God And Culture


Culture is, according to the Oxford-American Dictionary, “manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” As a fantasy writer, I’ve learned that building a world requires putting in place the bits of culture that your pretend people have constructed including language, government, schooling, religion, entertainment, art or literature, and so on.

In our western culture, there seem to be parts of what we do as a people that are held in higher esteem than other parts. I suppose that’s true in all cultures, but I’d say these are the aspects of culture we value most: celebrity, primarily gained through sports or entertainment; wealth; political power, external beauty. A distant fifth might be intellectual standing, but that certainly doesn’t overrule any of the others.

Few people who serve others in sacrificial roles get much attention at all, and little or no emulation. In times of need they might receive some measure of appreciation from those who have been helped the most, but generally our society doesn’t lift up “serving others” as a role to be admired.

All this look at culture because I think the way we determine our values is upside down. As it turns out, God says as much in Scripture:

[Jesus concluded,] “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. (Luke 16:13-15, emphasis mine)

Think about that for a second: what men value, God finds repulsive. Essentially, God hates what we spend most of our waking hours trying to obtain. Unless we are countercultural.

I mean, it’s possible to be a self-sacrificing servant who no one notices, no one rewards or praises. It’s possible because we wouldn’t ever hear about those people.

It’s also possible that a man like Billy Graham who refused to take any credit for what God did through him, remains humble and committed to serving God, not fame or power or wealth. But there don’t seem to be many men like him. Too often the servants become the celebrities and then the wealthy, and somewhere along the line they are no longer serving but being served.

As I’ve been reading through the gospels, I’ve noted that more than once, Jesus told some person who He’d just healed, not to tell anyone what He’d done. Why, I wondered. The best answer seems to me to be the fact that the majority of the people of His day expected the Messiah to be a political figure, a military leader, even. Jesus didn’t want people to prematurely crown Him King of the Jews until He had a chance to explain, at least to His disciples, what that actually meant.

In addition, with His growing celebrity status as a healer, Jesus had fewer opportunities to preach, less time one-on-one. He wouldn’t be able to confront people about their inner life, about their sin, their need to repent.

So, more often than not, Jesus told the newly sighted blind, the healed lame person who could now leap and dance, the cleansed leper who could move back home, to tell no one about Him.

Jesus clearly was not seeking the stuff our culture values. Fame? He tried to dodge the limelight. Political power? He wanted the opposite. Status? He washed His disciples’ feet! Wealth? What He gave had no cost attached. More than once the Apostle Paul refers to the gift or even the “free gift” of grace or of righteousness, found in Jesus (see Romans 5).

I wonder. Are we Christians countercultural, so that the people we most admire are the ones rich in grace? the ones who live righteous lives? Is that what we want in our pastors? Our best friends? Our spouses and our children?

It’s kind of hard to do. We have to understand that God values suffering, that He tells us to rejoice when we suffer for His name’s sake, that we are blessed and the glory of God rests on us. So suffering for Christ—yes. Comfort? That didn’t seem to find its way into Jesus’s lifestyle very much. He had no place to lay His head. Of course He did have a place—just not one He could call His own.

I think it’s pretty clear those first Christians were countercultural. A look at the book of Acts makes that pretty clear. But where are we in 21st century western culture> Still taking up our crosses and following Jesus? Or are we looking for our 15 minutes of fame? Our piece of the American dream?

I don’t honestly know what a countercultural lifestyle will look for anyone else. All our circumstances are different. I have to be asking these questions for myself, not for anyone else. And the Holy Spirit is prompting me through the Word of God, to ask.

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Billy Graham: 1918-2018


Billy Graham with son Franklin Graham

One of the first things I heard this morning on the Christian radio station I listen to as I’m getting breakfast, was that Billy Graham had passed away. He was 99. Would have turned 100 in November. I admit, I didn’t quite know how to feel. I haven’t thought of the man for . . . maybe months, possibly years, because he’s been out of the public spotlight since he stopped preaching.

Besides, I have confidence, based on what he preached, that he is rejoicing in, what Paul called “a very much better” life in Christ’s presence.

And yet, I felt strangely sad. I’ve never met the man, heard him on TV but never in person. Read part of his autobiography but never finished it. But the sadness was undeniable as the radio played a short tribute to him.

I decided I was experiencing a sense of loss of his role more than anything. He fearlessly, consistently, unwaveringly preached the gospel.

I expected to read quite a bit about him on the internet today, but his name didn’t come up on the posts I saw on Facebook or at the blogs I regularly visit. That changed later in the day.

One friend posted a moving announcement by Rev. Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, on Facebook. Then I got a newsletter from Jerry Jenkinks about his own blog article containing personal memories of Rev. Graham when he worked with him on his autobiography.

Lastly, I watched a video clip that might be the best testimony of Billy Graham’s life and legacy because it is an example of what Anne Lotz said:

And it’s [the gospel is] a message of genuine hope for the future, of love for the present, of forgiveness for the past.

It’s a message, when received, that brings a fresh beginning, unshakable joy, unexplainable peace, eternal significance, meaning and purpose to life, and opens Heaven’s door.

