Digital Obesity: A Crisis for Our Children

children mediaA Fargo, North Dakota woman made headlines this past Halloween for announcing she would give letters rather than candy to children she deemed to be “moderately obese.”  In the letter, she states:

“Your child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season. My hope is that you will step up as a parent and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits.”

Childhood obesity has become a national problem. Parents are increasingly seen as irresponsible and derelict for allowing their children to over-consume sweet and fatty foods. Yet there is another form of over-consumption going on among children that won’t earn them a letter instead of a Snickers – the over-consumption of media. It is not as easy to spot, but it may be causing far more harm than trans-fats.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement last month asking parents to change their child’s media habits out of concern for their well-being. According to the recommendations, parents should make a media use plan for their family, keep screen time to less than 2 hours a day, and keep screens out of children’s bedrooms.

Why the concern? A new survey from Common Sense Media shows that 72% of kids age 8 and younger have used a mobile device for some type of media activity – nearly double the 38% who had done so just two years ago. 17% use a device daily. The average 8 to 10 year old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of media; older children spend more than 11 hours a day. 84% of children are online, 75% of 12 to 17 year olds have a cell phone, and 71% have a television in their bedroom.

We may be blind to any concern because of the rapid increase of media use in our own lives. The average American consumes 63 gigabytes of media a day; double what we consumed in 2008. This translates to about 15.5 hours of media consumption per day, per American – with our ability to multitask (consume multiple media sources at one time) factored in. Like a parent who loves fatty foods, our love for media may cause us to overlook the negative consequences for our children. A Northwestern University study from earlier this year found only 30% of parents are concerned about their child’s media use and a 55% majority are not concerned at all.

Victor Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the AAP report says children are, “spending more time with media than they are in school. They are spending more time with media than in any activity other than sleeping. You could make the argument that media have taken over the primary role of teaching kids from schools and parents in many cases.”

This statement should shock us out of our indifferent slumber. This is more significant than the problem that prompted the Fargo woman to hand out obesity letters. Media has taken over as the primary teacher of our children! The beliefs, values, habits, desires, dreams, and knowledge of our children is being shaped by the screen. Looking at the sheer number – and ever increasing – hours invested in media, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Turn on the television, browse through the internet; is this what you want to be the main influence in the life of your children? The AAP statement also noted that, “Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues.”

To Christians, this should be of even greater concern. Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs parents to teach the obedience of God to their children in all of life, “You shall teach [God’s commands] 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.” Ephesians 6:4 instructs us to, “bring [children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This simply cannot happen if the media habits of our children conform to the averages. It is the smartphone that will be with them when they sit in the house, walk by the way, lie down and rise; not the Lord.

Make a media a media use plan for your family. Limit the time they spend with phones, tablets, computers, and television. Monitor what they do with special software and keep media consumption out in the open. Increase the power of other influences by spending meaningful time together as a family, investing more time in the church, and focusing more on academic, artistic, or athletic activities. Bring discipline to your own media habits to set a positive example in the home.

It is time for parents, especially Christians, to take action. If a doctor sits us down and informs us our child’s obesity will cause serious health problems if we do not act, we would be irresponsible and derelict not to change. Thus, we our irresponsible and derelict if we continue to put no limits on our children’s media consumption and allow that media to be the primary influence in our home. God has called us to so much more.

-Brian

(image credit)

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Intolerant Chicken: Chick-fil-a Spices Up Campus Debate

When I attended Virginia Tech I loved having a Chick-fil-a on campus. Sometimes you have a craving for a Chick-fil-a chicken sandwich and nothing else will satisfy. Apparently, some college students don’t feel the same way. Taylor Cotter of Northeastern University in Boston spent a year gathering 300 signatures – about 1.5% of the student body – to keep Chick-fil-a off campus. In March, the student senate voted to end negotiations to bring a franchise to Northeastern. The school’s administration supported the senate, saying, “We are proud of the decision that affirms our university’s commitment to be an inclusive, diverse community that is respectful of all.” Chick-fil-a has faced similar opposition at Duke, Bowling Green University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Gainesville State College, Indiana University South Bend, Mississippi State, Texas Tech, the University of North Texas, and New York University.

