Secular Temples

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St. Augustine opened his famous Confessions with a prayer that began:

“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

St. Augustine understood something that many of the brightest modern sociologists and anthropologists are just now starting to grasp – all of us human beings worship. This is what we’re primarily wired to do. Now, in a secular world that strongly discourages any religious influence over the public sphere, words like “worship” are generally dismissed. But Augustine was right. We humans are not primarily products of what we think – the “brain on a stick” paradigm that has been perpetuated over the past century. Read through David Brooks’s The Social Animal and you’ll likely be convinced. In fact, some research has suggested our lives are probably the products of only 3-5% of what we actually think. More than that, our lives are products of what we truly love. In other words, if you’d really like get to the bottom of what someone is about, who they really are, the wrong question is to ask them what they think/believe. The better question is to ask them what they want/desire from life. The ancient world likely understood better than the modern western world that the core of our being, the gravitational pull of who we are, lies not so much in what we think, but in what we want.

What Augustine is trying to tell us then is that everyone worships – everyone has something that they desire above all else, something that they believe will give them the foundational hope, security, identity, and value that human life craves. The difference is not that some people worship and others don’t. The difference is merely the deviation in what we worship.

To confirm these thoughts, I just want to share with you some examples of the how the secular world around us “worships” – though you may have never thought of it like that before.

Again, if there is any doubt about the secular world picking up on this “everybody worships” thing too, I’d direct you to David Foster Wallace’s commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005. Wallace is largely consider one of the best American writers of the past century and arguably the most insightful postmodern writer of our time. In the address he talks about how religious or irreligious, we’re ALL worshipping, and how destructive it can be to worship the wrong thing:

“You get to decide what to worship. Because here’s something else that’s weird but true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for choosing some form of God to worship (he lists several possibilities from Jesus to Allah to Yahweh, etc.) is that virtually every other thing you choose to worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things…then you will never have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. When time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths…Worship power and you will end up feeling week and afraid, and you will need ever more power to numb your own fear. Worship your intellect, you will end up feeling stupid, always on the verge of being found out….And the insidious thing about these (false) forms of worship is that they are unconscious. And the so-called ‘real world’ will not discourage us from operating on these default settings, because the so called “real world” of man, and money, and power, comes merrily along on fuel of fear and anger and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth, and comfort, and personal freedom, the freedom to all be lords of our own skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.”

Uhhh….for starters, it’s any wonder this guy is easily one of the best writers of our generation – this has quickly been regarded as one of the most powerful commencement addresses in history. Second, he’s not a Christian – he’s merely objective enough and insightful enough to understand what makes humanity tick – the innate need to worship something greater than self, and this colliding with our destructive desire to rule the universe.

And if David Foster Wallace is right, and St. Augustine is right, and David Brooks is right, then it would also stand to reason that we’d see additional concrete evidence of this “everyone worships, mostly incorrectly” sentiment playing out in the world around us. I believe we see exactly that.

72134-apple-store1Awhile back a ministry friend sent me an interesting article titled: “We Asked a Cultural Historian: Are Apple Stores The New Temples?”  The article insightfully points out the similarities between Apple Stores and ancient worship. For instance, ancient Jewish worship had pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem to 1) make sacrifices and become right with God, and 2) to praise the goodness of this God. Today, we have Apple Release Day, what the article calls “The Feast of St. Jobs”, where hoards of people line up to make a sacrifice of great money to receive the blessing of the next generation iPhone. Apple is not merely a product, either. It’s a brand that represents community, fueled by the loyalty of customers who believe they are part of a movement that is improving the world. Let us not forget that cathedrals, in their day, were actually representative of high-end technology, similar to the Great Pyramids of Giza. Cutting edge technology has seemingly always gone hand-in-hand with large scale public worship.

The author of the article offers additional similarities:

“We walk inside. It’s light and bright, and immediately in front of us, a wide staircase of opaque glass sweeps up to the second floor. This is an old, old trick. “It’s used in ziggurats, even.” It creates a space that emphasizes your smallness when you walk in. You look at something far away, and that makes your body feel like you’re entering somewhere sacred or holy. To enter that sacred space, first we have to walk up a few stone steps. They’re wide and deep, enough that you have to slow down just a bit to walk up them. Steep and narrow steps create the same effect in that they make your body feel as if something important is happening. Above, a massive skylight, stretching the length of the room, lets in the light. To the right and left are the tables with phones and watches arranged around the periphery—a clue that this is not supposed to be an individual experience. Even when you are holding the phone in your hand, you are gathered around a table with others. There are no aisles here to sequester yourself in: thanks to the open floor plan, you experience the phone together with everyone in the store.”

