Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Losing the Culture War, Winning the Spiritual War, Part II

If you will remember from the previous post, I wrote we have lost the culture war in our modern world. Every objective metric bears this out. It was a worthwhile fight, but done largely in the arena of politics instead of in changing people's lives, and we lost.

Notice I said we lost the culture war. We have not lost the (vastly more important) spiritual war.

In fact, I believe we have enormous opportunity because of this loss.

In order to take hold of this opportunity, however, we will have to pay a price. I wonder how many people will be willing to pay that price. I also wonder how many people will be shown to be christians in name only and how many will be shown to be real Christians, true followers of Christ.

I also suspect that not all the players will end up on the side you would expect, but that is a topic for another post.

The opportunity comes in this: we are very likely entering an era in our culture where it is going to become more difficult to be a Christian. Probably not hard like it is in China or North Korea or the Middle East, but harder than we have known and have been accustomed to. It is when things are difficult, when we have to struggle and put ourselves on the line, that true Christianity is most likely to shine.

When we are forced to struggle for what we believe in, to fight for it, it becomes more important to us. When we are forced to rely on God and His working through His people for our needs and strength, we become stronger and more reliant on Him. It is in the trial that we are grown and put to the test. Much like a metal object that is tempered until it becomes strong enough to do the job.

Remember the early church in Acts? It is a lot like that.

Tertullian wrote that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. I tend to agree with that statement. Because once we are forced to truly choose between Christ and the world, and we choose Christ, the importance and necessity of doing what He called us to do (bring others to Him) is enhanced by orders of magnitude. When we choose Christ and are forced to put our own skin on the line for Him, we will go further for Him than if we did not have to do so. It is simply human nature.

That is the opportunity for us as Christians personally.

There is another opportunity we must recognize as well, and that is the opportunity to reach the world around us.

Our world is one where people look for meaning, for purpose. Our world is one where people want to be the hero. Our world is one where people want to matter.

Entertainment culture seeks to fill that void today. Epic-style TV shows, video games that advertise Your Actions Matter, and books that fill shelves and Kindles telling us how to make the most of our lives are everywhere.


So get this, and understand it: people in our world want to matter. They want it so badly they can taste it. And we have the only news that can truly give it to them.

This is something that will never change. People will always want to matter, to be important, and to be loved. Meanwhile, the Christian message is that God loves us and calls us to Him so that we can be with Him forever. Furthermore He calls us to be His ambassadors to bring as many people to His side as we can. He gives a purpose, a reason, and a meaning to life.

And He does it with love.

If that is not a message that gives people the opportunity to be a hero, that makes a person's actions matter, and shows us true love, I don't know what is.

But we have to show people that. Otherwise they won't understand, and all they will know about Christianity is what the world that hates us tells them. If we are to avoid this, we must show people; individual, real people that we know and love; the truth about the world that God wants them to come to know.

We must fight back against the world which seeks to wipe us out.

But we must do it God's way: by bringing lost people to Him so that they too can be saved.

Politicians will not save us.

A Culture War reversal will not save us.

Christ will save us.

And we, in turn, must bring whoever we can to Christ in order to save them as well.

When we are taking the words of Jesus seriously, the rest of it will fall into place. We will fight not on the world's terms, but on God's. We will stop trying to change the culture, and start trying to change the hearts of people.

Because it is people, not the culture, which needs saving.

So lets get out there and win the real war.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Losing the Culture War, Winning the Spiritual War, Part I

If you remember my post on why allowing politics overtake your faith (or overly influence it), this post is related, but in a different way. This post is about losing, how to do it gracefully, and how to move forward. In the next post I will talk about the opportunity we have because of it.

Before we begin, by way of credit, some ideas and thoughts for this topic come from here and here, among other places.

Let's face the facts on the ground. By and large, Christianity has lost the culture wars. Not in every setting and not in every segment of the population, but for the most part the culture wars have been lost. The majority of supply depots (textbook & regulation centers), communications towers (TV, radio, movies, etc), and barracks (schools & universities) have been captured by those on the other side. Not all, of course, but a majority have been. In the political world, despite having elected (at several different times) politicians who claim to be on our side, very little has come of it. They did not have the fortitude for the fight or they lied about who they were. Either way, the result is the same.

Remember what I said in the post about not allowing politics to overtake faith? This is one reason why.

For a long time now, in everything I have read, it seems as thought we have looked to politics to solve the issues surrounding us. That if we could only get this law passed, or that regulation in place, of this person as president, all would be OK.

