Why Dr. Moore Matters

 

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Dr. Russell Moore

Dr. Russell Moore is the leader of my denomination’s “Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission” (ERLC), which exists “to engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaking to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing.” 

While charming, good-natured, and seemingly harmless in his demeanor, Dr. Moore has been the subject of controversy ever since he first took the office. Using his unique position as ERLC president, Dr. Moore has wasted no time in making enemies by attacking the “golden calves” of white conservative evangelicalism.

He challenged our concepts of “American Exceptionalism” by encouraging us to keep our worldview Kingdom Centered. He confronted the long unquestioned “Moral Majority Movement” by reminding us that true Christianity has always been “a prophetic minority.”  Dr. Moore intentionally moved the political conversation away from the comfortable echo-chambers of “pro-life” and “traditional marriage”, and challenged us to look squarely at the issues that make white conservative evangelicals squirm (racism, immigration, poverty, religious liberty for non-Christians, etc…)  But Dr. Moore’s most unpardonable sin against the status quo seems to have been openly criticizing Donald Trump and the Christian leaders who were quick to endorse him.

The Southern Baptist Convention has been on a politically conservative bend for several decades, due in large part to the idea proposed by Jerry Fallwell in 1979 that Christians could build a godly society by voting for right-wing evangelical candidates. In the last election cycle, Dr. Moore was quick to point out the hypocrisy of claiming that “character matters” in our politicians while simultaneously and unapologetically supporting a candidate who spoke and acted in ways that would not be tolerated in almost any other context. If the 2016 election cycle proved anything, it was that many evangelical leaders were willing to set aside moral convictions in order to maintain a seat of political power and influence.  Dr. Moore turned a mirror on this hypocrisy, and as a result, many have been calling for his resignation.

I say “many” but in actuality, it is a little more than 100 of the denomination’s 46,000 churches that have threatened to cut off financial support for the SBC’s cooperative program in protest of Dr. Moore. The reason this is noteworthy is that several of those 100 churches are very large, and at least one of which is withholding over $1,000,000 in funds.

Because of this, many were concerned that Dr. Moore might be asked to step down when a meeting was called between himself and Southern Baptist Convention leader Frank Page earlier this week. Fortunately, it seems that this was not the focus of the meeting:

“We fully support one another and look forward to working together on behalf of Southern Baptists in the years to come,” the two men said in a joint statement. “We will collaborate on developing future steps to deepen connections with all Southern Baptists as we work together to advance the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

– Dr. Frank Page

So why am I taking the time to write this?  While Dr. Moore’s position as ERLC president seems secure (for now) I think we must reflect on why Dr. Moore matters. For me, Dr. Moore is more than just another ERLC president. He represents a much-needed changing of the guard in Southern Baptist life. As is the case with just about every church and denomination, the SBC is prone to wander and go astray from its true calling.

As Dr. Moore has noted in the past when speaking of the church of his youth:

“My faith was being used as a way to shore up Southern honor culture, mobilize voters for political allies and market products to a gullible audience.”  – Dr. Moore

Even though I am a generation younger than Dr. Moore, I know exactly what he is talking about. We must always be about the work of reforming the church. Idols need to be broken. Assumptions need to be challenged. The SBC has done amazing good for the Kingdom of God, but to be satisfied with the status quo is to be apathetic towards our calling. To be nostalgic for a time long gone (and which likely never was) is to weaken our commitment to the present.

Dr. Moore is just one of the many voices in the SBC who have been bold enough to challenge areas of Southern Baptist life that deserve serious and sober evaluation. He is not trying to change our core doctrines or challenge what we profess to believe, rather Dr. Moore is simply seeking to refocus us and recommit us to the true faith we profess. We need voices like Dr. Moore’s to be heard in the SBC, lest we become complacent and irrelevant. A quick reading of the epistles of Paul will show that there has never been a church that didn’t need to re-evaluate its ways. The church has always needed prophetic voices to shine a light on our faults and failures.  If the SBC is ever going to “engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ” we must be willing to look ourselves in the mirror, see our flaws, and repent.

Lord willing, I hope we in the SBC are always blessed to have voices like Dr. Moore within our ranks.

