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Culture

The One Thing You Need To Look At If You Want To Change

August 12, 2020

Everyone wants some form of change in their life. They would like to be more fit, more generous, more patient, less angry, and the list goes on and on. How is that change accomplished? Outside of discipline and pure grit, how does one become more generous? More kind? In some ways, changing externals is easy (losing weight, budgeting, etc); changing internals is extremely difficult. There is not a single person on the planet that doesn’t want to change at least one thing—how is it done?

The majority of us think that the way to accomplish change is to learn more. Growing up in Western cultures, many of us believe that we are primarily thinking creatures. In other words, the problem lies in a lack of knowledge. This is because we are creatures of the Enlightenment, where rationality, knowledge, and logic are king. But what if there were more factors in play when we consider how to change?

YOU ARE WHAT YOU ______

Finish the sentence and the primary drive for motivation will be revealed. For some, it’s our thoughts; for others, it’s our actions. Following in the school of James K.A. Smith, I would argue that you are fundamentally what you love. Speaking of education (and this sense, change), Smith says, “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but what we love?” When you want to change something, do not primarily assume that what you need to do is learn more information or content. You may need to go a layer deeper and examine what you love, or perhaps easier for us to understand, what you desire.

But then we have to ask, how do we change our loves and desires? It seems that we are still stuck in the same spot. This is where James K.A. Smith’s work is so helpful (particularly his three-part cultural liturgies series or You Are What You Love) because he helps name how to change your loves and desires: liturgical rhythms. What does that even mean?

Smith would argue that everything in life is playing a role in our formation, from the shopping mall to Sunday morning church services. Every magazine, shopping advertisement, cultural story is an invitation to discover the “good life,” a life full of flourishing. In other words, nothing is irreligious because everything is fundamentally about worship (essentially, love and desire are synonyms for worship). Most people are completely unaware of what is shaping and forming them into a type of person. If we want to change, we must look at what is forming our loves.

This is what Smith means by liturgical rhythms or simply put, liturgies. Liturgies are formative habits that we encounter daily, most of the time without even thinking about them. Western culture is constantly shaping us around the values of individualism and consumerism. What if God was inviting us to discover the sham of the Western liturgies and discover a better picture of the “good life,” found within the biblical storyline?

WE ALL WANT FLOURISHING

Every single human wants a life full of flourishing and abundance—rich relationships, a satisfying career, purpose, children, food, etc. Everyone wants to be happy; you love and desire that which you think will make you happy. To be human means to long for flourishing. Yet, many of us find it entirely elusive.

The Bible is actually telling a story of human flourishing, now corrupted through darkness and despair, and able to make right through the True Flourishing One. You see, all of us were originally created to have fullness of joy and life, found in both this world and in God. Because of sin, all of us experience a gap between what we desire and what we experience. God though does not hate this world or the things of this world, rather, he redeems it. He has sent his Son to restore and renew a new community that are now formed around a new set of liturgies that paint a picture of the good life.

So, do you want change? Examine what you love and desire. How do you do that? Examine what daily habits you engage in that are forming you into a certain type of person. Do you want to find flourishing, satisfaction, and ultimate love? Look in the Bible until you come face to face with the representative of a new flourishing humanity—Jesus Christ himself.

Bible, Culture

A Call To Civility In An Age of Hostility

July 28, 2020

If you were to describe the current cultural climate of the United States right now, what words would you use? For some, our country embodies hope, creativity, and exploration. For many, though, our country, at least right now, embodies an air of hostility, division, and a general spirit of unkindness towards one another. Perhaps this has been amplified by the rise of digital technology, allowing men and women to express what has always been inside their hearts, now with little to no consequences. If I were to select a few words to describe the current cultural climate, it would be hostility and division.

Perhaps in no other time in America history (outside possibly the Civil War era) has our nation been so divided. Before us is constantly a binary choice, forcing us to choose sides, dig our heels in, and vilify our opponents. Rather than approaching one another with dignity and respect, we assume the worst of one another, painting each other in negative lights, and use derogatory language about one another. A prime example of this is our current President, who should be the representative of a nation (perhaps, he is, after all), continuously mocking his political opponent with the nickname “Corrupt Joe Biden.” We can do better than this.

