The Greatest Tragedy

They called him the greatest.

I met him once. He was very involved where I went to Elementary school, and that is where I had the opportunity to challenge “The Greatest” to a fist fight. Continue reading

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Heaven IS For Real! (but not because a Toddler says so!)

With the release of a movie recently, many, many people are talking about Heaven. That’s a good thing, right?

Maybe.

Heaven Is For Real, a movie produced by mega-church pastor TD Jakes, and a book about a 4-year-old view who allegedly “visited Heaven” when he died on an operating table, has taken the nation by storm. Over and over, I have the same conversation. Someone will know that I’m a pastor and so must LOVE this enterprise, says, “I saw Heaven Is For Real last night. SUCH a good movie! I totally believe it!”

Then my face, which I imagine looks a bit like a boy being pinned down by his older sister and her friends for a “makeover,” launches us into a different discussion. Continue reading

4 Thoughts on the Ham/Nye Debate

Let me just put this out there:

I don’t know where my Christian beliefs and Science meet when it comes to the Origins of the world.

I know I am created. By God. I know that mankind is created in his image (by observation…see what I did there?), and I know that as such, he has authority over his creation. He is king. It’s that simple.

But how creation came about is another issue. That is what Ken Ham, CEO of Answers In Genesis, and Bill Nye (yes, they Science Guy) got together to debate tonight.

The debate did nothing to land me in either camp. Maybe I’l explore that here, along with the various ways Christians have offered to make sense of the apparent discrepencies that fueled tonight’s shindig. But here are a few thoughts I had surrounding the debate.

1. Presuppositions matter

I think this was Ham’s biggest point, and it may have gotten lost in some of the other noise. There is a certain amount of faith that comes with a naturalist position and that faith can be easily under-estimated. It is dishonest for Nye to stand up and say that his presuppositions that there is nothing supernatural simply because it can’t be tested and repeated doesn’t shape his frame of reference for research. No one is neutral.

At the same time, Ken Ham was asked point-blank if there was anything that could make him soften his stance on young-earth creation explanation of the world’s origins. His answer was no. His presuppositions that the Bible is trustworthy is the guiding frame through which he views the data we have available to us today.

So since they are both colored by presuppositions, does that mean neither can be right? Absolutely not.

Let’s not come to a false conclusion about presuppositions. Their presence does not eliminate the reality of truth. Someday, we will die and we will see (or not, I guess, if we just decompose and that’s it) which side of this debate is true. We will see if the Universe was created, or if it just “happened to come about” from natural processes. One side will be right. Or both will be wrong.

But they can’t both be right.

Therefore, we should examine the data and find a position we can passionately  defend. I’m not quite there yet, but that just means I have more work to do, not that both are “equally valid.” We need to look beyond natural sciences, too. To morality and philosophy, to archaeology and other disciplines. If you haven’t done it before, read the Bible for yourself. But understand that in our postmodern world that wants truth to be subjective, one of these men will have been right and the other wrong.

God exists or he doesn’t. And whichever side you fall on will have consequences to the way you live, act and—yes—think.

2. Tonight’s special is Red Herring, with a side of debate.

I don’t know if you caught it. It was subtle and sneaky, and meant to deceive. But then, all fallacy is.

Red Herring is a fallacy—a faulty way of reasoning in debate—that responds to an argument by making a separate, irrelevant argument to draw attention away from the argument at hand. And Red Herrings were everywhere. It was like breeding season, with all of ’em swimmin’ upstream like that!

Here are some examples.

Bill Nye repeatedly called himself “A Reasonable Man,” which is a type of Red Herring known as an “ad hominem” argument. It is an attack on the arguer, not the argument. The implication, each of the several times Nye made this claim is that Ham is clearly not reasonable. It is the equivalent of “I know you are but what am I?” or maybe, “My name’s rubber and your name’s glue!” It took his argument and posed it as the “reasonable” position, and any other argument as the “unreasonable” stance.

