A life without God

Westboro baptist church is, as you may know, an organization that claims to be a Christian church located in Topeka Kansas. I say ‘claims’ because their actions clearly show that there are large portions of the Bible that they ignore. WBC is best known for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers and people who were openly gay. They often sport extremely hateful slogans that have no Biblical foundation and they teach their children to do the same. In the past ten years I’ve seen this church shown on national TV at least four times and I don’t even watch the news very much. It’s likely that they’ve shown up on TV much much more.

What is the significance of this? Westboro Baptist Church reports its membership at 40. The church that has probably appeared on national news more than any other single church has just 40 members.

I work at a church with seven thousand members. In my four years here we’ve made national news zero times. We’ve helped hundreds, if not thousands of people in need and we’ve seen people being healed of addictions and marriages being saved. We’ve seen people called to go work in other countries and poor neighborhoods. We’ve seen miracles take place and yet we haven’t made national news mainly because it’s not as interesting as hearing about a group of 40 really hateful people. But also because that’s not the way Christianity is depicted in the media.

In TV, film, news, books and popular music Christians are almost always shown to be ‘fundamentalists,’ ‘bigots,’ and ‘extremists.’ When statistically the average church-goer is more likely to be a nominal Christian who doesn’t know enough about their own faith to have strong thoughts on any controversial subject. That’s a problem unto itself, but it is not the one being depicted – instead we’re shown as unstable and hateful.

I haven’t heard any news stories about Mama Maggie Gobran who is living in the slums of Cairo, Egypt and working with the children there. Even Bono’s foundation to feed helpless children has gotten far less press than Sean Penn’s humanitarian efforts – the main difference between to two is their worldview. (It certainly isn’t their ability to get drunk and start fights, as they are both equally talented in that measure.) I haven’t heard a news story about Katie Davis who graduated from high school and immediately went to africa to work with diseased, disabled and otherwise less fortunate children. I don’t hear about the fact that Christianity is being persecuted more violently around the world than any other religion and that every day Christians in countries like Iran, Ethiopia and China put their lives on the line by witnessing to the truth of the Gospel. Because it’s more convenient and easy to place us all in the same box – along with these 40 hateful people.

It’s easy to take a cheap shot at Atheism and point out that almost all of the most terrible dictators have been proud Atheists. Joseph Stalin wanted to get rid of religion in the Soviet Union. Mussolini and Mao Tse-Tung wanted the same for their countries. All three were genuine monsters – killing their own people and anyone who would oppose them. At the same time one can bring up the crusades and the inquisition in relation to Christianity. So instead of basing an argument on unbalanced political leadership I’d like to look at more contemporary leadership right here in the old US of A.

In 1963 Madalyn Murray O’Hair won the landmark court case that removed prayer from public schools. It’s pretty interesting to look at the state of the public education system since then, but that’s another blog entry. O’Hair fought for her son’s right to not have the Bible read nor prayers prayed around him. Her son’s name is William Murray and he’s written a book about his life. You see, he’s a Baptist pastor now and his book entitled My life without God is all about the way his mother tried to raise her children to hate God. Aside from seeing that prayer was removed from schools Madalyn Murray O’Hair is perhaps best known as the founder of American Atheists – an organization that seeks to advance the cause of Atheism – rallying people to the cause of believing in – well, nothing.

O’Hair stole, she cheated, she lied. She broke the law on numerous occasions. She never paid taxes. She abused her children emotionally, manipulating them into unhealthy lifestyles. She and her children (and later grand children) were all morbidly obese. She believed in living ‘high off the hog.’ There wasn’t a charitable bone in her body. Before they were killed, O’Hair, Her Son Jon and William’s Daughter Robin (her granddaughter) all lived together and never separated. Jon never married – he never left his mother’s side. Robin, like her grandmother took to a decadent lifestyle and became severely overweight. None of them ever spoke to William who had become a Christian. When he first told them, they ridiculed him and called him a traitor.

O’Hair was proud of her lawless lifestyle and said she believed that the only law should be ‘do what thou will.’ She hired unrepentant convicted felons who were known for their violent crimes. She claimed that she supported their lifestyle. Ultimately this is what led to her death. A former employee kidnapped her, her son and granddaughter. All three of them were brutally murdered by one of her fellow Atheists.

William Murray said

My mother was an evil person … Not for removing prayer from America’s schools … No … She was just evil. She stole huge amounts of money. She misused the trust of people. She cheated children out of their parents’ inheritance. She cheated on her taxes and even stole from her own organizations. She once printed up phony stock certificates on her own printing press to try to take over another atheist publishing company.

This happened all within my lifetime and yet I don’t remember hearing about it. Maybe you did, but I didn’t.

I say all this because these aren’t some obscure people on the outskirts of the Atheist movement. These were the leaders – and yet it is the Christians that are depicted as foolish and hate filled. When I encounter this kind of hate I get angry. Then I get sad. Then I get energized to show the world the love of Christ.

In reality the difference between the Christian life and a life without God is quite simple.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:18-23

 

10 Things this single guy has learned about marriage.

Over the past month I got to interview 18 couples about what it is that makes their marriage strong. I asked them lots of questions. I asked if there was anything they wished they had known before they were married. I asked them about things they do together that keep their relationship strong. I asked them what habits they have that help maintain their marriage. Some couples had been through illness, some couples had been through divorces, some couples met when they were kids others didn’t get together until they were adults. We talked about their mission as a couple. We talked about how they met. We talked about the advice they’d give to new couples. We talked about what they would say to a couple who’s considering divorce. I edited these interviews down to six videos totaling to about 27 minutes.

I tried my best to capture the thoughts of these people in the videos but it’s not possible to capture five hours worth of interviews in less than half an hour. So here is a summary of my findings in simple terms.

[list]
[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]As with everything else in life ITS NOT ABOUT YOU. If you get married just to get something, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re always looking out for the needs of the other then you’ll be far happier than if you were only concerned with your own needs. What happens is reciprocity; when you empty yourself out the other person can’t help but give of themselves.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]As with everything else in life ITS NOT ABOUT YOU. If you get married just to get something, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re always looking out for the needs of the other then you’ll be far happier than if you were only concerned with your own needs. What happens is reciprocity; when you empty yourself out the other person can’t help but give of themselves.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]Apparently married sex gets awesome after 40. I had two couples tell me this. No joke. One man said “Sweet Moses – it’s insane.”[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]Several people said it’s more important to like your spouse than to love them. All of these people were women. I think that’s because when women think ‘love’ they think romance. They simply recognize that the romantic part of love isn’t the most important part. Endearing companionship is a more important aspect of love than romance. Romance is very important, but it’s not where you’ll live most of the time.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]Your spouse is no replacement for God. You can’t place that kind of faith in a person.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]Most people start by saying “We don’t have the perfect marriage.” That seems silly. The perfect marriage doesn’t exist. So don’t try to fool anyone – your marriage is just as imperfect as the next guy’s. You have fights, you may have even had some serious issues, but that’s okay. Don’t hold your marriage as an Idol.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]Most people start by saying “We don’t have the perfect marriage.” That seems silly. The perfect marriage doesn’t exist. So don’t try to fool anyone – your marriage is just as imperfect as the next guy’s. You have fights, you may have even had some serious issues, but that’s okay. Don’t hold your marriage as an Idol.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]Divorce is terrible. It effects the people getting divorced far more than they expect it to, but it also effects everyone around them. There is no exaggeration for the destructive power that divorce has. It is not worth it. It is most definitely not a ‘reset’ button for you life. You cannot get married, get divorced and just ‘go back’ to the way things were.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]Several women said that they were surprised to find out that they can’t change their husband. This sounds obvious, but don’t marry someone you don’t like, because while they can change, you can’t change them. It’s the Holy Spirit’s Job to change people. It’s your job to love them.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]Several women said that they were surprised to find out that they can’t change their husband. This sounds obvious, but don’t marry someone you don’t like, because while they can change, you can’t change them. It’s the Holy Spirit’s Job to change people. It’s your job to love them.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]Marriage is really hard sometimes. Really really hard. But it is worth it.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]We’re not big enough to fix all of our problems on our own. Counseling isn’t for broken marriages it’s for marriages that don’t want to break.[/list_item]

[list_item icon=”fa-home(Check Font awesomes for Icon Class Names)” color=”#ffd600″]It only gets better. The couples that had been married 40-60+ years all said that marriage only gets better as time goes by.[/list_item]

A Culture of Giving

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

My father played basketball at his high school in Indiana, during his time there he was on a team that won the mid-state championship. It was a small school and so the experience wasn’t all that unlike the plot of the movie Hoosiers. This is perhaps why that movie is one of my family’s favorites.

When my Dad’s team returned from the championship game the entire school had shown up to congratulate them. Several of the players spoke to the student body on behalf of the team. When my dad spoke up he told this story:

A certain saint asked God to show him the difference between heaven and hell. So God sent an angel to take him, first to hell. There he saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But none of them was eating. They were all sad and yawning. The saint asked one of them, “Why are you not eating?” And he showed the saint his hand. A long fork about 4ft long was strapped to their hands such that each time they tried to eat they only threw the food on the ground. “What a pity” said the saint. Then the angel took him to heaven. There he was surprised to find an almost identical setting as in hell: men and women sitting round a large table with all sorts of delicious food, and with a four-foot fork strapped to their arms. But unlike in hell, the people here were happy and laughing. “What!” said the saint to one of them, “How come you are happy in this condition?” “You see,” said the man in heaven, “Here we feed one another.”

My dad told this story and then explained that the team wasn’t selfish; they fed one another and that’s why they won the championship. The funny thing is that at this point in his life my dad didn’t know Jesus from Buddha, yet he grasped a simple truth about human nature and Christianity; selfishness is common but generosity is the key to success in community.

I’ve had the honor these past four years of being the class sponsor of Asbury University’s class of 2011 and I don’t use the word ‘honor’ lightly. I really consider it to be one of the greatest outpourings of God’s grace on my life. The responsibility included being involved with the class’s activities during their freshman year at school and later returning for their major events over the next three years. This past weekend they had their senior retreat and commencement. I and my partner, Tiff Hassler, were in attendance and I had one of the best weekends in recent memory.

I’m not sure how to describe why I enjoy the culture at Asbury so much, but I think that the closest phrase I can use to explain it is ‘a Culture of Giving.’ And when I say giving, I don’t mean money or anything material, though those things aren’t excluded. I mean a whole attitude of giving to the other people – in conversation, in competition, in creativity and in every other kind of interaction. This is what I think Jesus meant when he told us to love one another.

Late one evening on the retreat I just sat watching groups playing cards and boardgames and time and time again I saw this form of social grace extended in the way people just showed love to each other in common interaction.

I know that I often feel like the most selfish person in the world, so don’t think that I’m trying to claim any sort of perfection in this realm, but I do know this: when everyone decides that the other person is more important than themselves, something amazing happens in a community. So often even in the churches and in Christian families people are looking out for what they want, looking out for their own needs and desires, but we claim to love our neighbors as ourselves. Have you ever considered what that means? What it really looks like to care as much about the people around you as you do for your own good? We say that all the time, even secular humanists call it ‘the golden rule,’ but what does it really look like in practice?

It looks like a whole culture of giving. It looks like Acts 2:44 where all the believers were together and they had everything in common. It starts in conversations where everyone is genuinely engaged in listening as much as they are in talking. It starts in misunderstandings and moments of frustration and says ‘I will show them the same grace that Christ has shown me.’ It starts in times where I don’t get my way and it says ‘that’s ok, it wasn’t about me anyway.’

What if we turned John 13:35 into a question: “Will everyone know that you are my disciples by this?” And we asked it about our behavior when we’re interacting with a friend or colleague, meeting a brother-in-Christ for that first time or dealing with a fellow church member who really gets on your nerves – “Will everyone know that I am your disciple by this?” Or when you’re talking to your siblings, parents, children or spouse. “…by this?” Jesus says that it is by our treatment of other Christians that the world will know that we are His. That’s because the pull of heaven is irresistible: when people see it in others they have a longing in their heart to live in a culture of that kind of generosity. It is something that both convicted and encouraged me. As long as we choose to sit and complain about our forks while we starve to death – that’s Hell. But when we feed each other – that’s real Christian community. That’s Heaven.

So my fellow Christ followers, are we feeding each other? By this does everyone know that we are His disciples?

Quote for the day: Love

On Valentine’s day (or as people like me call it “Single Awareness Day”) I thought it would be appropriate to post a quote on what I think is one of the best definitions of love I’ve heard recently. It was asserted by a former math professor at Asbury. Dr. Rietz was never one of my professors, but I consider him a friend. See what you think about this quote:

Love, real love, is the aggressive pursuit of God’s best for someone else. – Dr. Ken Rietz

Love is often viewed as an emotion – when its really an aggressive pursuit.