I wanted to share a chart of the Gospel of John that may help those who would like to study the book in more detail. Just click here or on the image below to download.
You’ve saved me to be more than I could ever imagine, yet I go through life trying to find the strength to do Your will in my little schemes and plans. I look for my righteousness within myself. I attempt to please You by manipulating Your favor. All this I have done, but I keep coming up short. I am frustrated with my own inability to be something that, by my own power, I am not. Help me to look to the resurrection and to see that You have radically changed me. Now putting on Christ is simply being who I already am in You! Let my veins pulsate with the resurrection power of Jesus Christ who lives in me and I in Him. Empower me rise to from my sins, my self-righteousness, my idols and run to you. Let Your life live in me. Give me the strength to be who I really am in You!
I know that this post will probably frustrate some of my friends and may drag things deeper into issues that may be counter-productive in the end. But I thought it worthwhile to at least attempt a discussion of the issue of conspiracy theories in the local church. Let me begin by saying that I have many friends who would be considered by some to be hardcore conspiracy theorists. As I write this, I mean them no harm; however, I think that we all ought to take some time to consider a little about conspiracy theories and how they affect the church. I also suppose that this post may frustrate some of the more general population who may object to how I categorize the issue. I also will wax a little preachy in this post. I apologize also for this in advance. This issue has been on my mind for some time and has been brought up again recently, so I want to forcefully and directly address the issue. I will beg everyone’s forgiveness in advance in hopes that through this dialogue, we all may become more effective as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Definition and Sources of Conspiracy Theories
As I mentioned, I have many friends who could be considered “Conspiracy Theorists.” Perhaps some may even lump me in with them. Really, in some small way, we all are conspiracy theorists. We all have unique beliefs that we believe to be outside the mainstream. Somewhere in all of us there is an individuality to what we believe. We all have a desire to hold truth exclusively. And as long as that desire prevails upon humanity, conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists will persist. Everyone has bought into a conspiracy. Whether it is the conspiracy of the liberal, the conservative, the libertarian, or the statist, we’ve all chosen our political perspectives. We’ve all picked our poison. Moving forward, I will be defining the idea of a conspiracy theory as a political viewpoint which lays claim to special insight into current or past events in which covert plots are being carried out.
Categories of Conspiracy Theories
Conspiracy theories come in all shapes and sizes. These theories are as extreme as the political positions that birthed them. The liberal sees the agenda of the conservative as fringe and extremist. To them the conservative is in cahoots with big business and is linked with all sorts of corporate corruption and as a plot to destroy the poor of the nation. To the conservative, the liberal is linked with big government, communism, and a plot to invent global warming and destroy Christianity. The libertarian sees anyone else as federalist (usually liked with big business) and accuses many with media cover-ups of the US governments’ involvement in 9/11, the need for gold investments, and vote-fixing in national elections. On the other hand, federalists see everyone else as anarchists who are desperately plotting to destroy the government. My point is that all of these views are odd. The way every position sees the other has some quirks and curiosities. They all believe that they have an edge on the truth.
My concern in this post is not to debate who has the best conspiracy theory or the merits of each position. We all have our views, but, as a Christian, I see that God’s view is all that matters (Prov. 21:2). What I wish to discuss, then, is to what extent the Christian should approach conspiracy theories differently.
The Christian and Conspiracy Theories
Given that we all accept some conspiracy theory or another (whether or not we are honest with ourselves to admit this), I think we can safely say that it is not wrong to be a conspiracy theorist. From the very inception of Christianity, conspiracies existed. The early church was aware of plots to discredit the resurrection and the celebration of the Eucharist. I suppose that for the first few hundred years of the church’s existence, most Christians would have been considered hardcore conspiracy theorists. All this said, I think there are two important virtues for Christians to develop in regard to their politics:
- Be guarded. Some conspiracy theories are overtly sexist, racist, or anti-Christian. These positions are not fitting for a child of God.
