Why We Chose Public School

school bus rearBack in elementary school, the favorite post-school activity of the neighborhood boys was riding our battle tested dirt bikes down the mean suburban streets in Richmond, Virginia. Every once and a while, we’d catch a glimpse of them:

Homeschoolers.

The lonely home school family in our neighborhood had enough kids to start a football team. We’d catch a glimpse of them every blue moon riding their big wheels in the cul-de-sac with their mom watching over them like a mother hen. As public school kids, we didn’t know what to make of these alien subjects that (in our minds) skipped school and probably watched G.I. Joe cartoons all day. The homeschool kids weren’t allowed to play or talk with the rest of the neighborhood kids. We treated them like broccoli covered with cheese: Be suspicious of what’s underneath. We’d heard rumors they were part of some strange cult group anyway.

Today, homeschooling is now longer treated like a strange alien landscape. The number of children homeschooled dramatically increased between 2001 and 2009 by 74 percent to 1.5 million children. A 2008 Department of Education surveys have uncovered that 83 percent of homeschool families cite “religious or moral instruction” as the principal reason that they homeschool their children. Homeschooling – once derided as a kooky protest – is now mainstream, and often expected in some evangelical / fundamentalist circles. Case in point: I have some good friends and congregation members that are grappling with the issue of transitioning their kids from homeschooling to public school. I asked them why they started homeschooling in the first place, and they responded: “In the fundamentalist church we grew up in, that’s just what you were expected to do as a Christian parent.” It would seem that homeschooling isn’t just for cult groups anymore (just kidding … just kidding … just kidding).

When my daughter turned school age, I was caught off guard with expectations from other Christian parents to homeschool (or at least send our daughter to a decent private Christian school). Public schools were now “the enemy.” I heard the arguments that public schools are prone to school shooters … That public schools turn kids into goth-dressing, meth addicts that run away from home … That public schools are an evolution-loving, atheist producing factory … That public schools simply produce dumb kids. The future of our child seemingly rested in our hands. Would one decision incontrovertibly chart the life success or failure of our sweet, tender child? So we checked out the local private Christian school and visited public school options. We prayerfully considered the matter. And we ultimately enrolled our daughter to public school over the braying concerns of other horrified believers. And it has been the best decision that we’ve ever made.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons why to homeschool your kids or send them to private schools. Fear of screwing up your kids is not one of them.

It’s become popular in Christian circles to demonize “THE public schools” – as if “THE public schools” were one monolithic sausage factory producing the grotesque kids from the “Another Brick In The Wall, Part II” video. “THE public schools” as an entity does not exist. Public school corporations by nature are local and regional entities. While public schools are impacted by state / federal dollars and mandates, the day-to-day administration of local schools is not driven by a red hotline phone to the President’s (or – even worse – your congressman’s) desk. Painting “THE public schools” as a singular diabolical organization (similar to Marvel Comic’s HYDRA) bent on the destruction of innocent children’s lives is farcical. Using a broad brush to castigate public school teachers as Satanic atheists who stand unified in opposition to public prayer and the 10 Commandments is even sillier. A public school in Fairbanks, Alaska does not operate with the same standards as a public school in Topeka, Kansas.

To many Christians’ shock and awe, many public schools are filled with devout Christians who have not sold their soul to the deities of Charles Darwin or Richard Dawkins. One fundamentalist recently told me: “Satan already has the public school teachers on his side.” News to me. If our local public schools are a reflection of the composition of our local communities, it stands to reason that many teachers are Christians. My daughter’s last two teachers were Christians. How do I know that? I asked. It wasn’t weird or awkward. I told them I was a Southern Baptist pastor and they said, “Hey! I’m a Christian too.” Meaningful conversation about Jesus ensued. It’s not rocket surgery. You can do the same thing too, and I guarantee the riot police in black hawk helicopters won’t even come to throw you in jail for doing it. I also have a deacon who is a public school teacher, and I’m pretty sure that he’s not a maniacal instrument of Beelzebub either. Stereotyping is not our friend.

Nonetheless, Christians will hear the sensationally breathless 11PM news reports of knock-out games, online bullying, cellphone sexting, explicit sex-ed classes and sexual predators masquerading as teachers and bubble wrap their kids in fear from public schools. Fear of “the worst happening” – whether in the form of bullet rounds crashing through the calm of school rooms or in the form of hoodie-adorned dealers pushing PCP in the playground – overwhelms our decision-making. We play the insanity-inducing “what if” game: What if my kids are given condoms and told about safe sex? … What if my kids learn about alternative lifestyles and decide to become transgendered? … What if my child tells me that he believes that he descended from monkeys? … What if my kids start hating broccoli?

The grain of bad logic is that parents can protect their kids from sin. The Bible verse used to support this position is typically Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This proverb is often treated as an unbreakable divine promise. If a parent simply teaches their own kids and keeps them away from the worldly dangers of cigarettes, R-rated movies and Twilight novels, they’ll stay out of jail … They’ll never get pregnant as a teenager … They’ll never reject Christ in their lifetime. If you just hover over your kids, your worst nightmares will never come true.

Reality is more nuanced because the Gospel is true. Proverbs 22:6 is a proverb. It’s Biblical wisdom … not law … not an unbreakable axiom. Not every kid that is “trained up” well by their parents will stay on the straight and narrow. The Bible never says good parenting will protect kids from sin. Face it: Your kids are sinners too. Yes, I used the “s” word to describe your kids, because – well – it’s Biblically true. Your kids are included in the “all” of Romans 3:23. Your kids will fail … Your kids will falter … Your kids will make bad choices and horrible mistakes that will keep you awake at night. And their sin will principally occur because they are sinners by nature … Not necessarily because the parents have failed in some capacity. As a pastor, I am counseling several parents who homeschooled their kids, and are grieving from the poor adult choices of those same kids. Homeschoolers who now reject Christ. No matter how hard we attempt to protect our kids from touching the third rail of sin, they’re all going to get jolted.

Interestingly, Proverbs 22:6 rarely plays out as a promise in the life of any Biblical figure. Even for the first parents recorded, there’s a Cain for every Abel or Seth. There’s a Ham for every Shem. There’s a Esau for every Jacob. Jacob had a litter of kids that killed newly circumcised men and sold their brother into slavery. Samson’s parents devoted him to be a Nazarite from birth, but Samson loved to chase Philistine skirts. David’s love child, Solomon, started out on track but was wooed away by a veritable army of ungodly women. Go through the royal lineage of 1 & 2 Kings: Bad kings producing good offspring … Good kings producing bad offspring.

Public schools and teachers are not the enemy. According to the Gospel, sin is the enemy and Christ is the solution. The warmth and light of Christ that overpowers sin and mortifies the flesh is needed in our schools. The “salt and light” that comes from being in Christ is needed too. Paul writes in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” As we interact with public schools (or any other setting for that matter), our attitude should not be an unbiblical defeatism that comes from an unhealthy fear that the darkness of the world will overcome Christ. Certainly, the power and authority of Holy Spirit is not mystically blocked by the cinderblock walls of a school building.

Many fundamentalists incessantly complain about God being taken out of our public school systems … as well as prayer, Bible education, abstinence education and quality school lunches of yore, such as square pizza with a side of greasy tater tots. As a result, they take their kids out of public school to protect them from the unwashed heathen horde. It’s an ironic self-fulfilling prophecy: We pull our kids out of public schools because they aren’t “Christian” enough … Then complain that our public schools aren’t Christian enough. Why should we expect any realistic pressure for Bible education, prayer or abstinence education to return to public schools when Christians are taking their kids out of public school in droves? Why should we expect salt and light in a place where believers have quite admittedly given up on being salt and light?

Regardless of where your kids are educated, my hope is that you’ll share with your kids about how Christ has changed your life. I believe that Deuteronomy 6 commands parents to share about Christ with their kids. Too often, believers of all varieties have shirked this basic responsibility out of fear or laziness and left their kids’ faith (or lack thereof) in the hands of “professional” pastors and Christian educators. Faith begins in the home – not in schools (or churches for that matter). My wife and I have intentional daily devotional time with our daughter. We daily pray with our daughter. We talk about Christ in our home. We have a small group that meets in our home. Our daughter witnesses us worshipping, singing praises, reading Scripture, teaching others about Jesus and sharing our faith with others. Regardless of where our child attends school for education, we have taught our child about who Jesus is and the impact that He has made in our lives. Last year, I led my daughter to Christ and had the opportunity to baptize her. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. I know she won’t be perfect. I know she’ll have her problems. I know she’ll try our patience and drive us to our knees in prayer. But she is a beloved child of the King, and I am comforted that she belongs to Him no what may come.

In the end, the measure of being a good Christian parent is not whether your kids turn out perfect. They won’t.

The measure of being a good Christian parent is not based on your selection of homeschooling, private school or public school. In our Christian liberty, there are many options. Do as God leads.

The measure of being a good Christian parent is whether you imitate Christ to your kids and share Christ with your kids. Here’s the measure of good Christian parenting: When I die, I want my daughter to be able to say: “My daddy loved Jesus. My daddy loved me. And I know Jesus loves me.”

That would be a job well done.

