Discussing Captain America News with Your Child

Yesterday the comic book world was treated to a startling piece of information in that Captain America has outed himself as a member of HYDRA. For those of you not gasping in incredulity, this one may take some explanation.

Before I begin, you may want to read this article, as I will use a few ideas from it to make a point or two. First, please be aware that this is a fairly standard money-grab, shock-jock tactic to sell a few more comic books as people rush to their local comic shop to see if the scuttlebutt is true. (The joke may be on Marvel and its writers, however, as there are many useful websites that divulge plot information and whole comics for free. Not that these are morally correct, but it does change the situation somewhat.) What this means is that Captain America will go back to being a bastion of justice and truth just as soon as this quarter’s earnings have come in. And that little analysis there brings me to my next point.

American cynicism has gotten out of hand. We have a very hard time believing anyone is decent, let alone good. How could Steve Rogers (Captain America) be so righteous and moral? Surely he’s got some deep, dark secret that disqualifies him from being a good man, right?

Well, that deep, dark secret this month is that Captain America has secretly been a HYDRA double agent all along. So what’s HYDRA? HYDRA (if you couldn’t tell from the reference to a gigantic monster or the fact that it’s all caps) is an evil organization that developed as an offshoot of the Nazi war machine during WWII, as written by Marvel comics. Yes, if you do the math correctly there, it does mean that Captain America is effectively a Nazi. If that doesn’t bother you just a little bit, it should.

So in a bigger picture look, the writers decided that in a world that is screaming for diversity in media and mercy for the refugee and helping those trapped in poverty Captain America, who traditionally fought to right these wrongs, should come out as a secret Nazi. Surely we can all see that our political situation is not the best. We can all see the unrest that has stemmed from poverty and a broken welfare system. We can all see that there are people in the world who are, in fact, choosing evil over good. We understand that our world needs fixing and is not in the best state.In that case, why would we decide that a fictional character designed to give hope should be striving against fixing the world and trying to destroy it.

As parents living in a world of superheroes, I don’t envy you having to discuss this issue (pun not intended) with your children. Hopefully this will all be some kind of ruse and this hero will be reinstated as the commiserate good guy. Until then, we have some soul-searching to do about how we raise this next generation. Do we want them to inherit this rampant cynicism, or would we rather them accept the world as it is and work to actively change it for the better?

As Christians, we also have to accept that no human being is perfect and that we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. Maybe that’s the take away here. It’s a hard discussion to have, but your children understanding that human beings have flaws is a part of maturing.

Maybe the discussion includes making plans to apologize when we as adults make mistakes, instead of talking them away or brushing them off. Perhaps this upcoming generation will have a better grasp on what it means to be human in the realm of forgiveness and understanding.

Has this news about Captain America reached your child yet? How will you handle the discussion? Will you allow your child to continue rooting for superheroes? Will you wait this event out to see how the characters fair with time?


Success Doesn’t Equal a Deal with the Devil

I’m starting to understand how highway truckers must feel retreading the same highways over and over again with very little changing with each pass. So, we are going to retread some familiar territory, with a slightly new twist today. (See this post and this one, for similar topics.)

So I did an internet search yesterday, and I’m finding myself starting to get sick with the number of Christian bloggers who feel it is their job to “protect” the flock from what they consider false or flagging teachers. Brothers, sisters, we have a society that is all to eager to bring the Church down, why are we giving it the satisfaction of watching us tear it down with our own hands?

For all of my harshness there, I can see the good intention underneath the knee-jerk reactions and misunderstandings. I’m sure many of these writers are truly looking out for the best for those that read their work. On the other hand, I don’t often see any of these writers reach out to the people they criticize to ask for any kind of further information or clarification.

One of these I recently read was this article by an author named Josh Buice on www.deliveredbygrace.com. He wrote clearly, and succinctly, on the topic at hand, and I admire his ability to communicate clearly and effectively. (If you want succinct, though, I have a hard time with that aspect of writing.)

Andy Stanley has been coming under fire lately for several statements that may not have been as clear as they were intended to be. I could write page after page on how often I’ve had to pause to clarify something I’ve said myself after watching the faces of friends and family wrinkle in confusion. Being able to say the phrase, “I’m sorry, that came out wrong. Let me try that again” or asking the question, “What did you hear me say just then?” are wonderful tools in any person’s communication box.

