Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hey Death. . . You Don't Win. . .

It's a week to think about death. . . . but that's not all. Thanks to the reality of Christ's sacrifice, the resurrection is ours as well! Death is not the end of the story! Charles Spurgeon captured the essence of the fallout from the Good News that we celebrate this week when he wrote, "When the time comes for you to die, you need not be afraid, because death cannot separate you from God's love." C.S. Lewis reminds us of the perspective we must embrace as followers of Christ: "Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind." That might be the greatest understatement Lewis ever penned.

I need the reminders of this week. You see, for many years I thought little about death. I never attended a funeral until I was an adult. In terms of my family members, I've only experienced the deaths of three grandparents who had lived very long lives. I've had several youth group kids die young over the years, but somehow the ease of my own life always allowed me to find solace in moving on and forgetting, more so than in grappling with the reality of death and the wonderful gift of the reality of the resurrection.

To be honest, I knew of the resurrection and I proclaimed it, but I don't think I was embracing it as I should. My own sense of youthful invulnerability eclipsed the reality of my own mortality. Then, God gave me the gifts of a speeding car through my office wall along with a trip over my bicycle handlebars to seriously consider the fact that yes. . . someday, I too was going to die.

In recent years I have worked hard to slow down during this week that we commemorate God's undoing of death and all the other things resulting from our sin and selfishness. I don't want to miss being amazed by the most amazing historical event ever. This year, the pondering is running deep for me. Tomorrow I will be attending the funeral for a 32-year-old we know who died suddenly last week. We hurt for his family. . . his wife, four-year-old son, dad, mom, and brother. We hurt for his unborn son who is due to arrive June. This is not the way things are supposed to be. This morning, I went back and read the text exchange that I was having with Pete's brother after Pete had died. Pete's brother wrote, "He is with the Lord. Praise God. The hope we look to in faith is now his reality." I'm sure that Pete's family members are enduring days filled with the ups and downs that come with grieving a great loss in the context of hope. But they have hope.

As I was texting back and forth last night with Pete's brother, this little note from a Facebook friend popped up:  Lowell's dad died suddenly on Saturday evening in a farm accident. He was out in the woods doing what he loved to do-- cutting and hauling in fire wood. It was a shock to all of us to hear the news of his death. Please pray for the family as they gather from around the globe. Pray especially for Lowell's mom. She is doing remarkably well--- full of faith and hope. 

Full of faith and hope. . . how do people get through their grief without the hope of the resurrection?

And then just a few minutes later I watched the report (embedded below) on the NBC news about the shooting at the Kansas Jewish Community Center. Again, I was pounded with the hope of the resurrection as Mindy Corcoran, just hours after losing both her father and her son in the shooting, gave testimony to the faith she has in Christ. . . not just through her words, but through her willingness and ability to stand and speak about the tragedy. Just watch. . . .

If the message of Easter has become an old, old story to you, think about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the hope that exists for those who are in Christ. Ponder the very real and unexplainable hope that is transcending the very real grief that is visiting the families of Pete, Lowell, and Mindy Corcoran.

The Psalmist wrote these amazing, truth-filled words : "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15).

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sexuality, Cultural Change, and How We Read Scripture. . . .

Every now and then I have a day that's marked by thought-provoking and anything-but-coincidental convergence. You know. . . you hear something, see something, read something . . . and it all seems to come together to spark thoughts on things that matter. Yesterday was one of those days.

I ventured out on a walk while thinking about today's "Day of Silence" and what that means for our kids, our culture, and the church. I'm still processing thoughts that I blogged the other day. Specifically, I was thinking about the complex issues related to same-sex attraction and how our views on such are emerging, morphing, and changing in both the culture and the church. I was thinking about the temptation we all face to change with the times, which leads us to believe that somehow all cultural change is a mark of progression that should be celebrated and affirmed. This creates very real tensions for those of us who follow Christ.

