Thursday, August 12, 2010

He Sees

I ordered a book that I just received and found a quote that is so applicable for the day that many of us live. These paragraphs just grabbed at my heart, and, I thought I would share them with you...

"He sees the worlds made and unmade, the constellations that swim into being, crash, and go out into darkness. The hills that for us are everlasting hills have scarcely the endurance of sand castles of children on the strand. The nations are a drop in the bucket, and He takes up the isles as a very little thing. He sees the passing of empires and governments that in their prolonged oppressions make the world more weary.

He sees them pass as quickly as a dust cloud on a hot summer day. Quicker than we can think back across the past did that past slip before His eyes. He sees the thoughts of men crystalize into forms and institutions, families, tribes, nations, monarchies, republics, with wars and rumors of war accompanying these humanly portentous changes. He sees the proud cities of Nineveh, Babylon, and the like rise from the plain and sink back again, silted up with the oblivious sands. He has used Babylon as a cup, Assyria as a scourge, and Egypt as a rod. The nations that obey Him and the nations that disobey Him are compelled to serve His sovereign purposes, and Pharaohs are simply pawns in His hands, and He binds princes at His pleasure. And the purposes are His alone, and cannot be shared.

Do not forget, He watches over His own creation, He neither slumbers nor sleeps. He allows our lukewarm state, our stammering praise, and our imperfect prayers. He loves our littleness, but it is with the love of compassion. There are no leveled eyes into which He can look. The very One who was despised and rejected of men; the unmoved Mover, holds history in His hands. So run to Him in this day, bring all your needs before Him, and rest in the fact that no matter who rules the day...there is Someone who still sees it all, and promises to lead His own in triumph (*one day very soon!)"

A.E. Whiteman-
The Discipline & Culture of the Spiritual Life

Written in 1938

*added by Brady

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Branding An Eternal Message? Pt. 1

For the next few days, I am going to write on something that has been a growing issue in my heart; the idea of marketing the Gospel message as if it is a product on television. I am NOT against getting the message out in modern ways, but we must evaluate the implications of crossing the fine line of reducing the message of Jesus to a mere product of commercialism, instead of the life-changing Lord of Lords that He is and forever will be!

The church today has a weakness for numbers. We are infatuated with measurements and quantified data: statistics, opinion polls, market research, attendance figures, bestseller lists, budgets, and so on. We want specific numbers so we can keep tabs on things like market saturation, return on investment, and consumer satisfaction. We want to monitor what the masses are buying, where the people are flocking, and what is hot right now, so that perhaps our warehouse churches will overflow with seeker-consumers. In other words, the church today operates like a corporation, with a product to sell and a market to conquer.

But what happens to our faith when we turn it into a product to sell? What does it mean to package Christianity in a methodical manner so as to make it salient to as wide an audience as possible? What does Christianity lose when it becomes just one piece of a consumer transaction? These are questions that the brand managers of “cool Christianity” would do well to consider.

In Branding Faith, Phil Cooke talks about how Christianity’s brand appeal is strengthened due to its mystery, in the same way that Kentucky Fried Chicken’s brand is enhanced by the mystery of its secret spices and McDonald’s by its secret sauce. He also compares the sensory appeal of liturgical churches’ “smells and bells” (incense, etc.) to that of stores like Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works, which enhance customers’ experiences with smells. Christians are constantly making comparisons like this, using the language of mass-market capitalism to talk about how to polish and position the “brand” of Christ. But it strikes me as incredibly unseemly and wrongheaded to speak of Christianity in this way—as if it were just like any other organization or business that needed to be marketed. We market products, sports teams, movies, and … Jesus? We trivialize and demean Jesus when we place him in the company of yellow pages products like hairspray and hot wings.

Let’s think for a minute about what Christianity is and why it doesn’t make a good “product.” For one thing, products must be subject to markets, yet God is not subject to the consumer needs or wants of any market. God only and ever deals on his own terms. His grace comes from within him and is bestowed on us as he pleases. It doesn’t come when we are ready for it or when we long for it. We struggle to fathom something that can’t be purchased “on demand” in this day and age, but Christianity is one such thing. God saves at his discretion and on his watch.

Another reason why Christianity doesn’t make a good product is that it doesn’t lend itself to an easy commercial sale. Sure, there are appealing things about it, but there are also not-so-appealing things about it (um… taking up one’s cross, avoiding sin and worldliness, etc.). And although the Gospel is wonderfully simple in the sense that even a child can recognize its truth, it is also mind-blowingly complex in a way that doesn’t lend itself to thirty-second jingles. Marketing requires simplifying, cutting out all friction and obstacles to a sale, and focusing solely on the beneficial, feel-good aspects of a product. To market something is to empty it of all potentially controversial or difficult elements, which is maybe not the best method of communicating the gospel, says David Wells:

[Marketing] flattens, simplifies, and converts everything into what is appealing. That is what it has done in the evangelical church. The gospel, understood as a product, loses its depth and cost. This happens so that its appeal and salability can be elevated, but along the way Christianity becomes flat, empty, and banal.

