The Cause of Superhero Culture

ddc3a688-03b5-4dd6-9a08-78af32de84b6

Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
    Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
Unless the Lord had given me help,
    I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. (Psalm 94:16-17)

Last week I presented on Ministering to Millennials at a conference in Phoenix. One of the last questions I received was about the superhero culture so prevalent with young adults. It’s become big business. Actually, it’s become the BIGGEST genre in the entertainment business.

To date, in 2016 the highest grossing films around the world are superhero/fantasy films. Currently the order looks like this – #1 Captain America: Civil War ($1.1 bil), #4 Batman v. Superman:Dawn of Justice ($872 mil), #5 Deadpool ($778 mil), #8 X-Men Apocalypse ($509 mil). Further telling is the fact that none of the top 10 movies in revenue are even remotely based in reality.

Thus, the fascinating trend that Hollywood has fallen into in recent years is that the Academy Award for Best Picture each year ends up going to a film deeply rooted in painful realism, yet the movies that make the most at the box office are anything but reality. So we have this tension, as though the cultural elites, the arbiters of quality film-making, are trying to continuously bring us back to the harsh realities of life, all while the general populace is showing (with their attendance and dollars) that they’re yearning for something far greater than the present reality.

None of this, at least in retrospect, is surprising for Christians who take the Bible seriously. In the 20th century, higher academia did it’s best to refute the supernatural. But you simply can’t suppress the truth forever. Often, it’s like trying to press down a bubble under cellophane, it’s going to pop up elsewhere. And you certainly cannot suppress a supernatural God. The 20th century was a good try. But it seems as though the cultural corner has been turned. Even famous scientists, in somewhat controversial fashion, are now claiming to prove God’s existence.

But the rise of superhero culture in the 20th century serves as evidence of mankind’s collective subconscious acknowledging the truth that there exists a being who can surpass mere human capabilities.

C.S. Lewis, following previous theologians who had argued for the existence of God on the basis of something they called the sensus divinitatis (a sense of the divine), echoed,

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex.” (Mere Christianity)

So, why is Wolverine’s ability to heal so compelling? Because there really is someone who can cure all wounds (Luke 17:19). Why is Superwoman’s ability to speak in any language so compelling? Because there really is a Spirit who works in every language (Acts 2:5-6). Why is Superman’s ability to fly so compelling? Because there really is someone who can be everywhere at any time (Jer. 23:24). Why is his X-ray vision so compelling? Because there really is someone who sees all things (Job 34:21). Why is Spiderman’s ability to swing between buildings of a congested city so compelling? Because there really is someone who can move through huge crowds without problem (Luke 4:30). Why is Nightcrawler’s ability to pop in and out anywhere so compelling? Because there really has been someone who did the same (Luke 24:31). Why is the Hulk so compelling? Because there really is actually someone strong enough to move mountains (Matt. 17:20) and cause the sun to stand still (Josh 10:12-13).Why is Professor X’s mind-reading so compelling? Because there really is someone who knows your deepest thoughts (Psalm 139:2). Why is Aquaman’s ability to influence sea creatures so compelling? Well….he’s really not all that compelling. I’ve always been sympathetic towards Aquaman’s relative lameness – but, truth be told, there really is someone who can control the fish for his purposes (Jon. 1:17).

Now what would you have if one person embodied all of these abilities and more? His name is Jesus. And he showed up to overcome the darkness of our present reality. You can only suppress his truth for so long.

I believe the undeniable superhero culture in which we currently live is only one of many indicators of a society longing for supernatural truth. For instance, as society rebuked not only supernatural talk of God, but also angels and demons in the 20th century, we experienced the rise of alien phenomena. So, if I said… “Mysterious extraterrestrial beings, less than ‘God’ but more than man, who though they do not fully dwell on this planet, interact with this planet using unexplainable advanced powers greater than those seen from the beings of this planet. And these beings typically either bring messages to the people of this planet or remove people from this planet and take them into a different realm (cf. Luke 16:22).” Am I describing aliens….or angels and demons? I’m convinced the former currently serves as a placeholder for the latter.

