Category Archives: Culture

5 Things Christians Should Avoid Saying

This is an interesting list that resonates with me because I grew up with these types of simplistic responses.  Here are the five responses that Christians should avoid.

“That’s Really Just a First World Problem.”

“I’ll Be Praying For You.”

“Are You Saved?”

 “I Have an Unspoken Prayer Request.”

“Don’t Worry, God Has a Plan.”

Read more for elaboration on these points.

Please leave your comments and questions.

Phil Robertson and the Liberal Media

Let me begin with a confession: I have seen the equivalent of 30 minutes of Duck Dynasty. This makes me uncommitted to the show. I have no intention of watching any more of it. At least, until Phil Robertson goes out and hits a home-run. A&E exercising their free speech called it a foul ball, and beyond that treated Phil as unprofessional. Rumors are that Phil has been looking for a reason to leave and he just found himself one.

Governor Bobby Jindal summarized the situation when he wrote:

It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.

There are a couple of assumptions that need to be discussed from the outset. These assumptions shape the way we react to such news. First, what did Phil Robertson say? He said bluntly:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus,” Robertson says in the January issue of the men’s magazine. “That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

Let’s leave the anatomy details aside. Part of the argument is that sin is not logical. It’s non-sensical. Or as I have said elsewhere, sin is stupid. Phil Robertson’s world is a logical one. Don’t be distracted by his hunting gear, the man is truly a savvy biblical theologian.

The first assumption Christian must make in any discussion on public/social cultural matters is that sin is non-sensical. And we live in a world where sin is treated as fashion.

Secondly, this goes directly to Piers Morgan’s latest tweet:

Phil Robertson is not a ‘victim of political correctness’. He’s a victim of his own repulsively racist, homophobic bigotry.

Let’s be honest. Political correctness is one aspect here of how the liberal media treated our redneck hero. But the other assumption we must make is that what passes for “repulsively racist, homophobic bigotry” is just simply biblical religion. Now, of course, I’d argue that the Bible is just and right and holy. And the Gospel of grace, which puts up no walls of partition, is the farthest thing from racist and repulsive, but again, this is how they will see biblical Christianity expressed. So, assumption number two is that the message of the Bible is repulsive to those who deny its authority; or better, to quote St. Paul, “it is foolishness to the world.”

When Myley Cyrus exalted the god of promiscuity she was exalting the god of the liberal media. Myley Cyrus is the world’s wisdom.

Finally, some more sophisticated Christian thinkers may say that the way Phil used his words were drawing attention only to one element of the conversation, namely, that of body parts. The argument then is, female body parts–for men– are more attractive than male body parts. The argument does not need to stop there, but it should include it. Yes, the body is God’s design for pleasure, and to deny it is to affirm a form of gnostic god of your own. The marriage bed is undefiled, but it is defiled when it is populated by members of the same sex and members of the opposite sex who should be far away from that bed. Phil is assuming an undefiled marriage bed. So, the final assumption is that however sophisticated our argument, we need to express the sacredness of that bed, and the defilement of that bed when it is populated by un-godly partners.

Still, to the fancy conservative Christians out there expecting a more Augustinian anthropology to be announced from the mouth of a simple man who loves God and guns is to expect too much, and thus fails to be an adequate critique. Yes, there is much more that can be said about the matter, but sometimes a simple affirmation of what’s right and wrong should be sufficient.

And still one more note. Though Phil Robertson’s arguments may not have been helpful in a pastoral counseling room, it was precisely what the media needed to hear. As a result, the marriage issue is a front story. And we need to keep marriage as a front story again and again.

