How to Lose in Sports

I hate losing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a card game, a touch-football game, or Scattergories. Losing is like being forced to drink a tall glass of cottage cheese while watching your puppy get kicked by the opposing team.

One of the worst days in UO history.

One of the worst days in UO history.

I know that sounds slightly extreme, but it used to be a lot worse for me. Whenever I’d lose or my favorite team would lose, it used to depress me for days. Not minutes. Not hours. Days. The worst was whenever my beloved Oregon Ducks would lose a football game.

Growing up, the Ducks used to lose often, so fall was always a rough time for my heart. But once I hit high school, winning became a regular thing for the Ducks. It got to the point that in my freshman year of college—attending the University of Oregon, of course—the Ducks were well on their way to go to the national championship game, led by the Heisman-trophy-candidate quarterback, Dennis Dixon.

But while playing Arizona, Dixon’s knee gave out, a season-ending injury. Without their starting quarterback, the Ducks flailed and lost the game, forfeiting all national championship aspirations. They limped through the remainder of the season.

Needless to say, I was devastated. This was the worst loss of them all. I wasn’t just depressed, I was angry. I felt like this had been some sick cosmic joke, to come so far over the years just to fall flat. It was unjust.

Trying to cope with the loss, some friends wanted to watch a movie. If something else occupied our minds, then maybe we would feel better. Someone chose the movie Blood Diamond, which had come out on DVD not too long before. If you don’t know, Blood Diamond is a movie about conflict diamonds and how they are used to fund rebel armies who use child soldiers to wage their wars. It’s a gruesome but very well-made film.

There’s this one scene in the movie where the rebel general invades a village looking for new boys to join his army and slaves to mine for diamonds. The general massacres much of the village and rounds up all the males, boys and men. Hands get chopped off. Mothers get shot. It’s horrible.

I remember watching the scene and feeling disturbed because the crimes committed were so wrong. But then I suddenly felt more disturbed. I realized that although I was moved by this injustice, I was not angered by it—not like how I was angered by the supposed injustice of the Duck game. I was more furious about a football game than I was about an evil man brainwashing children to kill people. I remember thinking, I am a horrible human being. Football doesn’t matter as much as people.

Jesus took me to the mat for that one. Thankfully, from that point on I’ve had a sobered perspective on losing. Sometimes I have an initial emotional reflex, but it’s always tempered with that memory.

A couple years later, the Oregon Ducks actually ended up going the national championship game but we lost because of a last second field goal. I was fine. Watching the game was actually one of the most fun experiences of my college career.

I’m not saying losing should be easy. I understand the pain of losing a game. In a high school soccer playoff game, I missed a penalty kick that would’ve tied the game. Instead, we lost because of me. The pain is real, especially for the players and coaches. I’m not going to take that away from anyone. But I do know that sports is just a part of life, not life itself. While we’re losing games, people are losing loved ones. We should consider ourselves blessed when the most traumatic event in our life is just losing a game.

At the same time, we shouldn’t devalue the losses. Don’t pretend like they never happened. They’re tools to teach us, grow us. In many ways, you learn more when you lose than when you win. There is such a thing as getting back on the horse, stepping back into the ring, and the come-from-behind win.

Everyone is going to lose at some point, definitely in sports but also in life. The question is not if you will lose, but how will you react.

The Great Gatsby, Ecclesiastes, and Hope

In light of The Great Gatsby coming out on DVD tomorrow, I thought I’d offer several-months-old thoughts on the movie.

SPOILER ALERT: This is a discussion of one of the main themes of The Great Gatsby. As such, significant plot points will be revealed. You have been warned.

the-great-gatsby-poster1For those of you who only read SparkNotes in high school, The Great Gatsby (both the movie and the book) follows the wanna-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he moves to New York City in 1922, an era of loose morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kingpins, and soaring stocks. Wanting to hit it big in the stock market, Nick moves next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her adulterous, Old Money husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

Jay Gatsby is a mystery. Every weekend he opens up his castle in West Egg to the most powerful and influential—New York politicians, Broadway actors, silent-screen stars, and gangsters. Few have ever seen him. Some theorize he doesn’t even exist. Nick is drawn into this puzzle as he receives an official invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties—the only one ever to have gotten one. The two meet and become friends.

During the course of their friendship, Gatsby reveals to Nick that he’s in love with Daisy and has been for five years. He lost her when he was shipped out to fight in the war. During that time, Daisy got married to Tom. Now, Gatsby has come to win her back. Every move he made for the past five years has been about winning Daisy’s heart. Every party. Every dollar earned. All with a picture of Daisy in his mind.

