Church as time travel

Long reads, Thoughts
Have we lost the proper focus of Christian gathering? Do we re-present our Saviour to our souls each week as nourishment or do we gather to tickle the ears and say “well done my soul”? 
We human beings inhabit a universe that is both stunningly beautiful and shockingly strange all at once.  It’s a wonder we can actually get up each day and make our coffee, check the news, shower and line-up dutifully on the highway or subway platform as we head into the office or school without being slapped silly by the reality around us.  We are warmed by a sun with billions of years of fuel that exists in a universe of Black holes denser than the mind can imagine.   Physicists, many who deny the non-material, now tell us that time and space are in  illusory and that two physical particles can be in two places in the universe at once.   And, all of this concrete reality is understood to have arisen from absolutely nothing, in a singularity so mind-binding that only pure mathematics can describe it.  How did we get to be part of all of this dizzying reality?  And what a privilege for humans to ponder and observe and ask  “why”, while the rest of life on earth apparently lives only to survive?
One of the many wonders of creation is time itself.  Time is the ethereal filmstrip on which the events of our lives are imprinted.  When we think about time, is it not true that two moments can be separated by many decades and yet connect in a way that make them seem inseparable?  For those who experience emotional elation or trauma, time seems to be a thin veil indeed when we meditate for a moment on this events.  They appear to us as apparitions in the here and now, despite the fact that months or years have elapsed. In this way, as much as we are bound by agendas and calendars, our lived-sense of time is more elastic and relative.  Not just in the mathematical sense that Einstein indeed helped us all understand, but in the emotional and experiential sense as a human being.   Moments of fear and panic from years past can instantly sneak up behind us and pounce.  In those moments we are connected to and pulled back by an event that marked our very being and soul.  This ability to experientially time-travel takes on a greater weight as we approach middle age.   But what is universal is that our distance in years from an event in no ways means it has to be less impactful or less real as something which occurred in time and space and is now etched in our history.   If you doubt this, simply spend a few brief moments talking to a survivor war, or some other traumatic event.   Usually, tears well up as they will describe how the events of that time are as real as if they occurred yesterday.  
What is the value of reflection on this reality and what is the connection to the church of Christ?  Having established that events can be so impactful that they seemed like they occurred only yesterday, I would like us to move to an instructive corollary.   The corollary is that at no time as we reflect on the past do we seriously question that certain events happened.  We now live in the shadow of these events.   We accept and recall them as real and as markers and moments in our lives.  To the degree that they changed who we are today, we accept the role these moments played in forming us and we allow them to inform out lives in the here-and-now.   Your personal history is a concrete reality that has marked your life.  We cannot doubt, short of some sort of mind-bending philosophical idealism, the reality that went with these happenings.  Where are we headed with this line of thinking?  Simply put, as Christians we need to enter into a full acceptance that the historical events around the life of the God Man, Jesus our Lord, are as real in history as the very events of our own lives.   Not equivalent in significance or influential as mythical sources of daily wisdom, but as equivalent as these real events of our personal timelines.  True Christian’s are those who embrace the reality that Christ’s life unfolded in time and place.  This fact has now created a wake in time and an impact on history, individual people and nations forever.
As Christians we understand this at some level, and so understand what it is to which we witness.  And yet my experience over decades of church attendance is that at times it seems there is a certain air of, “but this is somehow different than reality” about how we see and describe the life of our Saviour.   Although we would never say it this way, it is not always clear that believers live as if the events we speak about actually happened in the same way your marriage or the birth of our children happened.  And that’s the point we are trying to bring home.  If you are a parent,  when you think back to the birth of your children you know that this was a concrete happening in time and place.  It is never doubted.  But I maintain that in the Church there is a real sense in which we gather and pray and open the Word of God and leave and forget the bedrock reality that stands behind the claim.  If you stopped many Christians after church and asked them what they are doing their answer belies the very mature of the underlying problem.  They may say that since they believe in God they have gathered to encourage each other and learn more about His Word and worship Him.  Yes, indeed – this is true.  But would they also go on to say that they gathered as a Holy Memorial and Witness to the actual events of the life of the God-Man and to re-present that reality to their souls while workshop the God who intervened in history to save us?  In this sense, the church-event as a gathering is meant to be a sort of time travel, which is really no time travel at all when we keep the eyes of our soul open.
