Nine Ways to Change… or Die

It was a fascinating project. 

Two Danish researchers traveled to 54 newsrooms in nine countries in search of desperately needed innovation in journalism. Their motivation was clear: “When citizens of Western societies, to a deeply disturbing extent, turn their backs on original news journalism, spend less time on news on radio or television, buy fewer newspapers, and express a growing distrust of media institutions, we need to submit the core content of the news media – journalism itself – to a critical review.”

They found that the crisis of journalism and legacy news media “is structural, and not just a matter of technological challenges or broken business models.” As a result, they found that the “news media most successful at creating and maintaining ties with their readers, users, listeners and viewers will increasingly be media that dare challenge some of the journalist dogmas of the last century.”

They walked away with nine core ideas, nine different ways (or movements) by which news media in the Western world are currently trying to “forge closer ties and stronger relations to their communities and audiences.” Here are the nine: 

  1. From neutrality to identity. Let people know exactly what you stand for, who you are and from which perspective you view the world. 

  2. From omnibus to niche. Create strong bonds with a very targeted audience. You can’t reach everyone, so don’t try.

  3. From flock to club. You aren’t after users or readers, but members who register or pay to join into a community.

  4. From ink to sweat. Quit thinking of journalism as simply a story you write or tell; create physical journalism in the form of public meetings, festivals, events and stage plays. Think “live and engaging.” 

  5. From speaking to listening. Move from a “walled-up fortress” to an open and accessible house. Personal dialogue, physical presence… have the conversation be two-way.

  6. From arm’s length to cooperation. In the name of “independence” and “neutrality,” modern journalism has kept its distance from various citizens and interest groups, not to mention public institutions and private corporations. The move now is to involve citizens directly in everything from research to delivery. Even the subsequent debate of published stories.

  7. From own to other platforms. The old idea that it weakens business opportunities and journalistic control when content is released on social media is being replaced with the idea that at least cooperation with social media has the potential to enhance and deepen engagement and strengthen journalism itself.

  8. From problem to solution. Don’t just denounce or decry, or simply reveal and relay—add a solution-oriented dynamic to the work. “They read more, they are more likely to share content, and they express more interest in knowing more about the issue when the piece has a constructive angle.”

  9. From observers to activists. Taking a campaign-oriented approach to journalism, or advocacy mindset, creates relevance. 

The researchers find no reason “to preach one particular model… for the future. All the experiments and ideas unfolding in the current media landscape… indicate that there will be dozens, if not hundreds, of different models, all of which carry a hope for the church in the future.”

The bottom line is that the church of the future will exist because of a focus on innovation and experiment. It will be founded on the courage and ambition of radical innovation. There will have to be a new understanding of the need for dramatic change and open-ended experiments. The message and intent is timeless and not to be changed, but the methods must be ruthlessly reevaluated.

Oops. Did I just write “church?” I meant “journalism.”

Or did I.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Per Westergaard & Soren Schultz Jorgensen, “54 Newsrooms, 9 Countries, and 9 Core Ideas,” Nieman Lab, July 11, 2018, read online.

When I Grow Up, I Want to be... a YouTuber

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? If you were like most children, answers would have probably included such things as being a police officer, doctor or a teacher. 

Times have changed.

What if I told you that the top aspirations of present-day children between the ages of 6 and 17 didn’t even exist when you were a child? 

A survey of more than a thousand children by the travel company First Choice found that nearly 75% now want a career in online videos. Specifically, more than a third wanted to be a YouTuber, and nearly a fifth wanted to work as a vlogger. 

It’s not about the money. The top attractions were “creativity, fame and the opportunity for self-expression.” According to Internet Matters, more than four out of 10 children are uploading videos to the web by the time they reach 15 years old.

Understandably, they want their education experience to match their career plans. The study found that they “would rather learn media studies and how to use video editing software than traditional subjects.” Instagram is ready to serve by now offering an “academy” designed to “teach teenagers how to become social media stars.” As reported by the Telegraph: “… the photo sharing app is running three days of free workshops to train would-be influencers in how to become an online success. The curriculum covers everything from camera angles to how to make your content ‘relatable.’”

