Thinking Out Loud

April 24, 2016

A Movie for All the Ragamuffins

Ragamuffin Rich Mullins Movie

Last night we finally got to watch the DVD of Ragamuffin, the story of Christian singer Rich Mullins. For two-hours and 15-minutes, we sat through the ups and downs of his life. The movie was, from beginning to end, saturated in the unique Rich Mullins sound. I said to my wife, “I’ve probably never listened to the sound of the hammered dulcimer this much ever.”

Her reaction to the music was to be totally impressed that the actor playing Rich did his own vocals for the movie, which added some authenticity.

Rather than replay the story line, let me say this instead: This is a movie for

  • Anyone who has ever felt like a misfit; that their history or their calling is simply different from everyone else; that there’s nobody to talk to about what they do because nobody does it, or talk to about how they see the world because nobody else sees the world the same way.
  • Someone who has struggled with their relationship, or lack of relationship with their father; with or without perhaps the added burden of thereby trying to comprehend a loving heavenly Father.
  • A person who is constantly wrestling their own inner demons; be it some particular pain, or addictive behavior.
  • Those who have been let down, disappointed, abandoned, or somehow severed from relationships due to circumstances or even death; whose history seems to be one of people constantly leaving.
  • People who feel the core essence of Christ’s teachings isn’t so much about outward conformity to religious standards, but rather a security in the knowledge that God loves us.
  • Fans of Christian music who want to see the realities of the industry, warts and all, and how God uses people in spite of their brokenness. 
  • Thinkers who want to press further into the idea of grace and how sinners can and do experience the grace of God.

And that is just to name a few things this movie touches.

Rich Mullins’ life intersected with other people you know, from Amy Grant to author Brennan Manning. His music, from “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” to “Awesome God” impacted a generation of Christians.

This is a tough movie to watch. Rich’s life is not an ideal; not really a role model we can hold up to today’s Christian youth. It’s a very dark story; not your typical Christian movie. There were also some continuity issues — the conflicting hair length of the actor has confused many reviewers — which interrupted the flow of what was otherwise a beautifully crafted piece of cinema.

But for us, last night, it was must-watching. Knowing a little about Rich Mullins’ life ahead of time, the movie did not disappoint.

You can read more about the movie, and watch a trailer, at an article I wrote in 2014 when Rich was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

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April 9, 2015

Spiritual Recidivism: Returning to the Old Haunts, Old Friends, Old Ways

I remember the first time I heard the term recidivism, it was in the context of American federal prisons, as the word can be used to describe the situation where, after serving time, prisoners re-offend and are re-incarcerated. It’s a term I would image Chuck Colson‘s Prison Fellowship ministry discusses frequently.

Not being an expert, I can only guess at a few sample reasons why people might follow their previous paths and end up back in jail:

  • Crime is the only life they know; they haven’t been placed in a new direction or given enough new life skills, and they simply return to what they know.
  • They actually “learn” crime in prison from listening to other inmates; or they idolize other prisoners and see their exploits as something worth trying.
  • They fall back among former friends — people who didn’t do hard time — and get caught up in their lifestyle of illegal activities.
  • They either consciously or subconsciously miss the security and routine of prison life and/or feel “lost” in the outside world and are simply either expecting or hoping to get caught again.

Those are just some sample ideas, I’m sure there are more.

But I am equally guilty of recidivism.

I sin, and then I sense God dealing with me about it, and I repent and I abstain from that sin for a season, but then that temptation might call out to me. I’m not thinking of anything recent here, but it’s a pattern that most Christ-followers — including the Apostle Paul — are familiar with. I’m told that some sects — particularly the Catholic church’s earliest concepts of confession, and certain aspects of Mormon doctrine — teach that once confessed, you really shouldn’t sin the same sin twice.

So why do we?

Let’s see if we can follow the pattern above and get some insights:

  • A lifestyle of sin is deeply ingrained. This is where Charismatics and Pentecostals (among others) would say there is a need for something that goes beyond confession: Deliverance.
  • We actually ‘learn’ sin from hanging around with other Christians who, instead of lifting us up, bring us down. Or, freed from one area of temptation, we don’t realize that without God filling the emotional or spiritual voids that exist, we are leaving ourselves open for other types of sin or distraction.
  • We go back to the people we knew before we determined to live a life of intentional spiritual formation. This includes people in the church who are simply not committed. It can also include media influences.
  • If we get deeply enough entrenched in a sinful lifestyle, we can become numbed to guilt, and our sin feels comfortable and enjoyable. Momentarily, the pleasures of sin outweigh the joy and satisfaction found in letting God direct our paths.

