Archive for category Christian living

Whose Way Will It Be?

A recent survey of British funeral directors revealed a significant change in the choices families made when arranging memorial services for their loved ones. Last year, 70% of funerals had replaced traditional hymns with pop music. The list of the most used tunes ranged from old standards to hits from recent years (including a dash of Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and Adele). That’s not the most concerning aspect of this survey.

frank-sinatraThe most popular track at funerals (played at 15% of them) was My Way by Frank Sinatra. The song was originally written in French and reworked into English by Paul Anka. Even now, the tune is probably echoing in your mind. (I apologize if it stays there too long and annoys you later.) While that’s not my favorite tune by “Ol’ Blue Eyes”, it is a very well known song that speaks of triumph over adversity. There’s certainly nothing wrong with living a full life with few regrets.

What is troubling is the underlying theme of the song – especially when chosen for a memorial service. Think of it…having the final statement of your entire life summarized by an unyielding reliance upon self. Far too many act as if we answer only to ourselves. In fact, we invite trouble into our lives when we do things “our way.” The Bible describes in detail the failure of doing what is right in one’s own eyes…of failing to submit to an Almighty God.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
and did it my way! 

I’m all for strong character and firm convictions, but God’s Word reveals that the wisest move we ever make is to bow to the One who has created us. In contrast to Sinatra’s bold declaration, the psalmist asks a related question:

Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him!
or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!
Psalm 144:3

May we each learn to yield our will to God’s. Only when we act in humble obedience will we experience His greatest blessings on our lives.

Where Rock Stars Go to Die

I don’t repost or link very often.  However, I found Ted Kruck’s article thought-provoking and believe others would appreciate it also.  Check it out here.

I am convinced that too many believers are confused about the nature of worship and many churches, musicians, and ministries are simply blurring the line even more.


It’s an Awfully Loud World

Sitting silently in the public library recently, I continued to hear the same voice loudly interrupt my study.  She seemed to talk to anyone who would listen.  “How’s your wife?  How’s your day?  What’s new?”

Doesn’t that lady know this is a library?  Where people like me can sit quietly and read!

She continued just as loud and more frequently:  “What are you looking for?  Can I help you find something?  Stop running in the library!”

Wait…what?  It was a librarian who was using her “outside voice.”

It was a reminder that we live in an increasingly noisy world.  As I write this in my favorite Panera, Vivaldi is playing on the intercom.  A group of retirees at the table next to me are not afraid to let everyone know their views as they solve the world’s problems.  A woman across the room is speaking on her cell phone to her friend (who has apparently experienced a significant degree of hearing loss).

In July Real Simple magazine published these observations about the abundance of noise (and the accompanying lack of silence) in our society:

  • Between 1975 and 2010 the average number of TV sets per household rose by 87% (from 1.57 sets per household to 2.93).
  • Out of approximately 111.8 million households recorded in the 2009 Housing Survey by the US Census Bureau, about 25.4 million (almost 25%) report being bothered by street noise or heavy traffic.
  • In a 2006 Pew Research Center poll, 82% of those who responded said they had encountered annoying cell phone chatter in public.  (Not surprisingly, only 8% felt that their cell phone habits were irritating to others.)
  • The article includes a quote from George Prochnik, who wrote In Search of Silence.  He asserted, “I think we’re seeing noise tied to a host of problems of the age – problems of attention, aggression, insomnia, and general stress.  Noise is now the default position as a society.  But I believe we have to make an effort to build a passionate case for silence.”

    Our world leaves us precious little time or space for contemplation.  Science declares that the human mind requires a suitable environment to consider options and solve problems.  Experience tells us that we need somewhere to unwind from the busyness of life.  However, there is also an obvious spiritual connection.  Do we have time to be still and know God?

    In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard writes of the resistance he met when first teaching about the need for solitude and silence.  The critics cried, “Too ascetic!  Overly monastic!”  Even today conservative critics warn that such practices sound too mystical.  However, the psalmist surely appreciated his quiet time with the Lord.

