I want to know what love is!

This is the third sermon in our Pop Culture Series at Euless First United Methodist Church


Popculture2015summerbanner

rose-and-jack-titanic

Don’t you think that Rose could have made room for Jack on that door?

As I said last week, the power of love is a curious thing. Here are some of the lines of that song:

The power of love is a curious thing
Make a one man weep, make another man sing
Change a hawk to a little white dove
More than a feeling that’s the power of love

You don’t need money, don’t take fame
Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
But it might just save your life

Love Is Powerful!

Love: the power of love, the desire for love, the hurt of broken love, the loneliness of unrequited love, the depth of long-lasting love, the grandeur of love, the beauty of love, the loopy forgetfulness of new love

I think we spend more time and attention on love than any other single thing. I’m pretty sure love is the biggest, most popular topic in all of pop culture.

Love is pretty big in the Bible, too, and in being people who follow Jesus, or are trying to follow Jesus.

Love wins!  and love hurts! And love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Love fills our songs, our books, our movies.

It fills our heads, our hearts, our minds, our memories, our dreams.

I want to know what love is!  I want you to show me!

And, of course, God is love. Here’s the actual text, and the context:

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins. (1 John 4:7-10)

All the efforts to portray, express, describe, illustrate, love in culture and pop culture share this one thing in common: they are all a lesser version of love than we have and know in Jesus.

And some come closer than others.  Some, you and I would argue, don’t come very close at all.  Some – maybe much – of the love we find in pop culture is barely love at all.  Some of it is a flat-out perversion of love.

To be fair, though, a lot of what we find among ourselves is barely love at all, and some of it is a flat-out perversion of love.

Love is patient: are you patient with your children? your parents? your spouse?

Love is kind: are you kind to your spouse? your parents? your children?

Parenthetically, those jokes you tell to and about your spouse that are bitter and cynical about an entire gender? those really aren’t very funny, and they certainly are not kind.

Love isn’t Jealous: are you jealous of your wife or husband?

Need I go on, or do you get the idea?

We could spend an entire sermon series on the many ways pop culture gets love wrong. But until you and I commit to improving our own love we don’t have much of a place to stand to criticize “them.”

Remember, we are called to engage culture.  The best way we can engage pop culture on the matter of love is to model and practice a love that looks more like Love. God is love.  The more our love reflects God’s love, the better our chance to actually have something to say to the cultures around us.

And, I believe, the more we reflect God’s love in our own love, the more we will earn the right to be heard.

I recently heard another preacher.  Ok, I listen to a fair number of preachers as a practice of improving my own preaching.  I want to learn what to do, and what not to do.  This other preacher, several times during his sermon, said, “You listen to me.”  He said it like this: “You listen to me!”

Now, I suppose there are times that saying “You listen to me” is a good rhetorical tool. But honestly, I believe that if I have to keep reminding you to listen to me, I’m not doing a very good job of speaking.

We have to earn the right to be heard.

Are we, as followers of Jesus, earning the right to be heard by the world around us?

For years – for centuries – Christians did not have to earn the right to be heard.  But this is no longer true.  If you and I want to share the good news of Jesus, and if we want other people to care enough to listen, we have to earn the right to be heard.

There is no better place for us to start than to love, and to reflect God’s love for us and for the world in our lives, in our relationships, and in our community.

And what does God’s love look like?  We see it in Jesus, we hear it in the familiar words of 1 Corinthians 13 that were so beautifully read for us this morning.