Here’s the full text from Paul I alluded to earlier:

NIV Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

To amend George Santayana’s well known quotation: “Those who fail to learn the lessons of their personal history are doomed to repeat them.

Do you find yourself running down the same sin rabbit trails? Just as spring is bringing new life to the northern hemisphere, allow God to help you break free and enjoy spiritual new life.

…If a search engine brought you to this post, maybe God is trying to tell you something. Click here to watch a brief presentation on giving Him control of your life.

July 30, 2012

This Will Kickstart Your Week Like Nothing Else

Filed under: testimony — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:00 am

Rachel Held Evans had this on her blog. I had to add it here. I don’t want to say too much, but I promise that you will have some kind of reaction to this.

The video is 21 minutes long. It features Nadia Bolz-Weber. She blogs at The Sarcastic Lutheran. Whatever you think, when you think ‘Lutheran,’ this isn’t it. Move over Garrison Keillor. Rev. Nadia is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. Nobody really believes she’s an ordained pastor in the ELCA. Maybe it’s the sleeve tattoos or the fact that she swears like a truck driver. Either way…she’s fine with it.

I link to lots of different video things in the course of a year, but I felt this one was seriously worth embedding here. You can let me know, or add your voice to the hundred at Rachel’s. We take you now to a Lutheran (ELCA) youth thing in New Orleans.

April 15, 2011

Spiritual Recidivism

I remember the first time I heard the term recidivism, it was in the context of American federal prisons, as the word can be used to describe the situation where, after serving time, prisoners re-offend and are re-incarcerated. It’s a term I would image Chuck Colson‘s Prison Fellowship ministry discusses frequently.

Not being an expert, I can only guess at a few sample reasons why people might follow their previous paths and end up back in jail:

  • Crime is the only life they know; they haven’t been placed in a new direction or given enough new life skills, and they simply return to what they know.
  • They actually “learn” crime in prison from listening to other inmates; or they idolize other prisoners and see their exploits as something worth trying.
  • They fall back among former friends — people who didn’t do hard time — and get caught up in their lifestyle of illegal activities.
  • They either consciously or subconsciously miss the security and routine of prison life and/or feel “lost” in the outside world and are simply either expecting or hoping to get caught again.

Those are just some sample ideas, I’m sure there are more.

But I am equally guilty of recidivism.

I sin, and then I sense God dealing with me about it, and I repent and I abstain from that sin for a season, but then that temptation might call out to me. I’m not thinking of anything recent here, but it’s a pattern that most Christ-followers — including the Apostle Paul — are familiar with.  I’m told that some sects — particularly the Catholic church’s earliest concepts of confession, and certain aspects of Mormon doctrine — teach that once confessed, you really shouldn’t sin the same sin twice.

So why do we?

Let’s see if we can follow the pattern above and get some insights:

  • A lifestyle of sin is deeply ingrained.  This is where Charismatics and Pentecostals (among others) would say there is a need for something that goes beyond confession: Deliverance.
  • We actually “learn” sin from hanging around with other Christians who, instead of lifting us up, bring us down.  Or, freed from one area of temptation, we don’t realize that without God filling the emotional or spiritual voids that exist, we are leaving ourselves open for other types of sin or distraction.
  • We go back to the people we knew before we determined to live a life of intentional spiritual formation.  This includes people in the church who are simply not committed.  It can also include media influences.
  • If we get deeply enough entrenched in a sinful lifestyle, we can become numbed to guilt, and our sin feels comfortable and enjoyable. Momentarily, the pleasures of sin outweigh the joy and satisfaction found in letting God direct our paths.

Here’s the full text from Paul I alluded to earlier:

NIV Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

To amend George Santayana’s well known quotation:  “Those who fail to learn the lessons of their personal history are doomed to repeat them. “

Do you find yourself running down the same sin rabbit trails?   Just as spring is bringing new life to the northern hemisphere, allow God to help you break free and enjoy spiritual new life.

…If a search engine brought you to this post, maybe God is trying to tell you somethingClick here to watch a brief presentation on giving Him control of your life.

February 16, 2011

Wednesday Link List

This is undoubtedly the best link list anywhere published on a Wednesday by a blog called Thinking Out Loud.

