On Campus at Penn State Berks

CSF got off to a quick start last week!  Our care package handout on Tuesday went great.  Students handed out 301 free bags of gifts to their peers.  It is always really funny to see a student’s reaction when asked if he wants a free gift.  You can tell by their face they are wondering “what’s the catch.”  They wonder this even before they learn it is a Christian group handing the stuff out.  When we explained the bags were put together by local churches as a gift to the students with no strings attached, they usually exhaled in relief, smiled, took a bag and said thank you.  Handing out free bags of gifts does not seem like much.  Nobody converted on the spot, we did not have a mass baptism afterwards.  But over 300 students were given grace (after all, isn’t grace itself a free gift) and they learned that a community of Christians exists on campus and cares for themIf we really believe that God is sovereign and that God’s Holy Spirit is still active today, then we must believe that the seeds planted that night may produce fruit, even if we do not see that fruit in this lifetime.

At our cookout on Thursday we may have already seen some fruit though, as a few students attended who had learned about the cookout by the insert we placed inside the care package.  During the cookout new and old students mingled, chatted, ate together and had a good time.  I was told of a few students who came who are a bit wary of organized religion and who had had less than positive experiences with Christianity growing up.  My prayer is that the relationships that began at the cookout will grow and that the students in CSF will invest their lives in those who are seeking.

This week we will get rolling with our “normal” weekly meetings, but only after another informal activity on Tuesday aimed at continuing to build friendships within CSF as well as meeting new people.  I will also begin meeting one-on-one with students for discipleship, which is always a blast.  On Thursday we will have our first worship and teaching night, outside at the pavilion by the dorms.

Thank you for your prayers.

Also, Penn State begins their football season with Youngstown St. on Saturday!  The big question is who will be at QB: Kevin Newsome, Matt McGloin or Robert Bolden?  I am a bit nervous of an Appalachian St over Michigan, David over Goliath type upset as PSU tries to get their QB situation in order.  But seriously, the rest of the team is solid so I’ll go with Penn State 41, Youngstown St. 7.


On Campus at Penn State Berks

Since one of the primary points of this blog is to inform my friends and supporters about what is happening on campus with the ministry of Christian Student Fellowship, I am going to (try) to post a snapshot once a week from campus.  Consider it a window into the world of PSU Berks campus ministry.

Today is the first day of school, my sixth first day of school as a campus pastor!  At the ripe old age of thirty, I have at least a decade on most of the students here on campus.  Considering the majority of students here are freshman and sophomores, as most juniors head up to University Park, I feel all the older.  I do wonder what people think when they see me.  Do they think I am staff or faculty?  An older student back to finish college?  Do I pass for a twenty-two year old?  Maybe all of the above at some point.  As I was walking through Luerssen, one of the classroom buildings, a scared-looking skinny freshman asked me for help locating a room.  It was fun directing him in the right direction and satisfying to know however older than the typical PSU Berks student I am, I do not look scary enough to not be approachable, at least when one is lost.

Now I am back to the old routine: sitting in the Cyber Cafe, working on various projects and chatting with students when they come visit me.  My prayer is for opportunities, many opportunities, to talk with and listen to students this year.

Tomorrow CSF will be handing out nearly 300 care packages to students in the dorms.  These packages have been donated by local churches and friends.  The goal is to show the students that people on campus and in the community care for them.  Along with that, we hope this no-strings-attached gift demonstrates to them what the grace of God in Jesus Christ is like.  Finally, we hope to recruit new members to CSF.

Thursday we will be having a cookout with the same goals: meet new people, invite people to CSF and so on.  The beginning of the year in campus ministry is filled with recruiting new people.  My prayer is that as we recruit new people to CSF we do not forget the bigger mission of introducing people to forgiveness and love in Jesus Christ.

Summer in Thessalonica – Vocation

Penn State students are returning to campus this weekend! It is appropriate then to remind you all, as this study is focused for college students, that for Christians college is not just a path to get a job. The truth is that God has called you into service in your field and if you work for God any work can be holy work. Christian philosopher JP Moreland puts it this way:

But for a disciple, the purpose of college is not just to get a job. Rather, it is to discover a vocation, to identify a field of study in and through which I can serve Christ as my Lord. And one way to serve Him in this way is to learn to think in a Christian manner about my major. A person’s Christianity doesn’t begin at a dorm Bible study, when class is over; it permeates all of one’s life, including how one thinks about the ideas in one’s college major” (Moreland, Love God with all Your Mind, 28).

