Friday, November 28, 2008

Stuffing and stuff. . . .

Yesterday was the holiday we know as Thanksgiving. As a Christian, my memories are of Thanksgivings that had an aspect of deep gratitude towards God for His multiplicity of physical and spiritual blessings. As an adult, Thanksgiving has become a day of contrasts. Our culture is changing. On the day we should be thinking thankfully about good stewardship, we've gotten all wrapped up in spending.

I've got the feeling that we need to dig deeper and deeper to remember and celebrate what Thanksgiving is really about. That's one of the ironic detrimental results of abundance. . . . . so much stuff that we fail to see, recognize, or remember the Source of it all. In other words, we should be more thankful than ever for what we do have. Instead, we tend to complain about never having enough. And then we spend a good chunk of the day planning our route to redemption through the accumulation of stuff on the day after.

Today is Black Friday. . . . and I'm not sure why I've capitalized the name of the day except for the fact that it's now attained some level of status as a holiday. According to legend, the name was coined by members of the Philly police department who had to handle the overwhelming crowds and traffic in the city on the first shopping day after Thanksgiving.

Now, it's crazy. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania - where I live - the Rockvale Square outlets opened at 12:01am this morning to accommodate shoppers. Are you kidding me???? I read reports of people who had camped out in tents in front of a variety of stores in a variety of places in order to be the first through the doors. Want to know how crazy it is? A Wal-Mart worker was killed and four others injured when eager shoppers stampeded through the doors of a Wal-Mart store on Long Island this morning.

Look at what we've become. We're nuts. Seriously. Maybe an economic crisis with long-lasting consequences that will drive us to our knees is just what the Great Physician ordered.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Where the Kingdom must come. . . .

I just got back from Nashville and the third of the this year's three National Youthworker's Conventions. By the way, kudos again to my good friends at Youth Specialties for making it possible for youth workers to gather together in this setting.

My time at last weekend's convention took on an interesting personality in terms of one theme that kept coming up over and over in my conversations with youthworkers. That theme was adolescents, children, and their sexuality. It was a constant theme before, during, and after the convention. It came through in questions, news reports, Facebook postings, and snail mail. The pounding has left me heavy.

Like everything else in this post-Genesis 3:6 world, God's good gift of sexuality has been fundamentally flawed and is in desperate need of redemption. Sin has polluted how we think about and do our sexuality. It has polluted how we think about and do other people's sexuality as well. It's complex. . . . far too complex to even begin to dissect here, but the realities we face require - I'm increasingly convinced - those of us who care for and love kids to be "undoing" the polluted sexual messages and practices of this world, and "doing" the sexual messages and practices of the Kingdom. In a clear way, it's simply living out the way and will of the Father that we pray every time the Lord's Prayer crosses our lips. . . . "Lord, may your Kingdom come in all of its power and glory in and through our understanding and experience of both ours and other's sexuality."

I left for Nashville already somewhat broken and haunted by the conversation I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. When I arrived at my hotel, a blog-reading youth pastor asked if I would be sure to tell the story and address the reality in my seminar. I agreed. I decided to speak openly about pornography and other flawed expressions of sexuality that exist in our culture today. Sadly, it's all part of the soup even the youngest of our young swim in on a daily basis. I wanted to address how these things hurt kids not only now as they are often-times victims of sexual abuse - both visually (the sad and sorry stuff they see) and physically (the sad and sorry perversions perpetrated on them by others) - but the sad realities of where this will all lead as they reach adulthood themselves and are prone to live what they've learned in relationships with the adults and children in their own lives. It's quite scary.

Then, while I was there in Nashville, I was reminded of the ugliness of sexual and relational sin over, and over, and over. Both a map for kids and a mirror of where we've sent them, there's the new Levi's ad (posted below) and the link that someone posted to it on our CPYU Facebook page on Thursday afternoon. It left me wondering. . . . how will this fruit of the sexual revolution of my childhood bear fruit in both today and tomorrow's youth culture?

Then there was the local news story that broke in our paper on Friday morning. This one was about a man that I know who plead guilty to multiple counts of multiple types of sexual molestation of multiple girls ages 6 to 13. He was sentenced to prison on Thursday. Ever since he was arrested several months ago, this story has left my head spinning. I wonder how he got to the point where he could and would do what he did. I wonder how his horribly skewed and perverse expression of his sexuality will affect his young victims who were robbed of a sacred innocence. . . . both now and for the rest of their lives. What about the estimated 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4 boys who are victimized by sexual abuse before they reach the age of 16? What fruit will this epidemic bear in people, relationships, and families over the course of the next 20 to 30 years?

