What’s Wrong With the Selfie Culture?

skyscapperIt turns out our brains like ‘likes’. When someone likes our photos, videos, or blogs, the reward center in our brain get a boost. Serotonin levels go up; we feel good; and then, we begin to engage in patterns and start doing things that keep those likes coming.

Viki Odintcova is no exception. The Russian model has gained approximately 3.3 million followers on Instagram by posting a whole host of provocative photos. And her desire to continue to amass followers and approval continues to drive decisions and  her lifestyle. They are pushing to her crazier and crazier  heights. Her most recent photo and video posts crossed a line, earning a strong rebuke from the nation of Dubai (the location of her latest stunt).

Yet the line she crossed was not the one of decency. She did not accidentally reveal the swimsuit parts of her body. No, she hung out of a window located on the 73 floor of a Dubai skyscraper. And what makes the pictures even more crazy and like worthy is that Viki was supported only by her assistant. She had no harness, ropes, or safety lines. She was suspended over 500 feet by a single hand. A slip or a missed step, and Viki would have lost everything. And still she proceeded to dangle her life in an effort to win the approval of millions of people whose only connection was a insignificant click.

And I fear that Viki is not alone. Over 25% of millennials, (our current college students and young adults) expect to be famous by the time they are 30. They believe that they are noteworthy, smart, and full of good ideas. In short, the problem with our young people and the problem that drove Niki to hang off of a skyscraper are not ultimately technological. They are theological. Increasingly, our culture as Barna notes is being revolutionized by the worship of self.

Young people are increasingly seeing themselves as the best judge of the world and others. They have also decided that they are sufficient. They can find the answers to their greatest needs, problems, and challenges from within. They have the power to keep the reward center in their brain humming along. Consequently, Viki hung off the side of the building because she concluded this was the best way to find joy, fulfillment, and happiness. And, she was willing to rick everything, her beauty, her human dignity, and her very life to get it.

3d4009e400000578-4227818-image-m-4_1487172760459The way to prevent future Viki’s is not to fight back against the smart phone. Rather, we need to challenge the theological framework that is driving the culture of self.  We need to share the beauty of Christ. We need to help our youth to see that a life motivated from within leads not to happiness but to misery, enslavement, and death. And in some cases as Viki has shown that death may not be far away.

And then, we need to highlight the glories of Christ. We need to teach that the truest life is found outside ourselves. It is found in a relationship with the God of the universe that is possible because his son has already died for all our sin.

As John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Jesus is the solution to the millennial quest for greatness. And if our young people do not grasp this, we can expect that Viki will not be alone. For the false religion of self, that dominates pop culture will do just what Jesus said it would do. It “will kill and destroy.”

3 Lessons Church Leaders Can Learn From the Emoji Bible

Emoji-BIble-BlogThe King James only crowd is finally cool again. Well at the very least, they have emojis. Earlier this week, the very first emoji Bible was released on ITunes. And it’s based on the KJV. How cool?  As the anonymous translator told one newspaper,

“I think if we were to fast-forward 100 years, an ‘emoji’ Bible of some kind would exist, so I thought, ‘Why not try and make it?

In short, the latest attempt to produce a contextualized translation of the scriptures that today’s adults can relate to has popped out an emoji Bible. If you want to try it out for yourself: click here to turn your favorite verses into the emoji translation.

While I do not think anyone has to switch over to the Emoji Bible, we do need to realize what it signifies. It signifies that our world is changing. If we hope to reach the next generation with the scriptures, we Christians must be willing to embrace social media, emojis, and whatever else comes next. Believe it or not, the Emoji Bible is targeting people between the ages of 17-35. If Millennials are speaking emoji, what will their kids be speaking?   

Now, I do not think we need to embrace emojis as a major form of biblical communication. The written word carries power that pictures cannot. The medieval church found this out the hard way. All those beautiful stained glass windows were placed in Cathedrals to help the poor understand the Bible. But those pictures lacked the gospel inspired insight of the Holy Spirit. Even today, millions of people interact with those pictures and have no clue what they really mean. God’s word is the power to salvation. No picture or group of pictures can take the place of the words found in Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, Matthew, or Romans. In many ways, appealing to emojis is not so much a leap into the future as a step back into the past. (Nothing new under the sun).  We already tried the picture book approach and should stay with the written word. But at the end of the day, I am not too concerned about the Emoji Bible’s effect on biblical translation. As Christ said, in Matthew 5:18,

4 truly, i say 2 u, until ✨✨✨ & 🌎 pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

3 Lesson

 The Emoji Bible represents that our culture is reachable if we are willing to be fluid and creative. Again, I am not talking about doctrine or about the scriptures. God’s word is God’s word in every age.  

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever – Heb. 13:8.

I am discussing our methods of communication. Here our three things the Emoji Bible teaches us:

1. We can connect with our culture

Did you notice that Emoji Bible was not published by Lifeway, Zondervan, or Crossway?  It was self-published. The days of taking years and months to respond to change are over. Anyone can communicate at any time. As the church, we need to embrace our technological world. We need to blog, host video conferences, and tweet. We need to be willing to quickly and thoughtfully engage our culture. If we wait till Sunday and Wednesday to influence people, we will reach fewer and fewer men and women. We need to be ready to spontaneously connect with the world around us as needs arise.

2.We need to be embrace to change

As I said earlier, I do not think the Emoji bible is a bible emoji 1huge step in the development of Bible translations. But it is a great attempt at going with the culture. And we need to learn from its author. We need to seek to reach people where they are and with their language. If everyone is on Instagram or Snapchat, then we should go to Instagram and Snapchat. If people start communicating primarily through Facebook live streaming, then we should start live streaming. The Emoji Bible is showing us that we need to be willing to let the tools of yesteryear fade. Instead pridefully clinging to what has worked, we need to embrace the spontaneity of this generation and our kids’ generation. We need to be willing to change.

3.We need to be creative

I know the Emoji Bible is not a great work of art. I know it’s not going to be placed in the Louvre anytime soon. But it is super creative. People are talking about it because it represents out of the box thinking. It represents creativity. It represents something new. We and the people in our churches need to be creative. We need to be finding new ways to communicate the amazing story of the gospel. It’s not boring. Our God’s not boring. We need to reflect God’s character when we communicate the word.

Final Thoughts

I do not know what language our kids will speak. But I am sure of this: to reach kids, to reach this current generation of millennials with the gospel, we must embrace the methodology behind the Emoji Bible. We must seek to reach our culture by being willing to change and by embracing creativity!

When Things Go Bad

SalvationSeries_WhenThingsGoBad_7With sincerity deeply set inside his eyes, Alex bubbled with excitement as he described God calling him to minister to the internationals our youth group had been serving the past ten days. As we reflected upon our time spent in VBS and building projects, Alex seemed to be only a brief four year stint in college away from becoming a sold out missionary. As we all came down from our spiritual high, Alex took off for college. He never returned to church. Instead of missions, he embraced a life of sexual exploits and familial chaos.

Up to this moment, our discussion of salvation, baptism, and parental responsibility has assumed a positive outcome. Namely, all of our discussions assume that our children will get saved. And though salvation is the goal of godly parenting, it’s not the guaranteed outcome. We don’t simply push ABC and get S. Regardless of how hard we try, we cannot manipulate God into saving our children or friends via our good works. God must save.

And often God does not. Study after study has shown that Alex’s story is increasingly representative of the Millennial Generation. More than half of the children born during the 1980’s and early 1990’s to Christian parents have left the church (Ham, Beemer, & Hillard, p. 25). Now, we are asking, “What do we do when things go wrong?”

 Admittedly, I have only recently been granted full access into the parenting club. I cannot speak to this issue as a parent. Rather, I address the topic as a fellow believer who has been given several opportunities to minister to those who have rejected the gospel for sin. If you are looking for wisdom from those who have ministered to a rebellious child, I highly recommend the book, When Good Kids Make Bad Choices, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jim Newheiser. Without further ado, let’s look at how to handle the realities of unbelief.

Don’t Ignore Reality  

Perhaps the hardest thing for families and friends of unbelievers to do is to admit these lost souls are lost. Perhaps to avoid this heavy burden of misplaced shame or to excuse our need to loving confront sin, many of us walk around saying that the marijuana crazed son, or the daughter with the live-in boyfriend are still good, God loving people. After all, they used to go to church and they did get baptized. We don’t know what happened. Most likely, they are just a little confused.

Friends, the Bible does not say these souls are confused. It declares them to be unregenerate; they are lost. The apostle John clearly lets us know that “they went out from us, because they were not of us” (I John 2:19) Our children and friends did not leave the church and embrace sin because they are confused Christians. They had a form of religion for a time.  But they left because they never experienced the power of salvation. They may know the Bible but they do not know Christ. The clearest sign of unbelief is open abandonment of the church and the doctrines of grace. The apostle James writes, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:4). If your loved one cherishes the sins and philosophies of this  world, they are not saved. There is no faith without obedience.

If we want to see our children and friends embrace Christ, we must clearly, compassionately, and consistently call them sinners. If we do not call them to repentance, we may avoid conflicts and blunt their rejection. But, we will blind them the hope and mercy of God.

Although I know there are many contributing factors to the numbers listed below, I believe Christians who excuse and/or ignore their loved ones sins have unwittingly destroyed the integrity of the Christian faith. Today, 65% of young adults identify themselves Christians. But only 6% of them actually believe in the God of the Bible (Rainer, pp. 232-33). Let’s not excuse a person’s lack of faith and make them a son of hell twice over. Let’s remind our sons, daughters, and friends that they are sinners in need of real, life transformational repentance.