What has Chick-fil-a done to incur such academic wrath? There are few restaurants as friendly and inviting as Chick-fil-a whose employees hand out waffle fries with a smile and a “my pleasure”. The problem these schools have has nothing to do with Chick-fil-a itself but with its charitable affiliations through the WinShape Foundation. The goal of WinShape is to help shape winners. It accomplishes this through a college program, camps, retreats, projects to strengthen marriage, and homes for children who are victims of broken families. Some of the organizations WinShape supports in its mission are accused of having an anti-gay agenda. These organizations include the National Christian Foundation, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Serving Marriages, Alliance Defense Fund, Christian Camp and Conference Association, Campus Crusade for Christ, Georgia Family Council, and the Family Research Council.

These offending organizations are labeled anti-gay largely because they remain biblically Christian. According to the Equality Matters Blog, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is bad because they say homosexuality is a sin and dare to allow the testimonials of homosexuals who left the lifestyle. The Alliance Defense Fund is bad because they defend Christian groups shut out because of their beliefs on sexuality. The Christian Camp Association is bad because they maintain homosexuality is wrong. Campus Crusade for Christ is bad for holding events promoting only heterosexual marriage. I could go on, but you get the idea. For maintaining Christian convictions on human sexuality held for 2,000 years and for strengthening traditional marriages these organizations and the WinShape foundation are labeled bigoted and anti-gay. Chick-fil-a is also assigned the bigoted and intolerant label; all without refusing service or employment to anyone.

Donald A. Perry, Vice President of Corporate Public Relations at Chick-fil-a, insisted that none of the organizations has an anti-gay agenda but as Christian groups they do uphold and support traditional marriage. He went on to say, “I want to assure you that the historical intent of our foundation and corporate giving have been toward compassion, principally by serving youth and families.”

Chick-fil-a’s problems on campus portray a new reality unfolding in the United States.

First, historic, biblical Christianity is no longer acceptable in many parts of our cultural landscape. For its entire history, the Christian religion has held that marriage is between a man and a woman (Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:4-6, Eph. 5:31) and all sexual activity outside of marriage – including homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9) – is sinful. Much of our culture can no longer agree to disagree on this issue. Those who hold to historic, biblical Christianity will be shunned, banned, and labeled no matter how lovingly they hold their convictions. If they are willing to ban the best chicken sandwich on the planet, there is no limit to who might be next.

Second, the new “tolerance” is surprisingly intolerant. I wonder if the administration of Northeastern realized the irony of their statement approving the student senate’s decision to end negotiations with Chick-fil-a. They said, “We are proud of the decision that affirms our university’s commitment to be an inclusive, diverse community that is respectful of all.” How can a decision to ban an organization from campus because of its views be considered inclusive, diverse, and respectful? The Win Shape foundation reflects the convictions of millions of American Christians yet those convictions are banned because they are not acceptable to a minority of students and the administration.

Third, America is becoming increasingly polarized. The thought behind this witch hunt is “if you’re not totally for us, then you’re completely against us.” Such a mentality toward those we disagree with is destructive. It assumes the worst about our neighbors and undermines the entire American multicultural experiment. This nation cannot survive if people label any individual, group, church, ethnicity or company that disagrees with them a hateful bigot. Those on both sides of an issue must listen to those they disagree with and not seek to condemn, label, and ban.

What should followers of Christ do with these new realities? First, hold unswervingly to the truth no matter where the cultural winds blow. Don’t abandon what God has said in His Word in a vain quest to be liked. Jesus said in John 15:19, “…because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you.” Second, love those on the opposite side of issues and model true tolerance. True tolerance isn’t blindly accepting every view, but respecting those you disagree with, allowing them to live as they desire, and supporting their freedom to do so. Some may hate us for opposing them, but we must love and pray for them as Christ said in Matthew 5:44, “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Third, vote your convictions and defend your rights. We live in a democracy where we can influence culture, hearts, and minds. This must be done graciously whether we win or lose the debate. Remember, this is not our home (John 18:36) so we are free to speak our mind and be content with the results.

Finally, go buy a sandwich from Chick-fil-a. They’re delicious! The cows will love it. The chickens will hate it. But you can’t please everybody.

-Brian

(image credit)

A Christian’s Response to Jersey Shore

Originally posted in February of 2011, this article became the second most viewed post of the year as Christians searched the internet to find out what to think about Jersey Shore:

With a record setting 8.9 million viewers last Thursday night, the fire-cracker, mostly-Italian twenty-somethings of Jersey Shore have captivated our culture with their curious slang and obnoxious behavior. The cast members (Snooki, The Situation and J-Woww to name three) have stacked up an impressive resume including appearances on SNL, The View and David Letterman, even scoring a spot on Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2010 list. President Obama, in the midst of the economy and foreign policy, is privy to their antics. Why?

