The Johnson Amendment and the Temptation to Meaninglessness. Sin Boldly Episode 84

1954-johnson-amendmentI was joined again by Pastor Kevin Baird who offered his thoughts in support of a repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which generally prohibits (or so pastors believe) political engagement by those involved in 501(c)(3) organizations. Pastor Baird argues it limits free speech and pastors have a role to connect issues of conscience with policies and candidates. I then look at the way the devil tempts us and ask if it is only in the way of the temptations of the flesh? Can we also be tempted to apathy or meaninglessness?

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here. That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app also finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release.

How the Devil Tempts Me

Father and SonThe other day, it dawned on me just how short the line is between some doubt – even reasonable doubt – and outright despair. I came to appreciate that the only real difference between the casual thought that something small is not worth doing and desiring to give up altogether is only a matter of scale. Or to make an even more dramatic case, the line between occasional apathy and suicide is thinner than what we might like to believe. Total despair rarely comes on all of a sudden. It begins with a voice that consistently says, “Quit wasting your time. No one will care. This isn’t worth doing.” I believe that is the voice of the devil.

There are many paths the devil will take when tempting us away from trusting our Lord. Over the course of our life, we will be offered every one of them. The pleasures of the world will probably be the first, and most obvious, attempts to draw us from Jesus. Drink, drugs, and lust are tried and true methods to get us to idolize pleasure rather than to trust in God.

If those methods prove not to destroy us, our temptations might become more existential. That is, we begin to look at our life and ask questions about its nature. As we venture on something new or desire to experiment with a new business or ministry, the small beginnings can especially invite questions. Why keep doing this if no one else cares? Does my life make a difference? Where do I fit into the grand scheme of things? Why bother with such difficulties?

I’ve written before and believe it is true that these questions are accelerated in the age of social media. There is an extra pressure that we are missing out, that we are not as successful as we ought to be, often because we see only the best parts of our “friend’s” lives. That alternate, or augmented, reality can cause us to wonder why our reality is so drab when, in fact, our reality is just normal.

Our increased knowledge of the complexity and diversity of the world can also contribute to a feeling of smallness. In a world full of so many people, I am only one more! One wonders if our knowledge of the outside world was limited to our tribe or town or village if existential dread would visit us so often, or if we would be more content with our daily bread?

But man has likely always struggled with questions of importance or relevance, even before Facebook, because it is a prime temptation of the devil to get us to undervalue ourselves. The devil, you see, wants us to despair over the smallness of our life and to see us in a way different from how God sees us. “What difference does our life make?” This question is not representative of God’s point-of-view of us. But it is a remarkable form of temptation.

And it is a temptation we must resist as much as any other. You see, we can easily see what happens when others fail in their “simple” vocations of parenthood or laborer or politician, perhaps because they previously fell to the existentialist temptation of believing their “small” and “ordinary” lives do not matter. When a mother neglects or abuses her child, she is vilified, and rightfully so. When a police officer is crooked, he is a the worst kind of public servant. When a judge takes a bribe or a teacher ignores a student or a pastor neglects his parishioners, these are all obvious vocational sins and we would be right and quick in judging those who commit them. Seeing those failures in others is easy.

Yet, when we are tempted to fall into similar apathy about our callings (because it seems they don’t really make a difference), we aren’t as hard on ourselves. It matters when someone else fails, but we don’t have enough pride in our lives if we despair over their smallness. We can stop valuing our daily work as we ought to. The reality is that very few of us will change the world in a dramatic way, and by the way, those super-humans who do also struggle with this same temptation. Most of us will not cure cancer or build a business empire or become a media star. But if you have ever sat at the feet of a good teacher, were nurtured by a loving parent, served by an attentive salesman, or mentored by a hard-working boss, you know the importance of ordinary people doing ordinary things again and again. And you know the value of people who resist the temptation to despair over ordinary and “small” vocations.

This is a bit of an honest “confessional” for me, but I wanted to share it because I am rather certain it is a common temptation. To name it as such begins the work of shutting that voice up and carrying on with the work God has put on our plate, despair be damned. And it begins our return to the Lord with our whole hearts, trusting that we are his able vehicles working in his vineyard.

 

The Origin of Life. With Dr. Walter Bradley. Sin Boldly Episode 83.

Volcano_lightning2Are you familiar with the primordial soup theory of how life began? It begins with a pond of water and a strike of lighting. Is that really how life could have “naturally” began, eventually evolving to the level of diversity we see now? Evolution occupies a lot of the attention in apologetics and debate circles. But the question of life’s origin is far more foundational…and impossible to answer cogently in a merely naturalistic worldview. (No, alien seed is not a good naturalistic explanation!) Dr. Walter Bradley is a co-author of the classic textbook The Mystery of Life’s Origin (which you can find for free at http://themysteryoflifesorigin.org)Thanks to Dr. Bradley for offering his time!

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here. That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app also finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release.

Arrested Street Preacher and Religious Freedom Issues. Sin Boldly Episode 82

maxresdefaultI was joined by Christian evangelist Mike Stockwell to discuss his recent arrest and trial in England. Is preaching the words of scripture an arrest-worthy offense? Apparently it is England. From there, I take a look at a smattering of issues involving religious freedom, including the almost surreal juxtaposition of Catholics fighting for the right to offer insurance that doesn’t include birth control and the Pope recently saying Catholics should decrease their number of children.

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here. That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app also finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release.

Booing Jesus and Abortion in the Public Square. Sin Boldly Episode 81

jesus-trialpppaI was joined by two great guests on this episode of Sin Boldly. Chaplain Dr. Michael Sprague was booed upon praying in the name of Jesus at Louisiana’s state capital. Apparently Jesus is still not popular! We discussed the nature of prayer in a public setting and what good can come from such a discouraging moment. I also talked with Wes Thomas of Abolish Abortion TX to look at HB 948 in more detail. We delved deep into Texas legal history and the path forward for legislation like this. Thanks to both for their time! (And as I had two guests this episode, it would be fair to each not to assume they share the same convictions on all issues. They very well may, but I wanted to make that distinction.)

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here. That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app also finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release.

What’s the Difference Between Perseverance and Insanity?

 

the-12-worst-shark-tank-pitches-of-all-timeWhen I watch Shark Tank, I can’t help but to be impressed by the entrepreneurs who not only have taken the risk to create something new, but also have the perseverance to see it through from idea to product or service. If you’ve never watched Shark Tank, it’s a made-for-TV opportunity for entrepreneurs to pitch a product to 5 investors, who will either become a strategic investor and make a deal, or dramatically say, “I’m out.” Sometimes a deal is made for equity of the business in exchange for cash, and sometimes the entrepreneur walks away empty-handed.

It is a fact of reality that new ideas are rejected dozens or even hundreds of times before they are widely accepted, if they are accepted at all. Therefore, these entrepreneurs really need to believe in their product and sacrifice to make it profitable. The founder of Starbucks, for example, was rejected by 217 investors before someone invested in the coffee house chain. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories were passed over by many publishers. Indeed, I would say that almost everyone who ever got published, began a business or invented something new was told “No” more times than they could count. Everyone agreed that that they had a bad book, idea or model on their hands, and they shouldn’t quit their day job.

For some people, that’s good advice. More businesses than not, more books than not, more ideas than not, are bad. They won’t make money. The entrepreneur really does need to keep his or her day job. But sometimes, it is hard to know which projects will succeed and which projects will fail, and only by perseverance will the truth come out. After all, if the Starbucks guy was rejected hundreds of times but eventually became a billionaire, who’s to say the same isn’t true for me? So for those who stick to it and make it a success, we admire them for their perseverance. They are the stuff of legend. They inspire us to keep on even when the times are hard.

But what do we say about those who are persevering but fail? Well, that’s where the all-too-common definition of insanity comes in. By now, we all know what insanity is, right? Insanity is “doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.” Yeah, that’s pretty much the definition of every human being who has ever been committed to a cause. But it seems the “insane” ones are the ones who experience failure. The “perseverant” are the ones who succeed. And sometimes the line between the two is a lot thinner than we’d like to think. No doubt a certain amount of good fortune and chance meetings goes into an idea being a success.

Why, just a few years ago I had this awesome idea to write a novel that acted as a defense of the resurrection. Heck, I even wrote half of it. Then I realized that a book with the same idea had already been written and Antonio Banderas had already been in a movie based on the book. If I was born in 1969 rather than 1979, Antonio Banderas might have been in my book’s movie adaptation!

This problem of knowing the difference between insanity and perseverance applies to life in the Church as well. Perseverance is most definitely a Biblical virtue. Paul says that love always perseveres (1 Cor. 13:7). He tells us to “be joyful in hope, patient [the same Greek word for persevere] in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12). The author of Hebrews tells us to “endure hardship as discipline” [also the same Greek word]. (Hebrews 12:7). And James says “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial.” (James 1:12). Also see James 5:11 and 1 Peter 2:20.

