Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Christian Living (page 1 / 1)

The Saltless Christianity of Bethlehem Baptist

Bethlehem Baptist Church, the church that grew to prominence under Pastor John Piper, is convulsing. Jean Hopfensperger has the story and I have a few thoughts.

What’s been happening?

Three pastors have abruptly resigned this summer from Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis, signaling “a painful and confusing moment” at a megachurch that gained national prominence under longtime pastor John Piper.

The pastors cited several reasons for resigning, including how the church’s leadership council has handled race and diversity issues, and what one labeled a “bullying” and “toxic” culture toward those who hold different opinions.

At least one of the pastors said he was disturbed over the council’s refusal to distance the church from remarks about abused women by the incoming president of the church’s college and seminary.

“I believe our leadership culture has taken a turn in an unhealthy direction as we try to navigate conflict and division,” Meyer wrote in his July resignation letter. “Institutional protection can go too far when other viewpoints are unwelcome.”

Former care and counseling pastor Bryan Pickering, who also resigned, went further and claimed there was “domineering leadership, spiritual abuse and a toxic culture.”

interviews and correspondence with the departing pastors and congregation members point to several underlying issues.

One stems from church officials’ response to a “racial harmony” task force in 2019, which analyzed the diversity of the church’s leadership or lack thereof, and made numerous recommendations to recruit and retain members to the council, made up overwhelmingly of white men.

Task force members wanted the 85-page report to be sent to the congregation, but it wasn’t. Some elders charged the report was influenced by Marxism and critical race theory, task force members said. The elders now say the report will be released.

“We believe that in the absence of biblical clarity, ethnic harmony becomes a ‘wax nose’ that we can shape and twist any way we like,” according to a Council of Elders statement. “We simply cannot allow politics or secular culture to define our terms or determine our beliefs.”

Hold up. There is an absence of Biblical clarity on the topic of “ethnic harmony”? I would have thought that Revelation 7 succinctly summarized God’s perspective: “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

Likewise, talking about “the sins of racism” or spousal abuse from the pulpit was not welcomed, Pickering said.

I can understand that. When people are hurting and the culture outside of the church is talking about the ways in which people have been hurt, abandoned, and attacked, we absolutely would not want to give anyone the impression that the Bible might have anything relevant to say on the matter. Taking a stand could offend someone. And that someone might be wealthy and influential. Better to keep quiet and preserve our relationships with the powerful.

Another flash point occurred after church members became aware of Bethlehem College and Seminary President Joe Rigney’s appearance on an episode of “Man Rampant,” an Amazon Prime video series hosted by controversial religious figure Doug Wilson. In a discussion about what to do when a woman reports physical abuse to a pastor, Wilson and Rigney stressed it was important not to immediately believe her until they’ve heard the abuser’s side of the story.

Yes! The woman was probably mouthing off to her husband, neglecting her most important responsibilities (such as catering to her husband’s every whim), or voting for the wrong people. Regardless, she likely had it coming and once you’ve heard his side of the story you’ll understand exactly why he was justified in hitting her.

Upset church members introduced a motion at a Council of Elders meeting this year, asking that the full council “make a written, public statement separating the views expressed by Joe Rigney in Man Rampant from the views and teachings of Bethlehem Baptist Church.”

A council member who had given the episode a five-star online review threatened to resign if the motion passed. It was tabled.

Of course it was. Whatever else American evangelical Christians are, they’re moral cowards. It’s more important to coddle the powerful and defer to their feelings than it is to take a stand for truth and righteousness.

Church leaders declined to sanction a seminary professor who had been accused by a dozen students of abusive behavior. An investigation later determined there were no legal violations.

Oh. No legal violations. Professors can act like any kind of asshole that they like as long they don’t actually break the law. A seminary professor certainly has no higher moral or ethical standard that they should live by. All of those fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—are for other people.

Stokes attributes some of the tensions and resignations at Bethlehem to the impact of the nation’s climate of polarization.

“You talk about racial issues too much, and some people will say ‘I’m leaving the church,’ “ he said. “You don’t talk enough about racial issues, and people say ‘I’m leaving.’ “

So he admits it: people will leave regardless. The only thing you get to choose is why people will leave and what you’ll stand for. Stokes is on the side of standing quietly by while evil is done, being complicit in that evil, and retaining the good opinion of both the evildoers and those who don’t want to hear about the existence of evil.

I believe Jesus had something to say about this as well.

“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

“What Do I Do When Someone Asks Me For Money?”

Kevin Nye answers “What Do I Do When Someone Asks Me For Money?”. You should read the whole thing. His discussion on setting boundaries and on interacting with the homeless—rather than making them feel invisible—is spot on.

I found Kevin’s perspective interesting, because in homeless services. He knows the clients, the issues, and the daily struggles. As such, I wanted to quote from this section, dealing with our assumptions and our fear that “they’ll just spend it all on drugs”.

The assumption that a person experiencing homelessness will spend your generous donation on drugs or alcohol is pervasive in a way that absolutely does not align with data. The numbers of people struggling with substance use and addiction is lower than the general assumption, though it is still a major part of the conversation.

More to the point, addiction is such that it drives a person to pursue the substance they crave through any and every obstacle. While I’ve seen many people through recovery, and many who are far from it, I’ve never once heard of someone who kicked their addiction because they ran out of money. Even though this narrative affects so much giving behavior, I’ve not once heard someone say, “Yeah, I was about to give up and stop using heroin forever, but then that nice lady gave me $20 and I was able to score.”

Frankly, even if they are planning to spend your money for that, you might be preventing far riskier behavior in order to meet that perceived need. That feels “icky” to many of us, perhaps like we are enabling bad behavior. While this conversation exceeds the limitations of this piece, it is worth pointing out that the gift of money to a person has little to no effect on their ability to manage addiction. Only larger interventions like treatment, healthcare, and housing can interrupt something of that magnitude.

Sometimes, we wonder if giving cash is even helpful to the problem of homelessness. And to be fair, I’ve never seen someone lift themselves out of homelessness based on the money made from solicitation, (except when someone was trying to get a bus ticket or gas money back to a place they have refuge.) However, I have seen that money buy someone a clean pair of socks. I’ve seen it allow someone the dignity of a meal at their favorite restaurant after a hungry day. I’ve seen it buy someone a weekend in a hotel to get out of the rain, or just to take a brief respite before returning to the streets. These are not nothing. Your gift may not lift someone out of their desperate situation, but it might provide an immeasurable amount of solace and even joy in the midst of their despair.

Above all else, homelessness dehumanizes. It isolates, it discards, and it amplifies the fear we all have that maybe things aren’t going to work out for us. In your daily interactions with people experiencing homelessness, their homelessness is not truly at stake. Their humanity, though, is – whether you end up giving them money or not.

This entry was tagged. Charity Christian Living Drugs Homelessness Poverty

Morality Over Money

It seems that America’s Christians want to remember the Trump presidency only as one that was financially rewarding. I saw them, as we got closer to Joe Biden’s inauguration, reminding each other how good they had it.

Seen on Facebook:

Remember this day. No wars in 4 years. Job security. Oil independence . Gas is at under $2.10 gallon. Stock Market above 30K.

Also seen on Facebook:

TodaysFacts

Copied to my timeline so it will come back up in my memories next year.

Let’s see what happens. I can’t wait to compare!

Today is 1 days before Bidens inauguration... Gas is currently $2.15per gallon (Ivor, VA). Interest rates are 2.25 percent for a 30 year mortgage. The stock market closed at 30829.40 though we have been fighting COVID for 11 months. Our GDP growth for the 3rd Qtr was 33.1 percent. We had the best economy ever until COVID and it is recovering well. We have not had any new wars or conflicts in the last 4 years. North Korea has been under control and has not been testing any missiles. ISIS has not been heard from for over 3 years. The housing market is the strongest it has been in years. Homes have appreciated at an unbelievable rate and sell well. And let’s not forget that peace deals in the Middle East were signed by 4 countries—unprecedented!

Unemployment sits at 6.7% in spite of COVID.

Biden takes over on 1-20-21.

Lets look back next year...

These remembrances whitewash everything that was evil about the Trump presidency. For instance, here’s just a small portion of how I’ll remember Trump:

Remember this day. A racist, law-breaking sheriff pardoned. Children taken from parents. Refugees terrorized. Alliances shattered. 400,000 dead. White supremacists emboldened. Democracy undermined. The capitol attacked, Congress made to flee.

For Christians who claim to be Bible believing, this emphasis on money is unseemly. When measured against lives lost and people broken, who cares how well the stock market is doing, how cheap gas is, etc.? Morality means much more than money.

Jesus made it quite clear that it is far better to be poor and righteous than it is to be rich and unrighteous.

Matthew 6:19-24

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 16:24-27

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

Luke 12:22-34

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life ? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Refugee data on religion disappears as fewer persecuted Christians admitted to US

God loves the refugees who live among us. God wants us to love the refugees who live among us. These aren’t my words, these are God’s commands, from Deuteronomy 14. And, yet, under President Donald Trump the United States turns away almost all refugees and the President attacks the ones who already live here. This is an anti-Christian, anti-Biblical stance. And America’s Christians either silently agree (therefore allowing it to happen), or join in the attacks by treating Trump’s words as applause lines.

If you are a Christian, why would you vote for a man who opposes and oppresses the weak and the vulnerable? There is nothing in these policies that makes God happy or glorifies God.

Refugee data on religion disappears as fewer persecuted Christians admitted to US

by Emily McFarlan Miller, Jack Jenkins, for Religion News Service

The data showed a precipitous drop in recent years in the number of Christian refugees admitted to the U.S. from the 50 countries at the top of Open Doors USA’s World Watch List. The annual list tracks the places where Christians face the worst persecution.

President Donald Trump promised in his first days in office to make helping persecuted Christians a priority for his administration.

But the last numbers made available by the State Department — which Soerens downloaded Friday before they disappeared from the department’s website — show the number of Christians admitted from those countries dropped 83.2% from fiscal years 2016 to 2020.

Just 2,811 Christian refugees were admitted to the U.S. from the countries on the World Watch List in fiscal 2020, which ended last month. By contrast, 16,714 Christians from those countries were admitted to the United States in fiscal 2016, former President Barack Obama’s last full year in office.

This entry was tagged. Bible Christian Living Christianity Donald Trump Immigration Policy President2020

The Biblical Problem With "Black Lives Matter"

What's the Biblical problem with "Black Lives Matter"? There isn't one.

Many, many people become very angry when they hear anyone say, "Black Lives Matter". They loudly respond with "ALL lives matter!", as though saying "black lives matter" means that only black lives matter.

Here's my take: All lives matter. But black lives getting ended has been widely ignored—as though black lives don’t matter. So I’ll happily emphasize that, yes, black lives matter.

Let me put it to you a couple of different ways.

Prodigal Sons Matter

Lisa Koons shared this on Facebook, and it was sent to me by a friend.

The father was waiting there with a big sign: #ProdigalSonsMatter

When the older brother saw it, he was angry, wouldn't attend the party, and moped around with his own sign #AllSonsMatter

Father: "Dude. It's not about you right now."

Lost Coins Matter

A woman owned 10 silver coins and lost one of them. She wrote #LostCoinsMatter on her planning board and cleared her schedule. Her friends, greatly desiring a brunch date, said, "But #AllCoinsMatter! You still have nine. Come with us!"

She, being wiser, said, "#AllCoinsMatter when you have all of the coins in hand. But when one is missing, #LostCoinsMatter and that coin temporarily becomes more important than all the rest."

She swept the floor. She turned on her brightest flashlight. She looked under every couch cushion, dumped out every bag, looked under every area rug, and searched on her hands and knees until she finally saw the bright gleam of her missing coin.

She'd missed the brunch date, but she'd ensured that now, truly #AllCoinsMattered.

Lost Sheep Matter

A man had one-hundred sheep and lost one of them. He threw up #LostSheepMatter on Twitter and asked for help finding it. His city-slicker cousin mocked him, saying #AllSheepMatter.

But the man left the ninety-nine in the pasture and searched for the lost one until he found it. He placed it on his shoulders and carried it home. When he got there, he texted his cousin saying, "#AllSheepMatter now that all of the sheep are home safe."

The Sermon On The Mount

Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor…"

A heckler from the crowd interrupted to say, "Well actually, all people are blessed, Jesus."

Hurt Cities Matter

Seen on Facebook:

For my all lives matter folks: when the Boston marathon was bombed everybody's profile picture went "Boston strong" nobody said "all cities are strong!"

When the Las Vegas shooting happened, people changed their profiles "stand with Vegas", nobody sais "well what about the people that got shot in my city?"

Have you ever seen someone counter a "breast cancer" post with "what about colon cancer?"

But for some reason if someone says "Black lives matter", it turns into all inclusive "all lives matter"

It's not an either/or proclamation. When there is a crisis we have always ralled around that particular group. It doesn't discredit or diminish any other group, it just bings awareness and support to the group that needs attention.

  • Unknown (if you figure out who the original author is please let me know so I can properly give credit)

Your Crime Matters

When your home has been robbed, do you want to hear your neighbor say, "#AllCrimesMatter"?

Trump Greets National Prayer Breakfast With Impeachment Rage

Trump Greets National Prayer Breakfast With Impeachment Rage →

Thanks Charles P. Pierce. This is great and gets right at the narcissism that bugged me when I heard that Mr. Trump had turned an event about prayer into an event about himself.

He arrived at the event waving a newspaper with the banner headline “ACQUITTED” over his head and, when Dr. Arthur Brooks, the conservative religious leader in charge, made the mistake of referring to the obscure Christian concept of loving your enemies, the president* had a ready response to that heretical notion.

Arthur, I don't know if I agree with you.

At which point, the president* brought out the hammer and drove the nails into his own palms with his usual alacrity.

As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people. They have done everything possible to destroy us and by so doing very badly hurt our nation. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.Weeks ago and again yesterday, courageous Republican politicians and leaders had the wisdom, fortitude and strength to do what everyone knows was right.

As dozens of attendees stared into their fruit cups and longed for the sweet release of the Rapture, the president* continued to read from Paul’s Second Epistle to the Hannitites.

I don't like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong nor do I like people who say, 'I pray for you,' when they know that's not so. So many people have been hurt and we can't let that go on. We have allies, we have enemies, sometimes the allies are enemies but we just don't know it. But we're changing all that.

Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson

Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson →

It is past time for Christians around the U.S. to make it abundantly clear that Pat Robertson is not one of us and does not speak for us.

When my wife and I married, we were very consciously thinking of these types of scenarios when we promised fidelity "in sickness and in health".

This week on his television show Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman. The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson said, “not there” anymore. This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

...

Sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel. They assume that when they see the giggling evangelist on the television screen, that they see Jesus. They assume that when they see the stadium political rallies to “take back America for Christ,” that they see Jesus. But Jesus isn’t there.

Jesus tells us he is present in the weak, the vulnerable, the useless. He is there in the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46). Somewhere out there right now, a man is wiping the drool from an 85 year-old woman who flinches because she think he’s a stranger. No television cameras are around. No politicians are seeking a meeting with them.

My Haul from Amazon’s “Big Deal” eBook Sale

Amazon is running a Big Deal sale on Kindle books. It includes about 970 books and ends today.

Like most sales, there is quite a lot of dreck in there. But I waded through it all and I did manage to find a few good bargains.

Not a bad haul for $21.00.

Can I Thank God for That?

Can I Thank God for That? →

Kevin DeYoung posits an interesting question and a different way of thinking about Biblical “grey areas”.

I’ve learned over the years that the simplest way to judge gray areas in the Christian life like movies, television, and music is to ask one simple question: can I thank God for this? (We are to give thanks in all circumstances, right? )Not too long ago my wife and I went to the movie theater to watch one of the summer blockbusters. It was a fun PG-13 movie, and you’d probably say it didn’t really have any bad parts. But it was very sensual and suggestive in several places. I got done with the movie (yes, I watched the whole thing) and thought, “Can I really thank God for this?” Now, I’m not a total kill-joy. I like to laugh and enjoy life. I can thank God for the Chicago Bears, Hot N’ Readys, and Brian Regan. But I wonder if after most of our entertainment we could sincerely get down on our knees and say, “Thank you God for this good gift.” Something to think about.

This entry was tagged. Christian Living

Re: Is Joe Wasting His Life?

Adam is right, of course. The crucial question about whether or not I'm wasting my life -- about whether or not anyone is wasting his life -- is "what exactly [is] a good Christian supposed to do with his or her new life in Christ?" I posed the original question (am I wasting my life) as a result of reading and listening to John Piper. Adam answered the question from his own perspective, I'll start by answering it from Pastor John's perspective.

Pastor John has written a short pamphlet entitled, appropriately enough, "Don't Waste Your Life". His intro to the book provides a succinct answer to the question:

God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work, not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.

Later in the second chapter, he expands on that a bit more:

God created me--and you--to live with a single, all-embracing, all-transforming passion--namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. Enjoying and displaying are both crucial. If we try to display the excellence of God without joy in it, we will display a shell of hypocrisy and create scorn or legalism. But if we claim to enjoy his excellence and do not display it for others to see and admire, we deceive ourselves, because the mark of God-enthralled joy is to overflow and expand by extending itself into the hearts of others. The wasted life is the life without a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.

The book itself attempts to answer the question "What does this mean I should do?" He says:

It has become clearer that God being glorified and God being enjoyed are not separate categories. They relate to each other not like fruit and animals, but like fruit and apples. Apples are one kind of fruit. Enjoying God supremely is one way to glorify him. Enjoying God makes him look supremely valuable.

And, later:

Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying. The dying I have in mind is the dying of comfort and security and reputation and health and family and friends and wealth and homeland. These may be taken from us at any time in the path of Christ-exalting obedience. To die daily the way Paul did, and to take up our cross daily the way Jesus commanded, is to embrace this life of loss for Christ's sake and count it gain. In other words, the way we honor Christ in death is to treasure Jesus above the gift of life, and the way we honor Christ in life is to treasure Jesus above life's gifts.

... But what I know even more surely is that the greatest joy in God comes from giving his gifts away, not in hoarding them for ourselves. It is good to work and have. It is better to work and have in order to give. God's glory shines more brightly when he satisfies us in times of loss than when he provides for us in times of plenty. The health, wealth, and prosperity "gospel" swallows up the beauty of Christ in the beauty of his gifts and turns the gifts into idols. The world is not impressed when Christians get rich and say thanks to God. They are impressed when God is so satisfying that we give our riches away for Christ's sake and count it gain.

This was part of what gave rise to my original question. By this definition, am I wasting my life? I'm rich. Historically speaking (as we've previously discussed, Adam) I'm ridiculously, fabulously wealthy. I can listen to almost anything I want -- spoken or musical -- at any time. I can watch nearly any form of any entertainment at any time. I have access to thousands of books within days or minutes. Most of the world's knowledge is at my fingertips, thanks to the Internet.

I'm pretty well-off by American standards as well. Our household owns 3 computers, 2 iPods, 2 completely paid off cars, 18% of a house, lots of nice clothes, and plenty of food. We can eat out nearly anytime we want to, we can and do fly around the U.S., we rent nice cars and stay in nice hotels on vacation. I have a beautiful, helpful wife who loves me. We have two beautiful daughters. All four of us are in perfect health. In short, I'm doing pretty well at doing as Voltaire's Candide said: "', i.e. enjoy your work, wife, and life - in short, function as you were made to function - and leave the rest up to God."

But, so what? Is that really all there is? Just be thankful that I'm one of the lucky ones and enjoy my wealth? Most days, I'm very tempted to say "yes". God gave it to me, why should I complain about it? But other days I wonder -- am I wasting His gifts? Am I wasting my life?

If, tomorrow, everything were to disappear in a Job-like orgy of destruction, how would I react? Would I praise God and say "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21)? Put differently, is God the most important thing in my life or are my things the most important thing in my life?

My original post also referenced the Rwandan genocide. Many Rwandan Christians reacted as violently and savagely as non-Christians when everything was stripped away from them. I'd like to think I wouldn't do the same thing in the same situation. I'd like to think that my reaction would show that God is the most important thing in my life -- even more important than my family.

God willing, I'll never have to go through that situation and I'll never have to find out the hard way. But it's something I think about as I examine my own priorities and how I react to my stuff.

Now, you also mentioned Luther's solution of passive righteousness to the dilemma of how to improve yourself -- how to become more like God and less like a sinner. And, Luther is right. The two opposite extremes are excessive pride in your accomplishments and excessive despair at your failures.

Personally, I've found Tim Keller to be a big help in understanding how this works. I'll quote from his book The Reason for God. He says:

Religion operates on the principle "I obey--therefore I am accepted by God." But the operating principle of the gospel is "I am accepted by God through what Christ has done--therefore I obey." Two people living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may sit next to each other in the church pew. They both pray, give money generously, and are loyal and faithful to their family and church, trying to live decent lives. However, they do so out of radically different motivations in two radically different spiritual identities, and the result is two radically different kinds of lives.

The primary difference is that of motivation. In religion, we try to obey the divine standards out of fear. We believe that if we don't obey we are going to lose God's blessing in this world and the next. In the gospel, the motivation is one of gratitude for the blessing we have already received because of Christ. While the moralist is forced into obedience, motivated by fear of rejection, a Christian rushes into obedience, motivated by a desire to please and resemble the one who gave his life for us.

I've long lived my life with a constant fear of failure. I'm afraid to try new things because I'm afraid of the consequences of failing at them. That's carried over into my Christian life. I've been afraid to do things for God because I've been afraid of lousing them up and making a bigger mess. Keller (along with C.J. Mahaney and John Piper) has taught me that I can't possibly be any worse than I am. I don't have to worry about God's unhappiness if I fail to live up to his standards and I don't have to bend myself into a pretzel trying to be perfect. Jesus already paid for every single one of my rebellions and moral failures.

I am free to live out my life without endless agonizing over every decision. I'm free to go out and "just do it". I don't have to figure out how to be perfect before doing "it". Whatever I decide I want "it" to be. In a way, I feel like my options are opening up for the first time ever.

Will I do it? Will I step out and do something for God? Will I prove that God is more important than my stuff? Or will I still refuse to take risks, because I don't want to endanger my stuff? Will I use my life profitably or will I waste it?

Is Joe Wasting His Life?

joe

"Something I’ve been thinking lately," our dear webmaster Joe has recently written. "Am I different as a Christian than I would be if I wasn’t a Christian? Am I just wasting my life?"

Then he linked to a rap video appearing to strenously urge its viewers not to knock over convenience stores. DON'T WASTE YOUR LIFE, it demanded at its end via big white letters.

It probably goes without saying (but here it is anyway) that I've been worrying for Joe ever since. I had no idea he was knocking over convenience stores. And what's worse, I still don't know what's driven him to it. Does he need the money for crack?

Here's the worst of it: Separated as we are by just under 900 miles of amber waves of grain and purple mountains' majesty, I'm practically powerless to help the guy - except perhaps to wire him a little green, and wouldn't that just be enabling? My budget says yes, yes it would be, which means all I have left are my words.

And here they are, Joe - and on a public blog, no less, because the best antidote for darkness is the bright beam of posterity.

Joe, your dilemma highlights another problem with modern-day Christian theology: that is, what exactly a good Christian is supposed to do with his or her new life in Christ. Many (even most) Christians will of course scoff at the idea that this is any sort of quandary at all. "What does the Bible say?" they might respond. But my opinion stands that 'tis truly a tad tricky.

Here's why: the Christian New Testament of the Bible is an extremely apocalypse-focused collection of texts. Many scholars in fact agree that early followers of Jesus expected the end of the world to occur within their lifetimes or shortly thereafter, possibly because Jesus told them so (Matthew 24:34 - and no, He's not referring to the Transfiguration). Thus the overriding directive for Christians was to go forth and create new Christians, occupying yourself with as little else as possible - indeed, relinquishing the gift of marriage unless you just couldn't resist your sexual urges, and living as if you weren't married if you were.*

(*And as an aside, boy has that advice from our dear apostle Paul resulted in headaches for young Christians since; many are the Bible-believing boys and girls who have had to struggle with the idea that they're settling for serving their beloved God less by exchanging vows. Would that Paul had never written the stupid part - if he actually did. Anyway:)

If you desire to compare your accomplishments to that original standard, Joe, simply ask yourself how many people you've recruited for the Christ, and deduct points for all the time you've spent married when you could've been SAVING SOMEONE FROM ETERNAL TORMENT IN THE SNAKE PITS OF HELL.

Ahem.

There are other yardsticks available with which to measure your faithfulness, though, since as you are probably aware we are now well past those early, heady days, and we must now take note that God's Holy Church has been caught somewhat flat-footed by just how big a procrastinator its saviour has turned out to be. Pastors and priests usually explain our unexpectedly long wait for Jesus' second coming as an act of mercy on the part of the Lord; they say He is pushing back the final hour to allow more chances for salvation. Knowing that God's love is infinite and that He has now shown the sinners of this world so much love that they have waited well over a thousand years longer for His return than they waited for His arrival in the first place (the first references to a messiah at best occur in the Book of Isaiah, written in the 700's B.C.), the Church and we members of it should probably figure out how we're supposed to pass the time.

