Oprah & Starbucks:
“From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts… All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
“Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”
The other night I had this great idea for a really encouraging, inspirational post. It was all about how great the kingdom of heaven is, and it had a bunch of points that would make anyone want to run into the kingdom of heaven as soon as possible. Here’s how it started out:
The Kingdom of Heaven is like:
Of course, these all come from quotes taken from the mouth of Jesus, and they’re all great. It’s all true! But with that second to last point, about the harvest of grain, I had begun to notice a theme in most of his teaching on the kingdom of God: there is this constant, unmistakable emphasis on the fact that the Kingdom of God comes, separates those who are entering from those who are not, and achieves its perfect status as the ultimate family gathering by shutting out all those who, for one reason or another, will not enter.
You want to know something? I actually caught myself avoiding those verses to get to the real positive-sounding pictures like those in the beginning of the list. But then, finally, the evidence overwhelmed me. Something else was up in Jesus’ own teaching about the kingdom–something that couldn’t, and therefor shouldn’t, be ignored. It was this rather shocking theme of exclusion. You just can’t get away from it. For example, Jesus also says the kingdom of heaven is like:
You could add to this list these facts which Jesus makes explicit:
And there’s more of those types of teachings you can find in the records of Jesus’ life.
What’s the point of all this? It strikes me that we all have a tendency to focus on the parts of the life and teachings of Christ that make us feel good (this is not a profound insight). Now, if we’re already saved by trusting in Christ, then the first list is the one that has the most application to us in terms of our own experience. But if we want to truly understand Jesus and what he taught, we need to be ready to face it all, letting it search us, challenge us, and bring light to our thoughts.
This is especially crucial when a certain strain of Christ’s teaching contradicts our culture–and this one does, big time. Ours is an age where everyone is engaged in a frantic race to integrate and unify everything, and the chosen method is the erasing of all distinctions between humans, down to distinctions of gender and behavior. We’re obsessed with proving that everything and anything is acceptable, and that humanity is a big blended mix which can be reduced down to common biology.
So when we read Jesus talk about good fish and bad fish, good seed and bad seed, good wheat and weeds, people left out of the house while the door shuts, we get shocked. Doesn’t God love everyone? And the answer of course, is–yes! John 3:16! But how does he love everyone? And what does his love require? And what will God’s love mean for the world, in the end, when some refuse to own Christ as Lord, and persecute those who do?
Or maybe, to bring this post back to the original question, we could say it like this:
When God’s kingdom–this huge, worldwide feast attended forever by perfected, reborn men and women who will never die, this kingdom of people who love God with all their hearts, this kingdom which is right now inviting anyone and everyone (regardless of who they are or what they’ve done) to repent and enter by faith in Christ (freely! by grace!)–when this kingdom finally, fully comes, what will it do to those who oppose it?
That seems to be the questions Jesus is answering in these teachings. If you love God, and love people, and hate what dishonors God and degrades people, you hear this as good news. The world will one day be totally free of everything that ruins everything. Believe it, and enter the kingdom.
Gil Trusty passed me this article by author Eric Metaxas which challenges us to think hard about how we feel about cultural events such as the recent Noah movie. The whole thing is good, so I decided to repost it in its entirety. Enjoy:
In 532 A.D., a series of riots pitting the supporters of two different chariot racing teams, the “Greens” and the “Blues,” nearly toppled the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian. The Nika riots resulted in 30,000 deaths and half of Constantinople being burned or otherwise destroyed.
If it sounds like these people took popular entertainment far too seriously, well, you might Google “Noah” and “Christian.”
As several colleagues of mine have pointed out, the level of vituperation among Christians over Darren Aronofsky’s film is “nuts.” In the most-recent high-profile salvo, a theologian accused Christian leaders who endorsed the film of missing “a blatantly Gnostic subversion of the biblical story when it was right in front of their faces.”
This of course prompted denials and retorts from those being criticized. As my BreakPoint colleague Roberto Rivera put it, “and the wheels on the bus go round and round.”
As Roberto pointed out in a recent column at BreakPoint online, what’s missing in all the back-and-forth “is any consideration about why Christians should be so invested in what comes out of Hollywood.”
He’s not saying that we shouldn’t take note of what the entertainment industry is up to. Of course not. Given its outsized role in our culture, to ignore it would be folly. Nor is he saying that we shouldn’t be prepared to praise the good stuff and criticize the rest.
