Monday, December 28, 2020

2020 Discoveries- Wrongs and 'Rights'

The last post of 2020! And the topic is easily anticipated....'change and a new year'.

This post will not change the world… it is even less likely to change someone’s mind. It may rile up readers, both positively and negatively… red meat to the masses... but that is not my goal. 

This post is not social criticism…though there is plenty to criticize! “(The main human agent/actor) in history is not individual genius, but rather the network…. Though a revolutionary idea might emerge from the masses… it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites.” (James Davison Hunter).


Rather, this post is to confess that I have in MANY ways been wrong on some things… I have strayed away from a well worn path and a steady north star. Thankfully, God is always gracious to pick me up, dust me off, admonish me in love, and steady my steps in a new direction.


Over the next two months, I am wanting to ‘flesh out’ where I have been, what changes I intend to make, and begin to carry out what I have been called to do over the next stage of my life.


Now don't panic... I expect no changes in my job or other relationships- on the outside, these endeavors may even seem invisible! The Lord changes things from the inside out.


Rather, it is like Janie Buck, (wife of the saint, Dr. Bill Buck, who just went home to be with Jesus https://obits.al.com/obituaries/birmingham/obituary.aspx?n=william-p-buck&pid=197352481&fhid=6039) who said when the gospel of Christ took hold of her family- "I have gone and gotten a new husband, and I didn't even have to get a divorce!"


2020 was a BEAR…. And even in this last week, HE swipes his claws and tears at the very fabric of our lives…. My prayer list of hurting and critical friends has never been longer! Covid has been an unprecedented attack and the toll is unmeasurable… including the constant criticism of people and institutions who are trying to do the best they can based on mixed, changing, and confusing information.


But Covid has also revealed how unhealthy we are as a culture- both figuratively and literally. We are not healthy physically, mentally, or spiritually!


My wife and I are doing some reading that we will be discussing and I have been inspired in this process by the thoughts of Os Guinness, Dr. Francis Schaefer, Johnny Cash, and a few friends and podcasts during this Christmas break.


So to tip my hand a little bit- here are some of the ‘personal declarations’ I have been sorting through… nothing to dig in on yet… but food for thought and interaction!


This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. [2] Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. [3] But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. [4] For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. [5] Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:1–5 ESV)


Personal Declarations - Preparing for 2021


I believe in the God of the Bible- He doesn’t need me to defend Him.

I will never cease to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Truth is what God says- though we don't understand it at times, forget it, and often use it as a weapon and not a balm.

As a sinful human, I fail to live up to my ideals- but it does not stain the truth of Christ.

My family is the greatest cell of opposition to this current ‘cancel culture’… it is THE source of true fellowship and encouragement.

The  invisible Church of Christ is undefeated- it is the ongoing, global, and VERY effective ministry of the body of Jesus.

I need to faithfully, openly attend and support my local, visible church.

I need to organize or attend a small group for prayer, study, and fellowship.

I need to commit to a life of spiritual disciplines- including worship, prayer, fasting, and daily study of the Bible. I need to honor Christ with my body and endeavor to live a healthy lifestyle.

I am too busy living under the tyranny of the urgent... I have to be better at saying NO... it can wait.

I honor no man or institution as an ‘elite’.

I defend individual rights, even if I don’t agree with that person.

I defend religious liberty, even for groups that I don’t agree with.

I defend free speech, even for speech that I don’t agree with.

I defend law and order, and I will always choose civil disobedience as a last option.

I refuse to characterize, pre- judge, or primarily identify any person based on their color, creed, gender, or social standing.

I have every right to speak out against the rewriting of history and the re-invention of language, which often parallels the coerced values of any particular elitist group or institution.

I refuse to live in fear of the vindictive rants or potential doxing of power hungry bullies.

While I do participate in social media, I realize it is a system based on surveillance technology, where the rules of what I say and who I read is censored to algorithms designed to market me as a consumer… which leads to a distortion of reality.