Or consider the fact that dark matter is the current theory for why the observable matter of the universe doesn’t either collapse upon itself or expand to stretch itself as uninhabitable for life. Somehow it’s okay that “dark matter,” which we cannot observe by any instrument, only by the effects it has on observable matter, is accepted by faith in the scientific community, while God, whose effects are also observed on everything, is denied. I believe the former, in a sense, is a placeholder for the latter. “(Jesus) is before all things, and in him all things HOLD TOGETHER.(Col. 1:17)

So what if a superhero actually existed? What if all superhero powers were actually placed into one person? What if all the great stories about heroes who come from far away to earth to struggle, sacrifice, and use otherworldly power to conquer our deepest villains – what if these great stories were merely leeching off the richness of the greatest, truest story ever told?

And what if our hero’s Spirit actually lives inside us now? If we work together as people whom the Spirit dwells in, the Church, what kind of healing power could we bring into the world?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.(Eph. 3:20-21)

 

Millennials Might Kill Holidays…and Why That’s Okay

blog - milllennials holiday

I ran across an interesting article recently, the thrust of which was the idea that Millennials have turned once simple birthday party gatherings into “holy month” monstrosities. The author states:

But millennials took those simple pleasures for granted, and now, many parties have evolved into ravenous emotional beasts: month-long, highly intricate ceremonies that eat up all your savings and Facebook notifications. Absence is not an option. Sickness is not an excuse. The rise of the birthdayzilla has transformed birthday parties from simple one-offs to totalitarian birthday months, and everyone must comply.

Now it’s not particularly noteworthy that Millennials have pushed the boundaries of extreme behavior on self-focused holidays. It’s not even all that surprising to me that the author freely uses terminology like “HOLY months” to describe these events. Since humans were designed for worship, we carve out portions of our lives as sacred and we’re going to worship something as holy. Therefore, if you take God out of the social consciousness, we’re likely going to worship ourselves. Makes perfect sense.

What’s really quite intriguing to me, however, is the idea that Millennials are tampering with the traditional notion of holidays (i.e. from the Middle English for “holy days”). In other words, the surprising twist to me is not that the Millennial generation would consider their birthdays to be “HOLY days.” The unique and telling part to me is that they’ve moved beyond “holy DAYS.”

Millennials are largely asynchronous (i.e. not bound by traditional time structures). For instance, the idea of having to watch a TV show on a certain day of the week at a certain time not only seems foreign to the Millennial mind, but inefficient and wasteful. They do their classes online when they want. They stream entertainment content online when they want. They shop online when they want. Those are significant changes from prior generations.

Consequently, from the perspective of time, Millennials are pushing humanity to become less event (time) driven and more lifestyle (content & attitude) driven.

There are unquestionably some implications here for Christianity and the church.

For instance, for years humanity has thought in terms of special events. Even the Church has thought in terms of special events – Christmas, Easter, etc. But consider this – Would we have to have a Christmas Day (or Eve) celebration? Would we have to have an Easter Day celebration? Think carefully here… As Christians, we cannot help but celebrate the sin-removing, life-changing, eternity-altering facts of our Savior’s birth, death, and resurrection. That’s a given. But are we primarily tied to certain days for these celebrations? Or do these facts primarily tie us to new life (and new lifestyles) in Christ?

If there’s any doubt about this Millennial shift from time to content & attitude, event to lifestyle, just keep this post in mind next Christmas when you hear a Millennial say something like, “We’re ‘doing Christmas’ with my parents this weekend and then my husband’s parents next weekend.” That mindset, or language, didn’t exist several generations ago.

Without rehashing the entire history of why Christians arrived at certain dates for celebrations, I think many believers today are in tune with the fact that Christianity borrowed pagan Roman dates for its celebrations. Christmas was in all likelihood linked to Saturnalia. Easter was in all likelihood linked to Eostre. There remains scholarly debate about the exact years, let alone the exact dates, of Christians attaching themselves to these events. So the idea that we MUST celebrate on certain days seems a little silly. Furthermore, we know that Christians were NOT celebrating these events as specific holidays until hundreds of years after Christ’s life on earth. (Dr. Paul L. Maier’s In The Fullness of Time is my top recommendation for such corresponding data.)

The bottom line is simply this – the early Christians did NOT find it necessary to have special celebrations on special dates. The early Christians, did, however find it essential that if you were a follower of Christ, ALL 365 days of the year be fully dedicated to the life, death, and resurrection of the Savior. While the commercialization of “event days” like Christmas is widely understood, it remains a potentially valid case that perhaps such days are more detrimental than helpful.

