Christians and Culture

Clairee: Anne Boleyn had six fingers.

Ouiser Boudreaux: Who’s Anne Berlin?

Clairee: Anne Boleyn. She was one of the six wives of Henry VIII.

Ouiser Boudreaux: I never watch public television.

Clairee: She had six fingers.

Ouiser Boudreaux: What happened to the other four?

Clairee: She had 11 total.

Ouiser Boudreaux: Are you trying to confuse me, Clairee?

Clairee: No. I just want to expose us to a little more culture. And that’s not easy to come by in this neck of the woods.

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The desire to be engaged in culture is innate, and to be considered “uncultured” is an insult. Even within these (old) pop culture references, these characters want to be “cultured.” What about Christians? How should Christians respond to culture?

  • Why should we participate in culture?

In the beginning, God gave Adam a brain, “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth” (Genesis 1:28), and a job. God, who had just created the earth and everything in it, gave Adam a job: “Now out of the ground the Lord had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). God has given humanity the capacity to be creative. To avoid overcomplicating the topic of calling, we are called to use our brains; we should be using our brains in whatever way God has enabled us to be creative.

For those who are artistically creative, we have no excuse to be passive in regards to culture. Rather than distancing ourselves from the flawed aspects of culture, we should actively attempt to influence culture. With more Christians in a position to shape culture, we have a greater chance of returning to a Christ-centered culture. The darkness will seem less dark if we don’t disassociate the light from the dark.

  • When should we interact with culture?

Second Timothy 1:7 states, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” I don’t believe we should shy away from secular art forms, but we should apply our sound judgment given to us by the Holy Spirit. By watching the same shows and movies, listening to the same music, and reading information from the same sources as the rest of our society, Christians have the opportunity to practice discernment.

Let me qualify this statement by explaining why I love Downton Abbey. I never thought that my favorite show would be a British soap opera. Nonetheless, it is. As fascinated as I am with the extravagant lifestyle of the Crawley family, what I love even more is the theme of consequences. These consequences for immorality sometimes last through multiple seasons. While the most recent season seems solely based on scandal and deceit, the show still presents inappropriate actions in an unfavorable light. In this way, it is easier for me to discern what would be sinful.

I’m not encouraging anyone to watch the worst movies possible for the sake of “practicing discernment.” But (in my opinion) the more we identify what is sin through observation, the less favorable the temptation will seem, if similar situations occur in our own lives. I definitely don’t want to feed my brain the lie of moral relativism. So as Christians engage in culture, we MUST keep our minds engaged.

  • Why should we not remain in our own Christian culture?

As my time of study at a Christian university has progressed, the more I realize the presence of a “Christian culture.” Christians around the world do not dress the same, use the same phrases, or listen to the same music; however, most Christians in the Bible Belt seem to. Christianity should never reach the point of conversion requiring the adoption of a particular style of clothes or music. Conversion might imply changes from sinful lifestyles, but we do not become Christians to follow other Christians; we become Christians to follow Christ.

If Christians remain within the realms of our own subculture, then evangelism becomes more about inviting people to change their cultural environment than to change their hearts. Typically in sermons encouraging cross-cultural (meaning international) missions, the story of Peter and Cornelius is referenced. After being taught that Gentiles could be saved, Peter declares, “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him” (Acts 11:34-35). I think God cares more about us possessing “feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace” than Chaco’s.

In conclusion, here is a portion of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples before His crucifixion:

I am not praying
that You take them out of the world
but that You protect them from the evil one.
They are not of the world,
as I am not of the world.

Sanctify them by the truth;
Your word is truth.
As You sent Me into the world,
I also have sent them into the world.
I sanctify Myself for them,
so they also may be sanctified by the truth.”

John 17:15-19

*I figured that since I started the post quoting Steel Magnolias and Toy Story, I should end quoting Jesus.*

 

Theory and Theology

I am a music major and a religion minor. These fields of study are very distinct and sometimes feel worlds apart. But I’m writing this post as a personal reminder that they are related–a personal reminder of why I do what I do.