But we see it in the Old Testament as well. For instance, Can you feel the love right now in the Jeremiah reading?  These words are from God:

The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness.
As Israel searched for a place of rest,
the Lord appeared to them from a distance:
I have loved you with a love that lasts forever.
And so with unfailing love,
I have drawn you to myself.
Again, I will build you up,
and you will be rebuilt, virgin Israel.
Again, you will play your tambourines
and dance with joy.
Again, you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
farmers will plant and then enjoy the harvests.
and I’m going to bring them back from the north;
will gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the disabled,
expectant mothers and those in labor;
a great throng will return here.
With tears of joy they will come;
while they pray, I will bring them back.
I will lead them by quiet streams
and on smooth paths so they don’t stumble.
and I will turn their mourning into laughter
and their sadness into joy;
I will comfort them. (Jeremiah 31: 2-5, 8-9, 14)

Sometimes we present a gospel (that a word for “good news” that we stole from Roman culture about 2000 years ago) that comes across as more about bitterness and rules and pressure. But God says:  I will turn their mourning into laughter and their sadness into joy; I will comfort them.

How do you understand God’s love?  How do you experience God’s love?

Culture is what we make of the world, and culture is about truth, or at least a search for expression of truth.

Jesus IS truth, so we must engage culture.

Love is ubiquitous in Pop Culture, or at least a search for love, or expressions of and about love.

God IS love, so we must engage culture.

Though we sometimes think that God has put all the eggs of the salvation of the world in the basket called “church,” this really isn’t so.

In every culture of the world, one can find actual, real truth. And all truth is God’s truth.

In every culture of the world, one can find love. And real, true love comes from God.

You and I have the opportunity to help others know true love, real love, God’s love.

And, like grace and truth, as we engage the world with what we know in Jesus and what we learn from following Jesus, we will find that love is before us in the world.

Take Julio Diaz, for instance.  Julio is a social worker in New York City. Let him tell you this story:

Julio Diaz Thank you to StoryCorps for this story!

JD: So I get off the train. You know, I’m walking towards the stairs and this young teenager, uh, pulls out a knife. He wants my money. So I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go.’

He starts to leave and as he’s walking away I’m like, ‘Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re gonna be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.’

So, you know, he’s looking at me like, ‘What’s going on here?’ You know, and he asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’

And I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t know, man, if you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was go get dinner and, uh, if you really want to join me, hey, you’re more than welcome.’

So I’m like, ‘Look, you can follow me if you want.’

You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help. So, you know, we go into the diner where I normally eat and we sit down in the booth and the manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi – you know so…

The kid was like, ‘Man but you know like everybody here. Do you own this place?’

I’m like, ‘No, I just eat here a lot.’

He’s like, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.’

I’m like, ‘Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?’

So he’s like, ‘Yeah, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way.”

So I just asked him in the end I’m like, ‘What is it that you want out of life?’

He just had almost a sad face. Either he couldn’t answer me or he didn’t want to. The bill came and I look at him and I’m like, ‘Look, uh, I guess you’re gonna have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this so if you give me my wallet back I’ll gladly treat you.’

He didn’t even think about it he’s like, ‘Yeah, okay, here you go.’

So I got my wallet back and I gave, you know, I gave him twenty dollars for it. You know, I figure, uh, maybe it’ll help him – I don’t know. And when I gave him the twenty dollars, I asked him to give me something in return – which was his knife – and he gave it to me.

You know, it’s funny ’cause when I told my mom about what happened – not mom wants to hear this but – at first she was like, ‘Well, you know, you’re the kind of kid if someone asked you for the time you gave them your watch.’

I don’t know, I figure, you know, you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.

I don’t know anything about Julio Diaz’s religious faith. But I know, from that story, that Julio knows something about real love – the kind of love that comes from God.

Now I’d like you to meet Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel.  First, let me tell you how they met.  He killed her son. In 1993, Oshea Israel was a teenager in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One night at a party Oshea got into a fight, which ended when he shot and killed Laramiun Byrd, Mary Johnson’s son.

Oshea has been arrested, tried, and convicted. He has finished serving his prison sentence for second-degree murder.

Here is a conversation between them.

Oshea Israel and Mary Johnson Thank you StoryCorps for this story!

Mary Johnson (MJ): You and I met at Stillwater Prison. I wanted to know if you were in the same mindset of what I remembered from court, where I wanted to go over and hurt you. But you were not that 16-year-old. You were a grown man. I shared with you about my son.