It’s hard to blame the children for making this their professional desire, eclipsing becoming a pop star or famous athlete. The internet is the world in which they live and the world that lives in them. And unlike the arduous amount of work and competition for careers in such areas as medicine or law, with these aspirations there are “no barriers to entry; no exams or auditions. All it appears to take is a smartphone and bucket-loads of youthful self-confidence.” And while self-confidence may vary from child to child, we all know they at least have a smartphone.

Parents are the ones who seem unclear on how to advise their child vocationally in such matters. Not only is it a world they do not understand, it is a job they do not understand.

But offer sound counsel, they should. The sobering reality of such career dreams is revealed in the research of Mathias Bartl, a professor at Germany’s Offenburg University of Applied Sciences, who has found that “96.5% of all those trying to become YouTube vloggers won’t make enough money out of advertising to live above the poverty line.”

So while it may seem that the choice is between going to school and studying hard or putting up videos on YouTube, the latter isn’t really the viable option many young people think it is. 

Yes, as one 14-year-old put it, “Vlogging seems like the best job ever.”

Unfortunately, it’s just not one that has a very likely chance of working out.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Jacob Dirnhuber, “Children Turn Backs on Traditional Careers in Favour of Internet Fame, Study Finds,” The Sun, May 22, 2017, read online.

Tanith Carey, “Can Social Media School Make Your 16-Year-Old a Star?” The Telegraph, October 25, 2018, read online.

A Bad Answer to the Biggest Question

The posthumous release of Stephen Hawking’s new book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, playing off of the title of his bestselling A Brief History of Time, reminds us of much that endeared the physicist to our hearts and minds: his sweeping intellect, gift of explanation and simplification, self-deprecating humor, refusal to let physical challenges limit his life... and, of course, his insatiable curiosity. As Kip Thorne stated in his eulogy for Hawking at the interment of his ashes at Westminster Abbey: “Newton gave us answers. Hawking gave us questions.”

But I confess much disappointment in his “brief” answer to the biggest question of all, “Is there a God?” It’s not just that we disagree in our conclusions, but that his reasons for rejecting the existence of God are so… weak.

First, he only considers the existence of God in an impersonal sense, equating God with little more than the laws of nature. Hawking reasons that as a “law of nature,” this “god” could not exist outside of time. Taken together, this “time-bound law of nature” means that he is not even grappling with God at all. Which means he is not grappling with the “big” question at all—namely, is there a personal Being who exists outside of space and time? 

This severely curtails his attempt to answer the question at its most significant level and makes his rather glib response to whether God exists intellectually irrelevant. For example, in maintaining that whatever “god” there is must exist in time, Hawking concludes that “then there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in… Time didn’t exist before the big Bang so there is no time for God to make the universe in.” Yet the very definition of God, across almost the entire intellectual spectrum, is One who exists outside of space and time. 

(One more example of why scientists make bad philosophers and even worse theologians.)

Second, he states that the three ingredients needed in our “cosmic cookbook” for a universe are matter, energy and space. Yet none of them existed before the Big Bang, which means you have to explain how “something” came from “nothing.” Where did the energy come from? Where did the matter come from? Hawking wants to make a case that “space,” at least, was enabled through a simultaneous production of negative energy. But even if one buys into this explanation, it does not answer the questions surrounding the genesis of energy and matter. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the questions still remain: Where did the stuff that got “banged” come from and who “banged” it?

Third, when speaking of the laws of nature he holds to so reverently, he never bothers to ask what is arguably the most important question about those laws: How did they come into existence? This is particularly important when trying to explain how “something” could come from “nothing” through the Big Bang, which Hawking attempts to explain through the laws of physics (unconvincingly, I might add, and in a way that raises more questions than answers). As Alan Guth, one of the leading physicists of our day at M.I.T. has written, even if you could come up with a theory that would account for the creation of something from nothing through the laws of physics, you’d still have to account for the origin of the laws of physics!

In the end, Hawking admits that we now know the laws that govern what happens “in all but the most extreme conditions, like the origin of the universe, or black holes.”

Yes.

