Pastor's Blog

July 2019

What "The Lion King" Teaches Us about Future & Present Worship

What "The Lion King" Teaches Us about Future & Present Worship

The Lion King

Last Thursday my wife and I decided to go see the new live-action (technically “photorealistic computer animation”) The Lion King film. My wife has always been a huge fan of the Disney classics, watching each possibly hundreds of times. I saw them once when I was a kid and was content with that. But I’m always game for heading to the theater, so this is the movie we landed on.

The new film was really well done, receiving mostly positive reviews. The script stayed pretty true to the original, with some clever 2019 updates and embellishments. The music, of course, is undeniably spectacular, as most Disney music tends to be. Without question though, the most fascinating aspect of the experience for me was going back and watching, as an adult, a film that I hadn’t seen in 25 years. Processing a work of art as an adult after you did so as a child can be a startling venture. You see things. You pick up on subtleties, messages, and themes that you originally missed.

For instance, what struck me instantaneously was the classic opening scene. As the sun rises over the horizon, all the animals from across the Prideland come and gather around Pride Rock. Elephants, giraffes, hippos, monkeys, antelope, birds of all sorts, and critters that scurry across the ground – these are creatures that generally don’t get along. These are natural enemies. They rank on various tiers in the food chain hierarchy. And yet, when they hear that opening anthem, that call to gathering, they drop everything they’re doing, lift their heads and turn, and proceed to march together in unison. Some are traveling on one another’s backs. Some are hitching a ride on the elephants’ tusks. Creatures from all over the known world, who aren’t supposed to go together according to the world’s divisive categories, are gathering as one.

Why? Well, something special is clearly going in the world on this day. When we arrive on-site, we see that a wise old baboon, who serves as something of a high priest over the Serengeti, is hoisting a lion cub, the prince, the Son of the King. The king is named Mufasa, and this new king is named Simba. The high priest baboon, Rafiki, lifts Simba up into the air and all the creatures unite to praise him in perfect harmony. Not only that but after their initial vocal burst of celebration, they bend down before their King in reverence. This is worship.

Obviously, The Lion King isn’t a distinctly Christian movie. In fact, there are lots of non-biblical concepts taught throughout. But like all great film and literature, the Messianic allusions throughout the movie are hard to miss when you’ve become conditioned to looking for such things. So, for instance, the very first piece of advice that Mufasa (Father) gives to Simba (the Son) is that the people don’t need a typical king found in this world. They don’t need a king who takes, but a king who will give of himself. Clearly this is a story of a Sacrificial Savior as King.

Today, what I want you to see primarily is how this iconic opening scene is an overwhelmingly accurate picture of the worship that will take place at the end of time, and then reflect on what the ultimate picture of worship teaches us.

Worship at the End of Time – Revelation 5:5-6, 12, 14

See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne … In a loud voice they (i.e. the elders and all creatures from all nations, tribes, languages, and cultures) were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,

    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength

    and honor and glory and praise!”

The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Application 1 – Public Worship is directed toward a Lamb on a throne who was slain for you

According to what John sees in Revelation, worship at the end of time will have all of its energy and all of its focus directed toward a Lamb on a Throne Who was Slain for Us.

Now there are lots of interesting specific details about the worship that’s going on in this vision. There are lots of stringed instruments (Revelation 5:8). There are sweet smells (Revelation 5:8). There is diversity (Revelation 5:9). There are countless participants (Revelation 5:11). There is undeniable intensity and passion (Revelation 5:12). There is appropriate posture (Revelation 5:14). Etc.

And yet, while there are actually many details, the style is nonetheless nebulous. Somehow the style is fitting for “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9) This should teach us that the culturally conditioned stylistic preferences that we use in our worship services probably make don’t matter too much. We have no idea what the style will be in heaven and therefore should never consecrate a human style. Objectively, the one detail that we can know for sure that will take place is that all of the concentration will be on a Lamb on a Throne Who was Slain to take away our sins.

Consequently, it stands to reason that in our own worship services, we would champion music that primarily directs us to the Lamb on a Throne Who was Slain.

Additionally, it also means that the primary thing someone like me, a pastor/worship leader, should ever be doing in worship is directing you repeatedly to a Lamb on a Throne Who Was Slain for you. Hold your ministers accountable to this. I’ve told my congregation that if I’m ever primarily giving you life advice, teaching you personal empowerment and self-worth by any means necessary, or offering 5 Ways to Become More ________________, you need to get rid of me and get a different worship leader that WILL point you to the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain. I’m not suggesting that preaching would never contain practical life advice. The Bible is chock full of wise and godly life lessons and teasing out the implications is also part of preaching. But John’s Revelation tells us that true Christian worship is ultimately and fundamentally aimed at the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for us.

Application 2 – Worship in your daily life is directed toward a Lamb on a throne who was slain for you

You’ll notice in Revelation 5 that it doesn’t tell you what day of the week it is. We have zero indication that John is describing a scene unfolding at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning (assuming that were even possible in eternity).

This teaches us that every day of salvation will be directed towards the praise of a Lamb on a Throne Who Was Slain for our sins. Not just Sundays. Therefore, the more the other 167 hours of the week are directed the same way, the more heavenly-aimed and godly our days become.

What does this look like? Well, when your ego bleeds a little as you forgive someone who has wronged you, you’re directing your day towards the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for you. When you resist temptation as an innocent lamb, you’re directing your day towards the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for you. When, despite the chaos of the circumstances surrounding your work, your health, your relationships, you remain calm because you know exactly who is sitting on the throne powerfully ruling all things on your behalf, you’re directing your day towards the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for you. 

Eternal worship WILL BE incredible. But the worship here today can be otherworldly, heavenly too. Just point it in the right direction.

We thank Pastor James Hein and for this week's blog.

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The Modern Trend of Guilt Without Guidance

The Modern Trend of Guilt Without Guidance: In hopes of gaining some energy, and in an attempt to fuel my body with foods that don’t look like they were just pulled out of a 6th-grade boy’s lunchbox, I recently did a Whole30 diet with my wife.

Unfortunately, I didn’t receive many of the intended health/mood/energy benefits that are sometimes achieved. But I did learn, for the first time, quite a bit about the guilt and desire that is sometimes attached to food. In fact, I was fascinated to see how much religious vocabulary is associated with dietary habits. 

For instance, one transition I did successfully make was from multiple cans of Diet Coke each day to the preferred alternative of many who are health conscious – La Croix. I was shocked to see this label at the bottom of a La Croix (tangerine flavored) can. If you can’t see it clearly in the picture, at the bottom of the can, it says, “0-Calorie, 0-Sweetener, 0-Sodium = INNOCENT!” 

No guilt here!

Innocent. The only reason the word “innocence” would be advantageous from a marketing perspective is if you had a constituent of consumers who were riddled with guilt concerning their eating habits. The word literally means to be free from legal or moral wrong; without sin; guiltless.

Moral language like “guilt-free,” “clean,” “pure,” and “junk” has long been a part of the dietary world. The continued use isn’t too surprising to me. But in the bigger picture, what actually does intrigue me is the fact that our culture has been thoroughly unsuccessful in an attempt to grow intentionally amoral. 

If you’re skeptical that our country is attempting to think less morally, read any of entries of revolutionary psychotherapist Albert Ellis in the journal of the American Psychological Association. I appreciate Ellis’ contributions to counseling. I frequently use his A-B-C model of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy in my own counseling. But he very obviously believes that devout faith, fear of punishment from a rigid God, limiting your happiness on the basis of guilt, etc., are all psychologically unhealthy. In 1961, Ellis publicly criticized religion, saying it was, “on almost every conceivable count, directly opposed to the goals of mental health.”

This spirit is still prominent today and actively being passed on to a new generation. Just last month, one of the most widely read articles in the NY Times Op-Ed section was “Raising My Children Without The Concept of Sin.” The author laments her fundamentalist upbringing and insists that her children can be forces for good in the world without ever experiencing the feelings of guilt she believes are linked to communities of faith and religious dogma. 

My point is that our society has become intentionally less aligned with biblical morals, but it has not actually become less moral. And this means that we have a young generation that has become highly moral about issues like treatment of animals, recycling, dietary habits, vaccination, and smoking, to name a few. 

By the way, I’m not at all intending to disparage young adults from caring about such issues. Each of the issues I just listed impact God’s creation and are therefore worthy of careful consideration. I’m merely suggesting that 50 years ago, no one would have considered “consuming aspartame” a moral issue. Even though there are obvious biblical encouragements about how we steward our bodies (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:19-20; Rom. 12:1-2), the chemical contents of foods are really not on the radar of New Testament Scriptural directives. Issues like sexual immorality, greed, gossip, coveting, or disrespect of authorities, however, are overtly Scriptural, but register proportionately less on the average young adult’s moral compass than they likely would have 50 years ago. 

What we see then is that young adults are not inherently worse than prior generations. They have just as much of a conscience as prior generations. And they seemingly possess just as much willpower to fight what they perceive to be evil. The problem is that the cultural GPS has been recalibrated. In catechismal terms, you could say that young adults have just as much Natural Knowledge of God as they had before, but they lack a culturally robust awareness of the Revealed Knowledge of God. 

A little thought experiment might help. Imagine driving down the interstate on a pleasant summer day. The possibility of an accident certainly exists. If you’re careless, or if someone driving near you is careless, an accident can ensue. However, if you’re driving on the exact same highway in January, as the roads get more slippery, the likelihood of an accident goes up. If the guardrails get taken off the highway, the chance for fatality rises again. 

Most Christians I’ve worked with experience some level of guilt. However, many of them also inappropriately feel guilt over a biblically neutral issue far more than what they experience over an obvious sin. 

The cars aren’t more poorly designed than they were years ago, but the overall conditions have worsened. And spiritual wreckage is more common.

So what do you do? If you can’t control the external conditions, the only reasonable solution would be to become more skilled in the operating of your own vehicle. Cars need to slow down. Better driving instruction needs to take place up front. Vehicles need to be tuned up more regularly.

So, for instance, it may not have been essential to teach the principles of Christian identity formation in 1950. There was so much cultural force pushing people toward God, churches, biblical ethics, etc. that there was actually some assistance from your community. But in 2019 – an intensely individualistic, relativistic, meritocracy of a society – I’m not sure if you can survive from childhood to adulthood as a Christian unless you’ve repented of “performance-based identity” for the sake of an identity rooted in the righteousness of Christ. The cultural elements have become more antagonistic, more hostile, to the Christian faith. 

Similarly, in 2019, you need Christian instruction on what to actually feel guilty about. Most Christians I’ve worked with experience some level of guilt. However, many of them also inappropriately feel guilt over a biblically neutral issue far more than what they experience over an obvious sin. I know lots of students who feel horrendous about getting a B+ instead of an A. I know many people, women and men, who hate themselves for weighing 5 more pounds than they believe they should, and are riddled with guilt if they indulge in the carbohydrates contained in a single sandwich. I’m stunned in having seen a young adult walk around a building for 20 minutes looking for a recycling bin because the normal garbage was unacceptable. This same individual was unconvinced that a sexual relationship with a young man she was not married to, so long as there was mutual consent, was a spiritual problem. 

What's happened in recent decades is that the spiritual guardrails have been taken off of society, individuals are driving more recklessly, and we're far more exposed to crazier elements.

A week ago, a college student asked me if it was ever wrong to go against your conscience? They had heard a minister once say that. I’ve heard similar sentiments. If I had to guess, I believe the minister was partially quoting from Martin Luther’s famous statement at the Diet of Worms (1521). When asked to recant of his obstinance to the Roman Catholic Church, he replied: 

Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I shall not recant. For my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.

Luther, Diet of Worms (1521)

The important thing to notice is the first half of Luther’s statement. He says that his “conscience is held captive by the Word of God.” A conscience that is held captive by the Word of God would be wrong to contradict precisely because you’d be contradicting the Word of God. Searing a conscience that is accurately calibrated to the Bible is indeed sinful. 

But the Bible does not advocate bowing to a poorly calibrated conscience, which is where many young adults find themselves today. In fact, the Bible does tell us of an occasion where one of Jesus’ disciples was was being held captive by a conscience not calibrated to the gospel. And God demands that he recalibrate. In Acts 10, Peter receives a vision from God in which a sheet from heaven rolls out “unclean” meats. A voice from heaven then says: “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (Acts 10:13) Peter replied, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:14) And then the voice scolds Peter, saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15) 

Peter needed some conscience recalibration, as he was being prepped by the Lord to embrace a Gentile convert, Cornelius (Acts 10:23-48), which undoubtedly would have made him feel dirty in years prior. Welcoming a fellow worshipper of Jesus as a spiritual brother was not wrong, though his conscience, at that point, may have led him to feel like it was. (NOTE: This was a recurring struggle for Peter, cf. Galatians 2:11-21, which proves that regular recalibration is necessary.) 

The obvious takeaway is that consciences, though tremendously valuable instruments, can be wrong, need to regularly be recalibrated, and at times need to be defied if they stand in opposition to the gospel. 

This doesn’t discount being sensitive to those with “weak” consciences, which the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans 14. But on a personal level, just because something seems wrong, or something causes me to feel guilty, shouldn’t dictate my action. The authority of the Word must constantly be reconstructing my conscience in a world that is hammering it. 

As it stands, I say enough foolish things, do enough stupid things, and think enough incorrect things that I simply don’t have the bandwidth to withstand additional guilty feelings for the neutral things of my life.

As a sinner, when I repent, Jesus tells me that “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God” (Luke 15:10).This is true whenever any sinner repents. So we eagerly repent and joyfully repent and become liberated in the confidence that all of our junk has been paid for by Jesus. 

But I don’t know what the angels do when I feel undeservedly guilty about stuff which I shouldn’t feel bad about. It can’t be rejoicing. Perhaps confusion. Maybe even sadness that I’m feeling bad unnecessarily. More than anything though, I’m guessing they’d wish I’d look more deeply into the thing that commands their attention – the gospel they endlessly long to look into (1 Peter 1:12). In it, we find truth, we find ourselves, and we find the real differences between right and wrong. 

Because of the forgiveness offered in the gospel, there is no reason to feel guilty about anything you’ve done wrong. 

Furthermore, because of the clear truth offered in the gospel, there is no reason to feel guilty about anything that isn’t actually wrong.

Finally, the good news is that the only one who was truly INNOCENT! loved us enough to absorb the hellish effects of our sticky, high-fructose-corn-syrupy sins. It felt terrible for him. But nothing has ever been righter, purer, or more beautiful than his expression of love. And nothing will motivate a young generation to recalibrate like the taste of that grace. 

We thank Pastor James Hein and for this week's blog.

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KonMari, Detaching from Stuff, and Traveling Light in this World

KonMari, Detaching from Stuff, and Traveling Light in this World: "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" has become a huge success for Netflix. The show was green-lighted as a result of the global success of Kondo’s best-seller, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," and features Kondo’s unique teaching, known as the "KonMari" method.

Kondo says that she derived her method from the Shinto religion. After an anxiety attack in her college years, she became convinced that the episode resulted from having become too obsessed with the wrong things, i.e. the clutter, in life. Consequently, the "KonMari" method has one evaluate an item’s worth by holding it in their hands, and keeping only that which “sparks joy.”

There’re obviously flaws to the “does-it-spark-joy?” system. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but if you’re holding a screaming, poopy-diapered baby in your arms, it’s unlikely that (and probably worrisome if) unmitigated joy is running through you. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t get rid of the child. Or, for instance, I’ve never had any pair of socks spark joy when holding them in my hands. Yet I still recognize their value. Or, on the other hand, for some, holding a bag of cocaine might actually spark tremendous joy inside, but by all means, you need to get rid of that thing.

That’s simplistic. But that’s my point. The method itself is logically too simplistic to be a significant life tool. Nonetheless, the method’s popularity is clearly tapping into a public sentiment – i.e. in a postmodern, subjective, “you do you” world, we don’t know how to reasonably assess value. The result has been that this generation is developing an unwitting, but significant, awareness of Jesus’ teaching that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

A sign of the times

Look no further than the tiny house phenomenon. The size of the average American house grew from 1780 square feet in 1978 to 2,662 square feet in 2013. The economic recession of 2008 coupled with a leaner Millennial mindset gave birth to a rising popularity of homes with approximately 500 square feet. There’s a non-committal mobility attached to such dwellings. It was a sudden and reactionary generational pendulum swing.

Similarly, Abercrombie & Fitch, a mainstay in young adult fashion in the 90s & early 2000s has been on life support the past several years. For some reason, college students carrying 100k of student loans seem to find nothing cool about overpaying for a logo on a hoodie anymore.

Growing up in a financial crunch does remarkable things for your perception about the value of stuff.

Some might be surprised to hear a Christian pastor say that we most certainly can find some good overlap with Christianity in other religions. But since the Bible indicates we all have a natural knowledge of God imprinted upon our hearts (Romans 2:14-15), it stands to reason that there are tenets of other non-Christian religions that nonetheless support certain Christian values. As Marie Kondo has stated, the Eastern religions, for a couple millennia, have encouraged practitioners to detach from the material things of this world. This idea is not only biblical, but it’s massively important for Western people to hear. 

Jesus tells the disciples he sends out in Matthew 10 to travel light in this life. Specifically, he says: “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.” Matthew 10:10-11.

There is a fascinating balance in what Jesus is teaching. He doesn’t say that his disciples don’t need material things at all. He says that they don’t need an excess of material things. They’re not allowed to take an “extra” shirt or sandals or staff. Unlike Eastern religions, God is not anti-material, but unlike traditional Western consumerism, he’s also not hyper-material.

Traveling Light

God wants his people to steward material things wisely. The end result for people who believe that this world in its present form is a temporary dwelling place until the real life, life eternal, is that we would travel light in our time spent here.

By the way, for those who think that Jesus’ directions here only apply to the Twelve that he’s sending out for the first time on a ministry journey, I would suggest the following. We know the “traveling light” principle is not only further established in the rest of Scripture, but when you look at the parallel Gospel account in Luke 10, you find that Jesus sends out 70 disciples. 

I believe that 70 disciples were actually sent out, but I also ask “Why 70?” Seventy, as a product of 7 (holiness/perfection) and 10 (completion) is a number in the Bible that signifies holy completion. In this case, it indicates ALL of Christ’s disciples. In other words, Jesus is establishing some prototypical, prescriptive patterns here that he wants his followers to practice throughout history. One of those practices is the “traveling light” as missionaries in this world principle.

There are some obvious spiritual reasons to travel light. For starters, excess requires less faith. If you have an abundance of money, housing, food, clothes, etc., it affords you the dangerous privilege of not having to trust in God’s providence.

Letting go is HARD but there is hope

Another spiritual benefit of traveling light in this world is that in the moments when following Jesus could mean risking everything for the sake of the Kingdom, the greater the “everything” is, the harder it is to let go. I’ve only watched clips of Marie Kondo’s show, but it’s fascinating to see how many people cry when letting go of sweaters that they haven’t worn in 8 years. The things of this world have a strong, secret pull that creates an obstacle to our life mission. So let them go and be careful not to pick up too many others.

I understand it’s not easy. It requires intention and courage. My wife, Adrian, is currently in a pretty pricey graduate program for another 2 1/2 years. We went from both working to one of us working and then paying for school. We’re still blessed beyond imagination. But we’re already proactively planning over 2 years out about what it will mean when she graduates and we return to multiple incomes. It cannot mean simply more stuff. It must amount to more impact on others in need. It must still require us to trust primarily in God. It must account for the temptation to become hyper-attached to this world.

