Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tweeting the God Who "Do Me". . . .

I wasn't anywhere near the TV when Steve Johnson of the underdog Buffalo Bills dropped the game-winner in the endzone during OT of the Bills game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. About an hour into the Eagles game, the network cut in for the update and I saw the play. My "sports self" and inner fan was greatly disappointed as I root for the Eagles and for whoever is playing Dallas, the Giants, or Pittsburgh. I know. . . it's a bad habit that needs to be broken for the simple reason that it matters not! I felt especially bad for Johnson and all the Bills fans I know. After all, they haven't had much to cheer about lately.

What really caught my attention was Johnson's post-game tweet: "I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!!YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO..."

I know we need to take into account the fact that Johnson was bearing the weight of his teammates and Bills fans on his shoulders and his emotions were most likely running wild. But let's think about what Johnson tweeted and what that tells us about our world.

First, it's another reminder of social media gone wild. Children and teens are impulsive by nature. Their brains aren't fully formed yet and their resulting immaturity and lack of filters means that sometimes they need others to step in and protect them from themselves. That's why we make rules. That's why we must constantly be talking to our kids about what they put out there for the world to see. We're seeing more and more adults indulging impulsivity and blurting out impulsive first reactions, knee-jerk comebacks, and meaningless self-centered blabber via social media. I'm afraid we're rapidly forgetting that there are times - times defined as "usually" or "most always" - where it's best to just keep quiet.

Second, Johnson's tweet serves as a reminder of something else. . . that the mouth is a window into the heart and soul. The things we say and how we say them show the world who we really are. I don't know anything about Steve Johnson. . . nothing except that he's really no different than any of the rest us (he accidentally dropped a pass), and that he's blaming his dropped pass on God. Really??? To be honest, I don't think God really cares about who wins an NFL game. What I believe he does care about is how NFL players play and to whose glory it is that they play to.

Third, Johnson offers a window into pop theology. I guess we can call it pop theology because it's widespread and spreading, and because when it's submitted to the scrutiny of God's revelation of Himself, it explodes like a thin-skinned balloon. This is the kind of fruit we see ripening after years of poor ministry and teaching. We need to go deep.

Finally, we need perspective. Maybe Johnson's a victim of a sports culture that places eternal significance on stuff that really shouldn't matter. He knows that his dropped pass is way too significant for some Bills fans. He struggles to walk away from it because they can't. I guess we'll find out. But this is where we need perspective as we're all guilty of getting stuff out of whack. In a world filled with people dealing with deep pain and brokenness, a dropped pass hardly registers on the scale of pain and brokenness.

This is a story worth watching and talking about. I've got a hunch that all the chatter generated by this story is leaving Steve Johnson to think more deeply about that pass and that tweet. And someday soon he's going to offer some clarification and explanation. I think - or at the very least hope - too, that we're going to hear some wonderful words from Johnson on perspective. After all, this isn't the end of the world.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pray for Wes Evans. . . .

One of the first things Rich Van Pelt said to me last week when I saw him in Nashville was this - "Pray for Wes Evans." I don't know Wes, but I'm praying for him along with his father Jon, mother Jo, and sister Shelby. I want to ask you to pray for Wes and his family in this hour of deep, deep need.

Wes is a 19-year-old who spent last summer working at Noah's Ark Rafting in Colorado. Many of you are familiar with this great organization. Currently, Wes is a student at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge, Colorado. He loves the outdoors and is majoring in Outdoor Education. On Friday, November 19, Wes was in a serious skiing accident, hitting a tree with his head. This last Friday, Wes's doctor told him parents that Wes is "the sickest person in Colorado."

Like I said, I never met Wes or his family. I feel a tie because of Rich, and because they are brothers and sisters in Christ. I feel a tie because I am a father. I feel a tie because his father, Jon, is one of us. . . a youth pastor. I feel a tie because Jon is the youth pastor at the church my wife served as a secretary when we were in Seminary almost 30 years ago. . . First Presbyterian Church Northshore in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

None of us can even begin to imagine the immense burden the Evans family is carrying right now. But each of us can pray for the family and for Wes's healing. One of the latest updates posted by the family on their CarePage Site is that Wes - who is in an induced coma - lifted his arms today.

