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The High Priest Holds a Rally

July 27, 2012

I recently finished reading Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion.  In it, he dedicated an entire chapter to examining the religious beliefs of what he calls “Americanism.” The chapter goes into significant detail describing this heresy (his word not mine) that seeks to meld certain Christian (primarily moral rather than theological) principles or ideas with traditional American values. Douthat sees this as a dangerous thing for Christians because while some American values may be shared with the values of scripture, many others are not. If we aren’t careful, Americanism rather than biblical Christianity can become the guiding framework for our lives.

The high priest of Americanism is undoubtedly Glenn Beck. He emerged a few years ago as a champion of conservative politics and family values. Along with some of those positives however he has also brought a significant amount of paranoia and vitriol into the American religious and political discussion.

My concern is not so much Beck’s politics (even if I disagree with him in certain areas) but it is his continual blending of the political and the religious. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think our most deeply held convictions about the nature of reality should be divorced from political discussion. My concern is that beck seems to have placed the United States of America and it’s values on a religious level.

This can be confusing and enticing for many American (especially evangelical) Christians. Certainly many biblical ideas are championed by conservatives like Beck, but not all conservative political values are biblical. Also, it doesn’t seem to have dawned on very many people that because Beck is a Mormon, he doesn’t even believe that orthodox Christian scripture is sufficient for those who would seek to follow Jesus and honor him with their lives.

And now comes this:

This thing honestly scares me. Some would argue that if the churches were doing more to protect American values we wouldn’t have to follow someone like Beck. I would argue that it isn’t the church’s mission to defend American values (which are very hard to define and can vary significantly depending on where and how you were raised). This event is decidedly religious in its nature. It involves building community with like minded people, taking part in acts of service (that further bond people together), and then gathering to hear teaching about what is most important. Sound familiar?

If you come from a liberal background it’s very en vogue to mock Beck and his followers. If you’re in conservative circles, it’s tantamount to heresy to do so. I don’t want to mock him, but I’m also seriously concerned about what he advocates. I would strongly advise Christians to consider who they follow and what they believe. Glenn Beck invokes generic phrases like “God, prayer, family” just as his arch nemesis, the current president does. These terms or phrases used by various individuals may or may not have the same meaning that the scriptures give them.

My big point is that family values don’t save people. Jesus does. America doesn’t save people. Jesus does. Being a good, patriotic, American, values voter can send you to Hell. It doesn’t matter how many service projects you took part in, whether you hung the flag in front of your house, or stopped eating Oreos to show that you’re against gay marriage. The only High Priest worth following is the one mentioned in Hebrews chapters 8-10.

Let’s start reading our Bibles more to see what His values are. Let’s make sure that all of our good works and good living are done by and through the power of His Holy Spirit. Let’s remember that even though we might be Americans, this is not our home. We can and should take part in the politics of our nation, but that should NEVER take priority over serving our King and loving the people that He loved enough to die for.

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,  a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.


Culinary Culture Wars

July 25, 2012
Well, I guess they aren’t if you work for PETA.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed Chick-fil-A in the news because of a comment made by the owner in support for a traditional view on marriage. The ensuing craziness that has resulted from that simple statement has included the announcement of a GLBT boycott of the restaurant, a conservative vow of support, as well as the loss of a business relationship with the company that produces all things Muppets. They were also refused a business permit by the mayor of Boston while simultaneously receiving an “At a boy” from conservative talk show host Mike Huckabee.

The furor over this is similar to what happened a few weeks ago with Oreo’s decision to come out with this poster in support of GLBT issues:

The thing I find really ironic about all of this is how the anger and vitriol of both sides have completely mirrored one another. There was a huge outcry in certain conservative and fundamentalist circles over the Oreo thing, with huge amounts of affirmation and support coming from the GLBT community and their supporters. Here we are a few weeks later and the roles are completely reversed. Both groups have initiated boycotts as well as encouraged purchasing of products for the purpose of support.

