Category Archives: Culture

Faith Lessons from the NFL.

With the NFL Conference Championships now concluded and the Super Bowl only a week away, what an appropriate time to explore what Christians can learn from the NFL, in particular the Seattle Seahawks historical comeback against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. While any comparison between sport and faith is tenuous, the dramatic outcome of that game represents an ideal metaphor for understanding several truths from Scripture. Here are three important spiritual lessons gleaned from that memorable game.

1] For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required. Jesus spoke these words about faithful stewards in a parable to His disciples (see Luke 12:48). In football, those players in whom the team invests the most resources (largest contract) ought to have the biggest impact on the game. In Sunday’s match-up Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay quarterback with the biggest team contract, was expected to be the playmaker who delivered a victory for his team. Instead, his lackluster performance contributed more to the team’s loss than any Packers player, evidenced by the abysmal six points off of five defensive turnovers.

Similarly, those believers whom God has given the most are expected to faithfully steward those resources for His Kingdom. Sadly, this truth has been lost on many of us – corporately as a church and individually as believers. Blessed with incredible wealth the church regularly chooses to direct a vast majority of God’s resources on beautiful buildings and programs that often have a tangential relationship to the gospel, all the while neglecting the biggest need of all: taking the gospel to the entire world. Most churches spend less than ten percent on global ministries and bringing the Good News to people who have never heard of Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy.

Not surprisingly, many churchgoers adopt this model in their own lives and with their own resources, refusing to tithe or giving very little as a percentage of their income. Like the church, they direct nearly all their income on themselves, acquiring more and nicer stuff, and pampering themselves with luxury and comfort. That mindset has infected the church so severely it is destroying it from within and is representative of the unwise and unfaithful steward. We would do well to reevaluate how we employ God’s resources and make sure we use them to proclaim His message of hope, love, and forgiveness locally and abroad.

2] Everyone plays a role, so be ready. The play that turned everything around for the Seahawks was a fake field goal in the fourth quarter. The placeholder scrambled to his left and floated a wobbly pass twenty yards downfield to a wide-open third-string tight end who had not caught a pass all year. The two players perhaps least likely to connect on a passing touchdown had a tremendous impact on the game. Without them executing that play the comeback never begins.

Similarly, God has a plan for each of us no matter how insignificant we seem. He wants us involved in His game plan not sitting on the sidelines offering excuses for why we are not impacting the world. Are you sitting on the bench with regards to your faith? Do you remain silent about your faith when talking with friends, family, and work colleagues? Are you disengaged from sharing God’s love with the marginalized, destitute, and haters in your community? It’s time to get in the game and make a difference. Paul tells us to be prepared at all times to share the gospel with others (2 Tim 4:2). Are you prepared? Do you act on that preparation? You need not be a pastor, eloquent speaker, admired author, or engaging extrovert to have a substantive impact for Christ and His Kingdom. You need only have a servant’s heart, a willing spirit, and an authentic love for the Lord. Ask Him to reveal opportunities to serve, love, and teach others in His name. He’ll answer your prayer and soon you’ll be making a real contribution.

3] Don’t presume the outcome. This is, perhaps, the most critical lesson of all. With less than three minutes to play in the game nearly every Packers fan believed their team was headed to the Super Bowl. They led by twelve points, which meant the Seahawks needed to score two touchdowns in a game in which it had only managed one touchdown over the first fifty-seven minutes. Fans were probably already booking flights and making hotel reservations so they could see the Super Bowl in person two weeks later. After all, what could go wrong? Well, as Packers fans soon learned, just about everything could, and did, go wrong. The Seahawks pulled off arguably the most impressive last-minute comeback in NFL playoff history and defeated the Packers in overtime. Green Bay fans were devastated. How could something so certain end in such misery? Fortunately, their emotional turmoil will subside as life goes on.

