A few days ago, I posted a picture of a demerit from my Bible College days. It got a ton of comments and took a bunch of us on a walk down memory lane. The comments were fascinating in showing the different places and perspectives that my contemporaries have gone since leaving our fundamentalist Bible College. In fact, if the demerits were aimed at helping us stay in the fold of fundamentalism, their track record is spotty, at best.
At the same time, since Thanksgiving I have seen a number of post about the Elf on the Shelf. If you are unfamiliar, the Elf on the Shelf is a recently published book (2005) that takes the whole “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” thing to a whole new level. The idea is that you put a small stuffed elf on a shelf or mantle in your house and tell the kids that he is watching for Santa. The elf reports back to Santa his findings and if you are good you get toys, etc. The idea, at first blush, seems innocent enough. After all, Santa already sees you when you are sleeping, whats a creepy little elf going to hurt.
Actually, maybe a lot.
Many Christian parents may gravitate towards the idea of the Elf on the Shelf because it seems like a good way to keep the kids in line. After all, it is tough to have kids behave. I know that more than anyone I know. If I am home alone with my kids, it usually sounds like this, “Guys, guys stop. Hey GUYS, Let’s not do that. Please don’t, seriously. Boys, what?” But when we use something like the Elf on the Shelf, we may be accidentally instilling the wrong ideas in our kids.
When we aim to fix our kids actions,we will miss their hearts.
That was the problem for me and demerits. I was really good at not doing anything that would get me written up. I could check off boxes with the best of them. The problem was that my heart was cold and angry. So all the nice and helpful things I was doing amounted to nothing more than a stench in the nostrils God. Just because we do the right thing, doesn’t mean that we are obeying God. Isaiah gives us a vivid picture of this:
Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
(Isaiah 1:13-14 ESV)
He is after something more. Christ is after our hearts. This is what Christmas is all about. Jesus gave up all the pleasures of heaven. He left the Father’s right hand and was born in the terrible conditions of a barn and trough. Did he do this because he knew we would do the right thing? No, while we were still enemies of God, he died for us. He pursued our hearts.
So perhaps instead of an Elf on the Shelf this year, maybe we can put a nativity there. And we can tell our kids that God is watching us. He knows if we have been bad or good. And even though we have been bad, gave us the gift of His Son anyway. What if we told our kids they would get presents no matter how naughty they were? What if we went after our kids hearts, not just their behavior.
One of my seminary professors, Chuck DeGroat has written an incredible book on Exodus and our struggles as humans, Leaving Egypt. Here is a great quote from his chapter on the Golden Calf:
Where was God? [While Israel was making the Golden Calf] In a blend of irony, tragedy, and even a bit of comedy, while the Israelites were desperately crafting their substitute God-presence, God was busy making plans to be more present with them than ever. And while we’re desperately seeking our own substitutes for security, God’s Son, as the carpenter he was raised to be, is building a home for His restless, weary pilgrim children.
I can’t think of a book in the past few years as nuturing to my soul as this one. And if you click this link, it’s only $.99 on Kindle until Saturday! bit.ly/Mz8jIB
There is a fantastic scene at the end of the much underrated Coen brothers movie, Burn After Reading, where J.K. Simmons (pictured right) asks the question of the string of unlikely events that make up the plot of the movie, “What did we learn here?” The C.I.A. agent who is recounting the story looks back at him puzzled and says that he has no idea. Simmons shakes off the strangeness of the event and agrees, “me neither”. It is the perfect ending to a movie that explores a seemingly random collection of tragedies and misunderstandings.
This past week, I found my self in the same puzzled situation. A video was released by the Invisible Children group promoting their 2012 campaign. It was attached to the tags, #StopKony, #MakeKonyFamous, or #Kony2012. To say that the video went viral is a gross understatement. Here is a chart showing how quickly the video went viral.
In case you aren’t good with bar graphs, StopKony had 100,000,000 views on YouTube in 6 days! If my math checks out, that is nearly 200 views every second! Unless you live under a rock, your social media feeds were blowing up with links to the video and the tags listed above. As quickly as the video rose in popularity, a number of articles criticizing the campaign went up. You can read some of them here,or here. Then, just as quick, Invisible Children fired back with this article detailing their side of the story. Click Here to read it.
Soon, many people were back on social media pointing out either a) the disingenuous nature of the campaign or b) it’s legitimacy. If your social media feed was anything like mine, some of the same people were posting both!
My aim here is not to weigh in on the question of whether or not StopKony is a good thing or a bad thing. My goal is to ask, “What did we learn here”. We are less than 10 days away from the posting of the video to YouTube and the sound and the fury has settled down. As I reflect on the whole kerfuffle, I think there are 3 things for us to learn, especially as Christians.
