Super Bowl commercials are a thing. In some ways they get more hype than the game (especially in this last instance where the game was a blowout). They are insanely expensive to purchase and increasingly are becoming platforms for signaling the values of a company. That seems to be the latest trend. Make it less about the product and more about whatever social issue the company is championing.
That brings me to the best commercial of this last Super Bowl. It was from Toyota and I am not sure they meant to accomplish what they did but take a minute to watch it before reading a few observations I have about the commercial.
Good right? I'm a nerd and so I noticed a few things that I'd like to point out that make this a great commercial.
1. The visual story is great. The commercial takes you on a journey. I had no idea who Jessica Long was before watching this commercial and you don't need to know who she is. The story is told through what you see. You discover some things about her and just watching takes you on a journey through her life. The fact that she is swimming through the scene is a sort of visual reflection between what was and what has become. We are able to follow her through her journey and see that her success in the pool had it's roots a long time ago. We saw images of challenges she had to overcome and the kind of home she had. We see the story in a powerful and compelling way that brings us along.
2. It tells a compelling story we can all relate to. The visual story telling is powerfully matched with a compelling script that brings you into the story. We all know what it is to get a phone call we have been waiting for. Anyone with kids knows the excitement of a child being born. We have all experienced the letdown of bad news when we were expecting good news or hearing good news that wasn't what we expected. We have all had obstacles we have had to overcome or things in our life that seemed daunting. We have had to make decisions that were hard and that would require sacrifice without knowing the outcome. Some of us have gotten devastating medical diagnosis that changed our lives. The beautiful imagery paired with the powerful dialogue leaves us identifying with the parents and implicitly leaves us wondering what we would have done in that situation. It draws us into the story on an emotional level.
3. The powerful story is that Jessica's life might have been very different had it not been for her parents. This ad highlights the power of loving parents. You see the girl learning to walk with prosthetic legs through a door and as the camera pans, you see her mother sitting on the couch smiling and encouraging her. As she grows and is swimming, you see from her perspective as she catches a glimpse of her parents at the side of the pool standing in front of the crowd cheering her on. A dad and a mom. Involved in her life. Loving her. Encouraging her. Nurturing her. You see her arrive at the end of her race, remove her goggles and see her mom excited to adopt her in spite of her physical deformity and her dad sitting at the table anxiously listening at the table. The mom sits down and says "we can't wait to meet her" as she reaches for the hand of her husband across the table and as she sees that, a warm, loving, appreciative smile crosses Jessica's face. In the final scene, she swims off in a kind of endless sea. The message is powerful. The trajectory of her life has been powerfully influenced by her parents and their love. She will live a legacy they left her.
4. It's pro-life without meaning to be. At one point while the adoption agent is explaining the situation, she says "her life won't be easy". That is the battle cry of pro-abortion advocates. Whether it's economic hardship or physical limitation, the culture associates love with making the hard choice to murder or overlook a baby who will face challenges. As if life is easy for anyone. Life is not easy. We all face challenges and difficulty. Parenting is about sacrifice and love. Jessica's parents recognized personhood means value. I don't know if Toyota meant for this to be a pro-life commercial, but that's what they accomplished. They pointed out that situation doesn't determine value. That Jessica had value just as she was. That she was in need of loving parents. That they were given a gift and could love and care for her with her challenges. There is an implicit invitation to imagine if they had overlooked her or said no. To consider if her birth mom in Siberia had just aborted her. Consider if her birth mom found out about her deformity before birth and had decided that she wouldn't have a life worth living and aborted her. That's what this commercial calls us to consider. Does Jessica feel that she would have been better off never having been born? Would her parents have had the joy of welcoming her into their home and loving her? Would young men and women who suffer from physical limitations have seen Jessica as an inspiration that drove them to overcome limitations and enjoy life? How much would have been different... how much would have been lost if her birth mom took the view that so many in our society take about the value of each life in the womb? The message is every life is worth living.
