THIS IS OUR TIME

THIS IS OUR TIME

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, hobbit hero Frodo Baggins carries a ring of great power and evil, a ring that he and he alone can destroy in the fires of Mount Doom. Depressed by the burden he carries and the evil times, he confides to his wizard friend, Gandalf:

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

Tolkien was a veteran of WWI that killed 20 million and wounded 21 million, as well as the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic that killed 50 million worldwide, as well as the Great Depression, and the polio epidemic that paralyzed tens of thousands. He knew a thing or two about bad times and wove what he knew about how to endure them into his stories.

The Lord of the Rings is full of perseverance and faith against all the odds.

In August of 1940, 25-30 divisions of crack Wehrmacht infantry (over 300,000 soldiers) stood poised along the coast of France. They were waiting for Reich Marshal Herman Goering’s vaunted Luftwaffe to wipe the Royal Air Force from the sky and open the English Channel for Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Great Britain, to launch. The Germans had a three-to-one advantage in warplanes when the Battle of Britain began that July and had subdued all Western Europe in less than a year. Everyone expected them to win. Everyone that is, except Winston Churchill and the millions of British who believed him when he said, “We shall never surrender!” Londoner’s sheltered in basements, bunkers, and the subway, as the Blitz rained bombs on their city. Nazi planes indiscriminately wrecked churches, hospitals, and businesses destroyed 60% of London’s homes, wounded 87,000, and killed 32,000 people. Victims overwhelmed the hospitals, and no one knew who would “get it” next.

But by the end of October, Hitler was withdrawing his invasion force from the French coast, and canceling Operation Sea Lion.

The story of Great Britain’s ultimate victory overflows with perseverance and faith.

I take great courage from these stories of our collective past because the ultimate source of their strength was the same hope we share in a good God. He loves us no less than our ancestors and, if we ask him, will give us the strength and bravery to “keep calm and carry on,” as Londoners’ did during the Blitz, and as all God’s people are called to do in a crisis.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4.

Every generation faces tests. The Corona virus is our time to meet the fury of a fallen planet with faith and perseverance.

So, look out for your loved ones. Ignore the fear mongers. Follow the instructions of our healthcare professionals. Trust God. “Keep calm and carry on.”  And if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a great time to watch The Lord of the Rings

OF PANDEMICS AND THE PEOPLE OF GOD

OF PANDEMICS AND THE PEOPLE OF GOD

We are not the first to deal with a global pandemic and if God wills, we will not be the last. The only real question is: will we face it with faith in God and sacrificial love for our fellow man, or pull a Y2K kind of American Christian panic and hunker down in fear of the world outside?

Down the centuries, Christians were known to put aside personal safety in service to others during epidemics and other kinds of disasters. Are we ready to do the same today? If so, it will look a little different than it did in the past. Today it means putting aside our preference to meet together for worship, prayer, and preaching, and practicing social distancing.

Wikipedia reports that the 1918 influenza pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920; also known as the Spanish flu) … infected 500 million people around the world,[2] or about 27% of the world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million[3] to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.[4][5]

The Black Plague or Bubonic Plague of Medieval times was worse. Wikipedia reports that it was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.[1][2][3] …The plague created a number of religious, social and economic upheavals, with profound effects on the course of European history.

The plague was still a threat 200 years later during the Reformation, which gave Martin Luther and John Calvin, two of the greatest theological minds in history, the opportunity to comment. Both advised prudence in the face of such disasters.

John Calvin (1509 – 1564): ““For he who has set the limits to our life has at the same time entrusted to us its care; He has provided means and helps to preserve it, he has also made us able to foresee dangers; that they may not overwhelm us unaware, he has offered precautions and remedies. Now it is very clear what our debt is: Thus if the Lord had committed to us the protection of our life, our duty is to protect it; if he offers helps, to use them; if he forewarns us of dangers, not to plunge headlong; if he makes remedies available, not to neglect them…Thus “folly & prudence are instruments of the divine dispensation.” Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Ch. 17.

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Luther’s Works Volume 43 pg 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess.

Churches in Washington D.C., responding to the 1918 flu pandemic, closed from October 5 through the 31st. The most Christian thing to do in the current crisis is follow their example.

THE SECOND LAW OF SPIRITUAL THERMODYNAMICS

THE SECOND LAW  OF SPIRITUAL THERMODYNAMICS

Physics recognizes the second law of thermodynamics. Everything is winding down.  Everything atrophies. Everything decays unless it’s maintained.