I want to encourage you to visit the CarePage that's been set up for Wes. You will meet a family that has gone deep in the things of God. . . and is going deeper - I'm sure - through this experience. Keep them in your prayers.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Greatest Reason to Give Thanks. . .

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
-Ephesians 2:1-10

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ted Haggard And The Youthworkers. . . .

This is a difficult blog to pen. . . difficult because I want to be very careful about what I say and how I say it. That also happens to be the stimulus for my thoughts today. . . the issue of being very careful about what we say and how we say it. That issue was also the catalyst for some heated conversation over the weekend at the National Youthworkers Convention in Nashville. That conversation was widespread, and I'm still sorting out the many questions I was asked by attendees along with my own response. So, here goes. . .

If you weren't there, you missed Ted Haggard and his wife Gayle sharing some of their story with interviewer Tic Long on the main stage Sunday morning. Just to clarify, I was not in the room, but catching bits and pieces on the live feed. I say that because context is important and if I botch anything in my response/reaction regarding the facts of the morning, I will need to be corrected. But I caught enough from the feed and from those who were there and that's what I want to comment on today. In addition, I've watched and listened to Haggard and his wife enough - especially in recent years - to struggle to respect his views, conclusions, and demeanor. . . even though I feel very, very badly about any victimization he suffered at the hands of others when he was young enough to be manipulated. Whenever I watch Haggard, I feel like I watch pride eclipse remorse, narcissism eclipse the beauty of discipline and accountability, and a man who needs to humbly walk with his head held low cheapen grace by holding his head high while sometimes making the mistake of extending the necessary words "I was wrong. . ." to include a series of "buts. . ." followed by excuses and explanations that frame himself as a victim. To be honest, it reminds me of dealing with a middle-schooler who just got caught. I felt that way once again when I heard him speak on Sunday morning. . . which was really driven home by his off-the-cuff and inappropriate racist remark in response to the noisy military flyover.

And so, some of the thoughts that have been spinning through my head since Sunday morning. . .

First, I know that Haggard's racial comment DOES NOT in any way, shape, or form represent Youth Specialties, parent-company YouthWorks, or any of us who ever speak at the National Youthworkers Conventions. Everyone I talked to was stunned and bothered. Still, many are questioning why Haggard was even invited in the first place. YS has always been known to want to stir up the pot from the main stage and start a little discussion. While many of us would have a main stage philosophy that might differ, the pot was stirred and there is a buzz. In the immediate aftermath, the convention planners and up-front folks from YW and YS handled the situation extremely well.

Second, we should respond by hoping that the redeeming moment will come in the discussions that follow Haggard's time on stage. It's especially important for those present Sunday morning who are older and wiser, to process and sort out the Haggard story for those who are young and perhaps more green.

Third, let's use the time to see what we can learn about ourselves and the need for scrutiny. Many would defend Haggard saying that we shouldn't judge him, criticize him, or question him at all. Haggard himself sometimes leaves the impression that he might be in the front of that line. But here's the deal and we all know it - when we make a choice to enter the spotlight, stand in front of a crowd, lead people, teach seminars, write books or blog, we invite scrutiny and we should welcome it. People will interact with us, our stuff, and our stories. None of us are above it. And by all means, part of what we should be using our platform for is to encourage those who listen to us to ask the right questions, evaluate things in light of the Scriptures, and use Godly discernment. And, when necessary, we should encourage them to speak up in response to things that just aren't the way they're supposed to be.

Fourth, we need filters. In other words, we need to think carefully about what we say before a watching world. And when our filters fail either one time or consistently, we need people to call us out on it. I wonder if Ted Haggard has anyone like that in his life.

Fifth, Haggard's story continues to bring to mind the opening line of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic book, The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer wrote, "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace."

Sixth, Ted Haggard provides me with a host of living lessons I want to teach my kids. The biggest lesson of all. . . I tell them that not one of us is a better person than Ted Haggard. If we don't have a healthy understanding of human depravity (especially our own!) and the fact that we're all just one bad decision away from the place Ted Haggard found himself in 2006 and beyond, then we're really in trouble. In fact, in the days after Haggard's 2006 exposure, I sat down our CPYU staff and my kids to talk about Gordon MacDonald's wonderful yet sobering article in response to Haggard's sin and the reminder that there's an asassin that lives inside us all. Ted Haggard's story should humble us. Sadly - and I truly wish it wasn't this way - I also feel the need to use Ted Haggard as a "don't be like him" example not only in regards to his secret life before he was found out, but in his response to discipline and accountability in the years since he was found out.

