Ruth and Naomi

Only the Lonely

Loneliness is an American epidemic. Just a couple of weeks ago, Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times wrote about this. According to his research, a fourth of Americans live alone. That means that almost 82,000,000 people are lonely. That staggers me. Loneliness can be a factor in failing health and early death. Several countries are trying to fix the problem. Britain even has a minister for loneliness to offer societal alternatives to feeling alone.

Anecdotally, I know this is a problem in the American evangelical church as well. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve recommended or given away Vaughan Roberts’ little book. And, I’m happy to say, the Bible actually has some wonderful examples of deep and abiding friendships. Perhaps, if these stories were imitated, the Church could begin to model something helpful to the culture. The picture of friendship in Scripture shows me that it is at least possible.

I want to spend some time on this blog talking about friendship, both in the Bible and in the careful meditations of Christians over the last 2,000 years. Christianity has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to resources that can combat loneliness. I’d like to explore a fraction of them and see if this can be of help.

A Tale of Woe

The book of Ruth might be one of the greatest love stories ever told, but it’s not a romantic love story. Or, at least, it’s not mainly a romantic love story. It begins with and is sustained by the love between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law. 

A man from Bethlehem leaves his homeland of Judah because there’s a famine. He takes his wife, Naomi, and his two sons and they seek refugee status within the land of Moab. The narrator tells us that Ruth was written “in the days when the judges ruled,” referring to the book of Judges. At that point in Israel’s history, there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. And in those days, Moab was a constant threat to Israel.  

While Naomi and her husband are in Moab, the husband dies. Naomi’s two sons take Moabite wives and then, a decade later, both of her two sons die. This family is acquainted with grief. One of the wives, Orpah, goes back to her people, but Ruth, the wife of Naomi’s other son, decides to stays with Naomi. She goes back to Bethlehem with her and commits to love her mother-in-law unconditionally.  

The rest of the story is a beautiful story about Boaz, the man who redeems (buys) their land and marries Ruth to keep both Ruth and Naomi from coming to utter ruin. But take some time to read Ruth 1:6-18

Stuck on You

In verse 14, notice that Ruth “clung” to Naomi. It’s the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:24 to describe a man “clinging” to his wife or in Prov.18:24, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend that clings or sticks closer than a brother.” It’s to be voluntarily glued together in love. This is super glue friendship.  

By gluing herself to Naomi, Ruth also glued herself to God. “Your God shall be my God.” This almost looks like wedding vows! One writer called this a “wedded friendship.” But it’s committed, God-honoring friendship. And it’s deeper than most relationships we come across today that parade as “friendship.” 

Ruth was voluntarily committing to Naomi across ethnic lines, cultural boundaries, religious differences, and clan ties. There’s no real reason for Ruth to stay with Naomi. There’s nothing in it for her. There’s no obligation. We can’t really blame Orpah for heading back home to what’s familiar. It  was reasonable for her to go back to your biological mother and your home culture. But Ruth commits in love and friendship to her vulnerable mother-in-law and stays with her.  

A Christmas Friendship

Before we leave this amazing commitment between Ruth and Naomi, look at the last chapter of Ruth. In 4:18-22, we read about Ruth’s son, Obed. Obed was King David’s granddad. Ruth was David’s great-grandmom. And 27 generations after David, who was born? Jesus Christ, lying in a manger. 

Ruth was a foreigner, someone who had nothing to do with the God of Israel, and now she’s forever enshrined in the genealogy and ancestry of Jesus Christ. Why? She glued herself to Naomi. As one scholar said, “Here, friendship is seen as the means by which the Davidic line is established.”  

At the risk of overstating what is admittedly not the main point of the text,  you never know how God is going to use the friendships that you have. The Messiah of the world obviously isn’t going to be the byproduct of your friendships because that already happened, but God has shown over and over through the course of history that he delights in using friendships to change the world, sometimes centuries downstream.  

One last note: what was Ruth doing when she was clinging to Naomi in 1:14? She was weeping with her. Orpah kissed her, showing respect and affection. But Ruth clung to her and they wept. Friend-love is a call to weep with those who weep, to enter into the suffering of another person, to bear another’s burdens. When they hurt, you hurt. That is the natural, emotional reaction of true friendship. Friendship, on the Christian understanding, is all about giving up yourself for the sake of others, dying to yourself so that you might put the interests of others ahead of your own.  

