Life on this side of my decision hasn’t always been easy. It’s been nearly seventeen years since I first trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior. I still struggle to submit my prideful will to what God would call me to do. Christianity is not easy. It doesn’t always “work” for me. There are times when I think it would be easier to do it the old way; easier to cut a corner or take a short cut. There are many times when doing the right thing means doing the most difficult thing possible. There are also times when it seems like non-Christians have it easier, or seem to be “winning”. It’s in times like these that I have to remind myself that I’m not a Christian because it serves my own selfish purposes. I’m not a Christian because it “works” for me. I had a life prior to Christianity that seemed to be working just fine, and my life as a Christian hasn’t always been easy.
I’m a Christian because it is true. I’m a Christian because I want to live in a way that reflects the truth. I’m a Christian because my high regard for the truth leaves me no alternative.
I think this is important. There are people who I know who claim to be Christian, but they are clearly believing that God is a mystical force who arranges everything in their lives in order to make them happy. They are not Christians because it’s true, but because of things like comfort and community. But people ought to become Christians because they think it’s true. Truth doesn’t necessarily make you happy, though. Truth can impose intellectual obligations and moral obligations on you. Seeing God as he really is doesn’t help us to “win” at life, as the culture defines winning.
Winning in Christianity doesn’t mean making lots of money, or being famous, or winning human competitions, or being approved of by lots of people. Winning for a Christian might involve things like building relationships with people and leading them to know that God exists and who Jesus is. That has no cash value, and it’s not going to make you famous. Actually, it will probably cost you money and time, and make you unpopular with a lot of people.
The Bible doesn’t promise that people who become Christians will be happier. Actually, it promises that Christians will suffer for doing the right things. Their autonomy will suffer, as they sacrifice their own interests and happiness in order to make God happy, by serving his interests. Christianity isn’t something you add on to your before-God life in order to achieve your before-God goals. When you become a Christian, you get a new set of goals, based on God’s character and his design for you. And although you might be very successful in the world as part of serving God, there is no guarantee of that. Christianity is not life enhancement.
Today, I want to say something this article about lambs in Scotland, written by Sheila Walsh in the The Stream.
I am very fond of sheep. I grew up on the west coast of Scotland with sheep all around me, field after field of white wool and incessant crying when things seemed a little off.
[…]Of all the lessons I have learned from these defenseless, gentle animals, the most profound is the most painful. Every now and then, a ewe will give birth to a lamb and immediately reject it. Sometimes the lamb is rejected because they are one of twins and the mother doesn’t have enough milk or she is old and frankly quite tired of the whole business. They call those lambs, bummer lambs.
Unless the shepherd intervenes, that lamb will die. So the shepherd will take that little lost one into his home and hand feed it from a bottle and keep it warm by the fire. He will wrap it up warm and hold it close enough to hear a heartbeat. When the lamb is strong the shepherd will place it back in the field with the rest of the flock.
“Off you go now, you can do this, I’m right here.”
The most beautiful sight to see is when the shepherd approaches his flock in the morning and calls them out, “Sheep, sheep, sheep!”
The first to run to him are the bummer lambs because they know his voice. It’s not that they are more loved — it’s just that they believe it.
I am so grateful that Christ calls himself the Good Shepherd.
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4 NLT)
My older brother and I grew up with a mother who was very much focused on her career and earning and saving money for her retirement. We were both stuck in daycare very early after being born, so that she could go back to work right away. (Me after 6 weeks) My older brother has shown the ill effects of our parents (especially our mother) not having any plan for us, especially morally and spiritually. He dropped out of college after failing his first year, never had a career. Although he has normal intelligence and mental health, he never could stick in any real job.
Although there were early warning signs when his grades started to drop in Grade 5, my parents never took responsibility to make a plan to solve it. Oh, they would yell and scream at him at report card time, but just for a day or two, and after that, nothing constructive. My brother decided that he could just ride out the flak my parents gave him on report card night, and keep going with his plan of having fun and being popular. My parents just forgot about it until the next report card day, because they did not want to be distracted from their careers, hobbies and retirement planning. When dispensing rewards, my brother was always given the same as me, despite our different levels of achievement. And my parents considered this equal dispensation of rewards regardless of performance to be a great virtue, and excellent parenting.