Human behavior is entertaining. Extreme spontaneous behavior is arresting. The safely printed scripts of sitcoms lack the unpredictable intrigue of Jersey Shore. In the 90’s, Jerry Springer’s talk-show turned brawl-show inaugurated the gritty reality genre that hinges on lust, lies and lashing out. It assumes there is a segment of society who casts off civility and reasoning, allowing their feelings to culminate in indiscriminate fights, casual sex acts and a host of absurd behaviors. Catching these antics on film is gold…America can’t get enough. The drama, heightened emotions and spring-break lifestyle allows viewers to break from their less exciting realities and participate in extreme living without consequences.

Peppered throughout the mass of faithful followers are the haters, those who are appalled by the Jersey Shore crew. They’re vulgar, excessive and pointless. It is unthinkable that distinguished and sophisticated Americans would devote time and attention to so much nothingness and “total trash” as one reviewer put it. Fifteen years ago, a show with this caliber of content would not have seen air time.

Christians have the responsibility of responding rightly to cultural phenomena. Avoiding them completely breeds judgment and ignorance which hinders our ability to engage the lost world. Embracing them like familiar friends welcomes temptation and blurs the lines of holy living. What is the Christ follower to do with Jersey Shore?

First, recognize what’s really happening: lost sinners are sinning. It’s the fruit of an unregenerate life, captured on film. Why is this shocking? Separate from the Bible’s teaching, cultures adopt standards of acceptable behavior based on experience. With no absolute by which to measure, standards mean little and easily shift. Some non-Christians embrace a biblical moral code and some do not. Apart from the saving work of Christ, everyone pursues sin zealously. While Jersey Shore pushes many entertainment envelopes, humanity has always been “this sinful,” even if not parading it through the public square. One only needs to search Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for an equally graphic and blatantly sinful display. Christians should be unsettled and hope for higher TV standards, but not be surprised by what they see.

Second, keep sin in proper perspective. The word “sin,” a term used in archery, means to miss the mark. It doesn’t matter how close or distant the arrow lands to the target…a miss is a miss. Our bull’s-eye is God’s standard: perfection. It doesn’t matter if the mark is missed by a mile or millimeter. The bitter thought of a housewife and the vicious punch of an abusive father render them equally guilty before God, even though our world catalogues one as worse. It’s easy to sit on the couch and ridicule these people, forgetting that my calmer, lesser known sins, while not on TV for the world to view, are just as repulsive to Him. While Christians benefit from the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives to sin less, they are not sinless. Rather than post our sins proudly, Christians work to hide them and pretend they don’t exist. Behind closed doors, many are treading similar sands. Should we despise their sin? Yes, and our own as well.

Lastly, exercise wisdom in entertainment. What profit is there in watching this show? In keeping with the teaching of Scripture, Christians are to meditate on things which are praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), to keep their eyes from viewing worthless things (Psalm 119:37), to guard their hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and to love God with their entire mind (Mark 12:30). We become products of what we consume. While the effects aren’t immediate, over time, they impact our view of God and the world and how we live. Claiming that watching something won’t affect you is nonsense; no one can objectively measure the influence of entertainment on themselves. Is watching Jersey Shore wise? No. God is not glorified and nothing valuable is gained in being absorbed by a show that has as its chief goal to glorify the shame and sinfulness of mankind.

We must be careful as we acknowledge these things. Recognizing a wolf for what he is and avoiding him is different than charging his cave with a torch to string him up and list his crimes. Looking at Jersey Shore through the lens of Scripture is not judgmental but responsible. Condemning the individuals, as if we sinners created the law and can both save and destroy them, is wrong (James 4:12).

This may enrage some of you and validate the rest. For the enraged, check your heart and determine why this threatens you. For the validated, don’t be caught with a smug look. We are not better. Apart from repentance, God’s Word and meeting with the local church, Christians are more than capable of anything on Jersey Shore.  Instead of watching and copying them, we pray for and love them. Just like me, Snooki, The Situation and J-Woww were created in the image of God, and just like me, they need Him desperately.

-Emily

(image credit)

Maternity and the Gospel Part 1: Where is God in Infertility?

