Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Aug
29
2014

Victoria Osteen and Our Conservative Prosperity Gospel

Last night, Christian Twitter was alive with the ridiculous and sad clip of Victoria Osteen’s blatant prosperity gospel declaration. “We go to church, not for God, but for us.” I especially liked the enterprising blogger who affixed Bill Cosby’s “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” to the end of the clip. Well done.

But before we conservatives get too cocky in our outrage, we’d we wise to admit to our own version of the prosperity gospel, a kind of false message that creeps into our gospel proclamation.

None of us are offering people paradise like the Osteens, especially those of us who have travelled to third-world countries and have seen first-hand the crippling poverty experienced by people with faith much greater than our own. Nor would we dare to tell our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East that with just a bit more faith they might be able to outrun their ISIS persecutors. To do that would not just make us modern-day friends of Job, it would make us false prophets.

What we might be tempted to do, those of us with our airtight theology, is offer a subtler version of the prosperity message in the way we talk about sanctification in this life.

I grew up hearing that what the troubled and broken world really needs is Jesus. I still believe this, even more so now than I did as a child. But what I heard then and what I hear now about our need for Jesus is markedly different.

My ears heard then, “If only the drunkard would walk forward and trust Christ, he’d find relief for his addiction” or “If only the depressed or mentally ill (we didn’t use that word, actually) would know Jesus, they’d find happiness.”

But what I hear now from the gospel is different. I hear now: “Come to Jesus and he’ll begin the process of making who you whole, but the full work of restoration won’t happen until He consummates His kingdom.”

There’s a big difference between the two. One says that upon salvation, all of the Fall’s crush upon your soul will be unraveled. Everything will be made new—now. But is this true? We know this doesn’t happen, even from our own lives. Many years after salvation, we still struggle with sins that “so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1). As a pastor, I saw first-hand the pervasive effects of the Fall, how the curse so gnarled up human lives. Some of those knots will be unwound in this life. Most will have to wait until Heaven to see full restoration.

Is this not what Paul was saying when he talks in 2 Corinthians 4 about “treasure in earthen vessels” that is “crushed, perplexed, and persecuted.” The treasure is Jesus, but the vessel—body, mind, soul—is fragile and broken. Christ is doing an ongoing work in us, but it’s a work that is far from finished. Our “outer self is wasting away” but our “inner self is being renewed day by day.” Sanctification—not a one-time event that happens when we walk the aisle—is an ongoing work within. There is, Paul says, “an eternal weight of glory” that awaits us. Our full, final, and complete restoration.

At first glance, recognizing and accepting that we’ll not be perfected in this life might seem cause for despair. Having to get up every single day and “run, with patience, the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1) might cause us to lose heart.

But instead it should move us to joy, because we look not at the “things that are seen” but the “things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18). In other words, we don’t despair at the continual struggle with sin, the pervasive physical and mental effects of the fall, or the problems that never seem to unwind in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Instead, we rejoice and look to Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1), who has already secured our full final restoration. This struggle will soon be over and Christ will finish his work in us.

Understanding sanctification guards us, then, against over-selling immediate, tangible gospel effects. Yes, genuine salvation does result in life change, but these fruits may often be small in this life, faint glimmers of the glory we’ll see in the New Jerusalem. Understanding sanctification also gives us a mechanism to help others who struggle with sin, with mental illness, with sickness and pain. Rather than offering hyperbolic promises of “victory” and “spiritual success” we might enter into in their pain and walk with them in their despair, pointing them to comfort in the eschatological hope of a full, final renewal that awaits them in glory. Understanding sanctification allows us to mend the broken without expecting people to be perfectly whole in this life.

Rejecting our subtle prosperity gospels moves us from people-fixing to burden-bearing.

We should still say to the seeking, the hurt, and the lost, “You need Jesus,” because they do. But let’s not give them the false Jesus of quick spiritual fixes, but the real Jesus who guides us through the storms and walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death and leads us ultimately to Himself.

Aug
23
2014

What We Can Learn from the #icebucketchallenge

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly had your Facebook timeline inundated with friends, family, and celebrities doing the #icebucketchallenge. Everyone from people you don’t know to Mitt Romney (in a suit!), former President George W. Bush, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have dumped large buckets of water on their head to raise awareness and support to fight ALS. I recommend a short article by my ERLC colleagues Andrew Walker and Joe Carter to help you discern where to allocate funding for ALS research.

But I want to think through what helpful things we can learn about why this successful viral campaign worked.

1) It was easy to understand and easy to execute.  Very simple. Take a bucket of water and pour it over your head (or have someone pour it over your head), record it, post it, and tag someone else who has 24 hours to do the same thing. It’s easy to do, costs no money, and takes a few minutes to execute.

