Category Archives: culture

Who Are Your People Groups?

In my discussions with Bryan Barley (see “Disciples Who Make Disciples“), he shared the way his faith community was defining their mission.  If you have been involved in any American churchianity you have come across the unhealthy view of missions as “over there.”  You know, the missionary comes to your church with their overhead projector, slideshow, and indigenous outfit to share about what it means to be a missionary.

The Biblical reality is that all Christians are full-time missionaries.  Most are full-time paid missionaries who get their pay from some occupation not related to their faith (i.e., schoolteacher, lawyer, nurse, etc.).  Many Christians see missionaries as the super-Christians who are uniquely called to dedicate their lives to sharing the gospel to a particular group of people (usually in a foreign context).  The reality is that all Christians are called to dedicate their lives to sharing the gospel with a particular group of people.  Some of us (far more of us than have actually gone) are called to go to the lost nations of the world.  However, in the modern world many of the nations have come to America.  My most effective years of “mission” where when I was a student at William and Mary (“Bill and the Babe” as we alums call it).  Many college campuses are a sampling of various “people groups” from across the nation and the globe.  The nations have literally come to your back door!

Those of us who have been on short-term mission trips are used to the “assignment” when we go.  In fact, one of the reasons “mission trips” are so successful is the clear focus on the assignment of going and telling others about the gospel.  On such trips one has a clear task.  If all of us are really full-time missionaries, why don’t we think in such clear terms daily?

Vocational missionaries use the language of “people groups” to describe unique pockets of culture they are trying to infiltrate with the gospel.  Who are your people groups and what are you trying to do to reach them?  In college my people groups where my coworkers at The Coffeehouse, my hallmates in the dorm, and my colleagues in the classroom.  In seminary my people groups where my coworkers, the regulars at the dog park, and my neighbors in the apartment complex.  Now, my people groups are the teenagers of North Suffolk, the employees of the places I frequently visit (i.e., barber, barista, grocery store clerk), and my neighbors.

Who are your people groups?

What are you doing to reach them with the gospel?

On Cynicism

The truth is that our culture is very easily drawn toward cynicism.  There is so much hypocrisy and disappointment in life that optimism seems vaguely idiotic.  When it comes to Christianity I was living a very cynical existence for many years.  Everywhere I looked I saw hypocritical televangelists or nominal believers.  I felt most pastors preferred pop-psychology to faithful exegesis.  On top of that I felt the Evangelical culture as a whole was inconsistently preoccupied with certain social issues (such as a perceived fight against homosexual marriage).

Over the years God has been slowly softening my heart.  I am not a cheery optimist and I still consider my spiritual gift to be sarcasm but I am learning to model the grace of the gospel to everyone.  When I look at the surrounding culture I balance critical realism with gospel-centered hopefulness.  I am neither blindly naïve or hopelessly jaded.

For me, cynicism came from a belief that I had all the answers.  I felt that the way I viewed the world and the way I understood God was the only possible way.  While I still have strong opinions on issues, at the core of my ability to navigate through the perceived ignorance of others is an understanding that I am not the final arbiter of what is wise or unwise.

The gospel has magnified the depth of my sin and highlighted the grace of Jesus leaving me with no response but thankful humility.  It is only the gospel that gives me hope that I can change, that God is good, and that their is a future for those that love Jesus.  That is the hope that I want to share with a jaded and cynical world.

Education is not the solution to sin…

I have been musing recently about the way political conservatives and political liberals (those on the “right” and the “left”) view the past and future of America.  In the middle of one of these moments of reflection I stumbled on a blog post by Doug Wilson.  Wilson’s reflections on Glen Beck and the Bible provided motivation for me to jot down a few thoughts.

1.  The problem with humanity is sin.  The only way for humans to “fix” their sin problem is to “repent and believe.”  To say it another way, the only way to fix the problem of humanity is to trust Jesus.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5).

2.  Wilson makes clear in his post that one of the main problems in America is humanism.  Both liberals and conservatives have a basic belief that mankind is “good” and “the explanation for evil is ignorance.”  I see this sort of logic applied on both sides of the political system.  The result is a belief that good logic and argument will be enough to convince people to agree with you.  With the right information and the right decisions our society, the humanists argue, will be “fixed.”  Both sides (the right and left) are unable to agree on which direction to take our country, but the underlying assumption is that American can be “fixed” by proper information.

I came across a really good illustration recently that speaks to this very point.

Imagine encountering a man’s body lying by the side of the road.  You decide to pull over to check the man’s condition.  As your car comes to a stop, you jump out and run toward him.  Reaching down to check his pulse, you realize he has none.  He’s dead and gone, perhaps due to a heart attack.  What can you do?  Based on his appearance, you deduce that the man may have suffered heart failure due to a lifetime of poor eating habits.  Instantly, you leap to your feet, rush to the car, pull out a diet book, and begin screaming important information from its pages as you head back toward him:  “Chapter 1:  Eating for Health and Heart!”

Stop to examine the absurdity of this situation.  No amount of information on eating habits is going to resurrect this man.  He’s already dead.  The only real solution would be for him to somehow obtain a new lease on life.  In the same way, no amount of education will change the heart of a spiritually dead person.  Life is the only solution to death.

Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel

The Idolatry of Patriotism

I just read an article by Gregory Boyd in the most recent issue of Relevant Magazine.  I think this is one of the most well-written and concise treatments of the issues of nationalism and Christianity.  Of course, Boyd would be no stranger to this topic as the author of Myth of a Christian Nation. I recommend everyone read what he has to say in preparation for this July 4 holiday.

Below are some cogent excerpts from the article:

The danger of idolatrous patriotism is not just about how we compromise our love for enemies.  If we become too invested in our nation, we can forget our real citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 1:27) and our job is to live as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)…

I appreciate that America recognizes my rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but there is nothing distinctly Kingdom about these rights.  They’re nowhere to be found in the Bible.  To the contrary, as a follower of Jesus I’m called to surrender my rights to life, liberty and happiness, and instead submit to the will of God.  These rights are noble on a political level, but they can get in the way of my call to seek first the Kingdom.  I’m grateful America extends these rights to people, for most countries throughout history have not.  But my sole allegiance is to the heavenly Kingdom that calls me to surrender my rights.  If I get too concerned with an earthly country that frees me to pursue my rights, my healthy patriotism becomes idolatrous.  I’ve put my country’s ideals before God.

Despite the fact that He lived in an age when plenty of political and nationalist issues were being hotly debated, Jesus never displayed the slightest interest in such matters.  He didn’t come to bring us a “new and improved” version of the Kingdom of the world.  He came to inaugurate a Kingdom that is “not of this world.”  It’s a Kingdom that is no more Israeli than it is Palestinian; no more American than it is Iraqi; and no more socialist than it is democratic.  Instead, it’s a Kingdom that encompasses people from every nation and political persuasion, for it puts on display the “one new humanity” Jesus died to create (Eph. 2:15).  In this Kingdom, Paul declares, there is no longer any Jew or Greek (Gal. 3:27-29).  In our Kingdom, all national, tribal, ethnic, gender, social and economic distinctions are insignificant.

So over the Fourth of July weekend – and all year – be appreciative of your country.  Be patriotic.  But make sure your patriotism pales in comparison to your sacrifice, commitment and allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

Is Divorce More Acceptable than Homosexuality?

Richard Bartholomew, always vigilant against religious hypocrisy (though for the wrong reasons), has helpfully pointed out the inconsistency of many “right wing” evangelicals who loudly decry homosexuality yet have no problem with divorce.  You can read the full article yourself which describes Washington State pastor Ken Hutcherson (vocal advocated against homosexuality and defender of “traditional marriage”) officiating Rush Limbaugh’s (yeah, THAT Rush Limbaugh) fourth marriage (one more than three and one less than five).

Hutcherson is also known for asserting a form a overt machismo.  Here is a quote on his view of gender roles.

During his sermon, Hutcherson stated, “God hates soft men” and “God hates effeminate men.” Hutcherson went on to say, “If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I’d rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end.”

I wonder how he felt that hired performer at the reception was Elton John?

HT:  Richard Bartholomew

Starbucks’ WiFi

Starbucks has announced that, beginning July 1, they will be offering free Wi-Fi at their stores with no required registration or time restrictions.  This service will compliment their chic coffee shop atmosphere and delicious espresso-based beverages.  At this, the streets were filled with the rejoicing of pseudo-hipsters everywhere.  The only improvement Starbucks has left to make is developing a cup of coffee whose beans have not been charred beyond palatable consumption.

After writing this blurb I realized that McDonald’s also has “delicious espresso-based beverages” and “free Wi-Fi.”  Too bad for Starbucks, but they also have delicious coffee.  What is the world coming to?

HT: Jim West

BP Oil Spill ≠ Haiti

I recently read this insane Facebook spam on various friends’ statuses:

So where are all the “Save the Gulf” concerts? Where are the TV benefits with celebrities & musicians giving heartfelt speeches on the poor fisherman, wildlife, beaches, loss of income and sabotaged Gulf economy? I find it rather strange how these people (including our own government) are so quick to help Haiti & other countries, but sit on their hands for this American disaster. POST IN SUPPORT If YOU AGREE!

The silliness and insanity of this statement shocked me.  This statement signifies misplaced nationalism, lack of perspective, and an inappropriate concern with money rather than human lives.   The Gulf Coast will be seriously affected by BP’s ineptitude (e.g., tourism, wildlife, economy, jobs, etc.), but the earthquake in Haiti killed more than 200,000 people, left several other hundred thousand people injured, and many more homeless.

The death and injury of hundreds of thousands of human beings is incomparable to a the negative effects of the BP Gulf oil spill.

Facebook, Causes, and Misplaced Guilt

I want to make sure people understand that “copying and pasting” a canned Facebook status is not really supporting a cause.

Have you seen these?  “Paste this message in your status if you love your husband.”  How about you tell him you love him.  Even better, how about you demonstrate that you love him.

A Facebook status is a poor substitute for actually fighting for a cause.  You are not fighting autism by posting a Facebook status.  It is much like buying a Livestrong® bracelet for $1 and thinking that you are fighting cancer.  Buying a Livestrong® bracelet is, arguably, a good thing and it is a way to support the fight against cancer; however, a $1 donation does not make you a part of a “cause.”

I think people want to assuage their guilt by identifying themselves with a cause without actually making any sacrifice to fix a problem or bring about a solution.

This is the way Christians often are.  They want to identify themselves with Christ and get the benefits of Christianity without obeying Jesus’ call to sacrifice.

God AND Country

I am not trying to cause any trouble, but I am willing to ask some uncomfortable questions.  In this instance I am very thankful for the country I live in and the freedoms I enjoy.  I also realize the great sacrifice that many people have made to protect those freedoms.

That being said, I know that most pastors would be deeply opposed to adding anything to God.  I can hear a sermon on single-mindedness that has an application something like this:  “You cannot love both God AND _______________ (insert particular idol here)”… money, sports, success, comfort, etc…

Why is it okay to put “country” in that blank?  Is it okay?