Christianity and Culture

Riding Tandem Toward a Flourishing Life

Riding Tandem Toward a Flourishing Life

This black-and-white photograph, taken in the l890’s, perfectly captures in a single image what it means to flourish as a human being in an imperfect world. We may not be challenged by any physical disability, but all of us are lacking in one way or another. And our impairments are the very reason God pairs us with others. In those pairings, in those dependent relationships, we learn that we not only need others, but are in fact created to need others.

Our Fingerprints Are All Over the Crimes of the World

Our Fingerprints Are All Over the Crimes of the World

If we make a list of the moments in our lives that have shaped us as individuals, our list will comprise good and bad things we’ve done. On the “Good List” might be getting married, having children, earning a degree. On the “Bad List” might be going through a divorce, betraying a friend, getting a DWI. Things we do, actions we take, alter the course of our lives. They shape us (and sometimes warp us) into the people we’ve become.

How Churches Become Morality Clubs of Religion

How Churches Become Morality Clubs of Religion

If there’s one thing that we in the church do extremely well, it’s ignoring the greatest threats that face us. We roll massive Trojan horses inside our sanctuary walls while feverishly battling the mosquitoes that buzz around us. And once we wake up and grasp the true danger—if we ever do—the damage done is often incalculable.

The Faulty Foundation of The Benedict Option

The Faulty Foundation of The Benedict Option

When reading a book, especially a controversial one, it’s useful to treat it like a house we’re considering buying. From the curbside, it may bedazzle the eyes, but there’s more to a house than its walls, windows, and roof. So we step inside. There too we may see some attractions: fresh paint, new flooring, fancy fixtures.

Justification by Facebook

Justification by Facebook

One of the reasons social media works so well is because we all like to talk about ourselves. It’s a basic, universal fact of communication. The difference in social media is this: we can talk about ourselves to a massive crowd inside our minuscule screens, feel our confidence balloon as “likes” multiply like rabbits, and—thank goodness!—no one is there to rudely interrupt us by talking about themselves.

The Church's Wisdom Inside the Voting Booth

The Church's Wisdom Inside the Voting Booth

The only politician mentioned in the creeds of Christianity is the one responsible for executing its founder. Of Jesus we confess that he was crucified for us “under Pontius Pilate” (Nicene Creed) and “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” (Apostles’ Creed). That is the church’s political statement every Sunday.

What's Wrong with the World--in Two Words

What's Wrong with the World--in Two Words

If I hand you a blank sheet of paper and ask you to make a list of what’s wrong with the world, where would you start? Maybe you’d reference recent headlines: assassinations of police officers, systemic racism, the rise of radical Islam. Or maybe you’d start the list with other wrongs, such as generational poverty, sex trafficking, child abuse, abortion, or political corruption.

Nice, France, and the Heart of the Human Problem

Nice, France, and the Heart of the Human Problem

Yesterday afternoon, the first reports of a terrorist attack in Nice, France, started coming in. The driver of a truck decimated scores of innocent people in the street. Eighty four people are dead, including several children, and many more are wounded. Like everyone else, I was shocked, sickened, and angered by this horrific slaughter. I also felt something else, something I can’t find a single word to express.

What Can the Church Do in Times of Violence?

What Can the Church Do in Times of Violence?

It can seem, in times of violence, when people are calling for political, cultural, and legal changes, as if the church is largely irrelevant. Worse yet, the church can make herself seem irrelevant if she embroils herself in political, cultural, and legal changes, and forgets her primary calling: the preaching of Christ and him crucified.

Violence and the Church Go Way Back

Violence and the Church Go Way Back

Gutless, spineless, yellow-bellied girly-men. Such words hardly come to mind when you gaze upon the prophets of old. These men were, well, they were men, and you knew it. Sir Robin of The-Search-for-the-Holy-Grail fame would not have made the cut. They all had their weak moments, but mere moments they were. 

