Category Archives: Culture and Bible
Stephen Hawking, the world renowned physicist, told us about really big things like black holes, but seemed to lack wonder for the small.
It must be one of the worst deficiencies of all to have such a small amount of wonder. Regardless of whether you are an atheist, agnostic or theist (hopefully the Christian kind), there must be something in you that sees the whole show of life as a miracle. Even if science explains some of how the universe works, surely there is still a place for wonder and awe instead of contempt. Let me illustrate with one well known quote from Stephen Hawking by which he reminds us humans of how insignificant we really are in the grand scheme of things.
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.” — Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys…”
Based on my Twitter feed I suspect in many ways that monkeys are often more reasonable and civil, but I don’t see them supplanting humans to have dominion (Genesis 1:26-28) – despite what is depicted in Planet of the Apes. The word “just” seems very telling. Since Hawking and many others are convinced we are “just” advanced monkeys, maybe that explains why so many treat their fellow humans with so little dignity. If one person believes another person is simply an advanced monkey, why would that person treat the monkey-person much better than the monkey from which they came? Beliefs have implications.
“on a minor planet”
Size is not the deciding factor of significance. Since we know of no other planet that sustains life, I am going to say earth is a pretty major deal.
“of a very average star.”
Quality is not always defined by size, but by the impact an object makes on what is available to be impacted. Think of the millions of stars that have little significance other than to be seen from earth – at least as far as we know and can tell from our special little blue, green and brown rock. If a star is one-hundred times bigger than our sun, but sustains no life, what good is its size? Except to be marveled at by those who were created to live on a “minor planet” with an “average star?”
Hawking was a brilliant man, but brilliance without the proper perspective leads to “minor”, “average” and wonder-less conclusions. Ultimately it leads to undervaluing the miracle that is life and the systems that sustain it.
And to top it all off, I am convinced Hawking is now bowing before the One who created every star and planet, both small and large (Phil. 2:9-11 and Isaiah 40:26).
Stephen Hawking died this day (03.14.2018). I wonder if he is now regretting his little statement before the God who created a massive universe?
My 13-year-old son has taken a liking to 70s and 80s music, and so when I take him to school we often end up listening together. I grew up listening to 80s music, but it now occurs to me that I was mostly clueless about the content that was being delivered, and what was ultimately being communicated. As I listen now with a more fully formed brain, I realize that some of the songs are about the anguish of broken or lost relationships. Sometimes I will be singing or humming along and realize I have no idea what the song means. As a matter of fact, I am convinced some songs don’t mean anything – especially 80s music. A lot of the songs are about unbridled impulses that seem to drive and own the artist, and perhaps the listener who resonates with what is being proclaimed.
For example, consider the very distinct and catchy song, “Red, Red Wine”. Neil Diamond originally wrote the song in 1967, but the English reggae and pop band, UB40, recorded the best known version in 1983. Here is a sampling of the lyrics: “Red, red wine – goes to my head – makes me forget that I – still need her so; Red, red wine – it’s up to you – All I can do – I’ve done – But memories won’t go – No, memories won’t go; I’d have sworn – that with time – Thoughts of you would leave my head – I was wrong – now I find – Just one thing makes me forget. Red, red wine – stay close to me – Don’t let me be alone…”
Should either of us be listening to this song and songs like it? What am I consuming, and in some sense, what am I am agreeing with when I listen and sing?
As I was driving my son to school and singing along with UB40, I caught myself and wondered why I was singing. I don’t like red wine and I don’t drink alcohol, and I would rather my children just avoid it altogether for convictional reasons that need not be mentioned now. But there I was, singing about red, red wine in front of my 13-year-old son. Only this time as a 42-year-old man I was actually conscious of the lyrics.
And so I asked my son, “What is the singer saying and meaning?” To which my son responded: “Well, I can’t understand half of what they are saying, but it sounds like someone is using wine to forget or escape.” He is a smart boy. He must have gotten that from his mom.
As we continued to talk about it, he was able to see that the song was really just a praise song to a functional savior. For the person who wrote this song, sings this song and embraces this song as their own, wine is a way of escaping a painful, broken relationship. If we will have ears to hear and eyes to see, we will notice everyone is singing the song of a savior. Some find rescue in sex. A few find it in science. Others find it in drugs. Many find an escape in entertainment. What is your savior? Is it work? Exercise? Man-centered religion? Social activism? Knowledge? Isn’t everyone seeking relief and rescue from something or someone?
I wanted my son to hear and see that all of us will have a savior. He will have a savior. It seems as if we are wired to worship, and that is true whether we are religious or not. Something will ultimately be valuable to us and I think he sees that because of a discussion about “Red, Red Wine”. It appears we redeemed a song about the idolatry of escape through drink. It must have struck a chord with him because he brought it up to his mom later that evening when I came home from work.
Can you identify the saviors of the world? What savior are you proclaiming? You might find the savior of the world and your savior in the songs that are sung.