In the culture war climate it’s very easy to rush to defend our side. It’s also very easy as a believer to forget that we are encouraged to speak the truth in love as well as to love our neighbor (regardless of his sexual orientation, politics, religion) as ourselves. If we are to live “Third Culture Lives” in the world around us, that means that we want to positively impact the culture. I’m not sure boycotting products because of a company’s stance on a cultural issue is the best way to do that. I’m sure there are plenty of believers employed by Nabisco who could potentially lose their jobs if a “Christian” boycott of the company “succeeded.” How much of a success would that really be and at what cost?

It should be no surprise to a believer that the culture that surrounds them is hostile to what they believe. This was the case for the early church and will continue to become more and more the case for us as the church age draws closer to an end. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I don’t think fighting a culture war was what Jesus established the church to do. That’s certainly not how it grew to become such a large group during the first two centuries of its existence.

I’m going to continue to eat at Chick-fil-A regardless of the beliefs of its higher ups and in the same way I’m going to continue to eat the occasional Oreo (I’m watching my weight a bit more these days). Food is amoral even if companies aren’t.

Here are a few articles I thought were interesting regarding the Chick-fil-A issue:

A great post on the bias present within the coverage of this whole thing.

A balanced look at living as a missionary in culture regarding issues like this.

Why I’m only ordering books online from now on.

June 18, 2011

When I’m back in the USA, I like to pick up a book here and there. The other day I was in Barnes & Noble for a bit, but I didn’t find anything that interested me other than an 850 page book on the Reformation that it would take me the better part of a decade to read. This morning I decided to head over to one of the major Christian retailers to see if they had any books in their bargain section.

When I go to this store, I usually shop the bargain section because that’s where they put the books that were written more than 10 years ago by guys who weren’t pastors of cool, hip, mega churches. Sadly for me, the selection consisted primarily of Tim LeHaye books, cheesy Christian self-help junk, and Christian romance novels that all seemed to be Amish themed. Saddened, I decided to check out the biography section to see if there was anything I could read over the summer.

Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever been more infuriated by a biography section in my entire life. The thing was only 3 shelves, each about four feet wide, but that wasn’t what got me. What really bothered me were the contents of the section. I was expecting to find biographies of Spurgeon, Augustine, Edwards, Mueller, etc. To be sure, there were some legitimate biographies in the section, but the thing that disturbed me so much was seeing these two books on the same shelf:

I was shocked. I mean, I realize that “technically” these books could both be in a biography section, but I was really just saddened and even a bit ashamed that a Christian store would place a book about Sarah Palin on the same shelf as a book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoffer was a pastor who dared to use his influence to challenge the Nazis. He was also the author of  a great book on Christian community called Life Together. He was by no means a perfect man, and some of his ideas and choices are certainly open to debate, but he died as a Christian martyr.

And then there’s Sarah Palin. Now, I have no problem with Christians taking political stands, but to have a book about Palin in the same section with the biographies of great men and women from Christian history is just ridiculous. Seriously, what contribution has she made at all to Christian dialog, the church,  or ministry in any way whatsoever?

The answer is simple: nothing. I really can’t express how offended I was by this. I’m sure Mrs. Palin is nice and all, but her biography has no business being mentioned in the same breath with those of Bonhoeffer, Moody, and other tremendous servants of the Lord. This is  simply a ridiculous attempt by the store to capitalize on the fact that many Christians are political conservatives.

It’s sad to me that a Christian retailer would help to feed this idea that being an American Christian is about being patriotic and a good person “don’t ya know.” The great men and women of Christian history have given their lives for the spread of the gospel, not political ideology. As of today, I will no longer purchase from this major Christian retailer. I’m getting all my books online now. It’s cheaper anyway.