We will toss Paul's suggestions into the recycle bin, then (because Lord knows, someone will dredge them up again), and consider other Biblical advice. The Teacher of the Book of Ecclesiastes has some, though readers disagree as to precisely what that advice is; Christians and Talmud-lovers suggest Qohelet pushes for his readers to keep their treasure in Heaven, as Jesus would say, while people who actually read the book understand him to be basically proferring the same advice as Voltaire's Candide: "tend your garden", i.e. enjoy your work, wife, and life - in short, function as you were made to function - and leave the rest up to God.

I find it an attractive suggestion, Joe. What say you?

I should warn you, modern Christian thought rather rejects the Qohelet Theory. Rather, the view of today's mainline Protestant congregations is that your lifespan here 'pon Earth is a self-improvement project. You are meant over the course of your days to be slowly but surely perfected, to morph from a vile, despicable convenience store robber into a poor copy of Jesus Christ. The climax to this evolutionary narrative is your death, whereupon you are to complete your transformation (no matter what your spiritual state at the time of your deceasing) into a glorious new creature.

This option is also attractive, actually, but in my experience deceptively so; self-improvement is hard, stressful work if you take it seriously. Martin Luther addressed the difficulties in a treatise on Galatians. To paraphrase him, if you try to become a good man and think you are succeeding, you are a deluded egomaniac - and if you try to become a good man and fail, you will beat yourself up about it, since Mankind cannot be good enough.

Unfortunately, Luther's solution for this problem - "passive-righteousness" - is one of those ideas that sounds great on paper because it makes use of theology, but doesn't make any sense when you actually try to apply it. He claims that we must simply cease to struggle to be good (presumably "active-righteousness") and allow the Holy Spirit to do the work for us.

One only has to ask, "What does this mean I should do?" to realize it's hogwash. By and large, good things happen when we do them; nothing happens when nobody moves. Mankind's effort is clearly involved, So it clearly doesn't pass the real-world test (and is also horrifically debilitating) to declare nobody can be "good" via their own devices. Yes, you can argue that the results will never equal the amazing goodness of an omnipotent, omniscient person, the every action of whom is the standard by which Goodness is judged even if we don't understand how it could possibly be good at all - but what in the world kind of standard is that? A standard which you cannot reach, as I've learned since meeting my mother-in-law, is really no standard at all (and on the opposite side of the coin, any standard which you will reach no matter what is not exactly worth striving for either).

I would therefore say that the modern Christian concept of Life's purpose is usable, but the theology that accompanies it is not. Clearer some people are better than others and you should strive to be one of them. By all means, consider the question of whether you are a better person than you were five years ago and rate yourself appropriately, if you like.

But I'm personally still not quite crazy about it. To quote one of Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt's cabinet members (I forget which), "In the long run, we are all dead." Self-improvement is not a value in and of itself; taken alone, it is but vanity. Reward for self-improvement is only found in its context. Does being a better man, for instance, result in your being a better husband and father, thus benefiting the people you love? Is that a goal of yours? If yes, it is good.

I'd argue instead for a result-focused lifestyle (and yes, "self-improvement" can be a result - but as I said, it's of no real use as the ultimate one), in which we strive to create the reality we desire.

Note that I am not suggesting a result-oriented life; there is a difference. A man who sets out to be a good husband and father has a chance of dying satisfied only if he keeps proper perspective about how much control he has over such matters.

We have actually come full-circle, since a result-focused lifestyle is exactly what the apostle Paul was suggesting nearly two thousand years ago, the important difference being of course that he had already taken the liberty of choosing the result on which to focus. When I first met my fiance, I was surprised to find her very skeptical about that focus; unlike me, she'd never thought of the commission as binding upon her. Nowadays I agree, if only because so many of my ideas about Christianity are currently in flux that I don't feel I have enough answers to share with others.

But I digress! Let me know which of these options you choose, Joe, or if you'll be selecting another. In the meantime, remember to adequately scope out your targets before you strike, and pay your taxes on whatever your take is.