This is related to Bill Nye’s “Appeal to Authority” Red Herring where he calls “us on the outside [of this silly creation-talk]” the “legitimate” scientists, the “traditional” scientists, etc.

Ken Ham’s opening presentation with scientists who were also creationists also seemed to me to be a fallacy. Maybe along the line of a straw man, where he sets up a misrepresentation of his opposition’s view just to knock it down. I’m not sure anyone was saying that those who believe in Creationism can’t be scientists. The debate was whether that specific view that those well-respected scientists held is indeed an adequate explanation of the Universe’s origins.

We could include Nye’s repeated questioning Ham to make a prediction, which he did, and then outright refusing to accept it.

We could include Nye’s many appeals to emotion, from the shunning that others who hadn’t heard Ham’s view feel (in light of their impending condemnation, according to Nye), to the many appeals that “it’s just ridiculous!” (as with Noah building a satisfactory Ark).

We could include Ham’s frequent use of the word “hijacked”

I could go on. I thought the debate was couched in these arguments that didn’t really stand on their own and, frankly, I saw Nye employing them WAY more often than Ham.

3. The Bible and the “Science” of Textual Criticism

Bill Nye is a Scientist. He accepts that we can look at things as they are now, and make certain assumptions about how they always must have been. Those assumptions are then shaped by the ancient evidence we find, and theories become laws, etc. He is a scientist.

So it baffled me the many times he attacked the Bible as “an ancient document, translated thousands of times into modern American English,” and scoffed that such an ethereal cloud of unclarity could ever be understood in the first place, let alone interpreted.

Herein lies Bill Nye’s Biggest fallacy of the night. He accepts the scientific process, but failed to acknowledge the scientific excellence that proves the Bible we have is, by and large, the original text written by the original writers. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 65,000 manuscripts from the Bible dating to the 1st century BC for the OT, and the early 2nd Century AD for the new (second place in antiquity is Homer with about 650 manuscripts from 400 years after he supposedly wrote it). Let those numbers sink in. We have an amazing number of copies of the text of the Bible. Those copies are not all identical: they have errors, just as if you or I hand-copied something a bunch of times. But we a) know where those discrepencies are, b)know the nature of most of the discrepancies and c) through comparing and contrasting translations, by listening to voices outside the Bible, by looking at archaeology of the region, we can determine the best variant to take. And most bibles (both Greek/Hebrew AND English) will offer the variant.

Textual Criticism is a Science. To suggest that we can’t look back at ancient Hebrew and know what it means is ridiculous. To think we can’t look at the way a “dead” Greek word used to be used by looking at all the Greek writing we have is absurd. There are men and women who have devoted their lives to looking for patterns and laws, and analyzing language the way Mr. Nye studies astronomy. To suggest (as he did) that choosing what is taken as poetry and what is taken as history is not a subjective exercise, but one that has been undertaken over the years through the studying of Greek and Hebrew prose and poetry.

Yet Mr. Nye wrote this off several times as being “unreliable.”

This doesn’t make the Bible true, but it shows his scientific bias toward even accepting the text as a reliable text.

4. I am sad for Bill Nye

My heart breaks for a man who denies God. A man who looks into the cosmos, sees the grandeur (not finitude), the order (not randomness), the life (not inanimacy), the consciousness of man (not brute instinct), and end up worshiping the created things, rather than the creator himself (Romans 1:25).

By heart breaks for a man who honored his faithful colleagues by acknowledging the “religious people” of the world could be great scientists, but who—in the same breath—called any religious systems that believe in a God “made up.”

I mourned tonight—genuinely—over a man who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the only salvation for our sins against a creator to whom we owe our whole lives.

I mourn because I know what Scripture says happens to those whose faith is not in him.

Tonight’s debate was never about creation and evolution. It was about presuppositions.

And my fear is that Bill Nye’s presuppositions are leading him to an end he doesn’t believe in, even though in the course of tonight’s debate he heard the good news of Jesus at least a few times.

Sometimes we can get caught up in the details, when what is really missing is a glimpse of the big picture.

Solid!

Solid.

That’s my impression of every single missionary family I met last week. Simply put, they are solid people.

Solid in their convictions.

Solid in their life.

Solid faith.

Solid marriages.

Solid families.

Solid kids with solid faiths of their own.

Solid.

If I were starting a church, I’d want any one of them planting with me. I would want them as elders, and ministry leaders. When we worshiped, the singing was genuine, and when they would pray, it was bold and meaningful.

These people get it.

Enter the interesting paradox. Given the opportunity to describe themselves in three words, I doubt any of them would use the word “solid,” or any of its synonyms. There was a humility about them. It was one thing they all had in common. It was humility born of struggle and heartache. A bi-product of moving away from family, of feeling alone in a new culture.

As one minister put it, “When you get to a new culture, it’s very strange. The very essence of your calling, mission and job is communication, yet you can’t even ask anyone where the bathroom is.”

John [the apostle] recorded John [the Baptizer] as saying of Jesus, “I must become less, he must become more” (John 3:30). Then Paul proceeded to call himself the least of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9), the least of the believers (Eph. 3:8), and the least of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). As his view of himself decreased, Jesus was glorified.

I think that is what has happened with these missionaries. Those that have stuck with it for the long term—who have struggled through being the new guy, struggled through learning a new culture, being worth very little (in a pragmatic sense) because of an inability to communicate, struggled through questioning the decisions they’d made, struggled through a life apart from everything comfortable, not to mention taking on the challenge of raising support from the generosity of others—those people have been humbled. They have become less, and their passion for the gospel has only grown stronger and stronger.

Growth only comes out of struggle. Life grows in the valley, regardless of how grand the mountain peaks may be. As one worship song says, “There may be pain in the night, but Joy comes in the morning.”

This isn’t to say they don’t have issues. Or sins to deal with. Or disagreements with spouses, church members and kids. This doesn’t mean their kids never run into trouble, or that everything is always hunky-dory. In fact, I got to see a few very small examples of some of these while I was with them.

Because they are real about it.

Because they aren’t shaken by it.

Because they have been through the fire and come out “without the smell of fire on them” (Daniel 3:27).

Because they are solid.

I want to be solid.

Simply Observed

These are just some simply observations I took from our trip. Just thoughts. Do with them what you will.

  • I don’t know how little cafe’s do enough business to stay open and pay the bills. Seriously, some of them seem to always be empty!
  • Seeing “Ausfahrt” on freeway signs is always good for a giggle. Always.
  • The Americans (a.k.a. our group) were almost always the loudest crowd anywhere we went, be it the cafeteria or the trails in the mountains.
  • Speaking of the mountains, there are few things on God’s earth more beautiful than mountains. I could have spent days upon days just admiring the majestic Alps.
  • Everyone else in the world speaks multiple languages. Mostly their own, and English. While that makes traveling easier (everyone can understand me!), it might be time for Americans to step up language studies.
  • For the most part, German food in Germany is pretty equitable to German food in America. There were some exceptions, but the real moral of the story is that German food is AWESOME.
  • Contrary to what I had heard from many people, every beer I saw or drank was cold, and not a single one was flat. It also was pretty much like beer here in the states.
  • The Labor Camp at Dachau is a chilling memorial. Evil exists, people.
  • Worshiping in “House Shoes” needs to take hold. Every morning and evening we worshiped in slippers and it was pretty cool. Comfortable and like family. Isn’t that how worship should feel with your brothers and sisters?
  • It’s pretty lame that you don’t get passport stamps when you travel between countries in the EU. Then again, it’s nice to not go through customs at every border.
  • Meat. Potatoes. Repeat.
  • “Parking lot” is a relative term. Any plot of land more than about 5×5 will have about 7 cars parked in it, unless marked otherwise.
  • Did I mention I love the mountains?

Any other observations from your own travels in different cultures? Leave them in the comments below!

Why Millennials Are [Really] Leaving The Church

Oy.

What a debate this has turned into. A couple of weeks ago, an article by Rachel Held Evans on CNN’s Belief Blog went viral. Evans, a self-proclaimed adopted Millennial takes aim at the “attractional” church model that squeezes preachers into skinny jeans, strives for “hip” worship and puts coffee in the lobby.

Twenty-somethings nationwide wore out the “share” button. They stood up and applauded, and lauded Evans as the new voice of the new Christianity.

Out with the ways of our parents and grandparents, in with a new, “real” portrait of faith.

Now, I think Evans has articulated incredibly well what millennials want church to be. That is why it got spread so quickly. But—as a member of the generation myself—I must take some issue with some of her conclusions. The question is not, “did she convey the zeitgeist of our generation correctly,” but rather, “are the things our generation is seeking beneficial?

For example, take this statement from Evans:

“What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.

We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.”

The aim of this post is not to offer a point-by-point criticism of Evans’ article. But creeds like this one are where I begin to feel uncomfortable. While I agree with what these statements say, I think if millennials were granted all these wishes, it would be detrimental to the Church. “Being known for what we are for rather than what we are against” is a great aspiration. Unless, of course, you are not actually against anything. In that case you are denying scriptural commands to “test every spirit,” (1 John 4:1) and other calls to be diligent in sniffing out false teachings (Romans 12:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Timothy 4:13, 15; Titus 1:8-11, 2:1).

Another problematic statement is that millennials “want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.” The root cause of this comes from the fact that millennials have grown up in a largely post-modern and subjective world. In our reality, the world tells us that truth is relative and that personal experience is the ultimate authority in moral/ethical decision making. Biblical teaching, however, tells us that truth is objective, there is a God, and he has already spoken authoritatively through his word. In reality, the questions we ask have been asked – and answered ­– in the past, and biblically so.

The word “doctrine” comes from the Greek word meaning “to teach.” Therefore, doctrines are the teachings of the church. We shouldn’t be scared of having doctrines that have been thought out and scripturally backed. Why must we demand of the church that they act as if we are the first ones to struggle with the issue of homosexuality, or the balance of culture and holiness, or the need for social action? Why the arrogance that says, “We’ve finally got this figured out, and since the church won’t listen, we’re out of here.”

The arrogance comes from what I believe is the real reason millennials are leaving. Because they are human. Not only are they human, they are sinners. You. And Me. And all the millennials. And all the Pre-millennials. And all the post-millennials. We are humans who desperately struggle to submit to God because our egos get in the way.

When we get down to it, every generation – every person – wants a God that pats him or her on the back. We want a God that agrees with what we agree with and condemns what we condemn – a God who values our own areas of strength and condemns the areas in which others struggle.

This can be seen repeatedly throughout the biblical record. Approximately seven milliseconds after being rescued form Egypt, Israel cast shrines of gold in the form of a calf (“Make us gods who will go before us.” Exodus 32:1) in hopes that their gods would suit their needs. One author points out that Satan’s first deception was to suggest to Eve that “she knew as much about reality and morality as God did.[i] (Genesis 3:4-5) Jesus was crucified because he was the Messiah that was prophesied but not the one the Jews wanted. More recently, the products of the sixties and the Jesus People movement wanted hipper worship in their churches. Today we want acceptance of things the Bible clearly condemns and the freedom to begin our belief statements with “I kind of feel like . . . “

Evans, along with many Millennials, would connect the “Jesus” with “social justice” in some way. “Being authentic” to many means serving like Jesus served. And while I agree that the church can grow a great deal in this area, Jesus’ message was not just about social justice. His first words in ministry were, “Repent!” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15).

Interestingly, Evans makes the statement, “We aren’t leaving because we don’t find the cool factor, but because we can’t find Jesus.” But is it possible that millennials are leaving because the Jesus they find is not the Jesus that would condone everything they think to do? Is it possible that the church portrayed in the Bible cannot be harmonized with the relativist, permissive church for which millennials are screaming? Could it be that our churches have done a fine job of bringing Jesus to the forefront, and that a young and one prideful generation after another just doesn’t want to be told what to do?


[i] Jack Cottrell, Solid! The Authority of God’s Word. WIPF and STOCK publishers. Eugene, OR, 1991. p. 85

Condemning George Zimmerman: Be Careful What You Wish For

I can’t believe I’m doing it. I promised myself I wouldn’t. I should just close my laptop and walk away. Resist the urge. Despite all my best judgment and a true desire to stay above the fray, I just can’t ignore the flood of terrible theology coming from supposed “Christians” in the wake of the George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

There is a LOT of anger out there over a life that ended too early. There is anger about injustice. I will not state my opinion here. What concerns me are the statements like the one Juror B29 made about the case this week:

In fact, there has been a very loud “God’s gonna getcha,” mob on social media and in the court of public opinion. Here are a few more:

God’s. Gonna. Getcha. Now if any Christian is angry about the verdict of this trial, this is the last thing he or she should be saying. It completely misses the point of the gospel. Think about what it is saying. “God is going to punish his sin with eternal Hell (what this argument is truly ordering for Zimmerman).” The problems are too numerous to count, but allow me to try.

First of all, it assumes Zimmerman’s guilt after he was found not guilty.

Second, it wishes eternal punishment on someone, which is exactly  the opposite of the kind of heart that Jesus calls us to have. Wishing someone literally go to Hell is the most hateful thing you could feel. Conversely, John writes, “If anyone says, ‘I love God.’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

Third, despite the Catholic Church’s teaching on the “mortal” or “deadly” sins, there is no biblical evidence that any single sin can separate you from the grace of God. I know the concept of this special class of sins, of which homicide is included, is deeply ingrained in the moral foundation of many people’s hearts. It is part of the Ten Commandments. This poor theology, without biblical backing, stinks of mere moralism that suggests, “as long as I’m a pretty good person and avoid certain sins, I’ll be ok.” Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment.” In Jesus’ book, holding angry grudges against others is just as detestable as having the gall to carry out that grudge to its full logical conclusion.

Fourth, and most importantly, such moralistic views spit in the face of Jesus’ saving work on the cross and it stomps all over the gospel he asked us to spread. It ignores the fact that ALL sin is punishable by death. You don’t have to commit murder to live a life far from God. But let’s not forget that the sentence some are calling upon Zimmerman is the one that we all deserve.

Now let’s imagine

Let’s imagine that George Zimmerman really was guilty of racial profiling and coldblooded murder. Let’s imagine that you have no moral issue with wishing someone an eternity in Hell. Let’s assume that the doctrine of Murder as a deadly sin is accurate (even though not found in Scripture) and that there is a theological and moral basis to this “God’s Gonna Getcha” argument.

EVEN THEN, the gospel response is to “love your enemies.” EVEN IF you were convinced of all those things and you saw George Zimmerman as your enemy, the Christian thing to do is to serve him. To seek him out, to minister to him, to show him the grace that Christ has shown you.

We’ve got to challenge this “God’s Gonna Getcha” theology. It’s just not biblical — but more importantly — I am unspeakably thankful he didn’t “get me” when I lived a life opposed to him.

WHEW!

Whew! What a month it has been!

In the 45 (or so) days since resigning my position as the pastor of a church, it has been go-go-go! We went on vacation, came back and closed on a house, and then it was two weeks of dawn-to-dusk renovations at the new place! Add to that the move-in process taking another two weeks (all of which with no internet — mistake number one) and it has been CRAZY!

The good news is the new abode is starting to feel like a home.

The good news is the internet is back up.

The good news is that in the crazy times we’ve had, Evernote has been my best friend. I’ve been storing away all kinds of posts coming your way in the coming weeks!

It’s good to be back in the saddle and back at the keyboard.

The Churchless Pastor is, well, Churchless

“What does ‘Churchless Pastor’ mean, exactly?”

The question has been asked of me several times. The question mostly stems from the fact that this churchless pastor has been, for the last year, churched. A year ago my wife, son and I packed up and moved to Muncie, Indiana, to take my first full-time pastorate. During that year, the idea of the “churchless pastor” was born. As of a week ago, it became a reality.

On June 1, 2012 we moved here, and on June 2, 2013 I preached my last sermon.

While I’ve been writing in this blog for months, I’m now officially churchless. Mallorie, Cade and I will be moving back to Louisville, KY (which always felt like home, even while we were in Indiana) and taking steps toward a slower less busy life.

So what happened?

The short answer is that we bit off more than we could chew. Many people have done great things while in grad school, and I’m not the first trying to tackle ministry and graduate school at the same time. However, the last 366 days have reinforced some truths that I have held for a long time but was not wise enough to listen to:

  1. Life is not supposed to be as high-octane as American culture has made it. We need time to think, time to talk, time to invest in relationships and time for God in our daily and weekly rhythms.
  2. My first and most important ministry is my family. Therefore life must be structured in a way that they are my first investment.
  3. I don’t know what “ministry” looks like for me yet.

School was not getting the attention it deserves, Mallorie felt she & Cade were getting the short end of the stick 5+ nights a week, and certain responsibilities at the church were not getting done. In short, a lot of people can manage that; I didn’t feel it was wise to keep trying.

So what is the “churchless pastor” about?

Here’s the deal: while a lot of people “get out of ministry” because of burnout, that’s not my deal. I’m not burnt out. In fact, even if I were, I believe whole-heartedly that we are disciples called to make disciples who make disciples. We are all in ministry, even when we “get out.” There’s a false dichotomy saying that you are either “in ministry” or a “volunteer/lay person/bystander” to ministry.

We’ve got to fight that false separation.

So I’ve left the church and am pursuing a passion. I want to equip those “volunteers/lay persons/bystanders” to engage in their faith. If that is you, YOU ARE A MINISTER! You are called to go make disciples, to live life abandoned to God. You are called to think about why you are a Christian, to read the word and see the AMAZING story that God is telling about you, me and everyone who has ever – or will ever – live. 

I have left a “church” so that I could be a pastor, but maybe a pastor without a “church.” A pastor whose church is a little more scattered, a pastor whose “church” is united despite being comprised of strangers.

Hence, I am a “churchless” pastor.

And I hope that the ideas I share here are, first of all, faithful to the Word, but second of all helpful. I am excited about this stage in life and the opportunity to write, and I am excited to share the discipleship journey with all of you.

Let’s jump in together!

-Nick

823 Years?!?

I recently saw the following pop up on facebook:

Supposedly we are experiencing a once-in-a-millenium month in March 2013

Supposedly we are experiencing a once-in-a-millenium month in March 2013

If you read the caption, it claims that a March with FIVE Fridays, FIVE Saturdays and FIVE Sundays only happens once every 823 years.

This is clearly ridiculous.

March always has 31 days, so it will always be such a situation any time the month starts on a Friday. Depending on leap years, it happens every 5-6 years. The next time it will happen is 2019.

Even if a leap year skipped a March 1, Friday (as it will in 2036), you will only go 12 years without a March like this.

And don’t get me started on the completely arbitrary and incorrect use of “Feng Shui” for the purpose of sounding mystical.

BUT WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

I lost count of the number of times I have seen this on facebook. It’s spreading like wildfire. Are we really so gullible?

This got me thinking about the church.

How much do we just accept whatever we see on the internet?

As believers, do we listen critically to the sermons being preached on Sundays?

When a new-age thinker is being interviewed on TV, do we nod and say, “well that kind of makes sense” or do we take the world’s wisdom and test it against Scripture?

When media can circulate so quickly and be completely inaccurate, critical analysis is critically important (especially of truth claims — even simple ones like the facebook meme above).

Are we thinking about what we believe any more?

Just a thought.

What other false information have you seen floating around the internet?