In prayer, worship, song and fellowship we must be trying to live in the shadow of light cast by the life of our Saviour.  We must be placing ourselves beside the cradle and the cross, or in the Garden and say to our souls, “This is why everything is now different.” Something Real Happened.   And we should do this in the same sense that we reflect on our birth, marriage and the like – as real moments in God’s world.   The Apostle Paul expressed this in his letters when he often reminded the new Christian’s of his time that they were witnesses to real events that no-one can deny.   Just as you were a witness to a real event  in your life.  But somehow in light of this we still gather  and listen to the typical worship band warmup to a typical sermon with a monthly celebration of the Last Supper and never fully enter into this mindset.  When we gather there should be a sense of deep occasion and although I am struggling to articulate it, here is one small analogy that at least directionally for me.
When my Father died, at the next few family gathering ,as we said grace before our meal we would say something like, “And today we remember Dad and think of the great man he was at this time and how he is missed by us all”.  For me, and those who loved him, there was a moment where the reality of his existence in time and the gap between the “now” and “then” of his life collapsed and we remembered a life lived and its impact on us as if it was yesterday.   We were “re-presenting” Dad to ourselves to both honour him and encourage us to live as he lived. And this felt so very real because it was.  He indeed was born in time, he died, he raised a family, and he served his country and God. That reality of even a human life matters! How much more the Grand Life that saves all lives who trust in Him.  How much more the life of which Athanasius said,“ Can anyone, in face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life? Does a dead man prick the consciences of men…?”
Should church not feel more like this as we gather?   God bless my Catholic and Orthodox brothers for at times better understanding this truth.  My weary soul has tired of singing and expository preaching that seems to lack the deep sense of the reality of Christ in Life and Christ in Death.   Should church not be about in effect stepping back in time to bring foreword to our souls the historical reality of it all.  From there we can step forward to focus on “the what now” (i.e. how then should we live), but I fear that too many churches only live in the “what is now and next” and have not spend enough time re-presenting the “what then” without which “the what now” is be utterly meaningless.  Would that I bring this sort of heart to worship each week and be met by others who are also desiring to be taken back in time before we are taking forward into our daily lives.  We must be expecting to deeply recall a Life truly lived on this earth that forever changed the course of history and the future. Would that the Pastor, rather than preaching a discourse again, just once dropped their weekly preparation and just stand in front of the congregation and say something like “Today we have gathered to remember our Saviour.  His life and love. His humility and His servant heart.  His purity and His obedience. His compassion and His forgiving heart.  His pain. His willingness to redeem and repair. His real presence with is today.  Let us today kneel together in silence as we remember a life lived to redeem the unredeemable world and then let us go and show others His love and tell them why when asked.”  At that moment those who are true believers would fall to their knees with thankful hearts.  And would we not leave feeling more impacted than hearing yet another four points on why it is important we read the bible and pray? Or more exegesis on Hebrews? Are these other things not also part of our growth in the Faith? Yes, yes and yes indeed.  But I would argue that we must first do some spiritual time -ravel to first ground and link our faith in a reality.  When we do not begin here, and if the Author and Finisher of our Faith is not regularly re-presented, _ecco homo_, behold, then we flounder and begin to look a lot like just another self-help group who study the Bible.  And please do not kid yourselves that the world of unbelievers does not see this.
Let’s pray that Church becomes more like this and less like an intellectual and musical display of human hope.  This can never be enough for the world or our own souls.