I had the exact same upbringing as my older brother. He actually did pretty well until Grade 5 just like me, but then our paths diverged. From Grade 5 on, his grades deterioriated. He got tired of having to study and he was more interested in the opinions of his peers and conforming to popular culture. In my case, from Grade 5 on, my grades were always high-90s. I remember taking the same classes as he did, in the same high school, with the same teachers. He got a 44 in data processing, I got a 96 with the same teacher and won the award for the entire grade. Every class I went to, the teachers would speak fondly of my older brother – he was a nice guy, very popular with his peers, good at sports. But not a very good student. How was it that I was winning awards when he had scored so poorly. Was I really his brother? How could we be so different?
The difference is that in Grade 5, he got a Gideon’s New Testament and he read it and he didn’t put it into practice, and in Grade 5, I got a Gideon’s New Testament and I read it twice and I did put it into practice. That was the difference. I had the awareness of the moral law (i.e.- wisdom) that allowed me to judge my parents and judge my peers and judge my teachers and stand alone. When you cannot rely on anyone to lead you, be able to judge when others mistreat you is very important. That is what allows you to maintain appropriate boundaries and minimize the influence of friends and family who are teaching you self-destructive behaviors. Awareness of the moral law is what allows you to stop trying to please people who do not want what is best for you. On the other hand, God is always willing to give you wisdom if you ask Him for it, and you can find out all about him because he has left plenty of evidence concerning his existence and character for you to find. It is in knowing God as he really is that you can find your sense of value, purpose and meaning. The God of the New Testament is the God of people who are lost and need a Savior.
For me, Christianity was a simple matter of being willing to go along with what was true, and not insisting on having fun or conforming to peer expectations. The essential characteristic of my faith, in contrast to my older brother’s lack of faith, was this – I did not mind being different, so long as I never lost a debate about what was true. My obedience to Christ has never been conditional on things going my way, on being liked, or anything like that. The only thing that mattered was being factually correct. It never bothered me what other people were doing, or what other people expected me to do, so long as I was acting on what I knew to be true. And God helped me to find out what was true by motivating me to study, and leading me to him with good evidence, and good mentors. Thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross, the mistakes I made early did not count against me, and they never will. Jesus’ death on the cross gives me the imputed righteousness that I need to stand before God holy and blameless. This is what allows me to keep learning and keep trying no matter how much I fail on any given day.
How has this affected me? Well, this is the second thing I wanted to say about the bummer lamb analogy. Since I was a victim of this hands-off, me-first style of parenting, it’s caused me to be extra sensitive about being a good spiritual leader to others in the same predicament. The people I mentor can see it in the way that I treat them . I treat them the opposite of the way that my older brother and I were treated. I care what people read. I care what courses they choose. I care what they eat. I care how they feel. I care about their finances. I care about their plans to serve God. I care about their romantic relationships. I care whether they get recognition for doing good. I care whether their life is going in the right direction. One person I mentored who once considered taking her own life wrote to me when she graduated from a STEM program, and she said this: “I wish you could have been here at my graduation. My parents only paid for this degree. You were the one who got me through it”. We have never met in person, but she is going to continue to make a huge difference for Christ and His Kingdom going forward.
I think when you have been a bummer lamb, you are extra careful to make decisions that will enable you to be a good shepherd to other lambs. Being a good shepherd does not mean being pious, spiritual, mystical, etc. Being a good shepherd does not mean making the lambs feel good about making bad decisions. Being a good shepherd means understanding what God has done to lead you, and then reflecting that love back to others in practical, self-sacrificial actions that solve actual real-world problems for other people who want to know and serve God. If you are about to jump off a cliff, the last thing you need is someone with no wisdom or experience telling you that God is OK with you doing whatever feels good to you. What you need is someone practical and competent to give you good advice, however much that advice may make you feel bad, or block your pursuit of fun.