The article continues with many other interesting points of comparison, but the last lines are my favorite:

“Apple seems to understand that the people who visit their store are looking for answers to questions deeper than how they should make calls or connect to the internet. On the walls of the stores, framed by the border of a screen, are pictures of planets and star systems—with these flat, luminescent, monolithic devices, they seem to promise, you can understand the entire universe.”

Apple Store Carrousel du Louvre

Apple Store Carrousel du Louvre

Apple gets it. Do you? They’re not just selling phones and watches. They’re selling community, transcendence, power, and a way to make sense of the world. That’s WORSHIP.

I’m not saying Appel is evil. I’m an Apple guy. I’m writing this on a Macbook, with my iPhone plugged in and charging, and just received a message from my wife on her iPad. The problem is never the subdued creation, but the creatures that place confidence in and offer praise to created things ahead of the Creator God.

Do a quick inventory of the most influential places in society and see if they don’t mimic Apple stores in some ways. It’s the holiday season, so you’re likely going to be doing an excessive amount of shopping. Most people are shifting to purchasing items online. Malls are dying. But the Christmas season might be the one time you still dare to step foot in one. Have you ever thought about the setup of a mall? Noticed that there aren’t any windows? Noticed that there aren’t any clocks? Noticed how they have a labyrinthine layout? Noticed how they have inanimate, faceless characters (i.e. mannequins) who are trying to preach to you about what the good life really should look like? Notice how every store has a display just outside the entrance doing outreach? Going to the mall is certainly not inherently evil, but you’ve got to understand that this obviously could be a way which Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh, persuade us to worship materialism.

Not convinced? What about Casinos and the potential worship of greed? What about athletic stadiums and the potential god of recreation? What about strip clubs and the potential god of lust? What about movie theaters and the potential god of entertainment? They all fit the mold of the mall and the Apple Store too. They are intentionally designed to disorient your sense of time and space. They are designed, in their own ways, to inspire you with awe and wonder. They are designed NOT to shape the way you think, but to persuade you to want and love what they’re offering, habituating your desires.

So, what does this mean for the modern Christian?

Think.

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while has probably recognized how irritated I get when the accusation is brought against Christianity that we are merely a bunch of mindless followers. What irritates me even further is when that accusation is warranted.

All you have to do is read through the New Testament and see how many times Jesus himself and the other authors say, “Consider” (i.e think about this). This is not at all a contradiction to what I said from the outset, that we are not primarily products of what we think/believe, but products of what we love. The thinking aspect is important because it helps us realize when our loves have gone astray. As we analyze the way we manage our time, energy, thoughts, money, attitudes, we come to realizations about what we truly love and worship, regardless of what we say or do on Sunday mornings.

The first step in overcoming the secular temple worship, then, is to become aware that we struggle with it. The second step in processing sin is to repent of what we are and what we’ve done. All of life is repentance, as Luther said – a turning away from what we think things to be and surrendering to the righter, more beautiful authority of what Christ tells us. Next, we recognize that Jesus not only paid for our mistakes on the cross that should have been ours due to our false worship, but he also lived the life we needed to and gave it to us. You simply couldn’t pull the man away from the real Temple – when his parents moved with the social caravan, Jesus dropped his anchor in God’s House, teaching and preaching, praying and praising. Worshipping. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:49-50)

The secular temptations offer salvation, like that shiny new Easy Bake Oven on the Christmas list offers the promise of eternal happiness to the eager child who cannot live without it. And then Dec. 29th rolls around. Four flavorless cupcakes later and you realize this Hasbro mainstay won’t solve all of the problems of your childhood. Neither will the non-Jesus, secular salvations offered to adults. There is only one real Temple to worship at – one where if you get the God who dwells there, he’ll satisfy you, and if you fail him, he’ll forgive you. This is the Temple that was torn down and after three days was resurrected (Mark 14:58; see also Matt. 12:6).

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The Failure of Feelings & The Need for Proper Emotion (PART II)

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Last week I made the case that the idea of so-called “feelings” is actually illusory, but rather the experience that we call negative “feelings” is our pride/ego being compromised, which leads to negative emotions. Our pride is compromised whenever we build our identity on something vulnerable, something other than Christ. According to the gospel, this is only remedied by drawing our entire sense of identity from being a redeemed child of God, understanding that we are perfect in God’s sight by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Since emotions are so powerful and can be so misguided and misleading, they are sometimes unfairly condemned by well-intentioned Christians. This week, I’m trying to offer some direction for the proper, and necessary, role of emotions in our lives.

