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  • Reflections on Voting Decision Making

    I woke up this morning to a political thread on our church’s private FB group.

    **Danger, Will Robinson!**

    Thankfully our folks kept it fairly civil. Crisis averted.

    The thread reminded me of the need to help people think through the process of voting decision making. It isn’t my job as a pastor to tell you who to vote for but it is my job to aid the process with good lenses and questions to think through. I have the specific audience in mind of the local church with a particular desire to help our local navigate the murky waters of this presidential election cycle. The purpose of this post is to assist the voting decision making process by bringing up a few principles and asking a few questions.

    A Few Circumstantial Considerations

    Before we dive into some helpful principles and questions let us first examine some circumstantial considerations.

    I haven’t had many interactions where people are very excited about the Republican or Democratic nominee. I think this is a somewhat objective statement and I would back it up with what I call the ” yard sign test.” During the 2012 election cycle roughly 30-35% of the homes in my neighborhood had a presidential sign in their yard. During this cycle it is precisely 0.5%. That tells you something, people aren’t terribly excited about self-identifying with a particular candidate and putting up personal capital to say, “YES, this person very well represents me and my vision of our republic.”

    I haven’t seen the level of disgust with either main candidate in my lifetime. This should give us some measure of pause for feeling very strongly for this presidential election cycle in general. This should give us a measure of humility and empathetic listening as to why there are so many varying opinions even among people who often think quite similarly.

    While I am concerned with who you vote for, I am more concerned with the process of decision making than the decision itself.

     

    Caveats: I am trying to be patient, empathetic, humble, and understanding in how I think about these things but I am not perfect and have had to repent myself during this election cycle at several points. I am biased. I have my personal convictions and opinions and if you know me at all those aren’t difficult to discern. That said, I am more than happy to sit down and break bread together and listen to your perspective.

     

    A Few Questions

    What is my intended candidates vision for what is true, good, and beautiful?

    This question should be asked both in terms of political policy but also the sum of their life’s ambitions and experiences.

     

    How does Scripture inform my decision?

    To what extent is my hope for joy rooted in the New Heavens and the New Earth? How do the minor prophets and especially those exilic prophets inform how I think about the relationship of the church to the world? What does Peter have in mind when he calls us “sojourners” or “pilgrims” or “aliens?” How does the Sermon on the Mount inform how I think? How does Christ’s commandment to “love my neighbor” inform how I think?

     

    What is a vote?

    Is a vote merely a binary pragmatic choice between two flawed people OR is a vote something more than that? Some people vote with pure strategy in mind, others with pure conscience in mind, and others with some measure of nuance between strategy and conscience. In some elections there isn’t a pronounced dichotomy between strategy and conscience and others there are significant tensions. For conscience voters, a vote is a speech-act that is communicating that the candidate promotes a civic vision of the true, good, and beautiful. If you are a binary strategy voter, recognize that the conscience voter will not vote for a civic vision of the true, good, and beautiful unless they have peace with the totality of that vision.

     

    What are my heart motives for voting?

    Another way to ask the question is ‘what emotions are driving my vote?’ or ‘what do I want?’ What is the balance of positive emotions (care, concern, love) and negative emotions (fear, worry, anxiety, hysteria)? It isn’t that there should be all positive emotions and no negative ones but we should be concerned if our decision making is rooted in either complete captivation or utter fear and worry.

     

    Have I actively listened face-to-face with someone who disagrees with me?

    Am I letting anyone else influence, challenge, or shape how I am thinking about my vote? The inertia of life is to create echo chambers that reinforce our thoughts and actions. I choose what news I watch, what webpages I read, what RSS feeds I subscribe, what podcasts or radio programs I listen to… All that curation is not neutral and we should be self-aware and cognizant of that. Each of those mediums comes with attempts to influence, including this very sentence that you are reading. Be wary of the self-curated media echo chamber. If we are confident of the worldview that we hold then we should not be afraid of empathetic listening of those outside of our tribal affiliations and silos.

     

    Will I regret my decision later on?

    Close your eyes and picture the 2019 version of yourself, do you still feel good about your candidate choice? Imagine your granddaughter or daughter is 3 years older and asks who you voted for, do you have to wince or qualify your response? Do you feel comfortable having that same conversation with King Jesus some day?

     

    Do I need to have political power to feel safe or joyful?

     

    Is there anything my candidate could do that would give me pause to reconsider?

     

    What are your presuppositions with respect to two parties versus more than two parties?

    Are you open to the idea of a third party candidate in general? Are you open to a third party candidate if your main party candidate is polling poorly? Are you open to a third party candidate if that candidate more closely aligns with your civic vision for the true, good, and beautiful? Are you open to not placing blame on conscience-driven third party voters for your candidate’s inability garner the support they needed?

     

    What does my vote communicate to non-Christians about how I think about the America?

     

    What do I admire about my candidate?

