Collision – What would Jesus say about our fame obsession?

Collide1When Jesus delivered the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” he used a specific teaching style that established a redemptive dialogue with the culture of the day. He would take a common cultural understanding or a popular belief, and then he would set it against wisdom from the Kingdom of God. He would start each statement with “You have heard…”, outlining the conventional notion about topics like divorce, revenge, adultery, and so on. He would confront the popular notion by saying “but I tell you…” and slam into the assumptions of culture with the radical perspective of the Kingdom.

In this series for Echo High School, we have been asking the question: what would Jesus confront today? What are the popularly held values and beliefs that Jesus would challenge? What would happen if the Kingdom of God collided with our culture? What would Jesus say about some of the things we assume to be true or about what our culture values?

Fame Obsession – I could not help but notice they are remaking the movie Fame. Our culture has an obsession with fame. We see it in shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, and all the other spin-offs and copycats. We hear it in songs by everyone from Eminem to Miley Cirus. We witness fame worship at events like the Oscars and VMAs. We feel it when athletes pursue the best stats at the expense of their team. We are reminded of it every time someone else gets noticed for something and every time we feel less important than someone else. We crave recognition, fame, and notoriety. We dream about being “discovered.” We have all this drive and ambition to be the best, the first, the greatest, the most successful, and the most accomplished. This of course is not inherently evil, but I wonder sometimes how healthy it really is. This drive is what motivates us to do anything of value, but this drive can easily become about leading us to a place of power, control, or fame. This is where Jesus would confront this reality.

I think he would say something like this: “You have heard that chasing fame is a worthy pursuit. But I tell you true greatness is not recognized by crowds. True greatness is found in serving the least. You have heard that you should be worried about becoming something, achieving something, or doing something that makes you great and gets you noticed. I tell you to stop worrying about becoming first or becoming the best. Start worrying about how you can serve those on the bottom.”

Jesus was once asked by his fame-focused followers who was the greatest in the Kingdom of God (check out Matthew 18:1-10). Jesus told them that if they want to go UP in the Kingdom of God, they need to look DOWN. Taking a little child who was undoubtedly looked down on by the self-important disciples, Jesus said they needed to become like “a little child” to understand it. Jesus redefines “greatness.” Greatness is not notoriety, fame, or prestige, it is what you have done to serve the “least.” This passage has a lot to say about the whole “I’m famous but I don’t want to be a role model” nonsense we hear often. Most “famous” people, by the standard of this world, do nothing to benefit such unimportant people as the “least of these.” They would actually be in the camp of people that “cause them to sin.” Jesus’ answer to his disciples let’s them know they are asking the wrong question. It should not be a matter of “how do I get ahead in the Kingdom?” It should be a matter of “who should I serve as an agent of the Kingdom?” They are looking up, but they should be looking down. They are focused on who is the greatest, but Jesus is focused on those who are least.

Seriously – what would change in our world if a handful of people started pursuing service like most people pursue fame or popularity?

Maybe trying to be the coolest person imaginable is not the direction our lives should be heading in. Maybe what we need is some kind of UNCOOL REVOLUTION. What if we were less concerned about being noticed, discovered, recognized, gaining fame and popularity – and more concerned about serving others?

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MTV Video Music Awards

One of my “mentors from afar” (someone who has a great influence on me without ever having met me), Walt Mueller, is an interpreter and analyst of youth culture. He encourages parents and youth pastors every year to sit down for a while and watch the MTV VMA’s. Now I know you have better things than this to do on a Sunday night, but would you consider tuning in for a bit or setting your DVR to capture some of it? Look at the exercise as research into the “world beneath.” They start this Sunday at 9pm EST.

The VMA’s are a window into youth culture. You will see things that disturb you, other things that shock you, and still others that should bother you but do not. Try and watch it through the eyes of a teen or preteen. While you watch, keep these questions in the front of your mind:

Based on what I’m seeing on the VMAs. . .
-who are we as a culture?
-what do we value in our culture?
-what do we believe in our culture?
-how are we choosing to live in our culture?