All Gatsby asks of his new friend is that he invite cousin Daisy to tea. Nick obliges and begins a journey to find out that maybe money really can’t buy everything.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, the jury is split on the movie, almost 50/50. Some think it was a spectacular film in its own way but others believe it falls far short of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original masterpiece.

I did like the movie although I don’t think I would buy the DVD. Going into the theater I placed my expectations on hold because I knew it was impossible to fully capture the essence of the novel and display it on screen. I thought DiCaprio hit his part out of the park. I really can’t imagine anyone else as Gatsby anymore. Content-wise, I could have done with less sexual content in the movie. There’s sexual sin in the book but it’s implied and not displayed for all to see.

All that said, I actually couldn’t stop thinking about the movie for weeks because The Great Gatsby was one of the most honest movies I’ve ever seen. Most movies (and other media) paint this idea or picture of life that’s idealistic, unrealistic, and actually quite delusional. In real life, there are consequences, there aren’t always happy endings, and sin never pays. Regardless of it’s potential downfalls as art, The Great Gatsby echoes the book of Ecclesiastes—that life is meaningless under the curse. Here are some quick takeaways about the meaninglessness displayed.

** In case you didn’t see the first spoiler warning, this is your last chance to turn back! **

THE MEANINGLESSNESS OF WEALTH / EXCESS

613969-the-great-gatsbyLife was plush in New York for the few super-rich. Their parties that would seem over-the-top even today. The movie shows all the glitz and glamor of the age. It’s bright, loud, looks great, and looks fun. Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom have no want in the world.

Fast cars. Massive houses. Dozens of servants. Decadent meals. Parties over-flowing with every luxury. These people are living the life.

And they’re miserable.

No amount of money or possessions brings any of these characters lasting satisfaction. They’re always searching for the next thing. All the parties in the world can’t bring them happiness. In the middle of a party, Nick even asks, “What is this all for then?” The question goes unanswered. It hangs there. Empty.

Throughout the story there’s a general feeling that Gatsby’s wealth is fake—all veneer and no substance. In the book, Nick even discovers that the shelves are filled with empty book covers, designed to give the impression that they are real. Underneath the surface of it all, the money is not truly real—we find out later it’s actually mobster money—and it’s not going to last.

Gatsby has thousands of “friends” who stick around only because they get to partake in his massive celebrations. But after Gatsby dies, no one shows up to his funeral except Nick. All Gatsby’s possessions are seized by his mobster “friends.” Gatsby’s wealth could do nothing for him. It was meaningless.

THE MEANINGLESSNESS OF PLEASURE

carey-mulligan-600Not only was life plush for the characters of The Great Gatsby but it was also full of pleasure. Although it takes place during the Prohibition, Nick comments that it actually made alcohol cheaper. The alcohol definitely flows like the River Jordan in this movie. Nick constantly gets “roaring drunk” every chance he gets. The parties all end with people passed out on the floor.

People also search for pleasure through sex. Burlesque dancers fill the party stages. The drunken party-goers engage in sensual activity. And the most significant is Tom and his notorious penchant for adultery. Gatsby and Daisy also have sex and try to rekindle old love.

Once again, all the pleasure in the world cannot bring these people satisfaction. In fact, most of the pleasure they strove after ended up bringing them pain. By the end of the story, Nick is diagnosed as “morbidly alcoholic,” Tom’s mistress is dead, Gatsby is dead, and all the parties amounted to nothing. It too was meaningless.

THE MEANINGLESSNESS OF LIFE

The tone of life’s meaninglessness in the movie is a lot less than in the book, but you can still see it. Life is not all it’s cracked up to be. Tom lives in the shadow of his past athletic glories. Daisy lives with the burden of lost innocence and lost love. Nick never achieves his goal of hitting it big in the stock market, and this is after already abandoning a dream to be a writer. Gatsby is abandoned because of Daisy’s carelessness and murdered for a crime he didn’t commit.

They all receive great pain. For those who died, the world kept on turning as if nothing happened. There are no heroes in this story. No matter how hard Gatsby tried, he could not repeat the past. He dedicated everything to his dream of Daisy. Instead, he achieved nothing. It too was meaningless.

the_great_gatsby_trailer

HOPE

So now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, I want to let you know that there is hope. The most redeeming thing about Jay Gatsby is his ability to hope at almost delusional levels. Nick says about Gatsby, “He was the most hopeful people I’ve ever met.”

Gatsby’s hope was that he’d be able to recapture the time he had with Daisy five years earlier. This was his dream—his obsession—and he sacrificed everything to reach out for it. In the midst of all the meaninglessness of life, Gatsby found something to hope for.