- Be wise. Let your view be critiqued by everyone (Prov. 11:14). Become aware of the inconsistencies of your position and the foibles of those who hold it. Don’t turn off your critical thinking (1 Thess. 5:21)!
There are also a number of issues to avoid:
- Don’t let it steal your joy. When your favorite political team is winning and your cause is moving forward, don’t let it be the source of your joy, because as quickly as you derive joy from its success, you will also be driven to despair when you see it fail. The more “outside the mainstream” you begin to see yourself, the more alienated you will feel. As you proceed down this path of loneliness and sadness, there is little fruit that resembles the Gospel. Do a quick reality check. Ask yourself honestly about how you respond to the success or failure of your political worldview.
- Don’t let it steal your focus. What consumes the better part of your internet research, Youtube views, Facebook posts, or conversations? Is it your political views or is it Christ (Matt. 6:33)? We claim that Jesus is the Lord and the Master of our lives and all we can think about is politics. We say that Jesus is the King of the Universe, but for some reason we fear the petty political leaders that come and go as surely as night turns to day (cf. Psalm 2). If Jesus is King of all, then why do we allow ourselves to be consumed or even worry with the state of politics. Politics is a sad substitution for the Savior. Idols come in many shapes and sizes, and, unfortunately this is one of them. Spend some time considering what is really important in this life and the life to come (Luke 12:4-5).
- Don’t let it motivate your spirituality. You and I should be witnessing and sharing Christ whether the end of times is at hand or not. Don’t let your concerns about anti-Christian legislation, unifying world governments, or decline in government care for the poor fuel your spirituality. Let the Holy Spirit be the source of your motivation and strength. Here’s a quick reality check: if all the banks, or liberals, or conservatives disappeared tonight, would you still be as motivated to live for and share Christ as you are today?
- Don’t let it give you a superiority complex. Read Colossians 2. These were people who thought they had the corner on the market of truth. Be careful not to go down this same road. Be careful once you begin to feel that you have access to special insights that the rest of humanity and other Christians have missed out on. Be careful once you begin to feel that you have special insights have allowed you to see faults in others that they themselves do not see. Be careful when you start doubting the authenticity of others’ beliefs on the basis of their politics. As soon as we start thinking that we’ve figured out the deep secrets of our opponents, we become the Illuminati that we feared from the beginning!
- Don’t let it become your identity in the culture. We are commanded to be making disciples of Christ, not our politics. If your talking points with your co-workers include controversial political statements, consider whether you are opening the door of the Gospel to them or shutting it down (and bolting it shut???). We ought to be circumspect in what we say, so that all of it may point to Christ (Col. 4:2). May it never be said that our political views kept someone from coming to Christ.
- Don’t let it become your identity in the church. The church is the place where we are to minister to each other and to glorify God. Don’t get caught up in empty discussions (1 Tim. 6:20-21). This is not profitable for your brothers and sisters. Never assume that they all believe like you do. Never try to use the church as a platform for your opinions on world events. Always ask for prayer for your government, but never target particular politicians or parties in your speech. This is divisive and destructive.
- Don’t let it destroy your family. Almost every person I know who holds strong political views and can’t avoid talking about them with others who don’t hold them ends up driving people away. Some of these people have told me that they don’t really mind. The truth hurts and some people may not want to be their friends. I could question whether this is a biblical position, but I digress. I’d rather pose this question. Does your love for your flavor of politics demonstrate love for your spouse? In other words, have you stopped to consider the effect your clamor for your political views has had on your wife and whether people avoid her in order to avoid your obnoxious political rants?
In conclusion, I would hesitate to tell anyone to abandon their conspiracies, but I would encourage all Christians to hold them lightly. We should all pursue politics to the glory of God and vote our conscience. I would encourage everyone (no matter what political system you subscribe to) to consider your politics through the grid above and see what you need to change. I know I’ve got some work to do.
“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (Isa. 8:12-13)
This question has batted around in my head off and on for a number of years. It seems like the question is answered differently depending on whom the question is posed to. The answer also seems to vary depending on the definition or the circumstances surrounding the ambition. So before we make a decision on the matter, I think it best to define what we mean and then draw some conclusions.