Do you have a car? The clutches and seals in the transmission will wear out. Own a home? The siding will rot. The mortar in the bricks will need touching up. The porch will sag. The plumbing will stop up. Have a computer? Its CPU will crash if you don’t maintain it.

What most of us don’t realize is that there is a spiritual version of that law.  It’s called “the law (or doctrine) of total depravity”.  It means that the whole person is affected by something that destroys us, something that causes problems in our relationships and our communities. The mind, the will, the emotions and the body of every human being is infected with a condition known as sin. It doesn’t mean that everyone is as bad as he can possibly be. It means that left to ourselves, without something to keep us in line, we will tend toward selfish, greedy and destructive behavior.

The second law of thermodynamics means we must work at maintaining physical things. The law of total depravity means that we must work at maintaining spiritual things. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt has lost its saltiness it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a lamp and put it on under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and so it gives light to all who are in the house.” (Matthew 5:13-16).

How to pull that off? Well, it can be costly. The late Howard Hendricks told this story:

Recently, I was walking the streets in San Mateo, California. I met an attorney I knew from a local evangelical church. I said to him, “What are you doing?”

He said, “I’m looking for a job.”

I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

He said, “No, last week I walked out the front door of that corporation and told them, ‘You can hang it on your beak. I’m no longer going to write contracts that you and I both know are illegal and illegitimate.'”

That man is regarded as one of the top five corporate lawyers in America, and he’s unwilling to sell his value system for a mess of pottage. We need a larger core of lawyers like that.[1]

I can hear you thinking, “Yeah, we need more lawyers like that!” But to be honest we need more mechanics, more doctors, more contractors and more everybody to be like that. That’s what it means to be salt.

Without something to preserve it, the world will suffer ethical decay. Without something to light the way, the world will recede into darkness. God put his church into the world to be that something.  God put you and me here to do something for the world that the world cannot do for itself. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

[1] Citation: Howard Hendricks, “Beyond the Bottom Line,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 101

 

MEN ARE FORMED, NOT BORN

The news of men has not been good of late. My friend Tommy died last week. The last I heard he was in the Roanoke Rescue Mission. But in the end, he was homeless, doing crack, meth, and heroin. The drugs took him at 52.

There’s the porn epidemic. As Catholic writer, Benjamin Wiker, has said, “Our sexual environment is about as polluted as China’s air, and the harm caused by such pollution is just as scientifically demonstrable.”[1]

Then there’s the swelling cohort of insecure, indecisive, incompetent young men whose directionless energies are squandered in endless pursuits of, well, that’s just it, nothing special. As Auguste Meyrat recently wrote, they are “hapless chumps” who can “make observations, crack jokes, ask questions…but they cannot make theses and support them.” Women may “friend-zone” these guys, but they won’t marry and have children with them.[2]

And its common knowledge that one of the greatest common denominators for mass shooters (not counting jihadis) is that they are young, alienated men, with absent, abusive, or just irrelevant fathers.

Males are born, but men are formed. And our culture is failing to form them.

Cultural trends for the last forty years mitigate against it. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” founding feminist Gloria Steinem said, and a whole generation of women believed her and did without. That movement, along with constant media mockery of men as sleazy sex addicts or buffoonish oafs, removed much of the motivation men had to become something other than overgrown boys.

Healthy masculinity, the kind that gets tough when the going gets rough and tender when it doesn’t, has also been undermined by hypocrites like Bill Cosby and pedophile priests. But they are only the most famous of a multitude of men who hide predatory natures behind a faith and family friendly mask.

What’s to be done? Specifically, what can the church do? The most important thing we can do is buy into my thesis: Men are formed, not born.

There are definite attributes and specific disciplines that separate the men from the boys that can be passed down from one generation to the next. They have nothing to do with physical or sexual prowess and everything to do with character formation. We can work out the details of how to do that later, but we must buy in first. We must believe that positive masculinity can and should be formed in young men by older men.

Too many fathers and too many church men assume that “boys will be boys” and just let them raise themselves or worse, “let their Momma do it.” That’s not meant as a slam on moms who sacrifice endlessly for their children. But the truth is that young men do not respond the same way to women as they do men they respect. As a result, we have a generation of “feral children,” who—wishing they were real men—have mistaken real masculinity with owning powerful weapons and hyped-up pick-up trucks. Or else mistaken it for feminine virtues that, while admirable, aren’t masculine and therefore do not satisfy the innate need of a male to achieve manhood among other men.