I serve a triune God, consisting of the unified yet distinct persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And each is uniquely involved in the performance of life.

  • God the Composer (Father):

“For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

Before a note of the work is performed, the Composer puts great effort into crafting His creation. Before the performers themselves know how the piece will go, the composer designs a specific task for each performer to complete. God the Composer “saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in [His] book and planned before a single one of them began” (Psalm 139:16).

Because I am not God the Composer, I can’t fully understand what was going through His mind as He wrote the work. Sometimes there are passages that never seem to resolve to a normal sound. But He never fails to make “everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Sometimes there are chords that make no sense when standing alone. But His ingenuity is found in the moment of glory: when painful-sounding chords transition to, and magnify, chords that make sense in the grand-scheme of the composition. After all, the Composer’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I also can’t always know exactly how the piece is intended to be played. Thankfully, my God is also a Conductor.

  • God the Conductor (Spirit)

“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come.” John 16:13

God the Conductor knows exactly what God the Composer was thinking when He planned out the work–because He was with Him as it was being written (Genesis 1:26). Because He understands what the Composer intended, He is perfectly capable of guiding the performers in the right direction. As our patient Conductor, He teaches us how we are to play the music and reminds us when we forget (John 14:26).

The Conductor knows us personally and distributes parts, “distributing to each person as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). And although He has different plans for each performer, He unites the group under His own direction and “the peace that binds us” (Ephesians 4:3).

But even with music from the Composer and direction from the Conductor, we still would not know how to play unless we had a model to follow.

  • God the Performer (Son)

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Our God is also an internationally-famous performer who has graced us with His presence. He “took up residence among us,” and “we observed His glory” (John 1:14). In fact, He is so glorious that the entire piece was written to showcase His ability. We are merely the accompaniment to His beautiful melody.

The problem–for us–with playing the “background music” is that we must find balance with the performer. We can’t always hear the Great Soloist; sometimes He uses His “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). In those cases, it’s easy to think that we have the more important part and need to be heard. At other times His voice is so powerful that our accompaniment as a whole pales in comparison; everyone hears His voice “in power” and “in splendor” (Psalm 29:4). But our job remains: to glorify the Soloist.

Thankfully, the Great Soloist is willing to instruct us, because He can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Because He understands performance anxiety, and because He cares, He teaches us how to approach the stage “with boldness” (Hebrews 4:16). And it is all because of Him that we are able to do so.

Why I Deleted Instagram

Instagram was once my favorite form of social media. I got tired of Facebook rants and subtweets that started drama. So I turned to the highlight reel of Instagram–where people post only the best of their lives. I didn’t realize that the visual highlights of people’s lives made me blind to the true effect of social media.

First of all, people (girls in particular) spend far too much time editing their posts to make themselves presentable to their followers. Don’t get me wrong–I’m guilty of this myself. But I’ve overheard others spending 30 minutes trying to find the filter that makes them look the most tan. And although I find that ridiculous, I’m really not condemning it. However, I feel that we should put more effort into making ourselves presentable before God: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Secondly, I have a problem with the frequently used comment “caption game strong.” Instagram has become a competition for the best caption. Again, don’t get me wrong: One of my favorite parts about Instagram was coming up with captions filled with wit, sarcasm, and/or puns. (And, yes, I realize that’s not entirely normal.) I did try to make my captions distinctive from others’. Instead of outdoing one another in the descriptions of our lives, we should outdo one another in love: “Show family affection to one another in brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Also, I realize that Instagram can be used to uplift others. And if you make sappy birthday posts in order to bring encouragement to people’s lives, then, by all means, continue! But first I suggest you find out the love language of the person for whom you want to show appreciation; if words of encouragement don’t mean anything to him or her, don’t waste your time making a mile-long caption of appreciation.

Thirdly, as a girl, I notice hidden messages behind certain captions that are intended to degrade or exclude others. Once again- guilty. I think girls have mastered the art of disguising insults behind pretty pictures. Within a single post, we can seemingly glorify God yet truly tear others down: “We praise our Lord and Father with [the tongue], and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it” (James 3:9).

