Shelters Shatter, Luck Runs Out, but Training Overcomes: Raising Kids in This Culture

youth-trainingCaitlyn (Bruce) Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs.

The United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states.

41% of 13-17 year olds are on Snapchat; 71% are on one of the 7 major social media platforms.

When should parents begin talking to their children about these issues? Yesterday.

As parents, we have three basic options when it comes to our children and how they will interact with culture. We can shelter them; work to preserve their innocence by cutting off harmful influences. We can hope it all balances out; trust they will assimilate enough good from the world to offset the bad. We can train them; take an active role in helping them process and interact with the world in a Christ-centered way. While all parents will sometimes shelter, sometimes hope, and sometimes train, we will all default to one of these as our main approach.

I contend that every parent’s default mode should be to train their children to approach culture in a Christ-centered way. Yes we must shelter them from harmful influences. Yet the surrounding culture is too pervasive to be ignored and shelters can collapse in a moment. Yes we must trust they will turn out alright because we can’t control everything. Yet the surrounding culture is eager to disciple our children if we sit back and let it.

Now is the time to train our children to engage the world in a Christ-like way. The world, now especially so, is actively seeking to disciple them into its ways. The Bible instructs us to train:

Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 – And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

1 Timothy 4:7-8 – Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

It’s amazing the time, effort, and money parents invest training their children for sports. I love sports and believe they do great good. What if we applied the same level of effort and intensity we do for a game to godliness? Here’s some of what that might like look like:

We make church a priority we schedule around instead of an option we schedule over.

We are as committed to learning the Bible and growing in faith as we are to learning math and growing in grades.

We watch and listen to entertainment together to discuss their meaning and morality.

We instruct regularly on God’s design for sex, marriage and gender. Josh McDowell (who has been speaking on these issues since I was a teen) recommends beginning in kindergarten.

We discuss the culture around us from same-sex marriage to Miley Cyrus to Caitlyn Jenner to Planned Parenthood so children know how to think about these issues.

We guide into the wise use of technology and install filters, set boundaries, and monitor use.

We invest family time into studying the Bible, prayer, serving, and being a witness.

We create an atmosphere of grace so children to run to us when they fail and fall and not away from us.

I won’t lie, this is hard work. But so is everything else worthwhile in life. The very word “train” should evoke thoughts of an Olympic athlete conditioning every part of their body and adjusting every part of their life to win a medal. We should do the same for a much greater prize. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

While children need some sheltering from the world, it is not enough. Shelters can shatter in one minute of internet access, five minutes with a friend, or ten minutes unsupervised. Our work crashes down and our child is unprepared. It is not enough to trust everything will work out. The culture is actively discipling them to follow it. Our passive resistance will not be enough to overcome its aggression.

Children are not tabula rasa – blank slates we can nudge into goodness. They are sinners who desire to “follow the course of this world” and “carry out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:1-3). They need a Savior and gospel-centered, grace-saturated, goal-oriented training to live successfully in this life and to prepare for the next.

-Brian

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Climate Change: Everybody Needs an Apocalpyse

climate-changeBrian Williams sounded the alarm about a new U.N. climate report on NBC’s Nightly News this week, stating that “Unless the world changes course quickly and dramatically, the fundamental systems that support human civilization are at risk.” He was flanked on each side by images of forest fires, floods, and mudslides. The story moved to NBC’s chief environmental correspondent, Anne Thompson, who was standing in New Jersey where super-storm Sandy had blown through. She warned that coastal communities could soon disappear, beginning a montage of scary images with warnings of deadlier storm surges, hotter fires, and shrinking glaciers. Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton Geosciences and International Affairs explained that everyone who lives in cities, along coasts, or who eats wheat or corn is in trouble. To make matters worse, the ocean is becoming more acidic, killing coral reefs and the shellfish industry. There will be more droughts, hotter summers, and no one will escape the consequences.