BAH, DRUM-BUG – The Response

November 23, 2010

I’m a sucker for Christmas music.  I really am.  My wife and I start pumping Christmas tunes at our place as soon as November hits.  We are unabashedly “those people.”   There are certainly some songs we prefer above others, and for a variety of reasons, but mostly we just “love this Christmassy time of year,” to quote Burl Ives.  And while Wham’s “Last Christmas” is among my personal holiday favorites, I have a tendency to gravitate more towards the religious classics during the Christmas season.

So, it was with a cheery heart that last week I pulled up an online radio station entitled “Religious Christmas Classics,” fully expecting to hear some of my old favorites.  Much to my dismay, however, my ears and spirit were immediately assailed with a Pa-Rum-Pum-Pum-Pumming that took me completely by surprise!  ‘Could it be?  Did I click on the wrong station by mistake?’ After a quick double-check my fear was realized—the Religious Christmas Classics station had put “The Little Drummer Boy” at the top of its rotation!

Now, to be forthright, I’ve never been a big fan of “The Little Drummer Boy.”  In fact, I’ve never even been a small fan.  But something about having it pop up on a Religious Christmas Classics radio station this year really chapped my buttocks, and here’s why:

For a song to be considered a “Religious Christmas Classic,” in my mind, certain implied characteristics must be evidenced.  Chief among these characteristics is a portrayal of the nativity story as documented in the New Testament.  As my friend MJ pointed out in his watery, sentimental appeal, “The Little Drummer Boy” badly misses the mark on this key ingredient by interjecting a presumably fictional character into the nativity story.  Ever wonder why “The Little Drummer Boy” isn’t found in Christian hymnals?  Ever wonder why it’s not sung at Christmas Eve services?  The proof is in the (figgy) pudding—because the song doesn’t belong there.

As an aside, I asked several local Christian pastors about whether or not their churches would be celebrating Christ’s birth by singing “The Little Drummer Boy” at any of their Christmas services this year, and the answer was a resounding and unanimous no.

To be clear, I’m not trying to diminish any metaphorical application “The Little Drummer Boy” might present.  What I am claiming is that these types of loose applications are slippery slopes (to use my own metaphor), and aren’t proper qualifiers for determining whether or not a song should be considered a “Religious Christmas Classic.”  If they were, then we’d certainly have sufficient grounds to put some other well-known Christmas songs on this list.

Take “Frosty the Snowman,” for example.  He was birthed around Christmas, gathered disciples, broke societal norms/rules, then left unexpectedly after promising to return again someday.  Perhaps this is an allegorical reference to Christ and His second coming?  Maybe we should consider “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the religious playlist?  After all, the song clearly demonstrates that even the outcasts and downtrodden can be used for great purposes, that the weak can lead the strong, and that judgment based on outward appearances is foolish.  Aren’t these all biblical messages?  Isn’t there some similarity to be found when comparing Rudolph as an unexpected Christmas savior and a baby born in a manger as humanity’s unexpected Savior?

To go a step further, perhaps instead of reading the Bible’s account of Christ’s birth we should reference Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, given that it contains some allegorical parallels to the Gospel.  Or, if we really wanted to get creative, couldn’t we just plug C.S. Lewis’ famous lion, Aslan, into the manger scene along with the other animals?  Perhaps he was among those that “kept time” for the drummer?

The point is, that like many Christmas songs, “The Little Drummer Boy” has a message and it has its place.  Clearly, that place is alongside songs by Wham or other fairy tales about Frosty or Rudolph, not on a “Religious Christmas Classics” radio station.

BAH, DRUM-BUG – The Opening Salvo

November 19, 2010

I have recently found myself in a heated friendly with one of my fellow man bloggers regarding the classification of the “The Little Drummer Boy” as a “religious” Christmas carol. This has turned into a pretty unexpectedly heated debate. For those of you who are not familiar with this tune…feel free to check out the following link.

