Friday, January 01, 2010

Looking Back on a Decade and Looking Forward to a New One

I always have mixed feelings when I see the passing of another decade come and go. So many things have happened that are permanently apart of my memory that I will never be able to go back and relive or change.  My history has become a part of me defining who I am. And it is shocking to me the older I get how time seems to go by quicker and quicker!  I always wonder how the passing decade will be remembered after some time goes by.  What will be considered "Retro-2000's" in clothing style, music and film.  What will be written about the church in its successes and failures in the turning of the new century?  In light of all of this I will try to reflect on what I have learned from the passing decade and consider some of my own predictions for the new decade upon us!

Looking Back

1.  The Emergence of a New Kind of War.  September 11, 2001 was the darkest hour I have ever experienced in my lifetime so far.  I remember sitting in front of my television mesmerized by the images for days watching the news footage of the planes running into the World Trade Center again and again and again.  Those images have been permanently etched into my memory.  I knew from that moment on everything would be different from how we fight war, who we consider our enemy, national security, watching our young go off to war and seeing many sacrifice their lives or their mental, physical and spiritual health over this.  Over the past decade I have come to hate war.  Yes, I hate terrorism.  But I do not like watching our youth trying to fight an enemy that thrives on hate.  I loved Regan's Cold War that was fought without dropping one bomb or pulling one trigger.  It was a mind game of flexing our militaristic muscles when needed and political maneuvering and manipulation that was intelligent.  But this war on terrorism is different.  I am not convinced that military power is the answer.  When we are dealing with people living in impoverished situations who have been indoctrinated in a philosophy and theological framework of hatred towards others we simply can not beat them with force.  We need to mobilize to help change the quality of life as well as their perception of the world.  We are in a battle for the hearts and minds of people. 

 2.  Oh Politics! I've followed politics long enough now to see a pattern.  The minority party rising to power through a charismatic leader; the leader being given a "Savior complex" that he will bring about positive change especially in Washington D.C.; the savior complex slowly being pealed away to reveal an imperfect human/politician as our president; then the cannibalization of the leader and his party.  Clinton did this, Bush did this and now I think Obama is unfortunately heading in this direction too.  I try to be hopeful with whoever is our president simply because I see that no matter what is going on politically in the Bible, we see that a sovereign God is working in and through the details.  So regardless of whether I voted for Obama, I have a responsibility to pray for him and hope for God's leading in his life.  God has him in the office for a purpose much greater than I could imagine.  So I need to not put my trust in Obama's fallen humanity or revel in his imperfection, but trust in a God who is much bigger than me, the president or America for that matter, trusting that God's purposes are being worked out here and around the world better than I could ever imagine.

 3.  The Bride of Christ.  I have come a long way in my perceptions of the current day church.  I once had a very black-and-white view of reality.  The world was black, and the church was white.  Now that I have worked within the church for about 2 decades, I have come to personally realized that the lines are far more blurred between the church and the world.  I have seen some incredible evil within the church and some incredible good within the world.  It took many years and a lot of thinking and prayer to process all that I have seen and been through especially over this past decade.  God has taken me on quite a journey through 3 different church experiences in 3 very different denomination.  I almost threw in the towel after my second experience but it is only by the grace of God that I took this most recent job.  Once again, it is not a "perfect" church or a denomination that has everything rightly figured out.  But it has been an experience that has taught me a lot about myself.  Here are the positive things I have learned about the church of Christ.
  • God is doing things in a variety of churches and settings once again through imperfect people.
  • What often times seems like a painful situation within the church can and often will be something God will use for a greater purpose.  
  • When one door closes, no matter how painful it may be, another door will open that usually has even more opportunity and blessing that the previous situation you are in.
  • The church is full of hypocrites.  As soon as you can get over this, the better you are.  In fact if I take a good hard look at myself I am often times confronted with my own hypocrisy.  
  • Evangelical are not the only people in the church.  God is working through both  evangelical and mainline churches, through conservatives and liberals, through crazy and sane people, through foolish and thoughtful people, through consumeristic and socialist people, through rich and poor people, through saints and sinners alike.  God is so much more complex that I could ever imagine.  Trying to fit Him into a box is a dangerous place to go.
  • Growing disciples is a very complex and fragile thing to do.  The past few decades have represented a massive shift in how people think (post-modernism; The Information Age; The Digital Age).  How many of the older generations have processed information and interpreted their world is vastly different than how younger generations do it now.  We have gone through a massive philosophical shift.  If a church is still being run under the old ways of processing information (modernistic, scientific thought) it can be massively disruptive to those ministering to the younger generations who need to reach them and disciple them very differently than their parents generation.   
4.  The Economy: I'm not sure who labeled the 80's as the decade of greed, but it sure seems to fit our times a little bit better when we consider how we got into the mess that we are currently in.  And there is enough fault to go around for all political parties.  But the reality is that all of us have some part in it.  We all would do better to learn how to live within our means, give generously to the church and causes that will advance the work of God throughout the world, and to practice saving in such a way that will show intelligence, delayed gratification and gratitude for how God provides for us.  So, you first!  I know, I need to get better at this.  Right now I am too convicted to go to Dave Ramsey's website after Christmas.  But I want to try and put into place the things he advices in order to achieve financial breathing room.