It gave me a bit of a flashback. Not to my last trip to the recycling bin, but to Sunday school when I first learned about the end of the world. There I learned God’s judgment would fall on all who did not change course quickly and dramatically. Wars and natural disasters would sweep through the world, everyone would receive the mark of the beast, and no one would escape the consequences.

Everybody needs an apocalypse. Humanity seems to be hardwired for judgment. We know our conduct has been less than admirable and should earn some epic consequences. As Revelation 11:18 says:

The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.

Look at the popularity of recent dystopian series and movies like Divergent, The Hunger Games, Oblivion, Elysium, the Walking Dead, etc. We seem to know our actions will create a less than satisfying future.

But what happens when you have a secular worldview? When religion with its supernatural prophecies is pushed out or to the periphery? You still need an apocalypse. And that is why our culture needs climate change. As President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address, “The debate is settled, climate change is a fact.”

Yet as Charles Krauthammer points out in his column “The Myth of Settled Science,” the facts of climate change are not so simple. There has been no change in global temperature in 15 years according to Britain’s national weather service. The climate change models predicted a wet California, not a dry one like we have today. Superstorm Sandy, the poster child for climate-driven storms, is largely unimpressive compared to past hurricanes to hit New York; three caused damage to the state in 1954 alone. 2013 saw the fewest Atlantic hurricanes in 30 years. Arctic ice was supposed to disappear by 2013 but experienced a 60% increase that same year.

I’m not affirming or denying man-made climate change. As Christians, we are called to take care of the planet regardless of the temperature. The point is that despite complex and often contradictory evidence, proponents of climate change will accept no debate; like a religious believer who refuses to entertain the prospect that Jesus isn’t returning or their loved ones aren’t reincarnating.

Climate change is a story that gives meaning to the lives of secular people. The story goes something like this – we were created by blind nature, have sinned by polluting that nature, and if we fail to repent we will bring about the end of the world in a judgment of super storms, droughts, fires, heat, and floods leading to starvation, wars, and death. This story gives meaning to otherwise purposeless lives. One can save the planet and the future by turning off lights, conserving water, recycling, driving a Prius, eating organic, reducing carbon footprints, composting trash, and voting for environmentally-minded politicians. Just as each minor action in a religious believer’s life has meaning because of God’s judgment, so each minor action to fight climate change has meaning because of nature’s judgment.

If we didn’t have climate change we’d probably have to invent it. That’s why, after the failure of past climate change models, scientists simply create new ones with slightly adjusted horrors. It’s eerily similar to the failure of various Christian dates and scenarios of the apocalypse from the 16th century Anabaptists to Harold Camping’s 2011 prediction of Jesus’ return. Judgment is hardwired into us all as Paul writes in Romans 2:15

[Gentiles] show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.

The law written on our hearts accuses us but the slow fade of religious influence in the West has left us without recourse. We need judgment and we need a way to appease it. The NBC Nightly News report was not about degrees Celsius, inches of ice, or levels of acidity as much as it was about a story – a story of humanity’s environmental sin against a judgmental planet that will result in terrible consequences if we do not repent and live differently. In a secular age, this is might be the best religion our culture can preach.

-Brian

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Black Friday’s Illusions and the Human Heart

black fridayBlack Friday will be longer than ever this year with many retailers opening on Thanksgiving to draw the crowds. It will probably work. In a survey by the National Retail Federation, 23% of consumers said they planned to shop on Thanksgiving. Nearly 70% of shoppers – an estimated 97 million people – plan to venture into the traditional Black Friday frenzy. They will be lured by increases in both the quantity and quality of deals. According to Savings.com, the number of deals offered by 31 major department store and apparel retailers has increased 63% and the average discount has risen from 25% to 36% just in the last three years.

