lovely mask.

Those loyal to Christ and His Word are being constantly squeezed by the sense that, on ethical matters like homosexuality and abortion, the majority of our fellow citizens have decided to affirm opposite values. It’s all we hear. Same-sex marriage and abortion without restriction are fine with most people, and if we do not approve,we are mean-spirited, intolerant, out-of-touch bigots from another age, those who are “on the wrong side of history”. We need to get over our old-fashioned selves and join the real world.

This pressure is like having your mind and heart in a vise in which the screws are being tightened and the pressure gradually increased. It began with changing language (ie sodomite to homosexual to gay to GLBT), moved to television normalizing these lifestyles in dramas, added celebrity endorsements, embraced public applause for approving and public shaming for opposing, and now legal  and policy changes. The assumption seems to be that pressure over time wins the day.

Where is this headed? Those who do not want godly, Biblical ethics reflected in our public discourse and policy are counting on Christians succumbing to the insistent pressure and responding with:

Comfort: in which we are no longer outraged by the open display of ungodly values, words, images, attitudes, behaviors.  In other words, we grow used to it and consume it, like a frog in the kettle.

Communication: in which we adopt the language of the culture and jettison the unique moral language of Biblical witness. In other words, we we allow the world to define for us words like tolerance, love, marriage, family and citizenship.

Concession : in which we yield a point in an argument or the ground in a moral / ethical discussion. In other words, we validate and accept as fact what is ungodly and unbiblical.

Conciliation: in which we soften our stance or the expression of our beliefs in order to placate, win over & become compatible with ungodliness. In other words, we want to be liked and accepted by the culture more than we want to bear witness to it, so we become increasingly like it it. Witness the so-called Christian denominations which have, in recent days, voted to allow those practicing GLBT lifestyles to serve as priests and pastors.  It’s Christians acting as middle-schoolers in the first week of school, desperate to be liked by the cool kids.

Compromise: in which we completely cave  in to the pressure. coming to  what the dictionary says is “an agreement is reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims or principles, by mutual concessions…. something intermediate between different things”. Except that the concessions all seem to be headed one way and nothing is more different than a holy God and sin.

Compromise may feel good because the tension is gone. But the tension is gone because we have simply switched sides in the battle. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

                        Make no mistake. The only thing that will satisfy secular people and their cultures  is compromise, which is unconditional surrender to ungodliness and hell’s values.

How can we withstand the pressure of this cultural C-vise that seems to increase by the day? We must exert a stronger pressure in the opposite direction. What is that pressure, that power?

It is CONVICTION, which is, by definition, “ a fixed and firm belief”.

Christian conviction means that we have lashed our souls to something, a Someone, more real than the breaking news of today’s newscasts.

Christian conviction arises from a Word more true than the loud and insistent claims of our age.

Christian conviction expresses and embodies the values of an eternal, heavenly Kingdom which will tower strong long after the sad ashes of self-important nations scatter in the breeze of history.

Christian conviction holds on to fulfill God’s design for humanity to the point of bloody sacrifice, because the One whose name we bear did that with nails, thorns and spear — and calls us to the same. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor.5:19)

Christian conviction keeps loving in the face of opposition, betrayal, hatred, name-calling, unpopularity, put-downs and rejection, because that’s exactly what God’s reckless, generous, pursuing, Grace did for us.

Yes, Christians can stand strong under the pressure of an opposing culture and its values.  He has given us His Spirit– the fulness of God indwelling with all His power, presence, wisdom, and grace. And He promised: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 Jn.4:4)  The Spirit in one Christian of conviction is stronger than the combined power of the media, of courts and lawyers, of ad campaigns and celebrities, of assumptions and falling dominoes.

Even when the pressure comes, hard and even painful, we can keep living, telling, sharing and showing the ever-true, ever-loving gospel of God to people who can’t see or hear it yet.

Jesus did, and because of His Spirit in us, so can we.

What Would You Do Today if the World Ended Tomorrow?

storm 3For the past couple of years, there have been stories and conversations about the so-called Mayan prophecy that some catastrophic event would occur and the world would end on Dec. 21, 2012.

            That’s tomorrow.

            And while there are “doomsday preppers” who have been stockpiling their underground bunkers and at least one lady in New Mexico who plans to spend the day on a mountain chanting to her crystal skull, most folks don’t buy it. There are a lot of jokes about not needing to pay the bills or clean the house, but nobody seriously believes the world is coming to an end tomorrow.

            But what if it were?

            The truth is, nobody knows. Jesus repeatedly said, “no one knows the day or the hour” when the God who created the world and raised the curtain on the grand drama of human history, will darken the stage and close that curtain.  

            It could easily be tomorrow.

            If you knew that to be undeniably true, what would you do today?

