Monday, November 21, 2016

Race, election, and the future, my 2016 vote as a white, evangelical pastor...

Like many Iowans, one of my greatest difficulties is I rarely think of race. It is a difficulty for I've come to learn from my ethnic-minority teachers that only majority cultures fail to see such things. I don't see race because it does not affect me Monday-Sunday. I don't see race because I've never been discriminated against, prejudged as dangerous in the middle of the night, or suspected as an illegal immigrant or potential terrorist. I am free, powerful, and protected by a history favoring my cultural background.

Still, at some capacity, I am labeled by some a backward fool, as a professed evangelical Christian. It is true my evangelical beliefs were attacked during my public university days by multiple professors. My desire to teach as an adjunct in public institutions is an uphill battle. Some of my cherished beliefs, especially the protection of life for the unborn, are considered dangerous to humanity.

So where did that leave me when I entered the voting box on November 8, 2016? And where has my heart been these past 10 days?

#1: I did not vote for either of the two major party candidates. Their character and/or platform kept me from voting for them. I believe the command-in-chief should be chief in character. I did not have a clear conscience voting for two people known by scandal and self-promotion.

#2: I stand with the scared citizens who fear Trump as leader. His "America-first" rhetoric can be translated into whatever "America" exists in his imagination. Is this the America of late 19th century Ellis Island where all people were welcomed into our country? Or is this the America of WWII when FDR threw Japanese citizens into war camps? Will we be marked by fear and reaction or by faith and receptivity? This country was built on the contributions of 1st generation immigrants, people of color, people fleeing persecution in search of hope. May that "America" stay fiercely present come inauguration day.

#3: I stand with the celebratory citizens who have said "no" to an amoral America. There has been a radical abandonment of ideas once believed foundational truths giving America solid footing. When the created order is reimagined by fallible humans, the fabric of society tears into pieces. Many citizens voted on November 8 to challenge this trajectory. They voted because they want little boys and little girls to grow up with a sense of gender. They voted because the concept of marriage for 3-4 millennia should not be rewritten in a single generation. They voted because law-breakers should have consequences, law enforcement honored, and government promises kept. They believe that the 1932 Little House on the Prairie carries more wisdom than 21st century Hollywood.

#4: I stand with all Americans (and non-Americans) who believe love and truth must be weld together. Civility, non-violence, and persuasion mark America at its best, whether its suffragettes or Civil Rights heroes. May the "right" and the "left" refuse to turn to cruelty to (re)gain power. No matter the winner, we all lose. The greatest force in the world is love, so may your charity be known to all. At the end of life, when we stand in judgment before God and history, the winners are those who sacrificed most not those who gained most.

#5: I do not stand with Americans savagely protecting their pocket books and places of power. It's not surprising that independent business owners vote toward the right and that government employees vote toward the left. Those not receiving government assistance vote right, those receiving assistance vote left. We've turned our political loyalties into a veiled cover-up for self-promotion. May there be a day when we pursue justice for others, protection for others, freedom for others, dignity for others, without the election directly benefiting ourselves.

#6: I bend before Almighty both in a posture of prayer and with a sense of peace. I went to bed on election night at 10PM unaware of the next President. The future of our country was not going to be set by the reports on CNN or FoxNews. The Sovereign Lord still held the reigns of history, regardless of the outcome of millions of American voters. This Sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ, died on a cross to deal with the treachery and sin that lives in human hearts. He will allow evil to stretch to a certain place and then no farther. Nothing happens and no one is elected outside of His will. Whether it's a Churchill or a a Hitler, an Obama or a Trump, the heart of the king can be turned by the LORD. And so I pray for the new President-elect: may he be a Churchill, not a Putin. And yet, my confidence does not ride or fall on legislation or changes in leadership, but in a crucified and risen LORD who offers clemency, peace, and hope to all who will bow before Him.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Review of Tim Keller's "Making Sense of God"

Tim Keller has put out new books year in and year out going on over a decade. I've read most of them, and I've yet to be disappointed. There are three types of books Keller writes: (1) Deep, heavily-footnoted, books to make secular and Christian people think (Reason for God); (2) Theologically sharp books that invite Christians to marvel and act (e.g. Generous Justice, Prayer); and (3) Practical books that invite Christians and religious seekers to see life according to the Gospel (e.g. Prodigal God).

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (2016) falls squarely into the first category.

To read this book, you need two bookmarks, one pen, and a note-taking journal or device. You'll need the second bookmark to check the end notes as you read along (why, oh why, do publishers not use footnotes?). My book has 2-3 underlines, comments, and questions on each page, and I circle or make a notation every 5th end note. In short, the book is full of gold nuggets. Keller reads and reads, thinks and thinks, and then interprets these ideas so the rest of us can understand what's being written and believed around the world.

This is a great book to read with a few Christian and secular and/or scientific friends. This book encourages conversation and dialog about the leading ideas of our day. In the end, Dr. Keller will present why he believes Christianity is a rational choice that relates best with human thinking, desires, and experience. Still, he gives a fair reading of the best and brightest thinkers of our day.

Let me offer 5 brief take-aways from the book that I hope stir your appetite to devour the book:

1) It takes as much faith to believe in science as in Christianity.
2) The search for meaning is a cul-de-sac for the secular thinker. You can come in, but you have no place to come out.
3) A self-created identity provides no substance for which to build or maintain self worth.
4) Moralistic religion has done more for human flourishing throughout history than atheistic relativism/secularism.
5) Believing in God and Christianity is more reasonable than not (but that doesn't mean you'll want to believe but you just might).

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A multiverse and a myriad of dimensions...

"Professor, how do you explain the unlikely collision of physical properties that have allowed organic life to exist on the earth?"

"We live in one universe of millions--the multiverse theory. By mere chance, our world is capable of life. All others are most likely dark, chaotic voids."

"Could it be possible that a supernatural, divine being fine-tuned, one single universe in such a way to sustain life?"

"No, believing in divinity is an idea that cannot be postulated. We cannot see, test, or prove God's existence."

"So, you're telling me I'm supposed to be believe in millions of universes I cannot see, test or prove, instead of a single being that I cannot see, test or prove?"

"Exactly."

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

I stand with "the Christians" on Election Day

Some would say election day is the most divisive day in our country. It cuts across people, neighborhoods, and even families.

But let me say, for the record, that I am standing today with the Christians...all those who profess Jesus Christ as LORD.

I am with you, brother Christian, when you cast your vote for straight party Democrat.
I am with you, sister Christian, when you fill in the bubble for straight party Republican.
I am with you, disappointed Christian, who refuses to cast a vote.
I am with you, senior citizen Christian, as you fear your medical future.
I am with you, unemployed Christian, as you face today's mail and its certain bills.
I am with you, Christian of the 1%, as you carry the burden of financial stewardship.
I am with Christian independents, Green Party Christians, Libertarian Christians, evolution-believing Christians, flat-earth convinced Christians, and confused Christians.
I am not ashamed to call you brother; I am not ashamed to call you sister.

Through the blood of Jesus Christ, we are one family. When one of us succeeds, we rejoice. When one suffers, we all mourn. Today I see not a divided family, but one united through the Cross. And by our love for one another, the world (the desperate, broken, and decaying world) will know we are disciples of Jesus.

This is not our home; we're just a passing through. May we be good stewards of each day. May our civility and charity be known to all.

And yes, please, God bless America.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

World Series 2016 - The glory and danger of sports

For all the non-Cleveland Indian fans, today is a day of thrilling joy. A 108 year "curse" is lifted.

I find it fascinating that this century old condition has been called "a curse." The Bible refers often to curses and blessings. To be blessed is to find joy, contentment, and satisfaction. To be cursed is to be under judgment, discontent, and unsatisfied.

Sports have this uncanny ability to produce such sensations of blessing or curse. If I play well on the basketball court, I walk a little taller the rest of the day. If I shoot 0-10, I wallow. Some would say, "That's just sports." But I wonder if we realize that something more could be in play.

Many of us look for sports to give us something that will never last. Let's call this, "The Ultimate Blessing." Even if your team has a perfect season (oh the joy) or wins the World Series (yippee), they will lose again in the future. Even the greatest athletes (cough, cough, Tiger Woods) can crash.

If we've put our greatest hopes in sports or our sports' teams, we will never taste a blessing that can never be taken away. The curse will come back. The sense of dissatisfaction and judgment cannot be totally averted.

The Bible uses the language of idolatry to address this condition. An idol is a created thing that cannot deliver on the ultimate blessing. Whether it's sports, money, sex, or power, such things can only provide momentary joy. Now we all know that, and yet, we all seem to be chained to our idol factories, expecting them to manufacture that ultimate blessing eventually. Or some of us have learned to hedge our bets, so we cheer for a team, play the game ourselves, work hard, save money, buy toys, pursue romance, and attempt great things...hopefully there's enough success from enough of these created things that we'll have enough joy to make it through enough days with enough satisfaction.

This "works" for many people. They can go a very long time happy enough with their created things (idols). But there are those flashes of insight when we're honest enough to say, "I'm in bondage to these created things." I'm not free, happy, or fully satisfied. And even when we have it all, joy is still elusive. This is why so many stars in People Magazine see psychiatrists, do drugs, invite scandal, and do all manner of public craziness to stay in the limelight. You can have "it all" and fall short.

Christianity says "ultimate blessing" is possible. Great, unending, never-stopping, fully-satisfying joy is available...God Himself. The ultimate goal for humanity is to be blessed in (with/by) God. The ultimate danger is to be cursed by God.

Jesus Christ came to expose all idols as mere created things that can never deliver and only enslave. But He could really save. For starters, he dies for our sins, the treachery of idolatry, the curse we deserve for loving things other than God. But this salvation includes reconciliation with God. We are brought into God's family--the perfect Being becomes our Father and Friend. We have an unending intimacy with the person who has unending joy.

The great curse of sin falls on Jesus so we can have the great blessing of God with us.

So today, Cubs' fans, enjoy the glimpse of glory. But remember it's only a glimpse of glory...the real thing is God himself. There is a victory that can never end, a curse that can never come back, and a God who will never turn his back.