Oshea Israel (OI): And he became human to me. You know, when I met you it was like, ok, this guy, he’s real. And then, when it was time to go, you broke down and started shedding tears. The initial thing to do was just try and hold you up as best I can–just hug you like I would my own mother.

MJ: After you left the room, I began to say: “I just hugged the man that murdered my son.” And I instantly knew that all that anger and the animosity, all the stuff I had in my heart for 12 years for you–I knew it was over, that I had totally forgiven you.

OI: As far as receiving forgiveness from you–sometimes I still don’t know how to take it because I haven’t totally forgiven myself yet. It’s something that I’m learning from you – I won’t say that I have learned yet – because it’s still a process that I’m going through.

MJ: I treat you as I would treat my son. And our relationship is beyond belief. We live next door to one another.

OI: Yeah. So you can see what I’m doing–you know first hand. We actually bump into each other all the time leaving in and out of the house. And, you know, our conversations, they come from “Boy, how come you ain’t called over here to check on me in a couple of days? You ain’t even asked me if I need my garbage to go out!”

MJ: Uh-huh.

OI: I find those things funny because it’s a relationship with a mother for real.

MJ: Well, my natural son is no longer here. I didn’t see him graduate. Now you’re going to college. I’ll have the opportunity to see you graduate. I didn’t see him getting married. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to experience that with you.

OI: Just to hear you say those things and to be in my life in the manner that which [sic] you are is my motivation. It motivates me to make sure that I stay on the right path. You still believe in me. And the fact that you can do it despite how much pain I caused you–it’s like amazing.

MJ: I know it’s not an easy thing, you know, to be able to share our story together. Even with us sitting here looking at each other right now, I know it’s not an easy thing. So I admire that you can do this.

OI: I love you, lady.

MJ: I love you too, son.

God’s love is here. We see it best in Jesus, but we see it throughout the Old Testament. We even see it in the world around us.

Can the world see it in us?

Can your family see this love in you?

If not, now is the time.  Step into God’s love: the love that was there for you and for me from the foundation of the world.  The love that never fails, is patient and is kind. The Love that puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. The love God has for you, for me, and for everyone in the world.

Step into God’s love.  Ask for it, accept it, receive it, then start learning to live in it, to share it, to grow in it, to pass it on.

The world around us wants to know what love is.  They want you to show them!

I want to know what love is!

Come on Jesus, light my fire!

This is the second sermon in our summer series: “Pop Culture.” The audio will soon be available on our website, at which time I’ll share the link here.


Popculture2015summerbannerI want to start with a celebrity impression. Can you tell me who this is?

“You’re fired!”

I’m no Donald Trump, but I know fire when I see it.

But what does fire have to do with ending someone’s employment.  Legend has it that this term – “firing” someone started with John Henry Patterson, founder and owner of National Cash Register (or NCR).  Patterson, you’ll want to know, made Time magazine’s list of 10 worst bosses. Here’s an example: when Thomas Watson, Sr., NCR’s top Salesman, suggested to Patterson that mechanical cash reigsters would one day be replaced by electric ones, Patterson sent Watson on a sales call.  While Watson was out, Patterson had his desk hauled out into the street and set on fire. Hence, “fired.”

Don’t feel too bad for Watson, though.  He got on as General Manager with NCR’s competitor CTR – Computing -Tabulating – Recording Company.  CTR, under Watson’s leadership, later changed it’s name to IBM. You’ve heard of IBM.

Using the word “fire” in this way doesn’t have much to do with the Bible.  Other than Donald Trump, it doesn’t have much to do with Pop Culture, either.

But maybe that’s a good place to start today.

Why do so many people like to watch Donald Trump say “You’re Fired!” Let’s face it – Trump says “you’re fired” a lot more than he says “you’re hired.”

Today we look at and talk about fire – in Pop Culture and in our faith.

But first, a summary from last week’s intro to this series.

