Posts Tagged ‘Scripture’

This is a follow up to my post from Thursday about an article in Christianity Today.  It’s a very long article about a phenomenon within the Church which Professor Bergler calls “juvenilization”.  I am making the case that this is actually true of our entire culture, secular and sacred.

The more I think about the notion that an entire culture has succumbed to the allure of youth, and trapped itself in immaturity, the more troubled I become. Once upon a time, I thought the cult of youth was just the worship of the body beautiful–lithe, smooth-skinned young flesh–and a corresponding fear of aging and death.  But I fear the truth is far more frightening and insidious.  The more we become a “visual” culture, the more easily we fall into this trap of juvenilization…the hypnotic draw of TV, video, computer, and ‘Droid have sucked us in.  We read less, we react more.  We ponder less, we play more.  We don’t reflect, we just “like” reflexively.

We blame it all on being busy…we don’t have time to read something substantial. Give me the news briefs, please. Give me the short sentences, the pithy paragraphs, the headlines.  Read a book?  Well…maybe on Kindle, where I can keep pausing to play Angry Birds.  But our appetite for sound bites seems to leave us empty of deep thought while forever hungry for more hot air.

This vicious cycle–where did it start?  Bergler claims that within the Church community it was a result of trying to “market” Christianity to youth.  I could spend a lot of time researching and reporting to you what I think is at the root of this cultural phenomenon.

But it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that we work to regain a society of mature people who aren’t afraid of careful reading carefully and reasoning logically, who don’t flinch away from ideas that are unsettling or demanding.  So I want to talk about solutions.

This morning my pastor put a book in my hands.  It was a ‘thank you’ for a very minor job I volunteered to do awhile back.  I’ll tell you the title in a minute.  But in the introduction, these words are quoted:  “As a man thinketh, so is he.”  This is from Proverbs 23:7, and in context simply means that you can’t judge what someone thinks of you by their words–they may be outwardly polite and inwardly cursing you.  The author, Robert P. Morgan, wants to make a case for this verse meaning that what we think defines who we are.  This has led him to write a book about what we put into our minds, in this specific case, verses of Scripture.

Although I think the verse in Proverbs is weak as a foundation, I have no problem with his premise:  “garbage in/garbage out” is a truism.  And there are other Scriptures which say much the same thing, my favorite being from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, chapter 4, verse 8:

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,  whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.

So DO we want to be commendable, morally excellent, truthful, honorable, pure?  …Then I suggest that reading, watching, absorbing a steady diet of tripe, gossip, pornography, violence and lies is probably not an effective strategy.   I don’t personally think the majority of Americans want to be trivial, gossipy, thrill-seeking, simplistic and vulgar.  But somewhere along the line, we’ve gotten the idea that we can give lip service to an ideal, then go and do whatever we want, whatever is easy, comfortable, fun, relaxing, low key and unchallenging.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer indicted the Church for doing this to faith.  He called it “cheap grace”…the notion that one can say a prayer of commitment to Jesus, and show up in church on Sundays when convenient, and–no worries, never have to really work at a faithful life, never need to change a habit, strive to do better, seek truth ever again.

Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.

I think this is a real problem within the Church, because we’ve absorbed the attitude of our culture, to do everything the easiest way possible.  Movements like the “Rebelution” Do Hard Things youth conferences were excitingly counter-culture,and I pray that they have ignited a spark of fire in our youth.  Meanwhile, I fear that most of us in this country enjoy “cheap patriotism”: the sense that we’re entitled, as Americans, to all the rights and privileges that pertain thereto, but owe nothing in return…not so much as the duty to be well informed before we enter a voting booth.  

Of course young people want to do what’s quick and easy…it’s human nature.  That doesn’t make it right, wise or best.  That’s why God gave them parents…to model for them that doing what takes more time, energy and thought is not only better in the long run, it brings even short-term satisfaction, and builds character in ways that no short cut ever can.