2) It humanized people. Think about it. Because of the cause behind the campaign, we saw famous people doing to themselves what we would not ordinarily see them do. There is a curiosity of seeing a politician in a suit drenched with water. #icebucketchallenge gave people an excuse to do a fun quirky thing and support a good cause.

3) It raised awareness in a non-traditional way. Regardless of what you think about this viral trend, you have to admit that more people know about ALS now than they did a few weeks ago. “What is ALS?” has been a conversation in offices, backyards, and church lobbies around the country. How many people opened up their smart phones and said to someone else, “Did you see ____ do the ice bucket challenge?” It proved you can advocate serious issues without taking yourself too seriously.

4) It leveraged new media well. This campaign leveraged new media tools everyone has: a smartphone with video and social media accounts. This type of campaign would have been difficult to execute ten years ago. But today, everyone knows how to capture video on their phones and everyone is online. Most of all, it was painfully easy to do, requiring little technical expertise (however, it did require some . . . bucket expertise. See this link for all the challenges gone wrong!)

5) It was original. So many social media campaigns that “try to go viral” don’t because they are copycats of other campaigns. No doubt there will be many who will try to ape the #icebucketchallenge and a) be less successful and b) annoy everyone with a lame copycat. Being first and being original and being creative always wins.

6) It asked for money without doing the standard “ask.” This campaign invited people to participate in the campaign and actually become fundraisers without even realizing it. Each time someone accepted the challenge and then nominated someone else, they were, in effect, asking them to support a cause financially. People are more willing to give of their time and resources when they feel empowered and invited rather than accepting a typical, top-down appeal for money.

Aug
12
2014

My Favorite Podcasts

I’ve got about a 20 minute (sometimes 30 during school season) commute to work. I like to redeem my commute by listening to podcasts. I generally subscribe to about ten or twelve of them so I have a wide range of options when I get in the car. My moods change and my needs change and my interests change, so I like to have some variety. Currently this are the podcasts on my iPhone:

Fresh Air (NPR). Yes, I’m a conservative who loves NPR. I love Fresh Air because there is such a variety of interesting content. Terri Gross interviews a wide range of guests, from historians to jazz musicians to athletes. I don’t listen to all of them and I don’t always agree, but I find that I learn much. For instance, there was a recent episode with a journalist who just returned from Iraq and Syria and gave a detailed account of ISIS. Another one returned from Nigeria and reported on Boko Haram.

Morning Joe Podcast. I’m a huge fan of Morning Joe, but I don’t always have time, in fact, I rarely have time to catch the show in the mornings. I find their podcasts, which condense all of the content, commercial free, into 40 minutes or so, is well worth my time. I get an update on the latest news with some incisive commentary. And no, I don’t watch the video while I’m driving, in case you were wondering!

The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons. I’m a huge sports fan and, for me, there is no better sports columnist/interviewer/fan than Bill Simmons, founder of the terrific site, Grantland. I don’t listen to all the podcasts, because sometimes he gets into niche pop culture stuff that I have no interest in. But during the NBA free agency period this summer, there was no better listening than this.

Canon and Culture Podcast. A little shout-out here to one of our new ERLC podcasts. This is based from our DC office and always has informative and good guests. The latest one about North Korea is really good. Check it out.

Family Life Today. This is always on my podcast. Like the others, I can’t catch everyone, but as a father of four children, I need this podcast. Bob Lepine and Dennis Rainey interview parenting and family experts and offer their own sage, Bible wisdom. Highly recommended.

Brook Hills Church. I love the preaching of David Platt. His rich, biblical exegesis and passion for Christ helps me grow as a Christian.

First Baptist Mount Juliet. My pastor, Andy Hale, is a terrific preacher. I podcast this for the weekends that I’m speaking or traveling so I don’t miss what God is teaching us as a body of believers.

City Church. This is my buddy, Dean Inserra, a terrific preacher in Tallahassee. Highly recommended.

Mere Fidelity. Matt Anderson, Derrick Rishmaway and others host a podcast on theological philosophical ideas. This is a new podcast that I really, really enjoy. Helps me understand some hard-to-understand concepts.

The Rich Eisen Podcast. Rich is a host on the NFL Network. This is for football junkies. During NFL season, this is a must-listen. Rich is engaging and witty and features great guests from the pop culture and sporting world.

Rainer on Leadership. My friend, Jonathan Howe hosts this with the CEO of Lifeway, Thom Rainer. This always has great insights on leadership and good interviews.

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: