A Disturbing Image

The other day I was in Cleveland, OH on business.  As we entered the downtown area in our taxi we were confronted with a large billboard with a disturbing image.  One of Nike’s hot endorsement deals is with LeBron James, the star player for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.  This billboard is a celebration of LeBron’s MVP season last year.

The text on the billboard is “We are all witnesses.”  Having just used Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 as a sermon text last Sunday, these words were very familiar, and LeBron’s pose has a disturbing similarity to what Peter refers to himself and the others of the twelve apostles having witnessed.

The outstretched arms and the face turned toward heaven bears an eerie similarity to Jesus’ posture on the cross, and the choice of words could not have been accidental either, a word for word quote of how the English Standard Version renders Acts 2:32 “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.”  This is a stark reminder of the nature and objects of worship in our culture today, as well as our culture’s poor use of words and concepts like “Savior.”

I am an alien

Although I’ve intellectually grasped the idea that we as Christians are alien to this world we inhabit, the past few days have unexpectedly brought that reality home to me. The inauguration of President Obama has brought with it a great deal of talk about new hope and optimism. He is a new, fresh voice in our nation’s political life. But there is a subtext that accompanies all this that has made me aware of how little I have in common with the worldview of those whose hope is in Obama (or any other man).

Nothing fundamental has changed about the nature of hope or its availability in this present world. Man on his own is without hope no matter who occupies the White House or any other seat of leadership. Our only hope is in Christ and our real citizenship is in heaven through him.

While this is a milestone in the history of our country, and it is good to be a citizen of a country that has taken such an important symbolic step in the equality of all, it has little significance from an eternal perspective. My hope is in my citizenship in the home to which I long to go and the King who rules both there and here.

What are we and why are we here?

I’m referring to us “the Church.”  There are lots of people across the whole spectrum of our culture asking these kinds of questions…including me.  The Anglicans, and others, are struggling with big issues like “Can we be a Biblical church and include homosexuals as priests, bishops, and in other leadership roles?”  The Willow Creek Church in Chicago is wrestling with data that indicates that they have led people to the table of the Lord, but not taught them how to eat for themselves, leaving many as unweaned baby Christians starving for more nourishment than milk can provide.

See my friend Bethany Mendenhall’s posts on the Willow Creek thing here and here at Where the Grey Lives for the kinds of questions we should be asking about this whole thing.

Matthew 28:16-20 could hardly be clearer in what we are supposed to be doing.  Making disciples doesn’t involve our selling the Gospel or closing the deal or any other kind of marketing-speak.  That stuff is the Holy Spirit’s job.  Our job, as Bethany rightly says, is to live the Kingdom; to be disciples so we can make disciples.  That means knowing what Jesus told us so we can teach it to others in our words and our actions.

That probably, no – that definitely means church, and Christians individually, should look a lot different that it does today in most places and people.  Maybe devoting ourselves to the word and to prayer will lead to a more communal lifestyle like it did is 1st Century Jerusalem…I don’t know.  I’m not sure that is the point anyway.  The real point is to devote ourselves to the Mission, to the word, and to prayer and see where the Spirit takes us.

The Inconvenient Truth

I have not seen Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” but I have heard much about it. In my profession as a architect, sustainable design is one of the key issues of the day, and there are those who are passionate about sustainability mainly because they are fully bought in to the reality of global warming. In this political season, the global warming issue will certainly be a topic of debate. In case it isn’t obvious, the main reason for global warming, according to its evangelists (and they have all the characteristics that make that word an appropriate label), is us. We are destroying the planet, and have been since the early days of the Industrial Revolution. Taken to its extreme, this argument make us humans parasites on what would be an otherwise pristine paradise. There are several thoughts I have on this whole topic from the vantage point of my Christian worldview.

First let me set the stage for my comments. It is undeniable that there is a global warming trend. The metrics on this are clear. What is less clear to me is that there is scientific consensus on the cause or the long term affects. There is a shrillness in the denunciations of scientists who raise questions about the conclusions that have been reached by those in Mr. Gore’s camp that makes me suspicious. In regard to moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, I am all for that. We human beings, particularly in the industrialized world have been gluttons of resources, often to an obscene degree, and that goes against one of the primary reasons for man’s existence on the earth. More about that in a moment. The main point for me is logic; why use more just because we can when less will do?

