Thursday, May 28, 2015

Boredom (Merton on...)

"The modern American is kept in terror of boredom and unfulfillment because he is constantly being reminded of their imminence - in order that he may be induced to do something that will exorcise him for the next half hour. Then the terror will rise up again and he will have to buy something else, or turn another switch, or open another bottle, or swallow another pill, or stick himself with a needle in order to keep from collapsing." (Thomas Merton, Contemplation In a World of Action)

Boredom as Anomie

"Boredom" is not having nothing to do; "boredom" is finding no meaning in what you are doing.

A person works for hours at a job and the clock drips down the wall like a Salvador Dali painting. One student sits in class bored out of her skull while another student is fully engaged and time flies by.

I live in a land where there are more things to do than ever and yet many are bored out of their minds. Evidence for cultural boredom is seen in things like: the inability to be still; non-reflective capacity; the Facebook Nation and its many games; oxymoronish appeals that couple money, sex, and power; the mass marketing of diversions; the loss of true happiness (see Aristotle [eudaimonia], and J.P. Moreland); "church" as entertainment of the masses [Thou shalt not bore the people!]; and Kierkegaardian herds of wandering norm-less amoralists entertaining one another with their boredom-fueled evil.

Anomie: a personal condition resulting from a lack of norms. 

Sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote"The state of anomie is impossible whenever interdependent organs are sufficiently in contact and sufficiently extensive. If they are close to each other, they are readily aware, in every situation, of the need which they have of one-another, and consequently they have an active and permanent feeling of mutual dependence." "Durkheim defined the term anomie as a condition where social and/or moral norms are confused, unclear, or simply not present. Durkheim felt that this lack of norms--or preaccepted limits on behavior in a society--led to deviant behavior."

Anomie = Lack of Regulation / Breakdown of Norms (Ib.)

The bored person lacks life-meaning. The meaning of "meaning" is: fitness within a context. The reason we don't get a joke is that we fail to understand the context. Where there is no context there is no joy. The bored person is out of touch.

Some "churches" have lots of stuff going on yet are boring. Why? They've lost their sense of fitness in the context of the Grand Narrative. THE MOVEMENT is not boring.

Prayer and Boredom: The Antidote to Boredom is the Acquisition of Meaning (PrayerLife)

Will eternity with God be boring, with all that repetitive worship going on? I've had people ask me this, and wondered it myself. I think the answer is "No." We see this on the definition of "boredom."

"Boredom" is not: having little or nothing to do. It is not: doing the same thing over and over again. You can have a lot to do and not feel bored (like spending all day in your garden); you could engage in repetitive activity and not be bored (like, e.g., practicing your guitar because you love it).

"Boredom" is: finding no meaning in what you are doing. The meaning of "meaning" is: fitness within a coherent context. 

So the antidote to boredom is the acquisition of meaning.

Does My Life Have Meaning?

In Bangkok

Does my life have meaning?

This will be one of the things I'm speaking about at a conference in New Jersey this weekend.

I define "meaning" as: fitness in a coherent context. I only understand what a certain joke means if I understand the socio-linguistic context. And, that context must be coherent and narratival. 

I understand the meaning of a pawn in the coherent, narratival context of the game of chess. But a chess pawn standing on a tennis court is meaningless because it has no "fitness" there. So, for there to be meaning, there must be fitness within a coherent context.

The movie Mad Max: Fury Road takes place in a land called "Wasteland." Max sums up the meaning of his life with these words: "My world is fire and blood" where everything "is reduced to a single instinct: survive." The movie longs for redemption as a woman named Inperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) smuggles five women out of wasteland, hoping to take them to a destination called "the green place." Context affects meaning; meaning changes relative to context. And if there is no coherent context at all then life is meaningless, and nihilism prevails. "Mad Max is about a road that goes nowhere but exists only for itself. It's meaningless mayhem." ("Mad Max: Fury Road - Finding a forgotten Eden in the midst of post-apocalyptic anarchy") The film ends with these words, as a epigram:

Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland,
in search of our better selves.

Where can we go to find the meaning of our lives? The options are:

1. An incoherent context where nothing fits.
2. A coherent context where I do not fit.
3. A coherent context where I fit.

Option 1 is atheism and nihilism, ultimately and logically.

Option 2 is the kingdoms of this world which, as a Jesus-follower, I was not made for.

Option 3 is the kingdom of God, which, as Jesus said, is "not of this world."