“A Christian goes to college to discover his vocation – the area of service to which God has called him – and to develop the skills necessary to occupy a section of the cultural, intellectual domain in a manner worthy of the kingdom of God” (Moreland, Love God with all Your Mind, 57).

Your classes in college and your career are not just things you do to occupy your time between going to church and being a Christian. Rather, they are an intimate part of your life as a Christian. We were created to work. You have unique gifts and are called to unique places to use your gifts. In and of itself your work has worth.

As we conclude our read through of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, we find him reminding them of the importance of their work:

3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

14 Take special note of those who do not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as fellow believers.

16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

17 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

In his first letter to the Thessalonian church Paul had reminded the Christians of how he had worked hard while he was with them so that he would not be a burden to them (1 Thess. 2:9). We know Paul had practical skills as a tentmaker (see Acts 18:1-3). He encouraged the Thessalonians to live a quiet life and work with their hands so that their lives would win the respect of others (1 Thess. 4:11-12).

There was a problem in the Thessalonian church with people who were “idle“. Paul warns those who are idle in his first letter (1 Thess. 5:14). This does not mean they just lazed around doing nothing, the word means more that they were busy doing the wrong sorts of things, which is why Paul calls them “busybodies” (2 Thess. 3:11). Such people had fallen for a false teaching that the final resurrection had already occurred and thus the truly spiritual people had no need to work. This was a false teaching about the end-times, which is why Paul dedicated time to correcting them on this subject (2 Thess. 2:1-12). These false teachings about the end affected how people lived their lives: because they believed the end had already come, they were not working.

Paul says to keep away from such people (busybodies), although do not treat them as enemies but as brothers (3:6, 14-15). In other words, do not completely shun them, but do not allow their false teaching to influence anyone else and work to restore them to truth.

As this school year begins, who are you surrounding yourself with? Are they people who will help you grow as a person and do well in your classes? People who will help you manage your time well? Or people who will spend more time complaining about professors and gossiping about peers?

Your work shapes your character. As you follow Jesus in this life, what kind of person are you becoming? One who cheats, cuts corners, waits till the last minute, does just enough to get by? Or one who works hard, does your best, is honest, plans ahead and is responsible? How you do work opens a window to your heart.

Remember, in working hard at your job, you can win the respect of outsiders (1 Thess. 4:11-13). What kind of example are you setting in your work ethic on campus? Ultimately, in your work you are setting an example for those around you, so the final question is, in your work are you drawing them closer to Christ or pushing them further away?

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Class of 2014 Mindset List

Each year since 1998 Beloit College has created a “mindset list” that explains some of the ways the incoming class of freshman are unique.  Part of the reason for doing this is to help faculty avoid cultural references to things the students would be clueless about.  The class of 2014 was mostly born in 1992 which means they were never alive when the Pittsburgh Pirates were good or Barry Bonds was not on steroids!!!

The list this year is interesting as always.  Right at the top of the list (#2) is the fact that e-mail is too slow and they never use snail mail.  If you want to get ahold of college freshman, texting is the best way to go.  Lots of other ones are also interesting and funny.  I like to use this list on church visits to demonstrate that ministering to college students requires practically cross-cultural communication.  In other words, we need to speak a language they understand.  Usually I just make the people in the church feel old.

Anyway, check out the list.

Summer in Thessalonica – Encouraged by Grace

2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

3:1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

I am sure you have had fights and arguments with family or friends. Perhaps after some shouting you turned and walked away, furious at the actions of the other person. Maybe this person was your friend or a brother or sister, but now that relationship appears broken.

Anytime this happens, someone has to make the first move. One person will have to choose to swallow their pride and go to the other person in order to begin rebuilding the relationship.

The story of humanity is similar. Each of us has run away from God, rebelling against our Creator. The difference is that with your friend you both had screwed up and were guilty, but with our relationship with God, only we are guilty. The guilt is on our side: God loved us 100% and we turned away. Amazingly, even though the guilt lay with us as we ran away from God, wanting no part of God, God refused to let us go. When we wanted nothing to do with God, God did not give up on us.

That is really what Paul is saying in 2:13-14 above – God makes the first move to us. This shows that God is a God of love. God did not have to do this, but as our Creator he loves us and desires relationship with us. God comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ, dying on the cross and rising again. Through this death and resurrection our sins are forgiven and we are healed. Further, God lives in us as the Holy Spirit, daily changing us from the inside us, making us new every day.

What do we do in response to this? Repairing a broken relationship with a friend is a first step. There are additional steps as you live in relationship with that friend. In the same way, Paul commands the Thessalonians to “stand firm” and “hold fast” (2:15). As people saved by Christ and filled with the Spirit, we must make the choice each day to be open to continued salvation and healing.

Of course, we are fickle people. We more often then not choose to run away from God (again and again!). The sad fact is, we like sin. There is a famous story of a young man named Augustine who lived about 400 years after Christ. He had a fun afternoon stealing pears from a neighbor’s tree. They were not attractive pears or tasty pears. He and his friends did not even eat them, they threw them at houses! But the appeal was that they were stealing someone else’s pears. The appeal was the sin, the fact it was bad. We all are the same way. On a daily basis we turn to lust, greed, pride and the like simply because rebelling against God still looks like fun.

We cannot overcome these things on our own. This is why Paul prays that God the Father and Jesus Christ would strengthen the Thessalonian Christians (2:16-17). They are saved, they have a job to do which they are too weak to, so Paul prays that even here God would strengthen them.

That same Augustine went on to become the pastor of a church in North Africa that was dealing with all kinds of problems. He wrote some great works, widely considered one of the best theologians since in church history. But he was not perfect: he was not always fair to his enemies, some of the things he supported appear to us abhorrent. It is easy to look at his life, or any Christian from centuries ago, and point out where they screwed up. But God used screw ups. He has to, because that’s all there is to work with! Every character in the Bible, from Abraham and his wife Sarah to Moses, David and so on were messed up! Yet God used them.

Paul knew this. This is why he asked these screwed up Christians in Thessalonica to pray for him (3:1-2). Sometimes we talk about “prayer warriors” almost acting like God is more likely to listen to the prayers of holier people. I don’t see much basis for this. God will work with whomever approaches him, however much a mess they are. There were probably smarter, more attractive people in Thessalonica than these Christians, but these were the ones in the church, they are the ones opening themselves up to Jesus Christ, so Paul asks them to pray.

After all, Paul’s confidence is not in these Christians anyway. Paul knows that somehow, the Thessalonian Christians will be strengthened by God (3:3). Because his faith is in God, the Creator and Savior, Paul has confidence (3:4): the message will get out, people will overcome sins, be freed from bondage, learn and grow. In our weakness God is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Summer in Thessalonica – Do not be Deceived!

Jehovah’s Witnesses are famous for their door-to-door evangelism techniques. Maybe you’ve groaned as you have seen them walk toward your door?

The Jehovah’s Witnesses trace their roots to Charles Taze Russell in the 1870s who, with a group of friends studying the Bible, came to new teachings on Jesus’ second coming. For centuries Christians had believed that Jesus would return physically and visibly. Russell and his followers rejected this in favor of an invisible, spiritual return. They believed Christ had invisibly returned in 1874 and that God’s kingdom would be fully established on earth in 1914.

Well, 1914 came and went without this prophecy being fulfilled. Many of Russel’s followers left in disillusion, but some stayed faithful. After Russell’s death in 1916 the movement continued. Their beliefs were modified, now teaching that the period of Christ’s invisible presence had begun in 1914, not 1874.

Christians have long sought clarity on the end-times, with many generations believing the end would come in their lifetime. The basic Christian doctrine, rooted in the Bible and the Apostle’s Creed, is that at the end Jesus will return physically and visibly. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses were not the first to teach something different.

Their teaching of a spiritual, invisible return of Jesus bears similarities to confusion going on in the Thessalonian church in the apostle Paul’s day. Some people were teaching that Christ had already come (2:1-2). Paul writes to correct them:

2:1Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

5Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

The main point in this is encouragement not to be deceived (2:3) and to remember what Paul had taught (2:5). When Jesus gives instruction on what will happen, his motivation is the same: so no one is deceived (Matt. 24:3-4). This is vitally important. The Bible does not speak of the future just so we can make predictions of when and how, but so we are not deceived when false teaching comes along. In other words, the whole point is so we will remain true to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Paul teaches that certain things must happen prior to the end and since these things have not yet happened, the end has definitely not come: the rebellion and the appearance of a “man of lawlessness” who sets himself up among God’s people and proclaims himself to be divine.

The “man of lawlessness” is often equated with “the Antichrist“. Maybe you’ve heard Christians talk about the Antichrist before. But Paul does not use the word “Antichrist” here. The only time when the word “antichrist” appears in the New Testament is in the letters of John. John says antichrist is coming but focuses on the fact that many antichrists are already here (1 John 2:18). Any person who denies that Jesus is Christ, who denies God the Father and Son, is antichrist (1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 7).

I think it is important to note that the Bible focuses much more on things that draw us away from Christ in the present. Again, a basic understanding of the future is important, but an unhealthy obsession that minimizes our spiritual walk right now is not what the Bible writers have in mind. Paul says that the power of the man of lawlessness is being held back right now (2:6), yet the mystery (“secret power” in NIV, bad translation) of lawlessness is already at work (2:7). Just like John says, the spirit of antichrist is already here.

If we are honest with ourselves, we often set ourselves against Jesus Christ:

When we refuse to forgive those who hurt us, as we have been forgiven by Jesus.

When we are greedy, refusing to help others in need, as Jesus helped and blessed us.

When we act as if certain people are beyond hope, that they cannot receive grace, as Jesus never gives up on us or withholds grace from us.

When we refuse to love our neighbor, our enemy, as Jesus demonstrated and commanded.

All of us are still works in progress…

Paul writes on the future, speaking of when the man of lawlessness is revealed, and the first thing he says is that Jesus destroys him pretty easily (2:8). The workings of antichrists look good (2:9-10), but will not last. This is why we must be reminded not to be deceived.

A lot will be left unsaid today, verses 9-12 deserve their own study. Note that verse 10 says “those who are perishing“. This reminds me that we are all choosing a path each day:

Are choosing to turn to our God and Savior, Jesus Christ who is all good, truth, grace, forgiveness, healing and love?

Are choosing to turn away from Jesus Christ, to be separated from God, to seek after things that look good now, temporary highs, things that lead to destruction and death?

The future is just an extension of our choices in the present.

When Atheists sound like Prophets…and Jesus?

I just finished a book called Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism by Merold Westphal. The author argues that rather than simply seeking to refute the atheistic criticisms of religion of Freud, Marx and Nietzsche, Christians should realize that much of what they say may ring true. If we know our scripture, these atheists may even echo the harsh words of the prophets and Jesus. For example, Marx famously said that religion is the opium of the masses. In other words, if those in power can get the masses of poor and weak to believe they will have a better life in the next life, then the masses will be put to sleep and accept their low position. Ironically though, much of Marx’s critique of religion echoes the prophet Amos, for the truth is that those in power often use religion to put the masses to sleep!

Westphal warns that if we Christians simply answer their critiques with argument, we may win a battle and lose the war. This is because their attacks are not focused on the truth claims of Christianity as much as on the motivations of Christians. So even if their attacks are proven false (i.e., we argue why religion is not the opiate of the masses), it does not mean Christianity is true. And to the neutral observer, the fact that we argue may make us look guilty, for like the teacher of the law (Luke 10:29), we seek to justify ourselves. Or, to put it in Jesus-language, we may be so quick to remove the speck from the atheist eye that we forget the large plank in our own Christian eye.

Nietzsche is famous for declaring “God is dead”, but overall his philosophy was an attack not just on Christian ideals but on any who claim to find an overarching truth or morality for all people whether in religion or reason. What struck me in Westphal’s analysis was Nietzsche’s attack on justice. He warns against “preachers of equality,”, those “who talk much of their justice” (254). For Nietzsche, justice is just another way to speak of revenge. People in power are strong enough to get revenge, but poor, weak people without the means for revenge (Christians) call out for justice on those who have hurt them. This call for justice, from God, is really a call for revenge.

This becomes uncomfortable when we realize Nietzsche’s case is made strong by comparing the Nazi’s Final Solution with the Christian’s Final Judgment (256). Pretty much everybody, in looking back at the abhorrent extermination of six million Jews, as well as millions of others, by the Nazis during WWII is sickened. This is evil at its clearest.

Yet Nietzsche would point out that Christians are okay with the exact same thing when God does it. We may say hell is justice given out by God. Yet there is also a spirit of revenge, the hope that our enemies will “get what they deserve” one day. Further, if we just go by numbers, many more than 6 or even 60 million will face eternal gas chambers in hell. The Final Judgment makes the Nazi’s Final Solution look practically tame.

I think this is disturbing. Especially if we have the courage to admit that perhaps Nietzsche is right about us: our desire for justice sometimes is really a desire for revenge.

Then we come to the first chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian church, which I am studying through and commenting on in weekly devotional emails to the CSFers:

 5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

Isn’t this kind of proving Nietzsche correct? Isn’t Paul basically telling the Thessalonian Christians to be encouraged by the fact that they will see justice in judgment on their enemies, they will basically get their revenge? Isn’t this what “God will pay back trouble to those who trouble you” (v.6) means? What happened to loving your enemies? They will be punished with “everlasting destruction” (v. 9)? What happened to praying for those who persecute you?

There is not space here for a whole theology of hell (although I have done teaching on that at CSF and can send you some material if you’re interested). Perhaps we can briefly say a few things.

Like Westphal argues, we should admit that sometimes Nietzsche is correct about us. Justice is a good thing with a strong biblical basis. But I wonder how often we speak of it we are really looking for revenge against those who have hurt us?

But another point to remember is that both Nietzsche and I, as well as most who read this and who discuss such issues, write from a position of white-wealthy-comfortable-European privilege. The church in Thessalonica was a tiny, persecuted minority. If we listen to a starving mother who has just lost her son to illness because he drank the only water available as she cries out for justice…or the cries of the villagers who have just seen their homes destroyed by a militia which also raped their daughters and enslaved their sons as child soldiers…or the cries of the young girl who is raped numerous times each night in a dark brothel…justice is needed. Things like slavery, forced prostitution, abject poverty are evil. There is real evil in the world. No normal person would shrug their shoulders and say we should just forget it. Evil requires justice. If God did not judge evil, did not pass out justice, how could he be a loving God? Miroslav Volf is a theologian from Croatia, which experienced horrific war and genocide in the 1990s. Volf’s theology flows out of his cultural experience and speaks of God’s necessary judging of evil:

“If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence – that God would not be worthy of worship…My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone (which is where a paper that underlies this chapter was originally delivered. Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: a Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect noncoercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.”

What Volf is saying is that the idea that God will never judge, that God just kind of loves everybody no matter what they do, is an idea that might fly in a relatively wealthy, happy and prosperous suburb but quickly fails in a war zone filled with rape and violence. Confronted with the evil in the world we recognize that to be a loving God means that judgment on evil must come.

Along with the fact that judgment of evil is necessary goes the fact that it is God’s judgment alone that is perfectly just. If we were to look at judgment throughout scripture, we would see that it is not always as cut and dried as we would like. Mainly, it is the most religious people who are most at risk of being judged. The prophets preached harsh messages of judgment to those who had received God’s clearest revelation of the Law. Jesus’ harshest words of judgment were for religious leaders. This should serve a warning to us to tread lightly and not speak too quickly of judgment. Nietzsche reminds us to examine our motives in calling out for justice. Sometimes we are right in desiring justice, other times we may just want revenge. But God is fair, when it comes to God’s judgment no one can say they were treated wrongly.

I am fond of quoting CS Lewis here:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.” All that are in hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened” (The Great Divorce, 75).

In looking at Scripture, it is not too much to say that Christians are often in the same position as the Pharisees. We are quick to identify those like us as insiders and accepted by God, with the outsiders as condemned, the point being that we are the ones God likes best. Our prayer ends up being like that of the Pharisee in Luke 18, thanking God for making us good. But Jesus blows up the whole paradigm of “we’re good, those different from us are evil” for in the same parable it is the outsider, the tax collector, whom Jesus says went home justified (Luke 18:14).

Nietzsche argues that religious people, such as Pharisees and often Christians, say “we are good, accepted by God and outsiders are the problem.” Jesus in the gospels wakes us up to the falsity of this, as consistently the one who finds grace and acceptance by God is the one who says “I am evil, broken, in need of help. I am the problem.”

So we again return to Marx: religion is the opiate of the people, putting us to sleep. But Jesus and the gospel is the smelling salts that wakes people up! (I stole that from a Tim Keller sermon). May we be more like Jesus.

PS: This post is super-long and I have so much more to say! Reading Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer has been a blessing the last few days, as I am reminded of the centrality of Jesus and the radical grace of God. Remember – Jesus hangs out with sinners and if we don’t think we are broken (i.e. like religious people Nietzsche is critiquing) then we don’t recognize we need Jesus. May we be reminded of our brokenness each day!