Let’s Boycott Boycotts

Let’s all take a deep breath. It’s time to put down the pitchforks. The brouhaha over Phil Robertson has, for now, subsided. Cracker Barrel has restored the mugs with his mug on them. A&E has apparently lifted the “indefinite” suspension. I guess they weren’t sure they could survive with such hits as Rodeo Girls, Beyond Scared Straight, and Storage Wars. So in the end, the cammo crew can chalk up a win for __ (insert whatever Constitutional amendment is up for debate, likely the first or second – we never fight for our 3rd amendment rights anymore, to keep free from unlawful quartering. When was the last time we had an anti-quartering rally?)

But beyond that, and with all kidding aside, let’s boycott boycotts. Twitter the last few days has been nothing but a reminder that we

Image

are prisoners of the moment. Whatever is trending is the most important thing to talk about. And the tenor of the conversation has gone from shock to outrage to disbelief to action. Anyone who removed Duck Dynasty merchandise was in the crosshairs of the Pajama Blogger Army who called for immediate action. First up was A&E, then Cracker Barrel. Next up were Wal-Mart and Bass Pro Shops. Beyond that I think Louisiana was maybe threatening to secede? I was worried cammo-pajama wearing activists would block the doors to every Cracker Barrel in the country, which is a shame because I love their pancakes and would miss them.

But if we really take a step back, we need to recognize a few things about Christian Boycotts and why we should boycott silly boycotts:

ImageThey don’t work – I got saved in the middle of the now-infamous Disney boycott by the SBC. Even as a high school student, all I could think was “How do they think this is going to work? I’m pretty sure Disney will be fine.” Last year Starbucks was the subject of a social-media fueled boycott attempt. Unfortunately I dumped my stock in the company shortly after I moved to Kentucky, so I wasn’t able to cash in on the aftermath of that one. To be fair to all sides, when LGBT groups demanded a boycott at Chick-Fil-A earlier this year, they experienced record sales. In other words, when you advertise a boycott, you’re giving the company more publicity than they can afford, and just fueling those both loyal to the brand and those who are neutral to whatever issue you/we are mad about.

They fight fire with fire – Whenever we attempt to flex our economic muscle and make demands of an organization to comply with our wishes, we’re fighting the same battle the world does with the same weapons the world does. This isn’t to say that Christians shouldn’t write letters or express their concerns, but making statements like “We’ll see how they do without my money” makes an assumption that if we fight a global corporation with our limited economic impact, we can make a difference. Cracker Barrel’s annual revenue is roughly $2 billion, Wal-Mart is at $447 billion. In other words, when we attempt to fight mammon with mammon, mammon always wins.

We look stupid – Sadly the only thing that happens when we make boycotts of a group, store, organization, or person is that we become fodder for Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien. Instead of being viewed as cultural engagers, we come off looking stupid. We get lampooned, and the worst spokesmen get put on TV for all to laugh at. I watched a Larry King episode on homosexuality and Christianity, and the token conservative guy was unable to either defend himself or explain his position against the wave opposed to him. Same thing applies here, when we try to fight publicly and use the media outlets, they turn us into a ratings bonanza.

Image

They distract from the Gospel – In all of this, what has been missing from the discussion? The Gospel. When we declare open season on whatever we are currently mad at, we are removing from the discussion the saving and redemptive work of Christ. We become focused on a narrow point, and allow that to drive the discussion. Instead of seeking to redeem marriage as the representation of the relationship between Jesus and the Church, we hold up signs and think that the goal is being straight. We become cultural warriors rather than heralds & proclaimers of the greatest news of all – that Jesus has come to rescue sinners, regardless of their sin, and give them the free gift of eternal life they could not earn and did not deserve. Perhaps it’s fitting to use a quote from the GQ article from Phil that never got much Twitter love: “the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around

Duck and Cover

Last night I saw on Twitter a post that made me laugh: “What’s that sound you hear? It’s billions of bloggers, pundits, and talking heads responding to Duck Dynasty!” So here’s my two cents, my grain of sand on the ocean, my drop in the bucket. 

Image

We should not be surprised at the response that the GQ article has gotten. After all, the discussion of homosexuality has become the great cultural litmus test. And the test has two grades: pass/fail. With this test comes acceptance in society, a voice to be recognized, and a label as being “tolerant.” If you speak in any way against the moral revolution, you are labeled a bigot, close-minded, and worse – intolerant. So Phil Robertson has found himself with a failing grade on the great test of cultural acceptance. The result: an indefinite suspension from the hit show he helped create, though this is likely the end of the Duck Dynasty franchise as we know it. They’ll get picked up on another network if A&E drops them (which likely will happen), and someone else will make a fortune producing their show. But their cultural ubiquity will be gone. Expect Wal-Mart and Bass Pro to be the next to acquiesce to the demands of the moral revolution. The Robertson clan will go from being a cultural icon to being a pariah, unwelcome in the living room of the tolerance movement. 

This isn’t the first time we have seen this happen. Any time a professing Christian (i.e. Kirk Cameron) appears on Piers Morgan, the conversation inevitably moves to the normalization and acceptance of homosexuality. And more than once, Piers has shown himself to be the high priest offering the sacrificial lamb on the altar of the New Tolerance. The list of people he has raked over the coals involves a number of high-profile Christians. The View lampoons those who profess a biblical view of morality, or any token of conservative value. Even the White House joined the fray this week, specifically appointing openly gay athletes to serve as part of the US delegation to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia, as a response to the recent Putin administration’s criminalization of homosexuality. In response, President Obama said “One of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there” (From NPR interview on 12/18, All Things Considered). Louie Giglio was removed from the Inaugural platform for his view on sexuality. Tim Tebow was pressured to cancel a speaking engagement at a megachurch in Texas because the church held to the same view as Robertson, Giglio, and Christians for the better part of two millenia.

Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, offers some great insight into this issue in his article written on December 19. He gives a warning to all Christians in the public square that they have been officially put on notice. “So the controversy over Duck Dynasty sends a clear signal to anyone who has anything to risk in public life: Say nothing about the sinfulness of homosexual acts or risk sure and certain destruction by the revolutionaries of the new morality. You have been warned.” In the same vein, he also warns Christians to be selective about who you grant access to your life, and to consider the cost if it is an outlet that does not have a friendly disposition to Christianity.

But missing in all of this debate is the actual content of the GQ article. I attached the link, but be warned the content is crude, vulgar, and NSFW. But we would expect that from GQ, who have not always been the bastions of Victorian morality. Much of the crudeness in fact comes from Phil himself. His anatomical descriptions of sexuality, and his candor towards the subject is enough to make many of us blush. We must learn a lesson here: when we speak into the culture, we need to remember that how we say things matters as much as what we say. What we speak, or write, or have transcribed from an interview, will not only show up in the print edition but is being recorded for all eternity. We must remember, especially for those of us who operate in the public light, that our message is under scrutiny and we must present ourselves beyond reproach. There is a time and a place to speak towards a biblical view of sexuality, marriage, morality, and human flourishing. But we must consider how we say that, and what it will impact. This is the lesson we are learning from Mark Driscoll and the fallout in the Interwebs from his Real Marriage book – a book we should be thankful for in that it proposes a biblical, complentarian, and gospel-focused view of marriage. But it denigrates to crudeness in too many places, which has hurt its overall impact. 

So Christians, especially those who speak or write, heed the words of Paul in Colossians 4 “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

We should celebrate Phil Robertson’s stance for biblical morality and a historically orthodox view of marriage – fidelity within, celibacy without, between one man and one woman for life. We should pray for him, his family, and all the Robertsons because God has given them a unique platform for the glory of God and the fame of Jesus Christ. They will be going through difficult days during the fallout from this. We should voice our concerns and call shenanigans on this. A&E features shows like Hoarders and Intervention where we watch people self-destruct for our amusement, but will not allow a dissenting view on a polarizing subject to be a part of its lineup (HT: Matt Walsh).

If we do write to A&E or post on social media, remember to exercise tact and grace. We should also be concerned with Phil’s language, and his graphic descriptions. Perhaps they were prodded by an over-eager interviewer wanting to make a name for himself? Perhaps they were taken out of context? Or perhaps it was what happens when guys let themselves be guys, we don’t have our moral compass nearby (our wife) to keep us in check? Regardless, Phil is responsible for what he said. And he will be held accountable for what he said. We must take from that a lesson in what we say, and also how we say it.

In the meantime, Jesus says “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Happy Happy Happy. 

Walking the fine line between Grinch & Buddy

Yesterday talking to Carrie I realized how much of a paradox I am, especially at Christmas. I loathe the materialism associated with the season, but I keep my eye on Amazon. I dislike the moralism that comes from Santa and the Elf on the Shelf, but I still ask Sam to be a “good boy.” I weep at the secular takeover and Christless culture at Christmas, but I wait in line with Sam to see Santa. For most of us, it takes a very fine line to walk between being a Grinch and being Buddy the Elf. If we’re not careful, we can fall into one of these two pitfalls. 

ImageImage

The Grinch – Christian Christmas Grinches are everywhere. They’re yelling at store clerks that it’s not “Happy Holidays,” they’re posting blogs showing pictures of crushed Christmas elves, they cite obscure Church Fathers to demonstrate the paganism of Christmas trees, organize rallies when a Nativity scene gets replaced in a public school, and they smile and nod when the Church Lady from SNL reminds us all that Santa is an anagram for Satan. Christian Christmas Grinches are always on the lookout for things to point out that are problems at Christmas. 

