Water's Edge

Surrendering Everything to the Kingship of Christ!

A community of people surrendering everything to the kingship of Christ!

Spike in Dystopian Novels Since Trump, But The Answer Still Eludes Us

The spike in the consumption of dystopian literature since Donald Trump was elected President is enlightening. On the week of January 23rd (Trump’s first week in office) the #1 bestselling book on Amazon.com was 1984; a dystopian novel written in 1948! People are, understandably, looking for answers and hope in what has been a shaky, uncertain year in America, never mention the rest of the world. Different than utopian literature, dystopian literature like 1984 portrays the story of a world in contrast to the way we feel it ought to be. Dystopian books seek to bring insight into why the world is the way it is, how it got that way, and what can be done about it. Dystopian novels always identify a villain (for 1984 it is a repressive social order, “Big Brother”), but their popularity comes, I believe, in the hopeful rising of a victorious hero. A dystopian novel with no hero or no defeater of the evil villain would be a depressing read indeed.

David Sobel, writer for Orion Magazine, wisely wrote about this up-flux of dystopian reading,

“But perhaps the more compelling, and historically consistent, feature of dystopian fiction is the hero’s quest. Faced with an unimaginable tragedy, there is a character who rises to the challenge, faces unbeatable odds, and sometimes beats them, though often suffering grueling pain in the process” (Feed the Hunger)

If this is what dystopian literature is and the reason we are so attracted to it, then I believe it is safe to classify the Bible as both utopian and dystopian at the same time. The Bible begins (Genesis 1-2) with the exploration of a world in which all is right. No wars. No hunger. No strife. No violence. No pain. No environmental concerns. No storms. No tears. The world is so perfect in fact that lion and lamb lie together and the lamb is not dinner. This utopian order of the world lasts 2 very brief chapters, whereas the dystopian order lasts the entire rest of the Bible. The dystopian order begins in Genesis 3 and is not remedied until the book of Revelation (end of the Bible), where once again the utopia is restored:

“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. 4 They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5 There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:1-5).

If the Bible speaks of our present dystopia, including what can be done about it, then why would the Bible not be on Amazon’s top list in recent weeks along with the other dystopian works? It could be that people in America have presuppositions about the Bible that prevent them from considering it from the start. It could be that most people do not know the Bible offers any answers to our current predicaments. Both of these would be likely propositions. However I believe the real reason the Bible is not on Amazon’s list in recent weeks is for another reason altogether.

In every dystopian story the hero is always someone we can relate to. He or she is not a perfect person, but he or she has the inner strength to rise up in the midst of a difficult situation and overcome. The reason these stories are so compelling to us is because we desperately want to believe we can overcome. We want to believe in the hero deep inside of us. In a dystopian story like Peter Pan we want to believe we could rise to the occasion if need be and save our fellow boys. Or more presently, in a situation like the Hunger Games, we want to imagine we could be like Katniss, a self-made, self-sufficient girl who can make fires, climb trees, find water and take down a squirrel with a bow and arrow if need be. We want to believe that if the world ever came to it, we could rise above the pressures, deliver and be the hero. For us New Englanders on Sunday night, all of us wanted to be Tom Brady. We wanted to be the one to come back from unbeatable odds and march into Boston on Tuesday as self-proclaimed hero.

All of us so madly want to believe we can arise and deliver and hold the torch til the end, but the Bible will not allow this ending. The Bible tells that our desire to hold the torch is the very villain that knocked us out of Utopia in the first place. The Bible says that our desire to be Superman who lives by his own rules in someone else’s world is the very thing that bumped Adam & Eve out of Paradise permanently. The Bible tells us that the Garden of Eden could have remained the utopia it was if Adam & Eve would have embedded themselves beneath the dependent, helpless, powerless assertion that they were not God nor did they have any capacity to be God. It was this exertion of power, this boldness to be one’s own god and to think oneself powerful that destroyed it all for us, and it is this fiction of powerfulness that continues to destroy our world today.

The Biblical story of the world says that the world fell apart when mankind exerted his power. This obviously does not make a great storyline for a new movie because it does not place us in the hero role; a role we so ardently want to play. In the tumultuous chaos of our time it will not do to blame the government or the rich or the elite for the state of our world. They must take responsibility for their wrongdoings, certainly. But the problem with the world is not them only; it’s also us. They may have guilt but I have the same disease. This is especially true when it comes to American politics. Politics in America is more a reflection of America than it is a influencer of America. We have formed Donald Trump into our President much more than he has formed us into his subjects.

According to the Bible every single one of us is the villain and the only hero is Jesus Christ. The solution to our wayward world, therefore, is not the more creative assertion of power or a silent uprising against the majority or a fixing of the environment to prevent future calamity (although we should care for God’s world and not irresponsibly pollute it). The solution to our wayward world is a complete and utter surrender to the one Hero of the world, Jesus Christ. It is to admit we are powerless, helpless, babies in need of nursing from our Maker not strong men who can function without one.

I do not argue that we have corrupt systems, businesses, schools, etc. and that those entities need fixing from the inside out. I do argue, however, with the form of idolatry promoted in dystopian fiction that believes we can save ourselves. Whatever problems exist in those arenas of our world exist because of sin (a desire to be our own god); and sin is not something we can save ourselves from. We need a hero for sure, but that hero is not us. The sooner we can admit we need a hero and find it in Jesus Christ the sooner our Hero will come to save us and make things right through us. As it is we cannot even intentionally be used by our Hero because when it is all said and done we want to be God more than we want to be a servant of God. To say it another way, we cannot see what is right until we see how wrong we have been. This is the Biblical narrative anyway.

Raising Jesus Christ every Sunday as the only Hero of our dystopian world~ shaun.

Meaning In Life Without An Afterlife?

This past Sunday I finished a lesson series entitled “On Death and the Afterlife”. I basically took four different passages of Scripture in which Jesus talked about Heaven & Hell and discussed why people, secular and religious, actually agree with what Jesus said about the afterlife. This past Sunday I examined a modern-day argument against Heaven in particular. The argument goes like this:

‘If you believe in an afterlife you diminish the importance of the present life and thereby devalue it.’

The Journey of Purpose publications tell us,

“The concept of an afterlife places value on things to come rather than on what currently is, thereby diminishing the significance of the here and now…If an afterlife is something greater to look forward to, then relatively speaking our current life is lesser, and so we stop appreciating something that is for something that could be.”

The modern day argument against Heaven is that believing in an afterlife makes us less concerned with the present life, both with enjoying the present life and with contributing to its welfare. Now I will say that some Christian people are absolutely guilty of using the doctrine of Heaven as a sort of escapism. By focusing on the world to come they choose to give up on making this world a better place. But this is a misapplication of the afterlife and has a lot more in common with Ancient Greek philosophy than it does the Bible.

The question I want to pose in this blog is, “Is it possible for life to have meaning if there is no afterlife?” Many modern, Western people say yes, but listen to these respected thinkers.

Leo Tolstoy in his Confessions talked about a time in his life when he could no longer avoid thinking about ultimate meaning.

“My question — that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide — was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man from the foolish child to the wisest elder: it was a question without an answer to which one cannot live, as I had found by experience. It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or shall do tomorrow? What will come of my whole life?…Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort?...How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud!” (Confessions, p.13)

Tolstoy said you can only go on living in this insignificance when you are intoxicated with life; as soon as you are sober and motionless it is impossible to see that this whole rat race is a mere fraud, and a “stupid fraud”.

Another gentleman who did some serious thinking about this was the French Philosopher and Nobel Peace Price winner Albert Camus. In his Myth of Sisyphus Camus told the story of a crazy man who was fishing in a bathtub. A doctor with ideas as to psychiatric treatments asked him if they were biting, to which he received the harsh reply: “Of course not, you fool, this is a bathtub.” Camus went on to say,

“[Our] world is in truth an indescribable universe in which man allows himself the tormenting luxury of fishing in a bathtub, knowing that nothing will come of it" (p. 129).

Camus and Tolstoy would say if nothing ever comes from this life; if the Universe does not care whether we live or die, if there is no life after this life to which all of this life points, then this life is completely without value or purpose: it is “a stupid fraud” without any meaning whatsoever.

On a less philosophic note consider this also; If this ship is going down anyway and nothing will ever come from it, then what does it matter if we go down hugging or mugging? If there is no afterlife; if there is no Judgment Day, if there is no Heaven or Hell, then you can’t say it matters how we live. It absolutely does not matter how we live or what sort of people we become. If there is no afterlife and the Universe will be no different after we die than it was before we were born, then we could be priests or perverts and it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. If there is no afterlife then even Jesus Christ lived a meaningless, insignificant life. Why? Because what will the life of Jesus mean in a million years if all that exists is the physical universe?

So instead of devaluing the present life as many modern people think, an afterlife actually gives value to the present life, value it could not have otherwise. What meaning then does the afterlife bring to this life? According to the Bible our desire to find meaning in life is itself a testimony to the fact that there is meaning! The fact that we long for beauty, love and justice is evidence to the fact that we were made to experience beauty, love and justice. These are not accidental benefits of life; according to the Bible these are the very things we were made for!

However everything good in this life has been tainted and tarnished by our collective sin so that it is no longer totally beautiful, totally loving or totally just. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that a totally beautiful, totally loving and totally just God came from down Heaven to restore us to a life of meaning through the cross. Jesus Christ came down out of Heaven not to finally make us suffer for all the sins we committed, but to take upon Himself all the sins we committed and suffer for us. The God of the Bible is not a god who remains remote while his minions suffer. The God of the Bible is One who intentionally comes down to suffer so that one day we won’t have to. And if we will suffer along with Him now, by surrendering to Him, taking up our cross and following Him and Him alone, the afterlife is ours. Jesus Christ invites each of us to find our life in Him, do everything in life for Him and make everything in life about Him. When we do so, our good works become a part of His good work of restoring the world to its original meaning, a work He has been after since the beginning of time!

Now sharing this Gospel every week!

Finding Wholeness & Prosperity in Laconia in 2017

Co-habitation today is the most common first-step on the road to marriage. A first many dates precede of course, but after that courting couples will often make the decision to move in together. Nancy Wartick (2005) says, "Living together before marriage seems like a smart way to road test the relationship. But cohabitation may lead you to wed for all the wrong reasons or turn into a one way trip to splitsville." The reason Wartick says splitsville is the most likely result of co-habitation is because co-habitation, although sensible to the individuals, is in and of itself selfish. Individuals choose to cohabit rather than marry not because it promises security for the future (it doesn’t), but because it gives them a way out. It gives them all (or nearly all) of the benefits of marriage without any of the commitment.

When I counsel with individuals or couples who are cohabiting I will always point out to them the inconsistency of their behavior. In one sense they want help learning how to be better lovers. They know that improvement in the relationship depends upon each one selflessly giving to the other in increasing measure, but they have chosen a relationship structure that is inherently selfish. In essence they are asking me as a counselor to help them stay dry while swimming. They want me to help them become selfless while living in a situation that is inherently selfish. It will never work. They must first get into a living situation that promotes selflessness.

Let’s broaden this cohabitation conversation and ask a community question. If we desire wholeness and prosperity in Laconia this coming year, are we in reality just asking God to keep us dry while swimming? Are we swimming through an inherently selfish narrative structure expecting wholeness and prosperity to result from it? In many ways I think we are. Cohabitation can’t produce selfless people. Only the binding covenant of marriage can do that. In the same way, I believe the current narrative of Laconia can’t produce a whole and prosperous community. Only if we change the fundamental narrative of our community can we hope to find wholeness and prosperity in 2017.

So what is the problem with our current narrative and what’s the new one that could bring about wholeness and prosperity?

A narrative is a story-end toward which all activity is moving. The narrative gives shape to everything that happens in the book. If a particular story does not advance the story narrative or story-line, then that story is left out of the book. In the same way, the narrative of a city is that which gives shape to all of the city’s activity. All activity in a city is organized to advance the agreed upon, yet in some ways unconscious, community narrative. If I was to put the city-narrative of Laconia into one sentence (although I risk minimization by so doing) here’s what I think it would say:

“Everything that happens in Laconia, from education to recreation to vocation to adoration to socialization, has as its end the physical and economic prosperity of the individual or individual organization.”

I believe this statement describes well the storyline-narrative of Laconia, and I believe nearly every activity in Laconia drives toward this end.

“So what is wrong with that narrative?”, you ask. “Shouldn’t we want physical and economic prosperity in our city?” To this I would say “Absolutely! But we should not want it first. It should not drive us. It should not be the engine of our city."

If physical and economic prosperity is the top we are all trying to reach, this gives us no direction for how to reach it. Rome was guilty of adopting this insufficient narrative many centuries ago and St. Augustine said of them,

“[They] are more concerned with having a good home than with having a good life” (City of God).

We need something at the top of our city that prioritizes the human person over the human body or human experience. If the human person is good the human experience will become good. But if the human person is corrupt all human experience will eventually self-destruct. Before long we will find ourselves in “splitsville”.

So what is the narrative that is both personal enough to prioritize people yet robust enough to organize all human activity around?

I propose that the only narrative able to bring us to wholeness and prosperity in the future is the narrative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus tells us that each of us are by nature selfish and bent on our own good. It tells us that left to ourselves we will not become better people but decidedly worse. It tells us that “[people] love darkness more than light” (John 3:19) and for this reason will put at the center of their activity the thing that is best for them and not the thing that is best.

What shape would Laconia’s activity take in 2017 if we made the Gospel narrative the new narrative of our city?