That book title?  100 Bible Verses everyone should know by heart.  In the interest of countering creeping juvenility, I’m going to start here and now, with this book.   My hope is that the more I fill my mind with God’s truth, the more that Truth will come out in my conversations with those in my circle of influence, including unsaved friends and neighbors…and a precious granddaughter.  That is certainly incentive to avoid cheap grace and cheap patriotism, too.

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Sharing Stories

This morning Pastor Joe Snider preached on John 6, the passage I was meditating on in my last post. As he was talking about the difficult statement of Jesus (and he pointed out that Jesus makes lots of hard, sweeping statements) that we must eat His body and drink His blood, Pastor Joe shared this story from his own life. I hope he won’t mind my repeating it here.

As new parents of an infant daughter, living far from their extended family, Joe and Sally were alarmed to find that their five-month-old had turned orange. Not the sickly yellow cast of jaundice, but pumpkin orange. They rushed her to a “crusty old pediatrician” who seemed to enjoy diagnosis by Socratic method. “What do you think is wrong with her?” the doctor asked. “What do you think we should do about it?” “Well, we were favoring the ‘total freak-out’ approach, Doc,” Joe quipped, to much congregational laughter.

Finally the doctor asked the obvious question: “What has she been eating lately?” Sally explained that she’d recently begun to eat solid food, but that she didn’t seem to like anything except strained carrots. Bingo. The old man sighed and rolled his eyes. “You are what you eat, you know!”

And without a missing a beat, Pastor Joe looked at us. “And we’re supposed to eat His body and drink His blood.” Silence–the good kind–descended on the sanctuary as truth took hold. Ah, yes. Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Come to Him, believe in Him. Digest His words. Become more like Him. And live forever.

This is not only good preaching, it is an example of the value of parables from our own lives. What parables from your life could you share in such a way that a God-truth becomes clearer to those you tell? Which of your stories might be “borrowed” and told to others because they contain such power? Go and tell someone a story… maybe even this one.

And say “thanks for sharing” to Pastor Joe.

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John 5:1-15. A Meditation.

Just another day lying around the Pool. The portico is packed as usual. Good thing he got here early, got his spot. Not that it matters–when the waters are stirred up, it doesn’t seem to matter: others push past him, he misses out on the healing. Oh well. There are worse places than the Bethesda Pool. In 38 years he’s seen a few of them. This place is better than most.

A voice he doesn’t recognize speaks in his ear. “Do you want to get well?” He laughs as he turns his head, squinting into the light which seems to hide the face hovering above him. “Wha–?” Several heartbeats pass, and apparently the stranger wants an answer. It’s not so easy to answer, you know? Can I even picture getting “well”? What does this guy want of me anyway, asking a question like that? Does he think I haven’t tried? I’m lying here, ain’t I? I’m not begging at the Temple, I’m looking for the water cure, but…

“Hey, it’s not my fault! When the water is stirred, everybody gets in ahead of me. I always miss out. Just my bad luck, I guess. ” He turns back toward the pool, hoping the man will go away. It would be easier not to think about things like that. “Healed?” What would he do then? He’d have to earn a living and what does he know how to do anyway? No one expects anything of him here. If he were whole, he’d need to be up and doing.


Do I ever linger in that shadow world by the pool? The colonnade is shaded, not unpleasant. Being an invalid lets me off the hook. Whether crippled by an old grief or a recurring disappointment in people that prevents trust…maybe I’m emotionally fragile, and it’s easier for others not to rely on me. Maybe I can’t deal with stress, the pressure of having responsibility. Can I picture myself healed?

Jesus is so no-nonsense with the lame man. Not getting the simple yes-or-no answer that His question demanded, He just says, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Just DO it, in other words. No more excuses, no “poor me”. He takes away the right to be a victim. And now there are expectations: “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Some believe in order to be healed. Some are supposed to believe because they’ve been healed. But we all are without excuse.

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