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I worked in management for Sears throughout college.  It was a good job that treated me well and gave me a great opportunity to build a business management resume that has benefited me throughout my whole adult life.  But that was a very different Sears that I have seen over the last 10 years.

Last week, I was on lunch and decided to pull up a YouTube video of Chris Tomlin (a Christian worship music artist) singing a song I’d hurt at church the weekend prior.  As most of us know, YouTube regularly plays videos of sponsored content (a.k.a ads) before your chosen video.  It is part of the monetization that Google brings to all of its products.  When a company pays for an ad to run, they specify all of the criteria that will determine who sees the video.  This includes thing like the geographic location of the watcher, the viewer’s history, and the specific thing searched for, as well as everything in between.  I’m simplifying the process, but it is nearly infinitely customizable, ensuring that the only people who see your video are the exact people you want to see it.

So, I search for Chris Tomlin and the title of the worship song (I don’t remember right now exactly which song it was) and I click on the video.  Before my video starts to play, this is the ad I see (feel free not to watch the whole thing):

I skipped the ad when it gave me a chance and watched my worship video, but the more I thought about it the more upset I became.  I can’t think of a YouTube history on my account that would have been pertinent or anything else that makes sense…unless either they were putting that out to everyone, or they were specifically targeting people watching worship videos.

So, I took to Twitter, incredulous that Sears would be so insensitive.  The screenshot from my Tweet, and Sears’ response not long after, are below.

Sears Tweet

It is 2014,  know.  I am not surprised by a company supporting homosexual marriage.  I don’t like it, but I know it happens.  I don’t support the homosexual mafia attacking companies like Chik-fil-a simply because their CEO said that he believes a marriage is between a man and a woman.  But most of all, I can’t support the incredible rudeness of a company deliberately attacking the morality of Christians in this way.  Whether their Tweet to me was an automatic response to mine or not, it doesn’t matter.

I’m not one to start a boycott and get worked up over anything secular.  I think that secular complies not guided by Christians will not act Christian.  However, companies that deliberately attack Christians is another story altogether.

You know why they do it?  They do it because they know that they will insult us and treat us disrespectfully in whatever ways they choose, and we will buy their products just the same.  We might post a Facebook complaint and feel like we accomplished something, but as soon as the next sale comes along, we will open up our wallets again.

For me, it stops here.  I have drawn a line in the sand.  I have a lot of Craftsman tools and a Sears credit card.  I’m canceling the card and have bought my last tool from them.


Incidentally, if you want the story behind the video (which I actually haven’t seen in its entirety), Sears sponsored a float in the recent Chicago homosexual parade.  On that float they had 4 homosexual couples getting “married” and this video was celebrating that.

Next time you buy a Sears product, know that is where some of your money is going.  If you support that, then great.  If you don’t, you are supporting it anyway with your money.


Election Blue – part 2

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the seriesElection Blue

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If Christians together with Republicans are to stand as this “last best hope of freedom in the world,” then we must do some reformulating.  Some might suggest that we moderate our message and make compromises in order to have party be more palatable to more people.  Politics is indeed an art of compromise.  But there are very fundamental things that we can never compromise without forsaking the yoke of our character, those values that we pledge our lives to.

But, if we cannot change that which is essential to our identity, and necessary for the survival of the republic, then are we to do nothing but huddle and pray?  Are we to build large bunkers, or think as I was about which country to run to?  The answer is no.  But, there are a few realities that we must face, those that the Democrats know and believe to be forever in their favor.

1. America is not a Christian nation.  Sure, there is a plurality that still attends church, but all the numbers indicate that both church attendance and Christian identification are massively atrophying.  But more importantly than that, is the fact that the influence of the Bible and faith in Christ in even those regularly attending church has become largely an afterthought.  Unfortunately, most Christians’ are functionally biblically illiterate.

It has baffled many Republicans that large segments of our society who claim Christian affiliation vote completely contrary to their religious principles, at least on social issues.  This is partly because voting is often seen as independent of the exercise of religion, the idea that the Democrats have the edge in issues of economic “justice,” and also because of ignorance of politics beyond a cultural dogma of voter affiliation.

2. Racial division in our society has rapidly become the biggest elephant in the room.  Though it may not be true, Republicans hate women and minorities.  Perception is reality.  One of the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing is that truth doesn’t matter at all; perceived truth matters a great deal.  For the moment we have lost that battle.  Correcting and owning this narrative will determine any future for our party.

3. Socialists, Progressively, Liberals, (pick your poison) own all areas of cultural input in our society.  The media is completely covered by Liberalism, except for Fox, which though it has massive viewership, is maligned by everyone else.  Hollywood…I don’t need to say more.  Academia, Philosophy, the music industry are monopolized, and on and on it goes.  The only area that is not covered by them is religion.  That is why it is a battleground, and why Conservative religious leaders are repeatedly pressured to keep their mouths shut.  Liberal religious leaders are freely allowed to spout their political directives to their congregations.