I have great skepticism in ALL forms of the current mainstream media (MSM). I will take EVERYTHING they report with ‘a grain of salt’.

While I will always live as an honorable citizen, I do not trust my government. My kingdom is not of this world.

There are NO political solutions to the real problems of mankind.

Democracies are better than Socialist states…. But all forms of governments have issues.

I have significant issues with many of today’s virtue signals including ‘wokeness’, ‘social justice’, ‘diversity and inclusion’ or labeling people with the suffix  “phobe”.

I will perform no action or subscribe to a creed to simply aleve guilt or be accepted by any particular group of people.

If I am persecuted or have to suffer for Christ… I will seek to do it joyfully, for the glory of God.

I need to be prepared for that sooner, rather than later.

None of this steals my joy, peace, hope, or love.

I need to be a better servant of others!


This is the essence of my life as a man.


If you are interested in exploring some of this with me in 2021... feel free to email me: jayopsis@gmail.com


Alexander Solzhenitsyn “Live NOT by Lies”

Living a lie is accepting without protest all the falsehoods and propaganda that the state or any group of elites compel me to affirm. 


"The ordinary man may not be able to overturn a kingdom of lies, but he can at least say that he is not going to be a loyal subject."


Monday, December 21, 2020

Book Review: The Last Christian on Earth by Os Guinness

 

Update: I feel like I was TOO harsh in saying this book had too may issues but not enough solutions... I got weary at he end and didn't pay close enough attention... though the Evangelical Declaration at the end didn't float my boat.

It was one of those books that sat on my shelf too long, but God has the perfect ability to push it at the right time for me. How long though, is somewhat embarrassing.

I helped plan an apologetics conference at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville back in 2010 (or was it 2009?). It was an all-star lineup including Doug Powell, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, and the keynote was by Dr. William Edgar of Westminster Seminary.

Dr Edgar encouraged me to get the book and I read the opening chapter... only to let it sit in my office through the transition to Birmingham in 2011.

I don't know what made me pick it back up.... and it took a few times to get back in thinking mode. But once I re-engaged, it created a wonderful experience of thought experiments.

The book was originally published under the title, The Gravedigger Files. It is a contemporary "Screwtape Letters" and uses the premise of secret memorandums within the kingdom of darkness to applaud the efforts of a spiritual deep state to disfigure and destroy the Christian faith.

It is a fun ride through the world of social criticism and has many quotable lines that Guinness writes himself, as well as his vast treasure of proverbs from many others.

I guess my only 'criticism' of the book is that it paints the problems well, comes across at times 'snarky', but doesn't spend a lot of time on real antidotes for individual believers who know all too well the problems... but don't know too well any solutions.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Evangelicals have become one of the shallowest, noisiest, and most corrupt parts of the Christian Church, bringing down an unprecedented avalanche of disdain on their heads- almost none of which has anything to do with Jesus.

The Christian faith contributed to the rise of the modern world, but the Christian faith has been undermined BY the modern world it helped to create. The Christian faith thus becomes its own gravedigger. (attributed to Peter Berger)

Philistines throwing parties should be wary of Samsons who lean on pillars.

(on The Enlightenment/ Left of the 30's and 40's)- Yes, there was brilliance, but its darker side was the empty rhetoric, the hypocritical poses, the shabby compromises, the betrayal of friends and causes, with some people fellow-traveling with the Communists, and others more or less sleeping with fascism.... this kind of general mood became a more effective inoculation against faith than a hundred Voltairean arguments.

If you want to know what water is, why is a fish the last one to ask? attributed to an old Chinese proverb.

To the man with a hammer, everything is a nail.

The problem with modern Christians is not that they are not where they should be, but they are not what they should be where they are.

There is no national God in America, but the executive branch is his prophet.

Anything as powerful as religion was bound to be commercialized.

In the age in which we now live, civilization is not an ideal or an aspiration.... it is a video game.