DISAGREEMENTS ARE HEALTHY

Contrary to what most people assume, disagreement and conflict are actually incredibly healthy for individuals, teams, and marriages. The ability to resolve conflict demonstrates a healthy system, rather than a family or team that never fights. A system devoid of conflict is not healthy, quite the opposite. The same is true for cultural systems and countries—our ability to resolve or not resolve conflict and disagreement is a barometer of our health. Ecclesiastes 7:5 notes, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.” In some arena of life, there are those that are smarter and wiser, and thus, it would be wise for us to heed the rebuke rather than pick a fight.

What is required to be able to resolve conflict in a healthy way? Both parties must possess charity, kindness, and grace for one another while at the same time possessing incredible self-awareness.

Beginning with the latter, understanding our true selves as we approach a conflict is very important. What biases do I bring to the table? What presuppositions am I assuming (all Republicans value ____, all Southerners are ____)? How has my story shaped my beliefs? How can that be driving my desires at the present moment? In the former, leading with charity, kindness, and grace can entirely change the tone of the conversation. If there is a heated disagreement, we should first seek to listen and understand before we lecture.

This sort of demeanor is present not primarily in words but in our attitudes towards one another. Do I really see the person on the opposing side as someone made in the image of God, worthy of my dignity and respect, even if they disagree with me on fundamental issues? Do I believe that regardless of what a person believes, they are not worthy of my berating comments? Do I seek to follow the golden rule, of speaking to others as I would like to be spoken to? Words of kindness and charity flow from a heart that is full of kindness and charity for others; a lack of such words reveals that our heart is perhaps far darker than we dare even realize.

THE CHURCH AS AN EMBODIED KINGDOM ETHIC

Sadly, in the last few years, I have noticed that the broader American church has not followed the way of Christ in servanthood, kindness, and grace, but instead, has taken up the cultural vernacular of unkindness, bashing, and shaming. Rather than understand and show compassion to those we disagree with, we vilify and demoralize our opponents. What if the church embodied a Kingdom ethic, that was demonstrated in the character of God that is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness?

What if, as a church, we realized that every hill is not worth dying on, and that perhaps our kindness speaks more than our ability to argue? What if the world was drawn into our community by our affection, love, and kindness rather than our division and incivility? Dear Christian, remember, this world is not your home, you belong to the King and to the Kingdom. Rather than making every argument high stakes, remember that the Bible calls us to live at peace with all people (Romans 12:18).

Will you then, live counter-culturally, not by abdicating from certain immoral behaviors, but by embodying a speech ethic that is shaped by the Kingdom? Will you lay down your weapons, pull up a chair, and invite conservation that is charitable and profitable? Will you seek to serve your enemies rather than slay them with your words? Church, God is inviting us into a live of civility and kindness for the sake of a watching world.

Bible, Culture

The Bible Is Not A Prop

June 3, 2020

The mingling of politicians and religion is always a recipe for impure motives and unclear intent. Is a man or woman (in this case, a politician) simply using religion (or elements of religion, such as the Bible, churches, etc) to garnish their political reputation or to gain a favor with a particular stream of voters. While it is always dangerous to speculate on motives, President Trump’s posturing before St. John’s Church with Bible in hand is an egregious use of the Bible and the God of the Bible. Lest we forget, God is after his own glory, rather than the aggrandizing of our faux-glory.

Rather than yielding the Bible as the word of life (Phil 2:16), Trump decided to pose for a photo-op right after dispersing innocent protestors with tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets. The irony, the ugly irony, is right before our face. As we come face-to-face with the Word himself, we discover that in this political stunt, our current President was not following alongside the path of Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, humbled himself. In a moment where the President could have spoken words of hope, encouragement, and courage to a nation suffering and aching with racial tension, he chose to further drive a wedge between our nation with the very thing that can bring us together: the peace and love of God found in the Scriptures. Make no mistake, God or the Bible cannot and will not be used as a prop for man’s ambition and glory—it always has and and always will be about the supremacy of God over all things.

Sadly, again, because politics and religion have become enmeshed in our country, Christians in our current era are enamored by a President who holds the Bible but sadly, in many cases, does not love the Bible or walk in accordance with the Bible. Growing up in conservative, evangelical churches the majority of my life, I have seen over time the real implications of John’s exhortation, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). The danger before us is to wholeheartedly defend a political candidate as spiritually competent because they support our ethical and moral convictions. The threat is ever before us: will our allegiance belong to America or to Yahweh himself? This is not to say that we must pound Trump with our words, or to wish ill upon him, but it should make us speculate whether or not we have fallen into idolatry. We should love our country, pray for our leaders, and serve our nation with honor, but lest we forget who the true King is, we may easily find that America becomes our house of worship, not the temple of the Lord.

The Bible that Trump holds in his hand will not be used as a prop; it contains the story of the Triune God who rules and reigns over all things. Thankfully, in Christ, all who belong to God are now joint-heirs to the kingdom that is coming. As we celebrate and worship the slaughtered, risen, and victorious Lamb of God, may we remember that “one day America and all its presidents will be a footnote in history, but God’s kingdom will never end.”

Bible, Culture

Let Justice Roll Down Like A River

June 2, 2020

Growing up in southern New Mexico for the majority of my life, I did not have a concept of racism incarnated in my hometown. For the most part, Hispanics and Anglos mix well in the Southwest. With such a small African-American population, racism was something that existed in textbooks. It wasn’t until I moved to St. Louis, MO in 2015 that I experienced the overwhelming experience of racism between whites and blacks. My eyes were opened to the current oppression that happens in our country. The amount of injustice surrounding me daily was staggering. Yet, for the majority of evangelical pastors around me, the subject was “not central to the Gospel,” or “too political.”

A dramatic shift happened in 2019 when I read Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise—I suddenly became aware of the systematic, overt, and ongoing oppression of African-Americans, not simply from whites, but from white Christians and pastors. The Bible that I love and preach from was used as an instrument of torture for those whose skin color was darker than mine. The God of light could not love the darks, I guess. After I read Tisby’s work, I was angry—righteously angry.

The same feelings resurfaced this past week in the horrific killing of George Floyd, a man created in the image of God. Any unjust death is lamentable, but this one was different; this caused anger, sorrow, and disgust. Sadly, the broader white church has since focused on the chaotic rioting (resulting in further injustice) than on the death of another African-American man (again, this is not to say that the chaotic rioting is correct, rather, it is to say that many of my conservative, white evangelical friends simply focus on that). For those of you who continue to downplay the racial tension present in our country, maybe you need to watch the murder of Floyd until you are uncomfortable, and then keep watching.

When we look at the end of history, we see a vision of heaven coming to earth where every tribe, tongue, and language will sing the glory and goodness of God. It will be a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic celebration of the Triune God. The church should be a picture of what that this celebration should look like. How long then will our churches herald, even if unintentionally, a covertly racist Christianity that furthers the oppression of African-Americans in our community. What if God was calling us not to cliche responses, nor to identity with a particular political party, but to champion the King from the Middle East who looks nothing like the predominant culture of Anglo-Evangelicals.

How then shall we live, if this is the case? First, we repent of our overt or covert racism that exists in our churches and in our hearts. Repentance may look upward and horizontal, meaning that we will confess to God that we have treated his image bearers with judgment and scorn, and that we will seek to repair relationships that have suffered because of our judgmental attitudes. But repentance does not end with an apology, it continues with action. We repent by taking action and fighting for justice, equality, and peace for our African-American brothers and sisters. A church that simply acknowledges wrong but does nothing to change is not repenting but simply is sorry they were caught. Something must change.

Second, we pray and plan for justice to roll down like a river, like Amos says (who, by the, way is not a lone-wolf in the call for justice in the world). We pray that God might come return to restore and renew all things, including, but not limited to, the racial issues that are prevalent throughout our world. But furthermore, we must plan to take action, to champion the marginalized and oppressed in our communities, and use our voice as a witness for those who have long been trampled over. In other words, we need to pray and plan in such a way that leads to restorative and uncomfortable progress in the area of racial reconciliation in our world.

The good news of the Gospel says that in Christ, all those who are enemies can become reconciled, for Christ, who is our peace, has broken down the walls of hostility (Ephesians 4:12). The sacrifice and resurrection of Christ enables you to find peace with God and therefore, peace with your fellow brothers and sisters in the world. Christian, in your attempts to herald this good news of Jesus, do not covertly erect a barrier that hinders your fellow image bearers from seeing, savoring, and delighting in the God of peace.