I Don’t Know—And I’m Better for It


Went out caroling last night with the youth and others from my church. A good time. I enjoy lending my voice to worthy causes.

It worries me, though, that a lot of today’s young people don’t know the traditional Christmas hymns (you know, the ones that talk about Jesus) as well as they seem to know “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” When we took a request from a carolee to sing “Rudolph,” the singing gusto went up noticeably, particularly from the youngest carolers.

I noticed that same trend last year at a St. Nicholas Day sing that we do with some friends. The younger crowd stumbled through the old Christmas hymns but were in full voice for the secular songs. Worst of all, despite the fact that the vast, vast majority of Christmas songs played in our own home are sacred, our son seems to stumble through those, while somehow knowing all the lyrics to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” This startles me because, as far as I know, he’s never seen The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. And to hear him singing that ubiquitous ditty about the Heat Miser and Cold Miser from A Year Without a Santa Claus, which I’m nearly positive he’s never seen, makes me wonder whether I should give him a tin-foil hat for Christmas.

Last night, I saw Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the Top 100 songs of 2007. After perusing the list, I quickly realized I’d finally reached geezerhood; I recognized less than a fifth of the artists on that list. Worse, I recognized not a single song.

A running joke in my family deals with my encyclopedic knowledge of all sorts of ridiculous facts, the kind of savanthood that would place me on Jeopardy! or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. millionaire_or_not.jpgIn fact, my wife’s family heartily encouraged me to try out for Millionaire in its heyday. I saw one show, one early one featuring the million dollar question “How far is the earth from the sun?” a question I thought most second graders were supposed to know, then wrote off the show.

At some point in that one show, they asked an earlier question about some rap group, and I thought that would be my Waterloo if I ever tried out. I used to have an extensive knowledge of popular music, but somehow that got petrified around 1995, and after that it’s been all downhill. And don’t even get me going on these one-hit hip-hop wonders that sprout up today.

Ironically, my father-in-law convinced me to attempt the syndicated version of Millionaire. My standard reason for holding that request at bay would be that I had no clue on who these hip-hop artists are, and inevitably I would get a question asking me about what the “Z” in “Jay Z.” is supposed to stand for and I’d be clueless. Still, the insistence wore me down.

When I finally called the contestant testing number, I sat patiently awaiting my first question. That question: “Rearrange the following letters to spell the name of this popular rap group.” I spent so much time laughing hysterically that I didn’t even hear the letters. So I bombed on the first question. You know, that very fateful question I knew would be my undoing. Needless to say, I suspected I wouldn’t get a question about Marcel Proust or Carl Fabergé.

And this is what all this blabbering means so far: I don’t know—and I’m better for it.

With 2008 just around the bend, I can honestly say that the new year won’t find me worried about the latest movie releases. Couldn’t tell you the Oscar-worthy films from this year, either. I don’t know what they are—and I’m better for it.

People drop names of celebrities. Blogs talk about this star or that. I stand in line at the grocery store and must face down a rack of tabloids that trumpet which strumpet of the moment’s having an illegitimate child, who’s divorcing whom, and shocking pictures of “here today, gone tomorrow” stars without their makeup. You know, the beautiful people. I don’t know who they are—and I’m better for it.

I can’t tell you what’s happening on Lost or 24. To me, TV doesn’t matter except for the rare event like 9/11. I can’t tell you the last TV show I watched. I don’t know the latest shows—and I’m better for it.

I walked into a bookstore the other day and recognized few names on the “New and Notable” shelf. Even the book world seems to be otherwordly lately, like some alternate plane of existence that somehow intersects the plane of my life at only one or two points. Euclid would not be happy with the mangling that gives his geometric precisions, I’m sure. The point remains: I don’t know the latest books and authors—and I’m better for it.

I’m also losing touch with the blogosphere. I haven’t had the opportunity to read too many other blogs lately. I should suspect that a few people feel the same way about this one. Such is life.

All I know lately is that the Church in America has this obsession with culture that borders on the unhinged. We’re either slaves to it or we’re fighting it so hard that it distracts us from what is true, ultimately making us just a different type of slave. We seem to either love bathing in culture, especially under the guise of relevance, or as some sort of immunity potion, as if immersing ourselves in it will somehow mitigate its effects.