At many levels, I really appreciate what this camp does. With them I would agree whole-heatedly that something is really wrong. With them I would agree that we have gone away from the worship of the Infant Christ to the worship of Tickle-Me-Elmo (or whatever the hot toy of the year is). I’d agree that the Elf on the Shelf (besides being a little strange), and the other “be a good boy/girl so Santa brings you things” leads to a false view of morality. And on their main point that we need to put the Christ in CHRISTmas, yes. But let’s remember the difference between worshiping and serving our Savior, and getting our way with a minimum-wage worker while buying a bunch of stuff that we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like (HT: Tyler Durden).

Buddy the Elf – Buddy the Elf Christians are the ones who camp out on black Friday, try to out-do the Griswolds with Christmas lights, have more tacky sweaters than days of the week, and get just as excited as toddlers when Santa comes out. Christmas becomes the opportunity to mail a Christmas Card to every Facebook friend you’ve ever had, to buy gifts for every obscure relative you may or may not know, to take out a home equity loan to cover gifts, and to bake enough cookies to feed the Chinese Army. Nothing to do with Christmas is off-limits to this tribe. 

Just like the Grinches, there is a lot to be admired about this tribe. For one, they’re really fun to be around. They get that this is to be a festive, fun, and happy season. They recognize that joy is important for children, and that watching kids open presents is one of the most fun things to watch. They try to be wise shoppers and not pay too much for things, looking for a great deal. But, let’s remember that the season is not an invitation to pursue excess and to completely buy into everything without using discernment.

So how do you strike a balance between these two, and seek to live as a Christian in a fallen world? I want to propose 5 ways to navigate this:

Figure out where you are with Santa – Each family needs to come up with what they think of Santa. Whether you’re a fan or not, really think about your position but more importantly why. We have friends who don’t do Santa, and their reason is they want to put as much emphasis and focus on Jesus as they can, even throwing Jesus a “birthday party” on Christmas morning, complete with funfetti cake. In our house, we do Santa, but we are very quick to point out and emphasize that Christmas is about Jesus being born, and that Santa loves Jesus. We avoid using the “be a good boy so Santa brings you stuff” and instead teach Sam to behave and obey because God smiles when he obeys.

Image

Use moderation – All the good things that God has given us have been given to us to use in moderation. Rather than become a Buddy the Elf or a Grinch, find a middle ground and enjoy Christmas, decorations, food, gifts, and shopping in a moderate and reasonable way. Stay within your budget, avoid credit cards as much as possible, and put down the 100th thing in your cart at Hobby Lobby. Don’t send cards to everyone in your area code, and don’t overcommit your calendar with parties and socials and events (which keep you out of your house so you don’t see your decorations).

Be gracious with those you differ from – All of us have positions on a variety of issues, especially at Christmas. But we must remember that with those we have disagreements over Christmas issues, let’s remember to pursue charity and grace. If someone falls into an unhealthy or destructive pattern, that’s different from your traditions being different than someone else’s. Avoid making snarky comments on blogs (or writing snarky blogs) that are passive-aggressive. Be nice.

Develop Christ-centered traditions – Put Jesus at the center of everything you do as a family this Christmas. If you’ve never celebrated Advent, use the 4 Sundays in December (well, 3 remaining) to gather and read about Jesus, sing songs, and pray. There are lots of great Advent resources out there. Here are a few: Good News of Great Joy, Celebrate Advent (Focus on the Family), Advent (Village Church), Advent for Families

Have fun, make memories, and enjoy it – Above all else, have fun. This is a celebration of God entering into our Story through the Immanuel. Christmas celebrates the fact that the long-awaited Redeemer has arrived. And Christmas points towards a cross where all of us who have trusted in Christ find our hope, joy, peace, and fulfillment. This should cause us to rejoice, eat ham, and drink egg nog while watching Rudolph and wrapping presents.

Jesus Pushed the Elf Off the Shelf

Five Things to Teach your Children this Christmas

Jesus Ripped Up Santa’s List

What Are We To Do With Santa?

Thoughts on Judgment Houses

As the weather gets cooler, the leaves change color, college football dominates the landscape, and little kids pull pumpkin guts out, one thing constantly fills my mailbox: judgment house invites. The picture below sums up my response to every single one of them.

grumpy-cat-says-no-3

Timothy George and Russell Moore offer some great perspective on these, and I would highly recommend their reading. Moore’s has been a consistent post I read every fall and pass along to other people wondering about visiting one of these, and George’s just was published this month. I would add the following to the discussion:

The problem is often moral, rather than spiritual – Most judgment houses focus on a particular issue (abortion, homosexuality, drug use, etc.) that is meant to display the destructive effects of sin. But, what’s often lacking in this presentation is that root problem, the real need for a Savior, isn’t a crack pipe or a visit to Planned Parenthood, it’s a heart that is set against God and in open rebellion towards the Creator of the universe. Most of the presentations in judgment houses end with those who were caught up in the particular sins suffering in hell. But a more terrifying picture is that of the kid who does nothing majorly wrong, attends church, has Sunday school ribbons, and is well thought of as the model of a Christian teenager, who then is condemned at the end of the presentation because he never truly had his heart changed. Moral issues call for moral answers, moral solutions that fix the problem – But the far deeper need is not for rehab or another answer, the deeper need is for a Savior who heals, restores, and gives life to a dead heart. When we reduce the problem to particular sins rather than addressing the root of the issue, we give a sugar pill.

