Archives For Culture

Basal GangliaHave you ever heard of your basal ganglia? Yeah, me neither. But I’m telling you now, and I beg you, please do not waste your basal ganglia. Let me explain why.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about how habits are formed in the brain. There is in our brain a golf-ball size lump of tissue called basal ganglia, which is integral to the formation of habits. Duhigg writes how, in the mid 1990’s MIT researchers began experimenting with rats to determine how the basal ganglia plays a role in the formation of habits as the rats performed dozens of routines. Rats were placed in a maze with a partitioned entrance, and with the sound of a click, the rats wound wander up and down the maze walls, scratching and sniffing, looking for the reward of chocolate. Eventually the rats would find their reward. What researchers discovered during these experiments is that the basal ganglia of rats worked furiously and exploded with activity with each new sight or sound. They discovered that the basal ganglia was the center for processing new data with each new adventure.

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Perspectives in Post-ChristendomLast week, I brought up the new posture of Christianity in post-Christendom and how we re-enter culture in a subversive way to advance the kingdom of God. Before I jump into the paradigm and practices in post-Christendom, I believe it is important to give a little perspective.

In the little diagram above, I lay out 5 different categories for unbelievers. I contend that, with the shrinking of Christendom, there is an increase in paganism. In other words, when non-Christians are categorized according to their position/stance regarding Christianity, there are far more today in the -3 to -5 categories than there is in the -1 and -2.

To be clear, everyone to the left of the center line is what the Bible calls “lost” and outside Christ. There are no degrees of lostness. Either you are saved or you are lost. The difference is twofold: access and attitude. The further to the left you go, the less access non-Christians have to the gospel and the more likely the attitudes are strongly antithetical to the Christian faith. While the two are not necessarily intrinsic to each other, they are often connected (e.g., someone who could have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and not necessarily be opposed to it, and someone could be strongly opposed to Christianity and had considerable access to the gospel message).

Acknowledging that these descriptions are not exhaustive, they are however an attempt to provide distinctions between non-Christians as I have studied and spent time with them in a post-Christendom America.

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Christendom to Post-ChristendomChristendom is dead. For some, this is a time of lament. For others, it is a time of renewal and revival. I want to offer my reflections on the three different phases of Christianity and culture and the corresponding posture for Christian cultural engagement.

Christendom: Synced with Culture

Syncretism is the blending or assimilation of two belief systems into one. There was a time when Christianity enjoyed cultural approval and widespread recognition. When someone spoke of religion, it was rare that anyone thought of another faith beside Christianity. Monuments to the Ten Commandments were erected in the public square. Prayers were offered by teachers in public schools. God Love for God and country were seen in churches who displayed a Christian flag on one side of the pulpit and an American flag on the other. Christianity was synced with American culture.

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When it comes to the Great Commission, there are basically three responses a church can have. A church can do nothing, something, or one thing.

Doing Nothing

A church that does nothing believes the Great Commission does not apply to them. In other words, they make the argument that the command of Jesus to His disciples then was for a particular people in a particular time and has no direct implications to Christians today. Therefore their church members are off the hook, so to speak, when it comes to making disciples. The exceptions to this principle are the “great” Christians who obey the command of Christ to make disciples. The “great” aspect of the Great Commission refers to the elite special forces of the Christian faith which, of course, excludes most, if not all, of us.

This response also attempts to use seemingly good theological arguments to make their case. God is sovereign, and He’s got the whole salvation thing under control. He does not need our help. If He wants more disciples, He will make it happen. This argument, although is partly true, actually does not really appreciate the sovereignty of God as it is revealed in Scripture. God is not only sovereign over the ends but also the means as well. God will make it happen, and He will do so by making it happen through means—through His people who are called to join Him on mission. Playing the sovereignty card on doctrinal table is an ungodly way to justify disobedience to the commands of Christ.

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For the past several weeks, my disciple-making team and I have been working through what a counter-cultural, gospel-centered community of servants looks like. I think this is an important subject matter, one to which I hope to devote several blogposts.

In order for a gospel community to be counter-cultural, we first have to assess what we are encountering in the culture. How does culture and society determine how community is formed and fostered? What are some of the guiding principles and motivations behind its formation? These are questions I find important to determine the starting point, that is, the current reality in which we enter.