Unfortunately, it would not be OK.

Because while the "religious right" (to use the term loosely), was chasing after these things trying to change the country, they lost focus on what was more important. When politics became the mode of change instead of Christ, everything got turned around backwards. This is not an indicting or accusatory statement. I believe that (for most of those involved), they had noble goals. But goals by themselves do not justify the means. What they lost sight of was this:

That if you reach the culture for Christ, if you reach out and create more true Christians who follow and love Jesus with all their heart, all the rest will fall into place. If you raise your children to follow Christ instead of an ideology, they will be better able to stand firm. The point is: real change for a culture and people can only come when that change comes through Christ.

This kind of change is not something that can be done with politics. It requires adaptation, evangelism, getting out of our comfort zones, and showing love (even to those we vehemently disagree with). It requires not bomb-throwing (from either side), but discussion and friendship. Really, it requires us to be like Christ, go into hostile territory, and speak the truth in love, real love, and to stand firm regardless of the outcome.

When I was in college I was friends with 3 lesbians and 2 bisexual girls. I don't mean acquaintances, I mean actual friends. I knew them through mutual friendships with others and we all happened to get along.

Through this whole time (we have since lost touch), everyone was very open about where they stood on everything. Two of the girls were staunch, militant atheists, two didn't care about religion, and one decided that she would go to a church where they didn't consider homosexuality a sin. They also knew exactly where I stood: a conservative Christian who did not agree with the lifestyle they had chosen. There were no punches pulled in this. I never once tried to hide what I believed or back down during the different talks we had about life.

And you know what? We stayed friends for a long time.

We never freaked out, never yelled at each other, and never treated each other poorly. I was always available when they needed help, and I did try to be a loving Christian who was honest about what their lifestyles would lead to. They accepted that. The conversations sometimes got tangled up pretty well, but that was something we were willing to deal with.

I was able to be in this situation and react this way because my parents had helped me to win the spiritual war instead of the cultural war. They taught me the importance of standing up for who I was and what I believed in, and they taught me by example what that looked like. I hope I can do the same for my children in the future.

Kind of what I wished spiritual warfare on earth really looked like. :-)

But how? How can we prepare them? What can be done to raise children into adults who not only resist the corruption of culture, but work to change it from the inside out?

Paul M. Weyrich suggested in an open letter to do three things: Turn Off, Tune Out, and Drop Out. I find that to be very good, biblical advice, and I would suggest we honestly consider them. I would also suggest that we teach our children how to do the same.

Turn Off: the garbage on TV, video games, and the computers. Not all things are bad, but it is generally apparent which ones are or are not. If there is a question, ere on the side of caution. I recently had this experience with a game I was playing. It was fun, easy to get into, and enjoyable. Unfortunately, it was also exceedingly gory. After a couple of hours I realized that this indeed was not something I should be doing if I wanted to live a Christ-like life, and deleted it. Is there anything in your life you need to delete?

Tune Out: create times for stillness. No TV, no music, no distraction. Create time for your mind, body, and soul to stretch out and move. It doesn't have to be a huge amount of time, but there should be some time during each day (not as you're falling asleep), where things are still. Read a book, read your Bible, pray, go on a walk, play with your kids. When done with the right spirit (ie: not chomping at the bit to go back to the entertainment), you will find that these are very helpful times for yourself and that you enjoy it more and more.

Drop Out: of the culture. We need to find places where we can live godly lives. Where we are not caught up in the rat race, the tech race, the selfie scene, or any of the other things that want to distract us and pull us away from God. We may be in this world, but we are not of it, and we need to act like it. Look for ways to purposefully drop out of the decadence of the culture around you. Look for ways to purposefully give that segment of your life to the deeper, spiritual, godly things in life.

Finally, there is one more thing that we need to do (and teach our children to do), and that is reach the lost.

This comic shows the reason for this very plainly. If we do not do this, we show our lack of love to those around us. If we as Christians really, truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He is the Only Way to the Father, how can we not tell our neighbors? Our friends? Our families?

How can we not teach our children and teach them to go and tell others as well?

I am as guilty as the next person. But it needs to change. For all of us.

For you, for me, for everyone calling themselves "Christian".

When we do this, when we reach out to the world around us and teach our children to do the same, we will change the culture around us. It may not turn the entire nation around, but it will change those reached. And every single soul reached for Christ is worth every amount of effort it takes.

You see, I'm convinced that the culture wars have acted as a distraction to what is truly important. That is not to say it was a purposeful waste of time. Simply that the time spent on them has been less effective than if we had spent it on changing the hearts of those around us to belong to Christ first, then follow what He has called them to.