5. It highlights the power of adoption. Birth parents are not always capable or competent to raise children. That doesn't mean the life of the child is not valuable. That doesn't mean that abortion should be an option. There is an alternative that is infinitely loving. It is loving to give life to a child you cannot (or are unwilling to) care for and then give the gift of adoption to someone who is capable of and willing to give that child a family. There is sacrifice involved on the part of the birth parent. There is selflessness involved. Every life has value and therefore, we as Christians should be about adoption. Adoption is a beautiful thing and this commercial powerfully highlights that. This family in the commercial was not put together biologically but the family in the commercial is a family. And adoption changed all of their lives. They all benefited. Other's benefited. We have the blessing of knowing many families who have adopted and it is challenging and beautiful.
As a church, we have started an adoption fund. The goal of this fund is to raise money to support adoption and, Lord willing, be able to fully fund adoptions in the future. This is important because believers in Christ have been adopted into the family of God through faith. God is an adopting God. Adoption images the gospel in a powerful way. Part of being pro-life is being pro-adoption. We want to be active in pursuing that. We want to encourage that and remove financial barriers that might keep a family who wants to adopt from doing. It's pro-gospel, pro-life and is a blessing to the parents, the child, the church, and the community. If you would like to help in this and financially support this effort, you can do so by clicking here and selecting our adoption fund. All donations are tax deductible and 100% of what's given will go to fund adoptions.
I wanted to make a post that provides some of the teaching I have done at Arbor Drive on the topic of discipleship. Due to some technical difficulties, they were split between our YouTube channel and Facebook page. I thought I would compile them here to make it easier for those who wanted them.
Jesus' Model for Discipleship
Sermon Series on REI
Sunday School Class on Discipleship
Last night, the York Board of Heath gathered for a public meeting to consider a mask mandate for the city of York. I attended and spoke against this mandate. Below is an extended version of my statement.
So Joe, Michaela and I did a thing... Special thanks to Leah for helping with videography.
Legal Foundation: As we have been looking at resuming gathering together for worship, I came across a helpful memorandum from The Liberty Counsel memorandum regarding reopening church (found here: https://lc.org/PDFs/Memo-ReOpen-Church.pdf). I will provide a brief summary along with the pages I reference for your information. Since we live in an age where people accuse President Trump of advocating that people inject themselves with Lysol when he clearly didn't, I will add the mandatory caveat that I am not a lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice. These are simply my takeaways from my research and offer them to fellow pastors and whoever is interested as this pertains to churches gathering together in a time of national emergency.
This is a video that has been taken down from YouTube on multiple occasions and I decided to post it here because I believe that she brings up some legitimate points to consider and censorship of opposing viewpoints in our culture is becoming more prevalent and is the gateway to social slavery. Therefore, I present this with the caveat that I am not saying by posting this that I agree with her on everything or that everything she says is legit. I simply am posting it to use whatever meager platform I might have to give access for others to watch, think, research, and decide for themselves on what she says. I think the points she brings up are worthy of consideration, thought and being presented and am deeply concerned that the sources where we tend to get information like this are deciding what we can see.
In an effort to remain consistent in this regard, I have included the video response below. This provides some significant considerations when assessing the above video. This was posted by a friend of mine on Facebook today and I thought that it was a helpful companion. I offer this without comment and leave it to the viewer to draw conclusions. In any case, when we see things like this, I think we should make decisions based on facts and evidence and videos tend to present neither in many cases so it is up to the watcher to be an objective assessor of the content and seek to verify claims independently.
Before I begin this post, I need to clarify a few things. First, I am not indifferent to the thousands who have died from COVID-19. Second, I am a part of the high risk group so there is no need for finger wagging accompanied by the claims that I am a young person who doesn't care about life. Quite the opposite. I am acutely aware of the danger that this virus poses to a specific population and I care deeply about life... I just also happen to include the lives of 95% (worst case estimates) of the population that will survive COVID-19. While they will survive the virus, they might not survive the massive economic fallout that comes from how we handled COVID-19. Third, this post is a bit long... but I think length in this case is necessary. My aim in this post is to give some context and then expound upon two key observations from this whole mess that need to be considered, and that further require the action of the people to prevent such catastrophic nonsense from happening again in the future.
Leadership is tough. That’s not a complaint. It’s a fact, like saying the sky is blue. Doug Wilson recently did a piece where he highlighted some of the unique issues surrounding leadership but there is one that I feel bears the time and effort of writing this. This is one that Wilson didn’t mention, but that is equally important, especially when making significant decisions. Later today, my fellow pastors and I will sit down to make some decisions about how we will lead the church that Christ has entrusted to our care over the coming days, weeks and potentially months, in light of the COVID-19 precautions that everyone is talking about (for more on this see Wilson’s article).
There are tough decisions to be made. They are particularly tough in this case because we don’t have all the variables nailed down with this virus. There are still a lot of unknowns and those unknowns make decisions more difficult. So, how do you make decisions when there are a host of unknown factors? I would submit that you make decisions based on what IS known. Therein lies the sticky topic that I am sure will rub some of you the wrong way but I feel needs to be said. As leaders, we are often (too often) reactionary and rushed. When we make decisions in reaction and rush mode, we tend to overlook unintended consequences. Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Allow me to take the spirit behind that law of motion and translate it into a law of leadership. Every decision we make has a host of consequences that in many cases, might not be fully understood until much later.
That means that every leadership decision we make, for example in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, does not just impact us here and now. It will impact us for years to come. It’s called precedent. It’s like tossing a pebble into a calm pool of water and watching the ripples drift out and back. The bigger the rock, the bigger the ripples. Sometimes those ripples turn into tidal waves. That brings me to the topic of this article. I am hearing many pastors (and keep in mind these are godly pastors who I respect, not charlatans) talking about how they will not be having church in person but instead, encouraging their people to “attend church online through the live stream”. Here is where I object. My objection is not a condemnation on deciding to suspend the worship service. That is a decision each congregation needs to make (and one of those tough decisions). My objection is this: that phrase “online church” is a contradiction of terms. And that decision to phrase it that way provides an excellent case study for how important it is for leaders to think through unintended consequences.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past month, you have heard about the Coronavirus. It seems to be the latest trend to overreact to everything and this is no exception. My intention in this article is to give what I hope will be a shot of sanity to restart rationality and hopefully stave off your fear of impending doom propagated by the media who would like nothing more than for you to run around thinking your hair is on fire when alas, you are bald and there is no fire anywhere near you. Can you tell I don't trust the media much? So here we go.
We are trying something new. By that I mean new for us as a church. It's really not new at all and we are just returning to something old. Something tried and true. Something that is boringly orthodox. On April 5th, we are going to celebrate communion together as a church, not in the worship service, but around a table after sharing a meal that evening. But why are we doing this? Why does it matter? Why should you make it a priority to be there?
A Quick Thought On Change
Let me start by making a necessary qualification. Change for the sake of change is a waste of time. I am not a fan of doing things differently just because things have gotten stale or because the prevailing wisdom of the day argues that this will lead to a desired result. Let me give you an example. In our worship service, we essentially have 5 elements that are always present: 1) praying, 2) preaching, 3) singing, 4) scripture reading, 5) fellowship. It could be argued that those 5 recurring elements always being in the worship service can lead to a stale worship service. This line of argumentation might conclude that we need to change the worship service to correct that. This is known as pragmatism. Pragmatism is the idea that we do things in order to achieve a desired result. The ends justify the means. We do things the way we do in our worship service because we see these 5 elements in Scripture as the pattern that governs the gathering of God's people for worship and therefore, we want to mirror that pattern. We don't just ignore that pattern because we want to achieve a specific result or because we've done it this way for a while and we just want to change. So as we shepherd and lead, we are constantly looking to Scripture for patterns that will help us function as God, the one who designed the church, intended for us to function. In other words, we want each change we implement to bring us closer to the pattern we see in Scripture, not lead us further away from the pattern we see in Scripture.
Why Change The Way We Do Communion?
