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Friday, August 31, 2007

A Matter of Perspective

In the sci fi comedy book series, Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe, Douglas Adams envisioned a really nasty punishment for the really bad criminals. It was called the "Total Perspective Vortex." They put the criminal in the chamber, turned it on, and the person was shown their significance in the universe. It drove everyone (nearly everyone) mad. So ... welcome to the Total Perspective Vortex ... my way.

And I'm left wondering, with the David, "What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?" (Psa 8:4).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The "D" Word

Divorce and remarriage ... always a hot topic for discussion. You'll find Christians who will argue that it is always, always, always wrong to divorce (let alone remarry) and you will find Christians who will argue that it is okay to divorce and remarry whenever it suits you. Their arguments will have varying biblical support. Generally what you will find, however, is that the side that argues that it divorce is completely banned have never faced the situation themselves and the side that argues that divorce and remarriage is okay have been divorced and remarried. In other words, most argue from their experience, not the biblical facts. The majority, then, fall somewhere in the middle. Divorce and remarriage is wrong ... except in certain circumstances. The standard exceptions are adultery and desertion. These terms are variously defined to further muddy the waters. Adultery can be defined as "lust after another", and desertion can be defined as "not entirely present". In these terms, divorce and remarriage for, say, pornography or even looking at another person of the opposite sex would be validated as divorce for adultery. In these terms, also, divorce and remarriage for spouse abuse or not paying sufficient attention to the spouse would be classified as "desertion" and validate the divorce. You can see there are various permutations. Still, most are from experience or emotion, not biblical justification.

I used to be one that argued that divorce and remarriage was always wrong. I argued it because of biblical reasons. I don't hold that hard line anymore. But you need to consider the hard line before you back off to an easier position because it is always better to hold to a higher standard that may not be entirely necessary than to acquiesce to a lower standard that may just be sin. So what led me to the position that divorce and remarriage was always wrong? That came from two primary sources.

The first source is Jesus's commentary on the topic:
3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" 4 And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." 7 They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" 8 He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matt. 19:3-9).
Now, carefully, without inserting your emotional response and keeping in mind textual and cultural context, look at that passage. First, notice the question of the day: "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" (v 3). That was the question Jesus answered first. His answer: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (v 6). He did it without equivocation. He didn't offer excuses or exceptions. He stated it clearly. The so-called "exception clause" of verse 9 would never have been if the Pharisees who were testing Him had accepted His answer. The answer: No!

The Pharisees, however, were testing Him. It was a "no win" question in their minds. It looked as if Genesis contradicted Deuteronomy, so Jesus couldn't answer. They were wrong. The second question was why Moses allowed divorce (v 7). Jesus said it was due to hardness of heart (v 8). But Jesus didn't leave it at that. He took it a step farther. Not only was divorce due to hardness of heart, but remarriage would be adultery (v 9). Of course, at this point I have bypassed the famous exception clause: "except for immorality." Historically, this is the clause that many have used to allow for divorce on the basis of adultery. This is the clause that others use to approve divorce on the basis of pornography or even lustful thoughts on the part of the spouse. So take a careful look at the verse. There are a couple of things we are ignoring. First, the verse is not about divorce; it is about remarriage. Jesus didn't say, "Whoever divorces his wife commits adultery." It is remarriage that is the adultery. A person who divorces their spouse, never remarries, and remains celibate cannot be accused of adultery. Second, and most importantly, the term is "immorality", not adultery. You see, in Jesus time ("cultural context"), as demonstrated by John 8, the remedy for an adulterous spouse was not divorce; it was death. You didn't become divorced; you became a widowed. It is unlikely, given the biblical rules on the subject, that adultery was in view here. While it is indeed sexual immorality in view, there are a variety of possibilities offered instead adultery. Some argue that the "immorality" in view is pre-marital. In biblical times, a betrothal was the equivalent to a marriage in some sense. The only way to terminate an engagement was divorce. That's why when Joseph found out his betrothed was pregnant, he was considering "putting her away" (Matt. 1:19) -- the same term as "divorce". He would have been justified because she apparently had committed "immorality" before they were married. It could also be if a spouse discovers that their spouse was married under false pretenses. He or she wasn't a virgin. He or she had an undisclosed prior marriage. Or if a couple were too closely related (incest), they could legally divorce and remarry. There are lots of possibilities, but adultery isn't likely one of them because adultery was a death sentence. So the best we can say about God's view of divorce is that it is due to human hard-heartedness. Not good.

The second factor that led me to believe that divorce and remarriage was always wrong was God's use of marriage. In Eph. 5:28-32, Paul draws a parallel between the oneness of marriage and the union of Christ to the Church. John tells of the marriage supper of the Lamb in Rev. 19:9, where the Church serves as the Bride of Christ. Marriage, then, is intended by God to be a picture of the union of His Son to His people. Now, when Moses damaged a picture God was drawing for His people (Num. 20), it cost him entrance into the Promised Land. So it seems to me that damaging pictures God intends for His people is a dangerous thing to do, and divorce doesn't fit into that picture.

Why did I end up short of that absolute? Well, first there is the passage in the Old Testament where God divorced Israel (Jer. 3:8). If divorce is always a sin, God sinned. That doesn't work at all, does it? Then there was the 1 Cor. 7 passages. Paul speaks in 1 Cor. 7:12-16 of Christians married to non-Christians. "Don't leave," he tells them, "but if they leave, you are not bound." "Not bound"? In what sense are they not bound? The hardcore anti-divorce types will tell you "They are not under any condemnation." But that doesn't seem to be the sense of it. Further, Paul says more using the same terminology. "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned" (1 Cor. 7:27-28). There are two types in view here -- "bound to a wife" and "released from a wife". They are contrasted. And "released from a wife" cannot refer to "never married" because you cannot be "released" if you were never "bound". What does Paul say to this "released from a wife" person? "Don't look to get married." Fine. But then, "If you marry, you have not sinned."

God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Divorce should never be a Christian option (Matt. 19:6, 8; 1 Cor. 7:10-11). Divorce is painful and damaging ... at best. The only reason for divorce, according to Jesus, is hard-heartedness, certainly not a noble character trait. That being said, I don't believe it can be categorically classified as sin since God did it, and it appears that there are circumstances, perhaps rare and hard to define, in which remarriage is acceptable without causing adultery. Perhaps, before we become too lenient on the topic, we should examine the biblical evidence. On the other hand, before we become to judgmental on the subject, we should examine the biblical evidence. Personal experience is not a good determiner of what God thinks is good. Let's be careful on this topic not to judge too lightly or too harshly.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Question of Judgment

Bear with me here. I'm going to tie two thoughts together. Follow along.

First thought: Yesterday a 25-year-old Mesa man was convicted by a jury of first degree murder of his girlfriend's two-year-old son. The man lured the little boy from his bedroom, took him out to the pool at night, and drown the little boy. In a statement to the police, Derek Chappell admitted his "mistake" in killing the boy. "Mistake" -- that was his word. How many times have we heard that term used in similar circumstances? "I admit my mistake of killing someone." "I made the mistake of lewd and indecent acts with a minor." "My involvement in the illegal act was a mistake." The term doesn't rise to the level of its real term -- "sin". A mistake is an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, or insufficient knowledge. A sin is a violation of God's commands. One is careless reasoning; the other is Cosmic Treason. How often do we consider our sins to be mere mistakes as a way of mitigating our culpability?

Second thought: Have you ever noticed how many times God uses weather in terms of judgment? Now, mind you, I'm not the standard "wrath of God" type. When September 11, 2001 hit, many voices called it the judgment of God. When Hurrican Katrina struck, many voices considered it the judgment of God. Me? I remembered Jesus's words when He was asked something similar. In Luke 13, some people asked Jesus about "the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices" (Luke 13:1). Jesus replied:
"Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2-5).
Jesus didn't say one way or another whether or not these events were the judgment of God. He simply warned them to look to their own sins. But the question was suspended. Then, in John 9, Jesus's disciples asked Him about a man who was blind from birth. "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" (John 9:2). The assumption was that when bad things happen, it is the judgment of God for something. Jesus denied this assumption:
"It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3).
In this case Jesus specifically denies that this event (a man born blind) was the judgment of God. So I'm not your standard "The sky is falling; it's the judgment of God" type of person.