Liberals know an important rule of sales, the person who asks the questions owns the conversation.  The entertainment industry questions the society, just as the media asks questions of the people they are interviewing.  Also, it goes almost without saying that the people with the cameras and microphones will have the loudest voices.

Conservatives have really sought to own the blogosphere, and they pretty well do.  But the only people who are reading Conservatives blogs are the people who already agree.  Other areas of the internet are even more hostile to Republicanism.  But the internet is a niceh media.  Anyone can put up a blog, and likewise is accessed primarily by like-minded people.  Further, George Soros and his machine have invested many millions in taking over these areas of communication.  It is a very public and fully funded goal of Liberals to completely take over all media.

This is possibly the greatest loss for Republicans, and the greatest opportunity for growth.  The good news is that we have virtually no ground to lose.  This is our Inchon landing moment.  We must be just as strategic and bold  as the Liberals.  We must place Republicans in these areas of the media piece by piece.  We must take over the conversation, not by fighting or by creating alternative media forms, but by moving into important roles in the media.  This will not happen overnight, just as the battle wasn’t lost overnight.

4.  American education in almost all areas, but specifically in areas of civics, has crumbled.  This is not a problem for Republicans, or Democrats.  It is a problem for the future of this country, Red and Blue.  Liberals wouldn’t like to admit this, but poor education does benefit their cause.  While the loudest voices for increased funding of our public education system emanates from the Liberal side, this does not equate to making fixing our education problem a priority.

If this were true, they would be proponents of programs like school vouchers, single sex education, and homeschooling, all of which have consistently been proven to out perform our current models.  But, they do not support these programs.  Instead, they support more tax money for the current programs, which makes the teachers’ unions happy.

Of course, no one really wants people to stay ignorant, at least I would hope not.  However, the least educated and the highest levels of education are both the biggest Liberal voting blocks, for entirely different reasons.  Those who are well educated without Liberal indoctrination, especially in areas of history and civics have a much more Republican voting record.

In Part 3 of this series, I’d like to address some of my ideas for how to address these issues. -Ryan


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I’m preaching in church this weekend.  I always love this opportunity.  To paraphrase Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire, ‘when I preach I feel His pleasure. ‘

As often is the case, I have little advance warning of this opportunity.  Officially, I have 7 days to put it all together, which is certainly less than I’d like.  I’m not really complaining, but at this point my brain is a jumble of thoughts.  I’m going to use my little blog this week to highlight the process that goes on inside of me as I prepare.


I’ve had a growing frustration over the last few years as to what exactly is happening in the Western Church.  Over this time I’ve had the constant allegory of The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen, in my head as an example of what I think most people feel about Church.  Books like Simple Church, The Essential Church, and a host of others talk about the mass exodus going on in this segment of the church, particularly among young people.

What these books highlight is that growing amounts of young people are seeing the Church as being superfluous  to their lives, good but not all that important.  There is also a constant secular assault saying, “You are deluded, worshipping an imaginary God.”  Much of this is happening while we parade around regally in our nakedness.

I have recently been reading a book called The Naked Gospel.  The thesis of the book (so far) is that the Church is failing because we are not really teaching proper doctrine.  I had to put the book down.  I could not disagree more.

I have no desire to abandon the Church, any more than I desire to disown my own mom, but what I have experienced in the Church in the past few years is a dedication to doctrine, and a disconnect between living out that doctrine in a powerful spiritual life.  God has become ceremony, even in our low-church commonness.  Christianity is what happens on Sunday and midweek services.  What happens on Sunday morning doesn’t seem to affect much outside of the Church.  But even worse than this, there doesn’t seem to be any sense that it is designed to.  In short and in the words of many teens, “it’s boring.”

I know I sound negative, and in a real sense I am.  But all of this comes from love, because I don’t believe that God is boring, and I don’t denigrate the Church, it is the freaking Bride of Christ, after all.

Now that doesn’t mean that plenty of people don’t take their faith seriously.  I would say that majority of them do.  But we sing songs about victory and we speak of miracles, we pray for them, but we don’t really believe they’ll happen, do we?  Well, at least not every day.  We believe in miraculous healing, but we don’t pray for the guy in the wheelchair at Starbucks.  I say that evangelism is good, but I walk by throngs of people everyday who don’t believe, and yet I have no intention of embarrassing myself in front of them.

This gets communicated in every part of our popular thinking.  In the media we speak about “religious extremism.”  The real problem is not Islam, but people who take the Koran really seriously.  Christianity is not seen any differently.  Believe all you want, just don’t let it affect any visible part of your life.  Read the Bible, just don’t ever quote it in public.  Talking about Jesus is OK, only if it is a vulgar interjection.

How antithetical to all of Christianity is that?  The message of Jesus is supposed to permeate every pore.  Christ wants to be lord of your life, not just our Sunday mornings.  The problem in Church as I see it, is not that there is no proper doctrine.  The problem is that we don’t believe that doctrine should do anything.