  • David Murrow, the author with a passion for making church more male-friendly, suggests there’s a reason why the guys on the weekend were standing with their hands in the pockets letting the women do all the singing.
  • Consider this church: “A 911 call in the middle of a service is not abnormal…We want to meaningfully bring worship into the mess of our lives. There is a place for ordered worship, where everything is well orchestrated and predictable. However that is not necessarily the world in which many people find themselves today. Life is messy. We need Christ in the midst of the messiness.”  Read more about Toronto’s All Saints Church.
  • If you find yourself suddenly the recipient of a large number of theological books, or if you’re a pastor who is about to retire, perhaps you’d consider helping this guy out.
  • Steven Furtick says his church is more focused on the “people we’re trying to reach than on the people we’re trying to keep.”  He says we should be “fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium.”  He goes on to suggest that perhaps it should not be the ‘saved’ who are setting the agenda.
  • Resorting to tabloid-styled language, John MacArthur announces a Bible translation catastrophe to a captive audience at Liberty University.
  • Provoke not your children to anger.  Who me?  I could never do that.  Or could I?  Mark Altrogge suggests numerous ways in which we can and do provoke our kids.
  • Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk has a rather interesting review about a rather interesting book which follows the lives of two pastors.  The book is titled, This Odd and Wondrous Calling by Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver.
  • Name Dropping (1): Rob Bell guests at CNN Religion blog on the topic of suffering.
  • Name Dropping (2):Meanwhile over at USAToday Religion, Justin Bieber is labeled a ‘Tween Evangelist,’ even as a pastor quoted in the article says the faith element is not all that overt.
  • Name Dropping (3): At age 102, George Beverly Shea picks up a Grammy Award on Saturday for lifetime achievement.  (Background story)
  • That Soulful Ragamuffin, Carols Whitaker, gets interviewed by the 30-minute weekly Canadian Christian program, Listen Up, and defends the position that you can have real relationships with people online that you’ve never met in person.
  • Michael Horton jumps into the “What is the Gospel?” discussion, albeit by video.  He likens it to a “victory report.”  (Via Brian at Near Emmaus blog.)
  • Here is another testimony that captures quite well the struggle with pornography which is common to so many people.  This was submitted in response to something that appeared here a few weeks ago, and I encouraged the author to set up a separate home for the article where more people can read it.  Check out How God Broke Me To Fix Me.
  • Pete Wilson preaches at a church in India that their church in Nashville helped to start.  Check out Cross Point India part one, and also part two.
  • I get into some strange discussions during the course of a week, and in that process have learned all sorts of information about various faith groups, not to mention the times my wife and I have visited mosques, a mandir and a Buddhist temple.  But I had never actually heard of Mormon Underwear.   Or, as they prefer, “garments.”  Honestly, I had to look this up online.
  • When a business like Ashley-Madison advertizes promoting the value of having an affair, it’s no wonder that Albert Mohler sees it as a kind of adultery industry.
  • That’s it for this week; if you missed them, check out posts at this blog for the last few days; there’s always something happening here.   Our cartoon is from Jon Birch’s popular ASBO Jesus blog.

January 4, 2011

Pattie Mallette: Behind Every Great Teen Sensation…

Don’t worry if you don’t have a clue who Pattie Malette is, but chances are greater you’ve heard of her son, Justin Bieber. The Biebster is everywhere right now; his name being used to attract readers to all types of text media, and his image being used to do the same for visual media. I almost hesitate to mention him by name here.

But it’s not the first time. On November 24th, J.B. was mentioned twice in this blog’s Wednesday Link List.

  • The blog On The Fence With Jesus, where a skeptical screenwriter and a Christian pastor discuss faith, asks the musical (pop music) question, Is Justin Bieber Really Religious?
  • Bieber also talked about how his faith keeps him grounded in the madness of Hollywood and celebrity. He told the AP[Associated Press], ‘Like, I’m a Christian, I believe in God, I believe that Jesus died on a cross for my sins. I believe that I have a relationship and I’m able to talk to him and really, he’s the reason I’m here, so I definitely have to remember that. As soon as I start forgetting, I’ve got to click back and be like, you know, this is why I’m here.’”

Around the same time as Justin’s faith background became more public, the blog Bene Diction Blogs On ran a link to a Huntley Street interview with mom Pattie. The clip was from an interview done prior to the family move to Atlanta, and before Justin’s career had broken wide open, and it was therefore focused on Pattie’s story.