But it is precisely the questions – and mystery – surrounding those “extreme conditions” that consistently point to God. And why Hawking gives a very brief, but also very bad, answer to the biggest question of all.

And, sadly, now he knows it all too well.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions.

Alan Guth, The Inflationary Universe.

You’ve Got Mail

Confession:

One of my favorite movies of all time is You’ve Got Mail—the Nora Ephron written and directed, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan acted, rom-com that recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

There. I said it.

Much of what I love about it is the nostalgia, and Millennials would probably feel it even more than I would. The AOL greeting when signing in, “bouquets of sharpened pencils,” an actual bookstore, The Godfather quotes… it had a little bit of everything for me. 

This made it all the more painful when some staffers at Marie Claire decided to honor the movie’s 20th anniversary by showing it to a group of their Generation Z coworkers. Painful, in that it was largely lost on them. Not the story itself, mind you, just the cultural nostalgia many of us so love.

But it’s understandable, and a good reminder of how that world no longer exists. 

The demise of small bookstores under the weight of big-box stores? Oh my. Most of the big-box stores are even gone. And the ones that are left? We’re actually rooting for them! (Hang in there, Barnes and Noble!)

Chat rooms? Really?

Rent control for $450 a month? That’s reached the point of comical.

And logging on to the internet through a dial-up connection? What does that even mean? Even the very use of AOL for email or anything else tends to mark you as over-50 (guilty!), which is why even the title of the movie is lost on younger ears. 

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Realizing how much things change. And how quickly. Even after just 20 years.

This needs to serve as a reminder to us, how the coming generations we need to reach through our churches have grown up in a very different world, and we need something different than a dial-up modem to connect with them. Why?

Because while you get “You’ve got mail,”

… they don’t.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Cady Drell and Danielle McNally, “We Showed ‘You've Got Mail’ to Our Gen-Z Coworkers and Now Feel Very Old,” Marie Claire, August 1, 2018, read online.

About Halloween

I grew up in a day when Halloween was little more than pumpkins, fall festivals, hayrides and dressing up as a pirate or a farmer to go trick-or-treating. And that’s also what it was like for my (now) very post-Halloween-age children.   

I know its history, but few celebrations in our day are free from pagan roots—almost all had a pagan heritage that was later seized and transformed by a Christian culture. So that doesn’t matter much to me. On the Christian calendar, October 31 is actually to be celebrated as part of Reformation Day, in remembrance of when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church sparking the Protestant Reformation.

So while I still hold to the childlike fun the night can hold, I no longer view the day itself as innocent. 

But it’s not because of the occult.

It’s because of the sex.

In an article in the New York Times titled, “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” Stephanie Rosenbloom writes of the changing nature of women’s Halloween costumes in the last several years. 

Little Red Riding Hood, in her thigh-highs and miniskirt, does not seem en route to her grandmother’s house. 

Goldilocks, in a snug bodice and platform heels, gives the impression she has been sleeping in everyone’s bed. 

And then there is the witch wearing little more than a Laker Girl uniform, a fairy who appears to shop at Victoria’s Secret, and a cowgirl with a skirt the size of a—well, you get the point. As Rosenbloom notes, the images “are more strip club than storybook.” 

No wonder Halloween costume stores have signs out front that say: “No one under 18 allowed without a parent.”     

So my take on it all is pretty simple.

I think Halloween as an American cultural event for kids is no big deal. Dress them up as one of the minions from Despicable Me and have fun. It’s just not a big deal from the paranormal or occultic perspective on things. In my opinion, this is an area where a lot of people are majoring on the minors. 

It’s not the kids and Halloween that are the problem…

… it’s the adults.

I think Halloween, as far as the kids go, can still be something innocent. But a word to you adults who have made it “dress like a porn star and act like one” night:

You’re the ones making it dark.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note: While first published in 2013, the Church & Culture Team continues to find this a timely word at this time of year.

Sources

Stephanie Rosenbloom, “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” New York Times, Thursday, October 19, 2006, p. E1 and E2.

Michelle Healy, “Sexy teen Halloween costumes: What's a parent to do?,” USA Today, October 28, 2013, read online.