One of my friends proof-read the draft of this post and told me that it made her think of 2 Cor 1:3-5:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.“
Nothing else I do in life matters to me as much as taking care of the people I mentor, especially the ones who are lost and lacking guidance and care. I have good health, good education, good career, and great finances. But by far the most important thing I do is following the example of the Shepherd by caring for other lambs.
I’ve noticed that many Christians can tell me a lot about famous entertainers. It doesn’t matter if it’s singers, musicians, actors, athletes, etc., they seem to know details of their biographies, achievements, etc. And it doesn’t really matter if those people are Christians, or whether they have performed actions consistent with a Christian worldview in their private lives.
Anyway, speaking for myself, I mostly admire two kinds of people. The first kind is the kind I blog about here all the time: Christian scholars engage non-Christians intellectually using logic and evidence. The second kind, as you can tell from my reading list, is people who distinguish themselves in conflict with those who oppose the principles and policies that allow me to live out my Christian life. And I am especially interested when people who are fighting evil (imperialists, Nazis, socialists, communists, leftists, etc.) exhibit Christ-like character in risking their lives to save others, or in giving their lives to save others.
Anyway, today is November 10th, so I have a war story to tell you that happened on November 10th, 1943.
Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Commander) Walter Lewis Chewning of Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, steps on the burning fuel tank of an F6F-3 Hellcat flown by Ensign (later Lieutenant) Byron Milton Johnson of Potter, Nebraska to effect a successful rescue of the pilot on November 10, 1943. Johnson had flown out to USS Enterprise from Barbers Point, Hawaii, enroute to Makin Atoll in the Gilberts to support the United States Army invasion, which occurred on November 20, 1943. The afternoon of November 10, Johnson took off in F6F Hellcat Number 30 for a routine training exercise. He immediately developed engine trouble and requested an emergency landing. He was waved off three times as he struggled to maintain control, but his tail hook caught the third arresting gear wire, and Johnson’s Hellcat was slammed into the deck, coming to rest in the port catwalk. The plane came to rest on its external belly fuel tank, which started to leak. As the engine vibrated horribly as the propeller bent itself on the deck, sparks ignited the fuel. The hard landing had jammed Johnson’s canopy closed, shearing the retaining pin; he could not exit the plane. Chewning, who had joined the ship October 2, 1943 as Enterprise new catapult officer, scrambled out of the catwalk and came through the smoke. Stepping on the burning belly tank, he forced open the canopy and pulled Johnson to safety.
He received the two highest non-combat medals available:
Chewning was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions.
He was a well-educated and accomplished person before joining the Navy:
Chewning played soccer and Lacrosse at Cornell while studying Mechanical Engineering, breaking his rib and left ankle in one game. He graduated in 1936 and studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the Navy in January 1941. He was the assistant to the Chief Engineer at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before joining USS Enterprise. He served as Enterprise’s catapult officer until December 1944, when he transferred to Dutch Harbor Naval Air Station in Alaska as ordinance officer. Chewning served in the Navy until December 1949; he also was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war he assisted research and development for various aeronautical companies, the United States Air Force, and the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Motion picture film of the crash, taken from Enterprise’s bridge, was shown as part of the television program “Victory at Sea” on January 25, 1953. Chewning and Johnson gave interviews to several newspapers about the accident after the program aired.
What I thought was interesting about Chewning was how he had everything going for him in terms of his education and career, but he chose to join the Navy anyway, in order to defend his country from Japanese imperialism. Those who understand how the Japanese treated prisoners and conquered peoples will know which side of that conflict was good, and which side was evil. Chewning wasn’t some sort of loser who took risks for fun and thrills. It had to be a risk where the prize was worth the risk. And he had the humility to consider others better than himself, so that their life was worth the risking of his own. Many people on the secular left who like to talk about how generous, compassionate and virtuous they are are unable to make moral judgments against evils like Japanese imperialism – much less take self-sacrificial action against them.