The song tells the story of a young boy who visits the baby Jesus shortly after our Savior’s birth. He laments the fact that he is unable to bring any sort of gift to this child King, but is compelled to give whatever he can. He proceeds to give the one gift that he can afford; an expression of worship, using his gift of tapping a rhythm out on stretched hide.

My good friend argues that this song’s inclusion on the “religious” Christmas songs list is a heretical travesty. He claims that it has no right to be included due to its apocryphal implications and lack of biblical support for the inclusion of a young drummer boy playing his drums for our Savior. He has gone so far as to claim that its inclusion is on the same level of including “Frosty the Snowman” on the same list.

While I will grant his argument that there is indeed no canonical evidence for this young percussionist ever actually being manger-side; belittling its Biblically based message is going a bit too far.

During a season of blatant commercialism and consumerism, this little boy’s reminder to give whatever we can to our Savior should be listened to. Christ desires worship from us, he demands our submission to him, and he is pleased when we can use our talents to glorify Him. This is why we include this song on the Religious Christmas songs list; not because it is an accurate retelling of  an event surrounding Christ’s birth, but rather, because it is a clear reminder of what our response should be during these days leading up to the 24th of December.

We should be awed by His incarnation and death to the point where we can do nothing else but give whatever we can. This young boy’s gift was to worship the Savior of the world with his talent…lets rejoice in this as we listen to this song on our “religious Christmas” music channel.

– MJ

BAH, DRUM-BUG – A LayZman Debate

November 19, 2010

We who comprise the LayZmen usually have harmony within our ranks. There are certainly some areas of life where we share differences of opinion such as politics, eschatology, boxers, briefs, etc. Despite these, we manage to find a way to get along and generally enjoy each others company.

Unfortunately for us, as with many families, the holiday season tends to bring out some of the underlying issues that have been repressed throughout the year. Like your crazy uncle who always brings up the same issue from the past or tells the same old story, one of the LayZmen airs the same controversial idea every holiday season. Most of us tend to share his opinion, but this year a new addition to the LayZmen crew is ready to challenge him.


Should the beloved holiday classic “The Little Drummer Boy” be included in a “Christian” or “Religious” Christmas music playlist?

Over the next few posts, we will hash this thing out. Feel free to join the debate with your comments and opinions.

The Burden of Living

October 27, 2010

I’m teaching through Ecclesiastes in my 9th grade Bible class. I had the privilege of going through the book verse by verse last year during our chapel times and I’m being reminded again of how timely God’s Word can be.

As we’ve gone through chapters 1 and 2 we’ve seen that Solomon attempted to find joy, purpose, and meaning in various worldly pursuits. Knowledge, money, property, fame, sex, and entertainment were all enjoyed for a time (2:10), but in the end they failed to satisfy (2:11) Solomon’s greatest longings.

We find out in chapter 3 why this is the case.

I have seen the burden that God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. -Ecclesiastes 3:10-11.

These verses explain so much about the turmoil within our lives. That God has made everything beautiful in its time simply means that everything that surrounds us in life is temporary. There is a time for the enjoyment of these things, but they will never truly satisfy our deepest longings. This is due to the fact that God has set within us the desire for that which is more than temporary.

The burden here is the desperate longing within the human heart for something that transcends the temporal and yet it is on the temporal we find “under the sun.” Our culture’s obsession with celebrity is simply connected to the desire to be known and remembered. We avoid all thought and talk of death because we have such an aversion to it as well we should.

God created us originally to live forever in perfect relationship with Him. When our sin separated us from him we began to seek meaning and purpose through the worship of things under the sun (Romans 1). Those things will never satisfy and true joy and right use of temporal things can only be experienced when we have been restored into relationship with the One who created us and all that surrounds us (2:24-25).

Jesus said that His yoke was easy and his burden light. He may not have specifically been referencing these verses, but the connection can definitely be made. Through Christ we are reconnected to God the Father and can worship Him. This allows us to enjoy the good things in life without worshiping them.