I reminded myself of the principles of faithful and careful Biblical interpretation and exegesis that I've learned over the years, particularly during my time at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. We begin not by asking "What does this mean to me?", but "What did this mean at the time it was written?". Once we've done our interpretive exegetical work, then. . . and only then. . . can we work to make applications to our culture and our own personal lives.

While cultural change might tempt us to jettison those interpretive principles, we must always go back to our need to faithfully and responsibly interpret Scripture. . . with Scripture as our starting point for all matters of faith and life. While it's becoming more and more commonplace for Christians to view and interpret Scripture through the eyes of our culture, we need to be doing the opposite as we view, interpret, and respond to culture through the eyes of Scripture.

During my walk, I stumbled upon a podcast that I had never been aware of before, thanks to my handy TuneIn Radio app. "Issues, Etc." is a production of Lutheran Public Radio. I scrolled through some options and settled on an interview with Shane Rosenthal on "Me-Centered Bible Interpretation."  It's worth listening to. Having talked for years about how narcissism and the postmodern ethos have combined to create a way of interpreting the Bible that is more about eisogesis than exegesis, I was thrilled to hear Rosenthal's remarks. It wasn't difficult at all to connect that dots between reading the Scriptures incorrectly, and how we apply an incorrect understanding of Scripture in ways that support and encourage changing moral standards when, in fact, they should be challenged.

Then, my day continued with some reading on a flight to Wichita. I finally got around to reading a Rolling Stone magazine piece on changing sexual standards. "Tales From the Millennials' Sexual Revolution" serves as a reminder of just how much our moral standards have morphed in recent years. I found myself asking, "Will the church process and address these changing standards through the lens of Scripture? Or, will the church adjust Scripture to accommodate these changing sexual standards?"

Finally, I pulled John Stott's Balanced Christianity out of my bag and began reading. I find in Stott a balanced wisdom and maturity that is lacking in so many corners of the church today. His teaching and writing have served to shape me and keep me anchored, especially as it relates to the relationship between faith, Scripture, and culture. The fact that this book was first penned in 1975 might put some younger folks off.  After all, Stott was writing in a different time and culture. Could what he wrote then be even remotely relevant to us today? Without a doubt, yes.

I thought I would pass on some of the more provocative words from Stott's chapter on "Conservative and Radical." Stott defines "conservative" in this case as "people who are determined to conserve of preserve the past and are therefore resistant to change." "Radicals" are "people who are in rebellion against what is inherited from the past and therefore are agitating for change." Stott argues that every balanced Christian "should have a foot in both camps."

Some random, thought-provoking words from Stott. . . .

"Every Christian should be conservative because the whole church is called by God to conserve his revelation, to 'guard the deposit' . . . The church's task is not to keep inventing new gospels, new theologies, new moralities and new Christianities, but rather to be a faithful guardian of the on and only eternal Gospel. . . . The self-revelation of God is. . . . changeless in truth and authority."

"Jesus refused to be bound by human custom; his mind and conscience were bound by God's Word alone. Thus, Jesus was a unique combination of conservative and the radical, conservative toward Scripture and radical in his scrutiny (his biblical scrutiny) of everything else."

"Culture changes from age to age, and from place to place. Moreover, we Christians, who say we desire to live under the authority of God's Word, should subject our own contemporary culture to continuous biblical scrutiny. Far from resenting or resisting cultural change, we should be in the forefront of those who propose and work for its progressive modification in order to make it more truly expressive of the dignity of humanity and more pleasing to the God who created us."

"The greater danger (at least among evangelicals) is to mistake culture for Scripture, to be too conservative and traditionalist, to be blind to those things in church and society which displease God and should therefore displease us, to dig our heels and our toes deep into the status quo and to resist firmly that most uncomfortable of all experiences, change.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Youth Workers, Parents, and This Week's Day of Silence. . . .

A few years ago I was speaking on youth culture at a church in the Midwest that sits directly across the street from the local high school. I had challenged those in attendance to reach out to the large population of broken and confused kids who walked the halls of that school each and every day. Afterwards, a woman shared a concern and asked a question. She explained that she was part of a group of Christians who were working to get the school to ban the upcoming “Day of Silence.” “What can we do to stop it?” she asked.

If you’re in the dark regarding the “Day of Silence,” here’s an explanation: Founded in 1996 at the University of Virginia, the “Day of Silence” is billed by organizers as the largest student-led event towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The national event has been growing in recent years, and is intended to bring attention to "anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools." Students in middle schools, high schools, and colleges take a vow of silence for the day in an effort to encourage schools and classmates "to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior by illustrating the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT." 

Scheduled to be held this year on Friday, April 11, hundreds of thousands of students in middle schools, high schools, and colleges across America will participate. The event is officially sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). According to research from GLSEN, nearly nine out of ten LGBT students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school, and more than 30 percent report missing at least a day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety.

Students participating in the “Day of Silence” are encouraged to download and hand out “speaking cards” which say: “Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by name-calling, bullying and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.”

After pondering the woman’s question for a few moments, I offered a response that I think surprised her. My response was rooted in a couple of realities. First, but not foremost, there’s my own experience of harassing people during my high school years, something rooted in my own adolescent insecurities. You know – putting others down to feel better about myself. While I’m ashamed to admit it, my behavior included harassment of a small number of peers who were rumored to be homosexuals. Second, and foremost, is my understanding of who God is, who He’s made people to be, and who He’s called His followers to be. . . especially in response to those who - like you and me - are sinners desperately in need of God’s saving grace.

And so I told her this. . . First, I believe that God has established sexuality as a good and wonderful gift that is to be experienced and celebrated with great freedom within the bounds of His order and design. That design is clearly articulated in the Scriptures as being a good and wonderful gift of God to be experienced and indulged within the context of an exclusive, covenantal, monogamous, and committed marriage between one man and one woman. Because our world is fallen and broken, there will be sinful distortions of that plan that we are to avoid (even "flee from") including adultery, fornication, pornography, sexual abuse, sexual lust, and same-sex sexual activity. . . among other things. All are equally sinful distortions of God's good and perfect design for our sexuality. We are to teach these truths to our children without hesitation in a cultural climate that increasingly teaches and celebrates otherwise.

Second, banning the “Day of Silence” only deals with symptoms of deeper issues and really accomplishes nothing. Shouldn’t we be concerned about the hearts where those deeper issues live and from which the symptoms rise to the surface? And while we’re talking about hearts from which the issues come, what about the hearts from which hate and ignorance flow. . . . especially when those hearts belong to those who claim to follow Christ? What about hearts that find it so easy to rank and categorize sexual sin, even to the point of ignoring, diminishing, or justifying one's own sexual sin by focusing on the sexual sin of another?

Third, we can’t force anyone to follow Jesus. Only God’s Spirit is able to draw people to Himself. While we can’t strong-arm people into the Kingdom of God, we can and must choose to follow Jesus ourselves. Following Jesus means facing our Pharisaical tendencies/sins head-on, while loving sinners as Jesus has loved them (and us! . . . because we’re in that group too). Loving, caring for, and ministering to sinners is our calling, just as our calling is to hate and avoid sin. As I remember John White once saying, "As Christ is to me, so must I be to others."

Finally, I asked her this question: “Have you ever thought about acting on your concern by sitting down and spending some time getting to know and listening to the kids who are planning the ‘Day of Silence’ at your school?” She paused. . . as I guess most of us would. . . and said “no.” I then challenged her to find out the names of the kids, invite them out to Starbucks, and then sit with no other agenda than to listen, learn, build a relationship, love, and begin a conversation.

What would happen if we would stop working so hard to “protect” our kids by legislating morality, and start “providing spiritually” for our kids by modeling how to take the Gospel to those who are hungry for Heaven? I’m learning that while it might seem easier to wish and work away differences I might not like, Jesus is calling me to go as His ambassador to people He’s called me to love. Then, He’ll take care of the rest.

I highly recommend this helpful guide from Harvest USA on how to respond to the Day of Silence. You can access the guide here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Kurt Cobain, CPYU, and Remembering. . .