In the pre-modern existentialist biblical book of Ecclesiastes the Preacher weighs the meaning-options and finds them all wanting, except for one. 

He looks for the meaning to life in Nature (Eccl. 1:5-9). But nature is a closed system of cause and effect, and endless circling of sunshine, wind, and rain. The answer, the key, is not in Nature. 

He looks for the key to life's meaning in Mankind (1:3-4) and humanity's efforts and accomplishments. But this yields only an endless seeking for happiness through this and that, but to no avail.

He looks for an answer in human Wisdom (1:12-17; 2:13-17). But even the most brilliant are only learned ignoramuses (cf. Ortega y Gasset) who fail to make sense of it all.

He looks for the meaning of life in Pleasure and sensual delight (2:1-11), but finds the same reality: it's all nothing but "vanity and striving after the wind. (Here it feels like Bertrand Russell's atheism has borrowed from Ecclesiastes - see Russell's "A Free Man's Worship.")

The answer? Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 concludes:

Now all has been heard;

    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.

To answer the question of life's meaning we must first answer these two questions:

Who, or what, made me?

What was I made for?

The answers to these questions will lead you to either Option 1, Option 2, or Option 3.

I've opted for 3. By experience and by reason. My life's meaning and purpose are found in these words of Jesus:

You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
And you shall
love your neighbor as yourself.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Miroslav Volf On the Meaning of Work

Miroslav Volf's A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good is a beautiful read! Chapter 1 is worth the price of the entire book - on the nature of "prophetic religion," with the double-movement of "ascent" and "descent," both of which are needed, and needed in a certain way. 

In Ch. 2 Volf writes of the meaning of labor, of work. Here he ties work in with the existential matters of life's meaning and purpose. 

"There are many possible ways of construing the meaning of work. One purpose that immediately comes to mind is to put bread on the table—and a car into the garage or an art object into the living room, some may add. Put more abstractly, the purpose of work is to take care of the needs of the person who does it... But when we consider taking care of ourselves as the main purpose of work, we unwittingly get stuck on the spinning wheel of dissatisfaction. What we possess always lags behind what we desire, and so we become victims of Lewis Carroll’s curse, “Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.” In our quiet moments, we know that we want our lives to have weight and substance and to grow toward some kind of fullness that lies beyond ourselves. Our own selves, and especially the pleasures of our own selves, are insufficient to give meaning to our lives. When the meaning of work is reduced to the well-being of the working self, the result is a feeling of melancholy and unfulfillment, even in the midst of apparent success." (Kindle Location 639)

The antidote to the "rat race" and boredom of work is to live for "some kind of fullness that lies beyond ourselves."

For example, live for this cause.

The Importance and Power of Knowing Our Identity in Christ - Conference in New Jersey

This coming Fri-Sat-Sun I'll be near Newark, NJ speaking at a conference on "The Importance and Power of Knowing Our Identity in Christ."

Where: Stelton Baptist Church, Edison, New Jersey

I’ll be preaching and teaching on:

Fri. night, May 29 – “You Have a Soul and Have Been Created in God’s Image.” 7 PM.
Saturday morning, May 30 – Workshop: “What Transformation Into Christlikeness Looks Like.” 9:30-11 AM.
Saturday night, May 30 – “The Importance and Power of Knowing Who I Am in Christ” 7 PM.
Sunday Morning, May 31 – “How to Life a Life of Meaning and Purpose” 11 AM.
Sunday night, May 31 – “How to Be Set Free from Self-Condemnation”  7 PM.

Contact: Pastor Louis Ao, 732-985-1484  
Stelton Baptist Church
334 Plainfield Avenue
Edison, New Jersey

Deeper Bible Study: Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel


Deeper Bible Study (DBS) is something I've started with people in our Redeemer Church family. 


  • to more fully engage our people in study of the Bible.
  • to prepare people to hear the biblical texts preached on Sunday mornings.
  • to provide guides to study the Bible more deeply.

This coming Sunday Pastor Joe Atkinson will preach on Revelation Chapter 4 - the great throne room scene (the entire chapter). The following Sunday morning, June 7, I will preach again on Rev. 4. Joe and I are coordinating this. 

For Revelation 4:

  1. Copy the chapter and carry it with you. Read it slowly, over and over.
  2. The commentaries I am referring to in preaching through Revelation are found here.
  3. How to use Google books to study Revelation is found here

Summer DBS Study - the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel

Welcome to those of you who will be studying these books with me who are from outside our church!

