“Mere Apologetics” – Alister E. McGrath

Apologetics is not a set of techniques for winning people to Christ. It is not a set of argumentative templates designed to win debates. It is a willingness to work with God in helping people discover and turn to his glory.

Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics

I really dislike analogies that every teacher uses and everyone has heard a dozen times, but I’m going to use one now. I’m sorry. (Not really. If you’re bothered, get over it.)

Do you know how federal agents learn to identify counterfeit bills? What they don’t do is spend countless hours studying the intricate differences in the counterfeit bills. Those differences could be almost infinite, and it would be impossible to memorize all of them. What they actually do is spend hour upon hour studying every intricate detail of the real bills, learning every line, curve, image and shade, so that when they run into a fake they see the differences in that bill from the one they already know so well.

That’s a little like what apologetics is. It is the ability to point out truth in a world filled with counterfeits. It’s highlighting the brightness of glory of God to a dark world. It requires that we know two things. First and foremost is knowing what it is that we are highlighting. It’s understanding the truth of God, especially as He is revealed to us in the Bible. The second is knowing who we are revealing Him to—understanding the audience we are speaking to and giving an understandable and well-suited message of truth to them.

The task of the apologist is not to make the Christian faith attractive or relevant to the world. Rather, we are called on to help people appreciate and discover its power, relevance, and persuasiveness.

Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics

Apologetics is something that every believer is called to. Talking about, and especially defending, our faith isn’t easy though. It’s intimidating, it makes us afraid of the reactions we may get, and its pretty easy for us to avoid. Nevertheless, it is an essential piece of our Christian mission,  and it’s one that we need to train ourselves on.

Mere Apologetics is a good place to start. Alister McGrath is one of the great minds of our generation, and this book is a great introduction to the topic. McGrath starts by laying the groundwork for what apologetics is, why its important, and how we should go about presenting our case in todays world. He then highlights examples of apologetics and approaches we can take to engage our world with the truth of the gospel. The ideas he lays out are extremely important, and the way he lays them out are simply put and very well stated.

Every generation believes it stands at a critical point in history.

Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics

Ultimately, learning apologetics is about teaching ourselves how to best communicate the truth that our faith is founded on to a world desperately in need of it. We need to be able to explain why we as Christians aren’t blind, ignorant, superstitious, anti-science, and delusional. That sounds harsh, but there are a lot of people that truly believe that we are (for example, the reaction to VP Mike Pence as the leader of the coronavirus response).

But the truth is that there are legitimate, intelligent, well-thought-out reasons to believe what we believe. There’s even science that backs up what we believe. In order to engage with people that don’t understand, we need to be willing and prepared. The Holy Spirit will take it from there.

I pray that we would be willing and prepared to fulfill the mission we have been put on.

Apologetics is to be seen not as a defensive and hostile reaction against the world, but as a welcome opportunity to exhibit, celebrate, and display the treasure chest of the Christian faith.

Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics

Echo

Today I am going to highlight the single greatest problem plaguing us in the United States and give the solution that will save us all.

The problem is, because of the problem, no one that needs to hear the message will hear it. Drat.

Also, I DEFINITELY am not guilty of this AT ALL!

<late warning: this post may contain sarcasm>

The issue at hand: confirmation bias.

Definition: the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.

If this isn’t the greatest problem plaguing us right now, it’s definitely towards the top. The idea is this: we have certain set beliefs and ideas, and instead of open-mindedly examining new evidence in order to reach new and better conclusions, we only seek out and accept information that backs up what we already believe, or we interpret new information in a way that backs up what we already want to think.

Lets look at the current COVID-19 crisis. By a vast and dramatic margin, polls are showing that the public’s perception of how dangerous the coronavirus is and how our leaders are responding to the crisis is split by political party. Just to clarify: political ideology has nothing to do with virology, but for some reason it often defines our views on the virus. If you are a Democrat you almost certainly hate how President Trump has led the national response, you are very likely to have a great deal of concern about infection, and you will tend to believe the stay-at-home orders should continue for significantly longer. If you are a Republican you likely view the President’s response very positively, you likely have little concern about infection, and you thought the stay-at-home orders should have been lifted about 20 minutes after they were ordered.