The Danger of Emotion

Since the western world has largely lost the concept of divine authority, a vacuum has been created  in our lives for authority, something that, deep down, we all know we need/crave. Upon losing a sense of the divine, the first societal impulse was to turn to “experts.” Soon, however, we learned that this doesn’t work because so many experts fundamentally disagree – they disagree on dietary habits, education theory, historical facts, religious truths, and so on – not to mention that even expert consensus tends to change every generation. The search for authority continued. As a result, people turned to what they know, something closer to home – their instincts/feelings – as chief arbiters of what is good or bad in their lives.

The problem that arises here is that the thing which we call “feelings” can change quite easily as well. I used to despise diet pop, now I drink it constantly and don’t think I could stomach a regular Coke. I used to like roller coasters, now I feel like I’m going to die on one. I used to like wearing turtlenecks. My point is that personal preferences and our accompanying emotions, our feelings, are fickle.

Even more important, faith that is based primarily on “feelings” is inevitably going to be misguided at some point. How could you ever possibly be certain that what you’re feeling is from the Lord, and not from Satan, or merely the product of your own flesh? You can’t.

I believe this is one of the reasons why Jesus so often describes spiritual development in terms of organic growth. By their fruit you will recognize them… every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matt. 7:16-20; see also Matt. 12:33; Luke 6:43-44; Luke 13:6-7) Many people measure the quality of their spiritual life by what they are currently feeling, i.e. what emotions are conjured up when considering the Bible, or church, or God. But according to Jesus’s own words here, spiritual growth is organic. Organic growth is measurable over time but generally imperceptible in the moment. Without time elapse photography, you can’t witness a plant growing. Spiritually then, you probably shouldn’t expect to feel drastically different after prayer, Communion, Bible Study, or public worship, any more than you would feel significantly healthier after a good meal or a productive workout. Such things often feel somewhat good, but not life altering, because such progress is organic. 

Anyone who is putting a high premium on the emotions experienced upon the exercise of spiritual disciplines is not understanding what the Bible says about the way faith generally matures.

I’m not suggesting there will never be clear and distinct “aha!” moments from time to time in spiritual development, but that shouldn’t be the general expectation.

Emotions aren’t EVERYTHING.

The Need for Emotion

Many men, especially conservative evangelical ones, are probably with me thus far. “Yes, emotion is evil!” Not really what I’m driving at, which is the need for this second point.

Many traditional, conservative churchgoers, like many older white men, strongly dislike their emotions or any encouragement towards emotional expressiveness. For traditional churchgoers, this is likely because of some of the potential dangers of emotion cited in the previous section. For older white men, this is perhaps because they were raised hearing sentiments like “boys don’t cry.” Going back to the issue of pride, when someone challenges our manhood, especially at a young age, we are likely to accept the challenge. If the societal gauntlet thrown down was to not be emotional, we find resourceful ways of stuffing those emotions. Many traditional adult men struggle with high blood pressure, heartburn, and ulcers because they’ve never learned to externalize their emotions in productive ways. Instead, they stuff their emotions and tear themselves apart from the inside out.

Theologically, the problem is that God created us as emotive creatures. Jesus wept (John 11:35). Jesus got angry (Matt. 21:12) Paul tells us to laugh and cry, rejoice and mourn with others (Rom. 12:15). This is part of our design. Consequently, to suppress emotion is theologically inaccurate and psychologically and physically unhealthy.

Personally, I sometimes struggle when worshipping with groups who seemingly demonstrate zero emotion.

I’ve heard this dismissed as “We all have different ways of expressing our emotion.” Yes and no. It’s true that we’re all unique, individual creatures with personal dispositions. Nonetheless, it’s also true that there is such a thing as a universality of emotions. If you won a $250 million lottery and stated in monotone, “That’s nice,” we’d assume you were emotionally off. If someone was completely unaffected by a close loved one dying, we’d assume there was something emotionally wrong too. Likewise, if someone comes to publicly worship God and is inexpressive, there is something emotionally wrong happening.

I’ve also heard that worship style is cultural. And since the church body I belong to has deep ethnic roots in Germany, perhaps worshippers are simply doing what’s culturally appropriate. I’d probably be more likely to accept that explanation if we were fresh off the boat and looking for the nearest schnitzel and kraut stand. But most of us, if we have any eastern European heritage at all, are 3 or 4 or more generations American. In other words, at this point, a cultural heritage is probably an irrelevant excuse.

Interestingly, the Christian who stifles emotion because “emotions are evil” is ironically just as controlled by their emotions as the Christian who easily gets emotionally manipulated. Neither is a healthy approach.

So while emotions aren’t EVERYTHING, they’re also not NOTHING. They’re necessary and beneficial, but need a proper driver.

The Guide for Emotion

Humans were created to be emotional. And yet human emotion is easily manipulated, which means that it then sends our brains mixed signals about what is or is not good. The solution is not to suppress emotion or to unconditionally embrace emotion. The solution for a Christian is to have genuine emotion, passion that is primarily generated, filtered, and pedagogically maneuvered by God’s inspired Word.