Jesus informed His followers of a similar scenario playing out on the day of His second coming. He explained that many who claim they are Christians and profess Him as Lord will not join Him in heaven (see Matthew 7:21-23). This will come as an unbelievable shock to them. They will protest vigorously and insist He reconsider, reminding Him of all they have done to deserve heaven. However, the absence of a personal, robust, and healthy relationship with Him prevents them from enjoying eternity in heaven. Like Packers fans from last weekend, these men and women are devastated. They, too, were certain of the outcome – that they would spend eternity in heaven. Like Packers fans, they were wrong. Unlike Packers fans, their turmoil does not subside and life does not go on.

Are you a Christian? Do you consider Jesus, Lord? If so, take time to study the Bible regularly and understand His expectations for those who follow Him. Learn who He was, and is, and live according to the pattern He established. Most of all, cultivate a love for Him. Consistently carve out time in your schedule to worship, praise, and serve Him. In the process you will learn what it means to make Him Lord and develop a relationship that precludes you from getting shocked when He returns.

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Snakes in the Pulpit

While waiting in line to order lunch yesterday I overheard a conversation between a pair of young adults standing in front of me. One had rolled up her sleeve to display a new tattoo encircling her upper arm. She explained to her friend that she had requested a fierce snake weaving its way around her arm and in a striking pose above her bicep. Instead, the body-art specialist created something that resembled a thick worm resting lazily around her arm. She was upset and felt betrayed. She complained that the tattoo artist oversold his expertise and now she had to live with the consequences. Rather than impressing friends with an intimidating serpent baring its fangs, she was subject to guffaws and ridicule. The resulting reality was radically different than the outcome promised.

Sadly, a similar scenario plays itself out in many churches across America every Sunday. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unscrupulous pastors preach sermons as unreliable as the promise of the tattoo artist, telling parishioners exactly what they want to hear irrespective of whether the message has any foundation in Scripture. Like the dodgy designer of body-art these pulpit pretenders say whatever is necessary to close the deal – and keep their pews packed. For them, the role of pastor is not a vocational calling to serve God but an occupational opportunity to exploit. They possess the oratory, charm, and resilience of an elite salesman and use those attributes to finagle their way into unsuspecting congregations.

Unlike the unprincipled tattoo artist who left a (mostly) permanent reminder of his fraudulence on the arm of the young lady, the churchgoer who embraces the deceitful teachings of a dishonest pastor risks eternal consequence. For that reason individuals should rigorously examine a minister’s message before accepting it as truth and living accordingly. They ought to confirm it comports with Scripture, for no decision is more critical.

So what does the Bible tell us about these spiritual snakes disguised as selfless shepherds? Let’s consider several passages that address the issue of false teaching to understand how these messengers of deceit operate and how to avoid falling prey to their lies.

The apostle Peter informs us “there will be false teachers among you who will secretly bring in destructive heresies… and many will follow their destructive ways.” He then notes, “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words” (2 Peter 2:1-3, NKJV). Peter highlights several important points about those peddling lies in the church.

First, false teachers exist, are active in the church, and introduce their heresies in secret. They are not easily identified and their deceptive words are wrapped in reasonable sounding rhetoric. As a result, many blindly follow their instruction and end up on a spiritual path that leads to eternal destruction. Peter leaves no room for ambiguity; dishonest pastors lead many astray. It is imperative, then, that we listen carefully to what we hear from the pulpit, we understand what the Bible says, and we ensure the two are aligned.

But why do some preachers deceive their audiences and assert untruths as the Word of God? Peter explains that it is because they operate from a position of covetousness. They speak whatever words advance their agenda, even if it costs supporters their souls. They care not about bringing people closer to God, expositing Scripture with integrity, and living the gospel. Success, stature, prosperity, and influence motivate them. They love the world and the things of the world. They prey on the innocent, naïve, and desperate to fund a lifestyle of comfort, excess, and privilege.

However, those who follow agents of deceit are not entirely exculpated. They bear a degree of culpability for failing to exercise vigilance in validating what they hear aligns with God’s Word. When we abdicate that responsibility and simply hope the man (or woman) behind the lectern preaches truth we demonstrate spiritual irresponsibility. We must scrutinize what we hear on Sunday morning, at Bible studies, and what we read in Christian books and compare it with Scripture. If we don’t, we risk establishing a foundation of faith built on shifting sand.

