Archives For Culture

Humans have a fascinating propensity to swing the pendulum. Like an instinctive throwback to our childhood days on the school playground, we almost find joy in stomach butterflies created by the repetitive back and forth. When we see an area of abuse, misuse, brokenness, or failure, we assume the opposite is the answer. We prescribe to offset the abuse with equal balance, rather than seeking to return it to wholeness and original design.

Not even the Gospel of Jesus Christ is immune to this phenomenon.

I see two main ways we completely miss the message of the Gospel – two swings of the pendulum, two opposite extremes, two ways of taking a portion of the message and turning it into the whole message – and I believe both are hijacking humanity’s understanding of true Christianity.

The first we’ll call Moralism. Or Legalism. Pharisaism (if you like big theological words). This side of the pendulum is typically associated with religious people, and understandably so. But moralism isn’t a religious problem, it’s a human problem.

Moralism screams, “There is a standard and I will meet it! In many ways, moralism the default setting of the human heart. We instinctively celebrate the meritocracy of those who “get it right” and malign those who so obviously and pitifully fall short of the standard. The only problem for moralists is that Scripture clearly says we all miss the standard.

Here are a few ways the moralism side of the pendulum swings away from the true Gospel:

  1. Moralism creates horizontal comparison and always leads to pride or despair. In Luke 18, the Pharisee arrogantly prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.” Last week on our way to dinner, my wife told me I was driving way too fast. My instinctive reaction was to remind her which of the two of us has more speeding tickets! My comparison was no longer with the posted speed limit, but with my wife’s driving record. This is what moralism does. We no longer compare ourselves to the Father’s standard but with other fallen people. When that comparison is favorable, we feel a sense of self-righteous pride. When it’s unfavorable, we fall into shame and condemnation. This isn’t the message of the Gospel.
  2. Moralism dumbs down God’s standard of righteousness to an attainable level. Moralists misdefine sin. They look at outward words and behaviors when Jesus so clearly looked at the heart. The Sermon on the Mount wasn’t good advice from Jesus on how to live a nice, moral life. It was intentionally crushing demands from God incarnate intended to leave us pleading “who then can be saved?” Jesus didn’t lower the standard, he upped the ante! The Gospel does not offer us a dumbed down standard of righteousness.
  3. Moralism makes ME the savior. If righteousness is a standard I can meet, then when I achieve that standard I am my own savior. As a recovering moralist, the Gospel did not really come alive to me until I had lived long enough to realize how huge God’s standard of righteousness actually is and how far short of it I actually fall. The Gospel leaves no room for self-salvation.

But the answer to religious moralism isn’t the removal of morals. The opposite arc of this pendulum is equally off-base. We’ll call it Progressivism. Or Human Enlightenment. Or antinomianism (if you once again like big theological words). If moralism says I will meet the standard, progressivism says I will REMOVE the standard. This swing is typically associated with “secular” people, but unfortunately it finding it’s way into the Church, too.

Here are a few ways the progressive side of the pendulum swings away from the true Gospel:

  1. Progressivism seeks first to remove the standard. Romans 1:21 tells us plainly, “Yes they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship as God or even give Him thanks.” Individuality is one of the dominant gods of our day. When I was a kid, my parents wanted us to stop watching TV and do something together. Now I find myself begging the family to put down their own individual entertainment devices so we can watch a TV show together! Everything is personalized, even our definition of righteousness. And like the serpent in the Garden, our personal preferences whisper deceptively in our ears, “did God really say?” The Gospel leaves no room for self-defined righteousness.
  2. Progressivism always results in the creation of a new standard.And they began to think up new ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.” (Rom 1:21). The problem with removing God from the equation is that human beings will always worship something. As our individualized worship begins to bump up against one another, a new set of cultural standards develops with new human arbiters. Our God-stamped identities long for the truth, joy, and beauty of His Kingdom, and so we try to create it (without the King). The Gospel leaves no room for other Kings.
  3. Progressivism makes ME the savior. If I can make the standard or just remove it altogether, I become my own savior. Or perhaps I just eliminate my need for a savior altogether. The Gospel leaves no room for self-salvation.

