Archives For Culture

christmastree

Sometimes I learn a lot from conversations I was never intended to hear.

This happened once as I was stopping by my local community bookstore. It’s a small, quiet store, so it was impossible not to eavesdrop as I heard a young man tell his friend how much he hated Christmas. To be honest, the more he talked, the more I understood his point. This man wasn’t talking about the hustle and bustle of the holidays, or about the stresses of family meals or all the things people tend to complain about. What he hated was the music.

This guy started by lampooning one pop singer’s Christmas album, and I found myself smiling in agreement on how awful it is. But then he went on to say that he hated Christmas music across the board. That’s when I started to feel as though I might be in the presence of the Grinch. But then this man explained why he found the music so bad. It wasn’t just that it was cloying. It’s that it was boring.

“Christmas is boring because…

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I’ll never forget seeing a woman pull measuring tape out of her purse as she talked about the skull of her child.

This woman, standing in an airport in Russia with my wife and me, was, like us, an American. She, like us, was in the former Soviet Union to pursue adoption. She had heard, she said, “horror stories” about fetal alcohol syndrome and various other nightmares. The measuring tape was for gauging the size of the craniums of her potential children, to make sure there was “nothing wrong” with them.

This woman spoke with hushed tones as she mentioned her last visit to an orphanage. She rejected the referral because the child had “something wrong with her” because she had a “blank stare” in her eyes. “You know?” the woman prodded. “Like, you know, the lights are on, but maybe nobody’s home?” I ventured that maybe the little girl had a “blank stare” because she had been staring at a blank wall for 12 hours a day. The woman assured me that I just didn’t know how bad it could be,…

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The most important aspect of our mission, as it relates to human dignity, isn’t our social action or our responsibilities as citizens or as culture-makers. The most important aspect of our mission for human dignity is the Gospel itself.

When we recognize that human dignity is contested by spiritual warfare, we understand that politics is indeed downstream from culture, and that culture is downstream from conscience, and that conscience is downstream from the Kingdom of God. We cannot combat a culture of death merely with appeals to abstract human dignity based on natural law (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In every assault on human life, there’s not only a life left for dead but also a conscience left for hell. The Gospel addresses both.

On the abortion question, for instance, the sheer numbers of children aborted each year ought to prompt us to realize that perhaps as many as one out of every three women in our congregations has aborted. With her is typically a man who approved of or paid for or pressured her to this act. Many women sit silently, in the fear that God can forgive any sin but…

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God expects you to know not only what you believe but why you believe it. And now, more than ever, our world needs Christians who can explain what they believe and why they believe it to others. Why? Because most of the people in the world don’t have a clue as to what they really believe.

Our culture shows obvious signs that we live with a confusing hodge-podge of worldviews. Some are guided by materialism – the idea that all there is to this world is what we can see and touch. Others are dominated by hedonism – the idea that the pursuit of pleasure is higher than every other pursuit. Still others are governed by pragmatism – the idea that whatever works for you is all that matters.

So how, in a generation represented by such a confusing mix of viewpoints, do we strengthen our biblical view of the world? In at least three ways…

1. Learn the truth

Jesus concluded his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, with a story about two different men who built houses. One built his house on the shaky foundation of sand. The other built his house on the solid foundation of a rock. When the storms…

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Many say it’s been a tough decade for evangelicals. The media says that Christianity is in great decline. The media, and some Christian authors, predict doom and gloom.

Yet, the actual numbers tell a different story for evangelical Christians. (You can read much more about that in these links.)

Issues in the Future of Evangelicalism

Nominal Nation: The Shift Away from Self-Identified Christianity

The Rapid Rise of Nondenominational Christianity

Yet, that does not mean all is well.

I do think we are in challenging times. The last 10 years have brought us to that reality. There have been a few distractions along the way.

The emerging church came promising answers to evangelicals for a “third way,” but flamed out and now looks more like the avant-garde wing of mainline Protestantism.

Some tried to withdraw from culture, but culture just kept coming.

Some slowly replaced regular Gospel proclamation with moralistic therapeutic deism – being good makes you a better person, and that makes “the man upstairs” happy.

Still others were so driven by pragmatism that they eventually began to…

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Over the past few years, I’ve heard from several pastors and Christian leaders a genuine fear that the rising generation of evangelicals will compromise the faith when it comes to public engagement. But I actually don’t think this will happen, for one reason: The Gospel.

In the rising wave of evangelicals, one hears the constant refrain of “Gospel focus” and “Gospel centrality.” Some might dismiss this as just more evangelical faddishness and sloganeering, and perhaps some of it is. But I think the focus on the Gospel is tied up with the collapse of the Bible Belt. As American culture secularizes, the most basic Christian tenets seem ever more detached from mainstream American culture. There is, for those who came and will come of age in recent years, no social utility to embracing them. Those who identify with Christianity, and who gather with the people of God, have already decided to walk out of step with the culture. These Christians have already embraced strangeness by spending Sunday morning at church rather than at brunch.