Sleeping last night was a bit difficult. My mind was racing with thoughts about both the future and the past. The future is the immediate future. . . specifically the next twenty-four hours as old and new friends from near and far gather today to join us to celebrate God's faithfulness to us over the last quarter-decade. Tonight we're having our 25th Anniversary Celebration Banquet for CPYU. Really??? Twenty-five years??? So hard to believe. The past is those 25 years and all that has happened in that brief yet very full span of time. It's been amazing.

But in the months, weeks, and days leading up to today's celebration, I've been reminded of another more bitter anniversary being remembered this weekend. It's an anniversary of a broken life and too-early death that I've been thinking about and been reminded of almost every day for these last twenty years. Tomorrow, it will be 20 years since Nirvana's Kurt Cobain took his own life at the age of 27. Just like the launch of CPYU, it seems like yesterday. 

Over the course of the last two weeks I've been re-reading the Charles Cross biopic of Cobain, Heavier Than Heaven. It's been part of my commitment to what theologian John Stott calls "dual listening," a task Stott says is the responsibility of every Christian who wants to represent and serve Christ well in the world. Stott says we must listen to both Word and world. When we listen to both, we are better equipped to know how to bring the light of the Word to illuminate the darkness of a horribly broken world. Heavier Than Heaven has been a journey into some very dark darkness.

I've been reminded almost every day of Cobain's death because I made a decision years ago to walk past and look at his picture every time I'm in our office. It was one of many conscious efforts I've made to look at youthful brokenness to serve as a reminder of why it is that I do what I do. On our office wall hang three pictures of Cobain. The first is a picture of a smiling young first-grader. It's one of those school pictures we're all so familiar with. His eyes are bright and there's a smile on his face. This is the Kurt Cobain who was described as a happy-go-lucky kid who loved life. Then, when he was eight-years-old, his parents divorced. That's when the smile became scarce and eventually disappeared. 

Cobain's music was a reflection and expression of his broken life, and his yearning for healing and wholeness. It resonated with a generation that found in Cobain a mouthpiece for their own difficulties. One of the most significant conversations I've ever had with a kid took place when he introduced me to Cobain and the music of Nirvana back in 1991. When I asked him what it was that he liked about the music, he said, "This guy sings what I feel." The kid was in middle school at the time. 

After Cobain killed himself on April 5, 1994, both Spin and Rolling Stone ran covers and lead stories on Cobain's life, music, and death. Both issues arrived in my mailbox on the same day. When I pulled them out of the mailbox, I stood on the driveway staring at the covers. They were piercing. In a way, they spoke a loud and clear message to me: "This is why you do what you do." I brought them into the house and set them down on the table. Lisa and I looked at them both and she perceptively remarked, "Look at his eyes." I knew just what she meant. They are eyes that are hungry for heaven. 

Today, both of those covers hang framed on our office wall. Between them is the photo of the smiling young boy. They are hung in that order so that I'm reminded of the fact that something happened in the time between when those photos were taken. And that is why we do what we do.

This morning, my listening to the Word took me into the forty-second chapter of Isaiah. There, I read God's descriptor of His chosen servant who was yet to come into the world to release it from the choke-hold of sin: "I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness." 

While there is unmistakable permeating brokenness in the world, there is a hope that because that brokenness is being undone and will be finally and completely undone. And that. . . well. . . that's why we do what we do. 

All thanks and glory to God for sending His Son into the world. . . and for the last 25 years. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

World Vision. . . Responding To The Response. . .

I finally sat down to address my income tax prep procrastination last Tuesday evening. In the process of gathering, sorting, and adding up receipts I got to thinking about our charitable giving. Now I know that when it comes to giving, the left hand shouldn't know what the right hand is doing, but what transpired on Tuesday evening was significant enough to mention.

