Category Archives: Trends in Culture

The Idol of Power

The story of the Exodus of the people of God from Egypt is a big and beautiful story. It is a story of God’s rescue and redemption. It is a story of God’s declaration of superiority over the gods of the land of Egypt. But it is also a deeply personal story. The story involves real people like Moses and his family and Pharaoh. Although I know that there are bigger purposes for this passage, I couldn’t help but notice that in the story of the Exodus, God demolishes one man’s idol of power.

The ruler of Egypt gives us an insightful look into the heart of a man captivated by power and control. In contrast to Moses’ humble awkwardness at the divine call in the desert, Pharaoh is the self-confident guy who has manipulated circumstances in order to come out on top. And God ultimately used this man’s craving and lust for authority to bring redemption to the Israelites. Here are ways to know that you’re similarly obsessed with power just like Pharaoh:

  • You are intimidated by people who aren’t like you (1:9-10) and you compensate by mistreating (1:11-14) or sidelining (1:15-22) them.
  • You punish unwanted expression through brute force and unreasonable expectations (5:10-14)
  • You cannot allow for freedom of expression that you’re not in the middle of or creativity that you didn’t invent yourself (8:25, 28).
  • You are willing to lose everything else except power (10:7).
  • You have an inordinate desire to be the “Big Brother” (10:8).
  • You assume evil intentions on the part of those whose plans differ from yours (10:10).
  • You move to manipulate people using their families (10:11) and possessions (10:24) when they don’t fall in line.
  • You view people only as means to an end and value people only for what they can do for you (14:5).

The hope for freedom from the power-junkie mindset only comes in the Gospel. In the Gospel, Jesus gives up power and does in our place what we could never do ourselves.

  • Jesus loves and wants people who are nothing like him.
  • Jesus’ yoke is light. He enjoys rewarding people with rest.
  • Jesus gives us freedom. He didn’t come to give more Law, but to fulfill it.
  • Jesus wants to give up everything in order to come to us.
  • Jesus died to make us part of his family. He doesn’t pretend to be family just to take advantage of us.
  • Jesus knows the worst about our intentions, but he loves us anyways. He doesn’t hold our past faults in front of us when we come before him.
  • Jesus doesn’t manipulate us into doing what he wants. He patiently guides us like a shepherd.
  • Jesus saw the value of humanity as equivalent to his own life and death. The value of the human soul was worth the incarnation and death of our Savior.

Christians and Conspiracy Theories

I know that this post will probably frustrate some of my friends and may drag things deeper into issues that may be counter-productive in the end.  But I thought it worthwhile to at least attempt a discussion of the issue of conspiracy theories in the local church.  Let me begin by saying that I have many friends who would be considered by some to be hardcore conspiracy theorists.  As I write this, I mean them no harm; however, I think that we all ought to take some time to consider a little about conspiracy theories and how they affect the church.  I also suppose that this post may frustrate some of the more general population who may object to how I categorize the issue.  I also will wax a little preachy in this post.  I apologize also for this in advance.  This issue has been on my mind for some time and has been brought up again recently, so I want to forcefully and directly address the issue.  I will beg everyone’s forgiveness in advance in hopes that through this dialogue, we all may become more effective as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Definition and Sources of Conspiracy Theories

As I mentioned, I have many friends who could be considered “Conspiracy Theorists.”  Perhaps some may even lump me in with them.  Really, in some small way, we all are conspiracy theorists.  We all have unique beliefs that we believe to be outside the mainstream.  Somewhere in all of us there is an individuality to what we believe.  We all have a desire to hold truth exclusively.  And as long as that desire prevails upon humanity, conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists will persist.  Everyone has bought into a conspiracy.  Whether it is the conspiracy of the liberal, the conservative, the libertarian, or the statist, we’ve all chosen our political perspectives.  We’ve all picked our poison.  Moving forward, I will be defining the idea of a conspiracy theory as a political viewpoint which lays claim to special insight into current or past events in which covert plots are being carried out.

