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Posts Tagged ‘Christian Culture’

Alan_Alda_Hawkeye_MASHSherrylee and I lived in West Germany from 1971-1979. Our years outside of American culture meant that we missed out on some of the cultural changes that took place during the tumultuous seventies. By the time we returned to the States in 1979, a quite apparent cynicism toward government had set in, likely the result of Viet Nam and Watergate.  The sexual revolution of the sixties was pretty mainstream by the end of the 70s. Women had been liberated; African Americans were much more prominent in television and movies; and the extreme individualism of what some called the “Me Generation” had been legitimized in conservative politics.

Shortly after our return to the States, I accepted a position on the faculty of Oklahoma Christian University—a dream job for me.  Not only did I love the classroom, but the comradery of the faculty and staff, such a wonderful, intelligent, interesting group of people, filled a deep need that we had for friends and fellowship in our new home.

Every day after chapel, many faculty members would gather in the little room set aside as the faculty lounge on the backside of the Learning Center. After a while, I realized that one of the aspects of American culture that had changed was the way colleagues and friends discussed ideas, especially when they disagreed.  I had never been around people who obviously liked each other, but who poked at each other so sarcastically or at the ideas of a third party quite so cynically!  Often it was disguised in humor, but, in fact, to me it was barbed!

As a new and very junior member of the faculty, I usually just listened and tried to keep my mouth shut, especially when the more vocal ones pontificated and sarcastically dismissed those who tried to take them on.

One day a couple of months into my first semester, however, one of the leaders of the conversation started saying something about socialism in Europe, something which I knew to be completely absurd from our experiences in Germany, so I responded to him.  Well, in his own pompous way, he acknowledged my existence, but sarcastically dismissed my uninvited contribution.  He was not mean spirited; he was just humorously . . . dismissive.  I did not respond.

One of the other faculty members picked up on the fact that I might not be up to that kind of verbal combat, so he tried to draw me back into the conversation with a respectful query as to whether I wanted to respond to the One.

I don’t know where it came from, but I remembered something my Dad had said once, so I offered it as my own attempt at humor:

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I do.  My dad taught me once that you can’t outpuke a buzzard!”

I don’t know whether it was the unexpected response or the outlandish idea that this young nobody just off the boat from Germany might actually join the skirmish, but the whole room burst into appreciative laughter—even the One who had dismissed me–and from that day on, I never felt on the outside of the faculty again. I had won a place in the room.

In spite of my minor victory, I really never became comfortable with this mocking kind of conversation that had surfaced in the seventies.  I called it M*A*S*H humor because it seemed to be the predominant mode of Hawkeye and BJ. Their irreverence, their disregard of authority, their cynical and self-serving approach to most relationships had first entertained Americans, then became American.

Thirty-five years later, now much of what was humorously sarcastic and cynical has become vicious and uncivil. We do not make fun of our opponents with respect; we demonize them. Even worse, we mock them.

Let me conclude with some biblical wisdom about mockery and mockers. I will let you draw your own political and cultural conclusions from these God-inspired words:

Proverbs 21:24   The proud and arrogant person—“Mocker” is his name— behaves with insolent fury

Proverbs 21:24    Mockers are proud and haughty; they act with boundless arrogance.

Proverbs 9:7   Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults . . . .

Proverbs 15:12   Mockers resent correction, so they avoid the wise.

Proverbs 29:8   Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.

Proverbs 22:10   Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.

Psalm 1:1   Blessed is the one who does not . . . sit in the company of mockers

 

 

 

 

 

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Romans-13Probably because of the flurry of recent candidacy announcements along with the terrifying thought of two years of presidential campaigning, but I’ve been involved in two or three challenging conversations/discussions in the last few days specifically on the role of Christians in the political process.

Last Sunday night, for instance, our small group met for a study of Romans 13, where Paul makes the following extremely challenging statements:

  • “Those who are in positions of power (authority) have been placed there (established) by God.” (v.1)
  • “So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.” (v.2)
  • “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good.” (v.4)
  • “Give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” (v.7)

As if that were not clear enough, he wrote similar things to Titus in Chapter 3:

 Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.

Among whole rooms full of mature Christians, we did not have very much agreement on how to apply this Scripture.  Our questions began with the Bonhoeffer dilemma of whether as a Christian he had either godly permission to conspire to assassinate the maniacal head of Nazi Germany—or perhaps even the obligation—then we proceeded to the “right” to break the law and sit in the front of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama!

Some argued for differences if Christians live in a democratic society where resistance to authority is allowed within measure. But that exception only underlines questions about Christians in Communistic countries, monarchies, hegemonies, or even failed states with tribal warlords who exercise authority?