     

    What policies am I aligned and misaligned?

     

    What is the fruit of the candidate’s life, character, and experiences?

     

    A Few Principles

    1. If you lean heavy on strategy or if you lean heavy on conscience be sensitive to the fact that others might not land as heavy on one or the other.
    2. Certain things in the Christian life are more certain than others. For example, I feel more certain affirming the Apostle’s Creed than I do about the certainty with parenting paradigms or alcohol consumption. Some election cycles might afford more clarity and/or uniformity than others but there should always be a spirit of deference in community in matters of non-essentials.
    3. America has had third-party Presidents before (ie. Abraham Lincoln won a 4 man race from the third party position). We have had all kinds of political parties in America’s short vapor-like existence: Federalists, Whigs, Democrats, Republicans, Democratic-Republican, National Union, and unaffiliated have all won the election in our short history.
    4. America has had the President determined before by the House of Representatives. In 1824, the House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams because none of the 4 candidates received the requisite number of electoral college votes. Adams was second (84 votes) in the electoral college to Andrew Jackson (99 votes). It is not outside the realm of possibility that Evan McMullin (former CIA and former Chief Policy Director for the House Republican Conference) could win the state of Utah or Gary Johnson (former Governor of New Mexico and libertarian party nominee) could win the state of New Mexico. If either of them won a state and neither Trump or Hillary received the requisite 270 electoral college votes then the election is decided by the House of Representatives. The House is then free to chose from candidates who have received electoral college votes. These are not probable scenarios but they have historical precedent.
    5. Don’t forget about “down ballet” matters. The legislature and matters of your own state often have significant bearing on everyday life. Spend time and energy getting to know the candidates and issues on the rest of the ballot.
    6. Our voting should be Biblically informed, structurally informed (how does our government function per its Constitution and amendments), and relationally informed (thinking through voting in community).

     

    The sky is not falling. King Jesus is still on his throne and isn’t the least bit surprised. Let’s together ask the Lord for wisdom and understanding.

     

     

    October 11, 2016 • Culture, Culture Wars, orthopraxis, Politics, Worldview • Views: 1053

  • DIY Religion: What is it and Why it Doesn’t Work

    Pharell Williams

    Perhaps you’ve heard the ubiquitous Pharell Williams song, Happy. The chorus goes infectiously like this:

    Because I’m happy
    Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
    Because I’m happy
    Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
    Because I’m happy
    Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
    Because I’m happy
    Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

    I could easily write a dissertation on just the chorus of this song, but I will spare you all the ink and pixels and cut to the chase.

    Worldviews have been historically judged on two separate criteria:  1. Is it true?  2. Does it work?

    In the 1980s a professor at Stanford named Richard Rorty did something really sneaky and subversive and said these aren’t two separate questions. Prof. Rorty said they are one question and they are circular in nature. In other words, something is true if it works and vice versa. How he accomplishes this feat is by marrying two different streams of thought – pragmatism and post-modernism. Pragmatism values ideas for their practical worth. Post-modernism values ideas that tear down and deconstruct “capital T” Truths.

    I severely doubt Pharell has read Rorty’s Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity but he is clearly espousing a similar sentiment in Happy:

    Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
    Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
    Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

    Translation: Happiness is truth. Happiness is subjective. Pursue happiness.

    This is the credo of DIY religion. Happiness is god. Do whatever makes you happy.

    DIY religion is like going to Costco, except your shopping cart is your head and heart, and the items in the cart are worldviews:

    If you want a little Jesus (you know, just the Sermon on the Mount Jesus please), a little Ghandi (you know, to be hip and stuff), a little Nietzsche (you know, to keep it morally loose and authority-less), a little Darwin (you know, to make sure we don’t let too much God in the mix), and a heaping portion of Rorty (you know, to make ME the ultimate curator and taxonomist of time/space, history, truth, morality, goodness, and beauty).

    Yesterdays professors are today’s ideas without genealogies.

    DIY religion doesn’t work because individual humans are severely limited, biased, and full of blind spots. Individual humans are limited by space and time – one doesn’t have the benefit of living in every culture in every time period. Individual humans cannot experience every aspect of the world. Individual humans cannot read every bit of information every created. Individual humans cannot interact with every other individual human. These limitations make individual humans very poor curators and taxonomists of truth, goodness, and beauty. This is why history, creeds, and long-standing narratives are very important to the human condition.

    There is enough truth in every lie to make it float.

    The reality is that happiness is really important but it is not individualistic and subjective.

    Question One of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?”

    Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

    Clap along if you know what happiness is to you

     

  • Three Kinds of Exegesis

    Why is it that churches with impeccable and tidy doctrine don’t have more influence?

    Dissertations or even volumes of ink could be spilled trying to answer this question. I would like to submit a very simple rubric for why Reformed churches are often ineffective at influencing their immediate context.