Few things are as difficult and mystifying for the Christian as the unpredictable, sorrowful and sometimes joy-filled pursuit of becoming a parent. One does not have to travel far to encounter a couple who has been paralyzed by an empty or failing womb.

Didn’t God say to be fruitful and multiply? Do the Psalms teach that “children are a blessing and inheritance from the Lord” and “happy is the man whose quiver is full of them?” Why are we infertile? Why do pagans rattle off one healthy, unwanted pregnancy after another? Where is the love and justice from a God who delights in new life?

Understandably, many struggle to understand a God Who loves and also allows infertility. There is a silent and expanding fellowship of scarred couples who mourn the loss or possibility of conceiving a baby. Those without Christ have no reference point to make sense of the pain; others know Jesus and love His gospel, yet soldier on in confusion. In this, one of the darkest corners of pursuing parenthood, God is alive, aware and at work.

Some of the worst obstacles in these painful roads are misconceptions. Even if not articulated, three in particular surface in the infertility discussion. The first: I’ve done something wrong and God is withholding a baby from me. The second: I’ve been good…doesn’t God owe me a baby? The third: This has been a struggle for many women in the Bible who eventually bore children; God will grant me this good desire if I pray enough. These ideas simultaneously give false hope and implant bitterness. Why? None are biblical. Peace and understanding through infertility come as they do in every other unsettling experience: filtering life through God’s character and truth. As the One who fully understands the depths of barrenness and the intense desire for children, only He can supply the kind and amount of peace needed.

The first idea (God is punishing me) is a common assumption when it appears God is withholding something good. Because many Christians believe that God’s favor and blessing are gained with good deeds, they also believe sins earn punishment. This is the Christianized version of Karma or “what goes around comes around.” Scripture assures Christians this is not true. It is written in Psalms 103:10, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” The sins of the redeemed were paid for on the cross; for God to require further payment means Jesus’ death was not enough. Sometimes sinful choices have consequences: you indulge in too much alcohol, drive and wreck your vehicle, leaving you paralyzed. Did God do that? No, you did. You experienced sin’s consequences, but not every hardship can be traced to your sin. Tsunamis claim whole communities because creation is under sin’s curse; children get cancer and die because disease is part of a fallen world. God does not wield infertility as chastisement.

Just as sins do not earn the Christian punishment, good deeds do not earn blessings (like babies). Blessings are gifts, not payments. Many believe they can develop a formula for retrieving good things from God. This message comes from pulpits, books and trusted friends. Our culture rewards good work with a promotion, good behavior with candy…why would God be different? Our high, entitled view of ourselves and salvation encourages this. A raw and difficult truth: if God never granted another good thing in our favor, He’s done more than enough for us on the cross. He owes us nothing yet freely offers salvation to all and graciously gives additional gifts. Truly, none of us deserves the blessing of a baby.

Faulty Bible reading and experience fuel the third misconception (the Bible teaches that God blesses barren women who pray). Stories of God relieving a biblical figure of her infertility are not the promised pattern for Christians. The Bible reveals truths about God, not recipes for living. Too often, we choose passages that outline God blessing individuals and emulate them but overlook figures who suffered greatly for His sake with no earthly reward. The record of barren women conceiving teaches of a loving and generous Creator, fully in charge of the whole world and every womb, but whose generosity is His business. These passages are not a contract, binding Him to grant children.

The pain of infertility is great, but more is at stake in life than our pain. Perhaps God is more glorified in the life of a childless couple who choose to serve Him in ways parents cannot. Maybe the lost need to see a reaction to infertility that sings of the gospel rather than of personal pity. If we live only with this life in view, barrenness will surely destroy us. If we live for God’s kingdom work, knowing it’s about Him and not our happiness, infertility hasn’t the power to destroy anything.

After such tough truth, we certainly hunger for great hope and compassion. Proverbs 13:12 teaches: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” This text beautifully displays God’s identification with us. He knows the pain of unfulfilled hopes. He is not removed from the hurt of His children as they pursue parenthood to no avail…He hurts with them. He hears and desires their prayers. He remains the inexhaustible source of wisdom, comfort and provision, worthy of our trust and able to deliver.

Do we pray for children? Yes. Do we allow it to consume our lives, resting not until we hold a baby? No. Are we okay if God does not grant it? If not, we are worshiping children and not the King.