Let me give an overly simplistic illustration of what this might look like, say, in a worship setting:

  • A hymn that is theologically accurate but weighed down by a dismal tune that no one today would categorize as “beautiful” is inappropriate, not because it doesn’t proclaim truth, but because it doesn’t appropriately touch the emotion, counterintuitively dimming the theological truth.
  • A praise song that many today would categorize as a “beautiful” tune but that lacks any theological depth, or, worse yet, promotes something Scripturally untrue, is inappropriate, not because it doesn’t affect the emotions, but because it primarily moves the emotions by a force other than Scriptural truth.
  • A hymn/song that proclaims accurate theological truth AND, through artistic flavor, touches humans in an emotive way IS appropriate.

Worship music is just one easy example. The point is much bigger. Another simple example would be anger. It’s not wrong to get angry, so long as it is righteous anger, i.e. anger over something that God himself would be angry about. If it’s anger over my pride being hurt, then that’s merely going to lead to sinful vindictiveness. The idea is that God encourages us to embrace the emotions we experience insofar as those emotions are biblically supported.

In Summary…

“Feelings” aren’t completely real. Our pride/ego is very sensitive. When it is threatened, we experience strong negative emotions. This is an occasion for humility and a time to remember that our true boast/pride/identity comes from being a child of God.

Emotions themselves aren’t bad, but rather are gifts from God and therefore should not be outright suppressed. They are easily misguided, however, which means that we regularly have to seek the direction of God’s Word to make sure our emotions are properly moved.

Finally, Jesus, our greatest friend, our dearest brother, and the Lover of us, the Church, lived and died for us. That only evokes proper emotion. And to the degree that we realize we have the full acceptance of God himself through this Jesus, nothing in this life can really hurt our feelings anymore.

The Failure of Feelings & The Need for Proper Emotion (PART I)

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Disney’s Pixar Studios cranked out another billion dollar winner this past summer with the release of Inside Out – a story set in the mind of a little girl, where we encounter her 5 personified emotions.

The little known secret about this movie is that they TOTALLY ripped me off, as I’ve had this idea for years now. The only difference was that in my version the story takes place in a child’s heart and the characters were adorable little “feelings bears” ….. and I never actually wrote a script or recorded a movie. Nonetheless, being a man of grace, I haven’t pursued legal action. I simply ask, next time you see the movie and chuckle …. you’re welcome :)

The American public was due for an insightful movie breaking down the interaction of our emotions. They are such a powerful aspect of all of our lives, and as I’m going to make the case today, potentially too influential.

This is a topic I frequently try to bring up in my church. For instance: I’ve LOVED every minute of the Mere Christianity class I’ve been leading on Wednesday nights this fall with 100 or so adults. A couple of weeks ago, we arrived at one of the classic chapters of C.S. Lewis’s classic – Book III: Chapter 8 – “The Great Sin” (i.e. Pride). As Lewis offers his incredible insights on pride, you get the sense that Mere Christianity is moving from a really good Christian book into arguably one of the top 5 “must reads” in Christian history.

This chapter also presented me the opportunity to share one of my personal favorite, mildly provocative, mini-sermons about human nature – THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS FEELINGS. Typically, this speech is met with some resistance. Sometimes, ironically, feelings get hurt. But that only presents the occasion to explain what those feelings really are.

For instance, I’ll ask someone to, medically speaking, point to where their feelings are located. After processing the question, some will point to their hearts. Now, my wife is a cardiovascular surgical ICU RN at Mayo Clinic. She’s studied a good deal about hearts in recent years. She also has a lot of what are commonly labeled “feelings” – but she knows they don’t reside in her technical heart.

So here’s the point of clarification. When we say things like “My feelings are hurt” or “You hurt my feelings,” what we, more accurately, mean is that our pride has been hurt, and this is causing us emotional turmoil. Our ego is the sense of self that we build upon some aspect of our lives.

Here’s an illustration that might help: if you criticized me by saying, “James, you’re a horrible figure skater,” not only would I not be hurt, I’d probably feel a certain sense of, “Whew.  I don’t even really want to be known as a good figure skater.” On the other hand, if you said, “James, you’re a thoughtless, loveless pastor and a faithless, incompetent interpreter of Scripture,” that is much more likely to “hurt my feelings.” Why? I tend to build more of my identity, my sense of self, on being a pastor than I do as a figure skater. Conversely, if you told Scott Hamilton (yes, that’s how little I pay attention, HE is still my current frame of reference for a male figure skater) that he was a poor pastor, he’s probably going to say, “Okay. Fine. I’m not even a pastor and don’t really want to be.” On the other hand, if you told him what an unimpressive skater he was, he’d probably be a little more hurt. He would naturally be more inclined to build his identity on and draw his pride from something different from me.