We struggle with this to varying degrees, and very few of us consider ourselves materialistic, yet most of us have still fallen victim to coveting the things of this world, refusing Jesus’ clear command: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20)

The good news is that Jesus, who owns the world, chose to not have a dollar to his name in his life on earth. He willfully detached, voluntarily became poor, so that we, through his poverty, would become eternally rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). Never mind tiny house, the Son of Man literally had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). Why? Even when we were oblivious to the power that stuff had over us, he knew we struggled with greed, control, and the treasures of earth and wanted to die in our place to pay for all of that. When you see the beauty of his generosity, you start letting go of stuff and start grabbing more hold of him.

Let go of this life. Let go of perceived control. Let his generosity spark ultimate and eternal joy. You’ll be a lot less anxious.

We thank Pastor James Hein and for this week's blog.

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Truth Suppressors, Idol Makers, & World Breakers

Truth Suppressors, Idol Makers, & World Breakers: Why there’s really no such thing as an atheist, and the explanation of all bad behaviors

1) Where did we come from?

2) Where are we going? 

3) What is the meaning of life? 

4) What constitutes good/evil within this life?

No matter if you consider yourself religious or not, all people have some answers to life’s four basic philosophical questions. Whatever your answers (or lack thereof) to those questions are, those responses are the beliefs that govern your life choices. Those conclusions point to what is your operative telos. Furthermore, none of us can empirically, in this moment, quantify our responses to those questions. This means we’re all operating out of faith.

So, for instance, I absolutely have assumptions about the origins of the universe. These assumptions are based on what I read in the Bible and what I perceive in the world. Another person might hold macro-evolutionary assumptions about the origins of the universe based on other factors – classes they took in college, a documentary they saw on TV, etc.

Neither of us can prove our assumptions.

Even if we can do an experiment that might prove something today, this proves nothing about what happened in the past. Our beliefs are expressions of faith.

The same is true with what’s on the other side of death. I hold faith assumptions. But so does everyone. Many I’ve talked to say that we die and are placed in the ground and that’s the end of us. Okay…I can prove that happens to my body, but what about my spirit? I assume one thing happens, but the materialist assumes another thing.

Neither one of us can prove anything in the moment.

Consequently, this is clearly not science vs. faith or reason vs. faith. It’s all faith assertions based on what we believe is the most compelling evidence.

(And by the way, not only are we all ultimately living by faith, but we operate accordingly on a daily basis because that’s actually the only way to do life.) For instance, let’s say you find a girl you think you might want to marry. But you’re not positive she’s the right one for you. You consider yourself a reasonable, scientific fellow and are therefore going to wait until all the necessary empirical data comes in before you pop the question. You know what’s going to happen, right? Two possible things: 1) You’ll die/She’ll die, or, and more likely, 2) She’ll find a better guy – one who is courageous enough to commit to her via a leap of faith.

In other words, you simply cannot prove that ten years from now, this individual will have been the “right” person for you to have married. You gather a reasonable amount of data, and then you make a leap of faith. It’s the only possible way to live.

And here’s my point: Irrespective of what you call yourself, functionally, none of us conducts our personal lives as scientists (or atheists). Practically speaking, all of us live by faith. 

Furthermore, inherently, all of us assumes our lives have meaning. And naturally, we all flinch in the face of death. Instinctively, we all know there is such a thing as right and wrong. Why does this all come intuitively? Because deep down we KNOW God exists! And the Apostle Paul says we all understand this intrinsically because God does such a sensational job of proclaiming his existence to us. 

Then why the disbelief?

Truth suppression should not be a foreign concept to anyone alive in the past century. It’s been one of the world’s recurring refrains. Everyone agrees that Communism, Fascism, Nazism worked largely because of propaganda and truth suppression – the government only shared certain select pieces of information with its population.

The tagline of one of my favorite shows as a kid, the X-Files, was “The Truth Is Out There.” The show was tapping into a general awareness that people in power sometimes withhold truth in order to control others. In recent years, “fake news” has become the most popular topic surrounding media. And regardless of which news you believe is the fake news, we all agree that it’s possible and prevalent. In other words, when people report information, depending on their motivation, they share select information in order to alter beliefs.

Now, if we realize it happens out there, all the time, why wouldn’t we realize that we’re constantly tempted to do it to ourselves as well?

I. Truth Suppressors

There’s something about the human condition that makes us lean towards denial in the face of difficult truth.

From my perspective, the biblical text that serves as the granddaddy of all human behavioral explanations is found in Romans 1:18-32. Here the Apostle Paul lays out a basic explanation for what all natural flesh attempts to do with the inconvenient truth of God.

God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

(Romans 1:18-21)

Paul’s general assessment then is that humans don’t disbelieve in the true God because they’re basically ignorant of God. Rather, they disbelieve in God because they “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (vs. 18). They’ve talked themselves out of the truth that’s in front of them, despite the clear evidence, because the truth is inconvenient. 