I have discovered 11 aspects “societal segregation” that form and foster the community at large. By segregation, I’m talking about ways society separates or isolates individuals to form groups favorable to their preferences and/or convictions. Positively speaking, they may be referred to “affinity” grouping. Most often, this happens naturally.  When multiple aspects of societal segregation are combined, clustering sub-cultures are formed. The eleven aspects of societal segregation are:

11 Forms of Societal Segregation

  1. Demographically – “age and stage” in life; boomers, busters, Xers, Nones, etc.
  2. Economically – low, middle, upper class
  3. Ethnically – black, white, hispanic, asian, “other”
  4. Sexuality – heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender
  5. Spiritually – religious, spiritual, atheist, Christian, Catholic, etc.
  6. Geographically – downtown, midtown, suburb, exurban, rural, etc.
  7. Linguistically – English, Spanish, Korean, German, etc.
  8. Educationally – not just levels of education but philosophy as well
  9. Politically – republican, democrat, independent, tea party
  10. Occupationally – white collar, blue collar, no collar; government, private sector
  11. Extra Curricularity – hobbies, sports, music, third-place loyalties

These eleven forms/aspects have several uses in society, most notably being how they serve as filters for societal identification. When you get to know someone, you will discover their age (demographic), perhaps where they live (geographic), what they do for a living (occupation), and maybe even what they enjoy doing in their free time (extra curriculars). These aspects can not only serve as filters but also barriers to keep out (separate) those most unlike yourself. If you find someone to be a Hispanic (ethnic), speaking Spanish (linguistic), practicing Roman Catholic (spirituality), construction worker (blue collar), and you are none of them, it is possible that a person with those aspects may never become a part of your community as barriers have been erected (either knowingly or unknowingly) to prevent that from happening. As you can see, using them as filters can lead to creating barriers, but using them as barriers can lead to judgments and stereotypes. These aspects become the basis or grounds for security the kind of community that most suits your preferences or convictions, that makes you most comfortable by security people most like you. Judgments are made about people to determine who is allowed into the community you (and others like yourself) have formed.

In my next post, I will share what I believe to be the internal driving motivations behind societal segregation and five components of heart idolatry surfacing in the process.

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peaceIn my reading of Scripture this morning, I came to John 16:33, which says:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

In Jesus = peace
In the world = tribulation

Let’s invert the words of Jesus for a moment:

Outside Jesus = judgment
Of the world = acceptance

For those who are in Christ, there is peace with God (Rom. 5:1) because of the warrior king (I have overcome the world) who is to us, the prince of peace (Isa. 9:6). For those outside of Christ, there is judgment from God while there is acceptance with the world.

As I thought about this, I began thinking about all the songs from various artists that focus on world peace. The list of artists and musicians is a who’s who list for sure: Elvis, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, U2, The Eagles, and Michael Jackson. These are songs with lyrics like:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
– John Lennon

What have we done to the world
Look what we’ve done
What about all the peace
That you pledge your only son…
What about flowering fields
Is there a time
What about all the dreams
That you said was yours and mine…
Did you ever stop to notice
All the children dead from war
Did you ever stop to notice
The crying Earth the weeping shores
– Michael Jackson

Most people think,
Great god will come from the skies,
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
You will look for yours on earth:
And now you see the light,
You stand up for your rights.
– Bob Marley

These men have written the songs of our age–an age desperately seeking peace in all the wrong places. The words of Jesus are a calibration to our course of living in the world. What we can expect from the world is not peace but tribulation. The world is groaning for redemption it cannot produce. Jesus is make all things new, and the kingdom inaugurated in his life, death, and resurrection is being established in the hearts of men who were once hostile in min and by nature children of wrath.  Such men and women made new by Jesus, in whom we have enduring peace.

We need to correct our expectations so that we can have greater participation in the work Jesus has called us to do. Calibrated expectations will directs our efforts so that the peace the world is desperately longing for will be found in an old-rugged cross and empty tomb. Jesus has overcome the world so that we would enter into it with the gospel of peace.

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“There is a love for the world that makes ministry impossible; there is a love for the world that produces either the abandonment of ministry or the making of ministry so worldly it’s useless.” – John Piper

“There is a love for this world that is irreconcilable with ministry to the world…more people leave Christ, church, and ministry out of love for the world than anything else.” – John Piper

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One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about leadership in the local church has to do with creating, cultivating, and contending for a gospel-centered culture in the church. This past weekend, I led a discussion in our “Introduction to Grace” membership class on this very thing. I began with Albert Mohler’s well-known case for theological triage. Membership interviews and membership classes are important to the life and health of a church for several reasons, not the least of which is the need to protect/content for a gospel-centered culture in your church.

