I Double Dog Doubt It…

The youth just finished up a two week series on doubt and the role it plays in a life of faith. We started out like last week by looking at the character of Thomas “the doubter”. The funny thing is that Thomas’ nickname as “doubter” always seems to be considered a bad thing, yet Jesus never tells him his doubt has pushed him away from faith. In fact, the Thomas narrative is the last story we read of before John gets to the thesis of his Gospel in John 20:31, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The last miracle we read of before John finishing his account of the life of Christ is not that Thomas doubted and Christ showed up- the miracle is that Jesus cares enough about us to alleviate our doubts. He won’t leave us out to dry. 

Jesus who knew the scriptures front and back (for obvious reasons) was quite aware of the accounts of doubt in the scripture. Doubt as a concept (doubting God’s existence) was a pretty foreign concept to ancient Israelites, but doubting whether or not God would come through for Israel was not. In fact, Jesus called to mind a Psalm that both spoke of doubt and was a foreword looking prophecy about Jesus, the coming Messiah, when he quoted the first line of Psalm 22 while hanging from the cross. The line went like this, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Many have interpreted this as meaning that God actually turned his back on Jesus while he hung on the cross. They say that since God can’t be in the presence of sin, and Christ took on all sin, God left Jesus. I think that’s a wrong interpretation for a couple of reasons. First, that says that there is some place in this plane of existence that can be devoid of God’s presence, since God somehow left. That’s not right according to the picture painted about God in the rest of the Bible. Even more than that, though, is knowing that first century Jews, like Jesus, had to quote sections of scripture by reciting the first line of that section. The Bible wasn’t numbered into chapters and verses until around 1400 AD by some monks, so before then you would ask people to open to sections of scripture by quoting the first line of it to them. Jesus, when calling out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was not posing an actual question to God himself, but was reminding those at the foot of the cross of Psalm 22, a Psalm of David. That Psalm speaks of David doubting whether or not God would come through for him. The beginning of the lament Psalm starts out with David stating his position, where he felt abandoned by God. He was speaking both for himself, and perhaps for the Messiah, but David ultimately acknowledged that he felt abandoned by God. 

Have there been times in your life where you felt abandoned by God? Maybe your parents were divorced when you were in elementary school and that left you feeling uncertain about God and why he would allow that. Maybe you were abused as a child and wonder where God was while you were being hurt. Maybe you had your heart broken by a boyfriend and wondered why God let you get into that mess in the first place. We have doubts about God’s sincerity. That’s okay. David did. But he didn’t just run away from his doubts- he took them straight to God (and made a song about them… huh). 

We can take our doubts to God. He’s big enough to handle them. If the God you believe in can’t handle your “brilliant questions” then you aren’t serving a big enough God. The God of the BIble can handle your questions. Before you were born he knew you. He predestined you to the fold of God. He isn’t afraid of your questions. 

David, throughout Psalm 22, came back to recognize that despite his doubts, and despite his worries about God, He always comes through for His people. Psalm 22:27-28 says, 

 

All the ends of the earth
    will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.

David came to realize that God is bigger than His doubts. That God, in his covenant faithfulness, does not forget His people. Ultimately, Christ will cause every knee to bow and tongue to confess that He is Lord. And that’s a good thing, because that same Jesus will come to us, and through every possible means (including walking through walls to put our hands in his wounds) will alleviate our doubts. 

So, may you remember that your doubts don’t scare God. May you remember that He can handle your tough philosophies. Your scientific inquiries. Your insecurities. God is bigger. And He loves you so much he’ll work through whatever means necessary so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that believing in Him you may have everlasting life. May God’s shalom find shelter in your heart. 

Jesus>the (future) President

Tomorrow, November 6th, Americans will head to the polls (if they haven’t mailed in already!) to vote for the next President of the United States. Presidential elections, thank God, only occur every 4 years. This year I’ve seen many of my friends and family alienated from one another because of emotional reactions to political opinions expressed in various formats. That, however, is not the subject of this blog.

The subject of this blog is what happens tomorrow night. After all the votes have been counted (which may actually take a couple of days), a President will have been decided. But something really odd happens after an election- some on the the “losing” side begin to wax depressed about how the country will fall into some dystopian state because “the other guy” won. People put so much stock in their political candidate, and invest so much emotional and intellectual energy into the cause of their preferred candidate that it negatively affects their disposition in a very strong way. I’m not saying it’s unnatural to have some sort of emotional reaction when you face disagreement, especially from half the country… but here’s what I am saying.

I’m writing this to ask Christians to check their hearts before heading to the polls. Many of you will feel this overwhelming sense of dread if your candidate loses. What if it means the end of America? Or at least America as we’ve known it? What if the newly elected President supports legislation you think is incredibly damaging? What if they’re pro-choice? What if they want to keep getting involved in foreign wars and conflicts? This will all lead to catastrophe!

Remember, when early Christians affirmed the statement, “Jesus is Lord” they did so in opposition to the Romans’ insistence that “Caesar is Lord.” Jesus fundamentally stood in opposition to the worship of the highest office in the land. Jesus is greater than any ruler. He’s the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and I’m sure if the office existed during the writing of the Bible, he’d be the President of Presidents. These aren’t spiritual statements. They’re political statements. They all proclaim this one central truth: Jesus>.

Jesus>political parties.

Jesus>ideology.

Jesus>the President.

Jesus>fiscal policy.

Jesus>foreign policy.

Jesus>your candidate.

Plain and simple. Jesus is greater. All I want is for Christians to keep this in perspective as they approach the polls tomorrow.

If, after the election has been decided you feel a sense of dread, I would suggest you’ve elevated a man and his philosophy to the place of God in your heart. If you’re placing your hope of well being in who gets elected President, you’ve offloaded God’s responsibility to the President. If you believe that everything you’ve known can’t withstand a Republican or Democrat in office, you’ve elevated them to an unhealthy level, and rejected the teachings of Scripture. Remember, Romans 13:1 says that the authorities that exist have been placed in authority by God. God is truly the decider of elections. Not you. And He’s in control. So let Him do His thing.

So tomorrow, if you find yourself on the “losing” side, remember this: you are on the winning side because God is in control. Thank God, suck it up, and be a cheerful loser. Congratulate the “opponent”. Rejoice, because God has a better plan than you do. America is just a place, the Church is a people. People are always more important than a governmental system or political philosophy. Ultimately, tomorrow’s election will be simply that: God’s will being elected. All because Jesus is greater.

iPhone vs the world

This post is a little different than normal. I don’t typically weigh in on tech specific issues, but I feel like it might be worth it to contribute my voice to the dialog surrounding Apple’s release of the iPhone 5… also, I am aware that I’m way late to the game.

I’m just getting tired of all the anti-Apple folks griping about Apple fans being “iSheep” as Mark Prince recently called them on Google+, while being just as dogmatically anti-Apple.

Before I get into this, I just want to say, I was actually disappointed with the iPhone 5 release for the most part. Apple really did no serious innovating, which has been one of the driving focuses of their business (that and pillaging other companies for using similar technology). If I had to start fresh, I’d probably be going for the Nokia Lumia 920, a Windows phone that is set to release here soon. Regardless, I don’t have an upgrade for a while, and I’m still MORE than pleased with my iPhone 4S.

I have a couple areas of beef with the anti-Apple apologists (affectionately referred to hereafter as the AAA).

Their continued assertion of:

1.) The notion that more features equals better phone
2.) The notion that Applites have no real reasons to stick with Apple
3.) That Android/Windows Phone are clearly superior

One continually parroted thought by many in the tech community, and particularly the AAA is that more features means a better phone. For instance, Paras Valecha (@ParasValecha) went on a nice tweet stream about all of the features that the Lumia 920 has over the iPhone 5, going so far as to cite color options. The number of articles floating on the web comparing features is simply astounding. Features, though important, aren’t the metric we ought to judge a phone by. Features are merely marketing techniques to sell people on a product and are only valuable if they add something significant to the user’s experience. For example, when Apple introduced Siri, it was supposed to be this monumental thing. For the most part, it’s only been used as a joke conduit (though sometimes I do want to know where to hide my dead bodies…) and I only really use it to set reminders. The newest iteration seems geared towards being a more usable feature… which brings me to my point.

Features only matter in-so-far as they enhance our experience. Who cares if my phone doesn’t have NFC and wireless charging? Honestly, it’s just as easy to plug my phone in to an outlet (via whatever stupid connector I’m using) as it is to set it on a charging station. I only want wireless charging if it comes to the point where I can charge over the air anywhere I am (sounds dangerous too). The AAA continually asserts that iPhone is less superior because it doesn’t have these features which at this point don’t particularly add anything to my experience of using a phone.

My second beef with the AAA is that they pretend like Apple has nothing good going on. I wholly disagree with this simply in terms of fit and finish being the best of any phone on the market. But furthermore, I think the AAA is missing one of the most compelling reasons people continue to buy Apple products… because they already own Apple products.

I’m not talking about brand loyalty here. I’m talking about straight up cost-efficiency. For such a long time, Apple was the dominant player in the phone/mp3 market that people went with Apple for quite a while. And while they owned their early generation Apple mobile devices, they started purchasing a library of apps. Many people have spent in excess of $100 on apps, and have loaded them to their preferences. These apps transfer across various iterations of Apple products (which is one of the reasons I went with iPhone in the first place… I already had a bunch of apps via my iPad), and so they don’t have to purchase them again. In order for a person to leave the Apple ecosystem, they are giving up more than just the monetary value of the phone- they are giving up a library of apps, and probably losing a SIGNIFICANT amount of money. This was perhaps the most brilliant marketing move Apple ever made. They didn’t just make a phone. They made a lifestyle.

And finally, the AAA seems to think that Apple’s products are inferior in almost every way. Beyond the whole user experience being highly polished and optimized for human usage, Apple has by far the best ecosystem across their products. Their laptops, iPads, and iPhones are pretty much extensions of each other, and eventually extensions of their users. My first Apple product ever was my iPad 2. Now I own an iPhone 4S and my church bought a MacBook Pro for my use. I went for my iPhone because of its ability to sync with my iPad (and already owning a bunch of apps), and to be a smaller extension of my iPad. Apple products may not be as loaded feature wise, but they dominate in the overall synergy their products provide.

So my point here is this- AAA please, stop saying that people who are going for the iPhone 5 are simply fools that just follow Apple blindly. It might make you feel better about yourself, but there are some compelling reasons to go with Apple/stick with Apple right now. You have problems with Apple? Make a better product, market it better, and give me a better experience. Until then, I’m going to use the best possible tools to enhance my life, which was Apple during my last purchase cycle.

Arguing Against Atheists?

An important chapter in the narrative of my personal faith journey has been the influence of classical Christian apologetics on my life. What I mean by “classic Christian apologetics” or what I’ll just call apologetics is the systematic intellectual defense of the Christian worldview. Which practically comes down to Arguing Against Atheists (and other worldviews… I’m a pastor, alliterations are a requirement). Encompassed in the field of apologetics are a wide variety of intellectual disciplines- systematic theology, biblical theology, philosophy, science (particularly biological and cosmological), and rhetoric. Now, my personality has always been very investigative, and I tend to want concrete answers to everything, as much as possible. 

In coming to faith, I had some intellectual concerns with Christianity. I had an incredibly wild experiential encounter with the Holy Spirit where I spoke of things I’ve never heard of before. Sort of like a huge experience of deja vus. Though, I knew that my brain could have merely been playing some trick on me- I could have been having some psychological phenomenon happening to me that some scientist in a lab coat could have explained away. So that set off the alarm to go do some research. And research I did.

I began to read books by Christian apologists to provide me with a reasoned explanation of the Christian faith. And I also read books by anti-theists trying to provide a reasoned explanation for why theism was intellectually bankrupt. So began my affair with apologetics. Needless to say, the Christian apologists had more sound arguments to my teenage ears.

This relationship with apologetics has continued, even until now (for the most part). For my senior project, a state requirement for all public high school seniors, I taught a class on apologetics to my youth group peers. I even ran a college small group last year entitled Apologia, where a group of students gathered to reason through issues faced by Christians.

Lately, though, I’ve begun to wonder just how effective apologetics is. This isn’t to say that it is a useless field… no, it definitely helped me provide a logical framework for my new faith. But I wonder if while we logically oriented Christians are arguing away with atheists, we are subverting our own worldview. How often do we forsake loving and respecting our “opponents” for the sake of being right? 1 Corinthians 13:2 says essentially that all the smooth talking, brilliantly worded arguments (prophecies) in the world cannot get you anywhere if you don’t have love. I’m not saying that disagreement (argument) necessitates being unloving- hardly. What I’m suggesting is that perhaps in our efforts to bolster our faith we’ve forgotten that the best apologetic is a life well lived (1 Peter 3:15). I think an excellent work for every Christian who is interested in apologetics is a book called “Humble Apologetics” by John Stackhouse. My ever so wise pastor, Kevin, required me to read it before teaching my sunday school course on apologetics. If you’re going to do apologetics, do it with a sincere and humble heart, quick to forgive, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

I just wonder how much apologetics is still relevant. For a small percentage of western culture, apologetics may be relevant and valuable, but I really wonder if all apologetics is doing is sidetracking people from the truer reality. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known who are more content to sit locked up in their house behind a computer arguing with people on teh interwebz then actually engaging with needs in their world. Yes, Christianity has logical grounding, and yes that may be what some people need. But far more people need to know that even though you have “answers” you aren’t too blind to see that they want someone to sojourn with them through the doubts, fears, and struggles they are experiencing in this scary world.

At this point, I don’t really have answers and I sort of waffle on the utility of classical apologetics anymore. I know they were valuable for me during my faith journey and for that alone I’m willing to consider that we still need people to hammer out “reasons” to believe. But I’m still uncertain whether or not the apologetic culture is really advancing the Kingdom of God.

I also wonder whether apologetics is the product of a sort of culture war mentality. The type where Christians have to go to battle with every other belief system to assert our intellectual superiority. The kind where we blatantly ignore scientific data simply to maintain our box that we keep God in. The kind where Christians create some dichotomy between faith and science- like we can’t believe in both evolution and Christianity (I have some students who are so staunch about evolution not having ever existed that I think it really puts off some youth who are not Christian… this isn’t to say evolution is necessarily correct, rather that the matter of factly assertion that it’s not “true” is just as incorrect as the matter of factly assertion that it is “true”). Aren’t we really just taking up our sword of intellect to attempt to slaughter our intellectual enemies, often to the neglect of people and their very real concerns and doubts?

I just wonder if we’re too busy arguing while the world is burning.

What do you think? Is apologetics valuable as a whole? Is it helpful in certain circumstances? Can we carefully and considerately propose our Christian worldview while still maintaining a loving attitude? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Beale on Typology

Maxwell Mooney:

G.K. Beale sure to bring some revitalization on the topic of typology. Typology has been mostly forgotten or stayed alive only in Reformed traditions and is a vitally important piece of good exegesis in my opinion. Excited to see a forward scholar weighing in on such a vital topic. Beale is currently my favorite scholar for his impeccable work in digging deeper into the Biblical text while remaining faithful to the overall theological narratives being communicated in scripture. Thanks to Kevin Fiske for the heads up on a must purchase for pastors and scholars.

Originally posted on THEODOX:

One of the most controversial and potentially difficult issues within the realm of biblical interpretation is that of typology.  How are the people, places, events, and circumstances of the Old Testament text to be interpreted and understood insofar as their connection to subsequent people, places, events, and circumstances is concerned; especially as they relate to Christ and the church?

Greg Beale, in his forthcoming book, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Baker Academic, 2012), provides a helpful definition for considering that which may be properly understood as having typological significance.  He defines biblical typology as:

The study of analogical correspondences among revealed truths about persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature and are escalated in meaning. (p. 14)

After defining biblical typology, he offers…

View original 280 more words

Dealing with Disagreement

Thanks to memecenter.com for this awesome meme.

To (aspiring) Christian leaders- if I can tell you one thing that will come during your leadership, it is disagreement. People will disagree with you. Some people may not like the way you do a certain thing, your views on a certain area, or your approach to an issue. This is inevitable. People aren’t going to like every single thing you do. Get used to it.

That doesn’t mean you have to throw a tantrum any time somebody thinks you’re wrong. Being wrong doesn’t mean you are a terrible leader. The fastest way to prove that you’re a bad leader is by responding poorly. One of the best ways to show that you’re a good leader is to respond to criticism with grace, understanding, and wisdom.

There are a couple different ways of dealing with disagreement.

1.) You can be angry:
It’s easy to become angry when somebody disagrees with you. It’s easy to buy the lie that if somebody disagrees with you, they dislike you. They very well might, but generally we should separate disagreement from dislike. James 1:19-20 tells us that the proper response for a Christian includes being “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” Anger only stops us from hearing what the other is saying: don’t let your pride stop you from hearing what God may be saying to you through the other. It also can offend someone very easily. It also makes you look like a jerk and can alienate you from many Godly relationships. And it can make people hate you. Just sayin.

2.) You can be discouraged:
It’s discouraging when somebody disagrees with you. But it doesn’t have to be. Instead of letting yourself be discouraged when somebody disagrees with you, see it as a time to grow. The other person may be genuinely crazy and be completely wrong. But it’s not very likely. Much more likely is that they have a legitimate concern. Be quick to hear it, and see it as God using people to push you in the right direction. You should pray, weigh their opinion against scripture, and consider the context and the consequences of their critique. You may come to the conclusion that they were wrong. But you should be encouraged that you grew closer to God by praying through it, studying the scripture, and approaching the situation with a gracious heart.

3.) You can use it as a growing experience:
I consider myself incredibly blessed to have a leadership team that is far more experienced and practiced at Youth Ministry than I am. In fact, I have leaders on my team that have been in youth ministry longer than I’ve been alive. That is a challenge at times- but I respect so much their willingness to submit to my authority (those crazies!!!!) and trust God’s guidance for bringing me into ministry where I am. That said- when my leaders, church members, or others feel the need to say something to me, I listen. I often come to a different conclusion than they do, but by goodness I’m going to listen. I may view ministering to students in our context differently than they do based on a number of factors- life experience, growing up with students like we’re ministering to, etc. but God brought these leaders and church members into my life to teach me as much as I’m supposed to be “leading” them. Every time there is a disagreement, even though I may not agree about the issue at hand, I can still grow by submitting to their God-directed concerns. I can still see it as a chance to grow in grace. I can still use it as an opportunity to lovingly disagree.

What are some ways you deal with disagreement? Are there constructive ways that you deal with it? Destructive? Any stories you’re willing to share of times where you grew through disagreement?