And do these Scriptures only apply on a national level? What about the state level, city level, employer level, family level?

Isn’t the real question, what is St. Paul really talking about?  I don’t have all the answers to these very difficult questions, but I do have some observations about a few things that seem pretty clear to me.

First, authority (government) is not a bad word! You may not like some particular form of government, but God has always organized His people, and they have always been required to submit to that authority—for their own good.  The earliest authorities were Moses and Aaron and those who rebelled against them were swallowed up by the earth itself (Numbers 16). After Joshua, God raised up judges (Judges 2:16) as the local officer of God among Israel.

Perhaps the worst moment in Jewish history is described at the end of the book of Judges, when the Holy Spirit records, In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). (If this sounds good to you, you need to re-read the Old Testament.)

Secondly, God’s intent is that authority is used for the good of His people. Neither Jesus nor Paul nor any of the early Christians lived under governments that were benevolent to Christians. Quite the contrary, both Jesus and Paul lost their lives to “authorities” as did many Christians.  And the Old Testament is full of examples of God punishing nations (kings, generals, nations) for their unrighteousness—for abusing people rather than doing them good.

Thirdly, the larger context of both the passages in Romans and Titus is that Christians should act with love towards all and for the good of others. Look at all of the admonitions leading into the command to submit to governing authorities:

  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse! (12:14)
  • Live in harmony with one another. (12:16)
  • Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. (12:17)
  • If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (12:18)
  • Do not take revenge. (12:19)
  • If your enemy is hungry, feed him. (12:20)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.  Does it help you to read these sentences together instead of pausing because they are divided by a big chapter heading?

Paul runs the whole idea together in the Titus passage as well:  Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

I don’t have all the answers to the biggest questions these passages raise, but I do think that I know what Jesus would say to American Christians heading into another season of presidential campaigning:

“Don’t slander anyone!  Be peaceable and considerate.  Be gentle toward everyone. Bless, and do not curse.”

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Did you hear the broadcast from Egypt on Sunday that told of Coptic Christians conducting mass in Tahrir Square?  What caught my attention was the report that Muslims surrounded the Christians in order to protect them while they worshipped. (Reuters, February 6 2011).

This action follows many reports of Egyptian Christians protecting Muslim men in the same square as they prayed last Friday. Coptic Christians make up approximately ten percent of the population of Egypt, perhaps the largest Christian community in the Arab world. (For background information, you might want to read this article from Foreign Policy.)

Have you heard about the big controversy among some Christians over whether Christian churches should rent church space to Muslims to conduct their prayer services. What do you think your church would do?

Recently, Christianity Today has featured several articles that raised questions about the relationship between Islam and Christianity as well as between Muslims and Christians.

Why We Opened Our Church to Muslims | A response to “Muslims in Evangelical Churches.” (January 27, 2011)

Muslims in Evangelical Churches | Does loving your neighbor mean opening your doors to false worship? (January 3, 2011)

From Informant to Informer | The “son of Hamas” senses God in his life before coming to Christ. (June 8, 2010)

Dispute in Dearborn | Small ministry creates big waves at Arab festival. (August 18, 2010)

Out of Context | Debate over ‘Camel method’ probes limits of Muslim-focused evangelism. (March 31, 2010)

How Muslims See Christianity | Many Muslims don’t understand Christianity—especially the idea of salvation by grace through faith. (March 1, 2000)

The above list appears in a lengthy article discussing the use of the phrase “Son of God” in Bible translations used in Muslim countries. It is an excellent discussion of the difficulties inherent in cross-cultural evangelism (Christianity Today, February 4, 2011).

 

If you are having trouble even reading the word Muslim without thinking terrorist, then I think you are a pretty normal American Christian.  Unfortunately, I think the dominate word in that last phrase is American, not Christian. But it is very difficult for many of us to separate the flag from the cross, isn’t it!

I am encouraged that in the middle of the political tumult, Christians in Egypt have acted like Christians to those who sometimes even persecute them.  I’m equally thrilled to see Muslims responding favorably to the Christians.

It begins to sound like the early chapters of Acts, you know those verses that describe the good that the first followers of Jesus did among the people who had killed Jesus (2:47) and the “good favor” that ensued from the entire community.

We and LST have been involved in faith-sharing work with Muslims for many years now. Our first experiences were in western Europe–which is struggling with a mushrooming Muslim population. Then later we began work in places that were secular politically though Muslim culturally, both in Asia and Africa.   I have no personal experience in the fundamentalist Arab Muslim countries, but I do know people who have worked there.

So I have many more questions than I have answers, but I am more and more convicted that not only is vilification of Muslim people wrong, but that either intentionally or indifferently ignoring them is equally ungodly.