Paul’s logic in these verses is NOT that God is angry with people for simply having too little knowledge and that this leads them to do bad things.

So far as I can tell, Romans 1:18-21 is the only spot in Scripture where all three of the historical philosophical arguments for God’s existence come up. The Cosmological Argument, Teleological Argument, Moral Argument are all embedded.

Ignorance is not the primary issue.

Paul doesn’t describe pagans as people who were unfortunately withheld information and didn’t stand a chance, but as people who are sinning by choice against their better knowledge. They suppress the truth for themselves. For that matter, believers too possess a sinful flesh that is constantly trying to push the inconvenient, humbling truth down. 

II. Idol Makers

22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Romans 1:22-25

Here’s the interesting twist. Because the truth of God is inconvenient and humbling, the fallen flesh refuses to worship God.

However, we were created for the purpose of worshiping God.

We’re wired to worship God.

So if we reject worshiping the true God, this doesn’t lead us to STOP worshiping. Instead, we just redirect all of our praise, all of our energy, all of our resources, all of our sacrifices to something/someone else. That’s why Paul says they “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (vs. 25). This is the biblical concept of idolatry.

Humans don’t just live; we all live FOR something.

All of us has something that ultimately captures our imagination, something that becomes the highest allegiance of our hearts. I’m inclined to believe that if you were born and raised in modern America, there are 3 common P-Idols: Professional Advancement, Physical Attractiveness, and Personal Comfort & Freedom.

You don’t have to consciously choose to idolize these things. You just have to inhale the polluted cultural ethos to absorb the lifestyle. If you happen to be raised in a good, Midwestern church-going family, I can safely add Moral Performance as an inevitable fourth to the list. These are the things, by default, we tend to live for. We’ve been trained to believe they give us meaning and value.

Paul says about the pagans: “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts” (vs. 24). The word for “sinful desires” is, in the Greek, epithymia, which literally means “hyper-desire.” In other words, the things (beauty, comfort, successful career, or morality) certainly aren’t wrong in and of themselves. The hyper-desire of these things – lusting for them as though they were God – that’s the thing that leads to all of our bad behaviors. 

III. World Breakers

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Romans 1:26-32

If you’re tracking Paul’s logic, he’s now said that God’s truth is obvious and unmistakable. But it has implications that humans, by nature, don’t like. Instead of worshiping God, humans selfishly and foolishly choose to value the blessings of God ahead of the Blesser. The hyper-desire for these good things, the efforts made to appease these idols, are the catalysts for all of the bad behaviors that exist on planet earth. Humans worship their false gods by breaking the true God’s commands.

ALL bad behavior is merely the outworking of idolatry. And this is what is ruining the planet.

Paul’s next verses give proof. He offers statements about the breakdown of human society due to idolatry. He talks about sexual disorder (vss. 26-27), economic disorder caused by greed (vs. 29) social disorder caused by deceit, malice, and murder (vs. 29), the breakdown of the family unit caused by disrespect (vs. 30), relational disorder caused by faithlessness and ruthlessness (vs. 31). And he even says anyone who complicity approves of all this is also liable (vs. 32).

It’s always just one short step from idolatry to immorality.

All immorality is simply idol worship. 

Any bad behavior you’ve ever struggled with points to a false god that contends for your heart.

This is why working merely on behavioral modification is like giving a lozenge to someone with lung cancer. You might even find success in periodically relieving symptoms, but the root cause will simply manifest itself in other destructive ways.

Further amazing…do you know how God punishes idolatry? Paul says, “Therefore God gave them over…” (vs. 24) God doesn’t fight for the hearts of mankind forever. And he doesn’t typically cast down lighting bolts. After repeated resistance and rejection, he eventually just gives people what their sinful hearts’ desire.

And this is the scariest possible outcome.

If you want to kill a drug addict, just give him enough drugs. If you want to kill an alcoholic, just give her enough alcohol. If you want to kill a sex addict, fulfill all their fantasies. If you want to kill a career-oriented workaholic, keep promoting them. Etc.

It’s worth thinking through our own possible hyper-desires at this point as well. If you’re addicted, idolatrous when it comes to the wellness of your family, or your moral performance, or your romantic pursuits, or your physical beauty, what should God give you if he truly loves you? What would kill you?

IV. World Saver

Humans don’t like God’s truth. Humans suppress God’s truth. Humans then start worshiping created things. This turns the world upside down and hurts people. It’s all here.

So what should God do about all this? I know what I would do if I were God. Thank God my finger’s not on the trigger.

Paul reveals the shocking good news of God’s grace repeatedly in Romans, but in this particular text, I think it’s even implicit in verse 18.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people” (vs. 18)

Notice that Paul doesn’t say “the wrath of God” will come down, though, in a sense, it will on Judgment Day. Also, in another sense, the wrath of God is revealed as God gives people over to their sins, and simply allows them the amount of rope their hearts desire to hang themselves. Without question, though, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven most obviously at the same approximate time that the Son of God was revealed from heaven.