  • Culture is “what humans make of the world.” Pop Culture is what we make of the world-specifically all things “popular” -related to, about, from, entertainment and connecting people.
  • Culture, and Pop culture, are about truth or at least human attempts to find, express, experience, grasp truth.
  • All truth is God’s truth – wherever we find it, whomever it comes from.  God Himself is the author of truth – Jesus said, I am the truth – and God is such a good, loving God that God has not entirely depended upon us, his people, to spread truth.  Truth precedes us

So, now, on to Fire.

It was on fire when I lay down on it and there is smoke on the water. U2 sang of The Unforgettable Fire and Johnny Cash described love as “A Ring of Fire.”

Bruce Springsteen sang “I’m on fire” and Katness Everdeen was the “Girl on Fire.” Billy Joel promises that “we didn’t start the fire – that it was always burnin’’ since the world’s been turnin’”

What is that fire that was always burnin’ since the world’s been turnin’?  Could that be the fire that was burning a bush in the wilderness at Mt. Horeb, with which God got the attention of a fugitive murderer named Moses?

Could this be the same fire that John said Jesus would baptize with? Here’s Luke’s account:

The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ.  John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  (Luke 3:15-16)

Perhaps this fire is the refiner’s fire Malachi referred to in this morning’s OT reading.  A refiner’s fire heats metals from a solid to a liquid state. This makes the impurities float to the top, where they can be removed.

What is left is pure – or at least purer than before the heat was applied.

We’ve all known this kind of fire in our lives.  Sometimes the world swirls around us – and through us faster and with more confusion or damage or hurt than we think we can stand.

How long has it been since you’ve been at that place in life that you weren’t sure you would survive?  Are you there right now?

If you aren’t there right now, but you can remember having been there, you have likely been through the refiner’s fire.

This could be the fire John the Baptist was talking about.  One of the things Jesus does, that follow Jesus does, is help is see the impurities and separate them, lay them aside.

Fire refines, and purifies, but it also destroys.  There’s the lake of fire in Revelation. There’s Dante’s “Inferno” (which predates both the Towering Inferno and the Disco Inferno).

Dante’s Inferno, along with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, is where we get most of our modern imagery and expectation of hell or eternal damnation. Yes: current ideas and imagery of hell – pop culture AND the Church – come more from Dante and Milton than from the scriptures.

Which doesn’t change the fact that the bible recognizes the destructive power of fire.  Fire destroys.

But the destructive power is, I think, best seen – in pop culture and in our faith, as a reminder of the power of fire.  When harnessed, fire provides light and heat. When the power of fire is not harnessed, it destroys.

Which might tell us more truth about power than about fire; because power in any of its forms, when not harnessed, destroys.

How do you witness power around you?  How do you exercise power? When are you most challenged in trying to harness the power you have?

Which brings us back to Johnny Cash. Here’s how “The Ring of Fire” starts:

Love is a burning thing

And it makes a fiery ring.

Bound by wild desire

I fell into a ring of fire.

Like Fire, love has power.  We will spend more time on love next week – that’s the topic of next week’s message – but for now let’s connect fire and love, starting with Johnny Cash.

Love and fire connect in literature and music, culture and pop culture, because fire is a great metaphor for passion, which is one of the ways we talk about love or one of the aspects of love.

Passion heats us up.  Passion catches us on fire.  Springsteen and Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger games trilogy make so clear to us.

They remind us that we are passionate people.

Or are we?  Judging from the culture I was raised in, One might wonder if we are passionate or not. Passion was for all those other people, because passion, somehow, meant weakness.

Thankfully, not all of us are from that culture.  Take the way we worship. Many of us were raised in a culture where applause WAS NOT TO happen in worship. The concern was that the performers – or whoever received applause, would let it go to their head, feed their pride.

Some of us were raised, though, in a culture that set us free to respond, to interact.  In these cultures, applause, or shouting, or standing up and dancing, or whatever, were expressions affirming the presence and power of God.