Satan gets too much screen time – Richard Dawkins, who is no friend to the Church, featured a judgment house in his documentary The Root of All Evil? and the striking observation I found was that Satan gets far too much attention. Romans 3:9-18 lays out a universal case that we are all in open rebellion against God. We don’t need Satan to coax us or force us into sin, we do a very good job of it on our own. While he is the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), we cannot give him the credit we deserve. He is the Tempter, the Liar, the Deceiver, the Adversary, but the actor in sin isn’t him, it’s us. We are the ones who make the decision to actively disobey and actively engage in that which God does not delight in.

Haunted houses with a Bible verse – Let’s be honest, this is something in Evangelical Christian sub-culture we struggle with. We love what the world has, but we don’t want to be conformed to the world (Romans 12:2) nor do we want the pleasures of the world (1 John 2:15-17) but at the same time we do. So we doctor things up and instead of calling them haunted houses we “church it up,” call it outreach, and put it forth. The reality is we want the same result we do from a haunted house, to be frightened. Same thing with calling dancing “interpretive movement” and setting it to an awkward song. If we’re really honest, the issue is more than we want what the world has, because our heart still struggles with the things of the world/flesh (Romans 7:15-20). Let’s repent, not just of trying to copy things and baptize them to call them Christian, but of our unnecessary desire to find acceptance from a world set against the things of God.

One-sided judgment – Most judgment houses focus on the punishment of the individual, but overlook that on the cross Jesus absorbs all the punishment and wrath intended for the sinner. We are quick in judgment houses to talk about the justice of God towards the unrepentant, but fail to mention the justice of God towards the repentant as displayed on the cross. The satisfaction of the wrath of God in the person of Jesus is the only means of our hope, not the fear factor of sin. A better picture of judgment also includes the True Judgment of God against sin as displayed on the cross. On the cross, Jesus became sin, and as Shai Linne says in The Cross,

But He’s hit with licks for religious hypocrites

He’s the Light, but being treated like

He’s the seedy type who likes to beat His wife

He’s treated like a rapist, treated like a slanderer

Treated like a racist or maybe a philanderer

Jesus being penalized like He had sin inside

Filled with inner pride while committing genocide

I could write for a billion years and still can’t name

Cheese factor – Multi-million dollar Hollywood productions with CGI, captivating storylines, and powerful actors. We all love these. They’re gripping. We flock to theaters to watch the latest. The powerful impact of these experiences leave us wanting more (or if you’re a Star Wars geek, having fake lightsaber fights in the theater lobby). Sadly, most judgment houses fall way short of it. It’s hard to capture the horrors and screams and darkness of hell when a teenager is wearing a Wal-Mart devil mask, the smoke machine doesn’t work, and you can see the lines on the basketball court. They’re not convincing, they’re not captivating, and sadly they’re not very scary.

v133

Avoiding the cult of Christian celebrity

From Eric Liddell to Tim Tebow, Christians have long made connections between the world of faith and the world of sports. Even Paul in the New Testament connected the Christian life to a series of Olympic events (race, marathon, wrestling, boxing). So it’s no surprise that if you’re a Christian and an athlete, you’ll have a platform in churches and other faith groups. On my shelf I still have a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Bible with testimonies from Christian NBA stars. These connections are made with good reason. In a Christian’s life there will be adversity, opposition, difficulty, and all of these need to be met with the same perseverance, dedication, and endurance that an athlete needs to achieve their goals. This is well and good, until we reach a point where we begin to create a hero-worship culture.

134240142_crop_650x440

What do I mean by that? Instead of admiring athletes (or other known people, actors, musicians, pastors, etc.) for their faith in their Savior, we begin to base our faith on these celebrity Christians. It’s a subtle shift, but it’s a dangerous reality. When we pedestal these men & women, we do so not only to our harm but also do harm to the cause of the Gospel. If you don’t believe this is true, try telling a die-hard Tebow-maniac that he just doesn’t have the tools to make it as an NFL quarterback. When we put athletes or other celebrity Christians on a pedestal and platform only worthy of Jesus, we run the risk of setting ourselves up for an unavoidable train collision when we realize that the hero we have celebrated and worshiped lets us down because s/he is just as fallen as we are.

