Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Jul
02
2014

Civil Rights and the Gospel

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. To commemorate this landmark event and to discuss the Church’s role in working toward racial reconciliation, I had the opportunity to engage in a discussion with my ERLC colleague, Trillia Newbell, author of the new book, United. 

We filmed this in the Civil Rights Room at the historic Nashville Library, built on the spot of one of the key demonstrations of the Civil Rights movement. I’m grateful to my incredibly gifted team, led by Thomas Willis, who produced this special video:

 

Jun
24
2014

Potshots Are Not a Spiritual Gift

It’s a bit morose and probably an exercise in ego-massaging to consider what one would wanted inscribed on his tombstone (if indeed one has left his family enough money to buy a tombstone). But indulge me for a moment. This can be a good exercise for us in that it requires us to think through just what our lives are made of–what will the one or two sentences in the first lines of our obituaries say when we pass? I’m not sure what that would be for me, but I can tell you what I wouldn’t want it to be.

I don’t want to be known as the guy who takes potshots at other people.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but in our social media age, it’s not a given. In fact, I think if more people considered their reputations, the weight of their words, the impact they are having on the people who follow their activity, they’d reconsider what they type or tap into the blank spaces on Twitter.

Twitter makes taking potshots pretty easy. It’s not that it’s Twitter’s fault. It’s that this medium–instant, fast, and rewarding of sharp wit–dredges up from the heart the worst kinds of things. What’s more, the safe distance it gives you from keyboard to flesh-and-blood gives the illusion of courage behind a veil of insecurity.

I say all that to say this: a lifetime of worthy work can be erased in a short amount of time if you’re someone who uses Twitter to continually sound off, take potshots, and be the self-appointed watchdog for the masses you think have made you their leader. This is especially true and sadly prevalent in the evangelical world. You can easily take potshots–that have all of your tribe saying comatose amens–pretty easily. You can skewer the theological tribes with whom you disagree and make a living pointing out their blind spots, hash tagging their crimes, and gathering a willing lynch mob. You can create narratives, half-true, half-false, about movements you despise and be successful, even drawing in the news media and other organizations interested mainly in eyeballs on their web ads. You can be an online bully, going after people with relentlessness and fake courage because you don’t have to see them in person, shake their hand, and realize they are humans and not avatars. You can do all of this and do it well.

But again, is this what you want said about you at your funeral? Is this what you want inscribed on your tombstone? Is the thing, the one thing, you want your children to say is your most significant contribution during the years you were given, as a stewardship, by God?

This is the conversation we have to have with ourselves almost daily as we fight the carnal tendencies to react and overreact. I certainly haven’t always gotten it right. I’ve made mistakes, said things, tweeted things, blogged things that I regret. But lately it’s been this long view of life that has held me back. Because when I look at the list of spiritual gifts in the Bible, I see a lot of things, but I don’t see a ministry of potshots as one of them.

Jun
13
2014

What Dad taught Me: 5 Invaluable Principles I Use Every Day

My dad is a quiet man, more comfortable working with his hands than delivering a speech or writing an essay. But this doesn’t mean Dad wasn’t a teacher. Dad’s life spoke to me in ways that I still think of today. Most of these lessons were simply by following his example.

My father grew up in a broken home. He didn’t know his real father until he was fourteen years old. He dealt with the devastating effects of alcoholism and was forced to grow up fast. While still in high-school, he got up early to work at a bakery, using this income to support his mother (my grandmother) as she helped raise six children with my father’s step-dad.

While in his late teens, my father came to faith in Christ through the ministry of Billy Graham. He later met my mother, a Jewish girl who converted to Christianity, and they got married. I’m the oldest of three children.

Dad was a blue-collar guy, a licensed plumber, who has always been known for the quality of his work. It wasn’t the specific job he did but the way Dad carried himself that taught me the most about life, about manhood, and about living out the gospel. These five lessons are ones I’ve adopted as I seek to honor the Lord with my life:

1. A real man acknowledges his dependence on God. Even though my father is a rugged, hardworking, “man’s man”, he has always been unafraid to admit his weakness and need for Christ. I remember getting up every morning and seeing my father, up early, reading his Bible.