    When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Psalm 63:6

    Now our “night watches” are filled with sit-coms, talk shows, or our favorite playlists streaming through earbuds.  Another example of our problem can be found in the increasing numbers who spend devotional time on a handy electronic device.  Nothing wrong with that, especially if the convenience increases frequency and faithfulness.  However, have you ever been tempted to click over to check for email or status updates in the middle of your study?   Multitasking can provide an efficient work process, but it’s abysmal for spiritual growth.

    Do we believe it requires too much effort to get away from the clamor around us?  Is it simply the nature of a society that revolves around entertainment and consumerism?  Is it a fear of being alone that draws us to noise and crowds?

    Regardless of the cause, the solution is to designate a portion of each day to meditate on the things of God.  Quietly contemplating what we read in Scripture and waiting on God before we move on to the next of today’s demands.

    Remember Jehovah’s instruction to Joshua and its accompanying promise: 

    This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Joshua 1:8

    Way back in 1988 Randy Stonehill sang:

    It’s an awfully loud world in an awfully small room,

    And it gets so much you can’t hear nothing else, and not a soul is immune,

    It’s an awfully loud world screaming louder each day,

    We’re crying, “Cut it out, shut it down, someone make it please go away.”

    The mute button is in our hands.  Perhaps it’s time we use it more frequently.

    What about you?  Do you have a special time or place where you get away and meditate on the things of God that you’d like to share?


    Schadenfreude and Spirituality

    Gary Shelton, a veteran sports writer, wrote an article in today’s St. Pete Times entitled “Misplaced Distaste.”  In it, he asks why so many people are rooting for Tim Tebow to fail in the NFL.  In fact, why does anyone outside Florida or Colorado even care how the 25th pick of the 2010 draft performs?  Few of the Tebow haters would recognize the name Demaryius Thomas, much less care about his recovery from an Achilles tendon injury.  (The Broncos picked him three places ahead of Tebow in the 2010 draft.)

    I do not write as a Gator fan or assume that Tebow needs my defense.  That’s what an offensive line is for.   However, when so many spew venom and hatred toward a backup quarterback in Denver, I agree that something strange is afoot.  Shelton offers no definitive answer for what motivates the hatred.  I think I can offer a reasonable suggestion.  Two, in fact.

    The first factor is schadenfreude – the concept of pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.  Our society continues to cultivate a hyper-competitive attitude in every aspect of life.  No longer is the other team a rival or opponent.  Now they must be an enemy.  Beyond even that spirit is a growing desire to see the successful fail.  It makes us feel better about our personal inadequacies or failures.  Perhaps it began during grade school recess.  That’s when you first realized that if you couldn’t make yourself look better, you could always make fun of or draw attention to someone else’s weakness to level the playing field.  So every time Tebow throws an interception the armchair quarterbacks of the world scoff, “See, he’s not so good.”

    That same statement points to a second motive for the hatred.  Mention Tim Tebow and hearers think first of his success leading the Gators’ football team. However, inseparably linked to his name are missionary efforts, a firm stand against abortion, Bible verses written on his eyeblack,  and a testimony of salvation through Christ alone.  Tebow is considered a spiritual person; specifically, the born-again Christian type.

    Nobody gives a second thought to an athlete who points heavenward after a touchdown or thanks God in a winning locker room.  After all, it cost him nothing and may mean even less.  The same applies to actors and musicians when they speak with an award trophy in their hands.  Everyone knows it is much more difficult and likely more genuine when one acknowledges God after a loss.  Yet, Tebow seems to be in a different category, where one’s faith matters on and off the field.

    I’ve never met him, so like everyone else, I must rely on what I read and watch in the media.  Shelton, like many sports writers, points out that Tebow is genuinely what society claims to expect from its true heroes; “humble, charitable, hard-working, scandal-free.”  On top of that, he is quick to credit Jesus Christ as the source for whatever may be good and right in his life.  An unbelieving world can’t wait for him to fall.

    The more genuine someone appears, the more others want it exposed as something less.  The more devout the claims, the more intense the scrutiny.  When the hidden sins of a pastor, athlete, or politician who professes salvation are exposed some celebrate.  They sit in the same armchair and pronounce, “See, he’s not so good.  I told you it was all a scam.”  For that moment, their accountability to God feels less imposing.  After all, if a professing Christian is less than genuine, perhaps Christianity itself is.  This should serve as a solemn reminder to every child of God that our testimony matters far more than we realize. Certainly, we live for the Lord, but we do so before others.