Ron-Brown-Prayer

Case in point: Recently news broke of Adrian “AD” Peterson struggling with the loss of a son at the hands of an abusive man. The story is tragic and demands for us as Christians to pray not only for AD, the mother, but also for the abuser that he finds Jesus and receives the forgiveness for a horrific act that only Jesus can give. Twitter blew up with support from fellow athletes, but also from churches. AD has publicly worn his faith, and Christians have rightly admired his athletic ability. Check this out where he blows up William Gay of the Steelers.

But as the story unraveled, the hero was found to be fallen. A Christian Post article interviewed a former girlfriend who acknowledged she also has an out-of-wedlock son with AD, and that she knows of at least six others. While we must use discernment and not jump to conclusions, we are confronted with a sad story: another pro athlete who isn’t quite as Superman as we’d thought, who struggles the same way we do, and who has to watch his fall from grace on national TV. Sadly, there have been far too many Christian celebrities who were elevated to a place only fit for Jesus, only to discover the fall from the top hurts worse than any linebacker hit.

How do we avoid falling into this vicious cycle of celebrity Christian disappointment? I want to propose three ways.

  1. Enjoy sports, worship Jesus – Worship is more than a service or song, it’s a condition of the heart that pledges unyielding allegiance, whole-hearted devotion, and the placement of supreme value to someone. Only Jesus is worthy of that. Every Christian celebrity, no matter how protected or seemingly flawless, cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the heart.
  2. Christian celebrities point to Jesus – Sometimes we use Christians in the spotlight to show that not all of us are Ned Flanders. It’s fine and good to point out the public faith that these men/women exhibit, but it can’t stop there. Any time we use a Christian celebrity as a reference point, we have to go the extra step and point people to Jesus. It’s not enough to admire the faith of Tim Tebow or Josh Hamilton, but we have to point people to the object of their worship – Jesus Christ. Only He is worthy of our affections, loyalty, devotion, and worship. Any other celebrity we elevate to that point (whether we realize it or not) is an idol.
  3. When they fall, learn – Notice that I didn’t say if they fall, but when. The Bible teaches us that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We also see from Scripture that even as Christians we wrestle with the flesh until the day we die (cf. Romans 7:7-25). So when we see our Christian celebrities fall from their platform that we put them on, the only right and godly thing to do is to repent & learn. We must repent of our idolatry to expect fallen people to be & do what only Jesus can. And we must learn from these examples that none of us are exempt from sin. Our sin struggles won’t lead Sportscenter but they will have an effect.

51QUOy3PTfL

Christians in the spotlight occupy a tight scrutiny, and are under a microscope to the highest degree. We must be mindful to pray for those who have this platform, that in everything they do their Savior would receive the glory only due Him. And when they fall, we must resist the urge to pile on like a loose football. The beauty of the Gospel is that it is just as much for the church kid who grew up in Sunday school as it is for the pro athlete with multiple baby mommas, the actor dealing with a drug addiction, or the famous pastor struggling with hidden sins. And in that Savior, the real Hero, is found the freedom, joy, and grace that cannot be found anywhere else.

 

For further reading:

The Irony of Christian Celebrity (RELEVANT)

The Faith of Marcus Mumford & our Obsession with Christian Celebrity

Photos: Born-Again Celebrities (CNN)

 

5 Principles for Students – #3 Relationships

Monday I wrote about 5 principles for students as it relates to giving. Tuesday I was out all day for a student ministry event, so today is a BOGO kind of day! You already had the BO, now time for the GO.

Monday: Giving

Tuesday: Leadership

Wednesday: Relationships

Thursday: School/Education

Friday: Parents/Family

This post is 5 principles for relationships. Typically when we hear that word we think puppy love boyfriend/girlfriend kinds of relationships. And this post is intended to speak towards that. But beyond those who we spend our time with is an incredibly important thing, because those we put ourselves around have a big impact on who we are.