Dear Lord Jesus, come quickly,

And yet while we live in this dark and sometimes hopeless looking gap in time,

May we re-present You to our parched and thirsty souls

And call others to the same joyful ecstasy,
as you haunt us daily until that happy day we see you come again in time.

And my I yet say to my heart again, “Cheer up dear heart, why again so forlorn?”

Jesus Came, Jesus Lived, Jesus Died so that you, dear heart, can be again-born.

Just like His father. Period. Full stop.

Long reads

A common theme today in many non-traditional evangelical churches goes something like this, “Let’s just focus on Jesus.  He is peaceful, merciful and kind, but the Old Testament God is tough, distant, and judgemental.”

Amongst many evangelical churches today, a new ministry emphasis seems to be common.  It goes something like this – “We focus on Jesus and simply following Him. He is peaceful, merciful and kind. Whereas the the Old Testament image of God was problematic, we see in Jesus an attractive and appealing persona.”

My church of the last seven years has built its outreach around this very idea. The members and adherents resonate deeply with this “Jesus is all we want to know about God“ vibe that gives the impression that Jesus was a material break from the God of the Old Testament more so than a a fulfillment of the law (as Jesus himself said). In such churches, we encounter an extended recasting of the image of the God we encounter in the Old Testament. Their emphasis hinges on the implicit idea that Jesus was in reality a kinder, softer and gentler version of God the Father. Jesus cares about the heart, they say, while the Father in the Old Testament cared more about adherence to the Law. This ministry emphasis, while understandable in today’s post-modern culture which is afraid of giving offence and thus projecting a certain softness into Christ, contains dangers that can lead us to a theological place we should not go as orthodox evangelical Christians.

A thorough reading of the entire Jewish/Christian Old Testament scriptures reveal that this God vs. Jesus distinction is a thoroughly lazy caricature (as appealing as it may be in our modern context). The deep mercy and heart of God the Father revealed first in the Old Testament scriptures shows tender mercies in almost embarrassing abundance. His heart is moved deeply by the plight of even those who after recurring warnings continue to pursue their own path. He warns through prophets. He weeps and feels pathos over Israel continuing to understand how much He loves them. The deep mine of gold in these writings is weighty and significant. I have read these Old Testament scriptures many times and never fail to leave with a sense of the deep compassion and heart of God the Father. Is it not in Jesus that we now personally encounter this very heart in bodily form? We see Him walk amongst us and suffer. We see him weep over the death of a friend and the hardness of the hearts of those in Jerusalem. We see Him suffer for us. Just like his Father. We can even argue that the very divinity of Jesus is self-evident in that his heart seems to be the same as the heart of God as revealed in the Jewish scripture.

I remain thoroughly flummoxed that these new “Jesus Churches” (now, before you protest, all churches are indeed Jesus’ church, but my use here is a mnemonic for the churches I referred to in my opening) take such a mentally lazy approach and in doing so leave harmful impressions. Harmful? What is the harm you ask?

The harm is the same type of harm we do when we do not fairly represent the full truth about someone who is so material to our lives. We create an unfair accounting of that person that misleads others. If we do this in a human context then we leave people feeling like they are knowledgeable about someone when they do not know that full person in a complete and fair way. So how dare we, the Church of God, paint this fuzzy and incomplete picture to those who walk through our doors. To reach such incomplete and lazy conclusions about the very God we serve seems to me inherently weighty and indeed serious. To then build a church and style of worship and engagement around an emphasis on the second person in the Godhead with the subtext being “Boy are we glad it is not just God the Father we serve” is indeed doing violence to a proper and full image of the loving and just and compassionate God whom we serve. If you fail to see a full convergence between God as revealed in the Old Testament and Jesus as He walked amongst us and His Spirit as he convicts and comforts us, then something has gone seriously awry with our theology.

Before you protest, I am not at all arguing that Jesus should not be seen as the key to unlock a better understanding of the full mysteries of God the Father. I am also not arguing that Jesus was not the object to which much of the Old Testament was pointing. What I am arguing is that this same Jesus is “Just Like His Father” and not to be seen as God 2.0 or a “nicer and better” version. This is a toxic and untruthful fancy that a full reading of the Scriptures will not allow.

