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Valentines Day – What Is Love?

It’s February 14, 2018, and here in the United States that of course means it’s once again Valentines Day.  It is a day for many when they receive amorous notes, flowers, candy, gifts, and all manner of special attention.  It is a day that greeting cards are passed around like currency and the lines at all stores are replete with hurried customers purchasing their last-minute items for their significant (or what they hope to be at least) other.  It is a day where candy is given and consumed, where florists earn their wages, and when romance efforts are on display.  It can also be a day full of sadness, fraught with loneliness, but most importantly, it is a day that is dedicated one very special thing – love.

Love is uniquely human.  Love is a feeling, yes, but it’s more than that.  Love is an action, but it is more than just this as well.  Love is also sacrificial by nature.  Love says to someone, “I value you more than myself,” and because of this great expressions are exhausted to show the worth those we care about just how significant they are to us.  But why does any of that matter if God does not exist?  In other words, without God isn’t love merely an illusion, or does love actually point to God?

For the sake of time I want to focus mainly two schools of thought: 1. The Christian worldview and 2. The Atheist/Naturalist worldview.  I want to begin with the latter.  Most atheists and all naturalists by definition believe that the sum total of all things can be explained by the natural world with observable phenomena.  This means that in essence everything can be observed and broken down to be proven by what is natural.  This certainly may be (and is) true for some things, but the problem with naturalism is that it cannot account for philosophy.  In fact, one of the most revered and brilliant scientists ever, Dr. Steven Hawking, recently said “philosophy is dead.

This presents quite a problem however.  Love is not something that is purely natural.  There is an element to love that cannot be explained.  Yes, we know that neurons fire and our brain reacts in certain ways that spawn emotional responses, but is this all love is?  Is it just cold and scientific?  Richard Dawkins once famously said, “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference” (Dawkins 2015, 133).  This of course would mean that love too would have these same natural attributes, but we know this isn’t true.

Love is not apathetic.  Love in fact is the opposite of apathy.  As stated earlier, love is at its core putting someone else ahead of yourself, but if love is just indifferent there would be no reason or need of such a thing.  We know without doubt that love is much more than series of natural chemical reactions, and if that is true then certainly naturalism cannot be the reigning contributor for what our definition or explanation of love is.

So what then does the Christian worldview tell us.  The Bible tells us that God created all people in His own image (Gen. 1:27).  If this is true then it means all people have worth, value, meaning, and a capacity to think and feel.  If we are made in His image then it means we are crafted carefully to showcase our Creator.  The Christian worldview believes that not only does God define love, but He defines love because He is love (1 John 4:8). The Christian worldview accounts for love as much more than just chemical process, and gives it actual meaning.  It gives love significance.  It gives love purpose, and it tells us the reason we able to experience love and all the complexities that come with it.

For the Christian, God demonstrates His perfect love (Romans 5:8) for us as a way to bring our rebellious hearts back to Him, but He uses His love as a model for us to follow (Mark 12:30-31).  Love is an enigma, but love also has an origin, and that origin is in the God of the Bible.

Of the two worldviews discussed here there are clearly opposing views.  One says love and everything else can systematically be explained through natural causes, but there is nothing natural about loving others enough to be willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice (John 3:16; John 15:13).  Giving one’s life for the sake of another is direct conflict with the idea naturalism.  The Bible is the only source that accurately explains the way in which we are to understand and show love to others (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

This Valentines Day as you celebrate those significant others remember that love is more than flowers and candy.  Love is a direct result of a gracious and loving God.  As such, let’s not ony love the ones in our lives that we know, but let us also love the estranged and the ones we don’t always feel like loving (1 John 3:23).  Love.  It’s more than a feeling, it is a gracious gift of God.

 

Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden. Orion, 2015.

Warman, Matt. “Stephen Hawking tells Google ‘philosophy is dead’.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 17 May 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8520033/Stephen-Hawking-tells-Google-philosophy-is-dead.html.

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The Greatest Showman: An Apologist’s View – Part 2

photo © 20th Century Fox

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

The Greatest Showman teaches us so much as I alluded to in my previous blog about the value and worth of each person based not on what a person looks like, believes, their language, or their culture but purely on the fact that each person has been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  It reveals that because the nature of God (and when I say God, I am speaking of the God of the Bible as recognized by the Christian worldview) is good that everything He created(s) is good (by rebellion it is people who pervert and taint the good things) so each person has intrinsic worth.  This truly is a worthwhile lesson that each Christian must learn about when it comes to the horrors of racism, differing worldviews, and a host of other things.  This film does an excellent job at pointing to this, but there is more than can be extracted.

