Monday, July 29, 2013

Are We Investing our Talents for the Kingdom?

As I've written before, the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30) is one of the most challenging parables/teachings in Scripture to me. It is clear from this parable that the Lord will hold us accountable for what we do in life with what he gave us. He gives each of us resources and abilities to further his Kingdom, and there will be a reckoning.

Given this reckoning, I want to make sure that my remaining days in this life are devoted to Kingdom work. I am about to turn 38 years old in just a few weeks, and while this would not quite be considered middle-age by most standards, I am feeling more middle-aged than I ever have. Most people probably follow this natural tendency toward becoming more reflective as they age, and I am no exception.

Regardless of how much the Lord gives us (5, 2, or 1 Talents), we are expected to invest what we have. After almost 38 years I have come to realize and accept the abilities and gifts that the Lord has given me. I am not handy - my wife will attest to that. While I enjoy playing my guitar, I am no skilled musician. Stick figures are my idea of great art. While I greatly respect entrepreneurs and those that can successfully run a business, I don't think naturally in those terms. I run for (a perverse) pleasure and to get basic exercise, but I don't have any great athletic skill.

What I am is a scholar. I love to read, to learn, and to study. And I love to teach given the proper audience (as a high school science teacher, the "proper" audience involves those who are interested in the material - a situation relatively rare with the average American teenager). I teach in my local church when given the opportunity and have consistently received positive feedback from both adults and students.

This is how God made me, it is what I am passionate about, and how God will hold me accountable. I will not be condemned for not being able to do a slam dunk or paint the next Mona Lisa. But I will be held accountable for not being me. I am a learner and a teacher, and these are my passion. I will be judged accordingly.

Knowledge of myself causes me to act differently. I recently (in the last year) was accepted into Biola University's Master of Arts in Science and Religion (MASR) program, and I started taking classes last fall. The reason I did this was to increase my skill as a scholar and teacher. I can't teach what I don't know, and so if I want to invest my "talents" for God's Kingdom, I need to develop those talents. My long-term goal is a PhD in philosophy, probably specifically in the History and Philosophy of Science. Not because I covet being a "doctor," but because as a PhD I can have a wider impact for the Kingdom. As William Lane Craig often writes, the university drives our culture. All future politicians, business leaders, and even community organizers will pass through the university. This is a major mission field in our culture.

Self-awareness also causes me to pray differently. This last year, after beginning taking classes at Biola, at the same time I went from two jobs at my school (I used to run an evening classroom) down to just my daytime physics position. I did this to honor my family above the extra income I was making. But it also means my financial resources available for taking classes with Biola has greatly diminished. So I am praying to the Lord asking him to give me the resources that I need not only to take care of my family but also to continue developing my abilities for the Kingdom. Because I know myself and how God made me, I am simply asking him to give me what I need to be more effective at how he made me. If I were a farmer, I would pray for the Lord to bless my crops and farming abilities. I am a scholar, so I am asking him to bless my learning and to expand my opportunities for teaching what I have learned so far.

This is a matter of trust for me and simply placing it before the Lord. The PhD especially would have to be a work of the Lord because I am the sole provider for my family. Not only would I have to be accepted into a program but I will also need funding from the school. If the Lord does not provide an open door for ministry in this area, then I will seek out other ways in which I can have an impact for the Kingdom.

So, what about you, dear reader? How has God made you? Have you spent a season thinking about this and asking the Lord for wisdom to discern your abilities? Have you taken steps to develop those abilities? Are you investing your skills in kingdom work? Have you prayed, asking the Lord to give you what you need to develop yourself and for the wisdom to use your gifts? No matter your age, it is not too late (or too early) to begin thinking about how to have the most impact and how to be the most effective for the Kingdom.

If every follower of Christ in our culture made a decisive effort to engage themselves and their abilities into kingdom work, this world would be better, almost overnight.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Waging War on an Enemy in the Camp

An enemy has overrun the camp.

We are captives, POW's, from a series of battles that was won decades ago by an enemy that is at once both hidden and obvious. It is obvious, because we can see its affects all around us. It is hidden because we all have patterns of thought influenced by this enemy that we don't even realize.

Worst of all, we have allowed this enemy to overtake us. In a sort of spiritual Stockholm Syndrome, we have come to admire and adore this enemy that has no good plans for the Church.

We have not been vigilant and have ignored Paul's admonition to play defense in Colossians (2:8) by not being taken captive by deceptive philosophy. In another passage Paul switches from defense to offense, still using this key word, "captive." In 2 Cor 10:3-5, he tells us to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (As an aside, this verse is usually taken out of context to mean we should capture impure thoughts, etc., but in context it is clear that Paul is referring to arguments, speculations, and cultural strongholds that hold sway over people's minds)

From this moment on I am hereby declaring war on this enemy that has infiltrated our ranks in the Church and in our culture.

We have been overrun by naturalism and materialism - the idea that the only thing that exists is the physical universe and no such person as the Christian God exists. (Materialism does not mean too much shopping, but that the world is only made of material with no spiritual aspects)

Now, I said before that this enemy is both hidden and obvious. The obvious aspects are, well, obvious. All of the major influential organs of our culture are committed to this worldview: the universities, Hollywood, major media outlets, legal system. We hear the message in a thousand different ways that all we are is body without soul. My purpose in this post is not outline all of the various and sundry ways that the overriding philosophy of our culture is naturalistic.

What I want us to see is the more hidden aspect of materialism and naturalism, for many of you have already turned me off. For you may be thinking: I go to church. I haven't bought into this naturalism stuff. I believe in God. He's real! Well, let me ask you - a representative of Western Christianity - a few rhetorical questions (meaning I don't expect an answer - you're welcome to, but it's unlikely I'll hear you...or put them in the comments below):
  • What is your view of the universe? Is it a system that runs efficiently, sort of like a machine? Did God set it up at the beginning and then just let it run?
  • Do you think in categories of natural vs supernatural?
  • When you pray about a particular topic weighing on your heart do you secretly expect that nothing will really happen?
  • Is science the study of the natural world and physical processes within the world only?
  • Do you, or your denomination, see the Scriptures as perhaps true with regards to spiritual things, but maybe not in historical or scientific aspects?
  • Do you think that all of your thoughts are generated in your brain? 
  • When Jesus promises us things like he does in John 1:7, does the promise die a death of a thousand qualifications?
  • When you think of miracles in the Bible, such as the parting of the Red Sea or the Burning Bush, do you tend to think of natural processes that could have caused this to happen?
  • If you believe in God as Creator, do perhaps think of God doing it strictly through secondary causes or indirect means?
  • Do you listen to neuroscientists ("brain scientists") to tell you what you "really" are?
  • Do you tend to see sin as a product of bad environment or poor education or possibly as an unhealthy psyche?
  • Are psychiatrists and psychologists the key to our "sin problem?"
  • Is the presence of natural evil (i.e. earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes) just due to the natural forces at work in the physical world?
Most of us Western Christians have been trained to answer the above questions with a yes! The problem is that the answer from the Christian worldview to all of them is no! Maybe you only answered yes to a few of these. Even if you answered yes to only one question, then to some extent you have bought into materialism/naturalism, a hollow and deceptive philosophy.

The Bible knows nothing of this separation between natural and supernatural. Biblical categories are human vs superhuman (see the Introduction to Craig Keener's excellent work, Miracles). Because of naturalism we tend to devalue the work of God. Oh, we say that we believe that God is a miracle worker and that he created the universe, but what did he really do? Do we believe in a passive God who somehow only operates hands-off, by letting other things do his dirty work?

You see, in the Bible God takes all of the credit. He causes the grass to grow and waters the earth (Ps 104). He alone created the heavens (Is 40:26). God is the one who works wonders (Ps 77:14). He even creates natural disasters (Is 45:7).

Our acceptance of naturalism, even though we may not realize it, has caused us to take glory away from God. Contrary to what our culture teaches, Scripture tells us that he is the initiator and sustainer of the entire created order (Gen 1, John 1, Col 1:15-17). He is responsible. The buck stops with him, not with natural laws or created things. 

So, my challenge to you is to be open to the ways in which we have been taken captive by a hollow and deceptive philosophy. Naturalism has nothing to offer us. It is completely bankrupt as a philosophy. It makes us think less of ourselves, less of others, less of creation, and less of God. Much moral evil has resulted from the acceptance of this insidious idea. For this reason I am declaring war on naturalism and materialism, and this will continue to be a theme on my blog.

We have been overrun. Let's take back our camp for the glory of God.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Can Science Prove that God Doesn't Exist?

Science is limited. It is like a strong dog on a chain. It rules its own area legitimately, but no more. Science is powerful and has brought us a tremendous amount of knowledge about the way in which God has set up the regularities of nature. Yet it is on a leash...

Scientists of the modern era, however, think that the dog has been let loose to roam the neighborhood. Many in our culture will claim that science is, in fact, the only way to gain knowledge. For example, Alex Rosenberg, in his book The Atheist's Guide to Reality, defines scientism thus, "....the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science's description of the world is correct in its fundamentals..."  If science didn't tell it to you, you can't know it according to those represented by Rosenberg.

If I may be permitted to switch my metaphors, we may think of science as a metal detector. A young boy goes down to the beach with his metal detector and comes back with a delightful collection of soda tabs, lost earrings, and spare change. Is anyone in his family surprised that the boy found metal with his metal detector? Of course not! Notice,though, that his collection did not include sea shells, beach balls, or sand crabs. A metal detector finds what is within is capabilities.

The same is true for science. It can only find what is within its capabilities. Science goes down to the beach to study the natural world, and low and behold!, when it returns it reports to us regularities and elements of that natural world. For a scientist to proclaim that there is nothing beyond the natural world would be just like our young boy to insist that the whole world is made of metal.

Amazing how we would quaintly pat the young boy on the head with a knowing look to the other adults in the room, yet we listen to some scientists or thinkers who say the logical equivalent and nod our heads up and down in deferential agreement.

The next time you hear someone say that science is the only path to knowledge, simply pat him on the head and tell him (or her) how quaint he (or she) is.

So, can science prove that God doesn't exist? Well, is God a physical being? Not according to orthodox Christianity. And if God is not physically a part of the natural world, then he is beyond the capabilities of science and cannot be ruled out by science. Returning to the dog metaphor, science cannot investigate anything outside of its territory. It may bark threateningly, but it is restrained no matter how hard it tries not to be.

I do think, however, that God has inscribed in the regularities of nature evidence of his having designed it, and that science can detect these inscriptions. But that is a topic for another day...