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Juggernaut: When Church Culture and Sports Culture Clash

Youth-soccer-indianaSo a Southern Baptist minister and an administrative director for a Jewish synagogue walk into a cupcake shop and agree that extracurricular sports are killing both our religions.

No … This isn’t the beginning of a terrible joke.

Back in July, my wife and I had an opportunity to catch up with a good friend, who has been an executive director for a Jewish synagogue for many years. Of course, our conversation turned to the inevitable small-talk question: “How’s work going?” Turns out that many of the synagogues in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia have been declining in attendance, and considering the best options for how to serve their community. While the reasons for decline were varied, one primary reason caught my attention: Kids sports programs. I chuckled as I immediately understood the problem. When the snow pack melts and softball/baseball season begins in Indiana, you’re more likely to find kids at the local ice cream stand in post-game celebrations than in church programs. What ensued was a fascinating ecumenical discussion of the impact of extracurricular programs on religion.

Due to my calling to Seminary and full-time ministry, I have lived in several states over the past few years. I lived in a rural Virginia county that invested millions on a children’s sports complex. I have lived in the home of Texas “Friday night lights,” where the high school football stadiums would dwarf many college campuses. Now I live in a small mid-Western community littered with shrines to intramural basketball with standing room only seating capacity. Different communities across America … Same obsession with children’s extracurricular activities. And our obsessions range from the ubiquitous (i.e. soccer; football; basketball; baseball) to the unabashedly nerdy (i.e. marching band; show choir) to the inane (i.e. elementary age cheerleading) to the practically insane (i.e. any “sporting event” – and I use that term loosely – involving an army of distracted pre-K kids).

Across America, many churches are engaged in an epic struggle with the veritable juggernaut of ever-expanding extracurricular activities. Throughout my tenure in Christian ministry, the skirmishes have become predictable and familiar:

  • The kids who drop out of youth group when a particular sports season begins.
  • The families that follow the travel team for months of weekends and become MIA from Sunday morning worship.
  • The kids who have to drop out of a week of camp ministry because a teacher won’t release them from band camp or sports camp.
  • The kids who darken the doors of church when they need easy, elderly targets for sports fundraisers.

And now that I have an elementary school age daughter, I have been personally engaged in the church-sports struggle. Last year, I had to pull my daughter out of the soccer program at our local YMCA, because the coach wanted to hold practices on Wednesdays. The coach was shocked speechless when I informed her that we were choosing our church’s kids programming over our child’s interest in an intramural sport so inconsequential that they don’t even bother to keep score.

Our obsession with the extracurricular and intramural has dented church attendance. The dirty little secret behind the decline in many churches’ attendance numbers is the issue of frequency of attendance. While many churches are staying steady in membership, the frequency of which members attend is actually declining. Members that used to attend weekly are attending every other week. Members that used to attend monthly are attending sporadically. Why are believers attending church less frequently? According to a 2012 Pew Research Poll, the top 3 reasons for the decline in frequency of attendance among the religiously affiliated were: (1) Belief that worship attendance is not important; (2) Too busy to attend; and (3) Work schedule conflicts. In other words, personal priorities keep more believers out of the pews than theological issues. More than ever, even Christian families are choosing gymnastics meets, soccer road trips and Dallas Cowboys football games over worship services.

To some extent, I think that churches need to adjust to the cultural change: Sports culture is here to stay … Sundays and Wednesday are no longer sacrosanct. The monolith of NFL football has killed traditional Sunday night services. We’ve already held a funeral for the traditional Wednesday night prayer meeting. And there’s no need to perform CPR on dead programs that don’t work in a post-Christian culture. Simply yelling at people with legalistic views of church attendance and beating believers with Hebrews 10:25 won’t work either. Instead, churches need to shift their game plan to reach people in the midst of their hectic lives. Some Christian parents legitimately feel hornswoggled and trapped into their kids schedules, and would love for the church to offer some escape hatch from the perpetual hamster wheel. Our church has shifted to a small group strategy from a traditional Sunday School model in order to reach people in the midst of the chaos of modern life. Other churches are generating their own sports programming, such as the Upwards program, to reach sports-oriented families for the sake of the Gospel. My desire for our church’s ministry to echo Paul’s call in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”

On the other hand, our churches must not be naive enough to think that simply accommodating sporting events will make some believers attend church. Many Christian parents would find some excuse to avoid church even if worship services were held at 3AM in their backyard.

And therein lies the crux of the issue: A heart that worships activities more than Christ is firmly ensconced in idolatry. Sports is God given, fun and healthy … But sports cannot be loved more than Christ. If our time, temptations, finances, hopes, dreams, worries and comfort all revolve around activities instead of Christ, then we have given our hearts over to an idol. Proverbs 4:23 declares that the problem really starts with our hearts: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” If your entire weekend seems to revolve around driving to some rank gym that smells like foot odor in Podunk, USA … If your entire weekend diet consists of concession stand hot dogs … If you’re constantly selling candy cars for uniforms or travel team trips … If the staff at Dick’s Sporting Goods knows you by name and your pastor doesn’t … Then maybe it’s time for a heart check.

As parents, we have many hopes and desires for our kids: Good paying jobs … Strong educations … Social adjustment … And to move out in exactly 18 years. But God’s desire is radically different … His desire for our kids to personally know Him. As such, the Bible speaks of the primary role of the Christian parent in terms of evangelism and discipleship:

  • Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
  • Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Our primary role as Christian parents is to share about Christ and to help our kids grow in Christ. Don’t delegate that responsibility to someone else. As a senior pastor and former youth minister, I delight in any opportunity to share about Christ with your kids. But I will also tell you that parents are the best evangelists that our kids have, and our kids generally grow to worship what their parents worship. When you teach your kids that flag football, gymnastics, cheerleading, hunting, basket weaving or pottery making is more valuable than Christ, then you’re simply molding another generation of idolators … And you’re the mold.

Above all, the grand scope of the Gospel must remain central to our parenting. Without Christ, our kids are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). Read that again: DEAD. Our kids simply need Christ more than sports programs, fundraisers, school dances, part-time jobs, shopping trips or cookouts. Only Christ can bring them to eternal life (Ephesians 2:5). And if Christ is that important, we have no business flittering around with our bizarre obsessions with unimportant things that moth and rust will destroy. Our priority as parents must be the Gospel.

My parents have gotten old enough that they are downsizing into a retirement size home, which means that they donate to me a box of my old stuff from their house every time we meet. Last time, the box was filled with 30-year old memorabilia from extracurricular activities from my youth: Flimsy soccer trophies … Certificates of achievement from choir … Obligatory soccer team photos … An gigantic trophy for best soloist at a show choir competition (really). As I sifted through the moments from my youth, I kept saying this mantra to my wife: “Why did I hold on to all this junk?” Items that were once priceless treasure transformed into garbage simply due to time and space. In that moment, I was reminded of the repeated description of the stations of life in Ecclesiastes: Vanity. Mist. Vapor. Meaninglessness. The ebb and flow of extracurricular activities comes and goes in most American households but – in the end – provides little purpose or meaning to life. At the point of your death, ribbons, certificates and team photos are meaningless curiosities. The Christ life is infinitely more important. You will never regret taking the time to share about Christ with your kids.

Let’s enjoy the life that God has graciously given but place our priority on eternal things.

The Faux Black Friday / Grey Thursday Outrage of 2013

blackfridayA confession: I love to go out to eat on Thanksgiving Day.

The whole tradition started when my parents were spending most of their “holidays” and “spare time” taking care of my grandmother debilitated with Alzheimer’s disease. As my brother, my other grandmother and I were left to our own devices and none of us could suitably cook a not-so-nasty Thanksgiving meal, the holiday buffet at the local Hilton it was. The memorable (and hilarious) lowlight of that meal occurred when the staff accidentally put out a tray of crab bisque in the place of gravy, and – of course – we wound up smothering our entire plates with bisque. Who knew crab bisque looked exactly like turkey gravy?!? Ever since, my brother and I would put on our monkey suits and experience fine dining for the holidays – without the crab bisque. The perks are numerous: (a) not subsisting on cheese plates, walnuts and awkward small talk with unknown relatives while waiting 4-5 hours for dinner; (b) turkey cooked and seasoned correctly; (c) no clean-up; (d) no strange turkey soups, turkey tetrazzini or Food Network turkey leftover experiments for multiple days; and (e) naps are still available afterwards. And then we might possibly go catch a movie …

For the past couple weeks, I have been bemused by the faux Black Friday outrage brewing in the media. Traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving (a/k/a Black Friday) has kicked off the critical Christmas shopping season for retailers. Retail stores typically earn 20-40% of their annual income during the Christmas season. Last year, 247 million Americans shopped during the 3-day Black Friday weekend, spending an average of $423 per shopper. This season, many (if not most) stores have decided to begin their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day. K-Mart is going to be open for 41 hours straight starting 6AM on Thanksgiving. Target will be open at 9PM on Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart and Macy’s will be open on Turkey Day as well. The decision for stores to be open on Thanksgiving day is being publicly shamed as heartless to retail employees, who have come in to work on the holiday. Hasty false promises are being made to “never set foot in that store again” if it’s open on Thanksgiving Day. Angry vows to not shop on Thanksgiving are circulating social media. A recent Huffpost poll found that 62% of Americans believe that retail stores should not be open on Thanksgiving Day, while 27% stated that retail stores should remain open on Thanksgiving Day if there were market demand for it. The term “Grey Thursday” is now being coined for the creep of Black Friday into Thanksgiving Day.

