From Duck Dynasty to Deliverance

Most you you know about Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, the comments he made in GQ magazine about homosexuality, and the decision of A&E to suspend him from taping the show.  The controversy obviously reflects the growing divide in our culture between secularists and those who take the Bible seriously. As one who takes the Bible seriously, I have a growing concern beyond whether or not Duck Dynasty remains on A&E or not.

Here is the concern:  Is Phil Robertson going to represent Biblical Christianity to our culture?  Do the sarcastic put-downs and institutionalized adolescence of Duck Dynasty represent well Christ’s love and character? If our culture comes to identify and stereotype conservative, Biblical Christianity with Duck Dynasty, is that how God is going to advance the gospel?  Heck, maybe it is.  God is way smarter than me.   He uses the foolish things to confound the wise. God bless Phil Robertson, and God bless his ability to speak his mind.  The simple wisdom that is often reflected in his life and words does speak to this culture powerfully.

But obviously, there is more to following Jesus.  But why doesn’t our culture see it more often?  Why doesn’t our culture get to see the transforming, loving, healing power of Jesus that radically changes circumstances and lives?

Why did A&E choose to broadcast Duck Dynasty?  Because the Robertson family is somewhat exciting.  They take risks and say plainly what most of us keep to ourselves.  They take otherwise non-interesting events (like sitting around a warehouse not working) and make them interesting and funny.  And it satisfies our suburban voyeuristic desire to see how people like the Robertsons live.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I walk around with the creator of the universe living inside me!  I have the love of the Father flowing through me and the power of His Spirit pouring out of my heart!  Shouldn’t that be more exciting than a group of bearded men sitting around a warehouse acting like adolescents? But sadly, so often it’s not.

One reason that us Christians are pretty boring today (so therefore our culture’s attention is grabbed by sensationalized adolescent representations of Jesus) is we have abandoned the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t boring.  People fought through crowds, tore holes through roofs and tried to walk on water to get to him.  When Jesus sent out his disciples, he gave them authority to cast out demons and heal the sick (Luke 9:1).  Yet what percentage of American Christians have ever done either of these things?  If, when we went out in public, we looked for opportunities to do these things, would we be needing Phil Robertson to represent us to the culture?  Even if we just prayed for people out in public regularly, wouldn’t our culture have a different view of the church?

In Acts 4, the Jewish religious leaders had a political problem when they wanted to punish the disciples.  Why? “Since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.”  As our culture turns against Bible-believing Christians, may the same be said of us.

Boys to Men

Every year in my history classes I use what I consider to be a witty journal topic to talk about our culture’s crisis of manhood.

“All women should know how to take care of children. Most of them will have a husband some day.”   -Franklin P. Jones

The students often misinterpret it at first, but it doesn’t take long before one sharp student gets it:  “Men are like children.”

Yes, indeed.   Why is it that our culture is producing so many old boys and not very many young men?  We are becoming a nation of kidults.

You know how sometimes you don’t understand something until you hear yourself say it?  As Charles Swindoll says, “Our thoughts untangle themselves over the lips and through the fingertips.”  I felt like the Lord helped me to hit upon something in our discussion that I had not thought about in this way before—that one difference between boys and men is how they understand pleasure.

Boys seek to pleasure themselves as a way of life, while men understand what true pleasure looks like.  God designed us to build, create, develop, design, dream, organize, transform, beautify and grow.  There is another word for these things…work!  A primary source of true pleasure is to go about our God-given tasks and bring life to our God-given callings.

A character in Despicable Me 2—young, confident, tweeny Latin charmer Antonio—epitomizes this distinction.  When introducing Antonio, his father says smoothly (Nacho Libre accent on), “This is my son Antonio.  When he grows up he wants to play video games for a living” (Nacho Libre accent off).   Perfect!  This is a boy.  And while I think tween-age boys are the perfect age to begin leaving childish ways behind them, pleasure-seeking as a way of life is not surprising for boys.  But what about for adult males (“men” avoided intentionally)?

For too many males, becoming a legal adult simply means finding more sophisticated ways to pleasure ourselves.  When I asked some of the students to start dreaming a little about what they can build, create, develop, etc., one student shared his dream of playing in the NBA.  To accomplish this goal requires a tremendous amount of hard work and determination—qualities to be admired and a glimpse of what it means to grow from boy to man.  But how many NBA players have simply used this dream as a more sophisticated way to pleasure themselves? How many have left behind numerous unfathered children, broken relationships and other moral messes?

