Monthly Archives: June 2013

Being upside down (a reason why Christianity is superior to Atheism)

It is a mistake to put the subjective reasons for belief before the objective. It is a mistake to be a Christian simply out of personal preference, because it makes life more bearable, or because it provides a greater degree of “happiness.” To use religion in such a way turns it on its head and turns God from master of the Universe to servant of our felt needs. You ought to be a Christian because God calls, because He provided a way in Jesus, and because He is worthy of our worship.

However, the beauty of Christianity is that, while subjective experience is not the end of religion, it is most certainly a blessed by-product. And so, with my rather lengthy prelude, I present a wonderful (albeit subjective), reason why Christianity is superior to Atheism:

It’s from G.K. Chesterton, of course:

He begins by comparing Christianity to Paganism:

“It is said that Paganism is a religion of joy and Christianity of sorrow … Such conflicts mean nothing and lead nowhere. Everything human must have in it both joy and sorrow; the only matter of interest is the manner in which the two things are balanced or divided. And the really interesting thing is this, that the pagan was (in the main) happier and happier as he approached the earth, but sadder and sadder as he approached the heavens. … To the pagan the small things are as sweet as the small brooks breaking out of the mountain; but the broad things are as bitter as the sea. When the pagan looks at the very core of the cosmos he is struck cold. Behind the gods, who are merely despotic, sit the fates, who are deadly. Nay, the fates are worse than deadly; they are dead. And when rationalists say the ancient world was more enlightened than Christianity, from their point of view they are right. For when they say “enlightened” they mean darkened with incurable despair.

In this way, paganism is much like modern Atheism:

“The common bond is in the fact that ancients and moderns have both been miserable about existence, about everything, while mediaevals were happy about that at least.”

Chesterton contends that this fact, that “the mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones,” is not the natural state of man. Men who live like this, he says, have been born upside down:

“The skeptic may be truly said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstasies, while his brain is in the abyss.”

Christianity presents the exact opposite perspective:

“Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. The vault above us is not deaf because the universe is an idiot; the silence is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world. Rather the silence around us is small and pitiful stillness… Joy, which is the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.

Book Review: 25 Books Every Christian Should Read

25 Books every Christian Should Read is a compilation work which includes summaries and excerpts from 25 Christian classics. The list was put together by the editorial board of Renovare and, as described in the Introduction, “bends toward the contemplative in nature.” So, while the list contains a broad range of books from many genres, periods, and traditions, the common thread that runs through nearly all the selections, is the interior and devotional life of the Christian.

Solidness: Plus+ Inevitably, in such a broad range of books from a variety of Christian traditions, there will some with which you will agree with wholeheartedly and some you will be less comfortable with. I was pretty pleased with the inclusion of Confessions, The Cost of Discipleship, and Mere Christianity, and less pleased with Revelations of Divine Love, The Philokalia, and The Cloud of Unknowing. I read excerpts from these last three in one of my Seminary classes and was not terribly impressed with how these authors approached the topics of revelation, contemplation, and prayer (always felt a bit too mystical to me). Nevertheless, one of the goals of this book is to broaden the reader’s theological horizon, so the inclusion of these books makes sense.

Freshness: Neutral: The goal of this is really to point the reader to the classics, not really to editorialize on them. The real editorializing really takes place in the selection of the books. So, this book doesn’t exactly provide new content, but it will, no doubt, point the reader to new content. Of the books listed I have probably only read about four or five completely, and exceprts (aside from this book) of around ten more so this book has provided me a path to a lot more content in the future. Additionally, the summaries and excerpts were very helpful in giving me some great “big ideas” from the selected authors.

Recommendation: Honestly, while I feel good that I picked up a copy of this book, you might just want to consult the list at the beginning, or a similar list, and find summaries and excerpts on your own to decide which books to read in the future. Ultimately, I’m pretty sure it’s the list, not the content, of this book that I will end up using in the future.

Book Review: Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity by Douglas Weiss

Douglas Weiss PhD wrote Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity for men who want to get and stay sexually clean and faithful in their marriages. Men have, of course, always been bent toward sexual immorality, but in this age, as Weiss points out, pornography has never been accessible as it is today. Weiss takes a blunt, no nonsense, practical approach. He doesn’t spend much time theologizing. He assumes the reader knows what is wrong and needs a guide for how to fix it. I’m very appreciative for his approach.

Solidness: Plus++ Clean is not overly theological. His basic theological framework is this: We are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, which is able to cover all of our sin. Our sin, even sexual sin, is not bigger than the cross. Nevertheless, God has called used to sexual purity and complete obedience and therefore we need to put in the time and effort to have victory in this area of our lives. If we do so, we and our families will be protected from much harm. If we fail to do so, as God’s children, we will experience the discipline of our Father. We remain obedient to God by viewing others (particularly women) as God does (as His favored daughters), by recognizing the devistating harm that disobedience leads to, by having appropriate boundaries, and by living truthful and accountable lives. Weiss’ theological framework is both God-centered and practical.