Politicians, it is now said, no longer run for office- they pose. But Christians too have become hooked, inhaling publicity like chain smokers, quite oblivious to the warning on the packet.

In matters of the spirit, nothing fails like success.

The customary parade of celebrities was passing across the screens, quick-tongued as ever, each one endorsing the Christian gospel with all the sincerity of a toothpaste commercial

Let your Jesus button shine before men that they may see your good graphics and glorify your P.R. team who live on Long Island.

See what I mean by 'snarky"!

Here is a paraphrase that effectively summarizes the entire book:

Under the impact of the modern world:

Secularization makes faith seem less real.

Privatization makes it merely a private preference, and

Pluralization just makes it one choice among many.

The title of the book is an excellent point... If the enemy can give enough people the intuition that "I am the last Christian on Earth" it will discourage the church from any visible effectiveness. 

I encourage those who enjoy a sociologist's view of culture to dig in and mull over.

I also want to plug a podcast that Dr. Guinness did for law students at Pepperdine... here he does give some great antidotes at the end.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/os-guinness-survival-fastest-living-sanely-in-craziness/id432660031

The thoughts in this book will definitely be in my January writing as I am plodding through some disappointment and disillusionment in 2020.

In the end though... the church will survive until the Lord's return. The statistics might not be great (only 2 of 7 were in good shape in the Book of Revelation)

The gospel is not thwarted. Jesus is still Lord of all and His kingdom will reign for ever and ever. I just don't know how long America will be a player in the game.

Update:

I found notes from 2010 when I started this book:


I'm going to paraphrase and comment on some of Os Guiness's book that was originally published under the title, "The Gravedigger Files (IVP, 1983). This is a little like C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, but more direct and informational.

The problem with this blog is to differentiate Guiness's points of brilliance and my random rambling. So anything in BLUE (italics in facebook notes) and  is me- and if Guinness contradicts my BLUE... choose Guinness! 

Memorandum 2 is a phenomenon labeled 'The Sandman Effect' and is presented as an enemy tactic versus the church.

In this tactic, the church digs its own grave while Christians sleep.

The major premise of the Sandman Effect is to infiltrate the church by use of culture- which exposes the defensive vulnerability of the church. Instead of the church becoming more aware of the damaging effects of popular culture, she falls into a deeper and deeper sleep.

The first experiment with this tactic is confusing the nature of belief. The impact of the enlightenment produced unexpected and unintended results.  The pomp and pressure of those who presented themselves as the intellectual elite offered much promise, but only produced exclusive caste systems and cynicism. The ultimate fruit of intellectual oppression is a quest for power and the greatest use of that power is cynical, dream killing, skepticism. 

I love how Guinness describes this: "Yes, there was brilliance, but its darker side was the empty rhetoric, the hypocritical poses, the shabby compromises. the betrayal of friends and causes, with some people fellow-traveling with the communists, and others more or less sleeping with fanaticism...The legacy of this kind of general mood became a more effective inoculation against faith that a hundred (Voltaires)". The desire for truth went out of fashion..... which led the way for post-modernism which is not a clear philosophy... it is also a mood.

And here is where we (Christians, especially in the south) go wrong- we fail to see what has happened among those who are not the traditionalists. Traditionalists have a strong sense of right and wrong- they have a foundation of TRUTH.

But we are increasingly living among those (especially the young- media savvy- who tend to think by sight and act by impulse) who judge truth not by objectivity, but degrees of plausibility.


In Guinness's words- "we have created a climate in which a thing's seeming to be true is often mistaken for its being true."

And what is the means of this change? By changing the definition and standards of 'belief'.
We allow and even applaud people who believe or disbelieve on non-rational or psychological grounds. YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID AND YOUR ACTIONS ARE JUSTIFIED BECAUSE THEY ARE PLAUSIBLE, EVEN IF THEY DO NOT CONNECT TO REALITY OR TRUTH.