I am convicted—as you are, I believe—that God so loved the Muslim world as well as the Christian world that He sent His only Son to die for the whole world!  Isn’t that what you believe too?

So how does that change anything for you today?

 

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Clint Loveness, a friend and Let’s Start Talking participant has created a great story video that speaks about young people, video games, and missions. You probably want to share this with your teens and grandteens!  It’s just over four minutes, so click below and enjoy it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJGuAInoOlk

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My task this weekend is to re-write what we have long called the Let’s Start Talking Guidelines. They are a list of non-negotiable behavior expectations that have grown up over the thirty years of our history.

For instance, we do not wish our workers to get involved with anyone romantically while on their mission project, so we have a No Romance policy.  I hope this seems reasonable enough to you, but because we work with many college students and because being away from home creates an exotic ambience even for adults, this is one problem area that seems to surface every year!

There are only sixteen such guidelines in their current form, so it is not cumbersome,  but over the years we have continued to revise them to the point that sometimes the primary expectation is no longer obvious.  For instance, our No Romance guideline now reads:

“Dating team members is a major distraction to the commitment you have made with LST. Spend that love, time, and attention on those who need it in order to find Jesus. Romantic relationships with Readers will block their ability to find Jesus. Involvement with church members will create undesired problems. From our years of experience, this area is one of the most sensitive. Keep your focus on spending all of your energy sharing Jesus.

See how mushy this is!  So let me tell you what my biggest problem is in this assignment. Maybe you can help!

I cannot find the right word!   Which word or phrase will describe this important document in a way that is neither offensive nor condescending to both our college and church workers? Which word might perhaps even motivate or inspire them to full ownership?  HELP!!!

Rules of Behavior is too authoritarian, but Guidelines sounds like The Ten Suggestions, which has no teeth.  Standards does not ask for commitment, but Commitments is a pretty strong word that makes people run for cover!  A Code sounds military (just think about A Few Good Men), Pledges makes me reach for my wallet, and Promises evokes strains of The Wedding March! Where is Shakespeare when you need him??

As we talked about this in our office common room today, it was interesting to notice which personalities went for which words!

Wait a minute! Therein lies a clue! Outside of gross criminal actions, we live in a society where no one really wants anyone to infringe on their own right to make their own decisions about their own behavior!!  Everybody wants to choose their own word!

How can we live in such a community? How can we live and work together?  How can two walk together unless they agree—on how to describe the mutual expectations to which they are willing submit?  I begin to think my semantic problem is a symptom of a spiritual problem!

After I finish my assignment, I’ll tell you some of the stories behind our guidelines, so you can consider them for your short-term mission project.

What word or phrase would you suggest I use?

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A ten-hour plane ride is ten-hour block of time—a rare opportunity!  Many people sleep it away, but from London to Dallas, you fly during the European and US daylight hours, so sleeping just doesn’t make any sense to me.  Sometimes I read, but I almost always check out the movie offerings. For me, those ten hours are an opportunity to watch movies that I probably would never pay money to see.

 I’m not necessarily looking for entertainment. As most of you know, I taught film and used popular culture extensively in my classes as a professor at Oklahoma Christian. I’ve always been interested in what popular culture tells us about the world around us.  So here is what I watched on Thursday as I was flying back home from London—with just a few review-like or random thoughts about each piece.

 Glee: The Pilot and one early episode – I had seen all kinds of headlines about this TV show since it appeared on TV screens in 2009, but I had never watched it. Glee is about a high school glee club, its members, and the faculty and students of a mid-western high school.  Much is absolutely predictable: the jocks vs. everyone, the beauties vs. the nerds, you know the groupings from your own high school days—so how could it be any other way! The show is meant to be optimistic and fun while dealing with problems of relationships, of emerging identities, and a pretty sizable dose of teen sexuality.  That sounds like high school to me also.  Here are my questions about its portrayal of high school in 2010:  are today’s highschoolers really that open and casual about sex, and are the teachers in the high schools so much like the adolescents?  It’s not a show for young children, maybe not for your teens if you like them sheltered from all of the possibilities out there, but it might be educational to you parents if you are of the protected variety yourselves.

 Vampire Diaries: Pilot  The massive interest in vampire stories is pretty interesting to me. Vampire stories have always included lots of suspense, sexual tension, questions about immortality, and, of course, the choice of life or death.  Perhaps the “hooking up” generation needs something edgy to make relationship stories interesting to them.  I did not see anything in the pilot that was the slightest bit different from the Twilight Series movies—just a TV version of the same. Maybe it has grown from the beginning, but I’m probably not going to find out—unless next year they have the second season on the airplane menu.

