The Shining Men

In shining cities made of gold, shining men were kings,They made the art, the songs, the shows, and dimmer men believed, That all was gold and shined quite bright, in citadels so strong, None could believe or dream that all gold would go wrong.

As time went by the gold grew faint, and needed fresh refinement, But refiners fire was difficult and cost much, some decided, So bit by bit the drossy gold was painted o'er instead, So shining men kept up the work on which the dim ones fed.

More gold grew dross, more paint was splashed, more citadels stood gleaming, Eventually refiner's fire became the stuff of nightmare's dreaming, No one remembered how to smelt, to forge, or beautify, They traded goldcraft for the art of candy making for the eye.

But what the shining kings forgot — or just failed to remember, Is that painted gold won't last for long, and must eventually dismember altogether — 'twill fall apart, and will need fresh refinement, And then refiner's fire will burn and burn all that was painted by it.

But ignorance was bliss enough, and kings continued making, Eyecraft for the masses which the dimmer men kept taking, But now, infrequently there was a shining man found out, For taking paint upon himself, exposing all to doubt.

"Nothing to fear," the others said, "That man's not one of us," "We'll take good care to quell you fear," so dimmer men would trust, The words of other shining men, the kings of citadels, But slowly creeping came the thought they might be painted hells.

"Of course not," they would tell themselves, to quiet inner sounds, Of wisdom, discord, and the truth that dross was all around, Refusing, unwilling to see the fact that golden city was, So painted, now so unrefined, that towers turned to dust.

And not just towers, once so bright, were touched with dross's plague, But more men now, and women too, were painting for the stage, Was no one now of solid gold? Was no one true to from? The dimmer men were now quite bold, though many just as torn.

The shining city's edifice, and the shining people, too, Now grew with greater discontent, until someone quite new, Said, "It's okay, all is well, you're painted gold, so what?!" "Refinement hurts, it's just the facts, be who you are," and such.

So slowly shining cities came to trade their kings for those, Who waxing philosophical spun foolishness in prose, Now they made art, and songs, and shows that dimmer men believed, Because all were painted, all were dim — shining was now a dream.

They laughed and played, these painted ones, covering the gold, But underneath the dross grew dark, and citadels grew cold. The city cracked and shook one day, as shows and songs were sold, The shining city rocked and reeled, the world now seemed so old.

The citadels were broken down, the truth now on display, The shining city and the kings were dross-filled, painted, fake. "We need refinement," shouted some — the few who still believed, But now the dross and paint was such that no one else agreed.

The cities now were haunts of old, broken and beleaguered, The shining people — men and women — were filled with rage and anger, Consumed with hatred for the ones who painted themselves first, They never saw what's true of all: we paint for what we thirst.

As cities fell and citadels which once held shining kings, Came tumbling down upon the ground, an older man was seen. He sang a song, lamentable, with dirge-like poetry, And this is what was heard that day, among the anarchy,

"In shining cities made of gold, shining men were kings, They made the art, the songs, the shows, and dimmer men believed, That all was gold and shined quite bright, in citadels so strong, None could believe or ever dream that all gold could go wrong."


Trinitarian Politics and Trending Totalitarianism

As a pastor, a Christian, and an American, I'm feeling increasingly alienated from my country's political process. I'm probably not the only one. It may not surprise you that a pastor isn't happy with politics. But what may surprise you is why. It's not because I'm a shill for the Republican or Democratic parties. Neither is my greatest alienation over a particular policy (though books could be written about policies I dislike). I'm not even most disturbed about the petulant tone of the discourse (even if it happens to resemble a middle school student election I once participated in). No, my deepest problem with our politics is a theological one.

What disturbs me, perhaps more than everything else, is the way in which our political process has abandoned the most foundational doctrine of my faith: the doctrine of the Trinity.

Trinity is a word that described the tri-unity of God. He is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This fact about God's nature holds endless implications, but the one most important for our current political discourse is this: If God is trinity, we matter and you matter.