I love Guinness's analogy here: we accept a person who is an atheist- not because they have weighed truth and fallacy- but simply because their father was a religious hypocrite who alienated the family from God as much as himself.


Unfortunately, we fall into this trap when we begin to elevate psychology over Scripture or only accept interpretation and application of Scripture as it fits the latest psychological models.
See how subtle it is? We agree with truth if the support structure is strong. But if the support structure is weak, it is harder to believe.

"Coach it with care and and plausibility will upstage credibility"- this is a scary statement.

The church has become a heart suffering from fibrillation - the rapid, irregular, and unsynchronized contraction of muscle fibers- 
one spasmodic side is the Christian philosophers- who expound the theoretical- and the other meaningless motion is the 'just give me Jesus' anti-intellectual crowd who throw out doctrine.


Then Guinness shows how the Apostle Paul provides a framework for the fight. He knows that the church is the pillar and bulwark of truth... not theory. "Paul would have believed his faith was objectively true if he had been the last one convinced of it."
The truth of Christianity is NOT dependent on a strong church.. but a weak church hides TRUTH as it seems less credible, and a less credible church is a less plausible church.


A Two-Legged Stool: Guinness also shows how apologists only use 2 of three tools of analysis in unveiling this issue.
Leg 1- The history of ideas
Leg 2- The climate of culture and custom
and the missing...Leg 3- the justification of knowledge

In the post modern world- cultural pluralism and relativism offers confusion in leg 2 and the rapid flow and dynamics of information makes Leg 1 seemingly archaic and irrelevant (and BORING). But if we pressed more into Leg 3 and make the post-modern man justify his knowledge beyond the perspective of personal experience and evaluate truth claims in a more logical framework- we would see some progress and usefulness of the other 2 legs.


A huge roadblock in this mess is the frenzied pace of communication technology and global mobility. I love the quote about the Kenyan saying "All westerners have watches...  but Africans have time."

"A culture of mobility plus convenience leads quite naturally not only to (drive-in food) and banks but also drive-in churches"

See how it works? Overlay upon overlay- the effect of molding lives through culture has all the advantages of a revolution and none of the disadvantages of intellectual sweat.


As our children see belief as a feeling of plausibility and relevance- as they are spun dizzy by infinite activity- as they are enticed by the promise of convenience- as they are distracted by new cool tools of transport of information tsunamis- they cannot understand that TRUTH is TRUE even if no one ascribes to it. 'When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?' He won't, if we have lost what 'faith' means. What will He say when we respond "It just didn't 'seem' right... It didn't feel true"?


'Subtle compromise is always better than sudden captivity'.


Father- we need help. We need to slow down- we need to read the WORD- chew it- meditate on it and mull it over- we need true WORSHIP to lift us out of the trivial pursuits and insulated hearts.
In short- we have loved things and ideas that have not loved us back. We live for pleasure while the King suffered and died. 
Culture makes godliness seem strange, but without truth... justification of life is meaningless- 
Our children need to see us forsaking our idols- because the idols will soon forsake them.
But we also need to train our children how to ask the right questions- make men justify their beliefs.... make them follow the consequences of their faith.....and Holy Spirit...PLEASE illumine the TRUTH.




Friday, December 18, 2020

As Joseph Pondered

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. [19] And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. [20] But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. [21] She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” ( Matthew 1:18–21 ESV)


Thankfully, Joseph was a just man who was committed to Mary's dignity.... and though he was preparing to execute a decision he was making in the crisis.... he wasn't rash and without careful thought.

"BUT as he CONSIDERED"

Do we even do this anymore?

The speed of our culture has worn us out and worn us down in a sea of anxiousness and fatigue.

At your very fingertips are years of research and a wealth of information.... but it takes TIME to read it. Google will show it to you... but you have to ingest the info. It takes time to think about it.

