Life of the Mind

Telescopic Thinking

There’s a little event that happened in 1633 which is an important conversation piece in Christianity today.  There was a guy named Galileo who studied the stars and who wanted the world to look through his new telescope.  Apparently, he said, we’ve got it wrong.  The earth goes around the sun and not vice versa.

The Catholic Church of his day was doing a little investigation of its own now called The Spanish Inquisition, in which they were forcing people to accept Christian doctrine or face torture.  They read the passage in the Bible, Joshua 10:13, that says that the sun stopped in the sky.  Well, the sun can’t very well stop if the sun isn’t the one that’s moving.  So they told Galileo to take back his doctrine, which he did.

bookTo this day, that story is told to high school students to emphasize the fact that religious legends can be destructive tools that oppose the pursuit of truth.

One of the most destructive things a Christian can do is make decisions out of fear.  Fear doesn’t help you determine facts.  And fear-based decisions will make your worldview look ridiculous to thoughtful people. We should have let Galileo’s telescope enlarge our view of the biblical text.

I want to address what I think is one of the most grave ills of the Church in this generation. And that is – that the Church is filled with educated people who don’t know what learning is for.

Education is Worship

The standard American church is filled with people whose decisions about education have been informed by their socio-economic standing and not by their theology. We learn because it pays – through qualifications, jobs, and the consequent salaries. We don’t learn as a form of worship. I would suggest that education is not a means to a material end – it is an expression of worship.

Did God give you your brain to make money, or did God give you your brain to explore the creation that he has made, to marvel at its beauty, to mold it into works of art, engineering, and medicine, and to find him in it, because, indeed, he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27)? The mental life is designed for reflection and contemplation, not to be used as a tool for material gain. It’s more like an incubator than a hammer; it allows things to grow within it rather than pounding out the world around it.

I was in a two-week long retreat with Dallas Willard and twenty other pastors at the Sierra Madre retreat center. Dallas began the conversation by saying, “You often think of Jesus as loving, as holy, and as powerful. But do you ever think of him as smart? Because Jesus was smart.”

What would society look like if people saw the Christian church and immediately thought – “They really know their stuff!”? “They are truth seekers, and they are not lazy. They read. They study. They write. They teach. Their people are at the heads of every department in academia.” If it came to a debate between a Christian and an atheist, you could trust that the Christian was well-studied and not just quoting the Bible at people.

I hold out to you that that’s not just how it could be, it’s how it should be, and it could be so in a single generation, if we will take this message seriously. There are four things we can do to turn the tides on this failure, and I’ll lay those out in a next blog, but for now, I just want to impress upon you one thing: education is a form of worship.

What Will The Kids Think?kid

I remember going to a church camp when I was in high school, a fiery Baptist camp held in deep in the woods in the Texas hills, so that no one could get away. And I remember asking a guest preacher a string of questions about faith and science. Midway through my questions he got tired, and just scolded me, “Jim, sometimes you just need to stop asking questions and believe.”

That’s a bunch of trash.

Pursuit of truth leads to Jesus, and if you stop asking questions, you won’t end up at Jesus, you’ll end up with an idol.

Don’t be afraid of where the pursuit of truth will lead you if you believe in the guy who said, “I am the truth.” To pursue truth is to pursue Jesus.

If you want something to wring your parental anxieties out of you, try this. If you raise your kids with a kind of fundamentalism that requires them to hide their heads in the sand, one day your kids will get out in the world, and they will listen to the news, they will talk to their peers, they may go to college, and they will realize that brilliant minds have come to believe in things that are different than what they’ve heard from you.  If you tell them that the Christian faith hangs on their rejection of the findings of science, you will put them in the position of holding onto ideas so rigidly that their ideas will one day break them.  Kids aren’t leaving the faith because of Darwinism.  They’re leaving the faith because parents, churches, and pastors are telling them that Christianity and science are opposed to one another, and they have to choose either science or Christianity.  They’re going to choose the one that is most serious about the pursuit of truth.

Shouldn’t that be the Church? Shouldn’t we be the ones to love truth more than our secular friends?

Let’s recall a teaching of Jesus that he said was more important than all the rest – Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Melting Point

metal.gifMetals melt at different temperatures.  Gold, for instance, melts at a temperature of just under 2000˙.  If you wanted to reduce that gold cross around your neck to a liquid and recast it into a ring for your finger, you’d need an oven stronger than you have in your house. (Most people need to recast their wedding rings with the cross of Jesus, by the way.)