That’s what Christ did for us, after all.

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How Andy Davis Taught Me to Memorize Scripture

Spiritual Lighter Fluid

In the struggle to follow after Jesus, there are lots of ways you can put kindling around your heart and trust that the Spirit will spark a flame deep within. We call them spiritual disciplines or the ordinary means of grace. If prayer and the intake of Scripture are the primary fuel for the Christian soul, the memorization of Scripture is like the lighter fluid.

Why not add a little lighter fluid?

Dallas Willard puts it like this: 

“Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization.”1 

Coming from a different tradition, Chuck Swindoll says, 

“I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.”2 

And I think the Scriptures bear witness to the value of memorization.

Well Versed

Psalm 51:6 

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. 

After his sin with Bathsheba, David acknowledged that such inward truth is antithetical to outward sin and would’ve helped in his temptation. 

Psalm 119:11 

Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You. 

The crucial word there is “treasure.” This is more than memorization. The devil has Scripture memorized. This is treasuring. This is to have it and to love it. And if you love it, you will abide by it. 

The Jews who did not believe in Jesus did not believe in him because they did not have the Father’s word abiding in them (John 5:38).  

John 5:37-40 

37 And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. 38 You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. 

John 15:1-7:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

What does it mean to abide? The translated Greek word shows up in some form eleven times here. We get the English word “permanent” from it. It means to continue to believe in Jesus but it goes much deeper than that. It describes a continual union with Jesus. Jesus is saying “step into union with me”, “be apart of me and stay that way”. 

Why is memorization important? If you don’t you can’t do anything. You can’t bear fruit. And if you can’t bear fruit, what happens? You prove yourself to have never been a Christian and you get tossed like firewood. 

So, according to John 15, how do you abide in Christ? 

“If my word abides in you…” 

Now, at the outset, let’s be clear. I’m not merely talking about memorizing the Bible as the secret key to greater intimacy with God. Why not? 

  1. Satan memorizes Scripture. I assume he didn’t pull out his English Standard Version in the wilderness when he tempted Jesus (Matt.4). 
  1. The word of God abiding in a person is linked to that person’s belief in Jesus. John 5:38- Jesus is talking to Jews (people who had memorized the whole Pentateuch (in some cases the whole OT). And he says to them, “God’s word doesn’t abide in you because you don’t believe in me”. So belief in Jesus is unavoidably linked having the word of Christ dwell in you richly. 

Scripture memorization is a means to a person. It’s more than just retaining information. It is a way to keep yourself abiding in Christ. And it’s linked to prayer in John 15. “Ask whatever you wish” is not a magic formula. It’s a logical outcome from having Christ’s word abide in your heart. 

Jesus is not saying, “have my word dwelling in you with permanence and let it continually take root in you so that you can ask God for a sweet car or good grades or a nice marriage or a good job”. He’s not a genie. And besides, if Christ’s word abides in you, pretty toys won’t be your main desire anyway. 

Having His Word in you shapes your wishes and changes your desires and influences what you really want at the core level. And when his word abides, it takes root. After it takes root, it produces fruit. Scripture needs to be internalized. 

The Method 

So, how is this best accomplished? 

Andy Davis has written an excellent little booklet available online about how you actually memorize Scripture. His principles are as follows: 

  • Memorize big portions- minimize tendency to proof text (context is king). Shoot for an entire book. Not too long and not too short. Start with one around 90-160 verses long. Make it something that will minister to you. 
  • Survey the terrain:  
  • Count the number of verses in the entire book.  
  • Divide that number by the number of verses you will memorize per week. This is how many weeks the book should take you.  
  • Look at a calendar and determine a tentative finish date.  
  • Add a couple weeks so you don’t feel too much pressure.  
  • Repetition is the key. Memorize with your eyes. Read each new verse ten times, covering each word as though photographing it with your eyes.  
  • Say it out loud, emphasizing different words as you go. Memorize with your ears. 
  • Memorize with the verse numbers! This will help keep you from getting lost and missing verses after reciting large portions. 

Davis’ example: 

Day one: Read Ephesians 1:1 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.  

Day two: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:1 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:2 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.  