1. Our use of Social Media is not that much different from the world around us.
One of the things that was so fascinating about this campaign, and surely a part of it’s viral nature is the number of celebrities who jumped on board and were tweeting about it. Oprah, Justin Beiber, Kim Kardashian, and Chris Brown all tweeted about the film. The video transcended religion or lack thereof. We as Christians watched the film and jumped on board in the exact same fashion as everyone else. I am not sure that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is worth noting that our social media behavior was nearly identical to the world around us. We may have cloaked our language with more moral/biblical imperatives, but the content was the same.
2. We are victims of the same “news cycle” mentality as everyone around us.
It’s now 10 Days later, and there is not a single enduring mention of Kony in my twitter or facebook feed. The local high school who changed their fence art from “Class of 2012” to “#Kony2012” has reverted back to the celebration of their graduation date. In our world, information travels at the speed of…well, I don’t know; but I am sure it is fast. There is a good chance, if Joseph Kony was worried this time last week, he probably isn’t now. People have forgotten about him. He has been relegated to the ranks of things our parents will ask us about next week. Look at this chart comparing searches on Google for “Stop Kony 2012” and “Snooki Pregnant”
How in the world are we as Christians supposed to engage in long term discipleship in a culture that flies from one idea and cause to the next in a matter of days. It may become that one of the hallmarks of 21st century Christianity is our slavish devotion to talking about things for a long period of time. If we are willing to “hear the conclusion of the whole matter”, will this make us strangers in a foreign land where, by the time conclusions can be heard, people have moved on”.
3. We have not developed a culture of wisdom regarding social media.
This is, I think, the thing we as Christians need to consider deeply. How is social media shaping us? And the next question on that road is, “how is our message being shaped by social media?” We are blindly and thoughtlessly using social media. Sometimes we think of it as a great tool for connecting with others. It is. Sometimes we enjoy the benefits of having the google search bar and wikipedia just a click away. But is this effecting us? What is our theology of social media? I am not suggestion some Luddite retreat from technology. I am not suggesting we move to the desert and unplug. But at the same time I fear, for myself and for my children, that we are allowing these things to become so second nature that something is missing. I just can’t figure out what it is that I am missing.
I should probably just google it.
I am incredibly grateful to my favorite seminary professor, Reggie Kidd for incorporating art into his lectures at Reformed Theological Seminary. He was particularly fond of Renault and Rembrandt. Growing up in Tampa, I always loved going to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. The one painting of Dali’s that is not in St. Pete that I would love to see again (I saw it in D.C. when I was 8) is The Sacrament of the Last Supper. The painting is beautiful and if you would like to read an excellent analysis of the painting by Michael Novak, a student from Marquette.
I am a firm believer that every Reformed pastor should have a favorite Arminian. It’s good for the soul and it helps keep tabs on your blind-spots. When I was in college, I bought a bunch of books at an estate sale that had interesting titles. In particular, two books on pastoral care by William Willimon struck despite our very different views on the nature of God’s sovereignty, Willimon became a go to source on pastoral care.
He may have been supplanted as my favorite Methodist. Telling God’s Story by John Wesley Wright is one of the best books on preaching I have ever read. A while back I spent an entire semester reading books on preaching and as far as methodology of deliverary, none of them hold a candle to Wright.
What I found so good about Wright’s book was the way that he recorded a number of things that I have done in my preaching for years, that I never quite knew how to explain. There have been an onslaught of books in the past 10 years about narrative preaching and most of them have been lack-luster. Many of these books have been overly simplistic.
“Uh, stories are good, you know. People like stories and you should tell more of them. It would even be cool if your whole sermon was a story, eh?”
Obviously that is a bit exaggerated, but the nuts and bolts how to make transitions and structure a sermon were missing from these books. Wright walks through the how-to’s of narrative sermon, showing why each piece is important. He gives particular attention to two ideas; the comedic verse tragic nature of sermons and concept of a sermonic “move”.
Wright points out that much of the churches current preaching is falling deaf ears because it has become routine and people see it coming. He calls this sort of preaching comedic. He goes on to compare it to I Love Lucy. There is going to be a problem and that problem will neatly wrap up in the way that you expect it to in about 25 minutes. Wright shows how this caricature is far too similar to most of our preaching. He suggests instead a type of preaching that tragically reveals the disconnect between who we are and who the Biblical narrative calls us to be. He says that this type of preaching should feel more like Romeo & Juliet. The ending of the love story makes us uncomfortable. Wright says this is precisely what sermons should do.
Wright says that one of the ways we should accomplish this is sermonic “moves”. These moves differ from points in that they are not just pieces of information to build on, but connections between the text and the listener. These moves form the basis of the sermon and serve to connect us to the text and to show how the original hearers would have moved through the text as well.
Overall, I cannot recommend this book any more highly. It is a perfect complement to books like Greidanus’s Ancient Text Modern Preacher.
When I was in high school, it was always fun to play the prank to put stuff in someone’s drink when they stepped away from the table. You could dump salt in their coke, fill their tea with pepper juice and otherwise case mischief. It was always great to see a big reaction when the friend returned to the table and took a swig of Dr. Pepper that tasted like soy sauce. Inevitably that friend would laugh, order another drink and plot his revenge.
But what wouldn’t happen is that person keeping their be-spoiled drink. It was gross.
Jeremiah calls out ancient Israel and us for the same thing. He says, the Lord has these two problems with you. First, you have abandoned him (a free flowing spring of pure water) and second, you have dug your own cisterns which hold no water and whats left at the bottom is dirty and gross.
Well good thing for us, we have city water, right?
Unfortunately, no. More often than not, I turn to my idols to provide me with something that I feel I am not getting from Christ. This is difficult because sometimes the love and acceptance of Christ is somewhat intangible and abstract.
I want people to do what I expect so that I am provided with comfort. We want our kids to act right in public so we can have the adoration of all the over parents around. We want our spouses to love us so that we feel better about our self-worth. We want the elders of our churches to bend to our wills. We want the doctor to shrug and say that the cancer is benign.
The problem is not with having comfort, good kids, or a loving spouse; the problem is wanting these things to serve as our Gods. Only in Christ can we truly have acceptance and the love we truly desire. Until I revel in what Christ has done for me, I am just wallowing around in and drinking my dirty nasty cistern water.
And the problem with cistern water is that it does not refresh. It never quenches the thirst that it says it will. And there in is where our anger and frustration begin. When our idols fail to deliver, we get angry. We get frustrated. And most the time, we jump deeper into the arms of those very same idols.
The Gospel breaks this cycle by reminding us that we are already accepted. I saw on twitter yesterday and now I can’t find it, a quote that goes something like this:
You can tell that you have grown in your understanding and trust of the gospel when you are more willing to disappoint people.
What is it that you feel like you aren’t getting from Christ? How does the Gospel say that he is already providing it?
Between this fall’s “Tebowmania” and the “Linsanity” that has come upon us this spring, Christians have
been more interested in sports than normal. As a bunch, we Christians love sports about as much as the next guy. I imagine the ratio of sports nuts in the general population is about the same as ratio of sports nuts in pews on Sunday mornings.
But in the last 6 months, this has changed. Every Christian has become a sports fans. I have had more conversations about the Denver Broncos and the New York Nicks in those months than I ever have before. Combined. People who would be confused on the difference between a point guard and a nose guard suddenly want to have a conversation about the merits of a fullbackesque quarterback and what kind of person is needed to Mike D’antoni’s offense. Why?
Because both Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin are professing Christians? That would be the obvious answer, but it would be only half true. Tons of professional atheletes in every sport have been professing Christians. Tebow and Lin also seem to be Godly men, walking with Christ. Again, this is nothing new. Sports a littered with Godly men and have been for years. So what is it that causes all of the frenzy, all of the uproar over these men?
Sin. Not theirs, but ours. What is really happening is that we are falling victim to the media’s projection of these men. Our culture is obsessed; obsessed with celebrity. We want to know who is dating who. What she was wearing at this event. Where he buys his italian sausage. It has spawned entire networks (E!) and countless tv shows and blogs. We want to know about famous people because unconsciously we think that they are better than us, more important. The term that scripture would use for this obsession that mirrors everyone else in our culture is worldliness.
Unfortunately for them, Tebow and Lin have become caught up in this machine by no fault of their own. If you want evidence for this, look who has been talking about Tebow this past month. Two of the biggest media mavens, two women who know how to work our obsession with celebrity to their advantage have both said they have crushes on Tim Tebow. Kim Kardashian publicly said she liked Tim Tebow and wishes he would date her. Katy Perry dedicated a song to him at the Superbowl pregame and then there were rumors that they were an item. But those things were perpetrated by the world, not us, right?
A few weeks ago I went to a parachurch ministry’s banquet. It was great. There was steak, a fascinating testimony, and a good message. And then there was something else. At the end of the program, a man got up and pointed to framed pictures on each table of a man in football gear kneeling in prayer. We were then sternly admonished (mind you 2 weeks after Tim was eliminated from the playoffs) to pray for this young man.
We weren’t encouraged to pray for Pastor Youcef, the (soon to be) Martyr in Iran. We weren’t encouraged to pray for our families, our pastors, or even their parachurch ministry. We were exhorted to pray for Tim Tebow. I have to wonder if our obsession with the success of one Christian quarterback or point guard isn’t the result of worldliness.
Should we pray for and enjoy these men. Yes. Should we be obsessed…