culture

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Almost Half of US Births Happen Outside of Marriage: Riley Griffin reports, " Forty percent of all births in the U.S. now occur outside of wedlock, up from 10 percent in 1970." In addition, " The average age an American woman has her first child is now 27, up from 22 in 1970."

2.      The Solution of Our Political Problems is Believing in Satan: Michael Bird has a surprising suggestion regarding our devolving political climate: believe in Satan. He says, " [U]nless you believe in demons, you will begin to demonize whatever political apparatus you find yourself opposing. You will treat your political and cultural opponents not as compatriots with wrong opinions, but as the ultimate enemy of the human race, and imagine that you are involved in a life or death struggle against them. And that, in turn, justifies whatever you think you need to say about them or do to them in order to stop them."

3.      5 Troubling Shifts that Mark Modern Culture: JP Moreland's list is insightful. He says, " The second shift is in the realm of guidance for living one’s life, and it goes from truth to the immediate satisfaction of desire."

4.      Don't Reap the Edge of Your Field Michael Kelley on Old Testament harvest laws and the application to our lives: "God did not want His people reaping to the edge. He wanted them to have some margin at the end of their rows. Now, before we disregard this verse as something inapplicable to us, consider why the Lord would make this command. It wasn’t just about preserving His own people. He didn’t tell them to create this kind of margin because doing so is personally healthy and psychologically balanced. He gave the command for the sake of other people who might wander into those fields."

5.      Baffling Illusionist: This is a really impressive act... a lot of fun to watch and slow down to try to figure out.

Our Secular Age edited by Collin Hansen

Our Secular Age edited by Collin Hansen

The premise of Our Secular Age doesn’t have strong curb appeal: evangelical Christians grappling with the contribution of a contemporary philosopher’s nearly 900 page tome. Despite the fact that one of my favorite authors, James KA Smith has been significantly influenced by Charles Taylor, I still have yet to pick up Taylor’s A Secular Age.

Despite the less-than-enticing premise, Our Secular Age is a book that should be broadly read by Christian leaders. Even for the reader (like myself) who has no first-hand experience with Taylor, his theses are laid out clearly and the wide-ranging impact of his thought is explored and at times critiqued.

Taylor’s central thesis is that the secular world is a world that has turned its focus on the self and lost its sense of the transcendent. Collin Hansen says that Taylor traces the beginnings of this age to Martin Luther: “Taylor faults the Protestant Reformation and modern evangelical Christianity for disenchanting the world and turning the focus on the self rather than on God through and turning the focus on the self rather than on God through shared religious rituals.”

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       The Loneliness Epidemic: In a world more connected than ever, we have a significant loneliness problem, Bob Smietana shares, "More than half of Americans (56 percent) say they feel lonely, even when surrounded by other people. Forty-six percent say they feel no one knows them very well. Thirty-six percent believe there is no one they can turn to—at least some of the time. Nearly 1 in 5 say they don’t have people they can turn to (19 percent) or talk to (18 percent), according to a new survey of more than 20,000 Americans from Cigna, a global health service company."

2.       The Soul Mate Fantasy: David Beasley says that the idea of a soul-mate isn't just wrong, it's harmful: "Nowhere in the Bible does God say anything about soul mates. God gives us the simple details on how to have a great marriage: Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Wives, respect your husbands."

3.       Moms Need Soul Care Over Self CareMaggie Combs with wisdom for men and women alike: "It's almost impossible to visit a motherhood website, blog, or play group without running into it. The concept of self-care is simple: If the plane is going down, you should put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. But if your motherhood plane is about to crash and burn, God is the only source for the oxygen you need to survive the fall. Self-care encourages coffee runs, nap times spent reading novels, pedicures, happy hour with girlfriends, new clothes, massages, exercising, decorating homes, and lavender bubble baths. There is nothing inherently bad in this list, but the problem lies in the elevation of these good things as necessities for surviving (or even thriving in) motherhood."

4.       Good News! Satan Wants to Destroy You! Derek Rishmawy reminds us that alongside the very real and active presence of our adversary, God is at work: "But Christ has robbed those accusations of their force by wiping away our guilt through his death on the cross (Col. 2:14). And he sends the Spirit of God not as our Accuser but as our Advocate, testifying to our hearts that we are God’s dearly loved children."

5.       Culture is the Hardest and the Last Thing Changed: Eric Geiger with a good word to leaders, "I frequently hear leaders talk about changing the culture as if it is their first order of business. An inexperienced and unwise leader declares, “I am going to change the culture.” Leader, if you change the culture, it will be the last thing you change. Not the first. You can’t simply speak a new culture into existence. You are not God. You may desire to influence the culture but you are woefully mistaken if you think you can show up and announce a new culture.