Day three: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:2 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verses next, altogether: Recite Ephesians 1:1-2 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:3 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.  

After you’ve finished the entire book, recite the entire book for 100 consecutive days. Ephesians takes 15 minutes to recite out loud. You can do this wherever. It won’t affect your busy schedule. Then recite it every Monday for the rest of your life. If you start to make little mistakes, take a Monday and read the book through by sight to correct those.  

Give it a try.

This is something I’m trying to implement this month. I’m preaching on Psalm 113 on the first day of Advent at our church and would love to have that psalm memorized. And if I fail, I certainly haven’t wasted my time. And I’ll at least have little bits of the psalm lodged into my mind and heart like holy shrapnel. What are you going to memorize?

How to Not Spend Money Like a Fool

Let’s Talk About What We Feel Weird Talking About: Our Luxury

Spending money is the American way of life. Saving and giving might not be, but Americans have been known to drop a trillion dollars on things we don’t actually need. Of course, consumer spending is a huge chunk of the economy and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Spending is something we do and it helps keep this country afloat. But you can spend money foolishly or you can use it wisely.

With respect to money, we are simply holding on to what God has given us. My favorite book on stewardship is Randy Alcorn’s little book on managing God’s money (even if I don’t agree with all of his strategies). And that’s an essential starting point. You are holding on to your wealth as a caretaker. 
And you are most certainly wealthy or you belong to a wealthy family. But what are you going to do with that wealth?

Saving and giving are essential concepts to understand and implement, but even if we don’t all do those things, we all spend money. Does the Bible say anything about how we should spend our money? Not surprisingly, it does. It equips us with very tactical wisdom to show us how to spend well and spend wisely.

The Proverbial Dollar

The book of Proverbs has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to money wisdom. Embedded in the overall pattern of save-spend-give there is the two part step of pursuing righteousness first and then enjoying wealth as gift from God. Proverbs 14:24 says, “The crown of the wise is their wealth, but folly of fools brings folly.” If you are wise, you likely will have wealth. And that wealth is a crown. It functions as a visible indicator of your wisdom. This crown is to be seen so that others might see the allure of wisdom. If we wear ourselves out to get riches, we miss the point entirely. It has wings and will fly away anyway (Prov.23:4-5). The point is not to have it. The point is to use it (saving, give, spend). And the way you spend your wealth can function as a beacon for fools that you are wise in how you go about your business as a consumer. 

There’s a difference between spending and squandering. Proverbs 23:19-21 indicate that we ought not squander our money simply on temporary physical excess:

19 Hear, my son, and be wise,  and direct your heart in the way.20 Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat,21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.

Likewise, Proverbs 29:3 (He who loves wisdom makes his father glad, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.) says we ought not squander money on temporary sexual pleasures. Again, God seems to be anti-squandering, not anti-spending.

“Whatever Your Appetite Craves”

In perhaps the most revealing text about how God views his people and their relationship to money, Deuteronomy 14:24-26 reads, 

24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25 then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 

In describing the tithe, God tells Israel that when he blesses them, they give back in worship. But if it takes too much effort to take the tithe to the place of worship, they could sell it and spend the money for whatever they desired. Strong drink, oxen, whatever. “Whatever your appetite craves.” That’s how the Bible describes discretionary spending. But even this is not squander because notice that it is enjoyed “before the Lord” and that there is rejoicing in his presence. It is spending with an eye toward heaven, knowing that he has blessed and so we enjoy spending a portion of our wealth before the Lord.

“The Rich in This Present Age”

 At the end of 1 Timothy, Paul describes two different types of wealthy people: those who want to get rich (1 Tim.1:6-10) and those who happen to be rich (1 Tim.6:17-19) for whatever reason. For those who desire to become rich, the apostle gives a warning. With that desire comes temptation that can easily lead to ruin and destruction. For those who are wealthy, he gives a responsibility:

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Spend your money. But do good. Be wealthy in good works. Maybe spend some of that lovely green on an amenity for those who have few. Perhaps bless someone with a book. Buy someone a coffee. And enjoy it there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 

Four Mistakes That Are Derailing Your Quiet Time

A Handful of Quiet

One of evangelicalism’s great contributions to the historic Christian tradition is the development of the “quiet time” or personal devotion. By that phrase, all we mean is a specific time set apart (made holy, if you will) in which we can commune with God primarily through Scripture reading and prayer.