Just working hard to accomplish something is not enough to become a man.   I would argue there also needs to be a vision for furthering a cause bigger than your own pleasure.  If my student’s goal is to play in the NBA so he can be a blessing to others and give back to society in some specific way, then he will become a man in the process of pursuing that dream (I would argue that he will become so even if he doesn’t fully accomplish it).  But if playing in the NBA is simply an avenue toward fame, wealth and women, I predict he will remain largely an adolescent.  A man has learned that strength is to be employed in a life of service, and this service is a counter-intuitive path toward joy.  And until we get that, part of us never grows up.

Sadly, how few fathers today are modeling and leading their sons to grow into men?  How many fathers teach their sons to dream, build, create, organized, develop, and design?  May God “Turn the heart of our fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to our fathers.”  And thank you heroic single moms (whether married or not) who are doing your best to stand in the gap for your sons.  May God reward your sacrifice.

And Lord, please help me to teach my daughters to develop their God-given gifts in order to accomplish their God-given callings.  I have so often failed to be intentional in this.  And if they are to marry, may you be preparing young men to love them.  Give them discernment to distinguish godly men from boys. In Jesus’ name.

“Podded up”

World on Campus posts an article about the Millennial Generation, from a study done of incoming college freshman.  The study describes them as “more selfish, less interested in the well-being of others and less concerned about the environment than previously thought.”

As a high school teacher of only 12 years, and teaching kids who are so different culturally than myself, it’s difficult for me to say whether my experience confirms these findings.  I have taught some amazing students over the years, but am certainly in touch with the fact that they, like me, are sinners.

But this paragraph caught my attention:

Gordon, however, attributes the Millennial Generation’s lack of involvement to digital media, which many thought would make today’s youth the most broad-minded, thoughtful, intelligent generation ever. Instead, it has arrested their development, Gordon said: “When they are ‘podded up’ they do not hear adult conversations. When in a room with adults, they are texting other adolescents who are not present. They are stuck in childhood, because they have so little acquaintance with adults and adult concerns.”

The more experience I get, the more I am convinced that, next to a relationship with Jesus, contact with thoughtful adults is what kids and adolescents need most.  Occasionally when I discuss issues of family and parenting in my high school classes, I am repeatedly amazed by a certain dynamic.  This dynamic happens so frequently that it seems like there is a 100% correlation.  Here is is:

In most classes, there are typically a small group of students (2-6?) that just have something the others don’t.  It’s not necessarily intelligence.  It’s not simply social skills. It’s more than just relational awareness.  It includes politeness and good character.  It’s a bit hard to describe.  But I am drawn to them.  They are more confident and often have more leadership ability.  I trust them.  So already knowing who these students are, I often ask a question of the class: “Who has strict parents who are involved in your lives?”  (By “strict” I don’t mean angry or abusive, and I clarify that.)  Guess who almost always raises their hands?  You got it.  The correlation is striking.  The impact of time spent with thoughtful adults may be the most powerful dynamic I see in the high school classroom.

A Different Spirit

“But because my servant Caleb as a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it” (Numbers 14:24)

Cultivating this “different spirit” of wholehearted devotion to the Lord is so difficult in today’s culture.  I watched a John Stossel video with my 6th period class yesterday about being famous.  They cited a study–most young people today would rather be a personal assistant to a celebrity than be a Senator or a CEO of a corporation.  They did “man on the street” interviews where they asked people two questions:  1) Who cured polio?; and 2) Who was Nicole Richie’s best friend?  Among older people, some knew Jonas Salk, and many didn’t know Paris Hilton. (I didn’t even know who Nicole Richie was; I had to find out from the video.)  But among the young, nobody knew who cured polio, but almost everyone knew who Nicole Richie’s best friend was.

Our media-obsessed culture, in which we vicariously live our lives through celebrities we have never met, is destroying meaning and significance in our lives.  How does a Christian live in this culture with a “different spirit?”

What Caleb did is that he saw his circumstances through God’s eyes.  He saw the same fortified cities and giants in the land they were supposed to conquer.  But He and Joshua argued with those who were afraid:

“Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up.  Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us.  Do not be afraid of them” (Num 14:9).

He trusted the Lord to intervene in his circumstances, and acted on it.  He put himself in situations where he would be in trouble if the Lord didn’t act.  Not recklessly so, but out of obedience to God.  He remembered what God had done in the past, and trusted him to do it again.