Then there were the stories of abuse I heard while I was in Nashville. Again, it's epidemic. Youth workers themselves who had been victimized. I heard horrible stories of youth workers who perpetrated with vulnerable young students. And, there are those stories like the one close to home that is sadly, not just something happening here. . . . and families, churches, counselors, and youth workers are left dealing with the messiest of messes that are never completely undone this side of the new Heaven and new earth.

With all this fresh on my mind, I began my day today with reading Ecclesiastes. Verse 18 of Chapter 9 jumped off the page as I thought about the consequences of sin and how its "sound" never ceases. In fact, it echoes and reverberates out from generation to generation. . . . oft-times increasing rather than decreasing in volume. The author says, "one sinner destroys much good." That's certainly true when it comes to sexual sin. That's what happens when our children are violated.

When I got into the office this morning there was a letter on my desk from the Pittsburgh Coalition on Pornography. The back page contained "A Confession for Sexual Brokenness" for use in congregational worship. Because of our shared brokennes, I pass it on to you in it's entirety here:

Suggested introduction by leader: We come now to our time of confession. Christians all over the world recognize the profound harm that pornography and sexual sin are having upon our culture - and upon many of us individually. God says to be free of sin, we must first confess our sin - so in a spirit of humility let us be first to confess our sexual brokenness before God - and we hope and pray that our confession will ignite a revival of God's standards for sexual behavior around the world. So, whether or not you've committed sexual sin or experienced sexual harm or brokenness - or if you would simply like to pray for our sexually broken culture, would you join with me now. . . .

Leader: O Lord our God, today we come before you to confess that in our sinful nature we abuse your gift of sex, which you meant to nurture our marriages with love, pleasure and children. Lord we have made sex an idol in our culture and sometimes in our personal lives as well. Lord, we often allow envy, pride and lust to control our sexual behavior rather than love, fidelity and selflessness.

Congregational Response: I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before thee.

Leader: Lord we confess that sexual sin has left many of us broken. Some of us have failed to keep your standards for love, devotion and purity in our relationships - or in our entertainment choices. Some of us nurture bad habits of lust that keep us from giving ourselves fully to our spouses. Some of us have been scarred by sexual abuse and yearn to forgive and be free from emotional pain. Some of us have developed a sexual addiction that controls our behavior, damaging ourselves and those we love.

Congregational Response: Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Leader: Lord we cry out to you for healing. Please accept our confession of sexual brokenness for ourselves and for our culture as we pray silently to you now. . . . Lord we thank you that you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness when we confess our sins to you and to one another.

Congregational Response: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from thy presence, and do not take thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Leader: Hear now the good news; a broken and contrite heart the Lord will not despise. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Culture in 7 minutes and 32 seconds. . . .

I typically get funny looks when I admit to Christian friends that I've always loved watching Bill Maher. I was disappointed when his Politically Incorrect went off the air. I found it to be especially eye-opening and stimulating. Somehow, Maher and his guests would consistently pop the lid on cultural issues. . . . getting down and dirty with commentary and opinion that crossed the full spectrum (usually) of idealogies and worldviews on the issues at hand.

People also find it strange that I like Bill Maher himself. He's incredibly gifted. I would have been jealous of the guy if he had sat a row over from me in any of my high school classes. He's smart. He's funny. He knows what the issues are. Rarely do I agree with him, but sometimes he does get it right. I have yet to see his film Religulous, but it's on my list.

Since I don't have HBO at home, I only get to see Real Time when I'm on the road in hotels that have got HBO access. Monday night I was in Boston when I caught Real Time. The entire show is worth a look for those of you who are culture-watchers. But what really grabbed me was Maher's seven-and-a-half minute interview with Sean Combs (aka Diddy, P-Diddy, Puff-Daddy, and a host of other variations that are impossible to keep up with). As a culture-watcher, I found the interview to be brilliant in a variety of ways. Maher is his typical funny self. Combs is uncharacteristically humble - something I've never seen from the guy before. What grabbed me most is their interaction with each other, the way their worldviews are expressed, and the topics that they cover in their short time together. They hit everything from politics, to racism, to music, to religion. Of course, when doesn't Bill Maher mention religion these days????

If you're a culture-watcher, give this clip a look. It's a mirror of where we're at as a culture. It's a clear picture of the context in which we've been called to minister. It's both hilariously funny and deeply sobering. This is our world. . . . like it or not.

Let's get some discussion going on this one. Thoughts?

Friday, November 14, 2008

This is why. . . .

I'm changing names and places, but the story is true. So true that it kept me awake one night recently.

I was speaking to parents and youth workers in a community far from our office here in PA. The back of the large auditorium was empty, except for one person in the back right corner. I didn't have my glasses on and the distance was far. My eyesight is good enough, however, to make out that the person was moving around a bit. Sitting on the floor, against the wall, in a seat, and then back on the floor a few times again. It wasn't distracting. Just unusual.

