Opening Thoughts On God and Play

Does God play? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just a couple of nights ago, I went to bed wondering why it is that I, like so many of us out there I am sure, have a tendency to not do things I should be doing and instead spend more time on secondary things. Why is it that so many times God doesn’t seem as enjoyable as other things? Why is it that many of us don’t really think of Bible reading as something done for joy?

We all know we need to be about the work of the kingdom, but we don’t have much about the joy and the fun of the kingdom. If anything, many in our culture view God as a killjoy. This is especially true when it comes to sexual taboos. Some people speculate that a lot of Christians and God Himself live with this great concern that somewhere out there someone might be enjoying themselves.

What if we have it backwards, which I think we do? What if instead of being a killjoy, God is out there trying to optimize the joy that we have? The sexual rules, many of us know, aren’t to hold us back from fun. They’re to preserve a deeper level of joy than would be thought before and to keep us from just using random people for our own enjoyment. We might get some joy out of such an activity, but it is a wrong way to get joy since it treats people like objects.

Chesterton said years ago that God has no problem with what we call the monotonous. The sun rises every morning because God is like a small child who sees it rise and then says, “Do it again!” “Do it again!” “Do it again!” All daisies look alike because God has never got bored with making one of them.

Jesus says in John 5 that He is working and His Father is always working. What if we replaced it with playing? What if part of the reason God does all He does is for joy? After all, there was no need for creation. God was not lacking anything. There was nothing wrong with God or no task He was assigned. Why create? For joy.

What if it is as Lewis said years ago? Our desires are not too strong. They are too weak. We are far too easily pleased. What if we actually hold notions that God doesn’t want us to enjoy our own lives?

This isn’t far-fetched. For my senior sermon when I was in Bible College, I preached on wonder and someone told me about the cover of Moody magazine from a recent issue. “Is It Right To Enjoy My Life?” It’s a sad commentary on Christian culture where such a question has to be asked.

While we are to delight in God, He also gave us other things. Paul tells us in 1 Tim. 6:17 that God gives us all things richly for our enjoyment. This is also talking about material possessions. Nothing wrong with enjoying them. The reason we work also is so we won’t have to work. We look forward to that time of leisure. Play is something that is done just for its own sake.

There is much to play with. Chesterton once said he would answer skeptics on the problem of pain if they would answer on the problem of pleasure. Why does the world have multiple colors? God could have created a world without them easily. We are made to have to eat and drink, but that doesn’t mean food and drink had to taste good. We are made that the species has to reproduce, but that doesn’t mean that reproduction had to be turned into a fun event.

Perhaps we Christians need to be people of more joy. We have earned a reputation of being Puritans with regard to pleasure. (Which is indeed a false notion. The Puritans were really a very fun-loving people.) If anyone is having joy in this life, it should be the Christian. Why aren’t we?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/21/2019

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I came across my guest in an unusual way. A Christian friend of mine shared an interesting article on a Christian defense of Dungeons and Dragons. Now I was intrigued since I played growing up and I know several Christians today who still do. I’m still heavily involved in role-playing games, though these are all video games.

The article was a good one and lo and behold, written by a professor at a Christian university. I was intrigued. I also realized that this was a person I had heard of before. He was interviewed by Mary Jo Sharp in her book Why I Still Believe to talk about beauty.

So I thought getting in touch with him would be a simple matter. We could talk about the interaction of Christianity and culture and about beauty as well. After all, could it be that those who are seeing the devil in everything and repelling from the culture are doing more harm than good in the long run?

I reached out to him then and he was delighted to come on the show. We set the date and as you can imagine, it will be this Saturday. We will be talking about the interaction of Christ and culture and straight from Houston Baptist University, my guest will be Philip Tallon.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Dr. Tallon is the assistant professor of theology at Houston Baptist University. He got his PhD in theology at the University of St. Andrews.

Dr. Tallon is a member of the Honors College faculty and Chair of the Apologetics Department. Both areas of service allow him to explore the intersection of theology, philosophy, and the arts: helping students to understand the Lordship of Jesus over “every square inch” of creation.