So, am I advocating the removal of celebratory Christian festivals? No, not necessarily. And I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone is inherently doing anything wrong by celebrating on such days. The more relevant question though is whether or not God designed for the Christian Church to have such days, i.e. are they wise or not?

The words of the Apostle Paul to the Colossians should at least give us pause for consideration:

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17)

This would appear to give some legs to the argument that special day events were the product of religious observance, but lifestyle is the product of the gospel of Jesus.

At its peak, it’s believed that the Roman Empire had festival celebrations somewhere between half and two-thirds of the days of the calendar year. There seems to be something about the human heart that wants to make one day more sacred than the other.   Hmmm.

Realistically, do I think Millennials are going to overturn the concept of holidays? No. It’s been around too long. And I think there are too many Millennials who, while they aren’t wired to think in terms of events, nonetheless enjoy days off from work.

That said, do I think the way we perceive time is changing? Absolutely. Do I think that’ll have profound implications for the way we exist as The Church? Yes. And do I think that’s all bad? Nope.

Most of all, I’m excited for my time in eternity, about which Peter says, With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Pet. 3:8) At that point, I won’t be bothered by my stupid mistakes from the past. At that point, I won’t be anxious about the uncertainty of future events. At that point, I’ll just be…with the Lord, who by grace washed away my past and secured my future, so that I could finally live in the eternal moment. 

blog - Millennials holidays

The Idols We Never Knew We Had – Bible Study

A little different direction this week – wanted to share with you some of the other stuff I’ve been working on of late. Linked above is an interview with Northwestern Publishing House Editor, Daniel Schroeder, for the now available study “The Idols We Never Knew We Had.”

I had a ton of fun putting the lessons together and, after piloting the study on my own, was really pleased with the results.

A more nuanced view of idolatry has been one of the top two or three spiritual insights I’ve gained in my adult life as a Christian. I’m hoping to share some of the good news that I learned along the way. Please encourage your church to consider running the 8 week series, either on Sunday mornings or in a Small Group setting. You can purchase a copy at the links below.

A downloadable version is available HERE.

There is also a CD version available HERE.

NOTE: You will not be required to look at my adult braces during the course of the study.

No More Little Boy’s/Girl’s Room

hb2-image

The Obama administration issued a clear statement this past week encouraging schools nationwide to allow students to use the bathroom which matches their gender identity. In case there is any confusion, this is a change from the previous understanding of bathroom usage – that students would use the bathroom which matches their biological sex. While no law has yet been established, the implication was that federal funding would be cut to schools who refuse compliance.

As though American politics weren’t polarizing enough, delving into the bathroom lives of citizens was a guarantee to create additional angst. Students around the country are starting to protest. My own church body, which maintains a very large school system, is even starting to face some outside pressure.

Clearly our country is encountering some gender hurt right now. Many people on either side of the issue feel unheard and unconcerned for. Media coverage is not helping, but it’s also not the media’s job to help. It’s the media’s job to cover legitimate news.

In honor of Pentecost (this past Sunday’s celebration), however, it IS the Church’s job to offer hope, peace, comprehensible truth, and radical unity, guided by the example, sacrifice, and grace of Christ.

So, since this has quickly become a political issue (as seemingly all are becoming today), let me phrase it like this:

To my friends on the Left…

I think there exists a caricature of the Right – that they fear transgender individuals using bathrooms because “What if they abuse little children?” I haven’t seen any evidence that a transgender individual has any greater likelihood of sexually assaulting someone (minor or adult) and therefore if someone legitimately has this concern, it would seem unfounded.

That said, bathroom behavior that matches gender identity does, however, seemingly create a greater risk. This is because it unquestionably offers greater access to those who seek to do sexual harm to others.

Say, for instance, that a male sexual predator wants to molest a little girl. Since there’s no way to police gender identity, that man now has significantly closer proximity to a vulnerable young woman in a state of undress. This is like the “no junk food in the house” diet rule. Proximity to temptation (i.e. access), creates greater likelihood of transgression. In this case, it would undeniably involve a victim.

So…for the sake of maintaining an important barrier that protects potential victims, does the willingness on behalf of some to use private bathrooms seem unreasonable?