The main character in this film is P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), and he like most entertainers, businessmen, and frankly speaking most people finds that with each great endeavor and success he is left with a wanting for more.  Doesn’t this sound all too familiar?  For Barnum he finds a new desire at every success beckoning him to something greater.  It’s not enough that his family is proud so he continues to strive to be successful.  Once he achieves success he wants success to a higher end clientele.  The trend continues until has utterly lost everything.  It’s easy to watch a movie and point fingers at how crazy this is, and yet if we are honest and introspective, we find that we are the same at our nature.

People are messy and greedy creatures.  No matter how satisfied we are at any particular moment, we can be assured that just around the corner that the monster of “more” is lurking with an insatiable appetite and we walk blissfully into its waiting jaws.  If we are looking at successes to satisfy or fill some void that it was never created to do then we will have spent our fleeting moments on this earth pursuing pleasures that are fruitless and meaningless.

People are fragile.  Our pursuits and dreams even more fragile still.  This is best summed up in the film with a song that is performed by Jenny Lynd (Rebecca Ferguson & Loren Allred) entitled “Never Enough.” I’ve provided an excerpt from the lyrics below:

All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky
Will never be enough
Never be enough
Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it’ll
Never be enough
Never be enough

Written by: Justin Paul, Benj Pasek

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

No matter what we attain or obtain, if we do not find our identity and our satisfaction in Jesus, there will be no real relief for unending desires.  The pleasures that this world offers may certainly be good gifts, but they will always be failures as gods.  In fact only the God of the Bible is able to fill this great delta of emptiness that we seem to always find within ourselves. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV), and the Psalmist writes, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11 ESV).

Jesus alone satisfies. He cannot be duplicated or replaced.  With so many things begging us for our approval and desire there is ceaseless supply of gods that want us to make much of them, but all the gods of this world fall by the wayside and into the abyss when compared to the unending joy and satisfaction that is found only in Jesus.

The great C.S. Lewis in his magnum opus, Mere Christianity, writes, “If I find within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (Lewis 2002 114).

The Christian worldview is the only one that has the ability to answer why we are constantly left wanting.  Every other worldview wrestles with purpose, but none can wrangle this beast because apart from God there is no purpose in life.  This leads to an interesting discovery.  There is a law in logic referred to as The Law of Noncontradiction which simply states that two mutually exclusive contradictory statements cannot both be true.

In this case the law effectively points to either the God of the Bible alone is enough for us, or everything else has the potential to be enough for us.  They cannot both be true.  My argument is that one need only see the greed that permeates our hearts at every turn to see the evidence that not only can the world not satisfy us, but we are found with only one possible solution, Jesus must be enough.  You have two options set before you, an all satisfying God who in His infinite love and mercy offers you unending joy (which must be noted is not the same thing as happiness) or an interminable array of impotent gods that will rob you of joy and hope.

 

#GreatestShowman #Apologetics

 

Lewis, C.S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. HarperOne, 2002.

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The Greatest Showman: An Apologist’s View – Part 1

 

Niko Tavernise (photo credit)

I recently had the pleasure of going to see The Greatest Showman.  If you are unfamiliar with this movie (POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD), it is the fabled story (albeit not historically accurate to a high degree) of P.T. Barnum.  It is an incredible musical, and it tells a story of Barnum’s desire to bring happiness and entertainment to the masses, and the film unfolds a beautiful story in an extraordinary way.  The acting is great, the story is stellar, and the music forms what is arguably one of the greatest film soundtracks ever.  “Ok great, so what does this have to do with apologetics and theology?” Glad you asked!

[SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS BELOW – YE HATH BEEN WARNED]

The message of the film at first glance is a feel good story about a man with good intentions who in his conquest for entertainment flies too close to the sun and falls, but then regains his bearings, and lives a fulfilled life happily ever after.  In this sense film is not unique.  Hundreds of films prescribe to this same narrative, but it’s what is beneath the surface that really speaks.

Barnum’s success in the film is tied to a colorful cast of outcast and misfit characters.  These are not just quirky people, but they are societal outcasts.  They buck the trend of how “normal” is supposed to look.  They, for all intents and purposes, are freaks.  Ostracized  and alone they get a new lease and a second chance on life.  They gain a voice and a family.  Yet, even this is not the thing that most stands out to me.  What stands out the most is how it mirrors in many ways how like Barnum (Jackman), Jesus sees value and worth in the unlikely.  As Christians, we are the outcasts, the messy, and the unlovable, and yet the grace of Jesus sings over us like an oasis in the desert in passages like Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ESV).

Our value, our worth, our lives are merely the products of chance and time.  Time and chance in fact cannot answer the question of worth.  The reason we have hope, the reason we have worth, the reason, we can empathize, the reason we find value in others in spite of the baggage we all carry is because we were wonderfully made in the Imago Dei.  Atheism, naturalism, humanism, etc. cannot give answers on how this occurs apart from a Creator (which is the God of the Bible alone) because pure science cannot answer life’s philosophical questions.

Barnum intercede for the outcasts. God intercedes on our behalf to do what we would never be able to do on our own.  Of course, the glaring difference is that unlike Barnum, God intervenes because of His great love and mercy and offers to cover us under the floods of His grace like a great ocean, not because He has need of us or because He wants something in return (other than true and authentic worship).  This message should be one that rings in our ears and hearts and fills us with awe, wonder, thankfulness, and a daily reminder of His great faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV).

 As Christians as we ponder these things, our hearts should be stirred to love the “unlovable” we come in contact with.  Our hearts, attitudes, and minds must be shaped by this great and wonderful truth that we did not earn our salvation, but rather God grants this great gift (Ephesians 2:8 ESV).  We must look at people and love them based not on their religious (or non-religious) affiliation, color of skin, gender, culture, or any other excuse we try to find, but rather we look at people through the lens of Jesus.  We find their value and their worth is intrinsically woven into them by God Almighty.
The Greatest Showman has an amazing amount of knowledge and symbolism that (whether intentionally or unintentionally) speaks vast volumes with Christian underpinnings.  There is more we can extract from this film, but we can look at the other pieces at a later time.

 

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What Are you Communicating?

Ministry.  It’s a wonderful, fulfilling, and incredibly rewarding job and calling.  Although the old adage, “all the glitters is not gold” also rings true here.  Aside from being fulfilling and rewarding, ministry can also be grimy, lonely, and in many ways disheartening.

I’ve been doing ministry now for 17 years, and while by no means am I an expert on all things ministry, I am familiar with many of the pitfalls therein.  One of the main problems I see in ministry, and I am speaking primarily in relation to youth ministry, is a compulsory and sadly all too often desire to entertain those in attendance.  This is not untrue for me.  Every minister I know (and that’s a large number) have this gut feeling that somehow they have to keep their audience entertained or they risk losing them.  As a result we look for gimmicks or quick fixes to grab their attention and keep them entertained, but at what cost?

I’m not saying entertainment is a bad thing.  I’m not saying it doesn’t have its place.  I’m not even saying your youth ministries or any ministry should be boring, lifeless, voids with no appearance of personality or fun.  I am however saying that if the main thing students (or anyone for that matter) know about your ministry is that it is “fun” then a disservice has been done.  In my 17 years of ministry I have seen repeatedly that what sticks with our congregants and teenagers is not games or videos, but rather it is a deep caring for them and more importantly it is a continual message of the gospel Christ.

Our calling is to make much of Jesus and less of ourselves (John 3:30).  We must disciple students and adults to have them go and make disciples of others.  Jesus is where our focus, our attention, and devotion must point.  Anything less will not do.  We do those who give us an audience a terrible disservice when we focus more on getting people in the seats than we do at making those there are learning about Jesus and being given Bible as the primary source of knowledge and wisdom.  If we miss this then it simply will not matter how many people show up or come to our churches.  It will have been in vain.

Please hear my heart.  I’m not saying your youth group or your church cannot be fun or have elements of entertainment, but if this is done simply to gain new people then it’s a terrible strategy.  All the data shows that people are entertained for a while, but then they get bored and move on to new entertainment.  Don’t set the bar low.  Your students are better than that, and they’re smarter.  Raise the bar and watch what happens.

Whether you have a youth group or congregation of a few or a few thousand the goal must be the same.  You don’t have to entertain, and you don’t have to give out gimmicks or entertainment, you only have to give the Jesus.  Don’t buy into the notion that without entertainment you as a minister are a failure.  The only failure is when the focus shifts from the cross of Christ to gimmicks or ways to provide entertainment.  Be faithful to the Gospel.  Be faithful to the Bible.  Be faithful to Jesus.  That my friends will always be enough.