Superheroes on Mars Hill - Engaging the Comic-Con Culture With the Gospel

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." Acts 17:22-23 (ESV)

The story of Paul's engagement at the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, reminds us that the message of the Gospel is not just to be held privately, but strategically taken to those in need of redemption through Jesus Christ.

While there have been many advancements regarding technology and industry in the centuries since Paul spoke to these ancient people near Athens, not much has truly changed. Humanity remains depraved and in need of rescue and redemption. The Gospel remains true. God's church continues to move forward under the mandate of the Great Commission as we go through life to engage others with the message of truth.

Comic Books and Superheroes

When I was a boy, I loved reading and collecting comic books. When I had saved up enough change (from that quarter a week allowance) I would ask my parents to stop by the 7-Eleven on the way home from church in Montgomery, Alabama so I could peruse the comic book stand for the latest issues featuring my favorite heroes. This was no comic book shop. There were no plastic bags with acid-free boards for storing the magazines. The rack was metal, spun, and sat near the door.  Most of the comic books were bent as children like me would bend them down to see which issues were hidden behind. I remember when they were 25 cents, then 30 cents and 35 cents and then "Still Only 35 cents." I normally would go home with two or three issues. These would be read numerous times and added to the stack I was accumulating.

Of course, like most people my age, I would get the first issues of new comics hoping that one day they would be worth thousands of dollars like the first "Action Comics" and "Batman" issues of old. Nevertheless, most of the magazines my generation bought were stored safely and because our parents didn't throw them out like those from previous generations, we now have a plethora of books that are "Fabulous First Issues" which aren't worth much because supply (in those plastic sleeves in cardboard boxes) is so high.

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Photo credit: Sam Howzit via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

Resurgence of Superheroes in Comic Books

In case you haven't noticed, after a time when comic book sales tanked and superhero films and television shows seemed to be fading, a renewal of interest in these heroes with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man has occurred. 

The Golden Age (1936 - early 1950s)

Since the Golden Age of comics (1936 - early 1950s,) heroes with brightly-colored spandex have attracted the interest of children and teenagers. During the 1940s, superhero comic interest waned. Magazine publishers began to produce books with different themes such as westerns, romance, science fiction, crime, and horror. In fact, many superhero titles were cancelled at this time. Of the dozens produced in the early 1940s, the only ones featuring superheroes to continue production by DC (the industry leader at the time) through the decade were Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Detective Comics, Batman, Superboy, Superman, Wonder Woman, and World's Finest Comics.

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Photo credit: Terry McCombs via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC

The Silver Age (1956 - 1970)

Many changes took place in the world of comic books following the Golden Age. Controversy developed over the alleged connection between comic book themes and juvenile delinquency. In 1954, the comic publishers implemented a self-regulated Comics Code Authority and a shift from crime and horror themes led to a reintroduction of superheroes. The introduction of a new Flash from DC Comics launched this era and soon upstart Marvel Comics launched the Fantastic Four and a new wave of fans was born.

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Photo credit: Michael Vance1 via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The Bronze Age (1970 - 1985)

This next age of comic book production moved Marvel Comics to the forefront. It was during this time I was collecting those books sold at the 7-Eleven. While many of the mainstay heroes remained, newer ones were introduced and a return to darker plot lines emerged (e.g. racism, alcoholism, drug abuse, urban poverty, pollution, etc.). Many of the heroes introduced in this era became the models for newer television shows like "The Incredible Hulk," "Wonder Woman," and "Spider-Man" and movies like the Christopher Reeve helmed "Superman: The Movie" and Michael Keaton's "Batman."

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Photo credit: Brian Wilkins via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC

The Modern Age (1985 - present)

As generations shift, so too do the heroes they admire. While comic sales dropped, new business models were implemented. Character licensing was sold and plans for new films have been made. It is during this era when many comic book characters were redesigned, creators gained ownership of characters through independent comics, and publishing houses became more commercialized.

Some call this the Dark Age of Comics due to the influence of writers and artists like Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Anti-heroes (like Deadpool, the Punisher, and even Batman) became more popular.

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Photo credit: Asbestos Bill via Visualhunt / CC BY

The Cinematic Universes

When Christopher Reeve first put on the blue tights and red "S" a new era of marketing comic book heroes developed. The "Superman" movie from the late 1970s stated that fans "would believe a man could fly" and based on ticket sales, they did. When Tim Burton introduced a darker "Batman" to the big screen in the 1980s, many fans thought it would fail, primarily because Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman and the campiness of Adam West's Caped Crusader was the prominent screen image known. When Burton's film became a hit, it seemed like superhero movies would soon take over the multiplex. Nevertheless, sequels didn't fare as well and other films like Dolph Lundgren's "The Punisher" and David Hasselhoff's "Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." proved that Hollywood hadn't quite figured out how to move the comic heroes en masse to the big screen.

Then Tobey Maguire became Spider-Man and soon thereafter Christian Bale moved under the cowl of the Dark Knight and, as they say...the rest is history.

Marvel and DC have created effective (at least financially) cinematic universes that have proven to connect with audiences.

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Photo credit: junaidrao via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
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Photo credit: junaidrao via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

More Than a Weak Sermon Series Theme

Apparently there are many fans of superheroes in our communities. These run the gamut from stereotypical fanboy or fangirl who knows intricate details of multiverses to the casual fan who just saw Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and watches Sheldon and Leonard on "The Big Bang Theory."

In recent years, with attempts to capitalize on pop culture with catchy themes, some have preached sermons or themed kids events at churches with pseudo-superhero concepts. I'm guilty of having done this in the past, but the truth is as Dr. Timothy Paul Jones stated in a blog post from earlier this year:

For many Christians, the temptation seems to be to engage in what I would identify as a “thin reading” of these cultural artifacts (comic books and superhero films,) hunting for surface-level connections between the Bible and our favorite superhero tales. Pastors who become caught up in such thin readings may construct entire sermon series out of the latest films or feel compelled to drop references to movies into their messages—all to achieve a perceived sense of relevance by linking Scripture to culture. This is not authentic cultural engagement, however. In most instances, it’s closer to uncritical cultural appropriation. Full-fledged Christian engagement with the culture digs deeper than surface-level links and wrestles with the conflicting worldviews that undergird these artistic artifacts.

Jones' article goes deeper and is well worth your read. Read it here.

Engaging on Mars Hill

What is it about these heroes that not only connects generations and draws fans, but gathers groups together at Comic-Con and movie premieres? The religious undertones are not always subtle and the fact that most early superheroes such as Superman were rooted in Judaism (ever wondered why his name is Kal-El?) reveals many Old Testament themes woven into the histories, especially from the Golden Age. 

Yet, even anti-religious sentiment and humanistic worldviews aside, there is a sense, for the most part of good, evil, truth, justice, and other such things that at the core are religious concepts.

Many of the fictional heroes and heroines either find their root in Greek and Roman mythology or at a minimum are influenced by some of these types of stories. It is my contention that the culturally popular fictional heroes are not much different than the false gods and goddesses worshipped and adored by the ancient people of Paul's day.

Paul engaged those who were far from God strategically. He went to Mars Hill for this purpose. He did not remain silent, but talked intelligently and not condescendingly to those in the crowd. 

What If?

After reading numerous articles and studying God's Word on living sent as his church to a lost and dying world, I thought of Dr. Jones' postings about worldviews as revealed in comic books and the cinematic universes of Marvel and DC.

What if the church engaged this affinity group through story-telling in ways that centers on the Scripture and the Gospel? What if rather than just continuing to add programs and events to reach the already reached, we went to this "Mars Hill" in our culture today? I have talked to a few teenagers specifically about this. Some attend church, but always seem to be on the fringes. Others have no place for church in their lives and basically have denied or ignored the message of the Gospel. I asked if they would consider joining me for a study called "The Meta-narrative of the Gospel as Revealed in the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes?" Yeah - that's what I named it, based on Dr. Jones' articles. However, I may shorten it to "Superhero Sunday Nights."

Their interest was piqued.

I asked, "Do you have any friends who may be interested in something like this?" 

The answer was yes and they began to rattle off names of students I do not know. Most have no connection with a church and no relationship (or desire for a relationship) with Christ.

I am not sure what this will even look like - The Big Bang Theory meets the Bible? I hope more than that. It's just that we (the church) have done much over the decades to connect with students through affinities like athletics, drama and theater, dance, and music, but I have yet to hear of an intentionally evangelistic effort (more than a gimmick event) that seeks to connect with those whom many categorize as nerds and geeks, but most likely think deeply and love and understand the intricacies of story. Ultimately, the Story is what they need.

Some will mock. Some will ignore. Yet, I believe some will be drawn by God to Himself. It's been done before.

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. Acts 17:32-34 (ESV)

 


Southern Baptist Vote on the Alt-Right & Racism Overwhelmingly Passes - Now What?

The 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting has ended. The second day of our annual gathering traditionally has welcomed less-than large crowds following lunch. In recent years, required business, for the most part, was completed during Tuesday gatherings. Wednesday has been the time for one last opportunity for unfinished business (normally, not newsworthy outside the SBC) and reports from LifeWay Christian Resources and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Of course, those reports with required time for questions have, at times, elicited some interesting sound bytes.

This year was different.

Following lunch, as I previously posted, our SBC messengers were given the opportunity to vote on a resolution regarding a denunciation of the Alt-Right and white supremacist movements. (CLICK HERE TO READ MY PREVIOUS POST EXPLAINING THIS.)

The New Resolution

The wording of the previously declined resolution was reworked and made more clear. Copies were made available digitally through the SBC Annual Meeting app, and online while printed copies were available at the doors for all messengers. A copy of the document is available here:  Download Resolution 10

The "resolved" sections are stated clearly...

Screenshot 2017-06-14 18.35.13Barrett Duke, Chairman of the Resolutions Committee and Executive Director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, spoke to the resolution. His clarity and transparency was welcome. As the entire committee stood with him, an apology was offered for not recognizing the need to allow messengers to vote on the resolution. Reasoning for initial declination was described in my previous post as well. Duke then clearly and loudly proclaimed that everyone on the committee stood firmly against the motives and declarations of the Alt-Right movement, white supremacy, and all forms of racism.

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Barrett Duke, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Resolutions, speaks during the SBC annual meeting June 13 at the Phoenix Convention Center. Photo by Van Payne

 

The committee apologized.

That is no small thing.

We have a wonderful denomination. We are family. I have been part of an SBC church since the womb. I love our denomination, and yet, since we're human, we know that we mess up at times. Even seeking to live in Christ, follow the Word and have ears to hear and eyes to see ... we sometimes (more often than we'd like) mess up and sin. 

And like family, when we do, we confess. 

At that confession and repentance, forgiveness is offered. 

This is truly the Gospel at work in the lives of God's people.

What's so challenging is that we are gathering here in Phoenix having a family meeting with the entire world watching via social media, livestream, or news media stories. It's like we're on an episode of Big Brother, but a moral version, with much more at stake.

The Question

Following Barrett's recommendation for the resolution to be passed, the floor was open for questions. There were a few. One focused on amending the proposal by editing just a few words in the "Resolved" section. The wording recommended clarified the enemy's tactics of deceit and the Resolutions Committee took it as a friendly amendment and the floor voted overwhelmingly for the amendment.

Another question sought to amend the resolution by adding to it other aspects of racial division present in the US. This was ruled out of order due to the fact it was actually worded as an additional motion and not an amendment.

Dr. Russell Moore spoke from the floor, not as President of the ERLC, but as a messenger from his home church. His statement was strongly worded and clear. The opening of his statement addressed that the resolution had a number on our list of resolutions of ten. That was a fact and the crowd waited to hear where he was going with this. Then he stated, "The Alt-Right and white supremacist movement has a number, too. It's 666." And at that, the room knew. 

Well said, Dr. Moore!

Finally, one more comment from the floor strongly seeking the committee to reject any other added amendments that would ultimately weaken the wording of the resolution with concern that a weak document would express the opposite message to non-white brothers and sisters about our seriousness regarding racism.

The questioning time ended.

The SBC Votes "YES" on Resolution 10

As SBC President Steve Gaines called for the vote, he asked messengers who wished to affirm the adoption of Resolution 10, he asked for all in favor to raise their ballots. The scene was beautiful as hundreds of green ballots in an overwhelmingly positive vote made clear that despite our family's sordid past, and even our founding as a denomination, regarding race relations, we would stand firmly upon God's Word, declaring His love and ultimately our love, for all peoples regardless of race, skin tone, or cultural background.

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Photo by Philip Bethancourt

Was It Too Little, Too Late?

I guess time will tell, for some. Ultimately, it is never too late to do the right thing. Through God's grace and providence he led us to agree with Him in this defining moment. This moment declares that political ideology does not drive our biblical theology.

In this moment, we acknowledge our dependance on God for guidance, for insight, for wisdom, and for life.

This moment reminds us that the sins of our ancestors do not define us. The sins of our churches are forgivable. The sins of just a day prior can be eradicated by the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

Some will say that our mechanism of voting and revisiting the vote means that we truly didn't mean what we ended up saying. That simply isn't true. Our final vote was clear. Our family (SBCers) were united to ensure we ended this issue (of the resolution) well.

Should we have voted on Tuesday? In retrospect - yes. Hindsight is always 20/20. 

Thank God we didn't leave the issue undone. Thank God the initial discussion was on Tuesday so that we could resolve this on Wednesday. Otherwise, it would still be hanging over us as we await next summer's Annual Meeting.

Some have and will say that our vote in the affirmative was prompted by media and social media outrage. 

It would be disingenuous to state that no one in the room heard or read what was being said. God has used numerous things, people, organizations, and circumstances throughout history to get the attention of his children. The Minor Prophets declare many ungodly things, nations, and people used by God for His glory. 

I actually thank God that we were listening.

Yet, rest assured, the SBC did NOT vote in affirmative to decry the motives and beliefs of the Alt-Right and white supremacists solely because Twitter prompted us to do so and because it was the politically correct thing to do.

The ultimate vote was yes because it was and is right. 

Racism is evil. It is demonic. It is divisive. It flies in the face of the Gospel. We believed this before our meeting. We believed it during our meeting. We voted on a resolution we likely never thought we would have to vote on to declare it even more clearly.

There are likely many churches and pastors who will be having to address angry church members who either don't fully understand the depth of the issue, or who could be wrongly racially motivated and in need of forgiveness. Our churches are varied and in diverse locations. No two SBC churches are identical, believe me.

I pray that our churches will be eradicated of racism within the pew and if need be, in the pulpit. My prayer is that the Spirit of God will convict and transform those who have either been excusing this sin or just now realize they are knee-deep within it. Apart from transformation, I pray that biblical churches will do what many have never done and enact biblical discipline upon those who remain unrepentant in this area.

Some of our pastors may feel they're standing alone when they meet with their membership on Sunday. Remember, pastor ... you are not alone. Ever. 