To my friends on the Right…

I think there exists a caricature of the Left – that they not only want bathroom access for transgender individuals, but they want conservative religious people to suffer. If that were true, it’d obviously be a severe form of bullying in a land where we’re supposedly free to coexist with varying beliefs.

But, by and large, my impression is that those in the transgender community don’t have an agenda to torture others. They simply want others to understand some of the pain and ostracization that they themselves have felt, and show some sympathy and humanity towards it.

I can’t imagine what it’d be like to feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body – my brain and impulses communicating one thing and yet my physiology saying another. That has to be a source of immense internal tension. Feeling like the weight and hostility and judgment of the religious world is piling on you I would assume only aggravates the frustration.

So…for the sake of some tender human spirits who have endured a struggle that most of us can’t begin to comprehend, does it seem unreasonable to listen and perhaps reconsider our public bathroom options?

To all my friends…

Anger, panic, and frustration do little for quality decision-making. It often leads to unnecessary either/or thinking.

In the short-term, I hope we can take the emotion out of this issue and come up with some workable solutions. For instance, I’m not sure why we can’t move to an all private bathroom system. As it is, public situations like YMCA locker rooms have always felt shockingly closer to Roman Baths than modern safety and hygiene for my comfort. In 2016, when 90% of people are literally walking around with a video camera, more private places for private parts just makes sense. (Incidentally, that’s also my 2020 campaign slogan, by the way – Make America’s Parts Private Again)

Will it cost money to renovate all these public spaces? Yes, of course. There is always a cost to more peaceful human relations. It’s worth it. And both sides of this issue seem passionate enough that they’d be willing to put their money where their mouths are.

In the long run, I’m going to continue encouraging Christians to consider and reconsider their approach to social influence. The great American evangelist, Vince Havner, once said,

“We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.”

It’s always amazed me that when Jesus was asked a question about paying taxes to Caesar, he nonchalantly said, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matt. 22:21) He literally encouraged paying taxes to the very government that would unjustly crucify him! And yet he obviously still didn’t consider that “approving of sin.”

Jesus’ approach to changing the world was not political. It wasn’t forceful. It was self-sacrificial. Jesus never condoned nor dismissed sin. But he also didn’t publicly condemn “sinners.” (John 8:11) Instead, he inconvenienced himself all the way to hell so that those who were in the wrong might experience grace, have their hearts melted, repent and be saved.

It worked. It’s happened a billion times. Including to me.

And I’m convinced that the ones who realize this grace are the only ones who can bring this awful public dialogue out of the toilet.

Atheist Believers

tyson1Neil deGrasse Tyson recently hosted the Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the American Museum of Natural History. The topic was whether or not our universe is a simulation.

This might sound strange and silly at first glance, but an awareness of consciousness has been an essential part of western philosophy ever since Rene Descartes first posited, “I think, therefore I am.”

In more recent history, the highly acclaimed Matrix movie franchise brought this topic of consciousness into the American mainstream. It continues to be a source of fascination, especially for academics like Tyson and his PhD friends on stage – cosmologists, astrophysicists, and philosophers.

Over the course of the two-hour debate, the conversation eventually drifted to the nature of “The Simulator” behind the simulation. At the 51:40 mark in the debate video (linked below), on one of the experts says,

“Who knows if there’s actually a simulator doing any of this. But if you do take the simulation hypothesis seriously, it’s got a couple of elements of a traditional god. This person could be all-knowing about our universe and could be all-powerful. The one thing which is probably missing…is wisdom and benevolence. (looks to the sky) If there is a simulator, I refuse to worship you. You may be out there but you have not established yourself as being worthy of worship!”

This is met with laughter by the panelists on stage and some awkward support from people in the audience.

However, when you arrive at the 1:39:30 mark, Neil deGrasse Tyson begins his closing remarks. Sobering the group up, he says that humans have a certain hubris about our understanding of and interaction with the universe. He makes the case that though we have a high percentage of DNA overlap with chimpanzees, dogs, etc., we look at those animals as very stupid comparatively. He continues,

“What if we found some life form that was an equal gap between us and the chimpanzee, but beyond us instead of below us? What would we look like to them? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence.”

This is met by sheepish quiet and defensive posture from the panelists, and an obvious curiosity from the audience.