-Emily

(image credit)

A Christian’s Response to Jersey Shore

With a record setting 8.9 million viewers last Thursday night, the fire-cracker, mostly-Italian twenty-somethings of Jersey Shore have captivated our culture with their curious slang and obnoxious behavior. The cast members (Snooki, The Situation and J-Woww to name three) have stacked up an impressive resume including appearances on SNL, The View and David Letterman, even scoring a spot on Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2010 list. President Obama, in the midst of the economy and foreign policy, is privy to their antics. Why?

Human behavior is entertaining. Extreme spontaneous behavior is arresting. The safely printed scripts of sitcoms lack the unpredictable intrigue of Jersey Shore. In the 90’s, Jerry Springer’s talk-show turned brawl-show inaugurated the gritty reality genre that hinges on lust, lies and lashing out. It assumes there is a segment of society who casts off civility and reasoning, allowing their feelings to culminate in indiscriminate fights, casual sex acts and a host of absurd behaviors. Catching these antics on film is gold…America can’t get enough. The drama, heightened emotions and spring-break lifestyle allows viewers to break from their less exciting realities and participate in extreme living without consequences.

Peppered throughout the mass of faithful followers are the haters, those who are appalled by the Jersey Shore crew. They’re vulgar, excessive and pointless. It is unthinkable that distinguished and sophisticated Americans would devote time and attention to so much nothingness and “total trash” as one reviewer put it. Fifteen years ago, a show with this caliber of content would not have seen air time.

Christians have the responsibility of responding rightly to cultural phenomena. Avoiding them completely breeds judgment and ignorance which hinders our ability to engage the lost world. Embracing them like familiar friends welcomes temptation and blurs the lines of holy living. What is the Christ follower to do with Jersey Shore?

First, recognize what’s really happening: lost sinners are sinning. It’s the fruit of an unregenerate life, captured on film. Why is this shocking? Separate from the Bible’s teaching, cultures adopt standards of acceptable behavior based on experience. With no absolute by which to measure, standards mean little and easily shift. Some non-Christians embrace a biblical moral code and some do not. Apart from the saving work of Christ, everyone pursues sin zealously. While Jersey Shore pushes many entertainment envelopes, humanity has always been “this sinful,” even if not parading it through the public square. One only needs to search Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for an equally graphic and blatantly sinful display. Christians should be unsettled and hope for higher TV standards, but not be surprised by what they see.

Second, keep sin in proper perspective. The word “sin,” a term used in archery, means to miss the mark. It doesn’t matter how close or distant the arrow lands to the target…a miss is a miss. Our bull’s-eye is God’s standard: perfection. It doesn’t matter if the mark is missed by a mile or millimeter. The bitter thought of a housewife and the vicious punch of an abusive father render them equally guilty before God, even though our world catalogues one as worse. It’s easy to sit on the couch and ridicule these people, forgetting that my calmer, lesser known sins, while not on TV for the world to view, are just as repulsive to Him. While Christians benefit from the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives to sin less, they are not sinless. Rather than post our sins proudly, Christians work to hide them and pretend they don’t exist. Behind closed doors, many are treading similar sands. Should we despise their sin? Yes, and our own as well.

Lastly, exercise wisdom in entertainment. What profit is there in watching this show? In keeping with the teaching of Scripture, Christians are to meditate on things which are praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), to keep their eyes from viewing worthless things (Psalm 119:37), to guard their hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and to love God with their entire mind (Mark 12:30). We become products of what we consume. While the effects aren’t immediate, over time, they impact our view of God and the world and how we live. Claiming that watching something won’t affect you is nonsense; no one can objectively measure the influence of entertainment on themselves. Is watching Jersey Shore wise? No. God is not glorified and nothing valuable is gained in being absorbed by a show that has as its chief goal to glorify the shame and sinfulness of mankind.

We must be careful as we acknowledge these things. Recognizing a wolf for what he is and avoiding him is different than charging his cave with a torch to string him up and list his crimes. Looking at Jersey Shore through the lens of Scripture is not judgmental but responsible. Condemning the individuals, as if we sinners created the law and can both save and destroy them, is wrong (James 4:12).

This may enrage some of you and validate the rest. For the enraged, check your heart and determine why this threatens you. For the validated, don’t be caught with a smug look. We are not better. Apart from repentance, God’s Word and meeting with the local church, Christians are more than capable of anything on Jersey Shore.  Instead of watching and copying them, we pray for and love them. Just like me, Snooki, The Situation and J-Woww were created in the image of God, and just like me, they need Him desperately.