I just think that it’s important for young Christians to have the right kind of heroes. The heroes who are promoted to young Christians by the cultural elites are not usually the right role models. And there is a reason for that. The secular leftists don’t want young Christians to be emulating people who excel according to the standards of the Christian worldview. We are in a religion where self-sacrificial love is the centerpiece. Taking trouble on yourself for someone else. Doing your job, when it goes against your own self-interest. Let’s not allow a bunch of godless socialist celebrities to pick and choose who we hold in high regard.
In America today, there is widespread opposition to male nature. Male aggression should be suppressed by the state. Weapons like guns or knives should be banned by the state. Public schools should discourage men from being masculine. When women are mistreated by the immoral men they freely choose, it shows that all men are immoral. Are men good for anything?
Here’s a story of a good man using a weapon to protect a little child, as reported in the Daily Wire.
On Wednesday, a teenage boy working at a Chick-fil-A in Flowery Branch, Georgia, looked through the drive-thru window and noticed that a 6-year-old boy in a car in the drive-thru lane was choking. Not wasting a second, Logan Simmons jumped through the drive-thru window and ran to the car, where he found the mother of the boy begging for someone to help her save her child from being choked by a seatbelt that had gotten tangled around his neck. Simmons said later, “You could see he was turning red and losing pigmentation in his face … I just jumped out the window and ran straight down to the car. I think it was the quickest option. It was right there and I saw the other car right there.”
The quick-thinking Simmons yanked out his pocketknife and cut the young child free. After the incident, Simmons recalled, “I’m still kind of shocked right now myself that all this has happened.”
Simmons’ mother Teri told WSBTV, “He’d been home for a couple of hours and he said nonchalantly, ‘I saved a kid’s life today,’ and I was like ‘What?’” She added, “I’m amazed he didn’t panic. As his mother, I would have panicked. I’d be running around going, ‘Oh my gosh! What do we do?’”
An hour after the incident, the boy’s mother called Simmons and thanked him.
Christians should always be different, and this isn’t the first time a Chick-Fil-A employee has seized the moment to express their Christian convictions through actions:
Simmons’ actions are characteristic of Chick-fil-A employees; The Daily Wire reported in late August 2017 that a female manager at a Houston Chick-fil-A sent a boat to help an elderly couple to save their possessions in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey…
In May 2019, The Daily Wire reported that employees at an East Ridge, Tennessee, restaurant helped a customer change a flat tire on his truck after it broke down in the drive-thru lane.
I think it’s significant that he was carrying a knife. Young men should always carry something sharp, just so that they are prepared for challenges like this. Although in the UK, a state run by secular leftist feminists, carrying a knife like that would be illegal. Because law-abiding men cannot be trusted to use weapons responsibly in the secular left UK.
Here’s the video of him jumping through the drive-through window:
So, initially, I wanted to go on a rant about how masculinity is shamed by feminist elites. But I have been thinking about how pastors portray Christianity in American society, and I wanted to say something about that instead.
Acting on moral convictions
First point is about how secular leftists don’t risk themselves for others, because they think they only have one life, and the purpose of that life is their own happiness. A secular leftist kills an unborn child in order to continue his or her own happiness. There’s no higher objective moral law to override selfishness. Why rock the boat of societal expectations to save someone else? After all, unborn babies aren’t going to praise you for saving them, but you’ll get a lot of praise from powerful people if you support sexual irresponsibility and murdering innocent children. Just like you would get a lot of praise from slave-owners for defending slavery.
Christianity used to be understood in a more masculine way. Following Christ used to mean training your character and making practical decisions.
Character: Christians trained their character by setting boundaries on themselves to avoid sinning. The futher back you stood from sin, e.g. – not drinking AT ALL, not having sex AT ALL, not gambling AT ALL, not wasting money on fun AT ALL, the easier it was for you to take action that the people around you didn’t have the moral certainty to take. After all, a person who drinks, pursues recreational sex, etc. is focused on their own desires. Desire is poison. The more you take action to satisfy your desires, the less sensitive you become with the needs of people around you. The more you worry about making non-Christians approve of you, the less you are able to take bold actions that reflect your own Christian convictions. Bold moral actions come from the discipline you build up from thousands of unseen actions to be self-controlled.
Today, Christians treat God as a cosmic butler and supernatural gumball machine. Who sets the overall direction of a Christian life? Well, each person does, through their feelings. God “leads” them to do whatever they really feel like doing. I have met women who felt led to divorce their husbands or have extra marital affairs. Why? Because Christianity isn’t about self-denial and self-sacrifice. It’s about living your best life now. God doesn’t speak to you through the words of the Bible. He speaks to you through your feelings. And his job is to make your feelings-driven desires “work out”. Instead of being sober, chaste, prudent, self-controlled and frugal, you need to take reckless actions in order to produce feelings of happiness and exhilaration. Zip-lining! Travel! Skydiving! Surfing! Shacking up with an atheist. Living in New York City and paying $2500 in rent.
Be moral, Be practical, Be ready
Being moral means focusing on holiness. Say no to things that make you feel good in the moment. Say no to drinking and recreational sex. Say no to getting the approval of non-Christian friends.Don’t let the culture set your priorities for you.
And I want Christians to be more practical. Instead of treating Christianity as a cosmic fire brigade that rushes out to save you from the messes you make with reckless hedonism, instead do boring things that work. Cultivate skills that can be used to help others. Don’t spend money on fun. Study hard degrees. Be a good steward of your money. Give to other Christians who run enterprises that serve the Lord.
I’m summarizing the most recent episode of the Unbelievable show.
Atheist philosopher Michael Ruse joins Justin as we spend a second week looking at Andy Bannister’s new book ‘The atheist who didn’t exist’.
Its amusingly titled chapters include ‘The Peculiar Case of the Postmodern Penguin (or: Why Life without God is Meaningless). Michael and Andy debate whether it’s a problem that atheists can’t have meaning with a ‘capital M’.
Here is a summary of the discussion between Ruse and Bannister, and my comments below the summary.
Ruse: ultimate questions are serious questions, and some religions are attempting to provide serious answers to those questions
Ruse: there is a psychological element to belief in God but it’s not a complete explanation, but it can apply to non-belief as well
Bannister: there are psychological reasons why people would prefer unbelief (quotes Thomas Nagel and Aldous Huxley)
Bannister: (to Ruse) what do you think would follow next if you got new information that caused you to believe in God?
Ruse: I’d feel scared, I’d think of all the reasons that God would dislike me, rather than any reasons why God would save me
Bannister: according to the Bible, God is not so much interested in mere belief, but in active trust in him
Ruse: without being smug, I just completed 50 years as a college professor of philosophy, and I have a sense of worth from that
Ruse: if God turns up, and says that 50 years of being a professor is not good enough, well, I don’t know God, I’m sorry, I did my best
Brierley: Andy, explain to us this story of how a penguin explained to you how he invented a subjective meaning in life for himself?
Brierley: (reads the story)
Bannister: when it comes to reading a book, the real meaning is the meaning the author intended the book to have
Bannister: readers can inject their own meaning into the book that has nothing to do with it, but the author gives the real meaning
Bannister: meaning in life is like reading a book – you can make up your own meaning, but the author’s meaning is the real meaning
Brierley: (to Ruse) on atheism, is there any objective meaning?
Ruse: “obviously, someone like myself cannot have meaning with a capital M in that sense”
Ruse: the real question is and atheist can find a sense of self-worth, “I find that I’m happier within myself, I can find meaning”
Bannister: what would you say to someone who drinks away the family inheritance and gets the same sense of happiness you have?
Bannister: what would you say to all the people who are unable to get “a sense of self-worth” from their career, because of where they are born, sickness, etc.