Yet despite more deals and better deals, the margin between what retailers paid for goods and the price they sold them for has remained about the same at 27.9% according to FactSet. What does that mean? It means that despite discounting more items and discounting them by larger amounts, stores are making the same level of profits on those same items. How could this be? Let Suzanne Kapner of the Wall Street Journal describe it for you:

Here’s how it works, according to one industry consultant describing an actual sweater sold at a major retailer. A supplier sells the sweater to a retailer for roughly $14.50. The suggested retail price is $50, which gives the retailer a roughly 70% markup. A few sweaters sell at that price, but more sell at the first markdown of $44.99, and the bulk sell at the final discount price of $21.99. That produces an average unit retail price of $28 and gives the store about a 45% gross margin on the product.

That incredible deal may not be so incredible after all. In fact, the shopper may just be paying what the item is actually worth, plus or minus a few dollars. So why not do away with all of the discounts and deals and just sell things cheaper? That’s exactly what former J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson tried until the disastrous results got him fired. Then the company returned to the discounts and deals by giving consumers an average of 60% in savings per item. Yet the average price paid by shoppers stayed the same despite the new discounts! What changed was the initial price of the item which rose by 33%.

There is something about human nature that cannot resist a deal, cannot ignore the prospect of getting more for less. It is so powerful that it has created a new holiday – Black Friday – that is slowly eating away at a traditional holiday – Thanksgiving. It is so powerful it drives shoppers to stores in immeasurable numbers and causes them to wait in lines they would flee from at any other time of the year. It is so powerful that retailers craft their pricing models to create the illusion of savings; to price items at what they’re actually worth would be a disaster.

Most of us can identify. We’ve walked into a store intending to buy nothing but walked out with an item on a sale we couldn’t pass up. We’ve spent more than we meant to because the deals were too good. We’ve bought things we didn’t need and even things we didn’t know we wanted on a discount-driven whim. Jesus understood this aspect of our nature. This is probably why he says in Luke 12:15, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Even though Jesus says life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, we think that to some degree it does. Thus, we are never satisfied with what we have and always want more. This is why the bargains, discounts, and deals draw us like a moth to the flame. They promise us that – no matter our economic means – we can have more. If we take advantage of these deals we can have more possessions, more money, more happiness than we would if we passed them by. When we see the normal, inflated price and compare it to the flashy discount price the item becomes almost irresistible; if I buy this now, I can have more than I otherwise would.

This is not a complaint against holiday consumerism; nor is it a plea to stay home on Black Friday.  It is an exhortation to all of us to examine what is going on in our hearts as we shop. To do as Jesus says and be on guard against all covetousness that may spring to life with every passing sale. To remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:11-13:

…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

As we venture into the holiday shopping season, let us go content with what we already have before the first penny is spent. Let us see through the illusions of the retailers enticing us to buy what we don’t need and want what we don’t have. Let us beware of subtly believing that life consists in having more.

If we stand guard over our hearts, our shopping bags may be a little less full, but they’ll contain better things and most importantly, so will our hearts.

-Brian

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Ruled by Machines? The Church’s Love of Technology

Calvin-worship-TVI want to challenge an assumption – that all technology is good and should be uncritically embraced by the church.

In the movie Jurassic Park, scientists discovered a way to clone dinosaurs using DNA found inside fossilized mosquitoes. They turned this discovery into a theme park based on their new creations. In a tour of the park, mathematician Ian Malcolm – played by Jeff Goldblum – remarks:

“…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

While the church’s uncritical use of technology won’t result in giant lizards snacking on humans as it did in Jurassic Park, the same critique leveled by Malcolm against the scientists could be leveled at the church. In our American love affair with technology we simply don’t pause in our rush to adapt every new advance to our lives and the church.

Is replacing physical Bibles with Bible apps always a good idea? Will a generation that only types Bible references into a search bar understand the context as well as generations who turned its pages? How are worship services changed by video screens ever increasing in size, clarity and centrality? Are congregations taught by a video preacher worse, the same, or better than those with a flesh and blood preacher? Is something lost or gained when giving is done online instead of as part of the liturgy? Can lights, sound, and production reach the point of distraction or is more always better? Does the use of technology to connect the church to the culture become so successful that the church only feels like an extension of that culture?

Just asking these questions can be dangerous. One might be labeled a “dinosaur”, lampooned as “irrelevant”, or accused of not caring about “reaching people.” Two weeks ago Matthew Barrett at The Gospel Coalition questioned the wisdom of bringing an iPad into the pulpit. It generated 226 comments that contained such ire you would think he suggested women should only wear dresses. He was accused of bibliolatry, legalism, and setting back the church.

Yet, how did we end up in a place where it’s okay to question the Bible’s teachings but not the medium through which we communicate those teachings? Have we unwittingly embraced America’s technology idolatry? In our culture, we trade in our phone for a newer one every few months, take on debt to finance our flatter and wider television, and calm our toddlers with Sesame Street on the tablet. We are in trouble when worship services, churches, and Christian lives become about adapting God to technology instead of the other way around.

In 2005, Passion Conferences hosted a gathering of over ten thousand college students in Nashville, Tennessee. I was there for the final night of the conference which featured a late night worship service, one of the centerpieces of which was a giant LED wall that had the capability to display bright, stunning images and split into four moving parts. It was an awe-inspiring addition to the worship. However, the next morning at the closing session, speaker Louie Giglio made this confession:

All of a sudden I realized from the Spirit of God that I’m enthralled by the wall. I’m just in awe of it. I’m almost worshiping the wall. I turned around and walked under the stands and said, ‘Jesus, wall or no wall, I’m worshiping you. I am not interested in something that’s moving and how big it is. I love it and its helping me and encouraging my soul, but I think for a minute there I was more interested in it than I am in You.’

Could this same thing be playing out in our hearts week after week? Could it be the reason we are so unwilling to question the use of technology in the church? Is Jesus winning this struggle for affection in our hearts or is our Samsung Galaxy?

We need the courage to let our theology drive our technology. We need the courage to ask questions about the way we use it. Is what we gain in adding technology greater than what we lose?  Does using a particular device help us treasure Christ and see His glory more clearly or does it make the church more consumer-driven and individualistic? When David and the Israelites were bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6, they used a cart instead of poles carried by four men to transport it. This was more technologically advanced and more convenient, but it also failed to honor God. When someone asks why we choose to use a certain piece of technology our answer should not be “because we can” but should flow out of Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 10:31 to do all to the glory of God.

I love using projectors to display song lyrics for worship. I think what we gain in artistic expression (Ex. 35:30-33) and in accessibility to the congregation (1 Cor. 14) overcome the loss of singing multiple parts and seeing on one page the unfolding arc of the hymn. I use a Bible and not an iPad when I preach because I fear my listeners may miss out on the depth of the biblical context (Acts 20:27, Jn. 10:35) if they follow my example and view only a few verses on a smartphone (2 Pet. 3:16). You might do differently. That’s fine; these decisions are not Bible imperatives. But know why you do – biblically, theologically, and for the glory of God. Don’t be so quick to rush ahead with what you “can” do that you fail to think about what you “should” do. It will shape not only you but the fruit you seek to grow for King Jesus.

-Brian

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The Absence of the Female Superhero: Troubling or Telling?

wonderwomanWith the recent surge of super-hero movies, some have asked: “Where are the female super-hero movies?” Many are demanding a Wonder Woman movie, but Hollywood, in the midst of clicking off Superman and Batman movies at a blinding clip, has yet to craft it. A slew of articles emerged this week, trying to navigate this super heroine desert.  The most common response is two-fold: not enough interest, not enough cash.

Jason Free was criticized for saying this in a USA Today piece: “Not trying to sound like a jerk, but typically women in leading action roles don’t sell the way strong male figures do.” The article continues:

“Is that because men wouldn’t go to the box office to see a movie about a female superhero? Perhaps. And, making things worse, men are the majority of comic book readers. A whopping 93 percent of people buying comics are male, according to The Nielsen Company’s market research done for DC Comics in 2012.”