His dream failed him but it does show something about the human heart. We need to hope for something. We were designed to hope. That’s the only thing that can keep us going when faced with what life throws our way.

Since we were created to hope that means there is something out, or someone, who can satisfy that hope. His name is Jesus. He is the source of everlasting pleasure. He is the only One who can bring our life meaning. He is the only One who can bring real life. He is the hope the human heart longs for.

Rethinking Apologetics

One of my fellow pastors calls me “Cult-Killing Kyle”—to my nausea-inducing chagrin—because I’m really passionate about apologetics. (But to be clear, not about killing people from cults. That’s bad.) Apologetics is the art and science of defending the Christian faith. The term comes from the word “defense” (in the Greek, apologia) used in 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Many Christians try to accomplish this through carefully crafted arguments. Their ultimate goal is tear down an opponent’s objections, hopefully concluding with a conversion. This mindset holds that if people were shown sufficient evidence for Christianity, then they could not help but believe.

No one's going to get this joke at all, but I still think it's funny.

No one’s going to get this joke at all, but I still think it’s funny.

But with the advent of postmodernism, people are no longer concerned with finding the truth but their truth. They see truth to be based on experience not evidence. The good thing is people are more open to hear opposing viewpoints. The problem is you can answer all their objections and they will walk away totally unfazed about their beliefs.

Being a pastor in Eugene, Oregon—a city fueled by the University of Oregon and known as the hippie capital of the Northwest—I get to interact with many who’ve taken postmodernism as far as it can go. One student told me with a straight face that morality does not exist and that Hitler and the Holocaust was a neutral matter. I then asked him, perhaps inappropriately, how he’d feel if his family was brutally murdered in front of him. Same answer. Morally neutral. I slowly walked away a little afraid.

How do you argue with someone like that? Perhaps there isn’t a way.

Through my many failures in apologetics I’ve become a firm believer that you cannot argue someone into heaven. I’m not saying throw out apologetics all together. I’m calling for us to rethink how we go about it. Of course, if someone has burning questions about the faith, they should be answered. But that is not sufficient. If someone is to be convinced of the Gospel, something deeper must be touched. You have to hit the heart.

Unbelief is not an intellectual problem but a heart problem (Psalm 14:1; Matthew 13:15). People don’t have trouble believing Christianity because they haven’t seen the evidence. They may say that, but that’s not what’s going on. They don’t want to believe. They willingly choose something else over God, exchanging the truth for a lie (Romans 1:18-25). Pharaoh had evidence in the form of vicious plagues, but he still hardened his heart (Exodus 8:19). There were some who saw the risen Christ and still didn’t believe it (Matthew 28:17).

When people convert to Christianity, it’s not because they finally saw all the proof. It’s because their heart was changed. Even C.S. Lewis wasn’t converted from his atheism because of rational arguments. He’d heard everything there was to hear in support of Christianity and was not convinced. It wasn’t until he was “surprised by joy”—the joy he realized he was meant to experience—that he reluctantly chose to follow Christ.

This doesn’t mean our faith is based on zero evidence. Christianity has mountains of evidence. Because people choose not to believe in God, they also choose not to see the evidence.

So, how do we share and defend the Gospel in this postmodern age? We must engage a person’s heart. What is their deepest desire? How are they trying to fulfill themselves? What is their deepest hurt? How are they seeking to save themselves?

A few years ago, a couple friends and myself were in a debate with two Mormon missionaries. I’d compiled a literal binder full of stuff to discredit everything, ranging from the Nephites all the way to the magic onesies. It didn’t work. After a few hours of getting nowhere, one of my friends asked them, “If you got hit by a bus today, do you know with absolute certainty if you’d go to heaven?” Both the missionaries hung their heads low, staring at the ground, searching for an answer. After about thirty seconds of silence, one of the men answered with a quivering voice, “I don’t know.” My friend had cut straight to their hearts—in a belief system where salvation is earned through good works, you can never know if you’ve done enough. What a heavy burden to carry.

One of the best ways to speak to another person’s heart is just by sharing yours. You don’t need a Ph.D. in theology. You know how you’ve been transformed. That story will resonate with people because their heart is longing for the same thing.

I once spent forty-five minutes arguing with an atheist on the UO campus, answering all his questions. After every reply instead of relenting, he kept bringing up more arguments. Answering one question would spawn three more. I had a guy with me I was training in ministry who hadn’t gone through any formal theological schooling. The atheist, tired of hearing my voice, turned to my friend and asked him to speak up. He nervously said, “I don’t know much about all this science and creation and stuff. But this is what I do know.” He then shared about his redemption out of a brutal life, about how Christ came crashing into his world and wrecked him. By the end of the story, tears were streaming down the atheist’s face. He longed for the same redemption.