Towards the end of my presentation on youth culture I decided to throw up some slides and offer some explanation that isn't usually a part of a three-hour talk. This time, however, I decided to include it. In hindsight, I know now that these were not my plans nor were they simply a hunch. My little diversion out of the ordinary was a focus on the world of online pornography. How our kids seem to find it. How it seems to find them. And what it does to them both now and for the long-term.

At the end of the evening with Q and A over and the room mostly empty save for a few stragglers, a woman came to me and asked if I would be willing to speak with her fifteen-year-old son. "Of course." Then she left the room. I soon realized that the fifteen-year-old who had expressed a desire to talk with me was the person who had been moving around in the back corner of the room.

I'll call him Seth. A high school student, Seth appeared to be an obvious target for any teen bent on making themselves feel better by harassing the weakest of the weak. There were some communication issues. Some physical issues. And more, God bless him.

In our conversation, Seth showed a deep desire to please God. I'll spare you the details, but it was my short detour into speaking about pornography that God used to have Seth seek me out. All I can say is that Seth's story is horrid. What was done to him and how that has shaped him in his 15 short years. . . horrid. Sin perpetrated on a young victim not only caused tremendous pain and confusion, but that sin begat multi-layered sin in Seth's life. . . and Seth told me he wanted to break free.

After spending time with Seth I invited a third person into the conversation. . . . someone from the community who loves Christ, who is well connected, and who has committed to walk what's going to be a very difficult road with Seth, getting this extremely lovable and broken young man the help he needs. Still, I went back to my hotel room and had a difficult time sleeping. Why does this kind of crap have to happen? Why does it have to happen so much?

This is why we do what we do. To those of you who pray for us at CPYU. . . and to those of you who partner with us to make what we do happen. . . thanks. God is at work, undoing what's been broken in this world. Pray for Seth, will you?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Paris is coming to town! . . .

So now it's come to this. . . . our culture that is. I got to the back page of the first section of yesterday's Sunday News and there she was. . . . Paris Hilton. . . . the celebrity who exists solely for the sake of celebrity. She's flying through the air with that crazy lazy "Who am I? Where Am I?" and "Hey, I'm posing for your again. Keep snapping those pictures." look that's become so familiar. This time she's flying through the glittery air with fairy wings and a magic wand in a promotional ad for her new line of fragrances known as Fairy Dust. I look at her photo and wonder if she's serious. How can you do this and not laugh????And if she is serious, why?

Then, I read on. Paris is coming to our local mall. Not only that, I could be one of 300 customers "to make a qualifying purchase from the Fairy Dust by Paris Hilton fragrance collection and receive an autographed picture from Paris herself." How can this be? Well, Paris is serious. And because of our ridiculous obsession with celebrity she's going to be making some serious money when she gets to Lancaster. If I want to meet Paris and have my photo taken with her, I have a choice of spending $135 for Package Number One, or $166 for Package Number Two. Do the math. If 300 people purchase Package Number One, that's $40,500! If 300 people purchase Package Number Two, that's $49,800! Not bad for a few hours "work." But I wind up the real winner because - as the ad tells me - "a kiss of fairy dust" and my "dreams come true."

Hmmmmm. . . . my dreams would come true. That's left me wondering. . . . let's say I pay the $135.00 and I'm one of the first in line. Then, while I'm standing with Paris I spray a little misty squirt of Fairy Dust on my neck (oh, is that the proper place for it?). Would Paris then disappear right before my very eyes? Not from the face of the earth, but from her position of cultural prominence and influence? Should I try this?

I just looked at the full-page ad again. If space aliens on a reconnaissance mission landed and this piece of my newspaper was the only thing they found, what would they think of us? Better yet, what should we think of ourselves?

Oh. . . . and if only we could catch the CPYU fragrance in a bottle and sell it. . . .

Thursday, November 6, 2008

President-Elect Antichrist. . . .

According to some people, the world ended at around 11pm last Tuesday night. Now, these people are depressed, down-in-the-dumps, morose, etc. Many of these people are fellow followers of Christ. I've even heard some of these people speculate on whether or not Barack Obama might be the Antichrist. By the way, I've been around long enough to have heard the same about other Antichrists dujour.

According to other people, the world began at 11pm last Tuesday night. It appeared to me that many of the people who descended on Grant Park and other places around the country to celebrate Obama's victory were heralding "good tidings" of "great joy," almost as if the Savior had come.