Trinity Means We Matter

Christian theologians (the good ones, anyway) derive their conclusions on human interactions from the nature of God. So, if God were a radical individual (one God, one person) we may reasonably conclude that individuals may exercise supreme authority over others. But, God is not a monad (radically one). God is three-in-one. He is unity and community — a tri-untiy. That means that, for God, three matters as much as one.

Because God is Trinity, we matter — communities of individuals matter. That's not a view that started with 19th century Liberalism. It's a view that starts with God. Vintage Trinitarianism.

Trinity Means You Matter

If you were to only read the first heading, you might begin feeling the Bern. Socialism FTW, right?

Slow your roll, comrades. It's not that simple.

Because God is one God, and the individual Persons of the Trinity are in fact individual persons, individuals matter. On the Christian view, individuals should own property, do work, and exercise authority as individuals. Oneness doesn't trump three-ness. Neither does three-ness trump oneness. I matter and we matter, because the Father (and the Son, and the Spirit) matters and the Godhead matters.

Without Trinity We Trend Totalitarian

In a world of political and social brokenness, we can easily see what happens when individuals are sacrificed for the good of the community or state. We only need look as far back as World War II to find out what happens when a society decides that a certain group of individuals is undesirable. The killing fields of Cambodia, the concentration camps of Dachau and Auschwitz — these stand as monuments to the idea of the supremacy of the society at the expense of the individual. If God is simply one without internal diversity, then we would have no way to justify the rights of individuals in communities.

However today we live in an age when the rights of individuals are so over-preferred that a single person's preferences, feelings, and proclivities can change the course of the entire society, because the individual is the basic unit of society, or so it is said. If there were three separate gods, then we would have no theology to support a strong community. But, because within God there is unity and diversity, and we are made in his image, we have a means to hold in balance the rights of individuals and needs of communities. God's very nature gives us a great resource to develop a proper understanding of the balance of a civilization and its parts. Without this, what anchor have we against tyranny of the state or the citizen?

Socialism in its various forms is the idea that the "we" matters more than the "you." As I Christian, I just can't feel the Bern, I'm afraid, because Socialism is simply anti-Trinitarian. But before you righties start cheering, the Truth cuts both ways. We can't prefer individual rights at the expense of the community — Trumpian triumphalism means certain people win, while a lot of others don't. The "You" doesn't matter more than the "we."

This basic understanding was, at one point, built into the fabric of our Republic. It seems to be absent now. One party seems poised to elect a totalitarian individualist while another is tilting toward the totalitarianism of the state. Without Trinity, I'm afraid the totalitarian trend is inevitable.

What to do (and how to vote) is, well, a post for the future. But until then, vote Jesus for King.

Revelation v. Speculation

How can we know God? This question comes up when I teach Life and Doctrine more than any other. We, having been brought up under the tutelage of a thorough-going secularism, want a sort of logical, mathematical proof of God's existence. They're asking, "How can I get from where I am up to truth about God?" The truth is that this question is almost completely backwards.

Luckily, we're not the first humans in history to think about this. About 500 years ago the writers of the Belgic Confession stated:

[We know God] first, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God... Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word... [note] The Belgic Confession, Article 2. [/note]


Knowing God starts when we shed the Scientistic vision of the world and embrace a revelational view. It's not that Christians should dislike science. It's that we cannot believe that science is the best way to know all things. The Belgic Confession reminds us that God has given us the world and His Word not as clues, but as books. We're not trapped in a cosmic version of Law and Order, piecing together the clues of a God in hiding. The Christian must flip that script. God is speaking to us through these two books—through revelation.

Here are a few reasons this matters:

Revelation Changes the Questions We Ask

Because we understand the world is made by God, we understand that the world and the Word both speak to us about God. Therefore, the question we ask goes from "Where is God," to "What does say about God?"

Revelation Begets Humility, Scientism Begets Pride

If the world is designed to speak to us about God, then we know Him because He revealed Himself. If Scientistic speculation is the greatest epistemological framework, then knowledge of God (or anything else) is obtained because we were smart enough to look for it.