So if someone criticizes us, we naturally wouldn’t like it, but if we’re devastated by it, if our “feelings are REALLY hurt,” we have to ask why? Is it because we’re drawing too much of our identity from something other than our status as a redeemed child of God? Is it because our pride, our boast, is misplaced?

In his chapter on Pride, Lewis says:

“if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or show their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?’…The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”

Our feelings haven’t technically been hurt. Those “feelings” don’t exist per se. The importance of making this distinction is that, unless we realize this truth about illusory “feelings,” we won’t be able to remedy the problem. What hurts is our pride. Our sense of self, the thing on which we sought to build our lives and make a name for ourselves, the thing other than Jesus that we primarily look to for value, meaning, security, and hope for the future has been compromised. Spiritually speaking, this is a healthy, albeit painful, process to go through because it drives us deeper into an unshakeable identity shaped exclusively by the gracious blood of Christ.

If it’s true that what we experience when our “feelings are hurt” is more about our pride being jeopardized and leading to negative emotions, then it’s also probably worth explaining the role that emotions should play in our lives.

The problem I potentially face (and have faced) if I say “feelings aren’t real things” is the accusation of emotional dismissiveness, which could be fair. So, allow me a minute to explain what I believe should be the proper, balanced understanding on these types of emotions?

(please come back next week for PART II when we’ll look at the proper role of emotion)

364 Days of Thanksgiving

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I’m always thankful to have great, gospel-flavored content to share with others. So I want to take the opportunity this week to share with you the recently released project of a ministry friend – Pastor Andrew Schroer. It’s called 364 Days of Thanksgiving, it’s a great idea, and the details of where you can get your hands on a copy are provided below.

An excerpt from 364 Days of Thanksgiving…

Why Write a Book about Being Thankful?

A few years ago, a young mother tried to commit suicide. By God’s grace she was unsuccessful. Because of a connection her family had with our church, the husband called me the next morning asking me to visit her in the hospital.

As I spoke with her, it became obvious that she was deeply depressed about her marriage and family. The doctors ordered she receive medication and professional counseling. She also asked that I visit her once a week.

Feeling overwhelmed by the situation, I asked a psychologist friend for help. He explained to me that depression is often anger turned inward. He suggested that she was so angry about the problems in her life she couldn’t see the good God had given her. Among other things, he advised me to have her keep a notebook by her bed.

Every morning and every evening, the young mother was to write down one good thing in her life – but each time it had to be something different. She couldn’t repeat the same blessing even once.

Over the next few weeks, as her list grew longer her attitude grew brighter. She began to notice all the blessings God had given her, especially God’s greatest gift of forgiveness. She began to see that even the problems were a part of God’s gracious plan for her life. She began to smile again. Soon she was weaned off the antidepressant medication.

That young mother was the inspiration for this book.

Are you depressed? Are you frustrated by the problems and struggles in your life? The secret to happiness isn’t to rid your life of problems. The secret to happiness isn’t getting what you want. The secret to happiness is recognizing what you have in Christ.

This book is about seeing what God has done for you.

 

Pastor Andrew Schroer has been a Lutheran pastor for over 15 years, serving congregations in Mexico, Florida and Texas. He is a contributing editor of the national Christian magazine “Forward in Christ.” He also writes a syndicated devotional column which appears in a handful of newspapers in Texas. He is also a frequent blogger at 364DaysofThanksgiving.com. His new book “364 Days of Thanksgiving” is now available on Amazon.com and at NPH.net

Millennial Christian Politics

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If you’re older than a Millennial, this post might not be for you. I’m convinced, at this point, that a generation or two older than me might not get where I’m coming from on this issue, and that’s okay. This is primarily for Millennials – those born in the late 70s to late 90s.

There has been a great deal written on the Millennial recoil from traditional political involvement, e.g. voting. The assessment of Millennial political views from major media outlets tends to include disparaging terms like “apathy,” “entitlement,” or “incoherence.”

I suppose those assessments could be accurate, and perhaps part of the issue. But, it’s worth noting that those labels are also often tossed around when people simply don’t understand something. They say it “makes no sense.” Translating what I believe to be the media’s misdiagnosis, what they’re really trying to say is that Millennial political views “don’t fit neatly into one of our two parties.”

Uh huh. Yes. That’s a Millennial.

And all I’m trying to do is tell you Christian Millennials that not only is this is okay, but I also believe that it’s biblically supported.