Finally, what happened at The National Youthworkers Convention on Sunday morning has served to remind me of a hot ministry topic I remember hearing discussed years ago. It was at the time when a series of high profile athletes, musicians, and celebrities were coming to faith in Christ and being thrust into the spotlight to speak at all kinds of Christian events. Some of these new evangelical heroes were pushed in front of the mike before they even had a chance to grow enough to have even a limited understanding of the faith or something of substance to say. Some quickly fizzled and denounced their faith either verbally or through their actions, leaving those who put them in front of the mike in the first place with egg on their faces. Perhaps we should also be sure that when a brother or sister falls, the best favor we can do for them and the rest of the body is to surround them with grace, prayer, guidance and accountability, rather than an audience. Healing takes time. And sometimes when we think we are all healed up, we really aren't. . . and we need people to remind us of that. Far too many of us in the church are quick to grace-lessly crucify fallen brothers and sisters. That's not right. But we must also do all we can to grace-fully keep them from crucifying themselves.

And for those who weren't at the convention this year. . . you missed a great time of being encouraged and equipped.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Killing Us Softly. . . .

A short head's up this morning about something new that's a revision of something worth watching. Advertising critic Jean Kilbourne continues her four-decade look at the role advertising plays in shaping us, particularly our concept of women. The fourth edition of Kilbourne's DVD, "Killing Us Softly" is out and worth a look. You can watch the trailer below. You can view a full low-res version of the entire presentation at the Killing Us Softly 4 website.

And while we're at it, you might want to set the DVR for the premiere episode of TBS's highly publicized new series about college life, "Glory Daze." The comedy about campus life in the mid-80s looks to offer kids a peek into what so many kids - sadly - think that college life should be like. The show just might offer some good talking points for those of us who want to prepare our kids to experience college to the glory of God.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Hollywood Does To Us. . . .

I got an email from our associate staffer Paul Robertson yesterday asking me about a song that popped onto his computer through his internet radio station. I hadn't heard the song before but the lyrics from Angus and Julia Stone's "Hollywood" shook me up with their clear, straightforward, and truthful message.


I blame you Hollywood, for showing me things you never should show a young girl, In a cruel world. Because life’s not a happy ending, I’m sure there is some, like Johnny and June, and maybe other people too. They all would have been killed in the sound of music, they would have found out that Pinocchio could never tell the truth. She never would have made it to shore, the little mermaid. He would have married a whore from a wealthy family, after all he was royalty. Cinderella would have scrubbed those floors till her hands grew old and tired, and nobody would look away, that’s the way it goes today. I blame you Hollywood, for showing me things you never should show a young girl, In this cruel world. Because life’s not a happy ending, I’m sure there is some like Johnny and June, and maybe other people too. And maybe other people too (x5) Like me and you

Interesting that I should run across this song a few days after picking up a book called The Marketing of Evil recommended to me earlier this year by Kelly Monroe Khulberg, of the Veritas Forum and author of Finding God At Harvard - and a few days before speaking at The National Youthworkers Convention on the role media plays in the lives of our kids. Simply stated, media shapes our concept of reality. . . what the world is like and the way the world should be.

That's why I'm fascinated by the song and video from Angus and Julia Stone. I thought I would pass it on to you as it's definitely something worth watching and discussing with your kids. The things we face in life don't always have a happy ending. Life is not a fairy tale. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Truth is sometimes really, really ugly. That's what I like about this song. While life on this earth may be filled with pain, I'm elated that there's a bigger story that I've been invited and brought in to. . . . and that that story's end is full of glory.

Angus & Julia Stone - Hollywood
Uploaded by EMI_Music. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jesus Didn't Come to Make Us Christian. . . .

The pile of books "to be read" in my office just keeps getting bigger and bigger. . . frustratingly big in fact! Every once in a while a new book darkens the doorway that I allow to jump to the front of the line, or top of the pile as it were. A couple of weeks ago one of those books showed up and I devoured it quickly. It never even made it to the pile. . . I just took it home and started reading.

