On the Rap Discussion (Kinda). But mostly on other stuff.

Christians are always looking for the devil in the details. One of our family traits is to be proud of the fact that we can discern. So in Christianity there is a huge industry of discernmentalism that Christians entrust their minds to for direction in a dangerous and devilish world.

No one really ever understood how the devil was in the backbeat of rock-n-roll, the 2 and the 4, but a few men with the powers of discernment that no one else had declared it to be so. It was an easy sell because rock-n-roll in the sixties and seventies was almost exclusively the expression of the anti-authoritarianism of the sexual revolution. So, while the lyrics were certainly bad, the culture around the lyrics was blatantly rebellious, it made sense to people to buy into the fact that there was demonism in the backbeat. And drums. And the electric guitar.

It wasn’t obvious, but once the teachers said it was so, it sure seemed obvious.

The problem is it’s still not obvious and it is even more less obvious now that the rock style is a unique musical form that is shared by many cultures, not just the hippie culture of the seventies. Some today will insist that this is proof that other cultures (i.e. CCM) are eroding and promoting the same things that rock expressed almost exclusively in the seventies, rebellion and sex. But it takes a much more sophisticated discernmentalism now. And discernmentalism is self-propagating industry: claim  to have unique insight and sound the alarm, the masses respond obediently because they don’t want to be influenced by the devil, and since they cannot actually see it for themselves they begin to depend on you for insight into everything else in their lives.

Hey! I saw first-hand the evangelical/fundamentalism crowds that financed Bill Gothard. Since his discernmentalism was so valuable to people, they looked to him for insight on their bowel movements. They lost their minds to him because they believed he saw the devil in the details that wasn’t immediately obvious to them.

People who categorically say that the rap style is worldly (which is Christianese for sin) do so against the knack for the obvious that God has given to all His children. If you don’t get it, don’t worry. Give them a listen, of course. Think about it. But don’t go home and burn everything in your library that has drums. You don’t need discernmentalists finding the devil everywhere because the works of the flesh are obvious. To everyone. The Apostle said so:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

Basically, says Paul, worry about what’s obvious, what’s evident. It doesn’t take a scholar to recognize “fits of anger.” But if you’re buying into ideas that are not obvious, you’re probably selling your soul. “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17). The more nuanced and hardcore the “discernment” the more dependent followers are on the “teacher.” But, “you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge” (1 John 2:20). The Christian life is just obvious. This is the repeated theme of the New Testament.  1 John essentially says over and over again, “People, it’s evident. It’s clear. The one that practices righteousness is righteous and the one who doesn’t isn’t. Duh. Oh, and by sinning  we mean lawlessness as in contrary to God’s law. You know: the obvious. Period.”

It’s why the same writer said that we don’t need teachers. Because if you need teachers to show you something that you and others couldn’t see otherwise, you’re on the wrong track. God’s teachers explain what’s obvious to believers over and over again so that they don’t get waylaid by what’s not obvious.

Sacred Mundanity

I have experienced grief in my life because I abhorred the mundane. I want to read Chrysostom, not clean my desk. I want to study Isaiah, not take out the trash. I want to listen analytically to Mozart, not shovel the walk. I want to debate theology with a pastor friend, not play Trouble for the umpteenth time with my six-year-old. I want to preach sermons, not file papers. I’ll travel to the heart of Africa to hand out a gospel tract before I’ll get the oil changed in my car. I want anything as long as it is not mundane. And thus I prove the rebellion of my heart, the delusion of my proud mind.  Continue reading

Thin Christlikeness

There is a decidedly ironic and humorous typo on the Northland website that will probably be corrected soon, but Dissidens has been quick to provide a satirical commentary. (A screen shot of the post is below. Notice the last line: “grow thin Christ likeness.”)

It is our desire that this endeavor will create and strengthen interactions between students and staff members, leading to opportunities for Gospel-centered conversation and mutual encouragement toward grow thin Christ likeness.

Thin Christlikeness. Certainly this is probably an honest albeit unintended assessment of what results from discipleship while watching March Madness. Though clearly the ambition is nobler and the aspiration true growth in Christ, it does afford an opportunity to discuss the culture of American Christianity, particularly in the places where future leaders are being trained.

I must say that while I am an enthusiastic amateur bracketologist currently being destroyed by my wife and eleven-year-old daughter and barely ahead of my five-year-old son, I find myself wincing in agreement with Dissidens, a person that I very much enjoy disliking. I personally think (and don’t we all want to know what I personally think?) that the whole month of activities surrounding the NCAA tournament sounds like a lot of fun for a bible college campus, and if I were there I would probably be first in line to try a half-court shot for a free sweatshirt or whatever the prize may be. I have always had a huge addiction to free anything.

I take no umbrage with fun. Even at bible college.

But, let’s be real. If anything shows “thin Christ likeness” it’s the American evangelical bible college gaggle of spirituality. Bible colleges are too often the epitome of the church youth group in which the naive youth director feels it is his calling in life to prove to young people that they can be Christian and have fun too.

My college years were spent in both a secular environment and in bible college. While in Toulouse, France I clung to Christian fellowship and discipleship was all about prayer, resisting the wiles of the Devil, pursuing purity, witnessing in hostile environments, fasting, and spiritual affections. In bible college I metamorphosed from borderline mystical ascetic to class clown, becoming class and student body president and advancing frivolity with all the zeal of Saul of Tarsus. I was a Christian and having fun too.

