Breakfast in America: A Litmus Test for the Church?

We can forget that we are ambassadors for Christ everywhere we go, in everything we do, and to each and every person that we meet

I was listening to an interview of Kevin Finch. He is the nephew of the well-known pastor, author and thinker, Eugene Peterson. Kevin comes from a long line of pastors going back generations, and he is the founder of a ministry to people in the food industry called The Big Table.

The food industry may seem like a strange idea to target for a ministry. Kevin is eloquent in explaining his call to this ministry, hearing the clear voice of God and all. The website provides some further insight.

The restaurant and hospitality sector of the workforce is the largest sector of the workforce in the country, doubling any other industry. It is also growing faster than any other segment of the workforce. The Big Table website describes it as a “catch basin” for “all of the most vulnerable demographics” – single parents, at-risk teens, immigrants, ex-felons trying to turn their lives around, etc.

Perhaps, one reason for the vulnerable demographic is that anyone willing to work can get a job in the restaurant and hospitality world. It is often the first place people look for entry level work and the last place people look when all else fails.

“But put so many at-risk individuals together under one roof and it is not surprising that this industry has the highest rates of people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, massive amounts of divorce and broken relationships, redline stress levels, job instability, rapid turnover, and almost no safety net.”

Restaurant and hospitality workers get paid (often not very much) for serving others with smiles on their faces, while a large portion of them suffer in own their lives. The website reports the following:

  • Forty three percent (43%) of workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry fall below the “survival” line – DOUBLE the rate of any other working population;
  • Workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry struggle with drug and alcohol addiction more than any other working group; and
  • Benefits, like health insurance, vacations, sick time, etc. are largely not available for workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

In my own experience, I see that workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry are often exploited. They don’t get paid overtime. Bosses often schedule them part time to avoid overtime pay so they have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Many get paid less than minimum wage and must rely on tips. They sometimes get paid “under the table”, which usually means they are paid less.

Working conditions can be extremely stressful in a hot kitchen or full restaurant, under the pressure of demanding bosses, expectant and often ungrateful patrons, and ever changing conditions. The lowest paid workers are often the first target of angry customers and critical bosses.

One of my first jobs in high school was as a busboy in a popular restaurant. I noticed (and can still see in my mind) that every seasoned waitress, Maître d’, cook, and kitchen worker smoked cigarettes like chimneys. The stress of performing in that pressure cooker environment clearly showed in the worry worn faces of those veterans on which smiles often lost their battle with the struggle of simply getting through the night.

So, what does any of this have to do with the Church in America?

Continue reading “Breakfast in America: A Litmus Test for the Church?”

The Illusion of Happiness and the Kindness of Want

God put eternity into our hearts (Ecc. 3:11) so that we can, if we aren’t too distracted, sense that something more awaits us.

Photo cred to Deb Zeyher

To CS Lewis was posed the following proposition and question:

“Many people feel resentful or unhappy because they think they are the target of unjust fate. These feelings are stimulated by bereavement, illness, deranged working or domestic conditions, or the observation of suffering in others. What is the Christian view of this problem?”

Today, the same question has taken on a sharper edge aimed at Christianity and the character of God: If God is all good and all powerful, why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? Either God isn’t all good; or God isn’t all powerful; or God simply does not exist.

CS Lewis answered the question put to him as follows:

“The Christian view is that people are created to be in a certain relation to God. If we are in that relation to Him, the right relation to one another will follow inevitably. Christ said it was difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt, 19:23; Mk. 10:23; Luke 18:24), referring, no doubt, to riches in the ordinary sense. But, I think it really covers riches in everything – good fortune, health, popularity, and all the things one wants to have.

“All these things tend, just as money tends, to make you feel independent of God. Because if you have them, you feel happy already and contented in this life. You don’t want to turn away to anything more, and so you try to rest in a shadowy happiness, as if it could last forever.

“But God wants to give you a real and eternal happiness. Consequently, He may have to take all these riches away from you. If He doesn’t, you will go on relying on them. It sounds cruel, doesn’t it?