Here’s what the Bible says about all this:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…
—Philippians 3:7-8

I think, as I look back over this year, that the one spiritual truth that emerges more than any other is that nothing else matters but Jesus. Peter once asked the perfect rhetorical question, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” We seem to be unsure how to answer that question. To the culture? To all the things we know? To our houses packed with things we can’t take with us and only tie us down to earth?

What does a church look like that lives only for Jesus? That desires only to know Him, forsaking all the cultural ties that bind and hamper?

I can tell you this much: that church would be a glorious thing. I pray that I live long enough to see it this side of heaven.

So I don’t know about a bunch of perishable things—and I’m better for it. Let’s pray we can all be better for it sooner than later.

20 thoughts on “I Don’t Know—And I’m Better for It

  1. Holly


    What an incredible post! Thank you! The old adage is really true: “Whatever you say ‘yes’ to, you say ‘no’ to something else.” The time we spend making sure we’re completely currrent on the latest empty, cultural fluff is time we could be out serving in the food pantry, interceding on our knees in our prayer closet for those who haven’t known the treasure of Christ, or volunteering at the local pregnancy center for girls who are caught in despair and indecision.

    So much valuable time is spent on base and worthless things — and for what?! As you so aptly said, those same people who are so “in the news” right now will be basically unheard of in 5-10 years as the new crop of cultural icons move in. Only Christ remains the same — the only constant in this ever-changing world. His kingdom and living our lives to carry out His will are the ONLY matters of importance.

    I loved this statement you wrote:

    “What does a church look like that lives only for Jesus? That desires only to know Him, forsaking all the cultural ties that bind and hamper?”

    It would be a beautiful picture of purity. …I pray that I too will see it this side of eternity. Besides heavy intercession for the purity of His Bride, I wonder what else Christians can do to help facilitate this? Do you have any ideas?

    • Holly,

      I’m beginning to see that each of us can only be filled up so far with worldly things before we’re too full to experience the fullness of the Spirit. In what is one of those strange spiritual economies, the fewer things of the world that fill us, the exponentially God can fill us with His Spirit. This leads to a life empty of the world and filled without measure by the Spirit.

      That’s what I pray we can attain before it’s too late.

      • Holly


        You hit the nail on the head. When we are truly satisfied in Christ Jesus, TRULY devoted to Him alone (not in mere words only), we lose our taste for this world. Paul said he was crucified to this world and this world was crucified to him. His love for the Savior was so intense, Paul had eyes only for Christ and everything else faded in the light of His amazing glory. By contrast, though, when we are so filled to the brim with the mindless culture and entertainment of our day, our sharpness and desire for the sacred things of God is rendered dull and unresponsive. We’re filled up on this world — there’s no room left for a thrice-holy God.

        When my children have class parties at school and are stuffed to the gills with corn chips, Coke, pickles, and cupcakes — they are nowhere NEAR interested in the healthy dinner I’ve prepared of grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, baby carrots, and spinach salad. It holds absolutely zero appeal to them, because they’ve filled their bellies with junk. But when I pick them up from school and they haven’t had a class party, they are hungry for good, filling food and will eat ravenously at dinner.

        Junk food may be empty and non-nutritious, but in spite of it’s barren emptiness, it still appeals to the masses due to it’s short-lived pleasure. And while the body is occupied with the intake of worthless junk food, it dulls the senses for good food. It’s akin to an insidious poison.

        I think it’s much the same way spiritually — when we spend our days reading up on Hollywood stars (Spears, Cruise, etc) and imbibing the intoxicating things of this dying world, will there really be an appetite for the pure word of God and the fullness of His Spirit? I know for me and for my family, it definitely has the effect of deadening our hearts toward living a consecrated life in the face of the One to whom we will give an account for how we spent our days. It’s hard to fill up on the polluted waters of Egypt and then still have an appetite for the pure water of His word. You can fake it for a while, but in reality it’s just a dead, lifeless offering to God.

        Unfortunately, even in the church (formerly a sanctuary for the people of God to gather to love and treasure Christ), one must be hip on all the latest pop icons to even be able to follow the sermon illustrations. In the church, it seems one must learn to straddle the fence between desiring God and desiring this world. A lot of Christians seem to have it down pretty well. But our hearts just aren’t in it.

        Thanks again for a great post.

  2. Normandie


    My husband and I were part of a small pentacostal church recently, small enough that the pastor could see when I drew a blank at his cultural references–which was almost weekly. He’d then identify the show or the song or the movie about which he spoke and smile at the cute old lady (I’m only 58, but in his eyes, that’s ancient) who hadn’t a clue. The thing we found astonishing is that we were the only ones in the entire congregation who’d missed it! Who didn’t watch much/any television or listen to the modern music or see that particular movie. And, guess what, we thought that said more about them than it did about us. Judgemental of us? Possibly. But the youth pastor of that church–who was always trying to be relevant in music and behavior–became so relevant that he lied and stole from work and had to be fired (by my husband). Fortunately, the Lord had led us out of there before the fire ignited, because that man is still the youth pastor, in spite of his behavior (for which there is incontrovertible proof) and the fact that he didn’t repent. So. Do we want to be culturally relevant? Or do we want to live for Jesus? As the culture eases further and further away from truth and godliness, I’d rather be counted on the outside, shining for the Lord to the best of my ability–which, granted, often fumbles, but at least I have the Cross to which I can go and in going, point others.

    • Normandie,

      I’ve been in highly culturally aware churches and they did little for me. It’s only when we broke free of that confines that real ministry occurred. I suspect that is what is going on now in my own life.

  3. Normandie

    One other note: Thank you for that list of essential reading. I know most of them and will try to read the ones I haven’t. I just bet if the relevant among us followed the words of Jonathan Edwards or Watchman Nee or AW Tozer, if we listened to the apologetics of Lewis or Schaeffer, we’d become a lot more relevant to the Lord’s work. Wouldn’t you just love to see a revival so powerful we had to hold on to the pillars of the church just to stand upright? One that affected the culture instead of the culture affecting us?

    • Normandie,

      My wife and I agree that Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy is perhaps the best Christian book we’ve read. The Normal Christian Life is also an eye-opener because Nee’s Asian worldview gives a totally unique coloration. I’ve been challenged to break out of my Western mold of thinking by everything Nee has written. In fact, I gave a middling review to his The Latent Power of the Soul largely because I did not understand it. A few years later and I now see it as an important work that explains much of the deception we see in false prophetic words and some of the phony miracles manifested today. It also explains why some churches go off the rails when they have a highly influential pastor.

  4. I have gone through your complete story and got confused some time in the text and finally I can say one thing that Yes Church will be glorious thing we all pray that we live long enough to see the heaven with Jesus.

  5. If it makes you feel better, I know next to nothing about popular cultural, and I’m only 30. I have to admit that it gets a little weird when my coworkers ask if I’ve seen the latest hit show or movie and I tell them no. 🙂

  6. Dan: “All I know lately is that the Church in America has this obsession with culture that borders on the unhinged.”

    Gosh, Dan, if anything is bordering on the unhinged, it’s your obession with this subject of “woe is us…America sucks…woe is us…the Church in America stinks…the culture is rotten…I’m so ashamed of being a charismatic…woe is us.”

    Sorry, but it gets to be a little exasperating sometimes. Could you declare a moratorium on this subject for at least a month? For just one month, try writing about things that are going right for a change?

    Is anything going right? Or is your God so small and anemic that he can’t seem to get anything right, especially not anywhere in America?

    I am so sick of having this albatross called “American” hung on my neck.

    • In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him.
      —2 Kings 18:1-7


      This blog challenges people to give up the idols that have taken us far from being the kind of Church we started out as in Acts. This blog speaks to the American Church in light of this.

      We have enjoyed many good gifts in this country. We have also made many of those good things idols. In the passage above, note how Hezekiah addressed one such item, the bronze serpent of Moses.

      God commanded Moses to construct that snake to save the people. All who looked on it who had been bitten by poisonous snakes lived. It was part of a godly miracle.

      But what did Hezekiah, a king the Bible says is one of its greatest and most righteous kings, do with that snake? He broke it to pieces because it had become an idol.

      Many of the practices and lifestyles pursued in the American Church today were once blessed. But we have made them idols. It is time for us to smash them if they need to be smashed.

      All this month, we have talked about prosperity. Prosperity is a good thing. However, we have made it an idol. For us to become the people God wants us to be, we have to be prepared to (wisely) smash idols. That’s what I’m doing here.

      I’m sorry if this reads badly to you. I don’t know what to say. I wrote a very positive piece recently called “In the Bedroom,” but you didn’t comment on that. I’m sorry these other posts have not been to your liking.

      Have a blessed Christmas.

      • Dan, I’m just giving you my honest, unvarnished, initial, unstudied emotional reactions (what are comment boxes for anyhow?), otherwise the “rocks will cry out”.

        To answer my own question, last night I just listened to a recent testimony on a CD, from a lady, who works on the prayer team in a “Healing Room” recently set up in my area, over in Post Falls. You’ve heard of “healing rooms” and John G. Lake? Of course, rational, educated people dismiss such things as loony.

        Yet this lady was pretty jazzed to say the least. She was talking about a blind woman and her friend who came in requesting prayer. So they prayed for the blind women, and then they prayed for the lady who brought her. While this was happening, the lady (who was giving the testimony) looked over and noticed that the blind woman, who was sitting down, was starting to act very oddly. It guess it would understandable to be acting oddly considering that someone who’s been blind for years to suddenly start recovering her sight.

        So I was listening to this. Now I could chalk this up to fanaticism or “IHOP” or “Third Wave nutjobs”, or whatever charismaniac explanation someone may wish to tender, especially considering that I don’t happen to have certifications from 3different doctors about this blind woman. Or I can believe that God actually does this sort of thing here in the United States of America, inspite of our materialistic culture, and our Laodicean emeticness, and Dubya Bush.

        Maybe He is going to do even more—miraculous, visionary, and other knock-your-socks-off stuff—maybe even while the entire country collapses around us. With all the blood running in the streets, maybe we’ll need that miraculous, visionary, and other knock-your-socks-off stuff.

        Consider me a curmudgeon if you want, but I have this feeling that you’re barking up the wrong tree with this theory, which you are always repeating off and on in various forms, that says in effect “if it’s American it’s ipso facto backslidden”. As for the positive stuff, keep telling more.

      • Dan: “Have a blessed Christmas.”

        Thanks, Dan. I pray that God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant you the following this year :

        (1) That He would heal all your diseases,
        (2) That He would bring you & your family into a broad place,
        (3) And That He would provide your every need.

        According to the abundant riches of His grace.

  7. Vince


    I live in Hollywood, I work in the entertainment industry, and… you’re still right. Even for those of us who are called to this field, the mandate is still the same, and it doesn’t come from the tabloids, MTv, or the fashion magazines.

    Thanks for yet another great post.

      • Vince

        Presently, I write stand-up comedy and manage a couple of (budding) screenwriters. I’ve been out of the acting loop for a while and am seeking God’s will as to whether to return.

        Re maintaining my faith, I think I came in with some advantages. I spent a lot of time early on studying Christian history and theology, much of which experience affected me more deeply, and gave me a better perspective, than anything in “the biz” could ever do. My military background and a couple of brushes with death probably help there too. Also, I gave up music and theatre once before as a matter of course when I became a Christian, and only got back in reluctantly after a lot of prayer and soul-searching. So, I never just assumed that my gifts or talents (or whatever things I enjoyed doing) were my “ministry,” and I’m able to hold all things lightly here, making no assumptions in prayer, seeking work or guidance, etc., that my involvement in this industry is either crucial or permanent. In a word, I don’t need this, and thus feel no need to compromise just to “stay in.”

        I also read blogs by guys who hate Hollywood. 🙂

        Not an exhaustive answer, but I hope it gives a general idea.

        • Vince,

          I don’t hate Hollywood. I simply find that it has very little hold on my affections.

          As for standup comedians, I’ve always liked the following (no order):

          Dennis Miller
          The Amazing Jonathan
          Larry Miller
          George Wallace
          Pete Barbutti
          Brian Regan
          Dennis Wolfburg (RIP)

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