From Hitler’s Wolves to Christ’s Lambs: The Chaplain to Nazi War Criminals

From Hitler’s Wolves to Christ’s Lambs: The Chaplain to Nazi War Criminals

They walked to the gallows together, pastor and penitent. Each step up took them closer to the abbreviated, fatal fall to come. The criminal stood above the trapdoor. Moments later, it would open to rope him into eternity. An officer asked him if he had any final words. “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul,” he said.

Planned Parenthood and Our Complicity in Evil

plannedparenthood109
plannedparenthood109

It happened during a meal. In between bites, Planned Parenthood executive Deborah Nucatola bragged that abortionists are “very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part. I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.” All around her people are eating and drinking, waiters are taking orders. She lifts her fork to her mouth, talks about the best way to crush a baby so as to harvest the most commodities from his body, chews the food, swallows it. As my wife and I watched the video last night, despite all the horrific details, the thought that wouldn’t go away was this: it all happened around a table, during polite conversation, as if this were business as usual. Evil never has the face I want it to. I anticipate a gargoyle-like imp to skulk by but the girl next door fills the room with her smile. I’m scouting for a whispered huddle in darkness behind iron doors but instead three people sit around a restaurant table to dialogue publicly. Serial killers and child rapists and human traffickers look like they might show up at my family reunion as Uncle Charlie and no one would bat an eye. I don’t want evil to look that way. I don’t want it to look ordinary, neighborly, inconspicuous. In other words, I don’t want evil to look like me.

One of the most frightening truths to embrace is that we are complicit in the atrocities of this world. We decry the horrific selfishness of the murder of unborn infants. We oppose all manner of societal evils. And we are right, indeed, duty bound, to do so and to continue doing so. Yes, by every godly means possible, let us labor and fight with unflagging zeal, with truth, with love, against injustice of every kind.

And as we do, let us also recognize that if we go far enough back, we’ll discover that the Deborah Nucatolas of this world are our sister. According to the Bible, we all have the same father and mother. And in this world, east of Eden, that parentage oozes sin from our inmost selves, at times graphic, at times prosaic, but always evil nonetheless. The human population is a family gone wrong. And still going wrong. And none of us are innocent.

In some ways I understand, and in other ways too profound for me to grasp, I have fed the flames of the ongoing corruption of the world. The ripple effect of my callousness, my self-absorption, my demand for preferential treatment, my glory-lust, my pride, my selfish ambition, my perversion of sexuality—the ripple effect of all these extends to my family and friends and often to complete strangers.

Let me give you an example. Last week, a delivery driver for one of my customers zipped in behind me and cut me off when I was backing up to their dock. I lost my cool. I was pissed off. So I confronted him inside the dock area. I told him, in no uncertain terms, just what I thought of his stupid, unsafe action. Unbeknownst to me, his boss was standing nearby. He took me aside and asked me what had happened. So I told him. And he said that he would take care of it.

Now what if that other driver had lost his job because I, in my anger, confronted him the way I did? And what if he stormed home to his wife and children, furious because he was fired. And he and his wife got into a screaming match, the children cowered behind their bedroom doors, and he slammed the door behind him to head to the local bar. And suppose he got wasted that night, climbed behind the wheel, and didn’t see the red light, nor the semi coming from the other direction. And the next day, after a long chain of events begun by my loss of temper, a man wound up in the morgue, his wife a widow, and their little children left with the final memory of their father being an angry, unemployed, embittered man.

This is far from an unrealistic possibility. This stuff happens. And it is but one tiny example of a world in which the web of evil is entirely connected at every juncture. As my friend, William Cwirla, put it on my Facebook page, “We’d like to rid the world of evil. But then, we’d have to rid the world of ourselves.” As long as we continue to sin, we feed the monster of a creation curved inward.

That is why, when I watched the video of the executive talk about harvesting body parts from aborted children, I not only thought, “This is horrific. This must be stopped. This must be exposed.” I also thought, “What have I done to help create a world in which these things happen? What evils have I done that have contributed to such evils within my human family? How have I failed, in love and compassion, to help my brothers and sisters who offer, procure, and even profit from abortions?” No matter how loudly I decry an evil in society, let me even more loudly decry the evils in my own soul.