Still, it is noteworthy the number of times that God uses weather in His threats of judgment. In Genesis, He judged the world with a worldwide flood. In Exodus 9, God sent rain, thunder, and hail as one of the plagues on Egypt. In Deuteronomy 11, God sets forth blessings and curses on those who love Him and those who don't. One blessing for loving God was "He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil" (Deut. 11:13-1). Conversely, the curse for failing to love God was "He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit" (Deut. 11:16-17). In Deuteronomy 28 He gives similar blessings and cursings, including the promise of good rain for obedience and drought for disobedience. In 1 Sam. 12, God sent thunder and rain to demonstrate His displeasure at the people's request for a king. In 1 Kings 8, Solomon returned the Ark to its rightful place. When God made His presence known, Solomon prayed. He mentioned several signs that would tell Israel they were in sin, including defeat in battle and drought (1 Kings 8:35-36). In 1 Kings 17, Elijah understood that lack of rain was a warning to the people, so he told the evil king Ahab that he had asked God to withhold the rain as punishment for Israel's sins ... and God stopped the rain for three years. In Isaiah and Jeremiah they warn of God withholding rain as judgment for sin. In Ezekiel 13, God warns that He will send "a flooding rain and hailstones" as an act of His wrath. In Amos 4 God Himself says that He sent rain on one city and not on another as an act of judgment. And there are many more. The Bible often refers to weather disturbances as an act of God's judgment.

As I said, I'm not your typical "Judgment of God" type. It just strikes me as odd that there are floods in the UK and Europe and Australia and the U.S. and there are droughts in Australia and Africa and the U.S. and, although we're quite convinced it's just "global warming", there are so many passages of warning from God that He will use violent weather to call for repentance. I'm not ready to call our odd weather over the past several months and years "the judgment of God." On the other hand, I'm not ready to call us "mistaken," either. It may or may not be God's judgment, but it is never a bad time to consider our sins rather than our "mistakes" and repent.

In a famous passage in 2 Chronicles 7, God tells Solomon, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14). We hear that sometimes. But the verse before it gives it context. "If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people;" (2 Chron. 7:13). The "healing of the land" of which He speaks is in terms of disasters of nature. I don't doubt it extends beyond that, but He is specifically speaking of drought, locusts, disease ... disasters in nature. And God doesn't talk about "all people." He refers to "My people." Calling on the world to repent is always a good idea, but we who call ourselves Christians -- followers of Christ -- would do well to examine ourselves, to test ourselves and see if we are in the faith, and to repent of our own sins. I won't say that the weather we are experiencing is the judgment of God, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to use this opportunity to reflect and repent, would it? After all, they aren't mistakes; they are acts of Cosmic Treason.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Great Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton. He is regarded as one of the the greatest scientists in human history. Newton is credited for discovering gravity. (In truth, Newton questioned the extent of gravity, not its existence.) He said, "Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done." He is known for Newtonian Physics and his three Laws of Motion. In fact, a newton is the amount of force required to accelerate a body with a mass of one kilogram at a rate of one meter per second squared, named after Sir Isaac Newton. He actually spent more time studying religion than science. He is quoted as saying, "I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily." His devotion to science sprung from his view that since God created the universe in a rational and orderly fashion, it could be understood by rational and orderly people. He argued that God could be found in the humble and careful study of the Word and Creation. It's not surprising, then, that Christians like to claim him as one of their own.

In a time when Christianity is under attack by secularists who like to think that any thinking person would reject all that religious nonsense, Sir Isaac Newton is popular among Christians. "He's one of us," we like to think. No one disputes his intelligence or his science or his Christianity. Almost no one, that is. You see, if we dig too deeply into the man's views, we run into problems.

Take, for instance, his eschatology. Newton argued that the world could not possibly end any sooner than 2060. While the Bible says that we can't know the time, and that we are to be ready always, Newton was trying to fend off the "end of the world" folks. Now, if that was it, there would be no big deal. Unfortunately, it gets worse. Prior to Newton, the perception of the Church was that God was intimately involved in the universe. Newton suggested a God who created a universe with reason and physical laws. As such, the universe ran on its own. This was the footing needed for Deism to take hold. (Note: The God that Newton claimed was not deistic. It's just that his reasoning led others to that conclusion. Note, also, that it is a commonly held belief today even among evangelical, Bible-believing Christians, this disconnect between God and His creation.)

It is fairly well documented that Newton rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote A Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture in which he indicates that the New Testament we have today (or at least in his day) was corrupt and that the doctrine of the Trinity was added. His theology paralleled the Socinians of his day. Socinians held views rooted in rationality only and rejected orthodox teachings on the Trinity and on the divinity of Jesus. Newton, however, understood that the religious climate of his day would label such beliefs as heretical, so he kept them mostly to himself, but he viewed the doctrine of the Trinity as an affront to monotheism, to which he devoutly held.

Newton rejected the idea of actual demons. In fact, it appears that he held to a view known as mortalism, the belief that is today referred to as annihilationism. There is no actual "hell." The judgment of evil people is simply annihilation.

No one is right all of the time -- at least, no human. We all have errors in our views. We have time while we live to correct them. Sir Isaac Newton is past that time. He cannot defend himself or correct himself. I want to be careful not to go too far here. And his contributions were valuable. However, when we pick our "allies" in the arguments with the world, perhaps we ought to be careful not to pick people who just might have been our opponents in discussions of real consequence like the nature of God and the Trinity and the existence of Hell. It's nice to have recognized people on our side, but we don't win with recognized people. Winning is God's job.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Kid Drew a Gun

I have to say I'm baffled by this story. It's local, so many may not have heard it. Our local news has reported that a 13-year-old junior higher was suspended for 5 days for drawing a gun. No kidding. The kid actually drew a gun ... on paper. That's right. He drew a picture of a gun on some papers and the school suspended him. That, according to the school district, constituted a threat to a teacher or a student.

Talk about zero tolerance! "You drew a picture of a gun. You're suspended." How about, "We think you thought about a gun once, so you're suspended"? Or how about, "You were angry enough the other day that we think, if a gun had been handy, you might have thought about possibly using it, so you're suspended"? Seriously ... a picture of a gun?

There were no threatening comments on the doodle, no indication of anger in class, no problems with the child at all. But the simple fact that the kid drew the picture raised alarms. His father protested, and they dropped the suspension to 3 days, but that's it.

So where does it stop? Who knows? A school in Virginia has a rule that no student may touch another student ... period. How will those kids play tag, football, or any other normal game? Do we rule out all physical contact (including high fives or a friendly pat on the back) in a drive to eliminate bullies? Oh, that won't be a problem, since some schools are banning tag and other games. In fact, there is apparently a trend toward eliminating recess entirely. Mustn't let the little tykes get bumped or bruised, you know. So who needs touching? And any student who doesn't play and cannot touch but draws a gun must be a threat to society. I think 3 days isn't enough. Five was too lenient. What if drawing starts spreading everywhere? What if kids start playing? It could be an epidemic. That 13-year-old ought to be at Gitmo with the other would-be terrorists!

Sigh! And reasonable, rational adults once more give way to overreaction and overblown fears ...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My Imagination

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
I have a secret fantasy. Fantasies, by their nature, are not probabilities. They are unlikely. I recognize that. But I still harbor this one as if it were actually possible.

What is my secret fantasy? I'd love to be a part of a church that is exemplified by Jesus's words here to His disciples. I'd love to find a church that is marked in every aspect by love for the brethren.

Now, I need to be clear. I'm not talking about some "warm feelings" kind of love. I'm talking about love in all its aspects. I'm talking about a love that weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice. I'm talking about a love that speaks the truth. I'm talking about a love that rejoices in righteousness, but is willing to point out unrighteousness. This love of which I speak is a deep and abiding concern for the welfare of others. If comfort is needed, it is offered. If wisdom is required, it is provided. If answers are called for, they are forthcoming. If discipline is needed, it is given. This love is soft when it needs to be and tough when it must be.

What would that look like in my fantasy church? This church would be more than the standard "love the people in your clique." I can find that anywhere. If you're in, you're in. No, I dream of a church that cares if you're there. The people there are happy to see you and notice when you're missing. I imagine people who won't let you get away without a handshake and sincere "How are you?" or a hug and a smile. I visualize a place where newcomers are noticed. I picture them even being invited to an after-church meal to "get to know you better." "Hey, we have a roast in the oven and it's more than we can eat. Care to join us for lunch?" I can see a church that visits the sick and provides for the needy. I think of a place where you don't attend, but you are made a part. The question isn't "Will you keep coming?" but "What can we contribute to you, and what can you contribute to us?" I fantasize about a group of people that doesn't merely acknowledge your presence, but enjoys it. "Hey, we have a Bible study on Wednesdays. Are Wednesdays good for you? No? Well, the McKinneys have one on Thursday. Hey, Jack, meet the Smiths. They are available for your Bible study on Thursdays." Imagine a place where everyone who comes is felt like they are part of the "insiders". Instead of tickling ears, the preacher gives the people the truth that they need. Instead of meeting "felt needs" as a way to bring people in, the church meets needs as a byproduct of love.