Winding down his concluding statement, Tyson adds:

 “And if that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment. I’m saying, the day we learn that it is true, I will be the only one in the room saying, ‘I’m not surprised.'”

Ooookkkaaay. So….the more I read leading atheist voices, the more I continue to see myself as being forever indebted to them. Tyson, along with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Hawking, etc. are simply producing the best material out there for theo-apologetics. This debate is no exception.

Tyson, though claimed by many atheists, rather considers himself an agnostic.

But any way you slice it, he currently doesn’t believe in God. Despite that, taking out some of the pejorative “for their entertainment” verbiage, Tyson also just said in the debate, “it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity…I’m saying, the day we learn that it is true, I will be the only one in the room saying, ‘I’m not surprised.'” 

Uhhh…Nope. That’s not true. Maybe when saying “I will be the only one in the room” Tyson is referring very narrowly to the audience at the AMNH debate. But if he’s trying to claim insider knowledge on a divine creating being (i.e. Simulator), I’m calling NONSENSE. I’m sorry, Columbus, but you can’t land in America, look some Native Americans in the eye, call them Indians, and then claim you’re some genius explorer. All you are is last to the table. And it’s insulting and patronizing to the natives to say you discovered the place.

Why do I care what Neil deGrasse Tyson has to say? For those who don’t know, Tyson was the driving force behind the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey series. Not only was it wildly successful in ratings and won a Peabody for educational content, but it’s now frequently being shown in public school classrooms around the country as a scientific basis for understanding the universe. It’s not particularly friendly toward a biblical worldview, as Tyson himself is not. In other words, Tyson is to kids of this generation what Bill Nye was to kids of the 90s – the single largest scientific academic influence on American youth, helping to shape an anti-God worldview.

Tyson is totally likable, by the way. He’s not only extraordinarily well-versed in a variety of scientific fields, but as a brilliant educator, he has an exceptional talent for breaking down complicated data into palatable sizes that even children (or I) can understand. What he doesn’t understand, however, ironically, is his own anti-God bias. And presenting his conclusions as scientific and “neutral” to a generation of kids (and adults) is what I think is the spiritual charlatanism.

In other words, I teach kids to believe in a Creator. That’s because I have a pro-God bias. Despite his recent imagining that “everything in our lives is the creation of some other entity/simulator” talk, Tyson teaches kids to believe in macro-evolution, and he presents that as being neutral, thinking-for-himself, pro-science…not as being anti-God. That’s where our worldviews collide. He believes that he is a blank slate capable of only rational thought. I believe that the science of genetics (nature) and environment (nurture) as well as the predisposed spiritual condition of mankind (sin) make every single human inherently biased. Consequently, I don’t think I can trust anyone who refuses to admit their own bias. This most recent demonstration of Tyson speaking out of both sides of his mouth furthers my opinion.

In the end, everyone has to decide. Are we the products of a Divine Creator? If so, the clear implication is that we have a responsibility to this being, to know him and what he wants from us. Or, are we the products of happenstance, merely accidental? If so, the clear implication of being without design is that we are purposeless, and nothing we do has any meaning. Tyson’s gotta pick a lane.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20)

The Prince of This World

prince1

A week ago the world lost one of the greatest musicians of the modern era.

We live in a bit of a fame junkie culture, so a lot of hyperbole tends to get thrown around when celebrities pass away. But there were so many legendary rumors regarding the man born Prince Rogers Nelson, that, if true, “greatest” musician, or at least greatest musical entertainer of the era doesn’t seem too big.

For instance, rumor has it that when Eric Clapton (a guitar legend in his own right) was once asked what it’s like to be the best guitarist alive, he responded, “I don’t know. Ask Prince.” Rumor has it that Prince played the parts of ALL 27 INSTRUMENTS on his first released album and legitimately knew how to play over 50 quite well. Rumor has it that when he performed at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2007, the production designer for the show, Bruce Rodgers, asked Prince if it would still work to do the show in the downpouring Miami rain. Prince looked him in the eye and replied, “Can you make it rain harder?” This, by the way, in my opinion, was simply the best Super Bowl performance in history.

Total enigma.

Prince was like the seahorse of the music industry – an odd, funny, colorful little creature, unique and beautifully uncategorizable, but nonetheless an essential part to any definition of the environment he lived in. He left a huge imprint and will be missed.