Now to be sure, I’m not a morning person, so my sons don’t find me up early reading the Bible. I do my Bible reading at other times, mostly at night. But I have tried to carry Dad’s dependence on the Word with me. Dad taught me the value of making Scripture the center of a family’s life. I think this is why all three of his children are actively following Christ to this day.

2. A real man takes his family to church every week. I guess I didn’t realize the importance of this until I became a father and had my own children. It was just assumed that every Sunday we went to church. There was never a question. No matter what was going on that week, no matter how tired Dad was, no matter who was playing whom that Sunday, we were in church. Dad had a pretty iron-clad policy: if you stayed home sick, then you were sick that whole day. You didn’t play hooky, pretend to be sick, and then play outside on Sunday.

For a young man, this is an important visual statement. Kids need to see their fathers faithfully leading them to church every week. This tells the family that worship of the risen Christ matters so much so that we voluntarily set aside a day each week in worship. What’s more, a real man invests and is involved in the work of a Bible-believing church. Dad gave himself, his time, his money, and his talents to the work of the Kingdom. I hope that one day my kids will say the same thing about me.

3. A real man works hard to provide for his family. Again, I didn’t realize how rare this is until I grew older and observed the sad lack of purpose and vision among contemporary men. Dad modeled what it looks like to get up every day, whether he liked it or not, and go to work for the family. Plumbing is a hard job. It’s physically demanding and requires focus and discipline. But Dad never wavered in his commitment to provide for us.

I remember asking Dad, “Dad, do you ever get tired of doing this every single day?” His reply, “Son, yes. I do. But then I remember that I don’t get tired of eating. I don’t get tired of having a house. I don’t get tired of seeing my kids’ needs taken care of. So I quickly get ‘untired’ of working.”

Great answer. Not every day at work, even in your chosen vocation where you are working in your giftedness, is a day at the beach. Many days are mundane. Some are frustrating. Some days you want to quit, even in the best of jobs. But a real man, a man of God, labors to provide for the ones God has called him to love and serve. By God’s grace, I’ve tried to carry on this work ethic, and it will benefit me my entire life.

4. A real man loves his wife unconditionally, in good times and bad. My parents have been married for thirty eight years. There have been many hardships along the way. My mother endured seven miscarriages. She’s been afflicted by illness. Dad has seen his own share of health challenges and, lately, unemployment struggles as the housing industry in the Chicago area has suffered. Dad has taught me, through it all, the value of simple, everyday faithfulness. Not all of life is easy. Many seasons are hard and difficult and make you want to get up and walk away. Dad’s faithfulness in good and bad seasons has shown me what a real man does: he endures.

I pray it’s said of me that I have the same character and faithfulness Dad exhibited. He isn’t perfect and neither am I. We are both in need of God’s amazing grace to cover our many sins. But if I could be half the man Dad has been in his life, that would be enough for me.

5. A real man is a living witness of the gospel in the daily grind of life. This is related to point #3. Dad not only worked hard, he took pride in his work. I remember asking Dad when I was working alongside him at 14 years old why he cared that the drain pipes we were installing inside the walls had to be so straight. “Nobody will see them,” I said. “But, Son, I will see them. God sees them. That matters.” Dad did his work with excellence, even staying an extra hour to get that one thing right that didn’t much matter to me. But it does matter, because the work we do with our hands reflects the Creator. He’s given us a job to do, and we should do it well–to His glory.

Dad’s work was his witness to an unsaved and watching world. The construction trades are not exactly a haven of clean-living. Dad never heard of the words missional and incarnational. He just got up every day and did the very best job he could. And this work was a witness. He was unafraid to vocally share his faith on the job, even though those opportunities were rare. I can tell you, however, that everyone who worked with my father knew he was a Christian, mostly because of the quality work he did.

Too many people in our day and age don’t know the treasure of a great father. I’m grateful, by God’s grace, that I do. In fact, my father is one of my heroes because he showed me what it looks like for a Christian man to live out his faith in the nitty-gritty, daily grind of life, among a lost and sinful people. And I’ll never, ever forget it.