Now What?

A resolution was passed. This is good.

Racism remains in our world. This is a reality and still very bad.

The mission remains. Nothing has changed for the church but the conversation. And this is a big change. This generation of pastors and church members is being led into a dialogue that has been ignored by too many for too long. Older members of our churches, both black and white, have memories of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Churches in the South were segregated, just like everything else. For many of our older brothers and sisters, these are memories. 

For the younger generations (50 and younger) these are history stories. 

Maybe we fooled ourselves into thinking that since we have come so far regarding race relations in our nation that we had completed the task? Rest assured, based on what we have seen in our nation over the past few years, no one could rightly say we have arrived.

There is much work to do.

Racial reconciliation remains on the table and will for years, likely. The church, and in our case, the SBC churches, acknowledge the stains in our history, but must resolve (no pun intended) to not be defined by them.

The work to be done by the church to bring healing will not be done through political movements. That which must happen to unify Christians will not occur simply through a resolution. Presuming to understand fully the plight of another race is insulting and impossible. In other words, as a white man for me to tell my black brother "Oh I understand what you go through" is demeaning and wrong. Yet, there is hope.

Not Too Late Because There Is Hope

Through Christ forgiveness occurs.

Through Christ healing happens.

Through Christ, the church prevails.

We had just better remain humbly focused on Christ.

God led us this week in Phoenix. He brought our denomination to the river (in a desert no less) and directed us to trust Him as we stepped in. 

We stepped in and with him we will remain secure as we walk together through the waters ahead.


No, Senator Sanders - You Do Not Understand

While most of America was watching, or at least aware, of the Senate hearing last week featuring former FBI Director James Comey, there was another hearing taking place in Washington DC that flew under the radar for the most part. This other hearing potentially may impact more Americans long-term than anything coming from the Comey hearings.

The event was a confirmation hearing for an executive level position in the Office of Management and Budget. That alone is why this hearing did not garner news media attention. It was a simple hearing that in most years would not be newsworthy, but basically a formality. Yet, that is far from the case this time.

Russell Vought had been nominated by President Trump to serve in this position. Of those on the Senate panel interviewing Mr. Vought were Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, who last year ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party nomination for President, and Senator Van Hollen Jr., D-Md. 

Bernie Sanders burst onto the national scene last year, after decades of public service, as an alternative to Hillary Clinton. His brash, pro-socialist agenda resonated with many, especially young adults. College and university campuses welcomed Senator Sanders and young men and women who were looking forward to participating in their first presidential election "felt the Bern" and lined up behind him and his message. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton bested Sanders in the race and many young Democrats have since expressed their frustration that Sanders did not win. Thus is American politics.

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Photo credit: Randy Bayne via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Sanders has been described as a Jewish agnostic based on his heritage and self-proclaimed status as "not particularly religious." Hollen's political stances have consistently fallen on the far left of the American political spectrum. He has often made public statements condemning anti-Semitism and has gone on record with statements affirming the religious freedom of people around the world. On September 15, 2011, he declared this on record:

Around the world, millions of people suffer persecution merely because they practice a different religion than other people around them. No one should be made to feel that the practice of their religion is a crime or a source of shame. Such persecution violates their inalienable human right to practice the religion of their own choosing and promotes political instability.

Despite the well stated affirmation for religious freedom, Senator Hollen along with Senator Sanders, have now gone on record to declare Christianity a religion to be condemned, freedom be damned.

What Happened?

Russell Vought, the nominee of the President, is an evangelical Christian who graduated from Wheaton College. Wheaton is a solid, evangelical college with a clear statement of faith and biblical worldview. Last year, the college came under scrutiny when they parted ways with a professor who made spurious claims that Muslims and Christians are both people of the book and then quoted Pope Francis by affirming that "we worship the same God.” These statements stand in contradiction to biblical truth and the statement of faith held by evangelical Christians and Wheaton College. 

Mr. Vought, as an alum of Wheaton, defended his alma mater's statement of faith and wrote an article for the conservative website The Resurgent regarding this.

Vought clearly declares the authority of Scripture and salvation through Christ alone. This quote from Vought's article was the element brought to the table by Senator Sanders:

Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.

It is doubtful that Senator Sanders regularly reads The Resurgent, but props to his staff who, in the current world of political divide, found this nugget to offer their boss. 

Standing Condemned

Senator Sanders landed on this statement of condemnation and made claims that should cause every American, not just religious Americans, to take note:

"In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world. This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms ... we must not go backwards."

It is true that as a nation, we have struggled to overcome discrimination. Yet, in the following comments, if you can peer between the political buzzwords and Twitter-worthy statements, you will discover a revealed discrimination that is growing.

Sanders asked Vought if he considered his statement about Jesus to be "Islamophobic." Vought began to respond with "I am a Christian..." but before he could go any further, he was interrupted by Sanders who asked if Jews were also condemned because they reject Jesus. 

When Vought began to answer Senator Sanders, he said "I am a Christian..." but was once again interrupted by the Senator.

I understand you’re a Christian. But this country is made of people, not just… I understand Christianity is a majority religion, but the people of other religions in this country and around the world believe in their judgement that people convicted of non-Christians?”

Senator Hollen quoted from Vought's article, saying:

"I think it is irrefutable that these kinds of comments suggest to a whole lot of Americans that, number one ... you are condemning people of all faiths. I'm a Christian, but part of being a Christian in my view is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God ... It's your comments that suggest a violation of the public trust in what will be a very important position."

Ultimately, these push backs may be as much against the President who nominated Mr. Vought as to Mr. Vought himself. Nevertheless, the positioning is clear. Biblical Christianity is condemned by the culture while seeking to claim that Christianity is condemning others.

 

No, You Don't Understand

When Senator Sanders says "I understand you're a Christian..." it is clear that he does not really understand. When Senator Hollen states "I'm a Christian, but..." it is clear he does not affirm biblical Christianity.

This is a battle of world views and it is nothing new. What is new, or seemingly new, is that most Americans have never truly acknowledged the deep divide between absolute truth as expressed in God's Word and the "truthiness" of the world.

At a minimum, the senators' comments, stances, and ultimately recommendations for non-approval of Vought have positioned them, by their own words, as creating a religious litmus test for those serving in public office. As Dr. Russell Moore of the ERLC made clear,

"While no one expects Senator Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution."

Of greater note for evangelical Christians is the fact that regardless who is in the Oval Office, who represents us in DC or local political offices, the world view divide will ultimately require a statement of belief.

Do You Understand?

Christian - do you understand what it means to be a follower of Christ? He is the ONLY way! He is the ONLY truth. Through Christ ALONE, may we have life eternal. It may sound intolerant to those who do not understand. For those who do understand, it sounds like grace.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. - John 3:18 (ESV)


When Graduation Becomes a Protest

Students are putting on ill-fitting mortarboards and unattractive robes as symbols of accomplishment throughout our nation. It is that time of year where high school students receive their diplomas and college and university students are honored with their degrees. 

Commencement ceremonies, with all the pomp and circumstance, are wonderful events. They bring families and friends together for a time of celebration. For many parents of college students, the moment feels like their boss just gave them a raise (that is if they were paying for their child's schooling.) 

Yet, as we now know with our cultural and sexual revolution in full-swing, no public gathering will take place without a worldview divide revealed. Division has always existed among people, but the lines have shifted most recently and dramatically, at that. 