But he is saying that we shouldn’t look to the entertainment industry for validation of our beliefs and way of life. And that, sadly, is what too many of us are doing. We long to see ourselves—or an idealized version of ourselves—on the screen. Like Sally Field said at the Oscars 30 years ago, we want to say “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.”
But while Field was being humorous, many of us aren’t.
What makes this especially unfortunate is that mass entertainment is, almost by design, intended to be a substitute for the Christian worldview that answered what Brad S. Gregory, a historian at Notre Dame, has called the “Life Questions.”
According to Gregory, consumerism, including the consumption of mass media, grew out of the rejection of Christian ideas about the good life and human flourishing. As he put it, we have exchanged the “good life” for the “goods life.”
These “goods” aren’t limited to cars, houses, and electronics. They include mass media: TV, music, movies and the internet. Even more than tangible “stuff,” mass media distracts us from the emptiness and the purposelessness of much of modern, post-Christian existence.
That’s why “people who couldn’t begin to tell you about the biblical Noah can talk your ears off about ephemeral pop culture matters.” In many instances, it’s the only thing they can talk about.
There are of course exceptions. Some films and TV can serve as illustrations of Christian themes and “conversation starters.” But as my friend says, “the goal of such illustrations and conversation starters should be to direct people’s primary gaze away from the screen (of whatever size) and toward the places where the ‘Life Questions’ are supposed to be answered,” such as in scripture and worship—not to mention in fellowship and in acts of service.
So let’s leave the online rioting to fans of chariot racing.
On Friday last week my new issue of Time magazine arrived with a painting of Pope Francis on the cover, because he’s Time’s 2013 “Person of the Year.” I read and highlighted the cover story, because it’s fascinating and, I think, important for Christians to be aware of this mind of thing in terms of understanding the times we live in. If I get a chance I’ll share a thought or two on the article. But for today, I thought I’d pass on a link to this excellent article by Al Mohler. His aim is to help Christians think through how they should feel about all the adulation that is currently being passed the Pope’s way. Here’s is how it ends:
But, even in practical terms, it turns out that the only thing worse than not having a pope is . . . having one.
We might at times think that it would be operationally preferable to have a singular voice and a singular authority to speak for the church. That might seem optimal, if that singular authority were always right, always benevolent, and always true. But there is no such human authority, and the longing for such an authority is not true to the New Testament nor to the model of apostolic doctrine and apostolic structure we actually find in the early church.
In the early church, Paul once faced down Peter; he did not obey him or recognize him as a monarch. In the church, Christ alone is king. In the early church, there were issues that were decided amongst the apostles. There was no pope; there was no papacy; there was no magisterium. There was a spiritual authority, but that authority was the Holy Spirit speaking in Holy Scripture. That pattern remains true until Jesus comes.
Evangelicals committed to the sanctity of life and the integrity of marriage found much to appreciate in the stalwart affirmations of the last two popes on these questions. Likewise, we have found great ground for agreement with much of John Paul II’s theology of the body and Benedict XVI’s defense of the objectivity of truth. We can also appreciate many of the humble gestures and pastoral acts of Francis I. But in such situations we need to remind ourselves that we agree with those popes on these issues because they are right, not because they are the Pope.
TIME magazine has found its “Person of the Year,” but the honeymoon of Pope Francis may soon come to an end. In the meantime, this news should prompt evangelical Christians to understand our own challenges and responsibilities in the present age. Our duty is to make certain that we are indeed faithful to our own task and calling—and, to borrow the language of TIME, that we are putting the right words to the right music.
It’s worth it to read the whole thing.
A few weeks ago up at Calvary Chapel Quakertown I participated in a forum on media and the Christian. I was given the assignment of speaking on Social media. There’s several reasons that’s a little comical (for instance, I’ve never had a personal Facebook page or Twitter feed), but it was a great exercise to prepare for and to think about Social Media for a little bit. While working through some of the issues Christians face in the world of social media, I wrote down a list of questions I’d want to ask of any current or potential social media use. The idea here is not to jump into something without thinking about it in the context of our discipleship to Christ. Here’s the list:
Questions for a Christian to Ask When Assessing Social Media Use
I ran across this quote in the Washington Post the other day:
“History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency,” [Secretary of State John] Kerry said. “These things we do know.”
Of course, the Secretary of State has very difficult decisions to be a part of, and I don’t envy the weight our governing officials bear in these situations. So I’m not commenting here on the subject [the Syrian conflict] he’s addressing.
What struck me was something in the way he advanced his case, and it’s something I think is helpful for all of us to notice, because it is very much in the air we breath in all of our interactions with people today.