How strange it must be to read this famous line by the great English thinker, Sir Francis Bacon:

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few are to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

The greatest example of this is how we handle our Bibles. It is a lifetime book.. and in digging and scratching within the pages, I have found troves of gold, silver, and precious jewels. Take time to include it in your Christmas preparations.

One enemy (of many) that works against our ability to practice 'pondering' is the reality of cultural pluralization. Mass communication technologies on a global scale has not only made Amazon.com wealthy... it has compounded the choices we have at the level of ideology and faith. In a storm surge of choice, can we really pin our hopes on 'one Lord, one faith, and one baptism' (Ephesians 4:5)?

I wish I had time to develop this more... we are wired for coherence.... we yearn for unity. When life throws a myriad of opposing options and world views, our natural reaction is to want to control them.. and things out of our control only increase anxiousness. Our current culture is not in peace; anxiety is at an all time high. The speed of information and the discordant melody of ideas has left us pushing buttons in haste and frustration. 

It is also a highly disposable culture... things are not made to last. It is easier to toss the old and buy new. That's how we make things today. The increase of options leads to a decrease of commitments. This doesn't increase the value of things... it cheapens them.

God can control anything... but if the baby Jesus was coming in 2020... it would be harder to find a Joseph who was willing to hold fast to principles, willing to uphold the one who he was betrothed to, and willing to take time to consider the best route through the situation.

We expect God to act in microwave moments and explosive global upheavals... that is not His way. He works like yeast, and we want him to work like dynamite.

He does it this way out of love.... 

Peter reminds us WHY- 

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)

God is patient...

To experience Christmas appropriately, we must be patient as well. 

Have any of you already opened up a present and are using it? Have you already told a secret gift that you couldn't hold until that morning? Have you had a panic attack because the UPS tracking said the package was hung up in transit?

I'm not throwing condemnation on anyone who says yes to any of those.... what I am saying is that if we don't stop to patiently ponder, we miss the most meaningful moments.

How can we do it?

The culture isn't going to change... and there are always blessings in the way things are. It is up to us to declare how, when, and where.

"Speed kills". "Haste makes waste".

Staying true to who we are means saying 'no' to many choices, even good ones. It means we have to start considering people as humans made in God's image and not as avatars. It means vows are vital to keep; they should be made with a lot of prayer, and we should stick with them when it is hard. 

Weddings are beautiful and meaningful because the couple says "I do"... not "I wish". The immediacy to which even Christians forsake truth claims of character and virtue prompted Os Guinness to coin a term: 'spiritual switch-craft'.

If you hit the Christmas season at the pace of a rocket... it will simulate your life experience at those speeds... shallow, transient, and forgettable.  And we all get there... every accountant has a rough April.

My oldest daughter had a tough time going to sleep when she was a baby. She would be exhausted, crying, but could not get still enough to fall asleep. I would take this wriggling sack of jelly and sit in the rocker and start the process of settling her down. I would rock and she would wriggle. I put my arms around her body and held her just firm enough to stop the arms. Then she would shake the legs. I would change the position enough to lovingly 'pin' those down too. Then she would wiggle her toes and fingers. Patiently, I would become a contortionist to finally hold all the moving parts. She and I would be eye to eye, her pacifier pulsating at 100 miles per hour! I would start singing a song and rock. Then her eyes would start blinking... slower, and slower... staying closed longer and longer... and then she would relax in a peaceful sleep. And then I gently put her in the crib. I became a master at this technique and it got easier to get her there over time.

We need our loved ones to do the same for us... lovingly hold us to a need to  SLOW DOWN.... Sit down...  and patiently ponder.

And not just Christmas... BEFORE we make any big move. We have to meditate and pray, seek out advice... ask questions... weigh options. That is where the Lord does His best work.

And the MOST important question is: 'where will you spend eternity'? The vast array of world views will tell you there is really no hope.

But in the darkness, behold, a great light:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. [11] For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11 ESV)