Justin was invited on set about a minute before the interview ended and didn’t get to say anything. If you know anything about the history of Canada’s daily Christian talk show, you know that historically it’s not unusual for them to have a guest and not let the guest get a word in edgewise. But I digress, and the day was about his mom’s personal story. But it means that technically speaking, Justin was on Canada’s faith-based television show, and it’s a video clip that his fan sites can never get enough of. I often wonder how many people have heard Pattie’s testimony as a result. The first of the four main interview clips is now up to over 46,000 views.

Then there was a Toronto Star cover story — Saturday issue, no less; in Canada the ‘big’ newspaper day is Saturday, not Sunday — prior to Justin’s Air Canada Centre concert and appearance on CBC Television with The Canadian Tenors where a reporter went to great lengths to tell the world what a polite, well-mannered and caring guy J.B. is. Character does count, and when a stagehand suffered a minor injury and Justin stopped what he was doing to make sure the worker was okay, the reporter noticed.

One my personal fears is that Justin might not be able to handle the fame and go the way of Miley Cyrus or Avril Lavigne, both of whom were raised by Christian parents, but both now living a life that obscures that background. Sure enough, mid-October, there was a story that said Pattie had hired a lawyer after only learning through the media that a book was in the works with HarperCollins.   And on the last day of the year, CTV News had an extended piece speculating as to how Justin would manage his career and personal life now that he is turning 17; a piece asking the questions many are thinking but afraid to ask out loud.

When Christmas rolled around, I couldn’t help but wonder if I dared repeat my usual blog post on the subject of the endless list of Cliff Richard‘s Christmas songs. I then connected the dots and realized that if I ever had the chance to speak to Pattie Mallette (or Justin himself) I would say this:  Get your hands on a copy of a biography of the early career of 1960s UK pop sensation Cliff Richard;  an example of someone who enjoyed amazing music industry success — even though he’s not as known on this side of the Atlantic — and maintained a strong Christian identity at the same time as his chart-topping hits.

Or better yet, a more recent example, consider Adam Young, who records as Owl City, and had hit with “10,000 Fireflies.” On his blog he writes:

As I’m so often reminded what a priceless gift my life is, I ache with everything in me to make it count, so that when I finally cross the finish line, I’ll hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

To me, there is no greater reward.

Of course, all of this weighs heavily on the spiritual scale, so allow me to be completely honest and say none of it is intended to be “crammed down the throat,” if you will. That is not my intention. This is what I wholeheartedly believe, and to that belief, I remain steadfast until He returns or calls me home.

One thing is certain:

When He comes for His own, He will have no trouble recognizing me… because my banner will be clear.

Young wrote that at the same time he recorded an off-album version of “In Christ Alone.”  But there is actually a worship song on his hit album too. In Meteor Shower he sings, “I am not my own; I have been made new…”

It can be done.

As I write this, I’ve clicked back to Pattie’s 100 Huntley interview. Hers was a life of stress, abuse and tragedy.  She has come so far, and learned so much. I think her potential influence in Justin’s life at this critical time can be so crucial to where his story goes. I can only end this the way the Huntley Street interview ended, encouraging you to pray for this family. Maybe some day I’ll learn why I was led to post this at this particular time.