“But I am beginning to find out what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run. I used to think it was a cruel doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows work punishment, but I find in practice that, when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a punishment it becomes easier to bear.

“If you think of this world as something simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable. Think of it as a place of training and correction, and it’s not so bad.

“Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think of it as a hotel. The other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is what comforts and strengthens you in the end.

“The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world become pessimists; the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”

I like to say that perspective changes everything. Because human beings are finite, our perspective is limited. Change it, and the world looks different from the new angle.

Lewis had a perspective of this world that allowed him to see it as beautiful, for what it is worth. Perhaps, he was colored by his experience as a late teenager fighting in World War I. He knew the worst the world had to offer.

When he became a believer in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he found the “silver lining”. He found hope and light in the darkness of the world.

Many people who live in the late 20th and 21st centuries have had a relatively good time of “this life” compared to people just a few generations before us (and even more dramatically compared to people of centuries past). Our perspective is colored by our relative prosperity. In the United States today, even those who live below the poverty line live higher and better than most of the people in the rest of the world (and in times past).

The comparative riches we have tend to make us feel independent of God. Indeed, the shift in the question of the problem of evil from focusing on individual unfairness to thinking it is proof that God does not exist is a product of our perspective.

We have enough that we are willing to accept that what we can gain in this life is all there is. We have embraced a shadowy happiness in lieu of true joy that God offers to those who seek Him.

Continue reading “The Illusion of Happiness and the Kindness of Want”

How Important is Love in Your Theology?

Where does love come from?

Tina Turner sang, “What’s love got to do with it?” We might ask that question about theology. We might even ask that question about life, itself!

Most people, I think, would say that love has a lot to do with life and theology. Or, at least, it should!

What does the Bible say? Does it affirm that intuition? The answer is clear that the Bible affirms that intuition of the importance of love ins spades!

What is love?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)


“This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)


“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:15)

What is the source of love?

“[L]ove is from God”

1 John 4:7


“God is love.”

1 John 4:16

How important is love in the Bible?

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

The supreme importance and place of love in Scripture reveals that love could not more more important or prominent in our theology! Any theology, therefore, that is light on love is light on truth.

Putting Denominational Disagreements in Perspective for the World and the Church

In a world in which the standard for disagreement is tolerance, we are called not just to tolerate each other, but to love each other deeply, from the heart.

J. Warner Wallace tackled the question, Do Denominational Disagreements Falsify Christianity? recently from an apologetic angle. A common challenge to Christianity is that we don’t all agree. If Christianity is true, why so much disagreement? Why so many denominations?

I like the way Wallace tackles the issue. He starts by observing that truth is often complex, and finite beings such as ourselves often disagree on the complexities. This is true not just in Christianity, but even in science. Wallace lists some of the various “theoretical camps” on the origin of the universe and the various types of atheists who don’t agree with each other in their atheism.

Wallace observes that disagreement doesn’t negate the truth. Truth remains truth whether people understand it or agree on it. Paul is saying the same thing, basically, when he says, “Let God be true though every one were a liar.” (Romans 3:4) We can’t judge God by the way people act, and we can’t judge the truth of Christianity by the way the Church acts.

On that last statement, I can imagine someone saying, “Now wait a minute! Shouldn’t we hold the Church to a higher standard? Shouldn’t the Church, of all institutions, be better than secular ones? If Christianity is true, shouldn’t we expect more harmony in the Church?

I actually agree with these criticisms. What about the inquisitions, and Christians burning other Christians at the stake for heresy and Puritans burning Puritans at the stake for supposedly being witches? That sounds like a lot of infighting for a group of people who are called to be “one in Christ”!

These are serious charges against the Church and Christianity. Wallace is right, that every human institution under the sun has disagreement, but shouldn’t the Church be different? If God is God and Christianity is true, shouldn’t the Church stand apart?

Jesus called his followers to be like a city set on a hill, like a beacon of truth. He said the world would know his followers by their love for one another, and he prayed for them to be one with each other as he and the Father are one.