  • To begin, the mission of our businesses would change. Their mission would be to serve the community through products and services not to get as much money from the community as legally possible.
  • The mission of our athletic leagues would change. Their mission would be about teaching our children to surrender themselves to the good of a team and not the good of themselves.
  • The mission of our schools would change. Their mission would be about shaping the human person in such a way as to prepare them to serve the world with their gifts and talents and not about preparing students to make money.
  • The mission of our churches would change. Churches would see it as their role to tape the Gospel narrative on the foreheads of their members every Sunday and ask, “How does the Gospel change the way you do everything in Laconia this coming week?”
  • Lastly, the mission of our individual relationships would change. Our relationships would be about modeling Jesus Christ- a Savior Who gave Himself for us selflessly on the cross.

I want to see wholeness and prosperity in Laconia in 2017 as much as anyone else; but we will never get find it unless we change our inherently selfish city-wide narrative. If we really want to see wholeness and prosperity in Laconia the Gospel of Jesus Christ must become the new narrative of our city.

I am personally committed to taping the Gospel narrative on our foreheads every Sunday in 2017. In excitement for launching weekly services on January 8th!

SIGHT [sahyt]: To Admit You Are Blind

Whenever I talk to people about my college experience I usually start by saying, “It took me 5 years to get through college and 5 years to get over it.” I usually get a chuckle or two when I say that but I say it because I honestly believe it.

College for me was a good experience. I had friends. I was involved in a social-club. My wife and I were married for most of our college years so I had structure and discipline built into my studies. My school was halfway across the country (literally) from my hometown and so it gave me space enough to grow up and become a responsible adult (I think). But as with any advanced learning in any field of study, graduation came with a baited hook. With a diploma in my hand my pride went to my head and I thought I knew it all.

Now I would never have said to anyone, “I know it all”, but the posture of my heart for most of my 20’s was that I did. The descriptive sentence of those years for me can be summed up this way: “Shaun’s slow, humble, painful realization that he actually knows nothing of what he thought he knew.” I am convinced, looking back, that I did not begin to know anything at all until I admitted I knew nothing at all, and I think this is true of all humanity.

In Luke 18 we find evidence of this truth. Luke 18:35-43 reads, “As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.”

There are 3 characters in this scene to look at. There is Jesus who is being heralded through the city like a King; there is the blind beggar sitting by the roadside; and then there is a crowd of people and in particular some who are “leading the way” (v.39).

Let’s start with the blind beggar. The blind beggar was someone who knew he was powerless. He had no confidence in his ability to orchestrate his life or his future or his sustenance or his shelter. All semblance of independence had been sucked out of him by virtue of the deplorable condition of blindness and poverty he likely had for some time, if not his whole life. This was not someone whom God needed to put through the ringer, so to speak, in order to show him his need. He was not someone who needed to bottom out before he admitted he needed help. This was someone whose life was a bottoming out from the start!

Let’s contrast the blind beggar with those who were leading the way. Those who led the way were trying to make Jesus’ journey through their town memorable. Because Jesus was such an important figure in their day, they wanted Him to remember their town and to appreciate His visit when He left. It’s sort of like when Hillary Clinton came to Laconia last Fall; the Police, Fire Department, and especially the Boys and Girls club probably spent all week preparing for it. Why? Because they wanted Laconia to be a bright spot in Secretary Clinton’s memory. The same is true of these people; they probably spent the whole day preparing for Jesus’ arrival.

As they escorted Jesus through the streets of their dusty town they saw some garbage on the sidewalk that hadn’t been cleaned up yet and so they rushed over to clean it up. The garbage they found came in the form of the blind beggar. So they rush over to him and told him, “Shhhh, He’s coming! Don’t make us look bad. Quiet! Why do you have to be here now? Can’t you leave and come back later? Sushh!” (v.39). This blind beggar was going to spoil Jesus’ good impression of their city and so they tried to get rid of him.

The blind beggar had come to a place in his life where he admitted he needed mercy from above. But those who led the way, although they believed in God, still thought they were self-sufficient. They thought God was proud of them for how good they had been. They were the educated of the town. They had the degrees. They had the knowledge. They knew what was best and what needed to happen to make their town prosperous. They believed the could see. In a sense the leaders of the crowd had not yet completed their 20’s. They had not yet been flattened out of the illusion that they knew it all and that they could see. As a result Jesus passed through their town and said, “Everything looks clean guys, but only one of you is truly clean.” Huh?

Jesus said,

  • “Only one of you truly sees.”
  • “Only one of you takes no pride in his success.”
  • “Only one of you has not let knowledge puff him up.”
  • “Only one of you knows he cannot save himself.”
  • “Only one of you truly has faith!”

No man in town had a life lower than this blind beggar but to Jesus no man was higher. The crowd passed by and knew everyone could see Jesus except the beggar. Jesus passed by and said “Nobody can see Me BUT this beggar.”

I believe the sort of faith that made this man see is the key to seeing today. True faith, according to this story, is not believing God can do stuff for me: true faith is believing I can’t do anything without Him. True faith says, “I can’t see, I can’t succeed, I can’t provide for myself, I can’t get a job, I can’t keep a job, I can’t even breathe without You Jesus”. When this sort of faith grows in our hearts Jesus begins to grant us sight.

What is sight then according to this story?

Sight is admitting we are blind.

Are you confident that you can see the solutions for your town and country? Are you confident you are a guide to the blind and that your particular party is right? Let me just say that if you are not equally convinced that you are a blind beggar who needs mercy from above, then you cannot really see what you think you can see. You are still blinded by your illusion of self-sufficiency.

Dependent faith like this is the faith Jesus responds to. Oh to see Laconia, NH take a posture of dependent faith like that of the blind beggar, what sight Jesus might grant us!

In excitement for sharing the Gospel of Jesus every week~ shaun

Why Work? Why School? Why Do Anything?

“My question— that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide— was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man… a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” —Leo Tolstoy, A Confession

“That’s depressing”, you say. “It may be a problem for him but it’s not a problem for me because I do not think about it.” In his Confession Tolstoy would go on to say that the only way a person can live this life is if he remains “intoxicated with life”. By that he meant that a person can only live with the reality of this life if he does not think about it. Once he sobers up and thinks, which all of us eventually have to do, Tolstoy says we cannot live long. Life is too meaningless.

So is it all meaningless? This is the question for this post.

Let’s sober up for a second and ask Tolstoy’s question: At the end of our lives what difference will it make why we do anything? What difference will it make if we do good? What difference will it make if we do bad? If eventually this ship is going to sink and take all of us with it then what difference will it make if we go down hugging someone or mugging someone? If drowning is our inevitable end then shouldn’t we should just eat, drink and be merry for in 100 years we won’t be remembered for good or ill anyway?

If we are a Darwinist then yes; we all got here by accident anyway so it does not matter how we live just as long as we are merry while doing it. New Age thinking also falls into this same inevitability. In New Age belief everything will eventually return to be one again (we are all undifferentiated matter in the end). Whether you were good matter or bad matter ultimately makes no difference- the important thing was that you were happy matter while you lived. But although these are widely accepted theories no one actually believes them or successfully lives by them. No one actually believes everyone should just eat, drink and be merry nor do we agree with those who try to live that way. We get angry at people who do just whatever they want. We get angry at Politicians for it. We get angry at our friends for it. We get angry at ourselves for it and regret some of the things we’ve done. So although we say we should eat, drink and be merry we do not actually believe it. We believe something else should guide our life actions.

So why do anything? Why not just eat, drink and be merry? What answer does Christianity give and is that answer any better than the alternatives? I think so.

In Luke 12 Jesus told a parable about a guy who had an abundant harvest one year and said to himself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). This was a guy who thought life should be lived for oneself. He thought each person should have the freedom to eat, drink and be merry before they die. In America we much agree. We feel we should have the right to do with our resources whatever we desire. But Jesus says differently.

The God of the Bible calls Himself the ultimate Giver of all gifts (see James 1:17). He is the One with an unlimited storehouse of resources (see Malachi 3:10). If God were to take the approach of this ancient farmer then God should just eat, drink and be merry and dis-concern Himself with the world below. He need not give to it. He need not help it. He need not care how what He does affects the world below. But the amazing thing about this parable is that God Himself is speaking it!

  • Jesus stands before a crowd of farmers, so to speak, as the One who chose to give up the merriness of Heaven to make a way for the eternal merriness of man.
  • Jesus was the Universe’s richest farmer Who spent all of His riches to purchase us with His life.
  • Jesus was perfectly justified in living alone with His riches but instead chose to give up His riches in order that mankind might partake of His riches with Him in Heaven.

With this Gospel in mind Jesus’ harsh words to the farmer make sense: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20). If I am in the process of giving up my possessions (Jesus gave up Heaven and His very life) in order to give all of what I had to others, and I witness those others living for themselves, I am mad. In my anger I would probably stop my world-saving mission and go home. I would say, “I’m not going to give up everything for people who live only for themselves.” But after this encounter, though He was rightfully angry at the selfishness of the people, Jesus still goes to the cross. He does not stop His world-saving mission just because we are selfish. Our selfishness, sinfulness, after all, was what He was coming to save us from!

Christianity gives us a “why” for life that satisfies. It says we work to serve mankind just as Jesus worked to serve mankind. It says we go to school to learn how to serve mankind, just as Jesus came down to instruct mankind on what it meant to serve. In the Biblical view all of life fits into two commandments: love God and love neighbor. Any activity that is not done to love God and to love people is meaningless activity. It is done foolishly and the proceeds from such selfish living will be given to others. But any activity that is done to love God and to love people is seen by the Father and blessed.

But we must remember in this that even the desire to do good is a gift given us by God. We cannot say, “Well as long as I do enough good God will take me to Heaven.” No, we must first see that we have no ability on our own to do good. All of our good is tainted by our selfishness. Until we see this we are not truly ready to follow Jesus. Jesus does not just call us to do good. Jesus calls us to first give up any claim of goodness, see our need for mercy and grace, ask forgiveness for our inner darkness, and rely on Him for any good endeavor. The Christian conversion experience must first happen, a process of believing and being baptized.

The Gospel is the only narrative for life that results in the well-being of all. Are you living by the narrative of the Gospel or are you living by the eat, drink and be merry narrative? Do you think you are pretty good and that you deserve all you have, or do you see everything you have as a gift? Do you see your need for mercy or do you think you will fare pretty well without it?

In excitement for sharing the Gospel of Jesus every week in Laconia! Shaun

Do We Suffer for God or Does God Suffer for Us?

In the past 30+ days I have performed two funerals in Laconia. Funerals are never easy of course, but I think the younger the deceased the harder it is to swallow. All of us expect to die but we expect it when we are old and are blindsided if it comes early. For the first funeral, the funeral of the younger, I shared some hope from Job’s experience of loss that I think needful for us all. When we think of the earthquake in Italy, the tornadoes in Indiana or the funeral services that take place here at Wilkinson-Beane funeral home every week, we all need to hear the lesson(s) of Job’s life.

I believe the book of Job in the Bible is the oldest and most helpful resource for dealing with death and suffering in the world today. In the opening verses of the book we read: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger. Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.” (Job 1:6-12).

In the verses that follow Job loses everything. Raiders come and carry off all of his enormous possessions; they slay his many workers, and last all of his children, 10 in all, die when the house they were partying in collapses upon them. This all happened for Job in the course of one afternoon.

I believe the book of Job tells us a number of very important things about death and suffering. Perhaps the most important thing it tells us is that the God of the Bible is not a God who exists to make us suffer. Instead the God of the Bible ultimately suffers so that we can have eternal existence. How so?

Job’s story was penned as an opposition to the view of the gods of the day. The peoples of the Ancient Near East believed that the gods used humans to relieve their suffering. They believed that in order for the gods to live in leisure (which was largely how they conceptualized ‘eternal life’- endless leisure), their human minions had to do the grunt work for them. Human beings were the god’s slaves and ditch diggers. They did the work the gods did not want to do. For this reason manual labor was often seen as cursed work that should be reserved for slaves, and unemployment was seen as “a piece of singular good fortune” (Hardy, Fabric of this World, 1990). It was this view of the gods that allowed slavery to be promoted as an acceptable practice in those days.

Into this Ancient view of the gods pops the story of Job. From beginning to end Job proves to be a radical re-writing of the way of the world. In the story of Job God is not the one bringing suffering to mankind. God is not the one finding relief in someone else’s suffering. Rather God is the one showering blessings onto Job. Satan himself said, “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land?” (v.10).

Notice also that it was not God’s idea to harm Job. God was not up in Heaven saying, “Hey guys watch this …” According to this passage God was limiting suffering. God was corralling suffering. God was even preventing suffering. God allowed bad things to happen to Job, yes, but He did not allow everything bad that could happen to happen. This was a boldly different view of God than was commonly preached in those days.

It is comforting to know that God was not causing Job’s suffering, but the real bomb of awakening comes when we fit Job’s story into the overall Biblical storyline.

For all the good said of Job in the opening verses, Job was not a perfect person. Job was sinful like the rest of us. For this reason we cannot say ‘Job did not deserve to suffer’. If Job had done nothing wrong then Job would not deserve to suffer. But Job did do wrong even though he had some noble qualities that even God recognized (see v.3). One day, however, there would come to Earth a perfect man from Heaven who did not deserve to suffer. One day Jesus Christ would descend from Heaven- but not for the reason you would think. Jesus Christ deserved no suffering and yet the Gospel tells us that when Jesus came to Earth He came to intentionally suffer for us. The Gospel says that Jesus did not come to Earth to finally make people suffer for all the bad they had done. He did not come to lash out in anger for all the injustices they had committed (although He could have!). Instead out of HIs love for mankind Jesus Christ descended from Heaven to take upon Himself all the bad the world had done and ultimately suffer for them.