Categories of Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories come in all shapes and sizes.  These theories are as extreme as the political positions that birthed them.  The liberal sees the agenda of the conservative as fringe and extremist.  To them the conservative is in cahoots with big business and is linked with all sorts of corporate corruption and as a plot to destroy the poor of the nation.  To the conservative, the liberal is linked with big government, communism, and a plot to invent global warming and destroy Christianity.  The libertarian sees anyone else as federalist (usually liked with big business) and accuses many with media cover-ups of the US governments’ involvement in 9/11, the need for gold investments, and vote-fixing in national elections.  On the other hand, federalists see everyone else as anarchists who are desperately plotting to destroy the government.  My point is that all of these views are odd.  The way every position sees the other has some quirks and curiosities.  They all believe that they have an edge on the truth.

My concern in this post is not to debate who has the best conspiracy theory or the merits of each position.  We all have our views, but, as a Christian, I see that God’s view is all that matters (Prov. 21:2).  What I wish to discuss, then, is to what extent the Christian should approach conspiracy theories differently.

The Christian and Conspiracy Theories

Given that we all accept some conspiracy theory or another (whether or not we are honest with ourselves to admit this), I think we can safely say that it is not wrong to be a conspiracy theorist.  From the very inception of Christianity, conspiracies existed.  The early church was aware of plots to discredit the resurrection and the celebration of the Eucharist.  I suppose that for the first few hundred years of the church’s existence, most Christians would have been considered hardcore conspiracy theorists.  All this said, I think there are two important virtues for Christians to develop in regard to their politics:

  • Be guarded.  Some conspiracy theories are overtly sexist, racist, or anti-Christian.  These positions are not fitting for a child of God.
  • Be wise.  Let your view be critiqued by everyone (Prov. 11:14).  Become aware of the inconsistencies of your position and the foibles of those who hold it.  Don’t turn off your critical thinking (1 Thess. 5:21)!

There are also a number of issues to avoid:

  • Don’t let it steal your joy.  When your favorite political team is winning and your cause is moving forward, don’t let it be the source of your joy, because as quickly as you derive joy from its success, you will also be driven to despair when you see it fail.  The more “outside the mainstream” you begin to see yourself, the more alienated you will feel.  As you proceed down this path of loneliness and sadness, there is little fruit that resembles the Gospel.  Do a quick reality check.  Ask yourself honestly about how you respond to the success or failure of your political worldview.
  • Don’t let it steal your focus.  What consumes the better part of your internet research, Youtube views, Facebook posts, or conversations?  Is it your political views or is it Christ (Matt. 6:33)?  We claim that Jesus is the Lord and the Master of our lives and all we can think about is politics.  We say that Jesus is the King of the Universe, but for some reason we fear the petty political leaders that come and go as surely as night turns to day (cf. Psalm 2). If Jesus is King of all, then why do we allow ourselves to be consumed or even worry with the state of politics.  Politics is a sad substitution for the Savior.  Idols come in many shapes and sizes, and, unfortunately this is one of them.  Spend some time considering what is really important in this life and the life to come (Luke 12:4-5).
  • Don’t let it motivate your spirituality.  You and I should be witnessing and sharing Christ whether the end of times is at hand or not.  Don’t let your concerns about anti-Christian legislation, unifying world governments, or decline in government care for the poor fuel your spirituality.  Let the Holy Spirit be the source of your motivation and strength.  Here’s a quick reality check: if all the banks, or liberals, or conservatives disappeared tonight, would you still be as motivated to live for and share Christ as you are today?
  • Don’t let it give you a superiority complex.  Read Colossians 2.  These were people who thought they had the corner on the market of truth.   Be careful not to go down this same road.  Be careful once you begin to feel that you have access to special insights that the rest of humanity and other Christians have missed out on.  Be careful once you begin to feel that you have special insights have allowed you to see faults in others that they themselves do not see.  Be careful when you start doubting the authenticity of others’ beliefs on the basis of their politics.  As soon as we start thinking that we’ve figured out the deep secrets of our opponents, we become the Illuminati that we feared from the beginning!
  • Don’t let it become your identity in the culture.  We are commanded to be making disciples of Christ, not our politics.  If your talking points with your co-workers include controversial political statements, consider whether you are opening the door of the Gospel to them or shutting it down (and bolting it shut???).  We ought to be circumspect in what we say, so that all of it may point to Christ (Col. 4:2).  May it never be said that our political views kept someone from coming to Christ.
  • Don’t let it become your identity in the church.  The church is the place where we are to minister to each other and to glorify God.  Don’t get caught up in empty discussions (1 Tim. 6:20-21).  This is not profitable for your brothers and sisters.  Never assume that they all believe like you do.  Never try to use the church as a platform for your opinions on world events.  Always ask for prayer for your government, but never target particular politicians or parties in your speech.  This is divisive and destructive.
  • Don’t let it destroy your family.  Almost every person I know who holds strong political views and can’t avoid talking about them with others who don’t hold them ends up driving people away.  Some of these people have told me that they don’t really mind.  The truth hurts and some people may not want to be their friends.  I could question whether this is a biblical position, but I digress.  I’d rather pose this question.  Does your love for your flavor of politics demonstrate love for your spouse?  In other words, have you stopped to consider the effect your clamor for your political views has had on your wife and whether people avoid her in order to avoid your obnoxious political rants?