Dr. Tallon’s primary areas of research are in Christian theology and theological aesthetics. He is especially interested in doing ‘theology through the arts,’ which examines how the arts can reorient and enrich our understanding of Christian truth.

We’ll be talking about beauty, play, and culture. How do we find God in all of these things? What is the way that Christians are to interact with culture? Could there be danger in seeing a devil behind everything that seems contrary to us?

I hope you’ll be watching for the next episode. We are almost completely caught up with episodes after all. Please also go and leave a positive review on iTunes for the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/27/2016: Holly Ordway

What’s coming up on this week’s Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and fall out.

Christ and culture. How do the two interact? This has long been a subject of rigorous debate. There are some who want to think that we should isolate ourselves and have nothing to do with a wicked and sinful culture around us. There are some who think we should dive in full throttle and many times like to Christianize everything and before too long our bookstores are filled with what is called “Jesus junk.”

Not only those situations, but how do we interact with cultures outside of our own? While in the past, you had to leave the country, nowadays, you can just go to a different part of town with a different ethnicity that lives there and find yourself in a different culture. Here in Atlanta, I’ve seen a number of Korean churches for instance, which are no doubt a different culture. How do we interact with these?

To discuss these questions, I decided to have someone come on who is well read in the area of literature and has in fact spoken on my show on literary apologetics. She’s a Catholic Professor over at HBU and always a fascinating person to talk to. That guest is Dr. Holly Ordway. Who is she?

Ordway photo

According to her bio:

Dr Holly Ordway is Professor of English and faculty in the MA in Apologetics at Houston Baptist University; she holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius, 2014); her work focuses on imaginative apologetics and on the writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams, and she is the Charles Williams Subject Editor for the Journal of Inklings Studies. Her current book project is Tolkien’s Modern Sources: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (Kent State University Press, 2019).

We’ll be discussing how Christians should interact with the culture around them. Many of us would hesitate to say that we should not have any interactions, but at the same time we can see people who can go too far in their interactions. What is the path of wisdom in these situations?

I’d also like to discuss about what aspects of the culture we can enjoy as well. Does everything have to be 100% pure? Is it wrong for a Christian to read a novel by a non-Christian and enjoy it? What about watching shows and movies that are by secularists and others? Is this a case of Romans 14 or not? How does a Christian also interact with just pleasure itself? Is it wrong to take the time to read a fantasy novel or watch a TV show or movie when we could be doing things for the Kingdom?

I hope you’ll be here this Saturday. For those wondering also, we haven’t recorded in the past few weeks since Larry Hurtado due to my being out of town for the funeral of a friend. Hopefully nothing will happen this time. Please also go to our ITunes page and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I love to see them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Radical Pursuit of Rest

What do I think of John Koessler’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We live in a day and age where technology should have made it easier for us to do anything. We were expecting a Jetsons world where we just go and push a button and everything gets done for us. The irony is that with most every invention of technology meant to save time for us, we in fact often have less time left.  We want to produce constantly. Do we ever take the time to just rest?

Koessler argues that rest is essential and we get caught in a trap of productivity. Of course we should produce, but we are not machines. We cannot work 24/7. We in fact often live to work instead of realizing the purpose of work is often so that we won’t have to work. It is to free us for leisure and rest.

How many people go on vacation and still do work? Thus far, I have avoided this. The last vacation I managed to get to go on was my honeymoon with my wife a little over six years ago at Ocean Isle Beach. I made a commitment before I left and spoke about it with my parents and in-laws. No contact for us. Don’t call us. Just let us be. The only book I brought with me was my Bible. I had my IPhone with me, but I used it for GPS mainly. I did not check email. I did not check Facebook. There would be plenty of times later to put up pictures of the wedding and such. There were plenty of other people who could do ministry while I was gone. This week was to focus on me and my new bride.

I have no regrets from that decision.