Ambition can be defined variously, but for our purposes I would like to think of it as the desire for advancement or success. I believe that this desire has been ingrained in the heart of every man, woman, and child since the dawn of time. It is the Adamic compulsion to take dominion over creation that forms the core of ambition. Ambition separates the proverbial wise man from the foolish man, because it drives him away from laziness and towards productivity. So in its purest and natural form, ambition is a healthy drive that motivates us all to strive and to achieve and to succeed.
But there is a dark side of ambition too. We’ve all seen its consequences. It starts so young and innocently. It begins as the child who abandons their playmate in order to hang out with the more popular kids. But it only gets uglier. It is the dad who is too busy pursuing his career that he has no time for his children. It is the wife who is so caught up in her own dreams that she leaves her husband. It is the athlete who is so intent on scoring that his team looses the game. It is the musician who is overcome with chasing success that he abandons everyone who really matters in life and becomes a recluse. It is the pastor who is so consumed with the bigness of the auditorium, giving, and attendance that he misses the bigness of the peoples’ need. Ambition turns dark and hurtful when it is turned inward. Self-centered ambition is, no doubt, one of the greatest plagues of our era.
Thankfully there is hope. In the Gospel I find that Jesus has succeeded fully in my behalf. There is nothing more for me to chase. There is no achievement, no skill, no paygrade, no rank, no praise, no fame, no experience that will ever make me happy, for Christ came to die to fill all those desires in my behalf. Now I find myself motivated by a holy ambition. Driven by grace rather than will-power and driven towards God rather than myself, I find joy in pursuing God’s will for my life. The Gospel turns my ambition around. Rather than wasting my life chasing my shadow, Jesus Christ turns my ambition outward and upward.
The incarnation is significant because it is God’s ultimate self-revelation. Consider for a moment all that we know of God that is reveled to us. He uses what the theologians refer to as “general revelation” to tell us that He exists and that we are responsible to Him. All throughout creation, the revelation of God is enough to hold men without excuse in the Day of Judgment. But all this is not enough for us to know God. There is still much missing. Thankfully there is yet another facet of revelation provided to us. The written Word of God forms a “specific revelation” given that we might know God. But still there is something missing.
Here’s the problem. With all that we know about God, no one has ever seen Him. We have heard that Moses saw part of His glory, but no one has seen God (John 1:18). How can you really know someone you haven’t seen, gone to a park with, watched their reaction as you tell stories to, and hugged? There is something wholly different between a cyber relationship and the real thing. This is something of the distance between God and His creation. This distance has existed from the primeval period of our history, because mankind has always wanted nothing to do with the one true God. We’ve rebelled against Him and His holiness demands that He leave us to our will, but His mercy keeps finding ways to reveal Himself to us throughout history. That’s where the two sorts of revelation that we just spoke of come from, but in the end God wasn’t happy just to speak to us in shadows.
The incarnation means that God spoke into our world with Himself. The invisible God sent us His duplicate image (Colossians 1:15) so that we may see Him for Himself (John 14:8-9). God all-glorious, mysterious, immortal, invisible, clothed in light, and high above every throne and dominion took upon Himself humanity. As He sustained the molecules of the known universe, He was birthed into a cattle feeding trough in a smelly cave in a little town in the Middle East.
I am often fascinated by the Apostle John’s use of the term “Word” to refer to Jesus. This was at one time a substantial source of confusion for me. Why would you call a person a “Word”? This makes very little sense to you and me, but it makes all the sense in the world to God. Imagine with me that you had been trying to communicate with your girlfriend in another state. You had emailed. You’ve tried Facebook stalking her. You’ve called and texted. You’ve even had friends try to contact her locally, but to no avail. You’ve tried every sort of message and now it’s time to do something extreme. You hop a plane and travel across the country to see her. You yourself are become the message. So it is with the Incarnate Word. Jesus is the message of God to a humanity that has ignored all of His prior messages. But consider the content of the message. It has often intrigued me that God’s message to man wasn’t one of hate and punishment. We had rebelled against him, after all! But quite to the contrary, God’s message to mankind was one of hope and peace through the work of Jesus Christ.
