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Friday, January 26, 2018

Jesus Is Lord Of The Church, But Nothing More

The difficulty isn't obvious to most, and many who attend the church don't even realize there's a problem.

Photo by Batman007 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Not far away, in the center of town, stands a large church. The sermons are replete with Scripture, and the congregation has a reputation as “Bible-believing” people. This is why what I’m about to say is so hard to believe.

The difficulty isn’t obvious to most, and many who attend the church don’t even realize there’s a problem.   

It has to do with the Sunday School.

You see, the Sunday School teachers don’t teach the children and youth that the biblical truths taught in the sanctuary are actually true, and applicable to all of life. They don’t want to “impose” Christianity on the next generation, or sway the youth one way or another when it comes to the Bible.

There is no discussion about how the Bible relates to all of life, provides a standard for moral order, or brings meaning to all human endeavor. This sort of teaching is appropriate for the sanctuary, they say, but not for the Sunday School. The rule-of-thumb for Sunday School is, “neutrality in all.”

This matter is never addressed from the pulpit, lest Sunday School teachers take offense. Besides, the vast majority of parents don’t have a problem with the Sunday School. They figure if they do their job at home, there’s nothing to be concerned about.

Does such a Sunday School really exist? No Bible-believing church would tolerate such a program! Yet most churches, and the parents who attend them, see no problem with a Monday-through-Friday educational system that does the very same thing, five days a week, six hours a day.

Let me explain.

If it is not OK for 1 hour on Sunday to give young people the idea that God’s Word plays a “neutral” role in life, and does not provide the overarching Light and Truth by which all other things are to be understood and measured, why then is it OK to give them this message on Monday through Friday?

Why does the church in general see no problem with schools that provide instruction in academics divorced from God’s Word, where teachers make no connections whatsoever between the Lordship of Christ and math or history, or literature and biology, and where the Light by which all things are to be understood has been thoroughly put out?  

The outcome is not necessarily atheism, but surely dualism: the toxic notion that Jesus is Lord of the Church, but nothing more.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, and author of Man's Search for Meaning, as he appeared in 1964, which was 19 years after his liberation from a Nazi concentration camp. He died in 1997, at the age of 92.

Photo by Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15153593

While I don't agree with all of his ideas, Viktor Frankl offers profound insights regarding meaning. 

Frankl maintained: "Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it."

Frankl's opportunity to implement his "concrete assignment which demanded fulfillment" came in 4 Nazi concentration camps during World War II. These camps taught Frankl to focus on internal attitudes, since he was powerless to change his external circumstances. Frankl was able to bring great meaning to the most miserable conditions. Helping others to do this became his life-mission.  

"Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost...What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us." [Emphasis by Frankl]

As for "what life expected from us," Frankl meant the responsibilities we all have as co-participants in life. He later wrote: 

"Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibilities. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by the Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast." [Emphasis by Frankl]

So great was Frankl's sense of responsibility that he sidestepped a plan to escape with a friend, so he could remain to help others. "I did not know what the following days would bring," he wrote, "but I had gained an inward peace that I had never experienced before."

Shortly after his liberation, Frankl walked for miles through the countryside. "I stopped, looked around, and up to the sky," he attested, "and then I went down on my knees." He had just one thought in mind: "I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space." 

Frankl concluded his concentration camp account with: "The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more--except his God."

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Arbeit Macht Frei"

Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist of Jewish descent who spent two-and-a-half years as a prisoner in 4 Nazi concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz. In his book, Man's Search for Meaning (which he wrote in 9 days), Frankl details his horrific experience. This book is not pleasant reading. Yet by the time of Frankl's death in 1997, Man's Search for Meaning had sold over 10 million copies, being translated into 27 languages. 

When he was asked how he felt about the book's success, Frankl replied: "I do not at all see in the bestseller status of my book an achievement and accomplishment on my part but rather an expression of the misery of our time: if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails."

Photo of a guard tower at Auschwitz-Birkenau by Jacomoman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

"Arbeit Macht Frei" is German for Work Sets You Free. 