Church size for this kind of place wouldn't really matter. Sure, it would seem to be easiest in a smaller church, but a larger one constructed of "cells", so to speak, would still be able to do it logistically. It wouldn't be any more expensive than the current model I've seen. And it would certainly seem like it would be more effective, since it is always easier to impact people's lives if you get close enough to do it.

So what keeps this from happening? I suspect it's people. We tend to cluster with what we know. That group we're used to is easy to love; the strangers are not so easy. There is a comfort zone that we all prefer. Extending ourselves beyond that takes work. It's not something a church could "legislate". Lots of churches have programs that hint at this concept. Greeters are everywhere. Opportunities exist. Unfortunately, this takes people who have a heart to love others. What concerns me most deeply is that this should be the very heart of every believer, based on Jesus's words.

Maybe you have experienced such a place. I can't say that I have. If you have, tell me about it. I'd love to hear. If not, maybe you have a better idea, or perhaps a good reason why it would be a bad idea. Either one might ease my sadness at this idea being mere fantasy instead of an easily obtained reality. Maybe my perception is off?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Politics and Religion

In a recent episode of Hardball, Chris Matthews was complaining about the president. (No surprise there, eh?) He was stunned. The president had indicated that he believed in God, and he believed that God wanted people to be free, so the president wanted to stay in Iraq until they were free. It seemed, Chris thought, that the president was making decisions based on his religion. How could that be?!

It's not just Matthews. Lots of people are suggesting that it is imperative that we leave religion out of politics. You'll even find Christians making that argument. Politics and religion shouldn't be mixed. It is borne, I suppose, on the fear of a theocracy. We can see what nations run by religion look like in many Islamic countries. It's not good. But nothing in Christianity lends itself to a theocracy. It doesn't work. Christianity is a relationship with God, not a way to govern the world. There is a radical, biblical disconnect between the two.

Theocracy may be the fear, but it's not theocracy that is being protested. It's the mere suggestion that someone is allowing their religious beliefs to determine their choices. When Bob Vernon, a Christian and an Assistant Chief in the LAPD, went to his pastor to ask what he should do when confronting abortion protesters, he was fired. It didn't matter that his pastor told him to enforce the law. The mere fact that he asked made it bad. You must not mix government with religion. When George Bush was asked who his favorite philosopher was, he answered Jesus Christ, and the press went wild. A fanatic running for President!! You must not mix government with religion. Some have even suggested that religion be outlawed from politics. How that would be enforced I don't know, but it has been suggested.

I'm trying to figure out the suggestion. First, religion isn't a suit one puts on to go to work. You can't put it in a closet and take it out on Sundays. To suggest that it be banned from the public square is to insist that anyone with beliefs be banned from the public square, since you can't leave them at home. More importantly, the only logical basis for a moral system is the belief in a moral Lawgiver. While religion may not play a major role in national fiscal policy or taxation rules, it is the only source of instructions on matters like murder, rape, and child molesting. If you demand that religion be removed from the lawmakers of the land, then you remove any basis for moral choices. Business ethics go out the window. Rules against experimenting on children have no ground. Laws founded on issues of morality that affect the society have no foundation. In short, banning one's religion in the realm of government bans the basis for the majority of the role of government.

There is little doubt that President Bush is doing what he believes to be right based, in part, on his religious views. There is no denying it. But so is every other politician in office. Some have little religion and little to act on. But when Congressman Keith Ellison took office, he took the oath of office on the Quran, and very few complained about that.

Religion is the basis for many aspects of life, and forms our perspectives on much of life. The call to eliminate it from the public square in general and politics in particular is nonsense. You could just as easily ban breathing. Even if one's religion is no religion at all, it shapes your thinking and forms your values. Until the freedom of those functions is taken away, religion will be a fundamental part of all government ... and ought to be. The question isn't whether or not it should be; the question is what kind of religious views will have what kind of affect. That's not the same question.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pray for Alicia

Meet Alicia. She's 25 years old and lives in the east part of the state of Washington. When Alicia was 4 weeks old, she was diagnosed with AML Leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow that disables the ability to fight infections. The doctors said she wouldn't live past the age of 2. The doctors were wrong. Undergoing various treatments, remissions, and relapses, she has not only survived all this time -- she has thrived. She loves the Lord and is part of a family that loves the Lord.

Some 5 years ago she complained of chest pains and breathing difficulty. She was diagnosed with fibrosis in the lungs caused by the chemotherapy she endured as a child. Her lungs have deteriorated ever since. Her lung capacity is dropping and she is in desperate need of a double lung transplant. Unfortunately, when the doctors determined she needed the transplant, she weighed only 72 pounds. She needed to be above 90 pounds to survive the surgery. Through prayer, medications that increase hunger, physical therapy, and a lot of eating, she has reached 108 pounds. She is ready for the transplant.

A month ago they got the call. A donor pair of lungs was available. The family made a hurried and excited trip across the state to Seattle. Alicia was prepped for surgery and waiting when the doctor received word on his way to the operating room that the lungs were not viable. Surgery was put on hold as they returned in tears to wait again.

Currently Alicia's lung capacity is 14%. Her doctor is astounded. He said, "I have seen thousands of patients with lung disease and at 14% you should not be able to do anything, you shouldn't even be able to hardly function but here you are looking real strong and healthy, I just don't understand what's going on." She attributes her strength to a family that loves her and a God that sustains her.

The family needs your prayers. I know the family. Not only are they trusting God to provide, but they are expecting Him to do what is best. And, of course, Alicia needs your prayers. She needs lungs. She needs comfort. She needs strength. Alicia is a woman of rare qualities. She has joy where most would fold up and surrender. She has faith where most would question God. She is a lovely woman, but her greatest beauty is an inner spirit that spreads on to all around her. I would covet your prayers for these dear people who are trusting God to provide for them and for this dear woman who is resting in the hands of the Creator of the Universe.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Demon Outside

I don't know if you've ever noticed it, but when it comes to sides, there seems to only be two -- our side and the wrong side. Have you ever noticed? Now, on one hand it almost has to be that way. I mean, if you didn't think what you believed was right, you wouldn't believe it, right? So of course you will believe that your side is right and the other side is wrong.

What's a little disturbing, however, is the demonizing of the other side. It seems that most people want to not only believe that they're right and the other side is wrong, but also that the other side is evil. And that doesn't seem to be necessary at all.

Consider, for a moment, the political climate. Democrats believe they're right. Fine. They have to. But it's a step beyond that. Republicans are not only wrong; they're evil. I saw this when one of my sons came home from junior high school with an epiphany. "Hey, Dad, I learned today the difference between Democrats and Republicans." "Oh, what's that?" "I learned that Democrats want to help people and Republicans just look out for themselves." That's not a simple affirmation, "I believe my side is right." That's a demonization of the opposition. And before those few liberal readers get their knickers in a twist, it only takes a minute of Rush Limbaugh to see the reverse is also true. The political right will certainly portray the political left as not just wrong, but evil.

How about race relations? There have been lots of movies that illustrate my point. Not only are blacks (or Hispanics or Asians or ...) minorities with less opportunities than the whites, but it is also a white conspiracy against that minority (whichever minority happens to be in view). In other words, it's not just the very common issue of "I'm most comfortable with that with which I'm most familiar" (which is a human thing, not a racial thing), it's an evil plan for supremacy of the white side and degradation of the minority side. In other words, it's a demonization of the other side.

Take a look at the current climate of gender relations. The truth is that men and women are different. The truth is that God made the two to complement (I spelled that carefully) each other. However, men often think of women as inferior, and there is a growing movement of people who tend to think of men as pigs, scum, the worst evil on the planet. It's not merely that we're different; it's that the other side is bad.

Look for a moment at the realm of religion. Despite the many voices that are calling for "tolerance," the fact is that the sides are splintered, not merely holding differing opinions, but demonizing the other side. One side says Islam is evil, not merely wrong. The atheists are sure that not only is there no God, but it's bad to have religion. The number one evil on this planet, however, is Christianity. How many times have you seen, "Christianity is the leading cause of evil" or something similar? The world doesn't simply think that Christianity is mistaken; they believe it is wicked.

There seems to be a conglomerated evil out there today -- white, American, middle-class, Christian males. They're (we're) not merely wrong; they're evil. They aren't simply human with human failings. They're intentionally, maliciously, wholly evil. Now, truly, is that even close to accurate?