    Again, I am no rabid Gator/Bronco fan.  However, I will root for any genuine believer to have an expanded platform from which to share the Gospel, display a consistent testimony, and advance the cause of Christ.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s on the gridiron, in an office, or a classroom full of school desks.

    Offended yet?

    Rest assured that she didn’t intend to offend.

    Lady Gaga has released a statement to ease the concerns of Christians upset at her latest release.  Don’t worry; the music video for Judas was never meant to be “a biblical lesson.”  Even though it features a biker gang who wear the apostles’ names on their leather jackets and a leader with a sparkling crown of thorns.  In fact, she never even viewed the song as a “religious statement.”

    Still, it’s difficult to overlook lyrics that reference Mary’s humble act of washing the feet of Jesus, Peter’s three-fold betrayal, and Judas as “a king with no crown.”

    Now we know that it’s only a “metaphor” and “cultural statement.”  Does anyone else feel better?

    For decades I have heard the cry, “Just change the channel.”  If you were upset by the glorification of sin…watch something else.  If a song’s lyrics offended you…listen to another station.  If you found an image distasteful…simply look away.  Yet a contemporary society that professes to want little to do with Jesus Christ continues to return to Him as a theme for artistic endeavors.  Paintings, books, songs, films…so many avenues to denigrate, ridicule, and profane.

    May I return the same advice to an unbelieving world?  Find another subject.  Don’t believe in a Creator God?  Exclude Him from your book.  Refuse the authenticity of Jesus of Nazareth?  Find another historical figure to deride in your film.  Reject the thought of Christ as the Savior?  Leave Him out of your profane song.

    However, it may come as a surprise that my real conflict is not with Gaga.  Why should we expect anything else?  Since when has the world been reverent toward the sacred?   The genuine fault is with Christians and our responses.

    We chuckle at her dress made out of meat or another outrageous, attention-grabbing stunt.   We get excited when Glee promises to cover Born This Way and adjust our schedule so we don’t miss it.  (Certainly enough fodder there for a separate article).  Teens download the latest offering because everyone else is listening to it.  Never mind the message of the lyrics.  Christian parents offer only a mild frown of disapproval and declare, “It’s not my style of music, but the kids seem to like it.”

    Where is the discernment?  Isn’t there enough in what entertains us to disqualify it by scriptural standards?  Should it take a blatant slap across the face like seeing your thorn-crowned Savior sitting with a  six-pack and a scantily-clad woman draped across Him?

    Yes, there really was One who wore a crown of thorns.  He sacrificially wore that crown as He hung on a cross.  He did that as payment for sin.  He did it for you and me (and Lady Gaga, too).

    In the song she concludes “I’m just a holy fool.”  As long as she (or anyone else) rejects a God who loves her and a Savior who died on her behalf, she’s half right.   For that matter, perhaps the title more accurately describes any Christian who’s content to sing along with the world’s message.

    Philip. 4:8  Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

    Of Marriage and Golf Balls

    This morning I heard yet another news reporter introduce his segment with the provocative question, “Has marriage become obsolete?”  In the last few days, the media has repeatedly referred to a recent study by the Pew Research Center that asked people what they believed constituted a family.  The vast majority of respondents agreed that a married couple with or without children fits that description.  However, 80% also pointed to an unmarried, opposite sex couple with children or a single parent.  About 60% recognized a same-sex couple with children as a family.  Finally, 39% replied that marriage was becoming obsolete.  We see this attitude manifested in many ways.  About 29% of children under 18 currently live with parents who are unwed or no longer married (a fivefold increase from 1960).

    Of course, as I heard these results I thought of golf balls.  (I’m never quite sure how my mind works.)  When I was a kid, it was fun to cut through the cover of a golf ball to reveal what was hidden inside.  The rumor back then was that the center was filled either with compressed air that would explode or a liquid center that was deadly poison.  Although the truth was less dangerous, it was still entertaining.  The small rubber core was actually wrapped with layers of tightly wound rubber thread.   Freed from the restraint of the hard cover, these thin bands would start to loosen and unravel with a life all their own.  After an initial “explosion” of the outer layer of rubber bands things would slow down as other layers vainly clung together.  If the ball was left alone, a layer or two would spring to life at random intervals.  When things slowed down, all that was necessary to energize the process was to pick at the ball with a fingernail.  Even more dramatic was to throw the exposed core down on the driveway.  It would bounce unpredictably while inch after inch of rubber bands would come undone in all directions.

