Discussion: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

My beautiful wife, Leslie, just shared a video with me that I thought was very intriguing. I hadn’t heard the term “moralistic therapeutic deism” before, but if you have a spare 6 minutes this is a fascinating introduction:

Discussion Questions?

  • Do you think moralistic therapeutic deism is a problem for the church?
  • Are Christian colleges anchoring students in the faith or setting them up for failure?
  • Should colleges be responsible for the spiritual formation of their students or is that the job of local churches?

I look forward to hearing all your thoughts! God bless!

Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” is the Perfect Song During Isolation

On March 21st at 5 p.m. Illinois began its “shelter-in-place” order and will continue to enforce it until further notice. Much of the world is in a similar boat – staying at home until it’s safe to come out of our quarantine caverns.

In short: isolation is weird. I’ve found that it even changes the way I hear music. Richard Marx probably never anticipated that “Right Here Waiting” would resonate with a man isolated due to global pandemic.

I am willfully and knowingly misinterpreting this song to suit my coronavirus emotions. It’s the American way.

Let’s begin.

“Oceans apart day after day”

I am so blessed to be quarantined with my beautiful wife and two delightfully rambunctious children, but I know many aren’t that fortunate. We’re working from home and avoiding contact with all humanoid life forms for the good of society, but it feels weird to be cut off from the people you care about outside your home.

“And I slowly go insane”

At first, coronavirus was a great excuse to work from home and live in sweatpants with a matching hoodie 24/7. Not long into this isolation I started to lose a grip on time. What day is it? I’m never leaving my house and now don’t have rhythms of life that had been markers of time for me.

Cancelled church services are what I miss most. A familiar group of people gathered to hear a familiar message – Christ crucified for you. A podcast will have to do, but it isn’t the same.

“I hear your voice on the line but it doesn’t stop the pain”

As mentioned above, technology is trying to step in but I bellow along with Richard Marx, “it doesn’t stop the pain.”

I am thankful that churches are turning to broadcasting sermons through podcasts so we can still be spiritually nourished. Hearing the word of God proclaimed is powerful through any medium, but podcasts can’t replace community.

Along the same lines, lonely folks are encouraged to pick up the phone and make a call to ward off depression. I’ve had some nice chats with family and friends to stay connected but it doesn’t replace hearty handshakes and shoulder slaps (my favorite greeting rituals).

“I took for granted, all the times that I thought would last somehow”

Being told to stand at least 6 feet apart has taught me that I didn’t appreciate the kindness of a hug. The interactions that we thought nothing of pre-corona are now things I miss.

Economic stability is another blessing that the world took for granted. Amid the corona chaos, people scrambled for food and toilet paper, fighting in the aisles at stores over supplies. Having our daily bread has become more reverent at my house, because we realize we’re blessed to have it.

“I wonder how we can survive”

How long will this last?! How long can I last in this “new normal?” Going to the grocery store feels risky now. When the mailman comes we put the box into isolation and wait for the germs to die. Avoiding this superbug can become a weighty burden.

When anxiety strikes I turn to God’s word.

Matthew 6:33-34 (NIV)

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

That’s the Bible’s recipe: seek God and don’t borrow trouble from an unknown future. In Christ our hope is secure; we look forward to resurrected life forever. I hit on this with my last post. Click here to check it out.

“I will be right here waiting for you”

As much as we fretter our days away and contemplate how to respond to this pandemic, we really are reduced to waiting. There’s nothing to do but wait. And wait. And probably wait some more.

I encourage you not to wait for coronavirus to end, but to wait before the Lord.

Hosea 12:6 (ESV)

So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.

Psalm 37:7 (ESV)

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

May God richly bless you and preserve you during this time!

Here’s the song for your listening enjoyment. Ignore that blue dragon, I’m not sure what that’s all about.

And if you are looking for a podcast while you hunker down…check out The Sullivan Spin: https://anchor.fm/brandon-sullivan5

Listen, subscribe, tell your friends, and give us your highest marks! Thanks!

4 Unexpected Lessons from COVID-19

In February, COVID-19 was little more than click bait to me. A blinking ad shouted, “Check out the eerie empty streets of China…” Curiosity won out and I clicked.

Huh. What’s this all about? This seems borderline apocalyptic; the whole city is empty. Then I promptly dismissed the issue from my mind. China’s a world away after all and that really has nothing to do with me. I’ve got a job to do, a family to take care of, so my emotional energy is already allocated, leaving no time to worry about foreign affairs.

Passion for the Nations?

1.) The Source of Love

A month before this video you could have asked me, “Do you care about sharing the Gospel with China?” You would have received an emphatic reply from me, “Yes! Of course!” I would have quoted this Bible verse to you:

Matthew 24:14 (ESV)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

The ability to quote the proper Bible verse about evangelism doesn’t change the reality of my heart. My disinterest in the well being of Chinese residents revealed a disturbing reality. I didn’t really love the people of China.

I’m not sure if there is a specific barrier that stifles my love for our Chinese neighbors. Simply put I’m a self-absorbed sinner. I would love to imagine that I am overflowing with love, but this outbreak has reminded me of my constant need for God to fill my heart with love.

Romans 5:5- 8 (ESV)

Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This might surprise some people but we don’t have any love to offer people without God. We can’t dig deep within or find our humanity. We’re all desperate sinners. God is the only source of love.

1 John 4:8 (ESV)

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

2.) Patriotism on Steroids

It could also be that a steady diet of patriotism has led me to believe that the only nation God cares about is America.

We can learn a lot from Jonah on the subject of national pride. Jonah is more than a well-known account of a man swallowed by a great fish. It provides a glimpse into what happens when you limit God’s love for the world.

God sent Jonah to Nineveh with a warning to repent or be destroyed. There’s one problem with this plan. In Jonah’s mind Nineveh is a huge threat to the well-being of Israel. Historically, Nineveh was known as one of the most brutal cultures to ever exist, skinning their victims and displaying the dead bodies on stakes as a display of their dominance. These were vicious people. Jonah couldn’t understand how God would want to help the enemy of His chosen people.

In a similar fashion I think we can get caught up in viewing China, Russia, and Iraq as enemies to God’s favorite country – America. When this belief is adopted, I think it hinders our ability to love our global neighbors. Let’s remember that God is interested in the salvation of the entire globe.

John 3:16-18 (ESV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

italics added for emphasis

The Air is Rank with Fear

College basketball’s March Madness…cancelled.

The remainder of the NBA season…cancelled.

This clip from LOTR sums up the general vibe of America as COVID-19 interrupts our pattern of life.

3.) Trusting the Shepherd

I don’t want to admit it, but that gnarly Orc is talking about me. I’m afraid. Uncertainty is great fertilizer for growing panic among people.

Is COVID-19 basically the flu? Or will it turn us into zombies? Something in between? I really don’t know…

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upwards of 20,000 people die from the flu yearly and it doesn’t alarm us or incite panic. Is this news coverage of COVID-19 media induced hysteria? Perhaps the Orc works for Fox News or CNN, and is giddy at the thought of a story that will boost ratings.

Whatever COVID-19 is isn’t really the point. Our fears are unmasked when we have to wrestle with the thought of death. That’s distressing.

What if my kids get sick? It’s too horrific to imagine for most parents. Thankfully, reports say that children under 18 are actually very resistant to COVID-19. Praise God!

Even if children are safe from COVID-19, a deep fear has been shoved in my face and it makes me uncomfortable but it’s a valuable lesson. I don’t trust God with my children.

My attention bounces to my parents and the elderly. My church congregation is older, 49% of our members are 50 years old or older. If this virus hits our church or my parents’ church it could kill them. I don’t trust God with my parents or elders at church either.

I would like to pretend that I trust God with my life, or the life of my beautiful wife, but the truth is we’re young and healthy. My lack of fear has nothing to do with trusting in God, I trust the vigor that my wife and I possess.

Consumed by fear I’ve forgotten that God is sovereign. We belong to Him.

Psalm 100:3 (ESV)

Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

For good measure here’s another verse to communicate God’s control over life and death.

Romans 14:8 (ESV)

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

God is the good Shepherd and He takes care of us.

4.) Undervaluing Eternal Life

But people are dead. More are likely to die from the COVID-19 pandemic. How can a good God allow death? I’ve written about that before: click here to read more.

The Bible says we have victory over death by faith in the work of Christ. What’s all this talk of death losing it’s sting?

Victory over death doesn’t mean that we don’t die. Victory over death means that we don’t stay in the grave when we die with faith in Christ.

John 11:25-26 (ESV)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.

We’re also prone to ignore the wonder and majesty of eternity in the presence of Christ. Heaven is better, yet we cling to this fallen world.

Philippians 1:21-24 (ESV)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

Conclusion

Jesus is our Savior. He saves us from radical self-absorbed living and fills us with love for our neighbor. Christ provides eternal hope that even death can’t extinguish. By faith in Christ’s resurrection we can be certain that the grave won’t hold us either. Whether we fear for loved ones or our own skin, Jesus is the Good Shepherd we can trust.

I’m thankful that God has unveiled my frailty, fear, and unbelief. He’s invited me to trust Him during this season of uncertainty. I invite you to trust Jesus too.

You Probably Believe this Popular Marriage Myth

When a young couple gets married, whether it’s in real life or portrayed in films, you hear this concern – “You’re too young to get married!”

…But is that a valid concern? Will a marriage be more successful if you wait until you are older and wiser?

Research actually tells a different story about the correlation between marriage success and age.

  • Those who tie the knot after their early 30s are now more likely to divorce than those who marry in their late 20s.
  • Past the early 30s, the odds of divorce increase by 5 percent per year of age at marriage—but it’s not clear why.

Shocking right?! Read the whole study: click here to check it out.

My wife and I discuss the marriage study in our latest podcast: https://anchor.fm/brandon-sullivan5

I invite you to check out the link and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

Are you surprised by the study? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. God bless!

Halftime Show Reaction and Superbowl 54

Superbowl 54 is in the record books and we discuss it all on The Sullivan Spin podcast.

I encourage you to listen and subscribe wherever you enjoy podcasts: https://anchor.fm/brandon-sullivan5

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

God bless!

Death of Kobe Bryant Reminds Us Life Is Vapor

On Sunday, January 26th, fog hung in the air as Kobe Bryant and eight others boarded a helicopter headed for a youth basketball game. The nine passengers would share the same fatal outcome as weather conditions contributed to the helicopter’s crash.

This NBA legend known for a laundry list of accolades including 5 NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers died at the age of 41. Bryant’s success made him a globally known star. When news broke of Kobe’s unexpected death it triggered immediate mourning and shock throughout the sports community.

This couldn’t be happening…yesterday Kobe congenially praised LeBron James for leap frogging into 3rd place on the NBA’s career scoring leaders, dropping Bryant to 4th place.

Kobe Bryant is dead. This is not a hoax or a sick joke.

But why?

With this question Christians have an opportunity to share Biblical wisdom and hope.

A Short Life that God Controls

Scripture has much to say about our momentary existence.

James 4:13-15 (ESV)

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

This truth is disarming in a culture that tells us to amass riches and success. According to the world’s measures of success Kobe thrived exceedingly. In a moment that was all violently ripped away from him.

Jesus tells a parable about the sobering reality that our lives can end at any moment.

Luke 12:16-21 (ESV)

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully,  and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Unexpected death reminds us that this life is temporary and we are all going to die regardless of our posts in life. NBA legend. Helicopter pilot. It makes no difference; death awaits us all.

Hebrews 9:27 (ESV)

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment

What really terrifies people is the thought of judgement. Many shrug it off or make up their own standards for getting into their version of heaven.

False Hope or the Hope of Christ

It’s not surprising that a secular sports media sought comfort in praising Kobe’s accomplishments or humanitarian efforts off the court. The grief and loss long for a kind sentiment to chase the bitterness of death, but hope isn’t found in our works.

Let’s go back to Hebrews and put it all together.

Hebrews 9:27-28 (ESV)

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Praise God! We are rescued by the work of Jesus, taking our place of punishment on the cross. We are saved by faith in Christ. This is the message a grieving community needs to hear.

Follow The Sullivan Spin wherever you listen to podcasts for more conversation.

Oscar Outrage: The Truth About Prejudice

Oscar nominations rolled out about a week ago and shortly afterwards a whirlwind debate erupted about why mostly white guys received selections.

I confess, my curiosity was piqued. Why did this white plague descend on the Oscars? Who is “The Academy” that everyone thanks in their acceptance speeches? Is it a shadowy room full of hooded figures lighting candles and chanting?

Nope…well probably not, but Oscar embroidered cloaks would be so swanky. Anywho – a quick Google search (we can always trust Google…right?) revealed that it’s a few thousand actors, directors, costume designers, etc…that nominate people within their field for the little golden idol – so directors within “The Academy” nominate other directors for their work that year. That’s literally who is accountable for the lack of diversity.

We Shouldn’t Be Surpised

The interesting part of this Oscar debacle is how an unbelieving world is shocked by people with prejudices. The problem is that the world denies our sinful nature. Culture carelessly champions the notion that we’re all generally good, except for the murderers and really “bad” people. Generally people are evolving into the best version of themselves day by day. It’s very popular to tell people, “Be the best version of yourself.”

Christians may think that’s not such a bad concept. After all God commands us…

Leviticus 19:18 (NIV)

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Seems like an applicable verse for “The Academy” but the reality is we are all condemned by God’s standard of love. None of us fulfill this law because we do not love perfectly.