Revelation Explains Science

Dr. John Lennox, in a debate with infamous atheist, Richard Dawkins, attempted to explain this to his opponent by saying, "You've got to believe in the rational intelligibility of the universe before you can do any science at all. Science doesn't give you that." [note]John Lennox. The God Delusion Debate, hosted by Fixed Point Foundation. Birmingham, AL, 2006.[/note] One has to believe that the universe is orderly, fixed, and law-like for science to get moving in the first place — a belief that was supplied buy the worldview of Christian revelation, creating the conditions necessary for the scientific revolution to happen at all.

Paul Davies, theoretical physicist and one of the most influential expositors of modern science agrees, saying:

Science is based on the assumption [on faith!] that the universe is thoroughly rational and logical at all levels... Atheists claim that the laws [of nature] exist reasonlessly and that the universe is ultimately absurd. As a scientist, I find this hard to accept. There must be an unchanging rational ground in which the logical, orderly nature of the universe is rooted.[note]Paul Davies, "What Happened Before the Big Bang?” in God for the 21st Century, ed. Russell Stannard (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2000), 12.[/note]

Here's the big take home: God isn't playing a game of cosmic keep-away. God is very interested in revealing Himself to us. The only question is whether or not we'll receive the knowledge the world and the Word give us as genuine knowledge, or just speculation.

Social Justice Needs Personal Righteousness

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

We live in the day and age of the social justice warrior — the young man or woman committed the ideas of making the world "out there" more just. Conveniently, you can qualify for this job without any concern for your personal righteousness — a grave injustice itself. But, since today is MLK day, I feel it's important to remember that King (and Paul, and Jesus, and all the prophets) didn't share this rather modern (rather ridiculous) view.

When Dr. King wrote his now famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, it included the oft-repeated phrase, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." And, that's true. But before you ride your noble steed off into the unjust world to "fix it," it would be helpful to remember the rest of the idea. "We are caught in an escapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."

In other words, it's not just morals "out there" that matter — what we often call social justice. It's also our personal righteousness "in here" that counts — what we call morality. If we're really serious about pushing back racism, sexism, classism, and the many other ills from which our culture suffers, we must also be serious about personal righteousness. They are all connected — we are all connected. If I'm struggling morally, somehow that will affect society. Conversely, if society is riddled with injustice it will affect me. It sounds counterintuitive to us, but it's true.

Scripture declares that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God's throne. That explains why God connected the ideas in Jesus' great commandment — to love God and other people. Because, they are connected.

All this means that I'm personally very grateful for Dr. King. His struggle for justice is connected to even my personal righteousness. I can't be who I'm called to be without his efforts to make the world better. In response, let's commit to grow more personally righteous through Christ. Only then will this work look more like Heaven. As righteousness and justice meet in our lives, they'll meet in our world.

Crisis Fatigue, Cowardice, and Christian Genocide

ISIS-Genocide-665x385-600x347I'm weary of war. And poverty. And disease. And large-scale crises of any kind, really.

I'm soul-tired of decade-long conflicts — of men from my generation dying in deserts across the globe. I'm exhausted of the internet and cable news which delivers evidence of the fall before my very eyes all the time. In short, I've got an acute case of crisis fatigue. This is a condition that's epidemic, I'm afraid. Its symptoms include increased distraction with trivial matters (Facebook, TV, everything BuzzFeed), terminal shallowness (because thinking and knowing deeply hurts, and we're tired of hurting), Selfies, and worst of all, cowardice.

Crisis Fatigue is making me a coward.

Cowards are those who lack the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things. I'm so tired of seeing, reading about, and watching really unpleasant things that I simply don't want to endure them anymore.

Actually, I think Crisis Fatigue is making all of us cowards.

Politically, our cowardice shows as the impulse to create "fortress America," and withdraw from the world. Socially, this manifests in the instinct to live virtual lives where we're liked in lieu of real lives where we're loved. Morally, our cowardice rears its ugly head in our flat refusal to call wrong wrong. Spiritually, we're afraid to open our mouths and declare the good news of God's grace either because we're terrified it won't really work or mortified at the prospect of being frowned upon by someone else.