5.  The Digital/Information Age: I love living in this day and age.  It is simply amazing at how the internet has changed everything.  From music, to movies, to news, to television, to blogging!  The diversity of options has made room for a lot of bad stuff out there in cyberspace.  But the flip side is that it has raised the bar for someone to tell a compelling story.  I believe that story writing and the telling of a story through film and television has improved on many levels.  There are so many choices out there that if you want to capture a large audience you must tell a compelling story in a creative way. It has been amazing to watch how our culture has shifted in light of all the change over this past decade such as:

  • Some of the best story telling of the recent decade goes to Peter Jackson in making the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy come alive in such a captivating and amazing way.
  • The television award goes to those who brought us LOST, The Office, 24, Arrested Development and American Idol.
  • The many half-crazy people who have taken the tools of the internet and used it to tell everything from funny stories to serious stories to deep thoughts.  Some of my favorites have been Barats and Bereta and I-Monk, with Soul Pancake being a recent delight. 
  • Watching the comic book heroes of my childhood come to life and also be reinterpreted in a fresh, new way: Batman, Superman, The Hulk, Iron Man, Spiderman.  
  • Watching the music industry and print media and video technology deal with the challenges of a digital age.    
5. The Earth: If there is one area that seems to have gotten a lot of attention over the past decade it is the importance of taking care of the earth.  For some, the concept of "environmentalism" has become a religion in and of itself.  But in many ways people have taken notice of the importance of doing what we can to be better stewards of the planet that has been entrusted to us by our Creator.  It has been exciting to see the church in general develop a good, solid theology of our responsibility to God's creation.  

6.  The Rise and Fall of The Famous:  It is difficult for anyone to see someone they respect and admire end up falling from grace.  Oftentimes we lift up people on high pedestals and give them god-like status as a religious leader, athlete or celebrity only to discover later that they are also a slave to their sin nature just like anyone else who is not careful.  The shocking implosions of peoples lives and careers throughout this past decade include:
  • Ted  Haggard was an evangelical pastor of one of the largest mega-churches in the country and president of the National  Association of Evangelicals and preached against homosexuality and promoted marriage. It turned out that he was in a secret relationship with another man who also supplied him with meth. 
  • Micheal Jackson was a music phenomenon.  But there were also many questions and speculation as to his relationship with children being beyond inappropriate.  His last decade was more and more disturbing as his life progressed into bizarre and ridiculous behavior.  To watch the stages of how he literally mutilated his face was also extremely disturbing.  He was so amazing in his younger years when he came out with "Thriller". He had the world in his hands.  His slow slide into insanity was sad to watch.
  • Bernie Madoff most certainly made off with a lot of people's money until his ponzi scheme was discovered and he went to jail.  Many people's lives were ruined by his scandal.
  • George W. Bush initiated the first ever preemptive war in American history based on intelligence that claimed there were stock piles of weapons of mass destruction.  That turned out to prove false and got our focus off of Afghanistan. Bush did a lot of great stuff for AIDS in Africa that you seldom hear about.  But he sure left a mess when it came to the War on Terror and the economic crisis.
  • Barack Obama said he would end the war and that he would work across party lines and put everything on C-Span so that the public could hold their politicians accountable.  Fortunately I believe that just pulling out the troops could be a disaster so he has back-pedaled on his anti-war stance.  Barack still has a long time to be in office.  I do not wish him ill but I am trying to be optimistic that he will attempt to do what is best for the country. It is more of a "God will sovereignly do what He needs to do through imperfect leaders" more than a "Obama is my hero" optimism.  Also, the two political parties are as polarized as ever and C-Span is just as boring as ever.  And Nancy Pelosi just darn right scares me.  Between her and Obama, I am liking Hillary Clinton more and more every day.  
  • Tiger Woods was not only the most famous sports personality but he literally transformed the game of golf.  He was amazing to watch.  He also portrayed a clean, moralistic, disciplined lifestyle that appeared to be admirable and highly respected.  It turned out that he was basically a man-whore when no one was looking.  It's not that he had a affair but many, many, many multiple affairs.  It simply boggles the mind of how he managed to get away with the scope of affairs that he committed.  In the end, all these women sold him out for their moment of fame, while his wife vanished from the scene in humiliation.  This was one of the most sad and pathetic personal implosions of anyone's life and career. 
  • Al Sharpton revealed a little bit about himself when he was upset at Tiger Woods for having affairs with only white women.  And why does this guy have the title of reverend and why is he looked at as a leader of the African-American community? I simply do not get how he gets away with what he has said and done in his past.  There are so many great people to look up to and admire that far surpass his hypocrisy. 
  • Micheal Phelps broke all the records for swimming in the Olympics.  After some time went by he decided to show up at a college part and hit a bong.  Unfortunately for him, he forgot we live in the digital age and pictures are taken and sent to cyberspace faster than a bong hit. 
7.  Those Who Have Won the Admiration of the Many: There are many people who have won the admiration of many as a symbol of all that is good about humanity.  Here is a list of those who inspire and will continue to make an impact into the new decade:
  • Pope John Paul II was an amazing leader for the Catholic church.  He inspired many across religious denominations.  
  • Rick Warren is a mega-church pastor who inspired many people in the church through his "Purpose-Driven" books.  Lately he has turned his attention to the social justice issues around the world. 
  • Bono, as the leader singer of the famous rock band U2, has used his fame and fortune to positively influence the world through bringing attention to poverty, AIDS and world debt.
  • Bill Gates is the computer nerd who became a billionaire.  He transformed how we process information and how we do work.  He is involved in a lot of humanitarian work now using his wealth to help change the world for the better.
  • Rob Bell is the pastor of Mars Hill Church up in Michigan.  He is making a significant impact within the church through his creative teaching and mobilization to be the church.
  • Barack Obama is a person who many people love or hate.  Regardless, it was amazing to see him become the first African-American President. I personally would have preferred Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell as our first African-American President but that is just my preference. 
8.  Big Brother Has Arrived . . . And It Is Us!  George Orwell's novel warned us against a police state that takes over every aspect of our lives with the eye of Big Brother watching our every move.  Aldous Huxley wrote "A Brave New World" which warned us against a world controlled by the scientific community that robs us of our ability to think for ourselves.  The irony of our day is that WE have become Big Brother.  With the digital age that we live in, everything ends up recorded or photographed and put out into cyberspace for all to see from sexting, to criminal activity, to hypocritical behavior or speech. Step out of character and it will find its way to the internet for all to see.

Looking Forward

Here are my predictions for the up and coming new decade!  Take them worth a grain of salt!

1.  December 21, 2012!  I predict that although we jest about this date now, there will be doomsayers, both in the church and non-churched, that will embrace this date for their apocalyptic theories.  Their build up to insanity will be epic.  They will sell a lot of books and and enjoy their YouTube fame for a while.  But little do they all know that that specific date is my 20th wedding anniversary! It is not the end of the world. Just earth shattering love that will have tremors all throughout the world! 

2.  Science Fiction becomes Real Science! In many ways this is already happening but it will be even more so with nanotechnology, robotics, cybernetics, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, further advances in DNA studies.  Arnold Schwarzenegger will most certainly be back!  The machines will eventually take over and the war against humanity will begin!

3.  Evangelical mega-churches served an important part of our church history. But the "bigger is better" mentality will fade with the younger generations.  They will embrace community style churches that don't quibble over building campaigns and styles of music.  Instead they will be drawn to churches that are making a difference in not only reaching people for Christ but also changing and transforming their world for the better through social justice.  