What if this Holy Spirit actually could give us gifts to do wonderful things?  What if we could actually tell people about Jesus and they’d believe?  What if that guy in Starbucks actually got up and walked?  I wonder if Christianity would be boring then.

This is some of what God has been working inside of me.  I don’t know how much of this will make it into my message.  We’ll see.  -Ryan


GrinchoversyHeaderThe following is a reprint of an article published by Ryan Shinn in his channel on

This year the keep Christ in Christmas debate has heated up anew with First Baptist Church of Dallas pastor, Robert Jeffress, new website listing businesses that are refusing to acknowledge Christmas.  He has appeared on Fox News as well as local news outlets discussing this apparently controversial site.

The current debate seems to have three sides, those who support Jeffress for taking a stand on this issue, secularists who are attacking Jeffress for various reasons, and Christians who think the whole debate is distracting from the purpose of Christmas.

Eric Wallace’s blog, The Unwasted Life, summarizes this last perspective quite well with a list of reasons why Jeffress is off-base.  Yet while Eric makes very good points about why Christians should not take part in this debate at all, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

Most of the anti-Jeffress discussion falls into three basic categories.  The first is that while Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, it has always been primarily a secular holiday with most of its elements derived from pagan sources that have little to do with the actual birth of Christ.  People have pointed out that elements such as Christmas trees do not have Christian beginnings, but most of these things were adopted by early Christian missionaries as cultural touch points used to relate the gospel to the people’s pagan traditions.  This sort of evolution is happening currently with Halloween.  Many churches celebrate the holiday as a Harvest Festival and exchange the day’s original purpose with a Christ-centered message.

The second attack is that Christians have no business getting involved with political debates that play into the hands of the secularists. The problem with this argument is that it misses the point entirely.  Many Christians are simply tired of the expectation that they will spend a lot of money for gifts at stores that refuse to even mention Christmas.  The message is, “give us money while we disrespect you.”  Many Christians are responding with their dollars.  This is not as much a sign of protest, but capitalist democracy.

Finally, they attack Jeffress directly for more controversial statements he has made, particularly regarding homosexuals and Muslims.  This is not surprising.  When people have little of value to say in defense of their positions, they often resort to ad hominem attacks.  Whether Jeffress is against homosexuality or Islam, or kills puppies, it has no bearing on this issue.  -Ryan

5 Keys to Reading the Bible

BibleHeaderHere is a list (by no means exhaustive) of a few guidelines to help in reading and applying the Bible to your life.

1. Read the Bible with an eye for genre.

Some biblical critics (meaning people who examine the actual literature of the Bible) look at the text as nothing more than ancient literature.  This causes some Christians to react with statements like, “I take the Bible literally.”  This statement sounds devout, but it is quite absurd.

Psalm 36:7 says “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Jesus follows this same metaphor in Matthew 23:37 saying, “I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”  No one actually suggests that the Bible is saying God is actually a bird.  The text is using a picturesque metaphor.

The Bible is quite robust as literature.  It contains narrative (Genesis, Matthew, et al.), prophetic literature (Daniel, Revelation), Poetry (Psalms, Song of Solomon), epistles (instructional books like Ephesians), personal letters (to an individual like Philemon), and others.  A person wouldn’t read a love letter the same way that they would read an instruction manual.  In the same way, they shouldn’t read Psalms the same way that they read Galatians.

A lot of problems in understanding the Bible come from not considering the intended purpose of the book they are reading.  For instance, the purpose of Psalms is to glorify God and remember His goodness, not to teach doctrine.  This is not saying that Psalms cannot teach doctrinal truth, or even that it is not the inspired word of God, just that doctrine is not the point of the book.

2.      Get yourself into the heads of the original readers.

Many Bible experts will make the statement, “something in the Bible can never mean to us what it didn’t mean to its original hearers.”  This doesn’t quite make sense, as original readers of prophetic books like Daniel couldn’t quite have understood the completeness of the prophecy.  But this is a generally good guideline to follow in most cases.

For instance, Genesis 9:4 and Leviticus 17:10 both state provisions against eating blood.  Some religious people use this as reason for God to be against blood transfusions.  While the Bible neither speaks supportively nor prohibitively specifically about blood transfusions, an original hearer of God’s message in these passages would have not thought about a medical procedure to save someone’s life.  They would have connected it to pagan idol worship that required drinking blood.  Therefore, it is doctrinally quite dangerous to make a leap in applying these passages to a life-saving medical procedure.

3.      Practice Exegesis not Eisegesis

No, this isn’t misspelling Jesus.  These two words refer to interpreting scripture.  Gesis refers to the text of the Bible.  Ex (ek) means out of and eis means into.  For any student of God’s truth, the goal should be to find out what the Bible means, and then apply that meaning to life, even if that isn’t quite what a person really wants the Bible to say.  The opposite of this, eisegesis, is to twist the scripture (or cherry-pick verses out of context) in order to get the Bible to say what a person wants it to say.