Truth or Dare – Navigating the crazy mess called Middle School

Truth-or-Dare1We kicked off our Fall series for Echo Middle School last Sunday, where we are trying to help prepare our students for the challenges they will face this school year. We welcomed a new batch of 6th graders that will brave the wild hallways of Mercer or Stone Hill for the first time, many of which were a little bit intimidated. I think it is easy for adults to forget how tough middle school really is. In middle school, we are faced with teachers that know very little about us because they only have us for one hour per day. We are faced with enormous amounts of social pressure and social changes as cliques are formed and friend groups are tested and established. We are faced with physical changes as we are hit with the curse of unwanted and unwelcome hormones. The opposite sex has always had “cooties,” but now we are starting to notice their “booties.” What adult can forget the “fashion anxiety” we experienced for the first time when “fitting in” became a major priority. Add to this the massive amounts of homework and the academic pressure. It seems as if some things you face in middle school are very much adult while what we really want is to still be a kid.

Our new series is focusing on the challenges that students face during adolescence. There are three tasks in the adolescent journey, and every student is seeking to settle these issues in some way:

1. IDENTITY – Who am I and who do I want to be? What defines me? What do I want to be known for?
2. BELONGING – Where do I fit? Who is in my “tribe?” Whose opinions and acceptance matter to me?
3. AUTONOMY – Do I and my choices matter? What am I all about? Do I have a purpose, a reason for being? How to I establish a voice and opinions that are uniquely my own? How do I find independence?

Throughout this series, we will address these questions and dare students to find the answers in Christ and God’s Kingdom. Parents, especially if this is your first teenager, pay attention to these three issues because they will serve as a road map for much of the conflict and drama of the adolescent journey. Fights about curfew and cell phone usage are rooted in their quest for autonomy. The reason they are now embarrassed to be seen with you has everything to do with their quest for belonging in a teenage “tribe.” The reason haircuts, fashion, music, shoes, etc. start to matter so much is because these are avenues of searching and expression in their quest to establish identity.

The big issue spiritually for the teen years, and the one we focus on in ECHO, is whether or not each student will be the influenced or the influencer. As they search this out and navigate the challenges of their teen years, will they go with the flow or will they step out as agents of change for God’s Kingdom? This is a huge challenge, but I have seen so many students step up and into it that I have hope for each of our students. Middle School is tough, but they can actually thrive there and not just survive.

Words – Resposible Communication in the Facebook era

Words-1We are getting close to back to school – so we decided to address some issues for the upcoming year with Echo. We did a short 2 part series called “words” with our middle schoolers this month to address the issue of responsible communication. Think back to a time before twitter, skype, facebook, myspace, instant messenger, texting, cell phones, computers, land lines, and even the printing press. It is hard for me remember that I lived in a time when I was not INSTANTLY reachable through multiple streams of communication all the time. Every time we there has been an advance in communication technology, it has had a major impact on our culture. Why? Because words are powerful. The communication of ideas and opinions is power!

All over the bible, you will find writers pleading with people to recognize the power of words and to be careful with it. James 3 is a great example. James understood that words have power. He cautions people to recognize that what comes out of their mouths can have a dramatic impact on the world, for good or for evil. The playground proverb: “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” has never been true. The bible teaches people to watch carefully what they say. This is such good advice. Once something is spoken, it is out there. It cannot be taken back. In our technologically connected culture, this is even more important. One youth leader told me a story of a work related online discussion forum post he had made 8 YEARS ago that was still available through a google search. Colleges and prospective employers are getting good at checking out facebook pages and other social networks. How can we help our students be safe and responsible with their words, virtual and actual?

Our students need to know that some things should not be shared. Proverbs 10:19 says “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” For issues of safety, privacy, and for the good of others, some things should be kept private. A facebook status update that informs the world that your family is going on vacation for a week and leaving an empty house might as well be an invitation for trouble. Those pictures of teens in their bathing suits they so readily post do not help much in our quest to protect them from becoming objectified. Argument between friends can hurt a lot of people and cause a lot of collateral social damage when it is handled through public wall posts. The fact is, you can find out a load of personal information (pet’s names, school, grade, friends names), right down to the times and places where people are through the internet. If you have not talked with your student to make sure they have the right privacy settings on their social networking pages or to make sure they know what is appropriate to share online, do so right now. One of the things that always impresses me is how poor teens do at choosing chat handles and email addresses. “Dancingcutie94” is not a good screen name. It tells me you are 15 years old and it encourages every creep to imagine you dancing. Check out http://www.safeteens.com/ for more tips.

