Archives For Culture

It all started in a Facebook community group. It could’ve ended there but something happened that changed everything.

“The Facebook group was a place where people in our part of town share things,” Nathan Creitz, pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, Queens, New York, recounted, “and somebody on there shared a link and said something like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening in our neighborhood.'” Creitz clicked on it — and immediately wished he hadn’t.

“It was a picture of scantily clad Asian girls from a website that often advertises places that are fronts for human trafficking, places like massage parlors,” he said. “I was about to click away — except for the fact that I realized I recognized one of the girls.”

And he recognized the place — it was a massage parlor right next to the church.

“When we were giving out coats in front of the church a month or two before, as the employees of the massage parlor came, this girl was there, and it was basically her first day on the job,” Creitz said. “She came over and got a hat and coat, and some…

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High Voltage

I had been in ministry long enough to hear the stories. It’s a familiar narrative these days: pastors disqualified from ministry due to moral failure. For years I had listened to devastating tales of infidelity and broken families in the lives of fellow pastors. My immediate reaction, in all honesty, was typically swift judgment. I mentally distanced myself from such pastors, believing I was cut from a different sort of spiritual cloth than such sinners. How on earth could this happen? How could anyone, let alone a pastor, ever do such a thing? These stories, while far too commonplace, were quite removed from my immediate life and church world. I couldn’t imagine any of my pastoral peers ever experiencing such a fall from grace.

Then it happened. I remember the phone call vividly. A dear friend, a fellow pastor, called me to confess his infidelity and ask for prayer amid the consequences he was going to face from the leadership of his church. As he talked I felt numb. The shock of the moment gripped me in a way I had never experienced. I knew this man. I thought I knew him well….

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Martin Luther King

Last week our country paused to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. As we do so, we may ask ourselves: Why, especially in a time of so much racial tension, injustice, and strife, did Dr. King’s message resonate with so many?

King was, of course, a gifted orator, and his calls for justice and equity were often poetic and deeply historic. But I think a great deal of the power behind King’s message came from the way that he was pressing a claim onto consciences.

He drew frequent contrasts between the promised end to the injustice of slavery and the ongoing injustice of Jim Crow. In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” King, against the so-called “white moderates” who counseled “patience,” pointed out “an appalling condition” that Americans were still, in large numbers, exiles in their own land. With such injustice, there was no room for the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

This is the kind of prophetic, sin-and-judgment language that we see in the Old Testament. We often hear caricatures of evangelical “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. But most evangelical churches breezily converse about sin in terms of consequences to be avoided. In fact, most…

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By Bob Smietana 

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than half of Americans plan to go to church at Christmastime.

And most Protestant pastors will keep the doors open for them.

Nearly 9 out of 10 Protestant senior pastors say their churches plan to hold services on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, as both fall on a Sunday, according to a recent survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

More than 7 in 10 Protestant senior pastors say their churches plan to hold Christmas Eve services. And more than a few will be open on New Year’s Eve.

Christmas is o­­ne of the busiest times of the year, especially at churches, with many churches having extra Christmas Eve services and special programs,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “If Christmas falls on Monday through Saturday, churches might be closed on Dec. 25 — but almost never on a Sunday.”

The Christmas season has become a major outreach focus for many churches, with more than half of Americans saying they visit church for Christmas. Many of those who don’t go usually to church are open to an invitation during the holidays, according to previous LifeWay…

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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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bible

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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