Giving to Christ at Christmas

What is the most important thing you can do this Christmas?

There’s a long list to consider, to be sure. Let’s bracket off honoring the birth of Christ by attending a church service celebrating the event, as this should be a given. What else is there to consider?

For many years, I’ve felt that the single-most important act of the holidays is to give to Christ at Christmas. 

Since 1994, those who attend Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck) have made it our mission to honor the gift God gave us in the birth of Jesus by beginning our gift-giving at Christmas with a gift to Him.This simple idea has become what is known as our annual “Giving to Christ at Christmas” effort.

GTCAC Cartoon.jpg

The idea was sparked for me when I saw this cartoon during the busyness of the holiday season and thought, “Wow… that’s what giving to Christ at Christmas really is all about.” Since that day, Meck comes together as a church to give the most generous gift we can—above and beyond our normal giving—as a direct gift to Christ Himself at Christmas to celebrate His birthday. The money is then used strategically for the work of His mission on Earth. 

Over the years, the gifts given through Giving to Christ at Christmas have allowed Meck to help rebuild orphanages, supply relief to hurricane survivors in North and Central America, provide safe houses for girls rescued from human trafficking, and help the poor and needy in our city. It has provided ongoing, strategic support to the building, development and payment of our campuses, freeing up our annual budget to serve the daily needs of ministry and outreach to thousands of families in our community.

Every year we turn to God for leadership and discernment as to where this gift should be invested. 

So once again this Christmas, I’ll do all I can to encourage people to give to Christ. That means I want to encourage you, too, to do the same through whatever local church you are a part of. I know that you are bombarded with requests to give to a number of causes over the holiday season. Many might be worthy, but most will not represent truly giving to Christ.

And that’s what Christmas is all about.

James Emery White

*Editor’s Note: This blog was first published in 2016. The Church & Culture Team now reposts annually to help us stay focused on Christ during the Christmas season.

On Mission for Christmas

There are several “sayings” I find myself repeating to the staff and leaders of our church:

“If you think the mission is competing with other churches, you need mission lessons.”

“A hundred churches could open their doors within a mile of every one of our campuses, and it wouldn’t matter. We’re not after the person who is looking for a church. We’re after the person who doesn’t even like churches.”

“We would be so much bigger if we were after transfer growth. Transfer growth is easy. Just offer the biggest, best, glitziest services and programs you can that are totally designed to meet the felt needs of the already convinced.”

“It’s one thing to lure someone who wants to fly from Charlotte to Miami to use your airline. Just offer the cheapest, most convenient, highest-value service. They’re making a decision as a consumer who wants to make that purchase. It’s something else to get someone on your plane who doesn’t want to go to Miami, much less fly.”

As I reflect on these ideas and so many others like them, I am reminded of two things:

First, there really is a difference between a church that is focused on reaching the unchurched, and the one focused on reaching the already convinced Christian that is shopping for a new church home. Yes, the vast majority of churches would say they are after the unchurched, but too often it stays in the realm of rhetoric. Their strategy, their services, their outreach is clearly after the unchurched or de-churched or between-churched or already churched Christian.

Second, keeping your church outward-focused is a never-ending task. It’s not simply that vision leaks, it’s that this vision takes a disproportionate amount of leadership energy. It takes virtually no effort on my part to have people who attend the church I pastor, Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck), get their felt-needs met—even their spiritual felt-needs. But to challenge and lead them to die to themselves for the sake of those not even in our midst? Particularly when it means sacrifice, inconvenience and having their own felt-needs go unmet?

The natural drift of the church is to turn increasingly inward. The role of its leaders is to keep turning it outward, over and over again, keeping the focus on the mission, which is to serve the least and the lost.

As we enter the Christmas season, I am reminded anew of how critical this is. At Meck, we are simultaneously challenging ourselves to give generously toward our annual “Giving to Christ at Christmas” effort, which goes entirely to the least and the lost, as well as invite every unchurched person we possibly can to one of our Christmas Eve services; services designed to not only celebrate the birth of Christ, but also introduce people to what His birth can mean for their life.

