Life Without God

AdamBefore we commit to something, if we’re wise, we weigh the consequences.  Before we take a job, we consider the pay, the hours, the benefits, the commute, the effects on our families, and the relative enjoyment and fulfillment we will find in it.  Sometimes we take one because we’re desperate, and anyone who has done so knows about how well that works.  When we date and marry, if our friends are wise, they ask us if our romantic interest is good for us, if they’re fun, if they fulfill us, if we can see ourselves with them over the long haul.  We’re often too enamored to ask these questions ourselves, but this is what the voice of wisdom would say.

It concerns me that there is another decision which the bulk of the population makes wholesale without wise consideration of the consequences, and that’s the decision to live life without God.  Whether by tacit negligence of explicit rejection, we choose to do life on our own terms without God.  I wonder how that decision might go if we weighed the consequences as we do with a profession or a partner.

No Origin

Without God, we come from nowhere.  We are not designed.  We have no purpose.  When we talk about living a meaningful life, we really can’t mean “meaningful” in any traditional sense, because without an origin, we aren’t made for a purpose.  We are, in stark terms, an accident, blindly wrought by inanimate forces of nature, a marionette of physics.  If we were sensible about this, we would never have reason to get out of the bed in the morning, because there is nothing for which we are made.

No Destination

Similarly, we’re not going anywhere.  From the dust we come and to the dust we return.  As a result, there’s obviously no goal.  Again, meaning must be crucified as a twisted prank of evolutionary forces.  The most basic of purposes – making the world better – is a stupid waste of time.  The world is going to perish in the eventual heat death of the universe, long after human life is gone, with no one left to remember it or appreciate it.  Self-awareness will have been a cruel mistake.  Raising our children is an arbitrary pastime.  Accomplishments are trophies thrown in the fire.  With nowhere to go, we have absolutely no reason to live.

No rules

Realize the tectonic implications for politics and ethics.  Any rules we have to govern human life are arbitrary constructs.  Might does make right, by sheer virtue of the fact that no one else can.  Values like civility or fairness or justice are tools of power for the manipulative to use to force a gullible (and religious) lower class into behaving and working to produce luxuries for the rulers.  Voltaire was right – if there is no God, he must be invented to keep the peasants in line.  Nietzsche was right – if there is no God, values are the whims of the strong.  If there is no God, the only real morality is anarchy, and complex political systems to reign that anarchy in are just stalling techniques to help the rich die in peace.

Without God, the obvious consequence is that we have no past, no future, and a horrible present.  This in no way proves that there is a God, it simply, and wisely, lays out the consequences of casually ignoring the possibility that He exists.

Faith in the Next Generation

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A few thoughts on the call to revive the faith in the next generation.  All hope is not lost.  Read it here….

Preparing for a Church Interview

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Job interviews are so stressful that they can cause pain. We think through every word, over-analyze the questions, and beg God to tip the scales for us. And I’m describing what employers like me, not just applicants like you, must endure… In almost 20 years as a pastor (and a veteran of youth ministry myself), I’ve interviewed a lot of potential youth pastors. Through them all, I’ve collected a storehouse of awkward stories, memories that make me wince, and an overpowering determination to help youth workers navigate their next interview with more confidence and impact. Mistakes are golden, of course, as long as we learn from them…

Reposted from Group Magazine.  Read the rest here.

Dreams for Driscoll

It’s now public news that Pastor Mark Driscoll, of the megachurch Mars Hill of Seattle, has resigned.  This comes after a string of inflammatory controversies.  Love keeps no record of wrongs, but Google sure does, so it doesn’t take long to find out that Driscoll was accused of:

  • bullying staff members, who ended up picketing outside of his church
  • using church funds to artificially purchase and inflate sales of his book
  • talking about women in pejorative ways, and
  • using a pseudonymous online account to post profane rants.

After a six week hiatus amidst mounting calls for his dismissal, he’s resigned.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 8.22.53 AMThis now awakens in me a longing to see a story of redemption written here at the end.  The 43 year old church leader still has a lifetime to rewrite the narrative.  I’m reminded of the story of St. Nicholas of Smyrna who, apparently, after slapping another theologian with whom he disagreed, spent the rest of his life doing penitent acts of charity which would eventually form the basis of the stories of our St. Nick.  I’d like to see Driscoll’s turn into a story of resurrection.  So if I had the pen of the divine narrator, this is how I would write it….

Driscoll fades from public view saying little more than that he’s taking a sabbatical with his family. They sell the million dollar house.  His wife begins working as a school teacher, an irony that is not lost on Warren Throckmorton and the last couple of commentators who are following the story, given how militantly opposed Driscoll was to women providing for their families.  The story goes dark for about a year.