Like so much about culture, no one of these expressions – or lack of expressions – is “right.” A seminary friend of mine was at a conference of her church – the Pentecostal Holiness church.  She tells how she and a friend were seated behind “Big Eddy.” Now, Big Eddy was often one of the first at such conferences to feel the Spirit.  This time, Big Eddy got help.  My friend and the person sitting with her stuck Big Eddy in the seat with a pin.

Big Eddy got the Spirit. Or so it seemed.

Now, before you think I am making fun of christian cultures that are livelier and more excitable than my own, I am not.

After all, I’m more of the christian culture that this story describes.  In a Sunday morning worship service, one of the congregation passed out cold. Unable to wake him up, 911 was called.  When the EMTs got there, they had removed half the congregation before actually getting to the one who had actually passed out!

Some respond to the moving of the Holy Spirit with energy and motion and noise, some with stillness and quiet.

The point is to respond to the Holy Spirit.  The point is not to suppress the Spirit or fake the Spirit.

How do you respond to the Holy Spirit?  Are you aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence here and now?  Are you paying attention to the Spirit?

Passion is about our response to the Spirit, as well as to other things. Passion calls us to DO something. This is why one way of describing what passion does within us is to say “we are moved.”  Passion doesn’t leave us where we are, or the way we are.

Another way of describing what passion does within us is to use the language of fire.

We see this, even about God, in Exodus 4:24 –  “the Lord your God is an all-consuming fire. He is a passionate God.”

Fire is powerful. Passion is powerful!  Which brings to mind that the power of love is a curious thing; it makes one man weak, and makes another man sing,” but that’s next week.

Sometimes you can see passion, feel passion, as truth.  Words and music can come from sheets of paper, or they can come from the soul – even if they’re read off sheets of paper.

Tell me which of these has passion

Pat Boone singing Tutti Frutti or Little Richard singing Tutti Frutti?

Jesus’ last week among us is often referred to simple as The Passion, or The Passion of Jesus – oh! which is close to the title of a movie, now, isn’t it?

I believe that Pop Culture engages passion, and I believe that as followers of Jesus, we are called to be passionate people – to harness the passion that God created us to have.

When we harness the passion God puts within us, people take notice. When we harness the passion God puts within us, we are more believable, more credible, more interesting.

When we harness the passion God puts within us, we are less hypocritical, less judgmental.

When we harness the passion God puts within us, we put ourselves in a place to follow Jesus a bit better today than yesterday.

Speaking of harnessing passion, Let me take you back to Johnny Cash.  Trent Reznor is the lead singer for Nine Inch Nails. That’s a band, if you aren’t following yet.  Reznor wrote a song, “Hurt,” for the 1994 album “The Downward Spiral.”  He was in his late 20s.

In 2002, Johnny Cash covered “Hurt.”  (“Covered” means he put out his own recording of someone else’s song.”

Hurt is about pain – in case that wasn’t obvious. It captured the mood, the languish, the passion, of pain and suffering.  If you know anything about Johnny Cash, you know he had seen a little pain and suffering in his life.

Cash’s cover of “hurt” was so good, so moving, so full of passion, that when Reznor heard it, He said this: “that’s not my song anymore.  That’s song belongs to Johnny Cash.”

There’s a kind of life that God authored that God wants you to have.  It’s called eternal life; “life lived to the fullest.” Life lived in the presence of the God who made us and who breathed life into us.

May the baptism of the Holy Spirit burn within us. May it stir the passion with each of us that, when we harness the passion that God puts within us, We may claim the life as our own that God has for us!

Come on Jesus, light my fire!

I want to trust; Lord, help my distrust!

ac15-bannerThis is no surprise to any who know me, but I sometimes slip into cynicism.  Though I have worked hard on this over the last decade, and I think I’ve improved (by that I mean I display less cynicism), but I still have work to do.

One of the things that brings out my cynicism the most is Annual Conference (AC). Because this year’s AC begins this Sunday evening, I have been giving thought to both the set of meetings and to my devolution into cynicism.

As I have already shared, I believe I am less cynical, and cynical less often, than I used to be.  I spend less time and waste less energy on cynicism than I used to.  This may be partly due to learning that as I age, I have less total energy so I want to waste less of it on being cynical.

But I’ve recently considered another possibility.

I think that, at least in my case, cynicism and lack of trust are related.  In fact, I am pretty sure they are positively correlated.

In other words, the less I trust a person or institution, the more cynical I am about it.

(I bet I am not the only one.)

If you haven’t worked it through this way, I trust the institution of the Annual Conference, in all it hierarchical and bureaucratic glory, more than I used to.

I don’t yet know if this is because the system has earned my trust, if I have become more trusting, or some combination of the two.

It may even simply be that I have more invested in the system now. I don’t think about retirement often, but even that could be in part due to my expectation that this system wil provide a fitting retirement for me following all my years of service.

My lower levels of cynicism and greater willingness to trust (I want to trust; Lord, help my distrust!) may in fact be due to something else.

I currently serve as pastor of Euless First United Methodist Church. This is the largest church I’ve ever served as pastor. There are many people – many different people. All but one of whom are not me.

As pastor, anything I want to do here, any direction I want to lead, any change I feel led to call for, all relies on my ability to build trust with the congregation.

Maybe I am less cynical because I want people not to be cynical about me.

I want to trust; Lord, help my distrust!

Pop Culture Truth

We started a new sermon series at Euless First United Methodist Church yesterday.  Here is the transcript for my sermon titled “Pop Culture Truth” delivered Sunday, May 31, 2015.


Popculture2015summerbanner

Blame it on a shark.  Not the shark that Fonzie jumped on September 20, 1977.  Blame the shark that hit the theaters 40 years ago next month – June 20, 1975, to be exact Jaws.

Jaws created the Summer Blockbuster.  Before Jaws scared people off the beach and into theaters, June, July, and August were the low season for the film industry.  Drive in theaters were most of the summer movie business, and by the mid 1970s, they were waning.

How many of you have been to a drive-in movie?

Now, pop culture didn’t start with Jaws, or drive-in movies.  Some allege that William Shakespeare started pop culture.  Pop is, of course, short for popular, and Shakespeare’s plays brought new worlds of experience and ideas and ways of thinking to all in attendance.

Pop culture got a big boost from the Industrial Revolution.  Factory workers worked long hours, to be sure, but not the same long hours, and rarely 7 days a week, that farm families had been used to.  Less work time meant “more” – which means simply “some” leisure time.

Leisure time coupled with living in cities and towns – among other people – meant pop culture.

Still, for years, pop culture was something one could take or leave, I suppose.

Today, one has to hide to evade pop culture.

I don’t want to say pop culture is on the attack, but sometimes it feels like it.

Pop culture once meant music – written music came from the Renaissance  and stage performances.  For the lives of everyone here, it has been music and theater and books and magazines. And radio.

Some of you remember sitting around the radio in the evening for a radio “show.”  Some of you remember getting your first television, then your first color television, etc.

Some of you don’t have much use for television.  You don’t expect a screen – outside a movie theater – to be larger than your laptop or your phone.

I’ve got one daughter – 26 – from the generation we used to joke “If you can’t program your VCR, get your kid to do it for you!” and I’ve got two kids – 3 and 5 – who will grow up barely knowing what a VCR is (or was).

I used to carry a cassette tape or 2 or 3 in the car, varying my mix tapes by mood or season.

Then I got this nice little case for cds.

Now I own about 5000 songs. 400 of them, along with, 80 books, a dozen or so movies on this (pull out phone) and access to uncountable numbers of songs, movies, books, whatever, on this with a decent connection.

It’s getting harder and harder to hide from pop culture.

I invite you to wonder with me for at least the next 6 weeks, whether or not we ought to hide from pop culture.

The church has put varying amounts of energy, throughout the centuries, into avoiding, or escaping, or eliminating pop culture.

It’s time to stop. I believe it is time to engage pop culture rather than run or hide from it, and certainly rather than trying to stamp it out or just start our own parallel version of everything.

Stamping a stylized cross on a shirt doesn’t make it a Christian shirt. Choosing music based on “Jesus per minute” is not, in fact, a credible way to judge whether music is good or not.

I believe we ought to engage Pop Culture for at least 2 reasons.  These 2 reasons follow from our starting point, which is that we are “trying to follow Jesus a bit better today than yesterday.” I believe following Jesus means – requires – these 2 things:

  1. becoming the people God created us to be – by the transformation that comes from discipleship and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit
  2. being a blessing to the world around us – because God loves everyone and wants everyone to know redemption and healing are available in Jesus.

We are created in God’s image for fellowship with God and to partner with God in care for creation.  And, we are blessed (by God) so that we might be a blessing to others!

For these reasons, we engage Pop Culture! Now, I don’t mean that you need to be listening to the Billboard Top 40 or watch whatever the Nielsen Ratings say to watch. You do not have to live according to what’s trending on Twitter to be faithful to Jesus.

Pretending none of those technologies exist or favoring one over the others won’t satisfy, either.

But let me make this point clear: When I say we ought to engage pop culture, I do not mean we must immerse ourselves in it. Have you seen some of the stuff that’s available these days?

In fact, I wonder if some of the ways Pop Culture has sunk – why you can’t stand to watch primetime TV today, is, to an extent, because Christians – and others with standards – have given up and walked away.So: I say we must engage pop culture, but not necessarily immerse ourselves in it.  When we engage it, we develop the ability to look at it critically so as to identify the good as well as the bad.  And not all pop culture is for everyone; just like not all types of food is for everyone.

I fully intend never to read Fifty Shades of Gray OR anything in the Left Behind series. But I want to engage the cultures from which they arise in ways that welcome critical discussions of why I won’t read either one.

Perhaps the first step is to admit that we are cultural beings.  Culture is “what human beings make of the world.” Culture is both the things we make and the meaning we make of things.

To have culture, to experience culture, to live in culture, is to be human.  To navigate as God’s people in culture: well, that’s following Jesus better today than yesterday.

So, where do we start?

Let’s start here: I believe that culture and pop culture are about truth.  Culture – what we make of the world, flows out of our efforts to find, to reach, to express, truth.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Well. There you go. Culture is about truth, and Jesus IS the truth.  That was simple. Or maybe it wasn’t.

See; culture is what we humans make of the world.  Culture is, then, our attempts, our efforts, our expressions of truth as we know it, see it, understand it, experience it.

And truth can be a mighty difficult thing to express, grasp, understand. And that’s small “t” truth. I think Jesus is claiming to be capital “T” truth.

In fact, Jesus’ statement in John 14 recognizes the elusive, hard-to-grasp nature of Truth.

There seem to be 2 ways of dealing with truth today. To over-simplify, we’ll call these 2 Absolutist and Relativist.

Here is the Absolutist: Some among us lament the days that our society was run according to “big T Truth.” Others recognize that those days were really as full of power struggles and hypocrisy as today.

Here is the Relativist: Some among us have accepted that everyone has their own truth and we should all be free to just live our own personal truth as long as it doesn’t infringe upon someone else’s personal truth.

Neither of these fit well with Jesus’ claim to be the Truth.

Both of them, the absolutist and the relativist, are left playing the role of Pilate: asking Jesus: “what is truth?”

When confronted with the truth, we are all Pilate; we are all Lt. Daniel Kaffee. Don’t remember who Daniel Kaffee is? How about Tom Cruise’s character in “A Few Good Men”?  Still don’t remember? That’s right: We can’t handle the truth!

I absolutely believe that we cannot – none of us – handle the truth. I completely, with all my heart and all my mind believe that we cannot handle the truth.