We Are Not “Invictus”

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Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

In the poem, we see the protagonist (presumably Henley himself) ironically thanking “whatever gods may be” for granting him a soul which is unconquerable. Henley denies any fear in the face of darkness. He denies any fear of potential punishments which he may incur in life. And the poem ends with the author boldly proclaiming that  “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

It is easy to see why this poem would go on to be considered one of the greatest works of Victorian Poetry,  but every time I read this poem I’m left wondering if Henley really the master of his fate? Was this poet really ever the captain if his soul? This poem was penned in 1875 when William Henley was bedridden to an infirmary after narrowly surviving a battle with tuberculosis. The poet lost one leg to the disease, and almost lost his life, but he miraculously survived and would go on to live another 28 years. While some would interpret this narrow escape from death as a sign of divine grace, in Henley’s mind he had bested the grim reaper, and so he wrote his now immortalized poem as a way to chronicle his victory.

Henley’s poems often engage themes of inner strength and perseverance, which makes sense when one considers the difficult life which the poet lead.  The name “Invictus” is Latin for “Unconquerable” and the poem is widely celebrated as a triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

But was Henley’s defiance truly a victory? Henley, after all, could do nothing to restore his leg and enable himself walk again. Henley had postponed the inevitable, but ultimately his life was taken by the very disease which he wrote his poem in triumph over. The irony of this should not be lost on readers.

I, personally, do not think “Invictus” is a triumph. I think it is a tragedy.

Often times God can and will use our pain and struggles for an even greater good. But rather than seeking God for understanding and peace, Henley doubled down in his defiance of his maker.

As Henley himself put it “My head is bloody, but unbowed.”

The truth is that none of us are “Invictus” – Unconquerable. The question is not if our soul shall be conquered, but rather who will do the conquering.  If we place our hope solely in our human efforts, we will be crushed time and time again. If we alone stand guard over our souls then death, disease, trial, and tribulations will conquer us until we have nothing left to conquer.

If, however, we willingly surrender our souls and place our hope in God almighty, then even in moments of pain and tragedy we can rest assured knowing that God is sovereign.

As the Puritan Preacher Thomas Brooks once wrote:

“God has in Himself all power to defend you, all wisdom to direct you, all mercy to pardon you, all grace to enrich you, all righteousness to clothe you, all goodness to supply you, and all happiness to crown you.”

The Christian faith is not one of bold defiance but beautiful submission. In the topsy-turvey Kingdom of God, we value surrender to the Lord as infinitely more valuable that rugged individualism. Through submission to God, we find true freedom. We discover that true happiness is found, not in selfishness, but in selflessness. We learn that life never truly was about us and our minuscule struggles and triumphs, but rather it is about God and being in proper relationship with Him. But in order to join into this union with the God, we must first be willing to abandon our notions of self-mastery.

The Christian must recognize that there is only one true “Invictus” who masters our fate and captains our soul.

Our “Invictus” is the Son of God who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, for our salvation.

Our “Invictus” died, was buried, and rose three days later having defeated the powers of sin and death on our behalf.

Our “Invictus” is seated at the right hand of God the father, and will one day return to overthrow all worldly and otherworldly powers for His glory and our good.

 

“The Hatred of Poetry” is the Tough Love that Poetry Desperately Needed

26114416 “You’re moved to write a poem, you feel called upon to sing, because of that transcendent impulse. But as soon as you move from that impulse to the actual poem, the song of the infinite is compromised by the finitude of its terms. In a dream your verses can defeat time, your words can shake off the history of their usage, you can represent what can’t be represented, but when you wake, when you rejoin your friends around the fire, you’re back in the human world with its inflexible laws and logic. Thus the poet is a tragic figure.” – Ben Lerner

“The Hatred of Poetry” is a book that I approached with some hesitation, not because of the subject matter, but because I was not the world’s biggest Ben Lerner fan at the time. In 2015 I picked up a copy of “10:04,” a novel by Mr. Lerner, which had received near universal praise from fans and critics alike. I was eager to dive into this great American novel, but unfortunately all I found was boredom, confusion, and depressing prose. I blame only myself for not getting it. Clearly people much smarter than I found it delightful. I left the experience with the conclusion that Ben Lerner just wasn’t for me.