And pulling out all the stops at Christmas has become more strategic than ever. I don’t know how it plays out with other churches or in other areas of the world, but at Meck, our Christmas services have become our largest attended event—larger than Easter. It is also when we find more openness among the unchurched to attend at the invitation of a Christian friend than any other event.

So here is our thinking:

How many people can we reach for Christ who wouldn’t darken the doorstep of a church any other time of the year?

How can we most strategically remind them of the reason for the season in a way their latest trip to the mall did not?

If they naturally turn their thoughts to church and Jesus, how can we serve those inclinations and let this Christmas Eve mark the advent of Christ in their life?

What I love about our church is that Meckers “get it.” They gladly let me and others lead them into this mission, and not just at Christmas but every day of the year. They understand that incarnation represents God making every possible effort to reach out and call the world back to Himself.

Which means the heart of Christmas is outreach. Or should be.

Maybe that could be a new saying:

“If you don’t think Christmas is about the least and the lost, you need Christmas lessons.”

James Emery White

Let the Children Come: Seven Steps for Safety

I’m sick at heart over the seemingly endless reports of children being abused by a volunteer at a church. The most recent? At least 14 young children were sexually abused by a man in South Carolina as he volunteered during his church’s weekend services.

Why is this happening? Yes, because of evil. But sometimes it’s because of negligence. Jesus made it very clear that we were to “let the children come” to Him (Matthew 19:14), but many churches do too little to ensure that it’s a safe experience. Here are seven things churches can do to make sure children are safe.

1.      Background Checks. Every staff person, every volunteer, should undergo a criminal background check to see if they have any history that would disqualify them from working with children. At Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck), I led the way on this by being the first one, many years ago, to submit to a background check. We do not do this simply at the start of employment or volunteering, but regularly repeat the check on everyone to ensure it is current. Granted, this only flags those with a criminal record, but that’s obviously still important to identify. Along with the background check there should be a volunteer application that lists previous volunteer experience and work information so that you can call for references.

2.      Volunteer Orientation. If your church has policies and procedures, your volunteers must be trained on how to follow them. The training should also cover what things to watch out for in terms of predators—how to “see it, say it”. While an extensive manual is provided at Meck, safety issues related to children are most highlighted. But that’s not all. As our children’s director once described it to me, a good volunteer orientation not only trains, but acts as an interview to flag any potential concerns with someone serving with children.

3.      Differing Roles for Men and Women. Let’s be candid—we want men serving in children’s ministry, but most sexual predators are men. At Meck, we’ve decided that only female volunteers may change a diaper or accompany children to the bathroom. This not only protects children from someone who is actively trying to do harm, but also protects innocent male volunteers from being placed in a vulnerable situation that could lead to a false accusation. And about bathrooms: when a woman takes a child to the bathroom, she is never to enter. She waits outside until the child is finished. If the child needs assistance, female volunteers leave the door partially open while they attend to the child.

4.      Never Alone. There should be a number of policies and procedures in place to ensure a child’s safety, but there is one that should be at the top of every church’s list: no child or children will be left alone with a single volunteer. Period. At Meck, we use the two-person rule: two volunteers must be in a classroom or with a child at all times.

5.      Built-In Architectural Safety. If and when you ever build a children’s ministry space, do it with safety in mind. At Meck, when we built our new children’s ministry wing at our North Charlotte campus, we made sure every classroom had two-way windows so that parents could be in the hallway and look into their child’s class without their child being distracted by seeing them. We put bathrooms into every room so that no volunteer had to exit the room with a child to use one. We installed dutch doors so that the top half could be opened while having the bottom half secured. We also designed the layout so that it was reserved for children’s ministry alone; in other words, only those with registered children may enter the area.

6.      Volunteer-Child Ratio. There should be enough volunteers to effectively care for the number of children in any given room. This ratio should be established on the front end, so there is no question as to when to “close” a classroom to additional children. Too few volunteers not only leads to chaos, but also vulnerable situations due to distraction.

7.      Security Personnel. At Meck, in addition to having volunteer security teams that are on constant patrol, we also enlist off-duty police officers – both in uniform and in plain-clothes – to be active and alert during all services.

This is not all that a church can do, but it’s the least a church should do. 

Why?

To let the children come.

James Emery White

Less than Holy Matrimony

From churches to barns.

From minister officiants to mail-order-credentialed friends.

From “until death do us part” to “here’s to my best friend.”

The New York Times recently reported that it’s a new day for weddings. They’ve been moved from sacred settings to the most secular locations possible; pastors/ministers are no longer desired to officiate, replaced by a friend who has an outgoing personality; and vows are no longer prescribed, but created.

Welcome to the shift from matrimony to marriage. 

Marriage has become a social construct and, as such, something we can define for ourselves by voting on one definition or another. It’s become a legal matter, a tax issue, a question for courts to manage—who gets benefits, who gets recognized, what gets accepted. But when we bracket off marriage as a legal term and talk about marriage as a biblical idea, then we move from marriage to holy matrimony. And holy matrimony is not something plastic that we can simply shape to our desires. 

There are four foundational truths the Bible teaches about true marriage. 

The first is that marriage is the first and most foundational of all institutions (Gen. 2:21-24). Marriage was ordained by God and set apart by God – before children, before the family, before government, even before the church – at the very onset of creation.

Second, marriage best describes and depicts the supernatural union between Jesus and the church. We were created to be in relationship with Him, and He’s done everything He can to reach out. When somebody comes to Christ, what could possibly be holy enough, special enough, sacred enough, honored enough, to capture the love dynamic between Christ and those who have come to Him as Leader and Forgiver, Savior and Lord? What could describe His love that would die for us, and our love that would repent and return to Him? Only marriage (Eph. 5:23-32). Just as the two become one through earthly marriage, we become one with Christ through a spiritual, eternal marriage.

A third truth about marriage in the Bible is that marriage is the event that God has selected to consummate all of time (Rev. 19:1-7). At the end of all time, when the final chapter on this life is closed and the first chapter of eternity is opened, at the grand moment when those in Christ are united with Christ to enter into heaven, it is not going to be done through a coronation. It will not be done through a graduation. It will not be done by an installation, inauguration or initiation. It will be done through a wedding.

The final truth about marriage flows from the first three—that marriage is to be held in the highest honor (Heb. 13:4).

This is not written to enter into the larger cultural debate about who should be allowed to be married, as holy matrimony has little to do with civil unions. This is about those who consider themselves Christ followers and where they should stand in relation to the biblical idea of marriage. And it is about the slippery slope of increasingly submitting not simply their wedding, but the very idea of marriage to the secular, individualistic mindset so prevalent in our world.

It’s about the bride who petulantly and defiantly says, “This is MY wedding!” and then proceeds to dictate every moment as if the act itself is a matter of personal self-fulfillment, akin to a birthday party or vacation. In truth, it is her wedding only in the sense that she is the one engaging it to enter into holy matrimony. As such, it should be less what she imagines, and more what she embraces.

So have your wedding in a barn. It’s the current “thing.” Just make sure the barn doesn’t become reflective of assuming that the wedding itself is whatever you want it to be. Whether a barn or a sanctuary, you are standing on holy ground and submitting to a God-ordained institution. 

At least, that is, if you are entering into holy matrimony and not simply marriage.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Tammy La Gorce, “A Word From Your Officiant (for Better or Worse),” The New York Times, November 13, 2018, read online.

Celebrating the Birth of C.S. Lewis

This past Thursday marked the 120th anniversary of the birth of C.S. Lewis. 

It was worth marking.

If you’re not familiar with Lewis, you may be familiar with some of his friends, particularly J.R.R. Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame. They spent many, many hours together at their favorite Oxford pub, The Eagle and Child (affectionately known by locals as “The Bird and the Baby”). As a plaque on the wall reads:

C.S. Lewis, his brother, W.H. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and other friends met every Tuesday morning, between the years 1939-1962 in the back room of this their favorite pub. These men, popularly known as the “Inklings,” met here to drink beer and to discuss, among other things, the books they were writing.

 The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford (Wikimedia Commons)

The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford
(Wikimedia Commons)

If you are familiar with Lewis, it would probably be as a result of the movie of his life titled Shadowlands, his seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia (also made into movies), as well as such works as The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity

Lewis went to University College, Oxford, where he achieved a rare double first in Classics, an additional first in English, and the Chancellor’s Prize for academics. He was shortly offered a teaching position at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was a fellow and tutor from 1925-1954, and then later at the University of Cambridge as professor of Medieval and Renaissance English from 1954-1963. In 1931, Lewis came out of atheism into the Christian faith, aided significantly through his friendship with Tolkien. As he journeyed away from his rejection of any type of God, he flirted with several alternate worldviews before Christianity, most seriously Hinduism, but ended with Jesus. But this journey was not without resistance. On the particular day in the Trinity Term of 1929 when he “gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed,” he confessed he did so as “the most reluctant convert in all of England.”

The intellectual questions that plagued him during his spiritual journey – why God allows pain and suffering, how Christianity can be the one and only way to God, the place of miracles – became the very questions he later navigated with such skill. 

It was a series of radio addresses, given over the BBC during the Second World War but later published in three separate parts, where his conversational style, wit, intellect and rough charm revealed Christianity to millions. The first invitation was for four, 15-minute talks. The response was so overwhelming that they gave him a fifth 15-minute segment to answer listeners’ questions. A second round of talks were requested and given. The clarity of thought, his ability to gather together a wide range of information and make it plain, led one listener to remark after listening that they “were magnificent, unforgettable. Nobody, before or since, has made such an ‘impact’ in straight talks of this kind.” The BBC asked for a third round of talks, this time stretching out for eight consecutive weeks. Lewis consented, but made it clear it would be his last. His goal throughout was simple: “I was... writing to expound... ‘mere’ Christianity, which is what it is and was what it was long before I was born.” Eventually compiled in a single work titled Mere Christianity, the work continues to make Christianity known to millions.

 Addison’s Walk, Magdalen College, Oxford (Wikimedia Commons)

Addison’s Walk, Magdalen College, Oxford
(Wikimedia Commons)

There is a path on the grounds of Magdalen College where Lewis taught, just a short way from Merton College where Tolkien resided, called Addison’s Walk. The path runs beside several streams of the River Cherwell. On Saturday, September 19, 1931, Lewis invited two friends to dine with him in his rooms at Magdalen. One was a man by the name of Hugo Dyson, a lecturer in English Literature at Reading University. The other was Tolkien. 

On that fall evening, after they had dined, Lewis took his guests on a walk through the Magdalen grounds, ending with a stroll down Addison’s Walk. It was there they began to discuss the idea of metaphor and myth. Lewis had long appreciated myth. As a boy, he loved the great Norse stories of the dying god Balder; and as a man, he grew to love and appreciate the power of myth throughout the history of language and literature. But he didn’t believe in them. Beautiful and moving though they might be, they were, he concluded, ultimately untrue. As he expressed to Tolkien, myths are “lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver.”

“No,” said Tolkien.  “They are not lies.”

Later, Lewis recalled that at the moment Tolkien uttered those words, “a rush of wind... came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We held our breath.”

Tolkien’s point was that the great myths might just reflect a splintered fragment of the true light. Within the myth, there was something of eternal truth. They talked on, and Lewis became convinced by the force of Tolkien’s argument. They returned to Lewis’s rooms on Staircase III of New Building. Once there, they turned their conversation to Christianity. In the case of Christianity, Tolkien argued, the poet who invented the story was none other than God Himself, and the images He used were real men and women and actual history. 

Lewis was floored. 

“Do you mean,” he asked, “that the death and resurrection of Christ is the old ‘dying God’ story all over again?”

Yes, Tolkien answered, except that here is a real dying God, with a precise location in history and definite historical consequences. The old myth has become fact. Such joining of faith and intellect had never occurred to Lewis.

The time approached 3 a.m. and Tolkien had to go home. Lewis and Dyson escorted him down the stairs. They crossed the quadrangle and let him out by the little postern gate on Magdalen Bridge. Lewis remembered that “Dyson and I found more to say to one another, strolling up and down the cloister of New Building, so that we did not get to bed till 4.”

Twelve days later, Lewis wrote to his close boyhood friend Arthur Greeves: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ—in Christianity. I will try to explain this another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.”

From that long walk, Lewis continues to take many others on a similar journey through his writings.

So here’s to a happy marking of his 120th birthday.

James Emery White

 

Sources

There are many biographies available on Lewis, including Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis: A Biography, Revised Edition (New York: Harvest, 1994); Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis (New York: Harper, 2005); David C. Downing, The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002); George Sayer, Jack: C.S. Lewis and His Times (New York: Harper and Row, 1988); Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings (New York: Ballantine, 1978); and Lewis’ own spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harvest, 1955).

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

The New Tower of Babel

“Man is the being whose project is to be God.”

This penetrating assessment, offered from the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, is incredibly accurate of modern man. And particularly, today.

It was reported this week that a Chinese scientist has claimed to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies—“twin girls whose DNA he said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life.” This kind of gene editing, for now, is banned in the United States because “the DNA changes can pass to future generations.” In other words, it changes the human stock. Think The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Many have been quick to denounce the procedure. It’s “unconscionable… an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible,” said Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert and editor of a genetics journal. “We’re dealing with the operating instructions of a human being,” added Dr. Eric Topol, who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California. “It’s a big deal.” Even The Atlantic called it “reckless” and “needless.” But get ready for eventual acceptance courtesy of the slippery slope, evidenced by Harvard University’s George Church, who said, “I think this is justifiable.”

In reviewing the past 500 years of Western cultural life, author Jacques Barzun concluded that one of the great themes is “emancipation,” the desire for independence from all authority. Barzun concludes that for the modern era, it is perhaps the most characteristic cultural theme of all. The value of “autonomous individualism” maintains that each person is independent in terms of destiny and accountability. Ultimate moral authority is self-generated. In the end, we answer to no one but ourselves for we are truly on our own. Our choices are ours alone, determined by our personal pleasure and not by any higher moral authority. Intriguingly, Thomas Oden notes that this is the force behind the idea of heresy. The “key to ‘hairesis’ (root word for heresy) is the notion of choice—choosing for oneself, over against the apostolic tradition.”

It was this same spirit of autonomous individualism that erected the infamous tower of Babel and is leading to its rebuilding today. Only this time, we are not building with bricks and mortar but silicon chips and genetic engineering. We live in a technological age and have embraced technological advancement with abandon, creating what Neil Postman termed a “technopoly,” where technology of every kind is cheerfully granted sovereignty. Or, as Jacques Ellul has written, at least the process of technique designed to serve our ends. 

Ironically, within the word “technology” itself lies the new philosophical mooring that marks our intent. The word is built from such Greek words as “technites” (craftsman) and “techne” (art, skill, trade), which speak to the idea of either the person who shapes or molds something, or to the task of shaping and molding itself. But it is the Greek word “logos,” to which “technites” is joined, that makes our term “technology” so provocative. “Logos” is a reference within Greek thought to divine reason, or the organizing principle of the world. In John’s gospel, “logos” was used to communicate to those familiar with the Greek worldview the idea of the divinity of Jesus. Moderns have put together two words that the ancients would not have dared to combine, for the joining of the words intimates that mere humans can shape the very order of the world. Though technology itself may be neutral in its enterprise, there can be no doubt that within the word itself are the seeds for the presumption that would seek to cast God from His throne and assert humanity in His place as the conduit of divine power. 

And we have wasted little time.

On July 25, 2003, the first test-tube baby turned 25. Robert Edwards, who, along with his partner, Patrick Steptoe, pioneered the procedure, graced the occasion with a rare but candid interview with The Times of London. “It was a fantastic achievement but it was about more than infertility,” said Edwards, then 77 and emeritus professor of human reproduction at Cambridge University. “I wanted to find out exactly who was in charge, whether it was God Himself or whether it was scientists in the laboratory.”

Smiling triumphantly at the reporter, he said, “It was us.”

While technology may be the new Tower of Babel, the deeper reality is this:

It will end just as the first.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions

“Chinese Scientist Claims to Have Created ‘World’s First “Genetically Edited Babies”’,” The Telegraph, November 26, 2018, read online.

Ed Yong, “A Reckless and Needless Use of Gene Editing on Human Embryos,” The Atlantic, November 26, 2018, read online.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present.

Thomas Oden, After Modernity... What?

Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.

Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, translated from the French by John Wilkinson.

On the meaning of the words “techne” and “technites”, see the article on “Carpenter, Builder, Workman, Craftsman, Trade” by J.I. Packer in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, Colin Brown, editor.

Anjana Ahuja, “God Is Not In Charge, We Are,” T2-The Times, 24 July 2003, p. 6.

James Emery White, Serious Times (InterVarsity Press).

Additional reading:

Nathan Barczi, “In the Image of Our Choosing,” Christianity Today, February 17, 2017, read online.

Viral Verses Read Wrong

A few months ago, in light of its 25th anniversary, the online Scripture resource Bible Gateway revealed its five most searched Bible verses. The most searched, John 3:16, probably wouldn’t surprise. Nor would the other four: Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you…”), Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things…”), Psalm 23:4 (“Even though I walk through the darkest valley…”) and Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good…”).

What is interesting about the most viral verses being tweeted, hashtagged, shared, favorited, bookmarked or highlighted – whether through Bible Gateway, YouVersion, or any other source – is that the reason they are going viral has little to do with the actual meaning of the verse itself.

Take Philippians 4:13 as an example: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (NIV).

It’s easy to see why this would go viral. If you want a “name it and claim it” verse that you can name and claim for almost anything, this is it. It tells you that you can do anything with Christ on your side because you’ll have His strength. Which means nothing is impossible; nothing is insurmountable. You can do anything and everything through Christ who strengthens you. And the idea is that He can and will strengthen you.

You can overcome that obstacle.

You can climb to new heights.

You can embrace your destiny.

God said you can, so you can!

So do you want to: Secure that job? Find that soulmate? Make more money? Get that house? Land that deal? Get that part?

No problem. You can accomplish all things through Christ.

But is that what it’s saying?

No. 

Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi while imprisoned in chains in Rome. The section of the letter that contains its most viral verse was an interesting one. Paul was not only in prison, but he wasn’t doing well physically. The Philippians knew that he wasn't doing well physically and Paul knew they were concerned about this, so in this section, he addresses that concern:

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10-13, NIV)

The context is about finding contentment in Christ independent of circumstance, particularly when those circumstances include suffering. It’s not about the ability to succeed, gain accomplishment, break through a barrier, finish a race or win a game. It’s about finding strength in Christ to be content in the midst of hellish circumstances; it’s about getting through times of persecution.

So what is Philippians 4:13 really about? It’s about the opposite of what it’s often used for. Because most of the time, Philippians 4:13 is whipped out to expect or even force a change in a situation. But Paul used it to accept the situation, to find strength to endure the situation and to be content despite the situation.

A few years ago, Jonathan Merritt insightfully wrote on the misunderstandings surrounding this very popular verse, noting that Paul isn’t telling people they should dream bigger dreams. He is reminding them that they can endure the crushing feeling of defeat if and when those dreams aren’t realized. He’s not encouraging Christ followers to go out and conquer the world. He’s reminding them that they can press on when the world conquers them.

I think most of us, myself included, are much more driven by the “if onlys.” If only I had that, if only I could do this, if only I could go there, if only I could be with that person, then I could be happy. But what Paul wrote in Philippians is about living more deeply than that. 

He didn’t live a life of the “if onlys,” he lived a life of the “as only.” Meaning, “as only” someone in a relationship with Christ can.

And that is what Philippians 4:13 is about. And if that is what is kept in mind, then yes,

… it deserves to go viral.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Anugrah Kumar, “Bible Gateway Lists Top 10 Searches Among 14 Billion Views in 25 Years,” The Christian Post, August 2, 2018, read online.

Jonathan Merritt, “Philipians 4:13: How Many Christians Misuse the Iconic Verse,” Religion News Service, January 16, 2014, read online.

For more on this check out the “Viral Verses” series at ChurchAndCulture.org given by James Emery White HERE.

Thankful for the Fleas

Editor’s Note: This blog is a favorite of the Church & Culture Team, and has become a Thanksgiving tradition. Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

The barracks where Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, were kept in the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbruck were terribly overcrowded and flea-infested.

They had been able to miraculously smuggle a Bible into the camp, and in that Bible they had read that in all things they were to give thanks and that God can use anything for good.

Betsy decided that this meant thanking God for the fleas.

This was too much for Corrie, who said she could do no such thing. Betsy insisted, so Corrie gave in and prayed to God, thanking Him even for the fleas.

Over the next several months a wonderful, but curious, thing happened: They found that the guards never entered their barracks. 

This meant that the women were not assaulted. 

It also meant that they were able to do the unthinkable, which was to hold open Bible studies and prayer meetings in the heart of a Nazi concentration camp.

Through this, countless numbers of women came to faith in Christ.

Only at the end did they discover why the guards had left them alone and would not enter into their barracks:

It was because of the fleas.

This Thanksgiving, give thanks to God for every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), but also thank Him for how He will use all things for good in the lives of those who trust Him (Romans 8:28). 

In this time of declining home values and rising unemployment, in a time when many are facing physical and emotional challenges, there can be little doubt that such a trusting prayer of gratitude will be challenging to consider.

But when you feel that challenge, take a moment and remember the fleas of Ravensbruck.

And thank God anyway.

James Emery White


Sources
     

Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place.

Good News and Bad News on Teens and Sex

(*Warning: This post contains graphic language.)

“These should be boom times for sex.”

Thus began an article in The Atlantic titled, “Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?” The idea is that, in light of current cultural conditions, they should.

“The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is ‘not wrong at all’ is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free and the morning-after pill without a prescription.

“If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase ‘If something exists, there is porn of it’ used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.

“Polyamory is a household word. Shame-laden terms like perversion have given way to cheerful-sounding ones like kink. Anal sex has gone from final taboo to ‘fifth base’—Teen Vogue (yes, Teen Vogue) even ran a guide to it. With the exception of perhaps incest and bestiality—and of course nonconsensual sex more generally—our culture has never been more tolerant of sex in just about every permutation.

 

“But despite all this,” the article baited, “American teenagers and young adults are having less sex.”

 

This, it would seem, would be the “good” news.  At least for those who feel that sex outside of marriage is not God’s plan for sexual expression, much less fulfillment.

 

The bad news?

 

After a lengthy examination, several suggestions were put forward as to why. None of them encouraging. But two were deeply disturbing.

 

First, what the writer calls “sex for one.” In short, the ubiquitous nature of porn has led to a retreat from sexual interaction with other people. In short, we’ve traded sex with others for masturbation to a digital image. As one observer put it, this is “a generation that found the imperfect or just unexpected demands of real-world relationships with women less enticing than the lure of the virtual libido.” This is not mere conjecture. Studies have shown that from 1992 to 2014, the share of American men who reported masturbating in a given week doubled, and the number of women tripled. Why? Pornography.

 

A second concerning reason was simply called “bad sex,” and it, too, was porn-related. As one leading sex researcher at Indiana University has had to counsel her students: “If you’re with somebody for the first time, don’t choke them, don’t ejaculate on their face, don’t try to have anal sex with them. These are all things that are just unlikely to go over well”—all things prominently featured in pornography. Young people today are simply more likely to engage in sexual behaviors prevalent in pornography. “All of this might be scaring some people off… and contributing to the sex decline.”

This is worth quoting at length:

“Painful sex is not new, but there’s reason to think that porn may be contributing to some particularly unpleasant early sexual experiences. Studies show that, in the absence of high-quality sex education, teen boys look to porn for help understanding sex—anal sex and other acts women can find painful are ubiquitous in mainstream porn… In my interviews with young women, I heard too many iterations to count of ‘he did something I didn’t like that I later learned is a staple in porn,’ choking being one widely cited example.

 

“If you are a young woman, and you’re having sex and somebody tries to choke you, I just don’t know if you’d want to go back for more right away.”

All to say, we’re beginning to see ever more clearly what the first generation raised on porn is having that exposure do to them.

Good news? Teen sex is down.

The bad news?

Why.

James Emery White

 

 

Sources

 

Kate Julian, “Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?,” The Atlantic, December 2018, read online.

Fat in Church

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 40% of all American adults are not simply overweight, but obese. That’s more than 93 million people. And it starts young and increases with age. The CDC reports 13.8% of preschool-age children (2-5 years), 18.4% of school-age children (6-11 years), and 20.6% of adolescents (12-19 years) are obese. Most of us know that obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. But this is just obesity, defined as being 35 pounds or more overweight. When you look at the combined numbers of those who are obese or simply overweight, two out of every three people are affected. 

But then there’s what a Fox News article once called “fat in church.” Studies show Christians as a whole are heavier than the general population. This includes one-third of all pastors. As one researcher put it, “America is becoming a nation of gluttony and obesity and churches are a feeding ground for this problem.”   

Ouch.

When it comes to our bodies, we can either fixate, desecrate or consecrate.

A fixation with our bodies is tying them to our sense of self-worth, whether we are (or can be) loved and accepted by others. It’s making our body the essence of what we think will make us happy or whole. It’s when we’ve reduced our sense of security and esteem to how we look and, from that, have turned loose an insecurity that trivializes what it means to value others as well as ourselves. The words of Scripture ring clear: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (I Peter 3:3-4, NLT).

The other extreme is to desecrate our bodies. To desecrate something is to violate it, to take something that should be held sacred, held in esteem, and treat it with contempt. When we allow ourselves to get overweight, and particularly become obese, we desecrate our bodies. The Bible is very clear on this: “When you eat... always do it to honor God” (I Corinthians 10:31, CEV).

The call of God on our lives is not to fixate on our bodies or desecrate them. The call is to consecrate them. That’s not a word we use too much anymore, but it’s an important one. To consecrate something is to set it aside, to mark it as holy. When you consecrate something, you set it aside for a sacred purpose. And that is what the Bible would encourage us to do with our bodies: “… offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1, NIV). Why? Again, from the Bible: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?... therefore, honor God with your body” (I Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV).

The Bible teaches that our body is a sacred place where God dwells through the Holy Spirit. So when it comes to our bodies, we’re on holy ground. If you are a Christ-follower, you are dealing with something that God not only made, but actually inhabits. It’s not just flesh and blood—there is a spiritual dynamic that is a part of your body. So caring for it in any and every way needed is part of the management responsibility we have before God.

If we don’t, it impacts us spiritually.

Something like obesity dulls your spiritual senses. It cheapens your life and deadens the core of your being. Which is why fasting has always been a spiritual discipline. There is a relationship between what you do with your body and your relationship with God.

I like how Eugene Peterson paraphrases the apostle Paul’s advice in his first letter to the Corinthians: “You know the old saying, ‘First you eat to live, and then you live to eat?’ Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food... Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!” (I Corinthians 6:13, Msg).

Yes.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Adult Obesity Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, read online.

Christopher J.L. Murray, Marie Ng and Ali Mokdad, “The Vast Majority of American Adults Are Overweight or Obese, and Weight Is a Growing Problem Among US Children,” IHME, read online.

“Overweight and Obesity Statistics,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, read online.

Justin Caba, “Clergy Members Battle Obesity: One-Third of Pastors in the US Are Obese,” Medical Daily, January 13, 2015, read online.

“Fat in Church,” Fox News, June 3, 2012, read online.