Lord, help me to walk wholeheartedly before you.  Lord, I want to listen to your voice, and see my circumstances through your eyes.  Increase my faith.  Put a different spirit within me.  As I read the stories of your intervention and deliverance, give me the faith to believe that you will do it again.  Thank you for repeatedly doing it again in my own life.  In Jesus’ name.

Christian Yoga?

Is “Christian yoga” an oxymoron?  Influential Evangelical thinker R. Albert Mohler certainly thinks so.  His September, 2010 blog post on the topic was picked up by Yahoo news and started a media-driven debate, especially among Christians.

Mohler is essentially correct—the most commonly practiced forms of Yoga emerge from a largely unbiblical worldview and involve spiritual ideas and practices that cannot, as a whole, be reconciled with biblical Christianity.  While he has no objection to specific Yoga poses per se, he rejects the idea that the physical components of Yoga can be separated from the spiritual.  In a subsequent post, he writes:

I have heard from a myriad of Christians who insist that their practice of yoga involves absolutely no meditation, no spiritual direction, no inward concentration, and no thought element. Well, if so, you are simply not practicing yoga. You may be twisting yourselves into pretzels or grasshoppers, but if there is no meditation or direction of consciousness, you are not practicing yoga, you are simply performing a physical exercise. Don’t call it yoga.

Mohler traces a bit of the history and philosophy of yoga, pointing out that much of yoga practice has involved the channeling of sexual energy to unite with spiritual entities.  And Mohler’s fears that this practice could bring harm to Christians are justified.  The word yoga means “yoked,” and the theme of yoga throughout its various forms is the idea of being yoked to the spiritual.  A Christian walking into a traditional yoga class may be at risk of being yoked not to Jesus, but rather to a demonic spirit.

This sounds scary, but is yoga all bad?  Is there a baby in the bathwater?  We learn in bible school and seminary that there are two sources of knowledge or revelation.  We call them “general” and “special” revelation.  General revelation consists of what we know to be true by observing the world around us.  Most true knowledge in fields like science, math, architecture, astronomy, etc. fall into this category.  Special revelation is what we learn when God directly communicates to us, e.g. the Bible.  But regardless of how it comes to us, if anything is true in this world, God established it.  God not only rescued the Israelites out of Egypt and fed the five-thousand from a few loaves and fish, but also invented the laws of nature that we discover through scientific inquiry.  The architect who designed my house did not learn the truths of architecture from the Bible, but through general revelation.  Yet God is their author.

In a response to Albert Mohler, John Mark Reynolds from Biola University argues that Mohler lacks imagination in this regard. He raises questions like: Are there any benefits at all from yoga practice?  Could there be benefits if yoga was practiced differently?  If yoga contains any spiritual and physical truths, then didn’t those truths come from God and therefore are intended for our benefit?

Reynolds writes that we need to

find faithful men and women who can appropriate what is good, true, and beautiful in yoga and turn it to Christ. It was Christ who gave men of old the insight to do good through yoga and devils that corrupted that insight into a false religion.
While certainly yoga has brought spiritual harm to many, if there is any truth in yoga—and the fact that so many throughout history have experienced some benefit from it suggests there could be—then whatever truths are there can be rescued from the enemy and turned into tools in Christ’s kingdom.
Consider spiritual disciplines that Christians also practice: prayer, fasting, raising hands or kneeling in worship, singing, solitude, silence, etc.  These very practices could also be used by members of false religions and offered to demons with destructive results.  But we don’t discard them simply because non-Christians have also used them.
Reynolds explains poignantly:

A brick may be used in a pagan temple, but then reverently placed in a Christian church. A cave may be used as a stable, but then turned into the birthplace of God. No metaphysical system is safe from plundering by Christianity, because Christianity is afraid of no good idea, object, or word. The system in which a great work of art is trapped may be corrupt, but we can reinterpret that work and so redeem it for Christ. Is this process dangerous? Of course, because there is always the danger of being corrupted by the object of redemption before it can be reimagined. What is more dangerous is the cowardice that would leave any good, true, and beautiful thing to the Evil One. We must reclaim everything for King Jesus.

The Evil One has used yoga for thousands of years to enslave its adherents.  But our enemy cannot create, he merely corrupts and distorts what God has made.  If there is anything good, true, and beautiful in yoga, then our Lord created it for our benefit.  Let’s not be afraid to redeem and rescue what we can from yoga while remaining faithful to biblical truth.