Cling To The Hope of Christ

               I also understand calling your children or friends “sinners” is a heart wrenching task. And watching a loved one reject the faith is discouraging. Yet, we all have hope. Our suffering at the hands of disrespectful teens is not the end of the story. The harsh conversations, the sleepless nights spent questioning our ministry strategies, and the unanswered texts are being used by God to make us into a stronger Christian. I know that no Christian longs for suffering, but the pain caused by our children or friends is for our good. Paul says that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:4-5). If our children or friends have or are in the process of walking away from the faith, take heart.

Hopefully the situation will be for the benefit of our loved one. God often bring us low so that we can see our need to embrace Christ as savior. Think of the parable of the prodigal son. But the family drama is ultimately for our benefit. We will come out a stronger and more complete believer. And yes, it will be difficult, and yes, you may feel like you’ve been pushed to the breaking point. A few pencils may snap and a cell phone maybe thrown against the couch before it’s all said and done. But we will achieve victory through the power of Christ. You and I will survive this hardship because God does not fail! He upholds us; he is the basis of our hope. God has done all of the hard work. Believe on the Lord Jesus. God the Father will be glorified as you daily become more like Christ.

 Get Inspired By God

Remember to love. When God saved us, we were his enemies, destined to be judged forever and condemned to hell. We were completely unlovable. Nothing made us seem attractive to God. Truthfully, we really don’t find each other all that attractive. I doubt any of you would sacrifice your son or daughter so that I could life. And I’m not offended. I would never think of letting either of my two sons die to save you.  Yet, God in his mercy saved us by covering our sins with the blood of his son. This is a radical life altering love that is so huge that it cannot be grasped by our human minds (Eph. 3:19). Oh what love we have felt!  

When we feel tempted to write off our children and friends with a puff of self-righteousness, we need to remember how our heavenly Father loved us. Since God loved us while when we despised him, how can we not show this love to our unrepentant children and friends. I know it’s not an easy task. But we can do it. We must do it. As Christians, we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven (Col 3:13). Even though our biblical advice is rejected, we continue to love these lost souls by encouraging them when they excel at work, by supporting them financially when appropriate, and by always being willing to offer them a kind hug or a soft shoulder. Although we should never directly fund a drug addiction or other sinful habits, we must always be seeking ways to love our children and friends. We are to love them with the love with which Christ has loved us.   

Nothing is Impossible

Often when our family devotion fails or our discipleship program has disappointing results, we tend to think God has failed. Nothing is further from the truth. We may have failed if we inaccurately presented the gospel or if we blunted the power of the gospel by living sinful lives. But God is still at work. Salvation via you and me is impossible, but with God nothing is impossible.

This is not to say that we have a guarantee that God will save every child raised in the church. People often think Proverbs 22:6 is a promise. The verse reads: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Simply teach a kid Jesus and he will get saved. But this cannot be right. If we claim a good discipleship program saves, then we save people through human effort. God said salvation by through human effort was,” impossible” (Mat 19:26).  The verse must mean something else.

The Proverbs are not promises to be claimed. Rather, they are short statements that reflect general Biblical truth about life. Generally speaking those who have been trained in godliness will not depart the faith. And, we do often see God saved children who have believing parents. However, there are exceptions to these general rules. Think of Jehoshaphat’s family. The ancient King brought revival to his kingdom. But, his son did “What was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chron. 20-21). Not every child who grows up in a Christian home will become a Christian.

But with God nothing is impossible. Jesus can and does save the lost and dying. Just think of Paul he was actively arresting and having Christians killed. Yet, God saved him. If God can save Paul, he can most certainly save our children and friends. Even in the darkest of hours, hope in God! Plead with him to save your loved one!   

Going Forward

Today the youngest Millennials are finishing junior high.  The window of opportunity to reach this generation through family worship is on the verge of disappearing. But the ability of parents to evangelize and disciple this generation is not coming to an end. Almost 90% of America’s largest generation looks to their parents for guidance and advice (Rainer, p. 55). And 88% of these young adults think their parents are a positive influence (Rainer, p. 245). In other words, adult children value parental guidance. Parents, reaching the next generation for Christ is only a cellphone call, a Skype conversation, or Facebook message away.

The End

As we wrap up the Baptism Class For Parents, I want to return to where I began. Parents, God has given us an unprecedented ability to reach our kids. Whether your child is a wiggly infant or sitting calmly in a cubicle, God wants you to reach them for Christ. Admittedly how we go about reaching our kids depends a great deal on their age and the nature of their heart. But the fundamental principles that underlie our interactions with the next generation remain the same. We pursue Christ with our heart, soul, and mind. Then we share our passion for God with our children via prayer time at the dining room table or a quick text message (Duet. 6:4-9). Certainly, we will make mistakes, misdiagnose our child’s heart, and will struggle at times. But ultimately the salvation of our children doesn’t begin or end with us. God saves. Regardless of where we and our children are, nothing is impossible with God!    

Works Cited

Ham, K., Beemer, B., & Hillard, T. (2012). Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What you can do to Stop it. Green Forest: Master Books .

Rainer, T. S. (211). The Millennials: Connecting To America’s Largest Generation . Nashville: B&H Publishing Group .