Peeking into Culture – Two Videos that Spiritual Leaders need to be aware of…based upon the book,

1woman-peeking-behind-wall-hole-9437124Christopher Ryan is a scientist and research psychologist.  He is well educated, articulate, humorous as well as honest in his profession and viewpoints.  I'm not attempting in this blog post to argue, demean or marginalize his viewpoints.  I ordered the book and I'm going to read it…and even then, I see books like this through the lens of my attempt to continue to be a student of the culture.  What I CAN and WILL say is that Christopher's conclusions are implications of what happens within culture when there is a marked paradigmatic shift from "theisim" (biblical theism for most of us) and non-theism.  You see, Christopher's work is COMPLETELY consistent to that which emerges from a non-theistic worldview.  When all you have is the material world…when you interpret the world and your actions and behaviors without moral accountability to anything "bigger" than yourself or your peer group…or when you see the world as simply an extension of biological and physical urges and instincts, this becomes your conclusion – all gloves are off…essentially "morality", as we define it from a biblical theistic perspective, becomes not only "outdated" but unnecessary.  The "god" of non-theism is the autonomous self and anything that indulges that self is acceptable.  The ONLY "governor" on human behavior is social acceptability which, of course, can be transcended by listening to the "right" voices or aligning with the enlightened few.  So, here are a couple of videos for you who travel the path that I travel professionally and personally.  They are worth your time because they reveal where our culture is heading.  What many of us would label as promiscuity will eventually be languaged or defined as "normal" and "natural" and "biologically consistent with our species."  So, before you click on the links, I caution you, there are some words you might not want children to hear.  But use this time as a cultural education time.  Then, maybe we can talk some more… – in which Christopher review's his book, Sex at Dawn. – his latest "Ted" talk in 2013.

Is the Church Jesus’ “imaginary friend?”


Take a look at this cartoon.  If you are like me, you have a number of different reactions to it.  At first, I said, “yes, I understand that Jesus might not even recognize what many churches in our culture have become.”  Then again, I felt a bit irritated because I thought that maybe the artist (a great guy, David Hayward) was being a bit too cynical about Jesus’ relationship to HIS body.  I mean, how can Jesus, whose body we are members, be disconnected from that which is actually His own manifestation on earth in fleshly form? 

I don’t think David was attempting to say the latter…for Jesus can never be separated from that which is actually His.  Each of us are precious members of His body, grafted in by love and mercy, graciously gifted with aspects of His own very nature to be able to fulfill our call to be difference makers in today’s world to HIS glory.  Even so, I do believe David is pointing out something profound about what the INSTTITUION of the church has become.  In many respects, we all need to ask ourselves about whether Jesus would actually “befriend” organizations like that which many of us see in our culture.  And believe me, I’m not pointing fingers.  I have as much “guilt” on my shoulders as anyone else.  There have been times where I have been MUCH MUCH MUCH more concerned with building MY kingdom and not God’s.  There are times where I am much more interested in “ear tickling” and keeping people happy in institutional living than speaking the truth of what God calls us to be and do.  The truth is, anything short of each gathering of followers of Jesus being totally committed to faithfulness to God’s call to be and make disciples becomes, over time, an “imaginary friend.”  To claim that we are faithful to Jesus while we put more energy into institutional life than Kingdom life is a sham.  To be doing that which entertains at the expense of sacrificial living, personal life transformation and disciple-making DNA is nothing more than that which must stagger the imagination of Jesus. 

