Tag Archives: Modern Issues

The Crash of the American Church?

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Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking. 

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The Dignity of Human Life


Slavery and its defeat

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At the time of the writing of the New Testament, in the Roman Empire, there were essentially three classes of people: The rich, the slaves (about half the population), and freemen. These “freemen” were free in that they were not owned by anyone, yet they often went hungry because of their “freedom.” Whereas, slaves sometimes had good masters and sometimes had bad masters.

Slavery in Rome was not what it was like in America 150 years ago.

“In Paul’s day, slavery was not based on race. Additionally, slaves had any number of duties and responsibilities, ranging from farming, mining, and milling to cooking, teaching, and managing. Furthermore, slaves were not infrequently freed from the shackles of slavery (a process known as manumission).

There is no mistaking the fact, however, that slavery in the Greco-Roman world was degrading, dehumanizing, and downright disgusting. Taken together, slaves were perceived and treated as property and were frequently subject to unimaginable punishments based on their maters’ malevolent whims. Indeed, Roman historian Cassius Dio tells of an especially cruel slave owner, Vedius Pollio, who had slaves who displeased him thrown into a pool of flesh-eating eels.”[1]

So, what was slavery’s defeat? Harriet Beecher Stowe said:

“The Christian master was directed to receive his Christianized slave, ‘NOT now as a slave, but above a slave, a brother beloved [Philemon 16];’ and, as in all these other cases, nothing was said to him about the barbarous powers which the Roman law gave him, since it was perfectly understood that he could not at the same time treat him as a brother beloved and as a slave in the sense of [unconstitutional] Roman law.

When, therefore, the question is asked, why did not the apostles seek the abolition of slavery, we answer, they did seek it. They sought it by the safest, shortest, and most direct course which could possibly have been adopted.”[2]

Paul’s system founded on Jesus the Christ—Jesus who came to serve and not be served—subverts any form of human oppression.[3] So, we see Paul lays the necessary groundwork for the emancipation proclamation. The gospel has changed the basic structure of the way Paul looks at the world and it should change the way we see the world as well. Continue reading


Can we have hope in the midst of Trump’s (or Obama’s or Clinton’s) “reign”?

donald-j-trump-1271634__480How can we as Christians have hope in the midst of the “reign” of political leaders that we dislike or disagree with? We can have hope when we…

understand who is the King
As Christians, the king or President is not our ultimate King, Jesus is. Peter and Paul both lived under Roman rule, which was not the best of situations. Actually, we are told they were both beheaded under Roman rule. There are many other things that we could look at that happened under Roman rule (e.g. slavery, infanticide, public crucifixion, pornography, bisexuality). However, those things were not Peter and Paul’s main concern. Their main concern was Jesus and His gospel and they could find joy in the midst of adversity in the eschatological hope of Christ and His coming Kingdom.

Our hope is in no king here. Our hope is in the King that came and died. Our hope is in that King coming back and setting all things right. Until then, our job is to be faithful representatives of the King that came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

Christ is ultimately King! Not Clinton. Not Trump. Continue reading


Not all “facts” are created equal (and other proverbs for today)

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A few important and relevant things I’ve found to be true through my short tenure on earth:

1. Statistics can be skewed (in all sorts of ways).

2. Money talks, and sometimes money makes people talk about facts that don’t actually exist.

3. “Sound bits” don’t equal sound knowledge.

4. Video doesn’t always equal validation.

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Christianity is Polarizing

Christianity is polarizing, but why?

Teachers in public schools can’t share a Bible verses with their students, let alone lead a Bible study (at least in Fairfax, VA). However, if they started a club on Plato and Aristotle’s teaching it probably wouldn’t be a problem. Actually, they would probably be able to discuss Mein Kampf and it would be less alarming than Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. 

Why is this the case? Christianity has not proved to be unhealthy for individuals or society (I could make a good argument for the converse though); and there are many people in America (and in Fairfax, VA) that claim to be Christians. A lot more than claim to hold to platonism, for example. 

What makes Christianity polarizing?

The two main things Christians are called to do is love God and love their neighbor. That doesn’t sound so bad. The Bible tells Christians that true religion is to take care of widows and orphans. 

Christianity has had a very important place in starting schools and universities (e.g. Princeton, Harvard, Yale), various hospitals, orphanages, and, of course, chic-fil-a. Christianity brought us the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) which brought us basketball which brought us the NBA… and Jordan… and Lebron…

So, what makes Christianity so polarizing? It seems like it has a lot of good aspects. Actually, Jesus Christ, who Christians worship and follow died for people that hated him; and Christians are called  to love, serve, and sacrifice in the same way that he did. That’s why, for example, medical missions and orphanages sprouted up.