First, there is the strident moral tone he adopts. Mr. Kerry is representative of our entire national dialogue today on everything from the environment to marriage to abortion and on down the line. We are absolutely brimming with moral language and moral positions, but I can’t help but wonder, every time I encounter it, where does it all come from? I think it’s important for us to ask our classmates and co-workers and teachers, and in fact (in love) to hold everyone to this point: where does all this moral passion come from? Why do we feel so strongly about some things, and how can we know so clearly that we hold the right position? For instance, I would be interested to ask our Secretary of State what moral code he ascribes to, and what moral authority gives him the foundation he needs to decide things like whether to go to war? If we’re going to be motivated to do things or think things for moral reasons, shouldn’t we know the authority behind these reasons?
Second, we should see that Mr. Kerry (probably instinctively) does not mention God, and yet he is worried about being judged (morally) at some future date. The judge he’s worried about? History. And he’s not alone. These things get said every day. Though it makes it a little vague to use the impersonal word “history,” what we’re saying as a people is that we worry about what future generations will think about us. How will we be viewed by those humans who will come later? What will they write about us in their books? How will they play us in their movies?
These future generations of people will have access to the moral information they need to appraise us rightly, we seem to think, and they will decide if we were the kind of people they approve of.
Third, we should see that Mr. Kerry gives us the standard which future generations will use to judge us: “common decency.” This seems to be the idea that in the future people will share a general idea of what is “decent”–what should and shouldn’t be done–and they will look to see if we acted in accord with this idea. So the moral law we’re working with here is one shared by a large group of future humans who decide what’s decent.
Lastly, Mr. Kerry ends with the definitive statement, “These things we do know.” How he knows these things would be a very interesting avenue of conversation.
But what should Christians make of all this, and of the many similar conversations we find ourselves in on a whole host of issues?
We should affirm that there is a future judgment all human beings face, and a moral law to which we will all be held accountable. But the judge will not be future generations of humans who are just like us. The judge will be only One–God, in the person of the man Jesus Christ. Which means that his moral law is the only one we need to worry about. It’s not history we need to worry about, it’s the one who rules over history.
We should question this sense of “common decency” we’re constantly being asked to assent to. What is it? Who decides what is commonly decent? What if two people disagree? What if whole cultures disagree? And why should we care what people think about morality anyway? We need to direct people to a point of reference outside of mere humanity.
Finally, we should (as I said above) help people think about why they experience these moral positions. It just doesn’t make sense why we would all be so moral if we’re just accidents of nature. And even if we were accidentally moral, it wouldn’t mean that those morals meant anything.
But we all know, deep in our hearts, that they do mean things. This sense of “that’s right” and “that’s wrong”–even if it’s misguided, and we can’t all agree–the very existence of that moral sense at all testifies to a deeper truth about what we really are. Even if our compass is broken, we need to ask why the compass is there at all.
We are made in the image of God, who is a moral being. And so, we are too. Let’s get those around us thinking about these things, and not let people settle for unreflective herd morality.
History will have nothing to say about it in any way that matters. But God has much to say.
We live in confusing times. But then, have you ever thought about if every time was a confusing time to live in, just each in it’s own way? Maybe a consequence of living in a fallen world is that we’ll always have to be seeking God’s light to show us a path through the darkness. That sounds about right.
In that vein, I wanted to offer some advice for our time, which seems particularly confusing in the area of representing Christ in terms of our public witness–just speaking about your Christianity can become so muddled, because often we’re being told we don’t represent Jesus, by people who don’t even follow him. Confusing! So here’s four things to remember, whether you’re in a confusing conversation, or you just read a confusing article, or got moved to confusion by a powerful movie or music video, or you stumbled over your own thoughts in a class discussion…etc, ect….
1. Define terms. Check if their definitions match yours. Maybe people are using words like “love” or “truth” or even “Jesus.” But are they actually using them to mean what Scripture means? Words are like containers; they carry whatever you fill them up with. What meanings have these words been filled up with? If it’s not the meaning our words carry, that may be a prime source of the confusion, right there.
2. Sniff out assumptions. What key thoughts are being left unsaid? Sometimes we get confused because we agree with the logic, but not the conclusions the logic leads to. Typically this means the good logic concealed a bad assumption, something that’s left unsaid and unproven. It’s just assumed. When you bring these assumptions out into the light, you can examine them to see if they really stand up. If not, you may solve your problem that fast.
