Thanks-giving or Thanks-buying?

How many people will be spending their Thanksgiving day writing up a list of things to buy on Black Friday? How many people will be spending their Thanksgiving day writing up their own Christmas list, carefully mulling over everything they want to get and then ranking them in order by what they want the most? Honestly, probably not too many are literally doing those things… but as Christmas approaches, we increasingly turn our minds into a running catalogue of things to buy for ourselves and for others.

Is the irony of Black Friday falling the day after Thanksgiving lost on you?

I know a lot of stores are advertising that their Black Friday sales are starting on Thursday night this year. Please, I beg of you, don’t let Thanksgiving become another shopping day. What’s it saying about us that even Thanksgiving is turning into a day to buy buy buy.

I understand that for many people, Black Friday is about buying for other people (not about getting) and getting a good deal (hey, I’m all for saving a few bucks), but I’m concerned that it’s doing something much more costly to us. I’m concerned that we are so driven by the stuff, that even the givers among us are becoming more materialistic – just in a counter-intuitive way. Instead of focusing on what they’re getting, they’re so focused on what they’re giving that it overshadows being thankful and it overshadows the generosity of God, who gave us the very first and best Christmas present of all.

In case you need a reminder, here’s a short excerpt from a post I wrote a few years ago entitled “Why We Give Gifts at Christmas“:

As we reflect on the sacrifice that God the Son made in being born as a baby boy, remember that the sacrifice was made out of love. God doesn’t want anyone to remain in their sins, that’s why Jesus was born to die on the cross so that we could be forgiven by repentance and faith in Christ. The verse above (1 John 4:9-11) also gives us a hint as to what the life of repentance and faith should look like: “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

We give gifts on Christmas as a reminder of the gift that God gave us through Jesus Christ. Don’t give gifts this year simply out of social obligation… give them out of joy and thankfulness for what you have received from God.

Pink, Psy, Love, and Sexy Ladies

Confession: I didn’t watch the AMA’s earlier this week, but I’ve heard a lot about two performances.  I’ve heard about Pink’s performance and Psy’s performance on Facebook and elsewhere, and when I checked CNN today I read LZ Granderson’s article about how underrated Pink is as an artist.  In the article he points out that despite Pink’s artistic and impressive performance, Psy’s performance with MC Hammer is getting the most buzz.  So I did what most people would do… I hopped on YouTube and watched both performances.  As a youth pastor there’s something troubling going on here.

Pink’s song “Try” is all about how painful and difficult love can be, but how it’s worth getting burned.  You gotta try.  (The full lyrics can be found here)  Love is difficult and painful, as Pink can personally attest to, but there’s something within us all that desperately craves it.  We all need love, even if we get burned in the process.

Meanwhile, Psy’s song “Gangnam Style” is mostly in Korean and the only words that are in English (and therefore understandable to nearly all of us) are “oh Sexy Lady” and “style” (since “Gangnam” really isn’t an English word I’m not counting it).  We have no idea what this song is really about apart from looking it up online, and all people sing along to are those two lines which are in English, repeated over and over again.  But the song is definitely catchy and has a fun dance… and gets paired up with the ever-nostalgic MC Hammer… and bang, it outshines Pink’s meaningful performance (you try all that choreography while singing!).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging people to uphold Pink as an artist who I would encourage students to listen to.  But if you’re going to listen to Pink or Psy, and you’re going to listen discerningly then I’d encourage you to listen to Pink.  Her life-story mirrors a lot of hurt and rejection that today’s teenagers can identify with and she writes with a rare and insightful vulnerability.  When you listen to Pink, you see the bruised up heart of a generation who identifies with what she’s singing about.  You might not like what she has to say (or what she’s wearing… or not wearing, depending on the video/performance), but she’s an artist who is always worth carefully listening to.

Before I link the two AMA Videos below, Let me simply ask a few questions for you to consider (and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below):

  • What do these two videos tell us about our culture’s desire for relationships and love?
  • Is it too simplistic to reduce these videos as a longing for “love” vs. “sexy ladies?”
  • Pink’s song/performance doesn’t make love look like it’s worth the fight.  Why do you think she keeps saying we need to keep trying?
  • Why does something so silly as “Gangnam Style” become such a widespread hit?  If there wasn’t a dance, do you think it’d still be so big?
  • Love remains difficult and painful in this world, but how does the transforming love of Christ Jesus make us able to give and receive love differently?

Fighting Through Doubt: Sermon Summary

Paul Tillich, a Christian theologian, has written “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, it is one element of faith.” Too often, we fear that our doubts are unwelcome intruders seeking to attack our faith. While I don’t want to encourage you to start doubting, I do want to encourage you to give voice to the doubts you already have!

It is important for us to understand the cause of our doubts. We must realize that since the heart and the brain are connected, the intellectual doubts we have are never completely divorced from our emotions. Usually, some life-experience or emotion has prompted a struggle within us which has lead to doubts over God’s character (“Is God really in control?”) or God’s promises (“Is God really good?”). Many books have been written throughout history exploring how the two above questions can both be answered “YES!” while so many people endure suffering, but in the end we need to rely on what is clear.

There is a holy tension within Scripture when it comes to doubt because there are two forms of doubt. James 1:5-8 addresses the “double-minded man” who is sitting on the fence, unable and unwilling to decide whether or not he will actively trust God. When he doubts, he doesn’t look to God for wisdom, instead he looks within himself and needs to “figure it out” on his own while tossing up prayers he doesn’t really believe “…just in case!”

The second type of doubt is seen through the father of a demon-possessed boy in Mark 9:17-27, who cries out for Jesus to have compassion and help his son. When Jesus challenges the father by saying (in my own words) “Why do you doubt that I can help you, of course I can help you… anything is possible when you have faith in God!” The father then replies, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” What a beautiful picture of what holy doubt looks like!

God honors us when we ask for wisdom. You don’t need to doubt everything in order to fight through your doubts. Hold onto what you know and are confident in, and prayerfully search the Scriptures with others in the journey to learn God’s wisdom.

Fighting doubt begins with love. It’s about the heart, not the brain. You can know and believe all the right things, but if you love what is false then what do you think is going to happen?

Fighting doubt must begin and end with loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The temptation is to make this all about the brain, which is exactly what the enemy wants! He’s fine with right doctrine and good theology so long as it’s divorced from a love-filled heart.

If you are serious about wanting to fight through doubt, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Fight through doubt in Christian Community. Take off your “I have my life together” mask and get real with a few trusted Christians – you will learn much from each other (and you’ll probably teach them a few things along the way too!). Don’t think that you’re the only person who’s thought and felt the things you’re struggling with.
  2. Fight through doubt by believing in order to understand. St. Augustine emphasized this in his writings, because he knew that there are some people who want all their doubts answered before they will actively trust God. Yes, God wants us to ask and explore difficult questions, but if we refuse to have faith until we know every answer, then what we’re really saying is, “I refuse to have faith until faith isn’t required anymore.” As you walk by faith and grow in your love for God, he will give you wisdom to understand.
  3. Fight through doubt by searching the Scriptures for understanding. God isn’t trying to hide from you, as if understanding is a secret he doesn’t want you to discover. The Bible is God’s “revelation” to humanity, that means He wants you to understand who He is, who you are, and what He’s done. Read and study your Bible, but also read and study other books about the Bible. Again, don’t live as if you’re the first person to raise the doubts you’re having, learn from others who have been in your shoes. Who knows, you might be surprised to find the very answers and comfort your looking for…

Finally, remember that your relationship with Christ doesn’t depend on having a doubt-less faith, but on the unending and never-changing grace of God who has chosen to adopt you as his beloved child.