Sound familiar? It should. Moralism and Progressivism are just two sides of the same self-righteous coin. Moralism redefines the standard in a way I am able to meet, progressivism just removes the standard altogether. Both put me at the helm, me at the center, me on the throne. Neither swing of this pendulum is the Gospel. In fact, they’re the anti-gospel.

There are three aspects to what I’ll call a “Wholistic” Gospel:

  1. The Law Crushes. The purpose of God’s Law is not just to give us great advice to live by, it’s to completely destroy any and all confidence in our flesh. If we don’t first grasp the immeasurable weight of God’s Law, then there’s no need for Grace.
  2. Grace Resurrects. As Brennan Manning so eloquently put it, “all is grace!” We are incapable of living the lives God designed us to live without the merciful gift of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not about making bad people good, but dead people live!
  3. The Spirit Empowers. This is one element often left out of the conversation. Romans 6 tells us that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now dwells in us! (Chew on that for a minute). We are now empowered to live lives pleasing to God because His very Spirit dwells in our grace-resurrected bodies. It’s not our ability to meet God’s standard, but His power in us!

This is the good news. The WHOLE Gospel. Jesus Christ has done for us what we could never do for ourselves! Get off the swinging pendulum and find real life in the center of this beautiful Gospel message.

Our Hope Is In Christ

Erik Cooper —  January 20, 2017 — Leave a comment

There is a story in Scripture that absolutely confounds me. The Israelites have been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years when God decides it’s time for their exile to end. He does it with flare: snakes, and plagues, and an Angel of Death, seas parting, water from rocks, pillars of fire, three square meals a day miraculously falling to the ground, shoes that never wear out. Supernatural stuff!

The tangible presence of God was in their midst every day, leading and guiding and saving and providing. And yet the first thing – the very first thing! – they did when Moses left them to go up the mountain was to make their own god out of gold and bow down to worship it.

On first read, this seems like a new level of insanity! Until I realize that I do the exact same thing, too. Every day.

“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”
–John Calvin

Every day we fight the broken, human instinct to fashion gods with our own hands – gods we can understand, control, and ultimately find our power and identity in. We were made for God, and yet we default to making gods. As we watch the various public reactions to the transfer of power taking place in Washington DC today, and even as we gaze inward to the condition of our own hearts, this idolatry becomes clear in so many ways.

We all have political leanings, and in our own way we can each reconcile these beliefs with our faith. But we are prone to find our identity, and ultimately our hope, in the wins or losses of our preferred political candidates. As Christians, this should cause us great concern.

If your party is taking power today, go ahead and celebrate the ideological win. But don’t place your hope, and certainly not the security of your Christian faith, in the incoming administration. That is idolatry.

Our hope is in Christ.

And if your ideology is leaving office today, don’t despair. If you find yourself despondent and emotionally wrecked by these election results, your hope was in something that was destined to fail you. That is idolatry.

Our hope is in Christ.

I believe God allows us to experience the futility of the many things we place our trust in apart from Him. He does this because He loves us. Our idols will always fail us. If your hope, security, and identity is moving in or out of the White House today, I encourage you to pause and reflect. The idolatry of politics will fail you, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ never will.

Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,

but we boast in the name of the LORD our God.

Those nations will fall down and collapse,

but we will rise up and stand firm.

–Psalm 20:7-8

For Yours, Jesus, is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.

LoveHands

Moralism is the byproduct of religious self-sufficiency. It’s a form of self-righteousness that may start with professed dependence on Christ, but lives itself out as if pleasing God is an outflow of a person’s ability to outwardly obey the rules (or at least only break the ones that are socially and culturally acceptable to ignore).

Moralism is comparative righteousness. It completely misses the transformational power of the Gospel because it misidentifies our core problem as bad moral behavior. In today’s shifting moral climate, religious moralists are finding the cultural to be more and more hostile toward them. They’re called out as modern day Pharisees (or worse), accentuating their own virtue by looking down their noses at the lack of virtue they see in others. Jesus definitely had strong words for people like this.

But here’s my rub…

Tolerance is just secular moralism.

I texted the following to my brother-in-law earlier this week after the news of the horrific Orlando massacre began filling the airwaves and our social media streams:

I hate the word hate. Secularism can’t solve any problems because it refuses to identify real causes. If “hate” is the problem, then “tolerance” is the answer. Unfortunately, we humans have proven for 4,000 years that more and more enlightenment doesn’t seem to change us all that much.