The Crucifixion of Marriage

“A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not “die to itself” that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage. The real sin of marriage today is not adultery or lack of “adjustment” or “mental cruelty.” It is the idolization of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed toward the Kingdom of God. This is expressed in the sentiment that one would “do anything” for his family, even steal. The family has here ceased to be for the glory of God; it has ceased to be a sacramental entrance into his presence. It is not the lack of respect for the family, it is the idolization of the family that breaks the modern family so easily, making divorce its almost natural shadow. It is the identification of marriage with happiness and the refusal to accept the cross in it. In a Christian marriage, in fact, three are married; and the united loyalty of the two toward the third, who is God, keeps the two in an active unity with each other as well as with God. Yet it is the presence of God which is the death of the marriage as something only “natural.” It is the cross of Christ that brings the self-sufficiency of nature to its end. But “by the cross, joy entered the whole world.” Its presence is thus the real joy of marriage. It is the joyful certitude that the marriage vow, in the perspective of the eternal Kingdom, is not taken “until death parts,” but until death unites us completely.” – Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

Why Ministers Leave

The typical pastor stays in a church for 3.6 years. This does not seem to offer much hope for any long-term vision for a local parish. Planning ahead seems futile from the outset. This discouraging number stems from a variety of issues. Some pastors, fresh out of seminary, attempt to revive a church that has already died a thousand deaths. Their optimism suffers the same amount of deaths within the first twelve months. Other pastors eager to persuade a congregation of his theology immerse with psalmic zeal into the nuances of his dogmatic learning only to find that the congregation does not share the same interest or enthusiasm. In many cases pastoral conflicts ensue among staff ultimately leading to each one doing what is right in their own eyes. And the reasons for the 3.6 number can be multiplied.

In Dr. John Gilmore’s Pastoral Politics: Why Ministers Resign he observes the phenomenon of pastoral departure from various angles. In particular, he wants to offer hope to pastors who have gone through the terrible emotional pain of leaving or being forced to leave a congregation. He observes that “Both undergraduate Christian college and seminary courses should do a better job of proactively addressing the matter of pastoral closure.” Pastors usually leave their congregations under tremendous stress and uncertain about their future. If the numbers are right, “resignation” is a common word to the majority of congregations in this country.

When a pastor resigns he is not only leaving his job, he is leaving his life. The pastorate is not merely the exercising of rhetorical skills, but actually the exercising of life skills. No profession is so immersed in the lives of ordinary people than the pastorate. This past Sunday alone during our congregation’s fellowship time I engaged in over 10 different conversations in the space of 30 minutes. From children to older saints, each conversation was important to me because they were manifestations of what was important to my parishioners. As far as I am aware no profession (and I use that term broadly) is so engaged in the well-being of fellow men than the pastorate. And so when a pastor resigns, he resigns not just from a job, but from his life; the life he knew and invested in heart, mind, soul, and strength.

There is no doubt the ecclesiastical charlatans and wolves are out there, and to hell with them! But when the local pastor who sees his unique calling to shepherd and care for his flock resigns he loses more than just a salary, but in many ways his spirit.

Jonathan Edwards understood this. In his farewell sermon he prepared his congregants by saying that it was a matter of vast importance how a people treat their ministers, and in some ways the future of that minister is in the hands of how the sheep treat their shepherd, or as Edwards puts it, “how they receive and entertain a faithful minister of Christ.” Parishioners need to be aware that the implications of Hebrews 13:17 weighs heavily each day to the local minister.

As I stated in a homily delivered at a recent ordination service, no profession undergoes the ups and downs of life so quickly than that of a pastor. He may be rejoicing in the heavenly places on Sunday as he leads his congregation in adoration only to be confronted with a parishioner eager to seek a divorce after 20 years of marriage on Monday morning.

With that in mind, the 3.6 year average seems almost justifiable. But there is hope. And the hope lies not in some pastoral technique or on superb leadership skills, but in the Spirit of God through his intervening grace. The Third Person of the Trinity is the sustainer of the body through the Pentecostal fire poured in the church’s infancy and continued into the church’s maturity. It is by grace that those numbers are not lower and it is by grace that those numbers will increase and no longer reflect the evangelical scene.

May congregations learn to nourish their pastors in love and may pastors nourish their people in every spiritual blessing. And may pastors look with hope to the future of their parishes in the 20-30 years ahead and see the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and care bear much fruit in the lives of their people, their children, and their children’s children.