The outrage is a bit odd. For many, many years, retail stores have been opening their doors at the stroke of midnight on Black Friday to the crushing mob of Starbucks-buzzed shoppers clamoring, scratching and fist fighting their way to get a Cabbage Patch Doll or Air Jordan shoes. So what’s so outrageous about these same adrenaline-fueled shoppers with track shoes and tazers crossing the threshold of midnight to maul one another for the hot Christmas present on Thanksgiving Day? What’s so special about holding off to the wee wee hours of the beginning of Black Friday? Will a Christmas elf die for every dollar spent on Thanksgiving Day? Unfortunately, the retail workers have to show up on Thanksgiving Day to prep no matter whether shopping starts at midnight on Black Friday or a couple hours earlier.

The “Grey Thursday” outrage is also somewhat hypocritical. There seems to be no outrage over restaurant employees who sacrifice their time to prepare and serve meals on Thanksgiving. There is no outrage over gas station employees who manage the store while you and I pump gas while flittering over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. Or grocery store employees that have to deal with frantic home cooks racing to pick up the can of cranberry sauce they forgot. Not to mention the movie theatre staff that will be busy with turkey-filled families lining up for the first showing of the latest Disney movie Frozen or The Hunger Games sequel. Or any number of other blue collar workers whose job just doesn’t stop for any holiday whatsoever. Considering that most people (including me) have eaten numerous restaurant meals on Thanksgiving, bought gasoline numerous times on Thanksgiving, picked up a missing ingredient at a grocery store and watched a couple good (and several bad) movies on Thanksgiving, then where do we draw the line with the philosophy: “Nothing should be open on Thanksgiving”?!?

Unwittingly, we’ve already crossed the rubicon of killing “quality time” on Thanksgiving. The invisible hand of the marketplace has already strangled “quality time” many years ago … We’re just witnessing the aftermath of that victory.

A quote from a GAP, Inc. spokeswoman says it all regarding Grey Thursday: “The response from customers has prompted us to continue opening stores on Thanksgiving.” And that’s it in a nutshell: The invisible hand of the marketplace. Supply and demand. If people weren’t willing to buy on Thanksgiving, retailers wouldn’t be willing to sell on Thanksgiving … And vice versa. For all the media guffaws and internet trolling about Grey Thursday outrage and boycotts, the retailers have most assuredly already run the numbers, collected data and done the market assessments, and they know the truth about our buying habits. Retailers wouldn’t be open on Thanksgiving if they didn’t already know well beforehand that you’d break your “no shopping on Thanksgiving” pledge for a 64 inch flatscreen TV at $399. In 2012, 35 million Americans shopped on Thanksgiving Day, which was up from 29 million in the previous year. I know the HuffPost poll revealed 62% of American don’t believe that retail stores should be open on Thanksgiving Day, but that didn’t take into account whether Best Buy would have an outrageous sale on iPad minis or whether Old Navy was practically giving away flip flops for a dollar apiece. If there’s one thing that will get people to get into more morally questionable contortions than a game of vaseline Twister, it’s a good sale.

The funny part of capitalism is that the invisible hand of the marketplace often gives cultural norms the finger. Whenever economics and personal values clash, money (unfortunately) tends to win out. Case in point: Remember when everything from grocery stores to liquor stores to restaurants used to be closed on Sundays in honor of the Lord’s Day? It wasn’t more than a generation ago that the only thing to do on Sundays was to go to your church or the other church down the street or just be a pagan. A thimble of liquor sold on Sunday was scandalous. Now the only place closed on Sundays is Chic-Fil-A, and I think that most Christians would go there in droves after Sunday worship if it were open. I mean, what good worship service isn’t capped off nowadays with an expensive lunch at Ruby Tuesdays with an embarrassingly bad tip and a tract?!? I’d garner there is probably more outrage nowadays over Chic-Fil-A being closed on Sunday than any other restaurants being open on Sunday. Where is the Sunday “blue laws” outrage? Oh wait … The invisible hand is twisting everything around again …

The problem really isn’t that the literal 24-hour Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, Easter or Sundays are sacrosanct days in themselves. The problem really isn’t that restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, movie theaters or retail stores are technically open on Thanksgiving Day or any other holiday. The real problem is that consumerism and materialism is winning out over Christ, family and rest. The thought of spending an entire day with extended families gives most folks the rash-inducing heebie-jeebies. The perfunctory pop-in visits with random relatives is perceived as an exhausting chore. People would rather cut off a limb than spend a day in silence without their incessant smart phone status updates and text messages. Let’s not forget about that awkward prayer time before the family meal where Uncle Jim Bob (the “religious” one) stammers through a meandering 2-minute prayer about thankfulness. And God forbid that anyone has to actually read a passage of Scripture on thankfulness or verbally share what they are thankful for (instead of daily listing it out on Facebook). Honestly, most people are anxious to leave their Thanksgiving functions even before they arrive.  

We’re so wired up, wound up and go-go-go that we don’t know how to rest and spend time with Christ and our families anymore. The Bible informs us that need intentional time for rest and recharge, and we incorrectly distort important times of rest, reflection and connecting face-to-face with one another into “wasted moments” (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 127:2). When is the last time you locked up your smart phone and actually held a verbal conversation with a loved one? When is the last time you intentionally connected with your family members? When is the last time you focused on the provision of God and were simply thankful? When is the last time you had the opportunity and privilege to worship God with family? Amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we need more Sabbath than shopping … Our hearts must desire more Savior than sales. There are far more meaningful things to do than flittering your life away in the idolatry of chasing after material stuff that will wind up in the garage or the garbage.

Folks, we have met the enemy and the enemy is us. There’s an honesty found in the free market system, because the invisible hand of the market tends to reveal where our hearts’ desires actually lie. And our desire seems to be buying useless junk. Retail stores don’t do anything that we’re not perfectly willing to do, so there’s no point in blaming the big boxes. For the retail stores to remain closed, our hearts need to change to seek what God desires more than seeking out material goods.

I hope that everyone has a happy Thanksgiving! I’m going to spend some quality time with the Lord and my family … But I’m still going out to eat. Minus the crab bisque.

What A Wonderful World

blood-sun-1600x900My daughter was covered in blood. Blood flowed like a dripping faucet from her nose painting her chest and covering her legs like a blanket. The bathtub water was turning a sickening pink color as the blood plumed out in the water like an oil slick. Droplets of blood spattered the shower wall like a scene from C.S.I.

Twenty minutes in, I could not get my daughter’s nosebleed that began during bath-time to stop gushing. As I continued to tightly pinch her nose with a paper towel, my little girl started shivering and then began to mutter something under her breath. I then recognized it as a repeated prayer of reassurance: “God is with me … God is with me … God is with me …” I realized that she was getting extremely freaked out at the mountain of paper towels covered in her own blood and I stopped to pray with her for healing. As my wife and I began to frantically discuss whether we needed to make an ER run, the blood flow finally started to dissipate.

Thirty minutes of blood.

The world is not supposed to be this way.

There’s a certain child-like naivety and wonder to the Louis Armstrong song “What A Wonderful World” with all its talk of skies of blue and clouds of white. Every color from the Crayola box correctly painted within the proper lines as it should be … Everything bright and beautiful as God intended. And then the red of blood mars the trees of green. The sweet song of the birds gets overcome by the awful screams of horror. We try to live in our peaceful little bubbles of self-imposed serenity, but evil repeatedly crashes in like an uninvited houseguest. Evil stalks us like our shadows. Ever present … Never truly gone. Any moment of joy can quickly erode into never-ending horror. Any monument can quickly collapse in rubble. Any ordinary bath-time can turn into a bloody mess. Diaphanous we are.

I can’t help but to watch yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombings through these lenses. In a society that relishes moral ambiguity, “evil” is an extraordinarily appropriate word to describe the gruesome murder of children at a sporting event. Blown off body parts and blood stained sidewalks are patently evil. The panic and fear of bewildered families is unswervingly evil. From the alcohol-fueled sexual assault of Steubenville, WV to the mass shooting of 1st graders in Newtown, CT, the headlines have been gripped with events that can only be described in black and white terms as unequivocally evil. The worldview that people are generally good and our world is continually improving into a post-modern utopia simply does not correlate with backpacks filled with bombs and ball bearings.

Immediately following the bombing, comedian Patton Oswalt made the following statement via Facebook: “This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness. But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.” That statement has now gone viral with more than 260,000 likes and 200,000 shares on Facebook.

Make no mistake: This statement by Oswalt is wrong and contrary to the Gospel.

