Monday, February 25, 2013

Know Your Popular Culture

While browsing the internet last night I came across someone saying that conservatives ignore popular culture at their own very great peril. It was one of those phrases that stuck with me throughout the night and today, because I believe it is true. I also believe the church has members who (1) ignore it so much that they cannot relate to others or (2) become so enamored by our culture that they start falling into it. I do not see very many people in the middle.

I will admit that I tend to fall into the former category. I simply have not had much interest in a lot of popular culture, as I tended to follow more counter-culture norms growing up (punk rock, metal, skating, "geek" culture, etc, etc). I still have a tendency to follow counter-cultural norms, just because that is where my interests lie. What I have been realizing, however, is that I cannot pretend that popular culture does not exist, or that is has no effect on myself, those around me, or the church as a whole. It does and always will have an effect. If we choose to blind ourselves to this fact, we will very quickly find ourselves outnumbered and out of touch with the very people we are trying to reach!

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying we should go out and watch every bad movie, listen to every sexist, perverted song or suddenly decide to have no problem with the exceptionally disastrous direction modern TV programming is headed. What I am saying is that we do need a working knowledge of what is out there and who is who.

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus told His followers to "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." In other words, when He sent out the 12 to spread God's kingdom He realized that they needed to not be oblivious to the world around them while at the same time being innocent of the sin in it. We would do well to heed those words ourselves.

Whether we like it or not, the world surrounds us on every side, threatening to take us at every opportunity. We can either bury our heads in the sand, hoping it will all just disappear, or we can take the fight to the world, and take the lost from its clutches. Remember, we are not of the world, but we are in it.

Let us take the fight to the world. It is enemy territory, and should be treated as such, but not in a way that makes us oblivious to how to deal with it. Let us use all the tools, intelligence, and faith at our disposal to help those lost in the world.

Let us start now.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Favorite Verse

I will be the first to say that I am not very good at memorizing Bible verses. In fact, I am not very good at memorizing the specifics of anything. Most people tease me that I am the big-picture person while my wife is the memory. There is one verse, however, that I cannot forget. I happened to see it on a website at the exact time I needed to see it, and it has stuck with me ever since. That verse is Isaiah 46:4.

Even to your old age I am He. And even to grey hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; Even I will carry, and will deliver you.

Oddly enough, the reason this verse stuck out so much was because of the exclamation point. Now I realize that the exclamation point is in all likelihood not in the original Hebrew, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be there.

I say this because there are so many times we read passages of the Bible and hear the voice of Ben Stein, or a similar monotone, boring voice. But that isn't how the Bible is written, and I don't believe that is how God speaks. I believe He speaks with emotion: angrily when He is angry and gently when He is comforting; sadly when He is saddened and excitedly when He wants to make a point.

This verse comes in the middle of God describing the powerlessness of idols versus His own enormous, unlimited power. He is telling His people, "Come to Me! Let Me be yours! Stop trusting in these worthless things that can't do anything for you!"

He says He is the same even as we become old and frail. Do you believe it?
He says even when we have no strength He has enough to carry us. Do you believe it?
He says He has created everything. Do you believe it?
He says He can and will shoulder the load. Do you believe it?
He says He will deliver His people. Do you believe it?
Do you truly believe it?

If you do, are you His? Have you put yourself under His care and protection? I'm not talking about Health & Wealth(tm) gospel here. I'm talking about putting yourself under God's control so that He can bring you to where you need to be. I'm talking about letting go of all the things and stuff you worry about and trusting God to take care of you, because you are His.

He will carry and deliver you, and He is excited to do so! But the first step is being His and working on becoming who He calls you to be. You don't have to be perfect or not mess up or get so far before He is willing to help. He will meet you where you are. You just have to be willing to follow where He leads.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Who am I?

"Who am I?"

This single question is asked by nearly every person at some point in their lives. It is a question we ask because we must. We can't help but wonder who we really, truly are at times. Socrates once said that "the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being."

So how do we examine our lives? How can we find the answer to the question, "who am I?"

The answer, I believe, is simpler than we think. Many people believe it takes some mystical meditation method and constant deep thought, similar to what Buddhism and other eastern practices offer. Many believe that it is only through many hours of training that we can come to know who we "really are," and that barring that, it is impossible.

As I said, I believe in a simpler solution.

The trick is, to be honest.

Yes, that is really all there is to it.