    Formally we understand the word “exegesis” to mean the interpretation of a text, particularly Scripture. For the purpose of this short piece, I am expanding the range of meaning of the word to apply to not just the interpretation of a text but also to a broader comprehension of both people and culture.I submit to you, that there is not one kind of exegesis but three kinds of exegesis: Biblical exegesis, Personal exegesis, and Cultural Exegesis. Most churches do one of the three pretty well and perhaps a second one to a serviceable level. Extremely few hit the sweet spot of all three.

    ThreeKindsOfExegesis

    Biblical exegesis is the task of accurately interpreting a text in it’s original context and making the proper adjustments to understand how the meaning to the original context (“there and then”) properly translates to our present context (“here and now”). This involves understanding the writer, the original audience, time and place in redemptive history, purpose, overarching themes, and connectivity to the larger narrative of Scripture. Heady, analytical, or truth-oriented people are drawn to churches whose primary mode of exegesis is Biblical.

    Cultural exegesis is the task of accurately translating and adapting the Gospel to a particular culture without sacrificing the essence and details of the Gospel itself. Cultural exegesis entails a comprehension of how to communicate the narrative of Scripture making appropriate adjustments taking into account the complex web of cultural beliefs (notions, worldviews…), cultural artifacts (bald eagles, cowboys, iPhones, Coca-Cola…), language (technical terms, idioms, accents, dialects, pronunciation…), special forces (therapeutic, consumerism, individualism, pluralism, secularism, technology, democritization of knowledge, globalization…), cultural institutions (political, economic, social, educational, spiritual, media, military…), cultural liturgies/rituals (4th of July, sports, Grammy’s…), and cultural elites (celebrity, media, political, athletic, cultural curators…). Cultural influencers, curators, innovators, movers and shakers, and cultural compromisers are drawn to to churches whose primary mode of exegesis is cultural.

    Personal exegesis is the task of accurately applying the narrative of Scripture to the whole individual. This kind of exegesis is somewhere in the vein of counseling and discipleship. Someone skilled in personal exegesis has a high degree of self-knowledge and is effective at helping people work through their idols, circumstances, past, and wounds from the lens of larger narrative of Scripture. Contemplative, affective, and therapeutically-inclined people are drawn to churches whose primary mode of exegesis is personal.

    Most of you probably are thinking “_______ kind of exegesis is the most important.” Well, guess what, that is your primary. Each mode of exegesis has it’s various strengths and weaknesses. If you want an excellent assessment of those strengths and weaknesses, I commend to you Collin Hansen’s excellent concise book, Blind Spots.

    Biblical Exegesis + Cultural Exegesis – Personal Exegesis = Hard-Charging Missional Church

    Biblical Exegesis + Personal Exegesis – Cultural Exegesis = Most Healthy Reformed Churches

    Cultural Exegesis + Personal Exegesis – Biblical Exegesis = Liberal Protestantism

    We all want to think we are omni-competent but we have our biases, wounds, blind spots, and immaturity. We need the benefit of having others around us to help us grow, to help us understand, to help us listen, and to help us change.

  • Selma, Birdman, Narrative and Redemption

    2-3-2 Boeing 767

     

    Last week,  I had the unfavorable yet fortuitous opportunity of having the very middle seat of the 2-3-2 seating style Boeing 767-300ER. In this centered seat, I had 10 screens in my immediate view. Because we were largely Americans, we all immediately glued ourselves to the customizable entertainment on the 9″ screens in front of our faces and began watching movies in unison.

     

    There were 9 different movies playing on these 10 screens in view. My screen (yes, I am an American too) was playing Selma. The others were playing the films The Imitation Game, McFarland USA, Unbroken, Night at the Museum 3, Taken 3, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Birdman… & a non-descript rom-com.

     

    I have never watched 9 films at the same time. Periodically, I scanned the other films whilst watching mine. What struck me was how the arc of most stories is the same and roughly in real time.

     

    At roughly the same time, drama, narrative tension, conflict, insurmountable odds were all rising.

     

    At roughly the same time, the rising action boils over in battles, standoffs, deaths and eurekas.

     

    At roughly the same time, relationships find healing, obstacles are overcome, codes are broken, the will triumphs over atrocities, and REDEMPTION is found.

     

    Why such uniformity? Are we so uncreative as human beings? Or is there something bigger at play here?

     

    Humans love stories because humans crave redemption. We want wrongs to be made right. We want injustices to become just. We want evils to be overcome. We want what is broken to become unbroken.  We want tension resolved redemptively.

     

    Man vs man
    Man vs himself
    Man vs machine
    Man vs God
    Man vs society
    Man vs nature

     

    The stories all arc in the same way.

     

    We love stories because we image a God who tells stories. We love stories because we image a God who is a redeeming God. We love stories because we need redemption.