Everything is Political

Politics is divisive by nature. It always has been. Yet, now more than ever in the US with President Trump's administration in place and the Republican led House and Senate, the dividing lines seem to be painted more boldly. Of course, it may be due to the vast increase of media outlets online and the mostly left-leaning mainstream traditional news outlets. Thus, the battle for the news, whether it be real or fake.

Recent incidents have revealed the political and social worldview divide on the public stage. Recently, graduates from Bethune-Cookman University loudly protested the introduction of commencement speaker, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  The disruption at the ceremony led the university's president to threaten cancellation of the ceremony with a promise to mail the degrees to the graduates. Secretary DeVos was allowed to continue her speech at that point. (Story here.)

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Most recently, the most popular Roman Catholic university in the United States, Notre Dame, held it's graduation ceremony. It too made headlines based on a student protest. Vice President Mike Pence was the guest speaker and when introduced, a large crowd of students stood and exited the room. It was noticeable and captured on video to be shared globally. News agencies picked up the story and while it was unprecedented, it was far from surprising. 

Why the protest of Pence?

News sites have numerous interviews with students and seem to be leaning on two stories as to why the protest occurred. One has to do with Pence's position in the Trump administration. Therefore, President Trump's immigration policies among many other things, were being protested by the students. 

The other issue had to do with Pence's positions on family, marriage, abortion and LGBT views that were center-stage when Vice President Pence served as Governor of the state of Indiana. Pence's views and opinions on these issues have not shifted and that is the problem.

 

It's strange, however, that the public views and policies of the Vice President actually line up with the stated views of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church and therefore, of the University of Notre Dame. Yet, it is at this university where a divide was viewed most clearly. That is what makes this even more intriguing. If this protest took place at the University of Florida, Florida State University or any other publicly funded university, there would be no story. But, this was at a religious university, affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. 

The New York Times reports...

“Of course we welcome and support free speech on campus,” Mr. Miranda (Luis Miranda - a 29-year-old masters graduate who walked out - DT)  said. “But commencement is not a moment for academic exchange or political dialogue. It’s a celebration of all of our hard work.”

Mr. Miranda added that Mr. Pence’s role in graduation was particularly unsavory for some students and their families — including gay people and immigrants — who might have been hurt by the policies favored by the Trump administration.

Protest organizers estimated that more than 100 people had walked out. On social media, many could be seen wearing rainbow pins or flags, which were also hung from windows around the campus as a symbol of gay pride.

And there it is.

A few things stand out to me, but primarily, as a parent who has funded one university graduate's complete tuition and fees and currently is doing the same for another, the statement that the commencement ceremony is "a celebration of all our hard work" reeks of self-centeredness. But, who can blame him. In a culture where child-worship begins at birth and lasts through adolescence into young adulthood, this is expected.

While I do not know Mr. Miranda, nor do I know how he paid for his education, I do feel it safe to say that the majority of graduates have experiences from childhood through elementary, junior high, high school and college that reveal others along the way who supported, provided and sweat along with them for this special day. Of course, I understand that the student is the one receiving the degree. The study, work, and testing was done by that student and it was and is hard. Believe me, I'm back in school as well.

Nevertheless, a self-centric focus that states that the event is "all about me" is asinine and wrong. 

Mr. Miranda's family may applaud his protest. I just wonder how many other parents of students who walked out felt betrayed, not by the commencement speaker (even if they disagreed with Mr. Pence greatly) but by their student for daring to do what they did? Truth be told - I have one child who would likely want to walk out as did the protestors at Notre Dame, for the very same reasons. I would disagree with just about every reason. Betrayal would be one feeling that would surface.

It's a mixed bag. I'm sure some were heralded as bold while others were chastised by loved ones. 

Yet, the point is clear - we live in a divided culture. Is it more so than in the past? That's hard to determine. We didn't live in the past with the age and experience we now have. Yet, historical analysis reveals that our dividing lines are pretty unique. The sexual and LGBT revolution have determined such.

I think back to my graduation from the university. It was a big deal. I finally made it. However, do you know what I don't remember?

I don't remember who the commencement speaker was. Neither do I remember what he or she said.

I do remember that I didn't walk out.

Of course, I'm sure my speaker wasn't as politically connected or globally popular. Nevertheless, I graduated and my wife and parents were there with me. They celebrated along with me because my walking across that stage in Denton, Texas was as special a moment for them as it was for me.

Worldview Division

News stories like this come and go. They get shared on social media. Radio and television talking heads dissect the details. Christians get caught up in the stories as well and the danger is to not become that negative stereotype that blasts the younger generation. Seriously - being that old guy standing outside yelling "get off my yard" to the next generation is not the model we should follow.

Yet, as Christians, we must see things for what they are.

Worldviews matter. The sexual and moral revolutions in our culture have and are happening at breakneck speed. It's evident in these graduation ceremonies. More things like what happened at Notre Dame will happen and will eventually not make the news - because it will be so common.

Christians are forced with hard questions of faith and biblical truth. When the dividing lines have been drawn (regardless who drew them,) on what side do those who seek to follow God's Word stand?

Loving people is not up for a vote. It is a mandated command from Christ. Nevertheless, love does not mean total absolution of biblical truth. In fact, it means just the opposite. Love does not mean affirmation for sin. This is the challenge of the church—how to love God, love people, and make disciples of Christ without compromise or becoming the negative stereotype that those on the other side of the divide are devising? 

It is possible. It is happening. One protestor held a sign that said "Love Trumps Hate" with obvious intonations toward the President. Even in the snarky protest, the truth is on that placard. Love does trump hate. Love does win. Just not the version of love that culture defines. 

The win is found in the Gospel—the Good News. The good news is that God loves. So. Very. Much. And that love through Jesus Christ gives us hope. That love is not self-centric. That love is God.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)


Seriously! Why Do We Need ANOTHER Church on Fleming Island?

By now, many in our community know we're launching a new campus of our church in the community known as Fleming Island (yeah, we know...it's not really an island.) When those in our launch team and others in the church share about this new campus to meet in Paterson Elementary School, the most common question asked is "Why do we need another church on Fleming Island?"

Great question.

When I open Google Maps and type "church" in the search box, the following appear on the map (and to be honest, that's not all the churches that gather on "the island."

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Granted, these churches express a wide variety of faith traditions. While all have the name "church" on their signs or websites, there are some pretty significant differences among doctrine held by those gathering. So, I'll just speak of those who are in our tribe (Southern Baptist) and in our denomination, there are already three SBC churches in this area. That leads to an even more pointed question, right?

Why do we need another Baptist church on Fleming Island?

Jon Wood, our Campus Minister, wrote of this on his blog not too long ago. Here's what Jon wrote (blog here):

We don't need another church on Fleming Island. But, we do need new disciples of Jesus Christ and the best way to make new disciples is through new work. Here are some stats that have been discovered over recent years in the US regarding church planting and community engagement:

  • A new church gains 60-80% of its membership from new conversions.
  • A new church baptizes 1 person for every 13 members (legacy churches have a ratio of 1 baptism for every 52 members)
  • A new church will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than an older congregation the same size.

While there are nuances to every statistical analysis, these have proven to be true, especially as we see the rise of the "Nones" in our culture. Hey, do you remember the "Bible Belt"? Yeah, that's fiction. The truth of the matter is that even with almost 20 churches of various flavors on Fleming Island, there are more people living in the community disconnected and unengaged from church and more importantly from Christ than there are those who attend and participate regularly.

We've talked with some of the pastors of sister churches in the area and all agree - no one is doing enough to reach these people.