Discipleship on the bible college campus was hanging out at the professors’ homes eating pizza and enjoying a few more liberties than were allowed in the men’s dormitory. Before I went to bible college and while I was in a secular environment I shared the feelings of Jim Elliot.

No ascetic, Jim enjoyed to the full all that he believed God had given him to enjoy, but he felt it wisest to exclude from the sphere of activity anything which had the power to distract him from the pursuit of the Will.  .  .  . He believed Christ to be utterly sufficient for the entire fulfillment of the personality, and was ready to trust Him literally for this.

But as college kids often do, I got drunk. I got drunk on American silliness and in my delusion actually thought it sounded very cool to justify every recreation as a “fun and discipleship.” Jesus said, “If you would be my disciple, take up your cross.” Giggle, giggle.

Thin Christlikeness will get offended by this, of course. It will be assumed that anyone who agrees with Dissidens on this matter is cynical, bitter, judgmental, and anti-smile. They might even assume that I am against all the festivities at my alma-mater surrounding the NCAA Championship. This, however, is a simplistic analysis. I’ve actually filled out two brackets and am intensely engaged in this hugely entertaining month. (I’ve picked Michigan State to go all the way.) But I think we do ourselves a disservice when we insist that we have to put a spiritual spin on everything: fun AND “discipleship.”

Serious minded Christians actually think you can have fun as a disciple, but that fun is not discipleship. One has famously said that there is no difference between the sacred and the secular. The problem is that there is.

We also do ourselves and our young people a huge disservice when we take sacred concepts and insinuate frivolity. The word “chapel” is meaningless now. Why not call it what it is: “school assembly”? But when you have “chapel” (understood by most in the world as a place of, or designated service for, worship) in which the sports guys discuss their brackets it undermines true seriousness about real discipleship and worship. And are all students required to go to the silly chapels?

I say this as one who personally orchestrated circus atmospheres that burst through the previous ceiling of frivolous “chapels” at Northland. I didn’t have good sense then. And I still don’t mind a good party. But I think 19 year olds aren’t really understanding what the real world is like where, in most places, discipleship is not fun.

I can’t help but wonder if there are not some students on these bible college campuses that are like Jim Elliot, the student at Wheaton many years ago:

My spirit is all a ruffle again at the vast, inexplicable complexities of humankind, and the careless, ineffective manner we fool ‘fundamentalists’ use in answering the cry of hearts which cannot understand themselves.

We American Christians cannot understand ourselves. But we understand March Madness. And we have just enough knowledge of ourselves to know that if discipleship is not fun we probably want none of it.


What is personal holiness?

John Owen ministered to my heart with his answer (I add my emphasis and modernization):

Holiness is an internal change or renovation of our souls, our minds, our wills, and affections by the grace; a universal compliance with the will of God in all duties of obedience and abstinences from sin out of a principle of faith and love; a designation of all the actions of life unto the glory of God by Jesus Christ, through the gospel.

Wow. Pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14).

Barrenness, Adoption Fraud, and Trust

*Update: Sorry. I can’t figure out why the video won’t embed. The link is at the bottom of the post.

“Three things are never satisfied; four never say “Enough”: Sheol, the barren womb. . .” (Proverbs 30:16).

Barrenness, adoption, infertility. These are themes that interest me because they have played a huge part in my life and in my ministry. Nearly every month I get a call or a letter from a barren couple seeking counsel on how to cope with their trial or how to pursue adoption. Like fire, like a dry and waterless land, and like Sheol, the barren womb craves. Learning to trust God and believe in His providence while craving and yearning is one of the supreme discipleship tests for the Christian couple who has been called to barrenness.

This recent story of an adoption scam caught my attention because the couple openly admits that they ignored red flags. The red flags in their situation were so blatantly obvious one wonders how they could have missed it. But craving is a strong emotion the blinds reason. This is why faith must contain the cravings we have in life.

When my wife and I were contacted by our daughter’s birthmother seeking to place her baby for adoption, we had already been through some disappointing situations. None were as costly as the couple’s in this story, but we had learned in barrenness James 1:5, that the trying of our faith produces patience. Patience, we grew to understand, is the quiet submission of our will and emotions even in circumstances beyond our control. And, today, I would add: even when things seem too good to be true.

Watch the story here and click on the link to watch the full 17 minutes of drivel that comes from the girl’s mouth. You’ll marvel that someone could have been so easily duped. But desire is so strong, it’s blinding.


Music for the Soul

“So Saul was refreshed and was well. . .” (1 Samuel 16:23). Continue reading

A Conference for Women

Depending who you are, finding the kind of women speakers you want for your conference is challenging. And we are whoever that is. Years ago my wife told me that so many ladies retreats or conferences were dumbed down or redundant (“be submitted to your husband” and “love your kids”). We have a great conference that is very affordable with great speakers. As always, we have Holly Stratton (a favorite with our ladies) and this year we will enjoy the ministries of Carolyn McCulley and Wendy Alsup as well. The theme is relevant: “A Woman’s Treasure: The Jewel of Contentment.” Check out the website.



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