Every religion in the world is predicated upon the idea of man becoming a god, but the Christian teaching is that God became man that man could be reconciled with God. God put Himself on the line so that he could suffer for the rebellion that we chose over Him. As you celebrate this time of year I would encourage you to think of the fact that the incarnation of Jesus Christ was God shouting into the world with all His might. God wants to be known. God wants to reveal Himself to us and will go to the greatest lengths to do so. Are you listening?
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
23 million albums and 64 million singles. Grammy awards. Voted one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2010. The young 20-something has managed to catch the eye and the ear of, not only her generation, but the world. But what exactly does Stefani Germanotta have to say to the world? What is her message? Most people look at her garish outfits or her bizarre behaviors and view her as a freak or a genius or an artist. My belief is that her performance belies what is truly at the heart of the matter. We must look beyond our reactions to her styles and look deeper at why she sings what she sings.
In our attempt to pull back the layers of this artist, I would first note that she has asked that we do this. In her 2009 hit single “Paparazzi” she sees the world fawning over her and telling her that they’re her “biggest fan” while all the while missing that she is in great danger (which she pictures variously using symbolism of a monster, illness, and a dangerous relationship). People are caught up in chasing her fame, but they fail to recognize the struggle that she has inside. Part of her bizarre outfits and crazy stage shows likely mask the personal frustrations of a girl who can’t even look herself in the mirror. She can’t have anyone see her for who she really is and so she hides herself (“Dance in the Dark”) and puts on her “Poker Face.”
As we pull back the curtain on her lyrics, we see why she remains hidden in giant eggs and meat outfits. Lady Gaga bares her soul about a number of struggles and let downs in her life. Her desire for sexual gratification has led her down a reckless and dangerous path of empty relationships. Countless songs point the listener in this direction. In “Bad Romance” she finds herself trapped in a controlling sexual relationship. In “Alejandro,” her desire to take in a healthy relationship leaves her empty and scarred. When it’s all said and done, she just keeps returning to harmful relationships as portrayed in “Monster.” This return is evidence that she has made men her “religion” in her bondage parable “Teeth.” She needs someone who can pull her out of her addiction and destructive lifestyle. She cries out for someone to “change me,” but help never comes. The ups and the downs of her romantic life and career end up leaving her in an emotional prison of sorts (“Telephone”), where she is trapped and can only attempt to find short-sighted avenues to seek revenge.
All of her frustrations put her, as described in “The Edge of Glory,” dangerously “on the edge” as she recklessly pursues something meaningful in life. She believes for an instant that she has captured something meaningful in what she describes as a “moment of truth” only to fall off the edge and back into her life of emptiness and lies. Her resolve to this is “Just Dance.” When life is a wreck and you don’t know what to do, “just dance, [it’s] gonna be okay.” In a drunken fling she gets “hosed” in order to escape the reality of her frustrated life. In stark contrast, she looks at the near-death experience of her dad and stands “Speechless.” She doesn’t know how to cope. The sadness and struggles of life have closed in on her and she sees no escape.
“I am beyond repentance,” Gaga continues in her “Judas” epic. She’s lost her moorings and is hopeless now. She knows that Jesus is still “pulling” her away from her destructive life (imagined as Judas), but she won’t give up her desire to “cling to” Judas. This, she demonstrates, is the reason for the frustrations of her life. She has given up Jesus for Judas.