Unfortunately, many do not make such a decision ever. They come home from the office and bring the office with them. This is even what happens in the case of ministry. A man can neglect his family because this is the work of God. He forgets his first work of God is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and to teach his children the fear of God.

Koessler’s book is a reminder for us to take a break. The anxiety we feel about the future is in fact a failure to trust in God. We don’t rest because we think we have to keep producing. We have to in order for God to also care for us. There is no rest and if we do stop and rest, we beat ourselves up with guilt.

In fact, Koessler tells us that sloth can be related to noonday madness. It can be seen as constant busyness. We keep busy for the sake of keeping busy. It’s like the employees in the office who hear the boss is coming and all of a sudden solitaire and emails go down, Pokemon Go gets turned off, and everyone starts acting like they’ve been working hard.

Koessler also writes about ambition. Now ambition I think is fine if you want to be excellent at what you do. We should all want that. The problem can often be when you don’t delight in others and their successes and only keep thinking about yourself. That ambition is often connected with our pride.

Koessler talks about worship as rest as well. Worship at churches often turns into a performance where we have to work the audience up and by the way, that isn’t enough because if you’re truly devoted to the church you’ll sign up for all these programs. Helping out the church with other programs is fine, but let’s remember that worship is a fine goal in itself.

Of course, something has to be said about the digital age. I know of the trap for as I sit here writing, I have my email and Facebook opened and I hear the news program my wife is watching. Multi-tasking is a way of life for me. There are times you just want to see what happened on Facebook and realize you’ve spent about an hour or so browsing on it and to what end?

For my final positive, I appreciate Koessler’s honesty. He does write about having a hard time sleeping at night. He does write about struggles with ambition. He does write about worship services and sermons that he frankly finds boring at times. These show me that Koessler is with me on the journey.

Despite that there are many positives to this book and it’s a good wake-up call, I do have some recommendations for change. For instance, what exactly is rest? Koessler differentiates it from sleep, but it’s still not clear what it really is. What also would be its relation to play? If I take a break from reading and studying and go play a game, am I resting? If I go out on a date with the wife, is that rest? Would snuggling together on the couch to watch a movie be considered rest? I don’t remember any real clarification on what rest is and I definitely would like to see how play fits into this.

Still, Koessler’s book leaves you with plenty of food for thought. I have been thinking quite often about his concept of worship. I’m pleased to know Koessler is on the same journey as well.

Book Plunge: Crazy Busy

What do I think of Kevin DeYoung’s book published by Crossway? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

CrazyBusy

My pastor is wanting to do a series on this book so he gave me a copy so I could write out some lessons on it. Fortunately, it was Super Bowl Sunday and since I don’t give a rip about sports, that left me with plenty of time to watch while my wife and another couple we were with were all watching the game. Because, you see, had it been any other time, it might have taken longer to go through.

Because I am Crazy Busy.

It’s true. As an apologist with my own ministry and one who works closely with two other ministries, my to-do list never seems to end. I have people coming to me constantly with questions. I am asked numerous times to help out in debates on Facebook and other places. I have a to-read list from publishers that keeps growing and growing. I have a Master’s degree that I am working on. I have a podcast that I produce every Saturday that is two hours long. I have numerous places to go around here and most of them at least 20 minutes away. I am trying to be a good husband all the while and still make time for some down time so I can recharge. I try to help take care of the house around here. I have to drive my wife to many places since she can’t drive. (Not complaining about it. Just stating it.) I also try to get in a good prayer life and then when that’s all done, try to sleep and think about the next day.

Yes. We are all Crazy Busy.