    The recent statistics about marriage and family are troubling, yet not surprising to anyone who has considered society for any length of time.  The biblical truth is that we live in a damaged world.  Slowly but surely, the world is coming undone because of the consequences of original sin. The environment, human relationships, and society at large – all bear the marks of this process of decay.

    Before you count me among the pessimists proclaiming only gloom and doom, let me affirm that I believe the Lord “is before all things, and by him all things consist.” (Col. 1:17)  I am grateful that He holds all things together.

    What is most troubling is that humanity seems intent on speeding up the process of deterioration like a child picking away at the layers of rubber bands wrapped around a golf ball’s core.  Abandoning the revelation of an inspired Bible.  Resisting the truth of a Creator God.  Living for the temporal with no thought of eternity.  Developing philosophies that place man at their center.  With every step away from God it seems society speeds up the process of decay.

    Lest we merely wag the finger at the world, let’s acknowledge that believers are often willing accomplices, if not active participants.  “You can’t wink at sin.  Don’t live like the world.”  We’ve heard the admonition from the pulpit for years.  Yet, there is little statistical evidence that today’s Christians live any differently from the rest of society.

    – Why wait for marriage to be intimate with each other?

    – If I’m not happy, can’t I look for satisfaction outside my marriage?

    – If things don’t work out like we planned, we can always get a divorce.

    Unfortunately, these thoughts are expressed increasingly by Christians.  We must remember that popular consensus differs greatly from biblical instruction.  When speaking about the prevalence of divorce, Jesus reminded the religious leaders of His day that “from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8)  While society seems intent on changing the definitions and applications of marriage and family, God’s standards remain unmoved.

    For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; [8] And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. Mark 10:7-8

    What is our response?  Build our values and our families on solid foundations of biblical truth.  Maintain firm standards, yet deal with Christlike compassion to those around us.  Lead by presenting a godly example.

    May we stand on God’s Word no matter what society supports or surveys reveal.

    Why or Why Not?

    I recently rediscovered Jon Acuff’s blog Stuff Christians Like.  I spent several minutes laughing heartily at a few of his posts.  Most were skewering curious facets of American Christianity that have become entrenched in today’s churches and ministries.  It seems that a lot of us do a lot of things without asking “Why?”  At times, we do what we do simply because we have always done it that way.  If we do claim to have a motive, it is occasionally held exempt from scrutiny.  Too often, this is because it is weak or indefensible.  We never established a proper foundation, so we do not want others poking around in that territory.

    In fact, sometimes our reasoning sounds like we developed it in the fifth grade.  “Everyone else is doing it.”  Has that ever really been a sufficient reason?  Lately, it seems that this mindset has reached epidemic proportions among American Christianity.  Churches pick up practices and traits because other groups have used them with a measure of success.  Individual Christians adopt standards, habits, and even beliefs, because a celebrity speaker has espoused them or a popular book is making the rounds.  Certainly, we would be wise to learn from the behavior and practices of godly people.  However, there must always be a higher standard than simply what we glean from others.

    After having a good chuckle at Acuff’s site, I came to a conclusion; “I like the way this guy thinks.  He really pokes holes in some deserving targets.”

    Then it dawned on me.  Eventually, he was going to wax satirical about something that is significant or meaningful to me.  (He probably already has, and I have not seen it yet.)  What happens at that point?  Will I be willing to step back and thoughtfully examine why I cling to certain things.  Are they firmly rooted in a biblical standard or simply in the comfort zone of my preferences?

    The experience was a great reminder to consistently examine the reasons behind my decisions.  With similar self-inspection, the Psalmist said, “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.” Psalm 119:59

    The next time someone scoffs at what you do or recommends you try something new, head straight for your Bible.  May our conclusion be that of the prophet Jeremiah:

    “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.” Lament. 3:40