Friday, November 30, 2012

Justin Bieber, Tim Keller, and Apocalyptic Romance.

Several months ago Justin Bieber released a song entitled “As long as you Love Me.”  The song got as high as  # 15 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and the official music video posted on YouTube has over 88 million views.  That’s right, 88 million.  Needless to say, the song was popular, and my guess would be that a high percentage of teens, especially teen girls, could sing you the lyrics and have seen the music video.   I do not normally watch music videos (or listen to Bieber’s music for that matter), but after hearing the song on the radio I was intrigued, and because I personally know several die hard “Bieberites,” I decided to check it out.   

The video itself was provocative, but to be fair, it is probably no more provocative than the video’s that other pop stars are making these days.  At the beginning of the video, Bieber is confronted by his girlfriend’s father and told to get out of her life.  As the video progresses, it flashes between previous memories and make-out scenes between the two as they make plans to run away together.  At the end of the video, which was a bit surprising, the father catches them, beats Bieber up, and leaves with his daughter.  Although much could be said about the video itself, what caught my attention were the lyrics.  The chorus goes like this:
As long as you love me
We could be starving, we could be homeless, we could be broke
As long as you love me
I'll be your platinum, I'll be your silver, I'll be your gold
As long as you love, love, love, love me (love me)
As long as you love, love, love, love me (love me)

At one point in the song, rapper big Sean chimes in, presumably representing Bieber’s attitude towards his girlfriend, “I don’t know if this makes sense, but you’re my hallelujah.”  These lyrics caught my attention because they offer such a clear example of the message that our culture is aggressively communicating, especially to our teens, about what relationships ought to be like.  Tim Keller, in Counterfeit Gods, refers to this view of relationships as “Apocalyptic Romance.”[1]  According to Keller, apocalyptic romance occurs when two people look to “sex and romance to give us the transcendence and sense of meaning we used to get from faith in God.”  Or, to use Bieber’s song, apocalyptic romance says to the significant other:  “You’re my Hallelujah.”   Keller continues, “We maintain the fantasy that if we find our one true soul mate, everything wrong with us will be healed.”  Of course, that is a lie.  “No lover, no human being, is qualified for that role.  No one can live up to that.  The inevitable result is bitter disillusionment.”  

         The point of all this is not to suggest that we should avoid listening to Justin Bieber, or other such pop artists.  As Christians, we are not called to remove ourselves from the world.  Rather, we are called to not be conformed to the world.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Rom 12:2).  (Plus, if I did suggest such a thing, we might have a High School riot on our hands at NCPC! I won’t name anyone to protect the guilty).  As Christians we are called to engage pop music, as with all culture, with biblical discernment.  We can listen to secular music, but we must be careful not to passively receive the worldview that it communicates.  And when we hear a song like “As long as you love me,” we must remind ourselves, and our children, how the Gospel brings real hope where “Apocalyptic Romance” inevitably fails.   No single person, not even the best in the world, can be our “platinum, silver, and gold.”  Only Christ can satisfy us in that way.

[1] Keller himself borrows this term from Ernest Becker’s book, The Denial of Death

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Developing Godly Family Life: Feeding on the Word Together

There is little doubt that the Word of God is at the center of godly family life.  If we truly believe that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), then there is no getting around it: if we want to see our children come to faith, we ought to be strategic in our family life and patterns in order to maximize their exposure to God’s Word. 

We’ve been thinking about aspects of godly family life in this column for the past couple of months.  So far we’ve explored how praying together and singing God’s praise together are ways in which we can disciple our children in God’s grace. What are some ways to feed our children on the Word?  Let me suggest just a few practical things that we’ve found helpful:

1.     Don’t expect too little from your kids.  This is one of the first potholes of which to be aware.  There is no doubt that I’ve expected too much from them at times when we sit down for family worship.  As a pastor I’ve been way too tempted to expect them to digest larger portions of the Word than they are developmentally equipped to process.  We need to understand their age and capabilities, and my wife is much better at choosing a manageable amount for them.   However we can easily make the mistake of assuming that they just can’t comprehend biblical truths until they are older.  But the Bible is their book too!  There are big concepts to be sure, but I’ve been regularly amazed at what my children can not only pick up, but actually retain and comprehend. 

2.     Schedule regular time where the family gathers around the Word.  This is difficult in a world that lures us away from throne of grace and the kitchen table with sports, music, dance, basket weaving, etc.  Every family has to make their own decisions on the amount of time spent on those enjoyable and often profitable endeavors, but use this simple guideline to help:  Put family worship somewhere in the daily schedule first as a non-negotiable activity.  The time of day will be different for everyone.  But if we don’t do this well ahead of time, other things will crowd the Word out of our daily routines. 

3.     Plan for this time.  This time where the family gathers around the Word of God needs some planning to be effective.   How much you study and what you do with this time depends on the age and spiritual maturity of your children.  If you’ve never done it before and your children are young, there are several different resources to help, including The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm, Leading Little Ones to God by Marian Schoolland, or The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos.  While these are great resources, don’t neglect simply opening up God’s Word and retelling the great stories of the Bible yourself!  I cannot tell you how valuable it has been for us to read through one of the Gospels or the book of Genesis together as a family.   When your children are young you will need to plan ahead of time to decide if there will be will be specific portions to pass over until they are older.  Grab hold of as many of the great stories as you can!  Above all, show them Jesus from every text Scripture (How do we do this?  This will be the subject of next month’s article).  Of course this means that we as parents need to be fed by the Word on our own so we can give it to our children.  Someone once said, “You cannot commend what you do not cherish yourself.”  We must be students of God’s Word, letting it sink deep into us so we can pass it on to our children!

4.     Work on memorizing the Scriptures regularly. We’ve found that the whole family truly benefits from memorizing a portion of Scripture together.  We’ve marveled at how our children have been able to memorize Psalm 8, Psalm 23 Psalm 121 and the Christmas story from Luke 2 to name a few.  Try working on Bible memory at the breakfast table - It’s a great way to begin the day! 

5.     Let the Word be a part of daily routines.  These formal times of biblical training ought to be the foundation for a family life that is suffused with the Scriptures.  One of the big challenges we’ve faced is weaving the biblical truths we’re learning into the fabric of daily routines and not talking about the Bible only at “Bible time.”   Once when we were working on memorizing Psalm 121:1 it helped us have a platform to encourage one of our children in trusting God when struggling with shyness at school.  We talked that morning about seeking God’s strength:  “I lift my eyes up to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.”  What a great encouragement to a child who needs God’s strength to step out in faith!  The biggest challenge (and the biggest need we have) is applying the Word of God to the moments of life. 

There are many more things we could say about this subject, but space is limited.  If you’re not in the habit of opening the Word with your family, why not start tonight? Grab the sermon outline, the kids bulletin, or your children’s Sunday School handouts from Sunday and use them as guides to get started.   Above all, ask God to work the Word of God into the hearts of your entire family.  May God bless your time in His Word!
Pastor David