Considering the world to be hunky-dory with the exception of a couple rotten eggs is the functional equivalent of covering your eyes to blot out the sun. If we look squarely at the horror of the Boston Marathon bombing, we are confronted with the raw power of a world awash with a tsunami of incoherence and trauma. Has anyone honestly looked at the face of cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or asthma and said that the world is better off with these diseases? Has anyone watched the casket of a loved one slowly lowered into the ground at a cemetery and thought that all was right with the world? Has anyone witnessed the aftermath of a hideous violent crime, such as rape, sexual molestation, pedophelia, home invasion or murder, and thought that the world is full of wonderful people? Has anyone seen families with children begging for a hot meal and considered why an overwhelming number continue to be in need? What about the millions still being daily sold into sex slavery crying out for justice and freedom? How about the sheer horror and violence of 9/11, Tianamen Square, Syria, Hiroshima, Rwanda, Darfur or Joseph Kony? How about the enslavement of addiction? How about the stigma of racism? The truth is obvious: This world is horribly broken. We are like fish in a small bowl who realize that we are meant for the ocean. Trapped in a decaying and limited body, we realize that we are meant for something more … something eternal.

The words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:18-25 also resonate with me a million times more than Patton Oswalt’s:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

If we look and listen closely with unbiased ears, we can hear our world collectively creaking and groaning … Crying out for redemption and restoration. We try to donate, pontificate, politicize and regulate ourselves out of the evil found within the world but it’s like carpeting over a rotten floor. Sooner or later, everything will collapse.

At this point, you might be thinking: This is a depressed and hopeless man writing this blog.

Not true. I have so much hope.

Our hope is not that people can overcome the darkness of this world … But Christ can. A God-sized problem requires a God-sized solution. The hope of the Gospel is that God can and will make our world wonderful again. The 1915 hymn This Is My Father’s World gloriously proclaims: “Though the wrong oft seems so strong, God is the ruler yet.” Oh, how marvelously true: The suffering of this world can seem so all-consuming and heartbreakingly powerful … But the reality is that God is stronger. Through the resurrection of Christ, God proved that He is stronger than sin, death and any of the brokenness of this world. And God is revealing to us a glory that is far beyond our comprehension. A future hope without pain, suffering, tears, illness or death. And – yes – there will be no more crime. There will be no more need for courts or prisons because evil has been vanquished once and for all by Christ. The darkness of the world might humble and cause us to momentarily despair, but the darkness will never overcome the hope that is found in Christ. The darkness doesn’t stand a chance against the light of Christ.

Oh how I long for the day that Christ will come! And when He has vanquished the maddening evil of the world once and for all, I will truly sing at the top of my lungs: “What a marvelous Savior! What a wonderful world!”

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5

All The Satanic Single Ladies: Calling Malarky on the Satanic Beyonce Illuminati Conspiracy

the-IlluminatiThere are no “standards of right”. Ethics is balderdash. Each star must go on its own orbit. – Aleister Crowley.

Have you ever seen Rosemary’s Baby? It’s the 1968 horror movie about a young lady who believes that her husband made a Satanic pact to give away their baby. SPOILER ALERT: Turns out she’s wrong … Her husband is not the baby’s real father … Satan is her baby daddy! And little baby Adrian, son of Satan, is destined to conquer the entire world. DUM-DUM-DUM!

(INSERT DIABOLICAL LAUGH HERE)

If Internet rumors are to be believed (and by-and-large they’re not), then the rapper Jay-Z and the singer Beyonce’s baby, Blue Ivy, would be the living embodiment of the movie Rosemary’s Baby.

jay-z_the_rocImmediately following Beyonce’s performance on the 2013 Super Bowl halftime show, internet videos started floating around Christian circles accusing Jay-Z and Beyonce of being a members of the Illuminati as well as Satanists. If you think the Illuminati is a giant Yankee Candle, then you’ve probably not watched cable television in a few years. According to conspiracy theorists, the Illuminati is a secret society of powerful and influential people that lurk in the shadows while manipulating the course of human events to their advantage. The central evidence of Beyonce’s membership in an evil secret society seems to be the triangular hand sign that she flashes during the course of the Super Bowl performance. The Internet trolls argue that hand sign represents the “Eye of Providence,” which represents the all-seeing eye of God as seen on the U.S. Dollar Bill and in Freemasonry (yet another conspiracy favorite). To the contrary, Beyonce has stated that the hand sign is a diamond – not a triangle – and represents the diamond symbol of her husband’s Roc-A-Fella music label (“throwing up a Roc”).

jay-z

For years prior to the 2013 Super Bowl, nutty theories about Jay-Z have been clogging up the Internet. The use of the phrase “Peace God” in his “Run This Town” song is supposedly a reference to the Five Percenters (or The Nation of Gods and Earths), who teach that only 5% of the world’s population knows about its true origins. Jay-Z has been seen wearing a “Do What Thou Wilst” sweatshirt, which is a reference to British occultist Aleister Crowley. His Roc-A-Wear line of clothes unapologetically lifts symbolism from Freemasonry. Despite repeated denials by Jay-Z and the anger of freemasons finding their symbols co-opted for profit, the rumor mill continues. The conspiracy theorists prattle on: “Is there any other reason why Jay-Z would be using these symbols if he weren’t a Satanic Illuminati occultist Freemason?” Why yes! … He could be doing what musicians and vaudeville acts have been doing for years: Being provocative for the sake of turning a profit.

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There’s also the strange theories about Jay-Z’s boo: Beyonce. There’s the rumor that “Sasha Fierce” is more than Beyonce’s alter ego … It’s the name of the demon that possesses and takes control of her body during her live performances. Her song “1 + 1” has been interpreted as Beyonce’s expression of love for the demon that possesses her. And “Halo” is supposedly about Halios, the sun god and the Beast from Revelation 9:11. And then there’s the rumors that Beyonce’s choreography in her music videos is just cleverly disguised Satanic rituals. The All The Single Ladies video is replete with dance moves honoring The Winged Serpent. When you spell their baby’s name backwards (Eulb Yvi), it is rumored to be Lucifer’s name in Latin … Only if you ignore the convenient fact that Lucifer is already a Latin name.

Time to break out the tin foil hats!

sgt_peppersRumors about pop music stars dabbling in the occult really isn’t anything new. For those with grey hairs, they remember Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page’s odd obsession with the occult. The “zoso” symbol that adorned Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and Page’s clothing was a nod to an old alchemy textbook. For a short period of time, Page owned Aleister Crowley’s estate and an occult bookstore. And plenty of other pop artists have dabbled in occult and religious symbolism in their music. Ozzy scared mothers for years by singing about the aforementioned Mr. Crowley while barking at the moon. Alice Cooper’s famous live show included multiple horror props, including a guillotine, electric chairs and boa constrictors. Crowley’s image appears on the album cover to the Beatles’ Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Doors appeared with a bust of Crowley on the back cover of their Doors 13 album. Marilyn Manson’s entire career is one shock-value stunt of religious symbolism after another, including connections to (again) Aleister Crowley, the anti-Christ and Satanist Anton LaVey. Iron Maiden’s song “Number of the Beast” includes a spoken word reading of Revelation and is about a Satanic ritual. And the list goes on and on ad nausem.

6968580-240x300So why are so many popular artists obsessed with religious imagery of one type of another? The issue is shock value and salesmanship – not Satanism. Elvis swung his hips and the ladies swooned. Madonna sung about her fictional virginity, produced a book simply titled “Sex,” and labelled herself a “boy toy.” Every member of Marilyn Manson’s band, including good ol’ Brian Warner (a/k/a Marilyn Manson), is named after a bombshell movie star and a serial killer. Everything about Lady Gaga’s “Judas” video, including hunky versions of Jesus and Judas, screams controversy for controversy’s sake. And who could forget the burning crosses and taboo romance of Madonna’s infamous “Like A Prayer” video. The art of shocking people to attract interest and make a profit is as old as P.T. Barnum. Considering many people are obsessed with Discovery channel conspiracy theories about Freemasonry, it’s no wonder that Jay-Z slapped their symbols on a t-shirt with a high price markup. Controversy sells.

In terms of dealing with music and the occult, Christians are certainly called to be discerning of what is Godly and what is deception in a hostile world. Colossians 2:8 states: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” The precious treasure of the Gospel that has been entrusted to all believers must be protected and preserved (1 Timothy 1:3-7; Jude 3). The believer must also be wary of the corrupting temptations of the world and the devouring interests of the devil (1 John 2:16; 1 Peter 5:8). Christ repeatedly calls for the believer’s shrewdness (Matthew 10:16; Luke 16:1-13).

However, “discerning” does not mean falling for every wacky conspiracy to go viral across the Internet. Many believers will gullibly believe any hot gossip that supposedly comes from a “Christian” source. To the contrary, believers are supposed to test EVERY source of information against the Scriptures – particularly supposed “Christian” sources. I’ve said it before: Not every source claiming to be “Christian” or “Biblical” is Christian or Biblical. 1 Timothy 6:3 states: “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” In discerning whether a “Christian” message is authentic, many believers will make a judgment based on how passionate and earnest the message is, how slick and professional the production is or how many starving children the organization has fed … None of this matters in terms of genuine discernment. The mark of discernment is whether the message matches up with the words of Christ. If the “Christian” message contradicts Christ, then have nothing to do with it.