Those who were nominally Christian are suddenly vanished from the pews. Those who wanted an almost-Gospel will find that they don’t need it to…

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Not long ago I got an email from a Christian man who asked me, “What can I do to become knowledgable in Christian ethics?” Obviously, I think that’s a good question. Ethics is not, after all, something that only academic types or pastors have to think about. Every Christian has a mandate to be able to articulate the truth of the gospel and to apply it in every season of life.

Here are the three most important things you can do to develop a solid Christian ethic:

1) Know the Bible.

Knowing the Bible goes beyond being able to recite individual verses. There are a lot of Christians who know specific proof texts, but they don’t know how to understand the whole fabric of the Scriptures. They’re unable to inhabit the world of the Bible and see how it applies to ethical and moral issues in their life, especially those that feel new and difficult.

We live in a time when, because of everything from technology to cultural change, there are all sorts of ethical issues that we haven’t had to think about before. But…

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It’s been a terrible couple of weeks for much of the world. And when the world shows its terrible side, the church gets to speak prophetically, with truth, grace, and hope to our communities and to our culture. There’s never been a more appropriate time for us, as Christians, to ask ourselves what Jesus wants his movement, his people, his Kingdom to stand for.

We will never agree on every socio-political issue, and we’ll all interpret the Scriptures and the life of Jesus a little differently. But there are certainly some big themes that we can agree on. Some principles reflect the values of Scripture, as modeled and taught by Jesus, and as exemplified by a freshly commissioned early New Testament church. They are timeless values that have the power to bring redemption and healing to a broken humanity. Here are at least 4…

Equality. Justice. Mercy. Liberty.

These are all good ideas. And they were originally God’s ideas.

We stand for Equality

God thought up humanity. He thought you up, along with every other person on the planet. And because we all bear God’s image – old, young, born, unborn, rich, poor, male, female, slave, free – we possess inherent…

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The past week reeks of blood. We saw the cellphone videos of black men killed by police officers in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights. We saw a terrorist ambush on police in Dallas, killing at least 5 officers and injuring 7. The country reels beneath all this violence. So how should a pastor speak to this on Sunday? Here are a few suggestions.

1) Pray specifically for the families of those killed, by name.

One of the most chilling aspects of the violence we see around us is the attempt at invisibility, as though those who are killed lived lives that didn’t matter. This is not new. After Cain killed Abel, he chafed at even the reminder of his existence (Gen. 4). Read aloud as you pray the names that we have:

Pray not only for their families to be comforted, but also for justice to be served, that others – whether police officers protecting a rally or African-American young men in any given city in America – would no longer be unjustly killed.

2) Lead your congregation in a time of lament.

Too often our worship is discordant from both the example of the Bible and the lived experience…

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By Bob Smietana

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Americans who don’t go to church are happy to talk about religion and often think about the meaning of life.

They’re open to taking part in community service events hosted at a church or going to a church concert.

But only about a third say they’d go to a worship service, if invited by a friend. Few think about what happens after they die.

Those are among the findings of a new online survey of 2,000 unchurched Americans from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The survey, conducted in partnership with the Wheaton, Illinois-based Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, found more than half of Americans who don’t go to church identify as Christians.

But they are mostly indifferent to organized religion, says Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

“Unchurched Americans aren’t hostile to faith,” he says. “They just don’t think church is for them.”

Talking about faith isn’t taboo

For this survey, “unchurched” means those who have not attended a worship service in the last six months, outside of a holiday or special occasion like a wedding.

Among their characteristics:

  • Two-thirds (67 percent) are white
  • Just over half (53 percent) are male
  • About half (47 percent) have a…

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I recently told a friend, who happens to be agnostic, that he “shouldn’t” go to church. I know. That was dumb, right? I really didn’t mean that he should avoid attending church. Rather I meant that he, as a non-believer, wasn’t under any particular moral duty to attend church on the weekends.

Instead of feeling as if he should attend church, I wanted him to understand that he could attend. He could freely and he would be welcome. He would be loved. He would be accepted and treated like family. And… it might even be good for him. No, not a good thing for him to do… a good thing for him. See the difference? I don’t embrace moralistic therapeutic deism. I don’t think the weekend worship service is about making people better.

The worship service is all about magnifying the redemptive Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners and how he is the one and only saving King for all of eternity! But … I still think church can make life better for people, even when they don’t believe the core message of the Gospel.

Why does this matter? It matters because of where our culture is in relationship to the church. There are two primary reasons people have…

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One of the reasons I say that it is good for American Christianity to no longer think of itself as a “moral majority” is that such a mentality obscures the strangeness of the Gospel. When a vision of Christian political engagement hinges on building a politically viable network of ideologically united voters, Christ and him crucified will tend to be a stumbling block, not a rallying point.

Some sectors of religious activism chafe when we say that Christianity has always been and will always be a minority viewpoint in Western culture. Minorities do not exert influence, they will contend, on the culture or the systems around it. The temptation is to pretend to be a majority, even if one is not.

But this is a profoundly Darwinian way of viewing the world, like a frightened animal puffing out its chest in order to seem larger and fiercer, in the hopes of scaring off predators. Such is not the way of Christ.  The church of Jesus Christ is never a majority, in any fallen culture, even if we happen to outnumber…

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