In some instances, though, churchgoers demand false teaching and recruit ministers who preach appealing messages that contravene truth. These are people who “will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NKJV). Many regular church attenders have no interest in hearing God’s Word. They insist on finding a pastor who shares humorous anecdotes, spins a good yarn, and makes them feel warm and fuzzy each Sunday. Biblical truth causes such persons to recoil with disgust. They want a snake in the pulpit spitting out spiritual poison.

Unfortunately, ministers who preach accommodating sermons are becoming increasingly common as are churches that demand them. Many will find this trend encouraging and celebrate the shift away from biblically sound teaching in church. But for those who want to learn God’s Word and ground themselves in truth, the development is disturbing. They must remain diligent to ensure their pastor preaches the entirety of the Bible instead of distorting selected passages. They must exercise caution in arriving at their spiritual beliefs. Otherwise they may find their faith is the spiritual equivalent of a thick, lazy worm that disappoints.

The most misunderstood Bible verse.

Dozens of Bible translations exist today with no single version commanding a majority of sales in bookstores. Among pastors, preferences vary widely among a half dozen dominant translations. Readers and pastors alike gravitate to different versions based on perceived accuracy, readability, style, and reputation. Not surprisingly, no consensus exists as to which Bible translation is best.

So when the Christian community overwhelmingly selects one translation to quote a particular Bible verse, we ought to ask why. Perhaps the most reasonable conclusion is that the preferred translation tells us what we want to hear – it underpins the narrative we choose to believe. The fact that so many churchgoers can quote the verse from memory reinforces this inference. But such a prodigious consensus should concern us when the espoused opinion aligns neatly with what our secular culture teaches. We ought to examine more closely any such verse to determine its true intent rather than hasten recklessly to a popular perspective that indulges our desires and biases.

Jeremiah 29:11 is such a verse. One of the most recognized and oft-quoted Old Testament verses, 29:11 plays a prominent role in how many Christians define and live their faith. Unfortunately, its influence flows from a misunderstanding of its meaning. A little context around the verse is instructive. The people of Israel are living in exile in Babylon and are disheartened. The Lord has just informed them that they will remain there for seventy years. As encouragement He reminds them of two things in verse 11, their exile is part of His plan and those plans reflect their best interest. It is a difficult message to digest because it goes against the prevailing view that God will rescue His people quickly and keep them from suffering.

Let’s look at several translations of the verse. The NASB states: “’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” The NKJV versions explains it like this: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Finally, the NLT translates the verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” [I’ve highlighted the key word difference in each].

All three translations make clear that God’s plans offer hope and are for the welfare/good/peace of the Israelites. But first they must endure seventy years of captivity (see verse 10). All is clear, right? Well, not so fast. Instead of understanding the verse as it’s intended, many believers embrace an entirely different message using the NIV translation. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Emphasis added). We focus on the word ‘prosper’ and insist it means that God wants His followers to enjoy wealth and prosperity. That perspective, however, fails to understand the context. It ignores the fact that their exile will continue, which is not at all what they want. So God shares a truth we would do well to remember: His plan often runs counter to our desires but is in our long-term interest. Therefore, we should never lose hope.

Frequently, we dismiss that truth. Why allow context and intent to distract us from the message we want to glean from Scripture? We want a God who blesses us with prosperity, coddles us with comfort, and frees us from discomfort. So we scour the Bible for verses that reinforce that mindset and validate our yearnings. If the truth gets lost in the process, so be it. That’s a small price to pay for enjoying a message that tickles our ears.

Sadly, the predominant view of Jeremiah 29:11 is predicated on deceit, just like the false teaching of the prophet Hananiah earlier in chapter 28. He dies two months after pontificating lies in the name of the Lord. He had told the people of Israel that, according to the word of the Lord, God would rescue them from captivity within two years. His deception cost him his life. It is a valuable lesson. We need to exercise caution in deciding who and what to believe. Pastors must diligently teach the truth, irrespective of whether people agree.