What is truly important, is the spiritual war for people's souls. If that battle is lost, it doesn't matter what happened in the culture wars. When we win the spiritual battle for a soul, we save them from the desecration that culture would have otherwise hit them with.

Culture reflects the spiritual life of a people, not the other way around.

Let us remember what is truly important.

Let us fight for the soul.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Get There.

Let's not beat around the bush today. No fancy intro, no funny story. Not out of anger or frustration, but out of importance.

Get your kids to church.

Get your kids to church functions.

Get there.

Everything here I say in love. I am willing to come out saying this because it is important. It is not meant to be mean-spirited or uncaring. It comes from a place of love. If I did not say it, if I kept quiet about the importance of your and my children being involved with God even if it means excluding other things, that would be the unloving thing to do.

If you do not force the importance of it, it is unlikely they will ever learn it. They will learn something, but it will not be what you think it is. Words mean very little without action, but action even without words speaks volumes.

There are some rationalizations (read: excuses) that we need to break down so that we can see what it behind it. Sometimes they are done with  good intentions, even. But intentions do not make right, and it is time we step up to the plate and put them back where they belong: away where they will not be used. The main excuses to not do this seem to be the following:

1) I don't want to force my kid to go to church. I want them to want to go, not feel like they have to go.

This is probably the least effective reason. The fact is, sometimes I don't want to go, and sometimes neither do you, if you're honest. But we do. God has told us to meet with each other, be with each other, encourage and learn together, and grow as a body. Wanting to is good, but if the excuse is "I don't want to, so I don't have to," your child will never be there to learn how and why they want to go. Sometimes we have to get through the hard days so we can get to the good ones. So get there.

2) Sports

There are several variations of this: the coach won't let my kid play if he's not there for every practice. All the kids who are not in sports (in "regular" gym class) are bad influences. My little Johnny is on the way to be a star player. It's really good for their health and self-esteem. Etc. not allow sports to overtake who and what God calls your child to be. If that means they don't play anything, then let them throw that energy into church and serving instead. If you think they're going to be a star, what is the point if they do not have Christ? There are many, many ways a child can grow and develop. If sports can fit in between church and being with the body of Christ, great! But if it cannot, perhaps it is time to take a deeper look at what your true priorities are.

3) School/Work

Now I realize that many kids have a lot to do for school. But are they doing too much? Are they part of football, mock UN, theater, academic decathlon, and yearbook team? Sometimes our kids need us to say "no". When the amount of school/work overtakes worship, we say that God is less important than it. If you need to stay on top of homework and projects so that they aren't having to do them during church activities, do so. If on a job application you need to make sure your kid marks that they cannot work Sundays/Wednesdays/etc then do so. Make sure though, that no matter what, God comes first. Always.

4) Punishment

One thing that blew my mind was the first time I heard a parent say "Little Jane can't go to that. She's grounded/being punished/etc."

If there is anything you do, please do not make going to church activities where they will be built up and encouraged in God a source of punishment. Now yes, if it is just going bowling or to a movie with the youth kids, by all means don't let them go. But if it is something like Bible Bowl, or camp, or a similar place where the goal is learning, growing in Christ, and/or being involved and serving others, it comes awfully close to teaching our kids that God only wants our involvement if we are good enough. God wants us always, and cherishes us even when we have done something wrong. Let us teach our kids that lesson instead.

There are many other reasons, to be sure. My family has made the decision, even with our kids at only 2 and 5 years old, that God and being with His people and being involved with His work will always come first. We are certainly not the first parents to do so. I pray, though, that if you have not made this decision, that you will.

I have seen people not want to rock the boat with attendance and commitment, afraid that they might alienate people or make them feel bad. I have even heard of people actually leaving because the subject was brought up. It is a difficult and sad situation when we fear people getting upset and leaving because we want to help them. This is especially true when parents do not make their children come to church/class/events/etc, or do not come themselves.

There are, of course, some caveats to this. The parents who have to work to make ends meet (even when they are not wasting money) and literally cannot get there must do what they do. But when the excuses are extracurricular activities, sports, school functions, sleep-overs, oversleeping, forgetting, too tired (all the time), to busy, etc, there is a problem that needs to be brought up in love and fixed. But if all we do is talk about the importance of Christ and His church and being an active part of His plan, we have completely missed the point.

And our children are watching.