Skip forward to January 2017. I come across an article on the Poetry Foundation website that was giving a great deal of praise to a little book called “The Hatred of Poetry” written by none other than Mr. Ben Lerner himself. I immediately dismissed this book. I even joked with my wife, who happened to be nearby, that this sounded like “pretentious hipster trash.”

Later that week I walked into my local bookstore and low and behold the first book I saw on the shelf was “The Hatred of Poetry.” I picked up the book and began to read it, expecting an ironic laugh or two at the author’s expense, but to my surprise, I was hooked from the first two or three pages. When I took the book up to the counter to purchase it, my wife asked, “why are you buying that?” To which I replied, “I’m really not sure.”

The book is very short, less than 100 pages, but it is full of wit, charm, and insight. The book highlights the great critics and creators of poetry throughout history, while also pondering what drives us to create, love, and hate poetry itself.

“Avant-garde poets hate poems for remaining poems. Nostalgists hate poems for failing to do what they wrongly, vaguely claim poetry once did.” – Ben Lerner

The book is written by a man who clearly has a love-hate relationship with poetry. Mr. Lerner knows the inner turmoil of the poet who wants to capture something intangible and eternal in words, only to find that no poem can ever live up to the hype of what poetry sets out to do.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from cover to cover, if for no other reason than that Ben Lerner seems to understand and share my frustration with poetry in the modern world. I too want to believe in the power of poetry, especially in a world that increasingly views the art form as an intellectual niche. Where Mr. Lerner and I differentiate is that, rather than nostalgically looking to an idealized past or lamenting a dismal future, Mr. Lerner encourages us to pause, to take off our rose colored glasses, and take an irreverent inventory of what poetry truly is.

The truth is that poetry, while beautiful, will always disappoint us. Poetry can never fully achieve what poetry wants to accomplish. Like King Sisyphus of myth, the poet is always and forever set for failure. It is for this reason that even the great lovers of poetry, in moments of honesty and clarity, must admit that they really do harbor a tiny hatred of poetry.

If you would like to read an excerpt from the book you can do so here: LINK

 

 

What To Do When You Are Bored of God

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Today I read a comment by someone who was contemplating leaving the faith because it no longer appealed to them. In their own words they said that they were starting to find the Bible boring. When they sang songs at church they didn’t feel the excitement they once felt. In other words, God just wasn’t doing it for them like He used to.

I think it is safe to say that most of have probably felt a spiritual malaise like this before. As much as I love the Bible, there are definitely times when reading the word of God does not fill me with awe and wonder. I’ve sat through worship services where my heart just wasn’t in it. There have been times when I prayed and felt as though my words weren’t even making it past the ceiling.

The question that this individual raised, however, was not how to persevere through spiritual apathy. The question was whether he should leave the faith because God was no longer entertaining him, which is a question so problematic that I was compelled to respond right away.

Is God Boring?

The first thing that needed to be addressed is whether or not God ever could be boring.   I do not believe that He ever could be. Biblically speaking, the ultimate goal for human beings is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (see Psa. 86; Isa. 60:21; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 6:20, 10:31; Rev. 4:11).  How could we glorify God if ultimately we will one day be bored of Him? How could we enjoy Him forever if we ever grew tired of His presence?

God is not boring. Boredom itself is a consequence of a broken and fallen world. The fact that we can conceive of God as boring is simply an extension of the current depravity of the human mind. This will not always be the case. The Christian knows that one day our mind will be resurrected, redeemed, and perfected in glory. We will see the face of our maker and never desire to cease in singing praises to His holy name. This day is not yet upon us, and yet we hold onto this hope in times of spiritual growth and abundance as well as and in spells of spiritual dryness and drought.

Why Chasing the “Jesus High” is A Waste of Time:

In John chapter 6 we see Jesus feeding a crowd of people by miraculously multiplying two fish and five loaves into enough food for five thousand people to eat their fill. It was undoubtedly an amazing thing to behold. After Jesus finishes teaching the people and he departs for another land, the crowd tracks him down and repeatedly demands him to repeat the same miracle again. Jesus tells the crowd that he did not come to feed them bread that perishes, but to give them the bread that endures to eternal life. The people were very excited about this “bread” until Jesus revealed that He was the bread of which He spoke.

