The Most Humble Guy (or Girl) in the Room

blog - humility 3

What creates greatness? Well, it depends who you ask.

In his research for The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation, Thom Rainer cites research that suggests approximately 60 percent of the Millennial generation “strongly agree” that they will do something great in their lives. Another 36 percent “agreed somewhat.” Tallied up, that creates a whopping 96 percent of Millennials who believe they are on some pathway to greatness.

Here’s the catch. Previous generations tended to define greatness in terms of fame, wealth, and personal power. Millennials, however, if they find these things, seem to want to use their achieved status as a means to bring about greater good rather than seeing a lofty social position as an end in and of itself. In other words, they want to serve humanity.

This is one piece of information that gives me a great deal of hope for America’s soon-to-be most influential generation – their definition of greatness is closer to Jesus’. Jesus’ definition of greatness always involves humble service.

The proof? Let’s take a look at a couple of Jesus’ disciples, who are requesting that Jesus grant them greatness.

In Matthew 20:20-28 (and Mark 10:35-45), the brothers James and John come to Jesus with their mom asking for a favor. (And yes, as grown men, it IS a little weak to bring your mom along with you when having a potentially awkward conversation :) )

So what is the request? James, John, and mom want the boys to sit at Jesus’ right side and his left when he ushers in his coming Kingdom. These disciples, at this point in time, clearly don’t understand the gospel. As they lobby to sit at Jesus’ right and left, they “don’t know what they are asking.” (Matt. 20:22). Their ignorance stems from not understanding that when Jesus is at the pinnacle of his Kingdom-bringing, on his cross, he indeed has someone at his right and his left – criminals being executed with him. NOT what James and John had in mind.

Jesus then gathers his disciples together, recognizing that he needs to teach them a lesson on greatness. And his words in this account give us…

3 Ways the Cross Brings Humility and Greatness

1)    Humility of Intellect

In the verses that lead up to this section of Scripture, Jesus has just told his disciples for the third time, three chapters in a row, in explicit detail, that he’s going to be mocked, flogged, tortured, and crucified, and then rise. Third time. And the very next thing that happens is James, John, and their mom come to Jesus and ask a favor. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35) Think of the nerve. The audacity. Imagine one of your closest friends coming to you and tells you that he has terminal cancer, and you respond by saying, “Can I borrow 50 bucks?”

It almost makes you angry that Jesus puts up with this. He doesn’t blow up. He listens. He entertains their request. And what do they want? Greater status for themselves. “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:37) It really doesn’t get a whole lot more insensitive than that.

This is now the third time where Jesus has talked about his suffering and death, and the disciples are still saying things that indicate they don’t get it. And from the outside, in retrospect, we look at them and we think, “What idiots! What’s wrong with these people?!” 

But think this through carefully. As you find yourself disgusted with the disciples, really throughout the Gospels, does it stand to reason that the Holy Spirit records these accounts this way in order to move your hearts into self-righteous judgment against the disciples? Is he trying to condition a condescending attitude in you? Of course not. So why does he record such things?

As you see the disciples’ blindness three times in a row in as many chapters, the Spirit is compelling you to think – “Hmmmmmm. I wonder what I might not be getting right now? If Jesus’ own disciples who sat at his feet learning for three straight years can miss his teaching this obviously, this embarrassingly, this insensitively, what do I perhaps THINK I understand that I’m probably actually missing?”

If Christians today collectively gained an awareness of our own natural spiritual blindness rather than the “go to” complaint – merely pointing out the flaws of the world – that would be a MAJOR step forward in restoring the reputation of churches.

As a pastor, the person that scares me the most is the person that assumes they’ve figured the cross out. In reality, the profound mystery of the cross allows for no smugness, no arrogance, no intellectual pride that makes you feel spiritually superior to others. No judgment.

So, we see the disciples’ foolishness and we don’t say, “How can they be so…?”, we say, “What am I missing…?”

2)    Humility of Influence

In verses 25-26, Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. (vss. 25-26) What’s he talking about?

Jesus’ point here is that the way most people try to assert influence over society is… they try to gain power and control – they “lord it over.” Whenever you see that word “Gentiles”, by the way – it’s actually just a word that means “the nations” i.e. the rest of the world. Jesus is suggesting then that this is how the non-believing world operates. The world assumes that if I have the money, the right connections, the right degrees, then I can get my way. But Jesus says to his disciples, “Not so with you.” In other words, that is NOT how I want you to influence the world.

See, Christians unfortunately tend to mirror the world’s thought process. We think if we can just get the right people in the right positions, if we can just get a political majority, if we can leverage legislation, if we can control enough wealth, maybe even sprinkle in a Christian celebrity here and there, then we can control others, control the future, control the world. But, see, at that point you’re using the exact same approach the world uses to gain control. And Jesus said, “Not so with you.” Jesus told his disciples to love and serve one another (John 13:34-35) AND others in the world (Luke 6:27). Then you’ll get influence. Then other people will ask your opinion. Then you’ll present a light that the rest of the world is attracted to. Any other form of influence, other than that which is voluntarily given, never actually changes anyone’s hearts. In fact, it turns people off. So, for instance, when Europe forces Christianity in the Middle Ages, there’s almost no actual Christianity there a half a millennia later. Probably not coincidental.

Jesus says to influence through giving up power, not taking it, not lording it.

Jesus is the ultimate example of that, by the way. The one true Lord doesn’t “lord” power over others. It’s quite ironic. The Lord doesn’t lord power.

So what did Jesus do to change society? Did he pull out his swords and guns? Did he rally voters? I mean, think it through, what did Jesus do for his enemies? He gladly died for their sins. He gladly died for our sins. He prayed for the very people who were crucifying him. Unbelievable!

Not coincidentally, then, who is the most influential person in world history? And it’s not even close.

If you’re a Christian who believes the gospel, at the heart of your worldview is a man who died for his enemies. If that’s the case, to the degree you embrace that reality, then you understand that the only way you’ll ever get social influence that actually benefits God’s Kingdom is through service – giving up power. NOT by control, force, or manipulation.

3)    Humility The Brings Joy

It’s always fascinating to me when modern research catches up to what the Bible has been teaching for several thousand years. The same is true on the pursuit of happiness.

So, for instance, I recently watched a Netflix documentary called “Happy” in which the filmmakers travel the world to figure out who is able to achieve this elusive happiness. And in the end, they conclude that the greatest link to happiness, across country and culture, is compassion - love and concern for other humans. Brain research apparently has shown that when you express compassionate thoughts, parts of the prefrontal cortex of your brain completely light up in excitement. By the time they figure this out in the documentary, the filmmakers spend the final 20 minutes speculating how we’re ever going to encourage people to develop compassion.