Freshness: Plus++ Weiss’ primary contribution to the discussion, however, doesn’t come from his theological framework (others have said it better) but from his practical experience as a psychologist. He gives a ton of great ideas for how to overcome temptation. Many are ones I’ve heard before (accountability, appropriate boundaries, blocking software, etc.) but others were new, like how to use “Braindar” to your advantage, or how men need to remember that we don’t just have God as a Father, but that He is also our Father-In-Law. Some of his advise is pretty intense, but comes from a strong desire for truth, openness, and accountability within the Church. He concludes with some discussion of “intimacy anorexia” which is often related to sex addiction, a piece of the puzzle I had not yet considered.

Recommendation: I recommend Clean for any man. If you’re currently struggling, it will be a guide for getting clean. If you’ve struggled in the past, it will help you stay clean. If you’ve been consistently obedient in this area, it will give you good ideas for encouraging other men. Sexual immorality and pornography are a huge issue for men in the Church. It doesn’t do much good to sweep it under the rug or pretend it isn’t there. As pornography becomes more and more accessible, and our culture becomes more and more sexualized, this fight will only intensify. This book is a great weapon in the armory of Church in this battle.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Jesus and Maslow talk about Safety

Part 2 of the blog series “Pyramid of Needs – Re-evaluated”.

I have decided to deviate drastically from my originally intended format. This post (and maybe others) will now be framed as a discussion with three participants. Me, asking the question, Maslow, with quotes from Theory of Human Motivation, and Jesus, with quotes from the Gospels.

Me: Maslow, after we fulfill our most basic need for food, what is the next need we must gratify?

Maslow: “If the physiological needs are relatively well gratified, there then emerges a new set of needs, which we may categorize roughly as the safety needs.”

Me: Do you mean strictly physical safety or something more broadly?

Maslow: You can observe this need most in children and, generally, we can say that “the average child in our society generally prefers a safe, orderly, predictable, organized world, which he can count, on, and in which unexpected, unmanageable or other dangerous things do not happen”

Me: How does the safety need arise in adults?

Maslow: “We can perceive the expressions of safety needs only in such phenomena as, for instance, the common preference for a job with tenure and protection, the desire for a savings account, and for insurance of various kinds”

Me: So, is the “need for a savings account” really the next most basic motivator to the need for food?

Maslow: Not quite, “the need for safety is seen as an active and dominant mobilizer of the organism’s resources only in emergencies, e. g., war, disease, natural catastrophes, crime waves, societal disorganization, neurosis, brain injury, chronically bad situation.”

Me: Jesus, Maslow says that a healthy person is going to pursue their physical safety before almost any other need. Is this how we should be motivated?

Jesus: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23b-25)

Me: Surely, you’re only talking about how we live, right? You’re not asking us to give up our very safety. Could there be a circumstance where you would call us to give up our very lives?

Jesus: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. … Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. … Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:16-18, 21, 28)

Me: If God could put His people through such trials, it seems like He doesn’t care about us much.

Jesus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

Me: I see how this applies to early Christians who underwent persecution, and to Christians elsewhere in the world who are persecuted, but I feel pretty safe right now. What about Maslow’s connection between safety and financial security? Should this be our next biggest priority in life, as Maslow seems to suggest?

Jesus: Let me tell you a story about that: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’  Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:18-20)

Me: So, it sounds like this guy actually lost his safety, his life, because he built up bigger barns and sought life-long security. But what, exactly, did he do wrong?

Jesus: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21)

Me: So, it sounds like you’re saying that we have a more fundamental need, and should therefore have a more fundamental motivator in our life than for personal safety or financial security. How, then, should we live?

Jesus: “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.” (Luke 12:33b-34)

 

Several Disconnected Thoughts on G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton (Amazon)

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton (Amazon)

Instead of a book review – who can write an adequate review of a classic – here are some relatively disconnected thoughts on G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

(The links below are to some excerpts I posted earlier)

The first words I think of to describe this book: Fanciful, youthful, joyous, and brilliant.

Chesterton’s masterful use of metaphor rivals that of C.S. Lewis.

The title, Orthodoxy, doesn’t give you a great impression of its content. It is really a defense of Christianity in general, or rather, an attack on the materialism, humanism, and skepticism of his time.

It doesn’t so much defend particular dogmas as it defends the idea of dogma in general.

Chesterton sometimes thinks like a child, in the most satisfying of ways.

He has some great thoughts on original sin: On denying sin. On understanding human nature.

Chesterton is contagiously optimistic.

His rarely approaches issues in the way you would expect, but his approach is (almost) always convincing.

You should read this book.

Maslow and Jesus talk about Bread

Part 1 of the blog series “Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs – Re-Evaluated”.

Summary of Maslow (Physiological Needs):

We don’t really need Maslow to tell us that our most basic needs are the needs of the body. Food, water, sleep, etc. are essential for survival. Maslow quite rightly puts fulfillment of these needs as the most basic human motivator. Before all else, he says, we fulfill our most basic physiological needs.

Creation

All the needs on Maslow’s pyramid (physiological, safety, love, esteem, and fulfillment) are, I believe, legitimate, when placed in the proper context. This is perhaps the most obviously legitimate need. Hunger, and our desire to fulfill it, is God-given. He gave us bodies, put us in a garden, and gave us food to eat. Pictures of paradise, especially those in the Old Testament, are filled with images of food. The Promised Land was a land “flowing with milk and honey.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting a full belly…

Fall

… except when it isn’t. Consider the following examples.

Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and one of the reasons they did so was because it looked good.

Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. The writer of Hebrews didn’t think that was such a great idea (Hebrews 12:16).

The Wilderness generation grumbled against Moses and against God because they were afraid (irrationally) that God couldn’t feed them.

The crowds following Jesus failed to understand His real message, in part, because they were so hung up on looking for a meal (John 6:26).

In all these cases the problem was this: The people involved thought food was their most basic need.

Wait, you say, aren’t our physical needs our most basic needs? Won’t we die without food? Won’t we perish without water? Won’t we go mad without sleep? And yet, so it seems, we have a more basic need still.

Redemption

Consider John 6.

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Consider John 4.

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Consider Matthew 4.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Consider Matthew 6.

25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Jesus’ point is not to diminish the needs of the body. He takes them for granted, which makes his teaching all the more shocking. He’s saying that it is more important to fulfill our spiritual hunger with spiritual food than it is to fulfill our physical hunger with physical food. What happens to our spirit is more important than what happens to our body. It’s more important that we have the bread of life (Jesus) than it is to have bread. It is more important to have living water from Jesus than water from a well. It’s more important to seek the kingdom of God than to seek your next meal.

Jesus is not saying that food isn’t good. He’s talking about priorities. He’s talking about first-loves. He’s talking about our most fundamental values. And, he’s saying our priority is Him, even above our bellies.

He wants to bless us with all the things we need, but he wants us to seek Him first.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33).

Back to Maslow. Right away, then, we see that while Maslow’s pyramid might describe how we are motivated, God has a plan for how we ought to be motivated. And, at the base [our] of the “pyramid of human needs” is this: Spiritual Needs.

[*] Special thanks to Ben Videtich who came to speak out our church and reminded me of John 6. I had been planning this post for some time but his message was especially timely. He even mentioned Maslow in the introduction.

Reconciling Hebrews 4:12-13 with my experience of it (Part 2)

Part 2 of “Reconciling Hebrews 4:12-13 with my experience of it

Second, understand that the function of the “Word of God” in Hebrews 4:12-13 has more to do with objective reality, than with experience. Once again, it is easy to simply read the “it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” as describing the personal experience of the hearer. I believe that phrase includes that interpretation, but is not limited to it.

First, it includes the experience of being “cut to the heart.” Consider these examples from Scripture. When the residents of Nineveh heard the word, they repented. The Israelites wept when they heard Ezra read the law. After Peter’s sermon the people were “cut to the heart,” repented, and were baptized. Paul says that an unbeliever who comes into a church where the word is being spoken intelligibly (in this context, through prophecy) might be “convicted of sin and brought under judgment … as the secrets of their heart are laid bare” (1 Cor. 14:24-25).  If you have personally had a conversion experience, you have experienced the convicting, penetrating, powerful experience of the Word of God in your own heart.

The primary function of the Word, however, is not simply to produce in us the experience of feeling convicted, but to actually hold us accountable – to actually convict us of sin, whether we experience the feeling of conviction or not. Note where the passage goes: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

In Hebrews the call to persevering faith remains the same, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,” but there are two responses: respond in faith, or harden your heart. Was the word ineffectual because the Wilderness generation rejected the word and refused to go into the land? No, it was effectual even for them because their rebellion resulted in their just judgment, wandering in the desert 40 years.

Hebrews 4:13 says “everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The imagery here is of a patient whose neck is bared before the surgeon’s knife, or the wrestler who has just been overpowered by a superior foe. We’re helpless, naked, exposed, and overpowered by God and His Word. We may not always experience that reality, but it doesn’t make it any less true. To His Word we must give a “word of account.” Before the judgment throne of God we are judged and held accountable to His call.

And so, one tension is resolved but another is uncovered. The tension of my experience is resolved when I understand the Hebrews 4:12-13 is more about the reality of the Word of God than my experience of it. But the new tension arises: In myself I am ill-prepared to give my own word of account before the overpowering Word and call of God. Thanks be to God, this second tension is resolved in priesthood of Christ. At the end of Hebrews 4:12-13 the reader ought to be left with an appropriate sense of the fear of the Lord, which ought to help us grasp with even greater joy the good news, that Jesus gives a word on our behalf.