Ruse: I have nothing to offer them, some people are born into such awful situations that they are bound to be bad people
Ruse: these unfair accidents of birth, etc., fits with atheism better
Ruse: what we should do is change society so that more people can build a sense of self-worth through achievements
Ruse: that way, they can say to God “I used my talents” so they can create feelings of self-worth and happiness (apart from God)
Bannister: meaning in life cannot be answered without answering questions related to identity, value, which are rooted in the overall worldview
Bannister: on the Christian worldview, you have an infinite worth, your value isn’t determined by circumstances, earnings, friends, etc.
Bannister: your value comes from what Jesus was willing to pay to save you, namely, giving his own life for you
Bannister: when I travel to meet other Christians in other parts of the world, they have a happiness that should not be there if they are getting happiness from wealth, fame, achievements, etc.
Bannister: but when you come to the West, many people who have wealth, fame, achievement, etc. are unhappy
Ruse: well maybe who look after a flock of sheep every day may get a sense of self-worth from that, or from other jobs
Ruse: I do take Christianity very seriously, it is a grown-up proposal to answer grown-up questions – it works if it is true
Ruse: we don’t have to follow Nietzche’s statement that if there is no God, there is no meaning in life – we can find a middle way, we can achieve meaning in life by using our talents to achieve things
Bannister: I disagree with Michael, I don’t think that the meaning you invent for yourself is authentic meaning
Bannister: distracting yourself with amusing things and happiness is not an answer to the problem
Brierley: (to Ruse) are you saying that you have searched for ultimate meaning, and you are settling for subjective meaning?
Ruse: my subjective meaning is not second class to objective meaning, “I feel a real deep sense of achievement, of meaning, of self-worth, of having used my talents properly, and I don’t feel in any sense a sense of regret” (what matters to him is how he feels)
Bannister: notice how Michael keeps bringing in value judgments. e.g. – “use my talents well”, that implies that there is a right way and a wrong to use your talents, which assumes an objective scale of right and wrong, which makes no sense in atheism
Bannister: an atheist can sit in a sun room and enjoy the feelings of happiness generated by the light and heat of the Sun, without asking whether there is a Sun out there
Bannister: ultimately, at the end of the day, my concern is not whether something makes me happy or makes me feel fulfilled
Bannister: ultimately, at the end of the day, I think there is only one real reason to wrestle with these questions of meaning, and that is to find truth
Ruse: sometimes we reach a point where we cannot get to true answers to some questions, sometimes we look for truth, but then give up and confess “I cannot find it” and then move on from there
Is it possible to dispense with God’s advice on your decision-making and achieve something that affects a lot of people, or makes people like you, or makes you famous, etc., and then have that please God? “Look, God, I did something I liked that affected a lot of people, and made them feel happy as they were on their way to Hell because they rejected you”. Will rap musicians answer God by pointing to 50 years of leading people away from chastity with godless music? A lot of people went to see the “NWA” movie that celebrated musicians who have an anti-Christian view of women and violence. Can NWA present their “artistic work” to God and claim that God should be pleased with their successful efforts to get rich and famous? Having feelings of achievement doesn’t mean anything to God.
So what is the standard? How you imitate Jesus – self-control, self-denial and self-sacrifice to honor God – that is the standard. If I had to choose between giving up two hours of my life to summarize this discussion for my readers, and all the fame and fortune that people who make godless TV shows, movies and music have, I would choose to make this debate summary. My goal in life is not to have fun, thrills, travel and feel happy in this world. I have a Boss. Doing without fun, thrills, travel and happy feelings in order to put points on the board for my Boss is objectively meaningful. It’s may not seem like much compared to what James Bond does in million-dollar movies, but at least I am wearing the right uniform, and playing for the right team.
I was telling Dina recently, isn’t it remarkable how rarely in our culture that people actually talk about the big questions? If you look out at the culture, everything seems to be about feeling good, having fun, being liked by others. Not much about ultimate questions, and certainly not a truth-based assessment of the alternatives. .