-Emily

(image credit)

Obama Goes to Church

A recent survey determined only one in three Americans can identify Barack Obama’s faith as Christian. Add to that an increasing number who believe him to be a Muslim (1 in 5) and it’s no surprise to see Obama taking steps to clarify. On September 19 he and his family attended worship at St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House; only the sixth time in two years he has gone to church. At one of his recent backyard chats in Albuquerque, President Obama clarified his Christianity saying, “I’m a Christian by choice. My family didn’t…they weren’t folks who went to church every week. My mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew but she didn’t raise me in the church. So I came to my Christian faith later in life.”

Is Obama a Christian? I don’t know. He, like all of us, is a sinner whose only hope is the cross of Christ. Ultimately only God and the President know if he has been transformed by the gospel. However, while he claims Christ, his lack of faithfulness to the church preaches a different message. His recent expression of faith comes in the midst of a turbulent political season and on the heels of several surveys indicating Americans doubt his claims. This gives the impression his Christianity is a façade to achieve political ends; similar to when a couple wants a wedding ceremony in the church and suddenly begins attending for the first time in years. One can’t help but be slightly suspicious of their motivation.

Is Obama using Christianity to further his political image? Who knows? And lest you think I am a partisan kool-aid drinker wearing a Rush Limbaugh t-shirt while throwing bombs at a democratic president; let’s bring in Bush and Reagan. Bush never became a member of a local church in Washington, had no home church in Texas, and attended services infrequently preferring the chapel at Camp David. Reagan attended church only once in the eight years of his Presidency. Both claimed Christianity as their faith. Both operated with elements of a Christian worldview. Both acted indifferently toward the gathered assembly of God’s people in worship.

Is a person who fails to attend church with any regularity a Christian? While I can’t judge a heart, I am commanded by Jesus to judge the fruit of a life (Matt. 7:5, 16-20). The approach of these presidents encourages the view in our culture that Christianity is just another – to use Obama’s word – choice in life. It may influence our values and decisions, but is only ultimately one among many commitments and priorities a person has. This idea may be popular but it is not New Testament Christianity. Jesus declares in Matthew 10:38-39 that the gospel doesn’t influence a life, it radically changes it:

Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Can we say someone who finds church only important enough to attend 2 or 3 times a year is really taking up their cross and following Christ? Being a Christian isn’t just another choice; it will transform and demand your entire life.

Commenting on Obama’s church attendance versus his trips to the golf course, comedian Dennis Miller made an obvious point when he said,

“If the guy who lives across the street from you twenty Sunday mornings in a row comes out not dressed for church in the shined shoes with his best tie on, but with a golf bag – after twenty times if I asked you what do you think is more important to him on Sundays what are you gonna say? He’s a golfer!”

The sad reality is this logic describes not only the President but the nation he leads. While 78% of Americans claim some form of Christianity only 44% report attending church regularly and actual numbers reveal only about 17.5% of Americans are in church on Sunday. Meanwhile church roles continue to contain the names of hundreds of people who haven’t darkened the door of a church since the Reagan administration.

Gathering to exalt Jesus and sit under the teaching of the Word has been a regular practice for all Christians since Acts 2. Most of the commands in the New Testament directed toward believers are meant to be carried out in the context of the local church. To simply not go is to live in willful disobedience of the Scriptures. What do you call a Christian who lives in persistent, willful disobedience? A non-Christian.  John explains this in 1 John 2:4, “Whoever says ‘I know Him’ but does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in Him.”

Do you value the assembly of God’s people? What would those in our lives say if we compared our commitment to the church to our other commitments and applied Dennis Miller’s simple logic? Would they say, ‘he loves Jesus passionately’ or ‘she’s committed to her church’? Or would they say, ‘he claims Christ, but he’s really passionate about the NFL’? Or golf? Or Dancing with the Stars? Or Chinese food? Or fishing? Or music? Or career? Or family?

I can’t tell you where Obama, Bush, or Reagan stands with God. Perhaps after leaving office they attended (or will attend) church regularly. But I can say it is time to demand more of what it means to be a Christian. It is not selecting our favorite choice from the menu of world religions, appreciating the life and teaching of Jesus, agreeing with some facts about God, praying the sinner’s prayer, or obeying a set of rules we inherited from childhood. It is not on par with picking what sports team to cheer for or what career path to follow. It is being radically transformed by the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, covenanting together with brothers and sisters in the church, and living every moment for His glory rather than our own.

