When Big Bird Died

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No, Big Bird didn’t actually die. Nor did the puppeteer who has played him. Nor will the character, who will now be embodied by an understudy. But, with Sesame Street’s 50th anniversary quickly approaching, the man who has pulled the strings for the past 50 years, Caroll Spinney, is calling it quits this week.

Spinney recently said in aNY Times article that the demands of the job have simply become too much at the age of 84. In fact, Spinney ceased doing the physical portion of the role in 2015 and has only been providing the voice since.

The 8-foot-2 bird was apparently originally intended to be portrayed as“a funny, dumb country yokel.” But after a few episodes, Spinney instead suggested to the producers that he portray Big Bird as a child surrogate.“He can be all the things that children are. He can learn with the kids.” And for the rest of the next 50 years, that’s what he did.

Jeffrey Dunn, the president and chief executive of Sesame Workshop concluded,“Big Bird has always had the biggest heart on Sesame Street, and that’s Caroll’s gift to us.” 

For many of us, Sesame Street was a way by which we safely learned not only our A-B-C’s, but also essential social life lessons like compassion, kindness, and gentleness. For parents, Sesame Street, led by the colorful curiosity of an 8-foot, child-like avian counterpart, was like a free (or at least publicly funded) educational and emotional tutor.

But have things changed? Have kids changed?

Most would likely argue that Sesame Street was clever, entertaining, educational, and mostly innocuous. Nonetheles, probably more than any other form of modern entertainment in the past half century, Sesame Street conditioned a national “teach my kids for me” attitude. I’m obviously not suggesting that having kids watch Sesame Street meant negligent parenting. I’m simply making the case that a free, safe, digitally available resource that allowed parents to let go of being hands-on with their kiddos could become problematic. Household TV’s were common by 1969, the advent of Sesame Street, and the idea that TV’s can help raise kids became common as well.

The entertainment world (and the world in general) shifted drastically as the internet was commercialized in 1995. With 2-3 generations of parents already accustomed to leaning on technology to assist with parenting, it seemed obvious that personal computers, tablets, and smartphones would also deliver the necessary content to raise our kids. It’s cheaper and more sophisticated than ever.

And that leads us to what American psychologist Jean Twenge, perhaps our country’s brightest generational researcher, calls “iGen” – the generation after Millennials/Gen Z. They were born between 1995 and 2012. They are the most diverse generation in America’s history and total 74 million (24% of the population). And all of them will have experienced adolescence in the age of the smartphone. In her book by the same name, Twenge argues that today’s youth are growing up less rebellious and more tolerant, but less happy, anxiety-ridden, and completely unprepared for adulthood.

Big Bird represented a naive child that knew and understood almost nothing, so constantly asked questions to adults who cared for him. Today’s hyper-connected child “knows” everything, or at least has access to all available human knowledge, but still understands nothing – a dangerous combo. We literally have heartless devices in our homes by which we can say, “Alexa, Siri, Google….give me the information I’m curious about,” and they do, without concern for a child’s soul. This is a monumental shift.

Consider, for instance, how we’ve transitioned from a culture where in 1988, the movie BIG, starring Tom Hanks, was the tale of a typical child who wanted to grow up too quickly, to today, a culture of teens intentionally postponing the transition into adulthood. Research suggests that this is the most self-cloistered, safest generation we’ve seen. While there is some positive here, the delayed adulthood and prolonged adolescence creates some issues we’re only beginning to understand. For example, the average child’s awareness today of social tensions and human sexuality has drastically accelerated from where it was 50 years ago. Every world problem found on the internet is my problem. Every possible option found on the internet is my option. Again, this isn’t all bad, but unlimited information at an age where you’re not mature enough to handle the information can become harmful.

This is seen in perhaps the most obvious and concerning shift with iGen – a massive spike in teen anxiety and depression. Between 2012 and 2015, depression amongst teens rose 21% in boys and 50% in girls. Twenge says that after declining in the 1990s and stabilizing in the 2000s, the suicide rate for teens has risen again. 46% more 15-19 year-olds committed suicide in 2015 than 2007. 2½ times more 12-15 year-olds killed themselves. Twenge goes on to say,“It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

What Do We Do?