In conclusion, I would hesitate to tell anyone to abandon their conspiracies, but I would encourage all Christians to hold them lightly.  We should all pursue politics to the glory of God and vote our conscience.  I would encourage everyone (no matter what political system you subscribe to) to consider your politics through the grid above and see what you need to change.  I know I’ve got some work to do.

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.  But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (Isa. 8:12-13)

An Evangelical Christian Defends His Vote For Ron Paul

Let me start by saying that I really dislike politics.  I have some ideas about the subject, but I don’t really like talking about it or promoting political agendas.  The primary reason is that I don’t vest much hope in politics.  Very few great things have been done by politicians, because politicians seemed to be people just like you and me; the often seem big, but for all their bigness they seem unable to do anything.  Meanwhile it is left to the little people to move mountains by faith.  I suppose that someday I will change my mind and fix my opinions to the bandwagon of a particular party or align myself with certain mainstream ideals, but for now, in my youth, I will continue my wilderness wanderings, wanting little to do with the promised land of the Republicans or the Egypt of the Democrats.

Curiously, however, over the past few months my interest has been spurred by a particular candidate.  The slumber of my quiet rest in the realm of politics has been broken by a strange character and a man that I felt to be quite insane only four years ago.  As I considered whether I could vote for him I decided that I must conquer the objections of the strongest of his opponents.  The more I considered their objections, the more I realized that they carried little weight.  The more I realized their weightlessness, the more I realized that, not just the candidate, but his entire scheme of thinking was a viable alternative to the approach that I had been raised in.  So for a moment I will ask you to indulge me as I weigh some of the objections to Libertarianism from some of my Christian brothers.

1. Libertarianism supports gay marriage.  Suppose your friend told you that he does not think you should buy a Ford.  Would you then suppose that he must certainly want you to buy a Chevy?  Similarly the objection to the Libertarian position makes no sense whatsoever.  As I understand the Libertarian position, it considers a federal injunction via a Constitutional amendment allowing only for heterosexual marriage to be outside the scope and role of the federal government.  In this I agree entirely.  Allow me to suggest two considerations.  First, if the federal government is given a precedent to say what sort of marriages are allowed when Christians are in the majority, who is to say that the government can’t begin promoting other sorts of marriages when the Christians are not in the majority?  In other words, was it ever within the scope of the federal government to decide things like whether one should or shouldn’t pray in school or who can or can’t get married or whether or not we have the appropriate levels of healthcare.  I think that many social conservatives happily overstretch the arm of government to suit their causes, but I also suppose that when the social liberals take control again, their laughter will be turned into mourning.  Bear in mind that the same hand that can restrict marriage can also promote homosexuality or any other sort of lifestyle.  It is a double-edged sword.  A second consideration in regard to this matter is that few realize that the Libertarian message is essentially anti-federal.  As I understand the Libertarian position (I am no expert), more allowance in these matters is given to the states.  This opens up more interesting possibilities which fascinate me.  Ultimately the Libertarian message is one that hands this issue back to local communities and churches to decide; therefore, instead of moralizing the nation, the Christian is left with the intolerable business of loving neighbors and shining out lights in the community and other such uncomfortable tasks.  In this sense, the Libertarian position does more to allow the Christian equal footing with the secularist to deal with the issue of gay marriage.  The Libertarian simply pushes it out of the federal agenda without supporting it or attacking it.