I'm going to begin my Daniel-Ezekiel studies beginning June 8. (This weekend I'm speaking in New Jersey, and then Linda and I will be taking a week of vacation - back June 6.)

My way of doing this will be:

  1. Read through the book of Daniel, slowly.
  2. I'll keep a "Daniel Journal," recording thoughts, insights, and questions that come to me.
  3. I've purchased one commentary for my studies: The NIV Application Commentary: Daniel, by Tremper Longman. 
  4. I'll use Google books for further studies as needed.
  5. I will especially look at verses in Daniel that form a background for understanding Revelation better.
  6. I'll make posts on my blog and send you teaching and other insights I have about Daniel.
  7. If you are in the Monroe area I'm going to host 2 or 3 get-togethers to look at Daniel, and then at Ezekiel.

The commentary I'll be using to study Ezekiel is: The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel, by Iain Duguid.

I'm so glad you will be studying these biblical books with me this summer!

Please send any thoughts or comments or questions you have as we go through this.



P.S. - If you want to do this with me send me an email at:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Friends as Signposts Pointing to God

Bike trail up the hill at Munson Park, Monroe

Les and Leslie Parrott teach us that: "If you try to find intimacy with another person before achieving a sense of identity on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself." Two relationship lies are:

1. I need this person to be complete.

2. If this person needs me, I'll be complete.

- From Real Relationships, Chapter 1, by Les and Leslie Parrott.

"It is only when we no longer compulsively need someone that we can have a real relationship with them."
- Anthony Storr, in Ib.

Henri Nouwen echoes this when he writes: "The power of friendship is great if it doesn’t find all its meaning in itself." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, p. 72) People who expect too much from each other can do each other harm. "Disappointment and bitterness can overpower love and even replace it." (Ib.)

But, "friends may be guides who see what we may not be able to see ourselves/" (Ib.) A good friend is not God, but can function as a signpost pointing towards God. This is about two basic truths:

  • I cannot change people, and people cannot change me.
  • God can use me to influence people towards him, as God has used certain people to influence me towards him.
I often thank God for those people he has placed in my life, through whom he has effected needed change in me.

Prayer, Presence, and Absence (PrayerLife)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering (Combating Spiritual Alzheimer's)

Del & Linda

Linda's mother suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for many years. This horrible illness caused her to slowly lose her memory. One result of her memory loss was an increase of fear.

One afternoon Linda, her mother Martha, her father Del, and I were shopping in a mall. At one point Linda and Del left for an hour to shop together while I stayed with Martha. We sat together for a minute and then she looked at me, her eyes filled with panic, and asked "Where's Del?!"

"He's shopping with Linda. He'll be right back," I responded.

This put Martha at ease. But only for a few minutes. Forgetting what I had just said, Martha looked at me again and asked, "Where's Del?"

"He's with Linda. He'll be right back."

This happened several times in an hour, with Martha forgetting, me reminding her, she calming down, then forgetting and filled with fear, asking "Where's Del?", and me reminding her again. Martha not only had forgotten what I said to her, but she had forgotten a more basic truth, which was: in Del she had a husband who would never, ever leave her or forsake her. He was always by her side, Alzheimer's or not.

There is a "spiritual Alzheimer's disease" which results in forgetting the many times God has rescued and delivered us, provided for us, and been with us. Such forgetting breeds fear. The more one forgets the deeds of God in one's own life, the more one becomes fearful in the present moment.

The antidote to this is: remembering.

"Remembering" is huge in the Old Testament. The post-Exodus experience of Israel is grounded in remembtance. The Jewish festivals are remember-events, such as Passover, when the head of the household sits with his family and asks, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" In response the past is recounted, how God delivered their people out of bondage in Egypt. This remembering, which reminds them of God's past faithfulness, brings fresh hope.

My spiritual journal functions as the written memory of the voice and deeds of God in my life. I take time every year to re-ponder my journals. In doing so I remember what God has done for me, how he has delivered me from bondage, and how he answered many prayers. I re-read of past times when I was afraid, or worried, and then re-read how God came through and my worry dissipated.

I do not, I will not, forget the deeds of the Lord in my life. The spiritual discipline of remembering brings renewed hope in the present, defeating the onset of spiritual Alzheimer's disease.