For instance, I personally don’t feel as though EITHER major political party in our country captures the gospel perfectly. Generally speaking, Conservatives/Republicans seem to value the biblical sexual ethic, traditional family values, and the sanctity of unborn human life. They tend to seem less concerned, however, about social justice issues. Generally speaking, Liberals/Democrats seem to champion a defense of the weak, downtrodden, and marginalized of society. They also appear very concerned about preserving/protecting much of God’s creation. They tend to seem less concerned, however, about any true basis for morality.

I’m sorry, but if that simple assessment reflects reality at all, my personal values don’t line up neatly with either party.

American politicsAdditionally, my perception is that a lot of Christians seem to bandwagon certain causes NOT because the Bible has shaped their thoughts, NOT because they’ve wrestled with these things in prayer, but merely because it’s comfortable to fall in line with a party platform. They’ve been victim to this simplistic EITHER/OR, US/THEM type of thinking.

Just look at the two political candidates currently leading the polls for Republication nomination. At the first Republican debate in August, FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly had to ask Donald Trump, “When did you actually become a Republican?” Like him or not, Trump can’t just be Trump. He’s got to pander. He’s got to change his positions on certain issues in order to be accepted.

Similarly, having just read Dr. Ben Carson’s third political book, I was a little saddened to see that Dr. Carson, whom I think very highly of in many ways, as he’s moved closer to becoming a legitimate potential Republican candidate, has had to change his stance on some issues in order to maintain party approval.

I’m not at all supporting or opposing Trump’s or Carson’s views on certain issues here (although I’d be lying if I didn’t suggest that having a Young Earth Creationist like Carson as president would be kinda cool. And yes, he’s even backed off of some of those beliefs.) What I find troubling, especially for the purposes of this post, is the fact that both candidates have felt the need to change previously held convictions because they were ultimately unpopular, at least within the group that they are now trying to reach out to for support.blog - politics 3

Millennials, that doesn’t have to be you. Believe it or not, as a Christian, you can be ethically conservative AND AT THE SAME TIME liberal about social justice. In fact, as just one example, my reading of the Book of Isaiah moves me to feel exactly that way. Just look at the sins God calls his people to repent of. Look at the word pictures he paints of the Israelites. He talks about oppression of the poor (e.g. 10:2), greed of the wealthy class (e.g. 13:17-22), racial prejudice (e.g. 16:6, 14), sexual impurity (e.g. 1:21, 29), marriage (e.g. 50:1), family & traditional values (43:6). Now some of those sound like left-wing talking points and some of those sound like right-wing talking points. In other words, he calls his people to repentance over “conservative sins” AND “liberal sins.” Apparently God has a higher standard than any political party. He’s more complex, more thoughtful, and more holy. And as his child, so are you.

It does not matter if the media doesn’t understand you, the world doesn’t understand you, and your parents, grandparents, or any other generations don’t understand you. Only if Christians grasp what it means that their citizenship is primarily in heaven (Phil. 3:20) will they understand earthly politics the way Christ himself did. Then and only then will we be able to interact with politics in a healthy way.

The failure to establish that balance in evangelical America has cost both the church and modern politics in recent history. Truth be told, it really wasn’t until I listened to a speech by English author and social critic Os Guinness that I started to understand this much either. Guinness pointed out that beginning in the mid 70s with the Moral Majority, we’ve had in America a politicized evangelicalism, the Religious Right. That failed. In the process, what it did accomplish, however, was fuel the vehement repudiation of religion by the so-called New Atheists. Now, in reality, there probably aren’t more atheists today than there were in the 1950s. But in the 50s it was fashionable to call yourself a Christian. In 2015, it’s fashionable to label yourself an atheist. And the thing that’s made Christianity largely unfashionable, the thing that has left a hard-to-identify, yet unmistakable, bad taste about Christianity in the mouth of many Americans is the politicized evangelicalism of the Religious Right. This is one of the main causes of the exodus of the younger generation from BOTH organized religion AND politics. This alienation of young adults is explained nowhere better than in David Kinnaman’s research from unChristian. Os Guinness said he personally felt that the 2008 election was the official death of the Religious Right, and that what is seen in the Tea Party movement in recent years was simply the “scattered embers” of the Religious Right’s flame going out.

Now, while it’s certainly true that a “Christian America” offered many great things, the thing that could not be lost or confused, which seemingly has, the thing that should be obvious, is that, for a Christian, your allegiance is primarily to Christ, not to a nation. Your citizenship is primarily in heaven, not on earth. Consequently, in the same way that Augustine said that the Church was the City of God within the City of Man, so also, the Church today needs to break with Christian America. That does NOT mean to become anti-American. It means to reprioritize Christ as first. That means that our boast, our security, our hope for the future is all drawn primarily from the promises of Christ, not from political candidates, parties, or policies.

