We are ‘The Walking Dead’

This article is also published on Counter Culture, my Faith blog at the Bangor Daily News.

Zombies are all the rage right now in entertainment. I am not immune to the draw of the zombie-pocalypse storylines as I count myself a fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead. But as I have been consumed by stories of human survival against impossible odds these past 3+ seasons now, there’s one thought I can’t get out of my head. Without God, we are “The Walking Dead” — allow me to explain.

When I watch the main characters – the ones still fighting to stay alive – I see in those people the human condition of good versus evil. Life versus death. Those still living represent people who have either placed their hope in something greater than themselves, or people that haven’t yet “given up on God”; or should I more accurately say, like all of us, God continues to pursue them.

What remains to be seen in the show, though, is will those already dead – the walking dead – ever get cured? Will they continue to aimlessly walk around and not even realize anything is wrong? Or worse yet, as this season seems to be portraying so far, will they grow ever more evil and bring more of the living over to their “life of death”?

Both of these sicknesses, walking in aimless ignorance and intentionally inflicting evil, are sadly represented in our world. So what’s the cure? I’m confident you know what I believe it to be –

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” — Romans 8:6 (ESV)

The “flesh” here represents our sinful natures, or stated more clearly, the desires and wants of this world. Put those things first and you are basically a “dead man walking”. Set your mind on the Spirit and you will have life and peace.

 

Mumford and other Millennials: Don’t call me Christian. Why?

This article is also published on Counter Culture, my Faith blog at the Bangor Daily News.

I’m a tad late on the uptake of this one, but the following quote was uttered by Marcus Mumford- the 26-year-old lead singer of Mumford & Sons- in the April edition of Rolling Stone:

“I don’t really like that word. It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was. … I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.”

As a blogger who attempts to write about how Christianity can and should relate to culture, his final phrase caught my eye. Is it Jesus [and His claims] that Marcus has a problem with, or is his issue with what he perceives as the “culture of Christianity”?

If the above quote was from pretty much any other popular artist, I would not have given it a second thought, let alone taken the time to blog about it. But Marcus’ background, combined with how he answered the question, is indeed thought provoking. And also, one must ask whether his sentiment is shared by the band’s legion of millenial fans- specifically those who, like him, have a distinct Christian upbringing.

First, to provide some background on Mumford, he was raised in a very loving, charismatic, Christian home. Marcus grew up in the Vineyard movement in the UK, and his parents are currently the leaders of Vineyard UK. The roots and theology of the Vineyard movement are outside the scope of this article (I’ll leave you to Wikipedia for that), but let’s just say those in the movement love Jesus, and wholeheartedly believe his power to heal and work miracles is alive and well for all Christian believers in the church today.

So, in short, Marcus did not experience the “stuffy, ho-hum” so-called “traditional religion” that first comes to mind when people try to determine why Marcus Mumford and others his age leave the church.

Regardless on whether Marcus wants to assume the label “Christian” and be associated with the “culture of Christianity”, it is obvious there are themes of redemption and images of the Christian faith intertwined throughout the band’s music. If it weren’t for the one expletive per album that they seem to use for “shock value”, their music could very well be sold as Christian.

See this review for a great analysis of how Christian themes and imagery are weaved throughout Mumford and Sons music, as well as a contextual look at their sparing, yet unfortunate use of expletives.

Back to the question at hand, why are Marcus Mumford and other millennials running from the label “Christian”? When I posted this question a few weeks back to my Facebook profile, it received some interesting conversation that is worth reading.

My conclusion: Setting aside the marketing aspect of not wanting to alienate the band’s non-Christian fans, I believe his comment comes down to one thing- the search for authenticity within the Christian Faith. Specifically, every Christian’s desire to see an authentic representation of Jesus Christ in the church today. Where there is hypocrisy, it’s typically the younger generation that will spot it. And when the Christian Church doesn’t offer a powerful, viable, and authentic alternative to the lure of mainstream materialism, it will have more and more Marcus Mumfords- from the Millennial generation and beyond- distancing themselves from the “culture of Christianity.”

An article I read a while back summed up this search for authenticity best, and I will share the conclusion here:

Only in knowing Jesus can we be fully authentic. Only when we are loved as we are, are we then freed up to love others without hiding behind a Facebook status update or the best version of ourselves on Instagram. Only Christ’s gospel can cure the hopelessness and aimlessness because, when you know who you are in Christ, you know what to do—and no resurgent love for a time period or active lifestyle can deliver that.