It is a bit harder to be honest with yourself than it seems. It requires humility to see things for how they truly are. We may tell ourselves that we are strong or grounded or happy, but are we really? I will admit it is appropriate at times to tell ourselves these things (even when we don't feel that way) in order to make it through difficult situations, but that is not what we are talking about here. Remember, our subject is examining ourselves in order to answer the question "who am I?"

I recently saw a video where a man said that America is not the greatest country in the world. He spouted off several statistics as his proof and proclaimed (rather angrily), that no, America is not the greatest country on the earth. I was a bit taken aback, even offended, until what he said next.

He said that we used to be. That at one time we created and took down laws for moral reasons. That at one time we reached for the stars and stood up for what we believed in because we were informed. He then said the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that there is one, implying that it is time to start fixing the real problems we face instead of accepting the politicking by those who pretend to care.

It is the same with our lives. If you want to know who you are, you must be honest about not only the problems you face, but the good things about yourself as well. There is a tendency to downplay our own strengths or weaknesses and pretend they do not exist, but as humans this is not the case.

The truth is that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and that they are all different from each other. Once we take the time to stop and recognize what our strengths and weaknesses are, we will be better able to deal with whatever situation comes our way. We can use our strengths to shore up where we are weak and we can prepare ourselves for things coming our way that we know will be difficult.

But it takes some time and effort on our part to do this. We actually have to stop and think honestly about our lives, goals, wants and needs. The question is, will you do so?

I encourage you to take the time to think these things through. You will find that once you know yourself honestly, you can get much further than you could just gliding by. But don't forget the ultimate answer to the question "Who am I":

You are a being created by God who loves you and wants you to be His. Who wants you to do His will and Who gave you all of the tools you need to get where you should be. Who loves you so much He gave His Son for you, and who will give you whatever help you need to become who you truly should be.

That, is who we are.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Time: Pt. 3

Distraction vs. Truth
Psalm 19:14 / ESV
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

I have ADHD. I was diagnosed when I was 19, so it's not something I ever had the chance to grow out of. I know what it is like to be distracted.

On the other side, I also know what it is like to be so focused like a laser that you get more done in 30 minutes than many can get done in two hours. If you know much about ADHD, you know that it is not about never having any focus, it is about only having two modes: laser-focus or no-focus. There is no (or there is very little) middle ground.

All of this is to say that we do not have to participate in the Grand Distraction that our world continually throws at us. But what is this Grand Distraction, and how can we know when we're being hit with it?

The Grand Distraction is all the stuff that encourages us to be anywhere but here. TV, Ads, Facebook, Smartphones, etc are not the Grand Distraction. They are merely the tools of it. And just like a hammer, a knife, or a gun, these tools can be used for good or evil. Unfortunately, it seems like good is on the losing side of the fight against distraction.

I saw a blog post after beginning this (link at bottom) that describes it well. They even called it The Grand Distraction:
And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling "This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!"

And each day, it's up to you, to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say "No. This is what's important." 

The world wants us to believe it is important. The world wants us to believe it is important whether Beyonce lip-synched, or that Kim Kardashian is pregnant or that Michelle Obama has "great arms". It will go to any length to tell us that how much we make, or what we wear or what kind of car we drive is important. It will do anything in its power to make us believe that what it has to offer is important.

It is all a lie.

The truth is this:
Whether you belong to God or not is important. How you treat your family and friends is important. How you treat strangers, the homeless, orphans, the elderly, and widows is important. Who you try and save by bringing them to Christ is important. Your relationship with God and the people around you is important.

What does this have to do with time? Everything. Distraction takes us away from the truth and from what is truly important. When that distraction overwhelms us, we will quickly find that we have no time for anything else. There will be no time for friends, no time for family, no time for helping others, and no time for God. What is important will be replaced with every Facebook update, every text message, every tabloid newscast, every distraction.

So begin cutting out the distractions in your life. Start small, then move to bigger and bigger things. Don't answer the phone during dinner, don't check out texts while with your kids. Set a certain time to look at Facebook and only do it then. Watch less TV. Have more family time. Get out and look for someone you can help out, or make up your own way to move forward. But cut out the distractions so you can see the truth instead. Distractions will not save you, complete you, or make you feel whole. There is only one thing that can do that, and that is the truth that comes from God.

So move forward! Begin right now, and don't give up no matter what! As always, remember to pray. We will help each other the most by starting there.