In terms of how discernment is made, the fact that believers are spending large amounts of time parsing the supposed demonic dance sequences of Beyonce videos is equally as troubling. Popular culture has increasingly become the art of provocateurs, and we gain no insight from scripted and market tested fame-mongering. In John 7:24, Jesus states: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” And making accusations about the demonic imagery of Beyonce’s choreography and Jay-Z’s Satanic hoodie is the epitome of judging by appearances. Let’s turn the tables: Do we judge whether someone is a Christian by their music, clothing and hand gestures? Most certainly not … Believing in Jesus is a heart issue (Romans 10:9-13). A person could be pirouetting in a pink tutu wearing a witch doctor’s mask while poking needles into a voodoo dolls … It still wouldn’t solidly tell us about their spiritual condition. More importantly, God Himself judges the heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:10).

Make no mistake: There is no reason to laud the music of anyone mentioned here. Christians SHOULD be discerning about the actual messaging within popular music. Unfortunately, believers are busy making a Satanic scavenger hunt out of pop music lyrics instead of discerning the plain statements glamorizing a life of consumerism, promiscuity, violence, alcoholism and godlessness. My point is not to go on some epic rant about the horrors of “secular” music … My point is that believers have stopped caring about “secular” music at all. Many adult believers have become fed up long ago with “secular” music and tuned into KLove Christian radio and gave up on the outside world. Then believers pompously hurl eccentric gossip about the Satanic new world order and Freemason handshakes instead of giving a reason for the hope that we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:17). We have developed a distinctly alternative Christian culture instead of engaging the world at our doorstep.

It’s far too easy to stick our heads in the sand instead of getting our hands dirty by demonstrating Christ’s love for our neighbor. Christ does not call us to do the easy thing. We remain as Christ’s shining city on a hill … And we must allow Christ to use us to engage and penetrate the darkness of the world. Christ never gave up hope in us … We must not give up hope that His Word can bring the lost home. We must discern … We must engage … We must point towards rescue. If Christ is our hope, then we must not write off anyone as being beyond hope.

I Am The Father of a 1st Grader

US-SCHOOL-SHOOTINGI am the father of a 1st grader.

My daughter likes Batman. A lot. She strutted around a glitter-covered Batgirl outfit for the Halloween / Fall Festival season. She got enough Halloween candy that she’s still grazing on her massive haul after Christmastime. She’s got this awkward gap in the front of her mouth where most of her front front teeth have fallen out … And then exchanged for “tooth fairy” money from Mom and Dad. We love hanging out with the other soccer families down at the weekend YMCA games. She can’t stop talking about “that one time I kicked the soccer ball really hard.” She loves dumping Legos all over the floor and using her imagination to build new hideouts for Lego Batman. Not a day goes by without painfully gouging my foot on Legos hidden in the shag carpet. There’s the inexplicable obsession with McDonalds as fine dining. Every night, I turn on her light-up rainbow clock, tuck her into her zebra sheets and pray our nightly prayers: “Now I lay me down to sleep …” She never forgets to pray for her grandmother’s cat, Morris. And then she enthusiastically bounds into my bedroom at the crack of dawn with a huge grin two inches from my face telling me that it’s time for a brand, new day. Who needs an alarm clock?!? There is an unbridled joy, honesty and innocence. I love being the father of a 1st grader … I want to freeze-frame her at this age and keep her from growing up.

I look at the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, and I see kids just like my precious daughter: Pee-wee sports pictures … Missing front teeth … Goofy smiling faces … Playing with unbridled joy and zest for life. They are little kids just like my daughter. Honestly, it haunts me … I keep thinking that if a shooter somehow broke into the front door of my daughter’s elementary school, my daughter’s classroom is the first one on the right. It makes me want to wrap my arms around my daughter and refuse to let her go.

In the midst of these tragedies, we now become transfixed by the 24-hour news channels, unable to avert our gaze as the horror unfolds across our TV screens. After maybe one day of mourning, the hucksters, pundits and public policy trolls reared their seemingly omniscient heads out of their groundhog holes and began to pontificate on 24 hour cable news about why the Newtown tragedy happened. Theories … solutions … accusations … arguments … rinse … repeat … ad nauseum. Through all of the muckraking, the most offensive thing that I hear during every school tragedy actually comes from the evangelical pundits. There always seems to be some sort of absolutely outrageous equation between the lack of school prayer and school violence. Bryan Fisher of the American Family Association blamed the shooting on the fact that prayer, the Bible and the Ten Commandments are not taught. Fisher went further by stating that God could have protected the Sandy Hook students but “God is not going to go where He is not wanted.” Evangelical pundits always seem to shake their heads at these school tragedies: “If only there were prayer in school …” Similar arguments always seem to trickle down out of Christian social media and in Sunday School classroom hallways. There’s also an awful joke version of this notion floating around the Internet:

Child: “God, why do you allow so much violence in our schools?”

God: “Because I’m not allowed in schools.”

There is an incredibly fine theological line to be walked in this argument (and crude joke) about schools and public prayer. Yes, mankind lives in a fallen and sinful world (Romans 3:10-11, 23-24). All of creation is groaning in frustration and is crying out for restoration from God (Romans 8:22). The wisdom and glory of God has been traded for foolishness, lies and idols (Romans 1:18-25). The effects of sin – including disease, death and all manner of evil – tarnish the glory and goodness of what God has created, and believers long for liberation from the world’s decay and adoption as sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:23-24). In an extraordinarily broad level, all of the ugliness and violence in the world stems from mankind’s rebellion and reticence to surrender to the Lord. On a general level, our failure to pray – including public prayer – demonstrates a lack of confidence in the sovereignty of God. And school shootings are a sign that our world is horribly broken and in need of a Savior to restore, reconcile and heal.

However, attempting to draw a direct correlation between school shootings and lack of public prayer in schools is ridiculous. There is a grave danger in overzealously prognosticating that school shooting are God’s wrath-filled judgment upon lack of public prayer in schools. Just on face value, can we pause and think about how awful the whole premise really sounds? Is God really wagging His finger and chastising us?: “You better publicly pray or God’s gonna allow someone to shoot your kids.” The principal claim that God is allowing little children to be slaughtered because there is no public prayer is flat-out gross. That claim makes me angry, because it is completely without merit or evidence. To make such a declaration requires incredibly specific, mind-reading into the methodology of God worthy of Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent” routine. How can anyone assume to know the mind of God enough to confidently declare a direct correlation between lack of school prayer and school violence? Has God magically ESPed evangelical 24-hour news pundits a special e-mail proclaiming that the violence in Newtown is His judgment upon lack of prayer? Such reckless comments are on par with Jerry Falwell declaring that 9-11 was God’s judgment upon pagans, feminists, abortionists and homosexuals. Or Pat Robertson correlating the recent Haitian earthquake to some historically dubious Satanic hokum. Or anything related to Westboro Baptist Church. Definitively making a declaration that a bunch of 1st graders were shot multiple times due to a lack of public prayer is just plain reckless, unfathomably wrong and – in particular – unhelpful to those grieving.

The claim is also a hideous affront to the immutable character of God. Can the omnipresence of God actually be hindered by whether or not we pray? No! God is present at all places at all times. It’s theologically audacious and just flat-out WRONG to claim that God’s presence can be expelled from a particular location! Consider Proverbs 15:3: “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” Or Jeremiah 23:24: “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.” And especially Psalms 139:7-10:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light about me be night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is bright as the day,

for darkness is as light with you.

It’s equally as wrong to claim that God withdraws His presence when people refuse to pray. God is not a magic genie that we summon and push around to do our bidding. If God truly is omnipotent, then He remains present in our schools regardless our public prayer life. If there is public prayer, He is there. If there is no public prayer, no barred door or the mightiest set of locks could keep God out. From the joyous to the sorrowful to the horrific, God is always present … God is there. You cannot kick God out of anywhere. And God will never leave or forsake those that believe in Him … Throughout the power of the Holy Spirit, He is always present in the life of the believer (Matthew 28:18-20).

But – for the sake fully debunking this awful theory – let’s make this incredibly personal. My wife and I made the decision to send our pastor’s kid to public school. We strongly believe that Christians are called to be salt and light in the public school system and not to withdraw our children from our public schools (but that’s another blog for another time). My daughter prays with me several times per day at home and at church. One of the deacons at my church teaches at my daughter’s school, and I am confident that he prays throughout the day. I have been able to interact with many other Christians at my daughter’s school, and I’m confident that many of them pray at home and at their place of worship. So my daughter, my church family and other Christians are going to get shot and killed when they voluntarily pray at home or at church instead of perfunctorily pray in their schools? So praying some sort of rote formal prayer is going to appease the wrath of God from thundering down on my child’s school building? How does that make the one true and living God any better than any whiny emo kid or some archaic Mayan god that child sacrifices are offered to? The believer’s prayer is effective because of the mediatory work of Christ – not because a prayer is mechanically recited by an appointed person in a specific location.

In contrast to the public prayer argument, we do find violence in places where God clearly IS “allowed.” Let’s not forget the 1999 shooting at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX, where 7 people were killed in the church sanctuary. Let’s not forget the 2006 shooting at an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, PA, where 5 young children were killed. This year, a man walked into a suburban Atlanta megachurch and shoot the man who was leading the church prayer service. Yes … Shootings are happening throughout America in places where people routinely pray. Praying Christians are not immune to cancer, illness, natural disasters and death. Suffering happens to praying, Bible-believing Christians.