  1. Those closest to you need to share your faith – It’s great to have non-Christian friends, and to have non-Christian good friends. But the ones you let the closest to you, the ones who know you better than anyone else, the ones who you depend on the most, they need to share your faith. Those closest to you have the most influence over you, and you over them. So you need to develop friendships on this level that push you to godly living and accountability.
  2. Your parents need to be a part of your friendships – I say this as nicely as I can, if your parents don’t know who you’re spending time with and don’t know their parents, you’re in sin. You’re not honoring your father and mother as you should. They have a responsibility to watch over you, to shepherd you, and to help you grow until you become an adult. That means they deserve to know who you’re spending time with, what you’re doing, and when you’ll be home.
  3. If you’re going to date, avoid missionary dating – I’m not a huge fan of dating, I think the way we see it done is nothing more than glorified divorce practice. I’d encourage parents to think about putting parameters on dating relationships, and I’d encourage teenagers to consider putting that on hold until they’re ready for marriage. I get it though not everyone agrees with that. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:14 “do not be unequally yoked,” and he’s talking about marriage. I’d extend that to dating too, because you’ll marry who you date (at some point).
  4. Choose your friends carefully – There’s an old Western from when I was a kid called Lonesome Dove, and there’s a part where the main characters catch a group of horse thieves and decide to hang them. In the group they discover an old friend who’d gotten mixed up with the wrong company. Before they hang him, they tell him “You ride with them, you die with them.” Be very careful who you choose to really spend time around, if you’re not careful there’s a whole criminal category called “accessory.”
  5. Do not sacrifice your love for Jesus for any other person – No one is worthy of your worship other than Jesus. And I don’t mean to think that any of you will build a shrine to your boyfriend or girlfriend. Although I’ve seen that before! What I do mean is that you’ll find your identity in that person, rather than finding your identity in Christ. And ultimately, every relationship we have (even a marriage) is a poor substitute for what the Bible describes as our “union with Christ.” I’m happily married and love my wife more than my life itself. But if I find my primary identity, purpose, and direction only in her (and likewise if she does the same for me), eventually the dumb idol will show itself for what it is.

5 Principles for Students – #2 Leadership

Monday I wrote about 5 principles for students as it relates to giving. Tuesday I was out all day for a student ministry event, so today is a BOGO kind of day!

Monday: Giving

Tuesday: Leadership

Wednesday: Relationships

Thursday: School/Education

Friday: Parents/Family

Today as we talk about leadership, the primary thing I want to drive home is Jesus’ perception of leadership from Mark 10. Here is the text:

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

For Jesus, leadership is all about taking the position of a servant, rather than exercising control or dominance over someone else. In Jesus’ example, we see someone who is a strong leader (duh, it’s Jesus), but who leads not be power but by loving sacrifice and compelling those who followed Him. Napoleon noted this, when he said that he, Alexander, and Caesar had built empires through war, Jesus had built his through love, and at any moment millions would willingly die for Him.

  1. Leadership is all about influence – Have you ever met someone who was such a captivating person they could walk into a room and tell everyone to bang their head on the wall? I’ve met several like that. I’ve also met people who think that because they’re oldest, biggest, or “most deserving” that everyone should listen to them. The key in leadership is that you’re actually leading someone, and that happens as you influence them. Who are you influencing now? Are you pointing them to godliness or not?
  2. Leadership is not about popularity – If you want everyone to like you and think you’re great, sell ice cream. Ask any team captain or coach what it’s like to have the leadership role and they’ll tell you that it’s not always been fun. Leadership sometimes involves making tough decisions, giving constructive criticism, or having to lovingly confront someone.
  3. The greatest leaders are those who are humble – A secular book on leadership called Good to Great pointed out that the highest ranking leaders weren’t the big huge personalities, but those who demonstrated genuineness and humble attitudes. The Bible affirms this, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
  4. Leadership is not about a position – You don’t have to have a title to be a leader, you just have to be a leader. I know that sounds silly, but look back at #1, leadership is all about influence. You don’t have to be the team captain, supervisor, or facilitator in your group to have a leadership role. Bring your influence to the table, and you’re leading.
  5. Make sure you’re ready – There’s a saying about leaders “the tallest blade of grass is the first one cut down.” You have to be tough, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, if you’re going to take on a leadership role. You need to be ready for it or else it could be a disaster. The perfect formula is right person, right opportunity, right time. If one of those is off, bad news.

I like to use quotes, and Thom Rainer at LifeWay (who knows a thing or two about leadership) has a great list of leadership quotes on his blog.

5 Principles for Students – #1 Giving

Each day this week I’m going to write a blog series called “5 Principles for Students on ___.” Here is the list:

Monday: Giving

Tuesday: Leadership

Wednesday: Relationships

Thursday: School/Education

Friday: Parents/Family

Giving so many times in Christian circles is often limited to the money side, and I do plan to address that. But beyond money, the Christian life entails the giving of yourself. Jesus said that His followers were to take up their cross to follow Him. That’s more than walking down an aisle or getting dunked in water. It’s the giving of everything you are, everything you have, and everything you’ve aspired for. Only when Jesus has control of everything in our lives are we truly free to enjoy Him as we should. When we give, it’s an active form of trusting Jesus and enjoying Jesus.

  1. You’re not as broke as you think you are, so give – According to FoxOnStocks, the 30+ million teenagers in the US will spend a total of $200-300 billion in 2013. Fox even lists the top 21 stock tips to cash in on teenager spending (good lesson on investments!). The point is this: teenagers have access to money and are known to be big spenders (typically the highest expenses are on clothing, food, and entertainment) on things they want. The issue for Christian teenagers is a simple one of priority. Are you placing a high enough priority on giving generously that you stand apart as different from the world? Remember, if you make more than $1,225 a year you are wealthier than half the world’s population. The money is there, the question is what are you doing with it.
  2. Giving now develops habits of godliness – We all struggle at first to tie our shoes, to eat our food, and to ride a bike. But as those habits become more natural we find ourselves realizing how easy it really is! The same applies for giving. If now at 14 or 15 you’re taking your babysitting money or your tips from the pizza place and making an intentional effort to give, when you’re older and making grown-up money those habits will already be in place. I talked to a guy who started regularly giving when he got his first paycheck, and after that it was a priority to give regardless of the amount or how much he needed the money. It was an act of faith. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7), and we learn the joy of giving by developing a habit of giving.
  3. Pennies, nickels and dimes add up – You may not have much to give, maybe all you get in terms of income is an allowance. But here’s the great part: God takes all of those allowance tithes, and combines it with the big-shot doctor in the church and uses every last penny to do some big stuff. Here’s how: of every dollar you give part of it helps keep the church going, and then part of it goes on to fund missionaries, ministries, and other really cool things. We are part of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has about 50,000 churches. Those 50,000 churches pool their money together to send out almost 10,000 missionaries, fund 6 seminaries to train pastors, and provide resources for church plants in major cities. All from your allowance money.
  4. You’re good at something, use it for Jesus – Enough about money, let’s get into your talents. God gives people different things they’re good at to use for the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4). Beyond that list specifically mentioned in the Bible are the countless things you’re good at that God intends for you to do for Him. Whether it’s sports, public speaking, hospitality, or simply having a strong back (the guy who sets up chairs is a very important volunteer!), you are good at something and that is no accident. Are you using your gifting to help make Jesus more famous in your school, your job, or your home? Are you using what you’re good at to bless the church and help make it more effective? You can take a spiritual gift inventory or you can just ask “What am I good at, enjoy doing, and could make a difference with?”
  5. Time is short and cash is temporary – At best, you’ve likely only got about 80 years to make your life count. That’s not a lot of time. You’ll spend the first 25 or so in school, and the last 10 in declining health. That means you’ve got at most 45 years to really leave a lasting legacy. In the recession of 2009, Americans lost $16 trillion, according to a HuffPost article. The money you have isn’t going to last forever, it could be lost, devalued, or worst of all wasted. If you want to make your money count, the best investment isn’t in securities or bonds, it’s in heavenly rewards (Matthew 6:19-21).

Who You Are: A Message to All Men

My good friend Julia Bickley wrote a piece on a YouTube video that’s been making the rounds (as of today it had 350,533 views) called Who You Are: A Message to All Women. Julia makes some great points about this piece, and I asked her if I could write the rejoinder for the men’s side (which has had 131,000 views). So here it goes. I’ve embedded the actual video in the page for reference.

I found this video on one level refreshing, calling men to be men. There’s enough out there to deny men their God-given, innate push to be men. In the place of godly masculinity, the culture-at-large has sought to feminize men and to declare that there are no differences in the genders. Anima does well to declare that men are strong, brave, courageous, and powerful. The passionate declaration against not only a culture of foolish deception but also against a Deceiver who would destroy manhood is admirable. At many points I found myself cheering for this clip, rightfully agreeing on how God has designed men. I was thrilled as he lays out a vision for manhood that accomplishes something, produces something, defends someone, wins, achieves, and makes his life count. And as the Anima group seeks to engage artists and give them a platform for Kingdom effectiveness, I applaud that.

However, at another level I found this clip to be like the fake pair of Beat by Dre one of my students bought on a mission trip, or the pair of Foakleys I bought in Chicago once in middle school. In an e-mail exchange with Julia, I remarked that I felt like I had read this before, Oh The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. Just like Dr. Seuss’ work, the emphasis in this piece is YOU, and in many ways it plays like the gospel of self-esteem we’re surrounded with on a daily basis. Everything about this clip played out about who you are and what you can do, and makes the declaration that “there is a man inside you who is waiting to burst forth to change the world, and your responsibility is to set that man free.”

In one vein, this deserves a hearty yes. But at the same time, I can’t help but ask the question “Where is Christ in this?

Ephesians 1:3-14 is a run-on sentence to make any English teacher cry. But in that passage, Paul does what Anima also does, call out who we are. The difference is, in Ephesians everything about identity is tied to the person & work of Christ. The crux for Paul is our union with Christ. That’s all throughout Ephesians 2, where Paul lays out our identity before and after Christ, focusing on Jesus as the center of our being. It’s not about who we are. It’s not about what we can do. It’s all about who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and what Jesus does in us and through us. Only in Jesus are we freed from the chains and restraints of sin, foolishness, and the Curse to fully pursue the life and purpose God has for us.