The Apostle Peter is not wrong that you should be ready to defend the truth. Do it with “gentleness and respect,” declaring why you have hope—because Jesus gave you a new heart, a new life. Be honest, be open, and trust the Gospel to do the rest (Romans 1:16).

Les Miserables and My Hope for Christian Art

The other day, my wife and I had the privilege of watching the film Les Miserables for the first time since seeing it in theaters. When we first saw it, we got stuck watching it from the fourth row of the whole theater. I was so close I could see up Hugh Jackman’s nose, but after holding my neck in a weird position for three hours it wasn’t the greatest experience of my life.

Les-miserables-movie-poster1This time around, I got to watch the film while enjoying the comfort of my couch, and I have to say that it’s an amazing movie. I know it’s not for everyone (Spoiler alert: 99.9% of the dialogue is sung), but it’s such a powerful tale about loss and redemption. The movie is intimately shot with extreme close ups and many times not with the intention to make the actor look attractive. It’s meant to be a raw and visceral experience of injustice, death, poverty, but also hope. And the music, Oh my, so good. I knew the story, had seen the movie before, and it still almost left me in tears.

During the movie’s finale, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that this might be the best piece of Christian art I’ve ever seen. To be clear, I personally define “Christian art” as being any sort of art that communicates messages typically exclusive to Christianity. I understand that many people nowadays flip out at the term “Christian art,” denying it’s existence and saying clever things like, “I didn’t know a movie could say the sinners prayer and be baptized.” Hardy, har, har. 

For me, the distinction is helpful because many things can communicate messages that are not exclusive to Christianity. What is exclusive to Christianity is grace and redemption. It’s the Gospel, albeit in an incomplete form. The work of art doesn’t have to be created by a Christian (Gasp!). It doesn’t even have to have a conversion scene in it (although Les Mis does). If that work of art can make me walk away and glory in the Gospel more than before, than yes, I claim the right to dub that art “Christian.”

Anyways. I didn’t come to rant about that. I came to rant about how I think more Christian art needs to take a few tips out of the Les Mis playbook in order to better honor the Gospel we hold so dear.

**Some spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, shame on you.**

SHOW THE ABSOLUTE HOPELESSNESS OF LIFE

Life is hard. It’s full of darkness, evil, sin, loss, and injustice. Les Miserables does not shy away from the brokenness life can bring. The title can be translated to “The Miserable Ones,” and these people are truly miserable. For example, Fantine (Anne Hathaway’s performance was worthy of her Oscar) is a poor young mother, abandoned by her lover, and unjustly fired from her job at a factory. To support her daughter, Cosette, Fantine sells her hair and some of her teeth. Eventually Fantine sells her body as a prostitute. Because of her poverty and probably prostitution, she then gets sick and dies. That’s her story.

Is there a place in Christian art for someone so raw, desperate, and empty? It’s scary to think about, but I almost feel like if Fantine would not be welcome in our art, that she also would not be welcome in our churches.

But the tragedy continues. Almost all of the characters, main and supporting, die in the course of the movie. Most die without realizing their dreams, without achieving success. Most injustices are not corrected. Most wrongs are not righted. And then everyone dies.

This is life and we cannot ignore it. This is what people experience everyday. It’s dirty, vulgar, unsettling, and far from proper. Everyone knows that life is broken. Something is terribly wrong and it needs to be fixed. They can feel it in their bones. But how often does our art reflect this reality? Can people relate with what Christians are showing onscreen or putting in our books. This is one of the main critiques of Thomas Kinkade paintings. It whitewashes the reality of life and eliminates the darkness.

The darkness is there. Everyone knows it. We should not be afraid to acknowledge it’s existence or even depict it. The Bible isn’t.

This is the same book that holds stories of apocalyptic destruction, infanticide, and rape. The third human being who ever lived killed the fourth, his own brother. A priest, supposedly a man of God, cut his personal prostitute up and sent her body parts to different corners of the country. Job lost his wealth and his family. The people of God were conquered and ravaged by pagans. The Son of God was betrayed by one of his closest friends, tortured, and then nailed to a cross. The Bible is a brutal book.

Depiction of evil does not constitute approval of it. You’re using darkness for a purpose.

It’s not darkness for darkness’ sake. Nihilism is not the answer. Ultimately, the darkness serves a greater purpose—to display how great the light is. Without great evil we run the risk of watering down whatever salvation is at work. Would Jesus’ death be as powerful if He didn’t die on a cross but peacefully in His sleep?

The purity of the light can only be felt when it’s contrasted with the darkness. The strength and nobility of the hero can only be understood when he’s contrasted with a ruthless, evil villain. People have to know what death tastes like before  they can appreciate life.