It's a book by Dick Staub, a friend whose past books (Too Christian and Too Pagan, and The Culturally Savvy Christian)I've made required reading for students in classes I've taught. The feedback is pretty consistent - things like "thanks for making me read that book" and "that book was a life-changer for me." Staub's latest offering, About You - Fully Human Fully Alive, is good reading I'm "assigning" to anyone who reads this blog. It's good reading because it's filled with good writing that shatters some of the myths we've come to believe about God and ourselves, while offering a clear corrective regarding the ways things are and ought to be.

The book's cover is sure to attract attention from both Christians who think they know what being a Christian is all about, and non-believers who know Christians who have erroneously communicated what being a Christian is all about. Those facts hit readers when they spot this thought-provoking quote on the cover: "Jesus didn't come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human," words penned by Hans Rookmaker, a hero of the faith Staub and I share. Those words capture a reality that's so much bigger and better than what we've come to accept.

Rooted in the context of the unfolding Biblical drama of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, About You takes readers on a journey to discover what it means to be fully human, fully alive, and how to get there. This isn't a book about getting saved. This is a book about rediscovering the purpose, meaning, and shalom of life in the Garden. . . the echo of which haunts us all in our brokenness. About You engages both the saved and the seeker, leading them down the path to understanding one's self and all of life in the role we've been made to play in that great drama. It's a book about restoration that will open your eyes to who you were made to be and how to get there once again.

Thanks Dick, for making this all so clear and compelling.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Well Said. . . So, What Do We Do Now? . . .

Kudos to NBC for running a series on The Today Show on the decline of civility. I missed this part of the series the other day, but Lisa gave me a heads-up and I found it online. It's worth passing on because it relates to our families, our parenting, our youth ministries, and what we do here at CPYU. Give it a look. . .

So what do we do now? What do YOU do now? Any changes needed in the way you live? Parent? Minister? Use social media?

Monday, November 1, 2010

That's Us. . . On TV! . . . .

There were a couple of commercials that I saw this weekend. . . several times each. . . that caught my eye. They caught my eye because they are not only creative, but because they caught the rest of me as well. The "rest of me" meaning aspects of who I/we've become in our culture, how we live in our culture, and what living in this culture has been doing to us.

The first is one of the ads for the new Windows Phone 7. . . .

I think this ad not only captures the sad reality of how technology has enslaved us, but how over time - a very short period of time relatively speaking - we've allowed that technology to hijack us out of deep and meaningful face-to-face relationships. How many times have you been with someone and they've been paying too much attention to the technology in their hand, and not enough attention to you. I've been on both the giving and receiving end of that one. . . both perpetrator and victim. I've been thinking in recent weeks about how important it is for us to put it down. Sure, we should still use it, but not in the way we have been using it. When you're talking to me and I'm talking to you. . . don't tweet it, post it, etc. Wait until later. And when later comes, use some discretion.

There is one way this ad gets it wrong. . . way wrong. It's at the end. We don't need to be saved from our phones. It's not our phones. It's us. We need to be saved from ourselves and the ways we've gotten locked into living our lives this way. It's not the phone's fault. And by the way, a new-fangled phone's not going to do the saving.

The second commercial is one in a new series of ads for the Toyota Highlander. . .

Watching it reminded me of how automobile manufacturers actually peddle their wares to people who aren't even close in age to having a driver's license. They target kids because in today's world, 65% of the automobile purchases made by parents of children are influenced by those children. Maybe Pontiac. . .who closed down officially today. . . should have taken a cue from Toyota's strategy in this series of ads. I don't like the smart kid/stupid parent theme. But it does work. While it's a stretch, the stretch the ad takes in the direction of the hip kid/lame parent does ring somewhat true when it comes to being media savvy. The kid's right when he claims to be more knowledgeable of this stuff than his parents, which should serve as a wake-up call for us older folks. But I'm afraid this is one ad that fuels entitlement, materialism, and narcissism. . . all trends that are already firmly entrenched in the soil of today's youth culture. What messages do kids get when they see this ad?

You've heard me say it before. . . culture is a map and a mirror. These ads map out life for viewers, telling them this is the way things are and the way things ought to be. The ads mirror our world to us if we are willing to watch critically with discerning eyes. Hopefully, they'll spur us on to know what to say, who to say it to, and how to say it when it comes to proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the way things really ought to be.