One reason the prevailing view of 29:11 finds such an enthusiastic audience in this country is because it fits with the American dream. We want to enjoy ‘the good life’ as much as our unbelieving neighbors. We want the American dream and God’s will to be one and the same. But they are not and nothing in Scripture supports such a position.

I encourage readers to examine Jeremiah 29:11 on their own. Read through the entirety of chapters 28 and 29 to understand the context and learn what God is saying to His people. Study several translations to glean the message. Most of all, resist the temptation to interpret the verse through the lens of your fleshly desires. Instead, ask the Lord to reveal His truth to you through His Holy Spirit. As you do, His word will come alive in a way you may never have experienced.

Investigative Reporting: RIP

The new Jeremy Renner thriller, Kill the Messenger, purportedly recounts the discovery and subsequent reporting of the CIAs involvement in the distribution of crack cocaine to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua in the 1980s. While the unraveling of this controversial arrangement offers an interesting historical narrative, the more compelling storyline is the response of the national media to journalist Gary Webb’s explosive report. Instead of investing resources to dig further into uncovering the extent of the government’s involvement, elite media outlets instead focus their sights on destroying Webb’s reputation and providing cover for the CIA. It is a shameful stain on the legacy of investigative journalism.

Sadly, that approach has marked the journalism profession during the tenure of the Obama administration. Rather than dedicate relentless effort to exposing acts of deception, malfeasance, abuse, incompetence and political intimidation, the media have decided to protect the White House. They demonize and sully the reputation of any reporter or bureau with the backbone to investigate stories unfavorable to the administration.

This embarrassing abdication of professional duty has dire consequences on America and the corridors of power in Washington. It emboldens officials to lie, deceive, and act in the interest of the president and his party instead of for the benefit of the American people. Aware the national media will pursue no rigorous, independent investigation of their misdeeds, the administration operates with a license to advance their agenda by any means necessary, truth and legality be damned.

In contrast to the cozy, symbiotic relationship that currently exists between the White House and media, previous administrations encountered more aggressive correspondents. Journalists acted as attack dogs and bloodhounds on the scent of any inappropriate conduct in the Executive branch. They pursued stories tirelessly, irrespective of whether they agreed with the policies of an administration. Now they behave like lapdogs, content to rest comfortably and digest whatever narrative the president offers.

I applaud investigative reporters of yesteryear who revealed transgressions committed by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Their dogged determination to uncover the story and expose the crimes and deceits of government officials is commendable. We need a healthy, vigorous, and skeptical press for our government to operate optimally. It is as critical to good governance as a strong and independent judiciary.

Reporters need to return to the days of asking, what is the truth, instead of asking, will this story hurt the administration I support? That dramatic shift in philosophy changes the reporter from an investigative journalist to an administration advocate. We have too many of the latter. What we need now are more of the former, trained to pursue their profession with passion and integrity. What we need now is investigative journalism to rise from its slumber and hold administration and government officials accountable for any and all misdeeds.

Signs of End Times – Part I

I traveled regularly when I worked in the corporate world and occasionally I would experience a flight delay. In one instance a severe storm swept through the area I had been visiting causing a two-hour delay. Since I had not eaten yet, I walked to a restaurant just around the corner from my gate and ordered dinner. In an effort to optimize time I pulled out my laptop and began working on a presentation.

After an hour I poked my head around the corner to see if the weather had further delayed my flight. Imagine my surprise when I noticed no one in the waiting area and the gate information sign had been updated to reflect a departed flight. I hustled to the gate agent, asked about my flight and learned it had just left. Apparently a brief break in the weather allowed the pilot to secure clearance from air traffic control to depart. The airline had loaded passengers quickly and then left the terminal.

I protested and asked the agent why she hadn’t made an announcement on the PA system. She informed me that she had made several such announcements. Evidently I was so focused on getting my work done that I had not heard the updates. I had allowed something of secondary importance, my work, to distract me from that which was of primary importance, going home. As it turned out, that was the last flight out the day and I missed it. I was left behind.

