In more than 20 years of editing and writing for newspapers and magazines, I’ve learned it’s hard to predict which articles and issues will upset readers. When I expect controversy and outrage, the collective response is often silence or enthusiastic agreement. Sometimes, however, a seemingly innocuous article or photo generates unexpected anger. I can tell you from firsthand experience that nothing sets newspaper subscribers off like the same crossword puzzle inadvertently running two issues in a row.
As I look at LIGHT + LIFE’s 2020 theme list, I expect some controversy. The theme of “sanctified sexuality,” for example, may cause people to take a second look. This issue’s theme isn’t like that.
After all, wherever you fall on the theological spectrum, nearly everyone (except atheists or maybe agnostics) should be able to agree with this issue’s theme, “Love God.” Maybe you haven’t agreed with every sentence of every article on the preceding pages, but I’m guessing LIGHT + LIFE won’t receive any email, snail mail or Facebook comments criticizing the overall theme.
If we’re all in agreement that we should love God, then why bother with a magazine issue on this theme? If loving God is a given, our mission statement could just be “love people and make disciples.”
We may say we’re all for loving God, but is God at the top of our love list? When do we say to God, “Have I told you lately that I love you? Have I told you there’s no one else above you?”
OK; perhaps Van Morrison/Rod Stewart song lyrics aren’t appropriate here. Let’s look instead at Deuteronomy 6 that says to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” and also to “serve him only” with a reminder that “the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God.”
Do we put God first? Do I?
I’m afraid of the answer based on the “screen time” list that mysteriously started appearing on my cell phone after I ran an update a few months ago. Suddenly, I see where my Bible app ranks on the list of my most used apps. It’s convicting to see the Bible below apps for my social media accounts.
A different set of priorities are reflected in a box of family Bibles stored temporarily at my home while my parents-in-law move into a new home. As my wife posted on Facebook, “I love that these Bibles are literally falling apart. They are worn, cracked and used.” She noted that some of her father’s Bibles literally are held together by packing tape.
Please don’t take this article as a case for legalism. We shouldn’t make church membership dependent on how battered our Bibles are, and I’m not saying church ushers should be doing random inspections of phones. I do, however, believe that how we spend our time (and our money) may reflect more than we care to admit about what and whom we love.
As recorded in Exodus 20, God said, “You shall have no other gods before me” and then followed that up with another reminder that “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”
What are our gods? Politics, shopping, sex, videogames, sports, Netflix, music and/or food? These aren’t necessarily bad things, but good things and even necessities can become gods if we prioritize them before God.
Sometimes we think we’re loving God if we indulge in things with a Christian label — Christian conferences, Christian music, Christian dating services, Christian movies, Christian cruises, Christian books, Christian wrestling (yes, that’s a thing), Christian comedy, Christian talk shows and (gulp) Christian magazines. Is it possible for parts of our evangelical Christian subculture to become our idols? What if some of our so-called Christian things don’t truly reflect Christ?
Paul warns the Corinthians, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. … But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:2–4).
We must proceed cautiously, because church history and today’s Internet offer many examples of Christians excessively accusing other Christians of heresy over relatively minor theological differences. Still, we need to watch our “life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). Are we letting our enthusiasm for a particular Christian leader, author, teacher, musician or website overshadow what God is trying to reveal through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14), Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) and wise counsel from the people who know us best (Proverbs 15:22)?
Are we willing to seek God first (Matthew 6:33) and pray the “dangerous prayer” — “anything, everything, whatever it takes” — that ends Bob Sorge’s article in this issue? Will we demonstrate our love by taking up our cross and following Christ (Matthew 10:38 and 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23 and 14:27)?
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He also serves as a delegate for John Wesley Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis. He joined LIGHT + LIFE in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media.3