Tuesday, October 22, 2013

No Other Gods

You shall have no other gods before Me, (Exodus 20:3). 

Do Americans worship sports? When one considers how many billions of dollars and thousands of hours are dedicated to the industry (from Little League to Major League), a case could be made that in a very real sense we do. 

At the very least I think we have to say that it is amazing—mind numbing in fact—how seriously we take our sports. Now, I assure you, this is no diatribe against our favorite pastimes; but I would like to take a moment to reflect upon the matter. 

We rightly think of sports as bringing out the best in folks, particularly our kids: physical well-being, discipline, teamwork, selflessness, etc. And regardless of liberals and their hissy-fits…it’s healthy for children (especially the ones over 30) to learn to win and to lose graciously.  

You win some, you lose some. We’re not all equal in gifts and talents and abilities. Sometimes things don’t end as we think they will or should. That’s life. We can use sports to teach or illustrate these things. 

But while we often think of sports as manifesting the best in us, in actuality they commonly reveal the worst in us: selfishness, dishonesty, anger, arrogance, pettiness and so forth. These unseemly traits are not just seen on the field, but off the field—in the bleachers (maybe even more so). Sports turn many people ugly and vicious—sometimes even criminally violent. Why? 

Just what are sports anyway? 

I think we must say that sports properly belong to the category of entertainment. Those who play sports non-professionally are recreating and those who play sports professionally are entertaining. (This is why pro athletes are so highly paid. We revere entertainers. Indeed, we practically idolize them.)  

Either way, recreational or professional, for most of us sports are really nothing more than entertainment. Do we fail to see this?  

I’ve seen fans openly, unashamedly weep in both victory and defeat. There are people who soar with absolute euphoria or plunge into abject despair based upon nothing but the outcome of a game 

And our terminology doesn’t help us any.  

It’s odd to think of the rhetoric we use of sports. Though sports are entertainment we often use terms such as gutsy, brave and heroic to describe on-field performances. War metaphors are typical. We speak of “sudden death” and “battling it out” and “warriors.” Sports entertainers are commonly referred to as heroes 

No, I’m not suggesting that we change the vernacular. Only this: When we hear or say such things…remember…sports are merely entertainment. 

Sports—as entertainment—are in actuality distractions. Sports (not unlike movies, concerts, plays, board/card/video games and shopping sprees) are a means of forgetting one’s situation in life for a couple of hours. Obviously, all such “getaways” can be healthy or unhealthy—to speak biblically, lawful or sinful. 

So, when it comes to sports and all forms of entertainment—lest we fall into idolatry—the Christian should always seek to think and to behave to the glory of God. We should ask ourselves: Am I honoring God with my actions, attitudes, and priorities in regards to this sport/entertainment? 

That’s a sobering question. 

Well, that’s all the time I have for now. It’s October and I’m a life-long St. Louis Cardinals fan. So…you know what that means. I’ve got baseball to watch.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hath God Said?

Last eve I paused beside the blacksmith’s door,
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
Then looking in, I saw upon the floor,
Old hammers, worn with beating years of time. 

“How many anvils have you had,” said I,
“To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
“Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye,
“The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.” 

And so, I thought, the Anvil of God’s Word
For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The Anvil is unharmed, the hammers gone.
~Attributed to John Clifford 

When an unbeliever denies the inspiration of scripture he usually parrots quite a laundry list of reasons to disbelieve. I’d like to take a quick look at some of them.  

Typically near the top of the list is the notion that the Bible is full of contradictions and errors. Yet, when pressed for specifics, in my experience, the non-believer knows precious little about the Bible and thus is long on assertions but short on demonstrations. 

The fact is the Church is well aware of apparent inconsistencies and textual problems and more than sufficiently deals with such things.  

Often we hear the charge that the Bible is utterly sexist, racist, and violent. And certainly, we can find all of these things in the sacred writ—these things and I’m sure more. But here the detractor of the faith fails to distinguish between that which the Bible describes and that which the Bible prescribes. (The distinction between description and prescription cannot be overstated.)  

Occasionally an unbeliever offers an objection to the sacredness of scripture by pointing out that all the world's belief systems share certain fundamental truths—that we should treat others as we would like to be treated, etc.—thus undermining the Bible as being uniquely revealed.  

But there is simply no logical reason to deny that the Bible is God’s word on the basis that there is a degree of commonality between it and other religious (and even secular) texts. A measure of similarity is precisely what one should expect given that there is but one living and true God who created the universe and all it contains and who made man a rational, moral being in His own image. 

This being so, I would go so far as to suggest that it would be unimaginably strange, perhaps inconceivable, for there to be little or no shared views between scripture and extra-biblical writings. 

While it is clearly the case that the Bible is written to and for God’s people, the skeptic nevertheless has an invested, self-interest in undermining its divine design. We are now speaking to the issue of authority 

The one who denies the holiness of the Bible becomes—in his lofty imagination—his own ultimate authority, the final arbiter of truth. That is, the unbeliever jettisons ancient faith anchored in scripture for nouveau fancy tethered to self.  

This is hardly progress.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Christian Unity

I do not pray for these alone [the Apostles], but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they may be one . . .that they also may be one in Us . . . that they may be one just as We are one . . . that they may be made perfect in one . . . (John 17:20, 21,22, 23). 

In the High Priestly prayer of our Lord, we find Christ earnestly interceding for the unity of all Christians (understood as those who believe in Christ according to apostolic witness).  

Has God answered the prayer of His Son? 

When we consider the apparent fragmentary condition of the Church, we may be tempted to answer, “No. Jesus’ desire for Christian unity is unfulfilled.” But we should resist this temptation. It is my conviction that God has in fact preserved the unity of His people: one flock with one Shepherd (John 10:16). 

The Church is unified. But what is the nature of its unity? 

Let’s begin by specifying what it isn’t. The nature of Christian unity is not ecclesiastical. That is, the one people of God meet all over the world in various local groups or churches. The one Church gathers in thousands of churches which belong to a myriad of denominations and/or associations. 

There is diversity. But that which unites the one Church is greater than that which would divide her. 

Let’s now consider what the unity of the one Church is 

According to Jesus, our unity is doctrinal. That is, Christ prays for “those who will believe in Me” in agreement with the “word” of the Apostles. We often hear the mantra: Doctrine divides. True enough, Christians do not see eye-to-eye in all matters of faith and practice.  

But surely we understand the much deeper truth that doctrine unites. Regarding doctrine, Augustine famously quipped: “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” 

The question now becomes: Is that which unites us (essential Christian truths) greater than that which divides us (non-essentials). I believe it is. It is the essence of our faith—the essentials—which CS Lewis envisions in Mere Christianity. 

Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times (from the preface to Mere Christianity). 

There are cardinal truths which all Christians in all times believe.
In addition to the doctrinal unity of all believers, we find the spiritual. We are spiritually joined to all Christians of all the ages. Jesus speaks of our spiritual communion as being twofold.  

First, He says all Christians of all the ages are “one in Us.” We are in the Father and Son.  

Second, the Father and Son are in us: “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:23). Christians of all the ages are the one Body of Christ, the one Temple of God. 

Thus within the biblical Christian faith, doctrinal/spiritual unity is deeper than surface level diversity. And we can recognize this fact without compromising—in any sense—our distinctives. In other words, we can affirm our unity and not deny our diversity.  

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Ephesians 4:4-6).