God knows how easily the things of this world distract us. We get focused on things of secondary importance such as our careers, education, reputation, entertainment and even our friends and family. Often they distract us so much we lose focus entirely on the one thing of primary importance, our relationship with God. Our time with Him diminishes to a point of such insignificance that we are unable to hear His voice. The cacophony of voices demanding our attention prevent us from hearing His guidance for our lives and His instruction for our decisions. We do not hear Him sending us a message just I did not hear the gate agent make her announcement over the PA system.

Unfortunately, failing to hear and respond to God’s call carries far greater consequences than failing to hear an update on a flight departure. We risk missing the return of Christ and failing to join Him when He takes His followers to their eternal home. Billions of people will miss that ultimate journey because the world distracted them. Sadly, many of those will be folks who thought they were following the Lord all along.

I think that risk of distraction is why Scripture informs us of the signs that reflect end times. God wants us ready when His Son returns to gather His people. He does not want us caught unprepared and therefore left behind. Let’s examine a biblical passage (2 Timothy 3:1-5) that identifies some of the signs of the end times and see what we can glean from it.

In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy he observes, “in the last days times of stress will come,” (2 Tim. 3:1, NKJV). Certainly many in the world are experiencing significant stress in their lives today, perhaps unprecedented for some. Paul then proceeds to list a number of sinful behaviors that people will manifest in later days. Of course, all of these sins have been evidenced since the beginning of time. In today’s world, though, they seem to be growing exponentially in frequency and intensity. Here are several he mentions that appear especially germane in our world today. You may want to consider whether you reflect any of these behaviors in your own life.

People will be lovers of themselves. With the explosion of social media, reality television, and the phenomenon of the selfie, it is rather obvious that our culture has fallen in love with itself. People love to promote, adore and celebrate themselves, and encourage others to join them in their acts of self-aggrandizement. Our society has become crazed with becoming famous, popular, and esteemed by others. We have evolved into a culture that celebrates self. The danger in this is that intense love for self precludes the presence of God – who demands we love Him supremely.

People will be lovers of money. Greed. Our society lusts for money with increasing ferocity and money has become the dominant motivation for much of our nation. Political, corporate, educational, and cultural leaders seem to base their decisions on what generates the most income, not on what is best for others or on what is right and wrong. That has had catastrophic consequences on our nation and will contribute significantly to its impending economic collapse. America’s love for money has reached idolatrous levels and God abhors idolatry. Greed is destroying our culture and, sadly, the church along with it.

People will be boasters, proud, and haughty. Arrogance has evolved into an art form. Athletes talk smack to one another and exclaim they are the greatest. Politicians speak of themselves in glowing terms and insist we revere them. We emphasize to others our educational pedigrees, our career successes, and our achievements in the world. Listen to conversations around you and many focus almost entirely on themselves and their accomplishments. The emphasis on me, me, me, has become an epidemic in our nation’s dialogue. It represents pride, which the Lord loathes. This sin is especially notable in that it has infiltrated the church, contributing to its declining power and influence in the nation.

People will not exercise self-control. This sin seems to capture the overall condition of our world today. Everything seems to be out of control. The economy, the government, world affairs. Even the weather appears out of control. But the lack of order in these areas is merely symptomatic of the lack of control exercised by those managing the economy, operating the government, and leading world affairs. Our inability to control our behavior, spending, dialogue, attitudes, and anger have generated the conditions ripe for war, corporate exploitation, governmental abuse of power, exploding debt, and severe weather extremes. Sadly, our leaders are trying to solve the symptoms without addressing the cause: our lack of self-control.

People will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. While Christians may readily agree this applies to our nation, I encourage them to reflect on whether the sin exists in their own life. Most believers pursue pleasure with the same fervor and focus that non-Christians do. Most Christians enjoy entertainment as much as the secular culture and take relaxing vacations, follow sports, enjoy spa treatments, and participate in fun activities as frequently as non-believers. The fact is, most of those in the church love pleasure every bit as much as our unchurched neighbors. We justify it by insisting the pleasure we pursue is godly fun and not the sinful pleasure the world pursues.