Lastly, I personally struggled the most with the comparison game. Because Instagram is a highlight reel, I felt like I needed to maintain a life that was worthy of posting. As someone who deals with chronic pain and depression, I often became jealous of others when my daily life wasn’t Insta-worthy. I also realize now that just because someone posted a highlight doesn’t mean that they weren’t struggling at the time. But the biggest lesson I’ve learned from deleting Instagram is that life is not always picture-perfect, and it doesn’t have to be picture-perfect to be fulfilling. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-10, Paul gives instructions on how to experience God’s comfort. My favorite part of this passage is when Paul gets real in verse eight about his struggles. He doesn’t write to the Corinthians in a holier-than-thou attitude. Instead, he admits that his life does not demonstrate perfection, yet God does.

I’m not encouraging anyone else to delete Instagram or any other form of social media. I am encouraging all users of social media to be aware of the effects it can have on us.

Change of Plans

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” -C.S. Lewis

I’d be lying if I said that my first year of college was easy. It wasn’t as academically challenging as it was physically, spiritually, and emotionally challenging. I wasn’t expecting to learn as much as I did over the past year. But thanks to the brutal teacher of experience, many of my plans have changed, leading to a change of heart.

I am a statistic: I changed my major. Even though I always said I wouldn’t be that freshman who changes their major, it happened. I started off in Music Education and changed to Music and Worship. More than likely, I would have enjoyed being a music teacher. But music, in any genre, serves a distinct purpose. And after the experiences in my own life, I can’t think of a better way to use music than to express my gratitude to God and to lead others to do the same. I’m excited to see where God takes me with worship leadership.

“Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:16-17

In addition to my career plans changing, my summer plans also changed. Another source of my chronic pain is my back, which I thought needed surgery. Through miscommunication with my doctor, I came to the conclusion that this summer would be the most convenient time for surgery. So I got on the mindset of doing nothing but recovering for the whole summer. Currently, that’s what I’m doing, but only for the next month. Instead of back surgery, I’m having procedures on both feet. Since I’ll only be “incapacitated” for a month instead of the whole summer, I have the opportunity to make more sense of my calling by interning at a church. If it were up to my original plans, I would be spending my entire summer on my couch in recovery; now I get the change to learn more about my calling AND to serve a local church. I thank God that He has more planned for me than I have planned for myself.

The most frustrating change of plans I’ve experienced this year were the changes of my daily plans. I began college as a girl who likes to plan every minute of every day of every year for the rest of her life. So each night, I would plan down to the hour (not necessarily the minute) how I would spend the next day. My most difficult days this semester started off like this: I did all (or most) of the work for my classes for the next day, packed my backpack with everything I would need for the entire day, and figured out where exactly I needed to be and when, in order to save myself the most amount of walking. All of this I would do in advance, before the day would even begin. So when I would wake up the next morning unable to move from being in excruciating pain, all of my preparations were in vain. On the days I hurt so much that I couldn’t go to class, God had so much more for me to learn than I could have imagined.

On my Debilitating Days, I learned, first and foremost, to take life one day at a time. Jesus said it best: “Therefore, don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). While I still believe it is wise to plan ahead, I’ve learned not to place my hope in a to-do list. God works in ways that are too superior for me to predict. But because they are so superior, I have peace that He knows what He’s doing. Secondly, I have begun to learn how to rest. I love multi-tasking; I love being able to do many things at once. So the moments when I was unable to do anything, except lay on my bed, were the most trying moments. I’m not going to pretend like I handled those situations as best I could. (Most of the time I was just angry that my plans were thwarted.) But I know that God wanted me to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). In my time of complete inability, I should have sought humility in recognizing God’s ability. Lastly, I came to understand the meaning of eternity, which is “timelessness.” When I laid face down in the presence of God, completely stripped of my pride, I lost track of time and caught a glimpse of eternity. But not only that– I also caught a glimpse of eternity through laughter. On my Debilitating Days, I often questioned whether or not God was out to get me. However, this verse assured me that He is not:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

God wants me to enjoy life; He doesn’t want me wallowing in my own misery. So on the hard days when the pain is too much to handle, God still wants me to have an abundant life. Therefore, by laughing, by enjoying life, by finding joy on the most painful days, I can experience God’s will for me, lose sense of time, and catch a glimpse of eternity.