Amen to that.

I was born 2 weeks before 1980. The definition of Millennial is anyone born after 1980 and up until about the mid-90s. Therefore, I sit right on the dividing line between being a Millennial and Gen-Xer. Furthermore, having come to Christ in my late 20′s, I offer a unique perspective on the generational divide within the church among Gen-Xers, Millenials, and our parents and grandparents’ generations because I didn’t grow up in “church culture.”

When Mumford says the word Christianity “conjures up all these religious images I don’t really like”, he is referring to hypocrisy within the church. Ironically, this is much the same complaint Jesus had with the church of His day.

Hypocrisy exists where pew warmers- those that hear the word but never DO it- build themselves up through self-serving power struggles, judge the outside world from within their 4 walls of righteousness and religiosity, and lack grace when pointing out other people’s sins as well as humility when it comes to admitting their own. To root out this hypocrisy we simply need to reflect the authenticity of Jesus Christ, who was sent by God as a “suffering servant”. This isn’t done through “copying culture”, as culture is all caught up in materialism and serving our own needs. What Christianity must do is “counter culture” by continually striving to serve the needs of others. This service must not be done with hidden motives of self-satisfaction or to earn a spot up the “Christian ladder” so that we can look down on others, but simply in the name of Jesus.

Bottom line: For Christianity to be seen as authentic to Mumford and my generation’s contemporaries we can’t simply invite them to a “cool” church service, a hipster community group, or a really in-depth Bible study. All of those things are valuable, but only if combined with the right motives. The only way we’ll be taken seriously by outsiders is if they see a positive life change in those of us inside the church. Until then, we’ll all just look like a bunch of Pharisees, and no one will want our label.

Now for some Mumford and Sons with “I Will Wait”:

A HuffPo article to glean some more thoughts on Marcus Mumford’s comments: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/03/marcus-mumford-lead-singer-of-mumford–sons-i-wouldnt-call-myself-a-christian_n_3009777.html

The Resurgence article, “MILLENNIAL LONELINESS AND THE SEARCH FOR AUTHENTICITY”, from which I quoted from above: http://theresurgence.com/2012/10/23/millennial-loneliness-and-the-search-for-authenticity

 

 

My First Year of Fatherhood

This article is also published on Counter Culture, my Faith blog at the Bangor Daily News.

As Father’s Day approaches this year, it seems like a good time to reflect on my first full year of fatherhood.

Wow, what a ride! It may sound like a cliché, especially to you non-parents out there, but becoming a parent has been a life-changing experience like none other. My little guy, Max, just turned 1 at the end of last month and it already seems like he’s growing up so fast (I know- another cliché).

We have been blessed with a very well-behaved baby (from what we’re told). Aside from when Sarah had to wake him up in the night to feed him, he has almost always slept completely through the night. The first few months were the most worrisome for me, as I tend to worry a lot, and I always had to check him to make sure he was still breathing (by staring intently at his chest in a dimly lit room). However, I should have known better than to worry about such a God-given natural thing like breathing. Thankfully, as I got more used to having another life in the room with us (that’s where he spent the first few months), I gradually got more comfortable with his ability to inhale and exhale while sleeping.

In fact, I have had to tell myself many times to just “keep calm and talk to God” whenever I thought of worst case scenarios. This truth that is described in Philippians 4:6-7, which became my life verses a few years ago, is even more prevalent as a parent.

As he moved into his own room around 5-6 months old, that was the first big step. You would have thought he was going off to college considering how big of a deal it was for us. I’m sure our next baby will likely not spend so many months in our room, if at all, but with Max being our first we really wanted him to be near us. And since he was such a good sleeper, it’s not like he kept us up at night.

Max is a lot of fun. He’s now at the age of not wanting to be held as much, choosing instead to crawl around and get into stuff all the time. At almost 13 months he’s very close to walking, but still very careful and chooses to drop down and crawl whenever there’s nothing or no one to hold onto. He’s developed such a funny little sense of humor with hilarious mannerisms. Even though he’s not yet talking, we always know what he wants or how he’s doing. My favorite thing now is to give him a bottle just so he’ll lay peacefully in my lap like he did before he was so “independent.”

I was told this ahead of time, but the last year has been confirmation that being a parent is all about putting someone else’s needs above my own. It’s the ultimate act of selflessness. I pray by God’s grace that Sarah and I can give Max the love he requires in the years to come, just as we have in the first year, especially as our family grows and he becomes an older brother.