But Paul does not distinguish between the two in this passage. He simply asserts that people will love pleasure rather than God. And that is the connection we fail to understand. Our love and pursuit of innocuous pleasure is as dangerous as the non-Christian’s love and pursuit of wicked pleasure. Why? Because both distract us from God and loving Him. As Christians we may profess to love God but our pursuit of leisure, fun, and adventure often reveals our true love is pleasure.

That will offend many who will insist God wants us to have lots of wholesome fun and any other view is legalistic. But that is not what Paul teaches. When we direct most of our free time toward the pursuit of pleasure, it is evidence we love pleasure – and as a result do not love God. We have become distracted by the lures of this world and are in grave danger of missing God’s call when He returns.

Based on Paul’s signs that return is very likely in the near future.

Opportunities abound in culture of hedonism

As our culture races toward a full-on embrace of hedonism, I grow increasingly concerned with the long-term viability of our nation. History is littered with states that possessed remarkable power, status, and influence but eventually fell to ruin due to internal rot rather than the hands of external forces. Moral decay bankrupts a nation as easily as it does an individual, or church for that matter.

As I observe society legitimize and celebrate behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs openly hostile to Christianity and biblical principles, I am both discouraged and saddened – at least initially. But on reflection it occurs to me that our culture’s rapid migration away from any semblance of Christian values has some unobvious benefits and yields a host of opportunities. While I prefer that we, as individuals and as a society, pursue God and His ways (not forcibly but freely), believers ought to remain mindful of those benefits and opportunities.

First, as our culture views Christians with increased contempt and hostility, the cost to practice Christianity faithfully grows. This heightened animosity tends to purge the church of its most casual members, those who embrace the faith largely because of what they can get from it. Their commitment to Jesus and His instructions extends only as far as the benefits they receive from Him. These believers often are the ones that malign Christ and His church by selfish behavior and hypocritical conduct – the ones who repulse society at large and from which it draws it caricatures. As more of these half-hearted followers leave the faith, the church will strengthen and grow healthier.

Second, a burgeoning apostate church precedes the second coming of Jesus. As we witness more denominations, Christian leaders, and churches dismiss God’s word as antiquated and allow the culture to inform its doctrine, Christ’s return draws closer. While I prefer to see the church in her entirety remain faithful to the Lord, Scripture makes clear that many will fall away from the faith in the end times and false doctrine will flourish. So we can know that an expanding apostasy in the church foreshadows Jesus’ arrival on earth.

Finally, as hedonism explodes across the culture and envelopes almost everything in its path, the lifestyle and behavior of faithful believers offers an increasingly stark contrast. Light shines brightest where the darkness is greatest. As the salt of this world, Christians can preserve our nation and prevent its eventual decay. With that in mind, society’s embrace of debauchery, selfishness, and moral relativity ought not discourage or frustrate but rather inspire us.

We have an historical opportunity to impact our nation for Christ unlike any other generation before us. The gulf between the cultural worldview and the biblical worldview has never been greater. Now is the time for all believers to commit themselves fully to living out all of Jesus’ teachings with reckless abandon.

–       Demonstrate love to a world that hates and despises us.

–       Display humility to those who treat us with contempt and want to kick us to the curb.

–       Remain steadfast and have the backbone to boldly proclaim your faith in Christ and commitment to His Lordship.

–       Share God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness with a society in desperate need for it but which is resolute in rejecting it.

–       Articulate biblical principles with gentleness and courage when discussing culture, current events, policy, and matters of societal importance.

–       Offer hope, peace, and joy to those around you even when they insist on pursuing activities that bring despair, restlessness, and dissatisfaction.

–       Follow Jesus’ example by holding firm to truth while expressing it with acts of kindness, generosity, and love.

As we live out the gospel with renewed vigor, we can help stem the tide of moral relativity and preserve our great nation for another generation.