I understand that these seem like blanket overstatements on my part. However, they capture the two ends of response on the 2008 electoral spectrum. I voted. I won't tell you how I voted. Some of my fellow believers would be happy with my vote. Others might think I'm off my rocker. I know because I've had these discussions. As I voted, I tried to do so through the lens of my Biblical world and life view. Sure, that perspective informed the issues for me and directed my decision on who to vote for. But even more than that, it gave me perspective. So as the sudden void of a 24/7 barrage of political messages and posturing has left me with more time to think, I'd like to share some perspective. . . for the simple reason that I think our responses to the election are often indicators of a lack of faith and Christian maturity, rather than a sign of faith and Christian maturity.

So. . . . my thoughts. . . .not exhaustive. . . . and certainly not very deep. . .

God's got this all under control. He's taking our country and world where He wants it to be. To those who think that it's all starting to fall apart due to the election results, you need to realize that it was all falling apart a long time ago. And if we are proud enough to believe that it wasn't all shattered until now. . . well, that's just a sign that our own falling apart led us to accept and believe a delusion. Which is, of course, proof positive that it's all fallen apart. In my own humble opinion that's based on my own personal experience. . . I think we feel good about the country when we feel good. And feeling good is predicated on the chicken in our own pot and the car in our own garage. It's symptomatic of our deeply embedded North American materialism, which is - by the way - epidemic in the church and our homes. Maybe, just maybe, a crisis that would shatter our idols and force us to our knees in dependence on God is just what the Creator ordered and just what we need for the sake of our own spiritual growth.

If God's in control, then we don't need to be afraid. So. . . . why are we? Perhaps we should be spending less time complaining about the change we think is about to come, and more time looking in the mirror at the changes that need to come in our own lives based on our fear. . . . including a little more dependence on God.

Government can't save us. Numerous societies have been down that road all throughout history, and it's never worked. Those who think Obama is the Savior are wrong. And those who think that Obama is the opposite are equally wrong. . . . simply because their despair is an indicator of the fact that they have relied on the political status quo to save them (whatever that means), and now that the political status quo has moved them from a place of comfort to discomfort, the world and their lives are doomed. Either way is idolatrous. . . replacing the Creator with something created.

Let's say Obama is the Antichrist as some Christians believe (and there's no way of really knowing is there?). Do we really think that our vote could have changed God's grand plan to redeem His world and work out what He's had in store for all eternity in His way and His time?

Maybe the most valuable thing to come out of this election is the truth about ourselves. We live in a media saturated world with a media that's saturated by spin. Fair and balanced? I don't think it exists anywhere or at either end of the spectrum. Yet, we still buy into it when it caters to our leanings. Truth is, as well, that our world is hungry for the Redeemer. Obama won't do it. And truth is, as well, that the component of the church that placed their faith in McCain and Palin are equally wrong. Don't misread what I'm saying so that you hear me say that however you voted you were wrong. I'm simply saying that many on both sides have placed their faith in people and things that don't warrant our allegiance.

So, for the next two months and some days our responsibility as God-following citizens of this country is to live under the authority of our current leaders as long as they don't require us to disobey the authority of our Lord. In addition, we should be praying for the President and all others in authority. And, when the new administration takes over, these commitments must continue.

And remember, "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

Finally, I knew my blog title would catch your attention. What are you thinking about the election?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Beauty. . . .

Sometimes we need a reminder. I got a well-needed reminder last weekend at the National Youthworkers Convention in Pittsburgh. I stood in the back of the room as Mark Yaconelli issued the reminder from the main stage. Some of you heard it a few weeks ago in Sacramento. More of you will get to hear it in a few weeks in Nashville.

Mark challenged us to slow down, eliminate the distractions, get quiet, and look for God in unexpected places. He's there. And isn't it good to know that He's there in the midst of our dark times? Mark told us about the turmoil and darkness of his middle school years as he was walloped by his parents' divorce. It was the late 1970s. Mark retreated to his room. He escaped into his trusty 8-track player, his K-Tel Disco 8-Track, a polyester clad John Travolta, a set of headphones, and the opportunity to dance through his pain. Mark sees it as a gift from God. Mark's message came through loud and clear. I thanked him for it later, and I've been trying to slow down and experience God's revelation of Himself that is so evident in His world that surrounds me. By the way, if you're going to be at the NYWC in Nashville, don't you dare skip out on Mark Yaconelli's talk. . . . and stay until the very end!

Today I woke up to one of our patented Pennsylvania cloudy fall days. The sky's been gray. But as I walked to the car the beauty of the neighbor's tree caught my eye. There it was. In the midst of the darkness of the morning and the death that is fall. . . . there was beauty. No human could conceive of or create the intricacy of a tree nor the rhythm of the seasons that lead to the beauty of the fall that fills these parts this time of year. This is the doing of God and God alone.

No matter what happens in our world or our lives. . . . God is. . . . and He is in control.