My friend Tommy grew up a feral child. His father abandoned him early in life and rarely offered anything other than criticism for his son’s failings. Like all of us, Tommy made choices for which he alone was responsible. He had multiple opportunities to turn his life around. But I can’t help wonder how his life might have turned out if the right set of men had taken him in and committed to train him how to be a man.

[1] https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/08/04/sexual-pollution-is-a-scientific-and-destructive-fact/

[2] https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/ts-eliot-poem-describes-modern-males-perfectly

EL PASO, DAYTON, & GILROY

EL PASO, DAYTON, & GILROY

Editor’s Note: The most shocking thing about the three mass murders that happened last week is that they are no longer shocking. Heart-breaking, yes, but not shocking. Of the comments and opinions I’ve read on these events, John Stonestreet’s, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, were the most coherent. I’m reprinting them here for your edification. Links to the podcast, the response by Marvin Olasky, of World News Group, and an article I wrote on the topic last year follow. DS

El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy

The Heart of the Matter

John Stonestreet, Breakpoint, August 6, 2019

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.”

Of course, there are evil people. We know that far too well, especially after this past weekend. In fact, that there are evil people out there is the one thing, maybe the only thing, everyone still agrees on. We disagree on who the people are: The evil shooter. The evil racist president. The evil progressives who want to take our guns. So we go on and on, identifying who the evil people are—always them—and we go on and on missing the real problem right in front of our face.

Solzhenitsyn’s point wasn’t, as some argue, that people aren’t really evil. Far from it. His point was that to assume evil exists only in them (whoever our “them” is) and not in us, is just plain wrong. Rather, as he continued: “… the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

The finger pointing that immediately followed the mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton started before any facts were known, and came even quicker than usual. (Let’s pause there… “than usual.” What a tragic way to talk about mass murders.) The finger pointers had already decided who the bad guys were, and many of us joined in on the chorus. So, we tweeted and reported and assumed the evil ones belonged to the other side while hoping they did not belong to ours. If it’s discovered the evildoer does belong to us, we know how to twist and contort and accuse in order to explain any connection away. But, if he belongs to them, we also know how to leverage the tragedy to indict the entire lot.

I say this as a 2nd Amendment guy. I fully agree that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Read the online manifestos of these young men and tell me that they wouldn’t eventually find some other way to carry out their violent fantasies. Even if gun control were the answer, how would we ever go about implementing it? Does anyone really think someone so radicalized to that degree of hatred would trade in their weapons for a gift card?

At the same time, the idea that “the best way to stop bad guys with guns is with good guys with guns” needs to be reconsidered. At face value, I fully agree. What I fear, however, is that those who repeat this idea are working off of old math. When bad guys are willing to target innocents, even children, at schools, movie theaters, churches, festivals, and Wal-Marts… what then? In Dayton, the good guys showed up in one minute, one minute, and the bad guy still killed nine people. Facing that sort of evil, how many good guys with guns will we need to protect us? Where exactly will we need them? Everywhere? That’s called a “police state,” and it’s the inevitable end of any society that sinks so deeply into moral chaos.

If that is our fate, make no mistake, we’ll have brought it on ourselves. And by “we,” I mean us and them. As the progressive left finds new ways to deconstruct the family, reconstruct morality, and scandalize the innocence of children at every level and in every area of culture while demonizing their evil other by state force and financial leveraging, the libertarian right demands unfettered license to say whatever and think whatever and post whatever on 8chan while demonizing its own evil other as the cause for all so-called ills.  All this while the church faces scandal after scandal of its own making.

Yet, we wonder how lonely young men without meaning or moral formation or fathers, who have no way to fulfill their pornographic-fueled fantasies but have access to plenty of self-medication options, could be driven to white-supremacist or progressive extremism.  We need to ask what it is about our culture that’s producing these young men bent on killing and chaos. And we need to ask: Where is the church?

Do we really think we are immune to the historically repetitive realities that have marked every crumbling civilization since the dawn of time? Do we really think we can keep our freedom in a society not only without virtue, but without any of the “little platoons” that form virtue?

Can freedom be sustained where virtue is not flourishing? Chuck Colson asked this every time he spoke the last few years of his life. The answer to Chuck’s question is still, of course, no.

As Chuck said, it’s either the conscience or the constable. Unless we are willing to look at us, to as Solzhenitsyn said, “destroy a piece of our own heart,” our future is increasingly obvious.

Only Christ can restore this mess. We must be about His work of restoration.

Breakpoint Podcast; Marvin Olasky, World News Group Editor in Chief; Is Your Son the Next School Shooter?

 

AN ALIEN IN YOUR DRIVEWAY

AN ALIEN IN YOUR DRIVEWAY

If an alien from outer space landed in your driveway and asked, “What are all those buildings in your town with pointy spires and crosses on top? What is that about?” Could you answer accurately?

That’s the question C.S. Lewis—author of the Chronicles of Narnia—and Oxford College Chaplain, Walter Hooper, knocked around one day. “We wondered how many people, (who did not flee) apart from voicing their prejudices about the Church, could supply them with much in the way of accurate information. On the whole, we doubted whether the aliens would take back to their world much that is worth having.”

Hooper and Lewis were speculating because at that time, in the mid-twentieth century, several autobiographies of former bishops and preachers had flooded the market explaining why they could no longer accept the faith. Lewis believed that much of the ignorance of true Christianity was due to the flood of “liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel.”

Nothing much has changed. Today, many people reject Christianity because of prejudice. They’ve been disillusioned by a bad Christian or injured by a fraudulent one and rejected the faith out of anger. And a spate of recent statements and books by former evangelicals such as the late Rachel Held Evans, and former pastors Rob Bell, and Joshua Harris contributes to confusion. “If professionals can’t follow it, how can I?”

But as Hooper writes in his preface to God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics by C.S. Lewis, “…it is impossible to decide whether Christianity is true or false if you do not know what it is about.” Spiritually hungry skeptics must ask themselves, “Am I rejecting something I fully understand? Or am I using negative examples as an excuse not to investigate it?”

If you are ready to learn what Christianity is about, Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, is a good place to start, as is Lee Strobel’s, The Case for Faith. But if you prefer talking it out among friends you would enjoy the Alpha Course. It’s a ten-week introduction to basic Christianity that’s designed to encourage questions and build friendships with others on the same journey. Our church is hosting its ninth Alpha Course this year. If you come, we promise to feed you well, treat your questions with respect, and above all, not treat you like an alien from outer space.

REBUILDING SHALOM ONE COMMUNITY AT A TIME

REBUILDING SHALOM ONE COMMUNITY AT A TIME

The ground was thick with men as far as the eye could see, men so jam-packed the mall from the Capitol steps to the Washington Monument that it was hard to move. The year was 1997 and we were there for one purpose: to reaffirm our commitment to the seven promises of a Promise Keeper.

Promise six, reads: A Promise Keeper is committed to reach beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity. Fast-forward twenty-one years and our results are mixed. Despite our best intentions, we still self-segregate in schools, in churches, and social settings. On the national scale, Mr. Obama came to power with great promise for racial reconciliation but left a legacy of nursed grudges. Mr. Trump came to power with the support of white nationalists. As Chuck Colson said, the Kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One.

Race relations isn’t the only area where our society is fraying, cultural coherence is also unraveling. Once-strong voluntary associations like the Elks, the Masons, the Lion’s Club, Veterans’ associations, and Rotary find it more difficult every year to recruit and retain members.  Even Promise Keepers, which packed one million men into the mall that day in 1997, has waned. Robert D. Putnam’s best-selling 2000 book, BOWLING ALONE: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, explained that even though more people than ever were bowling, fewer were participating in leagues. This meant they were not nurturing the social networks and civic discourse necessary for a healthy society.

Some argue that social media and soccer moms have filled the gap, but Facebook is not equal to face-time (no, not that Facetime) when it comes to creating healthy community. In fact, I would argue the reverse.

If shalom, the God-blessed flourishing of all people in all communities, is what we want, we must stop bowling alone. And the church should lead the way. Community that builds bridges of understanding, dredges grudged-up swamps, and nurtures the common good (look it up under “love your neighbor as yourself”) is only built by people from different backgrounds and social networks talking face-to-face and working on projects together. You can’t do that on Facebook or gaming with some guy on the other side of the planet.

But you can participate in community building events and associations in your town. And no doubt your church has planned community building events for 2019. I urge you to engage in as many as possible and bring friends. Small groups focus on strengthening the bonds in the body of Christ as well. Commit to one, whether it’s Sunday morning or mid-week.

Rod Dreher, in his sobering work, THE BENEDICT OPTION: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, wrote: “The first Christians gained converts not because their arguments were better than those of the pagans but because people saw in them and their communities something good and beautiful—and they wanted it. This led them to the Truth.”[1]

May God use the beauty of our community to do the same.

[1] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, New York: Sentinel, 2017. P. 118.