Today is May 6th. If I’m keeping track of time correctly, we are currently in our 7th week in the United States since federal and state authorities began making restrictions for citizens in light of COVID-19. There is no doubt that we are all being affected in deep ways – not just physically or economically, but socially, relationally, and emotionally. It’s hard to fight against emotional fatigue and apathy when you’re not even sure what day it is anymore.
Call me naïve, but I was really hoping that this pandemic would be an enemy that would unite the American people. The divisive rhetoric of our culture, driven almost entirely by political and racial divides, has become too wearisome for me to bear. But as days have become weeks, the pandemic has become another source of contentious divide. I am especially saddened when I see God-fearing Christians using divisive language, promoting politically biased information, or even lashing out at those who disagree with them on what is best for our country.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. These behaviors have become the mold that our culture has made for us. It is far easier to settle into a familiar way of doing things (even if that involves unhelpful or sinful behaviors) than it is to pursue the difficult paths of humility, grace, and kindness.
This cultural mold has given us patterns of convenience. In the history of God’s people, it is not uncommon for us to choose the complacent path of convenience rather than the difficult path of obedience. The Israelites early conquest of the land of Canaan is a great example of this pattern that is worth our time to consider. Continue Reading
J.I. Packer famously said in his book Knowing God, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.” The significance of the doctrine of adoption cannot be understated. In fact, the Bible teaches that our spiritual adoption is the height of all our privileges of being in Christ by faith. Our adoption tells us not just that we are loved by God, but what kind of love with which we are loved by him (1 John 3:1). This love is not generic kindness or niceties; it is the love of a heavenly Father richly lavished on his children whom he delights in.
Yet for many of us the experience of adoption is one that remains impractical and ineffectual in our day-to-day lives. We understand the doctrine rightly, yet our relationship with God still feels cold and distant. When we sin, we are prone to an anxious temperament and feelings of shame and condemnation. When we go through seasons of little prayer, we convince ourselves that God probably wouldn’t want to hear our prayers anymore. We are crushed by failure, regularly doubt our own significance, question whether or not anyone could actually love us, and push others away out of fear of exposing our true selves.
Such behavior is common to all of us. While we may still believe that God once did a work in our lives to save us, it is now up to us to remain in his good graces and convince him to keep on loving us. This is very similar to the problem the Christians in Galatians faced in the Apostle Paul’s letter. Having begun their life in Christ by faith, they were now seeking to perfect themselves and remain in God’s favor through their own effort (Galatians 3:3). As a result, they too had a very cold and distant understanding of what it meant to be in Christ.
In the climax of his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul digs deep into the doctrine of salvation to reveal the precious crown jewel of the Christian’s spiritual adoption (Galatians 3:26-4:7). Through a careful study of Paul’s description of adoption, we can discern at least three practical ways for us to deepen our own experience of adoption and God’s fatherly love and care. Continue Reading
I finally completed one of the goals I’ve had for the last decade: to read through Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy in its entirety. I’ve owned the books since I was a small child – it was a gift given to me by my older brother. I avoided the books growing up because they intimidated me (I wasn’t much of a reader). I fell in love with the movies as an adult which has made reading the books challenging (since I had basically memorizing the extended editions of the movies).
But once I got about a third of the way through the second book, the distinctions between the books and their film adaptations started to become more apparent to me. I was able to more easily visualize the books apart from the movies and appreciate many of the new insights as well as the differences in characters and events. While I had come to really value how the movies depicted deep friendships, the books display friendship in a profoundly intimate way.
As I was reading these books, I happened to listen to a sermon by Dr. Tim Keller who used Lord of the Rings to illuminate the emphasis the Bible places on friendship. Keller pointed out how the main story Tolkein’s trilogy is entirely about friendship. If you want to read anything about romance, you nearly have to wait until the very end of the book, and even get into the appendices. But in the Hollywood treatment of the story, they move romance and romantic character motivations to the center of the story.
Keller’s point was this: every culture is going to suppress the value of friendship. In a Western, liberal, and individualistic culture like ours, romance is elevated because it is a means of self-expression. Thus, the importance of friendship tends to be minimized. In traditional and eastern cultures, family honor is elevated to the primary position (think of the well-known lyrics from Mulan: “She’ll bring honor to us all…”). Whether liberal or traditional, every culture will suppress friendship. Continue Reading
Over the last couple of years there has been a pretty huge resurgence of interest in Mister Rogers. Beginning with the 2018 documentary, Won’t You be My Neighbor?, there has also been a new biography published about Fred Rogers, new publications of his poetry and music, countless magazine and newspaper articles, a celebration of #WorldKindnessDay wearing cardigans in his honor, and now a new film starring Tom Hanks.
What’s been surprising to me about this renewed interest is that it doesn’t seem to be generated by Gen-X adults – those who are in their 40’s and 50’s and grew up during the prime years of the Mister Rogers show. Instead, the energy of this new “movement” seems to be coming from Millennials (and even Gen-Z!), those in their 20’s and 30’s, many of whom did not grow up actually watching the show (at least not to the same degree as Gen-X). So why the sudden interested in this children’s TV show puppeteer amongst grown adults?
In a general sense I don’t think this should surprise us. Who wouldn’t want a friend like Fred Rogers? Who wouldn’t want to surround themselves with people who affirm us, love us unconditionally, and who seem to hang on every word we say as if it is the last word they will ever hear? As human beings we are made for connection, and we are attracted to the kindness of authenticity of others – even if it’s in a deceased children’s performer we’ve never met.
But I also think there is a more specific reason why we’re seeing this passion for Mister Rogers emerging today, in this cultural moment, at the end of one decade and the start of another. A recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that after decades of mortality rates decreasing and life expectancy increasing, the United States is no longer on track with populations in other wealthy countries who are continuing to see progress in extending life expectancy. For the 3rd year in a row, between the years 2014 and 2017 (and I’m sure future studies will reveal this trend continuing in 2018 and 2019) life expectancy is falling for people ages 25 to 64. The highest jump in death rates – a 29 percent jump! – has been among people ages 25 to 34, the generation who seems to be driving the most interest in Mister Rogers.
These findings reveal that there is no one primary cause of excess deaths, but it is the combination of destructive behavior from things like suicide, distracted driving, or opioid, alcohol, and other drug addictions. One medical professor summarized these findings: “People are feeling worse about themselves and their futures, and that’s leading them to do things that are self-destructive and not promoting health.”
Here is the tension of the culture we live in: so many of us are desperate for friends or family who will love us, affirm us, and accept us; yet at the same time most of us are weighed down by a pervasive feeling of shame, the feeling that we are never good enough and incapable of being loved or accepted.
The Christmas story resolves this tension for us. It reminds us that joy has dawned, and light has broken into the darkness. Yet there is one part of this story that often tends to be overlooked – Jesus’ genealogy as it is recorded in Matthew 1:1-17. When we take a closer look at this part of the story, we discover five women who deepen our understanding of how great our need for redemption truly is, but who also reveal God’s love to us in surprising new ways. Continue Reading