You see the people in John 6 were not interested in Jesus himself. They wanted the tangible bread He was able to miraculously produce more than they wanted any real relationship with Him. As soon as the bread supply was cut off, the crowd quickly lost interest in Jesus and His teachings about a “Kingdom of God.”

Most of us don’t spend our days wondering where our daily bread will come from. Instead of bread, we spend our days thinking about where our next thrill will come from. We spend our time and energy thinking about and discussing things like movies, TV shows, sports, games, music, hobbies, etc. We not only love to be entertained, we expect and demand entertainment. We can become angered at the concept of having to endure boredom for any reason whatsoever.

I do not think it is surprising that most of the comments I hear after church services are about whether people liked the music or thought the sermon was entertaining.

I do not think it is a surprise that one of the most common reasons people cite in divorce is that they just do not feel like they are in love anymore.

We judge everything based on how it makes us feel and whether or not it captivates us. When something bores us, even for a moment, we assume that something is wrong. The worst part of this that we are taking this horribly self-centered worldview and applying it to our relationships with God. If God does not grab our attention and powerfully move our hearts on a regular basis, then we will cast him aside like last year’s trends.

What Should We Do When God Bores Us?

Earlier this year I got married. I dated my wife for almost a year before I proposed to her, and after that, we went through a six-month long engagement before we were finally married. In the nearly two years leading up to my marriage, I was never bored of my wife. Every date night we went on was something I looked forward to with eager anticipation. Every kiss was electric, and I spend a great deal of my time thinking about her. I was infatuated.

Now I’ve been married for several months, and I am getting used to seeing her every day. I love my wife dearly and passionately, but the passion I feel is different. When our relationship was new it was all about sweeping romantic gestures and special events. Now the relationship is more about small daily acts of kindness and faithfulness. I choose to love my wife and fulfill my duties as a husband, not because I always feel like it, but because I love her. My heart doesn’t aways swell with passion, and romance isn’t always in the air, but our love isn’t dependent upon that.

This raises the question… “What is your love of God dependent upon?”

Are you going to be faithful to the reading of scripture, to prayer, to service, and to worshipping with a body of believers even when you do not feel like it?  Are you like the crowd in John 6 who was happy with Jesus so long as he gave them what they wanted, but who was willing to abandon Him as soon as they realized they would not be fed?

John Piper had this to say about boredom:

Inside and outside the church we are drowning in a sea of triviality, pettiness, banality, and silliness. Television is trivial. Radio is trivial. Conversation is trivial. Education is trivial. Christian books are trivial. Worship styles are trivial. It is inevitable that the human heart, which was made to be staggered with terrifyingly joyous dread and peace by an infinitely untouchable, embracing God―it is inevitable that such a heart, drowning in the all-pervasive, blurry boredom of banal entertainment, will reach for the best buzz that life can give. The deepest cure is to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by the infinite, everlasting, unchanging sovereignty, holiness, wrath, justice, wisdom, truth, and mercy of God.

– John Piper

So what do we do when we find God boring?

We stay faithful.

God is an endless wellspring of spiritual riches, and these riches are available to those who love Him and pursue Him diligently and faithfully. A husband who is faithful to his wife long after the initial excitement has faded will one day discover that there are new levels of rich, deep, and abiding love that can only be found by those who are willing to put in the time and energy required to uncover them.  Likewise, our relationship with God may have seasons in which we find ourselves wondering “is this all there is?”  The answer, of course, is “No.”  We will never reach the end of the wonder that is God. We may think we have reached the end, but with a little patience and diligence, we begin to understand that God is so much more than we could have ever conceived or imagined.

Let’s look once more at John chapter 6. Remember the crowd who followed Jesus hoping for more and more bread? Remember how the crowd grew increasingly frustrated with Jesus when he stopped giving them what they wanted? At the tail end of the chapter we see that most of the people turned their backs on Christ, however, a small band of twelve persisted.

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-68

In one of Peter’s rare moments of clarity, he states the obvious truth. “Where will we go?” If the Son of God is not all fulfilling then what hope have we to ever find fulfillment?

I have no doubt in my mind that Peter and the twelve did not fully understand what was happening. They still had much to learn, much to see, and much to experience. They did, however, understand the most important lesson. They knew that they had found the one who could fill the ultimate desire in their heart, and they were not about to give up on Him.