So, opportunities present themselves. A venue is open. God provides funding and leadership. Through prayer and seeking His lead, we step into a story that some say we should've been in about twenty years ago. Yet, now is the time. It's time for a new campus on Fleming Island.

Every new church plant and pastor starts with the same concept. I've heard it dozens of times - "We want to reach the people other churches aren't." 

It's not revolutionary. I mean, what pastor would actually say "We just want to reach the people who already attend other churches but are bored and need something 'cooler'?" No one says that. Well, some people actually strategize to do that, but no pastor would ever say that.

So, we are pushing against the easy way. Anyone can build a crowd. Most people have enough friends at other churches who will "help just to get it started" and develop a gathering. In some cases, it feels like success. Yet, if all we do is plant a new campus or church and simply borrow (or steal) members from other churches, we are doing a disservice to the Kingdom. That happens all too often. 

What If?

What if this works? I mean, really works. What if God has positioned us to come alongside our sister churches and those unengaged nones actually get reached?

We believe. 

But it won't be easy.

How We Will Know If We've Done This Wrong

And, if we end up with a room full of people gathering weekly who have a church membership resume of local churches that reveals little more than systematic hopping to the latest version of church (you know, the church that "meets my needs" or "feeds me") then we will be guilty of launching a church campus that was not only NOT needed, but harmful for Kingdom growth.

That's not the goal (and seriously, why would it be?) But, apparently this happens often. So, we have to continually push against that model.

The unengaged and unsaved population dwarfs the church crowd. (Well, in some cases the church crowd actually could be categorized as unsaved. Yeah...I said it.) That's why we need another church on Fleming Island. That's why we need to pray for our sister churches on the island who are preaching the Gospel and making disciples as well.

Maybe....just maybe....we're supposed to reach this community together? 


God Hates Divorce...But, What About Divorce in Same-Sex Marriages?

It seems that we are addressing issues that were never even thought of prior to our current era.

While the nuances may be unique, the truth remains. There truly is "nothing new under the sun.

We are almost two years removed from the landmark Obergefell vs. Hodges case where the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States. 

As predicted, churches and Christian denominations began to discuss, or continued discussions, related to the recognition of such unions and the hosting of same-sex weddings. As expected, traditionally conservative denominations and churches have mostly held to the orthodox view that biblical marriage being between one man and one woman for . On the other hand, churches with more moderate or liberal viewpoints have declared acceptance of such unions. In some cases, strong affirmation has been stated. Truth be told, most of these groups had walked away from biblical inerrancy and truth so many decades prior that to have them state anything other than affirmation for that which stands opposed to biblical truth would be shocking.

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Photo credit: peetje2 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

While the law of the land is likely not changing, the marginalization of those holding to traditional, biblically orthodox viewpoint will increase. This seems to be inevitable.

Many conservative evangelicals (of which I would be counted) continue to seek engagement of those in our communities and neighborhoods with the truth of the Gospel, while not capitulating on what we deem to be biblical truth. This leads to conversations with those self-identifying as LGBT. I do mean conversations, in that engagement with those in our community requires both talking and listening. Yet, based on the wide differences between the culturally-accepted and prevalent worldview and the biblical one, these honest conversations will eventually be less about the weather, sports, and our children's school events and ultimately will lead to deeper questions regarding truth and life. Missional engagement requires such.

Marriage and Divorce

When conversing about same-sex marriage, the evangelical church must readily admit that the track record for pure heterosexual marriage, even within the church, has not always been stellar.

For far too long, many churches (even, conservative evangelical ones) have winked at divorce among members and many pastors have refused to preach on the topic for fear of an upheaval among members (and likely financial supporters.) The sin of omission regarding divorce lands under the category of "fear of man" and therefore is often never addressed. So, in this sense, when Christians started railing against the prospect of the legalization of same-sex marriage, many on the other side of the debate responded with accusations of hypocrisy based on the divorce rate and broken families of those standing under the "family values" banner.

The church must have a biblical stance on same-sex marriage. However, in many cases, the church must reevaluate it's stance on heterosexual marriage as well and seek to value it more deeply.

God speaks of this.

"Let marriage be held in honor by all..." (Hebrews 13:4a ESV)

Conversely, He declares his opinion regarding divorce.

"For I hate divorce, says the Lord..." (Malachi 2:16 NASB)

Most of us who have been in church at length have heard the verse from Malachi. Other translations allude to that phrase as well. As the context reveals, God's desire is that covenants be kept. The passage states much more than just this one phrase and actually declares why divorce is hated by God. Click here to read more from gotquestions.org on this matter.

The question remains...

Let's presume the Bible to be true (which I do) and that God's truth is absolute regardless of culture, circumstances, or the reader of the Word's preference. In our current state where legalized marriage between two people of the same gender exists, how does God's view same-sex divorce?

This is the question never addressed by prior generations because the boundaries of acceptable morality and legal definitions were different. Yet, today, here we are.

Does God hate gay divorce?

The Bible does give instances where divorce is allowed. Yet, in every case, the relational definition remains heterosexual. Even when a believer marries a non-believer (which is not God's desire, either) the marital union between man and woman fits the design by God as expressed in Scripture. Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC stated it well in this article from Christianity.com...

Even if these marriages were entered into sinfully in the first place, they are in fact marriages (emphasis added) because they signify the Christ/church bond of the one-flesh union (Eph. 5:22-31), embedded in God’s creation design of male and female together (Mk. 10:6-9).

Therefore, from a biblical viewpoint, the marriage between two men or two women does not represent the image of the covenant relationship between Christ and the church. In other words, though legal in the eyes of the state, biblically the relationship is not truly a marriage.

Moore's statement continues...

Same-sex relationships do not reflect that cosmic mystery, and thus by their very nature signify something other than the gospel. The question of what repentance looks like in this case is to flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), which means to cease such sexual activity in obedience to Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). A state, or church decree of these relationships as marital do not make them so.

And...that means divorce, from a biblical standpoint, does not actually enter the equation. God hates divorce. This truth has not changed. However, in the case of same-sex marital relationship, there is no marriage biblically and therefore, no divorce.

 


GUEST POST: "Hard to be a Christian in the 'Church World'" by Ashley O'Brien

Ashley O'Brien has been active in church her entire life, raised in a pastor's family and now serving on the Leadership Team of firstFAMILY (FBC Orange Park) as Director of Social Media

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I genuinely get excited when someone surrenders their life to Christ. When a person listens to God and steps out to serve and be a part of something bigger makes me glad. It's inspiring and exciting when a man and wife plant a church intent on reaching the unreached. It's so exciting when Christians act like Christians! I love when people get excited about the Gospel and have to do something about it. However, sometimes it seems the steps taken seem to be focused wrongly. That's is what has led to my frustration.

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Ashley and her husband Jordan

I, just like other Christians, want to reach people for Christ. I want everyone to be involved in church -  a solid, biblically-focused church. I want people to know what they are getting into when they accept Christ. I believe they should feel at home when they enter the church's facility. Like many, I want to create a place that is attractive and inviting and what some would call “trendy.” Yet, I don’t want to sacrifice the Gospel for that. Jesus himself is attractional to a degree. Just look at the crowds that gathered to see him during his time of ministry around Galilee.  Of course, not everyone in the crowd were truly followers. In fact, most were not followers of Jesus, just fans. Jesus' words were offensive. The religious leaders didn't like what he said. Eventually, those who were just there for the show walked away. Apparently, they were offended as well, or perhaps when they truly listened to what Jesus was saying (i.e. "Carry your cross") they decided it was too much. 