Questions for parents of teenagers:

*Do you know if your teen uses facebook, myspace, twitter, aim, etc? Do you visit their pages often? Do you have their passwords and account info?
*If your teen has their own cell phone, have you talked about appropriate texting and media use?
*Is the family computer in a “high traffic” area of the house, or do students have access to computers in private locations?

Twilight Part 3 – Edward’s Appetite

twilight-background2Part 3 of my Twilight rant is for the guys. These books are obviously written for the ladies, as the story is told from the point of view of Bella and includes a great deal of her emotional turmoil. Still, they do offer a different take on vampire mythology, which guys can appreciate. So let’s talk about Edward. Edward is a vampire, and as such, he craves blood. The assumption of most vampires in the Twilight universe is something like: “why fight what feels natural? If we weren’t supposed to eat people, we wouldn’t have the urge to eat them.” The urge is viewed as something uncontrollable. Edward is different. Edward is a part of a vampire coven that does not feed on humans. They hunt only animals to satisfy their thirst. They have to work very hard to maintain their lifestyle. They are represent a different kind of vampire.

What God needs right now is a different kind of man. Let me explain.

Every guy has some version of the story. Maybe you found a magazine somewhere. Maybe it was a catalog your mom left out. Maybe you stumbled unto a website you shouldn’t have. Whatever it was, curiosity turned into something different, and something was ignited inside you. Welcome to what one author called “every man’s battle.” I think that a lot of guys “buy in” to the system of the world, where it is assumed that this fire is not controllable. They have urges so they obey them. Lust takes over quickly. Their lives becomes a series of hookups if they have the means and a desperate longing for it if they don’t. Our culture enforces the idea that guys are little more than animal every time they depict males as exaggerated, sex-crazed idiots. Most male characters in teen movies are on an endless quest for sex, as if that is the ultimate pursuit that defines their existence. What are we but animals anyway?

This is an old argument – it goes all the way back to the 1st Century. Back then, it was a religious group called Gnostics that were trying to convince people that it was all “just physical,” so they could partake without having to worry. It is just your body doing those things, your true self does not participate. It doesn’t really work like that. Sex is not just a physical experience (no matter what form it takes). We need to learn to see it in terms beyond that of the animal level. We need to be more than animals.

2 Samuel 11 tells a story that should resonate with young men (and old men) that struggle with their desires and appetites. This account of how David lost a battle with sexual temptation also might have a clue for those looking to become the master their appetites before their appetites master them. King David gets bored late in his life; this epic hero that battled giants and led armies to victory is now tamed by the commonplace demands of administering his kingdom. The other kings go to war, but David stays home. The giant slayer is now entertaining himself with something as thrilling as…a walk…while Joab is out “destroying the Amorites.” Something I notice in the Twilight book is that Edward is his own worst enemy for most of the story. The conflict is between him and his desires: he wants to eat Bella but he also loves Bella and wants to do what is right. This is true until a greater enemy surfaces. Another vampire threatens Bella, and all thoughts about tortured Edward and his appetites and desires are reduced to nothing. Edward comes alive and discovers a strength he didn’t know he had to resist temptation.

Maybe the reason many young men are so tortured by sexual desire and temptation is because they are under challenged and bored. Maybe the problem is that we live such small lives with small challenges and small dreams that we have nothing else to do but brood over our misplaced desires. If young men started stepping out and doing something huge for the Kingdom of God, I wonder if they would find strength they didn’t know they had. Do you think that king David would have been worried about his lust problem on the field of battle?

Here is another idea: what if young men started fighting for her right now, even if they have yet to meet her. I mean they fight for purity as a way to show love and value to “the one.” Save her from the heartbreak and drama that a list of hookups and breakups brings into a marriage by paying the price of purity now. Save her from having to deal with your internet porn addiction by dealing with that issue now. It is entirely possible for men to master their desires.