So what should we who hold a Christian worldview think about this issue? Does the Bible have anything to say about this? I think so. First of all, after we humans were created to have fellowship with God, we were assigned the task of being stewards of God’s creation. Being a steward means caring for something on behalf of another as if it were your own. My view is that God did not relieve us from this responsibility when he cast man out of the garden after the Fall. If we do not care for the creation responsibly, we are failing in what was the original responsibility of mankind. Moving toward conserving and living sustainable lifestyles are not really optional; we all need to do this as quickly as is practically possible.

On the assertion made by the most radical proponents in the the global warming camp that man is a parasitic being, I think Christians can firmly disagree. God created us to live here. We have been here from the beginning and as His stewards of creation are a very important part of how he made the world to work. Have we modern men done a bad job? Absolutely, but to say that the world would have been better without us is a pointless statement. First of all, how could we know this for certain? It is equally likely that things might be much worse without us here. As a practical matter, we are here for good or ill, and we have to deal with that as a fact. If we will see our role as the stewards God made us to be, and view our stewardship as service and worship to Him I think we might make different decisions than we have made in the past.

Finally, the whole question of when the trouble really started and what caused it. Gore and those who support his view of things generally point to the Industrial Revolution as the time when things began to go wrong. But the Bible tells us that things went bad way before that. Genesis 3:17 says that the world we know today is not the same as it was created to be, and that we are responsible for that. After man’s sin in Adam, God cursed the ground because of us. So THE Inconvenient Truth is that we are more responsible for the mess the world is in, not just environmentally, that Mr. Gore and others are willing to acknowledge.

So yes, conserve, be sustainable. We might be able to fix some of the environmental problems, but the bigger problems will not be solved by better science, or anything else we can do. Fixing and protecting the environment as best we can is the right thing to do, but in the big theme of things it’s the equivalent of rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs while the ship sinks. We have to rely on and accept the solution to the bigger problems that God himself has provided…salvation through faith in Christ.

Dancing on the Edges of the Cultural Abyss

One of the big news items of the past few days has been the debate in the US Senate over the proposed Constitutional amendment defining marriage. There has been a lot of noise about how the senators took the chicken way out by killing the issue before they would have to declare themselves in a specific vote. There has been an equal amount of noise labeling those in favor of defining marriage “traditionally” as being between one man and one woman as bigots, homophobes, etc. Shrill voices on both sides. Angry name-calling and lots of angst have been stirred up by this issue.

Just to be clear, I believe that one man and one woman is the absolutely right formula for marriage as defined by our Creator. But I see all the energy exerted to decry views on both sides as dancing around the edges of the real abyss. This issue, along with many others that the current evangelical culture seems willing to go to its death over, is peripheral to the real core issue. What we are facing is a clash of worldviews, and it’s even more basic than the debate over the truth or falsehood of Christianity that is raging, most recently as a result of the DaVinci Code book and movie. The first issue is whether God exists or not; the real fundamental argument is between the theistic and the non-theistic worldview, and this is the essential abyss that separates the sides on all these questions.

What all this boils down to is whether there is any source of absolute right and wrong. It is the root of the epistemological question post-modernism raises: is there truth and is it knowable. Until we address this fundamental issue, all we are doing on the issues of gay rights (including the definition of marriage), abortion, faith in the public square, etc. is shouting at each other across the barricades. There can be no real, meaningful debate, because we aren’t even agreed on the terms we use. Truth, right, and wrong mean different things to the two sides, so even though we think we’re having meaningful discussions, they are meaningless, as if one person is speaking English and the other an obscure tribal dialect from the deep Amazon jungle.

Until we in the evangelical Christian culture wake up to this and make the attempt to get at the real issue of whether and who God is in our culture we will continue to shout meaningless threats across the barricades, dancing on the edges, rather than begin the long, hard work of breaking them down and using the pieces to build a bridge across the abyss.

"Mommy, what happened to Aslan?"

Since we were both off work this past week, my wife and I finally went to see the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” the other day. Since it has been out for a few weeks, the theater was not packed, but a high percentage of the audience was families with children ranging in age from4 or5 to preteen. Sitting immediately around us were two families with kids in this age range. As kids will do when watching something they don’t fully understand, the younger ones were asking questions about the action as the movie went on.

It occurred to me as we were leaving the theater that there were questions this movie raised that a parent would find pretty difficult to answer for themselves without an understanding of Christ and the cross. I’m thinking in particular of the scene in which Aslan goes to the Stone Table willingly in place of Edmund. He is ridiculed, his mane is shaved, he is beaten, bound, and dragged to the altar. The White Witch gleefully delivers the deathblow and declares victory. As she and her evil minions go off to what they believe will be the final defeat of the army of Aslan, the scene quiets and Lucy and Susan come to altar to say goodbye to their fallen hero.

It’s at this point where one could imagine a child asking the question I have used as the title of this post. How does a parent explain laying down one’s life for another from the perspective of today’s culture? Then, what does a parent do with what happens after as Aslan is raised to life again in subsequent scenes?

For many children, the standard “It’s just a story, sweetie” answer may be satisfactory, but if tales like this do anything for us, they raise questions of deeper meaning. I hope this question will nag at parents who do not accept or understand, or even know about what Christ did for us on the cross, something that C. S. Lewis surely had in mind as he penned this story fifty-plus years ago.

And for us Christians, what a wonderful opportunity to help our children understand the story of Jesus and the cross. While it is an imperfect analogy, as all analogies ultimately are, when one of our kids asks about what Aslan did and what happened to him, we can use this as an opportunity to tell them how it compares with what Jesus did for each of us.

Of course, the other parallel in the story is plain to those of us who have believed in and accepted the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. We can all say, without hesitation, “I am Edmund.”

"Soylent Green is People!"

Dr. Albert Mohler’s blog today talked about the ripening fruit of relativism in American society today. The main illustration he uses is our attitude toward life and death as borne out in abortion and euthanasia.

As I read the essay, a couple of sci-fi movies came to mind. While we may not be to the point where we can see the Soylent Green scenario on the horizon, there is an aspect of that story that seems more possible by the day. It ties that story to the story in the movie Logan’s Run.

Science fiction is all about looking into the future to what might be possible. While the specifics are often different than the stories, it is eerie how successful some of the writers have been at seeing the future. Laser weapons, particle beam weapons (ray guns) are being seriously studied. Hand held computers, communicators, etc. are common. But it is in the developments in societal attitudes as shown in these two films that is truly frightening.

While the cannibalism of the Soylent Green scenario still seems too evil for our relativistic society, the treatment of the “raw material” group is not that far removed from today. Recall that the raw material for the product came from the elderly and infirm. The only difference between this story and Logan’s Run is the age of the victims.

Logan’s Run required all people over 30 to come to “Carousel.” This was billed as a beautiful release to some heavenly state, but it was in reality forced euthanasia or suicide for the purpose of population control. Mohler’s reference to a person’s “responsibility to die,” quoting some unnamed source is eerily akin to this concept.

As Christians in this culture, we must be firm in our biblically based convictions on the sanctity of life. We must speak clearly and unashamedly about man’s creation in the image of God and the intrinsic value that gives each person’s life, no matter their age or condition. We must speak about the respect due our elderly and our responsibility to protect the young.

We must continue to shine this light in an ever darkening world. The lives of many, both eternal and temporal, depend on it.

The Moral Vacuum

Good Morning, America ran a story today, following up on an article in the May 30 New York Times Sunday Magazine, that made me shudder at its implications. The title of the Times article was “Friends, Friends With Benefits and the Benefits of the Local Mall” by Benoit Denizet-Lewis. This article was based on interviews with a group of teens ranging from 14 (!!!) to 18. They talked openly with the reporter about the concept of “Friends with Benefits,” which essentially means sex pals. The range of how far they go is wide, from light necking to full intercourse, but the most tragic part of the whole story is their attitude toward these relationships.

The fundamental behind it all, and what disturbs me the most, is that they don’t see this behavior as morally aberrant. One 14 year old girl, who was apparently trying to be chaste, said that the fact that she has been dating a guy for a couple of months and have not kissed yet is viewed as weird even by her mother.

Do role models matter? The mother in the previous paragraph clearly doesn’t care about what she communicates to her kid. But the role model issue goes deeper. Remember Mr. Clinton’s statements that said oral sex was not really sex? Well these kids have heeded this statement, in fact even quoting the idea to the reporter in the interview.

Our country, and yes our churches, are in the midst of an escalating crisis. The logical consequences of our pluralistic, post-modern culture are coming to maturity. The lines are being drawn more and more clearly between the morality that arises from a Christian world view and that which results from the post-modern. We, as believers in Christ, as his body in the material world, must take an overt, courageous stand for what the revealed word of God says about these things. Unless we do, and soon, we will lose yet another generation.

This is at the heart of the Great Commission.