2.  Libertarianism supports drugs.  Once more the idea that allowing someone to make a decision is tantamount to supporting the wrong decision arises.  This is as if God allowing Adam to decide whether or not to take the fruit in the garden somehow stands guilty for Adam’s poor decision.  Drugs have consequences.  So does alcohol, tobacco, food, pornography, racing, swimming, and so on.  There are certain things that one can do to their body that can be judged as morally or pragmatically wrong.  But is it the government’s role to tell you what you should or should not do to your body?  While I certainly believe that it is the government’s role to tell me what I should or should not do to someone else’s body or property (hence laws against theft, violence, abortion, etc.), I do not believe that decisions about my own are within the purview or the prerogative of Constitutional law.  We must bear in mind the same conundrum as before, namely that the same government that can restrict alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana can also tell me that I shouldn’t fast, or drink soda, or eat too much turkey on Thanksgiving.  The double-edged sword surfaces once again.  I could discuss the pragmatic effects of ending the war on drugs and the end of violence and border wars that would occur, but for now suffice it to say that the opposition to the war on drugs does not necessitate a capitulation to a druggie state (just as the end of Prohibition does not mean that everyone drinks, a fact I didn’t understand until I spent time in society).  Permitting people to make decisions (what religion will I believe, what political opinions should I have, where should I work) has consequences, but restricting those decisions beyond the scope of natural law seems to me to result in even more dire consequences.

3.  Libertarianism supports Iran over Israel.  One final time we run up against our problem and once more we find the double-edged sword.  But from the outset I must clarify that I wholeheartedly love Jewish people and have visited Israel and enjoy Jewish culture and their heritage, which brought me one of the things I love the most – my belief system.  I do not suppose that the Libertarian feels any differently.  My understanding of the position seems to clarify three matters.  First, Libertarians are not anti-war.  Libertarians believe that we may go to war, but that war must be declared after a formal debate and decision as is directed in the Constitution.  When a Libertarian says that we ought not to be entangled in certain wars, what they mean is that we have entangled ourselves in foreign affairs in an un-Constitutional manner.  Secondly, Libertarians oppose not only military aid to Israel, but to all countries.  They do not see the role of the United States as the world’s bank or armory.  Traditional politicians use the government in such a manner and this is why countries that we used to like have weapons of mass destruction, cool military tech, and all our old gear (i.e., Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., etc.).  I don’t suppose that these favors have done much to support the nation of Israel.  Finally, Libertarians oppose entangling the US government in foreign affairs in general.  While this would allow Iran to continue their plotting within their own borders, it would also allow Israel to continue to do what it needs to do within her borders as well.  In the mind of the Libertarian, the United States has no right to tell Israel how many settlements it wants to build or whether or not it should build another housing development in Jerusalem.  The same government that can attack Iran at a whim (viz., without Constitutional authority) can place a chokehold around Israel (and currently does).  The same government that can throw millions of dollars in military aid to Israel can throw tens of millions of dollars in aid to her Arab neighbors (and currently does).  So once again, the Libertarian does not oppose Israel, but rather respects her and relates with her in a much better way than the current federal model does.

These key objections may not be answered to the liking of all of my readers and I wish them well in voting for the candidate they feel best represents them (it’s Constitutional, after all).  But for those willing to take a journey outside the partisan bickering and the red and the blue, the road less traveled makes all the difference.  Libertarianism has been a seed in the back of my mind for some time now.  It is a seed that has been taking root, but has encountered several objections.  It would not be fair for me to dismiss them outright, especially since some of my brothers and sisters have questioned whether these Libertarian ideals are in opposition to the Scriptures.  Now that I have answered the objections to my own satisfaction I have moved into accept the position more fully.  The position gives me the reasons for elements of what I have believed for so long.  I’ve always believed in limited government, anti-federalist, Constitutional government.  Now I know why.  +1 for Ron Paul.