4.  My kids will grow up way to fast!  It freaks me out to think that if all goes according to plan, 10 years from now Zach will be in graduate school or into a career, Mallory and Katie will be finishing their undergraduate studies, and Ben will be in the middle of his Senior year!!!!  My last decade with my kids at home! I want to enjoy ever single moment of life with them in this new decade. I don't want to take any of it for granted!

5.  Jesus on the move!  A lot has been said about Europe and America becoming non-Christian or post-Christian.  I want to believe that Christianity itself is changing in a positive way, not vanishing.  A new generation is rising up that is changing with the times and making Christianity relevant for the times.  With that in mind, it seems a lot is happening in Africa, China and Russia and many other parts of the world where Christianity is spreading like wildfire.  Maybe we might see the epicenters of Christianity shift to other parts of the world. Is it possible?

6.  Reality TV will become more and more insane.  People will begin to live their lives as if they are important enough to be a star of a reality show.  We see the beginning signs of this with the balloon boy family and the White House party crashers.  But we have only begun to scratch the surface of human narcissistic insanity.  It is only the beginning!  It is going to be more fun in years to come!

7.  Interpreting the news will become more and more of a chore as cable/digital TV can offer any perspective of interpretation of the days events from both conservative, liberal and just plain crazy.  The internet has spawned media watchdogs that check the facts and hold the media responsible for the things they report. 

8.  Great movies!  J. J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson, Tim Burton, the Coen Brothers, M. Night Shyamalan, and Spike Jonze will all continue in their craft and make their best work yet.  The old guard may still have some of their best stories yet to tell also such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Clint Eastwood, James Cameron and Ridley Scott just to name a few.

9. Politics! The poles in politics will continue to grow farther and farther apart.  And a third party will emerge to challenge the status quo of politics as usual.  I predict that the Republican Party will bounce back and Newt Gingrich will emerge as the new leader of the conservative movement and our next President. That is unless he chooses Sarah Palin as a running mate. He would do wise to pick Condi Rice or Kay Bailey Hutchinson instead. Ron Paul will be taken much more seriously in the next election.  He will be the new Ralph Nader of this generation.

10. New religions!  The two religions that will dominate the American landscape will be pantheism and nationalism.  Churches will either conform to these beliefs or will define how orthodox Christianity is different.  The scary thing right now is how nationalism has been mixed within American Christianity since Sept. 11, 2001 and the War on Terror.  We need to rise above politics and hold both parties accountable for their good policies and bad policies. 

11.  The New Missionary Movement!  The War on Terror will not be defeated though military power but through missionaries.  The goodness of Christianity will rise up and move in to transform communities ravaged by radical Muslim beliefs.  Christianity will be embraced, as grace will triumph over a religion of law.

12.  Celebrity News: Tom Cruise will become more and more crazy, Brad Pitt will have 20 children between both Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston, Eminem will come out of the closet, Brittney Spears will reveal that she is actually an alien, Arnold will leave politics and try to go back to movies as an action hero only to discover his audience does not want to see an old looking terminator. Besides, this will be the decade where we will be able to build a cybernetic replica of him as he looked back in the 80's. 

13.  America looks like it could quite possible lose its status as the world's #1 super power.  This may be a temporary thing or not.  Either way, we will have a lot to learn from our economic status within the world market and how we view ourselves in light of our excessive spending and materialism.

14.  Personally, I hope to be a little bit more wiser, less quick to jump to judgment, a little bit more like Jesus Christ, and a lot more willing to be the hands and feet of Christ wherever I am at.  Sometimes I feel like there is so much more I want to accomplish in my life.  God is using me no doubt but I want to be used to make an even bigger impact for Christ.  I love doing kingdom work. I love helping people's spiritual lives come alive through learning the Word of God and putting its principles into action in our lives.  I love seeing myself as a positive agent for change in the world where I have been given the unbelievable opportunity to be an ambassador for God Himself to the American teenager and their family.  I desperately want to see my children embrace faith in Christ through all stages of their development and emerge as powerful disciples of Christ.  I desperately want my marriage to survive all the storms that come our way.  I know that this new decade will probably bring some difficult times that I do not expect.  My hope is that God will give me the grace I need for each and every situation, and the support of a loving family and friends within the church to make it through any storm that comes my way. So bring on the new decade! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this Scott! Thanks for everything, and have a great 2010!
Tom B