THE GOSPEL and Anxiety

blog - George St Pierre 4George St-Pierre might be the baddest man on the planet…..at least physically.

But St-Pierre, who has been the #1 ranked MMA welterweight fighter in the world for several straight years, a former UFC champion, has now stepped away from the octagon due to the psychological beating he’s taken. In a  recent interview, he said that the same indomitable drive and attention to detail that made him a great fighter was “going to drive me crazy.” Publicly announcing his struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), St-Pierre has, in all likelihood, brought his career to an end.

blog - George St Pierre 3TAKE NOTE: A man who has repeatedly absorbed blows from the hardest-hitting mixed martial artists on the planet has tapped out to the stress and anxiety that is all part of the package deal of perfectionism.

I have a special interest in all of this, having documented previously my similar personal struggles. As a fellow sufferer of OCD, George St-Pierre’s announcement causes me to feel two things. First, my bad boy street cred has never been higher – as this has now confirmed in my mind the obvious correlation between OCD and unquestionably tough, but toxically control-hungry dudes. Second, and more importantly, it’s interesting to me that while we fight so hard to protect ourselves (and our children) from physical danger, we almost universally applaud fanatical, obsessive work. Yet, at least in our country, the latter is the thing that frequently causes more harm. As a society, we put people who demonstrate physically destructive behavior behind bars, but we give promotions to people who demonstrate (arguably) destructive psychological behavior.blog - George St Pierre

As a fairly high-volume stress guy, I’ve spent many hours contemplating the cause of my anxiety. While I’m sure that the traditional nature/nurture analysis offered by modern psychology probably factors in, I’m also certain that 99% of it is simply sinful worry.

Consequently, using the resources the gospel gives us to find PEACE (the opposite of anxiety), has been invaluable to me.

The Biblical Analysis

The word for anxiety in the Bible comes from a little Greek word merimna. It’s related to the word meris, which means “a part.” So, merimna literally means to be broken down into little pieces. That’s what anxiety is. When you look at your life and you see it NOT going the way you think/feel it’s supposed to go, you psychologically start to break down into little pieces. Ever wonder why it’s called a mental “breakdown?” There you have it.

But there’s this interesting spot in the New Testament where Jesus uses a little wordplay with merimna. It’s in Luke 10, where we’re told the story of Martha and Mary (whose names obviously sound similar to this word). These two sisters are having Jesus over for a dinner party. Martha is frantically running around the house finishing her preparations for the company. Mary is just quietly sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Jesus. Martha is livid that her sister could be so careless and ineffective. Mary is at peace, recognizing that even if the house is a mess, it’s no big deal, because she knows the one thing needful is getting done.

Everyday I have to repent of my Martha and become more Mary. I’ve found that when I’m Martha – counting the millions of things that should be getting done, beholding the rainbow of obligation that is my Microsoft Outlook calendar, feeling like I’m continuously falling behind, I get miserable. When I’m Mary – getting a solid amount of devotional and prayer time with Jesus, the life circumstances don’t change dramatically, but my ability to face them does. I find peace instead of finding myself in pieces.

The Biblical Solution

You see, the opposite of anxiety (i.e. “being in pieces”) is single-mindedness. Christians remain calm by way of gospel focus. You have to think. Remember. Jesus encourages this all the time. He often says things along the lines of, “Don’t be anxious, but consider. If you are worried, if you are stressed, you’re not thinking.” (e.g. Matt. 6:25-34/Luke 12:22-34) Worry is actually the absence of gospel thoughts.

Put differently, you can either listen to your sinful heart, which causes worry, or you can talk to your heart with gospel promises, which bring peace. In Psalm 42, King David does exactly this. He’s stressed, anxious, and depressed, so he says, Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5) See what he’s doing? He’s talking to himself in a way that goes far beyond positive secular self-talk. Instead of listening to his heart, he’s speaking to it and telling it what to believe based on God’s love, power, and promises. “Think about this…..Don’t worry so much about this, because God said this, and Jesus did that…” Peace comes when you tell your heart who you are in Jesus.

Your heart will tell you to stress out about this presentation, crumble under the weight of that important test, get depressed about this relational “failure,” freak out about that financial pressure – but none of it really matters too much IF you recognize who’s running this show. The one who was by nature champion, allowed himself to enter a cosmic chokehold, so that you, who by nature should have tapped out, might have your arm raised (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 3:23-24; 2 Cor. 8:9; 1 Cor. 15:57; 1 John 5:4-5).

There’s only one thing needful. Sit at his feet to listen, learn, and love. It’s the single greatest non-negotiable of life. Only then will you find the peace to deal with all the rest.

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THE GOSPEL and The Power of Words

blog - jimmy fallon

In such a fast-moving world, one of the few things that seems to maintain some stability is late-night television. Since I’ve always been a “night guy”, I too find a bit of comfort in the consistency of late-night talk show hosts. David Letterman has been doing it for 30 years. Jay Leno did it for 20 years. Before him, Johnny Carson had done it for 30 years. Hey, even Jimmy Kimmel has been hosting a late-night show on ABC for over a decade. And remember the 2010 Leno Tonight Show time slot debacle? The late-night routine was messed with and we weren’t having it. Americans want the end of their day 1) light-hearted, and 2) consistent, and not necessarily in that order.

So, once again we’ve hit one of those milestone dates in television history as The Tonight Show this week received another new host in Jimmy Fallon.

Peggy Drexler posted an interesting article in CNN’s Opinion section called “Can Jimmy Fallon last in TV’s piranha pool?” asking whether or not Fallon is ruthless enough, cold enough, mean-spirited enough to maintain interest from the late-night talk crowd. She cites recent research from Iowa State University that suggests we are conditioned to act rudely toward others when we perceive this behavior as commonplace (e.g. on TV) and then claims this has trickled down into our society. She cites additional research from Michigan University, 72 studies of empathy among college students over 30 years, which seems to indicate that “empathy — the ability to identify with others and relate to their feelings — has dropped an incredible 40% since 2000.” Now I’m not exactly certain how you measure that, nor am I convinced that it can, in fact, be measured. Nonetheless, I’d imagine that most people wouldn’t find that data too far-fetched. In other words, the egocentrism of modern society seems so palpable today, that even if we couldn’t quantify decreasing empathy, it seems objectively true.

That’s what makes Fallon so interesting. I’ve been watching David Letterman, to varying degrees, since I was twelve. He’s gotten older and more cynical, and so probably have I. I’ve watched him move away from classic bits like “Stupid Human Tricks” to the point where he simply cannot move through a monologue without hammering sex jokes, fat jokes, or ethnic jokes about celebrities and political officials. But that’s not really Fallon’s game, which was the point of Peggy Drexler’s article. Is it possible that our society has finally become disenchanted with the “Look how great I am!” nature of social media, the entitlement of a generation of children who were told, “The world is your oyster. You can be anything you want to be.”, and the non-scripted, heavily edited, pointless viciousness of reality TV? Is it possible that we are collectively seeking to become less nasty to one another, as indicated by whom we’re now choosing as our new late-night king? I hope so. Or……maybe Fallon is just funny.

In either case, Jimmy Fallon teaches us something about the nature of words, something I hope he doesn’t lose as age sets in, criticisms come, and ratings pressure inevitably increases. Fallon’s wordplay as a comedian is unique in this – he’s recognized as one who doesn’t tear others down.

The Tonight Show with Jay LenoI’m not suggesting that Fallon is perfect. I’m not suggesting he is a late-night beacon of morality. Nor do I know whether or not his Roman Catholic background plays into his, generally speaking, “high road” stance regarding comedy or not. Still, it’s interesting (and important) to see someone known for his humility, positivity, and graciousness get such an enormous platform.

One of the things that’s so fascinating to me about all of this is how it fits into the biblical instruction about words. The Bible places such a high emphasis on verbal communication that Scripture is often referred to simply as “The Word,” even Jesus himself as the embodiment of “The Word” (John 1:1, 14). And the New Testament ethic regarding words from writers like James, Paul, and Peter is clearly that we use our words to build up, not tear  down others. Words are of the utmost power and importance.

For example:

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:10) 

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph. 4:29)

“(The younger widows) get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.” (1 Tim. 5:13)

“Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Pet. 2:1)

These aren’t random rules of God trying to oppress our First Amendment rights. These are explanations of how we who were redeemed and restored by Jesus into the image of God can, in fact, let our words become more godly.

You see, God’s words build up. Consider the creation account in Genesis. God, who is from all eternity, in the beginning, brought the universe into existence. But what instrument did he use? Simply his Almighty Word. All he had to do was say, “Let there be…” (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24). He used his words to create, to build up, not tear down. It’s the same way he turned lifeless souls into believing children (Rom. 10:17). And if you are in God’s image, your words too, in a general but undeniable way, will primarily build up, not tear down.

I’ve probably become particularly sensitive to this as one who has now been blogging for years. It’s amazing the amount of “Christian writing” I run across that is mostly dedicated to knocking down the work, practices, beliefs, character, or mistakes of others. Not only does this not seem to be in step with the biblical ethic about words and God’s basic approach to words, but it’s also cheap. As a recovering judgmentaholic, I know firsthand that it’s incredibly difficult to create positive original content and incredibly easy to rip someone else’s work apart. We see this elsewhere in life too – for illustration, it can take hours to build a sandcastle on the beach, but it only takes 10 seconds for a child to run through the castle and destroy the creation. Furthermore, the child seems to have some strange, innate desire to knock that castle down, doesn’t he? Hmmmm.

A Christian will seek to resist jokes that would generate laughs but would come at the cost of someone else’s feelings. A Christian will seek to avoid discussing juicy gossip that would undoubtedly prove entertaining but might come at the cost of someone’s reputation. A Christian will seek to set aside his First Amendment rights to criticize anyone and anything that doesn’t suit his liking. It’s not easy, and does not come naturally, but a Christian will.

A Christian won’t, however, be perfect at this from here till heaven. Therefore, we repent of our malicious, destructive, sinful words. And the only boasting we do should be in our perfect Savior – “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Cor. 11:30), e.g. Self-depracating humor? And, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (2 Cor. 10:17) 

Jesus is the only one who did no wrong. But he was still mocked, so that we, who deserved ridicule, could instead receive a word of approval from our Heavenly Father – “with him I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17; 17:5)

It’ll be interesting to see how the Fallon experiment ends. Might be years before we know for sure. Will his gentler words (relatively speaking) amuse? Or do we, as an American public, need to see others criticized in order to live with ourselves and get some sleep at night.

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THE GOSPEL and Defending Your Faith

blog - Creation Debate

My thoughts after last night’s debate….

I wasn’t alive to watch the first steps on the Moon. But my guess is that all who did, to some degree, knew that such a moment had crossed over from merely entertainment to something of historical significance. I’m not sure that the 100+ people I watched the debate with last night (or the million plus who viewed it at home or nearly a million who have already watched the YouTube replay) got the same feeling, but I certainly thought last night’s event had that sort of “big game feel” to it. Granted, it was obvious to me that a few of the partakers in our dimly lit sanctuary last evening were sleeping during the debate, which has cleverly been dubbed “Ham on Nye.” I’m guessing no one fell asleep as Neil Armstrong was hopping down on the lunar surface back in July of ’69. Nonetheless, if you understand the impact that this debate – Creation v. Darwinian Evolution – has had on civilization in the past century, last night was an unquestionably historic moment.

Here’s a little historical context….

The most controversial, influential legal battle in U.S. history had nothing to do with O.J. Simpson. It was back in 1925, a high-profile debate between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan. Darrow, a brilliant criminal defender, was the most famous American lawyer in the early 1900s. Bryan had run (unsuccessfully) for president three times and was a very seasoned, popular lecturer.

Darrow (pro-Evolution) and Bryan (pro-Creation) were taking opposite sides in the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial.” John Thomas Scopes was a high school teacher who was charged with breaking the law by discussing evolutionary theory in his Tennessee classroom. The ACLU jumped in to defend Scopes, challenging the law against teaching evolutionary theory as a constitutional violation of church/state separation. Now, whether or not you think evolutionary theory should be taught in schools isn’t the question. That’s irrelevant to the court case. The court system doesn’t establish laws, but rules on the basis of existing laws. Consequently, the bottom line in this case was that Scopes had broken the law. That could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t.

The pivotal point was when Darrow, very cunningly, called William Jennings Bryan to the stand to defend biblical creation. Bryan, probably foolishly, perhaps arrogantly, agreed. I love the wisdom of medieval Jewish philosopher, Maimonedes, who said that conflicts between science and the Bible result from either a lack of scientific knowledge or a defective understanding of the Bible. But I’ll readily admit that such reasoning has no place in a civil court room.

You see, the issue is that a courtroom is a place to defend facts, not faith. And though Christian faith is based on facts, the very nature of faith is that it is belief without immediate sensory experience. It would be equally foolish for an evolutionist to take the stand to defend evolution, since there are non-provable, non-sensory elements to it, just like creation. Darrow was simply smarter than Bryan on that day to realize this. Furthermore, I’m not suggesting that to be a sincere Christian one has to be able to eloquently defend against every accusation or criticism of Christian faith, but, in my estimation, Bryan largely overestimated himself as a Christian apologist. Consequently, when Darrow began to ask him relatively manageable questions like “If God made the sun on Day 4, as the Bible teaches, then how was there light on Day 1, as the Bible also teaches?” Bryan froze and retorted that these things simply have to be accepted by faith. That wasn’t good enough for the court room…or America. It was such a debacle that, the next day, the judge ordered that Bryan’s testimony be expunged from the record, stopping short of referring to it as “an embarrassment.”

What furthered the negative impact of the “Scopes Monkey Trial” against biblical creation  was an exaggerated retelling of the trial in the form of the play “Inherit the Wind.” This was the longest running drama on Broadway for quite some time and then was turned into a successful movie in the 1960s starring Spencer Tracy and Gene Kelly. Even Carl Sagan pointed to its impact by saying, in his opinion, that “Inherit the Wind” had brought to light contradictions and inconsistencies in the Book of Genesis for the general populace. In the public’s eye, biblical creation never recovered. And several hundred million children in our country alone have since been taught that it is a joke to consider biblical creation as a viable option of origins. There is simply no way to overstate that impact on the world we live in today.

My Reaction

Last night, nearly a century after the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” we had the single most visible, publicized, important discussion about Creation/Evolution since that landmark trial. And it was magnificent. I scribbled down 10 pages of handwritten notes during the 2 1/2 hour debate and I’ll try to include just a few brief thoughts here.

Over 70 major media outlets were present. And many, many writers ranging from journalists at Yahoo!, CNN, and Huffington Post, to various influential university professors were critical of Bill Nye for even accepting the invitation to debate, thus lending any scientific legitimizing to biblical creation, or, acknowledging that the theory of Darwinian evolution is, in fact, THEORY.blog - Creation Debate 2

Watching the debate, it was a little surprising to me that Nye did not make one single point that I hadn’t heard before. Not one. If science is by definition information that we can know, then how come there isn’t more airtight evidence for Darwinian evolution? The only explanation is that Darwinian evolutionary theory must not be fully science, or at least to the same degree as other things we call “science.” Ham repeatedly pointed to this difference between observational science and historical science, what we can test and prove and study at this point vs. assumptions that we make about the past, and fought for an acknowledgment of a difference between the two. And after Ham’s initial presentation, Nye politely replied, “Thank you. I learned something.” 