The Bible, the book that Christians follow, is the number one best seller of all time. No matter what people think about the truth claims of the book it is a work of profound literature. Even Richard Dawkins, a staunch atheist and many ways hater of religion, does not deny that it is an important book. 

What causes all the problems when it comes to Christianity? Perhaps it’s that it teaches that we are (all) to love God and love our neighbors. We are (all) called to care for orphans and widows. We are (all) called to love in sacrificial ways.  

Perhaps people appreciate these things but know that they are called to do them but don’t live up to them. Perhaps they feel guilty about it. Perhaps it’s a mixture of things. Perhaps people know that Christianity teaches that all are sinners in need of redemption. 

Perhaps people know that Christianity teaches that all are sinners in need of redemption. Perhaps that’s offensive to some people, even though it seems to be a very empirical reality. 

What do you think? Why is Christianity so polarizing? 


Procrastination

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Imagine: a picture of a man standing beside a fire extinguisher contemplatively looking at his home on the verge of going up in flames. You are looking at a picture of procrastination. 

Part of this was written in the woods and there were still distractions tempting me to procrastinate. Partly because I wrote this on my phone in the woods. I was getting Snapchat messages and I was tempted to start taking pictures and posting them on Instagram. I was wondering what hashtags I should use, #tree? #trees? #woods? #treesinthewoods? Or is that too redundant? Or should I use all of the hashtags? And then there’s the question of location. Should I include the location or not? Should I zoom in a cool leaf and then use the little blurry feature to make it look cool?

That’s where our minds can go and do go, and super quickly. So, how, from a Christian perspective, can we take action against inaction? How can we have victory over procrastination?

Defining Procrastination
First, it’s important that we know what procrastination is. Procrastination is the action of avoiding things that you need to do. “Procrastination… [is] willingly deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off.”[1] Actually, “The essence of procrastination lies in not doing what you think you should be doing.”[2] So, one article I read said that procrastination is “the action of ruining your life for no apparent reason.”[3]

It may be an action, and even an art and science, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels like there was no action involved. It feels like it was inevitable. It feels…

[[My mind just interpreted me for something really important. So, I stopped writing this, and texted a friend to say: “I can probably go to a baseball game.”]]

That’s how our minds work, or at least my mind. Of course, distraction is different than procrastination but it’s en route.

Procrastination is intentional (or unintentional) distraction. And intentional action, which leads to accomplishing something, is the opposite of procrastination. It is purposing to do something and then avoiding the many distractions, good (texting your friend, enjoying leaves) and bad (e.g. Facebook stocking old friends), to accomplish that goal.

Why is productivity prized and procrastination penalized? What’s the big deal about watching endless loops of funny dog videos on YouTube? What’s the big deal about interrupting writing to text a friend (and take pictures of leaves and post pictures on Instagram and… and…)?

Proverbs and Procrastination

Most people say that they struggle with procrastination. There is so much to be done and so much to do to distract us. 

Congratulations! The human attention span has shrunk from 12 to 8 seconds in around the span of a decade. Goldfish now have a longer attention span than humans![4]

Sometimes it seems like we’re helplessly stuck in destination procrastination. So, what can help us?

The book of Proverbs teaches us that productivity is good and procrastination is bad. For example:

“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov. 6:6).

“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Prov. 12:11).

And there’s many others: Proverbs 10:5; 14:23; 19:15; 20:4, 13; 24:30-34; Ecclesiastes 5:12; Titus 3:14. “Wise wants” inform the counsel in Proverbs. Presumably, people desire to have a reputation for trustworthiness and honor; healthy friendships, including delightful romance; a sense of security and confidence; usefulness; and competence and success at work.[5]

Many Proverbs capitalize on our “wise wants.” “Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich” (Prov. 10:4 NLT). “A man is praised for his insight, but a twisted mind is despised” (Prov. 12:8 HCSB). These verses capitalize on the fact that we want to avoid poverty and want approval. Proverbs teaches us that if we want to avoid poverty and want to obtain approval we must work hard. So, Proverbs uses “wise wants” to speak to the issue of procrastination.

Enjoying life and having fun is good. Even having wealth is good, when used to God’s glory. Paul tells us that we are to receive all God’s blessing with thanksgiving (I think that even includes funny dog videos, but of course in moderation) (1 Tim. 4:4).

So, I’m not knocking on fun, pleasure, and leisure. They are God-given and good. But God has also given us things to accomplish and we flourish in life as we are functioning in His ordained will. We were meant to live for more than just distraction. We were meant to live for a purpose. It’s as we understand that purpose that we begin to experience freedom from distraction and procrastination. So, what purpose are we ultimately called to?

We’re called to…
Work for the Lord (Col. 3:23)
We are to work for the Lord in “whatever” we do. There is no area of our life that is ok for our ultimate motivation to be for ourselves. What about school? Sports? Family life? Work? All of it is supposed to be done as work unto the Lord, not men, not anything else.