SHOW A REDEMPTION THAT RESONATES

Life is dark, but the beautiful thing is that there’s hope. Hope for restoration. Hope for forgiveness. Hope for redemption.

In Les Mis, this reality is best shown through the life of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Valjean is first shown as a hardened prisoner, literally a slave of the law, for stealing a loaf of bread. After his release from bondage on parol, Valjean tries to cope with the stigma of his past. Desperate, he tries to steal the silver from a church where he was shown hospitality. But he’s caught by soldiers and brought before the priest. Valjean knows he’s finished. But instead of accusing Valjean, the priest tells the soldiers that he gave Valjean the silver and then proceeds to give him priceless candlesticks. Valjean is speechless and dumbfounded. He did something deplorable, gets caught, and yet walks away from it a wealthy man. What follows is a crisis of faith and the best onscreen portrayal of a conversion I’ve ever seen (I’m actually not sure it’s possible to create a better one). He has a new life, finds a new name, and chooses to live for God and to help others for the rest of his life. Valjean doesn’t live a perfect life, but it’s one that’s forever marked by that day of redemption.

Valjean’s story shows that in the middle of all this hopelessness, there is hope, even if it’s just a glimpse of the sun over the horizon. People deep down want to know there is hope, they long for redemption. But they don’t want a fake salvation—one that can’t confront the darkness. They want something strong enough to deliver them from the Valley of the Shadow of death. They want a power that can resurrect. They want to know that self-sacrificing love is worth it. They want to know that virtue can stand in the face of opposition. They want to know redemption is possible.

This is why the Gospel is so powerful. It doesn’t cower away from death, sin, and evil. It confronts those enemies head on and defeats them all. The Gospel then invites for us to partake in that victory. There is no greater message we can portray with our art.

I’m not saying this will be easy. Good art takes time effort, and failure. But it’s worth the effort. Art, particularly stories, has a way of impacting people that straight lectures on systematic theology cannot. It infuses truth into their hearts when they don’t even realize it. It’s able to infiltrate past all the skeptic and nihilistic guards and bring a little light. This is why C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia. This is why I think Christians should keep making art.

I’m definitely not the guy for the job. But after seeing Les Miserables, I know it’s possible and that gives me hope.

 

A Response to Rachel Held Evans and the Millennial Exodus from the Church

Rachel Held Evans, popular blogger and best-selling author, has an article on CNN.com that’s created quite the frenzy on the interwebs. The last time I checked, the article had been shared 163,000 times on Facebook. The piece is titled, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church,” and it’s striking more chords than a youth worship leader. Evans has also invited people to join in the conversation, hence my blog post.

In the article, Evans seeks to diagnose why so many young adults are fleeing much of America’s churches. She believes the cause of the exodus is because millennials are finding less of what they value in the church—and please don’t suggest to her that it’s found in “hipper worship bands.”

Evans states:

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

In short, the church needs to change or it will become obsolete.

Personally, I’m smack in the middle of millennial generation (24). I’m also pastor at a church, so I have some stakes in this game. I know my voice is just a drop in the blogosphere ocean and that there have already been some great responses to Evans herehere, and here, [and here] but I wanted to add my two cents.

WHERE EVANS IS SORT OF CORRECT

Not everything Evans has to say is incorrect. I agree that many churches do need to change but not because millennials are leaving. They need to change because they’ve wandered from the truth of the Bible.

Many churches rely on the power of politics to save them, not the Gospel. Many churches rely on emotional experiences to fuel their worship, not an intelligent faith. Many churches care more about preserving their own comfort, not the souls of those around them. Many churches believe they are without sin, not sinners saved by grace. Many churches care more about the amount in attendance, not the individual.

There are many things wrong with the churches in our country and in the churches around the world. In my own church. People sin, therefore the church is full of sinners. Sinful people will jockey for positions. Sinful people will gossip and commit adultery. When a church is full of sinful people then the church will be full of sin. But then again, that’s kind of the point. Isn’t it? Jesus didn’t marry a spotless bride. He married her to make her spotless. We are all in process of healing and the church is the hospital.

Does that excuse the sin that occurs in the church? No. Churches should continually evaluate themselves and repent of sins committed. When repentance does not happen in a church, that’s when you can tell something is really off.

When I talk to people who have left the church, millennial and all other, many times it turns out because they were never shown that church was worth it. They were always preached to about the truth but they never saw the truth actually lived out.

I have friends who have grown up every day of their lives in church, hearing that marriage is sacred. Then they get to college and find out their parents are getting divorced because the father or mother had an affair. It’s no surprise that they are repulsed by all the traditional marriage talk. All they’ve seen are empty words. In their minds, all this church talk is pointless.