And, then there's Christian genocide. In my increasing and unnoticed cowardice, I was distracting myself with social media. Normally a safe haven for the meaningless mind vomit of other crisis-fatigued cowards, my social streams were overrun with report after report of the genocide of Christians in Iraq, carried out at the hand of ISIS. As I sat next to my own children, I scrolled past pictures of Iraqi children dying in the desert, or worse. As I sat reclining on my couch in my home I read reports of whole families fleeing theirs. Something shook on the inside of me.

That shaking was a grace.

At that point, my reaction was to quickly think about something else. Anything else. I scrambled for another show, another story, another anything ... Like a coward, I tried to run. But graciously, there are some stories — some images — from which one cannot run. That, I think, is the point.

Since that moment I have not refused to watch, to learn, and to hurt deeply at what I see in the world. I'm staring ISIS down in my soul. I'm heaping prayers up for them toward Heaven. I'm coordinating ways to help through our church. No longer running, I've found the courage to fight again.

Am I still Crisis Fatigued? You bet. Do I still hate what I read and watch? Absolutely. But God has given me a grace. He let me see my inner coward — fat on the luxuries purchased by the blood and sweat of men greater and earlier than me. And, horrified by what I saw in myself, He called me to return, readied again to engage.

May it be with us. This will not be the final struggle we see. May God give us the grace to rise up under it, strengthened by love, hardened by trial, and head first to the fight. The battle to pray, to be bold, to give generously, love recklessly, and give ourselves away for God's glory and the good of all.

"...the righteous falls seven times, but gets up again..." (Proverbs 24:16)







News and Views Roundup

Here are some stories and articles that have garnered my attention this week.

Marriage for the Common Good

James K.A. Smith is a Philosophy Prof at Calvin College, and a generally stupendous fellow who spins a solid stream of social commentary. Over at Cardus he wrote a great article called Marriage for the Common Good. Challenging the concept of Wedding, Inc. to the expense of martial success, he writes:

If we want to raise up a generation passionate about the common good, perhaps we should say "No" to the dress—and all of the spectacular trappings of Wedding, Inc.—and instead plan for a marriage with open doors, honest in its vulnerability, even eagerly dependent.

There's a Christian Holocaust in Iraq

The terrorist army ISIS has systematically been killing thousands of Christians, forcing most of them to convert, die, or be displaced from the home their sect of Chaldean Christianity has called home for thousands of years — 700 of which were before Islam existed. Here's a quote from one of the many articles that no one in our government seems to care about.

When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003, there were at least 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Over the last ten years, significantly in the last few months with the emergence of ISIS, that figure has dropped to about 400,000.

In a region where Christians predate Muslims by centuries, over one million Christians have been killed or have had to flee because of jihadi persecution, while America is basically standing by and watching.

This shouldn't surprise us, but it does. We Western Christians have allowed the relative ease of life for the past few centuries to feel a certain homey warmth about this world which makes us shocked at persecution. But Jesus told us to expect it, and embrace the responsibility of suffering well. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq, and across the world who are suffering.

The Prince of Preachers' Lost Sermons

Charles Spurgeon was an amazing preacher, leader, and teacher of the 19th century. His influence still reverberates today. How often I myself wonder through his words, picking up wisdom like gold from the ground. Well now there's good news for people like me, we've found more of his sermons! Most of these sermons are from his early years — years full of struggle, mistakes, and pleas for grace. As a young pastor, you can imagine I can't wait to get my eager hands on this multi-volume set when it arrives.

A Beautiful Bible is Blowing Up on KickStarter

As a font nerd and a dude who really loves the Bible, this is like some sort of cosmic convergence of awesome things. A book designer/graphic artist/GENIUS named Adam (Coincidence? Of course not) has launched an effort called Bibliotheca. He wants to give the world a Bible that's beautiful to hold, read, and feel in your hands. I will be buying one or more of these.