Romans 7:21-23 (ESV)

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

This sums up our problem as sinful people. We want to do good, but if we’re honest with ourselves we find ourselves sinning in a variety of ways. One of which is holding back love, in other words – prejudice. Humans have become skilled at hurting others based on sex, race, or any other classifications we assign to people.

We want to eliminate injustice from the world but even if “The Academy” was a remote castle full of nuns, social justice warriors, and “woke folk,” sin would taint the vote.

Romans 3:23 (ESV)

 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

It’s a hard pill to swallow. We are all sinners that fail to love others above our own interests 100% of the time. This is why we must trust in the love Christ displays for us.

Romans 5:8 (ESV)

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

There is comfort in God’s love and forgiveness through faith in Christ. We’re no different than “The Academy,” full of envy and jealousy towards our brothers and sisters – but thankfully there is a Savior for sinners.

The Sullivan Spin Podcast

I invite you to check out The Sullivan Spin Podcast. Subscribe, like, and follow wherever you listen to podcasts: https://anchor.fm/brandon-sullivan5

Are You Stressed Out?

Earlier this week I announced that The Sullivan Spin started a podcast!

I posted a question on my Twitter account to go along with the podcast and then realized you can’t answer the question unless you use Twitter.

I really want to hear from you and I don’t want there to be a barrier to having your voice heard. Please let me know how you feel and please comment below with your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing the results.

God bless!

Burned Out? Let’s Talk.

Happy New Year everybody! I hope everyone is enjoying the start of 2020.

I’ve get exciting news…The Sullivan Spin now has a podcast!

New Podcast

2 years ago I started this blog because I wanted share my faith in Jesus Christ through creative writing. The podcast is the next step in that journey.

If you’re feeling burdened and burned out I encourage you to listen. If you’re encouraged by the podcast, subscribe and pass it on to friends. They’re probably just as stressed out as you are.

Introducing Leslie

On the podcast I am joined by my beautiful, lovely, and intelligent wife. Leslie, my bride, is also going to start posting on minimalism and simple living. It’s going to be great! I’ve known her for over ten years and now the rest of the world gets to meet her.

Leslie has always been a part of this blog, you just didn’t know it. It’s just become official that this is a family business. She’s been editing, encouraging, and helping me fine tune my voice. Thank you! I love you!

Follow The Sullivan Spin on Twitter

Life is busy. I get that. But that’s all the more reason to follow The Sullivan Spin on Twitter. I want to encourage you and hear your opinions. I think Twitter is a great platform to foster community. I’ve added a Twitter feed on the right side of my posts so you can see what I’m up to.

Right now I’ve posted a link on Twitter to the first podcast episode and I’ve got a survey question for you. Please vote! The poll closes in a week. I want to hear from you because I care about you.

God bless you!

Ethan Hunt Steals Satan’s Playbook.

Ethan Hunt is at it again, saving the world from certain destruction in Mission Impossible: Fallout. There’s an unforgettable scene that depicts the pitfalls of placing too much trust in your senses and I want to share it with you.

For some reason there are subtitles in wingdings. Enjoy.

Ethan Hunt convinces his prisoner of a false reality which leads the handcuffed patient to betray his cause. The devil relishes the role of Ethan Hunt and plays it with us. Satan convinces us that treasures in this life are what we should pursue and trust instead of Christ. Chase wealth! Chase influence! Chase success! Look around, that’s what you can rely on.

The Bible warns us against putting confidence in this temporary world instead of an eternal Savior.

2 Corinthians 4:18 (ESV)

We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Jesus tells a parable that should convince us things will never supply our greatest need.

Luke 12:16-21 (ESV)

“The land of a rich man produced plentifully,  and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Harsh outcome for the rich man! People need food, what’s so wrong with storing it up? Joseph (coat of many colors) did it and he was part of God’s plan to save a nation, but this rich guy gets fried. What gives?

The significant difference is a man submitted to God and a man that worships his stomach. Joseph trusted in the Lord and his store houses were built in response to God’s leading. The rich man built storehouses because he didn’t trust in God to provide. The rich man couldn’t see the value of an eternal God, he just wanted lunch tomorrow. Pleasure now. Like the prisoner in Mission Impossible: Fallout, the rich man watched in horror as the walls of his reality collapsed. The rich man planned for this life but wasn’t ready when life ended abruptly. Many people aren’t ready because they’ve been convinced this temporary world should be their focus.

We don’t have to suffer that fate. Trust in Christ and look to an eternal kingdom.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, 16-17 (ESV)

God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,  comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.