My Sheep Hear My Voice: The Hope of the Addict

I just received a book from a man I have never met, but who sought me a few years ago. He had written a book about his journey from addiction to non-addiction. I phrase it in those words because there wasn’t much he was going to when he left his addiction, except the non-practice of that addiction.

It has been a few years, and now that same book has been revised. I intend to provide a video review for him on youtube. I wrote a short review here some years ago. The revised book has a new title: My Journey Through Addictions to Salvation: A New Beginning. This is no longer an addiction to non-addiction journey, but one from misery to grace.

The Gospel Lesson for this Lord’s Day in John 10:22-30 is a reminder of this grace. Jesus calls His sheep, and what is unique about this calling is that His sheep have a uniquely tuned ear to realize that the voice calling is of their Shepherd.

The question before us is not whether we can free ourselves from addiction; the world has perfected that art in many ways, but the question is to what are we going to after the addiction? If this is going to be a long journey, then what is waiting at the end of that journey? Is it the absence of pills and alcohol? Or is it the presence of the Shepherd who calls you by name?

The reality is that for the addict who is free from his dependence he will always be seeking something to fill that gap. Previously drugs and alcohol (or whatever it might have been) filled that need, but Jesus promises to be the ultimate protector and satisfaction for His sheep. He will be the supplier of that need and no one will snatch His sheep from finding satisfaction in Him.

On the Death of Bonhoeffer

The doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s execution described it this way:

Early the next morning, April 9, Bonhoeffer, Wilhelm Canaris, Hans Oster, and four fellow conspirators were hanged at the extermination camp of Flossenbürg. The camp doctor, who had to witness the executions, remarked that he watched Bonhoeffer kneel and pray before being led to the gallows. “I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer,” he wrote. “At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. . . . In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

Saturday Night Live (SNL), DJesus Uncrossed, the Romans, the Jews and the God of the Bible

DJesus UnCrossed is SNL’s latest attempt to de-christ Christ. Of course, in our day, Jesus is easy to disrespect. One wonders if SNL would attempt a comedy journey through the life of Muhammad. No further comments needed.

David Flowers believes that the skit has something to teach us, and that we should begin to listen to our critics. He argues that the skit has hermeneutical problems, but that it shows our hypocrisy and inconsistency in our faith. Flowers argues that this is the result of an American-shaped Jesus. He is correct to assert that humor has a way of offending Christians and revealing weaknesses and hypocrisy. We should be aware of them.


The Jesus raised from the dead murdering Romans out of revenge seems bizarre in light of the biblical narrative. Flowers is correct to assert that it reveals the Jesus kick-ass motif portrayed by many in our evangelical culture. It is easy to object to the video’s false portrayals, but in what sense is this skit true, even with its exaggerative and faulty hermeneutics? There is something to be learned here. Flowers is correct that we are to listen to our critics. The point, however, is that our critics don’t go far enough.

Surely the 2nd Amendment Rights’ Jesus is very American and Neo-Conservative like. But that doesn’t even begin to describe the type of justice-driven Messiah we as Orthodox Christians believe.

For starters, we believe in a Messiah that is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and from that place of kingship rules and reigns over us and creation. He is not an unmoved Mover. Further, Jesus did not have the Romans in mind when He judged, He had the corrupt and idolatrous first century Jewish generation in mind. Upon them, He brought a profound tribulation (Mt. 24). The Gospel Lesson this Sunday is Luke 13:31-35 where Jesus laments over Jerusalem. He sought her with love, but she continued to kill and murder the prophets sent with a message of salvation and deliverance. The vengeful Jesus portrayed by SNL has no interest in context, but it should well observe that the Messiah who destroys is first the Messiah who shows mercy.

How Can we Learn from SNL?

First, Saturday Night Live is not a theology show. Its humor is devoid of accuracy, and frankly, that is not their interest. They have been on the air for 37 years because of their exaggerated (especially in the last ten years) view of current events. This is important to keep in mind.