World Vision's Richard Stearns
While I was sorting and recording the numbers for 2013, I paused to think about our giving to World Vision. Of all the causes that we support, the one that has remained a constant recipient of our support is World Vision. In fact, I became a member of the World Vision family as soon as I graduated from college in 1978, when I sponsored a child for the first time. I loved their passion, their philosophy of ministry, and their Christ-centered approach. I also loved the story of World Vision's founder, Bob Pierce, who was prompted to start the organization after praying, "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." A "dangerous" prayer for sure. God answered that prayer as Pierce encountered the heart of God in his study of the Scriptures, and then encountered the brokenness of the world through his exposure to poverty, seeing that world and shaping his response to it through the lens of Scripture. More recently, I've read and recommended Richard Stearns' book, The Hole in the Gospel, a book that challenged me anew to recalibrate my life in the direction of Biblical justice.

Ironically, when I stepped away from my tax prep duties for the night (I can only take so much!), I sat down and checked my phone. That was when I opened an email that directed me to the Christianity Today story that broke that news about World Vision's Board of Directors and their decision to change their policy to allow the hiring of  homosexuals in same-sex marriages. I was stunned and deeply saddened. I felt that first and foremost, World Vision was compromising a strong stand on God's design for marriage.

Since then - and even immediately - I was asked by several people to offer my thoughts on the decision. With the exception of a couple of very brief thoughts posted on my Facebook page, I thought it wise to sit back and prayerfully ponder the decision without caving to the kind of knee-jerk response that a) I am prone to, b) my fellow Christians are prone to, c) doesn't typically add anything constructive to the discussion, and d) is warned against in Scripture (Proverbs 29:20).

So, I didn't say anything publicly. I also kept from fully reading any of the multitude of blog posts responding to the decision. I talked about it only with my wife and a few trusted close friends. Of course, two days later World Vision reversed their decision. . . a move that could have been motivated by a variety of factors. We may never know what happened behind the closed Board room doors at World Vision. But I can say that my initial reaction to that reversal was one of great joy.

Now, I am still processing the events of this last week but thought I would post a couple of initial and not-yet-complete thoughts. For those of you who would say that the main issue here is homosexuality or who believe my sadness over World Vision's decision to be rooted in some kind of homophobia on my part, I would respectfully disagree. Keep that in mind as I share just a few of my thoughts. . .

First, in many ways, this last week reminds us that the postmodern turn is for all intents and pragmatic purposes. . . complete. I began to seriously consider, study, and speak about the shift from a modern to a postmodern world about twenty years ago. At that time, philosophical postmodernism was by-and-large on its way out in academic circles. That ship was sailing. But a more "pragmatic postmodernism" that had been seeded by those philosophies was growing like a weed throughout popular culture. And, in the way that all cultural movements spread, postmodern thinking and living was by and large embraced unconsciously. It was simply being assimilated without thought or critique. What's resulted is a world where an older generation who has enough years behind them to see that something has changed, has enough perspective from which to at least say, "It's a different world." They may not be able to thoughtfully articulate what's happened, but they know that something big has happened. Younger folks who have been born onto the postmodern landscape and nursed by the basic assumptions of this new way of thinking about and living life know nothing else. This is just "the way it is" and "the way it's supposed to be." In fact, many of them write off, ignore, and even lament the "archaic" perspective of those who are older.

Very simply stated, there's been a rejection of any kind of objective, widely-held standard of truth. Replacing it has been an "every person for himself or herself" ethic that allows us to personally define what's right and wrong for me. . . and that can change from minute to minute based on how I feel at any given point in time. This way of thinking and living is prevalent in the church. As a result, we become the authority on everything. Our feelings and inclinations define "true north" on our moral compass. The big story of Scripture is rejected. . . but usually not in its entirety. We pick and choose bits and pieces to build our foundation, creating a Biblical system that is not fully Biblical. This reality makes things even more confusing.

Now I know that this brief explanation doesn't even come close to describing the complexity of what's been happening in our culture. But I do think it offers some insight into what's happened at World Vision. From where I sit, I think it's impossible to reconcile World Vision's policy on forbidding pre-marital and extra-marital sexual activity among its employees, with World Vision's "Tuesday" policy to allow same-sex sexual activity among employees in same-sex marriages. But if I am embracing a pragmatically postmodern approach to ethics, it makes full sense and could even be considered "the right thing to do."