Lady Gaga: Everything is Empy

23 million albums and 64 million singles.  Grammy awards.  Voted one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2010.  The young 20-something has managed to catch the eye and the ear of, not only her generation, but the world.  But what exactly does Stefani Germanotta have to say to the world?  What is her message?  Most people look at her garish outfits or her bizarre behaviors and view her as a freak or a genius or an artist.  My belief is that her performance belies what is truly at the heart of the matter.  We must look beyond our reactions to her styles and look deeper at why she sings what she sings.

In our attempt to pull back the layers of this artist, I would first note that she has asked that we do this.  In her 2009 hit single “Paparazzi” she sees the world fawning over her and telling her that they’re her “biggest fan” while all the while missing that she is in great danger (which she pictures variously using symbolism of a monster, illness, and a dangerous relationship).  People are caught up in chasing her fame, but they fail to recognize the struggle that she has inside.  Part of her bizarre outfits and crazy stage shows likely mask the personal frustrations of a girl who can’t even look herself in the mirror.  She can’t have anyone see her for who she really is and so she hides herself (“Dance in the Dark”) and puts on her “Poker Face.”

As we pull back the curtain on her lyrics, we see why she remains hidden in giant eggs and meat outfits.  Lady Gaga bares her soul about a number of struggles and let downs in her life.  Her desire for sexual gratification has led her down a reckless and dangerous path of empty relationships.   Countless songs point the listener in this direction.  In “Bad Romance” she finds herself trapped in a controlling sexual relationship.  In “Alejandro,” her desire to take in a healthy relationship leaves her empty and scarred.  When it’s all said and done, she just keeps returning to harmful relationships as portrayed in “Monster.”  This return is evidence that she has made men her “religion” in her bondage parable “Teeth.”  She needs someone who can pull her out of her addiction and destructive lifestyle.  She cries out for someone to “change me,” but help never comes.  The ups and the downs of her romantic life and career end up leaving her in an emotional prison of sorts (“Telephone”), where she is trapped and can only attempt to find short-sighted avenues to seek revenge.

All of her frustrations put her, as described in “The Edge of Glory,” dangerously “on the edge” as she recklessly pursues something meaningful in life.  She believes for an instant that she has captured something meaningful in what she describes as a “moment of truth” only to fall off the edge and back into her life of emptiness and lies.  Her resolve to this is “Just Dance.”  When life is a wreck and you don’t know what to do, “just dance, [it’s] gonna be okay.”  In a drunken fling she gets “hosed” in order to escape the reality of her frustrated life.  In stark contrast, she looks at the near-death experience of her dad and stands “Speechless.”  She doesn’t know how to cope.  The sadness and struggles of life have closed in on her and she sees no escape.

“I am beyond repentance,” Gaga continues in her “Judas” epic.  She’s lost her moorings and is hopeless now.  She knows that Jesus is still “pulling” her away from her destructive life (imagined as Judas), but she won’t give up her desire to “cling to” Judas.  This, she demonstrates, is the reason for the frustrations of her life.  She has given up Jesus for Judas.

The story of Lady Gaga matches the personal experience of many teens, college students, midlife crisis cases, septuagenarians, and so on.  Even in the Bible we find the story of the wisest and wildest king that ever ruled Israel.  He had 1,000 wives, loads of money, an impressive following, and was a total genius.  Who wouldn’t want to have everything that Solomon had.  He wore the best and was, no doubt, thronged by the paparazzi of his day, but in the end he passes a very similar verdict on it all as does Lady Gaga.  He summarizes it like this: “everything is meaningless” (Ecc. 1:2).  After talking about his attempts to find happiness in wine, wisdom, home improvement, wealth, and women (Ecc. 2:1-9) he sums up:

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

Chasing the wind.  What a letdown!  This is the end of someone who chases anything that this life has to offer.  This is what Solomon and Lady Gaga have to tell us.  This is the warning shouted by those who are surrounded by fame and glory to us who ignorantly pursue what they have already achieved.  Let us consider the pursuit of something eternal.  None of us is beyond repentance.  We can still reject our infatuation with Judas.  We have all betrayed Jesus, but He will take us if we but return to Him in faith looking to Him to take the punishment for our betrayal.  Only in Jesus will we find escape from the life of frustration and empty recklessness presented to us in the music of Lady Gaga.