I say “politely” because I truly believe that overall, Nye and Ham were both amazingly polite and respectful. I know some Christians will disagree with Nye’s tone and comments (which I’ll address). But I’ve watched A LOT of debates involving Christianity and Nye was significantly more respectful than many debaters I’ve heard. Certainly, there were times when Nye verged on the ad hominem tactics. Calling Ham’s beliefs “magical” and the transmission of the Bible “like a children’s game of telephone” really has no basis. It was just dismissive language. Furthermore, anyone who watched the debate was sure to notice Nye’s dozen or so references to himself as “a reasonable man.” Well, the obvious implication in such a statement is that Ham is NOT a reasonable man. And then there were Nye’s repeated, odd, fear tactic comments suggesting that the American economy would tank if children were raised to believe biblical creation. Uhhh….that simply makes no historic OR scientific sense. Nye is a bright guy, but that is a weird, almost desperate-sounding, claim based on zero evidence.

This was all quite fascinating to me when taking into consideration how many non-scientific claims Nye made. For instance, in the final segment of the debate, the audience Q&A portion, Nye’s comment to Ham, which had very little to do with the thirteenth question which was asked, was, “What became of all the people in world history who were not able to access the Bible, Young Earth Creationism, and the Gospel?” Well, this is, of course, an interesting philosophical question. However, it has NOTHING to do with science. Why would Nye, a brilliant scientist, go that route? It perpetuates to me the idea that most non-believers assume their rejection of God and the Bible is based on evidence when, in actuality, it’s based on personal reasons.

Finally, I was really happy that some individuals from the audience asked questions that are clearly unanswerable to Darwinian evolutionists and render it as an ultimately internally inconsistent belief system. For instance, the second audience Q&A question asked, “How did the atoms that created the Big Bang get there?” Nye, who had the first opportunity to respond, paused and eventually said, “Nobody knows. This is a mystery.” (By the way, if you’d like to see at least this highlight, you can catch it at CNN, who I thought, through moderator Tom Foreman, did a remarkably good job with the debate.) But Nye’s comments are playing directly into Ham’s “you must acknowledge a difference between Observational Science and Historical Science” hand. Two questions later, it happened again. The audience question this time was, “How did consciousness come from matter?” And Nye replied, “Don’t know. But we want to find out.”  Grab any definition of “science” over at dictionary.com and tell me that what Nye is talking about here falls under that category.

So here’s my point. William Jennings Bryan got in an indefensible chair that he never should have sat in 89 years ago. As a result, a great amount of damage was done to the name of biblical creation. It wasn’t necessarily overnight, but 30-40 years later, the effects were obvious. Bill Nye “The Science Guy” sat in that exact same chair last night. I don’t think the world has necessarily changed today. But I’m very curious to see where public education in our country will be 30-40 years from now. If you think Intelligent Design as a potentially viable option to be considered in textbooks sounds far-fetched, just retrace the historical steps. I’m not saying this will happen, but after last night, we’re certainly a step closer to the average American seeing design as “reasonable.”

So, do I think that anyone will be convinced into loving Jesus, the authority of the Bible, or Designer-Driven Creation as a result of Ham’s points last night? No. Of course not. That’s not the way faith works according to the Bible. But a door was opened on the biggest platform biblical creation has had in a century. And Ham handled it beautifully.

I’ve been a big Ken Ham fan since I first saw a video of his as a 12-year-old boy. I’ve followed his career closely ever since. I’ve visited his Creation Museum in Kentucky. My wife even got to hold a conversation with him at the museum’s amazing petting zoo. I’ve used lots of his materials in my church. He’s a very faithful, very humble man. And I’ve always been sympathetic to Ham. The guy gets disrespected in almost every mainstream media interview he does (perhaps most famously in Bill Maher’s “Religulous”). And Ham just keeps coming back for more, looking for opportunities to proclaim what he believes is biblical truth. And it dawned on me last night that perhaps 40-plus years of constant mainstream ridicule has conditioned this man to be perfectly equipped to “give a reason for the hope that he has” (1 Pet. 3:15) concerning biblical creation on the grandest stage it’s had for a hundred years. It’s funny how things work. As I was laying in bed thinking about all of this at 2:00am, I was wondering if Ham was thinking the same thing – “Maybe all the criticism has led to this. They intended to harm me, but God was preparing me. God intended this for good, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50:20)

I wouldn’t at all be surprised if a door was opened for some last night. Sure, the majority will go on in their beliefs as if nothing ever happened. But others……

It reminds of when the Apostle Paul, the greatest Christian missionary in history, spoke to the intellectual elite in Athens at the Areopagus. He provided a flawless Christian apologetic. And at the end, we’re told, “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’…..Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.” (Acts 17:32,34) In other words, some persisted in non-belief. But others came to faith in Jesus.

blog - Creation Debate 3I will indeed remember where I was and what I was wearing the night Ken Ham, in front of millions, looked down the barrel of the academic shotgun and said, “Yes, I believe Creation is a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era.”

For Further Reading…

Since I’ve already received a number of emails on this, I wanted to take a moment to address the noticeable arguments Ken Ham didn’t make, things I was hoping he would say, convincing arguments which I’ve heard Ham himself use before. I can only guess as to the reason why he didn’t use some of them, but since he’s such an experienced debater, I can’t imagine it was because he “just didn’t think of them.” I think it was more calculated than that. I think Ham made a conscious effort to use the tools which only scientists themselves would want to use, i.e. non-philosophical arguments.

Nonetheless, I wanted to jot down here a couple of things I was perhaps surprised he didn’t say. I’m sure he had good reasons. He’s a more skilled debater than me and he’s likely the best Young Earth Creation defender on the planet. But here’s the things I was wishing he would’ve said, or at least made a bigger point of …

  •  When making his initial presentation, I wish he would have more adamantly made the case that yes, biblical creation does require faith (belief in things unseen), but that Darwinian evolution requires just as much faith. “Faith” is one of those words used with some disdain to describe Christians, and many evolutionists are painfully unaware that they are accepting truths by faith (assumptions) too.
  • I wish Ham would have pointed out the convenient reasons why so many in the scientific community would want to deny biblical creation – i.e. the lack of moral accountability. Again, this is a philosophical argument, not a scientific one, but still one that I don’t know many scientists have carefully thought through.
  • I wish Ham would have done more with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics question (Q. 8 in the Q&A round). While Ham mentioned that energy doesn’t simply provide life, he didn’t really expound on observations of nature moving from order to disorder without intervention.
  • Nye at one point mentioned “I’m not a theologian.” Still, he said so many things that indicated to me he hasn’t ever really even studied the Bible as an adult, in any sort of extensive way. For instance, in Q&A question 11, he commented on Ham picking and choosing which portions of the Bible he wanted to believe. This is a common criticism of non-believers who have heard bits and pieces of the Bible and really haven’t carefully thought through the laws of the Old Testament or why some of those laws would apply exclusively to the Israelites and why some would have lasting principles attached to them. Ham only had a minute or so, but I wish he would have given more time to explaining how he’s not cherry-picking passages. He used the phrase “let Scripture interpret Scripture,” which is a big biblical interpretation point, but perhaps simply didn’t have enough time to expound on it.
  • I wish Ham would have pointed out the implications of an overarching evolutionary “survival of the fittest” mentality on human morals. For instance, if a large oppressive nation devours a smaller, weaker, poorer nation, evolutionists should logically never feel sensitive toward the weaker nation since this is simply the propagation of the species.
  • I wish Ham would have clearly stated that the Bible is unique in that everyone thinks they know what it basically teaches even though so many have never studied it in any depth before. There appears to be some sort of inherent aversion to it that is fundamental to understanding the different conclusions that are being drawn from the same observed data.
  • As many pointed out to me, I wish Ham would have used the “Appearance of Age” argument. This is the  biblical teaching that everything in the biblical creation account was created to look older than what it actually was. Plants were mature, i.e. “seed-bearing.” Humans were adult. Again, it’s not necessarily a scientific argument, but it is an argument that causes plenty who haven’t thought of it to pause and say, “Hmm. That’s interesting. The earth may LOOK 13.7 billion years old without necessarily being 13.7 billion years old.”

All of that said. Let me just reiterate that Ken Ham is THE MAN. I’m so incredibly proud of his performance from last night. Much more than my opinion though, I have to believe that from above he received a “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21, 23)