Quiet times are such a staple in the lives of hundreds of thousands of American evangelicals and I’ve no doubt the Lord will be pleased to continue to grow his people through this particular method. But without meaning to, we can fairly easily derail our quiet times with God. A little negligence can leave us feeling rudderless and frustrated, or (worse yet) guilty because our time with the Lord wasn’t “good enough.”

Thankfully, there’s always grace for God’s people. And with a little bit of tactical wisdom, we can build a better strategy for putting ourselves directly in line with those conduits of grace. So, here are four mistakes that might be derailing your quiet time with God.

Place: Wherever Works

When I first became a Christian, I would wake up early, grab my Bible, and stumble downstairs to the living room. Then (to my parents’ chagrin), I would turn up the heat. Next, I would take a blanket and pillow and cocoon myself over the floor vent. Wrapped in a that warmth, I would begin to read my Bible. More often than not, my mom would come downstairs to start the day and find me drooling on the page. The allure of warmth in the early morning was too great.

This may seem like common sense but pick a spot where you won’t fall asleep. Don’t lie down. Don’t read in bed. The goal is not to be as comfortable as possible but as alert as possible. I have no doubt that our Father is patient and doesn’t hold us a grudge when we nod off reading his word. I don’t think his feelings are shattered. But what benefit does it do for us if we set aside the time only to lose out because of the place?

Time: Whenever is Convenient

Speaking of, we can have a space picked out to read and prayer, but the time of day might set that against us. My own spot is at my desk in the basement in the early morning before the rest of the family wakes up. But if I go down to this desk in the evening, when my wife and child are home, then I sacrifice family time in the name of piety. And if I go downstairs to be alone with God after the little guy’s bedtime, I miss out on time with Joanna.

Pick a time that works for you. Your schedule is not my schedule. Lunch break. Commute in the car. An hour before bedtime. The point is that you swing for consistency over convenience. Honestly, the time will never be convenient. And if you factor in our three great enemies (the world, the flesh, and the devil), even convenient times can be made to appear inconvenient.

If I water the flowers when it’s convenient, they will die. And they have. But if I stick to a schedule, they will flourish. There are enough gardening metaphors in the Bible to describe the spiritual life to help us connect the dots there.

Text: Whatever I Can Find

But what do we read? There are a billion devotionals out there. Some of them are even worth buying.

And there are some fine reading plans out there. My personal favorite is The Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers. While not a reading plan exactly, I’ve also found the Book of Common Prayer Daily Office to be very helpful.

But if you have just your Bible, you’re 95% of the way there in terms of reading. The other 5%, I would argue, is a helpful practice called the Swedish method. I first found it in One-to-One Reading. It’s just a matter of asking the text you read three different questions:

-what’s the idea here?

-what questions do I have about what I just read?

-what am I called to belief or do considering what I just read?

When I worked as a youth pastor, I would use this method all the time. It’s a simple means to interrogate the text and then let the text interrogate you. And you walk away with something to belief and/or something to do. In either case, it connects faith with deeds.

Mindset: Why Ever Would I Do This?

Your mindset goes a long way on your end as to whether a daily quiet time will be a helpful discipline for you. Let me say now that if you miss your quiet time or it’s short or feels useless, God is not angry with you. It’s not as if you skipped your devotion this morning and now the Lord is going to curse you with a bad day and a flat tire and multiple hangnails. That’s not what the Father is like.

But neither do you have to “get something out of it” every time. I heard Jen Wilken talk about daily time with the Lord and thought it was an excellent insight. View your daily time with God like a savings account. You’re depositing something each day (or rather, the Lord is). And later, when you need it, he will bring to mind what you’ve read and what he’s taught you. You will have reserves to draw on in times of need.

But if you view it as a checking account from which to withdrawal daily, you’ll eventually overextend yourself and be left in the red, exhausted and frustrated. Sometimes you won’t “get anything” out of your reading. That’s okay. If his word never returns to him void but always accomplishes what he desires, then God is the only one who always “gets something” out of your reading his word.

Get After It!