Our work is not to be done in a begrudging manner. Our work is to be done “heartedly.” That is, fully, sincerely, enthusiastically, energetically, to the Lord.

However, we can’t manufacture this. It can, as we have seen, be hard enough to get something done, but now I’m saying not only do we need to work and get something done, we are to do so with a happy heart. This is hard so what can motivate us to defeat procrastination and live with purpose?

Work for the Reward from the Lord (Col. 3:24a)
Ultimately procrastination, as the opening illustration shows us, is not helpful and is actually illogical. But that’s not it. Procrastination doesn’t lead to prospering. We were created in the image of God not to procrastinate but to be productive, to create and “subdue the earth.”[6] When we are functioning according to our design, doing what God has given us to do, it is then that we prosper (and realize I do not mean financially, I mean teleologically).[7]

However, that’s not it. Not only does life and our purpose in it just fit when we are carrying out what God has given us to do (that is not to say that life is easy) we also see that there is a “reward.” We have reason to keep our hand to the plow and purposely avoid distractions because we have a reward we’re working for, an “inheritance.” One that does not fade and won’t be destroyed (1 Pet 1:4).

So, hear Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air” (1 Cor. 9: 24-26).

Serve the Lord (Col. 3:24b)
We’ve clearly seen that it’s not about us. It’s about the Lord, we see that very clearly from Colossians 3:23-24.

So, if the “Lord Christ” is what it’s all about, if seeing Him, and keeping Him at the forefront of our lives helps us defeat procrastination and instead live God-glorifying and productive lives then it’s important that we see and know Him. Only then will we understand the purpose He’s given us. So, what is so glorious about Christ that can arrest our attention and make us drop everything thing to live for Him?

That question has been answered by many book-length treatments so I will just quote from earlier in Colossians:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together… For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.”

That’s what led Paul to say “I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Phi. 3:8). As we know Christ more and more we will strive to live for Him more and more and not to earn His approval but simply out of love. We will put away distractions because they’re just that, they’re distractions.

A Few Suggestions

  • If your same old proven-not-to-work methods aren’t working then get new methods
  • Don’t let short-term temptations overwhelm your more important long-term goals by intentionally remembering what it is you’re working towards
  • Break tasks down into smaller goals that can be more easily accomplished (“A remarkable, glorious achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable, unglorious tasks look like from far away”[8])
  • Ensure the task is specific, not vague
  • Put checks in place to ensure that your tasks get done and you don’t get sidetracked (e.g. Ulysses’ knew he needed to be bound to the ship’s mast)
  • Put your phone on airplane mode or throw it away
  • Do what you have to do, not everything that comes into your mind
  • Remember, putting things off only piles them up and makes them heavier
  • Do the things you really hate first
  • If you procrastinate you’re not doing the best that you can, you’re also missing a lot of real fun, like enjoying your hard earned accomplishments

As we live on purpose for the Lord we will more and more stop procrastinating because we are given amazing motivation to do so.

___________________

[1] James Surowiecki, “Later: What does procrastination tell us about ourselves.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Tim Urban, “How to Beat Procrastination.”

[4] Lizette Borreli, “Human Attention Span Shortens To 8 Seconds Due To Digital Technology: 3 Ways to Stay Focused.

[5] Rick Horne, “Counseling Angry, Unmotivated, Self-centered, and Spiritually-indifferent Teens.”

[6] “How sad to see brilliant, creative people pouring hours and days of their lives into creating cities and armies and adventures that have no connection with reality. We have one life to live. All our powers are given to us by the real God for the real world leading to a real heaven or hell” (John Piper, Taste and See [Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2005], 139).

[7] Interestingly, although procrastination “seems to involve avoiding unpleasant tasks, indulging in it generally doesn’t make you happy” (Surowiecki, “Later”).

[8] Urban, “How to Beat Procrastination.”


Kim Kardashian, Kanye, Christ, and Snapchat

Kim and Kanye are the superstars of Snapchat Stories. It seems like one or both of them always have something going on, from Kim’s body parts to Kanye’s billion dollar (?!) debt. I, however, actually don’t read their Stories or typically any of the Stories. It can be bad enough just looking at the Stories (recall what’s typically featured in reference to Kim). So, why don’t I read the Stories and why does it matter?

Why I Don’t Read the Stories
Well, there are a lot of reasons. I’m busy. That’s an important one. However, I’ll concentrate on three things.