Too many churches are founded on how to make church look “cool.” The flashy lights, the cool logo, the unusual name that hides the fact the group is truly a church all are part of the marketing strategy to reach Millennials. The great graphics and promos, the promise of free food and maybe a coffee mug, or whatever gets people to take a second look, to ask a question, to check it out are used by just about every new church, church plant, and legacy church seeking to engage the culture. In many cases, these things work. The room is filled. People come. Even Millennials show up. That’s the target audience is seems for most new churches now. And though it is exciting to reach this generation (my generation), the "stuff" that's offered can sometimes be nothing but "fluff." That’s the frustrating part. We fill the “church facility" (whether it's an established church building, a rented school cafeteria, a theater, warehouse, or even restaurant) but are we seeing transformations? Are we seeing people surrender their lives to Christ? Or are we filling up a room for an awesome production for people who look like they are worshipping (and in truth, many truly are) and appear to understand what God is saying through the pastor's message. But, let's be honest. sometimes the appearance or worship and engagement are based on what we think we're supposed to look like. You know, "This picture of me standing and worshipping will look great on Instagram or Snapchat!" Sorry, if that sounds cynical, but I have grown up in the era of big worship production events and while I love the music and the gatherings, it is just way too easy to fall into the trap of performance (even when you're not on stage) rather than truly worship.

It’s hard being a Christian in the world for obvious reasons. This is not earth-shattering. It's always been hard to be a Christian in the world. Why? Because the world never celebrates Christ. Believe me, as difficult as it is to be a follower of Christ in a post-Christian culture, I know what we face here in the west truly does not even compare to what our brothers and sisters in Christ face throughout the world, especially where persecution means death and not just being made fun of on social media. 

Yet, I’m finding it becoming more difficult to be a Christian in the "church world." This was something I never expected. My frustration is growing in the area of church life that seems so close, but yet so far from what living missionally truly is.

I want to invite people to church, but I won’t apologize for when they hear the Gospel preached. If anything other than the biblical message is preached, then calling the gathering a church is debatable.

If a church spends all their capital seeking to not look or sound like God's church, then at some level either the Gospel is not being preached or the group has pulled off little more than a "bait and switch." It's one thing for the pastor to be versed in apologetics (contending for the Gospel and defending the faith,) but something totally different if the pastor is apologizing for the Gospel, seeking not to offend.

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I would feel dissatisfied if all they heard was a therapeutic message. These types of messages are prominent and the crowd can listen without being able to discern if the message was from from the Bible or just a self-help book. The Gospel is offensive. It is truth. And, we all know that at times, the truth hurts. We don’t need to create churches that ignore truth. We don’t need another pastor building his kingdom and ultimately mar the Christian name. We don’t need a church that stands alone, either overtly or covertly building their crowds from those already attending solid (and maybe multi-generational) churches in the area. We need something else ... and I have no idea what that is, other than the truth and the Gospel.

New church plants are exciting. I believe they're needed. The numbers bear this out. My generation is growing less and less connected with the church. Yet, superficial fluffy entertainment-driven gatherings are not really the answer, are they?

So, from my perspective, our current churches, new campuses, and new church plants must have these:

  • Founded on Truth not a pastor's personality
  • Deemed successfully engaging not by how many Christians from other churches they can gather in a room weekly, but by how many lost are reached
  • Brokenness for the lost in the community, even if they don't fit the prescribed demographic of choice
  • Seeking the unengaged, not just the disgruntled attenders of other churches
  • Passion for the Gospel
  • Love of God
  • Love of people
  • Desire to make disciples...not just photogenic "worshippers"

As Christians, if we are obedient to what God has called us to do, God will be obedient to what He said he will do.

So, your gathering may have really cool stage lights and a smoke machine (those aren't bad...our church has them), a worship leader and band that does well, and maybe some really good coffee (free trade coffee, of course) and a bagel or even a free coffee mug or T-shirt for first time guests.  In fact, there's nothing wrong with any of those things. Do it. I like coffee mugs and free T-shirts.

But...don't miss the point.

Churches don't exist for us. They're for God. They're his to begin with.

Be attractional. No issue there, just don't focus so much on the things that don't matter in eternity and miss the Gospel.

Church planting is an exciting and scary adventure for most. I pray those pastors and launch team members hold tight to the truth and the reason behind it all. Reaching lost people for Christ.


It's Not Just the Prosperity Gospel That's the Problem - The Dangers of the Therapeutic Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel

As Baptists and Bible-believing evangelicals, the lies of the prosperity gospel are easily identified. This "name it and claim it" theological version of the gospel that lives somewhere at the far-end of DirecTV and on late-night television has been gathered funds from less-than-discerning followers for years. Years ago John Piper took a moment at a conference where he was speaking to share about his feeling regarding the prosperity gospel. It went viral and a few versions of that brief message are available on YouTube. I've linked one below:

For the most part, pastors and church leaders in the Baptist and evangelical world discount the false promises of the prosperity gospel and distance themselves from such. 

However, there is another false gospel that exists and it seems to be gaining traction, even within the framework of biblically-centered Gospel-focused churches. Sometimes, it sneaks in as a "short-term small group study" and sometimes in sermons or Sunday School classes.

The Therapeutic Gospel

We live in an age where therapy is not only accepted but marketed as needful for all. When it comes to therapy, I do not discount the need for such. I believe in counseling as a help for those in need. As a pastor, I offer counseling as well. Biblical counseling (not to be confused with what is often marketed under the broad term "Christian Counseling") is a powerful use of offering help and hope to those in need through the inerrant truth revealed in Scripture.

It's the focus on "felt needs" that drives this.

David Powlinson, author, teacher, and counselor shared these distinctions regarding the contemporary therapeutic gospel back in 2010. Not much has changed (full article here).

The most obvious, instinctual felt needs of twenty-first century, middle-class Americans are different from the felt needs that Dostoevsky tapped into (in his book The Brothers Karamazov). We take food supply and political stability for granted. We find our miracle-substitute in the wonders of technology. Middle-class felt needs are less primal. They express a more luxurious, more refined sense of self-interest:

  1. I want to feel loved for who I am, to be pitied for what I’ve gone through, to feel intimately understood, to be accepted unconditionally;
  2. I want to experience a sense of personal significance and meaningfulness, to be successful in my career, to know my life matters, to have an impact;
  3. I want to gain self-esteem, to affirm that I am okay, to be able to assert my opinions and desires;
  4. I want to be entertained, to feel pleasure in the endless stream of performances that delight my eyes and tickle my ears;
  5. I want a sense of adventure, excitement, action, and passion so that I experience life as thrilling and moving.

The modern, middle-class version of therapeutic gospel takes its cues from this particular family of desires. We might say that the target audience consists of psychological felt needs, rather than the physical felt needs that typically arise in difficult social conditions. (The contemporary “health and wealth” gospel and obsession with “miracles” express something more like the Grand Inquisitor’s older version of therapeutic gospel.)

In this new gospel, the great “evils” to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, the problem lies in my sense of rejection from others; in my corrosive experience of life’s vanity; in my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence; in the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off; in my fussy complaints when a long, hard road lies ahead. These are today’s significant felt needs that the gospel is bent to serve. Jesus and the church exist to make you feel loved, significant, validated, entertained, and charged up. This gospel ameliorates distressing symptoms. It makes you feel better. The logic of this therapeutic gospel is a jesus-for-Me who meets individual desires and assuages psychic aches.

Pastors lament the consumer mentality of many in the world today and yet, sometimes that which is complained about is propped up unknowingly by a version of the gospel that is less than complete. A less-than-complete gospel is a false gospel.

Signs That Your Church Members Just Want Therapy, Not the Gospel

Tweet: Every pastor, at some point in time, will hear church members state that they're looking for a new church. https://ctt.ec/KqG2f+Every pastor, at some point in time, will hear church members state that they're looking for a new church.

Most often the church members and friends do not state these directly, but just fade away in attendance and participation and eventually share that phrase with mutual friends or other church members. Then, over time, that phrase hits the ears of leadership.Sometimes God actually calls members of a local body of believers to unite elsewhere. However, unless that calling leads to missional engagement and missionary living, it all to often seems to be based on a desire for a new version of church, and sometimes is fueled by disagreement with pastoral leadership, theology, or programming.In all candor, it has been my experience that theological differences rarely are the tipping point. This proves to be the case when members join another local church that holds to the very same theological understandings. 

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Photo credit: Chicago Running Tours & more via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

Those who have itchy ears for the therapeutic gospel (which, in case it's not clear, is a false gospel) tend to offer one of the popular statements such as...

  • "I'm not being fed"
  • "I need...something from someone"
  • "I'm not being discipled"
  • "We need a better group for our kids"

...or other such phrase. 

Acquiescence to the therapeutic gospel is often identifiable through the overuse of "I" or "we" statements when it comes to what the church offers or does not offer. 

The church and pastoral leadership do not get a pass here. Poor leadership leads to ineffective discipleship. Inwardly focused churches are not disciple-makers. Therefore, they are prone to offer therapeutic philosophy disguised as biblical truth. Pastors and leaders must continually push against the drive (even within themselves) to build small kingdoms, keep the tithers happy, and bow to the false god of self-preservation and self-worship.

Powlinson addresses the five elements of the therapeutic gospel biblically this way:

  1. “Need for love”? It is surely a good thing to know that you are both known and loved. God who searches the thoughts and intentions of our hearts also sets his steadfast love upon us. However all this is radically different from the instinctual craving to be accepted for who I am. Christ’s love comes pointedly and personally despite who I am. You are accepted for who Christ is, because of what he did, does, and will do. God truly accepts you, and if God is for you, who can be against you? But in doing this, he does not affirm and endorse what you are like. Rather, he sets about changing you into a fundamentally different kind of person. In the real gospel you feel deeply known and loved, but your relentless “need for love” has been overthrown.
  2. “Need for significance”? It is surely a good thing for the works of your hands to be established forever: gold, silver, and precious stones, not wood, hay, and straw. It is good when what you do with your life truly counts, and when your works follow you into eternity. Vanity, futility, and ultimate insignificance register the curse upon our work life – even midcourse, not just when we retire, or when we die, or on the Day of Judgment. But the real gospel inverts the order of things presupposed by the therapeutic gospel. The craving for impact and significance – one of the typical “youthful lusts” that boil up within us – is merely idolatrous when it acts as Director of Operations in the human heart. God does not meet your need for significance; he meets your need for mercy and deliverance from your obsession with personal significance. When you turn from your enslavement and turn to God, then your works do start to count for good. The gospel of Jesus and the fruit of faith are not tailored to “meet your needs.” He frees from the tyranny of felt needs, remakes you to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13). In the divine irony of grace, that alone makes what you do with your life of lasting value.
  3. “Need for self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-assertion”? To gain a confident sense of your identity is a great good. Ephesians is strewn with several dozen “identity statements,” because by this the Spirit motivates a life of courageous faith and love. You are God’s – among the saints, chosen ones, adopted sons, beloved children, citizens, slaves, soldiers; part of the workmanship, wife and dwelling place – every one of these in Christ. No aspect of your identity is self-referential, feeding your “self-esteem.” Your opinion of yourself is far less important than God’s opinion of you, and accurate self-assessment is derivative of God’s assessment. True identity is God-referential. True awareness of yourself connects to high esteem for Christ. Great confidence in Christ correlates to a vote of fundamental no confidence in and about yourself. God nowhere replaces diffidence and people-pleasing by self-assertiveness. In fact, to assert your opinions and desires, as is, marks you as a fool. Only as you are freed from the tyranny of your opinions and desires are you free to assess them accurately, and then to express them appropriately.
  4. “Need for pleasure”? In fact, the true gospel promises endlessly joyous experience, drinking from the river of delights (Ps. 36). This describes God’s presence. But as we have seen in each case, this is keyed to the reversal of our instinctive cravings, not to their direct satisfaction. The way of joy is the way of suffering, endurance, small obediences, willingness to identify with human misery, willingness to overthrow your most persuasive desires and instincts. I don’t need to be entertained. But I absolutely NEED to learn to worship with all my heart.
  5. “Need for excitement and adventure”? To participate in Christ’s kingdom is to play a part within the Greatest Action-Adventure Story Ever Told. But the paradox of redemption again turns the whole world upside down. The real adventure takes the path of weakness, struggle, endurance, patience, small kindnesses done well. The road to excellence in wisdom is unglamorous. Other people might take better vacations and have a more thrilling marriage than yours. The path of Jesus calls forth more grit than thrill. He needed endurance far more than he needed excitement. His kingdom might not cater to our cravings for derring-do and thrill-seeking, but “solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion’s children know.”

May we diligently focus on the truth of the Gospel and not settle for less than God truly offers. When our theology centers on self, and ultimately becomes a "me-ology" the church ceases to be church. This may be one of the greatest challenges we face nowadays, especially as the generations of church members and attenders dwindles. The natural response from many church leaders is to "offer what the audience wants" while sacrificing what we truly need.

What is needed? The Gospel.

The true Gospel.


Five Things We Did In Church That We Don't Do Anymore

As I reflect back to my life growing up in a Baptist church, I am amazed now at some of the things we did that just seem so wrong nowadays (and to be honest, they were likely wrong then as well, but times were different.)

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Photo credit: Steven Polunsky via Visual hunt / CC BY

Here are just a few of the things we have done, and to be honest, some of the youth events were under my leadership. 

  • Haunted House

    Yeah, a real haunted house. Just to be clear this wasn't some "baptized" version of a haunted house that used recreated car wrecks or tragedies with guys dress like angels and a Jesus actor intent on scaring people into heaven. I was in junior high school. This was a traditional Southern Baptist church in the midwest and I am still not sure how or why we did this, but I will tell you this - the autopsy room and electric chair room we built was incredible! It was just...wrong. There was fake blood, but no talk of being "washed in the blood." Maybe we had snacks afterward? I don't know. I was in 8th grade. As I look back I cannot help but think "What?!?" Nevertheless, this happened. Once.
  • Judgment House

    I'm not saying this is something that shouldn't be done. That's my way of saying "If you're doing a Judgment House or Hell House or whatever, that's on you." We, however, won't be doing it again. We hosted this at our church here in Orange Park once. It was huge and attracted many people. Yet, it was the "scare the hell out of you" and "scare the heaven into you" type of event that seems a bit over the top. It was like a bad Christian movie with some pretty good props (for a local church) but with acting that matched pretty well with the majority of the Christian films available at the time. Meaning: not good. This happened. Once. 
  • Sunday School Drag Queen