Then a photographer catches a shot of Driscoll.  It goes up in the Christian media for a day.  People tweet it.  He’s in San Francisco, and the picture shows him behind a counter, wearing an apron, smiling and serving a meal at a homeless provider.  The picture is fuzzy and no one can get the straight story on whether or not it was him.  He doesn’t show up there again.  Some time passes.  Again there’s a report that Driscoll is working in an AIDS clinic doing bedside visitation with the dying in San Francisco.  Rumors mount.  Driscoll allows one interview, just saying that he is trying to do God’s will and wants to remain private.  Behind the scenes there is a circle of young adults that he’s mentoring in the inner city.  They’re a private band dedicated to spiritual depth and loving the poor.  Driscoll lives an alternative life of a kind of Mother Theresa in the shadows.  He does not seek audiences.  He contracts no speaking gigs.  He doesn’t write…for a while.  Then, a few years later, he releases an autobiography.  It’s a confession.  And it talks with psychological depth and self-awarenesses about the forces that once drove him and the forces that drive him now.  He becomes a Henri Nouwenesque kind of spiritual mentor, and suddenly every large-church pastor in the world seeks Driscoll out.  They want to talk about their failures and their fears, their conflicts and their depression.  He receives them all warmly and never says a word to the journalists about what he’s doing.

Driscoll lives into old age a redeemed man and a true pastor.  He becomes a legend that people talk about with reverence.  The stories of his younger years fade and are eclipsed by the saint that he has become.  Now Driscoll is what every pastor should be – a living manifestation of the Sermon on the Mount.  He is someone who hides in the shadow of the cross and lives as a subplot to a story that is greater than his own.

Just saying, if I were writing a good story, this is how I would want it to go.

Christians, Ebola, and the Beginnings of Revival

koreanchurchRegarding the origins of the Great Revival in Korea at the turn of the 20th century, during a massive outbreak of cholera, a historian writes:

“At the same time an epidemic of cholera in Seoul brought reports of the indefatigable toil of the Christian missionaries for the sick and dying there, how they performed duties from which the bravest Koreans often shrank, exposing themselves without stint, and saving hundreds of lives.  ‘All these recoveries made no little stir in the city.  Proclamations were posted on the walls telling the people there was no need for them to die when they might go to the Christian hospitals and live.  People who watched the missionaries working over the sick night after night reportedly said to each other, “How these foreigners love us!  Would we do as much for one of our own kin as they do for strangers?”

When Horace Underwood was seen hurrying along the road in the twilight, some of the Koreans remarked, “There goes the Jesus man: he works all day and all night with the sick without resting.”

“Why does he do it?” said another.

“Because he loves us,” was the reply.’”

-Palmer, Korea and Christianity, 1967, citing Moffett, The Christians of Korea, 1962.

How To Bully a Nation’s Pastors

houstonThe line between Church and State was established to keep the State out of the Church more than to keep the Church out of the State.  That original intention has now been trounced by the city of Houston, Texas.

The city of Houston has an openly lesbian Mayor, and cultural controversies have surrounded her election in the Bible belt.  It has also passed a non-discrimination ordinance which permits people to use the gender of the restroom they associate with, rather than the one to which they biologically belong.  Opponents have filed a lawsuit against the city in regards to the ordinance.

The city’s attorneys have now subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors, forcing them to hand over all materials they’ve produced that reference the Mayor, the ordinance, or homosexuality.  If the pastors do not comply, they face fines and confinement.  The pastors were not involved in the suit, but were involved in a caucus of 400 churches that opposed the ordinance.  No matter what the outcome is, the effect is a chilling attempt of the State to silence the Church.

I seem to remember just a year or two ago hearing that all the gay and lesbian population in America wanted was a legal right to equal marriage rights.  It seems like it didn’t take long for the effort towards tolerance to become a club to be used against the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion.  Perhaps now that there is a string of lawsuits against Christian business owners and even personal attacks directed at employees of businesses owned by Christians, it’s time we stop pretending like “tolerance” is the goal.  It looks like the goal is the power to silence Christians, even in their houses of worship.

The Church has withstood worse.  From its earliest days, Christians have been killed for refusing to worship emperors, taxed for refusing to convert to State religions, and imprisoned for fighting State-led injustice.  We tend not to give up.  It comes from the fact that the Creator of the universe at one moment in history walked among us, and, among other great promises, told us that “the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church” (Mt. 16:18).  If hell doesn’t stand a chance, I doubt Houston will fare any better.

In the meantime, we are to love people who do not love us and point the world towards Jesus.  We stand on the shoulders of two millennia of ancestors who have done just that.

