Wednesday, January 28, 2009

3 Million?!?. . . .

There's a reason why this is what it's come to. We've been swimming in the marketing soup for so long that we don't want to climb out of the pool. In fact, for Baby Boomers and beyond, it's a part of the very fabric of our makeup. It shapes our worldviews - what we think about, how we think, and how we live - in ways that we don't even care to understand. We are malleable lumps of clay who have thrown ourselves on the potter's wheel. . . to be shaped and molded into whatever image the potter of marketing desires us to take. And lest you think that it's the Baby Boomers who have jumped most readily onto the wheel, think again. The most impressionable and targeted group is the babies of the Baby Boomers - our children and teens.

And that's why it's come to what it's come to. During Sunday's Super Bowl, the potters will be spending $3 million a half minute or $100,000 a second - $100,000 DOLLARS A SECOND! -to get their hands wrapped around us and our kids.

If marketing promises redemption by erasing our anxieties and fulfilling our aspirations. . . and we buy into it, then it is a spiritual issue. I'm not saying that marketing is wrong. We need it. How else can we learn about and compare goods and services? But it's much more than informative in today's world.

At CPYU, we continue to pound home the message that marketing is perhaps the greatest influence today on the values, attitudes, and resulting behaviors of children and teens. We pound home the message that marketers have mastered the art of tapping into the spiritual void caused by our fall into sin, convincing us that created things can fill the hole in the soul that's shaped like the creator. And we buy, and we buy, and we buy. And they have no problem investing $100,000 a minute because they know the return will be great.

Sunday's Super Bowl offers a great opportunity for us all to evaluate the role we've allowed marketing to assume in our lives, and to offer Godly guidance and direction to our kids who are growing up in this marketing-saturated world. Here's my challenge to you: seize the opportunity to make the biggest marketing day in America a teachable moment. Use it to teach the kids you know and love how to honor and glorify the Redeemer we're called to follow by thinking Christianly and Biblically about the Super Bowl commercials. If you're a parent, do it at home. If you're a youthworker, make it part of your Super Bowl party. Perhaps you'd want to record all the commercials and choose a few to discuss during the week with your kids or next time your youth group meets.

To make it easy, you can download our Simple Seven advertising evaluation sheet and use it as a filter for thinking Christianly and Biblically about this Sunday's $6 millon dollar minutes.

To get you warmed-up, check out the video of last year's Top Ten Super Bowl Ads.

Friday, January 23, 2009

And the winner(s) is (are). . . .

Okay. This wasn't easy. Last week I posted a blog inviting you to give us your reasons why you should be the person who wins the free registration to next month's National Youth Ministry Conference in Columbus, Ohio. If you're not already familiar with the conference and you're looking for a training event that will inspire, educate, and encourage you, then you need to join us in Columbus.

So today is Friday and I promised that we'd be picking a winner. Again, not easy. Our staff gathered early this morning and after some discussion, we made our decision. For the most part, everyone gave us great reasons and we wish we could give away 45 free registrations. . . okay, 44 free registrations. Dave Decker. . . . your reason was a little bit lame! Still, you had the guts to verbalize what many youthworkers were already thinking. We had to throw your entry over the rail and onto a pile of sack chairs. Dave, you might just want to spend the weekend at home. Get up early Saturday morning, throw your mattress out the window, and then jump out after it.

So now we're left with 44 entries. The good news is that thanks to the folks at NYMC, each of you had your chances increase from 1 in 44 to 1 in 22. That's right. . . they threw in a second free registration for us to give away. After reading and evaluating all the entries, our criteria quickly crystallized: we chose two winners who are working in youth ministry alone, doing it as a volunteer, and balancing all that with the demands of raising a growing family. Before announcing the winners, you need to know that if you were not one of the two chosen, there's still a chance you might win. You see, this is going to work out a bit like the Miss America contest. If for some reason our winners are not able to fulfill their duties and responsibilities, we will pass the NYMC "crown" onto another deserving youth worker.

Okay. . . . drum roll please. . .

Our first winner is, at this point, nameless. We don't know her name as she didn't nominate herself. She was probably too busy doing youth ministry. However, She was nominated by her pastor, Paul Anglin. We'll pass her name on to you as soon as we know it. Paul, thanks for nominating this amazing lady. We pray that her attendance at the conference will bear great fruit in your inner-city church's ministry to urban youth.

Our second winner is Beth Czerniak from Walton, New York. Beth is also the lone youth worker at her church. Her ministry context is one that's rural. Beth, we look forward to seeing you in Columbus.

We'll be in touch with both these folks today to be sure that they'll be able to attend. Thanks to everyone for participating. There's still some openings at the conference so I would encourage you all to register as soon as possible.

I'll see you in Columbus! And to Dave Decker. . . if you happen to be at the conference, come and get me before you jump over the railing and into those sack chairs. I want to watch.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

There's Gotta Be Something More. . . .

I'm just finishing another one of those books that prophetically rocks my happy and satisfied little world. . . . making me restless and uneasy. It's Michael Horton's latest. . . Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. The book offers a compelling critique by a humble man and solid theologian who deeply loves Christ and His church. This isn't some knee-jerk rant by a disatisfied customer. Rather, it's a well-reasoned and well-researched critique of what is, what shouldn't be, and what should be.

This is one of those books that if you read it, it just might spark deep change in who you are, how you view Christ and Gospel. . . . along with how you parent and do ministry. Guys like Horton are like my doctor. They want me to come in from time to time when I don't think there's anything wrong. They poke and probe all over the place to get a good read on where I am. . . and then they issue some needed warnings, precriptions for change. etc. They tell me about things I haven't seen in the everyday rush of life with a body I'm all-too-familiar with because it's been with me 24/7 since the moment I was conceived! That's what I like so much about Christless Christianity. It's an eye-opening check-up.

Here are some interesting quotes that I've encountered during my read. . .

"Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God's holiness, the sense of our being sinners become secondary, if not offensive."

"While the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church, the assimilation of the church to the world silences the witness."

"There is a tendency to make God a supporting character in our own life movie rather than to be rewritten as new characters in God's drama of redemption."

"Far from clashing with the culture of consumerism, American religion appears to be not only at peace with our narcissism but gives it a spiritual legitimacy."

"Like any recreational drug, Christianity Lite can make people feel better for the moment, but it does not reconcile sinners to God."

"It is not secular humanists but we ourselves who are secularizing the faith by transforming its odd message into something less jarring to the American psyche. This may mean, however, that precisely the most numerically successful versions of religion will be the least tethered to the biblical drama of redemption centering on Christ."

"'Smooth talk and flattery' is part of the staple diet of successful American religion today. And it is almost always advertised simply as more effective mission and relevance."

"I have no reason to doubt the sincere motivation to reach non-Christians with a relevant message. My concern, however, is that the way this message comes out actually trivializes the faith at its best and contradicts it at its worst."

Some of you, I'm sure, have wondered why CPYU has chosen Christless Christianity as our resource of the month. If you know us, if you know our passion, and if you read the book, it will become obvious why it's on our list of must-reads.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Interact. . . Learn. . . . Maybe Free!

I've had an awesome week. I'm teaching a seminary class on youth culture. Seven awesome students who I trust are being challenged, stretched, and equipped for deeper youth ministry. I won't hesitate to say that I'm the real winner in this. The interaction has been phenomenal and I don't want it to end. I love stuff like this.

Over the years my love affair with intensive ministry learning has been fed with lots of opportunities to enter into interactive educational conversations as both a student and a teacher. One of those opportunities that I look forward to every year. . . . and it's coming soon (February 27 - March 2)! . . . . is the National Youth Ministry Conference. Organized by my good friend Doug Fields, Simply Youth Ministry, and Group, this annual gathering is one I believe in so much that CPYU is a ministry partner for the event. Less of a conference and more of a conversation, this weekend allows participants to enter into deep discussions with facilitators and ministry peers on the most important issues in youth ministry today. This year, I'll be leading one of several "Deeper Learning Tracks." Our group will spend 8 hours together exploring and discussing "Trends in Youth Culture You Need to Know." Attendees will also have ample time to plug in to some amazing general sessions, workshops, heart-to-heart seminars, and affinity groups. What makes this conference so special is that we'll all be rubbing elbows with each other for the duration. . . conversing, questioning, laughing, eating, worshipping, and learning in the context of deep give-and-take that none of us will want to see come to an end. It's been that way for me the last two years. I know it will be the same this year.