But we are here worshipping God together for the way the Truth has handled us and the way the Truth is handling us.

You see, our God is God – we shall have no other gods before Him. Our God is Lord, “King of the Universe!” and all truth – ALL TRUTH belongs to God.  All truth is God’s truth.

Whether or not it comes in the form of Christian art or fits within Christian society or expectations, all truth is God’s truth. And as God’s prevenient grace reminds us that grace is not dependent upon us, but rather preceeds us, so with truth. You and I do well to take truth to people who do not know Jesus beacuse Jesus is the truth.  But we ought not be so arrogant as to expect that the truth of God (which is all truth) has not gotten there before us.

If culture is what we human beings make of the world – things we make and meanings we give to things, and culture is about the pursuit of and expression of truth, and I think it is, we followers of Jesus owe it to the world to be mixing it up with others – looking for, asking, seeking, knocking, to find the truth wherever and however it might present itself.

If you want a nice, clean, simple, straightforward truth, you might have confused matters. Jesus is truth.

Can you describe someone you know, anyone you know, in a nice, clean, simple, straightforward way?

Tell me all about your mom in 150 words or less.  Explain any one of your children to me in 3 or 4 sentences.

No.  You can’t do it.  You don’t even know anyone so well that you could completely capture their identity in words, phrases, paragraphs, or books.

How much less could the Son of Man, the Savior of the world, the Incarnate Son of God, be captured in, limited to, a few words or verses?

Jesus is the truth, and we follow Jesus! And we are trying to follow Jesus better today than yesterday. We are followign the truth wherever it takes us and wherever we find it, because all truth is God’s truth!

Truth is NOT sterile, dictated, distant.  Truth is up close and personal; gritty, sometimes dirty, slippery, hard to understand. And Jesus is Truth. And we are following Jesus.

In the midst of a world filled with people who are trying to find, to express, to grasp, to understand, to explain the truth, we are following the One who is the truth!

Here’s a really beautiful thing about Jesus and pop culture.  If pop culture is about people seeking to express, experience, grasp, describe, approach, truth – and I believe it is – you and I MUST be in it, near it, part of it.

Or, at least, not be hiding from it or running from it or condemning it out of hand.

Because all truth is God’s truth, Jesus is the truth, and we are following Jesus.

Pop Culture Truth

Servant Leadership

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Servant Leadership

If it were always easy to be a leader, I suppose everyone would be a leader.

I was volunteering for Field Day at South Euless Elementary School, a school we have adopted as a church. We mentor kids, run a once-a-week after-school program, and many other things.

It has been a joy and blessing to connect with this school and to get to know students, teachers, and staff.

One of the staff is in the picture above.  Field Day was a wet, muddy affair. This has been the wettest May on record in Texas, and Field Day was just un-rainy enough to go on.

Go on, it did. Kids were running, jumping, laughing, playing in the mud; just as you would expect kids to do. Before they entered the school building, though, this staff person was hosing them down. It was hard to tell who was enjoying it more.

Now, I want you to know this particular staff member happens to be the Principal, Randy Belcher. Wearing a sport coat, khakis and dress shoes, he wasn’t dressed to be hosing down muddy kids.

But by every measure, Principal Belcher is a leader, and leaders do what needs to be done. Some leaders might delegate everything and keep themselves above the fray. In my experience, this kind of leader ends up with less people following him or her.

In other words, if I were a teacher, I would want to be a teacher serving under the leadership of a Principal who wasn’t afraid to get dirty hosing mud off of kids at Field Day.

This is the kind of leader I want to be.

This is also the kind of leader Jesus was. In fact, Jesus being the existence of God incarnate in human flesh is exactly this kind of leadership. I suppose there would have been a way for God to maintain the distance from us and lead us. But that’s not the way God chose to lead.

Thank you, Mr. Belcher, for this help in understanding leadership, and especially for help in understanding the kind of leadership God offers us in Jesus Christ.

Servant Leadership