How to make sure you never learn, grow, or keep strong friendships

January 25, 2010

I’ll give you the 4 ingredients:

Be unteachable. But convince yourself that you really are teachable and that you just don’t know very many people that know as much as you do about the matter – especially since they don’t happen to be on your preferred list of authors, speakers, teachers, mentors, etc., that you learned most of what you know from. So, listen to others with a critical ear, not a hungry mind. Because a hungry mind would mean that you still want to learn and grow, and it would also imply that you could learn something from anyone or anything no matter how far beneath you, which, of course, are impossibilities for those who have already arrived.

Be above correction. Rarely be open to the honest concern of others that you might be wrong, because, if you were wrong, you’d already know it, wouldn’t you? Dig in your heels and say (or at least think), “No, you’re wrong.” Besides, why should you listen to their concerns, when if they were teachable they’d be listening to you? How could you possibly be wrong? You’ve already considered every perspective, every fact, every possibility and come to the indisputably correct and wisest conclusion.

C.H. Spurgeon described the person characterized by these first 2 like this:

“None is so wise as the man who knows nothing. His ignorance is the mother of his impudence and the nurse of his obstinacy; and as if all wisdom were at his fingers’ ends – the Pope himself is not more infallible.”

Never say your sorry. At least not quickly. And even then only when it’s an absolute necessity (like if they demand it). Saying your sorry implies that you think you were wrong, which, of course, you rarely are. Besides, they know you really love/like them, so there’s no need to act all humble about it. They just need to get over it and not let it affect the relationship. Saying you’re sorry is for doormats who let others make them feel bad. So, put away all self-doubt and redouble your self-confidence.

Be easily offended. Keep your pride and personal insecurities so close to the surface that you are able to quickly react to others with the assumption that they meant to do you wrong. And never question whether you’re right to make this assumption. Use words, actions, or body language that make it clear that you feel annoyed, insulted, or wounded, and that you expect them to apologize. Never consider exercising the option to not be offended, or to show love by overlooking the matter. You’re an important person, with legitimate rights and expectations, and they’d better treat you with respect!

Protecting these four traits in your life, and not allowing anyone or anything to make you more teachable, correctable, quick to apologize, or slow to be offended, is a good recipe for poisoning humility and love at the roots, and killing the vine of fulfilling, lasting relationships with the excuse that it’s always their fault, rarely yours.

Of course if you want to grow, learn, love, and flourish in your marriage and friendships, then begin with some self-examination, some confession of your own sins and tendencies to act in the ways listed above, and then with the strength-giving grace of Christ, repent.


How the news coverage of Tiger Wood’s adultery illustrates some not-so-randomly-connected truth

January 11, 2010

I know that this has become “old news” already, but I’ve been trying not to waste the lessons of the scandal from a few weeks ago. I have prayed for the Lord to soften my own heart and be sanctified by the news of the sin of another. I have no stones to throw, except at myself. In all honesty I can say that I am the most sinful man I know.

That humbles me, and the way that Tiger Wood’s sins have been put so publicly on display has put the fear of the Lord in me even more deeply. Who would want any of his own sins exposed the way Tiger’s have been? That’s humbling and frightening and sanctifying.

There are some things illustrated in this scandal that have been on my mind and in my prayers:

1. Americans still view adultery as wrong. I am glad to see this reaction by the public. Frankly, I was surprised that the world still cared about the commitments involved in the marriage covenant.

2. A beautiful wife does not equal a happy life. Other ways of expressing this principle: Wealth does not equal having-it-all-together (too often it undermines it!). Outward luxuries do not carry the power to produce inner fulfillment – only the love of Christ toward us carries that power for us.

3. Self-discipline in one area does not guarantee it in all areas. There are too many professional athletes to mention that illustrate this truth all too well (Michael Phelps, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, etc.). If you give all your effort to being good at some particular outward skill, chances are you may be neglecting other important areas of your inner life and character.

4. Be sure your sin will find you out. Be afraid – enough to not sin. A carefully crafted and controlled public image of yourself cannot conceal the truth about you indefinitely, no matter how good at it you are. What you are before God is what you really are.

5. We are all too voyeuristic about celebrity scandals – grocery store magazines, news sites, news shows – it’s been everywhere all the time. It’s too much. But it’s there because the public loves to know. May this scandal make us wiser than before about our own lives, and find our cravings for celebrity gossip lessening.

6. We should pray that God would humble him and bring him to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ the Savior. I’ve been praying this for Tiger Woods. And it looks like I’m not the only one.

Do I think that movies like Avatar are too pagan for Christians to watch?

January 7, 2010

Someone emailed me with that question this week. I’m posting our exchange here in the hope that you’ll find my answer helpful.

Pastor Scott,

I, too, am a recovering fundamentalist. So I really have enjoyed your web sites and the focus of your church. I would like your take on a topic that has me in some hot water with some friends…. The movie Avatar.

How do you address blatantly pagan entertainment such as “Avatar” which, apart from its pantheistic theme, is a fun, exciting, interesting movie? Why should a believer waste his/her time with this? How, in light of Phil 4:8 and Romans 14:23 can a believer ingest a movie like this “in faith”? I do believe some things might be fine for one person and not fine for another (Rom 14). But with movies like this – which I place in the same category as pornography – I find it hard to see how it’s a good thing for anyone to partake of.

What do you think? How do you counsel your people, if asked, about such a film that finds itself in the cross hairs of not just fundies, but also folks like Mark Driscoll.

Resting in peace because of what He has done, (name withheld)

My answer:

Thanks for your email. I’ll try to answer you helpfully.

I’ve been pondering your question, as well as the appropriateness of entertainment such as Avatar for Christians, since it presents a portrayal of openly pagan elements. This really is an oft-raised question about the point at which it is appropriate to deem something “too pagan” for Christian consumption.

It seems to me that the question is one of degrees. Paganism has infected a great deal of today’s entertainment, so much so, that it is difficult to even notice it anymore, because it has become so common, and we’ve become so used to it, that we’ve become immune to it (which is a good thing).

For example, you could conceivably create a scale with TV programs and movies that use magic such as Bewitched or I Dream of Genie or Mary Poppins on one end of the scale, then you could move further up the scale from those lighter-fare shows (to which most people are immune to the paganism, and are thankfully able to be uninfluenced by the superstitions in them), to those programs containing a bit darker magic such as Star Wars or Harry Potter or even movies such as Avatar, which contains open praying to a goddess.

Honestly, different people would place these shows/movies on different points on the scale, depending on their sensitivity to such things, and the perceived blatancy of the movie’s attempt to influence the viewer to embrace ideas or practices clearly contrary to Scriptural teaching.

I know some people that condemn Bewitched and Genie, and even Disney’s Snow White and Aladdin, as being “too pagan” and therefore unfit for Christian viewing, whereas others I know actually came out of the theater after watching Avatar with a list of things in the movie that caused them to have moments of worship to Christ. They said things like:

“If the imagined world of Avatar is that astounding and beautiful and awe-inspiring, then what must the new heavens and new earth be like?”

“If a mere man can imagine that kind of beautiful world, then surely God has put eternity in our hearts, and what God has imagined, and will one day create, will be even more spectacular than anything man can imagine! God is beyond comprehension and full of glory!”

Also, Avatar was really nothing more than a future-looking take on the very well-known religion of the American Indian that most American school children are aware of (or used to be): a people primitive in weaponry, but skilled hunters with a sense of brotherhood with the animals, and communal worship of the “Great Spirit”, in Avatar’s case this was the goddess Eywa – who was strikingly similar to the American Indian concept of an all-emcompassing deity that is one with nature. It was all somewhat panentheistic. Pagan? Yes. More so than something we’d see in a cowboy and Indian movie? Not any more than ones I’ve seen in my day. Do the prayers to Eywa in the movie bother me? Yes, just like Luke using the force or Indians chanting and dancing for rain around a fire. But, I do not feel that my allegiance to Christ is threatened by those things, and can appreciate the imaginative value of the movie as an enriching experience, much like I can with Narnia and Lord of the Rings.

So, in my view, it is a question of degrees: where does it go on the scale of an acceptable vs. unacceptable portrayal of paganism? To what degree is it harmful to the souls of the viewers, or to the consciences of the Christians? (the latter is a question which falls within the scope of Romans 14). For this reason, I am unpersuaded by the comparison of this kind of exposure to pagan religious practices with exposure to pornography.

Being exposed to greater or lesser degrees of pagan religious practices can be withstood by possessing greater faith in the truth of Christ. But there are no degrees of exposure to pornography for which there is no defilement. Pornography does not call for an embrace of faith like false religion does, it lures one to indulgence of man’s carnal nature through lust. This is why a Christian can travel to an Islamic or Buddhist or Hindu nation and observe their worship in the streets and be unmoved by it, but cannot enter a strip club and be unaffected. There is a difference.

I know that that’s not a simplistic answer, but I hope that it gives you at least some helpful insight. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to think out loud with you. These are good questions to wrestle with. Keep thinking through how to practice your faith in Christ. May God be glorified in us!


Scott Kay