            Jesus said that the normal human reaction to such news would the same as our current reaction to the Mayan prophecy. “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away…” (Matt.24:37-39) They wouldn’t even consider the possibility that the world they knew might come to an end.  It was (and is) a foolish way to live.

            So…if the world were ending tomorrow, what would you do today?

            Seriously.

            What would you be compelled to do if you knew there were only 24 hours left to live on this planet?

            Would you….

                       …make sure some special people heard you say “I love you”?

                        …enjoy your favorite meal?

                        ….chase fear by singing for joy or weeping in prayer?

                        …revel for a time in some certain beauty?

                        …soak your anxious heart in God’s promises?

                        …gather near with the people most precious to you?

                        …express gratitude or say “thank you” to someone?

                        …reconcile a ruptured relationship?

                        …work or play?

                        …scramble about or simply stop and engage the moment?

                        …share the good news of Jesus (the only truth that will insure a soul continues long after the world has crumbled to nothing) with   someone you’re pretty sure is not ready to face God?

                        …or _______________________?

 

    Now…since you really don’t know whether tomorrow will come on earth,

what’s keeping you from doing those things today?

 

            This day is all we ever have. 

            There are no guarantees of another day here.

            So, live what you always meant to live right now.

            “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the best use of these days…make the most of every opportunity….redeem the time, because these are desperate, evil days” (Eph. 5:15-16)

            I’d love to know…what would you do? Share it in the comments.

             

Dead Children, the Deep Sadness & Humanity

newtownNot again.

We gasp when the news comes,

            punched in the gut with the sheer

                        senseless

                        madness of it..

We moan instinctively,

                        horrified

                        terrified.

            But mostly because words simply fail us.

 

What word can we possibly find

                        in any dictionary, of any language

                        for the slaughter of the innocents

                        in an elementary school in Connecticut?

 

Reporters, who traffic in words,

                        stuttered,

                                    wept openly

                                                and fought to steady their voices.

One managed to say “It is an unimaginable horror that is beyond description”.

 

            When police arrived after the shooting occurred, the surviving children were led out of Sandy Hook School.  They were told to keep their eyes closed and hold hands as they were guided out of the school and to the firehouse. They were placed in one room and showed movies.

            Parents were contacted through emergency channels and told to come to the firehouse.  One by one over the course of a few hours, children were brought in to their parents. Welcomed with joyful embraces, tears and kisses, they then headed home with their parents. 

            The crowd of parents drew smaller. Finally, a moment came when the officials came in and said, “There will be no more reunions today.”             

            One person said the wails of anguish at that moment pierced the soul.

            Unimaginable horror.

            Devastating.

            Evil.

                       

            The world gets smaller in moments like this.  

             Our hearts break and ache with the Connecticut parents.

                                    To paraphrase the poet,

                                                ‘No [one] is an island

                                                Entire of itself….

                                                Each [child’s] death diminishes me,

                                                For I am involved in mankind.’

                                     To quote the President,

                                     ‘These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods;

                                                These children are our children.’

           

            In other words, we’re connected to the dead and surviving:

                        not primarily as Americans,

                        but as human beings..

            And it is as human beings that this hurts.

                        Tears flow.

                        Hearts ache.

                        Fears rise.

                        Grief weighs.

                        Anger boils

                        Questions are whispered – or screamed-

                                    at government,

                                                at policies

                                                            at lobbyists

                                                                        ….and at God.

                       

            We want answers.

            We want it fixed.

            We want to grab control.

            We want to press meaning.

            We want to make sure this never happens again.

            And….

                        so far…

                                    ,,,nothing.

 

            In the scramble to understand or repair,

                        we simply must not look away

                                    or

                        lean away from the ache.

            We need to feel this horror in deep, painful ways.

            Why? Because it has happened so often –

                                    Columbine

                                    Paducah

                                    Jonesboro

                                    Wedgwood Baptist in Ft.Worth

                                    Amish schoolhouse

                                    Virginia Tech

                                    Ft. Hood

                                    Phoenix

                                    Oak Creek

                                    Aurora

                                    Clackamas

                                    and now Newtown /Sandy Hook

            that I fear we are in danger of growing numb

                        to the fact that a man walked into a school with a gun            

                                    and murdered 5-year olds and school teachers.

            These are not statistics,

                              nor pawns for policies

                                                but precious, God-created persons

                                                               who died sudden &  brutal deaths.

 

            No, we must to feel this pain deeply, because to the degree that we lose the sense of the value of even one precious life,

                              our society is morally confused,

                                                                 calloused,

                                                                  diminished,

                                                                   lost.

 

            We must feel this pain deeply

                  because it’s part of facing the reality of our common brokenness

            This is not normal.

            This is not the way things are supposed to be..