Dexter Morgan talks about the dark passenger whom he cannot flee. I wish he were right. But that darkness is not a passenger; he’s behind the wheel. He’s within us. He has infiltrated every part of who we are. So as much as we lament abortion, let us lament our lack of love for the neighbor, our hatred for those who do us wrong, for all our aborted attempts to do good. As much as we lament rape, let us lament our perverted fantasies, our lustful desires, our abuse of others for our selfish satisfaction. As much as we lament racism, let us lament our inflated opinions of our own moral superiority to others.

The longer I stare into the face of evil in the world, the more clearly do I see the reflection of my own face. And the more clearly do I do see my need for Jesus Christ, who is the only hope for us all. In him we have forgiveness and in him we have peace. We also have love for our neighbor, who is our brother and sister. It is a love that calls us to confront evil of every form, beginning with the evil inside us and extending outward to all.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

When the Pulpit Apes the World

preacher-at-pulpit-copy
preacher-at-pulpit-copy

Something happens inside churches where outrage over society’s immoralities seasons every Sunday sermon. It’s rather unexpected, and rarely noticed. The more a preacher makes a habit of lambasting the evils of a culture; the more he makes the necessity of a morally pure life the center of his sermons; the more he directs his flock to the keeping of the divine law as their defining characteristic—the more he does all this, the more that preacher actually urges his church to adopt the ways of the world. It’s as sad as it is true: the more law-centered a church becomes, the more like the world it becomes.

The way of the world is the way of the law. That law may sometimes be in synch with the divine law, such as when societies prohibit murder and stealing. That law may sometimes be of the world’s own devising. Either way, these outward laws reflect an interior disposition: my identity, my self-worth, the means by which I find fulfillment in life, is determined by what I do. Maybe I follow the rules of my group within society. Maybe I become a law unto myself by making my own rules and following the dictates of my heart. In the end, it’s all the same. My self-understanding arises out of my behavior. I am who I am because I do what I do. The way of the world is the way of the law.

And the way of far too many churches is the way of the law as well. Beneath the surface, legalistic Christians are little different from those they often deride. Their identity as Christians, their worth, the means whereby they find fulfillment in life, is determined by the morality they choose and the immorality they avoid. The Christian life becomes little more than following a list of do’s and don’ts. Moral outrage over society’s evils becomes a favorite pastime because, to some degree, it boosts their own feeling of intimacy with the great Moral Divinity before whom they bow the knee. The self-understanding of the law-centered Christian arises out of his behavior. He is who he is because he does what he does. The way of such Christians, and the way of such churches, is the way of the law.

Thus, the more law-centered a church becomes, the more it and the world become kissing cousins.

What then, shall preachers stop preaching the divine law? By no means. The law must be preached. God’s commands for how we are to live must be proclaimed. Evil must be pointed out. Sinners must be called to repentance. This is what the law does; and, oh, does it do it well. It always teaches right from wrong, it always commands, and—because we are sinners—it always accuses.

And there is one more thing the law does: it never gives us what we ultimately need.

The law can tell us, day and night, what to do and what not to do, and we will never do it perfectly. The law can instruct and warn, urge and command, entice and promise, but it cannot say, “You are loved by God.” It cannot say, “You are forgiven.” The law cannot say, “You have peace with God in Jesus Christ. He has kept the law for you. He loves and embraces you as you are. He welcomes you as a brother or sister.” The law can do many thing, but it cannot deliver the good news we need more than anything else.

It is the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ that gives us fulfillment in life, for it fills us with God himself. This good news is that we are who we are because Christ is who he is: our friend, our brother, our Savior. Our identity is not that of law-keepers or law-breakers but the friends of Jesus. Who we are is swallowed up by who he is.

What we ultimately need—what everyone needs—is reconciliation and peace with God in Jesus Christ. And that’s what we have. The cross was the pulpit from which Jesus preached his love and forgiveness to the world. And that message is still to permeate pulpits every Sunday.

The more grace-centered, Gospel-focused a church becomes, the more unlike the world it becomes. And the more it proclaims to the world what it truly needs to hear.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!