Let me give you a clue. It's not so. There are actual evil people out there. No doubt. And there are likely evil people in every group you care to mention. I wouldn't even consider denying it. In fact, I think it is likely that there is some truth and some error in every position that we humans take. It would be wise of us to keep in mind that we ourselves are not without error or sin. I also hold that the propensity to portray the other side as intentionally malicious, immoral, or malevolent is not an accurate portrayal. Instead, it simply serves to sever communication. After all, why argue the merits and errors of a view that is not merely wrong, but evil? Maybe we need to reconsider our portrayal of the other side, whatever the other side may be.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Trump Card

The trump card for the atheist, it seems, is the claim that the God of the Bible is evil. You don't have to look at the debate very long to find them pointing to the command of God to wipe out the Canaanites and the Amorites. Look at the Flood. God killed the entire human race except for eight people. That means that men, women, and children were all drowned by God. "Clearly," they hold, "that portrays God as evil." Then there are those nasty commands of Scripture, like "He who reviles father or mother must surely die," and the fact that Jesus agrees (Mark 7:10), and we're left with a mean, spiteful, evil God.

Christians have offered lots of answers over the years. Many of them are good answers. The part that puzzles me is not the Christian position on these "problems," but the atheist position. You see, if the premise is that there is no God, the argument falls apart. Allow me to illustrate from my birding experience. A few months ago a hawk pounced on a quail in my back yard. It was amazing to watch. The predator pinned his prey to the ground and simply stood there. The poor meal struggled to get free but was trapped by the powerful claws and sheer weight of the hawk. Then, without waiting for the quail to die, the hawk started pulling apart his meal for the day. My wife was appalled. I was impressed. But neither of us thought, "That's immoral." It didn't occur to us to think that the hawk was being evil. It's not evil for an animal to kill another animal. It's nature. So, strip out "God" from the equation, and humans are simply another animal on the animal chain. In this position, why is it evil for one human animal to kill another human animal?

The argument is tossed out there as if it's a done deal. "It's wrong of God to kill human beings," as if the idea of killing human beings is a de facto evil. Everyone knows it. End of argument. Do they? In gang mentality it is good to kill people from rival gangs. In cannibal mentality, killing another human is providing a meal. In much of Islam it is godly to kill people from rival religions. Logically, if humans are animals on the animal chain, then killing a human is no more immoral than killing an ant. It's just degrees. In fact, some evolutionists have a term for the belief that it's wrong to kill humans, but not wrong to kill other animals; they call it speciesism. "You guys are showing unwarranted bias toward your species," they would say. Logically, they're right.

So the atheist plays his trump card. "God is evil for killing people." Then he removes God. Suddenly it cannot be evil for a biochemical bag to terminate the existence of another biochemical bag. And the problem goes away. Indeed, without a moral law giver, it cannot be maintained that there is a moral law, and all the complaints we hear about how "evil" religion is have to go away. It becomes self-contradictory.

Okay, so maybe it's not a very good trump card. But, trust me, they'll keep on playing it, and Christians will keep on providing reasons why God isn't evil for doing what he did. They won't stop playing the card, nor will they accept the answers. At some point you have to wonder if there's a point to this game.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Message in the Movie

Many movies, it seems, carry messages. It's hard to get away from. In the earlier days of movie making, the popular theme was "The good guys always win." No, the message wasn't overt, but it was unavoidable. The movies from World War II had their own message. "We're the good guys; they're the bad guys." That may sound simplistic or even too obvious, but movies made today about that era aren't carrying the same message. Letters from Iwo Jima, for instance, portrays the Americans as invaders and the Japanese as courageous, righteous defenders suffering untold horrors at the hands of their enemy. That's not the same message.

There are a plethora of messages in movies. Bambi taught us that animals are good and the enemy is Man. Pocohontas assured us that the Native American was one with nature and the Europeans were bad. Tom Cruise's character in The Last Samurai started out as a man wounded in spirit by all the evil he had done in the name of his country, but found redemption by becoming one with the universe as a samurai. The Da Vinci Code argued that Christianity was a myth and the Church a part of a major conspiracy. In The Cider House Rules, Homer (played by Tobey Maguire) is the narrow-minded one who objects to aborting babies, but the "kinder and wiser" Dr. Larch (Michael Caine) shows him that it's sometimes better to break the law and kill the baby. Million Dollar Baby offers a noble view of suicide.

It's a funny thing. You can present just about any perspective you want in movies. You can tell us that our country is the worst thing to have ever happened. You can assure us that capitalism is evil, white people are bad, and materialism is the only right way to go. You can tell us that greed is good or greed is bad. You can tell us that bad people are really good down deep. You can tell us anything you want ... except that Christ is the only way. You see, there is a line that can't be crossed. Christians can be portrayed, but it's unlikely that they'll be portrayed in a positive light. Religious people can be included, but they're likely fanatics or marginal at best. Indeed, these days it's highly unlikely that you'll find most any Christian virtue held up as virtuous.

When was the last time you saw a movie where parents were portrayed as wise, sane, and ought to be listened to? How often do children face consequences? When is it right in movie form to be true to your spouse, even to your own detriment? Is it ever a good idea to be good? Marriage, abstinence, honesty, respect for authority, integrity, humility, the list of moral virtues goes on and on. These things are not to be valued in just about any movie you find coming out of Hollywood. And if you try to offer one of these virtues in your message, it's a bad thing. Knocked Up, for instance, was bad enough because of its message of casual sex and pregnancy out of wedlock, but the critics panned it because she didn't even consider an abortion. That evil trollop! Sure, get drunk, party, have sex with whomever you please or don't please, and even get pregnant, but don't even begin to suggest that a woman should keep such a child or that a man should be responsible for his actions. What's wrong with you people??!!!

It's another example in my view of the double standard held by so many voices out there. Preach anything you want ... except Christ. It's not as if I'm surprised. The Bible promises that they won't want to hear it. But when it makes itself this obvious, sometimes it is a good thing to point it out.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Black and White

(I don't know who wrote this. I didn't. If I did, I'd give credit. But I liked it enough to share it with you.)


Black and White

(Under age 40? You won't understand.)

You could hardly see for all the snow,
Spread the rabbit ears as far as they go.
Pull a chair up to the TV set,
"Good Night, David. Good Night, Chet."

My mom used to cut chicken, chop eggs and spread mayo on the same cutting board with the same knife and no bleach, but we didn't seem to get food poisoning.

My mom used to defrost hamburger on the counter AND I used to eat it raw sometimes, too. Our school sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper in a brown paper bag, not in icepack coolers, but I can't remember getting e.coli.

Almost all of us would have rather gone swimming in the lake instead of a pristine pool (talk about boring), no beach closures then.

The term cell phone would have conjured up a phone in a jail cell, and a pager was the school PA system.

We all took gym, not PE.. and risked permanent injury with a pair of high top Ked's (only worn in gym) instead of having cross-training athletic shoes with air cushion soles and built in light reflectors. I can't recall any injuries but they must have happened because they tell us how much safer we are now.

Flunking gym was not an option ... even for stupid kids! I guess PE must be much harder than gym.

Speaking of school, we all said prayers and sang the national anthem, and staying in detention after school caught all sorts of negative attention.

We must have had horribly damaged psyches. What an archaic health system we had then. Remember school nurses? Ours wore a hat and everything.

I thought that I was supposed to accomplish something before I was allowed to be proud of myself.

I just can't recall how bored we were without computers, Play Station, Nintendo, X-box or 270 digital TV cable stations.

Oh yeah ... and where was the Benadryl and sterilization kit when I got that bee sting? I could have been killed!

We played 'king of the hill' on piles of gravel left on vacant construction sites, and when we got hurt, Mom pulled out the 48-cent bottle of Mercurochrome (kids liked it better because it didn't sting like iodine did) and then we got our butt spanked.

Now it's a trip to the emergency room, followed by a 10-day dose of a $49 bottle of antibiotics, and then Mom calls the attorney to sue the contractor for leaving a horribly vicious pile of gravel where it was such a threat.

We didn't act up at the neighbor's house either because if we did, we got our butt spanked there and then we got butt spanked again when we got home.

I recall Donny Reynolds from next door coming over and doing his tricks on the front stoop, just before he fell off. Little did his mom know that she could have owned our house. Instead, she picked him up and swatted him for being such a goof. It was a neighborhood run amuck.

To top it off, not a single person I knew had ever been told that they were from a dysfunctional family. How could we possibly have known that we needed to get into group therapy and anger management classes? We were obviously so duped by so many societal ills that we didn't even notice that the entire country wasn't taking Prozac! How did we ever survive?


Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Invitation

Many people who go to church have heard it. Many church services have, as a component of their service, a section called "the invitation". It is when someone offers to all the congregation the Gospel. It usually includes an "altar call" of some sort, although I think those are largely going out of vogue in these days of not wanting to put impediments in the way of "seekers". Most Christians today think of the Gospel as just such an event -- an invitation to come to Christ.

There are reasons for this perception. Many of the New Testament statements seem to be invitations. Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). Sounds like an invitation. There are many of those "if" type statements. "If you ... then I will ..." Sounds like an invitation. And aren't we commanded to "preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15). Sounds like an invitation. One of the most popular Gospel invitations is found in Revelation. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20). Sounds like an invitation.

I wonder, however, if the offer of the Gospel is really an offer as much as a command. There are a few reasons for my question. First, there isn't a "Gospel invitation" in the Old Testament. No one is ever invited to submit to God. You will never find a prophet giving an altar call. Jonah didn't go to Ninevah with an offer; he went with a threat. In the Old Testament God's "offer" is always, "Repent or die" in some form or another. People in the Old Testament could choose either. They could have faith or not, but it wasn't an invitation; it was a command which, if not obeyed, would carry consequences.

The second factor is the number of New Testament commands on the topic. Jesus didn't present an offer; He commanded, "Repent" (e.g., Matt. 4:17; Luke 13:3). Paul told the Philippian jailer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31). That isn't quite an offer; it's an ultimatum. Just about everyone knows the "invitation" of John 3:16, but most don't realize the flip-side that Jesus offered: "He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18).

Well, then, what about those passages I listed that seem to be offers rather than commands? I think they bear further examination. Oddly enough, Matthew 11:28 is followed immediately by Matthew 11:29-30. These don't quite appear to be as "invitational":
"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:29-30).
"Take my yoke upon you." That's an invitation? No, that sounds more like a command with an ultimatum. And, indeed, we are to preach the gospel to all creation, but that good news doesn't even begin to require an invitation. The "good news" is "You're a sinner (good news?), and your only hope is to place your trust in Christ who died for your sins." Not much of an invite there. One of the most tortured invitational pieces is that Revelation 3 verse. Yanked wholly out of context, it certainly does seem quite inviting. But you have to yank it out of context for that. What is the context? This is in the midst of a letter from Jesus to one of the seven churches, not to the world. Jesus isn't writing to the world, "I'm standing outside your door knocking." He's writing to a church. When you have the Lord of the Church writing that He's standing outside, it's not much of an invitation. This becomes ominous. Instead of a generous offer to a lost world, this becomes more of a last-ditch opportunity to a dying church to repent or die.

We like it to be an invitation. It sounds nice. It's also a bit deistic. But what is really the problem? Why would I care about the distinction? The concept of an invitational gospel is nice, but it is problematic if God is making a command, not an offer. An offer can be refused. "Would you like this?" "Oh, no thanks." A command cannot. A command can only be obeyed or disobeyed. Too often these days I hear skeptics saying, "Why would God send people to Hell simply because they don't take His offer?" That's the problem. God doesn't send people to Hell because they don't accept an invitation; He sends people to Hell because they defy the God of the universe. If it's an offer, it's not that big of a deal. If it's a command, woe to him who ignores it. I think the concept of an invitational gospel misses entirely the sin of refusing it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


With a presidential election looming and the races already started for the position, one of the key topics that comes up is abortion. "What is his stance on the subject of abortion?" There are typically two stances: Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. Too often the two sides like to change the names of their opponents. The Pro-Choice side will often refer to the Pro-Lifers as "anti-abortion" which isn't actually true. They're not opposed to abortion; they're opposed to killing babies. But Pro-Lifers are equally unfair when they cast the Pro-Choice side as Pro-Abortion. In truth, most Pro-Choice folks are not strictly in favor of abortion. Most of them can be understood in the common expression, "Abortion should be safe, available, and rare." You see, they're not typically in favor of abortion. They're just not in favor of preventing women from not having one. That would be the difference. A true Pro-Abortion person would actually recommend abortion. They don't care if it's rare. Bring it on; the more the merrier.

Pro-Choice is having more and more difficulty with their position. Ultrasound and modern science shows more and more that the fetus in the womb is more human than "tissue" than we ever understood. Laws have been passed that make it a double homicide if a pregnant woman is killed and the fetus dies. The Pro-Abortion side wants to argue that it's not a big thing to terminate tissue, but science keeps edging the Pro-Choicers into a corner. Last February, for instance, a woman gave birth at a record 22 weeks. The baby was a bit on the edge, but survived. That ought to give one pause when considering that "In England, Wales and Scotland abortion is legal under 24 weeks of pregnancy" (source). Science and logic are telling us that the fetus is a baby -- not merely tissue -- and the first stage of human life. The closer people get to seeing this, the harder the Pro-Choice side will be to maintain.

Some Pro-Lifers might get excited about this. It may not be too long that the courts may have to reverse Roe v Wade. With existing laws, conservative justices, and more people seeing that a fetus is a baby, it gets harder to defend killing that baby in the womb. Legal abortion may be on its way out. Unfortunately, that's not the end of the question.

Abortion isn't legal because it's right. It's legal because so many women want it. It's legal because it makes it possible to terminate a pregnancy after the fact. Making it illegal won't solve the problem. The only way to solve the problem is to eliminate the demand for it. You see, abortion is legal and in demand because men and women are busy having sex outside of marriage.

According to statistics at Johnston's archives, prior to 1970 the abortion rate in the United States per 1000 women ages 15-44 including miscarriages and other fetal deaths was less than 1. In the years that followed it shot up to today's level of greater than 20. If you want to play the numbers game, from 1969 to 2003 there was a 3000% increase in the abortion rate with a peak of 5000% in 1980. While prior to 1965, abortions were in the triple digits, as the decade of "free love" took hold, the numbers of abortions shot up. Even prior to the landmark decision of Roe v Wade in 1973, the number of reported abortions had topped half a million. Sure, when abortion was legalized, abortions increased. However, it was in demand long before it was legalized. On the other hand, when the morality of the nation required that you get married before having sex and held that sex was for procreation, the demand for abortions were not nearly as high as they became in the 60's when sex became a recreational pastime.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see the end of legal abortions in my lifetime. I don't see that as the end of the problem or even a start to the end. Until our attitudes toward marriage and sex are altered, the problem will remain. Maybe it will shift to back alleys. Maybe it will go to "morning after" pills or abortifacents. Making abortion illegal won't eliminate the demand. Until that demand decreases, let's not shout "Victory!"

Friday, August 17, 2007

Banned Bunny

Did you know that there are "banned" Bugs Bunny cartoons? That's right. There are, according to sources, twelve cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny that have been removed from circulation by the owners because they contained what was deemed to be racist or offensive content. Imagine that! Bugs Bunny cartoons -- racist and offensive.

Well, tell me "banned Bugs Bunny cartoons" and I go searching. I haven't found them all. They're not available. But I've seen a few. I watch them and think, "Oh, yeah, I can see how that would be offensive ... today." You see, when I watched them as a kid, I didn't see it. It's not that I was so racist as a child that it didn't phase me. It's that I didn't have a single racist thought as a kid so the notion that Bugs Bunny might be insulting certain people groups never occurred to me. And, now that I think about it, I still have to wonder.

A few of them include caricatures of various races like Native American, black, and Eskimo. As in just about every single Bugs Bunny cartoon that I can think of, Bugs is smart while his antagonist is stupid. Whether it's Pete Puma, Elmer Fudd, or any other character who crosses Bugs' path, they are portrayed as dim-witted and Bugs as brilliant. Funny thing. when Pete Puma or Elmer Fudd or a pack of hounds are portrayed as dim-witted, no one is up in arms. The animal rights folks aren't protesting. There isn't a cacaphony of white organizations trying to ban a racist depiction of white folks in the character of Elmer. But change that character to someone of another race and we've got a problem.

A couple of them include caricatures of the Germans and the Japanese. That, of course, is because they were made during World War II. Anytime we go to war, it is likely that we will make fun of the enemy. Spoofs of Sadaam were popular during Desert Storm. The Internet is full of lampoons of Osama Bin Laden. So in World War II, the Germans and the Japanese were stereotyped and made to look stupid. This, of course, is unacceptable. When satirizing someone, you must always treat them with dignity and decorum. You know, like all the comedy outlets do today when ridiculing the President or Christians or ... wait, that's not working, is it?

I'm not saying that there was no racism in those old cartoons. Nor am I condoning them. I'm simply saying that there's something to be said for childhood innocence. As a kid it never occurred to me that those comedic images were actually intended as racist commentaries. I thought they were cartoons. Foolishly, I thought they were fictional, intended to make Bugs look smart and funny and make me laugh. Little did I know that they were the product of a deep and abiding hatred for anything "other". I didn't suspect that Elmer Fudd represented a stupid white American, that Pete Puma was the cartoon's way of telling us how all pumas are idiots, or that Japanese people are idiots because they portrayed one that way. So maybe children miss this stuff.