How can otherwise well-informed Pastor-Teachers miss what is as clear as the nose on your face (if you immerse yourself in the Scripture)? Is this mental laziness or has it become convenient and even helpful to these Pastors who want to embrace a Jesus who is somehow hipper, cooler and “good” with their culture of effortless Christianity?

I urge these Pastors-Teachers to look deeper into this and to be very careful to make sure they leave their congregations understanding this – that this same Jesus is just like His Father in all ways.  Period.  

The existence of God: a new argument from significance

Long reads

Can we prove that God, the Prime Mover and Creator exists ?  I propose that the answer is “no” in the sense that God, by definition, exists outside of the knowable and measurable physical universe.  Believers will immediately recoil and argue that I am giving up too soon.  I disagree.  To one whom chooses to resist probabilities and likelihoods, no argument can be sufficient.  I believe that at best we can continue to make strong arguments that our universe points to the likelihood of the existence of God and then leave the matter at that.  So is there no value in apologetics and the like ?  Indeed there is, but our measure of the effectiveness of such things must be humble .  We need to remember that what we continue to do when we are asked to give a reason for the hope we have is to remind people that what we believe is supported by a great weight of facts and pointers and indicators and thus seems at least as reasonable (frankly more) than the negative proposition. And that is perhaps as far as we can go without looking desperate for affirmation (if I may put it that way).  I suppose it is great that our world contains folks like William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias, but I do not rejoice in this in the sense that we can slide into arrogance if we drag out our favourite apologist and say to the non-believers, “How dumb can you be not to see this”.  I know what you are thinking already.  You believe I am effectively ceding the fight to the non-believers.  You are wrong since I believe we need to continue to declare what we believe.  I only want to make sure we stop before we go over the cliff.  Think about that for a bit.  So I indeed believe that apologetics adds weight to the balance of probabilities and is a noble thing to do (to a point), but that is as far as we can and should go with out arguments and attitudes.  To look at an atheist in astonishment and proclaim, “How can you ever deny that God exists” is not an attitude or position we can and should take.  Since a priori if someone has chosen to reject the mass of reasonable evidence and pointers as I call them, one cannot be made to believe in God (or anything for that matter) in the face of denial.

With that caution and rather annoying preamble behind me, I am now going to do what you clearly do not expect me to do.  Today I would like to add (yet another argument) for the existence of God (as a personal prime mover) that I hope adds more weight to our side of the scale and perhaps for some is an argument somewhat less easy to counter than some of the traditional arguments put forth.  I called it the “argument from personal significance or sovereignty”.  At the end of this essay perhaps you will understand what I mean by this currently obscure phrase.

In modernity we seen a trend emerge that is at its peak perhaps in our age.  I am referring to the belief Western civilization holds that individuals matter and that their opinions, emotions, privacy, etc are weighty and important.  Derivatives of this belief include things like the correct move to stop workplace harassment, bullying in schools and the like – but the common thread is this idea of personal sovereignty.  All of these are valuable and build upon a belief that is far from self evident  for those who presume away the existence of a Personal Creator who not only creates but creates order and justice in the universe.  Eject this and the ground upon which this entire enterprise rests collapses in on itself.  But let me keep my argument very narrow at this stage.  The “argument from personal significance” says that what an individual thinks and feels seems to matter a lot to the modern world.  In fact it has become perhaps the single most important talking point for modern society.  Schools, workplaces and churches are scolded and even sued when individuals are not treated this way.  It has come to be accepted as fundamental to free society that if an individual “feels” mistreated or abused or not valued, etc then something has gone awry.  Yet, I argue, this is so far from self evident in a naturalistic universe.  It is in fact not what anyone would expect to be value in a universe where we literally are the product of physical processes and time. I would now like to turn this argument around on itself.  Looked at this way, I am arguing that the very fact that when we speak to someone one on one about their hurt or abuse or related things we indeed “feel” a weight about that person that is not due to someone who is only a temporary and random assortment of atoms.