In the face of awful tragedy, we should be reticent to cling to reductionistic easy answers. It’s too easy of an answer to say that God is good to us when we are good to Him. And that God punishes us when we are unfaithful to him. That’s not the Gospel … That’s not grace. The Gospel says that Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). God is good to us even when we turn our back to Him. And, furthermore, Godly Christians with a healthy prayer life suffer every day. Consider Job, who was blameless in God’s sight but lost his entire world: children, household, health and possessions. Consider Elijah, who stuck his neck out for God but spent a good portion of his ministry on the run from a death sentence. Consider Jeremiah, who pretty much angered everyone no matter what he said and was depressed to the point of death. Consider Ezekiel, who endured ridicule and public humiliation for the sake of God’s message. Consider Paul, who was routinely thrown in jail and beaten by mobs because he was openly preaching the Gospel. And consider Jesus, who was God in human flesh but willingly endured the agony of the cross. There is no direct correlation with our good behavior and our suffering (or lack thereof). If God was good to those who prayed, then there are a whole bunch of cancer survivors in my church who are currently getting a raw deal from God.

Don’t get me wrong: I fully believe in the power of prayer. I have witnessed God healing, reconciling, restoring and providing hope in direct response to prayer. I believe that God is sovereign, living and active, inclining to hear the prayer of the believer (1 John 5:14). I believe that Jesus mediates on behalf the believer (1 Timothy 2:5). I believe that the Holy Spirit helps the believer pray in our weakness (Romans 8:26). I believe that parents (especially fathers) should be taking personal responsibility for teaching their children about God, prayer and the Gospel – instead of abdicating this important responsibility to schools (public or private), youth ministers, children’s ministers or church staff (Ephesians 6:4). And I fully advocate for the right of believers to be able to pray on public property. Yep … Prayer works.

And we should sincerely pray. Not out of pity, politics or personal gain … But in the anguishing cry of a child in desperate need of the one true healing Father. The Sandy Hook shootings reinforce for me that we live in an evil world clamoring for the grace of a just and good God. In response to the Sandy Hook shootings, we should pray that God would wrap His strong, healing arms around victim’s families and the Newtown community in this time of horrible loss. We should pray that God would be glorified and that He would draw people closer Him in the midst of the tragedy. We should pray that people throughout our communities would be drawn into a personal relationship with Jesus. We should pray that God would protect our beautiful 1st graders and prevent malicious people from doing them harm. We should pray that God would give us clarity and understanding in confusing times. And we should pray that Christ would return soon to finish His work of restoration.

So let’s pray without ceasing … And demonstrate the love of Christ to our 1st graders.

Why I’m Thankful For The Church

I’ve seen a bunch of folks on social media attempting to do the “30 Days of Thankfulness.” In case you’ve missed it, the trend is to use your Facebook status update or Twitter feed to post one thing for which you’re thankful for the entire 30 days of November. I’m finding the trend is a neat way to “redeem social media” … You know … Stop using Facebook as a passive aggressive whine-fest.

However, there’s really one thing that sticks in my craw: I have yet to see a single person post that they’re thankful for their church. And I’m not saying this because I’m a paid pastoral staff member and I’m supposed to professionally cheerlead the church. My concern is the growing number of “lone ranger” Christians who claim to love God but have no church affiliation or participation.

Over the past few decades, an increasing number of Christians are deciding to be “spiritual but not religious,” declaring that church is non-essential to their lives. Among the “nonaffiliated” Christian crowd, loving Jesus but not the church is a perfectly viable option. Whether it means watching a podcast sermon at Starbucks, staying in your jammies and tuning in to Charles Stanley or sitting in a tree stand and communing with nature on an early Sunday morning, there have become many societally acceptable alternatives to worship at church. That means that Jesus remains hot … But church is not.

Much of the blame for this trend gets pinned squarely on the traditional church: “The church is too fundamental, contemporary, traditional, boring, hypocritical, sexist, exclusivist, homophobic, political, sheltered, judgmental and flat-out weird.” The conundrum of church decline has been boiled down to a Mad Lib: “I would go to church if the church weren’t (insert derogatory comment).” Therefore, the chicken littles claim that the sky is falling on the traditional church, and the end will come soon if the church doesn’t radically change grievous offensiveness. Admittedly, there are many thoughtful critics who justifiably point out where the church has drifted from solid Biblical ground, establishing viable points for evangelical churches to address (but not in the course of this particular blog post).

Unfortunately, blaming church decline squarely on churches reflects an obsession with consumerism. The notion that the church must cow-tow and pander to every suggestion from the peanut gallery reflects a Burger King slogan rather than Biblical principles. Jesus is not a product that the church is hawking on the cheap. The Bible is not a business plan. And in the arena of the Biblical authority, the customer is not always right – God is. In the face of decline, evangelical churches may have some soul searching to do but cannot genuflect to every public policy poll, comment card or nasty letter/e-mail. If a choice is necessary to be made between Christ and cultural accommodation, the church must follow after Christ as its authority. In terms of the church, the Rolling Stones had it right: “You can’t always get what you want.”

Lost in the rush to blame the church over its woes is the other side of the equation: “Spiritual but not religious” has become a cleverly code-worded but convenient excuse. Often, the concept of “church membership” is considered to be an obsolete relic that inhibits believers from true freedom in Christ. Others don’t really see what the fuss is all about with church membership. Still others see divisiveness in denominationalism and want to play the neutral Switzerland. In these circles, being “spiritual but not religious” is a “get out of jail free” card that affirms that Christians really don’t need to have any association with the church. Most often, this excuse gets pulled out as the ultimate deflection against Ned Flanders-type neighbors:

Church-Goer: “Would you like to go to church with me sometime?”

“Spiritual But Not Religious” Neighbor: “Well … I don’t think that you have to go to church to be a Christian.”

Church-Goer: “Well … I guess that’s true. Hunh.”

Deflection accomplished.

The notion that Christians can flourish without the church is essentially good theology gone horribly awry. It is 100% true that the only thing that makes you a Christ-follower is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. There is no chapter on “Church Membership” requirements found within the New Testament. And admission into Heaven will not be determined upon how many Sunday School classes and potluck dinners that you have attended. Sheerly on its technical merits, you can become a Christian and never step foot in a church (Evidence #1: The thief on the cross in Luke 23:43).

But there ARE many New Testament passages that indicate that the early church considered that being a part of a fellowship of believers was critically important. The early church carefully delineated who was (or was not) a part of their community of faith (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Timothy 5:9). The early church were also careful to establish leadership over these communities of faith (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13:17). There are no Lone Ranger Christians found in the early church described in Acts. The model given in Acts is a close-knit community of believers that submitted to teaching, shared all their possessions and prayed for the advance of the Gospel (Acts 2:42-47). Even Paul had companionship and accountability in Barnabas, Silas, Mark, Luke and many others on the perilous early missionary journeys. And Paul sought to establish viable local gatherings of believers in every community that he visited, and made efforts to support and sustain those gatherings over the long run.

Of greater importance, Jesus repeats throughout His “farewell discourse” that the mark of the believer is sacrificial love – particularly for one another. Jesus declares John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The visible love that believers have for one another should point the world towards the beauty of the cross. Similarly, the author of Hebrews urges believers to gather together for encouragement as a direct response to the mercy of God. Hebrews 10:24-25 states: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The question is begged: What does it state about your faith if you can’t love other believers? Or even gather together with other believers? Surely, the Christian life is severely impoverished – if not stunted – without the iron-sharpening and the “stirring up” found within the church. True spiritual growth cannot come simply by reading books, listening to podcasts or surfing the net … It comes from meaningful fellowship with other believers.

I am thankful for the church because I have found these truths to be consistently true. I went through my own “spiritual but not religious” phase in college. In hindsight, the issue was my inability to love others and not some pretentious theological issue that I hid behind. Since that time, I’ve been a part of a vibrant New England church where I was encouraged to step out in faith and serve in worship and youth ministry. I’ve been called out way past my comfort zone to spiritual leadership in a coastal Virginia church. My experience in Texas churches has taught me about the daily challenges of ministry and the need for spiritual fellowship. In every church where I’ve meaningfully invested, beautiful children of God have taught me and encouraged me … Cried alongside of me in sorrow … Rejoiced alongside of me in joy.

But I am most thankful for the church because of what Christ has done for the church. Ephesians 5:25-27 states: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” What’s awesome about church? It’s full of people loved by God who love God in reply. It’s a bunch of sinners washed clean in the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ. It’s full of hurt and broken people who have lovingly stitched together by the skillful hands of the Great Physician. It’s full of people who marvel at the amazing sacrificial love of God.

I am thankful for my local church. We not be the coolest bunch with our styrofoam coffee cups, pot-luck dinners full of crock pots and our unhealthy affinity for Southern Gospel music. But we are a bunch of broken people beloved by the King of Kings … And that’s more than enough reason for me to love my church.

Thank you, Jesus, for the church.

A Post-Election Survival Guide For Christians

There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus

So I’ve been at home today recuperating from tonsillitis and an ear infection, and I’ve been robocalled and push polled 5 times … And it’s only 4PM. Strangely, I keep getting one robocall about the Tarrant County, Texas election on my Indiana home phone, and I haven’t been a registered Texas voter in two years. (Sorry Texas Republicans of Tarrant County!) And it seems like every cable news anchor of every political affiliation is fidgety and twitchy that they actually have to cover one of the greatest natural disasters of all time instead of nitpick and parse every word of the presidential candidates. So instead of throwing random objects at my television screen, I’m going to vent in a more productive manner by breaking the “Linus Rule” by blogging about politics and religion. It’ll be fun.

