One of life’s simple pleasures is having a group of friends who enjoys making fun of each other. Obviously, this type of friendship culture isn’t for everybody--and without a doubt, sometimes things can get carried too far. But seriously, if you have this type of friendship with someone, you know what I mean. There is just something enjoyable about being able to diss your friend, and then have them diss you right back. There’s a mutual respect that goes into it. It keeps you humble. It’s just dumb fun.
And occasionally, a well-placed diss can make you think.
About a week ago, in a Smash Brothers Facebook group (yes, I am a member of a few Smash Bros. groups on Facebook), there was a thread that was all about callouts. If you’re unfamiliar with a callout, imagine an interview after a professional wrestling match. The winner steps down from the ring. A reporter is in his face with a big, WWE-branded microphone and asks the wrestler some dumb question. Instead of answering the question, the wrestler rips the mic from the reporter’s hands, stares right into the camera, points a finger of his choice, and shouts, “I’M THE GREATEST, AND [insert other wrestler] IS NEVER GONNA BEAT ME AS LONG AS I’M STILL BREATHING.” Note: This is a terrible callout. I’m not very skilled at the art. But you get the idea.
So we Smash Bros. players were calling each other out. It was fun. “Pick a better character!” “Why are you still so bad even though you’ve been playing since the game came out?” “Can’t wait until Madison’s first tournament is won by a La Crosse player!” et cetera. Dumb stuff. I, personally, was called out once...but oddly enough, the callout didn’t have anything to do with Smash Bros. When I saw my name in the callout thread, I was super excited to see what was said about me. Perhaps, “You’d be better if you actually played more”? Or even something as superficial as “Quit parting your hair when you show up at tournaments, there’s no dress code to play video games”? Not quite:
“It’s 2016. Don’t be a priest.”
I’ll admit, I laughed. It was funny. I even gave a sincere “LOL” in the thread, capital letters and everything. First of all, I think it’s funny whenever someone thinks I’m going to be a priest--apparently the two-toned band on my left ring finger is just for decoration. And I was amused that the only thing I got called out for was my career path, a surprising turn of events in what had previously just been a gaggle of nerds trying to out-nerd the other nerds. Well, whatever--good times were had by all, and we all went about our lives. Oh, and if you were wondering, a Madison player did end up winning the Madison tournament.
But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was. It made me think. “It’s 2016. Don’t be a priest.” What was the motivation behind this? I mean, obviously it was said in jest, and I’m not judging the guy who said it. (We’re Facebook friends, so that’d be kinda awkward.) But that’s an awfully specific thing to say, isn’t it? And while it was meant to be a joke, it was still meant to be a diss on some level. “It’s 2016.” It’s the 21st century. It’s the digital age. It’s a post-postmodern world. Basically, isn’t it way too late in history to care about religion?
That’s certainly the prevailing sentiment in the world right now. Europeans look at America and scoff at the idiotic religious-folk. Young people are more and more willing to check the “None” option when a survey asks about their religious affiliation. The statement “I was raised Catholic” has an automatic, unspoken implication of “, but I gave that up a while ago.” It’s 2016. Don’t be a priest.
Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not lamenting the loss of the America’s outstanding moral fiber, if such a thing ever existed. I’m not saying that 2016 is any worse than 2015, or 2000, or 1950, or 1530, or AD 60. However, I am trying to get at the heart of why someone would tell me that being a pastor is a foolish thing to do in 2016. The idea isn’t unique to 2016--TIME magazine asked “Is God Dead?” on their cover in 1966. But even they were just alluding to Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous statement, “Gott ist tot” (God is dead), which was originally printed in 1882. And even Nietzsche was simply reflecting an idea originally penned around 1,000 BC--”The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Though, to be fair, Nietzsche probably didn’t have Psalm 14:1 in mind when he made that bold claim, considering what else is included in that verse.
There is nothing new under the sun. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hosea, God’s walking object-lesson, was openly questioned or even mocked for his service as the Lord’s prophet. I imagine that Matthew didn’t get glowing reviews from his tax collector buddies when he left his booth to follow Jesus as a disciple and future church leader. It’s well-documented that Martin Luther’s father was severely disappointed in his decision to be a monk over a lawyer. Serving God in the public ministry has rarely been a decision met with mass acclaim.
So why do it? Why go down this path? Why study as long as a doctor to end up getting 5% of a doctor’s salary? At this point, I may as well sit in my cave and ask God to take me home--because sometimes it feels like I’m the only one left. Why go to church at all? Why religion? Why has anyone ever done any of this?
Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
It is true that there is nothing new under the sun. That includes Jesus. He has always been there, standing behind and supporting all of his children. Sometimes he comes to us in a gentle whisper and reminds us that he has reserved thousands of people who have not yet bowed the knee to postmodernism. He continues to give strength to all those who spread the gospel, whether it is a pastor in a pulpit or a secretary striking up a spiritual conversation at the water cooler. He’s there whenever two or three come together in his name. Surely he is with us always, to the very end of the age.
I’m thankful that my friend made fun of me for my career choice. After all, he’s not good enough at Smash Bros. to call me out for my gameplay. (Snap!) It is, indeed, 2016. There are many who deny God. Religion is passé. Everything in the world is telling me that there doesn’t seem to be much reason to be a pastor. But you see, that means that there is every reason for me to be a pastor. God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, but so many in the world don’t even believe that there is truth to begin with. That means that we, his people, have to get out there and let them know! Some of us will do this in public ministry, and others will do it through their Christian lives of daily work and service. No matter what, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2). Do God’s kingdom work. Pray that his kingdom comes to those who need it. There is still time.
It’s 2016. Preach the Gospel.