I think the general takeaway here is that you simply can’t rely on the surrounding culture to provide the guardrails necessary to disciple your child. The truth is that you never could. And for that matter, you should never rely even on your church, your child’s school, or any youth ministry to disciple your children either. These obviously aren’t bad things, but they’re not parental substitutes. Churches should never take away from parents what parents are called to do and churches (as an organization) are not fully equipped to do – i.e. Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Prov. 22:6)

I’ve recently taught on two texts in a row that make this point, and it’s become incredibly apparent to me that God designs for parents (ideally both mother and father) to play a hands-on role in this child-rearing.

“Fathers (or parents), do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (Col. 3:21)

“Fathers (or parents), do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4)

Consider cutting your kids screen time down. Perhaps a weeklong fast. If a 16-year-old can’t survive a week without social media, this probably points to a deeper problem. What they’re ultimately craving in social media is deep relationship. And no one is better equipped to offer that, and shape their psychological wellness, than their God-appointed parents.

The most hellish experience that Jesus Christ ever faced was the moment he cried out and couldn’t find his Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34) Fortunately for us he willfully chose to experience that cosmic estrangement in our place. But we obviously wouldn’t wish anything remotely close upon our kids. So hug them and kiss them and spend significant time with them. Be closer to them than their portable devices.

Kaeptivating Campaign

You’ve likely seen Nike’s new campaign. It stars Colin Kaepernick, probably the most polarizing figure of the past several years not named Donald Trump.

In 2016, Kaepernick came into the national spotlight when he controversially chose to kneel during the United States national anthem, which is played before each NFL game. Kaepernick would go on to describe his behavior as a protest against racial injustice in our country. He told media outlets “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Some perceived Kaepernick’s silent protest as an admirable, non-violent freedom of expression that brought attention to an important cause, i.e. oppression of minority groups. Others perceived Kaepernick’s actions as disrespectful to our flag, our country, and the members of the United States armed forces who risk their lives to protect the rights symbolized by that flag.

This debate will not be settled and I have no desire to try to persuade you one way or the other. As a country in which the majority has lost the pursuit of God’s glory as our highest cause, we’re never going to be able to determine which is a more important issue – respect of minority or respect of armed forces, racism or nationalism. Unless God is our highest cause, we have no ability to respectfully debate important, but proportionately lesser issues. Christians are born again to be Christians first, and American/other next, black/white next, male/female next, Republican/Democrat next. But this generation hasn’t been born again.

This kneeling debate won’t get settled, and can’t get settled, because we’ve publicly lost the common ground necessary for even having an ethics debate in the first place.

As polarizing as Kaepernick’s actions have been, of course an advertising campaign featuring him – Nike’s 30 year anniversary “Just Do It” celebration – is naturally just as polarizing. The immediate financial impact is mixed for Nike, as the stock immediately dropped 3% due to public backlash, but online sales have reportedly spiked by 31%. Further evidence of the divisive nature of the campaign, two small Christian colleges – Truett McConnell University in northern Georgia and College of the Ozarks in southwest Missouri – have removed any Nike merchandise from their stores and changed companies for their uniforms, all while several marketing executives have labeled the campaign a “stroke of genius” that speaks directly to the heart of the brand’s core constituents.

Again, time will tell on the financial merit of the campaign, but the basic debate will remain unsettled.

The thing that actually fascinates me most about the campaign is Kaepernick’s soliloquy, which is powerful, and the accompanying tagline. It might be the most religious-sounding language in a secular commercial I’ve ever heard. Kaepernick narrates the entire 2 minute 20 second piece. In his opening comments, he says,

“What non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream ‘crazy’ is not an insult; it’s a compliment.”

If you take that out of context, it almost sounds like something that could be written by the early church fathers. This is followed by a one-minute summary of inspirational sports stories. But the climactic moment is when Kaepernick says,

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

This is captivating language. The problem is that he’s talking about sports. I love sports, but an adult knows they’re not worth the level of passion Kaepernick is describing. Sports are incredibly fun and help teach a multitude of valuable life lessons. But that’s the point – they’re NOT life, they only help us understand real life. They’re not worthy of this type of rhetoric, let alone sacrificing EVERYTHING in your life. Even when you admire Kaepernick’s position in the fight against social injustice, some fear that the ad might be watering down his overall message for the sake of promoting an athletic brand.

C.S. Lewis was insistent that the greatest themes in literature were powerful precisely because they latched on to themes of the gospel, the one truly great story. I’ve written before about how fictional superheroes are attractive precisely because they latch on to some aspect of the one true hero, Jesus. Similarly, Kaepernick’s words here are inspiring precisely because they sound amazingly like that of the true Messiah. Listen to just one example of Jesus’ call to discipleship:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:24-25)

Colin Kaepernick’s call to radical sacrifice for the sake of a transcendent goal is moving, but if it’s Nike’s call for sports dominance, it’s foolish. If it’s a call for social justice, which is his real intent, it’s worthy and impactful. But if you take those words and make them about the salvation of all mankind, then it’s the most important thing ever.

If you haven’t noticed in recent years, a good percentage of the best-selling Christian books, from authors like Francis Chan to David Platt to Jenn Hatmaker, have been about Christian radicalism. They are arguably reactionary to the “Best Life Now” Christianity of the early 2000s. Christians are learning that comfort in this life is not the highest goal for the called. Rather, discipleship means that you believe in the Jesus thing. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Kudos to Nike and Kaepernick for helping us with the vocabulary.

None of this, by the way, has anything to do with attaining your dreams, a process by which people tend to run over one another in order to achieve. It’s about thanking the one who sacrificed everything to forgive you for chasing dreams of this world and gift you the ultimate reality – life with God.

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Responding to Hell – 3 Witnessing Techniques Anyone Can Learn

A young man trying to share the Bible with two young women.

Witnessing is different today than 50 years ago. Obviously we have the same gospel of Jesus Christ. That hasn’t changed. That never does. But the culture most definitely has.

In Evangelism in a Skeptical World, Dr. Sam Chan provides a fantastic analysis of how modern western culture has shifted in its perception of truth. He describes how gospel presentations like Four Spiritual Laws (CRU), The Bridge to Life (Navigators), and Two Ways to Live (Matthias Media) were all tried-and-true ways to share the message of Jesus in the twentieth century. All of them were highly effective presentations that helped bring people to faith in Christ. But Chan, an internationally respected Christian apologist for several decades, notes that as he toured America giving lectures, something changed in the early 2000’s. He says that he found people becomingly increasingly unimpressed with his presentation. He came to understand this was due to the fact that society’s spiritual questions had changed. Americans were no longer asking the questions those older gospel presentations were designed to help navigate.

Chan has many helpful thoughts about evangelism in general, but for our purposes today, I want to limit the conversation to his insights about discussing hell with modern people.

There is arguably no doctrine more offensive to our relativistic, postmodern society than the teaching of hell. But it’s impossible to truly witness to a non-believer without eventually getting to the doctrine of hell. Any attempt at doing so would necessarily change the gospel itself. Many Christians, sensing this, just avoid witnessing entirely. The vast majority of Christians that I talk to have never had a single conversation with a skeptic about the reality of hell.

But there are ways to refute the bad logic of someone who has misguided perceptions about hell – to help people in our current era see the wisdom, and even the love, attached to hell.

The following are 3 examples of responses to give when someone pushes back against the biblical doctrine of hell:

1) “Hell Makes God Unloving” 

This is perhaps the most commonly given reason for a rejection of the teaching of hell: “I don’t see how a loving God could inflict eternal punishment upon someone.” 

What you need to start here is to ask the person where they get the idea that God is, in fact, a LOVING God?

In Greek mythology, the gods are immoral. In Asian mythology, the gods are mischievous. In Islam, the conception of god is certainly holy, but not inherently loving and merciful. Of all religions throughout world history, the ONLY place you get this idea that God is fundamentally and essentially LOVING is…in the Bible.

Consequently, if you want to accept the idea that God is a loving being as an a priori argument, a truth assumption, then it stands to reason that you seemingly would also have to seriously entertain the rest of the body of work from which that argument comes – i.e. the Bible. And the Bible certainly teaches the doctrine of hell. In fact, by a considerable margin, Jesus talks about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. If Jesus is obviously and unarguably loving, as most would attest, if he is the embodiment of God’s love for us (1 John 3:16), then you can’t ignore what he establishes as an important truth for the world, i.e. the danger of hell, as a caution of love.

Furthermore, if someone has a general conception of God’s love and suggests, “My God is so loving that he would never send anyone to hell,” my response is always, “Then your God loves you less than my God loves me, because my God went to hell and back to rescue me. What does it cost your God to love you?” The point here is the same one I bring up in virtually every wedding sermon I preach – there’s really no way to measure love apart from the depths we’re willing to go in order to be with someone. If Jesus went through hell in order to rescue his people, then, by definition, he loves those people more than any God who wouldn’t go through hell for them. Instead of hell being unloving, I’m here making the case that any conception of God apart from a belief in hell is necessarily LESS loving.

2) “Hell Makes God Exclusive”

This claim comes up when it is suggested that someone’s beliefs are held primarily (or exclusively) due to cultural upbringing. For example, “You’re only Hindu because you were born in India.” If that was the case, and belief in Jesus was the only pathway to salvation (John 14:6), it would then seem unfair that certain people were raised in “Christian cultures” with access to the gospel whereas others were raised in predominantly Buddhist, Hindu, irreligious, etc. cultures.

Here, what you do is ask the person, “If they were in charge of heaven, who would you let in?” They might say that they’d let everyone in. And then you should respond with “Are you really okay with mega mass murders like Hitler, Mussolini, and Pol Pot, or even lesser murders, serial killers like Dahmer or Manson, coming into heaven, completely unrepentant of transgressions? Is that loving to their victims and their victims’ families?” If those individuals are impenitent of what they’ve done, and likely do it all over again if given the chance, why would you bring them into heaven and give them another chance to do so? At this point, the skeptic of hell might say,“Okay, maybe not those guys.” But then the skeptic has to establish his own criteria for letting someone in. If he says whoever is good enough, he’s excluding based on the criteria of moral behavior. If he says it doesn’t matter what someone believes so long as they’re sincere and authentically true to self (a common postmodern spin on religion), he’s doing the same thing – making it exclusive.

What you come to realize is that if you let everyone in, you’re not being loving to the victims who need justice, but the moment you make conditions, you’re being exclusive. The person who was critical of heaven’s “exclusivity” is then guilty of doing the same thing they’re condemning the God of the Bible for doing. And if God’s condition is simply that whoever repents and trusts in Jesus will be received, then I’d venture to say that based on THAT criteria, more people are going to get into heaven than on whatever criteria you or I could come up with. Sam Chan has a great line in his book where he says, “The scandal of the Bible is not that people go to hell. The scandal is that God lets people into heaven that you or I likely would not.” 

3) “Hell Makes God Bitter & Angry”

In the Netflix political thriller, House of Cards, the two main characters are a husband and wife who no longer possess any affection for one another. The wife has an affair. And when the affair is exposed, the husband doesn’t really care. The wife actually then confronts the husband about it, saying she thought he’d be more angry. Since we only get angry over the things we care about, the revelation is that the husband’s LACK of anger was the ultimate evidence that he didn’t love her anymore.

If we were designed by God, to be in relationship with God, then if God loves us, he MUST be angry about us rejecting him. It’s not mere pettiness. It’s the product of him hating to see us violate our design, destroying ourselves through an eternal trajectory of self-centeredness (i.e. hell). And yet, because love is not true love if it is forced, God cannot force creatures to love him.

God’s anger in this case is simply evidence of his passion for us.

CHEAT SHEET

“Hell Makes God Unloving”

  • Where do you get the idea God is loving?
  • If there is no hell, how much does it cost God to love you?

“Hell Makes God Exclusive”

  • If you were God, what would your criteria be for heaven be? Is that really less exclusive than God’s criteria?

“Hell Makes God Bitter & Angry”

  • If you were designed to be in relationship with God, and avoiding that relationship is self-destructive, how should God feel?
  • If Jesus is, in a sense, the “husband” to humanity, how should he feel if you give your heart to someone/something else?

SUMMARY

God is angry about sin because he’s good. He goes to hell and back for us because he’s loving. But he doesn’t force us to love him. Instead, he sacrificially pays for us and invites us, no matter what we’ve done, to come live with him (i.e. heaven).

Sermons 2018

With the upcoming holiday weekend, I’m guessing that many of you may be embarking on some road trips. A great way to redeem the travel time is to listen to Christian messages along the way. I personally am constantly streaming various Christian speakers as a way to continue to grow, especially during travel.

To help with that, I’ve linked all of my messages from 2018 below. You can also always access these sermons via iTunes, Google Play, Libsyn, search for St Marcus MKE in your Podcast Store, or download our St. Marcus App – just search for “St. Marcus MKE” in your App Store.

Week 1 – LIE 1 – If Your Marriage Isn’t Happy, You Should Leave (Matthew 19:1-12)

Week 2 – LIE 2 – God Just Wants Me To Be Happy (Hebrews 11:23-26) (coming soon)

Week 3 – LIE 3 – If You Feel Depressed, You’re a Bad Christian (Psalm 143)

Week 4 – LIE 4 – More Money, More Happiness (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Week 5 – LIE 5 – Women and Men Are Basically the Same ( 1 Corinthians 14:26-40)

Week 6 – LIE 6 – Your Faith is Just Between You and God (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Week 7 – LIE 7 – You’ve Earned Everything You Have (Esther 3:1-6; 6:1-10)

Week 8 – LIE 8 – I Need to Make Something of Myself (Philippians 3:1-14)

Week 9 – LIE 9 – Religion Doesn’t Belong in the Workplace (Daniel 1-8:21)

Week 10 – LIE 10 – That Sin Can’t Be Forgiven (Matthew 27:1-10)

Week 11 – LIE 11 – A Loving God Would Never Send Anyone To Hell (Matthew 25:31-46)

 

Week 1 – The Beginning of the Church (Acts 1:1-11)

Week 2 – Pentecost and Its Meaning (Acts 2:42-47)

Week 3 – Peter Heals a Beggar and Defends His Faith (Acts 4:1-14)

Week 4 – A New Community (Acts 4:32-37)

Week 5 – Sin From Within (Acts 5:1-11)

Week 6 – Becoming More Stephen (Acts 7:54-60)

 

Week 1 – The Healing of Jesus (Mark 2:1-12)

Week 2 – The Family of Jesus (Mark 3:31-35)

Week 3 – The Parables of Jesus (Mark 4:1-20)

Week 4 – The Authority of Jesus (Mark 4:35-41)

Week 5 – The Rejection of Jesus (Mark 6:1-13)

Week 6 – The Sympathy of Jesus (Mark 6:45-52)

Week 7 – The Cross of Jesus (Mark 8:34-38)

Week 8 – The Glory of Jesus (Mark 10:13-16)

Week 9 – The Humility of Jesus (Mark 10:35-45)

Week 10 – The Enemies of Jesus (Mark 12:35-44) (coming soon)

Week 11 – The Anointing of Jesus (Mark 14:1-11)

Not Recycling: The Unforgivable Sin?

Most teens and young adults believe not recycling is more immoral than watching pornography.

The specific statistic comes from interviews with over 3000 respondents in a 2016 study called The Porn Phenomenon, commissioned by Covenant Eyes and Josh McDowell Ministry. The data says teens and young adults aged 13-24 believe not recycling (56%) is worse than viewing pornography (32%).

What does this mean?

I honestly don’t know if there’s a better statistic out there that encapsulates the largely well-intentioned, but misguided, spiritual condition of modern America.

Having moved into a more urban area in recent years, not too many things have thrown me. One of the few things that has most definitely jumped out at me, however, is the moral stance that young, progressive-minded adults take on recycling.

I honestly don’t know if it’s the sad pictures we saw of seagulls caught in plastic 6-pack rings when we were growing up, or the image of sea otters drenched from an oil spill, or Al Gore’s conscience pricking documentary An Inconvenient Truth, but this generation’s young adults most definitely are affected.