 Winter’s Bone (2010) This was a very raw portrayal of rural life of the poorest in almost anywhere in the deep South. The language, the morals, the requirements for staying alive –well there is very little that is civilized portrayed in this film. It has the feel, sometimes even the music, of Deliverance. Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old girl, trying to protect, and deliver her crazy mother and two younger siblings from losing their home because their father is running from the law for cooking meth.  The portrayal of the backwoods mafia families and codes of conduct is frightening. Ree’s determination and courage are the only redemptive values portrayed.  Not an easy film to watch, but not a bad film.

 Getting Low (2009)  I saw the trailer to this film at the theater years ago, but the trailer made it look like a goofy movie about an eccentric hermit who wants to throw his own funeral party.  The previews did this film no service; it was much better than the trailers portrayed.  Robert Duval just never stops being a great actor! And he has a special affinity for roles that are mildly moral, religious, even Christian—just think about Tender Mercies (1983) and The Apostle(1997). The story is really about a man who has jailed himself away in a cabin for forty years for a sin he committed in his youth. Now, in old age, he wants to confess his sin and be forgiven.  Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black all do outstanding jobs as well in this fine little film.

Book of Eli (2010) Much has been written about this film, so I will be brief. Denzel Washington is and has always been one of the best. Most of this film is rather bleak and often violent, but the moments when Eli has his emotions called out are just as good as the unforgettable moments in Glory when the new, young actor Washington, steals the movie.  And The Bible gets good press in this movie; even the villain knows the power of the Words, and like all Satans, wants to use them for his own power and glory.  There is no doubt about the outcome.

 Airplane movies are usually cleaned up, so I have no idea what the theater version might contain that I did not see.  That’s my disclaimer in case you rent any of these and are shocked that I would watch it. I do, however, believe there is a difference in watching to learn and watching to be entertained—but that’s a topic for later.

 Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to you!

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The city of Rothenburg ob der Taube was first settled in 960 A.D.  OK, stop and think about that for a moment. That is 532 years before Columbus discovered America.  I hardly know how to relate to dates like that.  But here is the date that really caused me to pause and think:  the first Christian church was built in Rothenburg in 968. 

Now I know that the 10th century is 900 years after Paul started churches in Turkey, Greece, and other places, but what that means is that people in this valley next to the Taube River have had some exposure to the name of Jesus and the story of Jesus for over one thousand years.

One thousand years is time enough for many things to happen, for instance:

  • the simple story of Jesus can morph into a complicated, unknowable story, one that only seminary-educated people are supposed to or expected to know.
  • the community of Christ can evolve into a state-organized community listed primarily on rolls for tax collection purposes.
  • the faith of those that would leave the civilized world to build a church in the middle of paganism can evolve into a kind of Christian paganism–a phrase that to me means simple disbelief of the real story but a disbelief described  in words that were formerly Christian words.
  • the buildings constructed on the backs of and at the expense of several generations of peasants, a sacrifice made because of very simple faith but devout faith, these buildings are now museums, some museums of culture and others museums of faith–not much difference really.
  • the values preached and practiced by those earliest Christians have had time to simply be absorbed into the culture–no longer recognized as Christian values, just good values.

All of these thoughts, rather than being reason for discouragement, can also be taken as a challenge for the Christian warrior–not an image we really use very much any more.  At the Euro-American Retreat in Rothenburg, there are about 135 people from twenty different countries, many of whom qualify as Christian warriors though.

There are American missionaries from Albania, from France, from Belgium, from Austria. There are national evangelists from Romania,  from Ukraine, from Italy, from Germany. Then there are the foot soldiers, not missionaries or preachers, but Christians who live in the middle of pagan, of secular, of formerly Christian and formerly Communistic societies, who are here to be encouraged and strengthened, so that they can go back and fight some more!

That’s one of the reasons we love being on mission fields with people who live in mission fields. They know they are in a battle, they know that they are fighting against immense odds. Nothing would suggest that they will win the battle–nothing except their absolute faith in the Victory of Jesus. 

Thanks to Phil Jackson from Missions Resource Network for keeping this retreat alive. It began as an American military retreat when Europe was full of American soldiers. Phil has developed a quality program for all Christians and a growing number now recognize the benefit of spending these 4-5 days together.  Let me recommend it to you!

Tomorrow, Sherrylee, Cassie, and I leave for home via an overnight in London. We are going to take Cassie to the Tower of London and to Phantom of the Opera.  She may remember London more in the future, but I believe she will be shaped more by the conversations with Bill Wilson, with the van Erps, with the Brazles–both couples–and with the workers in Hildesheim. I’m so glad she is with us in Rothenburg; I want her to be a true believer in the Victory for the rest of her life!!

Thanks for going with us on this journey.  We will talk again next week after we recover from Thanksgiving.

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