When You Stand for Nothing…

My wife is a podcast addict. That’s also the name of the app she uses to listen to podcasts. There are certainly worse things a person could be addicted to, and she does listen to some pretty great podcasts as she is going about her day – stuff that makes this Longmont Pastor proud: D.A. Carson, the Gospel Coalition, Timothy Keller…

One podcast she listens to every day is The World and Everything In It by World News.

She played a recent episode for me which was reporting on the rapid decline of the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church in the USA) as opposed to the growth of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with these denominations, the PCUSA is the older of the two and the PCA split off from them in the 1970’s because of doctrinal differences – specifically that the PCUSA was moving steadily towards a much more liberal theology which no longer believed in divine inspiration of the Bible or in the unique saving work of Jesus.

These theological changes inevitably led to many changes in the PCUSA’s stance on moral issues, in which they succumbed to cultural pressure to affirm certain practices which the Bible asserts are sinful. When you no longer believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, divinely inspired by Him, but just a product of an ancient culture, then none of the biblical injunctions regarding morality or conduct are considered binding – and at that point, you no longer have a rudder to guide your ship and you will be subject to the wind and the waves of your own culture to take you where they will.

I have embedded the audio of that message below. (Those of you who subscribe by email will probably need to click on the post to view it on the web in order to listen to it.)

I think what surprised me the most, amongst all of the moves the PCUSA has made, is that in 2011 they removed the requirement of fidelity in marriage for their clergy. 

Sure, the PCUSA and other historic mainline denominations have made a lot of shocking moves, which in my opinion fall under the category of what Isaiah the Prophet says in Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,

but this one blows my mind. Essentially that means that a pastor could cheat on their spouse and continue being a pastor. Not even atheists or agnostics would say that is acceptable, but yet this “church” is trying so hard to be like the world, that they would even affirm something as destructive and hurtful as infidelity in marriage – an institution which has concrete roots in the gospel (see Ephesians 5:22-33).

For me, the decline of the PCUSA and other such denominations, along with the growth of theologically conservative Christian movements, bears witness to the fact that when you stand for nothing and you believe in nothing, then you no longer have any reason to exist.

Just like sea fish spend their entire lives in salt water without becoming salty, it is the calling and mission of Christians to be in the world, but not of the world.

We are to be salt and light – having an impact and influence upon the world for Christ, not isolating ourselves from the world.  But if salt loses its saltiness, then it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under foot… (Matthew 5:13)

Here’s that audio clip:

Why Ethics Depends on Origin

In my last post I mentioned how much I appreciated the intellectual integrity of Penn Jillette for saying that he respects Christians who share their faith and evangelize, because if you really believe the gospel, then the only appropriate response is to share it with others.

Today I’d like to address the opposite approach: a very common and yet completely contradictory set of beliefs about the meaning and value of life.

I recently came across this quote from well-known atheist Steven Pinker, author of the book, “How the Mind Works.”

“When it comes to ethics, ethical theory requires free rational agents whose behavior is uncaused. Now, ethical theory can be useful even though the world as seen by science does not really have uncaused events.” – Steven Pinker

Do you catch what he’s saying? He’s essentially saying that ethics are useful to society, but that they really have no basis in reality. In other words: ethics help society function, but in a view of the world in which there is no God who created you, ethics are completely baseless.

To put it simply: if there is no God who created you, there is absolutely no rational reason for saying that you are any more important than a stick. And you really have no original thoughts or creativity. Everything you do is programed, nothing is uncaused. You are just a hunk of matter, and therefore your life is utterly insignificant.

And yet, Pinker is saying that in spite of this, we should live as if human life is special and we as human beings are valuable, because it is helpful to the functioning of society, even if it isn’t true.

Here’s the point: an atheistic/humanistic worldview is incredibly conflicted.

On the one hand, modern Western society is obsessed with self-esteem. Our schools put a huge focus on telling kids that they are unique and valuable. We affirm that every life has innate value. And yet, at the same time we have a secular worldview which says that if there is no God, you still have to live as if human beings are significant, even though in reality they are not at all.

In other words, if your origin is insignificant and your destiny in insignificant, then the conclusion is that your life and everyone else’s life is insignificant. However, at the same time we are told to believe that we must pretend that it is.

That’s not intellectual integrity, that’s intellectual schizophrenia.

Atheism has an inherent problem with human rights: on the one hand our modern Western culture believes in individual human rights, and yet on the other hand, there is a push for an existential and eschatological narrative which undermines the very foundation for believing in equal individual human rights.

I have written more on this subject here: Atheism and Human Rights: An Inherent Problem.

Christianity, on the other hand, tells us that human beings were created by God, in His image, and therefore our lives have innate value and purpose – even if there is nothing that we can contribute to society, such as in the case of handicapped individuals.

Furthermore, the message of the gospel is that the lord of the universe left His heavenly throne and came to the Earth in order to save us by giving His life in order to redeem us — which means that you and your life have more value than you can even comprehend.

Modern Western culture has held onto the belief in individual value and human rights, something which has its basis in Christian doctrine and theology, while trying to eschew Christian doctrine and theology in the areas of origin, existence and destiny.

Ethics depend on origin. If you believe that human life has equal and inherent value, please remember where that idea comes from: the Word of God.

Christians Who Don’t Believe – Part 2

In case you missed Part 1 of this post, you can read it here.

There was a BBC article published this past Sunday about the beliefs of people in England regarding the resurrection of Jesus and life after death.

According to their survey:

  • 25% of people who call themselves Christians in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Only 17% of the general public in Britain believe word-for-word the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • 10% of non-religious people in Britain believe that the Easter story contains some truth, but only 1% believe it is literally true.
  • 21% of non-religious people believe in life after death.
    • Of these, 65% said they believe that their soul would go to heaven or hell, and 32% believe they will be reincarnated.

And here’s the one I find most shocking:

  • 31% of British Christians surveyed said they do not believe in life after death.

While someone like me looks at this and sees an incredibly dire situation, the article says that Church of England officials were actually quite encouraged by it! Here’s why:

  1. Because it showed that “many British people, despite not being regular churchgoers, hold core Christian beliefs.”
  2. It showed more regular church attendance amongst younger Christians than older ones.

Maybe it’s me, but in light of the survey it seems like a bit of stretch to say “many” and to say “core Christian beliefs”. Is literally believing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead not considered by them to be a “core Christian belief”?

What’s interesting about this is that the Bible directly addresses those who call themselves Christians and yet do not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul speaks first to those who call themselves Christians and do not believe in life after death, and then he speaks to those who deny that Jesus literally rose from the dead. It’s almost like this chapter could have been written for 31% and 25% of British Christians respectively.

The first point Paul makes is that the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead is and has always been a central tenant of the gospel: the core of Christian belief, and it is only by believing this gospel that we are saved. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

The second point Paul makes is that not only was the death of Jesus foretold by the Scriptures, but so was his resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

The third point Paul makes is that there were hundreds of eye witnesses still alive at that time who could attest to having seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

Then Paul goes on to say (Vs 12-15) that if there is no life after death, then all of the apostles and Christians were liars, because they told people that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen him.
If they had lied about this, they either did it knowingly or unknowingly. If they did it knowingly, then they are intentionally conning people and they should therefore not be trusted. If they lied unknowingly, that means that they are delusional and should not be followed, because they are, to put it crassly: deranged.

Next, Paul says that if there is no life after death, then Christian faith is pointless, and they have just been wasting their time and believing in a fairy tale (Vs 17-18) – and ultimately there is no hope, and no good news. And if this is the case, that Christianity is just another form of moralism and empty rituals, then Christians are the greatest fools in the world. (Vs 19, 30-34)

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

But… if Christ is truly and literally risen from the dead, then that means that God has broken a hole in the pitiless walls of this broken world, and made a way for us to be saved! And Jesus is the first fruits of those who will be resurrected from death to everlasting life.
And the day is coming when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

And because that day is coming, we can have the confidence in whatever circumstances we may face in this life to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The story of Jesus’ resurrection is an integral and indispensable part of the good news of the gospel: the core message of Christianity. The hope that we have as Christians is based on it. To deny it is to deny Christian belief and to try to change Christianity into a form of moralism full of empty rituals which encourages condescension towards God and towards other people of faith, but which leaves you as a person worthy to be most pitied because you are without hope in anything greater than yourself.

If however, you believe in God, then let me ask you the question Paul the Apostle asked the crowd at his own trial: Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? (Acts 26:8)

It would be incredible if you or I raised someone from the dead, but if God is God — the creator and sustainer of life — then such a thing is neither impossible nor even difficult for him.

May you be filled with true belief this Easter season, so that you may believe, and in believing have life! (John 20:31)

Something to Pray Earnestly About

As I wrote in a previous post, I am currently in Kyiv, Ukraine on a ministry trip. On my way here I had the chance to stop in Hungary for two short days, during which every moment was packed.

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“Otthon” – Rákóczi út, Budapest

I arrived in Budapest Tuesday night, met with a few friends on Wednesday, and got on a train to Eger to visit our friends from the church we started there several years ago. There was an open house gathering at the pastor’s house for anyone who wanted to come see me and it just so happened that one of my good friends and our former worship leader, who now lives in the Netherlands, was also in Eger that day, and was able to come out and visit.

Jani and Tünde and I stayed up late that night talking about life and ministry, and on Thursday I woke up early for a marathon of meetings with as many people as I could. It was a short time, but because of that it was also a very focused time. That evening, rather than taking the train back to Budapest to catch my flight the next day, Jani decided to drive me so that we would have more time to spend together and talk.

Pray for Pastor Jani and Golgota Eger. They are doing a good work in that city and region.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)

Friday morning I flew to Kyiv, arriving at 11:00 AM. At 2:00 PM the Calvary Chapel Ukraine Pastors and Leaders conference began at the conference center in Irpin.

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Conference Center in Irpin, just outside of Kyiv

The conference was two days long and the theme was “Vision for Our Cities.” It was a pleasure to get to spend time with this great group of people who are doing important work, and get to share with them some of the things I’ve learned.

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Teaching at the CCUA Pastors and Leaders Conference

On Sunday morning I shared at Calvary Chapel Kyiv, and had a great time with that wonderful church which has great leadership and a great vision to reach their city and the country of Ukraine. Pastor George told me today: “We could literally start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it. People here are so receptive to the gospel, particularly in the East where the fighting is going on.”

“We could start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it.” – Pastor George Markey, Calvary Chapel Kyiv

As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

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A statue shrouded in national colors outside the church in downtown Kyiv

At church in Kyiv, I spent most of my time talking to people in Hungarian; an ethnic Hungarian man from the Hungarian-speaking region of Ukraine was there, as well as a Ukrainian girl whom my wife and I know from when we all lived Debrecen, Hungary. As more and more people in the world are moving to big cities like Kyiv, the world is getting smaller as it gets bigger.

Here is video of the message I shared at CC Kyiv:

3 Ways to Identify Idols in Your Life & What to Do About Them

Recently at White Fields Church, we have been studying through the Book of Exodus in a series called Be Set Free.

This past Sunday we began to study the 10 plagues, and we saw how each of the plagues was a direct confrontation of the various deities of Egypt. For example: the Egyptians worshiped 3 deities associated with the Nile river, so, the first plague, which defiled the water of the river, struck at the heart of the confidence the Egyptians had in these deities who protected the Nile.

The purpose of the plagues was to erode the confidence of the Egyptians in their false gods, and cause them to trust in the Lord God – and just in case you’re wondering: it worked! Exodus 12:38 tells us that when the Hebrews left Egypt in the Exodus, many of the Egyptians joined them.

Primitive vs. Sophisticated Religion

Modern people tend to look down on old pagan cultures as “primitive” because they worshiped many different gods. They had a god or goddess for nearly everything you can imagine: from wealth to beauty, success and money, sex and fertility, weather and security, etc.

On the other hand, we tend to think of ourselves as being much more sophisticated, because we don’t worship a pantheon of deities like the ancients did.

But are we really as sophisticated as we like to think?   Were they really as primitive as we tend to assume? The answer to both questions is simply: NO.

Each of the pagan gods represented something. They worshiped things which they felt were good and desired to have: such as sex, prosperity, power, family, money, beauty and success.

Do we not worship the same things? Pick up a copy of People Magazine. Turn on E! Entertainment network. Browse the trending topics or the Moments section of Twitter. Listen to popular songs and music. If you’re honest, you have to admit that we idolize, i.e. worship, the same basic things that they did then. We’re not more sophisticated than they were – and they weren’t as primitive as we tend to paint them.

The only difference between us and them in this regard is that at least they had the self-awareness and the honesty to call a spade a spade, and admit that they worshiped those things! In that sense, they are actually perhaps more sophisticated than we are.

The Bible actually speaks of “idolatry of the heart” (cf. Ezekiel 14:1-3) – meaning that idols are just statues, but they are things that you worship. John Calvin famously said that “human nature is a perpetual factory of idols;” meaning that we have a propensity to worshiping things, and we will make an idol out of nearly anything.

However, one of the central themes of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is the devastating effects of idolatry on people’s lives. “Idols,” author Timothy Keller says, “are spiritual addictions that lead to terrible evil.”

Idols are spiritual addictions that lead to terrible evil. – Timothy Keller

Here are 3 ways we can we identify or recognize the idols in our lives:

1. The feeling of: If I have ______, then my life is worth living. If I don’t have ______, then my life is not worth living.

When the meaning of your life is tied to a particular thing and it has become the central thing in your life, it is the thing which justifies your existence. You believe that as long as you have it, you will be “okay” – and to not have it would mean that your entire reason for being has been lost.

When this describes a relationship, we call it a co-dependant relationship. A better word for this is: idolatry. When something is the central focus of your life, the underlying motivation behind all of your decisions, the best word to describe that relationship is: worship.

2. You are willing to compromise your own long-held values for it

A litmus test of idolatry in your life is when you are willing to compromise your own long-held values for the sake of that thing.

What causes a person who sincerely believes that something is wrong – to do that exact thing?

Take the family man who cheats on his spouse, or the pastor who steals from his church. These are terrible things, and we rightly call this hypocrisy. But what causes a person who on any given day would have told you that it is wrong to cheat on your spouse, or a person who not only preaches, but sincerely believes that stealing is wrong – to do that exact thing?

The answer is: there is something that they want so much more in that given moment, that they are willing to compromise their own values, and hurt other people and themselves in order to get it.

We have sayings in our culture, like: “I would kill for that.” Of course it’s hyperbole, but the message is: there are certain things out there that I want so badly that I would be willing to break my own rules, compromise what I believe is right, and hurt people in order to get them. That is certainly not just hyperbole – that kind of thing happens all the time, and always with devastating consequences.

You may not be there yet, but if you’ve had thoughts about doing something that goes against the very principles that you yourself sincerely believe in – that is a major red flag, that that thing is an idol in your life.

3. You’re looking to it to give you things which only God can give you

Identity. Security. Love. Rest. Hope.

If I have this much money… then I would really be somebody. Then I would be secure. Then I could rest…
If my family looks like this… then I will be secure. Then I will be happy with who I am. Then I can rest. Then I will be loved.

If your looking to any relationship or material thing to give you what only God can give you, that thing is an idol in your life.

An idol is almost always a good thing, but it becomes an idol when you elevate it from a good thing to an ultimate thing.

Idols can be things that you have, but are afraid of losing – or perhaps even more often, they can be things which you’ve never had at all, but desperately want.

What Is the Solution?

The cure for idolatry is to get a vision of God as He truly is.

When you see God for the greatness of who He is, when you understand what He has done for you in Jesus Christ, you realize that everything you ultimately desire and need is found in and through Him.

To see God in this way is to see Him as more desirable and more satisfying than anything else in the world – and when that happens, you will no longer turn to idols, which will always disappoint and the pursuit of which have devastating consequences.

 

A Culture of Loneliness and What to Do About It 

loneliness

I’ve noticed something: a lot of people are lonely.

I don’t know if it’s particular to Colorado, or even to the United States. I would guess that it isn’t.

In my conversations with people, this is a recurring theme: they are lonely, they wish they had more friends, they find it difficult to connect with people.

From a quick search on the internet, it seems that this is a widespread problem. This article mentions major media coverage of this problem, and there are some interesting causes which they point to: one of them is the Internet, another is the decline in church membership and attendance in recent generations. This article from the New York Times talks about how research has shown that even in social situations where people are surrounded by others, loneliness can be contagious.