3. Think through the worldview. Does the big picture make sense? A statement may sound powerful when it’s stated as part of an assertion someone’s making, but a little “zooming out” may be helpful here. What worldview does this statement assume, or operate as part of? Does that larger worldview make sense? For instance, a common worldview to operate out of these days is the worldview of materialism (that all that exists is matter). But does materialism really work? Does it explain the world we see? And, just as important, can the person adopting the worldview actually live with the implications of that worldview? More often than not, the confusing statement is a down-the-line type of thing, and what we should really be discussing are worldviews that might not stand up to scrutiny.
4. Get Biblical. Find out what scripture really says about it… One of our greatest sources of confusion is a twofold failure to really know and apply the teachings of scripture in our thinking and conversation. First, we may be confused simply because we aren’t in the habit of applying the wisdom of God in the Bible to the issues we discuss daily. A mind shaped by God’s word will sense how God’s thoughts help us see our way out of mental fog that we encounter. Second, things really get wild when people quote (or misquote) the Bible back to us in order to force us to unbiblical conclusions. (And this happens all the time!) What’s the answer? Know the Word well enough to sense when they are misusing scripture, then open your bible with them and help them see what the words really point to.
“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14).” — That’s how John Piper starts his helpful list of five things we must be on guard for in our world of digital connectedness. Check it out:
1: The hook of constant curiosity
Digital devices offer a never-ending possibility for discovery. Even the basic operating systems can consume hours of curious punching and experimenting. Then there are the endless apps consuming weeks of your time as they lure you into their intricacies.
All this is very deceptive, giving the illusion of power and effectiveness, but leaving you with a feeling of emptiness and nervousness at the end of the day.
Resolution: I will strictly limit my experimental time on the device and devote myself more to the truth than to technique.
2: The empty world of virtual (un)reality
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 and real hell.
Resolution: I will spend my constructive, creative energy not in the unreality of “virtual reality” but in the reality of the real world.
3: “Personal” relations with a machine
Like no other invention, a computer comes closest to being like a person. You can play games with it. It will talk to you. It will always be there for you. The great danger here is that we really become comfortable with this manageable electronic “person,” and gradually drift away from the unpredictable, frustrating, sometimes painful dealings with humans persons.
Resolution: I will not replace the risk of personal relationships with impersonal electronic safety.
4: The risk of tryst
“Tryst” (noun: An agreement (as between lovers) to meet.) Sexual affairs begin in private time together, extended conversation, and the sharing of soul, which can now be done in absolute seclusion through digital devices. You can think that “it’s just nothing” — until she shows up in town.
Resolution: I will not cultivate a one-on-one relationship with a person of the opposite sex other than my spouse. If I am single I will not cultivate such a relationship with another person’s spouse.
More insidious that X-rated videos, we can now not only watch but join the perversity in the privacy of our own den. Interactive porn will allow you to “do it” or make them “do it” virtually.
I have never seen it. Nor do I ever intend to. It kills the spirit. It drives God away. It depersonalizes women. It quenches prayer. It blanks out the Bible. It cheapens the soul. It destroys spiritual power. It defiles everything.
Resolution: I will never open any app for sexual stimulation nor purchase or download anything pornographic.
Russel Moore, who has been elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, gave a C-Span interview on Friday which is well worth the 45 minutes to watch. He responds to many of the big questions of the day, and presents an excellent model for how to think through and talk about many of these issues.
Specifically, I appreciated how Dr. Moore consistently witnessed to Christ, kept his speech saturated with scripture, and spoke directly to the questions at hand, all while maintaining a tone and demeanor which invited discussion and thought rather than exciting hostility and contention.
The video is below:
I am in the very beginning of what I hope will be a long a fruitful conversation with Justin Grow (leader of our Levittown Post-YA home fellowship–talk to me!). The topic is the nature of modern media and the effects it has on us–specifically, on humans as individuals and Christians as people who are both made in the image of God and redeemed by the death and life of Christ. For instance, here is one thing that seems worth exploring: We often focus our discussions of these things on content–is it sending good or bad messages, is it portraying immorality in a positive light, is it promoting a Godless agenda, etc.–but what about the media themselves (itself?)–have we, as Christians, taken the time to examine what these things are that we watch, listen to, and carry around in our pockets, and how they, just being what they are, affect us? There’s so much more behind these opening questions, and it seems like we’re quickly approaching a time when Christians will need to seriously consider them in light of Christ’s call on our lives.
