Black Friday, Cyber Monday & Don Delillo

A passage out of Don Delillo’s novel, White Noise, makes for a good reflection for us American consumers after the passing of Black Friday and Cyber Monday,

I shopped for its own sake, looking and touching, inspecting merchandise I had no intention of buying, then buying it.

“…The encounter put me in the mood to shop. I found the others and we walked across two parking lots to the main structure in the Mid Village Mall, a ten-story building arranged around a center court of waterfalls, promenades and gardens. Babette and the kids followed me into the elevator, into the shops set along the tiers, through the emporiums and department stores, puzzled but excited by my desire to buy. When I could not decide between two shirts, they encouraged me to buy both. When I said I was hungry, they fed me pretzels, beer, souvlaki The two girls scouted ahead, spotting things they thought I might want or need, running back to get me, to clutch my arms, plead with me to follow. They were my guides to endless well-being…My family gloried in the event. I was one of them, shopping, at last. They gave me advice, badgered clerks on my behalf. I kept seeing myself unexpectedly in some reflecting surface. We moved from store to store, rejecting not only items in certain departments, not only entire departments but whole stores, mammoth corporations that did not strike our fancy for one reason or another. There was always another store, three floors, eight floors, basement full of cheese graters and paring knives. I shopped with reckless abandon. I shopped for immediate needs and distant contingencies. I shopped for its own sake, looking and touching, inspecting merchandise I had no intention of buying, then buying it. I sent clerks into their fabric books and pattern books to search for elusive designs. I began to grow in value and self-regard. I filled myself out, found new aspects of myself, located a person I’d forgotten existed. Brightness settled around me. We crossed from furniture to men’s wear, walking through cosmetics…I traded money for goods. The more money I spent, the less important it seemed. I was bigger than these sums. These sums poured off my skin like so much rain. These sums in fact came back to me in the form of existential credit. I felt expansive, inclined to be sweepingly generous…We ate another meal. A band played live Muzak. Voices rose ten stories from the gardens and promenades, a roar that echoed and swirled through the vast gallery, mixing with noises from the tiers, with shuffling feet and chiming bells, the hum of escalators, the sound of people eating, the human buzz of some vivid and happy transaction.

We drove home in silence. We went to our respective rooms, wishing to be alone. A little later I watched Steffie in front of the TV set. She moved her lips, attempting to match the words as they were spoken.” (p. 83, 84)

Godly Jealousy & Religious Pluralism in Contemporary Culture

God’s jealousy is one of the most neglected attributes of God in contemporary Christianity. Yet the God whom Christians say they trust is the God who is not only “love” (1 John 4:8), but whose very name is “Jealous” (Exodus 34:14). In a pluralistic world the jealousy of God  must be explicitly reaffirmed by the Christian church if it is to keep its prophetic edge and if it is to honor the deep covenantal contours of God’s love. According to missiologist Lesslie Newbign, religious pluralism is, “The belief that differences between religions are not a matter of truth and falsehood, but of different perceptions of the one truth; that to speak of religious belief as true or false is inadmissible. Religious belief is a private matter” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 14). Christians need to lovingly recapture the righteous conviction of godly jealousy as it engages with this kind of religious pluralism.

God’s jealousy is one of the most neglected attributes of God in contemporary Christianity.

K. Erik Thoennes impassioned comments on this topic, in his excellent book, Godly Jealousy: A Theology of Intolerant Love, are worth quoting at length:

How then should a Christian respond to invitations to partake of religions that fall outisde of the bounds of the historic Christian faith of the Bible? The jealousy of God affirms and demonstrates his personal and relational nature that must be denied if pluralism is embraced. His jealousy shows that he is not the impersonal force that we only call ‘the real’, but rather it shows that he is the personal, loving, jealous God of the covenant. Although today’s culture often sees tolerance as the highest virtue, ‘[n]o relgions claiming possession of a divine revelation can afford to be tolerant.’

…If one takes the marriage metaphor at the heart of the covenant seriously, the encouragement of the pluralist to alter the Christian message by the influence of other religions is an encouragement to harlotry. It is to suggest that a wife can love her husband equally effectively in the bed of another lover. The pluralist notion suggests that believers commit adultery, and then tell their jealous and angry husband that when they were making love to that other lover, they were really making love to him. The bride must stay chaste for her groom. If not, God reacts with angry jealousy…

When religious devotion is left in the realm of philosophical ideas and ethical concepts, openness to and experimentation with other religions seem obvious and potentially fruitful avenues. But when religious devotion involves an intimate love relationship with a jealous personal God, openness to, and experimentation with other religions are nothing short of playing the harlot. (p. 250, 251, 252)

“Kick it In!” – A Personal Reflection on Hebrews 12:1-2

I don’t have a ton of memories from when I was a young kid, so when I do remember something I figure it made a significant impact on me. Today while I was running and getting toward the end of my route, I heard the strong voice of my dad shouting “Kick it in!” echoing in my head from yesteryear.

When I was in grammar school I used to run track, and one particular race that I was in I remember rounding the corner toward the finish line and hearing the sound of the crowd–my family and friends–yelling and cheering me on. But above all the crowd noise I remember the voice of my dad soaring over the others and urging me to “Kick it in!”. This phrase, for those of you who don’t know track lingo, essentially means: run faster, finish well. And I remember his shout was effective, I pushed harder and dug deep.

The life of faith is not easy, and the name-of-the-game is enduring with relentless focus on Jesus

To be honest, I don’t recall whether I finished first or second, or seventh for that matter, but I do remember his cry from the sidelines of the track and how it propelled me to run faster toward the finish line. This cry often arrives when I am exercising, usually toward the end between heavy breaths and a sticky shirt, and I don’t typically think of the glory days of track or even the need to finish my jog. Instead I think of the fight and race of faith, my marriage and family, the future, and the necessity for endurance and perseverance. Many times running has become a means of grace where I preach to myself the need to keep going–to love and trust Jesus–day in and day out no matter what comes, what sin I’ve committed, sins have been committed against me, or tragedy has struck.

The common New Testament metaphor for the Christian life is a race, and in Hebrews 12:1-2  the author calls us “lay aside” every sin and every encumberance that would weigh us down and keep us from running well. All of us at different points in the Christian life get tired of running. Maybe its a love for a particular sin? Maybe its having been a Christian for so long and the desire to just coast and not move forward any longer sets in–put the life of faith on cruise-control so-to-speak–because of all the time you’ve put in? It could have been a tragedy like a death of loved one? Possibly its hurts from people inside the church which have been inflicted upon you by those in the highest levels of church leadership or having been in leadership and experienced the heartbreak of seeing people fail over and over giving up on marriages or Jesus altogether. Regardless of the size of the sins or the seemingly overwhelming encumbrances and burdens you’ve faced– in Christ you have been called to lay itwhatever it may beaside today.

The writer to the Hebrews encourages Christians to recognize that the race of faith is a certain kind of race. It’s an endurance race, not a sprint. A marathon not a 100 yard dash. It will, at times, feel unbelievably long and terribly arduous. Therefore believers are urged to run “with endurance”–to keep going and after that keep running, throbbing sideache and all, heading toward the finish line saturated in sweat, laps filled with tears, and sometimes even blood.

In light of this, I want to urge you today to “Kick it in!” To turn from that pet sin, and fix your eyes on Jesus your sin-bearer. To forgive that person that wounded you, and look to Jesus bloodied and crucified by sinners. To not let that tradgedy control you, but consider Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus and see him on the cross handing the care of his mother over to his best friend John because his earthly dad had probably died too young–and then see him kill death by dying and rise again. To not coast and consider quitting because you’ve put in your time and didn’t get much of anything tangible in return, but fixate on Jesus who “for the joy set before him endured the cross” because he knew triumph would come. The life of faith is not easy, and the name-of-the-game is enduring with relentless focus on Jesus.

You have been called to run a race. Your Christian identity is akin to a marathon runner. Now suit up, train, be disciplined, run, and look to Jesus with every stride. I implore you: don’t quit. In fact, run even faster.

As my dad would say, “Kick it in!”

The Truthiness of Young American’s with a High View of the Bible

Robert Wuthnow, professor of Sociology at Princeton University, in his book After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion, reveals disturbing trends among young adults who are considered to be biblical literalists and believe in the trustworthiness of the Bible. According to this professor’s research the high view of the Bible that these young Americans affirm (at least in comparison to other young adults) are not as high as one might think. Their beliefs are filled with caveats and contradictions. Three beliefs in particular emerge:

We like to believe the Bible is our authority, yet when it comes down to it we really are.