Enough with empty words. The church needs to first believe that the truth does work—that the Gospel has enough power within itself to save anyone (Romans 1:16). It’s a message that has sparked revival regardless of persecution or zeitgeist. Jesus promised that if the church was built on the Gospel, then the gates of hell could not even prevail against it (Matthew 16:18-19). I think it can survive a few angst-filled twenty-somethings.

WHERE EVANS IS INCORRECT

I think one of the biggest problems with Evans’ evaluation is she doesn’t recognize that millennials are at least partially responsible for their own exodus from the church.

Yes, I know many have been hurt by people in the church. Yes, I know the church can be frustrating at times. But millennials need to stop playing the victim. Regardless of what’s happened to them in the past, they still get to make their own choices. They have the same Bible that their parents have. And millennials are willfully leaving the church.

Why are they leaving? Whenever I talk to someone who has vacated the church, they typically voice one of the reasons that Evans states in her article. But I’ve found there’s usually something deeper going on. Even if all those things Evans listed in her article were found in a church, I still don’t think a large majority would go to church. This is proven by the fact that there are whole denominations who meet her criteria and they’re actually seeing a decline in attendance across the board.

Millennials are not leaving the church because they have no other choice but to desert the sinking ship. They’re leaving because they don’t care about the church. They don’t like being under authority or having someone call them out for their sin. They want an institution that looks just like them and when they can’t have it, they huff off the basketball court, ball in hand. It’s individualism and consumerism to the core.

This is quite the pickle, if you think about it. Millennials are choosing to abandon Jesus’ bride. They’re leaving the only institution Jesus said He would build (Matthew 16:18-19), the people Jesus chose to die for (Ephesians 2:16), the family they were adopted into (Ephesians 2:19-22), the body they were called to function in (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), the pillar of truth for the whole world (1 Timothy 3:15), and the bride Jesus is coming back for (Revelation 21:1-7). Most of the New Testament is about Christ working in and through the church. Most, if not all, of the epistles were written to churches or their leaders. If you look at the New Testament, I think you’d have a hard time justifying that you can love Jesus but not the church.

Perhaps it’s the millennials who need to change.

If millennials truly love Jesus and want to please Him, they should choose to stay with His bride, not abandon her. If not at their current church, then they should dedicate themselves to find one they can at least tolerate to be in. If they see problems, instead of whining about them, they should do something about it. They should be the change they want to see (to loosely quote someone millennials love to quote). We always talk about making a difference. Here’s our chance to impact the only organization Jesus promised to build. In His mind, there is no plan B to reach the world.

One final thing I think Evans missed is all the millennials who haven’t left but are instead trying to make a difference in the church. I get to see them every day.

The overwhelming majority of the 1500 person church I serve at (named Ekklesia) is made up of millennials. And we are in Eugene, Oregon, one of the most unchurched states in the nation. Ekklesia is also a diverse crowd. Some grew up in the church but many didn’t. Many got saved through hearing the Gospel preached day after day. We are racially diverse (especially for Oregon, one of the whitest states in the Union). We are economically diverse.

And we do do just about everything society would advise against. Get this, we preach the Bible for 45-60 minutes every Sunday and Wednesday—and they’re expository sermons. We believe in the exclusivity of the gospel. We believe in traditional marriage. We believe in the inerrancy of the Word. Yet millennials come. And it really has nothing to do with us because we haven’t tried anything special—unless you count our hip, Greek, one-word name. Both our campuses meet in middle school gyms. We don’t use formal liturgy. We don’t have wine for communion. We didn’t have strategy meetings and focus groups to try and figure out how to best reach the young crowd. We just opened the Bible. They just showed up and never left.

There are churches reaching young people. I could name off more in our city and more in Portland who are doing the same thing. They are faithfully preaching the Bible and wondrously seeing people changed.

As we look at trends like the one Evans has pointed out, we also have to remember that being a Christian is not going to be considered cool. Persecution is guaranteed all throughout the Bible (John 15:18-20, 1 Peter 4:12-19). The Gospel is going to be seen as foolish to most people (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). We don’t need to freak out when these verses are realized in our lives. Instead of capitulating to the spirit of the age, we need to hold fast even stronger to the truth, trusting that Christ will see His church through.

Blockbuster Sermons

anchorman-2-sequel-image-will-ferrellMovies and sermons have always had an awkward marriage. Preachers want to look cool, but they also want to help people—and they also want to look cool.

What’s cooler and more helpful than a movie? I’ll tell you: a preacher who knows about movies.

Back in the day, “Braveheart” was co-opted by many a preacher as a picture of heroism, masculinity, and sacrifice. “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are heralded as a parable of the cosmic battle between good and evil. And recently “Man of Steel,” starring Superman as the Christ-figure, garnered its own sermon notes from Warner Bros, aptly titled, “Jesus: The Original Superhero.” Some churches have even created multiple sermon series based off popular Hollywood films.

With a slew of big blockbusters heading our way this year, I thought I’d get a jump on it and help all the preachers gain relevancy capital by lending them a few mind-blowing sermon ideas for upcoming movies.

The Wolverine
Plot*: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.
Sermon: Samson, Wolverine without claws and better hair.

jOBS
Plot: The story of Steve Jobs’ ascension from college dropout into one of the most revered creative entrepreneurs of the 20th century.
Sermon: iAM: How the existence of Apple is proof God loves us.

One Direction: This Is Us
Plot (Can you call it that?): Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry and Louis’ meteoric rise to fame, from their humble hometown beginnings and competing on the X-Factor, to world domination, and performing at London’s famed O2 Arena.
Sermon: Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young, undiscovered, and in a boy-band.

Paranormal Activity V
Plot: Some crazy “paranormal activity” gets caught on camera and everyone freaks out, again (these movies are legion).
Sermon: Exorcism 101. Special song by Demon Hunter.

Thor: The Dark World
Plot: When Jane Foster (Thor’s human lady-love) is targeted by the denizens of the dark world of Svartalfheim (don’t ask me to pronounce it for you), Thor sets out on a quest to protect her at all costs.
Sermon: The Hammer of God. Note to the preacher: The “hammer” can be customized to what your church needs to hear (hell, purity, vegan food—whatever you like).

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Plot: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.
Sermon: Deborah, the original Mockingjay.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Plot: The Dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf have successfully escaped the Misty Mountains, and Bilbo has gained the One Ring. They all continue their journey to get their gold back from the Dragon, Smaug.
Sermon: How to slay the dragons of life and take all the plunder for yourself (A 12 part series).

Anchorman: The Legend Continues
Plot: The continuing on-set adventures of San Diego’s top-rated newsman.
Sermon: As a dog returns to its vomit, so do producers with sequels.

This idea could make millions, not that it’s about the money. Don’t worry. It’ll all go towards a good cause: my petition to block Nicholas Cage’s “Left Behind” re-make.

*Plot summaries are somewhat from IMDB, peppered with my flair.

How Should We React to Persecution?

[Update: Matt Slick recently wrote on the CARM website that basically everything shown on The Daily Show segment was taken out of context and intentionally edited to make Slick look bad, even after being reassured that he would be fairly represented.]

Monday night on television, a segment was run where Boise, Idaho pastor and radio host Matt Slick made the case that Christians are victims of “bullying” by gays. Unfortunately for Slick, the segment was for the fake news program, “The Daily Show” (TDS) which runs on Comedy Central, and the comedian news anchor interviewing him was Samantha Bee. The interview was setup to mock Slick for his viewpoint and make him look unreasonable and paranoid (including a cut of him making crazy eyes).

Pastor Slick told Bee, “The Christians that I talked to are intimidated. They’ll often get intimidated, they’ll often get persecuted…for just saying that they believe that homosexuality is wrong, or that homosexuals are sinful—just like adulterers, just like pedophiles, just like liars, just like thieves.” Slick even told Bee that some Christians are getting targeted and “beat up” by gays.

For most of the interview, Bee conspicuously made sarcastic faces at Slick, who was seemingly unaware about being mocked.

The second half of the segment focused on outspoken gay, Todd Clayton (who is clearly in on the joke since he helped write the segment with the “TDS” writers). Clayton claims to be a Christian and so Bee wanted to hear his view on the issue. Clayton told Bee, “Evangelical Christians are not experiencing bullying. It’s essentially a giant temper tantrum that they don’t get to be in charge anymore and that they have to share their toys.”

The intent of the segment clearly was to show Slick as a paranoid man making wild claims. Bee asked slick, “At what point has your right to express yourself been infringed upon?” Slick replied after a long pause, “I don’t know if it’s going to happen…but I’m concerned about it.”

My first reaction to the interview was to actually feel bad for Slick. The poor guy seemed to mean well and he didn’t say anything that was antithetical to traditional Christian doctrine—Slick just seemed so naive. To his defense, the editing was dubious. Slick’s statements and even facial expressions were obviously edited to be taken out of context to gain the biggest laughs (they’re a comedy show after all, so there’s no reason for them not to). “TDS” exists to make people they disagree with look stupid, but that’s exactly why Slick is so naive. He should have known that before even getting on the show. Feeling gracious, I want to try and give him the benefit of the doubt and say he worked really hard to make a compelling case and that the show’s targeted editing was too much to overcome—although with some statements he didn’t really help himself.