I suspect, however, that in some cases children are simply more accurate in these things. It seems as if any comment, any innuendo, any wink-wink-nudge-nudge, anything that even hints at the mere possibility of a whiff of racism is perceived as an affront. In a recent news item about how white people are becoming the minority in many places, I heard the commentator mention how Hispanics perceive "illegal alien" as racist. Now, if you examine the term, there is nothing "racist" in the term. Illegal aliens come from any country that is not this country. They are any race, any color, any creed. It is non-discriminatory except for the concept of "illegal". Yet the perception is that the term is racist. Why? And why is it that only white people can be racist? Why is it that no one is complaining on the behalf of Elmer Fudd? He's white and stupid. Why aren't they up in arms over that?

I don't know. I like to think that adults acquire wisdom over the years, and I believe that is generally true. Sometimes, however, the innocence of children will provide a component of wisdom that many seem to have lost. Can't we all just get along?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Spartan Military

I don't know if any of you have heard of Senator Mike Gravel, presidential candidate. Mr. Gravel was a senator from Alaska until 1981. He has recently got some notoriety from a video posted on You Tube over his comments on gays in the military. His position: The military should allow open homosexuality. No, actually, he goes a bit farther. The military should train their personnel to be homosexual. He uses Sparta as the basis of his remarks. They produced a renowned fighting force who were trained to be homosexuals. The reasoning is that people are more likely to fight hard for those whom they love. There you have it.

There were so many possible things to respond to that it was almost impossible to form a mental response. It was just easier to sit there and think, "Huh?????" I suppose that may be the genius of it. Where do you go? "Train people to be homosexual??? What about that whole 'born that way' argument?" "Only homosexuals can love their fellow fighting men?" "Since when did love equate to sexual attraction? I mean, I love my mom, but I'm sure not sexually attracted to her. Where's that connection coming from?" And, "Oh, by the way ... Sparta is no more. Isn't that an indication of something? I mean, do we want to base our military training methods on an army ... that lost?" At one point he compares Truman's integration of the races in the military to this topic. "They're all the same." No, they're not. Nowadays there are men and women and then some varying combinations of sexual preference. We don't consider men the same as women in the military precisely for reasons of differences of gender and sexual orientation. Of course, I already brought up some of my own concerns about the concept, none of which seem to be of the slightest concern for the good ex-senator.

The first concern listed really bother me. How do you train someone to be homosexual? In fact, the very hint of the idea of training people to be homosexual will get heterosexuals up in arms. As long as we think, "Well, that's you, but it's not me and I can't 'get it' from you", we feel pretty safe. But if you're actually going to suggest that it can be trained into a person, then all the old complaints are back in play. Should homosexuals be teachers? Should they be allowed to adopt or have child custody? I mean, the more people that are trained not to reproduce, the bigger the problem, right? The gay community has spent a great deal of time trying to tell us that they're born that way and it's not catching, and a lot of people have put it to rest for that reason. If that's not true, then the unrest will rise again.

But what I'm really hung up on, at this point, is this idea that "love = sexual relations". The idea seems to be that people only experience and display love by sexual means. Where does this come from? It seems to be often suggested, but the merest wisp of a thought ought to explode the idea. Children don't express love through sex. Families (parents to children, sibling to sibling, etc.) don't express love through sex. Heterosexual men can love men and women women without engaging in sex. In broader terms, people may love their country, but there is certainly no sex involved. Indeed, Christians are commanded to "love your neighbor as yourself." That does not carry sexual connotations. How could anyone even try to float that idea? Conversely, where does the notion come from that homosexuals love each other better? Is it possible to argue that a homosexual man would fight for his partner more vehemently than a father for his daughter or a mother for her child? Is it not possible that someone could love their country and fight for it?

I suppose it's no surprise that very few have heard of the senator who would be president. With reasoning like this, I think it would be frightening to have him in the office of the President. I'm frightened enough that there are actually people who around me who think like this. Surely this isn't the best we can do.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What Works

Pastor Shuck has been part of a whole bunch of postings in the blogosphere for his controversial positions on matters while being a pastor in good standing with the PCUSA. I've even commented on a couple of things. Right now over at his blog site there is a discussion between a Calvinist pastor (who believes the Bible is the Word of God) and Pastor Shuck (who doesn't) regarding such issues as homosexuality and the authority of the Bible. In one recent post, Pastor Shuck said this:
And the bottom line for me is I really don't care what the Bible or Reformed Theology says about this or that or if its opinion on this or that is presumptuous enough to tell me how to live my life. I can make my own decisions. I am impetuously autonomous and an incorrigible smart-ass.

This means that...

* if even 500 verses of the Bible and
* if Jesus himself proclaimed on the Mount of Transfiguration and
* if Jesus appeared to me on my back deck in the glory of his resuscitated corpse and

stated to me as clearly as the four p.m. sun is hot, that homoerotic love is a sin and that if I support gays and lesbians in their relationships I would join them in the fires of hell, I would look him in his piercing eyes and say (if I had the courage of my convictions):

"Fine then. Send me to your hell. You are wrong, Jesus."

Why? Because I know Tony and Mike. Because I know dozens of other couples and individuals and I know who they are and that what they do is as good and sacred as what anyone else does.
I know. Mind-boggling, isn't it? "I consider myself a Christian ... but I don't care what Christ thinks." To be fair, I'm quite certain that his perspective is more accurately stated, "I cannot imagine Jesus telling me this." He claims that it's hyperbole. Okay. Still, the whole thing is disturbing when you're talking about a pastor. But enough people have raised that concern enough times, so I'm not going there. And Pastor Bob, the pastor with whom Pastor Shuck is having the dialog, seems to be doing a fine job of defending the truth, so I'm not going there, either. It's not even Pastor Shuck that I'm thinking about here. It's the idea.

How many people determine right and wrong from "what works"? The good pastor determined that Jesus was wrong because "I know Tony and Mike." He decided that the Bible couldn't possibly teach that homosexual behavior is a sin because "I know dozens of other couples and individuals and I know who they are and that what they do is as good and sacred as what anyone else does." There is no definition of "good" or "sacred". There is no source for that at all. It is simply being decided based on what works. "Tony and Mike are nice guys. They are committed to each other. They aren't child molesters or murderers or bank robbers or some such. They come to church and they smile at people and they're nice. How can it be wrong?"

The problem is multifaceted. First, by allowing a purely subjective definition of "good" and "sacred", they become meaningless. A "good husband" is not the same as a "good assassin". A good husband doesn't kill people while a "good assassin" is an expert at it. "Sacred" is completely meaningless in this context, since "sacred" is supposed to mean "that which is set apart for God", but the position requires that God's opinion is ignored. Indeed, it replaces God as the one who defines good. ("I will be like the Most High.") And if "good and sacred" are purely subjective, then the whole concept becomes unusable. There are atheists who are "good" people. They try to be nice. They aren't child-molesters or thieves or murderers. They are true to their spouses and care about their children and do all the other things that we might call "good". So, when Jesus said, "He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18), well, He was just plain and simple wrong. Why? "Because I know atheists who are good people."

We don't get the option of defining "good". That is something that is outside of us, something to which we must conform. And "it works" is not a valid measurement of what is good. Joseph Stalin formed a nice, quiet, well-mannered country by executing millions of dissidents. It works, right? Must be okay. Of course not. I'm not comparing John Shuck to Stalin. I'm using the outlandishly obvious evil of Stalin to point to the fact that "what works" doesn't define what's good. And, in the final analysis, "what works" can only be agreement with God, not defiance of God.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

And then what?

"And then what?" There are so many times in my life that I see something or read something or hear something and think, "And then what?" It seems as if people are very happy to tell us what's wrong without telling us what's right. People like to point out the problems without offering solutions. And on those occasions that they do offer solutions, it seems as if they haven't considered the results.

Take an obvious current event -- the war in Iraq. There are many voices out there clamoring for withdrawal. "It's wrong!" "We shouldn't be there!" "Bring our boys home now!" And I ask, "And then what?" What happens to the people of Iraq when the world's largest police force withdraws from one of the most violent places on the planet? Or is it that we just shouldn't care? "Too bad about those Iraqis ... but that's there problem now." And what impact does that have on how the world views America? "Well, apparently they can't be trusted to bring about what they promise or protect those who are under their protection." Indeed, it seems that most people who are calling for "immediate withdrawal" don't know that withdrawal of men and equipment would take years. Or would they recommend simply abandoning all that equipment? (And what kind of outrage would that bring from those upset about the war?) I've heard a whole lot of "Get us out now!" without a single peep of "And then what?", and I am still wondering about that.