But if SIN is the problem, then we have to acknowledge we don’t have the answer – in ourselves. And herein lies the rub for human hubris.

If good behavior is the moralist’s redemption, tolerance is the secularist’s redemption. It’s a battle of varying forms of self righteousness, and it all completely misses the beauty, the power, the hope, and the true transformational ability of the Gospel message.

That we are all horrifically broken.

That we are completely incapable of fixing ourselves.

That we already have a Savior.

And His name is Jesus.

Religious moralism and secular tolerance are just two sides of the same self-righteous coin. If we really want to learn to love each other, to truly get along, it’s going to take a whole lot of humility and dependence on Someone greater than ourselves.

3 Stories of

My phone seems to blow up daily with news of yet another horrific terrorist attack somewhere in the world. Each new atrocity births endless socio-political pontification on how to end the violence, from dropping bombs, to building walls, to endeavoring to understand and appease the hatred of the killers.

These are scary times. Yet from the shadows of 24-hour fear-filled news cycle emerge three hope-filled stories. Stories that won’t be celebrated by the masses, but stories that illuminate the only Solution to the underlying problem. It’s not “the culture of the West is better than the culture of the rest.”  It’s not Christian moralism trumping Islamic moralism. It’s not our version of self-righteousness finally defeating theirs.

It’s the transforming work of the Gospel – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the promised work of His Holy Spirit in the lives of broken people humble enough to surrender themselves to a holy and loving Power greater than themselves. The Gospel isn’t just something “they” need, it’s something we all need. It’s not just healing for “them,” it’s healing for me, too. This is how we fight radical terrorism.

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
–Ephesians 6:12

These 3 stories come directly from friends on the ground in the Arab World. I wrote them down exactly as they were shared with me. No extra details and no embellishment. When the news sends chills down your spine, remember that the Gospel is at work in this world. Here’s some proof that true hope has nothing to do with which party wins the next presidential cycle.

Backstory:

Eight years ago, there was a man connected to Hamas who worked in the mosque as a librarian. His job was to approve every book that found it’s way into any of the mosque libraries. Through a series of events, he gave his life to Christ and was discipled by one of the workers in his city. He began to share his newfound faith with his muslim friends, and slowly many of them also became believers in Jesus.

As their numbers grew, they used the same organization techniques he learned as a member of Hamas, formulating groups of no more than 6 people. Those six did not know who the other six were so that if one group was compromised, the underground church could still continue to flourish and grow. These small groups meet weekly, not in hiding, but in the open courtyards of the community mosques all over the city! They sit in study groups, they talk about the bible, they take up an offering, and they give it to whichever one of their members is most in need.

They call themselves the “Jesus-ites,” and they are slowly reaching critical mass. Last year, they baptized 140 new believers. And this year, they’ve already baptized over 300. Altogether there are close to 500 believers in this Middle Eastern city. It is out of that context that the following three stories have unfolded.

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Story 1:

This group is becoming very bold in their witness and has begun passing out bibles in the streets of their community. One day, a radical muslim approached one of the believers, grabbed the bible from his hand, and began ripping out the pages. As he’s throwing the pages into the air, his arm freezes above his head. Stuck. He can’t pull it back to himself.

More than a little freaked out, he takes off for home (with his arm still stuck in the air) and the believers follow him. When they get to his house, they offer to pray for him with the understanding he will declare that Jesus is God and forsake Islam if God heals him. And that’s exactly what happened.

The believers want to baptize him in his bathtub but he declines, declaring “I disgraced Jesus publicly by tearing up that bible in the street, I must profess him publicly as well.” So they walk back into the center of the city, find an old tub, use buckets to fill it with water, and baptize him in the center of this strict Muslim city.

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Story 2:

A young man shares his newfound faith with a man in his community. The man gets so violently angry he beats the young Christian and kills him. The believers gather together to discuss how they are going to respond to the death of one of their own. They set out as a group for the old man’s house, grab him, and tie him to one of the cement pillars in the center of his house (I don’t recommend this). Then, one by one, they force him to listen to the testimonies of how each of them came to Christ. The man is violently angry, spitting and yelling at them as they speak (but hey, where is he going to go?).

When they were finished, they untied him and left. But the next day they returned, laid hands on him and prayed, and the man gives his heart to Jesus. Now he is one of the believers in the underground church.