The story of Lady Gaga matches the personal experience of many teens, college students, midlife crisis cases, septuagenarians, and so on. Even in the Bible we find the story of the wisest and wildest king that ever ruled Israel. He had 1,000 wives, loads of money, an impressive following, and was a total genius. Who wouldn’t want to have everything that Solomon had. He wore the best and was, no doubt, thronged by the paparazzi of his day, but in the end he passes a very similar verdict on it all as does Lady Gaga. He summarizes it like this: “everything is meaningless” (Ecc. 1:2). After talking about his attempts to find happiness in wine, wisdom, home improvement, wealth, and women (Ecc. 2:1-9) he sums up:
“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
Chasing the wind. What a letdown! This is the end of someone who chases anything that this life has to offer. This is what Solomon and Lady Gaga have to tell us. This is the warning shouted by those who are surrounded by fame and glory to us who ignorantly pursue what they have already achieved. Let us consider the pursuit of something eternal. None of us is beyond repentance. We can still reject our infatuation with Judas. We have all betrayed Jesus, but He will take us if we but return to Him in faith looking to Him to take the punishment for our betrayal. Only in Jesus will we find escape from the life of frustration and empty recklessness presented to us in the music of Lady Gaga.
I suppose that a great many things could be said about miracles. We could describe a great many events in Scripture where the miraculous occurs. We could investigate the reasons for their occurrence or find little tidbits about their causes. But to begin to understand the idea of a miracle we must begin with the admission that miracles seem ever so uncomfortable to the Christian Theist. Often I feel awkward as I discuss topics of worlds being spoken into existence, diseases being cured by a touch, and dead men coming to life again. All this comes off rather suspicious to the modern listener who has only heard of rumors of healings being done by bizarre preachers who oddly walk away with millions and no hard and fast evidence of such miracles ever being accomplished. A miracle, to my friend at Starbucks, seems too farfetched and other-worldly to be imagined and is rejected for that reason.
At first the rejection bothered me. After all, why would someone reject miracles as bizarre? But then I considered my own inhibitions about the whole notion and I had to admit that I too held my own inhibitions. Sure, I believe the Bible, but wouldn’t a Bible without all the miracles and other-worldly concepts be somewhat easier to believe? I do not suppose that other Christians have ever had such inhibitions because most Christians have more faith than me. My faith has always been something of a struggle, or, as the Apostle Paul often says, a battle. I don’t have big faith. I shudder often at difficult things and feel the giant of despair in my life because I so often walk by sight so as to avoid seeing the key in my pocket that would free me from the dungeon. I often find myself sympathetic to the man who cried out that he believed, but that he needed Jesus to help his unbelief. Ultimately my faith is not the object of my faith. My faith, albeit something of a mustard seed variety, rests in Christ and His work on my behalf. So when I am pierced with doubt, I return back to the Gospel and begin reminding myself of where my faith rests and then working outward to the other things. And it is in this outworking that I stumbled across the idea of miracles.
As I considered miracles it seemed to me that they must be considered at face value and given at least a fair shot at consideration before anyone should reject them out of hand. So as I consider the idea of a miracle I find myself considering what the substance of a miracle is. Perhaps if we understood this it would make much more sense. Take, for example, the story where Jesus was welcomed to a wedding party where the poor bride and groom ran out of money for wine. Jesus arrives on the scene and turns water into wine. In the midst of the mundane of the mundane I read that the most other-worldly sort of thing has happened. Water turned into wine. It would seem that the rules of the universe as I know them have been suspended. Herein we have arrived at something of our first conclusion in regard to miracles. Miracles are an intervention into our world.
What I mean here is that the little blueberry that we know as Planet Earth has been touched by something quite unknown to the specks on the blueberry. We are made uncomfortable by miracles for this very reason, namely, that they intervene with our world but that we do not understand them. It is like someone attempting to explain the color yellow to a blind person or an iPad to a caveman. Without the ability to see what these things, explanation is impossible. I’m often led to the neat little Doctor Seuss story of “Horton Hears a Who” as I think on this point. In the neat little story, Horton tries to convince all the big animals that a speck he has found contains an entire world of strange little creatures. Everyone around him thinks he’s lost it because he talks to a speck. Meanwhile, on the speck the mayor of Whoville talks with Horton and finds out that the entire city is merely a tiny speck. He tries to tell the Whos about this, but they laugh at it because they see it. Ultimately, the Whos end up believing that they are a speck when Horton is able to interact with them and the big animals end up believing that the Whos are real when they are able to shout loud enough for the animals to hear. Miracles are God’s way of shouting into our world. They crackle like fireworks to tell us that there is something else out there. Miracles are the explosion of the infinite crashing into the finite. The real matter at hand now seems to be not a question of who so simple as to accept the existence of miracles, but a question of who is so arrogant as to believe that no other realm has interacted with our own. Miracles are God’s way of reminding His creation that He exists.
This thought leads me to another. Miracles, as we find described in the Bible, lead us to believe that this God which is worshipped is not aloof from His creation, but cares deeply about it and is involved in and with it in some extraordinary way. Imagine that you have a son in the 4th grade. He’s bullied because he’s ugly and has freckles. When your son comes home from school with a bloody nose, how would you respond? Would you simply hand him some cotton balls and send him to bed, or would you break into his world, call the teacher or principal, go to the PTA meeting, and do everything you could to rescue him from his sad estate? In a similar manner, miracles are God’s way of showing us that He cares. He even cares about the poor couple who couldn’t afford a proper wedding party. Miracles are a sign, not merely that God exists, but that He cares about His creation.
Beyond this, another obvious point needs to be made (although I think most of this is obvious and I may be wasting many good peoples’ weekends of reading by writing this), namely that miracles speak not only to the fact that God exists and that He cares about His creation, but also to the fact that He is able to do something for His creation. There are many of us that are happy with a sentimental view of God who hugs us and cares for us, but we don’t like what theologians refer to as an omnipotent and all-knowing God. This is intimidating. But this is what miracles speak to. Miracles scream out that God is able to do something about the mess that we’re in. This leads me to another point.
Miracles teach us that something is broken. As we look out in our world we find hospitals full of sick and dying people. We find earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes that destroy life. We find that most of the world lives on $2 a day. We see that 100% of us will someday face death. Miracles amplify this brokenness because through them we see that there is hope for healing. You see, Jesus came around teaching people on the hillsides of Galilee and told them that there was a coming kingdom. In this kingdom everything would be made right again. By again it is meant that there was once a time when humanity did not experience sickness, hurricanes, poverty, or death. All this was before man’s rebellion against God. Jesus spoke of a kingdom where all of this would be no more. But He did more than just talk about it. He showed us what this kingdom would look like. From the eyewitness accounts we hear of numerous afflictions being cured, storms being stilled, the poor being fed, death being reversed, and even the minions of Satan being repelled. All of the miracles of Scripture resonate with this reality, specifically that humanity is broken, God is there, God cares, and God is able to heal that brokenness.
So as I return to the idea of the awkwardness of miracles in this post-Christian age I am driven to consider that miracles are awkward because they are meant to be. Miracles have been and always will be otherworldly and strange because hope for humanity’s healing does not come from within. If we reject the miracles of the Bible then we are left with a humanity with all the answers to the problems of sickness, disaster, poverty, and death. Call me what you will, but I refuse to believe in such a humanity. Even a simple glance at the record of human history exposes that humanity is its own worst enemy. We are broken and our hope must come from another realm. Someone must break through to fix our problems, but we cannot let Him in. Our culture cannot allow for such a breakthrough.
Our culture believes in the miracle of naturalistic evolution. It sincerely believes that billions of years of explosion, mutation, and natural selection made the world and the complexity of the human genome. I suppose that if my culture can believe something so fantastical and unobserved, then I may go on believing the eyewitness accounts of the man named Jesus who turned the world upside down by the greatest miracle humanity has ever known. Death was shown to be subject to God. While all the created order shivers and shakes and groans in its brokenness, the Healer shouts into the world by nothing less than the resurrection from the dead and tells us that He is there, He cares, and He has done something about all the brokenness. And to this end the Christian prays when he says, “Thy kingdom come.”