On our own, we aren’t the men that God has designed us to be. We fall into apathy, laziness, indecisiveness, inertia, followership, and at the worst we fall into machismo, lustful pursuits, viewing women as objects, and avoiding our responsibility as a father. Only as our hearts are transformed by the redeeming power of the Gospel are we really able to release the “man inside us” that can change the world. Anything else is going to be the same as building a ladder to the moon, a noble effort but doomed to fail.

Does our world need changing? Absolutely. The news headlines every day declare to the world that all is not well. Where will the change agents come from? I firmly believe that will be from men finding their purpose and calling to be men, but they won’t find that within themselves. They’ll find that from the Man of all men, who not only showed us what manhood really is, but who changes the hearts of guys to turn them into men. The man inside us is not really inside, He sits at the right hand of the Father, calling on men to repent and trust in Him, and allow Him to change their hearts, equip them, and empower them to do what God-called and God-empowered men have been doing for hundreds of years, turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Filling the Pulpit as a #2

preachingtopic

Getting the opportunity to fill the pulpit as a #2 on a church staff is a tremendous privilege, the passing of a sacred trust, and an opportunity for growth in a skill area that is necessary for effective pastoral ministry. Many #2 leaders on church staffs aspire to be a lead pastor, and these times in the pulpit allow for a great learning experience and to sharpen the calling. It provides an opportunity to do the hard work of prayer and seeking the direction God would have for you, exegesis of a particular text, outlining your message and determining what stays and what gets cut, and preparation for the actual delivery and response.

Because these opportunities tend to happen in isolation (“Hey can you fill in for me on <insert date>?”) rather than in series (“I’m on sabbatical for 6 weeks, can you fill in?”), the most obvious question for the fill-in sermon is “What do I preach on?” I believe there are 4 bad ways to select a sermon text/topic, and I’d like to propose 3 ways that are helpful and beneficial to selecting a text/topic.

sermon-preparation1

Please don’t do these:

  1. Bible Roulette – This is where you blindly search through the Bible, flip the pages and point your finger down on a passage. This is irresponsible, but I’ve seen it done by people who misinterpret what it means when Paul declares that all Scripture is God-breathed and beneficial. If you do this, I think God has enough of a sense of humor for you to end up in Leviticus or the story of Ehud. Try that on for size.
  2. Proof-Text – In this approach, you know exactly what you want to talk about, so then your aim is to find supporting Bible verses to back up your idea. Usually these verses are ripped from context, not taken into their full weight or consideration, and often are the result of a lazy preacher who got ahold of a concordance and doesn’t want to do the hard work of an exegete. I sat under preaching like this on a few occasions and leaned to my wife and said “this isn’t just bad preaching, this is textual abuse.”
  3. Read-and-Run – In this approach you have a text that you read, and then that’s the end of your interaction with that text. Think of it like a hit and run accident. You’re not there to have to deal with the consequences of what you did. In the same way, this approach leaves you unaccountable for the passage you just read. Instead of allowing the text to speak, you’re simply using the text as a launching point to whatever idea you want to convey. In the end, it’s really not the Word speaking, it’s you.
  4. Ax-Grinder – In this approach, whatever agenda you have is what you bring to the pulpit. It could be something noble or needed, but again, it’s normally not the Word speaking, it’s you. This approach is similar to 2 and 3 where the idea comes before the passage, and it becomes the emphasis of the message rather than the Word. I’ve seen this in #2 guys where they want to make it their Wittenburg church door and nail their theses. Sadly what can happen is the #2 guy can come off cocky, arrogant, or with an agenda. Sadly I’ve done this before, and had to eat a lot of crow for it. Hopefully as I’ve gotten older this is one I’ve grown on.

Consider these:

  1. Your life-verse – Do you have a passage/chapter that really seems to resonate with your life? Is there a passage you continually come to in those quiet moments that help you define your life, ministry, and purpose? This is likely a passage you’ve meditated on, likely memorized, studied, and really soaked in. Share from your heart how this passage has formed your identity in Christ, shaped your character, and given you a real understanding of your purpose.
  2. Join in the series – Is your pastor preaching through a particular book of the Bible or along a particular thread for a series? Ask him if he’d mind for you to take on part of that series to ensure a sense of continuity and flow from one week to another. It will help you as the #2 to think through things in progression rather than in isolation.
  3. Your recent growth – Is there a passage that as you have done your devotions and spent time in prayer that God is recently using on you to help you grow? Consider using that as your text to work through, and allow what God has done for you to be a blessing to others.

OK associate pastors and #2 guys, what others would you add to help you seek out a passage to preach on? What have you done when you’ve been asked to fill in for your lead pastor?

Here are some clips of some solid guys who give insight into their preparation process:

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/02/26/an-outline-for-a-process-of-sermon-preparation/