Similarly, I was sent an article recently with an excerpt from The Atlantic in which one of our doctors here at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Amit Sood, was interviewed. He said that the key to happiness is to be intentional with your cognitive energy, i.e. control your thoughts. The article goes on to say, “A good place to start doing that, according to Dr. Sood, is with his five core principles: gratitude, compassion, acceptance, meaning and forgiveness.” Sound familiar? I’m not suggesting these aren’t valuable principles, but merely that Dr. Sood isn’t the first to discover their power. So far as I can tell, Dr. Sood is unwittingly borrowing from Jesus.

So what Dr. Sood is saying, what that documentary is saying, what most other modern research on the topic of joy, happiness, and contentment are all saying is “Want to find a life of greatness? Want to find joy? Want to find happiness? Then stop serving yourself and serve one another.”

Of course, there’s a caveat here. If you’re doing good things, e.g. demonstrating compassion, simply in order to feel good, guess what? You’re still being selfish and you forfeit the blessing. Compassion for selfish reasons, generosity for selfish reasons, serving others so that you’ll feel good about yourself and God will bless you, is NOT really compassion or generosity or serving. It’s still selfish.

So how do we remedy this? How do we remedy the problem. What can possibly cure the human heart?

There is one thing on planet earth that can do it – you have to look at the cross of Jesus. Jesus Christ, if he is my selfless substitutionary sacrifice, if he has paid for all of my sins, if he has proven to me and my vulnerable, insecure, doubting little heart that I am worth everything to him, to God, then I have everything I could ever want. I have everything – the acceptance, the love, the hope, the security, the victory – all that I crave, in Jesus.

Once you see that, at that point, you don’t do good things in order to feel better about yourself, because you already feel great about yourself. You know you are already infinitely loved and accepted by the Lord of the Cosmos. Rather, you do “good things”, humble acts of service, because your heart overflows with gratitude. You’re simply compelled to resemble the one who did so much for you. It delights you to delight the one who did so much for you.

blog - humility 2C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Christ’s sufficiency for you is what liberates you to stop thinking about you. If you believe Jesus has got you, you can let go of you.

And if not concerned with yourself, now your hands are free to assist someone else, your ears are free to listen to someone else, your mind is free to think of someone else.

Jesus alone is what fuels a humble desire to serve others. The one who was truly selfless substituted himself as a sacrifice on our cross so that we who have been selfish might still sit in his glory.

The most humble guy (or girl) in the room is the one who has fallen in love with the beauty of Jesus’ gospel.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. (Philippians 2:8-9)

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A Time To Change

(image credit - fightthenewdrug.org)

(image credit – fightthenewdrug.org)

In Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, James Emery White details how the western world became thoroughly secularized. White points to the following characters and events as leading to key shifts in thinking at the time …

  • Copernicus – “The Cosmological Attack” stated that the universe is heliocentric as opposed to Earth-centered.
  • Darwin – “The Biological Attack” stated that the origin of mankind came about by natural selection.
  • Freud – “The Psychological Attack” stated that God is merely a projection of human desire.

White said the combination of such thoughts was something of a “perfect storm” for an attack on Christian faith.

If it’s true that a combination of events and ideas can derail us from considering God and the authority of his Word, it would stand to reason that another combination of events can swing the pendulum back the other direction. In fact, if you study the history of spiritual Great Awakenings in our country, you notice some common threads. First, there is some sort of collective social despair due to recognition of moral indecency. This is followed by a higher standard for self and social institutions. Certain articulate leaders begin to encourage a repentance of the old and present a vision for something better, leveraging technology and inspiring communities in the process. This leads to a new appreciation of grace and subsequent joy follows.

I’m not sure the following events qualify as Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, but arguably the three largest news items of the past month share something in common – they point out the fallacy of humanist (i.e. man is the top of chain, not God) thinking.

Brian Williams

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(image credit – thewrap.com)

The NBC Nightly News anchor acknowledges that he lied about a helicopter journey in Iraq. Then he made an apology that was perceived by many as weak. Military personnel were offended. The American public was offended. Stories kept popping up about other items Williams had drastically exaggerated or blatantly lied about. Damage control took over. Several weeks later, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams has become NBC Nightly News. The celebrity anchor is gone.

So what? Everyone has been guilty of lying at some point. Why should Williams be held to a higher standard? Well, Brian Williams, the man, should not be unfairly ridiculed. However, Brian Williams the news anchor probably should, because he’s supposed to be hosting THE NEWS. By definition, the news is supposed to be factual reporting, not fiction. When you present fiction as news on a national level, this is called propaganda. It’s the dissemination of false information to the country, and, left unchecked, it’s the behavior that ran rampant in the early twentieth century which culminated in two World Wars.

Certainly, Communist countries were subjected to this as the government sought to control the way people thought. But the temptation is there in the capitalist West as well. “Media” here is ultimately a business, a commodity to be sold. If you’re not producing something that people want to buy, you won’t stay in business. Combine that capitalistic mindset with the idea that media, almost by necessity tends to lean towards sensationalism. For instance, you would never report that everything was status quo within Christian churches, you only report when there is a “newsworthy” scandal. Consequently, people are conditioned to only see the bad in the world, but think that it is an accurate snapshot of reality.

So….when we find out that the news really isn’t the truth, that’s alarming. It’s disconcerting in the same way that discovering you can’t trust everything in your classroom textbooks is. “Facts” aren’t always real facts. The news isn’t just the news, but sometimes just biased lies and propaganda used to sell a product.

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim. 4:3)

SOCIETAL TAKEAWAY: We can’t fully trust what the media reports. 

ISIS Beheads 21 Coptic Christians in Libya

For the past six months, Americans haven’t exactly known to what extent ISIS is a threat. With the recent slaughter, it’s now clear that the militant Islamic State is deeply entrenched in Syria, Iraq, Libya and beyond.

(image credit - thegatewaypundit.com)

(image credit – thegatewaypundit.com)

This comes on the heels of President Obama having just taken a great deal of criticism for his comments at the National Prayer Breakfast Address. Obama compared the terrorist acts of the Islamic State to those committed in the history of Christianity – e.g. the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials. Historians didn’t like it. While there are wicked acts in the history of Christianity, and Christians need to own that, it’s simply false to say that they’re on the same scale as acts done in the name of Allah or those done in the name of “no god.” For instance, Henry Kamen’s scholarship on the Spanish Inquisition has proven that significantly more people were killed on 9/11 than in the entire 350 years of the Inquisition! That both were sinful is without doubt. Suggesting that they are on the same scale of social impact, however, is just bad history. To our credit, Americans have picked up on this. Many are not buying the comparison.