In fact, most of us had this idea that technology would help make things easier for us. In fact, it has made things even busier in many ways. Many of us have a hard time unplugging from the world around us, including our phones and tablets. DeYoung in the book says for some of us, one of the times we’re happiest is when we unplug from things and just get away. The last time I did this seriously (And I mean as an intentional desire to put things away seeing as the last time I spent away from technology was when I had the flu and was too sick to do anything and no, that was not a nice technology break) was when I went on my honeymoon in 2010. The only book I brought with me was my Bible and I had my phone as a GPS and to find places to go for us together and such, but I did not check any emails. I did not do any Facebook. I did not do any debating or answering questions. It was me and my new bride and that was where my focus was. I even especially told my parents and hers to not contact us that week unless it was an emergency. For the time being, it was the two of us. Some of you will think it was a really happy time for obvious reasons, but i would say a large part was it was just good to get away for a bit. For awhile, I did not need to do anything at all.

Of course, we can’t stay that way. We’d love it if we could be on an endless honeymoon, but we know that there is real work to do and as soon as we return, we find that that work is there for us.

So what are some of DeYoung’s recommendations?

First, watch for pride. Many times, we don’t say no to someone because of pride. We don’t want to look bad or some other reason like that. When we are given a chance to serve, it is okay to say no, but if we say yes, let us examine to see why it is that we say yes.

Second is that we cannot do everything. Each of us in ministry really tends to stress the importance of what we do. I’m no exception. I do apologetics and I find this extremely important and neglected in the church today. Yet it is not the only field (Though it does touch on others), Some people have a great passion for missions. Some have it for youth ministry. Some have it for music ministry. There are many such fields out there.

In fact, DeYoung also says we don’t have to be greatly moved for all these fields. We can care about the persecuted church or people who don’t know Jesus overseas, but not all of us will be going to our prayer closets weeping for them. Note that we all care does not mean we all have to do something specifically in each field. None of us could. We would just wear ourselves out. I found this to be important seeing as we need to learn to rely on each other in ministry and use each other’s gifts well. I’m thankful I’m at a church where while my pastor is not gung-ho for apologetics like I am, he realizes my gift and great focus in my life and has chosen to find a way to let me serve to be best of my ability in the church.

Third is priorities. We just need to keep first things first. One aspect of this I’ve always stressed is that whatever I do in ministry, my wife comes first. Paul tells us that a good church leader must be able to manage his own household. There are many people out there who can do apologetics ministry successfully. There is only one person who can be a husband to my wife and that is me. If I fail at the task of being a husband, it really doesn’t matter how I do in apologetics. I’ve failed to love my wife as Christ loves the church. If ministry gets in the way of family, something is wrong.

I thought the fourth chapter on children would not be really relevant to me. After all, my wife and I don’t have any yet. Instead, I found it quite relevant. It really brought a lot to the nature/nurture debate and gave me some thoughts for if that time does come, particularly that the greatest influence can often be what is thought about politics and what is thought about religion.

I also found it great when DeYoung said that our society doesn’t really care what you do as an adult, but if you’re a kid, they’ll count the number of calories in your school lunch. Maybe if we were often as serious about what our children do with their sex lives as we are about what it is that they’re eating we’d be better off. You could also say the same about if we taught them good thinking as much as we try to teach healthy living.

The next chapter is about our internet struggles. I was pleased to see some discussion about how Google is affecting the way we think and DeYoung is open that it could be making us dumber. Sometimes, we might actually need to do something like get a book to get an answer to a question instead of thinking a few seconds on Google will do it. DeYoung is not saying remove technology altogether, but make sure it is a tool and not a master.

The following chapter is about rest. This is a principle I try to apply in my own life. It is why on Sunday, I make it a point to not do any debate on Facebook or anywhere else. I need a day to break and recharge. When we miss sleep, we are simply borrowing time, We will have to take that time later and it could be that in the meanwhile, we are more prone to have a car accident or snap at a loved one.

Finally, the last danger he mentions is that we should expect some busyness. We will be busy and we should be busy and it is not a foreign state. Even in the Garden of Eden, there was work to be done. What needs to be done then is just to follow the previous steps to make sure we don’t get overwhelmed. Jesus was a busy guy in His ministry after all, and still He did everything God had for Him to do.

But what is the one thing we must do? That’s the last chapter and that’s setting aside time for God. We need to have a prayer time and DeYoung also recommends a devotional time. So having said all that, let me get into some things I think could be improvements.