By and large, it’s a GOOD thing. After all, God gave mankind the position of prominence in the kingdom of his creation, in part, because mankind had unique abilities to care for creation (Gen. 2:15). Throughout Scripture we find God commanding humans to watch over animals (cf. Prov. 12:10; Ezek. 34:2-4). We learn that caring for the planet is godly because Scripture tells us that God himself cares for his earth (Matt. 10:29). And therefore, the consistent message of the Bible is that the earth belongs to God, but suffers due to mankind’s sinfulness (Rom. 8:19-22). So now God desires us to manage and care for the planet as an expression of our faith in Christ’s rule and redemption of the world.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Consequently, recycling is a perfectly good application of the biblical principle of ecological stewardship. But recycling is NOT a direct biblical command, nor even really a biblical principle. It’s an application of a principle.

Contrast that with something like lust, which falls into the realm of direct biblical command. Jesus said,

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28)

If a society becomes increasingly out of touch with Scriptural truth, you would expect to find research exactly like that described in The Porn Phenomenon data. Something that Scripture doesn’t directly forbid (i.e. not recycling) is perceived as a far worse behavior than a behavior which Jesus himself calls sin (i.e. pornography). At this point, the evidence suggests that values are being shaped out of instincts and cultural ideals ahead of actual Bible study.

A similar illustration can be seen in society’s preference of animals over humans. My wife and I went to see the summer blockbuster The Meg last night. It wasn’t exactly a Jaws ripoff, but obviously derivative. As you can imagine, there’s a decent amount of humans getting torn apart by a giant-toothed prehistoric Megalodon. The audience, so far as I could tell, was perfectly comfortable with this. However, when a tiny Yorkshire Terrier fell into the water at one point, and the Meg was looking for a fun size snack, you could feel the mood of theater change. The movie’s director clearly understood this perception as well. We witnessed humans getting executed repeatedly, but this particular scene was shot in such a way as to suggest that the execution of an animal was more than audiences could handle. The general populace is more sympathetic to animals than to humans today. I say all of this as a pet lover myself.

Some day, when my pit bull Gemma inevitably passes away, I’m going to be an emotional wreck. My instincts and my life conditioning tell me to value my dog ahead of most humans. It’s my theology alone that tells me to value the often annoying humans ahead of a creature that loves me unconditionally. If I couldn’t quote chapter and verse of biblical texts that tell me to value human life (i.e. if the Holy Spirit hadn’t convinced me through his Word), I’m not certain I’d feel the same way.

For the sake of clarity, this post is not about recycling, and it’s not about pornography, and it’s not about prehistoric sharks. It’s about what happens when a society starts following it’s heart while its Bible gathers dust.

The modern western world retains a skeleton of Christian values, the haunting of Jesus’ teaching. But some signs would suggest the meat on the bones is mostly gone. And therefore its as important as ever that Christians today are overflowing with biblical reasons for why they do what they do and why they hope what they hope.

So…do I recycle? Yes. It has nothing to do with thinking human life is in jeopardy due to a hole in the ozone layer or anything like that. Humanity as we know it will end precisely when God chooses to bring that end (Matt. 24:36). Instead, I recycle as a testimony of faith – I know that my Redeemer lives and he’s coming back to sit on his throne and renew all things (Matt. 19:28). As I care for the planet, my recycling foreshadows, in a small way, the ultimate recycling of the planet by Jesus.

The Only Way to Become Useful in the KINGDOM

Anyone who has followed the weekly articles of NY Times op-ed columnist, David Brooks, or read his 2016 best-seller The Road to Character, knows that HUMILITY is the character trait that Brooks would consider the most elusive in modern America. And I think it’s fair to say that he would suggest its absence is the main cause of societal problems today.

However, while Brooks, who is not a Christian, longs for societal humility, he struggles to suggest what could possibly generate it. I think I know something that can.

The Bible describes Moses as the most humble man on the face of the planet (Num. 12:3), a fascinating statement for multiple reasons. Assuming the statement is true, however, it’s interesting to see how Moses arrived at that point, and what happened when he did.

Moses was born to Israelite parents, but educated in Pharoah’s court (Ex. 2:1-10). Receiving the best instruction available in the entire world, Moses would have been perfectly groomed, uniquely calibrated for leadership. Furthermore, the nation of Israel, 400 years deep into slavery at this point, desperately needed a leader at that time. But God didn’t use Moses then. I might argue that God couldn’t use him then. Just look at Moses’ character.