Even fewer are buying the comments of State Department Deputy Spokesman Marie Harf, who said that Islamic jihadists can only be dealt with by creating more job opportunities and education programs. Americans, including Hardball host Chris Matthews, on whose program the comments were made, are collectively gasping, “What?!?!”

This is a significant shift. For a long time, the western world has been saying things about religions like, “They’re all basically the same, they just use different terminology” and “If it works for you, great, but don’t push your beliefs on others.” Obama has been the embodiment of that type of ideology. But the evidence in front of Americans is now telling them otherwise. Where is the Christian Al-Qaeda? Where is the Christian ISIS? Who is the Christian Bin Laden? The clear indications are that all religions are NOT fundamentally the same, but actually quite different.

So we’re left with a deeply spiritual conundrum. If we try to stamp out religion entirely, we end up with the mass slaughters brought about by Communism (Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Tojo, Pol Pot, etc.), the failed godless experiment of the twentieth century. Doesn’t work. So, the next option might be to say that all religions are basically the same. We’re now clearly finding out that’s not true either. Rather, we’re collectively becoming convinced that there is something deeply spiritual about mankind, and there is, in fact, such a thing as a right and wrong spirituality.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12)

SOCIETAL TAKEAWAY: All religions aren’t the same. Some are better for the world than others.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Last but not least.  The film adaptation of E.L. James best-selling book opened this week with record-breaking numbers. That’s not really newsworthy. That was to be expected given the success of the books. What indicates something of a societal shift is the negative backlash that the movie has received – movie critics are generally some of the more liberal voices in society. So the fact that Fifty Shades currently has a 4.1 (out of 10) IMDb score, a 46/100 Metacritic score, and a 26% Rotten Tomatoes score, this is all perhaps a bit unexpected. And this is with several critics suggesting that the film is arguably better than the book. One of the critics who actually gave the movie a positive score said, “The film never pretends to be other than what it really is: soft-core porn for the ladies, diluted with an ‘R’ rating.” (Sara Stewart, New York Post)

(image credit - wikipedia.org)

(image credit – wikipedia.org)

I haven’t read the books or seen the movie, so I’m going to be careful about sweeping generalizations. But many secular groups and prominent writers have lamented the distorted view of sex and romance that the movie presents. Make no mistake, that too is a MAJOR societal shift.

For many years, sex was considered a rather undefined act between two consenting adults. While something may not be my personal preference, I wasn’t free to tell anyone else what is/is not appropriate. The basic societal stance was, as Jerry Seinfeld and his friends, fearful of sounding closed-minded, famously quipped, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

But now, lots of people are saying there is something wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. Secular mental health professionals are saying this glamorizes and promotes abuse. Large media groups are acknowledging this is dangerous. Even the stars of the film struggled to verbalize positives that can be taken from the movie.

So here’s the point. In the wake of this movie, people are now saying that sex, even consensual sex between adults, can, in fact, be wrong. The American public hasn’t said that much since the 1960s.

Sara Stewart’s “porn for the ladies” comment is a scary one. That sounds like anything but sexual liberation. I’m not even going to get into how much secular research has suggested that porn has crippled young men. It’s more of an imprisonment that tortures addicted victims. And the Apostle Paul tells us that it’s a sad day when “even women” have distorted God’s design for sex.

“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” (Rom. 1:26)

SOCIETAL TAKEAWAY: Consenting adults does not equate to healthy sexual behavior. 

So what we’re seeing right now is a bit of a “perfect storm” that could potentially open a world to spiritual reformation – renewed clarity about the bias of information distributors, renewed understanding in the uniqueness of Christianity against other religions, and renewed ethics about the design and purpose of human sexuality.

Remember what I mentioned earlier are the points historians have traced in the Great Awakenings?

1) Recognition of moral indecency.

2) Higher standards for “truth” in social institutions.

3) Leaders encouraging a turn from false, harmful ways to a vision of something better.

4) The grace of God.

All I’m asking now is that you say a prayer that God might reveal his grace and goodness to mankind – a better way.

Please pray with me. Yes, please pray, don’t just read along :)

Heavenly Father, so much has happened recently that leads us to lose confidence in humanity and therefore lose confidence in ourselves. While such things are discouraging, we also realize that you often use such lows to prepare human hearts for the message of greater truth. Make us bold, humble messengers of this truth. Open the hearts and minds of the world around us to see the good news of your Son Jesus – an honest, self-sacrificial, pure alternative to our fallen race, who loved us enough to take the punishment for our sins so that we could receive his eternal glory. This is a better truth for the world that can shape a better reality. Help us live it out.

Show us grace. And help us show grace. Amen.

The Conflicting Theology of NFL Quarterbacks

blog - quarterbacks 1 Does God care about ___________ or not? And who’s to say? Regardless of whether or not previous thought was given to the topic, whether or not religious disciplines have been previously practiced, whether or not one has had connection to a faith community or not, or even whether or not one has actually researched the documents that claim to be God-given, EVERYONE has an opinion about God and the way God operates. In some respects, this is perfectly justified and natural. According to the Bible, humanity was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Gen. 9:6), so it’s biblically accurate to say that every human has some innate semblance of God’s will and desire. This is the reason why every human recognizes to some extent that murder is wrong and stealing is wrong and cheating on your spouse is wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). God’s will is written inside us, it’s part of us, and therefore we all, in a limited way, understand God’s will. This becomes problematic, however, when we think we know more of God’s will than we actually know. This was brought to light recently after the Seattle Seahawks dramatic playoff win over the Green Bay Packers.

Russell Wilson’s Take

After the game, respected Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King quoted Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson as saying,

“That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special. I’ve been through a lot in life, and had some ups and downs. It’s what’s led me to this day.”