     

    “He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!”
    Psalm 111:9

     

    “And [for all who believe] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
    Romans 3:24-26

    June 1, 2015 • Anthropology, Culture, Film • Views: 9334

  • The 20 Most Helpful Books I’ve Ever Read

    Top 20 Most Helpful Books

     

    It has been said that you will be in a year who you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read. If this be true, then what we read is of first importance.

    The following list contains the ten most helpful books I’ve ever read. They may not be the best, the most technical, or the most scholarly, but each of these books I found to be the most HELPFUL at where I was at that particular point in time. This list is in no way comprehensive and contains only non-canonical books.

    Desiring God by John PiperChristian Hedonism – If the term Christian hedonism doesn’t mean anything to you, then you need to read this book. Aside from the Scripture, no single book has had a more profound impact on my life. Desiring God was my front door to the reformed tradition. Desiring God was my back door to the Dispensational-Fundamentalist morass of my childhood. The idea that my pursuit of pleasure and my faith were not at odds radically and fundamentally changed how I saw every aspect of the world, from the loftiest matters to the most mundane minutiae.

    Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey – Worldview – Hands down the most clear summary of both the Christian worldview and the history of philosophy. Nancy’s writing is a brilliant, clear, and winsome.

    Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray – The Atonement – Murray gives a crystal clear, text-driven, thorough, and eminently faithful play-by-play of what Jesus actually accomplished in the cross and resurrection and the precise mechanics of how that work actually gets applied to His church.

    No Place for Truth by David Wells – Evangelicalism – Wells gives a clear and excellent history of evangelicals and examines some of our weaknesses as a group.

    Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington – Foreign Policy – Huntington’s thesis is that the world is broken down into 9 different civilizations that each have a different main worldview/religion and that wars are most likely to occur where several civilizations come in close contact with each other – due to the friction created by mutually exclusive ideas. Huntington’s work has proved to be a solid predictor over the last 20 years.

    The Road to Serfdom by F. A. HayekEconomics and Capitalism – If you are tired of the same old Keynesian, too big to fail, and central-planning type ideas, then Hayek’s book should come as a welcome counterpoint. Hayek presents a winsome defense of supply-side economics and capitalism.

    Let the Nations Be Glad by John PiperMissions – Piper single-handedly and radically changed how I viewed other cultures, God’s heart for the nations, and our strategic obligation as the church. A notable honorable mention would be Operation World by Jason Mandryk which provides the most helpful prayer guide for the various peoples of the world.

    Church History in Plain Language by Bruce ShelleyChurch History – Now in it’s fourth edition, Shelley has written a classic, readable, and simple, yet thorough, book on church history for everyone.

    Holiness by J. C. RyleDevotional – I’ve never read a devotional book that was so challenging to the idols of my heart. An honorable mention would be The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer which had a similar impact as Holiness at a very critical time in my life.

    Tactics by Greg KouklEvangelism – Koukl presents a very practical and helpful approach to having conversations about Jesus with the people already in your life.

    When Helping Hurts by Corbett and FikkertPoverty – Corbett and Fikkert present a more Biblical and holistic approach to poverty that avoids the over-simplistic models presented by the current political polarities. Poverty is much more than a lack of resources, a lack of education, or lack of anything – poverty is about relationships that are broken and don’t work.

    The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert ColemanDiscipleship – Coleman simply examines Jesus’ method for discipling his followers. The book is very helpful in giving categories with which to think about the disciple-making process. Justin Taylor has a solid review of the book here.

    Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John FrameTheory of Knowledge – Before you build a worldview it would be wise to understand how to lay a foundation, frame out the house, and lay the trusses. How you arrive at “knowledge” will largely determine what “knowledge” you affirm. Frame provides very helpful categories with which we might arrive at more responsible, true, and balanced beliefs.

    Baptism and Fullness – John StottHoly Spirit – Stott examines what the Scripture has to say about the Holy Spirit and in the process helps untangle a lot of untrue and dangerous views on the Holy Spirit.

    Social and Cultural Dynamics – Pitirim SorokinSociology – I am constantly amazed at how few people, scholars included, have read this book or even know who of Pitirim Sorokin. He was a Russian thinker who founded Harvard’s sociology department. No one has more thoroughly studied the historical sociology of Western civilization. In it he outlines the pendulum swings of Western civilization back and forth from periods of idea-driven culture to sensate-driven culture.

    Adopted for Life by Russell MooreAdoption – Moore’s book kind of defies categories in many ways. It was as helpful devotionally as it was helpful in either developing a theology of spiritual adoption or legal adoption. The book expanded how I saw myself in relationship to God as Father and the priority of adoption for local churches.

    Culture Making – Andy CrouchChurch and Culture – There are quite a few good books on the subject of Christ and culture and none of them are without their weaknesses. Crouch presents a fairly even-handed model for the church’s engagement with the world. Some other helpful works are Abraham Kuyper’s, Lectures on Calvinism and James Davison Hunter’s, To Change the World.