Stated Problem #1 – Andy Stanley Doesn’t do Verse-by-Verse

Now, personally, I prefer this method… However, I also understand that not everyone learns the same way I do. Andy Stanley’s goal is to make Jesus as accessible as possible, and sometimes that means not going through verse-by-verse, but rather focusing on the big topic or main story. Andy Stanley also talks about the idea of the “sticky thought.” He wants people who hear him speak to come away with one idea that they can put into practice the second they walk out the door. I’m ok with this. Jesus taught this way – using stories and illustrations that all focused on one point, but could be unpacked and delved into for even greater meaning.

Stated Problem #2 – Andy Stanley Designs Church for Unchurched People

Ok, real talk. If Jesus showed up at our churches with his friends, we might turn him away. We’d be able to smell cigarette smoke and wine on him from a party the night before (Matthew 9:9-13; 11:18-19) and maybe a few days of unwashed sweat and road dust. You’d take a look at his hard-living, sea-and-road-hardened followers and note thieves, revolutionaries, and a not a few fishy (pun) fellows with him. Not the dressed-up, showered, middle-to-upper class people we’d expect in a suburban church environment.

So, no, Andy Stanley doesn’t want to make church for church people. His goal is to get out there and get a hold of those people who are hurt by, scared of, or even hateful toward the church by giving them something they’ve never gotten – a warm welcome. There’s a phrase – I’m not sure who said it – that says, “Any system is perfectly designed to get the results it is currently getting.” If you notice that a church isn’t having many baptisms and seems to attract people who are simply finding a new church – then that church may be designed to draw “church” people.

Jesus didn’t hang around the traditionally “religious” people, he hung around the sinners, drinkers, cussers, and morally confused. Are our churches a place where these kinds of people would feel safe, like they could re-orient and heal in the presence of Jesus?

Stated Problem # 3 – Andy Stanley Isn’t Hard on Homosexuality

See paragraph above. Also, if Andy Stanley prefers to handle this issue in a personal way, without blasting people with a sermon, he’s approaching the situation like Jesus did on occasion. Take John 8:2-11 for example, when Jesus doesn’t say anything to the adulterous woman until everyone has left, and then says, “Go, and sin no more.” As a church, we should see that picketing and shouting has done nothing but anger people we want to save. Sure, we have good intentions, we want people to see where they’re outside of God’s will, but when has anyone ever changed their mind and life by being shouted to deafness? Relationship and time are the tools to address deep seated issues. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted […],” is what Proverbs says. If we want change to happen, we have to begin at a personal level and not try to wage some kind of culture war.

Stated Problem # 4 -Andy Stanley Won’t Say, “The Bible Says…”

And I agree with him. I cannot tell you how much damage has been done by the phrase, “the Bible says.” Whenever I hear that phrase, my immediate thought is, “Does the Bible say that, or does this speaker say that?” I also go to this scene in Fiddler on the Roof. (Scroll to timestamp 2:32 for the long version or 5:16 for the punchline.)

I understand that there is always interpretation involved when speaking about the Bible, but all Andy Stanley is doing is giving his listeners the ability to go back and see if the Bible really does say that. How? Well, Andy Stanley, instead of saying, “the Bible says,” gets more specific, saying, “Philippians 2:3-4 says…” He’s not questioning the authority of the Bible so much as he is giving people the option to be like the Bereans and, “examine the scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11b)

Stated Problem # 5 – Andy Stanely Questions the Bible’s Truthfulness

Ok, here’s one where it’s much harder to defend the quotation used from Stanley, but I’ll try to explain his reasoning, at the very least. Here’s the point: the Bible cannot mean something that it never meant originally. So, to use the Bible as a scientific textbook is to look at God’s Word in entirely the wrong way. There are also many places where we have had issues in translation or copying that have made life difficult as far as interpretations are concerned. (Just research the King James Version and its translation and copying errors, including one of the first printings that excluded “not” in “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”) Historical-Literary Criticism (which isn’t as bad as it sounds) helps to better understand the worldview and mindset of those who wrote down the words we have in the Bible, so that we can better understand what it means for us today. I could go into this deeper, but suffice to say, high-level biblical training does come in a variety of methods and practices, and it can be used to bolster belief, or crush it entirely. It would be beneficial for Christians to better understand the Bible: who wrote it, who read it, and the copying and transmission methods that got it from the original pens to our hands today.

Stated Problem # 6 – Andy Stanley Said Small Churches are Bad

See this post…

Stated Problem # 7 – Andy Stanley Wouldn’t Use the Bible as a Starting Point

If you read the original post, here again, Mr. Stanley’s phrasing is poor. What I hear Mr. Stanley trying to say is that immediately jumping into the “Roman Road” may not be the best method for convincing someone of the truth of Jesus’ Kingship. Stanley says something about there being thousands of Christians before the Bible – by which he probably means the New Testament, in which case he’d be correct. The Bible that Paul refers to in many of his letters would have been the Hebrew Bible, because the New Testament was written several years after the Resurrection. This means that the stories about Jesus and his resurrection would have been passed along by word of mouth until they were written down.

So, in effect, Paul, especially when speaking to Gentiles, who for the most part would have been unfamiliar with the Hebrew scriptures, would have begun with the idea of the resurrection. (Acts  17:16-31, for example) So many people in today’s world view the Bible as a book of rules and laws that would hamper their life and remove all joy and happiness. And looking at the way some Christians have used the Bible, I cannot blame them. So, maybe, taking a leaf out of Jesus’ playbook and announcing the Kingdom of God with stories and illustrations that lead back into the Bible and its great story of God working to right the world might be a good idea for some situations.


Maybe instead of just pointing out one another’s flaws, we should first contact that person in question (or at least PR people) and ask for clarification before writing our thinkpiece. Also, can we as a Church please avoid making broad sweeping generalizations about people and listen more?

To wrap up: words are so important. Words were a part of creation.  Jesus is called the Word, who began a new creation at the resurrection. We are a part of that new creation, being called onward and upward by the transformation and renewal of our minds. We are, in effect, messengers, ambassadors of a Kingdom that stretches backward and forward through time, and we serve the King that is above all. Why then are we seeking to bring down others? As the title suggests, sometimes success does not mean that someone has sold their soul to the devil, or to secular society. Perhaps, that person has been blessed with some manner of clear vision and the ability to make it a reality. But remember, to place any human being on a pedestal is a recipe for disappointment. So let’s work to support one another, offering personal correction  and clarification when it’s needed. And, really, we’ve all had a day when we said something the wrong way and managed to anger or disappoint someone.

Why your church can be a great place for kids. Or, why Andy Stanley had to apologize.

Ok, let’s be honest, Alex is behind the curve again. I didn’t hear about this Andy Stanley calling small church people “so stinkin’ selfish” or something like that until today. Understandably, all of the videos I tried to hunt down have been removed by North Point Ministries. Since the video went viral and generated so much vitriol on social media, Stanley has apologized stating that “even [he] was offended.”

First of all, Andy Stanley is a human being. He also makes mistakes, like the rest of us, and as Christians we should forgive and let go. (And, really, the high pedestal we put ministers on crushes more of them than it helps. Another topic, another day.) He’s already going to have to live with that statement for a while and has lost credibility with many that looked up to him. The least we can do is try to understand where his mind was. As I mentioned in a previous post, being happy that a successful church made a mistake is about as un-Christ-like as it gets. We are better than this as God’s children.

Secondly, he has a point. The point he was trying to make is that children need a healthy environment with other children to help them along in their journey with Jesus. Sure, we often like to cite the fact of “where two or three are gathered,” but try asking a child if they’d invite a friend to a 3 person party. Then ask if they’d be willing to be the new person at a 3 person party. Does that shed some clarity?

The church where I currently serve and worship has been my church home for nearly 14 years now. I grew up here. Much of my Christian formation was here. My youth minister from that time is a big part of why I decided ministry was where God was leading me. (Trust me, very few choose ministry – it chooses them. It’s a scary position – read Jesus and Paul talking about a teacher’s role.)

The reason my family stayed at this church? My brother and I. We were 4 and 10 respectively and we immediately fell in love with the other kids and the leaders in our groups. While we were visiting churches, both of us would beg to go back to this church because experiencing Jesus was fun and engaging.

The point I want to make is this: your church home will be a part of shaping how your children grow and develop as disciples. If your church is not equipping you and your children for faith development – ask your leaders about it and get something started. If you feel strongly about it, you may have to be the one to create children’s programs. You may be the one to ask for space for a nursery, or for children’s rooms. You may need to be the one to find volunteers and invite parents. As a very, very final last resort, after everything else has failed – if the leaders don’t act, maybe it’s time to find a church that considers children a priority.  (I’m very biased as a children’s minister as to the importance of Children’s Ministry, which means that as I write this I am keenly aware of what these statements mean for myself and my team.)

Can smaller churches provide the kind of environment where children can thrive? Of course. Can they do it with excellence? Of course. Does it take effort, time, and dependence on God? A thousand times yes. Could you be the one to lead the charge? It’s very possible.

I am not advocating that you leave the family that you worship with each Sunday. I am not advocating that you find your nearest mega church and be overwhelmed.

I am, simply, asking you to evaluate your church family. I am asking you to fight for your church family and challenge the leaders to step up to the issues facing kids, preteens, and teenagers – if they haven’t started already. I am asking you to think, love, and act like Jesus when it comes to bringing about needed change.

And if you’re church-hopping right now… maybe take some time and listen to where your children want to go.

Gleefully Watching the World Burn

Ok, just a quick post.

The past week a particular blog post has been circulating around concerning a particular Chattanooga area church. There are some troubling statements in it. It concerns me and I will be praying for that church. (No I’m not linking to the article, nor am I discussing what was said.)

But why would we, as Christian brothers and sisters so gleefully chuckle and clap our hands as this church begins to self-examine? Is there something inherently amusing about watching someone go through a trial? Do we want to watch an entire church crumble?

I would say it would be better for us all to pray. Pray that hearts are softened and change takes place. Pray that people flocking to that particular church are willing to stop, check Scripture, and make wise decisions about how to discuss what they believe.

Paul never had it in his mind to joyfully rip a church to shreds over its beliefs. Read Colossians, in which the church was beginning to face the tendrils of proto-gnosticism, and how lovingly, yet firmly, Paul reminds them of what he taught. Even the harshest of Paul’s letters, Galatians, still has the feel of a stern, but loyal coach who wants to see his players succeed in more than just the game.

So when you read the blog post, don’t cheer or laugh. Don’t secretly hope that all of those people will suddenly flock to your church. Pray. Pray hard.

How hard is too hard to smack my brother?

Those of you with siblings know the struggle between wanting to smack your sibling and wanting to hug them into a coma. The question going through many sibling minds is, “How hard can I smack this person before they cry and I get in trouble?” So the mental math ensues and generally older siblings always overestimate the amount of force it takes to silence a younger sibling, crying ensues, and suddenly one (or both) siblings find themselves at the receiving end of a stern talking to.

Ok, but what’s this got to do with real life? Well, lately, I’ve noticed that Christians and parents have a lot of good things to say. (Not that those groups are mutually exclusive…) What tends to happen though, is the way things are said tend to intercept the good message and replace it with a bad Google Translate version of whatever we were trying to say.

There are several big talking points floating around right now, one of them being gun laws vs gun rights. (Put those down, I’m not picking sides on this one, hear me out.) The way we have the discussions often changes the meaning of those discussions. I don’t know about you, but when one of my beliefs are challenged  I can sometimes take it personally and end up angry at the other person for attacking me. What I tend to forget is that my opinion is not me, it’s an idea. Now, if someone were to poke me with a sharp stick, that’s a different story, but simply having an opinion attacked is a very different story. Lashing out at the other side rarely wins them over, instead, it tends to make the other side that much more determined to hold their own opinion rather than to consider a different one.

Let’s get personal for a second. When one of these talking points comes up, how do you and the people in your household talk about them? Now, imagine those same words coming out of your child’s mouth. If it sounds perfectly logical and loving and cute, great. If it sounds out of place, perhaps the way we discuss these issues could use some work. Kids learn how to interact with others and their opinions through their parents.

So the question stands, when I see someone who seems to have a wrong opinion, how hard should I bring the book down on them? Depends. Do you want to have a fruitful, engaging discussion that could end with the two of you understanding one another and perhaps winning a friend or a fellow believer in whatever opinion it is, or would you rather have a heated argument that leads to broken friendships and not being invited over for tea ever again.

How do you have discussions at your house? Are your disagreements spoken with a mind to the other human beings involved? Are they spoken with the idea that the other human beings involved are children of God?

He’s Not Correct, He’s My Brother

I love humor, maybe more than most people. In fact, as unhealthy as it might be, it’s one of my coping mechanisms. I am a believer that in difficult circumstances, we have two main options, laugh or cry. Now, some people fall along the area between those two, but I prefer to laugh. My love of humor and comedy have been a point or disagreement between my wife and I because she tends to shy away from pure comedy movies and shows, while I tend to gravitate toward them. (However, if we can find a show/movie that has a few laughs along with a good number of explosions, we’re both happy for the most part. And, yes, she’s the one that needs the explosions and action.)

I have noticed a growing trend

I have realized more and more that Christians have a tendency to rib one another from time to time… forcefully… with verbal knives… to the heart… And I have grown to have some issues with this. Yes, there will be brothers and sisters of ours who have their differences and particular beliefs and practices that we disagree with, but we’re still siblings.

“That’s all fine and dandy,” I hear some say, smugly, with a cheeky grin spread across their faces, “but we can’t all be right!” The assumption here being that these smugly smiling siblings are correct… And, no, I’m not going to preach about which group is most inherently correct on a particularly minute theological point that seems so insurmountable compared to the resurrection and subsequent Kingship of Jesus Christ and His command and prayer for His people to be one as He and the Father are One – Oh wait, that tiny point doesn’t seem so massive anymore…

We can all learn from our fellow believers. We can learn a sense of awe, wonder and reverence from the Catholic and Anglican liturgies. Lutherans’ focus on grace is exceedingly admirable, as is the Reformed traditions reliance on Scripture. We could all benefit from having at least one Charismatic friend, because, goodness knows, we don’t talk about the work of the Holy Spirit much in most groups. And we can certainly learn something about fellowship from Baptists. (I know there’s so much more to each of these groups, but if I kept going, we’d be here… well… longer than I care to type today.)

So instead of constantly putting down our siblings, why don’t we work together? First, let’s start with our commonalities (Jesus being the primary one) and work out of the command to be unified and take care of others. And, second, if we must deal with our differences, let us learn from former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and use those differences to better define our own beliefs. Hearing how someone else believes can certainly allow us to think through our own belief and explain to ourselves why we believe the way we do.

So, Internet (I’m looking at you specifically Facebook), let’s show a little more grace toward our fellow Christians. If you truly feel someone is wrong, maybe go to them in person, or with a phone call – public debates don’t usually end with the statement, “I sure am glad you called me out in front of the entire Internet, my mind is completely changed now!”

I seem to recall Jesus saying something about this… *cough*Matthew 18:15-16*cough*

Working with kids, this is especially important. Kids will pick up on prejudice very quickly and often in shocking ways. The way we talk about other believers in our homes and in our churches will impact the ability of the next generation to look at a fellow Christian and see Christ instead of an enemy.

How do you talk about other denominations in your home? What were you taught about other denominations? Do you know anyone from another Christian denomination?

(Full Disclosure: Being from the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ [Stone Campbell Movement] means that my own group’s biggest focus is… wait for it… unity. Also, if anyone has any Stone-Campbell movement jokes and would like to share, please do. I’ve heard so many about other people’s groups, but never about my own… We might have more jokes if more people knew about us, but that’s ok, too!)

The Dad Dilemma

This may say more about me than I would really like, but this is what comes to mind when I hear people start talking about what it means to be a man.

We're men! Men in tights! Yes!

We’re men! Men in tights! Yes!

That odd reference aside, the idea of being a father and being a man have changed in the past few years. And from what I’ve heard, one day that men cringe at over others (at least when it comes to sermon topics and speeches) is Father’s Day. Ah, the grand day when men are told to “get off your duff and go be a dad.”

Often times, when I hear these speeches from presidential podium, pulpit, Senate floor, or otherwise, the phrase, “go be a dad” is often shouted, but the “how?” question is rarely answered. How many men have been shown how to be a dad by the time their own kids enter the world?

The bygone days when a son would take his father’s occupation upon himself are mostly gone, so the apprenticeship model isn’t there to fall back on anymore. More than ever, men are expected to work long hours because competition for jobs is fierce and the corporate world can often be cutthroat. We’ve all seen the portrayals of the hard-worked father having to choose between keeping his job and providing for a family and attending some sporting or artistic event.

In fact, the whole concept of what it means to be a man is different now than it used to be. A man is no longer defined primarily by his position, occupation, and station in life. Ask any two people what being a man means, and you’ll more than likely get different answers.

So, the answer to “how do I do this dad/man thing?” ends up pretty open-ended. So here’s what I learned from my dad, and maybe it’ll help.

Being a dad/man means…

following Jesus and standing up for what’s right.

respecting others, caring for the hurting, and seeking out justice for those not receiving it.

caring for the earth, sometimes with dirty hands, and sometimes simply separating the recycling.

having curiosity and seeking out answers to deep question, and trying new things.

using your skills and talents to benefit others and looking out for their best interest over your own.

really, being like Jesus.

Being a man doesn’t take proficiency with weapons, driving a stick, owning the most camo or even having the widest swagger. Interested, hobbies, and particular skills have nothing to do with it. And being a dad is similar, from what I’ve seen in my own father.

Be like Jesus. Play. Laugh. Love. Cry. Wrestle. Discuss. Encourage.

I can’t think of a single better compliment to a dad than to hear their child say, “My dad shows me Jesus.”