This comment was made in response to King’s question about Wilson’s four prior interceptions on the day, and going from the worst game of his life to the biggest throw of his life in the span of eight minutes. blog - quarterbacks 2Wilson has had a rough week, so I don’t want to pile on. But he is a fairly outspoken Christian. I definitely applaud his willingness to use his unique platform to share the grace of God. But in the same way that all his other behavior, as a celebrity, is put under a microscope, his theological convictions are subject to examination too. Is that fair? Well, he’s disproportionately influential due to his status. In other words, realistically, Wilson’s statements about God sink into a 12-year-old boy’s heart probably deeper than the weekly statements that boy hears from his pastor. So….humbly, I want to ensure that this boy’s father and mother, the only influences bigger than these sports heroes, are able to correct the boy’s misconceptions. Consequently, I’m not trying to be nit-picky and hypercritical, but I do think it’s a learning opportunity. As NBC Pro Football Talk analyst Mike Florio noted, Wilson’s statement is, at best, well-intentioned, but a bit dismissive of the believers on Green Bay’s team. At worst, it’s horrifically narcissistic, assuming that every event that happens in life merely happens for my personal glory. I have no idea where in that spectrum Wilson’s comment fits, but at the very least, albeit in the heat of the emotional moment, it wasn’t the tightest statement on God’s involvement in our lives.

Aaron Rodgers’ Take

In response to this, Green Bay quarterback, Aaron Rodgers (a self-professed ‘more private’ Christian) said on his weekly radio show,

“I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”

So, I’ll resist the urge to comment on the validity of theological comments from a guy who openly and unapologetically acknowledges his extramarital sex life, or at least is okay with his girlfriend doing so.  (Although I guess I just did.) Let’s just take Rodgers’ words at face value and see if they’re consistent with the biblical stance. Does God truly not care about what takes place in a football game? Is professional football even just a “game?” The NFL is a multi-billion dollar corporation that generates higher television ratings than anything else on TV year after year. At certain times of the year, it’s arguably the most influential thing going, on the most influential mediums available. blog - quarterbacks 3Since God cares deeply about the affairs of human hearts, what influences human hearts would obviously be of interest. Furthermore, the vast majority of these football games take place on Sundays, the day previously famous in our country for public worship. And now these churches are largely vacated by the God-designed spiritual leaders (i.e. men) who are more interested in publicly gathering together with lots of other guys, in the presence of food, loud music, and female cheerleaders, to praise the efforts of other humans. In other words, if an alien spaceship came down from Mars and observed an NFL game, I’m assuming the captain/leader/guru (whatever ranking system said Martians have) would observe the football game and declare, “Hmmm. Their pagan worship rituals are highly entertaining!” CLEARLY, this activity is tremendously important to many, many people. By the way, I say this as someone who rarely, if ever, misses a Packer game and is convinced that Rodgers will one day be known as the greatest quarterback of all time. That doesn’t change the fact that I believe Rodgers, again, perhaps in the despair of defeat, is greatly misguided about God’s concerns, or lack thereof, regarding professional football. Additionally, even if the NFL wasn’t ludicrously popular, something’s insignificance does not leave it out of the watchful eye of an omniscient God either. Asked by reporters about Rodgers’ retort, Russell Wilson replied by saying,

“I think God cares about football. I think God cares about everything he created.”

While God’s commentary on professional sports is limited in Scripture, biblically, Wilson’s right. God consistently gives the impression that he cares about ALL of his Creation. For instance, making the case that we have no cause to worry, Jesus tells us to “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matt. 6:26) The lesser to greater argument here suggests that, while God proportionately cares more deeply for humans than birds, he still does, in fact, care about the birds, to such a degree that he goes out of his way to “feed them.” ALL Creation belongs to God and God therefore knows personally, observes carefully, and directs lovingly ALL OF IT. God cares even more deeply and intimately for humanity, the crown of his Creation. Jesus explains this when he says that “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matt. 10:30; Luke 12:7) The point, in context, is not God’s vast knowledge (even though it is unsearchably expansive – Rom. 11:33). The point is God’s extraordinary concern for humans. Consequently, would God be interested in what interests humans? If God desires our hearts, would he be the slightest bit affected by what raptures human hearts? Of course.

Forming Your “Take”

blog - quarterbacks 4Discovering truth about God, guided by Scripture, is a bit like bouncing a ball in a room where the four walls are closing in. The ball bounces wildly in one direction until it hits the obstacle that cuts it off. The ball then returns back in a similar direction to where it first came from, but doesn’t go back as far as when it first started. The trajectory is slightly modified and it caroms in another direction. As each of these walls get nearer to one another, you come closer and closer to the ball coming to a fixed position, i.e. the point of truth. As an illustration of this, ask the question “Why do humans suffer?” in a Bible Study. Someone will give their opinion, perhaps even based on one account from the Bible. But they will likely grossly overstate the case on one side of the argument. Someone else will respond with another opinion referencing yet another account. The pendulum swings, the ball bounces back and forth. And so it continues. With each new statement and each new biblical reference, the debate is navigating closer to home. Similarly, with every NFL quarterback you ask about God’s opinion of football, you’re probably getting some aspects of truth, but not a comprehensive truth. The moral, then, for the day? Perhaps don’t get your theology from YAHOO! Sports, post-game interviews, or guys whom Olivia Munn currently and unrepentantly brags about sleeping with (Shoot. Did it again.). All of this might sound obvious, but these things and comments from these people tend to be surprisingly and disproportionately influential in our lives (not to mention young minds). They do matter because we do care about them. So God does too. If I really wanted to figure out how God feels about something, I probably wouldn’t start with someone saying, “I think God….” I’d probably go to a more credible source. Jesus says,

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 10:22)

and

“even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:38)

To validate such claims – authoritative claims to know God’s will –  this man rises from his grave after he voluntarily sacrifices his life for our sins on his cross. This suggests to us that he’s smart enough to know the will of God, powerful enough to carry out the will of God, and loves us enough to share the truth of this God with us. So who’s THE authority? Whatever Russell Wilson says about God, Aaron Rodgers says about God, or, for that matter, Pastor Hein says about God, it’s only authoritative insofar as it latches on to truth about God that Jesus has already said. We all have opinions about God’s will. They’re not all right. But there’s only one measuring stick against which we can hold those opinions and sort out what’s what. That’d be the opinion of God’s Son.

40 Years of Roe v. Wade. Bad Attempts to Correct Bad Behavior?

image credit to repentchurch.com

image credit to repentchurch.com

We recently passed the 40th anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973 Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade. Research holds that 55,772,015 known cases of abortion have taken place since then. Put differently, in this time, our country alone has aborted what would amount to the 24th largest country on the planet today. Imagine if the entire nation of Italy was eradicated. That’s equivalent to what we’ve done.

Last week I commented on how a western worldview shift into naturalism has affected our collective national ability (or unique inability) to process suffering. This week I’m suggesting that it has drastically altered our perceptions of life.