Not only that, but Christianity also becomes indistinguishable from any other marketed commodity. When people are “sold” Christianity in the same way that they are sold a pair of shoes or a cell phone upgrade, people will naturally think of Christianity in the same way that they do any other consumer product; that is, as a lifestyle choice and brand with which they currently identify but might easily abandon if a better offer comes down the pike. If I primarily choose Christianity because it is slickly marketed, like I might choose an iPhone, the risk is high that I won’t stay loyal to that “brand” forever. I never was attracted to the “thing” itself, after all—just the attractive marketing, which can easily be one-upped in the future by competitors. Attempting to sell the gospel as “cool,” then, is a dangerous proposition. It’s dangerous because it bases the attractiveness of the gospel on an external definition of marketability and “cool” that will appeal to people but has very little to do with the actual content of the message. Converts to this gospel will likely be like the seeds on rocky soil in Matthew 13—rootless. As Tyler Wigg-Stevenson notes:

Any salvation that needs a sophisticated sales pitch is a salvation that won't really do anything. It will make you holy the same way a new pair of Nikes makes you athletic—which is to say, not at all. It only changes your religious brand… Spiritual shoppers have no reason to think that Christianity is anything but one option among many.

Just as “cool” has become little more than a happy meal product to satiate the desires of young people to “purchase empty authenticity and rebellion,” pop Christianity is on the verge of becoming little more than just another vacuous moniker and feel-better-about-myself, over-the-counter drug. It’s always easier to consume cool or buy a satisfactory status (whether emotional, spiritual, or physical) than it is to legitimately work for it, earn it, and become it. The church must make sure we aren’t selling an empty, easy, superficial product devoid of anything truthful or real. It’s easy to sell Christianity-Lite when you mention only the positive, “this will make your life so much better” selling points. It’s significantly harder to convince people to adopt a full Christian life that makes no promises about instant gratification and almost guarantees hardship. Such a thing isn’t as easily “sold,” but it’s worth more than anything you might ever buy.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

OMG! These Judgmental People!

The army of God is the only one who shoots, slaughters, filets, badgers, mutilates, ignores, gossips about, (and all other adjectives I really can't mention here).... its own wounded.

That statement hits just a little too close to home. Not because of wrongs I've suffered or wounds I've received, though. It hits so close because of wrongs I've committed and wounds I've inflicted. I've done it: Judging another person by deciding in my own mind what their motives, insecurities, and intentions are based solely on what they do.

When God chose David as the second king of Israel, he told Samuel during the vetting process that it's people who judge by appearances, but God examines the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).

Whenever I have judged exclusively by externals, I've noticed that I'm excluding several significant internal realities:

The actual heart condition of the other person.

Jeremiah 17:9 says that no one can understand the heart. That's God's job.
Hurt people hurt people. Whenever someone lashes out or attacks someone else for no reason they are responding out of their own woundedness. MONSTER CAVEAT: Explaining their attack in NO WAY excuses it.
It's possible--just possible--that I don't have all the facts.

Maybe, just maybe, that person has genuinely prayed and sought God's heart and is following the leading God gave her.

Maybe, there's a calling on her life that I can't or haven't yet considered that would explain why she does what she does.
Judging others' judgmentalism is...oh, what's the word?...judgmental! I can get haughty in a hurry when I've been wronged or someone close to me has been wronged.
The task of judging others has already been assigned and I didn't get the gig.

God promises that He will set everything to rights.

He will account for every injustice, from the Holocaust to my haughtiness and everything in between.
Judging others wastes time that I will be held accountable for what I DO with it. A lot of people don't yet know Jesus and the extravagance of his love. What in the world am I doing wasting a nano-second on a job that's not mine? Lives are at stake.

Why? Why? Why?

And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:9–10

Why does God allow hardship? Why does God allow illness? Why does God allow tragedy? We can go on and on asking why, but we can't always answer these questions. Yet listen to what the apostle Paul said as he explains why it was allowed in his life in particular:
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. (2 Corinthians 12:7–8)

We don't know what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was. Most commentators believe it was some kind of physical disability that he probably acquired after one of his multiple beatings or stonings. Whatever it was, the devil wanted to use it to get Paul down. And it worked. Paul got down on his knees and called on God. The devil wanted to drive Paul away from God, but instead the apostle clung to Him that much tighter.

When we go through suffering and hardship, it can be so difficult at times. I have never had a more difficult time in my life than the past 19 months. Yet the fellowship I have had with God has never been sweeter. I have never been more dependent on Him. There are times I don't think I can handle it, and then God gives me the strength that I need. And I have learned things that I would not have learned anywhere else. I don't know the "why" of it all, but I trust God, cling to God, and rely on God.

Are you facing hardship and suffering today? Pour out your heart to God. He is trustworthy.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Leaders are Readers

So many of you have wrote to me asking about what books I are a few in two separate lists. I am the most a.d.h.d. reader that there is in the world. It depends on the mood I am in and what I am hungering for in my life. I have cleaned out my little home study in order to begin a bit of a new season. John Maxwell says "Leaders are readers." Well, that has always been a sticking point in my existence. I think undergrad school did me in with all the nonsense texts I had to purchase. THANKS AMAZON KINDLE (and the iPad to come!)

But, this year I have made a commitment to begin to read, then journal about what I highlight in the book.

I. Books I am currently reading devotionally

1) A Hunger for God by John Piper

2) Forgotten God by Frances Chan

3) The Mortification of Sin by John Owen

4) In the Day Of Thy Power by Arthur Wallis

5) Generosity by Gordon MacDonald

6) Leading With A Limp by Dan Allender (*Reading NOW)

7) Humility by Andrew Murray

8) Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller

9) Angry Conversations With God by Susan Issacs (*honest and so funny)

II. Books I am currently reading (more historical in nature) include:

1) How Rome Fell, Death of a Superpower by Adrian Goldsworthy

2) Tea with Hezbollah by Ted Dekker

3) Inside the Revolution by Joel Rosenberg

4) The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs