on the right road but headed the wrong way

Thanks to Bryon Morgan who alerted me to this post on religion and science from NPR. The author rightly sees the need for science to overcome its self-imposed handicap of materialistic naturalism, but he doesn’t know how to do it. He thinks it should be possible to restore wonder, passion, and value to the world without resorting to belief in God. Of course, he doesn’t attempt to explain how.

This essay gets so much right. Mostly it demonstrates the futility of any worldview that does not begin with God. We weep for a man who sees so much and yet seems totally lost. And we thank him for suggesting an excellent conversation starter with our non-Christian friends.

classic joke

Many of you have heard versions of this one before, but it’s a classic that all preachers should have in their repertoire. This one comes from my student, Tim Pike, who pastors East Tawas Assembly of God. Tuck this inside your Bible, and pull out in case of preaching emergency.

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. I immediately ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”

“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.

I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”

“Like what?”

“Well … are you religious or atheist?”

“Religious.”

“Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?”

“Christian.”

“Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

“Protestant.”

“Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”

“Baptist.”

“Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”

“Baptist Church of God.”

“Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”

“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”

“Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”

“Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”

To which I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.

Apple Watch

The cover story of this week’s Time magazine, by Lev Grossman and Matt Vella, contains some powerful and chilling commentary on Apple’s new roll out. Here are three key paragraphs to consider before buying this latest new thing.

“It’s intoxicating and also a bit disconcerting to have this much functionality perching on your wrist, like one of Cinderella’s helpful bluebirds. Wearables get inside your personal bubble. We’re used to technology being safely Other, but the Apple Watch wants to snuggle up and become part of your Self. This is technology, after being repeatedly repulsed, finally establishing a new beachhead. To wear a device as powerful as the Apple Watch makes you ever so slightly posthuman.”

“This is new and slightly unnerving. When technologies get adopted as fast as we tend to adopt Apple’s products, there are always unintended consequences. When the iPhone came out it was praised as a design and engineering marvel, because it is one, but no one understood what it would be like to have it in our lives. Nobody anticipated the way iPhones exert a constant gravitational tug on our attention. Do I have email? What’s happening on Twitter? Could I get away with playing Tiny Wings at this meeting? When you’re carrying a smartphone, your attention is never entirely undivided.”

“The reality of living with an iPhone, or any smart, connected mobile device, is that it makes reality feel just that little bit less real. One gets overconnected, to the point where one is apt to pay attention to the thoughts and opinions of distant anonymous strangers over those of loved ones who are in the same room. One forgets how to be alone and undistracted. Ironically enough experiences don’t feel fully real till you’ve used your phone to make them virtual–tweeted them or tumbled them or Instagrammed them or YouTubed them–and the world has congratulated you for doing so.”

an unusual 9/11 devotional

I saw this illustration in Neal Plantinga’s latest (and typically stellar) book, Reading for Preaching, p. 32, and thought it would make a good start for a devotional for Our Daily Journey. I’d like to turn it in tomorrow, so if you see something, say something. Thanks!

Seth MacFarlane is the precocious creator of an animated cartoon called “The Family Guy,” which is one of the most cynical shows on television. MacFarlane was booked as a passenger on one of the airplanes that flew into the World Trade Center on 9/11, but he was late to the airport and missed the flight. Years later an interviewer asked, “After that narrow escape, do you think of the rest of your life as a gift?” MacFarlane answered, “No. That experience didn’t change me at all. It made no difference in the way I live my life. It made no difference in the way I look at things. It was just a coincidence.”

God says MacFarlane is a fool. Romans 1 declares that everyone knows God exists, but left to themselves they refuse to worship Him or even give thanks for the world He has made. Their ingratitude leads them “to think up foolish ideas of what God [is] like,” which makes their minds “dark and confused.” They become “utter fools” who worship themselves and commit whatever sin they feel like doing. Their “lives [become] full of every kind of wickedness, sin greed, hate” and so on.

How to avoid this debauched end? It starts with gratitude. Gratitude says I know I’m not God. I depend on you, who helped me, and God, who used you to help me. I can do nothing on my own. I can’t even control my own existence. I did not bring myself into existence; neither can I take myself out. If I were to commit suicide I would continue to exist somewhere, so long as God chooses to keep me around. And He will, because He’s given me His word (Psalm 16:10-11).

Only a fool can look straight into the blessings of God and blow it off as mere coincidence. Don’t be a fool. Thank God.

are we dangerous?

Last week the California State University system (23 schools) said InterVarsity Christian Fellowship could no longer be a recognized campus group because it requires its leaders to commit to certain beliefs, beliefs that naturally exclude others who do not hold them. It seems that California is punishing faith-based groups for having faith. It believes that Christian organizations are a threat to the diversity it seeks to foster in students, and it will no longer permit IVCF to freely meet on campus, recruit at new student fairs, or participate with the student activities department. What should we think about this?

1. They’re wrong. It’s hypocritical to discriminate on the principle of non-discrimination, and we should politely call them on it. As Tertullian pointed out the inconsistencies of Rome (e.g., you accuse Christians of murder yet you attend gladiatorial contests and support abortion; you accuse Christians of rebellion against your emperors yet you kill one and replace him with another who seems promising), so we should logically deconstruct this power move.

No one supports diversity more than Christians who know they are made in the image of the triune God and who belong to the body of Christ, which includes men and women from every tribe, nation, and language. No one learns and appreciates other cultures better than us. Have you attended a missions conference? Have you noticed the rising number of international adoptions in our church family? We get multi-culturalism. We’ve lived it for a long while.

2. On the other hand, they’re right. California may be on to something. Of all the organizations that meet on campus, I’d hope that IVCF is the most dangerous to their fallen system. Jesus’ kingdom is political, and it is a threat to every system that does not worship him. Jesus warned us this day would come. “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).

I interpret California’s decision as a sign that IVCF is doing something right. They are being excluded, insulted, and rejected precisely because of their allegiance to Jesus. He must be proud.

I also see this as an opportunity. When would you rather be a Christian college student on a secular campus? Back in the golden era—whenever that was—when your commitment to Jesus was understood and respected? Or now, when the authorities perceive that your allegiance is dangerous? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be dangerous. If you follow Jesus in today’s world, that’s exactly what you are.

we’re doing it again

Yesterday Matt Lauer interviewed Nancy Writebol in front of a banner that read SIM. It was so third century.

In The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark argues the Christian faith exploded in part because early Christians sacrificially helped their neighbors in times of crisis. Pagan religion had no answer for the deadly plague that struck North Africa. Even their priests fled from the contaminated cities. But average Christians risked their lives to nurse and comfort the sick, and the pagans noticed. Stark estimates that by the middle of the fourth century, more than half of the Roman Empire had converted to Christianity (p. 6-10, 73-94).

Then, as now, the dominant culture thinks our Christian beliefs are a threat to society. But they have no answer for the missionaries who caught Ebola while serving those who had the disease. So they put them on TV, in front of the banner that advertises their mission agency.

Let us thank God for Nancy Writebol and Kent Brantly and pray for the recovery of Rick Sacra. They are heroes who of the faith who are making “the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).

hey

I didn’t intend to take the summer off from blogging, it just sort of happened. I was busy with new sermon preps, building a third stall on my garage that I didn’t really need but had fun doing and thought it might help my boys learn what it means to be a man (we build things). After a few weeks went by, and then a month, I thought that I would just let the blog go for the summer, unless I had something urgent to say. And I didn’t.

Employers and publishers say that blogging is a necessary part of establishing a platform, which is necessary to succeed in today’s world. They’re probably right, but virtual reality still doesn’t seem fully real to me, and I’m glad that I still feel the freedom to not write something when I’m busy with real life. It may not be the best professional decision, but it’s good for my soul. I’m glad that I spent an entire summer without wondering how something I read in my devotions or saw in the news could be turned into a blog post. Nothing wrong with that, but there’s something right in remembering that the Internet should serve life rather than the other way around.

About one month into my sabbatical I started receiving a series of comments to my blog from strangers who marveled at my intelligence and writing skill. I figured it must be WordPress’s rather transparent way of encouraging latent blogs. Now that I’m posting again, they will certainly stop. I’ll have to sign up for another WordPress account and not post anything, just to hear again how wonderful I am.

I’m not sure if this post is making much sense. It’s just before 5, and I’ve been up since 3:00 with a throbbing toe. Yesterday I elected to have a mucous cyst removed from the top of my second toe. It’s a first world problem that I’ve lived with for years, but it can be painful and it mars my otherwise handsome feet. Since we hit our out of pocket maximum for this fiscal year, I thought why not cut it out? Well, this is why.

But the pain has me out of bed and blogging again, looking for events in real life that I can tell you about. One big one today is our university’s convocation, in which we will bestow emeritus status on Gary Meadors, Dave Kennedy, and John Lawlor. They are a distinguished group of recently retired professors—Gary especially mentored me into the teaching profession, a favor I returned by starting a rumor that he had a relationship with alcohol, a lie that he enjoyed for the simple fact that alcohol wasn’t allowed on our Baptist campus (it’s not gossip if they enjoy it). The drinking ban was lifted soon after the dancing ban went away, for the simple fact that most Baptists need a little booze to loosen up. Just because we may dance doesn’t mean we can.

If you’re in Grand Rapids around 10 this morning, come out and see our three friends receive their honor. Or if you had them in class, send them an email of appreciation. It’s a gold letter day.