Here’s the deal: I can’t wait for the election to be over. The insults. The nastiness. The strange e-mail forwards filled with juicy gossip about that candidate who sorta kinda allegedly may be part of a robotic death cult from Mars. The uncomfortable discussions over “types of rape.” The unnecessarily frequent tracking polls that the candidates immediately refute as being contrary to their internal polls. The SuperPAC fueled television ads claiming their political opponent is a incompetent Satanic debt-mongering pervert. And the strange obsession with the state of Ohio (C’mon … The Cincinnati chili isn’t THAT good.).

The only bad thing about this election being over is that the political pundits will start talking about the 2016 election. Oh wait … I think they’ve started already on Meet The Press.

I believe that voting is simultaneously our privilege and our act of submission to the rule of law (Romans 13:1) as well as a means to contend for the faith entrusted to believers by God (Jude 3-4). Our participation in our elections demonstrate that we are responsible temporary citizens of the United States but are also eternally the citizens of Heaven. And our faith should not disappear once the fabric curtain of the voting booth gets pulled. But I also believe that Christians must do their part to eliminate the flat-out nastiness that’s emerged in the political arena. I cringe every time I hear a professing Christian engage in the same low standard of name-calling and buffoonery as the rest of the constant 24-hour election cycle. So here are some thoughts about how Christians can do their part to eliminate the nastiness in our election process:

  1. Don’t Engage In Mass Hysterics: Just because one party wins/loses an election is not a reason to stock up on guns at Wal-Mart and start rereading the Left Behind book series. Don’t put on the sack cloth and roll around in ashes. Don’t turn your Facebook status into a terrorist manifesto. Stay calm. Continue breathing at a normal rate. Don’t make crass and hurtful statements, such as “It’s the end of the world as we know it,” “I’m leaving the country,” “I’m joining a militia,” or “I’m going to drown my sorrows in Cheetos and Jack Daniels.” There’s always another election.
  2. Don’t Gloat: It’s perfectly fine to be happy – even ecstatic – over the outcome of an election. Just remember that there will be heartbroken people that have poured all of their passion into the opposing side and virtually ready to commit seppuku over the whole painful loss. Why are we so ready to stick another verbal dagger into someone so emotionally broken anyway? In 1992, I was dancing on the ceiling with Lionel Richie because my candidate, Bill Clinton, (who I voted for) was going to be president. And I wanted to rub it in the nose of all my loud-mouthed Republican friends in my dorm! So I set my alarm before sunrise (no easy feat for a college freshman), bought multiple copies of the AM newspaper and plastered the “CLINTON WINS” slogans all over my dorm room door. All because I wanted to feel good about myself and rub it in the face of those who disagreed with me. Gloating is essentially hate, pride and malice all wrapped up together and given intentional verbal expression. Gloating only serves to exalt ones’ self and to belittle others. Let’s remember Christ was about the opposite: Humbling self, exalting God and serving others. Exalt God and humble yourself by not gloating.
  3. Don’t Talk Trash: Consider James 3:8-10: “But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” The same mouth that believers use to praise God on Sunday should not be used to insult, bully or degrade other people that God loves on Monday. It should probably go without saying, but here goes: We should not be verbally poisoning those that Christ sought to heal and restore. Feel free to debate or engage someone with an opposing viewpoint … Just do it without the cheap insults, race baiting and histrionics.
  4. Stop Gossiping: Let’s face it … Christians are horrible about forwarding unsubstantiated rumors over e-mail and social media. Many of the false rumors and conspiracy theories about our current president being born in another country and being ineligible to serve as president (a/k/a “the birther conspiracy”) have their foundation in Christians hitting the forward button on their e-mail. I know this because I was the recipient of many of these mass e-mail forwards back in 2008. Recently, I had an opportunity to work with a young Christian lady who was sweet, Southern, kind and would never speak ill of anyone … But was Quick Draw McGraw in forwarding to EVERY contact EVERY sleazy, poorly produced e-mail disparaging the president. My point here is not to delve into the ongoing “birther conspiracy.”  My point is that gossip is not just verbal anymore … Gossip can also occur when you hit the keystrokes on your computer, tablet or iphone. So before you forward it or post it, verify and fact check it. And then consider your heart condition: Why is it that you want to forward or post information about someone? If the answer is that you simply don’t like someone and desire to harm them or their reputation, then it’s probably better that you back away from the keyboard instead of pushing “SEND.”
  5. Don’t Lose Perspective: Today, I got push polled by a young Republican lady whose argument began: “The future of all Western civilization depends on how YOU vote in this Tuesday’s election!!!!! All of history is doomed unless YOU vote correctly!!!!!!” Really?!? … Let’s pause and take a deep breath to consider the eternal perspective. Without getting all Sunday School up in here, the quality of our lives now and in the future depends more upon our relationship with Christ rather than our holds a political office. Elections do matter … Elections do have consequences … But the hope and change found in Christ is exceedingly more important than whatever one political candidate or party has to offer. Whoever governs this nation (Democrat or Republican) cannot change the hearts of the people of this country … Only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus has conquered death, rolled away the grave stone and offers us eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). Only Jesus has lived a sinless life and offers us freedom from sin (Romans 6:18). Only Jesus can transform us into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Only Jesus has the power and ability to consummate every single promise that He has made. Our God is greater … Knowing our God is more important.
  6. Don’t Waste Opportunities To Share Your Faith: Here’s a novel idea … Instead of getting nasty and all “oh no you didn’t!” with others who do not share your religious and political viewpoints, use every opportunity to share the hope that you have in Christ. Invite them into your home. Buy them a cup of coffee. Take the rhetoric and talking points down a couple notches. Share with them the story of how Jesus changed your life. Give an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak through you. Build healthy relationships with your neighbor instead of creating enemies. Consider 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Gentleness and respect … What a concept!

And the phone is ringing again. HEY! … It’s another robocall from Texas. Sorry, City Counselor from Fort Forth, TX … This Indiana resident won’t be voting for you either!

Slutty Halloween

Halloween is almost here, so you know what that means … Jumping into piles of freshly raked autumn leaves … Crisp and cool morning weather … Pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks … And slutty costumes.

Wait … Wait … You don’t associate Halloween with slutty costumes? I think that your local “big box” retail store does. Don’t believe me? Next time that you’re in your local Wal-Mart, Target or Meijer, go down the “female costume” section of the Halloween aisle. Stop reading and go check for yourself … This blog will be waiting when you get back.

Last Friday, my family and I went shopping for costumes for the annual Trunk Or Treat community outreach event to be held on October 28, 2012 from 4-6PM at Calvary Heights Baptist Church in Martinsville, IN (shameless plug!). Our first stop was to a party supply chain store. As we approached the gigantic wall plastered with pictures of Halloween costumes, my eyes began to spontaneously combust as the dial went up to 11 on the skank-o-meter. Virtually every costume was atomic-bomb level slutty complete with corsets, push-up bras and super-mini skirts that barely cover your naughty bits. There is a naughty version of virtually everything: butterflies, clowns, S.W.A.T. officers, pirate wenches and nurses. Even sexy Chucky and Beetlejuice.

Slutty super-heroes! Want to tarnish the Norman Rockwell imagery of the American dream? You can wave your naughty flag as a slutty Captain America here and here. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles must be flipping in their shell to find their slutty counter-parts. And don’t forget the Bizarro-world promiscuous versions of Spider-Girl, Thor and Green Lantern.

And then – even worst – there are slutty children’s cartoon characters. Do you want to find a sexualized Nemo? Well … Someone has done it here. And I seem to remember Sleeping Beauty’s skirt being longer.

After striking out at the party supply store, we meandered down to several other major, name-brand “big box” stores. At every single store, the costume options for adult women were essentially (a) a witch; or (b) various iterations of a slutty pirate wench, a burlesque dancer or the second coming of Christina Aguilera from The Voice. And since we couldn’t figure out whether an occult diva or a half-naked street-walker was more inappropriate for a church function, we went with neither.

Growing up in the 1980s, Halloween was my favorite time of year. I vividly remember one Halloween where I was a vampire with fake plastic fangs and red face paint running down my mouth (I was Twilight before Twilight was cool … Watch out Edward Cullen). My little brother dressed as Frankenstein even though he had the flu and a fever. After we had double (or triple) circled the entire neighborhood, my brother and I would go back to our living room where we’d dump our haul of candy on the floor. I’d barter and trade candy with my brother so that got all of the peanut butter cups to myself. It seemed that the average parents’ greatest Halloween fear was about the goth neighbor kids who listened to The Sisters of Mercy and (quite believably) seemed to be conducting strange Satanic rituals involving their poor cat. Or the other neighbor – who secretly is Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (according to your parents) – putting razorblades in candy apples. Or Dungeons and Dragons fanatics.