The Son of God had no wickedness of his own. And the Father repeatedly mentions how pleased he was with Jesus (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5). But mankind, including us, attempted to suppress his truth in our lives.

Fortunately, Jesus can’t be suppressed. His stone gets rolled away and his truth and God’s grace gets revealed. The One who had no wickedness at all, in his great love for us, allowed himself to become suppressed for a time, so that those of us who have suppressed the knowledge of him in our lives would be forgiven, and have our stones rolled away too.

Through faith in him we not only find complete forgiveness, but are gifted a righteousness that defines us as eternal members of God’s perfect family. And our testimony to God’s grace, moving forward, our life mission, is time spent helping humanity let go of its idols and exchange the lies of this world for God’s truth. The other side of the gospel is the first step of all recovery.

We thank Pastor James Hein and for this week's blog.

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"I Think I Might Be Done With Holidays:"

"I Think I Might Be Done With Holidays:" As a kid, there was an anticipation, almost uncomfortable longing, attached to holidays. Holidays, be they religious or secular, seemed to break up the routine of life. There was special food, special music, special lighting, special smells because after all, these days were…special. 

As an adult, perhaps jaded by repeatedly learning that no Christmas present is going to solve all my problems, as well as discovering that large gatherings often generate as many “incidents” as they do tender moments, holidays actually cause a little anxiety. When digging an artificial Christmas tree out of the basement, I can’t help but calculate how many days this thing will be up, how long it’ll take me to untangle lights, and how much I’ll resent taking it down in January before I wonder whether or not it was worth it. A bit Grinchy, I know. 

Granted, I’m a pragmatist, not a romantic. Putting the best construction on it, I’m certain that some Christians perceive grand holiday experiences as foretastes of the wedding banquet of paradise. Furthermore, I’d certainly admit that I have fond memories of holidays as a child. And I can definitely understand the desire to help create positive experiences and memories for your children. All of that. 

But part of the point of my blog is to help Christians see things from multiple unfamiliar angles so as to have a more thorough, biblical understanding of truth. The more Christians I get to know, the more I realize how different the experience of holidays can be. 

“Holy Days” 

For starters, it’s probably worth offering the reminder that our modern English word “holiday” comes from the Middle English for “Holy Days.”

As Christians, it’s also probably worth asking whether or not certain days of the week, month, or year are truly “holier” than others. If you ask the Apostle Paul, the answer appears to be, “Not really.”

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 That’s not the end of the discussion of holidays for Christians, but I think it’s the right starting point. From a Christian worldview, THERE IS NO DAY THAT IS MORE SANCTIFIED THAN ANOTHER. Any insinuation against that would contradict Paul’s theology. 

Secular Holidays and Christians

So long as a Christian doesn’t idolize the celebrations of secular holidays, I don’t think anyone would say most aspects of such things are inappropriate for God’s people. 

A more interesting phenomenon, from my perspective, is the desire of churches to piggyback on such celebrations. Many churches today seem quite comfortable dedicating the weekend worship to Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, a 4th of July theme, or hosting Thanksgiving worship. I’ve definitely even seen Valentine’s Day hijacked. The secular holiday incorporation exists to such an extent that, if you didn’t at least have a thematic prayer offered up on certain weekends (e.g. Memorial Day), there’d likely be a few complaints. 

What has been revealing to me was not, for instance, the celebration of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day itself. What feels more incongruous is the sadness attached to those who perhaps had harsh, critical mothers, from whom they are maybe even estranged, listen on Mother’s Day to how much moms are like Christ. What’s hard is championing the greatness of dads to fatherless onlookers.

Yes, it certainly presents an opportunity to talk about a Heavenly Father as the ULTIMATE Father. Yes, there are also a host of listeners who also had very faithful fathers. 

But since the holiday itself is designed to celebrate, the occasion can nonetheless create a potentially unhealthy distraction in a Christian worship service that is supposed to perpetually be themed on the celebration of Jesus Christ. 

Or, for instance, consider 4th of July celebrations. Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae posted a link to Twitter on July 4, 2016 [showing a group of black people picking cotton] with the words "my family on July 4, 1776."

He immediately received backlash from his large support base of white evangelicalism for “turning everything into a race issue.” 

Nevermind the fact that many American Christians haven’t actually thought through the implications of whether or not the American Revolutionary War was a biblically just one. 

Let’s simply address the race issue. 

Thomas Jefferson, the original drafter of The Declaration of Independence, was a slaveholder himself. So were famed 18th-century Christian preachers, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Though an early draft of the document did originally include a denouncement of the transatlantic slave trade, the antislavery clause was excised from the final draft due to the objections of numerous delegates who benefitted from slavery. (Hine, Hine, & Harold, African American Odyssey, vol. 1, 7th ed., Boston: Pearson, 2016, pg. 93)

Bottom line, if people of African descent aren’t interested in anointing our country as God’s chosen nation in a worship service, they’ve got legitimate historical reason on top of theological reason. Similar sentiments could arise if Native Americans don’t feel quite the same way about Thanksgiving as many white Americans do. Don’t be surprised, or offended. 