Social media is a particularly rank petri dish for confirmation bias, and the ‘rona is again highlighting our confirmation bias. Those who are conservative and are highly skeptical of media and government in general are posting conspiracy theories about how the government is creating the crisis, beliefs that the media is inflaming a non-situation, and other “proof” posts like the video of a scientist claiming Dr. Fauci led a cabal that ran her out for blowing the whistle on their black-magic science, despite the fact that 5 minutes with Google can show that her claims have more holes in them than my daughters sweatshirt after it was left by the dog’s kennel for a day. On the other hand, my liberal friends are filling their feeds with posts say “AHHHH WEAR UR MASKS EVRYWHR OR WUR ALL GUNNA DIEYYYYYYYY!!!!!”

Listen, we’re all free to believe what we think is best, and we are all called to be loving and considerate of others (a rule that applies to social media as much as the rest of life). We are free to encourage others and try to get others to see our views and beliefs in a way that is respectful. And others are free to continue to disagree and act on their beliefs. We can discuss and disagree in a respectful and even loving way if we are simply willing to have a little humility and listen to one another.

The key to confirmation bias is this: if we are going to live our lives in an echo chamber, only surrounding ourselves with people and information that will validate what we already want to think, we’re aren’t going to know the truth, and the truth is what we are called to as believers. Throughout scriptures truth and light are tied together, and falsehoods and lies are tied with the darkness. And, as much as we may want to believe it, no political party or single group has the market cornered on truth, so a personal evaluation for you might be whether or not you find yourself in agreement at- or near-100% of the time with any one group or person (except me; its good to always agree with me).

Conservatives-look at news from someone besides Fox News and One America News occasionally. Liberals, take a peak at the Drudge Report from time to time (I won’t turn you in). Listen to some alternate viewpoints, vet your sources, and find reliable sources for information (SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT A RELIABLE SOURCE!!!).

Have a healthy level of skepticism on everything. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into an “all or nothing” belief system-just because you disagree on some things doesn’t mean you are rejecting everything (example: you can be a Republican and dislike Trump, and you can be a Democrat and support his COVID-19 response or other policies and actions). Learn to think critically and examine issues from multiple angles.

And, above all, don’t allow fear to drive you. The world is driven by power and control, and there is little that allows us to be controlled quite as well as fear. But we who are in Christ have nothing to fear, because our hope is in eternity, and there is nothing that this world can throw at us that can change that.

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

-2 Timothy 1:8

“The Confessions” – Augustine

Thou owest men nothing, yet payest out to them as if in debt to thy creature, and when thou dost cancel debts thou losest nothing thereby.

Augustine, The Confessions

There are some things that I feel are out of my league, beyond anything I should mess with. One such thing is writing on “The Confessions”.

Augustine of Hippo (or Saint Augustine) is a pillar of the Christian Church. Born in 345 AD in what is now Algeria, Augustine eventually took on the role of Bishop of Hippo, an important center of the early church in North Africa. 

Augustine’s life and ministry were surrounded by other great names in the early church, but none have had the impact for 1,600 years that Augustine has had. His theology and philosophy on God, human nature, and the church are foundational to theology today.

The Confessions isn’t a theology book (exactly…). It’s often seen as secondary to his book, The City Of God. But The Confessions is powerfully personal, because the book is, essentially, his autobiography. More than just Augustine telling his life story, it is his processing his own life from a theological and philosophical perspective: how, and why, did he do what he did, make the choices he did, and go the direction that he went?

WAIT!!!! Don’t give up on it yet!

Augustine was brilliant, incredibly self-reflective, and brutally honest. And his story is so relatable to anything we see and experience today that I think everyone can identify with it.

…I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error — not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.

Augustine, The Confessions

Augustine wasn’t supposed to be a bishop, or even a priest…at least that’s what his dad would have said. He was raised to be an intellectual, to go to school and become someone important (and, more importantly, rich). But, while his dad had big plans for his son, Augustine’s mother had a more simply hope—she wanted her son to follow Jesus. So she prayed that, and spoke that to him, constantly.

But Augustine didn’t grow up a believer. He didn’t become a believer as a teen, or as a young adult. It wasn’t until Augustine was 31 that he became a follower of Christ, having finally been convinced through study and reason and logic, and a mighty work of the Holy Spirit on a very stubborn soul, of something that he had always known but avoided and personally rejected; that Jesus Christ was the true son of God.