But now Halloween is increasingly becoming an adult holiday. In 2000, the National Retail Federation found that young adults (age 18-24) actually spend the highest average on Halloween costumes ($34.06). More money will be spent on adult Halloween costumes ($1.4 billion) than kids ($1.1 billion). More importantly, Halloween now seems like more of an excuse for Caligula-level Jaegermeister-fueled debauchery. The NRF found that 62% of adults between 18 and 24 will attend a costume-themed Halloween party. In many parts of the country, drunk driving on Halloween now rivals or surpasses New Years Eve. Pop culture, such as the infamous “Slutty Pumpkin”  episode of the TV show How I Met Your Mother, reflects the emerging view that Halloween is now more about no-holds-barred partying than paganism or the occult. And now parents worry about their kid becoming the next star of MTV’s Teen Mom on All Hallow’s Eve. Or having their daughter catch frostbite from essentially walking outside in their skivvies and a pair of fishnets in the middle of Fall.

Above all other offenses, the sexualization of cartoon characters or children’s programming is just flat-out gross. Our “big box” retailers need to realize the crass irony of selling a sexy Snow White costume right down the aisle from the very same Disney movie for children. Case in point: My six-year old daughter unassumingly picks out for my wife a Bat-Woman costume to match her child-size Bat-Girl outfit … Not realizing that the adult version requires a push-up bra and thigh-highs and comes with 1/4 of the coverage of the kids version. Whoever buys that costume will need to memorize the line: “Stay in the Bat-mobile, honey, or else you’ll catch a cold.”

But let’s not throw the “big box” retailers under the economic bus in this whole issue. Sex sells at the “big boxes” because the public is buying. We have become a culture of crass titilation. In an era where Victoria Secret has gone from a catalog surreptitiously stashed under the mattress to a Super Bowl halftime show, the risqué has gone mainstream. Jesus’ words about plucking out your eye if it leads you into sin seem absurd to our porn saturated age (Matthew 5:29). Consider the statistics:

  • In 2006, the adult industry made $13.3 billion dollars – more money than the NFL, NBA and MLB combined.
  • 25% of all search engine requests were pornographic.
  • 70% of all men ages 18-24 visit a pornographic website in a typical month. 66% of men in their 20s and 30s also report being regular users of pornography.
  • 43% of all Internet users view pornographic material.
  • Even 34% of churchgoing women said they have intentionally visited porn websites online.

If the stats about American porn usage are even remotely true, then lust has become ordinary instead of offensive. When men convey that they would prefer a porn star to a Proverbs 31 wife, they are signaling what their heart truly values.

The real source of the problem is American men. We need to value what God values in women. We need to encourage our girlfriends, spouses and families to be women seeking after God’s heart. We need to look at how many highlighter lines and hand-scribbled margin notes are in a woman’s Bible instead of guilting them into sexual proclivity. We need to seek out women more interested in spending time in the Word than the bedroom. We need women who will drag our lazy butts out of bed on Sunday morning and insist that we take spiritual leadership of our households. Our eyes need to be faithful to our spouses instead of engaging in long, adulterous glances at other ladies. We need to seek women who are strong, dignified and merciful instead of unbridled, trashy and selfish. And – above all things – the most attractive quality that we should seek in a woman is a unique and unshakable passion for God. Until men start seeking out wise Godly women and instead of reckless booty calls, slutty Halloween is bound to get worse and worse …

Have a safe Halloween … Just make sure you cover yourself up before you leave the house.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Image

Fill in the blank: “Jesus said to them, “My wife ________________________ .”

  1. Looks like Mary Magdalene.
  2. Keeps complaining that I gave up my carpentry job.
  3. Made dinner for 12 again. Come join us!
  4. Is smokin’ hot.

Last week, every media outlet was abuzz with news of the discovery by Professor Karen King of Harvard University of a scrap of papyrus containing the phrase: “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife.’” This week, more questions than answers have been provided regarding the origins and credibility of this document, questionably dubbed The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. While the dust continues to settle on this brouhaha, scholarly consensus appears to be emerging that this document will be categorized alongside the sensationalistic claims of The Gospel of Judas, The Jesus Tomb and – yes – even The DaVinci Code. It’s still within the realm of possibility that the papyrus could turn out to be one of the greatest hoaxes of all time. If nothing else, the announcement of the discovery of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife has made for some pretty good humor. On a more serious note, the announcement of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife has served to expose a streak of shameless sensationalism within mainstream Biblical scholarship.

Where is the sensationalism in The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife? Well … Someone at Harvard University did entitle the papyrus as The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Some basic challenges exist to that title. First, a business card sized scrap of papyrus does not make a Gospel. King argues for the Gospel label because the document contains a discussion between Jesus and His disciples about discipleship. However, it’s difficult to truly ascertain that classification when you have a scant 30 words from various disjointed sentences to go by. Second (and more importantly), there’s still no proof that Jesus has a wife. While Harvard University surrogates repeatedly admit that this particular document provides no proof whatsoever that Jesus was married, they do openly espouse a whale of a theory that many second century Christians did believe that Jesus was married – perhaps to Mary Magdalene.

So if this document does not prove in any conceivable manner that Jesus had a wife, then why name it The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife?!? Here’s why: If it was entitled “Papyrus #42859237,” it would have been lovingly placed in a dusty archive with other Gnostic discoveries and quickly forgotten. Certainly, the field of textual criticism has enough existing (and perfectly boring) nomenclature to use for strange papyri originating from ancient Egyptian trash heaps. But we don’t even have to speculate about this issue: The Q&A on Harvard University’s website about the document freely fesses up to the juicy naming of the document: “The title refers to the fragment’s most distinctive claim (that Jesus was married).”

So let me get this straight: Harvard University simultaneously denies that there’s any actual proof of Jesus being married but uses the provocative idea to promote the finding. Hmmmm … Something smells rotten.

Adding to the palpable heartburn over the document is the fact that significant questions and “red flags” seem to have been overridden in an effort to get The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife out to the public. There are serious questions about whether the papyrus can be accurately dated to the 4th century. There are more serious questions about whether the neat square shape of the papyrus indicate that the document has been intentionally clipped to make it more alluring. There are theories that the papyrus is just a retread of The Gospel of Thomas. Questions upon questions … Theories upon theories …

But the biggest unanswered question is the document’s origin. Unlike other major credible discoveries like the Nag Hammadi documents, this document was provided to Harvard by an anonymous source. There is only a residual, second-hand tale about how the anonymous owner acquired it from a German-American fellow who somehow acquired it from somewhere in East Germany. No one outside of Harvard University has had the opportunity to “kick the tires” (so to speak) and probe the uncertain background of the document. While certain assumptions can be made from the fact that the material is papyrus and the writing is Coptic (assuming it is authentic), there is no verifiable “chain of ownership” to provide any illumination whatsoever to the document’s origins. There’s something unsettling about the imagery of shady anonymous collectors in trench coats peddling ancient papyri to openly salivating institutions of higher education. (Boy … That sounds like a Monty Python line.)

The unfortunate fact of the matter is a market has emerged for making sensational claims about Jesus. After every reported new discovery about the historical Jesus, there seems to be the accompanying best-selling book, major-league television special and media outlet tour (see: The Gospel of Judas; The Jesus Tomb). To no surprise whatsoever, the Smithsonian Network is conducting a television special next week about The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife discovery. Somewhere someone must already be working on Jesus’ wife t-shirts and baby “onesies.” Stories about Vatican conspiracies and a “naughty” Jesus sell big in print and on the big screen. And as long as the latest crackpot theory about Jesus continues topping the New York Times bestseller list, sensationalism disguised as scholarship will keep on back to fill the void. Ultimately, it’s the second coming of Al Capone’s Vaults … A bunch of flash about a pile of dust that will make no mark upon history.

In response to the flashy announcement of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, Smithsonian Magazine bit hard onto the hype by claiming that the discovery “is sure to send shockwaves through the Christian world.” Meanwhile, the Christian world collectively responds with a yawn. After year upon nauseating year of the James ossuary, The DaVinci Code, the Jesus family tomb, Mary Magdalene-centric feminist revisionism and the regurgitated re-hashed re-discovery of supposedly “lost” gospels (i.e. the Gospel of Jesus’ Brother’s Wife’s Hairdresser’s Dog Walker), the reality is that most practicing Christians just don’t pay attention anymore. You can almost hear the collective eye-roll of the evangelical community every time the next sensational discovery about the “really, really real historical Jesus” comes to light.

Oddly enough, Jesus’s provocative question to the disciples of “Who do you say that I am?” seems to resonate more in the world of academia than evangelicalism. To evangelicals, Jesus is the Christ, Son of God. The issue of Jesus’ identity has been settled by the collective testimony of the apostles. In the halls of higher education and the echo chamber of cable network street barkers, Jesus is an ever-expanding, ever-evolving jigsaw puzzle where the philosophical tail perpetually wags the dog. And that’s why The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife doesn’t rock the world of evangelicals. While most of the academic world is ever-searching for the identity of the “real Jesus,” evangelicals are fully content that they’re intimately known by the real Jesus (1 John 4:6-7). With the advent of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, the quest for the historical Jesus has become a bizarre chase for the elusive white rabbit leading to Wonderland.

Without the clarity and conviction of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16), Jesus’ ultimate question to the disciples will echo on throughout history: “Who do you say that I am?”