It was this message, which Daddy carried to the world, that penetrated my own heart as a young girl and has created in me a personal, passionate resolve to communicate it myself to as many people as possible. And so, even as my tears seem to be unending, I silently rededicate my life to picking up and passing on the baton. Would you do the same?

Well, Kathie Lee Gifford did, right on national TV.

When I read Anne Lotz’s conclusion, I was reminded of Psalm 145, particularly v 4:

One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.

Which brings me back to why I was especially sad when I heard that Billy Graham had died. He was such a clear voice of truth and reached so many people—of all ages and stations and races and cultures. Yet he really only had one simple message. Who, I wondered, is there to take up his mantle, as Elisha did Elijah’s?

Essentially Anne Lotz said, we all should. She’s right.

Published in: on February 21, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (1)  
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Louis Zamperini, b. 1917 – d. 2014


Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalA great number of people may not be familiar with the name Louis Zamperini, but the man’s fame is beginning to spread. In May the Whittier Daily News carried an article reporting that this ninty-seven-year-old would be the Grand Marshall for the 2015 Rose Parade, this after the book about his life, Unbroken, hit the New York Times best-seller list. On top of that, a movie based on the book is due out this coming December.

The only sad part of this story is that Louie Zamperini passed away earlier this month. The joyous part, besides his successful athletic career and his World War II heroism, is his transformed life. Some might even say Louie was a miracle.

As a fifteen-year-old, Louie was bordering on juvenile delinquency, though I don’t know if that term was in use yet.

Thankfully, his success as a runner provided him with a meaningful channel for all his energy and drive and got him off the streets and into school. After setting records at USC, he made the 1936 US Olympic team.

However, another turn in his life lay ahead. World War II dashed his hopes of returning to the Olympics to run for a medal.

While serving in the Air Force Louie’s plane was shot down. He and two others survived, only to be adrift on the Pacific Ocean for forty-seven days (one man died a month into the ordeal). Unfortunately the two US servicemen were “rescued” by the Japanese and consigned to a prisoner of war camp. The treatment there was cruel.

Once again, events in Louie’s life changed him:

He returned from the war a haunted man, filled with bitterness and rage, his once promising running career over. Suffering from what today would be recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder, Zamperini took to heavy drinking. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

God had preserved and protected this man for a reason, though. He had not seen the last of dramatic twists in the direction his life would take. In what I consider to be Apostle-Paul-like fashion, Louie changed again, this time not because his circumstances were different, but because he was.

Then everything changed.

After attending a 1949 Billy Graham revival tent meeting on the streets of Los Angeles at the insistence of his wife, Cynthia, Zamperini said he experienced a rebirth and Christian conversion that was to guide the rest of his days. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

Probably the greatest evidence of his changed life was his ability to forgive those who had tortured him, in particular the commander in charge of both the prisoner of war camps in which Louie was taken. In essence, when he met Christ, the supernatural power of His Spirit brought peace to Louie’s life.

After Louie met Billy, the former POW never had another prisoner-of-war nightmare. He lost his desire to kill the Bird [the commander responsible for his torture]. He no longer hated the guards who’d tortured him. He forgave Jimmie Sasaki [a Japanese man who had graduated from USC] for pretending to be his friend when he really was his enemy. The turmoil of his life was replaced by calmness and a conviction that he’d found the right path.

Zamp began to speak about his experiences. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his new faith, but he resolved that he would never push his thinking on anyone (Awesome Stories, p. 12).

No need for Louie to try to make people listen. God clearly has opened a door for the world to hear bout this one changed life.

I don’t know if the movie will mention Louie’s coming to Christ or even Victory Boys Camp, the organization he founded in 1952 for troubled teens. But that’s OK. Louie Zamperini’s life can be an example that prepares soil for some or shines the light on the path to Jesus for others. God can use him even now after he has heard the “Well-done, good and faithful servant,” from the Master he served.

When he was adrift on that raft back in 1943, he’d prayed

If you will save me,
I will serve you forever.

For years he struggled to live the life God had saved without serving Him in return. I don’t really believe in “bargaining with God,” but it’s apparent that God in fact wanted Louie to serve Him.

Louie fought against God’s call on his life. His wife wanted him to go to listen to that preacher Billy Graham, and Louie said no. Over and over he said no. When he finally gave in, he left early. His wife asked him to go back. Finally he agreed, only if they would leave at the point that the preacher would tell them to bow their heads.

Zamp returned to the tent, fully planning to leave at the predetermined time. Then, he heard Billy say these words:

    What kind of life are you living? Are you satisfied with your life?

Louie reacted to Dr. Graham’s words:

Just then, my whole rotten sinful life passed before my eyes and I began to get an inkling of what I feared I had to do. Only I didn’t want to do it. Why? Men prefer darkness to light. How could I give up the parties and the liquor and living for the moment and the fun? (Devil at My Heels, page 241.)

Zamp grabbed Cynthia’s hand and told her they were leaving. When he got to the aisle, something made him change his mind:

…I got to the aisle. I stepped onto the sawdust path and knew it was my crossroads of decision. I fought against it, perhaps harder than I’d ever fought, but in the end I made my decision, turned right, toward Billy Graham, released Cynthia’s hand … (Devil at My Heels, page 242.)

(Awesome Stories, p. 11; quotes from Louis Zamperini’s autobiography)

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