So, my Millennial friends, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt. 6:33) If the relationship of your faith to your nation has been entangled or imbalanced in the past, remember that Jesus died unjustly at the hands of his nation to pay for all of our mistakes. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. But move forward with the knowledge that you don’t have to fit neatly into a media-driven category. You’re different. Study your Bible, and, fueled by the grace of Jesus, be driven by the policies of the City of God.

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Update on My Writing

blog - resurrection 1Hi All,

I’m going to keep this brief. I just wanted to give you a quick update on content here at my site as well as on the direction of my blog posting in general.

You may have noticed that each of my recent posts has contained a reference to “originally posted at TimeofGrace.org” in addition to a link. I had a little trial period for writing with the Time of Grace blogging ministry. After about 2 months of doing so, I’ve decided that it’s not something I’m interested in continuing to pursue at the moment. There are a number of reasons for this, but I wanted to make it clear what the reason was NOT – I didn’t stop because there was any disagreement between me and the people at Time of Grace. I have nothing but positive things to say about all of the people I worked with. They were very kind, accommodating, and helpful. They are doing LOTS of wonderful gospel ministry and I was thankful for the opportunity.

At this time, however, I think we may have slightly different readership demographics. I wasn’t convinced that some who followed ToG particularly appreciated my perspective, thoughts, or occasional attempts to challenge the current Christian status quo. Again, the leadership itself was tremendously supportive, but I had a nagging concern that some of my opinions along the way might somehow detract from the wonderful gospel ministry being done there and that weighed on me.

Whether I say something that challenges readers to reconsider something in light of the gospel or if I merely present simple gospel truth, and someone doesn’t like it, I want any reaction to that channeled back in my direction. Furthermore, I want to foster an online environment in which Christians and non-Christians alike can respectfully disagree in charitable dialogue. There is enough hate, bitterness, and condescension in the world – we can shine a light in the direction of something different.

At times in the past I’ve received a few comments about my posts representing other WELS pastors, past schools I’ve attended, etc. I certainly do have some responsibility when it comes to various ties I may have, but please make no mistake, I’m not intentionally speaking on behalf of an entire church body, any schools, my entire church in Rochester, my wife, my friends, my dog Gemma, or anyone else. My opinions are my own, as much as possible, shaped by Jesus.

So, with that in mind, I wanted to restate the purpose of my site:

This blog is intended to help Christians see our world through eyes of faith. I’m seeking to apply biblical principles to our society in order to gain appreciation for changeless truth in a changing world. Pastor Hein is pastor at Resurrection & Life Lutheran Church in Rochester, MN.

I’ll keep on truckin’ right here…

Thanks for your love and support!

The Bad “I’m Sorry” ( and 3 Myths About Forgiveness)

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The bad “I’m sorry.” We’ve all gotten it. We’ve all given it.

The bad “I’m sorry” is a social occasion where someone knows an expectation exists for them to express remorse or sympathy for an unfortunate event they caused, so they comply; in reality, however, it’s apparent that the offending party doesn’t regret the action at all.

The first realization I had that such a thing existed came when watching Seinfeld as a kid. James Spader guest-starred as a recovering alcoholic who was going through step 9 of the AA program, i.e. making amends. Jerry Seinfeld’s ever-annoyed sidekick, George Costanza, wanted an apology for an incident from years earlier – George had asked to borrow a sweater during a party at Spader’s drafty apartment. Instead, Spader, in front of everyone at the party, said that George’s huge head would stretch out the neckhole of his sweater and then made the counter offer of a cheap, very unflattering MetLife windbreaker.

Years later, and now with the weight of Step 9 behind him, George confronted Spader, demanding an apology. Spader calmly replied“I’m so sorry that I didn’t want your rather bulbous head struggling to find its way through the normal-sized neck hole of my finely knit sweater,” much to the delight of his giggling friends. Now George needed an apology for the bad apology.

You know exactly how this feels. I do too.

As a pastor, I do a decent amount of counseling and mediation between parties in disagreement. I’ve seen countless bad “I’m sorrys.” Generally, they come out sounding something like, “I’m sorry you think/feel that….” OR “I’m sorry if you….” In other words, the apology ends up being like a polite summary of the offended party’s incompetence.

I’ll grant that sometimes this sort of thinking is legitimate. Sometimes the offended party is completely off base. If that’s the case though, I’d avoid the “I’m sorry” verbiage, as insincere apologies only complicate matters.

On many occasions, however, we stink at “I’m sorrys” simply because we’re proud and angry and we don’t believe the other party has properly acknowledged their fault in the matter.

Furthermore, we live in a time where people aren’t expected to say what they’re thinking. We’re expected to say what’s expected, what’s socially appropriate. This creates an even deeper cynicism about apologies and forgiveness.

All of this leads me to believe that we have some fairly large societal misperceptions about the language of reconciliation. So…I wanted to spend a moment today trying to debunk, from the Bible’s perspective, some common myths about forgiveness.

(NOTE: God’s forgiveness for our sins is obviously a major scriptural theme and always worth thoughtful consideration. But for our purposes today, I’m going to primarily address the benefits of human-to-human forgiveness, motivated by God.)

MYTH 1) Forgiveness primarily benefits the offending party.

Years ago, I remember speaking with a  woman who, from my perspective, had been legitimately wronged by her ex-husband (whom I never met). We talked a lot about God’s expectation for us to forgive others as well as our request in the Lord’s Prayer that God would grant us forgiveness in the same measure that we forgive others. At one point, she very matter-of-factly said, “I won’t forgive him. I never will be able to forgive him for what he did.”

I was trying very hard to be sympathetic to what she’d been through. But there was an obvious logical disconnect here and it was difficult for me to bite my tongue.

So far as I could tell, the ex-husband had moved on with his life and never thought about this woman anymore. He seemingly wasn’t sorry and didn’t care about the misery he had (and was continuing to) put her through. He was relieved to be done with this relationship. But this woman kept foolishly thinking that by not forgiving him, by not letting his transgressions go, she was causing him some sort of hurt. But the only one who was still experiencing pain from this relationship was her.

There is good reason why emotional damage from previous relationships has taken on the title today of “baggage.” This is stuff we have to carry around. Much like hauling your luggage through a large, congested airport, hauling your emotional and relational baggage around for years is exhausting. This is certainly part of the reason why God has given Christians this mechanism called forgiveness – i.e. when we forgive, we are liberated from the weight of sin against us.

The most common Greek word to describe the concept of forgiveness is aphiemi, which is literally the idea of sending something away or letting something go. If you let something go, you no longer have to carry it around. You are freed.

So, yes, forgiveness does benefit the offending party. It does tend to lead to relational reconciliation, certainly more than if there is no forgiveness. But equally important, forgiveness also benefits the health of the one doing the forgiving.

Ephesians 4:31-32 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

MYTH 2) Forgiving means forgetting.

When God forgives us, the Bible tells us that he will forgive (our) wickedness and will remember (our) sins no more.” (Heb. 8:12) That said, this point shouldn’t be overstated to such an extent that it violates God’s omniscience. In other words, we are judicially justified by God, and heaven is ours as if we had not sinned, but an awareness of our sins hasn’t escaped God’s knowledge. Nor does that happen to us. 

Short of a lobotomy, it’d be foolish to think someone, at least in this lifetime, could have some offenses completely wiped from their memory banks – e.g. abuse, rape, murder of loved ones, etc.

Forgiveness does not then mean that we can (or necessarily even should) never think about tragedies that have come our way.

Dwelling for lengthy periods of time wouldn’t be healthy or productive. And the biblical ideal for directing our thoughts is clearly that we “forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead” (Phil. 3:13). Nonetheless, someone who is struggling to forgive should not see “forgetting” as a necessary but impossible hurdle to get over before forgiveness can take place. Furthermore, someone who has not forgotten sins committed against them shouldn’t feel as though their forgiveness is insufficient because they still experience some pain over that past wrongdoing.

Remember, the concept behind aphiemi is more “letting it go” than it is non-remembering. It’s not a thought repression, but a conscious choice to not hold something against someone any longer.

MYTH 3) You need someone to say “I’m sorry” in order to forgive.

Perhaps the most shocking of all, you don’t actually need anyone to say anything to you in order to forgive them. You don’t need groveling. You don’t need tears. You don’t need a good “I’m sorry” or really an “I’m sorry” at all.

How do I know this? Just look at the how, when, and why of God’s forgiveness to you.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) Through Christ’s death (how), before we ever thought about repenting (when), because he loved us so much (why), God forgave our sins. While we were still sinners! Not only hadn’t we earned forgiveness, we weren’t even asking for it! We weren’t even considering ourselves needing of it! That’s grace. Not just showing love to people who don’t fully deserve it (as amazing as that is), but showing love to people whose thoughts and actions suggest they don’t want or need it. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Through Jesus, God showed grace – he forgave you and me all our transgressions, before we gave him a good “I’m sorry.” His Spirit now lives inside you, which means that you have the capacity to forgive that way too.

Perfect morality is a nice ideal, but unrealistic for someone here on earth. Better forgiveness, however, is within our reach.

Don’t buy the world’s foolish myths about forgiveness. Trust the teaching of the Savior who invented it.

(Article originally published at TimeofGrace.org)