Here’s what I mean by that. If Christians are looking to join your church (via transfer growth), it could very well be that there are 3rd Tier issues that they want to make 2nd Tier or even 1st Tier issues. Some people call them “single issue Christians.” There are others that are not so obvious and can sometimes be discerned by their approach to church being a “What do you have to offer me?” kind of attitude. Either way, they want to push upward their 3rd Tier preferences and make them 2nd Tier principles. Some of these preferential non-essentials are listed in the chart below.

So here’s the deal. If at any point you as a leader allow for 3rd Tier issues to advance upward in the culture of the church, then members will become centered on something other than the gospel and factions will ensue. If passions drive preferences, and preferences are not 2nd Tier issues, then church leaders must be clear that the passion to lead the church with a gospel-centered focus is greater than their passion to drive their preferences into the culture of the church. This is protecting the unity of the flock with a gracious spirit of saying, “That’s not going to happen among us. I’m sorry.”

This is why I believe it is important to be clear with the 2nd Tier. If your church is not clear on what defines you in what you believe (confession), how you live (covenant), and what you value most (core values), then you are living in the land of assumptions with an open invitation for any member to more explicit about their preferences than you are your principles. Without those gospel-guiding principles in place as filters to protect the unity of the church, the health and welfare of the church is in a vulnerable state.

Gospel-centered leaders do not have the luxury of being accepting of personal preferences as anything more than personal preferences. They have to front with the gospel explicitly and consistently and back that up with a godly intolerance for members to be united by any greater than the good news of Jesus Christ. They themselves must exhibit by their life and actions that the greatest common denomination in the fellowship of the saints is that our names are written in the heaven as blood-bought children of God.

For some churches, gospel-centered churches must guard against liberalism, which is the neglect or dismissal of 1st Tier doctrines. On the other hand, I believe in most cases leaders must guard against fundamentalism, which is the treatment as if all matters are 1st Tier issues. A real test of the diversity we are to enjoy is whether we can experience genuine fellowship with other Christians who see 3rd Tier issues differently than us.

Here’s how I like to think about it. The 3rd Tier issues ought always be in subjection to the 2nd Tier. The 2nd Tier issues ought always be in subjection to the 1st Tier. Gospel-centered churches major on the gospel (1st Tier), and members who care deeply about the unity of the church care about the 2nd Tier (and by virtue of that, the 1st as well). If that kind of order is not functional in the church, then what you are left with sadly will look similar to this…

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Last Sunday, in my disciple-making training, we did a little excursion from our normal schedule to think about Christmas. As disciples of Jesus, we should seek to leverage every opportunity to make much of Him, including (or especially) the season of Advent. However, not everything is as “wonderful” this time of the year as we think. For many, it is the most stressful, demanding, and overwhelming time of the year, with challenges awaiting from all facets of life.

On a cultural front, we are constantly hearing news about the culture war, in particular how the tide of our culture is washing away any remnants of Christianity.  Whether it be nativity scenes in the square, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, or the marginalization of Christmas carols that have anything to do with Jesus, each Christmas is another incoming tide of secularism in our country.

On a financial front, we are faced with the onslaught of consumerism. Covetousness is the fuel, and our credit cards are the engine. Materialism is king. The season begins with “Black Friday” and ends with bank statements of higher levels of debt. In the end, Christmas, especially for little children, is a season about me . . . and all the stuff that I think I deserve.

On a relational front, we are faced with potentially volatile situations when we gather in close proximity with relatives we usually don’t see throughout the year. Some have differences in traditions and particular ways Christmas is celebrated (or not). For others, debates and arguments may arise over things like politics or other preferences they are passionate about. Or, it could just be the awkwardness of the moments when you know you should be closer to one another than you really are, and you kinda just go through the motions, doubling down on your pretending, and anxiously await the absence of such awkwardness.

On a personal front, we are often faced with frustration and stress. We are busy with more shopping to do, more parties to attend, more food to cook, more people to entertain, more of just about everything. The intensity of the season leaves little room for margin to think about anything else than the next thing you have to do. For others, the personal complexities are filled with grief, sadness, and loneliness. For all the years together and traditions made with the ones you love, they have died, and each little moment brings back the memories once shared together and now seems like a constant stream of tears.

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