Second, the World Vision "controversy" of this last week has exposed the root issue at hand. . . and it's not homosexuality. Rather, it's an issue of authority. I don't think we can even begin to have the kind of constructive, generous, and grace-filled conversations on any same-sex issue that we need to have until we can arrive at some common ground on Biblical authority. If you read the Scriptures while assuming the Scriptures are an apple, and I read the Scriptures assuming the Scriptures are an orange. . . well, you know what happens. . . and it's happening. It's also an issue of hermeneutics. . . the way that we approach the task of interpreting the Bible. Again, it would be an over-simplification to say that people either take an "interpret all of life through Scripture" or an "interpret Scripture through all of life" approach, but isn't it reasonable to say that we all fall somewhere on that spectrum? And, if that's the case, no wonder we can't agree on issues related to sexuality, or any other issue for that matter.

Third, the World Vision policy and its reversal remind us that we need to be thinking about, praying about, and talking about marriage. . . . and we need to do so from the vantage point of interpreting and defining marriage through Scripture, rather than interpreting Scripture through cultural trends on marriage. This requires us to return to God's intended design for marriage at the time when things were the way they were supposed to be. The Shalom that existed in the garden was a gift to humanity that allows us to experience the fullness of our humanity. That Shalom is what we're called to pursue here in the brokenness of our world. Doing things "my way" is what got us in trouble in the first place. Shouldn't World Vision be pursuing and promoting a view of love, sex, and marriage that reflects God's order and design? That divine order and design is certainly what's behind their long-held policy on pre-marital and extra-marital sex.

And finally, the events of this last week reminded me of how important it is for us to listen to people who have proven that they are worth listening to because they are wise, time-tested, humble, and trustworthy. I have not yet ventured into the blogosphere on the World Vision issue to track the fallout and responses because I knew I would wind up getting side-tracked. Several friends suggested that I read this or that response. Instead, I deliberately went to my book shelves to consult with some trusted "mentors" who I know have spent their lives dedicated to pursuing a deep knowledge of God along with an understanding of God's will and way on this and other issues. For example, I took some time to re-read parts of John Stott's The Radical Disciple, and Richard Lovelace's 1978 Homosexuality and the Church. Without the overt vitriol of so many of my angry brothers and sisters, and without the veiled-by-Christian-love and grace passive-aggressiveness of many brothers and sisters who want to enlarge the theological tent of evangelicalism, Stott and Lovelace offered me a grace-filled and Biblically-faithful perspective that calls the church to be pastoral rather than punitive when it comes to same-sex behavior. . . or any other equally grievous wandering from God's will and way.

This got me to thinking more deeply about who it is that we choose to listen to in today's world. In a pre-social media world where anyone can build a following, those who spoke publicly earned their place by developing their knowledge and expertise. They truly had something to say. Their expertise. . . built and developed over the course of a lifetime. . . that's what gave them the right to speak. Now, I fear that all we have to do to develop an audience is market ourselves through social media. We live in a world where all you have to do to make a name for yourself is, well, make a name for yourself. Those who are most gifted at building their presence in the world of social media, tend to be the most persuasive. We have to be more careful about who it is that we listen to and who it is that we follow.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Countdown to CPYU's 25th Celebration! . . . .

On Sunday afternoon, July 23, 1989, I sat at a table with five trusted friends who sensed, with me, that God was clearly calling us to embark on a new mission and ministry. Admittedly, we knew very little at all about what we were doing. What we did know was that our meeting was the first step into an adventure and journey of living under God’s guidance, grace, and direction. We had no idea where the journey would take us or how long the journey would last. Then, I blinked. And when I opened my eyes twenty-five years of working with The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding had passed. . . just like that! Along the way, that little group of six has grown to include a small army of people who are praying for us, supporting us, and working with CPYU!