One other thought: Some things should not be consumed. Some music should not be listened to. Some media should not be watched. But maybe there are times to listen in to what the world is saying and consuming to see what is being worshiped. Maybe we need to hear and see that they desire to worship as much as Christ-followers do. And maybe if we listen well and discern what is really being said, then we can introduce them to Jesus Christ, who alone can ultimately save. He is who they are looking for. And maybe we will be reminded that all the faux saviors will only deliver us so far, and that is why we cling to Christ.
This past week social media was buzzing with comments and posts about celebrating and/or recognizing the Fourth of July as a part of Sunday morning worship gatherings. There are wide-ranging views (often generational) about what is appropriate when it comes to patriotism and Jesus. For example, some of the questions being volleyed back and forth are: “Should churches have patriotic services?” “Should there be an American Flag in the worship gathering space?” “Are we elevating country and civil religion over the kingship of Jesus?” These questions, like almost all things in this increasingly contentious culture, are not easily resolved.
In light of these questions, and others, here is an article that I found to be biblical and representative of how I see this increasingly sensitive conversation. But even this balanced article reveals the tension we find ourselves dealing with in regard to the place of national pride in the life of Christ-worshiping churches. Our temporal love of country should not divide the forever people of God and churches of Jesus Christ.
On top of all the theological and cultural arguments for and against recognizing a holiday like the Fourth of the July, there is a more practical concern that often goes unmentioned.
Do we really have enough time? Is this the best use of our Sunday mornings?
Even if a church wanted to recognize a day like the Fourth, or Memorial Day or any other special day, how would they squeeze them all in without squeezing out regular, through-the-Bible preaching? And how would they decide what is worthy of addressing and what is not?
Take this list of prominent calendar days and consider the sermons that could preached for each one.
- New Year’s Day – getting a new start and living for a greater purpose
- Sanctity of Life Sunday – whether born or unborn, all life matters
- Valentine’s Day – working on relationships and love
- Easter (Resurrection of Jesus Christ Day) – the resurrection changes everything
- Graduation Day (High School and University) – God has great plans for your life
- Mother’s Day – mothers are great and we all love them
- Memorial Day – thanks to the many who made sacrifices for our freedom, especially Jesus
- Father’s Day – dads need to get their acts together and lead
- Independence Day – thank God for this nation under God
- Labor Day – God made work and rest
- Thanksgiving Day – are you thankful? If not, then you are not in God’s will (1 Thess. 5:18)
- Christmas Day – Jesus was clothed in flesh to live with us that He might die for us
That’s 12 days. 12 is a nice number when talking about the twelve tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples, but not for topical preaching. If a preacher did a sermon for every significant holiday that meant something to someone, he would have to give up 12 sermons a year. That is 23% of the year.
Our Eagle Heights faith family usually acknowledge days like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, and I am thankful for each of those days, because we should be thankful for our nation’s freedom and those God used to preserve it. But when I think about what the church is and why we gather, I would rather reserve special occasions and sermons for days that are explicitly Christian, or days that transcend our temporal county (Hebrews 13:14) – unless there is very special reason to do so. It is biblically hard to ignore Christmas and Easter, and Sanctity of Life Sunday is really about God’s creative rights and the dignity of every person He has created. And sometimes we will focus on Mother’s and Father’s Day, but we can’t do them all.
Please hear me loud and clear. I am thankful for my country and the men and women who have served and sacrificed. I love my mom and dad, and I hope the best for graduates. I also want everyone to be loved and keep their covenant of marriage, but I am committed first and foremost to the kingdom of King Jesus. We have 52 weeks a year to gather and I want to give those weeks to the most important person in the universe while being secondarily thankful for all the other good things we celebrate. Jesus and His agenda must always have first place, and everything else must bow to Him. Even our love of country and the holidays that remind us to honor and celebrate.
I hope that being gospel-centered is more than a catch-phrase. However, I fear for a great many “Christians” it is nothing more than that.
So what does it mean to be gospel-centered? Here is an insightful article by Dane Ortland that addresses that very question: What’s All This Gospel-Centered Talk About?
Below is an excerpt from the article that uses dating as an example of what it looks like to be gospel-centered. I hope you read it and in doing so, you are enticed to read the rest.
Example: Gospel-Centered Dating
Given this context, what might be meant by “gospel-centered dating”?
Such an approach to dating remembers the fierce works-righteousness orientation of the human heart and the way we tend to build our identity on anything other than Jesus.
Gospel-centered dating wouldn’t be dating that tries to share the gospel with as many dates as possible. It would be dating that refuses to build a sense of worth on whom we’re dating, what they think of us, and the happiness they can provide if the relationship works out long-term. It would be letting Jesus be the one who saves us—not only from judgment before God in the future, but judgment before our dates in the present.
Dating can be truly enjoyed if we go into every evening out with a heart-sense of the gospel. If we know we are accepted and approved in Jesus, acceptance and approval by the person sitting across the table loses its ominous significance. If we know God delights in us with invincible favor and love, dates that go poorly will disappoint but not crush us. If we know that no matter what happens in a relationship we will always have Christ, and he is everything, then we are freed from having our mood dictated by dating success. And even if dates go well with someone early on, it’s only a matter of time before a boyfriend or girlfriend (or spouse) will disappoint us and let us down. There’s only one who never lets us down.