Case in point, Oxford professor and genius biologist Richard Dawkins was caught up in a Twitter controversy recently. The incident resulted from Dawkins’ encouragements to a young woman lamenting that she would have a difficult moral decision to make if she found out that she was pregnant with a Down’s Syndrome child. See Dawkins’ response:

blog - dawkins

What I do appreciate about Dawkins is his unapologetic candor and the consistency with which he presents his worldview. See, to Dawkins, a secular biologist, evolution is THE operating principle of the world. It is governed by immutable natural laws and it is credited with the progress that mankind has made over the years. While some might argue this is a trite and cliché oversimplification, it nonetheless holds that evolution operates on the premise of “survival of the fittest.” Since this is the case, it then makes no sense to bring into the world human life which would be permanently dependent on other human life. This life wouldn’t advance the cause of humanity but instead hold back the refining process of evolutionary genetic cleansing. Bluntly, a Down’s Syndrome child is not likely to make our species “fitter.” So, according to Dawkins, for the child’s sake and for the parent’s sake, that child has no place in this world. That’s a consistent naturalist viewpoint.

While I mentioned I appreciated Dawkins’ consistent viewpoint, there are some obvious errors and internal inconsistencies that come to light whenever he speaks, especially about what he perceives to be “moral.” First of all, Dawkins is less qualified to comment on what he supposes to be “immoral” than anyone, because there can be no naturalist argument made for morality. As I’ve stated before, any moral argument can only be made based on some form of an appeal to God. An evolutionist’s appeal to morality doesn’t work because, to an evolutionist, if morality exists, it’s merely a developed survival mechanism. With a naturalistic mindset, there cannot be a right and wrong, only a survive or not survive, only an improve life conditions or not. An evolutionist cannot make the argument that it’s “wrong” to bully at school or “wrong” for a more powerful people to oppress a weaker people. This is merely an advancement of the species. The strong eat the weak. Many evolutionists can and do make the case that “moral developments” are part of the evolutionary process, but that still doesn’t make an issue right or wrong, only wise or unwise. In other words, evolution could only possibly account for moral feelings, not moral obligation. What logical right would any one of us have for imposing right or wrong for another on the basis of our personal feelings.

And to be consistent, in the same way that Dawkins doesn’t have a right to push his feels of morality, I don’t have a right to push my personal feelings of morality on him. If that’s our attempt to overturn abortion, I don’t see that ever standing much of a chance. It hasn’t thus far.

Furthermore, when Dawkins is discussing “morality” he’s really only talking about his personal logic. Since his highest goal is the advancement of the species, he deems it inappropriate (i.e. “immoral”) to do anything that might hinder human advancement. Understand though, in regard to every other law we have in society regarding the definitions and standards of the protection of human life, there is nothing illogical about thinking abortion to be a heinous crime. Quite the opposite.

So, for instance, if scientists discovered in outer space the exact same cluster of cells that exist in a pregnant woman in her first term, what would they conclude? Would they say, “We’ve found a zygote on Mars!” Of course not. They would make no reference to a zygote or a fetus or an embryo or any other number of words that 100 years ago would have readily been challenged in a game of Scrabble. No, at such a discovery they would proudly herald, “We’ve found LIFE on Mars!” Why the difference? I’d suggest that Satan’s main means of spiritual deception has historically been to distort words (Gen. 3:1-5; Matt. 4:1-11).

“Well,” someone says, “but that organic matter inside a woman doesn’t prove that it is FULLY a human.” Again, based on the Bible, I’m convinced that it is (Psalm 139:13, 16; Psalm 51:5; Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:41, 44). But, let’s just say we don’t know. In a case where there is uncertainty about human life, doesn’t it make the most sense to err on the side of caution? For instance, hunting season is a big deal here in the Midwest. Let’s say a hunter goes out on opening day, sees a rustling in the leaves and that’s the best look he can get. He’s 50/50 certain it’s a deer. Should he pull the trigger? If that rustling is, in fact, just a neighbor kid playing in the woods, should he not be prosecuted if he kills the kid? If he says, “Well, I wasn’t trying to kill a CHILD,” or “My friend standing next to me who knows a lot about hunting said he was pretty sure it was a deer,” does that let him off the hook entirely?

My point is that abortion doesn’t even make consistent sense with our own self-imposed social definitions and standards for the protection of human life.

All that said, impassioned speeches and coherent logical arguments against abortion, while undeniably well-intentioned, haven’t seemed to move the needle too much over the past 40 years.

I’m convinced this is not primarily an ignorance issue (which could be solved through education) or a philosophical issue (which could be solved through debate). This is primarily a heart issue. According to St. Augustine and Martin Luther, sin is basically the human heart “incurvatus in se” (“turned in upon itself”). In other words, sin means I care more about my feelings and my logic than God’s feelings and God’s logic.

image credit to conservapedia.com

image credit to conservapedia.com

Generally speaking, the research on why abortions take place seems to bare this out. For all of the discussion about extreme hypotheticals (e.g. abortions in the case of rape or incest), almost no abortions appear to take place for these reasons. They seem to primarily take place because attachment to this little life would be personally inconvenient to me. Put differently, my heart is turned inward upon my wants, feelings, and logic, not upon God or this child. This is a heart problem.

According to the Bible, there is only one tool for remedying sick hearts – the healing power of the gospel of Jesus.

Jesus was the Father’s Son from eternity past. They were inseparable, connected by a cord of intimate love and service. To pay for my selfishness, God suffered the unthinkable – the Father lost his Son and the Son lost his Father. On his cross, Jesus, the ULTIMATE innocent life was cut off. And we heard the cries of a murdered Son, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Seen for what it is, this is as heart-wrenching and stomach turning as any horrific story or imagery you’ll find online when it comes to the destruction of a vulnerable child.

But why? Why would God voluntarily do such a thing for us?

The Bible says it was so all of our mistakes might somehow be washed away. So that all the life we’ve hurt might somehow be put back together. So that all of our sin might somehow become undone. So that death might somehow become life.

Three days later, that same Son was raised and he proceeded to repeatedly tell his friends and family that they were forgiven and that he desired “Peace (to) be with you” (Luke 24:36; John 20:21, 26).

What can change the nation’s heart about abortion? The grace of Jesus. The Ultimate Innocent Life loved us enough to be prematurely taken so that we, the offenders, would be pardoned of murder. When we clearly see that injustice, we’ll start to see this one too.

A positive development, there seems to be a rising sentiment against abortion in America. While the "cause" of this remains unclear, I personally believe we may be on the verge of a profound spiritual change in our nation.

A positive development, there seems to be a rising sentiment against abortion in America. While the “cause” of this remains unclear, I personally believe we may be on the verge of a profound spiritual change in our nation.

A Uniquely American Problem With Suffering

image credit to doingthewillofgod.com

image credit to doingthewillofgod.com

(The following is largely a summary of insights gained from PART ONE of Timothy Keller’s Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.)

The Problem of Suffering

In philosophy, the attempt to reconcile the idea of a loving God with the suffering experienced in this world falls under a category called Theodicy. It is, admittedly, an intellectual problem.

Every statement of this problem is a version of the ancient Epicurean version:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” — ‘the Epicurean paradox’.

If God is powerful enough to make us happy, if he’s capable, why doesn’t he just do it? Does he not love us? Does he not want what’s best for us? Does he not want us to be happy?

From a finite human standpoint, this is a problem. It’s a problem for everyone who believes in God. Culturally, many have adjusted by choosing to not believe in God. While this smacks of an attempt at revenge against a God you now believe doesn’t exist, nonetheless, it appears to be an increasingly popular one for young westerners. What’s interesting though is that it doesn’t actually get rid of the problem of suffering. In fact, eliminating God now actually gives you less resource for dealing with the inevitable suffering of life.

Dr. Paul Brand, a pioneering orthopedic surgeon who specializes in treating cases of leprosy around the world, has said:

“In the United States … I encountered a society that seeks to avoid pain at all costs. Patients lived at a greater comfort level than any I had previously treated, but they seemed far less equipped to handle suffering and far more traumatized by it.” – Dr. Paul Brand, The Gift of Pain, pg. 12.

Is this true? Are we Americans actually LESS equipped to handle the unavoidable pains of life than many of our less educated, less technologically advanced, less progressive counterparts on the planet?

America is the “Land of Opportunity.” America is the country that teaches children “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up so long as you work hard and put your mind to it.” In other words, America is a country that strongly believes that we are the controllers of our own destiny. In the culminating line of the Back to the Future trilogy, protagonist Marty McFly asks his mentor, the Doc, about events that might cause the future to be altered. And the Doc, enlightened by his many travels, now proclaims, “Marty. The future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one!” That’s American thought in a nutshell. We love it. And we all unavoidably operate, to some extent, with that mentality.

Do you see, however, the problem this presents when suffering arises? If the future is what I create, and the present is misery, that means that the suffering I have before me is not simply a product of a flawed world, but it’s the direct result of me making wrong decisions in the past! This DOUBLE suffering. It’s suffering combined with crippling regret.

Dr. Brand may be on to something – we’re ill-equipped.

Historical Positions on Suffering

The vast majority of the world has historically believed in God/god/gods or at least some notion of higher power/force over mankind. As a result, every culture has been able to make some sense of suffering. For instance…

Hinduism (a form moralism) – Suffering is seen as the result of failing to live rightly. Commonly known as karma, the cosmic scales have tipped against you because of your selfish behavior. If you repent of your bad ways, you will bring forth newer, better life.

Ancient Greek Stoics & Buddhists (a form self-transcendism) – Suffering is largely the result of heightened attachment to the that which is material and transitory. Detach your heart from mere sensory perception and you will find greater happiness.

Ancient Northern Europeans & Muslims (a form fatalism) – Suffering is inevitable. Deal with it by surrendering your will to the fate of an omnipotent, inscrutable God.

Ancient Persian Zoroastrianism & more modern Marxism (dualism) – Suffering is caused by an ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil. Sufferers are necessary casualties of a war that is constantly purging evil until good is victorious.

To process all of this suffering, moralistic cultures call sufferers to live differently. Self-transcendent cultures call sufferers to think differently. Fatalistic cultures call sufferers to embrace one’s destiny nobly. And dualistic cultures call sufferers to put one’s hope in the future.

So, how does this differ from modern westerners? Consider the thoughts of biologist Richard Dawkins, whom I’d personally consider one of the top several influencers on American thought today:

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. … In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” – Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, pgs. 132-133

What, according to Dawkins, is the purpose of suffering? That’s right….there is none. If you find yourself suffering, that means nothing much more than random misfortune. There’s no purpose. There’s no meaning. There’s no silver lining and thus no relief. Try drinking from that cup when your cancer is discovered and see if you find any satisfaction. Even more of a challenge, try explaining this to your child when he/she is diagnosed with a terminal illness. “Sorry. You had some bad luck.”

This reality – western thought’s inability to attach meaning to suffering – does not disprove atheism/agnosticism, nor does it prove theism. It does, undeniably, suggest that Christianity (and for that matter, really any form of theism) provides remarkably greater resources for processing suffering than modern western thought.

In other words, while suffering is indeed a problem for the believer, it is, nonetheless, an even greater problem for the non-believer.

Philosopher Charles Taylor has said that as belief in God has faded from the west, so has a sense of cosmic ordering or meaning to life. In what he calls the western world’s “anthropocentric turn”:

“The sense begins to arise that we can sustain the order [of the world] on our own….Western society’s “highest goal is to … prevent suffering.” –Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, pgs. 373-375

That’s the hollow place we find ourselves today. The purpose of life is to prevent suffering. The purpose of life is comfort, feeling good all the time…until we die.

Dawkins says life is meaningless, so be as happy as you can while you’re here, regardless of how that might affect others. He’s a consistent thinker and I applaud him for that. But I challenge you to find me one person, even Dawkins himself on the right occasion, who doesn’t truly sense there has to be more to life than that?

A Uniquely Biblical Approach to Suffering

While you may find Christians on occasion offering “pat answers” about human suffering, you won’t find the Bible doing such a thing. The Bible offers a multifaceted, balanced, remarkably nuanced view of suffering. Some suffering appears to be a direct result of God’s righteous anger over rebellious unbelief (Gen. 19:1-16; Numb. 16:1-20; Acts 5:1-11). Some suffering appears to be corrective chastisement, altering the thoughts, attitudes, hearts, and behavior of God’s people (Jon. 1-2; Gen. 22:1-19; Job 42:1-6). Some suffering appears to come not despite, but directly because of our attachment to Jesus (Matt. 16:24; John 15:18,20; 1 Pet. 4:12-16).

While many Christians are inclined to confidently offer sentiments about suffering, often to alleviate the awkwardness of being in the presence of someone who is suffering, that Christian is often hastily assessing what he/she does not know. Study the wisdom literature of Scripture and you simply will not come to a neat synopsis on the causes of or prescriptions for suffering. Proverbs tends to emphasize the justice of suffering, i.e. that much of our suffering is related to our own wrongdoing. Job and Ecclesiastes, on the other hand, specifically cite how much of suffering is not caused by us.