Moses was undoubtedly talented, but he was also tremendously arrogant and reckless, evidenced by his murder of the Egyptian who he found beating a Hebrew slave. Moses was of course justified in defending his native people and seeking their justice, but seemingly knew full well he was doing something wrong in killing the Egyptian (Ex. 2:12). His instincts were correct, but his attitude was immature.

If God had used Moses at that moment, it might have looked as though Israel’s success was dependent on Moses’ capacity, rather than God’s grace. An egotistical leader likely wouldn’t have done much for Israel’s spiritual direction either. Instead, God leads Moses into the Sinai wilderness to become a simple farmer.

In fleeing the country, Moses left behind all of the wealth of Egypt to become a penniless vagabond. He left behind a successful career in Egyptian government to become a Midianite farmer. He left behind both his biological family and his adopted family. And Hebrews 11 says he left behind “the fleeting pleasures of sin.” Put differently, Moses willfully made himself less financially, professionally, and relationally comfortable. It was an instinctually counterintuitive move if there ever was one. So why did he do it? Because “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt.” (Hebrews 11:26)

Everything about this is crazy and incredibly humbling to me. Moses is 40 years-old. He’s a man with an incredible education, tremendous leadership skills, and a people who absolutely need him, and he’s wasting away his days with sheep in the desert. How many good years does he have left? His 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s pass him by. He’s 80 years-old. A has-been. And God shows up in a burning bush and says, “I have a job for you. Now that you know you’re NOTHING, I have a job for you.”

This has become such an important lesson in my life. Understood correctly, God doesn’t use somebodies. He uses nobodies. Moses formerly was something in the world’s eyes. God wouldn’t use that. Moses became nothing. And at that moment God wanted him to lead a nation. The moral is that if you sincerely want to be an instrument to advance His Kingdom, you need to empty yourself of yourself and be filled with His Spirit.

Why should this surprise us when God sent our Redeemer, a Greater Moses (Deut. 18:15) to a manger, not a palace; as a carpenter, not a warring conqueror; saving us through his own blood on the cross, not the blood of an enemy on a sword. Our God’s Kingdom building methodology is beautiful, otherworldly, and anti-instinctual.

Become useful for the Kingdom. Empty self. Die to self. Rise with Christ, filled with Spirit.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10)

Saying Terrible Things

Back in March, shortly after the Facebook privacy scandal, the NY Times ran a piece asking “Can Social Media Be Saved?” suggesting that perhaps the populace had finally grown tired of the incessant bickering, the character assassination, the bullying, the vulnerability. That was before Roseanne Barr’s disastrous tweet. That was before news of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn’s pedophile jokes on Twitter (which were a decade old). That was before discovery of Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Josh Hader’s racist and homophobic tweets (which occurred 7 years ago, Hader was 17 at the time). That was before the phony “we don’t tip terrorist” receipt went viral on Facebook. And in the past few days, the American couple that has received the most press as of late – SNL comic Pete Davidson, and fiancé, pop star Ariana Grande – both announced that they were leaving Instagram and Twitter due to backlash over posts and speculation about their relationship. Davidson commented:

I just don’t wanna be on Instagram anymore. Or on any social media platform. The internet is an evil place and it doesn’t make me feel good.

Not to repeat myself, but Americans have painted themselves into this brutal corner.  We adamantly defend our “First Amendment right” to speak our mind and then we get completely offended when we hear someone else speaking theirs. Social media hasn’t created this problem. The internet isn’t evil. What social media did do, however, is pave a massive intersection in the downtown of public dialogue, where everyone on the planet now has access to virtually everything someone has ever said in public. And since everything today is now being constantly video recorded, chronicled, and archived for public consumption, what chance does any human stand to not eventually be exposed in the worst possible light?

Just imagine someone recording and filing every single thing you said and did when you were 17-years-old. Now imagine an employer interviewing you for a company position at 30-years-old, and evaluating you not merely on the basis of your resume and interview, but on whatever Google might find from the past thirty years. By our own society’s standards, virtually no one is employable anymore.

Ironically, despite the previously accepted moral relativism of postmodernism, we are now finding EVERYONE to be guilty of fireable offense. And if you honestly think you somehow make it through the judgment unscathed – that you have never said something even the slightest bit sexist, racist, ageist, or religiously discriminatory – you’re as ripe for slipping as anyone. I promise you that anyone who spends any significant time with you will be able to come up with something you’ve said at one point that they considered highly offensive.

This is now officially an epidemic. Go to the front page of YAHOO! today, tomorrow, or a month from now, and I guarantee you that several of the leading stories are someone being removed from a prominent position because of something they said that was perceived as highly offensive.

This social media crisis alerts me to two things Christians are going to need to lead the way on if public dialogue is ever going to improve:

1) Guard Your Words

Children are taught to disregard unkind words, because they cannot break bones like sticks and stones. It’s a clever diddy from a naive mind. Words have tremendous power and can reach into the human psyche in ways that a stick or a stone can’t. They cause significantly greater damage.

I don’t care what the parameters of the First Amendment allow for, if you’re a Christian, your speech is not free. It’s not even yours. It was redeemed by Jesus Christ, along with the rest of your life. Consequently, your opinions, your takes, your comments, your tweets, your pics, and your posts were all paid for by his blood and therefore, in some way, should have the intention of bringing glory to Him.

It is possible, despite what your overwhelming feelings might tell you, to NOT say something. When Jesus stood trial before Pilate and was asked about the ridiculous charges being brought against him, we’re told twice in row that he didn’t comment.

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. (Matt. 27:12-14)

It’s not wrong to defend the truth. But it’s also highly unproductive to engage in the world’s lunacy. And it’s never good to misrepresent Christ. So if you can’t go on social media without sinning, or tempting others, or being overwhelmingly tempted by others, then delete all of your accounts. Cut it off (Matt. 5:29-30). It’s not worth it. Christians should be the first ones ready to get out of the pool.

2) Forgive Their Words

The clever two-step that Satan has done with our society has been to 1) convince us there is no such thing as universal right/wrong, and that we are free to speak our minds (i.e. moral relativism), and 2) allow us to get deeply offended by one another’s comments, because deep down we know there is, in fact, such a thing as justice, inappropriate speech, and moral code.

Why is this so brilliant? Because if there’s nothing technically wrong, then there’s nothing to forgive. In other words, forgiveness only needs to take place in the presence of wrong. But if moral relativism says wrong doesn’t exist, then forgiveness doesn’t need to exist either. And if the biblical concept of forgiveness carries the idea of “letting something go,” then if we lose forgiveness, we’ve lost the ability to drop hurt and bitterness. We’re doomed to carrying baggage forever. Without forgiveness, we must be angry, divided, polarized.

I commonly find this dynamic at work in people I counsel. I’ll ask them if they’ve forgiven a person who, perhaps even indirectly, contributed to their present hurt. Sometimes they look at me as though I’m offering them foreign cuisine. Now, if the people I counsel are not even thinking to forgive a parent, or an ex, or a minister, or someone else fairly obvious, I can guarantee forgiveness is not the first impulse people are experiencing on their social media accounts.

Again, Jesus teaches us a better way. As onlookers taunted and soldiers tortured in his crucifixion, Jesus said,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

His grace caused him to let go of every stupid thing they said and did, to such an extent, that his primary concern at that point was that his Heavenly Father would have mercy on them for their stupidity. And his grace extended to our stupidity too.

If people could speak harshly to a perfect man, they can and will speak harshly to you too. But if that perfect man could forgive you, then you can forgive others too. And you’ll be much healthier when you do. Don’t seek justice. In your anger, seek Him, and let him sort out the justice.

In Conclusion

When historians look back on this era of history, social media, and its stream of unfiltered comments, from our president on down, will be an important and embarrassing chapter. Every bit as addictive and harmful as the tobacco tar by which our country unwittingly stained its lungs 60 years ago, we’re just as naively breathing vitriol, gossip, and slander into the cultural ethos. And someday, maybe soon, we’ll be stuck with a societal cancer, our grandchildren wondering what people were thinking back in 2018.

We can’t control what the world around us says, does, thinks, or feels. But we can incarnate the Spirit of Christ, who was “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)

Guard yourself. Forgive others. Lead the way.