This is a guest post by Frank Powell.
In the first few years of marriage, Tiffani and I struggled with unrealistic expectations created by past experiences and Hollywood movies. The result was arguments and letdowns.
Things are better now, but the road wasn’t easy. When a young couple asks for marriage advice, the first thing I tell them is to destroy any expectations created by culture. Parents. Friends. Books. Movies. Throw them away. Unrealistic expectations will rob your relationship of joy.
And if this is true with marriage, it is also true with God. Culture is powerful. If we are not careful, it will shape how we see and respond to God.
The truth is culture feeds us lies. These lies create false expectations. And false expectations rob us of intimacy with God and fill our minds with more doubt than hope.
God’s character never changes. But our perception of God can. So, let’s address some lies in popular culture that impact how we see God.
Here are 7 lies American pop culture tells Christians every day.
1. Santa Claus Theology
(If I am good, God will bless my life.)
Santa Claus is a huge part of American culture. Businesses market around him. Parents budget for him. And children change their behavior when they know he’s coming. Growing up, Christmas season meant a different Frank. I didn’t talk back to my parents. I picked up my toys. I even made my bed a few times. All because I knew Santa was watching. And if Santa was going to bring me presents, I had to be on my best behavior.
But Santa Claus isn’t the only one “makin’ a list.” Many Christians believe God takes notes too. So, they keep their behavior in check hoping God will bless their life.
“Okay, God, I didn’t fudge on my taxes this year. I’ve told two people about Jesus. And I’ve been at church every Sunday. Now…what about that job promotion?”
Oh, maybe we wouldn’t say it like that, but let the guy who cheated on his wife and abandoned his kids get the promotion over us. Then our Santa Claus theology comes out like a caged lion that hasn’t eaten in three days.
The promise we have from God isn’t that he will give us stuff if we act right. The promise is he will give us salvation if we put our trust in Jesus.
2. Steve Jobs Theology
(If I work hard, I can do anything.)
Steve Jobs was a visionary. He was also a relentless worker who was incredibly driven and determined. It was Jobs’ work ethic, at least in part, that built Apple into what it is today.
And it’s not like Jobs blazed a new trail with this hard work idea. He simply adopted the mantra our country was founded on. If you work hard, you can do anything. The American way.
Unfortunately, however, Christians allow the American way to influence God’s way. Our salvation is determined by our works. God’s love for us is determined by our actions. And when we are in a really difficult season, trying harder and doing more will get us out of difficulty faster.
In doing this, we forget the backward nature of God’s kingdom. It is through weakness we are strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10). It is only when we die to ourselves that God’s power lives in us (Romans 6). And no action on our part can make us right before God.
Christians should work hard and strive for excellence at their jobs. But any idea that we must work hard to earn God’s love, and work harder when times are difficult, diminishes Jesus’s work on the cross.
3. Oprah Theology
(God wants me to be happy.)
This is the pervasive message of most magazines and talk shows.
“God wants me to be happy” is used to justify everything from divorce to massive wealth. This phrase is popular in America because it feeds our consumer-driven, instant-gratification culture. If our spouse isn’t making us happy, leave. If our job sucks, bail. If our church doesn’t do things the way we like, hop across the street.
Happiness doesn’t believe in perseverance. And it tells us to look for the easy way out when times get hard.
To be straight-forward, God isn’t concerned about our happiness. He wants to rid us of selfishness and give us life. And the life God wants us to have isn’t dependent on external circumstances. This life involves sacrifice, seasons in the valley, and a cross. But the end result of this life is peace that surpasses understanding. And joy that perseveres through the darkest of seasons.
4. Gated Neighborhood Theology
(God wants me to be safe and comfortable.)
Gated neighborhoods are the symbol of suburban America. And some of these neighborhoods are more secure than the White House. Seriously, each house comes with its own personal sharp shooter in case of suspicious activity.
Our churches, in many ways, are gated neighborhoods. They scream comfort and safety. They discourage illogical, risky behavior. They believe God only honors those who use their brain. So, don’t give away half of your retirement to start an orphanage. Don’t go to the “bad part” of town even if someone needs to hear the gospel. Just put up the metaphorical fence. Do the right things. Make the right decisions. That’s all God requires.
Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). The path Jesus tread to the cross was the anti-thesis of comfortable. It involved rejection. Pain. Humiliation. Death. You can’t carry a cross without these things.
5. McDonalds Theology
(God won’t give me more than I can handle.)
McDonalds invented the “super size” option. And I am just being real. No human should consume the amount of food a “super size” option delivers. It’s ridiculous. But somehow Americans learn to handle it. Even if it makes us sick, we eat every fry in the bag. Shoot, in America, we even make a competition out of eating. And it airs on ESPN. Live.
If you watch it, you’re gross. Just sayin’.
But the “super size” idea doesn’t just apply to food. It applies to life. When we are faced with circumstances that overload our plate, we believe we can muster up enough emotional and physical strength to eat everything on the plate. We are told we can handle it. We are going to be OK.
And, unfortunately, if you are a Christian, you will inevitably hear this phrase, “You got this. Besides, you know God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
In the past week, I have prayed for a young family who lost a 7-month old child, a perfectly healthy woman who was found unconscious and is now fighting for her life, and a young lady who lost a seemingly healthy child after 21 weeks of pregnancy. Now, I do not believe God imposes these events on a person or family. But life does. And this idea that we will never face more than we can handle is utterly ridiculous.
The Bible says God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Cor. 13). But being tempted and facing more than we can handle are not the same. Not even closely related. Despite our best efforts, some life events we can’t handle.
But here’s the comforting promise from God. When life gives us more than we can handle, he will meet us in the mess. In the mess of our pain and tears. He’s there. And he’s OK with our anger and questions. He’s OK with us asking “Why?”
So, let’s stop believing life won’t give us more than we can handle. It can and it will. But when it does, God’s presence will be near you.
6. Broadway Theology
(I must put on a costume and act as if I have it all together.)
I love broadways. Wicked. The Lion King. Great actors. Awesome props. If you have never been to a broadway, I highly recommend it.
The broadway theology, however, has influenced the church. Christians are some of the best actors on the planet. Our lives can be crashing down in front of us. Our spouse can hate us, and we can be stuck in addiction. But when we get around other Christians, we flash our acting skills.
In doing this, we miss the message of the gospel. When we cover up our brokenness, the world can’t see there is a Healer. But if we allow others to see our brokenness, God opens his floodgates of grace and showers us in it. Not only that, but our vulnerabilities and weaknesses open the floodgates of God’s love to a world desperate for it. It’s time to take off the mask.
7. Chess Theology
(God is a blend of strategy, knowledge, and rules.)
Chess is the most popular board game ever. It’s a game of thinking ahead, predicting outcomes, and manipulating opponents.
Mastery of Chess requires a unique blend of intellect, skill, and devotion. A blend few have.
When you compare Chess to Christianity, it’s striking how closely the two parallel. Many Christians see Jesus as a collection of facts, rules, and checklists. In fact, we know the rules so well, it’s debatable whether we really need God. We have the game mastered. “Just step back and watch me work, God.”
We play a game with God when he is calling us to press into him. We are content with knowing facts and trying not to curse while we drive when God is calling us to know him intimately. We are content with mediocrity and morality when God is calling us to dip into his inexhaustible well of love and intimacy.
Culture has the potential to shape how we see God. We must pray for discernment and constantly assess culture in light of God’s nature through God’s word. Cultures are shaky and fickle. God is constant and never-changing. God will reveal himself to us if seek him (Matt. 7:7). Let’s be people who seek God daily.
This article originally published at frankpowell.me.