The God of the Bible is not a god who remains remote while his minions suffer for Him. Instead the God of the Bible is one who intentionally comes down to suffer for us so that one-day we won’t have to.

Funerals are hard no matter what the circumstances surrounding them. But they are infinitely easier knowing we serve a God who came to suffer for us and not to make us suffer for Him.

In excitement for sharing this Gospel every week in Laconia~ shaun

2 Ways to Save the World: Then a 3rd

There is a very famous story told in the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Traditionally it has been called the story of the Prodigal Son, but upon closer inspection it is really the story of the Prodigal Sons (Luke 15:11-32).

In this story of two sons the younger son came to his father as asked for his share of the inheritance while his father was still alive. In those days, like in our time today, you did not ask for your share of the inheritance or have a right to your share of the inheritance until the progenitor died. You would not ask the organ donor for his organs before he dies- that would be like asking him to die already. In the same way to ask your father for your share of the inheritance before he died was really to wish your father dead! The son basically said to his father, ‘Dad I don’t care about you I just want your stuff, now hand it over.’

So what about the older son? The older son is given less ink-space for sure, but he is no less troubled or lost. The older son is just as self-centered as the younger son with the exception that he did not leave home and waste his inheritance. The older son said, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave ME even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends” (v.29). In essence the older brother said, “I never once got even a young goat from you for how good I have been but this younger tramp brother of mine gets a party fit for kings? Thanks a lot Dad.”

You see the older brother did not stick around the past 10 years because he loved his father and wanted to serve and honor him. The older son stuck around because he wanted his service to his father to result in his own praise and success. When it didn’t he was ticked. The younger son said, “Father, I want your money, not you”. But the older son said, “Father I have been serving you for me not you”.

Jesus said both sons are lost.

The ironic thing is that both sons are out to change the world in different ways. The younger son says, “I’m tired of these rules. The problem with this life is that everyone wants to control what everyone else does. I’m tired of being judged for the things I want to do. Everyone aught to be free to live however they want to live. I’m doing my own thing. I don’t care what the law says. See ya Dad!”

But the older son says, “People are so disgusting. They care only about themselves. They live whatever way they want to live because the only thing they care about is their own desires. I’m better than that. If people just live like me there wouldn’t be any problems in the world. Scumbags.”

The younger son destroys himself and others in the destructiveness of his life. But the older son destroys himself and others by oppressing and hating people not as clean cut as himself. But Jesus tells the parable to say to both the older and younger brother; “You both think you are the savior of the world and you are both lost.”

I believe the key to understanding this whole passage is found in the first verses of the chapter. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them...”**(Lk.15:1-2). Jesus wrote this parable to the tax collectors and sinners (younger sons) and the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law (older sons). I can’t help but think that our world is still divided into two categories today who each believe they are the saviors of the world. Well according to this passage there is a third Savior to contend with.**

There is more to be discussed in this parable for sure, but let me close with what a true perfect older brother would look like. If the older brother were as good as he thought he was he would be one who cared for the welfare of his brother just as much as his father did. He would be one who saw the sadness of his father that his younger brother was gone and would offer to leave home himself to go search for that younger brother and bring him home.

A perfect older brother would be most concerned, not for his own welfare, but for the welfare of his father. A perfect older brother would leave home in search of his younger brother because he would want to please his father more than anything else. A perfect older brother would enjoy nothing more than to see his father light up at the sight of a lost son now found.

The younger son in this parable did not have the privilege of such an older brother; but we do!

The Gospel of Jesus tells us that God’s perfect Son, the One Who did nothing wrong, left Heaven in search of us. And when He found us He offered to bring us home. But in order to return us home our inheritance, that we wasted, had to be returned as well. The Gospel of Jesus tells us that our older Brother, Jesus Christ, gave up His inheritance for us so that we could be fully restored to the Father again.

In response to such amazing grace we are asked to drop our right to be the world’s savior and admit that we need One!

I believe the only answer to the age-old polarization of older brother/younger brother, pharisee/tax collector, strong/weak, rich/poor, liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican is the flattening awareness that we both need a Savior. Unless both sides humble themselves in this way they will inevitably hate each other and miss the call of THE Savior.

In excitement to share the Savior every week!

Belknap County Inmates: Why We Do Drugs

Celebrate Recovery Inside affords me the pleasure and burden of visiting weekly with inmates from our Belknap County Jail. It's a pleasure because many of the inmates voice their honest appreciation to me for coming into the jail when I do not have to. I often leave feeling I have truly helped. The burden for me is not the inmates themselves but the humbling awareness that I also am one step away from steel doors and concrete walls. Some inmates have made a lifestyle of law-breaking, but many inmates made one bad decision and there they are. The burden for me is also the flattening realization that although they look worse than me on the outside (they are wearing green or blue- I am wearing Levi's), on the inside I am just as dirty and in need of mercy as they are.

For all the darkness of being locked up jail nevertheless provides a necessary and important opportunity. It provides inmates a prolonged time of reflection on how they arrived where they are and what they need to change in their lives going forward. An incarceration stint wipes crystal clear the mirror of self-reflection. It forces distractions aside and brings us face to face with every blemish. So what does this forced stillness reveal to them? That life sucks in jail? Of course. That being free is better than being locked up? Obviously. But those aren't the important revelations. The important insights come when they ask things like; "Why do I do what I do?", and, "Where does this insanity come from whereby I do the same thing over and over again expecting different results?"

Community, medical and media professionals have their answers to these questions ("they had a bad home life", "they were poor and had no hope", "they had a disease", etc.), but what would the horse's mouth say?

They would say, "none of the above."

Our group of 8 inmates on Wednesday knew the answers, and their answers are the same for all of us. The answers boiled down to 2 things. 'We use drugs, we abuse alcohol, we do wrong because':

  1. We have feelings of fear and guilt we are trying to get rid of as quickly as possible, and,
  2. We were tempted and lost the battle.

The first answer is true a lot of the time. The second answer is true all of the time. A lot of addicts use their substance of choice in an effort to numb painful feelings of fear or guilt. Fear is a preoccupation with the future; guilt is a preoccupation with the past. But ALL addicts use their substance of choice because they are tempted to do so.

Modern people do not like the word "tempted". It has too many religious connotations. But no other answer to the question, "Why do I do what I do?" works all the way down. If we will take some forced reflection ourselves we will find we cannot accept any other answer to why so many people do drugs even though it kills them.

Let's flesh out why no other answer works. An inmate who blames his addiction on his bad upbringing, his economic status, his mental health or anything else for that matter is only contributing to his own insanity. It is true that his upbringing strongly influenced him. It is true that his economic status shaded the way he saw much of life. It is true that his biology affected how he felt and thought. But it is not true that his bad upbringing made him an alcoholic. It is not true that his economic status made him act out, and it is not true that his mental health forced him to take drugs or harm others. So long as an addict blames his behavior on any of these things he will remain addicted and continue in his cycle of destructive behavior. No addiction cycle can be fully broken unless the addict says to himself, "All of my feelings, all of my thoughts and all of my actions are completely my responsibility. I cannot blame them on anyone or anything else" When an addict comes to this realization he is in a prime position to recover.

By blaming human behavior on medical, biological or economic conditions we become hypocrites who say one thing and do another. How so? If we say, "your economic context is the cause of your behavior" then to be fair we must say the same of all people. If your mental health is the cause of your behavior then my mental health is the cause of my behavior. If your upbringing is the cause of your behavior then my upbringing is the cause of my behavior. It cannot be true for one segment of the population and not true for another. If your behavior is contextually dependent then so is mine.

But if this is the way of human nature then on what grounds do we do all of our griping, groaning and fuming at one another's behavior? How can we be angry at the terrorist if his upbringing caused him to be that way? How can we be angry at prejudice if our mental health caused us to be that way? How can we be angry at intolerance if our biology caused us to be that way? How can I be angry at the addict for stealing petty cash from my desk drawer if his disease caused him to do it? How can I be angry at religious people for their narrow, backwards way of thinking if human behavior is determined not chosen? I can't be angry anymore. But then why am I still angry? I am angry because I know deep down that they are responsible. At some point we must get off this blame band-wagon because it turns us into hypocrites and only leads the addict deeper into his insanity.

A passage of Scripture we talk about in Recovery Lesson 6 of CR says, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do...What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:14, 24-25)

This passage tells us that temptation is the ultimate force we are dealing with in our war against drugs. We want to do good but then we are constantly tempted to do bad. This passage also tells us there is an answer! The answer is not found in blame-shifting but in the humble admittal that we need a Savior: "O wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

With eager expectation of sharing our Savior every week in Laconia~ shaun

Various Community Resources: Good- But What Do We Need Most?

Andrew Murray, a 19th Century South African writer, teacher, and pastor was in Scotland one day, conversing with a company of people about what message was most needed to be preached in his time. One godly worker in the gathering answered very quietly and simply and determinedly: "Absolute surrender to God is the one thing” (Murray, Absolute Surrender, 1859, chapter 1, p.1).

If someone were to ask you the same question, "What message is most needed to be preached today?" given all that is going on in the world, what would you say? Tolerance? Peace? Love of neighbor? Let by-gones be by-gones? Judge not? What is the message that is true for all and that all most need to hear?

In Mark 2 four men brought to Jesus one of their friends. Their friend was paralyzed. They brought him to Jesus lying on a mat in the belief that Jesus had the power to heal him and cause him to walk again. When they got to where Jesus was teaching, the crowd of people was so thick that they could not get close to Him. As a result they climbed onto the roof of the house Jesus was teaching from, dug through the mod-podge ceiling and lowered their friend down in front of Jesus and the crowd. When Jesus saw what they were doing and gazed into the eyes of the paralyzed man now in front of Him, he said, "Son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5).

If we de-spiritualize this encounter a bit we can imagine the surprise of the parayzed man and his friends after Jesus said, "Son, your sins are forgiven". We can almost imagine the paralyzed man looking wide-eyed at Jesus and after a few seconds saying, "Thank you for the forgiveness of my sins...but that's not what I am here for. As you can see I have a much bigger problem I need help with."

The paralyzed man came to Jesus in faith that Jesus could help him with his biggest problem (his broken body). In reading the rest of the story (Mark 2:6-12) we find that indeed Jesus can help him with his biggest problem! But before Jesus healed the paralyzed man He made it clear to him that what he thought was his biggest problem was not actually his biggest problem.

Think about it: everyone in the city of Capernaum would have agreed that this man's biggest problem was that he could not walk or care for himself. Not only that, everyone would have agreed that he more than anyone else in the city had the biggest problems. Everyone would have looked at the plight of this paralyzed man and felt better about their own situation. They would have said, "I guess my life is not that bad. At least I am not paralyzed." The entire city of Capernaum would have been in concensus that the citizen who had it the worst was the paralyzed man on Elm St.

This is why the surprise would have been so shocking. The citizen with the biggest problem was brought to Jesus and Jesus told him, "That's not your biggest problem." You can almost hear the crowd say, "Really! Do you see a bigger problem!?"

What's the biggest problem in Laconia? Poverty? Drugs? Alcohol? Domestic Abuse? Suicide? Education? Broken families? Each of these are big problems, I agree. In fact we have various organizations in the city specifically designed to address each of these issues and more. But are these our biggest problems? Jesus would say "No". Jesus would say that our biggest problem is the same as the paralyzed man's biggest problem: sin.

The Bible tells us that every problem in the world from poverty to oppression to wars to hurricanes to sexual abuse to drugs to disease to terrorism to racism is a result of sin. In the case of disease, however, it is not as if we sinned and therefore we have a disease, although sometimes this is true as with an STD. Instead it is that disease exists in the world because sin exists in the world. In other words before there was sin (Garden of Eden) there was no disease or poverty or terrorism. The Bible tells us of a time when all of our problems did not exist and of a future time when Jesus will return to restore everything to its original goodness. In this way our biggest problem personally and our biggest problem collectively is the same: sin.

I am a strong advocate for the many human resource organizations we have in Laconia today. In fact I am involved in a few of them. These organizations are doing good things and should continue to do the good things they are doing. But if we were to place our particular organizations on a mat and lower them before Jesus I believe He would say to us, "You are working for a good cause and I am willing to help you with it. But that's not your city's biggest problem. Your biggest problem is sin."

What we need most in Laconia and all over the world for that matter, is an organization to help us with our biggest problem: sin. It is the church of Jesus (the people of Jesus really) that has been commissioned all over the world to communicate the Gospel of Jesus to people. The Gospel of Jesus tells us that we are all more sinful than we ever dared imagine and at the same time more loved than we ever dared hope. It tells us that our sin is at fault for all the darkness in the world but that Jesus Christ came to Earth to make it all His fault. The Gospel tells us that mankind could not extract himself from the pit of his sin so God came down to die in the pit of our sin for us. How does this answer the world's problem? It flattens us. It humbles us. It takes away any confidence we have in our ability to save ourselves. It daily reminds us that we dug our pit of darkness and we need a Savior to get us out of it. The problem with the world is not them, or that group or that political party. The problem with the world is the sin inside each one of us that will sink us if we do not float on Jesus.

In excitement for launching a new church gathering in Laconia in the Fall!

shaun

Waiting on the World to Change

Not too long ago I sat down with a fellow-Christian for breakfast who told me in no uncertain terms, "The vision you have for Laconia will never happen." He happened to be upset at me anyway so his statement was a little tainted by frustration, but what he said is important. I don't believe it is true, but I do believe it is important. His statement reflects a negative form of powerlessness common in the world today.

In 2006 John Mayer released his single "Waiting on the World to Change". The song won the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 49th Grammy Awards. The song is a commentary on the state of the world and our generation's feeling of powerlessness to change it.

Now we see everything that's going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means
To rise above and beat it

This feeling of powerlessness is what many people felt during Donald Trump's presidential campaign this year. Over time people began to realize that no matter what good they did to defeat him or what bad he did to defeat himself, still Donald Trump could not be beat. This is powerlessness. It is the realization that all things are out of your control and that nothing you do, good or bad, matters.

Is the feeling of powerlessness inevitable? Is it true that all we can do is sit around and wait for the world to change? Is it true that even when we have done every good thing we thought to do the world could still remain the same?

The powerlessness seen in the world today is mostly negative because it results in the mighty exertion of power. I feel powerless so I grab the most powerful object I can think of, a gun, and go to town. I feel powerless so I allow rage to grow in my heart toward those who have hurt me. This gives me a sense of power over them as I orchestrate in my mind doing to them what they did to me. I feel powerless so I increase my posts to Facebook making them increasingly hostile towards the people or entities I feel we are all at the mercy of. Our powerlessness today surfaces in violent, angry outbursts that serve to give us a temporary feeling of control and power, but still the world does not change. In fact it gets worse. This feeling of powerlessness is not reserved to the people in low positions either.

Country singer Kenney Chesney has a brand new release called "Noise". What's most intriguing about this song is Kenney's own feeling of powerlessness.

Twenty-four hour television, get so loud that no one listens
Sex and money and politicians talk, talk, talk
But there really ain't no conversation
Ain't nothing left to the imagination
Trapped in our phones and we can't make it stop, stop
This noise

The noise, the chaos, the constant motion won't stop, stop, stop no matter what we do. But the chorus is the kicker:

Yeah we scream, yeah we shout 'til we don't have a voice
In the streets, in the crowds, it ain't nothing but noise
Drowning out all the dreams of this Tennessee boy
Just trying be heard in all this noise

Kenney Chesney, a man with more power and more of a voice than 95% of the world still feels he is powerless. The state of the world is "Drowning out all the dreams of this Tennessee boy".

What would God have us do with this feeling of powerlessness? 6 things:

  1. Bask in it. Powerless is what God wants us to feel. He does not want to free us from that feeling; He wants us to feel it more and more acutely. People who feel powerful do not think they need God. People who feel powerless have no doubt! Step 1 of Celebrate Recovery says, "We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors and our lives had become unmanageable." This step is an essential first step in recovery. It cannot be bypassed or skipped over. It must be realized and embraced. In the same way my community and I will certainly never change if we do not bathe in our powerlessness with content.

  2. Do not try to become powerful. Do not take matters into your own hands in the prideful assertion that you are going to change the world. You can't. You are powerless. What you can do, however, is surrender everything in your power to the Kingship of Christ: your job, your money, your downtime, your home, your feelings, your thoughts, your aspirations and your relationships. If you do that you invite God to do powerful things through you. Are all of those things in your life surrendered to Jesus' control? Do you do some of them for Him and some of them for selfish-ambition? Do you go to work to make money or do you go to work for Jesus? Do you provide security monitoring to your company's website to pay your bills or do you provide security monitoring to your company's website to protect people from harm trusting God to pay your bills? Do you do what you do to serve or do you do what you do to get? Do not try to become powerful; try to give Jesus increased power over everything under your control.

  3. Make powerlessness the vocabulary of your prayers. Get kiddish with God. He is a Father, you are a child. Foster that relationship. My frequent prayer to my Father is, "Lord I am Your child and I do not know what I need. Maybe I need food right now; maybe I need a knap. I don't know. Would You please give me what You think I need as Your child?" This for me says, 'Lord I need You. I am powerless.' Build such wording into your prayers.

  4. Pray for a spirit of powerlessness to come over your community. Intercede for your community, but be careful! Do not pray, "Lord my community is completely messed up, please fix them." Do not exclude yourself from the messed-up-ness of your community. You are sinful too and you have contributed to its problems even if you don't see how at the moment. People begin to change, communities begin to change when they admit their powerlessness and need for Christ and not when they finally drum up the gumption to do something about the problems of the world. Prideful exertion of power only creates more problems.

  5. Do not fear the future or the present or the next election. We are powerless, this is true. But God is in control. We do not need to raise children who are afraid of the bad stuff in the world. Instead we need to raise children with the God-given courage to engage a dark world in the admission that we are powerless but Christ is not!

  6. Accept power, do not seek power. When we set out to be powerful or to climb certain ladders, it will go bad with us. But if we seek to surrender every one of our talents to Christ chances are we will be asked to lead. When asked to lead at work, at home, on the school board, for your political party, in Little League, etc., accept that invitation and lead well.

If you feel powerless today...good. You should. Do not fight it. Rest in it knowing that only when we are weak can Jesus be strong in us.

In anticipation and excitement for sharing the Gospel of Jesus every week in Laconia~ shaun

Why We Do Not Believe What We Say We Believe in Laconia

I am pleased with all the efforts our city is putting forth to combat the drug epidemic in our city. Can more be done? Of course. Can better things be done than are being done? Certainly. Nevertheless we Laconian's are not ignoring the problem and that makes me glad.

In working with addicted clients, running Celebrate Recovery both at our county jail and in Laconia on Friday nights, and as I have participated in various drug-epidemic conversations over the past 2 years I have picked up on what seems to be a contradictory belief system weaving through us. It is a belief system we say we believe but ultimately have to disbelieve in order to live with ourselves. What do I mean?

There is a lot of compassion being extended to addicted persons today. That's a good thing. Anonymous People as an example is a documentary created with the expressed intention of taking away the stigma of addiction. The documentary really harps on the 12-Step policy of making AA meetings anonymous. They ask, "Why should addicted people be ashamed to be in recovery such that they have to keep their participation anonymous?" The assumption in the movie is that the reason people are ashamed is because our society has told them they should be ashamed.

In attacking the "stigma" of addiction, our intention of course is to help addicted people by figuring out where blame should be placed and advocating on their behalf. But if we will pause for a moment we will find cracks this kettle.

To begin, no one actually believes that when a person neglects his family because of his "need" for drugs he should not feel shame. No one actually believes that when a person steals money from his family to feed his addition he should not feel bad about it. No one actually believes that when a father behaves violently at home in regular drunken rages that he should not be made to feel like he has done something wrong. In our efforts to eliminate the "stigma" of addiction are we saying that when drugs lead us to harm others we should actually want to make known how bad we have been? Are we saying that when people do things that harm other people they should not feel remorse? Would you feel remorse if you hurt people through your addiction? What if you did not feel remorse about neglecting your children? Shouldn't you then feel remorse about not feeling remorse? Of course you should!

We say our society has created a stigma around addiction but we don't believe that. What we really believe is that our addictions automatically, whether we want them to or not, create in us a feeling of shame and consequently a stigma. Our shame creates the stigma, the stigma does not create the shame. Heaven forbid we ever need a stigma to make us feel bad about something we aught to feel bad about automatically.