What might this look like in practice?  Common yoga practices include emptying the mind, or meditating on the breath or body with the possible aid of mantras.  A Christian practicing yoga would instead fill the mind with God’s truth, meditating on scripture, and might dwell on how a particular pose reveals God.  For example, some common yoga poses include mountain, tree, or child’s pose.  All three of these ideas are used in scripture as object lessons to teach us spiritual truth. Reimagined in Christ, the poses then can become natural ways to connect to God. Dropping down into child’s pose, which looks a lot like bowing before a king, we can meditate on our status and position before God, that of an adopted son or daughter, and we renew our commitments to walk in that identity. This is much like lifting up your hands in church when the worship song lyrics say “we lift up our hands.” Our physical position helps to encourage and express the posture of our heart.

Of course Albert Mohler would object to this practice by saying, “then you are not practicing yoga! Don’t call it yoga.”  And in a sense, he is right.  In that sense, “Christian yoga” is an oxymoron, if we mean by ‘yoga’ the entirety of practice and teaching that has ever been called by that name.  But this objection misses the point.  We should care less about what we call it, and more about whether Christians can redeem specific practices or principles from yoga and use them to bring us closer to the Triune God of the scriptures.

And there are some, in fact, attempting to do just that—groups like Holy Yoga, Praise Moves or Outstretched in Worship.  Some Christians trying to redeem elements of yoga have erred through lack of robust theological training or spiritual discernment.  They are too quick to welcome spiritually dangerous practices and integrate them into their practice.  Others certainly err on the side of being too afraid to consider the full extent to which yoga practice can be redeemed.  But while shortcomings are inevitable, some are finding God’s presence and grace through a devotional yoga practice.

More thought and research needs to be done.  For example, are there specific, measurable health benefits to the poses or to the sequence of poses?  As the poses are redeemed and rooted in scripture, will new “Christian” pose sequences emerge that have even greater physical and spiritual benefits?  Will God’s power for physical and emotional healing, deliverance, or spiritual growth be manifested through new practices that emerge?

My hope is that through this process the full measure of grace that God intended through what can be rescued from yoga will be redeemed and released in the body of Christ.  As Reynolds concludes, “It is easy to imagine yoga dying, because Christianity has enfolded all that is good in yoga within the embrace of its true home.”

Wisdom of John Wooden

I watched a delightful YouTube video in which John Wooden cited this verse:

No written word, no spoken plea
Can teach our youth what they should be
Nor all the books on all the shelves
It’s what the teachers are themselves

Yes!

While of course I believe there is a book that can tell our youth what they should be (and so does John Wooden), what he meant by this is that teaching must be incarnational.  If we don’t live it, we cannot effectively pass it on.

I see so many teachers whose lives are a mess and who make choices they would not want their own kids or students to make.  We are all in process, and I need God’s grace for areas of needed growth in my life too.  But I know that they or I cannot pass on to our students what we are not.  We may be able to pass on what we are.

Father, grant me the grace I need to become all that you desire; not for my own sake, but for the sake of those I love and those you send me.  Help me to choose to run toward You, even when it’s hard and I want to hide.

The Book of Eli review

Just saw The Book of Eli tonight.  Wow.  Spoiler Alert: if you are still planning on seeing it and don’t want to have it ruined for you, stop reading now!

Since God began to touch my life in a much more dramatic way about 10 years ago (you can read about it here), I have been very interested in the possibility of having a relationship with God where He leads on a moment-by-moment basis.   I have read accounts of trying to live this way by those who have gone before us like Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubauch.  I have experimented trying to live this way, with some great successes but with a lot of forgetfulness and distraction.

By the end of this film, I realized that this is what the movie is about.   The movie portrays Eli as a holy warrior of God who owns the last surviving copy of the Bible in a post-nuclear war society.  His mission is to take the Bible to the west, as God leads him.  But of course along the way he runs into numerous threats arising from the ‘every man for himself’ post-war anarchy.  A major surprise in the ending reveals that Eli is blind.  And yet during the film you would never guess that.  He does things that not only require vision, but amazingly sharp vision, like shooting a bird in flight with a bow and arrow.   I came to what I believe is the only possible conclusion:  Eli was so led by God on a moment by moment basis that he could actually carry out his mission, from conversation to combat, being directed by the Holy Spirit rather than using his natural vision.   His early comment in the movie that he “walked by faith and not by sight” all of the sudden took on whole new significance.

So as with any good movie, the question it surfaces is much bigger than the movie.  It’s one thing to write a move script about a guy who does it, but can we do it in real life?  Can we live a moment-by-moment dependent relationship with God through the Holy Spirit?  As Frank Laubach would say, “I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.”

Would rather have a grandchild

Just came across a quote by Herbert Spencer, who first posited the theory of Social Darwinism and coined the term “survival of the fittest.”  Spencer never married, but devoted his life to study and writing.  Much of his later years were consumed with the publishing of the epic Synthetic Philosophy–18 volumes which essentially represented his life’s work.

A few days before his death, “Herbert Spencer had the eighteen volumes of the Synthetic Philosophy piled on his lap, and… ‘as he felt their cold weight wondered if he would not have done better could he have a grandchild in their stead.” (from A Treasury of the World’s Great Letters, p. 360)

Ouch.  May I put into practice what I tell my students–relationship is more important than anything else.  And no other relationship is more important than the one we can have with the Lord.

Freedom from cynicism

I have been noticing lately how much of the humor and banter in our culture comes from a “too-cool,” cynical or sarcastic posture.  And I am so thankful for my wife, who has modeled for me an enthusiastic, encouraging, and sympathetic heart.  God has used her to help deliver me from needing to be “cool.”  I am much more free to be who God made me, and the best part is, I don’t really care what the cynical, sarcastic, too-cool crowd thinks about it!  They are only responding that way because they have been hurt or are insecure, and are protecting their hearts from being vulnerable. Cynicism and sarcasm are the ultimate defense mechanisms. Like all of us, they need love.

Sorry to some of my faithful readers (I think I actually have a few!) for not posting much lately.  My busyness will continue through early May, and then I will have time to post more.

R.I.P. Shanice

A case like this has a way of stripping away the ambiguities.

The evidence is clear that a baby (named Sharice after the fact by her 18-year-old mother), only 23 weeks along, was delivered alive at a Florida abortion clinic, thrown into a plastic bag, and found decomposing a week later.  The autopsy confirmed her live birth, finding her lungs filled with air.

The next set of details are not as well established, coming from the 18-year-old mom’s lawsuit and therefore not verified by investigators.  But I would not be surprised if they were as described:

She says [one of the clinic owners Belkis] Gonzalez knocked the baby off the recliner chair where she had given birth, onto the floor. The baby’s umbilical cord was not clamped, allowing her to bleed out. Gonzalez scooped the baby, placenta and afterbirth into a red plastic biohazard bag and threw it out.

If true, obviously this clinic owner should be prosecuted.  But the question that intrigues me is not legal, but moral.  What moral questions or warnings went through her mind while she was allegedly stuffing a living, breathing baby into a plastic bag like garbage?

Well, I don’t know, and I don’t even presume to know.  Her judgment and my own will come from someone much wiser than me, and I am thankful for that.

But I am reminded of a famous quote from Booker T. Washington: “One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him.”  In other words, slavery was a tremendous moral evil, degrading everyone who touched it.  Particularly after 1830, slavery defenders began to make arguments like We have rescued the slaves from the jungle to civilize and Christianize them!, or Here they get to work out in the warm sun and fresh air—sure beats a Northern factory, and even, At least we give them free health care!

Once we allow the killing of a human being in the womb, we think we can just leave it alone, call it “distasteful” or “unfortunate,” and try to keep it “safe, legal, and rare.”  Some even make it sound empowering, calling it “choice.” But just like slavery, the evil of abortion will not stay confined so easily.  It debases us.  All of us.  Our souls are hard-wired to justify everything we engage in or allow.  So we must get down in the ditch.  Hey, it’s a woman’s body, she has a right to do what she wants!   The government can’t force me to have a baby!

Is it possible that this clinic owner was so quick to act to take this human life because she sees what is so obvious?  A baby inside a mother’s womb, or a breathing baby just born—both are human life.  Either both are valuable, or neither are.  Both are sacred, or both are subject to being tossed in the garbage.  She simply acted out of the ethic that all of us are either passively absorbing or actively guarding against.  It pervades our culture like the air we breath.

36 years abortion has been legal in the United States.  55 million human lives cut far too short.  55 million wounds to mothers’ hearts—some felt now, others not for years to come, all too slow to heal.  Rest in Peace Sharice.  May your death not be in vain.  And may your mom come to know the peace and love of the one who knit you together in her womb.

We all know what it took to end slavery.  Lincoln speaks of God’s judgment in his 2nd Inaugural:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.

I pray we would be drawn by his kindness instead.

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