In between his childhood and his conversion, Augustine did what people like him do. He searched, he learned, he experimented. He looked for truth, and pleasure, and joy. He studied philosophers, alternative religions, new and different teachings, all trying to figure out what was true and real.

He also lived a lifestyle that his mother would not have approved of. He slept around, he got into trouble, he drank. In other words, he lived like most people live today. He did want he wanted, chasing after pleasure and happiness.

The difference was, he later looked back and asked the question, “why?” Why did he do what he did?

One very famous story from The Confessions highlights a great deal of not only Augustine’s thinking, but human nature in general. One day, as a teen, he and some friends were tearing around town, as teen boys do. They snuck into someones back yard and found a pear tree, and they took all the pears off of the tree and ran away. However, they knew the pears weren’t any good for eating, so they snuck them off and threw them to the hogs.

But again, the interesting part is the “why” that Augustine explores. He did it because he knew it was wrong; he enjoyed the rebellion, the thrill of doing something that he knew could get him in trouble.

..I was roused to a desire for wisdom. And here I was, still postponing the abandonment of this world’s happiness to devote myself to the search. For not just the finding alone, but also the bare search for it, ought to have been preferred above the treasures and kingdoms of this world; better than all bodily pleasures, though they were to be had for the taking. But, wretched youth that I was—supremely wretched even in the very outset of my youth—I had entreated chastity of thee and had prayed, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” For I was afraid lest thou shouldst hear me too soon, and too soon cure me of my disease of lust which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished.

Augustine, The Confessions

We all went through a phase like that, and many of us still probably can admit that we sometimes do the same thing. But Augustine digs deeper into the human condition and identifies a couple of things. One is that humans have a propensity towards evil; we will do evil just for evil’s sake. We don’t need any motivation beyond the fact that we want to do what is wrong; they knew they didn’t want to eat the pears, they just wanted to steal. Beyond the desire to do evil is evil that is set in our hearts; we are depraved, naturally prone to sin almost constantly. It is set in human nature in general and in each of us individually.

We are all sinners, by nature and by choice, but God’s Word can have an impact on us, just as it did on Augustine. He was never perfect, he still made mistakes, but one day he sat on a bench in a garden and finally gave over his very selfish heart to the God who had been waiting for it.

And that is a story that, I pray, we can all identify with.

What is it that shineth through me and striketh my heart without injury, so that I both shudder and burn? I shudder because I am unlike it; I burn because I am like it. It is Wisdom itself that shineth through me, clearing away my fog, which so readily overwhelms me so that I faint in it, in the darkness and burden of my punishment. For my strength is brought down in neediness, so that I cannot endure even my blessings until thou, O Lord, who hast been gracious to all my iniquities, also healest all my infirmities–for it is thou who “shalt redeem my life from corruption, and crown me with loving-kindness and tender mercy, and shalt satisfy my desire with good things so that my youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s.”[427] For by this hope we are saved, and through patience we await thy promises. Let him that is able hear thee speaking to his inner mind. I will cry out with confidence because of thy own oracle, “How wonderful are thy works, O Lord; in wisdm thou hast made them all.”[428] And this Wisdom is the Beginning, and in that Beginning thou hast made heaven and earth.

Augustine, The Confessions
  • NOTE: There are many versions and translations of this book, including several that are more modern than the one I read and have quoted from. Shop around. It’s one of the great classics, you should have any trouble finding it.
    Or you could read it in the original Latin. Augustine was very good at Latin.

Get Real

Ok, serious post/rant. Buckle up buttercup.

In a recent sermon I made a statement that I imagined was taken 2 ways: it was ignored, or it was disagreed with. Maybe I’m wrong (it happened one other time…) but those seem to be the common thoughts on the subject. What I said was this: Christians who try to live their lives like everyone else are farther and farther away from the biblical model of a follower of Christ because our culture is falling further and further away from that biblical model.

I imagine that statement was taken those 2 ways for a reason. (I have to imagine because there were only 4 people in the room when I preached it to the camera) I think it was disagreed with because there is a portion of the church that wants to pretend that things aren’t changing that much or that quickly. Christians can be pretty good at insulating ourselves from reality sometimes. I think it was largely ignored because many Christians don’t want to change their behavior and stand out in the world because its inconvenient.

People who call themselves ‘Christian’ increasingly are confronted with some decisions on beliefs, and I think they boil down to one major question: is the Bible true? I have long argued that true Christians—which I define as someone that puts his or her trust in Jesus as Lord, believes in the Bible, and seeks to live its principles in his or her daily life—are already a small minority in the US (usually surveyed at around 3%-7%). If we believe the Bible is true, then that requires a life-response; for example, Jesus says if you love me you will obey what I command, so if we are not obeying Jesus then we do not love Jesus, he is not our Lord, and we are not going to heaven. That is a clear, direct biblical teaching that requires that our lives be different than they would otherwise be if we didn’t believe in the Bible.

But here is some of what Barna found in a nation-wide survey that was recently released:

  • More people (56%) are sure Satan exists than are sure God exists (49%).
  • More people believe Jesus sinned (44%) than believe that Jesus was sinless (41%).
    • This is significant because without his sinlessness Jesus’ death has no redemptive value.
  • ~43% of the nations is agnostic (God may exists but in unknowable), atheistic, polytheistic (there are multiple gods), pantheistic (we are all gods) or ‘new age’ (“‘God’ refers to the total realization of personal, human potential or a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach.”).
  • 45% of people who hold to basic Christian beliefs about God also believe that it is impossible to be certain that He exists.

There is a lot that can be theorized from this study, but my takeaway is this: we don’t care enough about the Bible. Most people’s beliefs in God, Satan, salvation, and morality have little connection to anything concrete. Faith has become what what was termed about a decade ago as “moralistic therapeutic deism.” For what its worth, that’s a nice phrase to learn and pull out when you want to impress someone.

Moralistic therapeutic deism essentially means this: a persons beliefs in God and right and wrong are whatever makes that person feel good. In other words, religion is convenience. 10 years ago this was focused on teenagers. Now, those teenagers are adults and that belief has spread. What a person “feels” is more important than what the Bible says.

I will grant that there are aspects of the Bible and theology that are widely disagreed on, but the majority of it is pretty clear and straightforward: love God, love others. Stay away from sin. Remain focused on eternity, and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ here and now. Because the nation as a whole now rejects the ideas of who God is, who Jesus is, what sin is and, maybe most importantly, whether or not the Bible is of any value.

But the Bible is God’s Word. In it we learn who God is, who Jesus is and what sin is. With it we can understand and receive salvation, live life as God has called us to, and see the future hope He has in store for us. Without it, we are left with our selfish wants and wishes and a religion based on “me-me-me.” God become a mirror, reflecting ourselves back at us so we can feel good about ourselves, and if we do that we’ll still be staring at ourselves as we walk through the gates of hell.

We must follow the Bible, and if we do we will look different than the world. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. It ok. It’s more than that…it’s good. Go ahead and embrace the weird.

“You’ll Get Through This” – Max Lucado

You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don’t be foolish or naïve. But don’t despair either. With God’s help you will get through this.

Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This

Sometimes I’m not very good at being compassionate. It isn’t who I am. I try, I have worked on it and, over the years, God has grown me, but it still isn’t my default. I’m more of a suck-it-up kind of guy.

But it’s important to remember where others are at, and where we are at ourselves, when difficulties and struggles come, and we all have difficulties and struggle from time to time. Marriage is hard and often painful. Finances can cause extraordinary stress. Things break: cars, houses, computers, bones. Nature happens: storms, tornados, earthquakes, viruses. People get sick. We get sick. Sometimes, loved ones die.

“Suck it up” doesn’t work when those things happen. Not for others, and not for ourselves. We need to grieve and process. Grief isn’t just something we do when someone dies, its something we do when we realize something has changed, when something we held onto is lost. And grief is complicated. It involves pain, anger, confusion, and denial.

When we are struggling, we need help. Counseling is good-no one should ever feel any shame or embarrassment for asking for help. Wisdom is also good. For myself, I look for people that have strengths where I have weaknesses, and I look to them for wisdom and counsel.

That is what led me to Max Lucado’s book You’ll Get Through This. Lucado’s writing is wise, gentle, compassionate, and full of the truth of scripture.

Compassion matters to God. This is the time for service, not self-centeredness. Cancel the pity party. Love the people God brings to you.

Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This

In You’ll Get Through This, Lucado uses the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis to speak to pain and suffering and how we can process our difficult times and come out the other side, a lesson we all need sometimes.

Different struggles bring out different thoughts, questions and emotions, but Lucado highlights scriptural and practical principles that apply to suffering across the board. Questions like, “where is God when I’m suffering,” “how can God allow this to happen,” and “will this ever end?”

Whether you are struggling through something now or not, this book is a good encouragement on how to approach difficult times and come through them stronger. It also serves as a good reminder that God is always in control, and the end result of every struggle will be future blessings.

God hasn’t forgotten you. Just the opposite. He has chosen to train you…Dismiss the notion that God does not see your struggle. On the contrary, God is fully engaged. He sees the needs of tomorrow and, accordingly, uses your circumstances to create the test of today.

Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This

Fear

Fear is a strange thing. Fear can come from a thing (a virus) or a lack of a thing (toilet paper?). It can because of knowledge (number of deaths from the virus) or lack of knowledge (when will there be toilet paper?). 

It can be something that we understand or it can be something we don’t even realize is there. Maybe most interestingly, it can manifest in either a retreat or an attack—what we sometimes call the “fight or flight” responses.

There are a lot of people right now (maybe even most people) that are dealing with fear. Some people are afraid of the virus. Some people are afraid of the economic impact of what is happening right now. Some are afraid of what is going to happen to family, friends and loved ones. Some are simply afraid of the fact that we don’t know what is going to happen in the coming weeks and months.

I’ve seen and have stories of how our fear is manifesting in our daily lives. Some are in hiding and terrified by what is or could be happening. Some are out and about, acting bold, while in their hearts they are dealing with a whole host of what-ifs that lead to fear and anxiety. Some are responding in anger, lashing out at others because of what they view as inconsiderate or dangerous.

On social media, with the lack of filter that is so prevalent, this is even more apparent. As I check my Twitter feed I see many posts ridiculing the response to coronavirus. Some are saying we are being far too lax in our collective approach. Others are saying we are being far too strict in our approach.

Regardless of our opinions on response and timing, there are a couple of concerns that I have. One is that some are allowing fear to control them. It becomes the driving force behind their decisions and their interactions, and this will lead to misery for those individuals and for anyone in their lives. 

A second concern of mine is that I am seeing what I will bluntly put as an increase in paranoia. There are more and more conspiracy theories flying around every day; how did the virus start, who is “controlling” it, what is its “purpose”, how is the government using this to control us and take away our freedom and guns and religious rights? A third of our nation believes that someone has a vaccine but is withholding it. People around the world are tearing down and burning 5G cell towers because…well, I don’t really know why. Cell phones cause viruses I guess? Ed Stetzer, who has been putting out invaluable resources for ministries and for Christians during the stay-at-home order time, recently published a wonderful article that I would recommend called, “On Christians Spreading Corona Conspiracies: Gullibility is not a Spiritual Gift”. (This is coming from the guy that was writing about UFOs a couple of posts ago…)

A final thought is this: in the midst of all of this, we have NOTHING TO FEAR!!! God is still in control! That hasn’t changed and it won’t change!

I like to play a game sometimes called, “What’s The Worst That Could Happen?” In the game you consider a situation and ask the question, “whats the worst that could happen?” It isn’t a complex game.

Lets say, right now, I contract coronavirus and, despite extraordinary odds given my age and health, I get very sick. I feel miserable for days, I’m hospitalized, then I die.

I have a wife and 2 small kids. We have family and loved ones, and I know they will be taken care of. This is a terrible situation for them, but God is still in control and they will make it through. As for me, I croak and the next moment, I wake up in heaven. That’s a win for me! So…worst case scenario, not so bad.

That may seem simplistic, and maybe even a bit offensive to some, but really that is the attitude the Bible lays out for us. Over and over again it tells us to not fear death, to trust in God, and keep our eyes fixed on the hope we have for eternity.

Seriously, it’s all over the place. Take a look at this list.

So, if I can be so bold as the play the role of angel for a moment, BE NOT AFRAID! Or, if I can use another callback to a previous post, DON’T PANIC! God’s got this. We’ll be ok. There may be some pain or heartache along the way, but there is immense joy in front of us. Stay on mission: love God, love others. Trust me, I read the end of the book: it all works out.

“The Knowledge of the Holy” – A.W. Tozer

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy book series is an interesting one. The author, Douglas Adams, was a brilliant and hilarious writer who referred to himself as a “radical atheist”. This viewpoint more than just spills, it pours into his writing. The Hitchhikers series is marked by Adams attempts to show the universe as huge, nonsensical, and almost entirely random. An example is Adam’s answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything: 42.

But, despite Adam’s best attempts, it would be impossible to write a story that is completely random and shows that nothing makes sense while still making it a story that anyone would read. Throughout the books there is a sense of destiny and a guiding hand; despite all the failures and ridiculous situations that arise, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect just keep plugging along through the universe, protected by their trusty towels and their guidebook stamped by the comforting motto, “Don’t Panic”.

Space is big. Like…really, really big. But the thing is, compared to God, it’s almost nothing at all. God made the universe. All of it, and everything in it. And that mammoth act of creation wasn’t an exhausting, herculean task. It simply was God being God.

The nature of the universe, and of the God behind it, is such that we can learn from it, and in learning from it we learn about God. Science and math have rules that are consistent (in fact, Adams makes a reference about math done in restaurants following different rules than math done outside of restaurants to further the ridiculousness of his story). Because those rules are consistent and unchanging, we can move towards understanding a creator-God that is also unchanging and consistent. But, no matter how much we gather from the world around us, we will never fully understand an infinite being like God. That is why Augustine made one of my favorite quotes:

If you understood him, it would not be God.

Augustine

While we can’t fully comprehend God and His immenseness, He has revealed Himself to us, through the world around us and through His divine, direct revelation found in the Bible. We have available to us many lifetimes worth of material to study who He is and how we can approach and relate to Him.

Many books have been written on the attributes of God, but few are as approachable, engaging and brilliant as Tozer’s classic The Knowledgee of the Holy. In this short book Tozer examines various aspects of who God is and how we can better understand Him.

The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid – that is the paradox of faith. 

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

On the one hand, its simple to have faith. We just believe, and we act on that belief. But at some point we have to ask the question, what is it that I believe in? I believe in God—great, even the demons believe in God. But the heart of sin is, at least on some level, a theological error. It is a belief in something about God that isn’t true. Satan believed that, as great as God was, Satan could be greater. Satan had too low of a view of God’s greatness. Adam and Eve believed that, as good as God was, there was more good things apart from Him. They had too low of a view of God’s goodness. And we do the same things, day in and day out. Our sin is rooted in false beliefs about God.

To battle the lies of sin, we need to take the time to consider the truth. Who God is; more than just a perfunctory, surface-level statement of “god”; is hugely important in our development as His children. Take the time to seek out the truth about our awesome, sovereign Lord and Savior.

Because man is born a rebel, he is unaware that he is one. His constant assertion of self, as far as he thinks of it at all, appears to him a perfectly normal things. He is willing to share himself, sometimes even to sacrifice himself for a desired end, but never to dethrone himself. No matter how far down the scale of social acceptance he may slide, he is still in his own eyes a king on a throne, and no one, not even God, can take that throne from him.

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

People, relationships, and the #FreeRideRoadtrip

In 2012 I did a thing. I hopped a one-way flight from St Paul to Albuquerque NM, spent a couple of days seeing the sights and shopping, bought a Harley, and rode Route 66 east. I spent about a week making my way through odd stops here and there, including the International UFO Museum, the Devil’s Rope Museum, the Cadillac Ranch, a YMCA t-ball game, an arena football game, the Mark Twain Museum, and the future birthplace of James Tiberius Kirk.

I called it the Free Ride Roadtrip. It was quite the experience.

For a week, I was traveling alone. It was great. I’m an introvert, so I recharge by being alone with my thoughts. But then something interesting started to happen. When I’d go to a restaurant, instead of sitting in a booth in the back by myself, I started sitting at tables in the middle of the room or next to the bar-places where people sit and talk. I started having random conversations with strangers. I had breakfast in Texas at the table next to a very large guy riding a very small motorcycle from California to Florida to see his daughter. I had a burger in Iowa City next to a business man that worked for the same company my wife used to work for and was in town to see his daughter, who was attending the University of Iowa. I even talked church and ministry with a Chick-fil-A employee that was interning at a church, then I happened to attend his church the next day, where he introduced me to the owners of the local Harley Davidson shop.

Those are a lot of personal details about strangers that I randomly met, from a guy that doesn’t like meeting strangers. But I had those experiences, and I met those people, because I found out that, despite my introvertedness, I still needed human contact (I was a little disappointed in myself for that…). Relationships are important.

We see that from the beginning of humanity. After creating Adam, God said:

It is not good that the man should be alone…

Genesis 2:18

We were created to be in relationships from the beginning. It is a necessary aspect of being human. This is reinforced by those strange stories of hermits, recluses and individuals who have been stranded alone. The stories and pictures of those types of people do not make you think, “wow, that is a well-adjusted, mentally healthy individual!” Ending up with a bloody volleyball you call “Wilson” might be one of the better-case scenarios.

We need each other. We need the social contact, the support, the ideas, the balance that we can bring to each other. I think people are understanding that better now than ever. Social isolation and stay-at-home orders are limiting our interactions with each other. When we do interact, those connects are becoming more important-I’ve had more, longer conversations on the street and during those limited times out and about in the last month than I think I’ve every had in the past. We are appreciating each other more and more.

The types of people we surround ourselves with makes an impact too. There is a reason that addicts and alcoholics are forced to change their lifestyles and relationships; those relationships aided them in going down a path that was not healthy, and in order to get off that path they need new relationships.

Thats why church is so important to believers. We need the positive support of like-minded people. We need others that understand the struggles and difficulties that we face and followers of Christ in a lost world. We need people that can point out when we are saying or doing something that isn’t right or good. We push each other forward in the mission God has us on, advancing His kingdom together and helping each other stay focused on the hope in front of us. The author of Hebrews says this:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25

We help each other hold onto the truth of the gospel, we remain focused on loving God and loving others, and we do that best by meeting together. That is church. And that is something that we are unable to do adequately right now.

Church online via livestream is what it is. It is the best we can do in a bad situation. But, it is no replacement for meeting together, supporting each other, loving each other face-to-face rather than face-to-screen.

This will pass, and it is my desperate prayer that more and more people will see the value of church fellowship, and that our churches will appreciate, and not take for granted, the full meaning of “fellowship”. It isn’t just coffee time. It is a time to sharpen each other, to love each other, to encourage and challenge each other. And I hope we come back to church and begin doing those things in earnest, on purpose, and for the glory of God.

“The Fisherman’s Tomb” – John O’Neill

When I was in junior high I had the opportunity to take one of the best trips of my life. My dad, my grandpa and I jumped in the car and drove to upstate New York where we spent a few days searching old library records and talking to people while we researched our family genealogy. After a lot of microfilm and census records, we ended up driving through little communities in the foothills of the Appalachians looking for certain landmarks related to our family history, leading us into the yard of a rural house. 

We were looking for was a small cemetery that we couldn’t seem to find. As we pulled into the driveway, the owner came out to greet us (and probably to figure out who the strange people with a Minnesota license plate were at his house). We asked if he could direct us to the cemetery, and his response wasn’t what we expected.

“Oh, sure. It’s in the back yard.”

Immediately behind his house, in an overgrown clearing bordered by woods, we found the cemetery (and my dad, grandpa and I all agreed we wouldn’t want to live in a house with a cemetery as a backyard). The most recent headstone we saw was over 100 years old. After a good amount of searching, we finally found a gravestone with the same last name as our ancestor, dated in the mid-19th century.

All of that made me think about what we do to be remembered. Here was an ancestor of mine from 150 years before me, and I can still know her name, who her family was, when she was born, and when she died. I couldn’t really learn anything substantive about her-what kind of food did she like? Was she outgoing or quiet? What was her life’s greatest achievement? This was all made more real when my grandpa passed away from cancer shortly after that trip. How would he be remembered? Now, 20 years later, I’m describing my grandpa to my little girls, telling them how much their Great Grandpa Warren would have loved them.

The more historically important (or rich) a person is, the more that is done to remember them. But time marches on, and much is lost-I sometimes wonder if I would still be able to find that little cemetery in the backyard today.

Sometimes, however, the past can be recovered and learned from. That is the theme behind the amazing story in the book The Fisherman’s Tomb. The book recounts the decades-long archeological and historical search for the apostle Peter’s tomb beneath the Vatican. Peter’s tomb, which had been hidden from the Roman’s in the first and second centuries, had been lost for the better part of 2000 years, until a series of event over the span of decades led to the archeological excavation of the Necropolis, an ancient cemetery that St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican had been built over, and the eventual recovery and identification of Peter’s remains.

The story revolves around popes, a series of Vatican officials fighting over political power, a ground-breaking woman that led the archeology, and a rich American oil tycoon that secretly financed the entire project. While the book is not the most well-written book you will every read, the story contained in it is one that is most certainly interesting and highly-engaging.

For me, a story like this raises a lot of questions: how do we remember great men and women of the past? Where is the balance between honoring a great leader of the church like Peter and not making too much of a mere human that God used in mighty ways? What do we make of building huge, ornate structures that point to the glory of God, but also cost extraordinary amounts of money, time and effort?

Some day I hope to visit the Vatican, and specifically the Necropolis. It takes a lot of planning ahead of time, but to be that surrounded by history seems staggering, especially for someone that lives in a state that is newer than almost anything found in the entire city!

I’m not Catholic (not even close), but I respect and appreciate the history and tradition of the Catholic church. This story helps remind us that there is a lot to be discovered, and learned, from history. The tenaciousness of those that pursued this hunt for the truth over the span of decades is admirable. I hope that every pursuit of truth is just as dogged.

Don’t be like “Attack of the Clones”

It’s amazing how our attitude affects a situation. We can go into something truly fantastic and be completely disappointed, or we can go into something absolutely awful and be pleasantly surprised, all based on our initial expectations and attitude.

Take the Star Wars movies for example. The original 3 were spectacular. Episodes 1-3 have some varied opinions attached to them. The most recent trilogy is widely criticized. Why? Because the 6 followup movies didn’t meet the expectations of the biggest fans of the first 3. None of the 6 sequels was bad (well…episode 2 isn’t great…), but when you show up to The Rise of Skywalker and expect it to be even better than Return of the Jedi, you are bound to be disappointed.

Now, to begin with, our quarantines, stay-at-home orders, and self-isolation are not good (they’re way worse than episode 2!). We miss connecting with friends and family members, we are missing out on trips and activities, and we are limited in our actions and activities. Its clear to me that some of my friends are already starting to go stir-crazy, and we aren’t half way through it yet!

But, if we choose to have a positive attitude we can see some good things come from it. Being at home with family gives us a chance at more quality time together. Having more time to fill allows us to get done with some projects, do some reading, and learn something new. Being away from certain things and certain people build a better sense of priorities and what is most important in our lives.

There are certain parts of our society that will be permanently changed by this pandemic. And that is a good thing. I think there will be even more people that work virtually from home. I think better plans will be put into place to help those in need during future crisis. And, I think the way we do church will be fundamentally changed forever. I also think the next wave of creators, inventors, entrepreneurs, and future leaders are hard at work right now, and we will see the fruits of their labors in the coming months and years. This event is a tragedy on many fronts, but there will be good in it as well.

The last part of the book of Genesis recounts the story of Joseph. Either Joseph had the worst set of brothers in the world, or he was a truly horrible brat of a little brother (or a combination of both), because the 10-on-1 sibling rivalry was so bad that the older brothers planned to kill him, and only the promise of making a few bucks by selling him as a slave changed their minds. This started Joseph down an up and (mostly) down path for the next several years, until he had risen to become the second most powerful man in the most powerful nation on the planet.

Joseph didn’t have a pandemic to deal with; he had a major, region-wide drought and famine. He had set the nation of Egypt to be secure, but outside of Egypt people were starving and dying. Joseph’s brothers made their way to Egypt to attempt to negotiate a trade in order to get some food for their very large family, but little did they know that the high official that they would have to deal with was the brother that they had sold to get rid of.

But Joseph had a different perspective: nothing happens outside of the power of God, and even evil can be used to bring about something good.

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…

-Genesis 50:20

We will get through this. There will be a day when we return to our daily lives, when our kids go back to school, when we go out to lunch at a restaurant, gather together again on Sunday mornings, and take our kids to play in the parks.

In the mean time, keep a positive attitude; look for the blessings, little and big, that God is giving to us even in these difficult times; and remember that He is alway in control.