Through this year of unforeseen changes, I’m grateful that God did the unexpected and made plans that are better than my own.

Reassessed Needs

“Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” Psalm 37:4

Notice this verse does not say, “The Lord will give you whatever your heart desires.” The first half of the verse provides context for the second; if you desire nearness to the Lord, He’ll give it to you!

There is a difference between desire and need. While God may not give us everything we want, He will give us everything that we need.

Philippians 4:19

19 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

While there is a pre-requisite for having desires fulfilled (taking delight in the Lord), God is already fulfilling needs of believers through the Holy Spirit.

In our first-world society, we often place the words “I need” in front of things that would not be preceded by “I need” in a third-world society. We say “I need more money for my education.” “I need this relationship to work.” “I need complete healing.” We think we know what’s best for ourselves. What’s missing here is the faith to believe that God knows what’s best: If He thinks we need something, He will provide it.

Financial wealth, relational wealth, and physical health are not true needs, except in situations when God views them as such. These would be desires that, according to Psalm 37:4, are met in God Himself.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

17 Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God,[a] who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good reserve[b] for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

True wealth is found in living out the generosity of God, which brings the treasure of “life that is real.”

Isaiah 40:25

25 “Who will you compare Me to,
or who is My equal?” asks the Holy One.

No other person in the world can fulfill us like God can. Because no one is perfect but God, it is foolish to except perfection from beautifully imperfect humans.

Isaiah 53:5

5 But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.

True healing comes from the wounded hands of Jesus. Though we may not always receive miraculous physical healing, He has already healed the divide between God and us–the worst disease known to mankind called sin.

All of our needs are ultimately met in the person of God.

“God does not give us everything we want, but He does fulfill all His promises…leading us along the best and straightest paths to Himself.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

With Us

Christmastime isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year. Sometimes it’s equally hard as–or even harder than–the rest of the year. It can be difficult to get into the “Christmas spirit” when you have a broken spirit. But at the heart of Christmas lies this comforting truth: God is with us.

“O come, O come Emmanuel, / And ransom captive Israel, / That mourns in lowly exile here / Until the Son of God appear.” All of history led up to this point–the point when God sent a means of salvation for all humanity apart from ritual sacrifices. And the beauty of His provision is His decision to dwell among humanity. To become one of us. To be tempted as we are and to suffer as we do.

Because of God’s almighty power, He could have created any plan for salvation. He could have chosen to send Jesus right at the point of the sacrifice of His life. As a matter of fact, He didn’t have to send Jesus in the first place; the just nature of God would have been content to condemn all of humanity for our unrighteousness. Instead, He chose to execute justice by sending Jesus to live then die then live again on earth. The best part, for our generation, is the torn veil. Not only did previous generations have God with them in the flesh, but now we also have God in us through the Holy Spirit.

The beauty of the Christmas story is that God chose to live with us. But the comfort that applies to each day is that “He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you'” (Hebrews 13:5). He is with us each day, especially on the hard days: “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

Similar to the Christmas story is the story of Lazarus’ resurrection; God could have chosen the quick and easy way to help. But He didn’t. When Jesus learned of His friend Lazarus’ death, He stayed where He was:

“Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” John 11:5-6

Kind of confusing–Jesus loved Lazarus and his family. So when he died, He kept about His own business? Not exactly. Again, He could have instantly healed and revived Lazarus’ life; He is God. But He didn’t. Instead, He waited until Lazarus was easily proven dead before He went to comfort his family. He went to be with them in their mourning. Yet He was also with them for their celebration of Lazarus’ resurrection. Jesus’ presence in that situation reveals that He cares personally for those who suffer.

Jesus was also present for the miracle. It is possible to experience miracles. (How many Christmas movies have something to do with a Christmas miracle? Thank you, Hallmark.) As Gabriel told Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). But whether you face suffering or miracles or mundane experiences this Christmas, you can find joy in Emmanuel–God is with us.