The other place this contradictory belief system shows itself is in the affirmation that addiction is a disease and not also a choice. We don't believe that either. Why not?

In a recent Huffington Post article, Anna Almendrala said, "It’s time to stop pretending that substance use disorder is mostly a choice, and it’s time to stop shaming people who struggle with it." This is a loud, commonly held belief today (that addiction is a disease that overrules choice), but again even those who say it do not actually believe it all the way down. They can't. To believe it all the way down is to believe something about humanity which we can never get ourselves to believe even if we try. Explain.

All the way down the addiction as disease narrative, alone by itself, concludes that human beings behave the way they do because of their biology. Since we do not choose our biology, the argument goes, neither are we at fault for what our biology "causes" us to do. Here's the problem with that: if human beings behave the way they behave because of their biology then that includes the addicted person as well as the non-addicted. In other words if the addiction as disease narrative is true, that our biology causes our behavior, it is true of all humanity. It is true of your belief that addiction is totally disease and it is true of someone else's belief that addiction is totally choice. You both believe what you believe because you have been biologically conditioned to believe it and you cannot therefore accuse one another of being wrong. To use the title of the post article I referred to above: "We Wouldn’t Shame Lamar Odom For A Heart Attack. Why Do It For Drug Use?" To rephrase it in my own words, "We Wouldn't Shame Lamar Odom for a Heart Attack. Why Do It For Someone's Belief That Addiction Is Also A Choice? We Are All Biologically Conditioned"

If we allow ourselves to believe the addiction as disease narrative all the way down then we take away our right to be angry at anyone's behavior- both the rapist, the thief, the terrorist and the addict. We might as well conclude that terrorism is a disease as well as rapism, to make up a word. This belief, in the end, ends up being far too similar to the old, laughed at, ancient religious belief "the devil made me do it": "my biology made me do it."

One of the reasons the church is so important to flourishing cities today is because the church has the only answer to the human problem that can be trusted all the way down. The Biblical narrative says that mankind's problem is his heart not his body. The Biblical narrative does not deny that mankind has a bodily problem; it does not negate disease. However it makes it very clear that the disease is the consequence of our problem not the cause. The Bible makes it clear that first we were rebellious, then we were diseased. Not that every sickness I have is a result of my sin, but that all sickness, from Adam all the way down to Shaun, is ultimately a result of sin.

The Bible also makes clear mankind's ultimate solution- not telling ourselves we should not feel shame, not blaming other people for my behavior, but breaking out of our own denial and admitting our fault in our problems. In his right mind an addict would never say he is guiltless, and we do not help him by putting his guilt on someone else either...

Except when that someone else is Jesus!

If the Biblical narrative is true, which I believe it is, then the solution to our addictions is found where the problem began; in the heart. The solution begins in the melting of our hearts by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus' solution to mankind's problem was not to blame us (although He had every right to). Instead Jesus took upon Himself our blame so that we could walk blameless and free; free of guilt, free of shame, free to live as God intended us to live. But we become free not by saying, "I'm not guilty. I should feel no shame." We become free by admitting openly, "I am totally guilty and cannot free myself. I need a Savior."

In excitement for the launching of a new church with a new narrative that will lead people to true freedom in Laconia~ Shaun

Churches and City-Life: Why They Matter

The more I get involved in the life of our city the more I see what a wealth of activity happens everyday. From business, to non-profits to recreation leagues, to church youth groups, to annual big-event preparations (Motorcycle Week, Multi-Cultural Fest, etc.) to the city council, a ton happens in our city everyday.

In seeking to view our city from 10,000 feet, it would almost appear that there is an invisible current-flow that all of our city's activity is caught up in. Every little part moves and somehow contributes to the movement of everything else but in a very mysterious way. It's mysterious primarily because it does not seem to be anyone's intention to work together toward any specific thing. With rare exception business owners, non-profit leaders, recreation leaders and even churches ask, "How does what we do contribute to the flow of our city?" Instead a more common question is, "How does what we do help our organization grow?" Each organization's particular contribution as well as each individual's particular role, is very rarely intentionally considered.

If this is the reality of life in Laconia, that the current is flowing but we do not know where to or how we contribute both individually and organizationally, then we have to be a little afraid of where it is we are flowing. Is anyone certain there is not a waterfall up ahead?

This is where I think churches play a crucial role.

Churches are important to flourishing cities because they are able to tell us, with confidence, where the current of our city aught to flow. There are those who may say, generically, "We aught to go in such and such a direction because it is what's best for the rest". I do not disagree with that statement- but that statement implies something. It implies a belief that doing what's best for the rest is what aught to be done. But who says that's what aught to be done?

If the most commonly accepted theory of human origins today (Darwinism) is true then "what's best for the rest" has no grounding. Indeed if we all got here by the strong eating the weak why is it not best for the strong to continue to eat the weak and for everything to flow in favor of the strong? That is after all how capitalism works- only the strong survive. Why not shape all of life in our community according to that principle? That would make the most sense given that theory of human origins.

Churches are important to flourishing cities because churches can tell us why we should and should not do some things. If there is no God then there is no grounds for shoulds and should nots. If there is no God then doing what's best for myself is just as valid as doing what's best for the whole. Some might say, "But doing what's best for yourself will hurt the whole and for that reason it is cleary not the way we should live." But says who? Who says that just because my direction of life harms people it is wrong? Where did you get this idea of right and wrong?

Almost all Protestant and Catholic churches today believe that God created the world not to get something to love as if He were lonely, but to share the love inherent in Himself with the rest of the world. Churches believe that in the perfect world, in that originally perfect Garden of Eden, God shared His love freely with mankind and mankind freely with each other all in the midst of a nature-world that provided abundantly for every living thing. Churches believe that the strong should not eat the weak because they believe that in the original perfection of the Garden the strong did not eat the weak. To the contrary, the Garden of Eden shows the strong (God) acting on behalf of every weaker thing He created. The Biblical narrative tells us that the strong should serve the weak because Jesus came from Heaven to serve not be served by His weaker minions. The Bible also tells us that the way to flourishing cities and flourishing relationships is through selflessness not selfishness; by giving ourselves to one another not by incessantly striving to get from each other.

Churches are important to flourishing cities because they have been given the task of reminding the community of what life aught to be about in the city. She has been commissioned to bring a regular, personified reminder to her community that life in the world is about giving all we can to each other (through our families, jobs, recreation leagues, non-profits, churches, etc.) out of love for the One who gave all He could for us in Jesus Christ. Does someone have a better vision under which we could orchestrate life in the city? Is there a better way? Is there a higher estimation of humanity upon which life in our city could flow? In all of my research thus far, all other worldviews make less of mankind not more.

In excitement for a new church with a new narrative to help transform the flow of our city. Counting down.

Shaun