-Brian

(image credit)

Why “Revolutionary” Christianity Fizzles

Something has gone wrong with the church and the Christianity it adheres to.  It comes from a failure to properly understand and faithfully live out the radical call that Christ has placed on the lives of his followers. This is the basic premise of countless books that have emerged on the market, playing on this generation’s dissatisfaction with its Christian experience. This dissatisfaction is expressed through statements like: ‘the church isn’t meeting my needs’, ‘there is no authentic community’, ‘we are too narrow and judgmental’, ‘the culture views us negatively’, ‘we aren’t making an impact in the world’, or ‘we don’t look like the New Testament church’.

The answers to this dissatisfaction differ depending on which stream the author of the book swims in. For some, we have grown fat and happy on the American dream and need to take seriously Christ’s commands in the Scriptures. For others, the church needs to let go of the traditions and moralities that are weighing it down and embrace a new, yet ancient faith that is more real and authentic. For others still, we need to re-evaluate the theological truths and dogmas we have fought over in favor of a more open and evolving concept of God that welcomes diverse and outside perspectives. There are many more; the basic idea is if we could get back to what Christ taught and lived and the way early Christians existed and then effectively apply it to our time the dissatisfaction would cease and we would usher in a golden age for Christianity in our culture and in our lives.

And we love this stuff, don’t we? At some level, all of us have experienced this dissatisfaction in one way or another and we are eager to embrace a solution that feels more right. We believe we clearly see the problems in the church and in Christianity and we are more optimistic than ever of our ability to make it all right. I love the way Owen Strachan puts it in a blog on the Gospel Coalition site:

“Having pushed away, at least in principle, from big-box, cookie-cutter, megachurchdom, we have warmed to an activist, nonjudgmental Christianity that soars with hope and promise. We can end sex trafficking, we are told; we can transform the political scene; we can end world hunger in this generation; we can go so green that the secular green movement will see our greenness and renounce its secularity; we can right the wrongs of the historic church, one state-fair confession booth at a time; we can correct the heinousness of the Religious Right and win our progressive friends to the faith; we can reclaim the life and practice of the early church; we can reconstruct the American polis through soup kitchens and after-school mentoring; we can redeem entire cities by going block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, until the whole thing is Christian; we can rediscover the secret of true community through monastic living; we can dial down the fire-breathing tone of past evangelists and win our friends, in massive numbers, through gentle conversation; we can turn back whole denominations and movements from heterodoxy and faithlessness; we can heal families, generations of them, by advocating our views; we can plant churches by the bushel and they will all succeed and flourish; we can complete, like a bulleted check list, the momentous task of evangelizing all the people of the world in this generation; we can create culture that is so beautiful, so stirring, so epic that people simply will not be able to turn away from it and deny the faith that fuels it but will embrace it in a great wave that will break over the art galleries and cinemas and coffeehouses of the upculture bohemians.”

While this is satire, many of us hunger for it to be reality and readily gobble up the latest book, message, blog, or organization that claims – humbly or not – to be able to make it all happen based on their latest bit of Bible study, historical investigation, or transcendent experience that can be applied to your life and the church. Now I’m not picking on these speakers, authors, and leaders; many of them are faithful servants of Christ who have advanced the gospel and the kingdom far more than I will ever do. Some are influencing thousands of Christians to love God more deeply and follow Christ more passionately. Some are influencing thousands of Christians away from the God of the Bible and into foolish myths that will render them useless for Christ.

What I am doing is simply pointing out that “revolutionary” Christianity usually fizzles. We hunger to see the realities listed above come into being but are constantly frustrated when they don’t. We read a book or hear a message or go on a mission trip and get excited about living radically for Christ but a month later its back to the same mediocrity. We have armies of young Christians surrendered to do whatever it takes for Christ but our churches and our culture are largely the same. Why?

In the next two posts we’ll examine (1) Why revolutionary Christianity fizzles and (2) How we can prevent its fizzilation (I made that word up). I’m not saying I live this out well or that I have special wisdom to offer. Simply that I’ve received some wisdom from others I’m passing along that will hopefully challenge you as much as it has me in my journey to live for the glory of God.

-Brian