A good way to remember the difference is that exegesis is to find out where Jesus is, and place an X in that spot (x-a-Jesus) as the marker for where God wants people to be.  Eisegesis is like putting Jesus on an ice rink, where a person could push him to wherever he’d like Jesus to be (ice-a-Jesus).

4. Allow the Bible be a little bit mean.

Actually, the Bible isn’t really mean.  It is the loving word of God.  But unless a person is perfect, the Bible is going to point out a lot of ways in which humans cannot meet God’s standards.  It has been reported that Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, said that if we always find the Bible to be our friend, perhaps we haven’t read it.

The Bible was clearly not written as a self-image booster for humanity.  Whenever a person comes face to face with the presence of God, the first realization is always how unworthy, frail, and weak humanity is when measured by God’s standard.  The second understanding is that God forgives and loves us anyway.  Before a garment can be cleaned, a person must admit that it is dirty.  The same is true with a person’s soul, and the Bible is one of the major ways that God teaches this lesson to humanity.

5. Let the Bible change you.

The Bible is not meant to be merely literature.  The serious student of Jesus should read the Bible asking 3 basic questions:

  • What did God mean by this (especially to the original readers)?
  • How does this meaning apply to me today?
  • What should I do about this?

God never intended people to read His word, smile to themselves, and then go about their daily lives.  He meant it to be poignant, “sharper than any two-edged sword,” and potent for changing lives.  Swords were not meant to be decorative wall ornaments.  They were meant for stronger stuff, as is the Bible.

The Most Holy Time

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I admit it.  I’ve been in some kind of funk lately.  No actually, not lately, this has been going on for some time now.  The exact nature of this funk is difficult to describe, and especially so when I am trying to do so without offending the sensibilities of proper and sincere religious people.  I am one of those proper and sincere religious folk myself, which means that my internal dialogue has been offending me for quite a while.  So, if you are reading this, and happen to get offended, then we can commiserate together.  Just don’t shoot the messenger on this one.

The problem exists because I am naturally a part of two separate worlds.  One of these is the land that all of humanity lives in.  It cannot be escaped, save for moving to the jungles of Brazil or becoming some sort of religious hermit (but more on that one later).  It is dark at times, beautiful at others, yet always convulsing and turning somehow.  This world, like my barely functioning clothes drier, is making loud noises, fits-and-starts, and sometimes barely functioning in any measure of success.  Yet, it is where we are, and there is also great beauty in it.  From natural creations, to the Burj Dubai, and even a stranger picking up something you dropped on the street there is wonder.  God loves it, and like an abused spouse, so do I.

The other world I straddle is the world of the Church.  All kinds of people, from poufy-haired, multi-pinky-ringed televangelists to African children in Sunday school are a part of it.  There is amazing beauty in the Church.  The great array of what is good in the world is all a child of Christ’s bride.  It doesn’t matter what the likes of Christopher Hitchens says, God’s goodness is reflected in His Church.

I have often throughout my life taken refuge and comfort in the world of the Church because I know that the other world is victim of a fatal disease that rots its flesh, a cancer that grows and devours.  I expect it to be this way.  The problem that I have been increasingly having is that the world of the Church I have allowed to nurture me is seemingly growing increasingly very ill herself.

Yes, I am aware that the Church being an institution full of humans, is subject to all the frailties of man.  But those have always been beautiful scars in my eyes, reminders of the grace and power of God.  Maybe it is just me, but those scars are looking less and less romantic.

Now, I am in no danger of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, and leaving the Church entirely.  I know that there is no chance that I can tread water on my own long enough to point out all the holes in the ship for everyone else to plug.  Further, God gave us the institution of the Church for a reason, and His wisdom infinitely trumps mine.

This difficulty in the Church world was highlighted to me a few weeks ago as I looked back on the events of that particular week:

I started the week with my day off (Monday), working on different chores and things I had to do to keep my life going, pretty bland, but it is life.

Tuesday was spent planning at another staff meeting.  We talked about events and programs that were coming up.  Staff meetings are not part of the fun of ministry in any way, really.  But they are a necessary evil (if I can use that word so flippantly).  Nothing would get accomplished  if proper planning was not done.  I spent a lot of time in staff meeting this week wondering what lasting value much of what we were discussing would achieve.  Maybe that is the wrong thought to have, but it was my thought nonetheless.

Later Tuesday night, we had High School group.  As we lead worship, played games, and taught, I kept wondering if any student would remember anything I said past 9:00 PM, when they left the building.  I was later corrected (gently) by one of my students, who told me that Tuesday night had a big effect on him, and there were probably others.  But I guess my real issue is with the general effectiveness.  I will not belittle the powerful impact God may be having on one person in the group, or even pockets of them.  I have also learned that times when I think no impact is being made can be the most impactful.  But after doing this for many years, I know the look in the students’ eyes that say “If we could have left after game time, I would have.”

Wednesday was similar to Tuesday in that I did office work to further the ministry, and Wednesday night was Junior High.  In the case of Junior Highers, small victories matter.  I had to rejoice that no one was injured and no one was sent home early.  Also, one of the students gave a testimony of how God had a powerful impact on him over the last two months.

Thursday, I spent a big portion of the day at the Barnes and Noble coffee shop writing, reading, and hanging out.

Friday, I did general chores, and ended the day at a church gathering at someone’s home.  It was fun.  Like all church gatherings, it has to be concluded with an extended time of teaching about something.  Let me break down the fourth-wall and ask the reader a question here: How many sermons in your life can you remember, and had a lasting effect on your life?  Well, this Friday night teaching was for me in the pile with the majority of teachings I’ve heard.

Saturday, Peichi and I had fun and hung out with some friends at our house that we know from the foreign exchange community.  I ended up in a very deep conversation with one of the ladies at our house.  She talked about how she felt alone and kind of floating in her life.  She wanted to be a part of doing something that made a difference in the world.  I asked her if she was willing to help do some work at the church for us.  She said she would, and she has.  In the back of my head I have been hoping that she continues in her quest for meaning, and hoping her involvement in helping at the church isn’t leading her in the wrong direction.

Sunday was a church service.  It was similar to most church services.  I like our church.  I think God does work in people’s hearts there.  Although I can’t remember any of the Prophetic Words and I don’t know of anyone who got healed during prayer time, or anyone who made a decision for Christ, I am sure that God worked in people’s lives.  I am not self-important enough to believe that I am qualified to determine the effectiveness of these things.  There are weeks when I leave feeling just tired.  Then again, I’ve spent the last 14 years making church services happen.

That was my week.

When I looked back on it all, the powerful times where I really felt God doing stuff was not on Tuesday, of Wednesday, or even Sunday.  I know He did do stuff.  I’m not denying that.  But the times I really felt like God was using me to make a difference was on Thursday as I wrote in the coffee shop.  I had two long conversations with total strangers.  We talked about everything from geopolitics to budding technology.  We also talked about faith.

Mind you, I am not one of those people who is always walking up to strangers and acting like they’re my best friend.  I am more inclined to be deeply involved in internal dialogue when in line at the supermarket than to carry on a conversation there.  But these coffee shop conversations just naturally happened.  They felt easy and natural.  Even the parts when we were talking about God felt fun and light, as if the His Spirit were guiding us in them.  I wasn’t the guy sitting and waiting to accost someone with a canned salvation message.  I was the guy watching God unfold something in front of me.

It was beautiful.  For the first time for me in a long time that Thursday, the feverish outside world was crashing into the holy world of the Church, and I was right in the middle of it.  I left the coffee shop feeling energized and excited.  God had actually showed up.  He had done something in front of me that gave me the impression that there was some sort of lasting difference made.  It felt like getting in the shower after a long afternoon of gardening, with dirt under your fingernails and the smell of soil on your skin.

I can’t do the spiritual hermit thing.  I know that there is a great value in keeping oneself from being polluted by the world, but I can’t see that as being separable from looking out for widows and orphans and being a light to the world around me.   In fact, the more I approach those semi-cloistered places lately, the more I have an asthmatic choking feeling, like there isn’t enough air.  I’m not leaving the building.  I just need to keep the windows rolled down and the fresh air flowing.

Addendum: I know that this brings up some real issues, and I don’t write this as a sermon.  I often feel that people write the word “I” too much, and I am always scanning my writing trying to get rid of as many instances of that as I can (that sentences contained 4).  This piece is riddled with them, but that is because it is one of the most stream-of-consciousness things I’ve written in a while.  I saved it for a week, and edited, but I still have the sinking feeling that someone might read and want to misunderstand, argue, debate.  I don’t really have a desire to enter that fray.  This is really just an opened internal dialogue of sorts.  I am not trying to be self-defeating.  I think honesty in this regard honors the Lord.  If you have thoughts or feelings that will honor this dialogue, please feel free, though. -Ryan

Learning Faith -Part 3

This is part three in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith.  Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Raising Parents

Parents mentoring their kids in matters of faith and life isn’t what seems to be happening as much these days.  Gone are the days of boys learning to mow the lawn alongside their fathers.  Now, they pay to have someone else do it.  Most girls aren’t learning how to cook with their mothers.  Dinner is now too often provided by KFC.  With all of our modern conveniences, we have forgotten to teach our children how to live and how to be adults.

The same things can be said for matters of faith.  As consumers, we have fallen prey to the idea that spiritual education is what happens at church.  Spiritual education does happen at church, of course.  But if that is the primary place that we plan for spiritual education, we are destined to fail at this task.  This kind of outsourcing will not work.  When spiritual matters are reserved for church, the lesson is that one may do whatever one wants and live however he chooses, as long as he puts on a smile on Sunday.

Parents are the primary teachers about faith, not necessarily how to exegete a Pauline epistle, but about how our faith affects our daily lives.

I don’t want to sound like I’m griping, and I don’t level any accusations on everyone.  But I think one of the largest complaints I have about the state of the family is that it seems to me that many parents have forgotten that one of the primary roles of parenting is to end up with your offspring as functioning adults.  The goal should be to produce adults that are even better than you were.  This is true in regard to career and intelligence, and it is also true about faith.

Case in point: In the last 10 years of ministry, I know of no teen (male or female) who has access to the Internet in their own room and does not have an addiction to pornography, or inappropriate sexual relationships online.  I know this, because the students come to me and tell me.  I have gone to their homes and moved their computers for them (upon their request).  I have prayed with them for freedom from these addictions.

Despite this, when parents tell me that their child wants a computer in their room (this happens often), I tell them my experience, yet 100% of the time the student ends up with a computer in their room within a month.  When I occasionally ask the parent why this happened, they shrug their shoulders as if to say, “Oh well.”

No, not “Oh well.”  Children don’t need a buddy.  Teens don’t need a hip mom or dad.  They need a parent.  The teens that tell me how cool their lenient parents are, are the same teens that come to me crying to say that they feel constant chaos.  Kids need parents.  The message that parents send to teens when they don’t take leadership on these issues is that there is no moral standard.

I have no doubt in my mind that parents who are not teaching their kids important skills for their future adulthood are not teaching these kids the stories, principles, and reasons for their faith.  I cannot believe that the Church will fail and disappear.  But I do believe unless this is changed quickly, the state of the Church in the West will read like a passage in Second Kings.  This is an emergency.

Leading a Mutiny?

OldYoungI need to start off this article with a short disclaimer.  I got started down this philosophical road by an article in Matt Crosslin’s blog, which he started as a response to a Relevant Magazine article, “Is There a Church Mutiny Afoot?” I started my part of the discussion several weeks ago, but was unsatisfied with what I’d written.  I felt that my thoughts on the issue were too muddled, and in some ways I still feel that way.  One of the reasons I write this blog is to put legs on ideas, and in so doing, bring a little clarity to them.  That is the only reason I have put this up.  It is important for any reader to understand that none of this is combative, although the issue of Christian ambition does strike a bit of a sore spot with me.  Further, I have no animosity toward Matt or Relevant.  In fact, I feel the opposite.  Some great illumination has come to me through the reading of both.  It is in the healthy debate that I feel the greatest good is served.

“I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.” G.K. Chesterton

A recent article in Relevant Magazine equated ministry to young adults as a mutiny, particularly when it is “a young adult service” aimed at creating a new expression of worship in a gathering at the church.  I must start this rebuttal by saying, I wholeheartedly agree.  I think that young-adult ministries trying to create their own worship service with younger sounding music and younger-sounding preaching (whatever that is) is at its core born in rebellion.  But in my mind, the real questions are “Why is rebellion always bad?” and “How can younger leaders take over the reins of Church leadership without it being seen as rebellion?”

So if this is rebellion, what is being rebelled against?  Is it the adolescent rebellion that says, “Whatever you say, I’ll do the opposite”?  I don’t think so.   It is less a rebellion of theology, or a rejection of older people in the faith, but a rejection of structures that have been broken for a long time.  Erwin McManus is one of those rebelling.  He has said that his goal is to dismantle the Church, and rebuild it as Christ would want it.  He isn’t rebelling for the sake of wanting to do his own thing.  He is rebelling because he says a deep fundamental brokenness that needs to be fixed.

We also have to look at modern church history and realize that these people aren’t rebelling against Christ-instituted structures that have been in place for more than 2000 years.  In fact, many younger people are more counter-rebelling against a rebellion that started in the late 60’s and flourished through the 80’s.  During that time, much of what the defined the Church was thrown out, sometimes because it was not working, but other times because it was “old.”  I recall hearing a successful Christian leader in the early 90’s say, “People are just interested in hearing about things like salvation anymore.  They just want to know how to fix their marriage.  We can’t talk about those old concepts any longer.”  That was rebellion.

But we have to admit that things seem to be broken at the moment.  Church influence in America is waning.  Fewer Americans are claiming a Christian allegiance.  Young Americans are leaving the Church in droves.  The Relevant article points to this statistic as a sign of arrogance and in some sense, I must agree.  This generation is an arrogant one, and this arrogance must be partly to blame.  But all statistical analysis of this trend shows that the primary reasons for young people leaving the Church is that they just don’t find it essential to their lives (see The Essential Church).  This is also not because the young have decided to go it alone, but because the Church has often made itself irrelevant by continuing to do things because “that’s just what we do.”  Often times people walk away from these events thinking “That simply wasn’t valuable to me at all.”

Younger leaders in the Church see all of this happening and want to do something about it.  After all, eternities hang in the balance.  Matt Crosslin writes in his blog that

“People in the 20 somethings age bracket really do feel that older adults have nothing to offer them. I have heard them say it directly occasionally.”

He says that this disdain is often veiled in an explanation of how older adults advice on how they dealt with a problem 20 years ago is not helpful in dealing with similar circumstances today.  I would agree with Matt that any person who thinks along those lines would be falling prey to the same fallacy that Chesterton’s quote in the beginning of this article mentioned.  I would also agree that there are significant numbers of 20-somethings who would think this.  But I don’t think that forms much of the basis for why wise leaders of this movement of young adults are doing what they are doing.

Why are wiser leaders leading this rebellion?  The common cliché is that “leaders lead.”  But I am sure that the truth of that quote goes far beyond stating what leaders do.  The depth of the statement comes from its reflexive nature.  Those leading are often leading because they are leaders.  Leadership is in them.  It is who they are, not just what they do.  Young leaders are doing exactly that.

Steve Robbins, the director of Vineyard Leadership Institute, points out that one of the reasons that churches must church-plant is that young leaders will leave when not given the opportunity to lead.  He point out that this isn’t because these young people are arrogant or rude, but that they feel they have a call from God to lead.  They feel that they can do something to make a difference in the world around them.

But much of Christendom seems to think that any time that younger leaders want to lead that is inspired by some form of insipid disrespectful, ego lead, rebellious zeal that undermines the Church.  For some reason, the Church is one of the few institutions where it is seen as somehow evil for young people to have ambition and a desire to lead.

Paul instructed Timothy to not allow others to look down on him because of his youth (1 Tim 4:12).  He set up Timothy to lead, and took joy in him.  He also taught him how to lead, and instructed that he learn from those more mature.  Isn’t that what any good leader would do?

I think that we primarily bristle against the idea of young Christian leaders in general because it seems to smell a little like ambition.  We all know that ambition is against God’s will…Um…oh wait…is it?  The Bible guards against “selfish ambition” (Gal 5:20, Phil 1:17, Phil 2:3, Jas 3:14, et al.) and “vain conceit” (Phil 2:3).  But the Bible doesn’t decry ambition on the whole.  In fact, it was Paul’s ambition to take the gospel to Rome.  It was King David’s ambition to build God’s temple.  It was Hezekiah’s ambition to rebuild Jerusalem.  Proverbs 25 somewhat cryptically says, “it is the glory of kings to search out a matter.”  One must interpret this as a validation of ambitious pursuits.  If ambition were an unbiblical quality, then those positive examples would be antithetical.

We can see this in Christian history as well.  Was William Wilberrforce’s ambition to eradicate slavery in the British empire against God’s will?  Was Martin Luther’s ambition to return the Church to Biblical truth ungodly rebellion?  How about Mother Theresa’s dream of changing a nation, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a nation free of racism?

Leaders lead.  Young leaders lead.  Some of them lead out of selfish ambition.  Others lead because God built them that way, and for them to exercise the gifts that God made them is glorifying to Him who made them.  Sometimes they will make mistakes.  But they will do what God made them for.  To prevent that is the real rebellion.

I heard Leonard Sweet once say that God leaders in the post-modern Church must lead like a child on a swing set, leaning back into a rich Christian history and tradition, but kicking forward into the newness of God’s present and future calling.  Good leaders will not forsake the wisdom of those who went before them.  They will stand on those elders’ proverbial shoulders.  They will see farther, Christ willing.  They will stand taller.  Some will think that all old ideas are bad, but I bet on the whole that they will embrace those ideas more than many in past generations, and seek to reach out across generations.  The worst thing we could do is to throw out all of the good that this new leadership will do simply because of the ignorance and childishness of a few.   -Ryan

Think love, Piece

merred hill

I have a friend in the ministry who is a big Beatles fan.  We often playfully debate philosophy and music history together.  She included this quote in a recent email, and I thought I would respond.

“Get out there and get peace, think peace, live peace and breathe peace, and you’ll get it as soon as you like.”
John Lennon

I have thoughts about your John Lennon quote.
Now, I know that you don’t just quote him because of his philosophy, but mostly because you are a big Beatles fan…

We have the extreme luxury of being one of the few generations to grow up with almost no understanding of war.  Yes, in my lifetime there has been the Iraq war, Kosovo, Iraq 2, War on terror, and other small conflicts.  But those weren’t of the scale or effect of wars in past generations.  Wars now are things we hear about on the evening news, not things that actually claim the lives of our friends and relatives (for the most part).
Think back on what it must have been like to live through WW2.  Germans were using their submarines to destroy ships off of the East coast.  Hundreds of ships were sunk right off of our coast–even passenger cruise ships.  Japan attacked HI and we were under constant threat of invasion on the West coast.  At one point late in the war Japan launched helium balloons with bombs attached into the air.  Those fell in Alaska, but no one was ever hurt from them.

Women in America couldn’t buy leggings (which were a fashion essential back then) because the fabric was needed for parachutes.  Other things that were rationed state-side: tires (most people couldn’t buy them), many cosmetics, gas, cars, certain grocery products.  Women and children saved money for the government war effort.  Cities had “bomb drills” where everyone turned off all the lights and hid in their closets and basements.  It was a difficult and scary time.  This all is not to mention the fact that we were fighting a war on two fronts (Japan and the Axis powers of Europe), and there was the very real possibility for much of the war that we could lose.

Why did all of this happen?  Evil.  When Hitler invaded Poland and Austria the British PM, Neville Chamberlain said “We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a program would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators.”  He signed a peace treaty with Germany, allowing them to keep Poland, Austria, and giving them parts of Czechoslovakia and said “I believe it is peace for our time…peace with honor.”  Merely months later, Germany attacked France and Britain.

Fast forward to the 1960’s: America was involved in a war that we probably shouldn’t have been involved in, Vietnam.  It was a very unpopular war.  We weren’t fighting in a way that we could win, and against an enemy we couldn’t really identify.  Young men all over America lived under the real threat that they could be shipped off to Asia to fight in a war that they didn’t really believe in.  Those that went either came home in body bags, or with permanent mental and emotional scars.

In response to this artists started talking about peace and love, and how if everyone just gave peace a chance, we could create a world without sorrow, greed, or war.  There is an amazing truth to that.  If everyone gave peace and love a chance, that is what would happen.  That is our view of heaven, really.  “The wolf will live with the lamb…the lion and the yearling together…and a child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6).  Peace.  Perfect.
On a plane flight recently I saw a movie called The Invention of Lying.  It isn’t a movie that I can recommend you see, but like most things I watch, I see a tie in to the cosmic and spiritual reality that surrounds us.  In the movie Ricky Gervais’ character lives in a world where no one has ever lied.  The concept of telling a falsehood has just never been thought of.  Somehow he accidentally figures this out.  Hilarity ensues.  He ends up using this power to take advantage of everyone around him.  He uses it to their detriment and his benefit.

The reason I mention this example is that if we all decided to live in a world with no guns, no army, no violence, none of that would actually be what would happen.  Instead we would live in a world where someone, somewhere would realize that suddenly he/she had the power to steal everything from us and hurt us.  We would be led off to slaughter like sheep.  The end result would be a world of slavery and pain—War and chaos, not peace and love.

The only way for this heaven to come about would be for all to place control in the hands of a being who both has ultimate power, and is permanently incorruptible, a king who is perfectly benevolent.  I wait for that day.  A day when all can lay down arms with no possibility of violence propagated against us.

This cannot happen as long as there is sin in the world.  Sin is at its heart selfishness.  Anytime we say “but I want…” we are walking a path toward sin.  This does not mean that we should have an ascetic view and allow ourselves to be beaten down by evil under the guise of living Christianly, either.  In fact, the Bible tells us that we are in a war.  That we must fight.  Our war is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil that exist around us.

Throughout the last 2000 years there has been a dichotomy between those who cling to Jesus world as a call to embody peace, over and against those Old Testament passages where God tells the Israelites to war against other peoples.  This dichotomy is usually a false one.  Jesus gave great instruction to Christians to be known as those who turn the other cheek (which if you study is actually a course in radical non-violent resistance—read Martin Luther King), and to be known by our love.  We cannot believe that Jesus intended that message to mean that countries never defended themselves against hostile forces.  Think about this: what would Jesus want Neville Chamberlain or FDR to have done in 1938-1940?  Would he have had them sign peace agreement after peace agreement while Hitler came marching through Europe killing millions?  I don’t think so.  Either way, it isn’t as simple as ‘think happy thoughts and buy Hitler a coke.’

Artists and musicians often live in an idealized world of symbolism, beauty, and absolutes.  But the world is seldom a thing of perfect beauty or absolutes.  We are all shades of grey, striving to become repristinated, yes all the while getting a little grayer.  When the musician sees the world as different from their dream, it seems out-of-joint and wrong.  That is the greatest truth.  The world is a marred painting.  We can see the beauty there, but we are all ever-aware that some black stain has covered its surface.  Sadly, we cannot paint it back to perfect.  We cannot remove the stain, only try and cover it with something much less than the original, and every attempt reminds us all the more that it is not as perfect as it was intended.  Trying to fix the problems of violence and pain with anything other than the rule and reign of Christ is just as effective as trying to paint the grass greener or the sky bluer.

Some Videos from Asia

Here are just some of the videos that Peichi and I made in Asia.  We made them mostly for our youth group in Texas.  I hope you enjoy watching even close to as much as we did making them.  Several places, crowds gathered as we made the videos and asked me afterward if I was someone famous.  Of course, I am.