A gospel-centered life, in other words, is the only life that can truly be enjoyed, no matter your circumstances. Nothing can threaten our sense of worth and identity. Christ himself is our mighty and radiant friend.
From Twitter on June 26th, 2013:
- #BREAKING: SCOTUS strikes down DOMA, the ban on federal benefits for same-sex married couples, on a 5-4 vote. Via Politico
- “This is a sweeping decision, redefining marriage, regardless of the Prop 8 decision.” Dr. Russell Moore, President of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention
- “I honestly disagree with marriage defenders who try to minimize the impact of Kennedy’s opinion in the DOMA case. It’s theory is sweeping.” Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary
- “Today’s DOMA ruling is a historic step forward for #MarriageEquality. #LoveIsLove” President Barack Obama
Many supporters of marriage between one man and one woman have probably hit the panic button, and the tweets above should be evidence enough that things have changed, are changing and will continue to change rapidly. The moral landscape of the United States may never be the same.
So I don’t think we should diminish what has happened and pretend that it doesn’t matter. It matters. It says something about our society and the Church in the United States. The kind of fundamental change that we are experiencing can’t be flippantly dismissed.
But when life falls a part, there is often an opportunity to pick up the pieces and be a part of redeeming something broken, even when the outlook appears bleak. This might be the case with the current marriage crisis and legal rulings over same-sex marriage. There may be something to be gained, when so much seems lost. Here are five possibilities:
- This marriage crisis might serve as a wake-up call to acknowledge gospel realities. If a biblical worldview means anything, then this is a stark reminder that we are living in a post-Christian country. We shouldn’t expect people who don’t believe the Bible to accept and practice what the Bible says about marriage. Neither should we expect them to affirm it, since they can’t fully understand spiritual things (2 Cor. 2:14). So for those of us who believe the Bible and desire to obey all that Jesus commanded for the glory of God and the good of others, we need to first and foremost love people by proclaiming the truth that we are all in need of forgiveness and a transformed nature that can only come from trusting in the gospel of Christ. People need to be made new (2 Cor. 5:17) so that God can then change them and keep changing them. We are reaping the consequences of a be good, moralistic, behavioral modification religion, instead of a robust, gospel-driven theology. We must prioritize the proclamation of the whole gospel that is received by repentance and faith. Really, what we need is a true, gospel revival. Our failure to understand, articulate and apply these truths, maybe one of the biggest reasons for the current situation.
- This marriage crisis might increase clarity and conviction about biblical sexuality. Controversy often results in a more thorough understanding. As the debate over marriage has heated up, and has at times swarmed the news cycle and social media, it has been eye-opening to see how little Christians know and understand about what the Bible prescribes and describes regarding marriage. It is one thing when someone who isn’t a Christian denies the clarity of what the Bible says about sexuality, and it is quite another when someone who claims to be a Christian, condones what the Bible clearly condemns. If Christians are to take a loving and biblical stand, they will have to know what they believe and why they believe it. And by the way, one of the reasons we are where we are is because Christians don’t know the “why” of biblical marriage. Local churches have to be brave, more intentional and better at teaching and equipping with regards to marriage.
- This marriage crisis might help us to see and acknowledge our mistakes and correct them. For instance, there is little doubt that many Christians have treated homosexuality different than other sins, as though this particular sexual sin were more evil than idolatry, fornication, adultery, lust, etc. Many have not treated others the way that they would want to be treated when standing for the truth (Matt. 7:12). Standing for the truth does not a hate-monger make, but how it is done might be very hateful. All people should be treated with dignity and respect, even people we disagree with. Whether it is our tone, trusting in government instead of God or a lack of humility, we have to acknowledge that we can improve the way we talk about the issue and how we engage others.
- This marriage crisis might help us to understand and rightly define what love means. President Obama says that “marriage equality” is the right thing to do because “love is love.” That sounds and feels very caring, but what does he mean by the word love? When I read the Bible, especially the book of 2 John, I find that love is defined by the truth. They go together and truth dictates what love can and can’t be, not fuzzy feelings or a whatever floats your boat attitude. If any action is contrary to the truth of God’s word, it is not love and it is not loving to affirm it as such. Rather, it is dangerous and potentially damning. We must have a biblical definition of love, or love becomes an excuse to let people do what is right in their own eyes.
- This marriage crisis might further clarify who truly belongs to Christ. What’s next? No one knows for certain what will happen, but it doesn’t seem too unrealistic to think that those who hold to the traditional view of marriage (the biblical view of marriage) will soon be persecuted and penalized by the law for being hateful and intolerant. I don’t want this to happen, but it might be good. If and when this happens, people will be forced to make a stand of conviction, or they will shrink from the truth and be silent to protect themselves from trouble. This may not happen, but it’s hard to ignore history.
We are where we are and it may not be the place we wish it to be, but the worst thing we can do is nothing. We can’t stay where we are. May God give us the strength to move and change so that we are used to bring about something that is good for others and glorifies God.