It seems clear that people long for deep, meaningful relationships, but struggle to create them.

What’s at the root of this?    Here are a few things I can see:

1. “Rugged Individualism” Leads to Loneliness

I moved to Hungary when I was 18, spent 10 years there and moved back to the US when I was 28, having spent ALL of my adult life in that cultural setting. When I moved back to the US, even though I grew up here, I had never really lived as an adult here, and so I experienced a good deal of culture shock.

The 2 characteristics of American society, particularly here in Colorado and the West, are what I call: “Rugged Individualism” and “A Pervasive Sense of Loneliness”.  These 2 go hand in hand: the rugged individualism leads to the pervasive sense of loneliness.

In the US, individualism is considered not only a virtue, but one of the supreme virtues. However, in other cultures, individualism can even be considered a vice, whereas being part of the group is considered a virtue. This comes out in our politics: perennially, there are calls for “an outsider” to come in and “shake things up”. Our culture places value on not needing or depending on anyone but yourself, and looking out for your own needs first above those of the community. It’s an every-man/woman-for-him/herself type of mentality. The result of this mentality is an undervaluing of other virtues such as loyalty and self-sacrifice for others outside of your immediate “tribe” (usually a nuclear family). When people do meet up with other people, they tend to be very careful to put their best face forward, showing their strength rather than being vulnerable. Americans tend to be very generous, which is good, but sometimes the motive behind generosity can be a way of showing strength: that “you are weak, and I am helping you, because I am strong”.

2. Isolation is one of the results of “the Fall”

The Book of Genesis begins by presenting the “ideal”:  God and humankind, in relationship with each other, in a world where death and sickness, malice and sin do not exist. However, when humans decided to rebel against God, not only was the natural harmony ruined, but the results were: shame, fear and isolation.

The results of “the Fall” were: shame, fear and isolation.

This isolation was not only isolation from God, but it also involves isolation from each other. People fear intimacy, often in large part because they are afraid to really be known, lest their shame be revealed or discovered. Isolation and the breakdown of community is one of the results and repurcussions of sin in the world.

 

3. A Culture of Fear and an Obsession with Privacy

One thing that stuck out to me when I moved back from Europe, was the degree to which people here in the US are concerned about their privacy. People tend to be very cautious with who they give their address or phone number to, who knows where they live, how much they let people know about themselves. For a people who pride ourselves on being “free” – we are particularly captive to fear in many areas of our lives, and quite obsessed with privacy.

My take on it personally, is: if someone is watching my every move, 1) they are going to be very bored, and 2) they are going to see me live a Christian life, and hopefully hear a lot about Jesus.  I always think of the Proverb: the righteous is as bold as a young lion, but the unrighteous runs even when no one is pursuing (Proverbs 28:1)

Being obsessed with privacy leads to being afraid of intimacy in relationships – which hinders friendships from developing. People are afraid of sharing too much about themselves, afraid of inviting others into their homes, etc.

Okay…but now what?

Here are a few thoughts on how to combat this pervasive sense of loneliness:

Begin with the Assumption, that Everyone Else is Lonely Too

…because the great majority are. Most people I talk to are lonely, yet they assume that everyone else has tons of friends, and that their loneliness is unique to them. It’s not. Reach out to others, because most of them are lonely too.

Embrace the Gospel

Many people believe that they can be either fully known or fully loved, but not both – because if someone was ever to really know everything about them, they could not possibly love them. The message of the gospel though, is that God knows you better than you even know yourself, and yet, he loves you more than you can even imagine; so much so that he was willing to suffer and even die for you.

That love, perfect love, the Bible says, casts out fear (1 John 4:18). If you know that you are fully loved and fully accepted, and that you have nothing to fear, neither in life nor in death, then you are truly free. With a God who is both sovereign and wholly committed to our good, Christians should be the most bold, fearless people in the world, as they allow the gospel to address each and every fear that they have.

Live Out Redeemed Community Life

Furthermore, Jesus told us that the real life that we desire is found not in seeking our own fulfillment, but in laying down our lives – as he did – for the sake of something greater than ourselves: e.g. God’s mission, and the good of other people.  In other words: what most of us are looking for is something which can only be found indirectly: it is not in seeking friends that we find friends, but in serving others. I’ve found that when you pour our your lives for others, you find yourself surrounded by people, and paradoxically, it is in pouring yourself out that you become full, rather than empty.

When you embrace the gospel, you become a changed person. And as changed people, we are to live out the principles of God’s Kingdom together as a new community, that doesn’t function on the same basic principles of community at large.

 

How about you? Do you feel this “pervasive sense of loneliness”?  What causes do you see – and what solutions?  Feel free to share your thoughts below.

 

 

Christianity and Singleness

When I lived in Hungary, we used to take our church to a summer conference every year in Vajta, where the group of churches we belonged to ran a Bible college and conference center in an old castle. Every year various pastors from our churches would speak at the conference; I spoke several times.

One of the sessions I remember most vividly, I remember not for good reasons: one year a particular pastor was asked to speak on the topic of singleness for an afternoon session. When he stood up to the platform, he said something to the effect of: “I don’t know why they asked me to teach on singleness. I’m not single and I haven’t been single for a long time. So I decided that I’m not going to speak about singleness, I’m just going to teach a Bible study about something else, since this is the only chance they gave me to speak.” You probably won’t be surprised to hear that this person was never asked to speak at a conference again.

But that wasn’t the only memorable part of his session. Half-way through his session, the speaker got annoyed at some people who were whispering to each other while he was speaking, and he stopped everything and proceeded to call them out, and kick them out of the session, making them take the walk of shame past over 100 people who were gathered in the hall for the study. I admit, I was kind of jealous that they got to leave…

This session should be contrasted with the one on singleness which had been held at the previous year’s conference, at which a younger pastor had spoken about singleness in a message that was so well presented and so encouraging to me (I was single at that time), that I still remember his opening lines: “You are in a race!” He then went on to teach about the biblical perspective on the goodness of singleness from 1 Corinthians.

It was a hugely different perspective: the first man I mentioned had disdained the thought of teaching about singleness – he clearly saw it as unimportant. The second man taught in a way that was encouraging and edifying to the single person.

The other day I posted some thoughts about the topic of gender roles in marriage and how the biblical view on this is based on theological views about the relationship between the persons of the Trinity. I got several comments on it from a single person who expressed feelings that Christianity tends to over-emphasize marriage over singleness. There is some validity to this point – however, statistically most people will be married at some point in their lifetime – and, just because some people are not married does not mean we should not talk about marriage, just like the fact that some people are not airplane pilots doesn’t mean that we should never talk about airplane pilots.

However, these comments did lead me to look into some things about Christian teachings about singleness, and what I found was significant.

Stanley Hauerwas, one of the great theologians of our age, argues that Christianity was the very first religion to hold up single adulthood as a viable way of life. This was a clear difference between Christianity and all other traditional religions, including Judaism, all of which made family and the bearing of children an absolute value, without which there was no honor.1

In ancient culture, long-term single adults were considered to be living a human life that was less than fully realized. But along came Christianity – whose founder was an adult single man and whose great theologian (the Apostle Paul) was also single and advocated for the value and goodness of singleness.

Timothy Keller points out that in Christianity, “single adults cannot be seen as somehow less fully formed or realized human beings than married persons because Jesus Christ, a single man, was the perfect man (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22).”

He goes on to say that, “Paul’s assessment in 1 Corinthians 7 is that singleness is a good condition blessed by God, and in many circumstances is actually better than marriage. As a result of this revolutionary attitude, the early church did not pressure people to marry and institutionally supported poor widows so they did not have to remarry.”2

Keller points to Rodney Stark, a social historian, who states, “Pagan widows faced great social pressure to remarry; Augustus even had widows fined if they failed to marry within two years. In contrast, among Christians, widowhood was highly respected. The church stood ready to sustain widows, allowing them a choice as to whether or not to remarry, and single widows were active in care-giving and good deeds.3

As opposed to societies which idolized family as the only means of giving a person significance, the Christian gospel offers a greater hope and a greater source of significance.

Singleness, according to Christianity, is not Plan B – it is a viable option for those who choose it.

In our modern pop culture, it is not family which is idolized so much as romance. Think about Hollywood and even Disney narratives: they begin telling the story of a person seeking true love, and once two people do come together, the story ends! The message is that what matters in life is finding romance, everything else is only leading up to that, and what happens after that is not worth spending too much time on. This is also reflected in the huge amount of focus which is given to weddings in our culture.

The Christian church provides the space for single people of different genders to worship, serve and study together, to know and be known by each other, without the pressures of our romance-driven culture.

Churches don’t always do a great job at making single people feel that they belong and not pressuring them to get married and treating them as if until they are married, they are incomplete – however, it is in the design. At our church, we have purposefully sought to change the language we use away from always speaking of “you and your family” – so that we don’t communicate the wrong thing to single people who call our church their home.

Interestingly, Timothy Keller, who pastors a church in NYC which is majority single people, points out that single people and married people alike need good teaching about marriage and relationships, so that marriage is held to its biblical place of honor (Hebrews 13:4), without idolizing it as the end-all be-all of human existence.

 

1. [Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character, p.174]
2. [Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, pp.222-223]
3. [Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders Historyp.104]
 

The IOC on Religion: Nothing New Under the Sun


One of the things we do at White Fields Church every week is invite people to text or tweet questions during the sermon and then I respond to them on our members’ website called The City. I really enjoy this aspect of it, and I think that such engagement aides in the learning process.

For the past several weeks I have been teaching through Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and what I have found most interesting about it is that the core message of the book is something which is incredibly relevant to our day, which is the uniqueness of the Christian gospel as it relates to every other religion and philosophy in the world.

When you look into the culture of the Roman Empire, interestingly what you find is a society which was very similar to modern Western society in many ways. It was a pluralistic society, a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society, in which there was freedom of religion – and yet… the prevailing notion was that in order for there to be peace in a mixed society, no one should say that their tradition or religion was any better or more true than anyone else’s – only that it was different. Furthermore, a person’s religion or tradition was considered to be something they were born into rather than something they had a responsibility to choose for themselves, and therefore it was considered taboo, rude and even wrong to try to “convert” someone to another religion than that which they were born into or brought up in.

Now, if that doesn’t sound familiar to our day and age, then you should check your pulse.

I discussed this in more detail this past Sunday. If you’re interested, check out the audio of that message here.

In response to that teaching, a member of our church texted in:

The unifying/melting pot of religions that Paul is warning the Colossians about in today’s passage is the same message delivered by the president of the IOC at the opening of the Olympic Games. It’s clear that making exclusive claims about right or wrong in regard to religion is frowned upon internationally.

I unfortunately missed the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, and have not been able to find a way to watch the whole thing online – if anyone knows a way, please let me know!

Although I am not surprised by this, I am surprised by the naivety in thinking which it represents. For educated people to say that no one should make exclusive claims is to ignore the fact that EVERYONE makes exclusive claims, including the people who say that you should not make exclusive claims. For example, if you say that it is wrong to say that something is wrong, you are doing the same thing which you are claiming should not be done. I only wonder if this overlooking of the obvious is sincere/naive in nature, or it is it a willful ignorance for the sake of pragmatism; in this case that everyone would just get along. Either way, to make such a claim reveals a sort of patronizing disregard for the validity of the claims of any and all religious beliefs, which is itself a form of judgment about them… Oh the irony…

Don’t fall for this underdeveloped, recycled logic. We can absolutely live in a free society where honest and open dialogue of the validity of certain ideas, traditions, practices and beliefs exists.

The Impact on Kids of Dad’s Faith and Church Attendance

Dream Lake landscape  Rocky Mountain National Park

According to LifeWay Research Group, Father’s Day is the holiday with the single lowest average church attendance – statistically lower than Labor Day, Memorial Day and even the Fourth of July.

This is interesting, especially when you consider that Mother’s Day tends to be the day with the third highest church service attendance, after Easter and Christmas.

So, Mother’s Day is one of the most highly attended Sundays of the year, and Father’s Day is one of the lowest. What does this tell us?

Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, gives this assessment:

“Clearly, mothers want to be present for the affirmation that is typically offered in most churches, but families also are present knowing their attendance will honor their mother.

The attendance difference between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is telling,” said McConnell. “Either churches are less effective in affirming fathers, or families believe Christian fathers don’t value their participation in worship services.”