Yes, Prince was an incredible artist, an unthinkably brilliant musician, and an enigmatic performer. You know you’re insanely good when other music legends all seemingly are beside themselves marveling at your talent. For example:

But in case you forgot, Prince was also SUPER dirty. Like…the guy responsible for forcing the music industry’s hand on adding PARENTAL ADVISORY warnings on record covers…that level of dirty.

So, there’s a segment of the world, including the Christian world, who has been blasting Prince nonstop through their speakers for the past week (except on streaming services, cause Prince declared the internet “dead” in 2010). This segment of the population is still in over mourning the loss of a genius…somewhat understandably.

There’s another segment, primarily in the conservative world, who cannot believe that we’d spend so much time and energy celebrating a man who unabashedly objectified human sexuality and shaped a generation to think of it as merely an animalistic appetite. And yet we’ll cause the world to stand still for him all while hard-working men and women in the military, law enforcement, as well as husbands and wives and fathers and mothers (i.e. truer heroes in the opinion of many) die everyday with no fanfare. This segment still seems a little perturbed…somewhat understandably.

So here’s where I’m at.

Prince appears to have made a significant societal impact. This shouldn’t really be much of a surprise, considering his rare skill set. Music has the capacity to touch emotion more than perhaps any other medium. That so many can hear “When Doves Cry” and be instantaneously transported to re-experiencing the sensation of the year 1984 is powerful and mystifying. In a world where we get desensitized by a bombardment of manipulative marketing, the ability to cause someone to feel anything is rather valuable. Prince’s music unquestionably caused hundreds of millions of people to feel something.

But the thought that’s consumed me in the wake of his death is the idea that impacting millions momentarily here on earth is still less consequential than impacting one person for millions of moments in heaven.

Put differently, I work with over a hundred teachers who are doing gospel ministry on a day-in, day-out basis. I know hundreds of parents who are praying with their children to Jesus every night. I know hundreds of Christians who eagerly bring the grace of Jesus into their workplace every morning. These faithful will never, ever get the fanfare that Prince is getting right now. And I don’t think they’re seeking that. Nonetheless, they’re objectively making a far greater impact, because touching someone’s life with Christ yields eternal dividends, not fleeting sentimental nostalgia. I’m not knocking Prince’s incredible career – I’m just saying whatever glory our world gives him, it doesn’t compare.

Don’t take my word for it though. Deep down inside, Prince himself understood the futility of this world. It’s no secret that the music icon joined the Jehovah’s Witness faith in 2001. He was apparently an active member of the Kingdom Hall near Chanhassen, MN. Members say he wanted to maintain a low profile, be treated like everyone else, and would go door-to-door to have faith conversations.

What could cause someone who’s moved millions with his secular music to do door-to-door evangelism? ANSWER: The conclusion that this life is clearly not the one we were built for.

prince2

The point is simply this: you can sell 100 million albums on earth, but all that virtuoso musical genius is not worth one note of an angel singing Christ’s praises in an eternal paradise. So while the best of the best among human talents captures our attention right now, the humility of a Christian showing and sharing the grace of Jesus is what will make a difference in the end. Your relationships as a Christian are important. Your parenting as a Christian is important. Your sometimes seemingly mundane work, done as a Christian, is important. Getting the world to praise your act means squat in the end. Showing and sharing Christ means everything.

I bet Prince would have said something similar at the end of his life. And if he could, I guarantee he would say it now.

When (the Spirit) comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:8-11)

(NOTE: I hope no one draws the conclusion that I’m insinuating the Jehovah’s Witness faith is the same as the Christian faith. The reference to Prince’s late life religious activity merely demonstrates that a man who possessed everything “desirable” in the eyes of this world clearly still longed for something more.)

In the End, No One’s Getting Away With Anything

First – yes, I’m still alive.

Second – yes, I’m still blogging. Why? At this point, I’m convinced that online writing might still be the best modern medium for social commentary. Live stream commentary meinsweater(e.g. Twitter) is gratifyingly instant but lacks actual depth and eloquence. Printed media is substantial but lacks the ability to capture teachable moments. And video content is getting there, but…I totally have a face for blogging.