This statement greeted throngs of common people like you and me who, as though cattle, were transported in boxcars to concentration camps of Germany and Poland in the '40s. These were unimaginable camps of horror and slave labor. 

In the context of a Nazi concentration camp, the banner Arbeit Macht Frei was absurd. In these horrific places, prisoners knew they could only be set free through death. If the work did not kill them, the gas chambers would. 

In writing Man's Search forMeaning, Frankl said: "I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of a concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones. And I thought that if the point were demonstrated in a situation as extreme as that in a concentration camp, my book might gain a hearing. I therefore felt responsible for writing down what I had gone through, for I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair."

Is your job a pain in the...neck? Do some co-workers bug you, like lice? Is your boss a brute? Our circumstances pale in comparison to Frankl's. Our employers don't come close to S.S. guards, and our co-workers can't hold a candlestick to double-crossing prisoners known as "Capos." 

It's worth considering how one 37-year-old in a concentration camp, surrounded by disease, human dung and despair, discovered how to bring meaning to those circumstances over which he had no control.

Realizing he was powerless to change the external factors, Frankl worked on internal factors.

"Don't aim at success," advised Frankl, "the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself."

Dedication to a cause greater than oneself? 

Surrender to a person other than oneself? 

Was this the key to Frankl's survival?

It's Truth that sets people free. Not work.

Next week I'll share some of my favorite Frankl quotes. Because they're true.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Sounds Good, But...

I took this photo while in Indonesia about 10 years ago with a group of graduate students from Bakke Graduate University, led by Dr. Ray Bakke, author of A Theology As Big As The City. We went to the waterfront in Jakarta one morning (not the beach), where we received permission to board one of the sailing ships that was being unloaded. Yes, sailing ships. These ships functioned on wind power to get from island to island, with no engines. The particular ship pictured above was full of lumber being carried off the ship by men who worked 12-hour days, unloading beams by hand, carrying them on their shoulders down a plank to the dock, for $9 per day. This was a challenge to my theology of work. I had to ask myself, "Could I experience 'God's pleasure at work' doing this job?" Frankly, I don't think I could do this work for a single day. Maybe not a single hour.

Last week I cited a Gallup poll showing that 87% of workers worldwide are not engaged in their work. They don't like their jobs. I shared a statement from Bonnie Wurtzbacher, a follower of Christ who was serving as an executive with Coca-Cola at the time I interviewed her, who relayed something she heard from her pastor: "We don't find meaning in our work, we bring meaning to our work."

Sounds good. But...how would that statement go over with the man pictured above, doing his back-breaking work for 12 hours a day? Even though the pay these men were receiving was about twice the amount considered to be a "livable wage" in Indonesia, I suspect these men did not look forward to Monday mornings. 

If you have a job that doesn't really fit you, and you have the ability to find work that better matches your personal strengths and God-given gifts, I suggest you find it. Yet, many people around the globe don't have this luxury. If you do, see a trained [Christian] career counselor who can help you find a job that better matches your strengths, gifts and calling. 

But even if you are able to find a better job fit, bear in mind that no matter what sort of work you do, there will always be "chores" that are painful, unpleasant or downright loathsome. My friend Mark Warren, a professional "calling coach" in Bellingham, Washington, once told me that if people have a job that "energizes" them 60% of the time, they are very blessed indeed. It's the exception, not the rule. 

We all have unpleasant "chores" connected with our work. This is the reality of labor in a fallen, broken world. Whether these "chores" occupy 95% of the workday, 5%, or somewhere in-between, will vary from person to person. 

One of the great things about the biblical worldview is that it does not shield us from such difficulties, nor does it tell us to imagine these difficulties do not exist. We do not deny that the pain exists, nor do we call the pain something it is not, but by God's grace, we bring meaning and purpose to the pain, in the middle of it--head on--as Christ did on the cross. The biblical worldview does not provide a way around the pains associated with work, but through them. 

More next week. Hang on.