May
27
2014

The Four Types of Media: How Christians Should View Them

A few weeks ago we finished a major event at ERLC for pastors and church leaders. We invited in the media to cover the event for a couple of reasons: a) the media were going to cover it anyways, so we wanted to allow them the most context to cover it fairly and well b) we want to establish good relationships with the media and giving them access to our events is one way to help them do their jobs and allow us to do ours.

In my few months in this communications roll, I’ve made some observations about the media that I thought might be helpful as Christians think through their attitudes about media and as organizations think through their strategies. I hope this is helpful to you.

We tend to look at “the media” as one amorphous whole. While mainstream news organizations can often be slanted one way or another, I’ve found that there is much diversity in media in terms of type, motivation, and tasks. Instead, we might break down media professionals into four categories:

1) News Journalists  - These are straight-up journalists who will report what they see. It’s important to develop good relationships with key journalists and provide access to them when they need it, mainly so the story at least gets your point of view included. The thing you need to understand about journalists is that if there is a story, they will report it regardless of whether or not you talk to them. So if you’d like your perspective to get attention, it’s best to answer their questions. It’s also important to realize that journalists are not your advocates. It is not their job to speak for your organization or distribute your press releases. So expect from a journalist reporting, not advocacy, and you won’t be disappointed. If some key fact or perspective was excluded, it’s fair to bring this up with them in a good spirit of cooperation (instead of belligerence). The best journalists know how to cover a story fairly and accurately without betraying a particular slant. They don’t always get it right, but maintain a high batting average.

2) Favorable advocates -  Advocates may do some journalistic work, but don’t pretend to call it “down the middle.” These types of media are a bit hard to pin down–they are often bloggers, activists, and sometimes advocacy journalists. I think it’s important to engage these types as well, so you can help push your message out to a wider audience. It’s important to “flood the zone” with positive information about your organization or effort. This often comes in the form of blogs, some opinion (but respectful) journalism, and social media reporting. It’s important to understand that advocates are not independent journalists.

3) Unfavorable advocates - Like the group above, with this type of media is no pretense of being unbiased. There are advocacy media types ideologically opposed to your worldview. Sometimes you will find fair-minded folks in this camp, who will occasionally offer an “I’m surprised at how ____ these guys were” type piece, but don’t count on it. It’s important to handle these types of media well by a) recognizing your inability to move them off of entrenched positions and b) treating them fairly and establishing a respectful relationship. It’s also very important to understand that this type of media is not interested in fairness, but in finding any advantage to advance their arguments and likely embarrass you. It’s important to do your homework here. Smart organizations learn who the main players are here and anticipate, as best they can, to avoid unforced errors that give those predisposed to not like you unnecessary wins. You should also expect opposition from this kind of media and not be surprised when it happens.

4) Ordinary citizen journalists - With the advent of social media platforms and smart phones, everyone today is a reporter. Live-tweeting events has become a regular habit, making attendees journalists. So people who attend your event for their own education or fulfillment will also let the world know of their experience. Of course untrained attendees can’t provide the nuance of a trained journalist, but their observations can shape the narrative of your organization, for good or for ill. It’s important to monitor the online conversation about your organizations, reward (with retweets, shares, and personal affirmation) those who positively report. It’s also good to gracefully clarify if any unintentionally misleading facts.

May
08
2014

What Our Stories Say About Us

What are the stories embedded in our culture saying and how should Christians react, respond, and discern? This was the topic of discussion I engaged with Mike Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church. Mike is a gifted voice at the intersection of theology and art in the church, one of the most thoughtful communicators I know. I hope you find this discussion fascinating and helpful:

Apr
29
2014

Donald Sterling, Secret Conversations, and the Image of God

By now you’ve heard reports about the reprehensible and racist comments of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. This is a news story that now transcends sports, with repeated calls for boycotts of Clipper games, demands for punishment for Sterling, and even admonishment from President Obama. Update: The NBA has made the decision to ban Donald Sterling for life and the Board of Governors will vote to force Sterling to sell the Clippers franchise. They also fined him $2.5 million dollars.

If you are an NBA fan like me, you’ll know that Donald Sterling is a known curmudgeon, a highly ineffective owner, and a generally un-liked fellow. So we might be tempted to consider what he said to be merely the rantings of an out of touch, stuck-in-the-1950′s old man. We might ask why should Christians care what the owner of an LA sports team says?