I’ve been making my way through the gospels again and I must admit, I don’t recognize the Jesus I read about as someone who is hanging around many contemporary churches.  Pragmatism, “how to-ism,” light shows, jumbo jet dB levels of music, pastoral “idolatry,” and massive dollars spent on elaborate palaces dispensing religious goods and services simply appears to be out of step with who Jesus was and is (as I read the gospels).  I’ve said it a lot lately; any institution that purports to be serving Kingdom interests must be more of a reflection of the life and ministry of Jesus than that of the paradigms of the 20th century.  No, I’m not idolizing the first century because I know we live in unique times.  This is OUR time to be faithful to God in our world and culture.  Yet to sell out to culture and turn discipleship into consumables is far from what I believe Jesus intended.  So David, I think you might be right.  Jesus might have an imaginary friend not so much because of HIS heart but because of ours.  May we always not only find our identity in Jesus’ love for us but may we live out our community’s lives as if Jesus IS our friend and be something He would recognize as faithful to His call and worthy of the investment of His Spirit.  


The Ongoing argument – Are you a Saint or a Sinner?


“Dead giveaways”.  That’s what we call them. They are those things that unveil the truth about some subject or person.  For example, you notice a middle aged gentleman driving a red sports car down by the beach in the middle of the day.  Isn’t that a ‘dead giveaway” of a mid-life crisis?  Or you see a young couple browsing through Babies R Us.  Isn’t that a dead giveaway that she is expecting a baby?  I am a college professor who not too long ago received a paper from a student that had the following on the bottom of the last page, "This essay is from – join today!"  Dead giveaway of cheating, isn’t it?

When it comes to how we see ourselves as Christians, there are a few dead giveaways.  One has to do with words…the other has to do with your action.  In other words, how you see yourself, how you view your identity in Jesus will be lived out through your lifestyle, the choices and decisions you make, your attitudes, and habits.  In addition, how you see yourself begins with mental "pictures" and metaphors that we call "words" that shape who we are and how we perceive ourselves.  Frankly, everything you do is a demonstration of how you see your true identity.  That’s why Jesus said; “you will know them by the fruit of their lives” (Matthew 12:33).  You see, here is the truth of scripture – when you entrust your life to Jesus, He not only takes care of your past identity but He gives you a new identity.  As Paul says in Galatians 2:20, the power of sin, and the power of our old nature is gone…it has been crucified, buried in the death of Jesus.  You old identity as “sinner” is gone and defeated while you are given a new identity that of “saint”. 

There has been a debate raging for centuries in Christianity over the identity of a believer.  Are we sinners or saints?   Many Christ-followers struggle in their lives because they have bought into a lie.  For example, a counselor was counseling a teenager and he asked her, “Who are you?” She said, “I am evil”. He said, “you’re not evil; how can a child of God be evil; is that how you see yourself?”  That was how she saw herself and, because of that, she was living an absolutely miserable life.  Many believers get caught up in a downward spiral.  We fail, so we see ourselves as failures, which only leads to more failure.  We sin, we see ourselves as sinners, which only leads to more sin.  The word “sinner” is often used to describe both a person’s performance and identity.  But that’s not the way the bible puts it.  If you’re a Christian, you have a new identity.  When you entered into Christ’s life and became a new creation, you inherited from God a new identity.   Someone once wrote, ”You can no more be a sinner saved by grace than you can be a married single person”.  Do you get that?  Marriage changes your identity and you wear a ring to “remind you of this special occasion”.  If you struggle with sin, as most believers do, it is because you are a saint who sins.  People cannot consistently behave in ways that are inconsistent with the way they perceive themselves.  That’s why the Key issue lies in your personal identity – call yourself a sinner, if the label “sinner” brands your identity, you’ll live that out.  On the other hand, if you call yourself a saint…if every day you say in mirror “hi saint (your name here)”…if you believe that, you’ll find your life becoming consistent to your new identity.  Being a Christian is not a matter of getting something it is a matter of being someone.  A Christian is not just a person who gets grace and goes to heaven.  A Christian is a person whose deepest sense of personal identity has been shaped by the power of God and who is growing to live that out in a fuller sense now and throughout eternity.

Brene Brown's paragraph above succinctly summarizes this struggle…being a "sinner" most of the time is shaped by a "shame-based" personal story.  That story embeds itself in a heart and will not be budged without healing and redemption (enter the Holy Spirit).  ALL of us can deal with guilt and that alone, continues to demonstrate that we deal with the implications of our brokenness (called sin) but to brand ourselves in our identity as a "sinner" only condemns us to a shame-based life.  Our guilt can be forgiven and our NEW identity underscored everytime we embrace the grace of our God.  

I have attached a broader outline of a class I give to my college students.  You can download and read at your leisure.  All I know, is that I can encourage you – let the Holy Spirit call out of you your NEW identity.  Holding on to the old identity will only cement something from which you were released by a miracle of God. 

Download Identity saint-sinner

Reflections on getting old…


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“To everything, turn, turn, turn…” Pete Seeger, 1950's

Reflections on getting on in age

I'm sure that many of you have heard of the PBS television series, “Antique Road Show.” If you haven’t, let me give you a snapshot of its presentation: a team of antique experts wander from city to city in the USA, inviting people from the location to present artificacts, furniture and other treasures for evaluation and dollar calculation. Once an appraisal is made, the expert will then tell the individual or family what the “piece” is worth in open auction. Most times, the owner of the family heirloom or possesson is told that their assumed “priceless” treasure is worth no more than a cup of Starbucks coffee. At times though, it’s one item that catches the auctioneer’s attention and the news of its high dollar value is shared with the owner with delight. Lovers of the show, at least I’m told, squeal in these moments and begin to carefully scheme how they too will one day discover immeasuble treasure buried deep within the bowels of the stack of goods they own. The point of the show is this, MOST older “antiques” are essentially useless. There are a few, and I underscore few, that end up having some sort of worth on the open market. Actually friends, I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of this show during my life…it’s rather drink of glass of Liquid Plummer than watch another, if you know what I mean.

Getting older is surprisingly easy but enlightening. I look at the mirror on a day to day basis either to shave, clip my ever growing eyebrows, or simply to be able to see how much more my face is deteriorating with a sense of inevitable resignation. Most of us, I know it’s true for me, never believe that we will get old like “those people” what we see wandering through the halls of Long-term care facilities, buying a cheap meal at a local fast food place, or who are addicted to antique television presentations. They park in the handicap slots at the store, slowly wander through the aisles many times appearing lost at times. I know for me, I smile at most and have often offered to help many. I was always taught to respect my elders something that I do with ease.

Yet, I never see myself in their skin. I know intellectually that it is my future in one way or another but it never occurs to me that I’ll be donning the same outfit one day myself. Those “clothes” don’t fit my mental picture of myself. And although the march of time continues to drone on and the days that pass are more like check marks on a growing “to do” list of accomplishments more than a reality that I eventually need to embrace, I’d rather live in my dream world believing that I and I alone have bathed in the fountain of youth.

I don't feel older. Most older peple that I knew feel EXACTLY the same way. Yet, I know I am getting older because the guy looking at me in my mirror has a similarity to someone I know very well, but I still don’t recognize him completely. Even so, deep down in my “denial focused” heart, I know that’s me. I also feel the inevitable pains of the passage of time in the body I have been given as a gift. I wish the Lord would have given me a time table of what to expect as this aspect of my individuality and personhood starts to show wear and tear. It may have been helpful to have a warranty, like that of a car, to know how time much I could expect from my transmission and suspension. My “power train” is still showing some life but the brakes and body are simply not working the way they were originally designed. My problem is that I can’t find a good mechanic who can put slap something new on and give me better performance. All I can do is continue to live day by day with the realization that I’m out of warranty.

The “wheels” of my legs are in need of some serious overhaul…the gout has deteriorated my toe joints, old basketball wounds cause my ankles and knees to be looser than is healthy, my shoulders don’t work because of countless swimming and surfing strokes, my skin (as my new dermatologist just told me the other day) will continue to have to be analyzed for “issues” because of all that damn sunlight that I was addicted to for years during my younger days. It takes more work to stay healthy, I have to deny more and more types of food because they are increasingly bad for me, and the piles of vitamins and other medications that I take will soon equal the height of Mt. Everest. I was told a few years back that I couldn’t qualify for a job because I was a “50 year old white guy” and I know that a few of my resumes have been used for “waste basket basketball practice” simply because the employer looked at my birth date. Oh, what a world.

Seriously though, it is easy to get old. The hours and days pass gracefully without thought or intentionality. Although I still recognize parts of myself in photos and videos, there is an increasing resignation to the inevitable truth. I guess the issue that bothers me to the most has to do with culture’s worship of the young. Why we do that is beyond me and definitely beyond my pay grade. Other cultures in the world revere those with higher mileage. We in the west look at a person’s odometer and start to theorize, quantify, and plan on the soon to be obselence based upon some mechanistic and utilitarian criteria. I’m getting a new computer in a few months and I realized long ago that electronics manufactueres conspiratorially plotted its demise. I feel like it is just a matter of time before society does the same to me…wise or not, educated or not, vital or not, energetic or not, willingness to produce or not…I’ll still, one day, be deemed obsolete.

Well, society and culture be damned. I’m going to offer what I can despite the fact that my body is looking more like a melting candle day by day. I still have thoughts that need to be expressed, music that needs to be played, love to give, laughs to inspire, books that need to be read and gifts that I can share…whether any one wants to appreciate them will be up to them. I’ve always envied women for culture’s sensitivity to inquiring about a woman’s age. As many of you know, it is wiser to NOT ask a woman how old she is after she has reached adulthood than to do otherwise. I’ve tasted my foot in my mouth more times than I care to admit because I ventured into that forbidden territory. I find myself, when asked, fudging a bit on answering the question, “how old are you?” I was fine saying 40…I’m getting apprehensive about answering with the words, “well, uh, 59.”

But the days keep going by and, as a good book and therapist taught me years ago, its hard and deadly to deny reality. What the coming days hold is in no one else’s hand than a God, I know, who loves me and sees my priceless worth. That brings me hope. For the rest of the world, you are just going to have to deal with my fuzz head hairline, sagging waddle under my chin, and my inability to look more “chiseled” no matter how many workouts I do per week. I’ll be ordering more salads, thank you! And maybe I’ll be drinking a few more glasses of wine because I’d rather celebrate life than whine about it (oh, that was clever, huh?). No matter who assesses what they see in my life, I know many people (at least I think I do) who really don’t care how the culture appraises my life. For many that give my life meaning, they aren’t surprised when some “antique” assessor says I’m not as valuable as they think I am. That’s Ok…my wife, children, grandkids and friends who are walking this journey with me have not put me in some basement or shelf in the garage as of yet. When they do, I guess I’ll just have to accept it and make a home there. After all I’ve been through, that basement or often ignored shelf won’t be that bad of a home. By then, I’ll probably not be able to walk up the stairs or find the energy or where with all to get off the shelf. Priceless or not, I’m going to be around until my number is up. And that is only in the Lord’s hands…thank goodness.

By the way, with the amount of diet coke I drink per day, some tell me that I'll be fully embalmed when I die…well, ain't that convenient!

All the elements of what it means to be a follower of Jesus are “in submission” to the Purposes of God in our lives

Looking closely at the image below gives you a good opportunity to remind you (and us all for that matter) what it is like to live the Kingdom of God.  All of what God does…through His revelation of His nature and character to the world is wrapped up in God's mission of mercy and grace.  When my friend, Paul Mueller, shared this image, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to underscore what is often forgotten (as it collides with our agendas, perceived theological and biblical need to posture and prove others wrong, etc.) that if you follow Jesus, you are a clear purpose.  You see, wthout mission our entire purpose for knowing anything about God is worthless…mission is embedded in God's character and nature…since we are created "Imago Dei" we discover our true identity in "Missio Dei." Thanks Paul…in this instance, a picture is worth more than a 1000 words!!