Here is part 2 of my radio interview with Bill Feltner. You can listen to part 1 here.
Here is part 2 of my radio interview with Bill Feltner. You can listen to part 1 here.
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with Pilgrim Radio’s Bill Feltner to chat about Dawson Trotman and The Navigators. If you have 30 minutes, this would be worth your listen. Part 2 is coming tomorrow.
You have certainly seen the headlines by now.
The question has surely come up in your mind: What in the world is going on in Orlando? After all, you understand the basics of math. y=mx + B. With three plot points, one can see the forming of a line that appears to be sloping in the negative direction and that only can mean a downward spiral for Orlando. It’s over. Get outta the city as fast as you can. There is no hope. There is no opportunity for rebound.
As a Baylor grad and former Waco resident, I have wrestled with similar headlines before. Branch Davidians, Baylor Basketball Scandal, Baylor Football Scandal. And, I have asked, What in the world is going on in Waco?
But perhaps I could even ask this question in general — what are we to do when we experience a series of common events occurring in rapid succession in one particular area of life? Because, this is much bigger than Orlando. And this is much bigger than Waco. This is a downward spiral of Job-like proportions. And, it is far more common to life than many of us may realize.
Consider this common scenario: A woman comes home to find that her mate has walked out on her and the children. As divorce papers are finalizing, the woman learns that her job is being eliminated. As the woman is putting their for sale sign in the front lawn, headlines indicate a cooling of the housing market. When crying on the phone with her lawyer, the woman learns that one of her children is sick with a cold. What is she to do?
Or this scenario: Its an election year and supreme court nominations and who do I vote for and where is our country heading? What are people to do?
So. What should we do with these kinds of plot points in life? And is there anything that can inform the way we live so that we don’t end up in a massive depression?
The place to begin is with Truth. In the time when Jesus walked the earth, people in these types of situations would often ask, “Who sinned, this man or his family?” In their superstitious worldview, they would interpret these kinds of successive events as eternal punishments from an angry God in response to one’s personal holiness, cleanliness, or obedience. This is not unlike the eastern notion of Karma, where good deeds are rewarded with good fortune and bad deeds in kind.
But Jesus doesn’t respond to this question with affirmation. Instead he answered:
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:3-5 (ESV)
In this short reply, Jesus reminds us of several important ideas which speak to Orlando, Waco, and our own plot points of despair:
So with this truth from John 9 in mind, I want to offer some thoughts on how to process through the plot points, whether you are thinking about Orlando, or whether you are thinking about your own personal downward spiral.
Three plot points are not enough to invalidate the amazing, surpassing, sovereign work of the Creator of the universe. Even though it is tragic, scary, and unnerving to read the news today, know this Christian: God’s got this. And, He will continue to provide for and care for His children. And He will continue to give His children opportunities to share Christ so that they can bring friends with them to be with Him in Heaven.
My wife and I have been married for 12 years. We dated for a year and a half before getting engaged, which lasted one full year — so technically, my wife and I have been an item for 14 years. Nonetheless, we celebrated 12 happy years of marriage this re-ast weekend and in turn I thought I would trot out 12 nuggets of thusfar-wisdom about married life, specifically from a Christian perspective. Here goes:
Perhaps you have had a similar experience — you are sitting through an English or Art class and your classmates seem to intuitively grasp some deep meaning within a story of literature or work of art. Meanwhile, you are looking at the cover of the book or straining with a puzzled gaze at the work of art thinking, “Is there really some deeper meaning in all of this?”
Well, two teenagers in San Francisco decided to call BS on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this past month. Having walked through the exhibit of puzzling items that were cleverly displayed as “modern art” the teenagers “looked at it and we were like, ‘This is pretty easy. We could make this ourselves.’” The two teenagers found a blank wall with open space and decided to place a pair of eye glasses on the ground.
Rather than stand around to form the first crowd, the teenagers walked away to observe from a distance. Within three minutes museum patrons took note of the glasses and began openly admiring the work of “art” by taking pictures and launching into deep discussions about the meaning of life, beauty, and reality.
This incident illustrates many things. So allow me to be meta here and draw meaning from the act of people drawing meaning from something that was, by design, meant to be meaningless.
As a double Baylor alumnus I have been disheartened at the recent news and information concerning my alma mater. That university officials would systematically permit sexual abuse in order to maintain a favorable public image for a winning football program is evil. And yet, having grown up in football-crazed Texas, I am sad to say that I am not entirely shocked that this occurred. Perhaps this is the most disheartening reality of all.
I remember attending a parent-player meeting for my high school athletics program where a department official discussed consequences for illegal and immoral behavior during the upcoming calendar year. As the official read from a printed handout, the list went something like this: Theft would result in automatic suspension from team membership. Marijuana use would result in automatic suspension from team membership. Alcohol use would result in a one game suspension from team membership.
I remember nudging my dad at this statement and mouthing the words, “Can you believe this?” He shushed me and told me get real. After all, he said, high school students were going to be drinking and I needed to check into reality and not be so legalistic.
I remember thinking at that time that this was an egregious act of cowardice on the part of the athletic department, because it indicated something of a law outside of the law for high school athletics. My experience in the upcoming seasons of athletics only served to bear out this reality. Simply put, if you were a stud athlete, you could break certain rules, by which other non-stud athletes had to abide.
I wish that high school athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do. I wish that college athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do. Heck, I wish that professional athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do.
So that brings us back to Baylor. What exact lessons should we be taking away from the findings of Pepper Hamilton? Here are a few from my perspective:
Growing up I loved watching epic hero films. I loved them so much that I would inevitably adopt the culture and lifestyle of the heroes and live it out in my daily life. When I first saw Superman I decided to wear my red caped pajamas to school for remainder of the school week. I dyed myself green after watching The Incredible Hulk because I wanted to be like Lou Ferrigno. I only ate pizza after seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I only wore underwear after seeing Masters of The Universe. In short, I entered into discipleship after these heroes.
Recently my daughter has begun to demonstrate this same adoption of culture and lifestyle. Only, it is not with superheroes — it is with Netflix-type shows. My wife has been watching Call The Midwife, a PBS period drama about obstetrical care in the 1960s in England. My daughter has occasionally walked in and asked what is happening on the television and so my wife explained as best she could that these women are pregnant and that these nurses are helping to deliver the baby. So, it came as no surprise that we found our daughter delivering small dolls from the stomach of her much larger teddy bear. Last night I swear I heard her yell out, “Oh no, the baby is in breach position.” My daughter also loves watching Dancing With The Stars. Soon she began mimicking the routines in her bedroom and then begging us to give her scores for her routine. But her favorite show is Fixer Upper. Shortly after watching the first season for third time we found our daughter yelling out “Demo Day” before banging on her bedroom walls. Afterwards, she came into our living room and said, “Are you ready to see your Fixer Upper?” before rolling back an invisible canvas in reveal of her remodel. And if we don’t begin crying and screaming, “Oh my goodness!” our daughter will instruct us to do so as it is in keeping with the tone of the show.
In reflecting on this humorous facet of parenthood, I began asking myself an important question: Why does my daughter imitate these shows in such precise detail with little to no apparent struggle? No one instructed her to obey the shows. No one told her that there were rules to follow. No one demanded that she work on her strict obedience to the shows. And yet I see her intuitively becoming a young disciple of Chip and JoJo.
People who tend to talk about the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, tend to emphasize three important things (teaching the Bible, going, and making disciples) and yet tend to miss one important thing — obedience to Jesus is the outcome of The Great Commission and the metric that Jesus’ gives for Christians to evaluate the effectiveness of their own personal ministries. Yes Jesus wants Christians to make disciples, and yes disciple making will entail going to places, baptizing people, and teaching the Bible. But obedience and life change is the metric for evaluating this.
So why is it that we might de-emphasize this key component of Matthew 28? Perhaps it is because obedience sounds so…well…old school. Obedience feels like the proverbial older deacon in the church who is yelling at us to slow down. There doesn’t seem to be any fun in obedience. We prefer focusing on fun things like teaching and going and the like.
But obedience is still a component of discipleship no matter how we feel about it. So is there a vision for embracing a joyful side of obedience?
Thomas à Kempis was a Dutch Catholic priest most notable for his work, The Imitation of Christ. The goal of this book, and the educational program that sprung from his book, was to train people in obeying Jesus through imitating everything Jesus did. Thomas discovered that imitation is like the sugar that helps the medicine of obedience go down with much less struggle.
What disciple-makers like Thomas have discovered is that obedience is inherent in imitation. When we strive to imitate someone we learn to obey, not out of dry obligation, but out of the joy before us. I became obedient to the Ninja Turtle way because of the joy of imitating their ways. My daughter is obedient to Chip and JoJo out of the joy of imitating their ways. Likewise, Jesus understood that if we can become enthralled with Jesus, we will begin to imitate Him in all things. And this imitation will involve obedience to everything He taught.
Imitation, then, is the vision for obedience to Jesus in discipleship. Imitation, then, puts all of scripture into a workable paradigm. Jesus’s teaching on loving our enemies, for example, not only makes philosophical sense as a teaching, but it becomes a way of life that we see Jesus living out. And we love our enemies out of imitation of Jesus. Likewise, Jesus’ teaching on not being anxious makes theological sense, but it also becomes a lifestyle imitation precisely because we see Jesus not being anxious.
So today, if you are someone who is struggling with obedience in a particular area, can I encourage you to stop trying to obey (in a dry, rigid, rule following manner). Instead, can I encourage you to spend your efforts reading the Bible to catch a vision about how Jesus is living then focus your efforts on imitating Him in that area?
Discipleship is not about following rules, it is about following Jesus. Discipleship is meant to feel like binge watching a Netflix show about the King of Kings and then immediately going to imitate Him in all things.
In this sermon I looked to 1 Peter 4:19 and hoped that we see that sometimes God permits suffering so that as we grab onto Jesus, we communicate to the World that God is good.
My buddy Amine texted me in a panic yesterday to tell me about Prince dying. I thought it was a morbid joke (because Amine likes to set me up for his clever bits of comedy). I expected the texts to keep coming — which they did — “God is weeping tears of purple rain. Doves are crying. He is driving his little red corvette in heaven.”
But no, Prince is dead. And with that news another great icon from the 1980s has passed away joining Sir Alan Rickman, David Bowie, and others. While reading the news coverage, I stumbled upon this BBC news commentary piece that asks, “Why are so many celebrities dying in 2016?”
I clicked on the article to discover the type of answer the BBC provided. In a sociologically descriptive manner, the BBC writer sees so many celebrities dying in 2016 because they are aging out. In other words, it is the normal wear and tear of the human life. Those stars who were born in the 50s and 60s, who came to fame in the 80s, are now becoming 60 and 70 years of age and settling into the natural and normal bell curve of the human experience. So, in summary, celebrities are dying because of the math of aging.
I found this to be a cold approach to the question because it failed to address the question people are really asking.
But, why must people die?
In other words, how has science or living well or dieting or technology not helped us to extend or even avoid this process of death and dying? This is the real question that I suspect many people are wrestling with today. In fact, it is what philosophers understand to be one of the four great worldview shaping questions:
The last two questions are inextricably linked, for as a person concludes the ultimate absolute truth and reality of death they will also begin to formulate a purpose for living. If there is no afterlife and death means finality then the purpose of life is merely to have as much fun and to try to be as happy as possible, no matter how fleeting happiness is. That is how some people answer the latter two questions. Others agree with the finality of death, but hold that this life’s purpose is to live in harmony with fellow human beings as much as it is possible. Still others hold to the purpose statement that calculates a balance between pursuing the maximum amount of selfish happiness while not trying to harm other human beings. These thinkers may not be aware that their calculations are attempting to construct a moral reality without the consequence of judgement in an afterlife. This is thorny calculus.
Some groups postulate that a form of afterlife does indeed exist and that there will be a moral reckoning of the present life in this afterlife. Almost every prominent world religion, for example, proposes just such a scenario, leaving religious followers to conclude that this life is meant to be one of living a morality tied to a religious code. Christianity, as a preferred example, teaches that God will judge all human beings first by how they responded to the good news of His Son, Jesus and secondarily, by how those who believed in Jesus for salvation lived in obedience to the teachings and commands of Jesus.
Interestingly, Christianity teaches that if you believe in Jesus you will have an abundant life. This abundant life is both in the present life as well as in the eternal life and these two lives are in continuity with one another because of the power of Jesus. It also teaches that living in obedience to Jesus’ commands will bring maximum joy in this life while also maximizing your ability to love all humans around you. In other words, Jesus provides the way for humans to be happy without sacrificing doing good towards fellow mankind. It is the best of both worlds on a temporal and spiritual level.
Which returns us to the question at hand — Why are so many people dying. I think this is a helpful question to consider from time to time, including times like today, for life assessment reasons. If the Bible is not true, then morality is a manmade construct and there is no consequence for living selfishly, other than trying to live in some type of harmony with fellow human beings. If you can make a lot of money, then you can buffer yourself from normal consequences and do whatever makes you happy in a consequence free environment. And when you die, you die. End of the game.
However, if the Bible is true then both this life and the afterlife matter. And, if your aim is to live at harmony with humans while maximizing your own joy in life, then it seems reasonable to consider Jesus and His teachings.
In this sermon, I tried to help our church family see that suffering is essential to the development of Biblical hope in Jesus. As Paul lays it out in Romans 5, if someone is walking in shame, then God’s plan for them is to enter into suffering in Christ to produce hope.