I really hope this column will bless you. You can read the most recent column below and previous columns at the archive.
My first career was in information technology services. I did a lot of different things from desktop support to systems administration to even a little bit of IT sales. I am so thankful for those years. I learned so much about serving people during those years. I learned how to prioritize people over the machines. I even learned how to calm frustrated people down. It's actually quite easy.
"I am not your enemy. I just want to help you."
I have a friend who lived most of her life in Japan. After she married an American, her husband put considerable effort into understanding the culture that formed the way his wife thinks and sees the world. After all, as a Christian, he took the biblical injunction to dwell with his wife "with understanding" (1 Peter 3:7).
He once explained to me what he thought was the core difference between Eastern and Western thought. In Western thinking, the question is, "Is it right or wrong?" But in the Japan, he said, the core question is, "Is this honorable or shameful?"
Ironically, in my unmitigated Western mode of thinking, I immediately began to think, "Is it right or wrong to think that way?" In fact, I need to admit that I don't love anything more than being right. Conversely, I don't hate anything more than being wrong. For most of my life, this has informed my arguments. I would argue absolutely anything simply to win the argument — to be perceived as right whether I was or not, and to prove someone else was wrong whether they were or not.
I love to argue. It might be a personality flaw. There's something I have always loved about jousting with words.
And that's exactly what arguing used to be to me: Jousting with words. Poking at someone with my words in order to knock them down for no good reason beyond sport, entertainment or the release of aggression. I suspect many people think of arguing the same way. "Arguing" has become a negative word and activity. I would like to rescue the word.
I was alone on an island, hungry and miles of paddling away from any help. I had unwisely decided to spend a week of solo beach camping by living off the hook, and I hadn't caught a single fish in days.
I was hungry in a way I had never experienced hunger before.
I went with some friends to see the latest Christian movie in the theaters the other night. We sat in an air-conditioned building in large, comfortable, reclining chairs and watched a high-definition projected display while our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world sat in jail cells and torture chambers, or at least on a dirt floor hoping police don't discover their church gathering.
It strikes me as odd that in a country where movies appealing to "Christians" are cranked out several times a year, churches still struggle to grow. We've all heard the statistics about how Christianity is on the decline in the West. We are seeing the same historical pattern which led Europe into a post-Christian era play out here in America, even with a church on every corner and "Christian" movies in every theater.
A little more than a year ago (Jan. 1, 2015), one of the largest churches in the United States disbanded.
Mars Hill Church, boasting more than 12,000 in attendance across 15 campuses in five states at its peak, dissolved as an organization. Allegations of abusive leadership and plagiarism against Mark Driscoll, the founder and lead pastor of the church, surfaced and the ensuing controversy led the celebrity pastor to resign. Leaving a massive leadership vacuum in his wake, the church liquidated its assets, dismissed its staff and helped satellite sites become their own independent congregations.
Pastors do not have special powers. God does not listen to my prayers more than yours. I am no more righteous than you are. Pastors all struggle the same way other people struggle. We are people just like other people are people. We are not super-Christians.
I tell you this because, in my experience, you might not intuitively know it.
The most marvelous irony of the 21st century American church is its simultaneous obsession with and utter failure to mimic the first century church.
I had the whole thing planned out. My girlfriend and I had been dating for a while and it was time to pop the question.
Camping was a big part of our relationship, so I thought I would propose at the top of Guadalupe Peak after a few days of backpacking. The weather forecasts were looking good and the view was going to be amazing.
The first day went nothing like we expected. We had chosen a pretty difficult trail, but we were pretty experienced hikers, so with the expected good weather, it should have been OK.
But the expected good weather never turned into the actual good weather.
The art of disagreeing has fallen on hard times.
Once upon a time in America, people were able to disagree about an issue and rationally discuss evidence for their views. People were able to disagree and still be friends. The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that political polarization is greater now than it has been in my entire lifetime. Conversations, when they happen, are heated and disrespectful.
I have found that in almost every conversation regarding any contentious issue, humility is rarely an ingredient. Often, opposing sides are tempted to talk more than they listen, and they tend to make claims that exceed their own areas of expertise.
As I write, I have a lot of tabs open in my web browser about radiocarbon dating, inconsistencies between the lead byproduct and helium diffusion of zircon decay, paleontological discoveries of soft tissue in the femur of a Tyrannosaurus Rex that could not survive millions of years, and recent geological discoveries that suggest a vast ocean of water between the upper and lower mantles that makes the biblical account of a global flood plausible. All have been written from both old- and young-earth perspectives. I wanted to write about all the science that informs my conviction that the earth and all of creation is not older than 10,000 years. I have, in fact, presented some of my evidence recently, but I now think scientific evidence for creation is better presented by creation scientists. I would encourage you to look up scientific organizations like the Institute of Creation Research (icr.org) and Answers in Genesis (answersingenesis.org).
One of the most iconic movie scenes I can remember is in "Men in Black." Agent Kay, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is trying to recruit Will Smith's character into a secret agency that monitors extraterrestrial life on earth. He says, "Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and 15 minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."
I'm not about to make an argument for aliens, but I would like you to reconsider what you think you know. Are you prepared to consider evidence objectively and make a rational conclusion based on that evidence, even if that evidence contradicts what you thought you knew? Christians are so often accused of refusing to hear evidence. I beg you not to be the same way.
Having taught the Bible for a number of years now, I have come to an unfortunate conclusion: students will forget at least 95 percent of what a teacher says. Whenever I get frustrated with my own students, I find myself trying to remember lectures from college or high school and my own failure to do so helps me find patience.
That last 5 percent of what a teacher says, though, is gold. There are a handful of lessons, lectures and sermons from various teachers and pastors over the years that I still quote. One of those was from Mr. Furgeson, my U.S. History teacher in high school.
On my way to work this morning, I was considering the content for a fantastic and informative column. I was considering the evidence from the Bible and the world we live in and how to present it. I was constructing nuanced arguments in my head. I was looking in my rearview mirror at a stoplight. I rarely pay more attention to the cars around me than I need to avoid hitting them, but this time I did.
I am no prophet, but I have a prediction for 2016. Unless something drastic happens, 2016 will be marked by increasing division in every facet of American life. Culture wars will rage. Racial tension will get tighter. National elections will catalyze an increasingly uncivil and disrespectful political discourse.
If you have trusted Jesus to pay the penalty for your sin and to provide eternal life, it would be a tragedy for you to think a prediction like this is bad news.
Instead, think about it as an exciting opportunity to be different.