Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fleeting Moments and Lasting Joy

I was watching a debate on YouTube a few weeks ago between the late, famed atheist Christopher Hitchens and British, Christian Scholar Alister McGrath. Contrary to what you might see on Fox News or CNN, the debate was congenial, thought provoking, and, even at times, funny. Upon further reflection on the debate, several thoughts came to mind.

First, whenever I see someone actively arguing or protesting against the existence of God, it seems somewhat humorous and very non-sensical to me (much like the "satanic" group that put a "snaketivity" scene on the Michigan State Capital grounds this week in protest to Christmas). Why would you spend your time, money, and effort to debate, protest, or malign something/someone you believe doesn't exist? Would it not be like me taking my time, effort, resources, and emotion to purposefully protest the non-existence of unicorns (unless you believe in that sort of thing, but that is for a later day)! On the negative side, such pursuits seem no more than efforts in self-aggrandizement or commercialism. On the positive side, these pursuits might be fostered from a genuine desire to "protect" people from going down a path that could lead them to live a life of "false belief" or "superstition" in God or gods keeping them from some "greater pursuit" in life.

Second, arguing the non-existence of God only leads to one logical conclusion; that we, as people, are the center of the proverbial universe, and therefore, our existence, morality, happiness, and destiny lies completely in our hands without any intervention from something/someone "outside" the natural world. There are many problems with this line of thinking (ie., moralistic relativity, etc..), but one that seems pertinent to our individual lives is the loss of hope. If there is nothing/no one beyond us, then where does our hope lie? We have proven again and again, as a human race, that we are fallible, selfish, greedy, and, dare I say, evil people. If we are the standard for how life is to be lived, then we are in dire straits. Though we can see "good" in human activity and thought, a question to consider is where our concept of  "good" comes from. Was it derived from the actions and intentions of the human heart, or is it the result of some greater, grander, "universal" truth that is beyond human reason and emotion? Hope, if founded on something temporal, like human thought and emotion, is in itself temporal, and, therefore, short term, at best.

Third, if there is no God, then it leads us to reason that any type of afterlife, a supernatural concept, is fallacious as well. If there is no afterlife, no promise of eternal life, then we find ourselves back in that hopeless state, but this time forever. We experience moments of happiness, pleasure, success, and relief from life's troubles, but they are only fleeting in nature. After they pass, we seek the next iteration, and continue the process until life finally gives out. But this begs a question...is there something more, can we find a lasting hope that will not fade?

The Christmas story is the story of hope. It is the story of a real God, come to earth, to give those who had rebelled against Him, proclaiming themselves gods, a way to experience a hope. This hope is caused by a lasting joy. I believe a good definition of joy is "A state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness." (http://www.theopedia.com/Joy#note-JG ) Such joy is found in the birth of a child. Jesus Christ came to reorient our minds and hearts to the heart of the God who loves us, and provides for us, through His death and resurrection, "a settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope." In other words, He came to bring us joy. This is the proclamation of the angels in Luke 2:10-14 (ESV).

"And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Where does your hope lie today? Is it in your own morality and efforts, or it in the God who made all things and provides everlasting joy through the gift of His Son? If it is in yourself, and you find that all your hope and joy are "fleeting moments", will you consider Jesus today? Will you consider his birth, life, death, resurrection? Will you consider the promise of forgiveness, hope, and eternal life He offers for those who will simply believe in Him? If you do, He will provide for you the hope and joy you have been searching for.

To know how to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, go to www.viewthestory.com/9076.

For more information on the argument regarding the existence of God, see the following resources...

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
Why God Won't Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running on Empty by Alister McGrath
The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister McGrath
Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith by Alister McGrath

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Of Books and Degrees

Hello, there! It's been awhile. In fact, it has been since last January since I posted a blog. Not to recap my last year (for I even wouldn't want to read that), but some significant things have transpired, most notably the completion of my dissertation and Ph.D. in Leadership Studies.

Though I haven't seen my final work yet (the bound copy) of my dissertation, I will (Lord willing) at Thanksgiving time.

Several things are thrown in sharp relief at the completion of such a long period of study.

First, it is good to breathe. After seven years of study, writing, re-writing, reviewing, and learning, it is good to sit on the back porch with a cup of tea and just breathe.

Second, life has seemed a little disoriented over the past few months. I have shared with many that I am trying to figure out how to do life now that this season is officially over. I have found that the simple yet important things in life bring the greatest joy. My daughter's laugh. My wife's hand in mine as we walk together. Actually doing physical labor around the house and yard. Preparing to preach and preaching. Loving and leading God's people. Good stuff!!!

Third, I am never done studying, writing, re-writing, reviewing, and learning. I guess, in a nutshell, that's what leaders do. We continue to grow.

Finally, I have been reminded lately of the brevity of life and the fleeting moments we have for impact. Many of you know that Laura lost her dad a few months back. We are still walking through the grieving process day by day, but God has been faithful to bring comfort through His Word, His Spirit and His people. I will miss my Father-in-Law, but look forward to that time we are reunited again because of the hope we have in Jesus and His resurrection. Until then, may I (and we) take every opportunity we have to extend the gospel to those who are hopeless and work to help others grow toward a Christ-centered life.

All said, may we study, learn, grow, love, and lead for the sake of others and for the sake of the gospel.

As Lewis said, Many Blessings.

Pastor (Dr.) Jim

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Two Ballrooms

I experienced two ballrooms this week. The first was on TV. 

Last Sunday evening The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California hosted the 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards. The talk of the evening was "Who are you wearing?", "Who are you excited to see?", and which TV shows and movies would take home the coveted trophies. (honestly, I had heard of some of the movies nominated this year, but I hadn't seen many of them since they were way outside of my general action hero/superhero movie genre). The night was littered with glamour, glitz, alcohol, some profanity, and, the not-so-subtle, gay rights plugs.

You may ask why I watched? Well, I am always intrigued by these events. As a pastor and scholar, I am able to get a bird's eye view into what is driving American culture in the 21st Century. We (the culture generally) are a people who long for a story to give meaning and purpose to our existence, no matter how degrading or debase that story might be. We long to relate to something that might help us cope with our lot in life and give us some small glimmer of hope. We also like a competition. We like to cheer for the underdog, the independent, the marginalized. Such a night allows us to do all of the above. Another reason I like to watch is to see beyond the screen in the lives of those who are delivering this message and get a small, but very public, glimpse of who these people are. It reminds me of the lostness all around us and the desperate need people have for a Savior.

Now, to the second ballroom.

This past Monday and Tuesday, our pastoral staff at FFBC participated in what I can only call an "experience". Some might call it a conference or a gathering, but I'm going to stick with the word "experience". We gathered at the Atlanta Airport Westin Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia with around 300 Southern Baptist Pastors from 28 states for the purpose of 8 hours of prayer. That's it. We prayed. There were some times of worship through song and some exhortation from God's Word, but the primary purpose was to pray. And so we did. And our focus was specific. We prayed for a mighty outpouring of God's Spirit on His church and on our nation. We prayed for the revival and renewal of God's people resulting in a Spiritual Awakening of the lost. It's pretty amazing to "experience" an event where 300 pastors are literally on their faces before God crying out to Him for forgiveness, for His presence, for our churches, and for the lost.

That is why I call this an "experience". Over these two days, we simply experienced the powerful presence of a holy, mighty God. And all of us walked away changed.

I don't know what God will do with our time together, but He has given His church a great promise.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)- "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

Do you believe that promise? If so, will you join me? Will you begin to pray like you have never prayed before? Will you pray that God will move, by the power of His Spirit, through His church for His purposes?  Will you pray that God will give you His burden for a lost world? Will you pray?

Pastor Jim