Secondly, use these opportunities to correct false information. Bill Maher, the well-known HBO atheist host, does this better than anyone I know. He takes a portion of Scriptures and twists its meaning in a fashion that would make even the devil jealous. This is a good time for Christians to be hermeneutically savvy. In fact, go ahead and make a t-shirt with that slogan “I am hermeneutically savvy.”

Thirdly, do not allow an exclusively New Covenant narrative to shape your theology. As James Jordan observes: “The division of the Bible into “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is merely for convenience, for the Scriptures are one narrative from beginning to end.” It is important to note also that this one narrative portrays God as a God of justice who says all vengeance belongs to Him. The modern Marcionites have failed us just as much as SNL has.

Finally, remember that the life of Jesus–especially as we meditate upon it in this Lenten Season–is a life of cross before glory; suffering before resurrection. The Jesus that came out of the grave was first a Jesus that came riding on a donkey as the Prince of Peace. But that same Jesus has promised to come again riding a horse of judgment upon Jerusalem and upon all those who despise His Name.

What Would I Tell Tim Tebow?

Timothy Hatfield asked me what I would tell Tebow if I were his pastor. Since I have offered some positive observations of the Tebow phenomenon in the past, I felt compelled to offer a few brief words of pastoral advice:

One: Don’t sexualize the gospel…your image is important to many Christians in this country. You have developed a great reputation and God has blessed you with tremendous gifts not only in the field, but as a voice of the broader evangelical community for many Christians who have felt oppressed in the world of sports. Two: These types of ventures do not reflect the gospel which you embrace. Desist/stay away from these types of endeavors because they only prove the point that many have made that Christianity is only a means/ a form of manipulative tool to accomplish success in life. Three: Tell the congregation that what you did is beneath your call as a servant and representative of the Most High God. Your actions have only served to accentuate the sex-driven/image-saturated vision of the world. So, repent of your actions. Use your body as a gift in the sport you love and for the wife you will one day have. Finally, flee youthful lusts and turn to your Church and to godly leaders for wisdom. Read Proverbs, then read it again, and place your career and your life daily at the mercy of Jesus your righteous Lord.

Update: It is now known that Tim Tebow did not take these pictures recently, but rather six years ago.

Comments: Tebow may be blameless in this situation, but he did not the “avoiding the appearance of evil” principle. GQ’s reputation is far known as a metrosexual magazine.  Tebow in an interview simply expressed the discrepancy in the dating of the picture. As far as I am concerned he made no reference to the rightness of wrongness of the matter. In a conspicuously sexualized culture and in a culture where pictures last forever and pop up at the most inopportune time, players who claim the name of Jesus need to be even more aware of their presence and involvement.

The issue is that the picture was a mere continuation of a culture replete with sex symbols. If Tebow desires to be an image of godliness–and I believe we need thousands of more Eric Liddell’s–then he needs to be aware of his surroundings. Since he has been given a greater spotlight than others his testimony requires an even more intense watchfulness.

Further, Tebow needs to distance himself from these pictures immediately. He should make that clear in the media, since the majority of people–and the media–believe he intentionally posed in a cruciform manner posing as a “sexy Jesus” (to quote major on-line news sources). If this is the public perception, then he needs to distance himself from it. Repent publicly and affirm that that particular lifestyle does not represent who he is today as a man. This is not much to demand from a national icon who has become known as a the poster boy for authentic Christianity.

Re-Taking Mars Hill

Russell Moore tackles the oft used and abused passage from Acts. The entire article is worth consuming. Moore concludes:

Christians must make sense of pop culture by judging it in terms of the story we embrace. When that happens, we’ll find ourselves back on Mars Hill. But let’s make sure we’re there because we are, as Paul was, preaching Jesus and the resurrection, not because we’ve started a new business making “unknown god” action figures. We probably won’t be considered “cool” to the culture—whether or not we’re able to sell music downloads to Christians.

But, once on the Hill, let’s not be surprised if, at the mention of the resurrection of the body, a bored-looking American consumer presses the pause button on his iPod, to listen for a while.

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