My second reaction to the interview was actually some agreement with Slick. Do I believe there are Christians being persecuted for their beliefs about homosexuality? Yes I do but not necessarily with bodily harm, as it seems Slick states. Look at what happened to Louie GiglioBen Carson, or Greg Laurie and the public vitriol against them for voicing their beliefs. It doesn’t have to be bodily harm for it to be persecution. Verbal and written insults work just fine. Jesus stated, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).

But my final reaction was actually some agreement with Clayton. While I do think some Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs, I also believe that some Christians are throwing a “giant temper tantrum” about it. I’m not negating the fact that we may be persecuted now or in the future. But that shouldn’t surprise us. Persecution is guaranteed all throughout the Bible (John 15:18-20, 1 Peter 4:12-19). If it’s not going to be over the issue of homosexuality then it is going to be over something else.

The question should not be, will Christians be persecuted but how are Christians to react in the face of persecution? You’d be hard pressed to find a verse where Christians are complaining that they’re being persecuted. Jesus didn’t utter a word in His defense. Paul sang while in prison. The apostles rejoiced after being beaten.

We are not called to complain or state our rights. It’s actually more American to complain when we’re offended than Christian.

Instead, you see verses encouraging perseverance. You see actual joy over being counted worthy to be persecuted. I understand that it could mean actual harm for people to stand for the truth. I understand that your business or reputation could be at stake. But we are called to something greater. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed…if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:14, 16).

If the church can learn to do this in the face of any persecution, I believe that will make a far stronger statement about the Gospel than any outcry over rights ever could.

For further reading, check out Matthew Lee Anderson’s guest post for CNN on a similar issue.

The NCAA’s Monday Justice

Monday was a day for justice.

First, James Holmes—the movie theater mass murderer from Friday morning—had his first day in court. But since much more is to come of this, I am going to focus on another case of Monday justice, the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State.

Punishment had already being thrown (and even more yet to come) at the many individuals involved in the horrendous cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s sexually abusive acts. Nothing had yet been levied toward the institution that facilitated all of this cowardly evil—the Penn State football program. That’s where the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) comes into play. The NCAA is the regulating body of all the major universities’ athletic programs. As such, the association felt compelled to discipline Penn State for its negligence.

Slate lists the sanctions as being:

A $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, and the vacation of all wins dating back to 1998.
The penalties also include the loss of 20 scholarships per year over four years and a five-year probationary period. The NCAA likewise announced that any current or incoming football players will be free to immediately transfer and compete at another school, a decision that is sure to deplete the Nittany Lions squad moving forward.

The severity of such a penalty is unprecedented but the situation prompting them is also unprecedented. Previously, all of the NCAA’s sanctions towards a university athletic program had been because of “cheating” in its various forms. That all changed on Monday.

Many have already asked, what right does the NCAA, a body that is supposed to focus on athletic violations, have in disciplining a program that had not “broken” any NCAA rules? Every right. They had every right, because Penn State had neglected to protect the children, allowing a monster to continue in his rampage unseen, and instead opted to protect a football giant-of-a-program and a football god. The NCAA had the right to judge this sports program because the program had gone too far.

Penn State had created a world and culture in which the highest good was not loving God and loving your neighbor, but loving your team and loving to win. You cheer for your team. You adore your team. You protect your team. You die for your team.

But to be honest, this is not just a Penn State problem. What happened there was bound to happen sooner or later somewhere else in some other form because we all kind of let this happen. As Americans, we have created a culture of football, sport, and celebrity that is larger than life—larger than God.

Our team, our coach, our star can do no wrong and how dare you for suggesting otherwise. If the situation had occurred in Eugene, I shudder to consider how our university, football program, and community would react.

Next time you attend a college football game, look around, and try to prove me wrong. They are worshiping.

I am speaking from experience; in the past I have been caught up in this hysteria too. Don’t get me wrong, I love football but we have taken this too far in the name of championships and bowl games. And it doesn’t just have to be football. Any time we elevate something above morality, truth, and God, we are setting ourselves up for trouble.

May this Penn State situation be a wake up call to the rest of the nation that football is not more important than a human life—than a child’s well-being. This is precisely the message the NCAA is trying to send to the other institutions of this country.

“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. Let us hope he is right.

Outside Penn State’s football stadium was placed a 7-foot tall bronze statue of Joe Paterno—the former winningest coach in history, the coach who should have done more. It has now been torn down by the university.

Let us make sure that we tear down our idols too, lest we fall with them.