Take the current rush of "atheist evangelists". There are folks like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and a rising number of others who have taken it upon themselves to suggest that Christianity isn't merely wrong -- it's evil. There are calls for removal of Christianity from the public arena and claims that it is detrimental to society. And I ask, "And then what?" What are they offering in return? Take away the meaning of life. Take away a Creator. Take away Ultimate Justice. Remove any fundamental basis for morality and any answer for "What happens when you die?" and any possible comfort in tough times that a belief in an Almighty brings. What do they offer in its place? If you leave us with pure science as the world religion and pure materialism as the world truth, what have you left us? Sure, it is possible for an atheist to be a nice guy (or girl). There is no reason to think otherwise. But without a basis for it, how long does it last? If morality is stripped of its basis, we are left with pragmatism -- what works. If humans are merely biochemical bags that grew out of "less evolved" biochemical bags, pragmatic morality teeters on anarchy. What does it matter if you decide to kill your boss to get ahead? It's no different than annihilating a hive of bees roosting in your attic. We're all beings without real significance. We're born in cradles that swing over graves. We go from oblivion to oblivion. There is no reason to consider the murder of hundreds of millions of people under atheists like Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot as "evil" since they're merely animal compounds who are in the way. Or what can you tell the five-year-old who loses her sweet grandmother? "Too bad. She's worm food now. No, it's not possible that you'll ever see her again. She's dead. Get over it. The good news is that some day you will be dead, too, and it won't matter." No, no, I've never heard any of that from an atheist. They desperately seek the comfort of eternity like everyone else when someone dies. But there is no basis for their comfort. Yet they offer their views as if they are offering something better for us all. "Folks, look, you need to surrender all this hope and love and morality. We're offering you something better -- the truth. The truth is that nothing matters, there is no hope, and morality is irrelevant. Now, who wouldn't want that?" They cry, "Get rid of God" and I ask, "And then what?" They're not answering.

These are just two examples. I see it everywhere. When John Kerry ran for president, I understood what he didn't want. He didn't want George Bush in office. What I didn't get was what he did want. "Get George out of office!" "And then what?" In the last major election there was an entire Democratic campaign that ran on "anyone but". "Don't elect Republicans; they've made a mess of things." "And then what?" It's all around. "Allow open homosexuality in the military." "And then what?" "Open our borders to immigrants." "And then what?" "Get rid of Christians." "And then what?" "Legalize drugs." "And then what?" It seems like a lot of people focus on the issue without considering the ramifications or the system in which the issues reside. They focus on the task without taking into account the entire process. I just wish that some of the loudest voices in our society would stop and engage their brains before running their mouths. Ask yourself on occasion, "And then what?" It might give you pause. Or it might not. Who knows?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Left-Handed Day

I didn't realize it, but it turns out that August 13th is "Left-Handed Day", a day set aside to honor all those among us who favor their left hand over their right. In honor of the day, here's a little left-handed trivia:

- The word "sinister" is derived from a Latin word that means "left."

- Scientists recently discovered a gene that is linked to increased odds of being left-handed. Possessing the gene also increases the odds of mental illness.

- Left-handedness was often interpreted as a sign of Satanic influence. Many examples can be found in the Christian-Greek scriptures in which the wicked or evil sit at the left hand of God, while the righteous sit at the right hand of God, during the Last Judgment.

- Jack the Ripper was believed to be left handed.

- In the sport of polo it is illegal to play left-handed.

- The phrase "starting off on the wrong foot" referred to the left foot, since it was believed that the left foot was the wrong foot to start with.

- Over 2500 left-handed people every year are killed by using products made for right-handed people.

- A "left-handed compliment" is a compliment with two meanings, one of which is unflattering to the receiver.

To all you lefties out there, happy "Left-Handers Day"!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

God Meant It For Good

I'm going to share a personal perspective I have on a popular passage. It's mine. You're free to reject it. But I like it and think it makes sense. If you do, too, you might just benefit from it.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Most Christians know that verse. Most Christians rejoice in that verse. Of course, most of us think at some time or another, "It's not working." And that's when we come into those "exception" concepts. When our experience doesn't feel like God is working all things together for good, we start to come up with reasons for it.

One of the most common reasons offered is in the phrase "to those who love God". Almost everyone I've ever talked to about this verse makes "those who love God" a conditional phrase for the verse. So, if things aren't working out for you, maybe you just don't love God. You see?

I don't think so. It is my belief that this verse can accurately be stated, at its core, this way: "God causes all things to work together for good." Now, why would I think that? First, I think it because of two other biblical factors. 1) God is good. God isn't merely a good God. He defines good. Unlike everything else that is created -- that is compared to an external reference of what is "good" -- God is good and, as such, defines it. 2) God works all things after the counsel of His will. I don't know about you, but it seems that "all things" encompasses most anything I can think of. That means that everything that happens is caused or ordained by God. Putting these two factors together, we can simply say, "Everything that happens is caused or ordained by God who is good." The only possible conclusion, then, would seem that everything that happens is good. Oh, oh, be careful. I know. There is a fundamental problem with that. Not everything that happens is good in the sense of moral, right, just, and so on. So it would be more accurate to conclude that, since God is good and works all things after the counsel of His will, then God causes all things to work together for good, whether or not the thing is originally "good", moral, pleasant, right, or something like it.

So what about that catch phrase? It struck me one day when thinking about this that the preposition isn't right for the phrase to be considered a qualifier. Notice the preposition: "to". Now, if I wanted to convey that God works everything together for good only in the case of those who love God, then I wouldn't use "to"; I would use "for". It is good for those who love God. The "to" seems to convey something different. Here, let me put it in reverse and see if you get it: "To me, it is good." Do you see the difference? Not "It is good for me", but "to me". That is, "In my estimation, it is good."

As I said, it is my personal perspective on a popular passage. I think, however, that it fits perfectly with the God that I know. God works all things together for good. Period. End of sentence. Nothing else need be said. But what about those who don't experience it as such? Well, it is always ultimately for good, but it won't be necessarily good in the estimation of those who don't love God. That doesn't mean it's not good. It simply means that to them it is not good.

Let me try to give an overstated example. Because God is just as well as merciful, He has ordained that those who reject Him will be punished in Hell. Paul says that it's good. He says that God is displaying His power in so doing. That's good. Of course, you'll likely be hard-pressed to find someone in Hell who says, "Oh, yeah, this is good." But those who love God will rejoice in His judgment. They won't find the fact pleasant, but they will find it ... good.

I think that there is a clear and unavoidable case to be made that God causes all things to work together for good. We may not always see it as such. That doesn't mean that God's character has changed or that things have fallen outside of His will. It is my belief, because of who God is, that all that occurs is part of God's plan for good, even the unpleasant and the miserable things we experience. I don't believe that our capacity to love God determines whether or not He is going to work things together for good. And you cannot imagine the amount of comfort that brings when I experience things in life that just don't seem like they are good. It's my failure to understand, not God's failure to be good. What a relief!

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Why? That's the question I most like to ask. "Why does that work that way?" "Why do people do that?" "Why do you believe what you believe?"

I was an instructor in the Air Force for several years. All sorts of topics would come up in the "ice breaking" process. Nothing was off limits. We would talk politics, current events, religion, whatever they wanted. Sometimes we shared views and sometimes we didn't. But my favorite question always was "Why?" It didn't matter if I agreed; I simply wanted to know why they believed what they believed.

It was an interesting exercise. I found that most people believed what they believed on whatever they believed because they were told to. "I don't know" was the most common answer. Read "I haven't thought about it." "I learned it in school" or "from my parents" or "from my pastor" or "from someone else" was very common. In a discussion once on evolution I asked, "What would you say is the best reason you would offer for that belief?" The entire class bumbled about for a few minutes and finally ended up with "That's what they told us in school." Once a young Navy troop (I taught all sorts in my classes) declared, "I'm a Christian; I believe in Jesus." I asked him, "Why?" He was lost on the answer. I wasn't asking him to defend himself. I wasn't asking for an apologetics. I simply wanted to know what it was that made him believe what he believed. He didn't know. "I heard it from this preacher, and I believed it."

I wonder how many of us take our stand firmly on someone else's field? How many of us take a bold stance on positions we've never made our own? How many can defend the doctrine of the Trinity from Scripture? Or do you believe it because you were told it and that's good enough? I recently read a response to the doctrine of Election from a young lady who was aghast at the notion. She pulled up all sorts of (standard) arguments against it, arguments that were clearly not her own. You could tell her words versus her plagiarism. (I don't mean that as bad as it may sound.) She found someone that said what she wanted to hear and copied it. She didn't think about it. She didn't analyze it. She didn't internalize it. She simply parroted it.

How many of us do that? Do you know why you believe what you believe? Can you support it with Scripture? The things that you hold as true ... have you realized them, or are they someone else's truths that you've simply latched onto as your own without thought or analysis? Solomon said that there's nothing new under the sun. I suppose that's largely true for truth as well. Most truth is someone else's truth. But before you make it your own, hadn't you better examine it for all it's worth and see if it's true? For instance, can you find it in Scripture, and does it really line up? These things aren't trivial. We ought to do our homework on matters of eternal importance.