We don’t have to dig very deep, or look very far, or think very long before we find examples in history and in current events today that paint a very different picture of the Church. The Church, universal, is fragmented. Even denominations, within themselves, are divided. Division and dissention occur in our local churches on a regular basis.

The skeptics put up a serious challenge to believers when they make the claim that our penchant for disagreement calls into question the truth that we stand for. How do we respond?

Yes, disagreements in the Church do not negate the truth, but how do we put them in perspective? How do our disagreement fit the truth that is revealed in Scripture? (That the world should know us by our love for one another) How do we reflect the love of God to the world as a fractured and broken Church?

I don’t believe I have a complete handle on these things, but I have some thoughts on how we can square the disagreement in the Church with Scripture and how we should respond as believers to this challenge.

Continue reading “Putting Denominational Disagreements in Perspective for the World and the Church”

Toward an Understanding of the Wrath of a Loving God

If there is no God whose wrath will produce ultimate justice, we who are justice-minded have no recourse other than to respond in kind


I am currently reading, A Gentle Answer: Our “Secret Weapon” in an Age of Us Against Them, by Scott Sauls. The following statement in the book reminded me of similar observations made by Miraslav Volf:

“Some [people] object [to the idea of God’s anger] strongly: ‘…. If there is a God at all for me, it’s not an angry God. My God is loving. My God would never lash out or punish or judge or get angry at people.’ When I hear someone discount or downplay the biblical idea of God as a judge, whose holiness sometimes includes expressions of anger, I wonder if they have ever been the bullied kid, or the abused woman, or the oppressed slave, or the assault victim? I wonder if they have sat down and listened to the story of a holocaust victim, or of someone whose child was kidnapped, or of a woman whose husband abandoned her for a younger mistress?’”

I have heard Tim Keller talk on the subject, and the most poignant source of his ideas that he quoted was writings by Miraslov Volf, the Croatian theologian, professor of Theology and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale University.

Volf was influenced by his own experience with the Yugoslav Wars, characterized by the ethnic cleansing that raged in what is now known as Croatia in what is, perhaps, his most influential writing: Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996). According to Wikipedia, “Exclusion and Embrace deals with the challenges of reconciliation in contexts of persisting enmity in which no clear line can be drawn between victims and perpetrators and in which today’s victims become tomorrow’s perpetrators—conditions that arguably describe the majority of the world’s conflicts.”

That context might represent a large portion of the world we live in at various times and places. Think Hatfields and McCoys, for instance. In a later work, Volf reflected:

“I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.

“Once we accept the appropriateness of God’s wrath, condemnation, and judgment, there is no way of keeping it out there, reserved for others. We have to bring it home as well. I originally resisted the notion of a wrathful God because I dreaded being that wrath’s target; I still do. I knew I couldn’t just direct God’s wrath against others, as if it were a weapon I could aim at targets I particularly detested. It’s God’s wrath, not mine, the wrath of the one and impartial God, lover of all humanity. If I want it to fall on evildoers, I must let it fall on myself – when I deserve it.

“Also, once we affirm that God’s condemnation of wrongdoing is appropriate, we cannot reserve God’s condemnation for heinous crimes. Where would the line be drawn? On what grounds could it be drawn? Everything that deserves to be condemned should be condemned in proportion to its weight as an offense – from a single slight to a murder, from indolence to idolatry, from lust to rape. To condemn heinous offenses but not light ones would be manifestly unfair. An offense is an offense and deserves condemnation…” (From Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace pp. 138-139)

These poignant reflections work toward the “appeal”, or at least makes some sense of, the idea of a wrathful, but loving God. I sense, though, that people of modern sensibilities may still be reluctant to credit the goodness of a wrathful God. This is where Miraslov Volf brilliantly exposes the faulty thinking of the western mind that has been largely untouched by evils that are reality in many other areas of the world: Continue reading “Toward an Understanding of the Wrath of a Loving God”