“The results are “troubling,” comicsalliance.com said at the time, because they “raise serious questions about DC’s ability to expand their audience base, and the accessibility of their content to both female and younger readers.”

“Making things worse.” “Troubling.” These descriptions fit a discussion about the state of public education, not banter over comic book characters and movies. Why the outrage over a lack of female super heroes? Many fear this oversight casts women as inferior to men in strength and ability.  

Our culture demands the annihilation of gender distinction. Anything challenging that ideal is immediately interpreted as a step backwards into the dark ages of pregnant wives waddling about the home, starching their husband’s shirts with dinner simmering one room away. Husbands kiss them on their foreheads and retire to the living room after a long day, feet up and the evening paper, pleased with the wife’s home economy.

The reality: men and women are different creatures. Our culture cannot acknowledge this in a civil and intelligent way – much less the implications of those differences – without yelling “Misogynist! Sexist! Bigot!” There are reasons the majority of cultures have banned women from frontline combat. There are reasons women are not playing in the NFL. There are reasons less than 2% of firefighters are female. Both men and women have physical limitations that no hormone supplement or surgery can “fix,” despite the frantic rush to try.

Werner Neuer provides insightful evidence for that which humanity has always known, as expressed in the common, historic division of labor:

“The male skeleton is usually stronger than the woman’s. The bones are thicker and heavier. The greater strength of its bone structure obviously equips the man’s body better than the woman’s to overcome physical obstacles and carry loads. The man has greater steadiness, strength, and stress resistance due to his stronger bones.”

“The striated muscles in men are more strongly developed and constructed than women’s. They serve above all for dealing with external obstacles…The man’s superior equipment in this respect and his stronger bone structure indicate that by nature the male rather than the female is designed to overcome external, environmental obstacles, to reshape and master the environment.”

Female super hero movies are fewer because the female body is not designed for the tasks of Superman. This is not earth shattering news. If being a super hero was the ultimate test of personhood and worth, this would be troubling news for females indeed, but it is not. Gender distinctions have propagated and ensured the survival of humanity since creation.  The rebellion against these differences has created a path of delusion, convincing many that freedom from God’s design is not just possible, but necessary.

Those who take this path believe a lie similar to the one Eve believed in the Garden of Eden. The serpent convinced her God was withholding something good. Men and women experience and yield to the rules of their bodies every day. Some think these rules are unfair and prevent their happiness. They respond by either ignoring the rules or trying to change them. In doing so, they are not free, but imprisoned by the task of disproving the Creator and the bodies He created.

As an avid runner, I buy good running shoes. I do not run in my hiking boots. Is it unfair? Is it discriminatory? No, it’s smart. Hiking boots are built for rocks and rivers, not pavement and speed. They are not inferior shoes, but different shoes. Genesis 1:27 says: “So God created man in His own image. In the image of God He created Him; male and female He created them.” Nothing is lost for either gender in recognizing our differences. If God determined humanity needed to exist as one generic gender, women and men would not exist. He instead created two equal but not identical people, both bearing His image, designed for different but equally great things. Our physiological differences are gifts, not curses.

With so many demanding more female super heroes on the silver screen, it is only a matter of time before we will see another on a poster, cape rolling in the wind under a curtain of long, dark hair; 120 pounds of metal, diamonds and muscle behind piercing green eyes, ready to slaughter and seduce men. Call me old fashioned, but the female heroes who inspire me do no killing or sexual conquering. They love fiercely, work diligently and sacrifice frequently. They don’t have posters.

-Emily

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Miley Cyrus and Our Corruption

mileyvmasMiley Cyrus stole the headlines from Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards for her shocking performance of “We Can’t Stop.” She emerged on stage with tongue out from a giant robotic teddy bear and danced in a graphic and sexually suggestive manner. At the end of her routine she stripped down to a flesh colored bikini and began an even racier duet with Robin Thicke that left many in the audience visibly uncomfortable.

It was the most talked about performance after the VMAs, even outpacing N’SYNC’s brief reunion with 4.5 million Twitter mentions.

But was it really “shocking”? This is the MTV Video Music Awards after all. At the inaugural show in 1984 Madonna writhed around in a wedding dress singing “Like a Virgin” and in 2003 at the same event had a three way kiss with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Nothing in Cyrus’ routine from the twerking to the sexual-positions-as-dance-moves, to the shameless song lyrics departed from our new cultural norms.

Miley’s performance grabbed headlines and tweets not because she grabbed certain body parts but because of the narrative behind it. That narrative is one of corruption. Miley Cyrus was once Hannah Montana, a popular Disney character who lived as a normal teen by day and a pop star by night. Her image was wholesome, family-friendly. Millions of fans bought her merchandise and copied her example. In a USA Today article from 2008 she was asked if she planned on being a good role model for her fans and said:

Yeah. That was the plan from the beginning. That’s kind of the point of everything that I do. I always try to bring in just being a good role model and setting high standards for yourself.

On Sunday, this same Miley emerged on stage from a giant teddy bear, surrounded by dancing teddy bears, and wearing a teddy bear outfit. One of the most compelling images of innocence is a child clutching a teddy bear. This symbol of childhood innocence was injected with hyper-sexualized dancing and Miley’s popular song, “We Can’t Stop,” which describes the singer at a party where everyone is taking ecstasy, getting drunk, dancing like strippers and looking for a casual hookup. Next came Robin Thicke singing his song “Blurred Lines” about his desire for a good girl he can treat like a sexual animal while Miley provided backup vocals and complimentary body gyrations.

This theme of corruption – of Hannah Montana and of our daughters in general – may be why the crowd looked ill at ease with the performance. It may also be why much of the huge Twitter response was negative and why fellow artist Josh Gracin tweeted:

Thanks Miley Cyrus… Now I have to explain to my 11 yr old daughter why she can no longer follow your career.

Rather than hide from the corruption it was embraced with imagery and songs to provoke a reaction – a different kind of shock than we have gotten from Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Lil’ Kim.

In the corruption of Miley Cyrus we see the corruption of our children. The cute princess clutching her teddy bear as she is tucked into bed at night becomes a casual hookup at a college party, an indecent picture texted to the junior class, an object tailored to please others. The adorable little hero who wants to fight the bad guys becomes a frat boy who can’t recall every sexual conquest, a porn addict immersed in fantasy, a freshmen compromising his values to win acceptance. The sexual revolution reduced individual persons made in the image of God into bodies frantically chasing objects that will satisfy their appetites.  It’s what happened to Hannah Montana and it is what’s happening not just to our children but to us as a whole.

By the grace of God, many still see this corruption as a bad thing, as revealed in the reactions to the VMA performance. Yet, there may come a time when nearly all of our culture openly embraces the corruption caused by sin. In Romans 1:28-31, Paul describes the progress of humankind from the innocence of Eden to the full corruption of sin:

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

The gospel tells us we are all corrupted because of sin. Psalm 53:3 says, “…together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Yet Jesus took our corruption upon himself so we could be innocent and pure again. In Jesus Christ, God “…has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4).

 

There may come a time when we no longer see the corruption caused by our sin. When the culture is so blind that God has no choice but to give it up to what ought not to be done. The fact that we can still see our corruption and mourn is a sign that God’s grace is at work. We are all, like Hannah Montana, corrupted, but we don’t have to stay that way. The only answer for all of us sons and daughters of this world is the good news that what was corrupted by our sin can be made pure and whole again by Jesus.

-Brian

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Manipulated by Mega Sharks

sharkweekWho doesn’t love Shark Week? That one week out of the year when the Discovery Channel devotes almost all of their programming to those fascinating predators of the deep that capture the imagination and inspire fear among land dwellers. But after 26 years of Shark Week, how do you keep viewers interested? We’ve seen the Great White Shark fly through the air to kill its prey. We’ve seen the Whale Shark calmly navigate the Great Barrier Reef. We’ve seen the aftermath of a Bull Shark attacking surfers. We’ve even seen Jaws shred a boat, Bruce the Shark treat fish as friends, and Sharknado bring those horrifying teeth to land. What is there left to see?

Enter the Discovery Channel’s Megalodon special to kick off Shark Week. The Megalodon was the largest shark ever to live. It could grow up to 50 feet long with teeth the size of an adult human hand and jaws that could crush a car. The show was called “Megalodon: The Shark that Lives” and took viewers to South Africa to investigate a rash of attacks and evidence that the massive shark could still be out there. The only problem is, according to National Geographic and marine scientists, the Megalodon is long extinct. The evidence and experts on the Discovery Channel special were faked.

There was a disclaimer in small white font that flashed on the screen briefly. One would likely need a DVR with a pause button to read it. Yet, Discovery’s online poll reported 29% of viewers believe Megalodon still swims and another 47% say it may be possible. You read that right. Three-fourths of viewers accepted to some degree the findings of a fake documentary. The show even brought in record ratings for the channel with 4.8 million viewers.

Critics have attacked the show because Discovery Channel claims its mission is:

“to satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people’s lives by providing the highest quality content, services and products that entertain, engage and enlighten.”

According to a number of critics, they failed in their mission by airing a program that probably belonged more on the Sci-Fi Channel than on Discovery and by deceiving their viewers.

The Megalodon Shark Week special reminds us how easily we can be manipulated even by sources we trust. Most of the information we “know” comes to us mediated through a variety of sources. For example, most of what we know about the universe comes from a relatively small number of astronomers; we haven’t charted the stars personally. Most of what we know about politics comes to us through biased reporters and commentators; we haven’t spoken to the President personally. Today, more and more of our “knowledge” comes from segments on the Today Show, popular YouTube videos, Twitter trends, cable news debates, sensationalized History channel shows, agenda-driven bloggers, celebrity interviews, cleverly edited documentaries, and more. These sources form our knowledge, shape our opinions, and direct our lives.

Christians are often accused of blindly trusting the Bible as a source of knowledge. Yet is a Christian who trusts the Scriptures somehow more blind than the non-religious person who puts their trust unquestioningly in the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, their Twitter feed, or Wikipedia? The Bible has withstood 2,000 years of scrutiny and been tested in the lives of millions of followers of Christ and still remains.

The Shark Week special reminds us to be saturated in the only source of knowledge that will never fail or mislead us: the Word of God.  As the Psalmist says in 119:41-43:

41Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
    your salvation according to your promise;
42 then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
    for I trust in your word.
43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
    for my hope is in your rules.

The Psalmist has put his trust completely in God’s word. It is his source of knowledge; it assures him of God’s love, his salvation, his hope, and his answer for those who question him. Other sources of information can be false, mislead, or be mistaken but not God’s Word.

The Shark Week special also reminds us to not be lazy with the “knowledge” we receive. We shouldn’t unquestioningly accept everything we hear, even from reputable sources. Most of the distributers of information in the world are motivated by earning money, winning praise, advancing ideology, securing power, or boosting pride. This doesn’t mean what we receive is wrong, just that it may be tainted and we should look closely before we run off and change our lives based on a new “study”, revise our thinking based on new “data”, or update our values based on a new “expert.”

Jesus told his followers in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” To be wise, we must be saturated in the tested source of knowledge that is God’s Word. We must also test and evaluate the knowledge we receive from other sources. In this way, our lives will be well directed, our opinions well informed, and we’ll be able to enjoy a swim in the ocean without worrying about the 50 foot shark that might still be swimming around.

-Brian

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