The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Dissapearing God

I hate sounding old.

                                        I mean, I REALLY hate it,
                                                                                  but some things just need to be said.

I am becoming more convinced that we are a nation of followers, and not in a good way. 10 years ago, there were movies, songs, and TV shows that featured God prominently. Now there are next to none. God is not dead, just extinct in pop culture.

It all started for me a  couple of months ago, when a friend of mine (another pastor) called me laughing hysterically. In between laughing, he tells me that a women from his church had gone into his office professing CREED to be her new favorite band. She made him listen to three songs from the late 90s band, despite his insistence that he remembered the band clearly. For those of you who don't remember the late 90s, Creed was this intense, loud, guttural band that unabashedly sang songs about God. And they were popular. 

This song, "Higher" was a top 40 hit:
So let's go there
Let's make our escape
Come on, let's go there
Let's ask can we stay?

Can you take me Higher?
To a place where blind men see
Can you take me Higher?
To a place with golden streets

Here's the thing- music young people listen to today is mostly terrible. Music we listened to 10 years ago was mostly terrible too, but at least it had a message. Creed was mediocre at best, but at least the world was talking about God.
And they weren't the only ones. Six Pence, Lifehouse, POD, Reliant K, Switchfoot- all of these were big bands with big hits, and all started out in "christian rock."

Those songs are relegated to the "Mix" radio station,  aka the station for people who liked the music 10 years ago.

On a top 40 station, you're likely to hear this:
Today I don't feel like doing anything 
I just wanna lay in my bed  
Don't feel like picking up my phone, so leave a message at the tone 
'Cause today I swear I'm not doing anything
Not exactly inspirational. It's no wonder why churches aren't packed when there are social messages floating around in people's brains like that one. 

Before you all go quoting Mumford and Sons in the comments section, music isn't the only genre I find lacking. TV and Film are easily as agnostic. 
Here's a list of shows I watch today:  
How I Met Your Mother
Big Bang Theory
Modern Family
The New Girl
The Office
The Walking Dead
Mad Men

Not a one of these shows has a main character who actively believes in God, Christ, church, or prayer. And yet nearly all of these shows try to portray American youth culture.  

Emphasis on the word try. 

 According to the pew research poll, "Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion." 

When asked the question, "Do you believe in God," nearly 96% of all Americans answered "yes". Atheists and Agnostics make up only 4% of the US Population.

Why isn't God talked about anymore? Call me an old-timer, but I remember TV shows amd Movies that regularly developed plots on faith and religious culture. Remember The Simpsons, Joan of Arcadia, Touched by an Angel and *7th Heaven? Are there any prime-time shows like this anymore? How many crime scene shows have replaced them? Cold Case, Bones, The Following, Breaking Bad, and Dexter- these are not social upgrades!

Remember films like Dogma, Keeping the Faith, Bruce Almighty, Angels in the Outfield, All Dogs go to Heaven, and Raising Helen (I remember that one because Kate Hudson falls in love with Pastor Dan)? A main-stream movie like this hasn't been made in 10 years- since The Passion of Christ. 

It's like Mel Gibson scared everyone away from the genre.

Pop culture has lied to you by telling you that religion is not important to people. By the most conservative estimates, 20% of the US population attends worship every week. But look for one in five characters on television who fit that description, and you'll be up all night. We like to say that we water down religion in pop culture to not offend people and not be controversial, but by doing so we have made our characters less interesting, less dynamic, and less relate-able to the billions of people who believe in God. TV characters are more likely to be two dimensional, blown over by whatever whim or impulse their quarter-life-crisis interrupted their trip to the mall.
What's worse- in order to make up the gap in interesting people, 
we turn our dials to Serial Killers 
because they have depth
because they believe in something.

If the goal was to not offend people's religions beliefs, consider it a failure.  I'm offended.

I never thought I would miss Creed, and I still don't, but I miss feeling like there is a place for me in popular culture. 

If you agree, slap on your WWJD bracelet and let's get people talking about God some more.       

-Rev. Daniel Pugh


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

1 Corinthians 13, Valentines Day, and Boy-bands

              What is real Love? 

Poets, philosophers, screen-writers, psychics, preachers, tabloids, and every boy-band of all time  have all be searching for language to accurately describe and define real love.
And in the next eleven days, millions of men will pay Hallmark to help them find the words. Save your money, guys, and listen up.
1st Corinthians 13.  How many of us have heard this at weddings?
Love is patient and love is kind. These are sweet words from Paul. Aren’t they???

They remind me of a wedding of a young woman named Sophie.
She and her boyfriend started dating in high school youth group. They  dated through college and he proposed their senior year.  The wedding was beautiful, the pictures beautiful, the bride was beautiful. The words of 1st Corinthians 13 were read, and they were read beautifully.  

A few short years later, however, Sophie fell out of love. She sat her husband down and asked for a divorce. Sophie severed communication with many people in her life. She said that she didn't feel like she was being "true to herself" anymore.    