October 13, 2010

Wednesday Link List

  • Our opening cartoon this week celebrates the release of David Hayward’s first cartoon book, Naked Pastor 101, which is available as a download, e-book, or paperback.  Simply click anywhere on the image to learn more.
  • The lastest news from Donald Miller and Steve Taylor is that the movie based on the book Blue Like Jazz is back on again.
  • After 30 years, Charisma magazine finally gets around to interviewing the man considered “the first Pentecostal scholar,” Regent College New Testament professor Gordon Fee.
  • Steve McQuilkin has a problem.   He’s “burst out out of the Christian bubble,” but all his old friends are alienating his new friends by speaking in Christianese on social media, which IMHO, is never a good idea even when it’s only our ‘in group’ in the audience.
  • And speaking of alienation, here’s an excellent article for worship leaders (and staff musicians, tech people, etc.)  on prioritizing your loved ones; under the title How Not To Be A Jerk to Your Family.  [HT: Worship Community]
  • Really enjoyed our weekend visit to Carruther’s Creek Community Church at the east end of greater Toronto.   John Thompson is the young pastor in what must be one of the largest churches in the AGC denomination, and they now offer recent sermons on video.
  • So what’s your guess on how many men in your church have a ‘problem’ with pornography?   An article at XXXChurch.com — people who should know — suggests you could be looking at something around 50%.
  • Next Tuesday (10/19) listen to a live interview with author Philip Yancey on the occasion of the release of his new book, What Good Is God? at 1:30 PM at Blog Talk Radio.
  • The staff at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas produced a five-minute, single-camera, single-take video celebrating their 20th anniversary.   Enjoy watching, and if you’ve got another five minutes, watch them making the video at BeDeviant.
  • Not sure you’re hearing from God?   This week’s Christianity 201 link is a quote from Bill Hybels’ The Power of a Whisper (Zondervan) about getting God’s voice to be heard over the noise in our lives.
  • I’ve also been hearing about another Zondervan book — one that Hybels himself could have written — Coffee Shop Conversations by Dale & Jonalyn Fincher.   I was reminded of it again reading Audra Krell’s blog.
  • So what would the people in your church do if Donald Trump turned up for Sunday worship?   Probably not seat him at the back.
  • Here’s another one of those “top blog” web pages, this one purporting to be the “top youth ministry blogs;” though as I pointed out a few weeks ago, the motivation for these sites is somewhat dubious.
  • Here’s a new version of sermon bingo just for fundamentalists from the blog Stuff Fundies Like (click on image to link).

July 12, 2010

Rock Music and Pornography: Parallels

The 1960s was a time of accelerated social change in Western Europe and North America.   No chronology of those times is complete without some reference to the role that popular music played in both reflecting and shaping those times.

As folk singers protested Vietnam and The Beatles sported longer hairstyles, the church began to establish its somewhat defensive posture; and by the end of the ’60s, the psychedelic branch of rock music combined with the message of free love to confirm all their worst fears.     Any band with guitars and drums was immediately caught in the line of fire.

The actual music form itself was no different than the modern worship that was played in the church service I attended yesterday.   The drums, bass guitar, electronic keyboards, lead guitars and rhythm guitars would later be regarded as morally neutral.

By the 1980s we began to hear a redefined meaning to the term “rock music;” it wasn’t the music itself, but the performers and their lifestyles and ideals; it was the attitude and the surrounding culture.   The music itself — the notes, the harmonies, the rests — were simply the wave which carried youth culture along; in fact it was the youth culture itself that the church had really been afraid of all along.

The eventual emergence of Christian rock wasn’t so oxymoronic.   It showed the spiritual neutrality of the musical forms, and showed that those forms could be used to carry a positive and even Biblical message.

Over two years ago, I posted a rough manuscript online of a short book titled The Pornography Effect:  Understanding for the Wives, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Girlfriends. Part of the reason that I’m still looking for a publisher for the print version is that some people disagree with the book’s basic assumption.

I believe that the visual images that one thinks of when they hear the term “pornography” are not the ultimate core issue.    I do believe that they are addictive, that they are exploitative and that they can be devastating to men (and women) and especially teens and pre-teens.

But like the music issue of the ’60s, I think we may be focused on the wrong target.   (The parallel ends there however; I don’t foresee those images appearing in our worship services 25 years from now the way that contemporary music styles are part of modern worship.)

Just as rock music is about lifestyles and ideals and attitudes, pornography changes the worldview of those who partake.   Again, I think that the point in my manuscript that some people can’t get past is the idea that text pornography — chats, forums, stories, blogs, etc. without pictures — is every bit as serious a threat as sites with various types of pictorial images. If not more so.

click image to orderThe Church’s response is to think in terms of pictures and videos (a concern not to be minimized) and think in terms of addiction (an issue to be taken seriously) but to neglect what exposure to porn does in terms of how men look at their wives and girlfriends, and even their sisters, daughters and mothers.   (The promotion of incest is a major agenda on many websites.)  Perhaps we’re more concerned with the physiological sexual response than the brain ‘wiring’ or brain conditioning that is at work here.   Perhaps it is easier to choose a target we can see than consider the more serious concern which is invisible.

Pornography has even changed the expectations men have as to what constitutes normal sexuality within marriage.   (And, as we’re seeing, increasingly changing the expectations of women also.)   The result is an increase in unusual requests and even demands in the bedroom.   But it also causes men to think nothing of considering an office affair; it causes boys to make advances toward their sisters; it causes heretofore straight individuals to nurture same-sex attraction.