Sometimes, what we do in church really looks like insanity. After all, how often do things change in the life of the church? How often do we do the same thing again and again? And how often do the results change? Should we even strive for dramatically different results? Are we foolish for calmly accepting the same thing week in and week out?

In short, how do we know when we are faithfully persevering or foolishly being insane? If you have a new product or idea to bring to the market, don’t ask me. I’m a terrible judge of such things. But in the life of the church, it all hinges on whether or not we’re being faithful to our task. Are we living by the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:19? Are we doing life together as seen in Acts 2:42? Are we teaching the “whole counsel of God” as Paul did in Acts 20:27? Are we staying true to the one and only Gospel? Are we proclaiming Christ to the world and never denying him? Are we faithfully administering the sacraments? If the answer is yes, then, in general, we shall carry on, in spite of the results. That is our bottom line.

In the meantime, we should also be very careful to try new evangelical methods and activities. We should welcome every visitor as the precious guest that they are. We should be forthcoming in our desire to grow as a community. For perseverance does not have to mean we are content to do poor ministry. It really just means we’re content with what God provides when we do the best ministry we can.

On Honoring the Sabbath

family-at-churchWhen I was a kid, going to church was an absolute no-brainer. I can hardly remember any Sunday that I missed. I actually don’t remember missing any particular Sunday until I was well into my teenage years, unless I was on a youth group field trip or desperately sick. If I spent the night with a friend, I went to church with them. Even when I was in college, I went every Sunday with few exceptions. Indeed, it was that weekly attendance that saved my faith as I was presented with alternative truth claims…from my religion professors no less!

When I was in seminary, I observed that weekly attendance by seminarians was not practiced by every student. I was shocked! If they didn’t have to be somewhere, many of them would choose to stay on campus. For myself – and later my wife when we were married – it was never a question of if we would worship on Sunday morning, but where. We took advantage of our free Sundays and worshipped at Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal, and Orthodox churches, and I still remember many of those Sundays quite vividly.

So my credibility as a weekly worshipper is quite high. However, my credibility in encouraging others to worship weekly is now quite low, because I’m the pastor, and such encouragement is expected from me. Pastors talking about church attendance is almost as popular and as common as pastors talking about money. For good reason, pastors are often seen as men who do little else but harangue their poor members for more time and more money. In some cases, it is because the pastor’s own ego is at stake, and that eventually is rejected by those tired of hearing that message. So if I tell my church members to go to church, I’m just another pastor lecturing them on how to spend their time, with self-interest to boot.

Still, I observe that we have many members for whom weekly attendance just doesn’t happen. It is foreign to me because it is all I have ever known, so I really don’t know what to do with it. I would like to begin, though, by simply stating what I think we all know: the third of our Ten Commandments is to honor the Sabbath Day. While that day has moved from Saturday to Sunday (the day of resurrection and new creation), that commandment still holds because it is part of God’s moral law. God’s moral Law never changes because He never changes.

While that commandment does not necessarily include the worshipping of God (it there only speaks of the necessity of rest so as to “hallow” the day), we certainly understand that worship of God is included as part of our Sabbath rest. Indeed, as one matures as a Christian, I believe that worship is transformed from an energy-taker, to an energy-giver. Luther says this about this commandment: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”

Beyond the mere command, I believe it is God’s desire that we worship not because we are told to, but because we cannot see ourselves doing anything else, at least for a portion of our week. Like I desire my children to actually want to be obedient, I believe God wants the same for us. I have thought many times about how we might change our worship to make it more accessible or “enjoyable”. I’m certain that many who visit or even our members find it boring to do the same thing again and again. But I cannot escape the commandment or the feeling that my desire to make worship more attractive kind of misses the point entirely.

The truth is that when any of us are not present, for whatever reason, good or bad, it is a loss to the Body. I am encouraged when we have many brothers and sisters together, sharing our life together. And I am discouraged when there are not many of us present. So as any good pastor should, I encourage you to be present in worship on Sundays. Let us be an encouragement to each other.

Prison and Theonomy: Approaches to Incarceration. Sin Boldly Episode 80

imagesI was joined by David Collingsworth of KPFT’s The Prison Show and Carey Appling to discuss the modern state of the American prison system and theonomy. Is our prison system the equivalent of slavery? Does it actually rehabilitate offenders or even try? Is there a legitimate Biblical alternative? How should Christians think about prison? Those are just a few of the questions we look at in this episode.

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here. That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone (or iOS) Podcast app also finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release.