It’s not black and white. It’s not even gray. It’s largely unknowably mysterious.

Consequently, a Christian must be very careful not to arrogantly proclaim why specific suffering has occurred. Even though making sense of suffering is a natural impulse, the confident WHY of suffering is a line that even inspired writers of Scripture learn not to cross.

So the first uniquely biblical teaching on suffering is the claim that no one, except God himself, understands the “whys” of suffering in totality.

Still, while we cannot know why suffering always occurs, what God does reveal to us is what he’s willing to do about it. He comes and suffers with us, and even more than that, for us. Let me say that again so that we don’t too quickly bypass this incredible claim that no other religion dares to purport. Because of his great love for us, God voluntarily suffered…

With us“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb. 2:18), and

For us“We do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Heb. 2:9)

That’s all you need. See, you and I really don’t need to know why we’re suffering. If we did, would we know how to stop it? For how long? Would we prevent aging entirely?  Death?

Ultimately, while it’s a curiosity, it makes little difference why we’re suffering. It is an inescapable part of the human experience. What we really need to know is that our suffering will one day come to an end AND that while we endure it, we won’t have to do it alone. The gospel proudly proclaims that God loves you enough and is powerful enough to do both.

Current American thought is uniquely ill-equipped to deal with suffering. Fortunately, the gospel is uniquely equipped to remedy that.

image credit to inspireafire.com

image credit to inspireafire.com

Newsweek Proves Itself to Still Be Uninspired Literature: quick thoughts on last week’s controversial article

blog - NewsweekOne of the larger stories in the Christian world to start the new year is the cover article on Newsweek,The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.

Written by Kurt Eichenwald, the article has caught a good deal of attention, especially from fairly offended conservative Christians.

In the article, Eichenwald makes a variety of anti-authority claims about the Bible regarding apparent contradictions, alleged forgeries, and perceived misinterpretations of what the Bible is actually saying against what many conservative Christians have understood it to say – “crazy claims” like the idea that the New Testament teaches Jesus’ divinity.

Eichenwald’s article is long and pretty disjointed. It has a very “Also, did you know about this!” feel to it, which makes it difficult to address in a coherent way. Furthermore, there are so many skeptical attacks that are worth attention here (and I hope to do so in my own church in a future Bible Study), but for our purposes today, let’s just take a look at 5 or so quick takeaways.

1) Sensationalistic Journalism

Quite a few writing techniques that give modern media the “sensationalism” label are in play here. Eichenwald begins the article by referencing some ambiguous, ominous “THEY.” See, this is effective because he’s creating an antagonist that no one who is reading the article would see themselves in – so he doesn’t offend anyone. But, as you’re zealously grabbing your torch and pitchfork to help take down this evil “They” who’s ruining the world, you realize that he’s talking about a caricatured picture of conservative Christianity. So, okay, you see immediately that this Newsweek article is going to be a non-believer’s attempt to deconstruct the Bible and his social commentary on American Christianity.

2) The Hypocrisy of Many “Christians”

After his scathing introduction of the straw man who even the most compassionate of us would find unsympathetic, Eichenwald says, “The Bible is not the book many American fundamentalists and political opportunists think it is, or more precisely, what they want it to be. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is well established.” Alright, he’s starting to reel me in, at least on this point. Eichenwald calls these people “cafeteria Christians” or “God’s frauds” (how’s that for inflammatory language). But, I believe he’s largely right on with this point. To me, the train of thought that currently poisons American Christianity can be summarized in three short phrases – “Yes, I’m a Christian. No, I don’t believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Yes, I think I’m a pretty good person.” As far as I’m concerned, this is public enemy number one with Christianity: 1) cultural assumption of Christian faith; 2) lack of respect, especially amongst professed “Christians,” for biblical authority; 3) disguising religious moralism as Christianity. This perfect storm breeds hypocrisy and confusion, ultimately generating a palpable animosity towards Christianity in modern American culture.

Eichenwald’s point here is familiar – the hypocrisy of American Christianity – people (esp. politicians) who thump the Bible for their own personal convenience. In biblical terms, they’re called “Pharisees.” Eichenwald is saying that their lack of biblical familiarity is embarrassing for them. While I’m not sure he recognizes how ironic he’s being, there’s certainly some truth to Eichenwald’s assertion – perhaps more than ever, we have many people who label themselves as Christians who don’t either know about or believe the central claims, major themes, or compelling characters of the Christian Bible. We have “Christians” who don’t read their Bibles. However, while we both agree that more Biblical literacy would be good, Eichenwald seems to believe that if people read their Bibles more, they would come to his conclusions. I contend they’d come to many of the opposite.

3) Trusting the Bible?

Under a section titled “Playing Telephone with the Word of God”, Eichenwald says,

“At best, we’ve all read a bad translation (of the Bible)—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”

I’m not even sure where to begin with this. At times, the author comes off like a 5th grader calling a 1st grader stupid for not understanding how the world works. And yes, I understand it sounds a little arrogant and patronizing to refer to Eichenwald as a 5th grader or Newsweek readers as 1st graders, but it seems inescapably clear to me that he hasn’t ever really studied anything about textual transmission. And I’m guessing that his argument here would only work on someone who has never really studied the topic either. Biblical recording was not a Kindergarten game of telephone! You have guys whose lives were dedicated to recording a text that they perceived as divinely inspired. Consequently, manuscripts were copied with great care and detail. The greatest archeological find of the twentieth century, the Dead Sea Scrolls, proved exactly that point. Furthermore, if any outrageous claims or mistakes were found in a manuscript, the original community of readers would have functioned a bit like Wikipedia – it was self-correcting. No writer would have gotten away with inserting unsubstantiated claims. That’s why when Paul makes incredible claims about a Risen Savior he points to hundreds of living witnesses whom he wants his readers to consult (1 Cor. 15:6). False claims would have been (and in the case of the Gnostic Gospels were) dismissed as fallacious.

4) Bart Ehrman and “scholars”

Next, the author starts quoting Bart Ehrman, the main “scholar” he cites in his argument. If you don’t know, Bart Ehrman is the darling of many academic, liberal skeptics of the Bible. He’s very bright and he’s considered to be a leading voice in original text studies…I should say, considered so by many liberal skeptics. He’s appealing to them because he once considered himself an evangelical, he graduated at the top of his class at his Christian schools, and then he took a turn for agnosticism. And now he’s got an ax to grind. Understand that, to some extent, he’s allowed to teach biblical studies at public universities precisely because he’s NOT a Christian. It’s virtually impossible for an evangelical Christian to chair a department of religious studies at a public university and teach what they personally believe to be the truth. Consequently, it’s nearly impossible in today’s society for a conservative Christian to somehow be deemed “scholarly” by mainstream media.