Really Bad Theology

There has been an ongoing study of the state of American theology conducted by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research, and it hasn’t been pretty.

After examining 34 core beliefs, Christianity Today magazine titled their summary article, “Christian, What Do You Believe? Probably a Heresy…”

There was much to lament.

A majority of U.S. adults (59%) say that the Holy Spirit is a force, not a Person.

Six in 10 Americans agree that “religious belief is a matter of personal opinion [and] not about objective truth.”

Most Christians believe that people are basically good (52%), that God accepts the worship of all religions (51%) and that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father (78%).

Okay, the Holy Spirit is a Person. Religious belief better be about objective truth, or it’s about nothing at all. People are NOT basically good. God does not accept the worship of all religions, particularly when those religions don’t even recognize who He is. And Jesus was created?

A little church history.

The Arian controversy of the fourth century is widely regarded as one of the most significant in all of Christian history. A man named Arius (who lived between 250-336) argued that the scriptural titles for Christ, which seemed to point to Christ’s equality with God, were merely courtesy titles. In truth, Arius said, Christ was to be seen as a creature—although the first among all creatures. So, while the Son is not like any other creature, Arius argued that He is a creature nonetheless. He even said that the Son was a perfect creature and outranked all other creatures, but was indeed created. Hence the phrase of Arius, “There was once when He was not.”

So much for the Trinity.

Arius was attempting to draw on a number of biblical passages. In John 14, you have Jesus saying that the Father is greater than He is. In Mark 13, Jesus says that no one knows when the second coming will be – not even Him – only the Father. So Arius and his followers maintained that Jesus was similar to the Father in nature or essence, but not the same as the Father in nature or essence.

This received a swift and hostile reaction from many within the church who were able to marshal an impressive number of biblical passages to combat his ideas and point to the fundamental unity between the Father and the Son. Also, the passages that the Arians used were shown to be misinterpreted, missing out on the subordination of the Son to the Father during the incarnation, and how His language reflected that state of subordination. In other words, in His incarnation, Jesus filled a different role. 

It was also argued that the divinity of Christ was of central importance to the Christian idea of salvation. If what Arius was maintaining was true, Christ could not save anyone – no creature can save another creature. Only God can save and even Arius seemed to agree that, according to the New Testament, salvation was meant to come through Jesus.

Sorry for such a stiff drink. But let’s be clear: Jesus was God Himself in human form, the second Person of Trinity.

Any other view is quite simply heresy.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Jeremy Weber, “Christian, What Do You Believe? Probably a Heresy About Jesus, Says Survey,” Christianity Today, October 16, 2018, read online.

More Witches than Presbyterians

The news story couldn’t have been more direct: “There may now be more Americans who identify as practicing witches… than there are members of mainline Presbyterianism.”

Oh my.

Even worse:

“… Wicca has effectively repackaged witchcraft for Millennial consumption. No longer are witchcraft and paganism satanic and demonic… it’s a ‘pre-Christian tradition’ that promotes ‘free thought’ and ‘understanding of earth and nature.’”

Now for the worst of the worst:

“Despite biblical warnings against the practice of witchcraft, the Rev. Valerie Love, who describes herself as a practicing Christian witch and an ordained minister of spiritual consciousness, is insisting that there is nothing wrong with Christians being witches and has recently launched a school to help Christians tap into magic.

“‘Stop thinking you can tell people how to worship. Stop thinking you can tell people how to connect with the divine. I could tell you how many people have told me, “You can't be a Christian witch” but here I am. See, you can’t tell me how to worship. You cannot tell me how to connect with the divine. That’s between me and God. You cannot tell me how to pray,’ a defiant Love declared in a recent rant on Facebook.”

I think it’s time for some biblical theology. 

As mentioned in a previous blog, one of the marks of the world of the occult is any attempt to gain and master paranormal power in order to manipulate or influence other people into certain actions. This would include all forms of witchcraft and the casting of spells.

Yes, this includes Wicca.

When you think of a witch, or classical witchcraft, you think of one who uses black magic, a process of working harm through contact with an evil spirit or, more specifically, Satan. That was a deeply medieval concept of witchcraft. Today, witchcraft is more commonly seen under the title of Wicca. Don’t get me wrong—people can and do dabble in the direct attempt at black magic by purposefully invoking the powers of Satan or a demon. But most are into witchcraft another way.

Wicca is among the fastest-growing religions in the country. Almost half a million people practice it in the United States alone. A book titled Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation sold more copies for its publisher than any other book in its 95-year history. Websites devoted to Wicca have been cited as the most visited religious websites on the internet. 

While they do not deny they are practicing witchcraft, Wiccans say that theirs is a harmless magic. Many come to Wicca after reading a history of the faith, its teachings and its rituals called The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess; a book that was written under the name Starhawk, who is actually Miriam Simos, a California witch. 

In her book, Simos claims that the religion of Wicca began 35,000 years ago and that its early adherents worshiped a female god and lived for thousands of years in societies that were egalitarian, attuned to nature and focused on women. Then invaders swept across the region, introducing warrior gods and a male-dominated society. That was followed (she says) by Christianity, after which religious and secular authorities began (she claims) a 400-year campaign to kill what she calls “the old religion.”

Now none of that is historically accurate.

Even respected mainstream secular journals such as the Atlantic Monthly and others have revealed that not a single element of the Wiccan story is true. Scholars have concluded that Wicca is a 1950s concoction influenced by Masonic ritual and the world of the occult. It was actually created in its present form by Gerald Gardner, an English civil servant and amateur anthropologist who died in 1964.

But the power of the movement remains.

Those who practice it talk about the tie it gives them to the earth’s cycle of birth and growth, and that it brings a sense of the spiritual to their life. Rather than a blatant worship of Satan, though they don’t rule out worshipping anything or anyone, most Wiccans follow a nature-oriented belief system that is polytheistic—believing in many gods and many goddesses, built around the worship of the Great Mother Goddess. In a similar vein to the earlier New Age movement, Wiccans believe that all things in nature – plants, rocks, planets – have a spirit. If you want a really good popular presentation of this worldview, just watch Avatar.

The philosophy is simple: There is no such thing as sin, only the need to elevate the self—the “god within.” When they cast spells, they claim that none of those spells are harmful or manipulative. They say they practice two kinds of magic: low magic, which tries to improve their everyday life, and high magic, which they use to try to change themselves.

They don’t deny that magic can be misused for wrongdoing – though they don’t exactly define what they mean by “wrong” – just that they don’t do those kinds of spells. There is even a priesthood, which is entered into through various sexual rites that I don’t need to go into here. 

Because the term “witch” has historically been so loaded with bad press, they originally chose to use the term “Wicca” or “Wiccans,” that comes from the word “witch,” and means one who works with natural forces in order to shape or bend them. Some refer to themselves as neo-pagan, which simply means new pagans. But now that it’s become more mainstream, more and more people are just calling themselves witches.

So what does the Bible say about this?

The Bible talks about witchcraft in all of its forms, whether it’s “black magic” or Wicca. Because no matter its form, the dynamics are the same. And the Bible speaks to those dynamics. It speaks to those who engage in sorcery, those who try to use magical formulas, or incantations and those who try and exercise control over the world or themselves through some type of paranormal power.

This is very dangerous because there is no “power” floating around out there. There’s God or Satan, there’s heaven or hell, there’s good or evil. And all forms of witchcraft are strictly forbidden in the Bible as being tied to the occult and the work and world of the evil one.

For example, in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, the Bible says: “Let no one be found among you who... practices... sorcery... engages in witchcraft or casts spells... Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NIV)

And in the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes these words in his letter to the Galatians: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality... idolatry and witchcraft... I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21, NIV)

Let’s have remorse there are more Wiccans than Presbyterians.

Let’s regret that culture has made witchcraft so mainstream.

But let’s repent that there is even a hint that any of this can be considered Christian.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Brandon Showalter, “Witches Outnumber Presbyterians in the US; Wicca, Paganism Growing ‘Astronomically,’” The Christian Post, October 10, 2018, read online.

Leonardo Blair, “Christian Witch Claims Christ Followers Can Practice Witchcraft, Despite Biblical Warnings,” The Christian Post, October 19, 2018, read online.

“How many Wiccans are there? Estimates for the U.S., Canada, etc.,” Religious Tolerance, read online.

According to hitbox.com, the website is “The Witch’s Voice” found at Witchvox.com

The Atlantic Monthly, January, 2001.

Sears and the Church

*Editor’s Note: In light of the news that Sears has now officially filed for bankruptcy after 137 years of business, the Church & Culture team thought it would be timely to reissue this blog post from last year on its pending demise and lessons for the church. 


I’ve previously written about what the church can learn from the retail slide into the economic abyss. But an article in the Washington Post, delving into the big missteps that brought American retail icon Sears to the edge of collapse, held too many parallels not to revisit the retail world again in (hopefully) ever enlightening ways.

I am old enough to have grown up with Sears. Kenmore washers and Craftsman tools were the mainstay of every home. Christmas? That was easy. It was no more – and no less – than the Sears “Wish Book.” I remember to this day pouring through its pages, circling specific toys and dog-earring entire pages.

Sears Roebuck & Co. began in the 19th century as a mail-order business for selling such things as watches, but quickly grew into a catalogue that sold everything from saddles to sewing machines largely to a rural nation. The combination of low prices, vast selection and mass production proved electric. They followed catalogue success with brick-and-mortar department stores, building off of the new mobility of automobiles.

Sears quickly became the country’s largest and most powerful retailer. Sears sold everything—cars, houses… everything. By the 1970s, 1 out of every 204 working Americans worked at Sears. The publishing of their catalogue alone made them the nation’s largest publisher. “Sears was regarded as a national institution, almost like the Post Office,” said Gordon L. Weil, who chronicled the history of Sears in a 1977 book.

So what can churches learn from its seeming demise?

Here are three big takeaways:

1.      They lost their focus.

With ventures into Discover cards and Coldwell Banker real estate, their attempt to diversify led them away from both core competencies and market focus. In other words, by diversifying they got distracted from their core business.

What is the church’s “core business?”

I would argue that it is simple: evangelizing the lost, assimilating the evangelized, discipling the assimilated, and unleashing the discipled. It is not recreation leagues, fall festivals, egg rolls, blood drives, family life centers or the Boy Scouts. Driving the dagger further, it is also not singles’ ministry, men’s ministry or women’s ministry. 

2.      They didn’t get out of the malls.

Sears depended on malls. When malls began to decline – or at least when shopping diversified beyond the malls, not least of which by going online – Sears stuck to the malls. 

And then began dying with them.

Want a quick comparison? Amazon stock trades at more than $1000 a share; Sears for less than $10.

Too many churches link methodology with orthodoxy. In other words, a way of doing things linked with being true to the faith. It’s a recipe for decline. There is nothing sacred about being in a mall, just as there is nothing sacred about doing Sunday School. 

Back in the very early 90s, I wrote a little book for the Southern Baptist Convention (on “Convention Press” no less) titled, Opening the Front Door: Worship and Church Growth. It’s out of print, so don’t bother looking for it. The foreword was written by a then-unknown friend of mine out of California named Rick Warren. 

The point of the book was simple: since 1971, the front door of the church had shifted from Sunday School to the worship service. Today, it’s an idea that is a “given.” When I wrote about it, it was declaring all-out war on some very protected turf. I might as well have said, “Jesus is not a member of the Trinity.” 

But that’s the point. We can guard methods as if they are doctrines. 

They aren’t. 

And if we treat them like they are, we go down like Sears.

3.      They didn’t innovate fast enough.

Have you heard of “Sears Grand?” Probably not. And that’s the problem. Designed to compete with Walmart, it was rolled out too slow. As in only 10-20 stores per year. In comparison, there are now nearly 5,000 Walmarts operating in the U.S. alone.

And online shopping? 

Not a priority. At least in terms of investing for success. From 2006 to 2008, the Sears website went down for hours at a time on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And, according to the Washington Post, Sears seemed unconcerned. They “expected” it to happen.

Oh my.

So slow on innovation, and cavalier toward efficiency and effectiveness in areas of innovation.

Sears says it is hanging on.

To those who forecast its imminent death, a company representative said, “The folks who are playing taps at our funeral, we’re not in the box.” Going further, a Sears spokesman said: “People are shopping us to the tune of $20 billion in revenue. Clearly we mean something to a lot of people.”

But are they meaning something to the coming generations? The very future of Sears?

A professor at the University of Florida recently asked his students whether they have shopped at Sears in the past year.

Zero hands went up.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Sarah Halzack, “The Big Missteps that Brought an American Retail Icon to the Edge of Collapse,” The Washington Post, June 1, 2017, read online.

Emily Sullivan, “Sears, Drowning in Red Ink, Finally Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy,” NPR, October 15, 2018, read online.

Michael Corkery, “Sears, the Original Everything Store, Files for Bankruptcy,” The New York Times, October 14, 2018, read online.

Charisse Jones & Nathan Bomey, “Sears Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection, to Close 142 More Stores,” USA Today, October 15, 2018, read online.

New Age Christians

Amanda, a 28-year-old Los Angeles resident, prays nightly and believes in Jesus.

She also chants, goes to Kundalini (yoga), meditates with a group and is into crystals. “The energy they hold is this ancient energy,” she said. “It helps your own energy when you work with them; when you’re near them.”

According to a recent Pew Research poll, she’s not alone. Most Americans “mix traditional faith with beliefs in psychics, reincarnation and spiritual energy that they say can be found in physical objects such as mountains, trees and crystals.”

A staggering 41% of Americans believe in psychics. A stunning 42% believe spiritual energy can be located in physical objects. 

I recently did a series on the paranormal. You can get the installments in .pdf or .mp3 format HERE. I could tell it was one of the more eye-opening series I had ever done. Why? Because people genuinely didn’t know the difference between authentic spirituality and the world of the occult.

I started off by mapping the spiritual world, specifically the great spiritual conflict in the heavens and the nature and work of angels and demons.

Then I took the rest of the series to walk through the three marks of the occult:

1. The disclosure or communication of unknown information unavailable to humans through normal means. This involves things like horoscopes, fortune-telling, psychic hotlines and tarot cards.

That knowledge comes from somewhere—and if it’s not from God through the sources God has ordained, then it is through the evil one and his forces. There is no neutral and impersonal “Power” just floating around out there. Nothing that has a voice or can be tapped into—some kind of cosmic consciousness for secret knowledge about the future of a human life. Everything falls under heaven or hell, good or evil, God or the evil one.

Just so we’re clear:

“You have trusted in your wickedness... your wisdom and knowledge mislead you... Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away... keep on, then, with your magic spells and with your many sorceries... let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month... they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves... each of them goes on in his error.” (Isaiah 47:10-15, NIV)

“... diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain.” (Zechariah 10:2, NIV)

“I am the Lord, the Creator of all things. I alone stretched out the heavens... I make fools of fortunetellers and frustrate the predictions of astrologers.” (Isaiah 44:24-25, GN)

“Let no one be found among you who... practices divination or... interprets omens... Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NIV)

2. The placing of persons in contact with supernatural powers, paranormal energies, or demonic forces. This involves things like spiritual energy in a crystal or any other entity, attempting to summon up a spirit or a deceased relative through a séance, channeling a spirit, or procuring the services of someone claiming to be a medium. 

Here is Scripture’s clear witness:

“Let no one be found among you who... is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NIV)

“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?” (Isaiah 8:19, NIV)

So what is happening when you get in touch with a ghost? It’s not a ghost. There is no such thing as a ghost. So what happens at a séance when Uncle John suddenly seems to appear or to talk through a medium? You are either being tricked (and many really are just flat out hoaxes) or you are in contact with a demon impersonating who you hoped to connect with. The first scenario makes you out to be a fool; the second is simply nightmarish.