So, you have your place. You know when you’re going to be there. You have something to read. And you have a pretty healthy mentality about what you’re doing. The next step is simple. Do it! Keep an eye out for these little spiritual derailments so that you can make the most of the time you have with God. Get back and track and go spend some time with your Father!

Of Banquets and Blowhards

You Are Cordially Invited…

I hate RSVPs. Invitations, as a concept, make me uncomfortable. On the one hand, I don’t like being singled out. I never have enjoyed eyes upon me. And then, there’s the inevitable sting of envy. “Oh, Mary Sue is having her thirtieth baby? Well, that’s great, why won’t she just share!” or “Oh, Bobby Ray is graduating from high school? Why didn’t he ask me if I wanted to graduate from high school, too?” They’re little reminders of what’s not in front of me and that bothers me.

But the worst part about invitations is the decision of whether or not to go. Will I miss out on something else by attending? Or will I miss out on attending because of something else? I might not know anybody at this shindig. I’ll have to buy a gift? Oh, it’s on a Saturday. Yeah, Saturday’s are the days when I don’t leave the premises. Sorry. That’s why, for a certain breed, cancellations are wonderful. Even if you absolutely love the person who invited you out for coffee, if they have to last minute cancel, it’s the temporal equivalent of finding $5 under the couch cushion.

Y/N?

I’ve been spending some time in St. Luke’s Gospel, in chapter fourteen, and I notice that a word keeps popping up. In twenty one verses, it shows up in various forms a total of seven times. My training (and also common sense) immediately tells me that word matters in the text. And it’s the Greek word kaleo ( καλέω ). It’s not quite the same as an RSVP because, in that case, you have the option to attend or not. Kaleo is a summons. There’s authority behind it that qualifies it as a summons. It’s deployment orders for a reservist. It’s an audience with the king. It’s a parent telling the child to come here now. It’s less a suggestion than it is a reality.

It’s translated as “invitation” in most English Bibles, but that’s because Jesus is telling stories about wedding feasts and dinner parties while at a dinner to which he was invited. But in those parables, God is the one behind the invitations. And so, they should be seen more as summons. And one’s response to such invitations isn’t a matter of preference, but of obedience.

I’ve been reading Alan Kreider’s excellent book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, and in it, he talks about the types of people that were attracted to Christianity and what that “invitation” to taste the wedding feast looked like in the first handful of centuries after Christ’s ascension. Jesus, in Luke 14, tells those who would host a dinner to invite the poor and the crippled and the sick (v12-14) because that’s what God does (v15-24) when he summons people to the kingdom. The proud and powerful make excuses and dodge the invite (in disobedience and indifference). They bluster and bloviate about why they can’t be there. And the underclasses, instead, get to go to the feast.

Kreider notes that much the same thing actually happened. He notes that Celsus, a great enemy of the faith in the 2nd century, complained about us because the gospel appealed to “wool-workers, cobblers, laundry-workers, and the most illiterate and bucolic yokels.” These were the scum of the earth that brainwashed children and “stupid women” with their doctrine. These were people, in early Greco-Roman culture, who were voiceless. They were the pavement of society. And yet, they were largely the ones that checked “yes, my lord” on the summons.

Just As I Am

They didn’t pretend to be something they were not. Unlike Cinderella, they weren’t magically dressed up in pretentious niceties so that they could appear like they belonged at the party. They come from the highways and byways so that God’s house may be filled. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk.14:11). And the humbled were exalted by being summoned. The expenses of those who were unable to repay were covered. And we can never pay God back for calling us to himself. Instead, we simply offer that same summons to others. And how they respond (exalting themselves or humbling themselves) is between them and the host of the banquet.

This World is Not (Yet) My Home

I enjoyed the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou, when it came first came out nineteen years ago. I still like it a lot. I’m halfway through the Iliad with the Odyssey next on my list as far as classics go. It was a beautiful blend of old South Americana and mythology. Not to mention, the music was excellent. Alison Krauss is the heartbeat of American music.

But as I’ve read the Bible and read the fathers and Reformed theology, some of the lyrical themes of that wonderful movie’s soundtrack no longer sit right in my craw, beautiful as they are. “I’ll Fly Away.” “The Angel Band.” “I Am Weary (Let Me Rest).” So much of that beautiful soundtrack is dotted with old poems about “going home” and finding final and eternal rest in a heavenly home. That’s appropriate for the movie because it’s loosely based on the Odyssey, a story about a man trying to get back home.

And yet, if we can’t feel at home in this world anymore because we’re just passing through, what good is this world? What real need do we have to care for it if God is going to burn it up (as a certain type of theology promises). I once heard a popular preacher (speaking about global warming), “If you think it’s hot now, wait until Jesus gets a hold of it!” There are few more wicked sentiments I can think of for a man of the cloth to proclaim from a pulpit. It implies that the Creator is somehow chomping at the bit, eager to obliterate everything good that he made that was stained by sin.

And I’ve heard it geared towards teenagers as well. Take this world and give me Jesus. I’m not home yet. This is not where I belong. There could more harmful things to listen to on the radio. But this is just a more modern repacking of “I’ll fly away” and “this world is not my home.”

This is how Greek philosophy got its fingers around the gospel’s throat and never really let go. On the one hand, the Epicureans (“eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”) saw our bodies as cruise ships to be enjoyed until they shipwreck on the shallow reefs of indulgence. But on the other hand, the one that grabbed onto Christianity, the body was a prison from which the soul needed to escape. That’s what the disciples of Plato believed. Don’t indulge the body. Indulge the mind. Ignore the body. It’s evil and untrustworthy and too much like the animals. What matters is reason (the Logos). Feed the mind with knowledge. If you gain enough knowledge, you feed the soul and the soul is what matters.

Plato said that all the physical things you see are like shadows on a cave wall. There’s a fire behind you, but you can’t see the fire because you’re chained up in the cave and you can only see the shadows on the wall that the fire is casting. According to Plato, all physical reality is made up of shadows. They aren’t important. What really matters is the thing that is casting the shadow- the hidden thing, the thing that you can’t see. That’s what matters. In the words of Master Yoda, “Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter.”

A good Platonist, Yoda was.

Plato believed that the young should be taught to welcome death, neither to regret nor lament it. Does that sound familiar? I’ve heard and seen too much nonsense about Christian funerals as a flavor of celebration. Grieving with hope gets replaced with the celebration of liberation. Plato believed that death is good, something to be greeted like an old friend. Why? He believed that because he believed death is the moment when the immortal soul is set free from the prison of the physical body.

Plato viewed death as a jailbreak for the soul. Biblical Christianity views death as the last enemy to be destroyed. What happens after death? Well, Plato said that judgment is based upon deeds. The wicked go to hell. But the righteous souls fly away to join the stars. Does that sound familiar? Socrates famously said upon his deathbed that the real “me” was not the corpse he would leave behind, but that which is inside the body before death. He said a human is a “little soul carrying around a corpse.”

Platonists believed that the virtuous joined the stars at death. They became stars. The immortal souls are implanted into human bodies (male, the superior, and female, the inferior) and the main task of the soul is to master the desires and emotions of the body: pleasure, pain, fear, rage, etc. Those who do that well enough go and join the stars.

Some prison breaks involve more pandamonium than others.

And so, if you believe the body is a prison and death is the jailbreak, why would you believe in a reality in which you are reunited with your prison? No prisoner wants to go back to the jail he just escaped. That’s why Plato is not very helpful in understanding the incarnation or the resurrection. Plato would certainly not have wanted to live out eternity in a physical world.

The Stoics, for instance, believed that at the end of the present age, everything would be dissolved by fire, and the whole order of the universe would end. Does that sound familiar? The Greeks didn’t want to live in a physical world. They wanted the physical world to burn so that they could have spiritual bliss.

Looking for truth in Alderaan places.

Epicureans said that death is the end of everything. Yolo. Carpe diem.

Platonists said that death is the beginning of everything. Don’t fear the jailbreak. Be ready to fly away.

If the world is Epicurean, the Church has become Platonic. In the first case, the resurrection is disbelieved as ridiculous. In the second, it is reduced as a irrelevant, a secondary curiosity that simply make our faith distinct. And on both views, this world is not seen as a home. It’s seen as a buffet to be used or an enclosure to be destroyed.

And yet, I understand the impulse to those songs. I understand the homesickness. But that other world for which we are made is a world that will one day come to this world so that “heaven and earth be one.” This world is not yet my home. But it will be. That’s my hope.