But I think we should care, for several reasons:

First, Sterling’s words hurt and demean people created in the image of God. Just the way Sterling talks about African American people reflects a Satanic, soul-crushing view of humanity. “These people” is a way of setting a certain ethnic group aside as less than human.

Christians should be offended by Sterling’s words because racism is a direct attack upon the Creator, who lovingly formed each human in His image and likeness. It’s to tell the Creator that what He created good isn’t good. To treat someone as subhuman doesn’t simply humiliate the recipient, it dethrones God as Lord.

In one sense it’s shocking that we still hear these words in 21st century America. After all, we’ve made great racial progress in this country. And yet, in another sense, we shouldn’t be shocked, because racism is the fruit of a sinful, fallen world, where man will always consider himself better than his fellow man. Every generation has its racists, who set themselves up as gods. And every generation needs godly men and women to both be outraged by racism and committed to the gospel work that eradicates it.

Secondly, Sterling’s words and actions reflect a low view of marriage. Buried in the furor over the racist comments were a stunningly low view of marriage and sexuality. Marriage is not simply a Christian idea, but a Creational ordinance ordained by God to both illustrate Christ’s love for His Church and to ensure human flourishing. It’s no surprise that in Sterling’s life adultery and racism flow together. Each sin is a selfish act against a holy God.

Third, we should be warned that no conversation is secret. How many seemingly private conversations have been “leaked” to the media? The wrong lesson to learn from Donald Sterling (and other such conversations) would be this: be careful what you say, it might go public. Instead, we should strive not to have those nasty private conversations. Not simply for fear of them being leaked, but because even in private, God hears. We should strive to be in private what we hope people think we are when they see us in public. Besides, God will make known all the secret things one day. In a sense, there is no hiding, nothing “off the record” that won’t be replayed at the Judgement Seat.

So where do Christians go from here? What should we do?

We should continue to work for racial reconciliation. Racial reconciliation is not just a political program or a neat idea cooked up in the academy. It’s at the heart of God. In Revelation 5 and 7, we are given a view of the future Kingdom where “every language, tribe, and tongue” will gather to worship Christ. Christians should both be outraged by the injustice of racism wherever we see it and we should actively promote racial reconciliation in our churches, our communities, and in our homes.

We must preach the gospel as the only cure for racism. Racism is the fruit of sin embedded in the heart of every man. Only Christ, who crushed the serpent and defeated death can move into the racist’s heart and recreate it to be a heart of love. The cross is where racism goes to die, for every man, red and yellow, black and white, is in need of God’s saving grace. There is hope for the repentant racist, but it will only happen as Christ renews his mind and redeems his view of his fellow man. Let’s pray for Donald Sterling to repent and turn to Christ in faith. God delights in welcoming sinners home, including repentant racists.

We must model in our churches what racial reconciliation looks like. In the gospel, Christ has created for Himself one new humanity, called out from every race, tribe, and tongue. Therefore as we work toward intentional, real diversity in our Christian communities, we model in miniature what the Kingdom will look like in full. Let’s turn our outrage at Donald Sterling into the gospel-fueled work of reconciliation.

We should humbly consider our own sinful tendencies toward prejudice. Racism begins in a corrupted, sinful heart. If we were honest, we’d admit there is a little Donald Sterling in all of us. Only God’s sanctifying grace can remove the cancer of racism and replace it with a heart that reflects God’s heart.

 

Apr
29
2014

Preaching about sexuality in a post-Christian context

A few weeks ago I wrote an op-ed for CNN countering the narrative that to preach a faithful, biblical sexual ethic is turning young people away from the Church. To continue that conversation, I had the opportunity to interview my good friend, Dean Inserra, founder and lead pastor of City Church, Tallahassee, Florida. What I love about Dean is two things: He’s unflinchingly biblical and yet winsome and loving in his approach. He pastors in a cross-section of college students from Florida State, Bible belt Christians, and political types in Florida’s capital. He says, “The Church is one of the few places, if not the only place, in society where people from all spheres of influence come to gather.”