  1. I need to focus on the Kingdom, not Kim. Seeing Kim and Kanye and reading about their exploits does not help me focus on the Kingdom. Reading about Kanye and his “killer” clothes won’t make me want to invest in the Kingdom but in Kenya’s debt relief program.
  2. There is news worth reading but it’s typically not on Snapchat Stories. There’s probably something better to read than “Sex Workers Explain How They Deal” and “Kylie Flaunts Under And Overboob.” That being said, I did read an interesting story about the urine content in swimming pools from Snapchat. But typically other news sources are more relevant, even if they are more thought provoking and deep. (On an aside: watch out especially for kiddie pools!)
  3. I need Christ. Not Kim. Not Kanye. It’s God that “makes known to me the path of life. It’s in His presence that there is fullness of joy. It’s at His right hand that there are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

Why Does it Matter?
It matters for a lot of reasons, again, time is a factor. But I’ll concentrate on three things.

  1. I need to invest in the treasure that cannot fail or fade but I’m often tempted to get that backwards. Reading about Kim and Kanye’s antics is not helpful in reminding me about what matters.
  2. Time is precious and there is only so much time to read and watch things. So it makes sense to use our time and even our leisure wisely, and for me that typically doesn’t include Snapchat Stories.
  3. It matters because I am a new creation called to live as a new creation focused on Christ and His glory (cf. Col. 3:1-17). It matters because there is great joy to be found but that joy is not found in deceitful desires but in the good that God has abundantly provided.

Conclusion
Kim and Kanye are not Christ, so let’s not give them, or anyone else, or anything else, the attention only He deserves.


Unrestricted Consumption of Electronic Candy Bars

What do we think about the fact that we don’t think about the loads of media that we ingest? Could it be we’re taking in far too many social media “sugars” but we have no labels warning us? And is it possible that at times Facebook is making us “fat”? 

We have no scale. But we constantly carry around electronic candy bars. We have no nurtrician facts and nothing that labels the ingredients but does that mean we should say “bottoms up” and consume everything? And with no boundaries telling us when to consume? No “dinnertime”?

If we gave media consumption half as much thought as we do to candy bar consumption that would promote a lot of health. 

We’re all new to this digital age. Which makes us babies. And if you know babies you know they have little discretion when it comes to food consumption. They literally consume what comes straight from their momma’s hand (or the unmentioned other part of their body) and basically anything they find on the floor.

They’re inexperienced. And so are we. They don’t really know what they should consume and sometimes neither do we. However, what is true of babies is true of us. What we consume affects us.

A Few Questions

  • Are you aware of what you consume and how much you consume?
  • Have you considered if what you’re “feeding” on in your feeds promotes health? 
  • Do you think it’s true that what you consume affect you? 
  • What are some other good questions to consider regarding social media? 

 


Delights, Deceits, and Dangers of the Digital Age #1

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Have you ever cooked a live frog? 

You shouldn’t. But I’ve been told the trick is putting the frog into a pot of water at room temperature and then slowly turning up the heat until the frog is cooked. If you put the frog in when the water’s boiling it will jump out (This is an analogy. Please do not boil live frogs). 

Change that is imperceptible effects us greatly. Even if we don’t realize it, perhaps especially because we don’t realize it.

It is very interesting and important to ask how we are being “cooked.” What effect is the digital age having on us?

I picked the title mainly because of the alliteration. However, I think it actually gets at the way we should look at the question of how it is that we are being cooked (but I’ll let you be the judge of that).

Delights

First, I will not deny that the digital age has provided innumerable delights. I am not at all saying we should go back to the Stone Age or be Amish or something. I personally “like” Facebook and don’t mind Twitter. I like my IPhone even if it might be making me stupid.

However, we must be aware that even if something is a delight it doesn’t mean we can consume it without thought. I find delight in ice cream but that does not mean that I consume it without discretion. 

Deceits

Second, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are connected with people and involved in community when we’re really just sitting on the toilet looking at what people are doing.

We can think that we know a lot, i.e. think we’re smart, when it’s really just our smart phone. We are indiscriminately taught and sold a certain worldview and view of prospering by feeds, blogs, and tweets. Yet who articulates, let alone thinks about, the impact that Snapchat, Instagram, and our new phone appendage has on us? Who checks their own pulse and asks if they are amusing their self to death?

Dangers

Third, there are obvious dangers in the deceits that we have covered above but there are also other dangers we should consider.

There is a danger in thinking FaceTime is equivalent with face time. Is it? Who’s asking? Who cares?

Are men and women (and boys and girls!) so shaped and familiar with pornography that actual real, human, face-to-face, relationships are becoming irrelevant? Are people asking this question? Do people care?

How is Snapchat, the 140 characters of Twitter, and the funny sound bits all over the place shaping the way we think and concentrate? Are people asking this question? Does anyone care?

I could go on and on with these type of questions. But I won’t. I’ve likely already exceeded what we can handle!

There will be more to come. But perhaps I can start a much needed conversation with all my fellow Snapchat, tweeters, Instagrammers, and Facebook feeders that have a phone appendage like me.

Enter the Conversation 

What thoughts do you have on the delights, deceits, and dangers of the digital age?


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