This year, we celebrate our 25th Anniversary of CPYU. Again, so hard to believe. On Friday night, April 4, several hundred members of our CPYU family will gather here locally for an evening of celebration. We'd love to have you join us. You can get more information and register here

We remain committed to that original mission that we’ve been pursuing for the last quarter century. We continue to work to understand and expose the many voices in this world that convincingly call for our allegiance. And, we are committed to helping children, teens, and parents sift through this confusing babble to hear Jesus speak the truth that leads to our flourishing, both in this life and the next. Our goal is to, like Jesus, help people recognize the spirit of the times (“You have heard it said that. . .”), while communicating God’s Kingdom way of thinking, living, and believing (“But I tell you. . .”). The Apostle Paul reminds us that this transformation requires us to put “off” and abandon our misguided old selves, and to put “on” new selves that reflect God’s will and way for our lives (Ephesians 4). Our mission has not changed. Rather, it's been cemented. It’s our prayer that this cement would continue to dry and harden as we forge ahead in this journey and adventure for as long as God allows!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Social Networking and The Diminishment of Me. . . .

"Me, me, me." That's what got us into trouble in the first place. . . isn't it? Our first parents decided that it was better to glorify self than to glorify God. Consequently, everything came undone. And, we've been undoing it through self-promotion ever since. 

Last Sunday, I listened to a clear call to humility come from the pulpit of our church. I had also just read Mark Driscoll's letter of apology that was getting all kinds of attention online. The letter was, in many ways, a confession of pride, along with a resolve to seek a more humble way of living. Yesterday, this popped out at me as I read the day's entry in Scotty Smith's Everyday Prayers: "Here's my cry: continue to free me from doing anything for the approval of people, out of the fear of people, or to gain power over people. I work for you, Lord Jesus, not for mere men."  Powerful.

The reality is that we are living on a cultural landscape that breeds and feeds the life-sapping sin of hubris. It's not seen as a malignancy on our character. It's not even seen as benign. Rather, hubris is celebrated and encouraged. 

Having had my life transition from pre-social media days to a world dominated by living online, I know first-hand just how easy it is enlist social media to promote one's self. I see what's able to happen now in light of what never could have happened then. It's even worse for those who haven't lived long enough to gain the big picture. When they jump online to shape, build, and promote their brand it's simply a normal part of their day. . . like eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom. . . and what can be wrong with that?!? 

Over the course of the last five years, two of the cultural trends I've been tracking with great interest and intensity are our slide deeper and deeper into the abyss of Narcissism, and our unexamined dive into the world of social media. Combine the two with our deep brokenness and we wind up being mad scientists dabbling with joy over a dangerous mix. . . . and again, we aren't even aware that that's what's happening.

It's so easy to beat our chests online.

I think that the antidote to this pandemic that most of us don't even know exists is two-tiered. No, I don't mean to simplify the issues, but I think that this at least offers what could be a healthy start. At least it's been somewhat helpful to me. . . .

First, immerse yourself in the Word. . . the humble and other-centered incarnate Word Jesus. . . and God's written revelation of His self, will, and way in the Scriptures. Without that perspective taking root and growing in us, we'll never be able to see, recognize, and address those weedy sins that we so easily allow to root and grow in our lives. 

Second, exercise a little good and disciplined sense in your online social media comings and goings. Specifically, start by taking a long hard look at the history of your tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook posts, and profile pictures. What do they promote? Seriously. What kind of care have you taken as you choose your images and words? What kind of criteria made those images and words "post-worthy" for you? What are you doing in your photos?  

Self-examination is a good thing. Then, just before you hit "send," "post," or "reply," pause and ask yourself these questions. . . 
  • Does this matter?
  • Is this useful to others?
  • What is this photo advancing?
  • What do these words advance?
  • Does this promote and reflect Kingdom of God living?
  • Does this promote or reflect the advancement of myself, the world, the flesh, or the devil?
  • Does this glorify God?
  • Does this glorify me?
  • Come on. . . why am I doing this? . . . . really.