In today’s culture I have heard people come up with many reasons to not bring children into this world. But let me assure you the joy of a child far outweighs those negatives. I know we won’t be able to protect him from all the evil that is out there, and like everyone else will undoubtedly face hardships and heartache. However, my hope is in the promises of a sovereign and loving God that works all things out for the good of those who love Him, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

In reply to an atheist mother’s complaints about God

Recently I was perusing CNN.com when a certain article, linked only about half way down the front page, caught my eye. The article was a community-submitted blog post called “Why I Raise My Children Without God“, and as someone who blogs about Christian perspectives I could not resist reading this mother’s take on things. I must admit I immediately felt an inner grieving of the Holy Spirit for her and almost clicked away after the first paragraph. However, I forged ahead and read through the whole article wincing with every sentence.

After finishing the article I sat in utter disbelief of this mother’s utter disbelief, and pondered what to do next. Should I just put it out of my mind and let her charges against God go unanswered, joining the large chorus of atheism becoming ever more prevalent in our fallen society?

Then I read it again, this time with the Apostle Peter’s words in my head:

…always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Now I realize she wasn’t asking for a reason for my hope, but anyone who reads my blog could very likely be looking for answers to the claims she made. God isn’t all those bad things she says He is (if she believed in Him), and it is misdirected to place at God’s feet every bad thing in the world she is attributing to Him.

So with gentleness and respect I will attempt to respond and humbly attempt to portray the God I know as a loving eternal Father.

For the sake of brevity I will only include her points against God (in bold) with a brief summary of her conclusion (in italics), then reply to each. I do encourage you to her entire piece to understand the entire scope of my responses.

From this point forward I may use the blogger’s CNN username TXBlue08 when referring to her…

CLAIM 1: God is a bad parent and role model.

Her conclusion: Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others… they step in and guide them.

This is true, but a couple points to make here. Some children, not matter how “good” of a job their parents do at raising them, make bad choices and go astray. A parent has a direct will for their children’s lives- what THEY want to see them do and accomplish. But children grow up, and yes have their own free will to make whatever choices they want. Any good parent will try to step in and guide them, as TXBlue08 points out, but many times that act pushes the child away even further.

Ironically, she’s stumbled directly onto how a relationship with God the father works. He most definitely wants the best for his children and attempts to guide us. And he has a direct (or true) will for our lives, but if we refuse it and assert our own will we end up going astray- falling into what is sometimes called God’s “permissive will.” But also with any good parent, God always accepts you back into his arms no matter what you’ve done, or the decisions you’ve made.

Finally, while we are all God’s children the point can be made that by definition His family are only those of us that actually believe in Him. So how can God be blamed for the actions of the very people that deny his existence and don’t even call him “Father”?

CLAIM 2: God is not logical.

Her conclusion: Why does God allow bad to happen?… It doesn’t make sense that he would allow murders, child abuse, wars, brutal beatings, torture and millions of heinous acts to be committed throughout the history of mankind.

Once again she’s blaming God for decisions and acts made by a human race that is sick. God offers us a way to get well, through the redeeming power of Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t guarantee everyone in this world has or will take him up on the offer. The fact that people commit these terrible acts proves much of society hasn’t, or have lost their way.

People don’t like to talk about the source of evil in this world unless they are pointing the finger at God. But these things happen because God has an adversary in this world. The name given this adversary is Satan, and he “runs free on earth” causing pain, sadness, strife, unbelief, greed, murder, and on and on. This unfortunate truth is why we as Christians look forward to the next life, or when Jesus Christ returns to set up his Kingdom on earth (whichever comes first), because only then will Satan and all of the pain and suffering that comes with him be done away with.

TXBlue08 also makes a connection with the tragedy in Newtown and the need for gun control. When the innocent are slain and caught up in the effect of evil (or sickness- as was the case with falling victim to Adam Lanza), no one is grieved more than God. And no, terrible things like that are NOT part of God’s plan.

Lastly, concerning wars and heinous acts throughout mankind’s history- many more victims have come at the hands of dictators or other leaders with godless naturalist philosophies and belief systems than God-centered ones. Yes, sadly many have also committed atrocities “in the name of God”, but when you add up the numbers throughout history those are the exception not the norm. But regardless of who commits the heinous acts and terrible atrocities, God does not condone them.

CLAIM 3: God is not fair.

Her conclusion (paraphrased): Silly prayers are answered, but serious ones are ignored. A fair God wouldn’t allow babies with birth defects, bad people to prosper, and good people to suffer.

So much to address with this one… First, concerning silly prayers- there is no way to know these prayers were “answered by God” and not just part of regular every day life events. Therefore, I’m not sure where else to go with that one.

Concerning the supposed unanswered prayers of a parent praying for a dying child- this one is tough. No one knows (except God) all the mysteries to life and death, and why some are healed by prayers, and others pass away. What the Christian holds dear is that this entire time on earth is merely a short stop on our way to a place that is so much better. Death is only sad for those of us left behind. That is unless you don’t believe in eternity as is the case with TXBlue08 and her fellow atheists, then death is “the end” and therefore offensive and wrong. So therein lies the conundrum- unbelief in God causes people to be upset with this same God because for them there’s nothing to look forward to after this life.

Next, why do bad people prosper and good people suffer? Because, once again, not everyone in the world plays by God’s rules. There is greed, and God’s adversary uses rewards on this side of death to turn people away from God. But we persevere in this life knowing “in the kingdom of heaven, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Lastly, in regards to birth defects, God treasures all children born and unborn no matter their perceived shortcomings. We are to love our children even if our lives are made more complicated by their needs, or a sickness or defect takes them from us after only a precious few years. God values all human life, from conception into eternity. We would do well to follow His lead.

CLAIM 4: God does not protect the innocent.

Her conclusion (same as CLAIM 2): A good God wouldn’t allow bad things (such as kidnappings) to happen to children.

I feel my reply to CLAIM 2 addresses this complaint, and in an effort to be brief wont reiterate here.

CLAIM 5: God is not present.

Her conclusion: Since you can’t see, smell, touch or hear God then he isn’t real/present. He is an “idea” created based on our fears and hopes.

This one is interesting because while you may not be able to see, smell, or touch God, most if not all true believers have both heard God as well as felt His presence. There are few things more tangible in life than a personal relationship with the living God.

Many atheists, TXBlue08 included, mockingly label God “the big guy in the sky”- but this label shows their level of misunderstanding of God’s true identity. The Christian knows the sky is not his home. God, by His Holy Spirit, lives within our hearts always. And while we can’t see, smell, or touch Him, it is through His Spirit that He counsels us, helps us, and comforts us. And God gave us His Word, the Bible, so that we may hear him, and prayer time so that we may seek Him and rest in His presence.

And to the point that God is just an idea based on our fears and hopes- it is in fact the opposite of fear to affirm a God to which we will ultimately have to give an account of our lives, and face a judgement, whereas the atheist’s ultimate hope is that this judge is a myth. In short, the believer lives with the promise that God exists, while the atheist lives with the hope that He doesn’t.

CLAIM 6: God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good.

Her conclusion (paraphrased): Belief in God attempts to scare children into behaving, and therefore doesn’t work.

While I’m sure misdirected and even well-meaning parents have attempted to “put the fear of God” into their children to get them to behave, it totally misses the point of a God-centered home. Children learn by example, and therefore parents are to be examples of Christ’s love to their children, and instruct them in the ways of the Lord. Where a parent misses the mark in demonstrating this behavior, very often children follow. Where a parent becomes judgmental and lacks the grace of God’s love, so too will their children.

However, as a child of God grows in their personal faith they understand that behaving isn’t something they HAVE to do in order to avoid God’s wrath, but rather something they WANT to do in order to fully experience God’s love. And pleasing God isn’t something you even choose to do in order to “check the appropriate box”, but rather a natural result of an active faith where the Holy Spirit is stirring in our hearts. We would all do well to learn and remember this truth, and model it to our children.

Being inwardly focused as TXBlue08 suggests puts all the pressure on our own abilities and relies on our fallen nature to do what’s right, whereas trusting in God to lead and instruct us helps the believer to do what’s truly right.

CLAIM 7: God Teaches Narcissism.

Her logic with this one was a little hard to summarize, so I’ll save the space and just reply.

The humility required to “die to oneself” and truly follow God is the exact opposite of narcissism. Narcissism comes when we put our own self interests first, choose the path of least resistance, and discount the existence of something greater than ourselves. Admittedly, though, many self-professing Christians- myself included- have gotten this wrong at one time or another and have portrayed narcissism to the world around us.

A Christian that lacks humility lacks understanding of God.

Some Final Thoughts

I want to reiterate that my intended tone for this piece is one of gentleness and respect. It seems from reading this mother’s personal blogthat she has felt persecution for being an unbeliever. There is no place for persecution of anyone’s belief system, and an open and honest dialog should be able to take place between people of all faiths, even those whose faith is based entirely in themselves.

As a Christian blogger, I’ve obviously written this piece from the faith perspective that I affirm as unique among all the other belief systems in the world, but I maintain respect for those who think differently- and encourage my fellow Christians to do the same. I would only ask that this same gentleness and respect is offered to the faith-based community by those who currently choose the road of unbelief. Unfortunately, much of the tone of the today’s atheists’ rhetoric against God, TXBlue08’s piece included, fail to do that.

Grace and Peace.

My Testimony

My Christian Testimony (written October 2012)

Having not grown up in church I neither affirmed nor denied existence of a “higher power” and actually leaned in the direction that one likely existed. However, since I never cracked open a Bible it would be a stretch to say I understood this higher power as the Christian God of the Bible.

Neither of my parents instilled any faith-based values in me growing up. My dad came from a mid-western Lutheran family and became disillusioned with “organized religion” during his Vietnam-era college years. My mom grew up in a broken home and spent much of her time in Catholic schools where her memories are dominated by a “forced belief system”- something she didn’t want to repeat with her children. Recently leafing through my baby-book, under “Favorite prayers” I find my mom has written: “Will let him decide for himself when he grows up. Don’t want to push him into anything…” 

Our family celebrated Christmas, but the only thing “honored religiously” was the giving of presents- my brother and I each having our very own Super Nintendo because sharing wasn’t one of our strong suits.

I always wondered about the meaning of life, pondered the typical “why are we here” question, and would downright stress out about death and the after-life. So while I could easily have written in my bio “Christmas celebrator and Easter-egg hunter”, I figured “life-long agnostic” was a better fit.

I will be 33 years old in December. I lived almost 29 years of my life never truly hearing the gospel message- that is, what did Jesus’ life, death, and return from the dead have to do with me- and the rest of humanity for that matter?

So back to the original question- what does “Jesus changed my life” even mean? I will immediately cop-out and say until you personally experience it, you will never truly understand. For me, though, it has taken each day of the last 4 years to realize that it has actually happened- that Jesus truly has changed my life. There was no dramatic “conversion experience”, no powerful “slaying by the Spirit”, or whatever other Christian lingo that comes to mind.

What there was, and has been, is a daily personal growth and accountability that was not present before. I realize now that pre-Jesus I emotionally hurt others, engaged in sexual sin, broke promises, lied, cheated- and all the while justified my actions as permissible because the only standard I lived by was my own. Hey, it’s not like I was murdering anyone, so “to each his own” right? Then one day it hit me that murder was likely the only commandment I hadn’t broken.

So, at 29 years of age, I finally heard the message of The Cross- the Gospel of Christ. The historical account of how God came as a man to walk the earth in order to die a cruel death on a cross in our place, for the sole purpose of coming back to life so that all of humanity until the end of time could also live on after death- if they simply believe that it happened, and desire to live how he instructed while he was here. One word comes to mind- humility. This trait was something I lacked until the day I was humble enough in spirit to raise my hand in church and acknowledge that my way of life was broken, and that because Jesus is God he could help me pick up the pieces and change my direction.

What happened next? Well, that story is still being written and by God’s grace will continue for many more years until my death. I still occasionally hurt others, break promises, lust, lie and even cheat (at Words with Friends mostly)- but with each shortcoming (aka “sin”) comes a conviction that I know it’s wrong. Don’t assume this is simply a “guilt trip” from God, my pastor, or anyone else. It’s not, but rather an inner-desire to live as a good example to my wife, family, friends, newborn son, and most importantly- to God. Not to be all “high and mighty” or in an attempt to claim some moral high ground, but to live a fulfilling life- one without emptiness or a yearning for “something more.”

With this blog, I have set out to write and opine from a humble Christian spirit. Not judgmental in tone, but certainly not matter-of-fact in truth. I will lean on others who are wiser than I, and seek guest contributions as often as the opportunity arises. I believe this world has a lot of problems and brokenness, and the cultural shift away from moral absolutes and faith-based perspectives is a large reason for that- in both Maine and around the world. And while I’m willing to concede The Church in it’s current state doesn’t have all the answers and is often times a major part of the problem, I assert that Jesus and the rest of God’s Word has much more of a role to play than simply a place at the table.