    The Freedom of the Will – Jonathan EdwardsGod’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility – This is the most difficult book to read on this list but it is the most helpful if you can slog it through. Most other books on this subject (J. I. Packer’s included) falls deeply into over-simplified understandings of the mechanics of how God orchestrates all things yet in a manner than that doesn’t assail the will or take us off the hook for our actions.

    Pensees by Blaise PascalApologetics – This is another book that defies categories as it is equal parts apologetics, cultural analysis, philosophy, and devotional. The nice thing about the Pensees (French for “thoughts”) is that it isn’t a book you read from cover to cover. It is more a book that you read one paragraph at a time and then chew on that for awhile. I recommend reading it over a couple years versus a couple weeks.

    The M’Cheyne Bible Reading PlanOne Year Bible Reading Plan – For the majority of my Christian life I have used the M’Cheyne reading plan to read the OT once and the NT twice in the year. If you’ve never read the whole Bible before or never read it through in one year, I highly recommend this method.

    There are quite a few categories that didn’t get covered here that are worth noting so I am listing for your benefit a few “Top 10” lists that I’ve written in the past:

    Top 10 Books by John Piper

    Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

    Top 10 Books on Missions, Evangelism, and Discipleship

    Top 10 Books on Church History

    Top 10 Books on Eschatology

    Top 10 Books on Culture

    Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

    Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

    Top 10 Books on The Church

    Top 10 Books on Apologetics

    Top 10 Books on Systematic Theology

    Top 10 Books on Christian Devotion

    Top 5 Books on Christian Worldview

    Top 15 Books on the Status of American Evangelicalism

    Top 40 Books to Read While in College

     

     

     

  • Mike Miller, Lebron James, the Apostle Paul, and Contextualization

    Mike Miller and Lebron James

    If you know me at all, I am a geek for longform articles and blog posts. I love reading them and I love writing them. Some people think they are ineffective because people in our culture have patience for only 250-500 words, and those people are probably correct. I still like them and it’s why I read ESPN’s blog Grantland so frequently. I read a piece today on NBA player Mike Miller and it was so good that it warranted me reflecting on some of the content.

    The piece was entitled Everybody Loves Mike Miller and in many ways Mike Miller’s approach to basketball should be a metaphor for the church for how we interact with culture. Here are some salient quotes:

    “He’s a chameleon — meaning he can fit in any different room,” said LeBron James’s longtime friend and business manager Maverick Carter, whose relationship with Miller began shortly after Miller and McGrady attended one of James’s high school games. “I’ve seen him with high-level businesspeople and owners, kids, people from all different backgrounds. A guy from South Dakota, he’s not from one of the coasts, he’s right in the middle of the country and I think he really can adapt to any room.

    “Plus he’s a cool guy.”   …

    “What I do is, I understand people,” Miller explained. “I understand what they’re going through. For some reason, I’m always in a good mood. It’s a blessing for me. I understand it’s a team sport and if there’s going to be individuals inside it, how do I relate to every one of those players differently? The way I do stuff with LeBron during a game is completely different than what I’m going to do with Kyrie [Irving]. Some people need to talk. Some people need to laugh. I’m always in that good mood because at the end of the day, I’m [playing basketball] for a living.”

    “What I really am is a friend first,” Miller said. “I like to be cool with people. Like Kyrie — that’s my guy. He’s a great kid, unbelievable point guard. I think I can help him be better. Not a better basketball player. Just understanding things. Dion Waiters, great kid. Sometimes he gets a bad rep. If he fits into his role here, he’s going to be really, really good. I think I can help with that. Kevin Love’s a monster. And LeBron, I’m always going to be on him with positive stuff.”

    You should read the article yourself, but because I know you won’t I will have to summarize it here for you. Mike Miller was a slashing small forward in his youth who had to reinvent his game in order to have NBA longevity, so he made a career out of doing two things – 1. 3-point shooting  2. Providing leadership in the locker room.

    A couple of principles stuck out to me from Mike’s story that we would be wise to take note of:

    Flexibility and Teachability – Mike learned early on that he needed the wisdom of NBA veterans (Ewing, Outlaw, Grant, Armstrong… ) if he was going to have long term success.

    Specified Excellence – Mike had the humility and willingness to put in the hard work to hone his craft behind the arc.

    Listening Skills – Mike learned to be humble and to listen to other people. One might argue that Mike’s ability to listen is what makes him such a close friend to so many disparate groups of people (“high-level businesspeople and owners, kids, people from all different backgrounds“). Mike’s listening skills earned for him the friendship, trust, and influence over the most revered players in the game.

    Leadership – Mike learned that the value that he had in the game of basketball was far more than just what happened on the court. He learned that his value as locker room counselor was just as valuable as his role behind the arc.

    Make others succeed – Mike made others around him succeed and took his joy from watching them succeed, even when it was to his own detriment.