  • Belief #1: I understand God through the Scriptures, but its possible that you may understand God some other way. Wuthnow writes, “…about four in ten (42 percent) relativize their view that Christianity is the best way to understand God by saying it is the best for them personally and not necessarily best for everyone (105).
  • Belief #2: I believe the Bible is true and inerrant, but a person can also know God by emptying one’s mind and looking inside yourself. Wuthnow states, “A majority of biblical literalists (58 percent) also hold the interesting view that ‘God can only be known as people empty their minds and look inside themselves.’ In short, whatever faith one has in the truth of the Bible is tempered by the view that one should not think very much about it–or anything else, apparently” (105).
  • Belief #3: I believe the Bible is God’s trustworthy word, but I don’t feel the need to read it all that much. Wuthnow continues, “Another notable aspect of biblical literalism that is evident here is the large proportion of biblical literalists who read the Bible at home less than once a week. To be sure, they read it more often than nonliteralists do; nevertheless, a majority (51 percent) of biblical literalists do not consult the Bible on their own even once a week. believing the Bible, again, appears to be an item of faith, more than something grounded in knowledge” (105-106).

This research confirms that many young adult Christians are attempting to hold to orthodoxy and unorthodoxy at the same time. They are double-minded. Wuthnow’s concludes the following,

People don’t reject [orthodox beliefs] because they can so easily be hedged. Cognitive bargaining of this kind can take many forms. People can believe the Bible should be interpreted literally and yet regard it as one truth among many, as a private belief, and as one that a person should not even think about very much. None of this diminishes their sense that the Bible is true. It just gives them a way to negotiate their relationship with the truth (106-107).

The implications that Wuthnow draws from his research reveal a troubling diagnosis among emerging adults. As young Americans, we want to have our cake (the Bible is true) and eat it too (well, not so much). We believe in, to use Stephen Colbert’s aptly coined word, the “truthiness” of the Bible. That is, when the Scriptures reinforce what we want to believe, we believe it; and, when it doesn’t, we can always liberate it to be interpreted according to what we desire. This gives us the comfy position of being over God’s word–picking and choosing what we may like according to personal preferences; not under God’s word– submitting to whatever it says in faith and humility. We like to believe the Bible is our authority, yet when it comes down to it we really are.

How to Overcome Spiritual Decay & Experience Revival

Feeling spiritually lethargic? Desiring personal revival?

…a steady view of the glory of Christ, in his person, grace, and office, through faith…is the only effectual way to obtain a revival from under our spiritual decays…

The Puritan theologian John Owen, in his Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ, discusses the central way to overcome this and to experience revival,

Are we, then, any of us under convictions of spiritual decays? or do we long for such renovations of spiritual strength as may make us flourish in faith, love, and holiness? We must know assuredly, that nothing of all this can be attained, but it must come from Jesus Christ alone. We see what promises are made, what duties are prescribed unto us; but however we should endeavour to apply ourselves unto the one or the other, they would yield us no relief, unless we know how to receive it from Christ himself.

The only way of receiving supplies of spiritual strength and grace from Jesus Christ, on our part, is by faith. Hereby we come unto him, are implanted in him, abide with him, so as to bring forth fruit. He dwells in our hearts by faith, and he acts in us by faith, and we live by faith in or on the Son of God. This, I suppose, will be granted, that if we receive any thing from Christ, it must be by faith, it must be in the exercise of it, or in a way of believing; nor is there any one word in the Scripture that gives the least encouragement to expect either grace or mercy from him in any other way, or by any other means…

This, therefore, is the issue of the whole:— a steady view of the glory of Christ, in his person, grace, and office, through faith, — or a constant, lively exercise of faith on him, according as he is revealed unto us in the Scripture, — is the only effectual way to obtain a revival from under our spiritual decays, and such supplies of grace as shall make us flourishing and fruitful even in old age. He that thus lives by faith in him shall, by his spiritual thriving and growth, “show that the Lord is upright, that he is our rock, and that there is no unrighteousness in him.” [Source:]