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Everyone suffers. And yet perhaps because of the age in which we live, there have been few cultures that have struggled more with suffering than ours. I’m currently reading a popular book on loss and I’m struck by how vapid the wisdom of our age is in the face of suffering.

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is, quite simply, the best book on suffering that I’ve read. Keller deals with the subject philosophically, theologically, and practically. Each treatment is successful on its own, and combined they pack a unique punch as Keller engages mind and heart alike.

Timothy Keller is such a unique author. His books range from the incredibly accessible: The Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods, to the slightly more rigorous, but still very accessible apologetic, The Reason for God, to the more rigorous practitioner’s guides such as Generous Justice or Preaching. Part of Timothy Keller’s unique gifting is his ability to write so well in each of these genres. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is the most rigorous book by Keller to date and yet the book is every bit as well written as any of his best.

Contemporary westerners are repelled by suffering and death. On the stage of world history, our fear of death is abnormal. Keller quotes an author at The New York Times Magazine, who, after the tragic sniper shootings in the Washington DC area reflected, “The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes. Whether it’s exercise, checking our cholesterol or having a mammogram, we are always hedging against mortality. [And yet] despite our best intentions, it is still, for the most part, random. And it is absolutely coming.”[i] This aversion to suffering and death is a cultural blind spot and means that we naturally approach the topic with naiveté.

How to Get Married

How to Get Married

The Knot recently did a study and found that over the past seven years, weddings in churches have dropped from 41% to 26%.[i] Wow. Only a quarter of weddings now take place in a church.

This fact itself isn’t catastrophic. I don’t believe that one has to get married in the church for it to be a “real” wedding. But it does speak to a secularizing trend that has been pretty apparent. More disconcerting for me is the fact that 43% of weddings are now officiated by a friend, up from 29% seven years ago.[ii] The Bible doesn’t say you need a pastor to officiate your wedding, but choosing a (non-pastor) friend to officiate your wedding makes a statement.

You’re saying that your wedding is about celebrating your relationship with friends. That’s a wonderful part of what a wedding should be, but it shouldn’t be what your wedding is primarily about.

If you are considering marriage at some point in the future, let me urge you to consider making your marriage about something bigger and then doing some practical things to make sure your wedding points to that bigger truth.

Breakfast is Served

Breakfast is Served

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Just about a year ago we went through an exercise as a staff that has proved one of the most important things I’ve done on staff at any organization. It was messy and it took way longer than we thought it would take (about two months), and the end result wasn’t shocking or ground-breaking, but despite all of that, the exercise was a fulcrum point for us as a staff and as an organization.

What did we do? We created a staff culture document, which named our values as a staff. In the third post, I will share the full document, but in this post, I will share the values we chose and why I am convinced staff values are so important. In the next post I will share what the process looked like.

Our values are:

  1. Humble
  2. Loving
  3. Prayerful
  4. Hard Working
  5. Fun
  6. Collaborative
  7. Trustworthy

We are far from the first organization to create a staff culture document and our values are not unique. In fact, there may be organizations out there who might share our exact seven values. But the process of putting the document together was invaluable for us as a staff. And the values themselves have become anchoring points for who we are and who we aspire to be.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       3-2-1 Animated Gospel Presentation: A simple five and a half minute gospel presentation by Glen Scrivener. It is clear, thorough, and compelling. I encourage you to watch it and consider using it yourself. 

2.       Why the Internet will Strengthen, Not Hurt the Church: Paul Alexander reflects that "When YouVersion launched there were 12 versions of the Bible available in 2 languages. Today there are more than 1,200 versions of the Bible available in more than 900 languages! YouVersion is working to make God’s Word available to every person on Earth, no matter where they live or what language they prefer."

3.       7 Things Evil is Not: What the Death of My Son Taught Me: This weighty piece by Khaldoun Sweis is worth reading whether you are struggling with suffering or in a time of peace. He shares, "I held my son Enoch’s little hand as he died, and went through a suffering that no words could express. A perpetually wounded heart that would not mend, a broken body for which there is no antidote, or a destroyed home that can never be the same…There are more books and articles on this topic than any other in theology. But because it is so personal, we need to be reminded of the simple truths about it."