    Reading the article I couldn’t help but think about Paul’s defense of his apostleship in I Corinthians 9, specifically verses 19-27:

    19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God butunder the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

    24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

    Mike, a white kid from North Dakota, was able to navigate through the social complexities of his NBA career because he learned to be humble, he learned to listen, he learned to provide timely counsel, he learned to make others successful, and he learned to be flexible. God taught the Apostle Paul this same skill set through his 14 years of discipleship at the church in Syrian Antioch and through the crucible of church planting the Mediterranean rim. Paul was a rough and violent man who needed to be humbled, bridled, and reformed.

     

    How amazing would  it be if the people around us felt heard?

    How amazing would it be if the people around us felt that we made sacrifices to make them flourish?

    How amazing would it be if the people around us felt safe because of our humility and teachability?

     

    The church could use a few more leaders like Mike Miller.

     

    Post-script – I actually met Mike Miller once while he was eating breakfast at Gator Dining with UF teammate and future NBA role player, Matt Bonner. It was a pedestrian encounter but Mike was engaging and kind and Matt Bonner was his typical shy, understated, and socially awkward self.

     

     

    December 4, 2014 • Christian Living, Contextualization, Culture, Sports • Views: 1142

  • Mid-Term Results, the Culture War, and the Kingdom of God

    Obama

    While I am admittedly relieved to see the mid-term election results this morning, I am also reluctant to feel much more than mild relief. I think much of the mid-term results are a repudiation of the last six years of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi era. However, there are several reasons why we should not be spiking the football in the endzone.

    Politics and Culture

    Politics and Culture: which is the cart and which is the horse? I would submit to you that culture is far more the horse than the cart. Certainly there is an interplay between the two but I think in our republic the culture is probably 70% horse and 30% cart.

    Ideas or Energy

    Did people in America vote for Republican Governors, congressmen, and senators because their ideas changed or because their voting base was more energized than the last election cycle? I cannot answer this question with any real data but my highly subjective opinion would be that it had much more to deal with a more motivated and energized voting base. I don’t think that Americans have all of a sudden read the Constitution, changed their mind on abortion, embraced supply-side economics, or read John Locke or the Federalist Papers. Perhaps some of those things took place in disparate circles but I am doubtful to think anything like this took place on a grand scale. I would have more cause for hope if these election results were a result in a resurgence of a Judeo-Christian worldview that provides the ideological foundations for human dignity, justice, and order.

    The Culture War and the Christian Right

    One of the big mistakes of the Christian Right is the presupposition that if you have your party in office then most things in the world will be as they ought to be. Hence, we must put a lot of faith in top down political influence. The problem with this is twofold – 1. politics follows culture more than not  2. There is no cultural center of America that all Americans can look to and identify as our common bond (perhaps with the only exception being 9/11 [for those over age 20]). I don’t mean to say that politics is irrelevant, it is relevant, but it is one piece in an incredibly complex landscape that we call “culture.” I attempt to portray the complex forces that combine to form culture here. I think in many ways the Christian Right and the Culture War has back-fired and served to exacerbate trench warfare and discourage dialogue in the few public spaces we have left. As a result, people don’t want to talk about ideas any more because ideas divide and hence should be kept private.

    Modern Day Reformation

    I have no illusion that somehow a GOP legislative majority at the federal and state levels will somehow usher in a modern day Reformation in America. There may be some dismantling of unpopular liberal policies but there will be no ushering in of golden age of American spiritual life. I am not entirely against top-down/institutional strategies – I think things like educational institutions, denominations, service organizations, the marketplace, and even political parties can make significant contributions to cultural change. That said, in an increasingly cynical, skeptical, and snarky world, we must have equal efforts from a bottom up perspective.

    Faithful Presence

    Individual humans need other individual humans who will walk humbly, lovingly, and understandingly with them. We need to be in the lives of our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. We need to be asking good questions about what they want and listening actively to what they are saying. We need to be asking them about how are the things they want working for them. Are they deeply satisfying? Are they functional? Are they just? Are they promoting human flourishing?

    As we listen to the answers to these kinds of questions, facets of the Gospel will speak to the things that are broken and in need of healing and redemption.

    Do your civic duty and vote your conscience… but…

    The kingdom of God is not ushered in through an election. The kingdom of God is ushered in as Christ’s church does her job being faithfully on mission to the corners of the Earth.

  • Evangelicals: Now is Not the Time to Spike the Football

    David Green, Hobby Lobby CEO, David Green with Bible in warehouse, Culture Wars, Abortifacients, Obamacare, Affordable Care Act

    I was as happy as you were that the Supreme Court upheld the closely held corporation, Hobby Lobby’s, right to not provide coverage for the 4 abortifacients in the Affordable Care Act.  While in no way do I pretend to understand the field of law, the argumentation that closely held corporations appear, function, and act more like individuals than they do corporations made common sense to me – and hence, applying the Constitutional right to dissent to the mandatory coverage of the 4 abortifacients in Affordable Care Act seemed appropriate.

    All of that said, now is not the time to spike the football.  Evangelicals cannot rely on the Supreme Court, Congress, the Senate, nor the Executive branches to make America a “Christian nation” once again.  I am pretty confident that I love America as much as you do, but the reality is that we are a post-Christian nation that is growing increasingly undiscerning.  The people/culture(s) of America lack the worldview needed to understand the logical consequences of the breakdown of gender, marriage, and the family (the most fundamental unit of society).  The people/culture(s) of America have created a Swiss cheese patchwork quilt from a variety of different worldviews to piecemeal together sets of ideas that justify their behaviors, lifestyles, sin patterns, and addictions.

    In other words, we cannot rely on the federal government to be a positive agent of cultural change in America.  Cultural change happens at a wide variety of levels but politicians and bureaucrats are chameleons which change their skin color based on the popular opinion – this is why politics is more of a reflection of the culture(s) rather than the driver of the culture(s).   Evangelicals have a Herculean task ahead of them to engage the drifting, aimless, and anesthetized conglomeration of sub-cultures that comprise this thing we call the United States of America.

    Culture flows out of people’s wants and desires.  People’s wants and desires flow out of their hearts.  If you want cultural change then you have to see changed hearts.  If you want changed hearts then you must see the Holy Spirit remove the heart of stone and replace it with the heart of flesh.  If you want the Spirit to move then you must pray for Him to move and you must be faithful to share the Gospel winsomely, clearly, and boldly.  I am not saying don’t vote, or don’t engage politically; however, we cannot lobby or legislate people into the Kingdom of God.

     

  • Diagnosis, Prescription, Smokescreens, and the Gospel

    Prescription Diagnosis Smokescreens and the Gospel-1

    I’ve never been to a doctor who has given me a prescription without first taking my vital signs, asking pertinent questions, and then given a specific diagnosis.  I think sometimes we do prescribe the Gospel before we give a more specific diagnosis in our evangelistic efforts and Gospel conversations.

    Gospel Dumptrucks and Hand Grenades

    When I was a non-believer I had a few conversations where I certainly felt like the person sharing Jesus with me just wanted me to shut up so they could back their Gospel dump truck on me and verbally unload.  Maybe this has been you before – I know I have been on the giving and receiving ends of these conversations.  How do we weave the Gospel into our conversations such that we aren’t backing up the dumptruck or lobbing a Gospel hand grenade and running?  How can we speak more to the root of the unbelief and less in generalities and/or avoid tangential topics.

    Smokescreens and Scuba-Diving

    Reformed circles are relatively clear with regards to the essentials of the general Gospel prescription (creation, fall, redemption, consummation).  What seems to be unclear is a road-map of how we get to those conversations and how we do winsomely.

    The big thing that seems to be missing in all of our evangelistic and/or apologetic dialogue is basic listening and counseling skills.  From my perspective most objections to the Gospel fit very broadly into one of three categories:  head, heart, or hands.  Of the head (intellectual objections), heart (emotive and idol-based objections), and hands (experiential or hypocritical objections) types of objections to the Gospel – so much of our conversations get stuck in head (ie. problem of evil, NT reliability, existence of God…) or hand (ie. ‘Christians are hypocrites’ [duh!], ‘I had a bad experience’, or ‘look at the Crusades’…) type objections to the Gospel.  From my experience most of these objections are mere smokescreens meant to derail or parry the conversation away from the idols of their own heart – the real source of their unbelief.  For people who have honest (head or hand) questions/objections give them, “honest answers,” as Francis Schaeffer said.  To be helpful in our dialogue we must ask questions that get to the heart of the unbelief.

    Scuba-diving is the term we use at our church for the art of asking questions that get to the heart and more root level idols.  Here are some helpful scuba-diving questions:

    -What are you looking forward to?

    -What does that do (the potential surface or root level idol) for you?

    -If you didn’t have to work (be a mom, study…) what would you most rather be doing?

    These are all variations on the basic question, “what do you want?”  The answer to the “what do you want” question can sometimes be helpful in diagnosing at least surface level idols (sex, money, laziness).   Sometimes you will be able to connect the dots to more root level idols like comfort, escape, power, and control.  Sometimes you hit brick walls because you lack the rapport or relationship needed to ask some of these questions.  There is an art to scuba-diving where you must re-pressurize every so many feet that you dive and you have to know yourself and your relationship well enough to know how deep you can safely dive.