    Okay, this one is a bit misleading. Imagine a Sunday School class of 40 and 50 year olds. It's a couple's class and they have done what many couple's classes have done for decades in church life. They have planned a "fellowship." That means they have planned a class party complete with games and likely a bad take-off of "The Newlywed Game." They even have written a sketch that is supposed to be funny. So, with Flip Wilson (look him up young folks) as their model, the men come on stage (or in the front of the room) dressed as women...ugly women. It was supposed to be funny. Yet, prior to concerns about transgenderism and the LGBT revolution, these things were just done and people laughed them off. There was prayer for the food. Then, this group of Christians unknowingly (I hope) went on to blatantly disregard Deuteronomy 22:5. It was just a game, but whoa, in today's culture that's a big no-no. It should have been a no-no then as well.
  • Youth Group Drag Queen Game

    Okay, so this one is on me. It wasn't really intended to be a drag queen issue, but way back in the late 1990s, I was leading a game at a youth camp. It was a typical youth group relay which involved as many people as possible. We based it on the theme "A League of Their Own" which was a movie starring Tom Hanks and Madonna about women's professional baseball. So, each level of the relay had something to do with baseball and women. It seemed funny at the time to have each team pick the burliest guy on their squad and have him go through the section where he's having lipstick put on him by blindfolded teammates, putting on a baseball jersey and even sliding on a skirt (over his shorts) before running to the next level. All in fun until one of my youth pastor friends came up to me afterward and said "Dave, we have a guy in our group that has been to counseling and struggles with gender issues. His mom finds him dressing in her clothes. This game has set him back." Ouch! I never thought of that at the time. Based on what we see happening with students today, in our families and churches, this game and others are now on the "NO WAY" list. We never did that relay again. Now, we did do "Mom's Apple Pie" but that just involved a lot of flour, butter, and a pie eating contest. 
  • Pick Your Favorite Song Night

    I loved these when I was a kid. It wasn't that I loved to go to church on Sunday night, but that this evening allowed my friends and I to pick hymns in the hymnbook that our Music Minister did not know and that had what we considered weird lyrics. In the 1975 Baptist Hymnal we would always pick number 20. If you grew up with these Pick a Hymn events, you likely know this one. The title is "God of Earth and Outer Space" and while the tune unfortunately sounds like any other hymn, we thought the lyrics were funny. Granted the song was written during the era of the space race, I think. Another great pick was "My God Is There Controlling." When the Music Minister would say "Does anyone have a favorite hymn other than Number 20?" (which he learned to say) we would offer this one. The first line is "We search the starlit Milky Way. A million worlds in rhythmic sway..." Lovely. I can't remember the tune, because I don't think we ever finished the song. Yet, as a teenager we would recite these lyrics like beatniks on an episode of "Happy Days." Here's the third line - "But as I grope from sphere to sphere..." Yeah. This was in the Baptist Hymnal. And you thought "Good, Good Father" was bad. 

There are many other things we don't do anymore that we used to do in church. Some good. Some bad. Yet, these I have listed have stopped for very good reasons. If you can comment below without being negative, list some other things we have stopped doing for good reasons. No lamenting the greatness of the "good old days."


The Danger of Living in an Echo Chamber

Last year's election cycle revealed what many of us already knew - echo chambers exist and it's easier to see that others live within them and difficult to acknowledge when we do.

What is an "echo chamber?"

The practical definition is an enclosed space where sound reverberates...or echoes.

In this aspect, however, we are not speaking of physical sites where sound reverberations can be heard, but social sites, mostly online, but not limited to that. 

The Washington Post ran an article last year titled "Confirmed: Echo chambers exist on social media. So what do we do about them?"

In Christine Emba's report, she shares results from social scientists on the reality of such chambers. 

The study focused on how Facebook users interacted with two narratives involving conspiracy theories and science. Users belonging to different communities tended not to interact and tended to be connected only with “like-minded” friends, creating closed, non-interacting communities centered around different narratives — what the researchers called “echo chambers.” Confirmation bias accounted for users’ decisions to share certain content, creating informational cascades within their communities.

Recently, one of my online friends who holds vastly different views politically, socially, and theologically, shared a story online that was opposite my view on many levels. We discussed the views cordially and I shared the reality that the views espoused were simply echoes of others. The concept of living in an echo chamber is a reality, and I am not immune either. 

The Echo Chamber of Politics

Social scientists and political scientists have studied the surprising (to some) results of last year's US Presidential election. As results came in where states were colored either blue (Democrat) or red (Republican) to indicate Electoral College votes, our news showed the county-by-county vote totals of our state, Florida. 

I would not be surprised to see other state breakdowns to show similar results. Here are Florida's results (screenshot from The Guardian)

Screenshot 2017-02-04 10.51.01
Screenshot from The Guardian

For the most part, the blue counties are where large universities are located (FSU, UF, UCF, USF, UM, FIU, FAU, etc.) They are also the locations, other than Alachua County, of urban areas in our state. 

This is no surprise in that many students in university settings are challenged intellectually regarding their belief systems and sense of fairness. It seems that over the decades, many of our universities have embraced a humanist worldview that leans left ideologically, politically, and theologically. This is not news. 

However, I am not saying that individuals abandon their convictions and beliefs just because they enroll in college. In fact, no university populace is homogenous (well, except for Saturdays in the fall during football season) in their beliefs or support of ideologies. Yet, it is true that many students find themselves exposed to a worldview that sees things vastly different than the one experienced growing up under parental authority once at college.

It is at this level, the echo chamber develops. 

And it is not just in the liberal, humanistic worldview world. 

Just in case it's misunderstood, I'm not saying that the red candidate's voters were not in echo chambers. They were, too.

I am just pointing out how so many who leaned left were surprised at the election results primarily because they were trapped in an echo chamber. The same has been proven true for other sides over the years.

No one is immune.

The Christian Echo Chamber

As Christians, we must guard against the echo chamber as well.

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shared this in The Briefing from August 4, 2016 in a story about Roger Ailes and Fox News:

But as we’re thinking about the entire question of this media ecology, there are two other issues that thinking Christians should keep in mind. This has to do with the echo chamber and what is known as confirmation bias. One of the great risks to all of us, whether of the left or the right, Christian or non-Christian, is that we will situate ourselves within a cocoon in which we hear no dissenting voices and no contrary arguments. This is probably, to be honest, more a problem for liberals than conservatives in terms of the print media because of the dominance of the liberals in major newspapers and editorial boards. But on television Fox News largely leveled the field, and now there is the risk that anyone of the left or the right or any other perspective can spend 24 hours a day listening to nothing but the echo of one’s own political positions and the bias of hearing confirmation of what one already believes.

This is where Christians need to understand the discipline of forcing ourselves to hear contrary arguments in order to understand evangelistically and apologetically the worldview of those who may not agree with us on so many issues. The political and moral—the worldview divide in America is now so deep that we can cocoon ourselves and hear almost no one who disagrees with us.

Some fear that even listening to dissenting political or ideological opinions flies too close to "the appearance of evil" but I hearken back to Paul's encounter at Mars Hill. To lovingly engage those far from God with the Gospel leads us out of the echo chamber (which for Christians can be filled with empty "Amens" on social issues apart from biblical foundation.) 

If you check my Twitter account, you'll see that I follow many people. Many of those I follow view the world through a lens (a worldview) vastly different than the biblical one I do. They hold to beliefs of Scripture that I do not. They argue in favor of things that I believe are evil and wrong or at best, short-sighted. Yet, I "follow" them. To be clear, just because I follow you online, does not mean I agree with you. 

Yet, to be clear, as a Christian I must spend the bulk of my time in God's Word when it comes to having a biblical worldview. Apart from the Gospel, I have no valid discourse with those who are pre-Christian.

Winning debates is not the goal.

Watching God win souls is.