Environmental protection, Animal abuse, and the Christian

There is someone who attends my youth group casually who is very passionate about protecting animals and the environment. These are two areas where I think Christians by and large have failed to live up to the standards of the Bible (particularly the environment). I was asking for this student to provide a reason why animals (and by extension the environment, though not the subject of our discussion) should be treated fairly and equitably. It was hard to provide any reason beyond the fact that they deserve to be treated fairly/they feel pain. Though I agree that pain is a driving factor in why animals should be treated equitably, I believe there are more systematic reasons why. So to be fair to my student who I pestered for a number of comments, here is why I believe animals and in turn the environment, ought to be treated fairly and justly.

 

As a devout Christian, I believe the Bible is the record God left of his interactions with humans. I believe that, though it was physically written by the hands of men (and some women!), the thoughts and principles contained within it were inspired by God’s Spirit. Thus, I think that when the Bible sees fit to discuss a topic, it is important we listen. One challenge that is present when dealing with the Bible is interpretations of what it actually means! The Bible is written in 3 different languages, with the oldest sections being written likely over 3500 years ago and the newest being written about 2000 years ago! That’s a lot of time to pass between then and now, and it’s a lot of time to pass between the beginning phases of writing and the final phases! That being said, one of the oldest sections of the Bible we have is what is called the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

 

Though there is much disagreement in the scholarly community about the dates/authorship of the Pentateuch, I believe it was primarily written by Moses in the period of time when the Israelites were leaving Egypt through Moses’ death. The first book of the Pentateuch, and the Bible, is the book of Genesis. Genesis begins at the very beginning- with God creating. In that beginning God gave form to everything- he gave it a purpose and a job. The light-bearers (created on day 4) were supposed to contain and harness the light (created on day 1) the land to hold animals, etc. The final day, day 6, God created both animals and humans. The charge God gave to humans? Multiply and “have dominion” over both the land (environment) and animals.

The problem is- for the longest time Christians read “have dominion” as- “do with it whatever I so please” rather than the more accurate understanding of the word which is to “steward.” To steward means to care for and protect- like the Steward of Gondor was responsible for carrying on the business of the kingdom of Gondor as well as protect it while the King was away. This is precisely the sort of work that we humans were supposed to be doing in the Garden of Eden: taking care of it for God, because it is His temple.

So Christians misunderstood what the term “steward/have dominion over” meant- but there is also another problem. Christians throughout the world believe that Jesus will absolutely come back again to this earth. The book of Revelation speaks of Jesus returning riding a white horse and a sword coming from his mouth. There are also some passages in Revelation that speak of 1/3 of the earth being consumed in fire, as well as 1/3 of the stars falling from the heavens, etc. Many Christians have thought that when Christ comes again, he will just transport us into heaven- where we live on fluffy white clouds playing harps all day. Unfortunately, this is a misinterpretation (in my opinion) of the passage of scripture that speaks to the “rapture” mixed in with a healthy amount of Hollywood’s version of heaven rather than the Bible’s. So, you have people who not only think the earth was made just for us to use it to our absolute benefit without looking at the cost, but they also think the earth will just be replaced when Jesus comes again. So they engage in what is known as a “scorched earth” mentality, where they believe that since the whole earth will be destroyed, then you might as well live it up and use up all the oil you possibly can!!! Beat all the animals! etc.

So, why do I think that it’s important to be good stewards of the environment as well as animals? Because God made us to protect and guard the animals and environment. He made this earth to be His temple- it’s our job to take care of it and prepare it for Him. When the Fall happened, we were broken and ashamed… but so was nature. We deal with a broken world as well, until Christ comes to renew the world (rather than throwing it away and starting over!). We need to be treating it with respect and love rather than with contempt (no matter your view on Global warming!). We need to treat animals with love and dignity because they were created by God, and part of our calling in life is to treat them with equity and fairness. Animal abuse is more than just a shameful activity- it actually subverts human nature, because we were made to protect animals. When we batter the environment for a little American comfort, we aren’t just being irresponsible- we are being irreverent and we defile God’s very temple.

So back to my student: why do I believe we should treat animals and the earth well? Because it’s what we were made to do!

I will leave this with one of my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton!

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshippers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.” -Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton