The New Paganism

Hope Stands —  June 16, 2014 — 1 Comment

wonderI recall a thought that I had in Mrs. Day’s freshman English class.  I had Mrs. Day for both English and Latin, so we read a lot of ancient mythology together, both Greek and Roman.  Works like The Iliad, The Odyssey, and the Aeneid.  Sitting in her class, near the back, as a fourteen year old kid, I remember distinctly having this thought after reading one particular myth:

“These ancient Greeks were so stupid!  That’s why they made up these myths and these gods, because they didn’t know anything!  They didn’t have science, yet!  So they made up these gods in order to EXPLAIN everything, like: rain, the sunrise, the origins of life, the constellations, and on and on.  They weren’t smart—not like me!”

So I made up my mind, then and there, that “ignorant,” ancient humans made up the existence of God or the gods, just so they could explain things in life, because humans weren’t “smart” yet.

What an insult!  To say that ancient people were stupid, but we are smart!  As a fourteen year old kid?  That doesn’t even make any sense!

But now I realize that it had nothing to do with intelligence and the need to explain the world.  Rather, and this is my theory, the ancients didn’t believe in the gods and religion in order to explain the world, but to control the world.

Control is the issue, not intelligence, not the desire to explain.

And we do the same thing today.  They used gods and myths, but we use something else.

Before I tell you what that “something else” is, let’s take a moment to understand how the ancients used gods to control the world.  If you can manipulate the gods, then you could exert control over the world, indirectly through them.  You could have better crops, more fertility, military victory, success at sea, knowledge, beauty, and love.  All you had to do was feed the gods through sacrifices and you’d be able to keep them happy.

And a happy god would change life to suit your needs.  This is how you would be able to manipulate these deities into doing your bidding; this was the way you controlled your world.

Crops, fertility, war, sea, knowledge, beauty, love, and so forth—these were their gods.  These were the things they wanted to be able to control, not explainThey didn’t worship the gods to explain but to change.

They weren’t stupid, at least, not any more than we are.  We find in ourselves similar behavior; we seek to control the world as well.  But how?

Through materialism!  Materialism says that there is nothing more to life than the material.  It says that everything is under our control.  It keeps life small, manageable, and predictable.  You don’t have to worry about spiritual forces or divine beings that are outside of your control.  There is nothing else out there that is more powerful or meaningful than you are.

Think about this: there’s a materialistic atmosphere in both science and faith.  The real fight is not between science and faith—they are not mortal enemies.  The real fight is between…

science and materialism AND faith and materialism.

The real enemy is materialism. 

Materialism seeks to control the world.  Modern day materialism has replaced the ancient gods.  It’s just another form of paganism.  We do just what the ancient Greeks and Romans did.  We think we’re more sophisticated, but we’re not!  We both, ancients and moderns, seek to control the world, so that we can have…better crops, better fertility, better militaries, better knowledge and love and beauty, etc.

Science can be done out of faith OR out of a materialistic mindset.  What happens when materialism infects science?  Then we think…

We can control the world.

We can reverse nature.

We can bundle it up, and exercise power over it.

We can manipulate the environment.

We can exploit nature.

We can determine the boundaries.

The opposite of materialistic science is science that seeks to explore natural creation and understand it, in order to discover its magnificence, so that we can better care for it.

BUT THE SAME IS TRUE IN THE ARENA OF FAITH!  Materialism can infect our faith, too, and when this happens, then we think…

We can control God.

We can use God.

We can exploit God.

We can manipulate God.

We can predict his ways.

We can determine what God should be like.

So the opposite of materialistic faith is faith that seeks to explore God in order to discover his magnificence—who he really is—to better serve God and help his world.

We constantly need to fight against materialism, which seeks to control and manipulate our world.  Materialism looks a lot like ancient forms of paganism, which did not necessarily seek to explain life, but to control life.

Materialism is the new paganism.  It’s ruining our faith, it’s ruining our science, and it’s ruining our lives.  You and I might not consider ourselves to be too “religious,” but, we’d better take a second look at whether we’re too pagan.

Materialism leaves no room for what our souls truly crave: wonder and awe in the living God.

Just as the true God was not manipulated by the ancients, neither will he be manipulated by us moderns.

Sam is a husband, father, and pastor

Sam is a husband, father, and pastor

Don’t Judge Me

Hope Stands —  June 12, 2014 — Leave a comment
Laura Cruise Photography

Laura Cruise Photography

“Don’t you judge me!” What a compact, reassuring message that is. No one ever wants to be judged, right? In fact, I’d guess that the first use of the phrase was probably by Eve, after Adam said “She gave me the fruit!” (Eve, extending her pointer finger: “Don’t you judge me!”) Ever since then, humans have been inventing variations on the “Don’t judge me” defense:

  1. Don’t judge me. I’m not perfect and I don’t have to be!
  2. You can’t judge me unless you’ve been what I’ve been through.
  3. What gives you the right to judge me? You’re not perfect.
  4. Only God can judge me.

The mentality has become stuck in the cogs of our cultural machinery. The other day a female commentator on Fox News, tired of her colleagues bashing the parents of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, said “I don’t think you can criticize them unless you’ve been in their situation” (see #2 above). So… only military parents who have had their son held by the Taliban have the right to criticize the Bergdahls? Wow, that list would probably fit on a Post It® note!

The commentator’s protective instinct regarding the Bergdahls, however, is admirable (if a bit misguided), as is the “don’t judge me” defense in general. There is something slimy about criticism—if it were a physical substance it would probably look like used motor oil. It has the power to discourage, deflate, and depress—not to mention it tends to be met with defensiveness, lying, and anger. No doubt love would normally be the preferred change agent. But what about when love fails?

I know of a church where there was a member who had a perverted sex life. The elders actually intervened and voted the guy out. I’m pretty sure that the “don’t judge me” defense was tossed around. After all, it’s a church, right? Are we really supposed to be in each other’s private affairs?

Um… yes, we are. In fact, that story is from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 5, and ends with “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” The worldwide church is holy and precious to God, and he gives us Christians the responsibility for keeping it pure (though no doubt that responsibility is often abused… we’re only human after all… don’t judge us!).

But, some would say, “What about ‘Judge not’?” After all, Jesus said it! Well, what many don’t realize is that in Matthew 7 Jesus is condemning hypocritical judging (like when an alleged racist or homophobe receives hateful messages and death threats from the offended parties). If we read the whole passage we see that Jesus says that we are suited to judge once we have our glaring hypocritical sin out of the way (though he never says we must be perfect!).

Well, then, what about John 8, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”? It’s a beautiful sentiment, but let’s take it in context. This is a story about mob justice and rush to judgment, not an orderly due-process. And, Jesus tells the adulteress to “sin no more” (keep in mind, Jesus never lets sin slide). In essence, she gets a second chance at living right, and the mob of nasties gets to sulk home.

To sum up, God wants us to live according to the standards set for us in the Bible by Jesus our king. And, despite what our culture says, it’s ok to lovingly judge in order to keep each other on the right path.

So if you’re a well-meaning Christian who prays for me, has overcome the failings for which you seek to judge me, has patiently loved me through my struggle, and is authentically concerned about my commitment to Christ—not just your sense of superiority—then let’s talk.

Otherwise, don’t judge me.

(Many thanks to Chuck Cruise for writing this article!)

Chuck Cruise is a husband, father, pastor and teacher.

Chuck Cruise is a husband, father, pastor and teacher.

God and Tattoos

Hope Stands —  June 11, 2014 — Leave a comment
© Momentous Photo & Video

© Momentous Photo & Video

Psalm 63:3 says that God’s “steadfast love is better than life.”  That’s a bold statement, don’t you think?  Can you think of a statement that’s bolder than that?  Better than life?  LIFE?  Life seems to be the greatest thing we could ever possibly imagine.  After all, it’s life—and who doesn’t want life?

God’s steadfast love is better than life.  Let that thought sit on your heart for a moment.  Don’t let it go away.  Let it scare you.

We live for life, but there’s something that’s better than life.

How is it that God’s love is better than life?

Simple: have you ever lived without it?

Do you know what it’s like to live without the love of God?  You can only take so much of it.  Yes, you can get by for a little while, but not in the long run.  Not through the tough parts.  Not through the storms.

You’re more than just a body that requires life.  Did you know that?  If you were only a body, then just having “life” would be enough and there would be nothing better for you to have.  But you and I are more than just a “body.”  Something pretty to look at.  Something useful.  Something to take up space and do chores.

We have souls, too.  And they require more than mere “life.”

They require the love of God.  The love of God is essential to the survival of our souls.

The steadfast love of God is better than life.

There are so many people who are barely getting by, fueling their existence with just “life” and all the superficial trappings that come with it.  They have never tasted the steadfast love of God.  And their souls are shrieking.

It’s easy to run away from those who make us uncomfortable.  That we’re scared of.  That are different.  But their souls need the same thing as ours do: the love of God.  Some have squeezed from life all that life can give.  They’ve wrung it dry.  They don’t know that what they are looking for isn’t found in life, but in God.

We are looking for something that’s better than life. 

Do you know about your soul tattoos?

Sam is a husband, father, and pastor

Sam is a husband, father, and pastor

Learn more in Soul Tattoo: A Life and Spirit Bearing the Marks of God, available for preorder now.

no time to retreatThere’s an enormous temptation in Christianity, which many of us Christians have fallen into.  Listen to Sam’s radioblog to see what this temptation is.  This was first heard nationwide on the Moody Radio Network.  Thanks for listening and go do something crazy for Jesus.

Click the player below:

Learn more in Soul Tattoo: A Life and Spirit Bearing the Marks of God, available for preorder now.