Why do you believe what you believe?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Think On These Things

5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil. 4:5-8).
It's a wonderful little passage full of excellent advice. "Let your reasonableness be known to everyone." Think about that when you blog. "Do not be anxious about anything." Excellent advice. Take it to the Lord in prayer. I mean, why wouldn't we? Who doesn't want to experience "the peace of God which surpasses all understanding"? Bring it on!

The problem, of course, is that it isn't advice. These are commands. The first few are difficult to follow at times, but when we get to verse 8, it's easy to wonder if the command is even reasonable. "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Think about the articles and posts and books you've read lately. Okay, limit them to just the Christian ones. (Make sure you include your own.) How many were focused on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise? I ask because it seems real easy for us to focus on that which is not true. It is easy for us to complain about injustice. It is easy to point out those who are worthy of censure rather than commendation. Failures rather than excellence tend to be our focus. And offering praise ... no, not on our list of top things to write or talk about.

I've given some thought to this. It's not like I'm pointing fingers at all of you out there. I'm thinking about myself here. (Those who are equally guilty will have to do their own introspection.) How would what I write change if I followed Paul's command here? I'm not entirely sure. In the month of July, for instance, I wrote four pieces on hymnody. That would be okay, wouldn't it? I wrote a humorous (Okay, I thought it was humorous) entry about banning water. I suppose humor could stay ... as long as it's not unkind ... couldn't it? I wrote about controversial secular questions like discrimination in the workplace, the theology of Islam, whether or not men are being obsoleted, and the problem of a kid-controlled culture. Could I keep those? Do they fall in the categories listed? I wrote about some Christian controversy as well, such as infant baptism, the difference between Christianity and other religions, predestination, what makes a Christian, and whether or not the Bible is as clear as it should be. How many of those should I have eliminated based on that list from Paul?

I really want to be an obedient follower of Christ ("Christian"). It's just that sometimes it's hard to tell on a day-to-day basis what that means. I know that Christ corrected doctrinal error, so it must be okay to correct doctrinal error. Where does that fall in Paul's list? I know that Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the Temple, so it must be okay to respond strongly to those who are opposed to God. Where does that fall in Paul's list? Perhaps what's in view is the origins of my responses. Am I responding to error because I'm thinking about truth, or am I responding to error because I'm analyzing error? Am I correcting those who defy God because I want to correct them, or am I correcting them because I'm so focused on what is true, honorable, just, and pure that they stand out to me? I suspect -- no, I know -- that regardless of the nuances I certainly need to do a lot more focusing on the things that fall in the categories Paul gives than I do. I wonder how that will affect how I think, how I live, and what I write? I wonder if you're willing to ask the same kinds of questions about your life?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bird Question

Over the year I've received some interesting feedback from some folks. "You sure do write good ... but I'm not entirely sure what you're talking about." Okay. A break today from the more "cerebral" to the more mundane. But don't get used to it.

This blog is titled "Birds of the Air" for multiple reasons. One is that I like birds (and most other wildlife). Another is that I love the concept that God, who takes care of the birds of the air, considers me more important and takes better care of me. At times I've written about birds, stuff I thought was interesting about them, and things I've learned from them. Mostly, though, I post about whatever is on my mind without regard for birds.

Today, however, I'm looking for help, specifically with a birding question. We like to feed birds to get them close enough to watch. Hey, we're in the desert here. They need all the help they can get. So we provide them with water and a variety of seed to satisfy a variety of birds. Of course, occasionally it's the birds we are attracting that become the food for other birds, but that's okay. We like birds.

There is one bird, however, that I do not really enjoy so much. It's the pigeon. Oh, yes, I know, they're actually quite a bird. They're in the dove family. Their more correct name is "rock dove". And they live nearly everywhere on Earth. They are the oldest of the dove family. Some have suggested that it was very likely that it was a rock dove that Noah released from the ark. All well and good, but they're big and voracious and noisy and they're not my favorite bird to watch.

I'm not looking to get rid of them. Most people don't realize the extreme difficulty of getting rid of pigeons. Trap them and carry them 50 miles into the desert and they'll just return. Killing them is just too messy (and against my birding instincts). So they can stay. I just want to find a way to feed other birds without feeding them.

I'm wondering if anyone has a way to feed birds like the quail, the cardinal, or the smaller birds without giving access to the pigeons (and the squirrels, just to keep in mind). It seems like there should be a way to allow smaller birds access while blocking the larger birds.

So, does anyone have a method for me to feed smaller birds without having those big pigeons gobble it up first? Don't worry about them. When the smaller birds eat, they'll knock down enough food to keep the pigeons happy. I just want to find a way to attract, say, the local cardinals (yes, we have local cardinals) so they can eat before the pigeons clean it out. Maybe a covered tray system of some sort? (A lot of birds like to eat off a flat surface rather than a tubular-type feeder.) I'm open for suggestions. You may have an idea that could actually be worth something!

Any suggestions ... anyone?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Where's the Treasure?

Recently I found out about a news organization that is publishing a searchable database of all employees and their salaries for the state university here. I don't think it's right, so I won't give the link. I did notice something of interest that spurred this line of thinking. According to this database, there are two people at the university that make more than twice what the president of the university is paid. Can you guess who those would be? Of course, it's the head coach of the men's football team and the head coach of the men's basketball team.

Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:21). One has to wonder about where our heart is if we evaluate where our treasure is. If we evaluate the heart of the university based on where they place their treasure, it would appear that the university's biggest concern is not education, but sports. More importantly, I suspect, the biggest concern is the income that those sports provide the university. The heart is in income, not education.

Consider the nation in the same light. The leading moneymakers in the United States are CEO's. That would make some sense. Those who make money for a company ought to be "treasured". The fact that they make mind-numbing salaries may be problematic, but there is some reasonableness in terms of heart and treasure. The fact that they give more money to CEO's than they're willing to give to society suggests that the heart of American corporations is purely money-making. I don't suspect that this is a surprise to anyone. The next category of money makers, however, is odd. After big CEO's, the big salaries in this country are paid to ... entertainers. Sports figures and actors make exorbitant amounts of money for doing what they do. Again, evaluating this in terms of "heart", where does this say that the typical American heart is? Well, apparently we value amusement above most other things.

Of course, that's America in general. I don't expect a rightly placed heart out of those who don't know Christ. But the question you have to ask yourself if you're a Christian is, "Is that me?"

Over at Random Responses they posted a convicting video that asks the question, "If you were paid $100 for every person with whom you shared the Gospel, would you be sharing the Gospel more?" This, again, is a question of heart in terms of treasure. If we treasured the Gospel, our heart would call us to share it often. If we treasure money or that which money can provide and we honestly answered "Yes" to the question the video asks, what does that say about our heart?

I know. The first response is defense. "Well, I share the Gospel every time I get the chance ... sort of." "Who's to say what 'sharing the Gospel' is? I share it by my life all the time." "I share Christ as often as I am called to." Dance around all you want. I think you still get the point. If, in truth, someone paying you to share the Gospel would make you share the Gospel more, you (and I) have a misplaced treasure and a misdirected heart. Perhaps it's something to think about, pray about, and work on.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Emotional Investment

I had a song stuck in my head the other day, and it really sunk in:

"What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend, for this, Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever! And should I fainting be, Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee!"

It is a verse from one of the hymns I have been writing about on Sundays -- "O Sacred Head Now Wounded". Don't worry; I'm not going into hymns at this point. I was just thinking about the emotion behind the verse. There are terms in there like "dearest Friend" and "my love to Thee" that bespeak a deep connection. It is beyond simple "faith", beyond mere mental acknowledgment. It is intimacy.

Paul writes of the same concept. "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8). Paul says here, "Anything good, honorable, meritorious, worthwhile that I have in life rate as trash compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ." "Surpassing value," that's how Paul viewed his relationship with His Lord.

I wonder how many times it is that way with us. How much of the time are we simply going through the motions, operating on the knowledge that we have a relationship with Christ without the emotional import of such a relationship? How often do we embrace Him with our hearts? How often does that longing well up within us that says, "Lord, I don't know that I can stand another day without being in Your arms"? Or is it more often a simple reality in which we don't really invest our emotions?

I don't know. Sometimes I'm struck with His nearness and His love. I'm overcome with the blessings He bestows and the gifts He gives. I'm overwhelmed with the sacrifice He made for me at the cross. But sometimes I can pass through a day barely acknowledging Him. Too often I am more like the Ephesians, losing sight of my first love.

Emotions are the human response to how we think. If we think of something as good, we'll be happy. If we think of it as funny, we'll be amused. If we think of it as sad, we'll be sad. What does it tell me about myself when I have little emotional response to Christ Jesus, my Lord? I think we know the answer to that.

"What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend, for this, Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever! And should I fainting be, Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee!"