Are you interested in attending this year's National Youth Ministry Conference? Here's some great news! CPYU has partnered with NYMC to give away a free admission to this year's conference! For a chance to win, all you have to do is answer the following question, "Why do you want to come to NYMC?" Post your answer here on my blog and be sure to include some contact information so we can inform you if you've won. CPYU and the folks at NYMC will choose the winner! We'll be picking the winner on Friday, January 23. So be sure to submit your answer before then. Sorry, the free registration is not valid for those already registered for the conference.

I'd encourage you to check out the NYMC website. Spend some time looking around to get a sense of what's happening, how it all works, and the wide breadth of learning opportunities from which to choose. I hope to see you in Columbus! And don't forget to leave a post answering the question above for a chance to attend for free!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Handy Randy. . . .

I remember hearing some confusing and troubling comments from grandparents when I was a kid. Someone would bring up the topic of declining health or advancing age and then say something like, "I'm ready to go." Ready to go? My young mind could never understand how someone could make a comment like that. I was still a kid. Life was fun. Time passed so slowly it was painful. I had the rest of my life ahead of me and there was lots and lots of stuff yet to do. I wasn't ready to die. Not only that, the thought of it was terrifying.

Fast forward to today. I'm looking forward to as many days as the Lord grants me. I'm not complaining. But my knowledge of the assuring truths of God's Word coupled with my growing experience of the brokenness of life in this world has led me to become - dare I say it - more and more like my grandparents. . . . and I'm not yet even a grandparent. I realize why Paul said, "for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Good and best.

Yesterday these realities took center stage once again as we attended the funeral of a friend. Randy was diagnosed with cancer in September. He died early Monday morning. The great irony of death for the believer is that there is very real hope and joy in the midst of very real grief and pain. Randy's funeral service was filled with testimony to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, to the reality of the resurrection, and to the comfort of the Holy Spirit for those who have had a loved one transition from this life into life eternal. I'm not sure how to explain it other than bittersweet.

In the midst of our celebration of Randy's resurrection, a story was told that I thought I'd pass on. Randy was a guy who could fix anything around the house. A few years ago he combined his handyman skills with his love for sacred music by finding, tuning, and building sets of pipes for the church pipe organ. His garage became an organ pipe storage area and his basement became his workshop. His wife and kids would constantly hear Randy downstairs tuning the pipes. He'd use a keyboard console that he hooked to the pipes in order to hear them play. The only thing that became an issue around the house was the fact that his years of tuning sessions featured only one song. . . . over and over again. On at least one occasion, his daughter begged him to to ask the church organist to teach him a new song. Never happened.

Yesterday at Randy's funeral, we ended our worship celebration of God and His provision of the resurrection by singing that song - that only song - that Randy would belt out in his basement. I'm sure the tune is familiar as the song has become known as "The Navy Hymn." The song's actual title is "Eternal Father, Strong to Save." We stood together and sang this great hymn of hope. . . with that pipe organ Randy worked on for so many years rising to a great crescendo as we belted out the words to the last stanza. It was a spine-tingling moment because of the truths that we affirmed together in song:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Sadly, I've been to far too many funerals where hope is absent. It's very dark and depressing. Not so yesterday. What a joy it is to know that for those who are in Christ, death has lost its sting. Because of that, we can be "ready to go."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Follow me. . . .

"All eyes on me, please." I'm afraid we're only going there more and more. We should be sad, sorry, and ashamed of ourselves. Our marketing fed posture of consumption ("Give me what I want now or I'll change the channel"), our obsession with the holy trinity of me, myself, and I, and the narcissim we've embraced which demands that everyone else we know worship and follow me as well, is eating us alive. . . . and we're letting it happen. Not only that, we don't even see it as wrong.

I spent the day yesterday with a couple of energizing groups down in Cajun country. There was my annual visit to the Youth Ministry Institute at New Orleans Baptist Seminary. Lots of give and take. Then I spent some time with parents and youthworkers across the world's longest bridge in Convington at First Baptist Church. In both places, there was lively discussion prompted by what parents and youthworkers are seeing in their kids in terms of materialism, consumerism, narcissism, and entitlement. Not only that, we talked about how we see the same thing in ourselves (individually), and corporately in how we understand, worship, and follow Christ. The same thick thread woven through the fabric of youth culture that rightly grieves us, is knit in and through the fabric of ourselves.

I'm grateful for the growing number of highly intelligent and theologically sound voices that are asking the right questions, observing with a keen eye, and challenging us to rethink who we are, what we serve, and how we live our lives. Michael Horton has always impressed me as one of those voices. I just finished reading his book, A Better Way (all about worship). Now, I've begun reading his new Christless Christianity. I'd like to invite and encourage you to do the same.

For those uneasy with the consumer-driven and narcissistic seeker-sensitive brand of Christianity, this book will cause your eyes to be opened further. For those of us who find ourselves getting defensive about Horton's critique of the place we've landed and live, your desire to go deep in the things of Christ should lead you to prayerfully read what Horton has to say.

Consider these words Horton writes in the book's first chapter: "Wherever Christ is truly and clearly being proclaimed, Satan is most actively present in opposition. The wars between the nations and enmity within families and neighborhoods is but the wake of the serpent's tail as he seeks to devour the church. Yet even in this pursuit, he is more subtle than we imagine. He lulls us to sleep as we trim our message to the banality of popular culture and invoke Christ's name for anything and everything but salvation from the coming judgment. While undoubtedly stirring his earthly disciples to persecute and kill followers of Christ, Satan knows from experience that sowing heresy and schism is far more effective. While the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church, the assimilation of the church to the world silences the witness."

Horton goes on later in that chapter. . . "Far from clashing with the culture of consumerism, American religion appears to be not only at peace with our narcissism but gives it a spiritual legitamcy."

Is he on to something?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Watch and read. . . .

I'll be playing catch-up on my Christmas film list. I only got out to see one of the movies out of the many I was hoping to catch during vacation. I think I made the right choice. . . . Valkyrie.

As I've said before, I have been haunted by the depth of evil that was allowed to advance in the country of my heritage - Germany - just 70-some years ago. How could these things be allowed to happen and continue to happen in a Reformation stronghold that also served as the home of so much good theological thought and reflection? I strongly believe that examining and pondering these realities is an exercise that leads to spiritual health and maturity. There is nothing new under the sun. It happened before Hitler. And, it will happen again. The human heart is polluted by sin. Perhaps my examination of history will not only deepen my understanding of and appreciation for the Advent of the Redeemer, but it will serve to caution me against giving the enemy a foothold in my own life.

Valkyrie is a riveting account of one of several internal plots to assassinate Hitler. The story follows the plot hatched and carried out by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and several of his military associates. As we all know, the plot fails. . . . but in doing right, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg does not.

The experience of viewing Valkyrie was enhanced by my vacation-reading of the best book I've ever read on sin - Cornelius Plantinga's Not The Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. I will be starting this one all over again very soon. Plantinga unpacks the nature, extent, and dynamics of our fallenness with deep theological understanding. The book is so intensely practical that it delivers multiple blows to one's stomach. Over and over again I found myself stopping dead in my tracks while thinking "That's me" and "That's us."

While at some point I hope to blog some of the books most insightful quotes, let me share some of what I read in the book's last chapter, which ironically, I read on the same day as seeing Valkyrie. Plantinga is describing our bent to flee into the agentic state - a place we tend to go when we enter into a hierarchical structure held together by various levels of authority. "Once inside the structure, he no longer thinks of himself as a responsible moral subject but only as an agent of others. He comes to see himself not as a person but as an instrument, not as a center of moral responsibility but as a tool. Moreover, once shifted into an agentic state, he finds it remarkably hard to shift back. He is in too deep. He has too much momentum built up. Shifting into disobedience is at that point like trying to shift a car into reverse at thirty miles an hour. He finds himself bound to a morally deteriorating situation that he wants to abandon, but he cannot find a good clean place to break it off." And so we shut our eyes to injustice and conform. Evil advances unabated. And so we have Nazi Germany. . . . except for the few who stood up and did what was right.

The words of the prophet Obadiah to Edom should make us think about our responsibility to be faithful and obedient first and foremost to The King who has called us to live out His Kingdom priorities: "Because of the violence you did to your close relatives in Israel, you will be filled with shame and destroyed forever. when they were invaded, you stood aloof, refusing to help them."

On the way home from seeing Valkyrie, I had a nice discussion about evil and how it advances with my 16-year-old son and his friends. History is certainly worth watching.