It is never appropriate for Christians to deify anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ. 

So while we can appropriately give thanks for fathers and mothers and the blessings of a relatively safe, free, country of incredible abundance, we must realize that the line routinely and hurtfully can get crossed. Nor should we lose sight of what the Church actually is. 

For this reason, I’m not sure how I feel about celebrating “secular” holidays as a church. The obvious advantage of celebrating decidedly Christian holidays in Christian worship is that EVERY Christian can equally celebrate Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Week, Ascension, and Pentecost. The same simply cannot be said for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, et al. 

The Christian Church is an intentionally counter-cultural body as contrasted against the surrounding secular culture. 

Therefore, without saying “it’s wrong to celebrate such days,” it stands to reason that we should logically only be putting exclamation points behind aspects that unite us as the Body of Christ, not sometimes applicable holidays that help us overlap with secular society. 

Christian Holidays and Christians

So I probably sound like I’m ALL IN on Christian holidays and totally against the celebration of secular holidays – a pagan Grinch of sorts. Again, notwithstanding the logical inconsistency of “secular holy days,” I’m not suggesting any of this is inherently wrong. 

In fact, I’m not even suggesting that I’m completely enamored with the concept of Christian festival days. As a New Testament Christian, I possess a decidedly New Covenant mentality when it comes to festivals. And the general New Testament teaching on festivals, as mentioned, seems to be that they’re okaaaayyyy…until they’re not. Old Testament festivals were a shadow of things to come in Christ (Colossians 2:17). Festivals are free for us to celebrate so long as our consciences are clear that the ultimate end goal is pursuing the glory of Christ (Rom. 14:5). But there exists a clear religious temptation to turn the celebration of these days, and their accompanying customs, traditions, and ceremonies into works by which we believe we’re achieving our own righteousness before God (Galatians 4:10). 

My general takeaway from the Apostle Paul then is that while he’s not a legalist who forbids the ongoing celebration of festival days, he nonetheless recognizes dangers attached to them, and he wants New Covenant believers to steer clear of getting wrapped up in rituals that may lead to missing the forest for the trees – the reality that EVERY DAY is celebration in Christ Jesus.

This is perhaps a part of the reason why, for instance, for the first several centuries of Christianity, though some speculated on the birth date of Jesus, Christians don’t seem particularly interested in celebrating lots of special annual ceremonies like Christmas. Not until after 300 AD. 

Early Christians writers don’t mention Christmas. 

Irenaeus and Tertullian both give lists of Christian feasts that do not include Christmas. 

Origen and Arnobius both seem to dislike the pagans’ celebration of birthdays. (McCracken, George, Arnobius of Sicca, the Case Against the Pagans, Volume 2, p. 83) 

The earliest feast day in connection with the birth of Jesus was January 6, Epiphany, the day of manifestation. Historian Justo Gonzalez points out that December 25, which was a pagan festival date, began to take the place of Epiphany as a celebratory date in some areas of the Latin-speaking West, after Constantine (4th century). (Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, pg. 112) 

Gonzalez adds that the Christian calendar in the opening centuries was primarily a weekly rhythm – Sunday was a joyful celebration of Easter; Friday was a day of sorrow and fasting. 

Aside from that, there was an annual resurrection celebration, but Christians weren’t even in complete agreement as to when that should take place and there became bitter debates about the matter. 

The point here is that the Early Christian calendar, i.e. that which was brought forth in the Apostolic era, offered very little in the way of ritual celebrations. The saint veneration that occupies literally half of the liturgical calendar for many Catholics and Protestants today was unknown, and, I imagine, would be unappreciated by Paul and the Early Christians. It is a historical footnote fascination. Not guideline for worshiping Jesus. 

Consequently, ritual celebrations are not inherently wrong…but they can become wrong IF they in any way detract or distract from Christ’s goodness rather than remembering and celebrating Christ’s goodness. 

Holidays or No?

Admittedly, I’m writing this post from an angle – i.e. to challenge thoughts, habits, and benefits of holiday ritual. The very nature of ritual is to form habit, and almost transition from consciousness simply into a state of virtue. The nature of thoughtful critique then is to reconsider the merit of an existing habit. That said, I absolutely believe that one can fully celebrate holidays, or not, to the glory of Jesus! (1 Corinthians 10:31) Without question, whatever you do, you shouldn’t do it (or not) because I said so. You should wrestle with biblical principles, pray, and be guided by the Spirit. 

The gospel about holidays is that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Though the world assigns subjective value and deems one day, one event, one moment comparatively better/worse than the next, our timeless Savior is always, constantly spectacular EVERY SINGLE DAY. 

Jesus is never the emotional letdown of December 26 or January 2 or July 5. Every day is an opportunity to worship with full heart, mind, and body because every day Jesus is gracious beyond comprehension. Every day is a holy day in Christ. 

We thank Pastor James Hein and for this week's blog.

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The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? ~ PSALM 27:1