I would like to see some more on time management instead of saying we need to manage our time. Is it proper for me while busy to take that down time to do something fun and entertaining just for me? How about those date nights with my spouse? I find it concerning that Christians emphasize so much on the work we are to do for God, but we rarely seem to take time to realize the importance of play.

In fact, let’s consider 1 Cor. 7 in this regard. Paul says to not deprive one another of the gift of sexual relations except for an agreed time and then come quickly together. It looks like Paul is saying it’s important for husbands and wives to have intimate time together and while sex is the way of making babies, I have a suspicion that he has more in mind than simply making babies. He knows husbands and wives need to have this intimate time together in order to build up their marriages.

Second, I understand the importance of prayer, but this can be difficult for a lot of us. I have a mentor who helps with me, but that extended time can be difficult and I really think it difficult when people talk about hearing the voice of God since I don’t see this as normative in Scripture anywhere. At this point, a small section of recommended reading would have helped. I do have Tim Keller’s book on prayer though I have not got to it yet. Why?

Because I’m Crazy Busy of course.

With devotions, I have to say I don’t really do this one either. I don’t because so many devotionals I come across are just so fluffy and light. I really have a hard time focusing on the supposed lesson because I realize that the text that is being used is being ripped totally out of its context. I have not found a devotional yet that works for someone of my kind of mindset.

Still, DeYoung’s book is a good one and it is short so that those of you who are Crazy Busy can indeed find the time to read it. I think this could be a good one for discussion in the church.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Rest of Life

therestoflife

What do I think of Witherington’s work on life in the kingdom? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Ben Witherington certainly is one of the greatest biblical minds out there and in looking through his books, I was intrigued to find one called “The Rest of Life.” In it, Witherington deals with issues not normally talked about explicitly in sermons and how they relate to the Kingdom. We are often told that we are to work hard at what we do, but are we told that we need to play? Witherington says we do. We are told we need to sleep, but what about rest, which Witherington says is different? How is it that we are to study? What about eating and drinking? And of course, we are told about sexual ethics at times, but do we have anything on the role of sex in the kingdom?

(Okay. Now with that last one I know I got the attention of every guy reading this blog.)

It is amazing we have so little on these when they so much dominate our time. Americans live a life where we can easily get enough food to satisfy us. How ought we to live in response? We have several entertainment options before us. Is it wrong for us to take the time to play when we could spend that time “serving the Lord” or “Doing Bible study”? What role does sex play in the kingdom of God, especially if there will be no need of it in eternity?

Witherington takes us through each of these kinds of areas and in the end of each writing, I definitely had a greater sense of how I wanted to live my life in response and take them more seriously. It is amazing that for so many of us in years of theological study, we never really take the time to consider the concepts of activities that we like to do every day.

For instance, let’s consider play. I have been a regular gamer all my life and is there any place for that in being a devout Christian? Absolutely. Play gives us a chance to unwind and release a lot of tensions. Of course, like anything else, done excessively it is a problem, but play is also pointing to the full realization of the Kingdom. It is pointing to a time where we do not have to worry about the world. We can enjoy something in the moment itself.

What about sex? Witherington certainly deals with the myth that many people have bought into about Christianity (Including people like Carrier) that for Christians, sex is only about procreation. Witherington tells us that it is also for the purposes of unity and pleasure, but any sexual relations for a Christian will be in a relationship that all things being equal, would be capable of reproducing were everything in full working order. He also shows us that this is in the context of marriage and that sex is not simply a physical act but an act meant to unify persons together in a bond of unity.

People who read The Rest of Life will be blessed for it. It will enable your life activities to be seen in a whole new perspective. Also, the chapters will work great if you want to read them in a small group setting or a church setting and have them be open for discussion.

And I have no doubt our churches would be blessed if we read more of Ben Witherington and others like him and far less of people like Joel O’Steen.

In Christ,
Nick Peters