Surely there are other factors involved, including travel and the time of year. On Mother’s Day school is still in session, on Father’s Day it isn’t – so families travel to visit relatives, or go on vacation.

But all these factors and statistics aside, here’s what’s really striking: when you see the research on the impact of a dad’s faith and practice on their families.

According to data collected by Promise Keepers and Baptist Press, if a father does not go to church, even if his wife does, only 1 child in 50 will become a regular worshiper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of what the mother does, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will attend church as adults. If a father attends church irregularly, between half and two-thirds of their kids will attend church with some regularity as adults.

If a mother does not go to church, but a father does, a minimum of two-thirds of their children will end up attending church. In contrast, if a father does not go to church, but the mother does, on average two-thirds of their children will not attend church. 

Another study, focused on Sunday School, found similar results on the impact of fathers:

  • When both parents attend Bible study in addition to the Sunday service, 72% of their children attend Sunday school when grown.
  • When only the father attends Sunday school, 55% of the children attend when grown.
  • When only the mother attends Sunday school, 15% of the children attend when grown.
  • When neither parent attends Sunday school, only 6% of the children attend when grown.

Another survey found that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5% probability everyone else in the household will follow. If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17% probability everyone else in the household will follow. However, when the father is first, there is a 93% probability everyone else in the household will follow. 

Here’s the point of all these statistics: Dad’s impact on the kids’ faith and practice is HUGE.

Dads, let me encourage you with these words which Moses spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the dads of the new generation in Deuteronomy:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

 

 

 

Church: Love It or Leave It?

I recently read a statistic that 80% of people in the United States believe you can be a good Christian and have no connection with a church community.

That means: follow Christ, know Christ, relate to Christ.

80% of Americans polled said that it is possible to do these things without being related to any church.

Jesus would disagree.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 17, as Jesus is praying to the Father the night before he is crucified – he looks at his disciples, and he looks forward to the church, which he is going to create by what he’s about to do, and he says:

Father, for their sake I consecrate myself, so that they may be sanctified. (John 17:19)

That word “consecrate” means: “I set myself apart for them!  I am dedicated to them! I live for them!”

Jesus lives for the church. He died for the church. He is wholly committed to the church.

That means that there is never a time when Jesus says to himself, “The church… that little organization I left behind down there… I haven’t thought about them in a while; I wonder how they’re doing… ”  

No! Rather, he lives for the church, he died for the church, and he is wholly committed to the church.

 

The church is God’s masterpiece, which he gave his life to create – and which he promised to protect forever, never allowing it to be overcome by evil.

In Ephesians chapter 1, it says that Jesus rules all things for the church.

The church is God’s expression of Himself in the world.

The church is God’s chosen and designed vehicle for the carrying out of his mission in the world.

In the Book of Acts, we see God bringing the church into existence, then adding to the church, then multiplying the church – and then sending out missionaries to start more churches.

In the Book of Revelation, where do we see Jesus? He is walking amongst the lampstands, which represent the churches.

God loves the church! It is his masterpiece. Jesus lived and died to create it, and he actively sustains it. He is fully committed to it – and you should be too.

And not just in the sense of the invisible worldwide communion of all who follow Christ – but the local church in particular. It’s easy to say, “Oh, of course I love “the church” in the sense of all the followers of Jesus out there – you know, as long as I don’t have to actually see them or interact with them or have any responsibility towards them…”

The idea that Christianity is a purely private, personal matter and that the church is optional and unnecessary – or even as the leader of a parachurch organization put it to me once: a “necessary evil” – is the product of our individualistic culture rather than the heart of God.

It has been said that the church is like a work of art, a masterpiece which mediocre and even bad artists have been painting over for centuries.

This happens sometimes: a great artist created a masterpiece, but over the years other artists – mediocre or even bad artists – tried to touch it up, and they painted over the top of it, and the challenge is to get underneath, back to the original masterpiece. That requires slow, hard work of scraping away and removing layers.

There is much about the church which turns people off, but there is no way you can say, like 80% of Americans that you can be a good Christian and write off the church and have no commitment to it.

The answer is not to write it off or dismiss it, but to return to the original masterpiece.

If Jesus loves the church, if Jesus is committed to it and lives for it and gave his life for it – then to love Jesus and follow Jesus means to love his church and be committed to it as well.