4.       Lies About Cultural Awareness: Jared Olivetti, over at Gentle Reformation, elaborates on these four lies: Lie #1 – You can understand a complex subject in a very brief time; Lie #2 – You should understand as many complex subjects as possible; Lie #3 – Your opinion on those many and complex subjects is valid; Lie #4 – You are angry at all the right things. 

5.       Does "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!" really belong in the Bible? Paul Carter with an excellent reflection on one of the most difficult passages in the Bible, Psalm 137. "They say that the Book of Psalms was the songbook of the early church – but how could anyone who knows and loves Jesus read or sing – let alone pray a sentence like that? We were told to love our enemies; we were told to turn the other cheek – how in the world does this go with that?"

Why Don’t You Preach More About…?!

Why Don’t You Preach More About…?!

What topics does your pastor avoid? When was the last time you heard sermon dealing with depression? Sexuality? Race? Immigration? I’ve been part of more than a few conversations with congregants who have complained either that we don’t preach enough on a particular topic (ironically, this often occurs right after we preach on that topic), or that they hope we will not be like their old church that never preached on a particular topic.

Christianity Today puts out periodic issues which focus on particular issues. In those issues, they often have polls where they report how often respondents say their pastors speak about that particular issue. Unsurprisingly, the polls always show severe neglect of the given topic. I’m grateful for Christianity Today—they do great work and I benefit from their excellent writing and reporting. But I’m wary of the criticism that pastors don’t preach often enough about any given issue for a few reasons:

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Danny Macaskill's Wee Day Out: This is fantastic. Sweet, fun, and amazing. And the cinematography is great too!

2.       Need Volunteers? Your Church's Culture May Be the Issue: Almost every church needs volunteers. Here is the reason it may be our fault. 

3.       What’s True in the Global Warming Debate? It’s so hard to sort out truth in our politicized culture. Justin Taylor shares an example of how a thoughtful person tries to disentangle the global warming debate from the political tentacles.

4.       How to Ruin Your Teens for Life: Eleven ways to make sure your teen is not prepared for the future by Tricia Goyer.

5.       One Key Pursuit for Young Christians: Tim Challies on the importance of our early life and how differently God planned his Son's life than we would have: "But it fell to God—not you or me—to set the course for his life, and God planned it very differently. Jesus lived for around 33 years, but his entire public ministry fit into just the final three. He spent 90 percent of his life in obscurity and only 10 percent in the public eye. For every one year that was recorded, there were 10 that were not. God arranged the itinerary, and he chose to have Jesus spend 30 years in quiet preparation for his three years of public activity."

6.       Free EBook: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism: Crossway is offering one of my favorite books on evangelism for free. Check it out!

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.     Misspellings by State: What word does each state struggle to spell? Rhode Islanders struggle with liar. Four struggles struggle with pneumonia. Louisiana and Arkansas struggle with animals: the chihuahua and the giraffe. New Hampshirites concern me with their need know how to spell "diarrhea” frequently (note to self: next time, bring immodium) Most hilarious is perhaps the south, not doing itself any favors, needing help with the very difficult words: "angel," "gray," and "nanny."

2.     The Pervasive Selfie: Phil Cooke shares, "Teen Vogue magazine reports the average millennial focuses about one hour of every week to selfies. (Shooting them, editing them, retouching them.) Writer Matt LaBash reports that, “In 2015, the social scientists at Luster Premium White, a teeth-whitening brand, calculated that at their current selfie rate, your average millennial will take up to 25,700 selfies in a lifetime. Considering that the average lifespan is only around 27,375 days, that amounts to taking nearly one selfie per day, no small feat when subtracting all the years that people are too young or too old to operate a camera phone.”...The advertising magazine Adweek, indicates: 74% of all photos on Snapchat are selfies."

3.     If only I had been saved by merit! Tim Challies exposes our hearts, "If I had earned my salvation, I could negotiate with God for more favor, for more privileges, for more benefits. I could hold up my list of accomplishments and demand fair compensation. I could compare what has been given to others and make the case for why I am deserving of all that God has given them and more besides." 

4.     Six Things You Need to Know About God's Wrath: Colin Smith tackles this difficult but important topic: “At the core of the human problem is that we are sinners under the judgment of God, and the divine wrath hangs over us unless and until it is taken away.”

5.     The Shift in America's Morality: Christianity Today reports on a recent Gallup poll about America's ever-shifting morality: "Of the 19 issues queried about, Americans have become more liberal on 13 of them (with 10 hitting record highs) and stayed consistent on 6—most notably abortion, which 43 percent of Americans and 34 percent of Protestants deem morally acceptable."