            Our wordless groaning joins “the whole creation that has been groaning right up to the present time…we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.” (Rom.8:22-23).

            Our groaning is a cry of pain

                                        a longing for change

                                       a prayer of hope.

 

            We must feel this pain deeply

                        so we realize that the ultimate solution is beyond us

                                                                                             our smarts,

                                                                                              our policies,

                                                                                              our controls

                                                                               our increased vigilance

                                                                                and our determination.

            Such evil and violence arise from mangled hearts and twisted minds.

                        We simply can’t get that deep.  

                        Only Jesus can.

                        Jesus, the One whose coming we mark in this season:

                                                Prince of Peace,

                                                Healer of broken hearts,

                                                Liberator of captive minds,

                                                Rescuer of wandering souls,

                                                Lover of the children,

                           and Restorer of this sad, tarnished and broken world.

 

            So, mourn the loss and feel the grief.

            Weep the tears and scream your lament.

            Run to Jesus and stay there.

               It’s the only way to be fully human in the midst of stark inhumanity.              

Calming Our Culture’s Frenzy, One Soul at a Time

peace 2Last time, in the consideration of “Frenzy and the Soul of a Culture”,we saw that the dueling frenzies of Black Friday and over the Powerball lottery arose from the same source—a relentless dedication to the idol of More. Materialism – valuing present things and stuff over eternal truths and souls — has a chokehold on many individuals and thus on much of our nation’s culture, identity and future.

            Is there an antidote to the frenzy? Or is this a virus with no cure that turns people into mindless, grasping, purchasing zombies?

            The idol of More does not relinquish soul-ground easily. It sets hooks deep in hearts and confirms its assumed priority through constant advertising and peer pressure.  Getting free as a society will only happen as individuals are liberated from the chains of materialism.

            How do you get free—and live free — of the idol of More?

1.    Identify the things that last: “We brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out…the things that are seen are transient and the things that are not seen are eternal.” (1Tim.4:7, 2 Cor. 4:18) Which consumes more of your attention or captures your affections? Confusion about temporary and forever is rampant and shapes everything about our lifestyle. Eternal things are few, but most precious: God, His glory, Word & gospel; and precious, God-made people who are eternal souls. Everything else burns. Live accordingly.

2.    Clarify your “enough”:   Materialism will take as much ground in our mind, heart and garage as we will give. And it always seems to be just a little beyond what we currently possess. The apostle Paul wrote, “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Tim. 4:8) Have you ever considered what it would take for you to be utterly content? Have you run the numbers or compared that to your current lifestyle choices? How much do you need—really?  Live more simply and you will know more joy.

3.    Trust your heavenly Father’s provision:  “Do not be anxious about what you will eat or wear…your heavenly Father knows what you need…God will richly supply every need of yours.” (Matt.6:31-32, Phil. 4:19) Contentment is directly tied to trust. God knows you, His plans for you—and what you need to live it. He will provide, because He is wise and kind. You can rest in Him.

4.    Live like a generous manager, not a nervous owner: “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…every good and perfect gift comes down from above, coming down from the Father…a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given Him from heaven.”  (Ps.24:1, James 1:17, Jn.7:27) if you’re not going to need as much, what will you do with the excess?  You have been given resources—financial and otherwise—not only to meet your needs, but to help others and extend the Father’s heart to them. God intends us to hold things loosely and to have open hands towards the broken, needy and spiritually lost we encounter. All ministries have plenty of money to make a transforming difference in their community; it’s just that most of it is tied up in the car payments, mortgages and credit card bills of their members. Get out of debt—and give it away!

5.    Become an advertising agnostic: “We take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor.10:5) – including our thoughts about money, spending and stuff. Advertising, by its nature, is intended to create dissatisfaction in your heart (thus battling contentment) and provide a substitute savior (product) that can satisfy that burning longing.  It’s a siren voice that will dash your soul against the rocks and keep you lashed to the altar of the idol of More. Work to discern the voice of the Enemy – even when it comes with a snappy tune and really cool graphics.

6.    Soak your heart under a gospel fountain: “whoever drinks of the water I give him will never be thirsty again. The water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn.4:14)  Any “thing” is a poor substitute for the life available in Jesus. Stuff is mere sand that we drink at peril of choking our soul and our culture. Only Jesus satisfies the deepest longings, provides for the most genuine needs and enables us to be most fully human.  Gaze long on His beauty, His perfections, His sacrifice, His love, His meaning, “and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”  

 

            The idol of More must be torn down and trampled so it can no longer capture hearts, families and communities with its smiling death. But the removal of that idol needs to begin in the hearts of the people who claim Jesus as Lord.

            So, if you’re His, join me in the pursuit of eternal values, contentment & simplicity, trust, generosity, discernment, and gospel delight.  It’s the only way to satisfy souls and calm the frenzy in our culture.

              What helps you battle the pull of More and pursue simplicity?

Frenzy and the Soul of a Culture

poweball 2About a month before Thanksgiving, several major retailers announced that they intended to open for their Black Friday sales at 8:00pm on Thanksgiving evening. Of course, that is a Thursday, not a Friday, but the incongruity did not seem to matter. Neither did a hundred-plus year tradition of commerce ceasing on Thanksgiving so workers could spend time together with family and in worship.

            What mattered was getting stuff and gaining profits.

            Stuff —flat-screen televisions, the latest dancing or giggling Elmo, CD’s /DVD’s, gaming systems, computers, 2 for one deals on jeans, and so on. And profits, obviously, for the good of retailers and corporations, the promise of a jumpstart for the economy.

            There were a few voices raised in surprise and protest.  Even people of no particular faith wondered how this would impact the rhythms of long-held family traditions. A couple of on-line petitions were started by employees of a couple of big-box stores, asking that the stores reconsider.

            But mostly, there was a sense of resigned inevitability. Over the past several years, we had steadily moved from early-bird specials at 7am, to super-early-bird deals at 5am to midnight madness, Black Friday edition.  And now, before most families could finish pumpkin pie and settle for a lingering cup of coffee, the stores would be open.

            How would people respond? What would happen?

            People camped out in front of stores – even through Thanksgiving Day. Parking lots at most big-box stores were jammed with cars.  Aisles of stores were crammed with people with no elbow room between.

            But most disturbing were the videos of masses of people stampeding feverishly into stores as doors opened. Or the pushing, shoving and elbowing, the yelling, glaring and cursing -by men and women alike -for position to grab certain products from the sales tables.  Arguments and several incidents of violence were reported. It was bare economic Darwinism—survival of the fittest at the sale.

            All in the name of acquiring stuff.

            Now fast-forward two weeks—and another frenzy broke out. This time it was over the latest Powerball drawing—the closest thing we have to a national lottery. When the drawing passed without  a winner during Thanksgiving week, it became apparent that the next prize would be massive—somewhere north of ½ billion dollars. That’s billion with a “b”.

            News organizations pumped the story so much—often leading newscasts with lottery stories over the violence in Syria or our looming “fiscal cliff” – that one had to wonder if they were getting a kickback from lottery corporations. Powerball advertisements increased on radio and television, promising a thrill and the possibility of a completely changed, worry-free life

            And the public responded with near-Pavlovian predictability. Tickets sold at a record pace—even with repeated reminders that the odds were better of being struck by lightning six times in the same spot or winning an Academy Award.  Illogic won the day. As usual, the people with no money to spare, or with money they only possessed due to government aid, purchased most of the tickets.  As the drawing neared, lines formed for blocks outside convenience stores.  The night of the drawing there were special “Breaking news” bulletins with live shots of the bouncing ping-pong balls inside the globe from the Florida studio where the drawing would be held.

            All in the name of gaining more money, or profit for our bank account.

            So, what is the common denominator of these dual frenzies? It is materialism.  Stuff and money. Things you can touch, see, measure, hold, keep, polish, upgrade and brag about owning.

            Materialism is not a surface issue. It is the evidence of a deep heart commitment to living by the secular spirit of the age; that is, a worldview that leaves God to the side and leans heavily on the material things. It pants after the temporal as ultimate and dismisses the eternal as childish fantasy.  

            This secular materialism is exactly opposite of reality. In fact, the eternal is the priceless treasure and the temporal is mere vapor.

            But that approach to life dominates our culture. It is mindlessly accepted as the way Americans do life.  It is why we cannot tolerate the stillness of contentment, giving a day to reflect with profound gratitude for what we already possess. It is why we itch to get back into the fray to gather even more stuff and gain even more profit.

            And it is idolatry.

            Our culture worships at the idol of stuff and money. It is our national religion, with far more adherents than any denomination. To put it more simply: we bow before “More”.

            In more ways than we can imagine, it is killing us. The quest to satisfy More is ruining families and relationships. The worship of More is shaping government and public policy. Delighting More is training successive generations to live for practical and productive things, so that the quest for beauty and joy in simple things is dulled.  Pleasing the tug of More is making us view human beings as tools useful only to produce stuff and money, so that life is devalued across the lifespan, demonstrated by violence, lack of civility in speech and even abortion.  More is suffocating our soul.

            But it is so ingrained in us. Is there a way to break the stranglehold of More?

            Yes.  It involves recapturing the value of one human soul, reevaluating the place of stuff or money –and reordering our lives accordingly.  More on that next time.

 

Where have you experienced or seen evidence of the tug for More?