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Story 3:

A woman and her grown son from this same community come to Jesus. The husband comes home one day to find his wife listening to a chanting of the New Testament story of Christ in their home. In his anger, he begins to beat her. His grown son intervenes, but in his fury the father throws him against the wall, he hits his head on the concrete, and falls to the floor unconscious.

The mother rushes to the aid of her son, but as she’s bent over his body her husband grabs her from behind and attempts to slit her throat with a butcher knife from the kitchen. In the struggle he misses, yet still slices her chest from clavicle to clavicle. The neighbors hear the commotion and intervene. They take the woman and her son to the hospital, and the father to the authorities.

At the police station, the man simply states that his wife had become a christian and they let him go. No further questions asked. At the hospital, they stitch the woman up, and the believers once again gather to decide what they are going to do.

So they get a copy of the Gospel chanting the woman had been listening to, put it into printed form, and head to the hospital to visit the woman as she is recovering. While there, they begin going from hospital room to hospital room disbursing the message to each muslim patient and asking, “does someone deserve to have their throat cut for this teaching of Jesus?”

The woman recovers, but when she’s released she does not feel safe going back to her husband. Yet she feels the conviction of the Holy Spirit to forgive him for what he has done, and to share that forgiveness with him. So she goes to visit him and says, “I want you to know that I forgive you for what you did. I love you, our son loves you, and Jesus loves you.” And then she leaves.

Without collusion, her son also visits his father and also says, “dad, I want you to know that what you did was wrong, but I forgive you. I love you, mom loves you, and Jesus loves you.” 

That same night, the man had a dream. Jesus appeared to him and said, “you wife loves you, your son loves you, and I love you.”

The man gave his heart to Christ, was reconciled with his family, and is now a member of the Body of Christ.

Conclusion:

It’s taken 8 years, but the seeds of the Gospel are beginning to grow in this spiritually arid land. Regardless of what you see in the media, never question that God is at work around the world. You can’t stop the message of Jesus.

Our dog is an idiot.

If it isn’t bad enough that this 6 pound Yorkshire Terrier wears pants to keep him from hiking his leg on anything bigger than he is (which is basically everything), last night he decided to hold a 20 minute licking session with his back right foot on the blanket where I sleep. Here I am, still recovering from my DST hangover, and this stupid canine decides to create a puddle of slobber for me to lay in.

I lost my mind.

As the dog scurried to hide himself on my wife’s (dry) side of the bed, she got a good late-night laugh at my expense.

Why do we let animals live in our homes? (Alas, that question is for another post).

The truth is, I had some unresolved angst living inside of me last night that had nothing to do with the dog – some stress from work and the weight of a few heavy circumstances that were poking at the broken places and insecurities inside of me. Add fatigue to the potion, and the dog gets blasted for a silly and unintentional offense.

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The problem was inside of me, but I needed somewhere else to lay the blame. Something outside of myself. Dogs are good for that.

As silly as it may sound, this story is a microcosm of our human condition. Our fallen instincts scream at us to look outside of ourselves for the source of our issues.

Poor leaders.

Oppressive culture.

Intolerance.

Family of origin issues.

“If ‘they’ were just better, I would be better!”

And those same instincts challenge us to search inside of ourselves for the solution.

More courage!

The pursuit of happiness.

Self-love.

Self-expression.

“I will make my own way in this world!”

And while all of these things may have some merit, this worldview helps us dodge the root problem that is at play. As usual, the Gospel turns our human assumptions on their head. 

The primary source of my issues resides inside of me:

Sin.

Sin is a virus that infects every aspect of our lives with self-absorption, self-obsession, and self-worship. It puts me at the center and everything and everyone else (including God) in my orbit. It’s the root of everything ugly and broken, and I am incapable of remedying it on my own.

The only Solution is outside of me:

The Gospel offers us wholeness as a gift. It’s given from the outside, not conjured up from the inside. The finished work of Jesus Christ clothes us in redemption. All I have to do is give up. Stop blaming. Stop striving. Stop trying to be my own savior. Stop pointing at everyone and everything else.

This is Good News, but it takes humility to truly hear it.

The brokenness is inside. The Answer is outside.

Maybe it’s time to stop blaming the dog.