Apr
16
2014

No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free

A few years ago, when I was a pastor, I had a hard time explaining to a rather cranky member why we, as a church, had to pay for a license to use Christian music in our worship services. “They should give it away freely. Why do I have to pay for it? I thought this was ministry. Why they are out to make money?” What made this man’s beef all the more interesting is that I had just concluded, a day earlier, a long conversation with him about what he considered unfair pay at his work. The irony was lost on him, but not me.

But alas, this complaint about Christian content costing money is one I’ve heard in a variety of forms most of my adult life. It goes something like this:

Christian publishers should not be so eager to make money. Why not give their books away free?

Christian musicians should not charge to sing at a Church. Why not sing for the Lord?

Christian conferences should offer all their content online, right away, for free, right now.

Well-known speakers shouldn’t charge so much to speak at someone’s church. They should just come to be a blessing.

So, the question is this: Should all Christian content be free? And to this I say a hearty, “No!”

I understand the desire to get resources into the hands of those who can’t afford them. The impulse to break down financial barriers so  people can hear the gospel and so God’s people can grow is good. I’m thankful for all of the free content, readily available online and elsewhere. But we must understand that good content always has a cost.

For free stuff, somebody, somewhere was kind enough to fund the spread of the good news. Praise God for this kind of generosity. May He raise up more Christian philanthropists in this generation.

But I want to tackle this idea that there should never be charge for Christian content–books, sermons, study guides, music, teaching textbooks. This is not a right argument on many levels.

First, the Bible says that hard work should be rewarded with adequate payment. Paul said to Timothy that “the worker” is worthy of his wages. Christians shouldn’t succumb to greed and materialism. This is a sin and can be a soul-sucking snare (1 Timothy 6:9). But money is offered in Scripture as a reward for hard work. Work was instituted by God at Creation, before the Fall. And the rewards of hard work are woven into the mandate to subdue the earth. To diminish reward is to cheapen, in my view, the value of hard work and to soften the God-glorifying act of creating.

Secondly, Christians should be rewarded for their ministry work. We have this idea that because someone is in “full-time” ministry that they should give their time and effort away for free. But Paul told the Galatians that those “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). In other words, those who benefit from the teaching ministry of others should support those who teach. How this works out in real life often differs. Some work full time and get their sole paycheck from a Christian organization. Others are “tent-makers” who, like Paul for a season, offer their ministry work in a part-time or free basis. Still, there are many who have some combination of an agreement. But, the principle still stands: there is nothing wrong with someone getting paid for their Christian content (music, books, preaching, etc). In fact, there is everything right.

Third, by depriving Christians of payment for their work, at times, we could be causing them to disobey Scripture. Scripture says that a man who doesn’t provide for his family is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Paul scolded lazy men who refused to provide for their families (2 Corinthians 3:10). Sometimes in our desire to demand free Christian content or when we grow upset at Christian organizations for charging for content or services, we forget that the men and women working in those organizations would like to feed their families, have health insurance, and own homes just as we do. Many serve and work at drastically reduced rates. They consider their vocation a calling, a mission, a chance to serve the body of Christ. But, that doesn’t mean the should work for free. Imagine if you were asked to do your job for free–if you had no paycheck to take home to support your wife and children? Imagine if someone demanded you do your job for free? You wouldn’t do that. You couldn’t do that. And neither should we expect editors, writers, web guys, recording artists, pastors etc give us the best and most edifying Christian content without cost.

Of course there are many caveats to this. There are legitimate and illegitimate ways to make money in the Christian world. There are, sadly, pastors who fleece their flocks and live lavish lifestyles off the backs of poor widows. There are some who claim that financial prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing. This wicked and destructive teaching is anti-gospel. And there are times when Christian organizations make decisions based on revenue streams rather than what is enriching for the body of Christ. That is wrong.

But let’s trust that these are a few examples out of the many faithful believers who serve the body well and deserve to be paid fairly for their labors. Let’s not simply rush to the conspiratorial idea that “That publisher/organization/church/pastor is just out to make money.” You actually don’t know that. It could be they are serving with an earnest desire to bring the good news of the gospel to those who need to hear it.