They will take their cues as to what is most important about life from how we act. Words come a distant, distant second (if even that). If our children do not become followers of Christ, it will not matter where they went to college or what kind of career they have. The only thing that matters in the end is whether or not they were a follower of Christ. It is the older generation's duty to lead by example in this, because it is by this measure that we, too, will be judged.

Let us make sure that everything we have is serving the Lord. Our lives, or work, our families, our children. It is not a mistake we can afford to make. We love our families and our children too much to fail in this.

Get there.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sarah Palin, Patriotism, and When Politics Overtake Faith

Last week Sarah Palin made some comments at a dinner. She was greeting with a large amount of applause. As word spread, she had her detractors (when doesn't she?) and those who defended and whitewashed what she said (when doesn't she?). Here is the statement:

“They obviously have information on plots to carry out Jihad. Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

Now, people like to make fun of who Palin is. They call her stupid, among many other things I never ever plan on writing or saying. It is ridiculous. On the other side of the equation are the people who view her as someone who can do no wrong, who is always misunderstood, or who is only ever attacked because people hate her and will never give her a chance.

The life of the rich and famous, yes?

I try and take a middle-of-the-road approach with her. As a person I think she is likable enough, but I also view her as a bit of a sensationalist. I enjoy hearing her, but in the same way I enjoy hearing Rush Limbaugh: great ideas generally but taken with a dash of salt (and sometimes a cupful).

That being said, the statement above really annoys me. The applause given it even more so. I've watched the video. It is not a misquote or taken out of context. It is exactly as it sounds.

"...waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists," is not an OK thing to say, in any context.

Baptism is where people come to Christ. Baptism is where the old me dies and the new me is born by the power of God. Baptism is the point at which my sins are washed away and I take hold of the free gift of God in salvation so that I can live with Him for eternity.

It is not a way to bring suffering to an unwilling participant in order to make them talk.

The reason I bring all this up, is to warn against the danger of mixing up patriotism with Christianity.

Now, it is not a problem to have patriotism. In fact it can be a good thing. It can give you a sense of success and responsibility to a greater whole. It can help us have courage when we are called to fight for the survival of your country. It can even make paying taxes bearable.

Patriotism, in a healthy amount, can be beneficial.

But when it gets out of balance, as it so often does, we end up with things like this:

And this:

These two picture illustrate the exact same thing. One does with a car full of stickers, the other does it in one shot.Both of them divide Christianity based on political preference: one Republican, the other Democrat.

This is not OK.

It is not OK because of the following truth:

It is not OK because Jesus prayed this in John 17:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

As much as someone may love their country, as much as a person may respect the flag, as much as a person is willing to give in order for others to have freedom, the flag is not a religious symbol. Nor is a political party. Nor is political liberalism. Nor is political conservatism.

It's not.

Now let's all take a deep breath and let that sink in (myself included).

When I was in preaching school we got into a discussion about preachers and political stances. I believe the single most important statement that came out of that discussion was this:

Unless you are close enough to someone that you can talk about politics without consequence, never mention politics. It can ruin your chance to reach someone, it can divide, and it can rile people up. We are called to bring people to Christ, and if we allow political views to disrupt that, we are hurting our chances to do the single most important thing we are called to do.

This is why I very nearly never talk about politics in public, which is very hard for me to do sometimes. I don't "Like" Facebook statuses about it, I don't comment on feeds about it. I stay out.

Because it is not worth messing up my relationship with those I am trying to reach.

Don't be fooled, I stay informed and up-to-date on what is going on. I can probably run circles around most people when it comes to political discussion. It is just something I enjoy keeping track of.

But Paul wrote in I Corinthians 8, "Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall."

It is when we allow patriotism to get mixed up in our faith that we make statements like the one Sarah Palin made. Statements like that are not OK in any context, and should be repented of. Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that Mrs. Palin is evil or that what she did should be blasted into oblivion. But it does show that a change of heart is needed.

Both for her, and everyone who applauded what she said.

The point is this: please, please, please do not allow your patriotism to tint or overwhelm your faith in Christ. Remember the true purpose of our upward calling in Christ Jesus. This world is not our home, and we are to do everything in our power to help others get to their true home as well.

Even if it means putting aside politics.

Even if it means putting aside patriotism.

We must be patriotic to the Lord Jesus Christ above all others. Our love and desire for His Kingdom must overwhelm any earthly loyalties we have. It is to Him that we are pledged to, and it is to Him that we seek courage and strength from. All other things must come after that.

So seek peace with your opponent. Seek harmony with your neighbor. Seek God with all around you.