I shouldn’t be surprised that others are thinking these thoughts too, but I was when I found a link to an article that contained these thoughts:
To separate the mind or soul from the body is to mime death. It is generally accepted that any separation of the two, mind and body, results in death. Electric media disturb the natural union of mind and body at the deepest level. They take the user out of nature in a pantomime of death. The new sensibility brings a new fascination with death and the hereafter increasingly seems here and now, not hereafter, and encourages the growth of nihilism and amorality…Doesn’t this illuminate somewhat our culture’s present infatuation with euthanasia and abortion? …The new reality, which we all accept without question, is this: on the air, on the telephone, on the Internet, you are, you have being in many places simultaneously. These are literally out of body experiences and they are casual, utterly unremarkable features of everybody’s everyday life: and they pull the rug out from under individualism. Cyberspace is the home of the group, not the individual; its natural mode is the hive.
It’s from an article called The New Nomads: Eight Characteristics of the Electric Mass Audience, and was originally part of a speech given by Eric McLuhan at Wheaton College. I recommend reading the whole thing.
Here are some of his characteristics of what we call “The Mass Audience.”
Electric media profoundly challenge the very foundations of individual identity each time they transform us into mass audiences. The base of private identity is rapidly becoming irrelevant to contemporary experience throughout the west…
1. The Mass Audience is invisible. Composed as it is of de facto intelligences with no bodies. The average person daily uses interactive media from telephone to Internet by being transformed into bits of electric information. This disembodiment parodies the condition of angels, and it contributes to the disorientation that people feel in the material world.
2. Minus the physical body, the user of electric media can be in two or two dozen or two million places simultaneously — everywhere the Internet reaches, in fact. The electric crowd lives as if already dead. Consequently it finds nihilism natural. Death as a way of life, has a familiar ring to those who follow the news. The enabling environment for the electric crowd is the totality of electric media present and operating via broadcast, or network, or satellite, and so on. So there is the radio crowd, and the TV crowd, and so on. All of these are, as it were, dialects of the mass audience.
3. The Electric Crowd, composed as it is of new nomads, who haunt the metaphysical world, cannot have distant goals, or directions, or objectives. Those matters pertain to becoming, and the nomad is involved rather with being. Being is not an objective or a goal. With no outer physical body, the mass audience shifts its focus inward. For example, for over forty years youth have consistently rejected long-range goals and objectives as irrelevant. This move inward also appears disguised as narcissism, but it is the narcissism or the selfishness of one without a self — rather different from the selfishness that attends private individualism. Fixed goals and becoming belong to incarnate existence; the electrified nomad is wrapped in the ecstasies of sheer being, bereft of all traditional ties to the natural world and to natural law. In other words, we are floundering, we are disoriented. Each new technology represents one or another modulation of our humanity.
4. People without physical bodies use participational imagery to generate the emotion and the aesthetics of being — the only reality left after leaving the physical body and the physical world behind. Advertisers a generation ago shifted their attention from products to image, from hard selling of things to participative forms such as lifestyle ads. These provide life fantasies and group identities for all. Mass audience is not characterized by rationality, although individual members of it may be rational. Online or on the air, minus your physical bodies, you put on the corporate body, you wear all mankind as your skin. Under these conditions, a private sensibility would be a terrible liability.
5. The quality of image adjusts the degree of participation. A “good” image allows a lot of participation in depth, by a big diverse mass. For this it must be virtually devoid of content. The aesthetic of these circumstances derives from manipulations of being. Each new electric medium brings with it a new mode of group being, a new we. Hybrid energy bring the biggest kicks of all, and it is in the nature of electric media to hybridize endlessly. Each new medium collects older ones as what we call features, even as it becomes included in the others as a feature, a process that will continue until all have become features of each other. Their future is features. Gadgetry. Narcissism for the self-less.
6. The crowd of electrified nomads has no natural boundaries. It o’erleaps all natural and physical limitations. It is exempt from natural law.
7. The Mass audience was coined, the term, to denote broadcast crowds. Sheer speed makes the mass, not numbers. At electric speed there is no moving to or fro, the user just manifests here or there, having left the body behind. “There” might be the other side of the room or the other side of town or the other side of the world – it makes no difference, it’s all the same. You function in more than one place at once. On the air, you can have your being in thousands or millions of places simultaneously. Physical laws no longer apply once you leave the physical body. There is nothing on which to base them. You become information. You become an environmental image. Anyone who goes online becomes thereby, a de facto node of the worldwide network. This is not an unfamiliar form. Our worldwide net then has its center everywhere and its margin nowhere…
Interesting thoughts for the beginning of some important discussions. You can read the whole thing here.