apologetics, Discipleship, spiritual formation, Uncategorized

Monday Rewind: Beyond Meat

Too often the church argues about the non-essentials.

This is a recurring habit, as old as the first disciples. It’s also very human. You find it at the local coffee shop as the seniors in the corner banter about joint pain remedies. You hear it at the daycare as preschoolers debate – in heated battle – about the nuances of the rules of duck-duck-goose. We’re all pretty good at weighing-in on what’s trivial.

Here’s an example from antiquity. The church in Rome seemed entrenched in heated conflicts. For one, they had their own version of the “beyond meat” debate. Should you eat only vegetables or is bacon still on the menu? They also wrestled with the importance of holy days. Is it appropriate to observe sacred days or are all days essentially the same? Things must have been pretty intense for Paul to commit a large portion of his letter to this issue.

Paul summarizes his solution to the conflicts in Romans 14:17-19:

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Paul says that our priorities are disordered. When we focus too much on the non-essentials we lose sight of the big picture. We make mountains out of molehills. We elevate secondary or tertiary matters and put primary matters in a corner. The kingdom isn’t about eating and drinking – it’s about the life of the Spirit working in and through the people of God, producing righteousness and peace and joy. (And nobody puts primary matters in a corner.)

Paul also says that the kingdom life should be about building people up rather than tearing them down.

My father was a demolition and explosives expert. He made his money by destroying and blowing things up. He was masterful at demolition – but he was a lousy carpenter. I’m not overstating when I say I would be hesitant to sit on a bench if he built it. My point is that tearing things down and building things up are two very different skill sets. It is far easier to deconstruct than to construct.

We are living in highly polarized times. Ideologies are re-emerging and ideologues are rising. People are shouting at each other across the great divide but few are building bridges. It’s far too easy to label people as “conservative,” or “liberal,” or “snowflake,” or “fundamentalist,” or “millennial,” or “boomer.” And because of the impact of post-modernism, we have become adept at deconstructing other people’s positions. Sadly, we’re masterful at tearing them down but we lack the skillset to build.

In my late twenties, I spent two years studying undergraduate philosophy at a university. I swam in a sea of postmodernist deconstruction and developed the capability of ripping apart anybody’s worldview, including my own. But when you burn everything to the ground, what remains? Over time, I found myself spiraling down into disillusionment and nihilism (which, as it turns out, are symptomatic of our times). I decided that I didn’t want to live in a world of doubt and despair. I wanted to hope. To build. To create. This is one of the reasons why I left the academy and went back into the ministry.

Jesus invites us into a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit. He’s calling us to something higher, something greater. What if the people of God excelled at building each other up? What if the world could see the beauty of the kingdom in how we live and how we love?

My prayer is that we would be a people who love each other fiercely, who sacrifice our preferences for the greater good, and who build each other up.

And may the world see the kingdom within us and through us.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

apologetics, Discipleship, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Buffet Religion

Is it arrogant to believe in one truth? Can we say that any religion is more true or valid than the others?

A common assumption of Canadians is that religions are essentially the same and are each searching for the same outcome. As a result, if anybody says that one religion is more true or valid, they are speaking from a position of arrogance.

Because we homogenize our religious narratives, the result is we have essentially become religious pragmatists. In other words, we don’t ask whether something is true or not. Instead, we ask whether something works or not. If somebody follows a different religion, we’re very quick to say, “Well, if that works for you and makes you happy, then that’s all that matters.” Truth takes a backseat to function (and sometimes even fashion).

We’re also willing to mix-and-match components from the different religions to suit our personal needs. After all, if they’re essentially the same, why should it matter where you draw your truth from? The end result is we are now able to create our own customized religion that suits our interests or temperament. We approach religions like shoppers at the mall. This undercurrent of consumerism cannot be ignored. In the end, what we have is “buffet religion” or “build-a-bear” religion. And who doesn’t like smorgasbords, right?

You can see this religious pragmatism played out in the movie, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” Ricky Bobby, played by Will Farrell, is a professional race car driver who’s rising to success. There’s this brilliantly funny scene where Ricky Bobby rolls his car in a professional race. When he’s pulled from his overturned vehicle, he’s so delusional that he thinks he’s on fire. He does everything he can to escape the flames. He  tries the “stop-drop-and-roll” technique. He strips to his underwear and flails his arms like…well, like a man on fire. When all else fails, he calls out for supernatural assistance.

His words have been quoted and remixed in hundreds of memes:

“Help me, Jesus! Help me, Jewish God! Help me, Allah! Help me, Tom Cruise! Use your witchcraft on me to get the fire off of me!…Help me, Oprah Winfrey!”

The irony is that Ricky Bobby is portrayed as a man who’s only vaguely religious. But when he’s in trouble, he reaches out to whatever god is available. The issue for him isn’t what’s true. The issue is what works.

This is our cultural religious landscape. So it’s not surprising that when Christ-followers claim that there is one truth, one God, or one pathway, people tend to get a bit uptight: “How can you say that? How can you make exclusive truth claims like that? Seems kind of arrogant…”

My goal here isn’t to answer these questions. If you’re curious, I’ve provided a link to a recent podcast where I do a deep-dive into this topic. You can check it out at the bottom of this post.

Instead, I’ll counter with some clarifying questions:

First, if we objectively look at the fundamental differences between the world’s largest religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism), can we really say that they are essentially the same?

Second, do YOU really think that all religions are equally true and valid? What about the Jonestown Massacre? What about the Branch Davidians under David Koresh? And the Ancient Ammonites who sacrificed humans (maybe even babies) on fiery altars?

Third, if you concede that some religions are not equally valid, haven’t you conceded that there are criteria for what’s in and what’s out? The moment you begin to insert criteria is the moment the pluralist position begins to fall apart. It becomes logically inconsistent.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

 

apologetics, Discipleship, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Reasonable Cause

Everything which begins to exist has a cause. Or restated, everything is the result of contingency.

You exist, so that means you were caused by something. I’m betting it was biological procreation between two homo-sapiens. This means there was a point in time when you didn’t exist and then a point when you began to exist. But something CAUSED that to happen. It may have been influenced by dim lighting, a bottle of wine, and classic eighties love songs (feel free to insert your appropriate decade here). And then your parents got busy.

In the same way, your parents exist because they were caused by something, and so did their parents before them. You can follow these causes all the way back to the first humans. As it turns out, this causation is true of all things, both living and non-living. Everything that exists was caused by something else.

Things don’t come from nothing. Things come from something. You can’t say that something came from nothing. It’s a contradiction in terms. This is indisputable in the realm of science. It’s the principle of cause and effect, action and reaction. Science has never documented something that came from nothing.

So when we look at the universe, it can be understood as a linear regression of cause and effect relationships. In other words, you can trace everything back to a beginning. It’s what philosophers call the “first cause” or a singularity. Somehow, at one specific point, the universe began to exist.

The question is…where did this first cause come from?

Now, some have argued that the universe doesn’t need to have a beginning. Couldn’t we assume that the universe has always been, that there’s just an infinite number of cause and effect relationships rolling backwards, ad infinitum (or to quote Buzz, “to infinity and beyond!”)?

For much of history, it was difficult to dispute this line of thinking. But everything changed in 1929. Edwin Hubble made one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the twentieth-century as he scanned the skies through a 100-inch telescope. In layman’s terms, he affirmed that the universe is rapidly expanding. The implication is that it had a beginning, something that’s famously been called the Big Bang. If this is true, then the universe has not always been. There was a first cause.

Again, the question is…where did this first cause come from?

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.