A Defense of “Drive Thru” Ashes on Ash Wednesday

 

shirleytimpeterOn Ash Wednesday, I have every intention of being outside, ready to dispense ashes to college students who want some. In the past, a handful have taken advantage of the convenience of this approach. That effort, such as it was, is quite mild compared to what some pastors do: go to train stations or bus stops, or, as one Lutheran Church in Clear Lake did, hold up signs for commuters to get “drive through” ashes in the church parking lot. According to one news account, there was a line of cars full of people waiting to get ashes. The church also handed out a prayer card of some kind and offered a prayer for the occupants of the car.

This reminded me of several other attempts to meet busy Americans where they are. There have been a number whole drive-through services where congregations hosted a gathering of automobiles in a parking lot. Yes, there were people in those automobiles, but it was clear that when the preacher looked out, he didn’t see people, but the glare of the blue sky on a windshield. Microphone in hand, he held a service right there in a parking lot. (I wonder what they did if it rained)

I believe drive-through communion has also been tried. As the automobiles gather, congregants get their own communion wine-and- bread packet and at the right time, they open them and receive what is supposed to be the Lord’s Supper. (By Luther’s definition, it probably is not the Lord’s Supper, but who can be sure?) There was probably some accompanying reading from scripture and perhaps a short sermon.

Automobile-friendly services aside, there is a larger movement called “simple church.” These are churches that do away with the “formality” of traditional church life and usually meet in homes. There are no clergy, vestments, or liturgy. It is an attempt to pare things down to their barest elements and avoid the traditional trappings of Church. For it is those trappings, don’t you know, that distract the Church and keep her from her true mission. It seems the traditional church was due for this critique because some of these “simple churches” are doing quite well (others disappear within a year of formation). I’d like to respond with two thoughts. The first is that not all of these outreach efforts are equal. The second is that there is no easy way out of actual Christian community, if that is indeed what you seek.

First, what is the difference between adminstering ashes on Ash Wednesday to total strangers outside the context of worship and administering the sacrament to strangers outside the context of worship? The answer is pretty simple: ashes are reflective of God’s Law, the finality of death, and our shortcomings in holiness. Unlike the Gospel, which is God’s alien work that specifically comes through hearing (Romans 10), the Law of God is already written on the hearts of men and it can be observed through general revelation. It seems to me, in other words, that administering ashes is the simple proclamation of the Law; and that act may be done at anytime to anyone, because in truth, people already know it! When the Prophets shared the Word of the Lord with the people, they did so in public places. Indeed, the Law may best be shared in public places so that men and women will come to realize their need of the Gospel.

The sacraments form the community (Holy Baptism) and feed the community (the Lord’s Supper). They are means of grace, and they are not to be monkeyed with or distributed to any and all. Careful discernment has always gone into administering these sacraments, and for good reason. They are God’s holy means. They are  given to strangers on the street because, unlike the Law, they are reserved for the Christian community. It’s one thing if a non-Christian partakes of the sacrament unknowingly in a service; the pastor should probably not be taken to task for that. But to invite such conflict by administering so publicly? Bad idea.

Christian community is something to be cherished. It should never become a matter of convenience, or something where the participants are looking for the least they can do yet still be considered members. To put it crassly, if we are not even willing to leave the parking lot to participate in worship, are we even part of a community? Would that kind of rank minimalism be tolerated in any other kind of community? Why would the church promote it?

Fortunately, these ventures are rare. I don’t see drive-thru churches becoming a model for evangelism. But I will defend the public dispensation of ashes. For instead of giving away the grace of God as though it were cheap, we are imposing on foreheads the cost of grace: the cross which crucified an innocent man.

A Roman Catholic Apologist on Galileo, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. Sin Boldly Episode 79

Paul Flangan of Catholic Apologetics joined me for a conversation on Galileo, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. All three are common attacksthe-mighty-king-of-chivalry-richard-the-lionheart-fortunino-matania-1881-1963-660x350-1428610386 against the Church, and certainly not without some merit. But what do these three events really tell us about Christianity, and are they as bad as many make them out to be? Mr. Flanagan offers a lot of insight on each of these tales of heresy, war, and the battle between science and faith.

If you want to listen via the podcast feed, that link is here. That link will take you to iTunes. To subscribe to the Sin Boldly podcast with an Android phone, I recommend the Cast Box app, which easily finds Sin Boldly via search. Your iPhone Podcast app also finds it easily on iTunes. If you subscribe to the show, you get the episodes immediately upon release. Otherwise, it takes a few hours. (I think Apple wants to make sure we don’t violate copyright law.)