It’s the 1960s all over again.   The “Summer of Love” of 1969 is back with its message of free sex without consequences, but aided by a new technology tailor-made to get that message to the widest audience.

It’s the escapism drug-of-choice; with each dosage customized to meet individual desires.   In online pornography nobody ever gets pregnant, no STDs are spread, no one is arrested for rape or indecent exposure, no small children are ever left without a daddy.

Hedonism is the reigning philosophy.

Jesus said He came so that we might experience life to the fullest; however the “abundant life” is also the “narrow way.”  Countering the ‘message’ of pornography isn’t about saying “don’t look” anymore than putting up a wet paint sign on a freshly whitewashed fence is going to accomplish “don’t touch.”    Pornographers, advertisers and fashion designers will continue to keep pushing the envelope.   Men’s thoughts will continue to stray.

So while we do need to tell the world that,

  • pornography is an addictive behavior;
  • as an addiction it is subject to the laws of diminishing returns; the addict is never satisfied;
  • with God’s help you can be set free;

we also need to be proclaiming,

  • the version(s) of sex depicted online does not generally represent God’s intention for sex;
  • many of the subjects in online images are being exploited or being forced to participate; it’s not true that “nobody is being hurt”;
  • the movies and stories are unbalanced; they don’t show disease, unwanted pregnancy, loss of self-respect, or ruined lives;
  • if you keep watching, the images are changing you; as you give more time to worship at the altar of porn, the pornography effect is a sacramental effect; as you receive it, you’re allowing it to shape you and define you;
  • those so exposed need to recognize, confess and confront how pornography has so changed their worldview; both in subtle and greater degrees;
  • the consequences of long term exposure to the larger society is that it places that society in a downhill spiral (what pilots call a ‘graveyard spiral’) from which there is no recovery apart from dramatic repentance followed by dramatic intervention from God (or what might be called “a turning” or “revival”)
  • because it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; more energy needs to spent promoting models of modesty, purity and chastity; and less energy on appearing spiritual by simply “denouncing” porn;
  • in the end, pornography is not the problem; the human heart is deceitfully wicked; the core of the problem is human rebellion against God;
  • finally, we need to proclaim the omnipresence of God; men and women need to be reminded that God is constantly sitting next to us as we click the mouse, turn the scroll wheel and stare at the monitor; His Lordship has to extend to be Lord over the URLs we visit daily.

Allowing myself to be a spokesperson on this topic has had to involve some awareness of its magnitude, and I think the people who say there are 200,000 pornographic websites online are terribly low in their estimating.   I believe the person who suggests 1,000,000 might be more accurate.

This means that realistically, we’re not going to see an end to pornography any time soon.  (Although, I applaud those who faithfully file objections to blog hosts, internet service providers, and search engines; each day sites all over the world are shut down because of their counter-measures; and even some of the most liberal pornographers recognize a need for someone to be applying the brakes, though often for different reasons.)

What we can do is build resistance (not immunity) to it.   We can recognize that just as the music debate really wasn’t about the musical forms itself, the sexual ethics debate is not about this picture or that video.

It’s a battle for the mind.

It’s a battle for the heart.

Want to study more on this?  Here’s an article also posted today on the complications of leaving internet choices to filtering devices.


June 5, 2010

Blessed Are The Broken: Our Hope for the Future

I want to say that this picture was contrived.   I really do.  But even it is, is it that far from the truth?

I also want to believe that the various meetings advertised here are outreach events the church itself is presenting, but in all likelihood they are simply room rentals.  Does it matter, if the need is real?

I want to believe that the sermon advertised for Sunday morning will address this dichotomy, but  in all likelihood, it will consist of “heads in the clouds” platitudes.  Did anyone at the church see the contrast?

I want to wish for things to be different, but deep down, I know that the people who attend Monday to Saturday are often the same people who are seated in the pews on Sunday morning.   Or their proxies.  These are the people for whom Christ died.

Jesus can do more with broken people than he can with people who have it all together.   The addicted, the abused, the abusers, the impoverished, the homeless, the users, the people with no self image, the people dealing with temptation, the people on the brink of despair; these are all the people who can be America’s hope for the future.

The future never looked as bright as when you know you’ve reached bottom and there’s nowhere lower down you can go.    I hope it was a great sermon!

Picture is from Friends of Irony, a Cheezburger Network website.