Third – I think I need to write. Rumination is one of the hallmark characteristics of OCD, which I’ve battled the vast majority of my life. Writing offers me a way to unload social analysis that is stockpiling in my brain like dirty laundry in a bachelor’s hamper. It’s cathartic.

Last – I’ve relocated. I’m now in the heart of Milwaukee at St. Marcus Lutheran. The past two months have been a life-rearranging, massively humbling occasion as I’m learning the ins and outs of a new (to me), large urban ministry. Fortunately, God’s people in Rochester were very gracious in saying goodbye and God’s people in MKE have been very gracious in receiving me and Adrian into their family.

Moving on…

wfcake

The momentum of the story has apparently shifted.

Whole Foods has now filed a countersuit against Jordan Brown, an Austin, TX man who claims a local store wrote a homophobic slur in icing on a custom cake he’d ordered. (BTW, I honestly have no idea why bakeries continue to be the frontline battlegrounds of America’s sexual identity debate, but I intend to get to the bottom of it.)

Adding another religious wrinkle to the controversy, Brown also happens to be an openly gay pastor at Austin’s Church of Open Doors.

Whole Foods today released security video footage of Brown purchasing the cake, the UPC label located on the top of the box, and not on the side of the box, contradicting the video Brown had personally posted of the box. This would seem to indicate some tampering.

Whatever the outcome, my initial takeaway from this is yet another reaffirmation that everything we’re doing nowadays is recorded. Fewer and fewer people are getting away with anything because everything is monitored online, listened to over the phone, tracked through our credit card records, caught on surveillance footage, or literally being livestreamed.

As a Christian, I would think this is a positive, for multiple reasons:

  1. Christians already admit they’re not perfect. We’re certainly not proud of our mistakes, but still publicly own them by way of confession & absolution. Consequently, reminders of mistakes shouldn’t crush us.
  2. Christians are not shy about accountability. With a clear understanding of the fallenness of the human condition, we recognize the behavioral curbing benefit of heightened awareness.
  3. Christians realize God sees everything anyways. Even more than someone else seeing our warts, what’s most embarrassing is the fact that a holy God knows our imperfection. He’s the only one with a right to judge us and the capacity for lasting judgment. And we can’t hide anything from him.

So, if we Christians find our righteousness not in our moral performance, but in the perfection won in Jesus, transparency would logically be less of an issue for us than for the rest of the world.

Even beyond our personal opinion of this transparency, however, with the rise of surveillance, a socially relative world is gaining a collective paranoia for a Big Brother watching. Or maybe, rather, proper perception of a Heavenly Father.

We inherently have a sense that we will eventually be held accountable for everything we do in life. Built into the human psyche is a semblance of justice, and an anticipation for a final judgment. Deep down we know that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:13)

The Christian doctrine of a Judgment Day, thus, is incredibly practical. Why? Because it means that in the end no one is ever going to get away with anything. Either, someone recognizes the error of their ways and repents (i.e. turns away from their transgressions and embraces the payment of sin offered by Christ Jesus) OR that person, in the end, will have to answer to God for their wickedness. Both of those are incredibly humbling, but one is voluntary and the other is forced. One is temporary and healthy. The other is permanent and deathly.

This is a tremendous resource for a Christian here on earth. I don’t have to get the last word in every argument. I don’t have to make sure my ex pays for his/her indiscretions. I don’t have to make sure the company that cheated me out of some hard-earned money gets their just deserts. I don’t have to make sure the individual responsible for taking the life of my loved one gets their comeuppance.

I’m not saying that justice here on earth isn’t nice, nor that it shouldn’t be pursued. But everyone who has ever been in a verbal conflict knows the pain and embarassment of letting your words go too far. In pursuit of putting someone in their place, we spout off something unconscionable and unjustifiable. In an attempt to right the wrong, we ourselves wronged. Humans struggle to enforce justice without becoming unjust themselves. It’s hard to stop evil without becoming evil. This is the reason why the Apostle Paul says, Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:17-19)

So, everything is getting recorded. Every single person who ever lives will either have to confess their sins, humble themselves, and fall before Jesus as their Savior in this lifetime OR they will be humbled as they fall before Jesus as their Judge on the Last Day. Judgment Day means no one gets away with anything. And it also means you and I are free from the responsibility of playing divine judge, jury, and executioner – roles we aren’t built for.

judgmentday