    At the core you are trying to get a better picture of what is more beautiful, compelling, or joyful to them than the Gospel?  What is it that they spend their time, money, and thought-life on?  What do they want?  What the heart wants reveals what the heart worships.  The Gospel has so many metaphors, summaries, themes, aspects, touchpoints, and facets.   Different Gospel analogies, themes, or metaphors (truth, security, fidelity, fear, anxiety, addiction, adoption, justice, grace, suffering, power, freedom…) can speak more winsomely to different idols.  When we take a genuine interest in the other person’s soul we are more prone to ask questions and listen.  Questions increase the depth of the scuba-dive.  When we see with more specificity what the lost person’s heart wants, then we can speak the Gospel more directly to the idol(s).

    Affirmation and Deconstruction

    Once we have taken a look at the wants/idols of the person we have something like a diagnosis.  Typically, idols are disproportionate manifestations of good things – for example the control idol is the good thing, leadership, absolutized.   Before challenging an idol with the sledgehammer of the Gospel consider affirming the elements of it that were once good.  Paul did this in Athens in Acts 17:22-23

    So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

    The folks in Athens worshiped the idol of new knowledge.  Paul stroked the idol before he deconstructed the idol.  Earlier in the passage Paul gets chased out of Thessalonica and Berea and heads down to Athens to wait for Silas and Timothy.  While Paul is waiting he goes into diagnosis mode in verse 16:

    Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.

    Paul diagnosed the idols of the city before speaking the Gospel at them.  On a more corporate level, this allowed Paul to affirm the Athenians desire for knowledge before he challenged the inadequacy of their gods.  How ineffectual does your pantheon of other gods have to be to have an unnamed god that covers up the weakness and inability of all the others?

    One might argue that the Gospel itself already has a diagnosis in it and you would be correct.  All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.  The kind of diagnosis I have in view here is more specific than it is general.  The common state of mankind is helpful to draw out in Gospel conversation and is a necessary component of the Gospel.  What I have in view here is connecting the Gospel with more specificity to the idols of the heart.  Every idol has a short-run payoff but ultimately all idols over-promise and under-deliver.  Good diagnosis allows us to show how the idol will not satisfy in the long-run and show how the Gospel will.

    When diagnosis precedes prescription it helps to bring more precise focus and clarity as to how Christ is better than their surrogate god(s).   May Paul’s prayer for clarity be the same as ours:

    At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. – Col. 4:3-4

    May 27, 2014 • Apologetics, Counseling, Culture, Gospel • Views: 589

  • What Racism, Human Trafficking, and Abortion All Have in Common

    Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, Sistene Chapel

    Racism, human trafficking, and abortion all share a common source to their evil – the fundamental denial of human dignity – more specifically the creator endowed dignity of being made in the image of God.  This is unilaterally accomplished by carving out groups of people (by ethnicity, gender, vulnerability, or age) who are classified as sub-human and therefore not treated as equal human beings.

    Racism
    Racism denies the image of God in a particular ethnicity, people group, or tribal affiliation.  It seeks to make the persons of such groups or affiliations lesser than your group or affiliation. In doing so it assails the inherent worth endowed by God.  There are several idols at work in racism – power, control, pride, and ironically likely both self-love and self-hatred.

    Human Trafficking
    Human trafficking denies the image of God in humanity by treating certain humans as not being human at all, but rather property.  All sense of dignity and worth must be deconstructed in order to justify the human as property.  There are several idols at work in human trafficking, most notably, greed, power, control, and lust.

    Abortion
    Abortion denies the image of God in those of a certain size, age, gestation, or relative level of “wantedness.”  The human is made to be sub-human because it is small, young, not yet viable, and has not travelled the magical 6″ journey down the birth canal that suddenly and mysteriously imbues it with life, human rights, and legal status.  Their are several idols at work here, most notably, lust, selfishness, comfort, and escape.

    While perhaps difficult to personally engage heavily on all three fronts, I find it ironic that my own age demographic seem inclined to care about the first 2 of these 3 and not the third.  I don’t know if this is for reasons of ignorance, idolatry, apathy, or all of the above.  It will be interesting how history plays itself out on this particular issue… but I am willing to wager that our grand children will think of abortion with a similar disdain that our generation holds toward the Holocaust.  

    The Banality of Evil and Our Cultural Morass

    I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to cut up our children for the pursuit of the ideal body, the next ladder rung of the career, or the perfect orgasm.  I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to allow persons to be treated as property for sex or for unpaid work for the pursuit of cheaper goods, uncommitted and intimacy-less sex (rape).  I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to allow other ethnicities to be treated as less worthwhile, less valuable, and sub-human for the pursuit of feeling good about one’s own tribe at the expense of another tribe.

    There is a certain banality to evil that lulls us into going along and getting along. It was the same banality that anesthetized the very bright German people into the wholesale slaughter of persons categorized as sub-human.

    What we want is what we worship and what we worship controls us.  This is true if we are pagans, atheists, agnostics, or Christians. We are all slaves to our wants.  Those wants drive our ideas… And ideas have consequences… Often dire ones.  

    What the heart loves, the will chooses, the mind justifies – Thomas Cranmer