Human hearts are a lot like metals.  They come to church made of the right stuff but molded in the wrong shape. The purpose of preaching is to bring people to their melting point.  The gospel burns people down to their most basic parts – makes them focus on the purpose of life and consider shedding meaningless excesses.  Then, once we’re reduced to materials God can work with, he recasts us into the shape he means for us to be.

The purpose of preaching is to bring people to their melting point.

Worship, after the gospel, plays a cooling role.  We are reshaped by the gospel, and then we cool into our redefined shapes, a new and holy form that requires disciplined maintenance.  When we sing our response to God, it is an act into cooling into the form of a people of worship.  If you leave church a self-righteous, judgmental, gossip-filled religious person, you haven’t reached your melting point, and you’re definitely not cool(ed).  If you leave worship with a sense of humility, realizing you are only made right by the God who loves you, if you realize the only message you have for broken people is a message of love, you’ve been reshaped as you were meant to be.

See you on Sunday for worship.  God, melt us and mold us.

Disciples and customers

The critical decision that the modern church must make is whether or not to raise up disciples or customers.  The results will be very different.

You can have a very big church filled with customers.  Appeal to the expectations, calm every complaint, give the old guard what they want, and appease the donors.  This can generate a gathering of satisfied church-attenders who bring their friends, promising them a similar customer-satisfaction experience.

On the other hand, a church can create disciples.  This necessarily requires telling peoplehqdefault.jpg that they can’t have what they want, that Jesus’ call is to take up your cross and to die to yourself.  A church in a frenzy of attracting customers can never deliver a message like this.  A church that delivers a message like this will never attract customers.  But it is fundamentally the road to discipleship.  Churches that create disciples define their purpose by their mission, not by the whims of their shareholders.

The result of a disciple-making church is a most likely initially smaller but impassioned group of people who are truly committed to the mission of Jesus in the world.  But when a gathering of people takes Jesus’ mission to heart, they become an unstoppable force for the kingdom.

The leadership of the church just has to decide at the beginning, when the groundwork for the church is being laid: customers or disciples?

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.

60 means to spiritual growth

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Image from church leaders.com

A lot of Christians float around church wishing there was something more to faith than just sitting in a pew.  Discipleship is bottlenecked by professional church staffs who take care of all the ministry needs and have no higher aspirations for parishioners than attendance.  Here are 60 questions we can ask ourselves when we want to grow deep, and they can be used as goals for spiritual growth.  Add one at the bottom if you have one! 

  1. Do you know the Bible?
  2. Have you led a Bible study?
  3. Do you know how to pray?
  4. Have you taught someone to pray?
  5. Do you keep the Sabbath?
  6. Do you worship?
  7. Have you been baptized?
  8. Do you receive communion?
  9. Have you led anyone to faith?

10. Are you mentoring a younger Christian?

11. Do you help the poor?

12. Have you tutored someone who can’t read?

13. Have you been on a mission project?

14. Have you visited the hospitalized?

15. Have you visited the imprisoned?

16. Have you counseled the desperate?

17. Have you encouraged the despairing?

18. Have you supported a child in a developing nation?

19. Do you tithe?

20. Have you eliminated poverty in your community?

21. Do you give gifts anonymously?

22. Have you been on a silent retreat?

23. Have you confessed your sins to God?

24. Have you confessed your sins to someone else?

25. Do you have a mentor?

26. Have you written down your story of faith?

27. Have you written an article?

28. Have you written a song?

29. Have you written a book?

30. Have you taught a class?

31. Have you preached a sermon?

32. Have you preached in the open air?

33. Have you planted a church?

34. Have you baptized someone?

35. Have you served communion?

36. Have you spoken at a funeral?

37. Have you put yourself at risk for Jesus?

38. Have you suffered persecution?

39. Have you befriended an awful person?

40. Have you forgiven the person who hurt you most?

41. Have you received someone’s confession?

42. Do you understand grace?

43. Do you memorize Scripture?

44. Do you fast?

45. Have you prayed for someone’s healing?

46. Have you spoken in tongues?

47. Have you prayed that someone would be free from spiritual bondage?

48. If you are single, do you practice chastity?

49. Do you keep your promises?

50. Do you tell the truth?

51. Do you have self-control over your sexual desires?

52. Do you read Christian writings?

53. Do you know the history of the Christian Church?

54. Have you debated difficult questions of theology?

55. Have you given all that you have to the poor?

56. Does prayer come naturally?

57. Have you given up on being famous?

58. Are you known for your love?

59. Do people who want to avoid Jesus have trouble avoiding him when you’re around?

60. Does every day count?