This is a good question. Over the last 2 years or so, we have taken a journey as a church in discovering (or re-discovering) the nature and purpose of communion. We have had a lot of new people begin attending who come from various denominational and religious backgrounds and who may not agree with or understand why we do communion and what it is. In addition, there were some who grew up in the church and maybe attended here for years and were never really taught on communion. As we have explored this topic, we have seen and been reminded of things that shape not only our understanding of communion, but our practice of communion. One of the things that has become clear is that communion was celebrated in the context of a meal together (1 Cor 11:25; Matt 26:26). Both at the first communion and regular communion in the local church after the ascension of Christ, communion was a part of a meal that the church ate together. Paul rebukes the church in Corinth for not eating the meal together. Some were going ahead of others and eating their fill and nothing was left for the day workers who showed up later (1 Cor 11:21, 33). It is hard to understand how someone could get full on some crumbs of a stale cracker or get drunk on an ounce of wine as is typically practiced in most American evangelical churches. Clearly, something more is going on.
Moreover, we have evidence that the early church also celebrated the Lord's Supper as a meal. In his book A Brief History of Sunday, Justo Gonzalez observes "We can also be quite certain that at the very heart of early Christian worship was a meal centered on the sharing of wine and bread that, following the pattern of the Gospels, was taken, blessed, broken, and given." He further observes "as the gulf between Jews and Christians expanded, Christian interpretation of Scripture conflicted with Jewish interpretations, and Christians were no longer accepted in the synagogues, these activities—prayer, singing, reading, and interpreting Scripture—took place at the beginning of the Christian gathering, before the actual meal or Lord’s Supper... The meal was a Christian celebration, one in which those who had been joined with Christ in baptism were now nourished by him. The Didache is very clear on this point: “Let no one eat or drink from your thanksgiving, except those who are baptized in the name of the Lord, for he said ‘Do not give to dogs what is holy’” (Didache 9.5)." Even the name "The Lord's Supper" indicates that communion is in the context of a meal.
To summarize, we have the first communion celebrated in the context of a meal, we see that in Paul's instructions to the church at Corinth, the celebration of communion is in the context of a meal, and we see that the early church historically celebrated communion as a part of a meal. There were actually two parts to the service. There was the public part where scripture was read and interpreted, songs were sung, and prayers were prayed. After this, all who had not been baptized and thus were not a part of the local body were dismissed and the church ate, fellowshipped, and celebrated communion together. This also makes a tremendous amount of sense given that God gave his people feasts in the Old Testament to remind them, teach them and minister to them. In the New Covenant, we have one feast, namely The Lord's Supper in which we celebrate and remember what Christ has done for us, spiritually are nourished as believers, and in a very real way, look forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb we will enjoy after Christ's return. I don't think that meal will consist of crackers and juice in little shot glasses.
Our Family Supper
I explain all of that to show two things. 1) celebrating Communion around a meal is not new. It's old. 2) this is not change for the sake of change. It's change to fall more in line with the pattern we see in Scripture and that is confirmed by the practice of the early church. We believe that greater blessing and joy comes from following God's patterns and design he has laid out in his word. That can be hard to see on the front end, but is easy to see looking back. I fully anticipate that this will become a watershed moment for our church. That we will receive great blessing as we seek to be more faithful to what we see in Scripture. I believe God will use this to knit our hearts together and to minister to us as his people more richly. I also believe we will look back on this in 5, 10, even 20 years and see how God has used this to grow our love for one another, our confidence in Christ and our joy in the gospel. We are foreshadowing the fellowship with will have with Christ around a table and a meal as the family of God by eating around the table together with him now as the family of God. This is a family meal that is served with Christ at the head of the table. Family meals have been all but lost in our culture today but are invaluable in the effects they have on the relationships within the family. We are going to recapture the family meal of God's family as we spiritually feed on Christ together in anticipation of that day when we will be joined by our brothers and sisters of every tribe, tongue and nation around the table with Christ physically present among us. For that reason, I hope you will make this a priority in your family to join the family of God at Arbor Drive in this important step in the life of our church.
Jon is husband to Carlee, Papa to Finleigh, Ainsley, and Olivia, a pastor at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne, and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast