Category Archives: Culture and Society

How do we interact with our culture and society as followers of Jesus?

When your table hosts a divided America

by Dietrich Gruen, Bridge Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbus

Engaging controversial issues from the pulpit is difficult for me, but so is the dilemma faced by many at the dinner table, post-election.  Our problem and opportunity are how to talk politics with family and friends who disagree on today’s political flash points.  To help in that regard, I shall share wisdom gleaned from several bloggers, family, and holy scripture.

First, to graciously discuss hot topics, get permission to go deeper.  When friends & family gather at the table for Thanksgiving or Christmas, keep the food hot and the rhetoric cool.  IF more heat than light is being generated, that’s time to back up, read the body language, and get permission to go further.  Once you have permission, agree on rules of engagement.  You could start with these: Continue reading When your table hosts a divided America

May the worst of times bring out our best

by Dietrich Gruen

Bridges out, roads blocked, businesses closed, basements flooded. One death.  Many water rescues by boat, helicopter, and human chains.  Untold storage items, basement appliances and family treasures soaked and lost.  Lakeside decks and docks float away.  Lakes appearing suddenly where there were none the day before.  Hundreds of flooded cars ditched in either underground parking or clogging above-ground streets. Continue reading May the worst of times bring out our best

Escaping Worldliness through the Pursuit of Joy

Throughout Substance as whole, starting in the very first chapter, I wrote that much of the confusion in our thinking comes from the structures of our thought and life and not from the ideas themselves. This is true when we talk about worldliness; it may be even more true when we talk about joy. We don’t really talk about joy, do we? We talk about happiness. Even when we say the word “fulfillment,” we don’t mean the fulfillment of some grand philosophical purpose for our being, we just mean that we feel full inside. We just mean “I’m happy.”

However, happiness is notoriously unpredictable in the human heart. It’s a little like seeing birds in the winter. It is extraordinarily difficult to capture a bunch of songbirds so that you can see them during the winter. But it’s not that hard to put seed in a bird feeder and watch them come. Happiness is the birds. Virtue is the feeder. This is one of the differences between “joy” in its comprehensive definition, and “happiness” as we commonly mean it.

Continue reading Escaping Worldliness through the Pursuit of Joy

Mission of the Month: Luther’s Impact on Missions

By Dietrich Gruen

This month marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed “95 Theses” to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany to protest the selling of indulgences for the forgiveness of sin. “Selling indulgences” is the widespread practice of doing good works or offering money to avoid punishment for sin. For this protest, Luther was declared a heretic and outlaw by Pope and Emperor alike in 1521. By 1529, his many followers were dubbed “protestants.” I visited Wittenberg last year; now, as the 500th anniversary of that seminal event is upon us, I explore the legacy of Luther on world missions.

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Continue reading Mission of the Month: Luther’s Impact on Missions

Brain-Hacking and True Virtue

In the article, The Strange Way Being “Good” Hurts Your Willpower featured on the blog Nir & Far, Paulette Perhach offers a brain-hacking solution to the human problem that the apostle Paul describes in Romans:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Romans 7:14-19

Here is the gist of Perhach’s argument (also listed in her article):

  • Moralizing your choices as good or bad opens you up to the risk of moral licensing (moral leniency).
  • Berating yourself for being bad when you make the wrong choices only increases your chances of messing up again.
  • Labeling your behavior as getting you either closer or further away from your ultimate goals is a powerful way to get around moral licensing.
  • Congratulating yourself on your progress induces the effect of moral licensing. Using your progress instead to remind yourself how committed you are to your goal will re-up your willpower to achieve it.
  • Catching the inner voice berating your past behavior and turning it toward planning a different outcome for the next day will make you less likely to repeat that undesirable behavior and get what you really want in the long run.

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Sounds convenient, right? However, this current cult of brain-hacking, which is the focus of myriad recently published books, is opposed to the old paths of wisdom. Parts of these old paths are mapped out in many human traditions, but they have their full expression in the Scriptures, where they flow out of salvation by grace through faith in the crucified and risen Christ.

Continue reading Brain-Hacking and True Virtue

Mission of the Month: Spring into Action

By Dietrich Gruen

In glad response to God’s grace and the opportunities set before us, continue to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12b-13 NIV). With hearts and minds transformed by the power of the gospel, let us seize opportunities to make a difference in God’s kingdom. You may be looking for ways and places close at hand to express you deep gladness in meeting the needs of others. As theologian Frederick Buechner puts it: “Your vocation [the place God calls you] is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” In the run up to Easter, April in Madison holds a plethora of such mission opportunity. With God-given passion and purpose, let’s find our place and be creative in the stewardship of the time, resources and relationships that God has given us.

Art and Entertainment

Movies: The Shack, Facing Darkness and The Case for Christ

The movie adaption of the surprise runaway 2007 best-seller The Shack, by first-time novelist Paul Young, has been playing in theaters all March, so perhaps you have seen it already. If not, go and bring someone questioning God’s goodness in the face of suffering and judgment, tragedy and evil. The movie will raise honest questions such as, “Where was God when…?” and “What kind of God allows…?”). Then, go to the Bible for God’s honest truth in response to the questions that arise. Bring your friends, questions and Kleenex, and have an honest-to-God dialogue after seeing this provocative, tear-jerker of a movie.

A second Christian movie is coming out April 7, also based on a true story—this one of a journalist who makes The Case for Christ. Based on the bestseller by Christian apologist Lee Strobel, this movie feels like a legal thriller as the lead character tries to prove the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, with life-altering results. As with The Shack, this movie is most profitable if accompanied with a group discussion, even a Bible study, to compare answers. To help you in this regard, check out outreach.com for products and church campaign kits to use with each movie.

A third film this Easter season, released just in time for viewing with your friends and family, is Facing Darkness. An encore presentation is showing on one night only, Monday April 10. Get more information and find showings near you here. This movie represents the true story of how God saved the lives of Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol from the deadly Ebola virus. At the end of the film, Franklin Graham shares the gospel.

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TV series: Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery

This CNN special investigative report first aired last year, and the series is back on the air now. Archeologists investigate several artifacts crucial to, and scholars debate the claims supportive of, Jesus’ death and resurrection. This opportunity to explore faith may be more for your roommates or family who would rather not come to church, but would watch an interesting academic take on faith with you.

Faith and Culture

Home court advantage: Holy Week services at High Point Church

With the timing of Good Friday on April 14, Easter Sunday on April 16, and an earlier spring break (meaning most people are back in town), you have time and opportunity—now—to invite any new friends and neighbors to High Point Church. Remember your commitment to pray for two people in your life who need Jesus, but most importantly, that God is the one who changes hearts, transforms lives, and brings people to repentance and salvation. Good Friday service at High Point Church begins at 1pm and Easter Sunday services begin at 9am and 10:45am. Find more details on services and activities for kids at highpointchurch.org/Easter.

Away game: Lamb roast on April 8

You may have heard through the HPC Global Missions Team of a special event involving roasted lamb on April 8. Roasting a lamb is culturally common to Muslim-majority and other countries. This particular lamb roast is called Eid al-Easter, where they celebrate Abraham’s faith for being willing to sacrifice his son, while others get to state the case for Easter and Jesus as the Lamb of God. We cannot give you details in this public blog, but feel free to contact Dean at waldenmaier@gmail.com for more details and to volunteer. Dean is an elder at High Point Church who works with Bridges International, a branch of Cru.

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Financial Resources

The Benevolence Fund

The Benevolence Fund exists first to benefit High Point Church members and attenders in the family of faith, but also serve the city. As it turns out, 95% of the recipients of the Benevolence Fund are from outside our church. Another purpose of this fund is to connect with people of different social, economic, faith or racial groups. We help people residing on the west side who need short-term financial aid to bridge a gap created by an unexpected event; for example, the loss of employment, illness, injury or accident. Also, with the winter moratorium on utility cut-offs lifting on April 15, this means some neighbors will face imminent cut-off of heat and light unless they get help with their MGE or Alliant Energy bill. “Like a good neighbor…” our Benevolent Fund program is there, with your support, to help. To give to the benevolence fund, use the yellow Benevolence envelope during the offering on a Sunday morning, or designate your giving online at highpointchurch.org/give.

As we spring into action to live out our faith this month, I hope to see you in church, at the movies, or at the park. Carpé Diem! That is, “seize the day,” for in God’s providence, he has set “a certain day called Today” (Hebrews 3:7, 13, 15; 4:7).