Mentoring as Memory Making

father_child_fishingI can remember my grandmother showing me how to bait a hook, and my grandfather teaching me how to distinguish the tension in the line that is caused by a river’s current from the pull of a snagged trout.  I don’t mean I remember the idea.  I mean I can see in my head some clear pictures of them teaching me – of a silver fish in the bottom of a gray bucket, of a yellow kernel of corn in my hand next to the hook, of Granddad smoking his pipe on the bank.  That was almost 40 years ago.  40 years ago, I had thousands of experiences each day, but that one I can still picture.

I can remember my youth pastor teaching me how to read the Bible.  We were having a Bible study in a dusty upper room of a church, back when churches still had libraries, and we sat on the floor in a circle, and he showed me how to think through the biblical text.  We were reading Isaiah.  The carpet was green.  I can see us sitting there.

I can remember a leader in my college ministry at church teaching me how to articulate a rational defense of the Christian faith. We sat in the basement of his house watching VHS tapes of William Lane Craig debating other scholars.  We would pause the tape to debate the points that he made, and also to talk about our girlfriends and our desired careers and the news.  I can remember the very intense look my friend would get when he mulled over philosophical questions.  He’s now a philosophy professor who teaches at the same school as Craig.  I picked up a book in a theological library the other day because I saw my friend had written one of the chapters, and he had written about a subject I remember us arguing about one night.

Mentoring is not the act of an expert passing on a field of expertise.  It’s the moment that someone who is passionate about one of their interests stops to show why it matters to someone else.  What matters in that transaction is not that someone with a professional certification educates someone else.  What matters is that a memory is made when two hearts and minds gather around a topic of a similar interest.

Imagine what would happen if everyone who is passionate about Jesus took just a moment this week to talk with someone else about what Jesus has done for their marriage, their morals, the meaning of their lives, their parenting, their friendships, their prayer life, or their inner peace.  Imagine if all they did was share a question they wondered about concerning Jesus so that two people could wonder it together.  Mentoring is making memories that Jesus can use for the rest of someone’s life, and everyone who follows Jesus ought to be a mentor.

This week can pass by forgotten, or it can live on in someone’s memories for the next 40 years.

How old is the Bible?

Did you ever wonder whether the Bible was written close to the events it describes or much later?  I’ve heard people dismiss the Bible as a later, legendary account composed many generations after the life of Jesus.  The manuscript evidence gives us a hint.

The oldest piece of a manuscript that we have is a tiny little piece of paper that’s only about 3″ long and 2″ wide, which is now in a museum in England.  It has text from John’s gospel on the front and on the back, and scholars who study ancient manuscripts say that the handwriting dates to between 100 and 150 AD.  This piece was found in Egypt, which suggests an earlier original, allowing time for the story to have travelled over 400 miles.200px-P52_verso

However, Ignatius Theophorus of Antioch, who lived from around 35AD – 117AD, wrote seven letters in which he quotes from at least 17 of the 27 New Testament letters, suggesting that they were in circulation even earlier, in the first century.  Clement of Rome, who died in 99AD, left behind a letter which quotes or refers to at least 9 letters of the New Testament, making their first century authorship undeniable.  These include a quote from Jesus, making the gospel stories unquestionably first century.  An early Christian document called the Didache, which scholars date to the end of the first century or beginning of the second, refers to Jesus’ teachings in the gospels, particularly Matthew.

Credible scholars now date the New Testament entirely to the first century.  Since the date of Jesus’ death falls in the 30s, that means the whole of the New Testament was written within 60 years of his death, which means during the lifetime of his contemporaries.

Those who try to push the dates later must do so by controverting the obvious historical testimonies of both the biblical accounts and non-biblical witnesses.  Their agenda-laden activism does little to confuse the open-minded and clear-sighted, but it tends to empower those who are looking for loopholes and who don’t want to do real research.  The story of Jesus cannot be discredited as a later legend scripted by people of another generation.  It was written in his day by people who knew him and his disciples.

Flesh of My Flesh – an analogy from Chrysostom

“We all know that Eve came from the side of Adam himself.  Scripture has told this plainly, that God put Adam into a deep sleep and took one of his ribs, and fashioned the woman.  But how can we show that the Church also came from the side of Christ?  Scripture explains this too.  When Christ was lifted up on the cross, after He had been nailed to it and had died, one of the soldiers pierced His side and there came out blood and water.  From that blood and water the whole Church has arisen.  …We receive birth from the water of baptism, and we are nourished by His blood.  …Just as the woman was fashioned while Adam slept, so also, when Christ had died, the Church was formed from His Side.” -John Chrysostom, “How to Choose a Wife”

How to Fight the Power in Sunday School

ECO

 

From the ECO blog.  Read the whole thing here….

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