December 10, 2009

Christians, Alcohol, and James MacDonald

Recently, the radio program Walk In The Word repeated a couple of programs featuring a message James MacDonald gave at Harvest Bible Chapel on the subject of Christians and alcoholic drinks.   MacDonald believes in total abstinence.   In other words, zero consumption of alcohol.   If there was a way to even further that position by inserting a negative number, that would be his position.   Don’t touch that bottle.   Don’t even look.

James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Northwest Chicago and host of the Walk In The Word radio program

James MacDonald is the kind of person you would probably listen to and decide you’d like to meet.   His radio show has a cool theme song.   He takes himself seriously but not 100% seriously.   There is a fair amount of honesty and transparency.  There is a request for money at the end of each broadcast but it’s tempered with some empathy for the pitch-weary listener.

But it would probably be a short meeting in which he would dominate the conversation.    James is a strong personality.   He understands brokenness, but projects having it all together.    Frankly, if there were 30 kids in a classroom, I think James would be the bully; and I’ve said that to a few people lately who agreed the analogy fits.

So if James says stay away from alcohol, you know you’d better do what he says because if you don’t it’s SIN.   That’s capital-letters SIN.

Of course, James believes Christian women should be homemakers, and it is a requirement of his male staff that their spouses not work, something he shares in common with Mark Driscoll.   I’m not sure if this means to do otherwise would be capital-letters SIN, but disobeying him certainly would.   I’m also not sure how he accounts for the various female staff members who work at Walk in the World and Harvest Bible Chapel.  But it shows that he has strong opinions on many issues that are non-issues elsewhere.

Sometimes, James MacDonald appears to get it wrong.   Occasionally everything from scientific statistics to Bible texts seem to get misquoted or misapplied.   Sometimes, this is due to the fact he’s broadcasting older sermons; one trusts that with today’s wisdom he might say some things differently.

He has six points for abstinence:

1. Because drunkenness is a sin and not a disease.
2. Because alcohol impairs wisdom.
3. Because alcohol is an unnecessary drug.
4. Because alcohol is destructive.
5. Because alcohol is addictive.
6. Because wisdom calls me to set it aside.

Some of them are given to subjective interpretation.   Let me explain.

I love Christian rock music.   For many years, I earned an income selling contemporary Christian music.   But every so often, I ran into people who were on that part of their journey that involved leaving the secular rock music scene.   And for them, Christian rock was not acceptable.    For most of my friends and customers however, Christian rock — the music, the concerts, the means of learning scripture and doctrine — was totally acceptable.

So I think that yes, alcohol is wrong for some people, especially if there is a family history of alcoholism or any addictive behavior for that matter.

But some people, like Zach Nielsen, don’t think you can make blanket statements on this subject.

Zach Nielsen writes the popular Christian blog, Take Your Vitamin Z, and is Pastor of Music & Teaching at the Vine Church, a church plant in Madison, WI -- just a few hours from James MacDonald -- starting in 2010

At his blog, Take Your Vitamin Z — a blog where eight different posts in one day is not unusual — Zach devotes six posts to engaging MacDonald’s six points.  You can read those posts here:

Ultimately, Neilsen concludes:

…Churches should not be divided on these types of issues. When it comes to this message, I fear that Pastor MacDonald has contributed to an ethos at his church that is unhelpful and unbiblical. We should be communicating freedom on extra-biblical matters and not give such a strong word on one side or another. Most Christians are spring loaded towards legalism and we should not add fuel to that fire.

I’ve deliberately avoided engaging the actual issue here. (Personally, as I indicated in the footnotes of a blog post a few days ago, I generally don’t drink, but I also don’t “not drink;” if you get the distinction.)   I think you should save opinions on the actual issue for Zach’s blog, if comments are still open.

As I commented there, I “find myself returning to Walk in the Word, as I think there is a need for people to confront their sin, as James so often reminds us.   But then I find myself getting frustrated with his style, and needing to take a week or two off.” and like Zach, find myself  “living in the tension of a similar ambivalence” when it comes to Walk In The Word.

On one level, great admiration for the man and what he has accomplished, and on another level a recognition that as Christians, we simply can’t depict everything in black and white.

A viewpoint and personal stand that James MacDonald has constructed on this issue is fine for sharing over coffee with someone who asks, but it should never have been presented dogmatically as either a Sunday sermon, or a prescription for all Christ-followers in all places, all situations, at all times.

HT: Though I have Take Your Vitamin Z bookmarked, I was alerted to this series there by Darryl Dash.

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