If you actually take the time to read through or listen to Bart Ehrman, you get the impression that, like many notable atheist voices, he’s comes off much less like an unbiased atheist and much more like a ticked-off theist. Don’t take my word for it. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert has launched a couple of basic points that Erhman didn’t handle particularly well. Better yet, watch his debate with Dinesh D’Souza. It’s lengthy, but make sure you get to the point where Erhman basically exposes the cause of his unbelief – HINT: it’s NOT textual evidence. Supposed textual criticisms are merely his rationalization for his unbelief. Ehrman’s unbelief ultimately stems from the fact that he cannot reconcile the idea of suffering with a loving God who deserves worship. In other words, while Erhman holds some impressive degrees, he’s as biased as the rest of us, and his faith or lack thereof corrupts his objectivity.

5) Apparent Biblical Contradictions, Forgeries, and Inaccuracies?

Is the famous story of John 8, the woman caught in adultery, authentic? Is the end of Mark 16 authentic? Is 2 Peter authentic? What about doctrinal claims central to Christianity: Does the Bible really teach the Trinity? What about difficulties with biblical genealogies? Multiple and contradictory Creation accounts? What about the historical claims like the political corruption of the Council of Nicaea or Constantine’s forcing of books into the Bible? Honestly, in the world of Biblical defense, these are fairly Little League arguments that have been addressed countless times for centuries. None of it is new. The only thing that’s truly “new” about them in 2014 is, as the author pointed out, that we are now apparently biblically illiterate enough that they work on us. I didn’t find one single thing in Eichenwald’s article that I hadn’t heard, nor heard an explanation of, before. While I can’t work through every claim, I will point you to some sites that offer thorough explanations: carm.org; answersingenesis.org; leestrobel.com; apologeticspress.org; livingwaters.com. These are just a few of my favorites.

6) The “Man Without the Spirit”

Near the end of the article, Eichenwald says, “None of this is meant to demean the Bible, but all of it is fact.” Again, all this really exposes is that this is the best sense someone who doesn’t have faith can make of the Bible. He doesn’t understand that calling the Bible a corrupted Word of Man is demeaning to it or to Christians, and he is entirely blind to see the difference between facts and his personal opinions. I’m not sure we can hope for anything better. The Apostle Paul tells us Eichenwald simply CANNOT understand: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:14)

So, what, if anything can we take from the article?

It’s easy and understandable to get offended at someone mocking, even if not intentionally, that which you consider holy. The natural (i.e. “fallen”) human instinct is to fight back. Consider today’s terrorist bombings in Paris. One of the gunmen was caught on video shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!” — an apparent reference to the newspaper’s 2011 caricature that angered Muslims and led to a firebombing of its offices. In Islam, when someone mocks God, the noble thing to do is to destroy the infidel. In Christianity, when someone mocks God, the noble thing to do is say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 24:34) A Christian group that responds to Eichenwald with hatred is no better than the hypocritical, unchristlike, biblically illiterate people who Eichenwald claims we are.

Instead, perhaps we can take some of his accusations to heart. Perhaps even apologize.

Maybe some of us do tend to cherry pick in judgment whichever sins are most personally convenient for us. Maybe some of us do tend to primarily seek to compel faith, spiritual gifts, and sanctified behavior through political legislation. Maybe some of us are even a bit biblically illiterate. For these and a host of other sins, we can listen to Eichenwald’s (albeit misinformed) encouragement to repent, and confess with David, “For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.” (Psalm 25:7)

Repentance and a turn to the God of grace and limitless forgiveness is always a blessing.

Naughty & Nice Nonsense

blog - santa claus 1

Everybody has their favorite Christmas songs. But some of us have our least favorite Christmas songs too. For me, there is one song that is indisputably THE WORST this time of year. And yes, I am aware of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” as well as the fact that New Kids On The Block gifted us with a Christmas Album at one point too.

No, the single worst Christmas Song is “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”

Now, let me be clear and say that I’m not taking a stance on whether or not a Christian can allow their young children to believe in Santa or not. But I will insist that the “gospel of Santa” is pure evil.

The gospel of Santa is the same basic message as any other manmade religion: there is a supernatural figure out there who is omniscient (“he knows when you’re sleeping or awake or if you’ve been bad or good, naughty or nice“). He keeps a record of your wrongs (“he’s making a list and checking it twice”). So you should “watch out” because “he’s coming.” Behave (don’t “pout” or “cry”). This figure will bless your good behavior and punish your bad behavior. And if there’s any doubt that this is Moralism 101, note the sentiment to “be good for goodness sake.” That’s the very definition of moralism, the religion of such Jesus detractors as the Pharisees.

While there are various views of Santa Claus, the incarnation presented in “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is the moralistic myth of a jolly, old, white, fat man who blesses the righteous and curses the wicked. Santa is a figment of basic conservative mentality, i.e. there are good people and bad people and some deserve all the blessings and some deserve all the problems. This, of course, is at odds with liberal mentality which supposes that all people are basically good, but sometimes do bad things due to problematic circumstances and poor environmental factors. If there was a more liberal Santa, he’d probably be a little more ethnic, hipper, and give good gifts away to virtually all undeserving people. And no, I’m not going to go there :) I stand by “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” (Matt. 22:21) and Christians should “submit to the governing authorities…placed there by God.” (Rom. 13:1)

My point is that neither the conservative, moralistic Santa nor a liberal, amoralistic Santa are the gospel.

The gospel is the good news of a supernatural being who knows that you’ve been bad while you’re awake but blesses you anyways. And in order to give you the good gifts he’s earned, he has to swallow your lump of coal, an eternal burning judgment. That’s grace.

At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that the God-man who birthed this gospel, Jesus, has come to the prophesied town of Bethlehem. But since he’s a baby, you don’t have to “watch out.” You simply have to watch and adore what he does for you.

So, if you do good, don’t do so simply for the sake of goodness. That’s nonsense. Do so because you’re overwhelmed with gratitude for the One who has forgiven all of your bad.

Thank God that Jesus is not Santa Claus. Santa essentially hands out paychecks for moral behavior. Jesus actually gives gifts.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)