Her husband was distraught. He sat in a lonely apartment and started boxing up his things.  He took the wedding photos off the walls, and as he did, he thought about those sweet words of 1st Corinthians. What happened? Wasn't love enough? Where were those sweet words of 1st Corinthians when times got rough?
He went back and looked at those words. He studied them and prayed. He asked for discernment, and read what others say about love. Here's the answer that he got.

When you put these words back into the source of the letter, you realize that Paul has a much different tone than we are used to.The people in Corinth were struggling to love each other.

It’s important when reading a newspaper to realize what section you’re reading. You wouldn’t read the front page, the cartoon, and the editorials all the same way.
The same can be said about scripture. Paul is not writing a psalm. He is writing a letter. This is advice. 

It’s not cutesy love. It’s tough love.
It should read to us as tough advice. 

Love is patient. Love is Kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things...

There is no easy answer for why some relationships endure and others do not.

But we can say this: Love is tough.
Ultimately, we have one choice to make. Either we allow God to fill us with the Holy Spirit, so that our soul can be aligned with God, or else we will always have a spot that is empty, that is searching. And when your soul is empty, you're going to want to fill  it with passing emotions. Love comes in many forms. Eros, or romantic love, is fleeting. Agape, which is God's version of love, is eternal.
Let's make a distinction between authenticity and integrity. Authenticity is being true to yourself. Integrity is being in tuned to God. 

When I was a youth director I would take my guitar with us to Mexico. And during the trip, what started out as a perfectly tuned guitar would get a little out of tune. Without a tuner, all I could do was tune the guitar to itself. The chords sounded OK. Every day I'd tune the guitar to itself again, and we got through worship and praise just fine. But by the time I got home, the guitar sounded ok, but flat. After I tuned it, I struck a chord again. This time the sound was pure. It was perfect. It was in tune with it's destiny. The sound was heavenly. 

Getting a guitar in tune is like being filled with the Holy Spirit. It's having integrity that doesn't come from itself, but aligning itself with a higher power.

1st Corinthians 13, is talking about aligning itself with God's Agape.

Patience, kindness, non-resentfulness, truthfulness, endurance: each of these by itself would be a tall order to fill. Each would take training and stamina, like that of an athlete or a champion. As far as I know, there has only been one who  has been able to champion these words, and He is champion of the world. 

In Luke 4, Jesus Christ enters his home congregation after being tempted by the devil. He is now filled with the Holy Spirit. 

Which brings us to our Greek word of the day.  

You Greek word is pleroo, it is translated fulfilled/filled.
Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit.
When I talk to young people, I make a distinction between authenticity and integrity.

Jesus has been preaching and gathering a buzz. He goes to his hometown and delivers a whopper of a sermon. He sits down, and says, “today, this has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

After worship, Jesus is going to leave, and the people wonder why. Jesus tells them that he is called to be with all people.

Have you seen that movie (there are several) where  some person discovers something that is powerful, and instead of sharing it with the world, they keep it to themselves? 

That’s what the Nazarenes want Jesus to do. They want to keep him for themselves.  It is as if they are saying, "If you just stay here Jesus, you can be our preacher. You can get those people who don't come to worship very often, and maybe they will believe and come every week" -(This is not a new problem, by the way).

There are problems in Nazareth and Jesus could be a good parish rabbi. But that is not what he is called to. And when he explains that, they are filled with rage. Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit, and they are filled with rage. 

When Jesus refuses to stay, the Nazarenes decide that they are going to throw him off a cliff because if they can't have him, then they nobody can. 

This is what I call  "a toddler’s version" of love. A toddler might say that if you “really” loved me, you’d let me have another piece of cake. Or if you "really" loved me, you wouldn't go to work today.  
The is operating from the empty place. It's the sort of thing that Paul is a talking about when he says,
"If I speak with the tongue of angels, and have not love, I am just a noisy gong or a clanging symbol."  or- if I may add- an out-of-tune guitar.
 And, similar to a toddler, when they don’t get what they want, the Nazarenes are full of rage.
The kind of love Paul writes to the Corinthians 13 about being patient and kind are about the farthest thing from their mind.

When we think about love in its purest form, we think about God.
C.S. Lewis writes, “God creates the universe, already seeing the flies buzzing around the cross, and He does it anyway. God is love. God creates out of love.”
Our prayers, our ministries, and indeed our lives are in response to God's love for us. God loved us first. 

Once you are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are given the stability that it takes to be vulnerable to love others. 

So whether you are getting married, about to purchase a valentines card, or thinking of starting a boy-band, consider these words again from Lewis, “One of the miracles of love is the power to see through love’s enchantments without becoming disenchanted.” 

Tuning your heart to Agape love will help you to walk like Jesus. And His are big shoes to fill.    

-Pastor Daniel Pugh