But in both cases, you are receiving knowledge, contact and advice that is not of God—it’s either of human origin or of demonic origin. Look at the words on this from the prophet Jeremiah:

“So do not listen to... your diviners... your mediums... They prophesy lies to you... ‘I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord. ‘They are prophesying lies in my name.’” (Jeremiah 27:9-10, 15, NIV)

3. Any attempt to gain and master paranormal power in order to manipulate or influence other people into certain actions. In other words, all forms of witchcraft and the casting of spells. Being clear on this is important because of the rise of modern day witchcraft, which goes by the name of Wicca.

Again, Scripture is clear:

“Let no one be found among you who... practices... sorcery... engages in witchcraft, or casts spells... Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NIV)

So there you have it. A map of the supernatural world. On the one side you have God and His faithful angels. On the other side the world of the paranormal, or the occult, which is the world of Satan and his demons. These are the only two worlds. These are the only two forces. These are the only two sets of beings.

There isn’t anything else.

One of them is good, the other is evil. There are a lot of ways, sadly, that Satan and his team seduces us to engage the evil side—to open our lives to it and to invite it in without even knowing it. And when we do, whether we are aware of it or not, we are engaging the forces of darkness. 

We are connecting with Satan and his demons. 

We are willfully opening up the door of our life to their presence and activity.

And they will enter.

And nothing could be more dangerous.

Initially it might seem benign, even innocent, for as the Bible says, Satan positions himself as an angel of light. But then the evil engulfs you.

And it’s even more than playing with fire. It’s dousing yourself with gasoline and then lighting the match.

It is spiritual suicide.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Yonat Shimron, “New poll finds even religious Americans feel the good vibrations,” Religion News Service, August 29, 2018, read online.

A Mother's Letter

I’m curious.

I’m going to reprint a letter a mother sent to her 15-year-old son. I’ve redacted their names to guard their privacy. 

Here’s why I’m curious: Should this letter have been sent? Do you think it will prove helpful or harmful?

Here it is:

“Dearest __________,

“… I have much to say to you, I’m afraid not of a pleasant nature. You know, darling, how I hate to find fault with you, but I can’t help myself this time… Your report which I enclose is as you will see a very bad one. You work in such a fitful, inharmonious way, that you are bound to come out last – look at your place in the form! Your father and I are both more disappointed than we can say, that you are not able to go up for your preliminary exam: I daresay you have 1000 excuses for not doing so – but there the fact remains…

“Dearest __________ you make me very unhappy – I had built up such hopes about you and felt so proud of you – and now all is gone. My only consolation is that your conduct is good and you are an affectionate son – but your work is an insult to your intelligence. If you would only trace out a plan of action for yourself and carry it out and be determined to do so – I am sure you could accomplish anything you wished. It is that thoughtlessness of yours which is your greatest enemy…

“I will say no more now – but __________ you are old enough to see how serious this is to you – and how the next year or two and the use you make of them, will affect your whole life – stop and think it out for yourself and take a good pull before it is too late. You know dearest boy that I will always help you all I can.

“Your loving but distressed,

Mother”

So… 

What’s your vote? A letter well sent, or a case of unnecessary emotional discouragement that could scar for life? Should parents work at encouraging their children at every turn, or at times give them the facts of life in a way that refuses a trophy for every effort?

Okay, it’s time I came clean. This isn’t a recent letter, but one taken from history. It was from London, June 12, 1890, to be exact. And I’ll give you the mother’s name. It was Jennie. Jennie Churchill. And her 15-year-old boy’s name was,

… Winston.

Yes, the reveal probably sways you that this letter had a positive and formative influence on the future world leader. And you would be right. Her call for Winston to be “determined” was apparently the key. Indeed, it would be the greatest single characterization of his leadership and lasting influence.

And he knew it. Take his adult address to the boys of Harrow, the very school he attended at age 15, on October 29, 1941. Memorably, he said: 

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

So when reflecting on Winston’s life, don’t forget his mother’s influence. And maybe whisper a prayer that there will continue to be moms taking up pen and paper – or text and email – to say precisely what their sons need to hear.

James Emery White

 

Sources

David Lough, “A Letter From Winston Churchill’s Disappointed Mother,” The Atlantic, October 2018, read online.

Winston Churchill, “Never Give In, Never, Never, Never, 1941,” National Churchill Museum, read online.