Humility

Humility is not an innate characteristic to humanity. However, it can be developed through admitting one’s own weaknesses or through praising the strengths of another. God has placed me in situations in which I could employ either method to humble myself.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul discusses both ways to learn humility. He states in verse seven, “Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself.” What is not widely known is that this verse actually begins with the phrase “especially because of the extraordinary revelations.” Before Paul begins to explain his “thorn in the flesh” that leads him to admit his own weakness, he describes a vision that expresses the greatness of God. I myself have been blessed with humility lessons in the form of a “thorn in the flesh” and a vision that expresses the greatness of God.

The following is a journal entry about an event that occurred approximately a month before my foot pain began.

“10/2/10

“August 5th. Four days before school started. I had been walking away, but just a few weeks before, I was closer than ever. But that night changed my life. So, yes, it was a vision from God–not about the future. It was more of an illustration of the plan of salvation, sort o like watching a movie in my head. So here’s what happened: I was confessing sin to God, and it started.

“I ‘saw’ myself; it was like when you’re having a dream and you can’t see yourself, but you know it’s you. Also like the Transfiguration where Peter recognized Moses and Elijah without being introduced. In viewing ‘myself,’ I saw red pain (or possibly blood) mark a ‘no’ sign. Then an X over me appeared in the same way. The next thing I knew, I was being put up on a cross to die. I yelled, ‘No! No!’ (I think I remember saying, ‘Someone help me! Please!’) Then, from the crowd around me, Jesus stepped out. Again, it was like recognizing Him without seeing His face or being introduced. And Jesus said to the people responsible for crucifying me, ‘Let Me take her place!’ Then, those men talked to each other, saying, ‘What has He done wrong?’ ‘Blaspheme. I heard Him claim to be the Son of God.’ (I think I remember hearing ‘Crucify Him!’ from the crowd and group of men.) So I was released off the cross. (I hadn’t been nailed on yet.) As soon as I was released, a group of people nailed Jesus to the cross. I couldn’t handle the pressure of the situation, the fact that an innocent stranger just gave up His life for me, so I ran in the opposite direction, yelling, ‘No! No!’ Then, a group of friends came up to me, saying things like, ‘I heard about what happened to you. Are you okay?’ I don’t remember exactly how I responded, but I started bragging about getting MYSELF off the cross! I didn’t even mention Jesus! All around me, in the place I lived, was complete darkness. Then I turned around and saw Jesus come off the cross by Himself. (I think it was pretty gory.) He came running to me, saying, ‘Emily, I’ve been looking everywhere for you!’ At that point, my friends left with disgusted looks on their faces. Jesus told me, ‘Come on! Climb on My back!’ (I think He was panting from exhaustion and pain.) I replied, ‘But Jesus won’t that hurt you?’ But before I finished, He yelled (but not forcefully), ‘It’s the only way!’ Then He was definitely panting. I hesitated but said, ‘Alright,’ and I got on His back like having a piggy-back ride. Everything changed; all around me was light with no hint of darkness. I saw a road, and at the end of the road was God [the Father]. There is no way to describe how God looked, but the light was brighter and spread out. It was like not being able to point to God because He can’t be contained. The road represents my growth/journey with Christ. And Jesus Christ, my Savior, carried me along the road closer to God. And there the vision ended.

“Now how do I know that this was from God? Well, first of all, while I was ‘watching’ the vision, I was talking to God personally about it. And I remember Him ‘telling’ me to focus. Secondly, it has Scripture references, such as ‘It’s the only way!’ (John 14:6). And lastly, so many points can be taken from the vision that it could only be from God. I know it was not me because my mind could NEVER come up with anything like this! Oh, and another reason to know it was a God-thing: after seeing it, I grew closer to God. And every time I ‘watch’ what my brain remembers from it, I recognize how wonderful God is once again.

“I hope that anyone who reads this will grow closer to God from it.”

So about a month before my pain began, God revealed to me supernaturally His greatness. And the same Holy Spirit that spoke to me in this way lives inside of every person who is a follower of Christ.