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Friday, November 30, 2007

Mass Spanking

Massachusetts is debating on whether or not to ban spanking entirely. According to the article, if you lay a forceful hand on a child under the age of 18 except to wrest them from danger, you could be charged with child abuse and/or neglect. Nor is Massachusetts the first. Sweden banned spanking back in 1979. California entertained the idea this year, although they were going to limit it to under 4 years old.

The argument behind the legislations always seems to be the same. "My parents used to beat me mercilessly, and it didn't make me a better person." The notion behind banning corporal punishment seems always to be predicated on the idea that it is not possible to physically discipline a child without abusing them. All corporal punishment, it appears, is child abuse. And we certainly aren't in favor of child abuse.

It is a complex question. There is no doubt that too many parents abuse their children. Recently here in the Phoenix area a step-mother tortured her 12-year-old step-daughter to death. Beaten and burned while her 9-year-old sister watched and even endured much of the same, she was dead for days before anyone found out. I don't think there is a rational person on the planet that would argue that this was a good idea, proper parenting, "the parents' right" or any such thing. No one favors abusing children even in the name of "proper parenting".

On the other hand, some of us are faced with the biblical perspective. The other day on the Christian radio station I sometimes hear on the way home from work they were debating this topic. Christians called in to say, "You have to discipline in love" and "Spare the rod, spoil the child." One lady called in all upset. We had been deceived. The Bible doesn't teach spanking. Corporal punishment is always evil. "Christians who believe in corporal punishment of children get their view not from the Bible but from books written in the last 200 years," she informed us.

Truth be told, the Bible does not say, "Spare the rod, spoil the child." It is actually a quote from a poet named Samuel Butler who was not actually advocating it, but poking fun. In his piece, Hudibras he said in jest that if "love is a boy," then we ought to "spare the rod, and spoil the child." So was the caller right? Well, most Christians who use the phrase "spare the rod, spoil the child" reference Prov. 13:24 -- "He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently." I'm sorry, but that sounds a lot like the intention of the phrase, "spare the rod, spoil the child", even if it's not a word-for-word quote.

I don't think it can be safely argued that the only way to view corporal punishment as right is to get it outside of Scripture. The problem, I suspect, comes from a fundamental view of humans that it most prevalent today. The reason that Solomon argues for the use of the rod isn't a mean-spiritedness or a lack of compassion. Instead, it comes from a basic belief that human beings are fallen. So we read, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him" (Prov. 22:15). If children are essentially innocent, without sin, then all they really need is guidance. If, on the other hand, they are born sinners, they will need, at times, more desperate measures. This isn't an act of unkindness or cruelty; it is an act of love.

"That view," the caller assured us, "is not found in the Bible." Actually, I conclude that it is an act of love because of the Bible. In Hebrews 12 it is hard to avoid. In fact, it is hard to read.
Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives (Heb. 12:26).
Now, I'm an advocate of spanking, but that is hard for me to read. It doesn't suggest a pat on a padded behind. The passage uses the word "scourges." So frightening is the biblical concept of corporal punishment that Solomon had to reassure parents, "Do not hold back discipline from the child; although you strike him with the rod, he will not die" (Prov. 23:13). Regardless of the extent of this discipline, it is unavoidable, however, to conclude that corporal punishment of children is expected in Scripture, and that it must be done on the basis of love for the sake of the child.

What are we to make, then, of all the data that suggests that spanking is bad for kids? I would have to question the data myself. I am premising the biblical concept of spanking on what I just stated: It must be done on the basis of love for the sake of the child. How many times is that actually done? How many times is it done out of anger rather than love? How many times is it done out of compassion for the child rather than personal affront at being ignored or disobeyed? How many parents are nearly incapable of spanking without anger? If you study the effects of "spanking" alone without defining it, I would concur with the data ... because generally corporal punishment of children is not done out of love for the sake of the child. On the other hand, ask those children who experienced the type of discipline to which I'm referring if it was good or bad for them. I think you will find universally that they benefited from it.

What do I do with the data? More importantly, what would I do if I was a parent raising a child in a state that outlawed spanking? I would need to conclude that if "those whom the Lord loves He disciplines," then I am obligated to do the same. If I violate the law to obey God, so be it. This doesn't fall in the category of "optional" to me. The data falls in the category of "every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4), and I'd have to stick with God's instructions on this matter. Is spanking the only means of teaching children? Not at all! Should parents only spank? By no means! But since the Bible seems to indicate that the rod is sometimes necessary for the welfare of the child, far be it from me to remove a biblical tool from the parents' tool belt of child rearing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Think About It

Yesterday I wondered why we believe what we believe. The example was my nephew's views on global warming. (Notice that yesterday's post did not have a "Global Warming" label on it ... because global warming was not the topic.)

So now Google is going green. On the surface they are trying to "produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal", but underneath their real goal is to "deal with climate change."

I suppose we shouldn't fight it. It appears that everyone with a brain is convinced that the planet is in danger because of mankind -- Americans, to be specific. Environmentalism is the new religion of the country. Jim pointed me to this fascinating quote by Michael Crichton on Environmentalism as Religion.
There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.
It's hard to disagree with him. We all know, for instance, that the native Americans were at one with nature. No one doubts it. Disney proved it with their Pocahontas documentary. All modern sources affirm it. The fact that native Americans are hoping to hunt bald eagles for religious reasons fits right in with that, right? The wars between them were likely due to their passion for life on this planet.

Native Americans aren't the enemy. We are. We have forgotten how to think or to examine the facts. We operate in sound bites and think that it's nourishing news. We have eliminated logic and the arts from schools and pushed "new math" as if math is a variable, but we still maintain good, solid sports programs. Dismissive insults and cruel rhetoric pass for dialog and discussion. You will actually find people, for instance, that buy the idea that "one's religious views shouldn't affect their politics." Religion is the new enemy and Christianity is its face. People cannot distinguish, it seems, between Christian Children's Fund, for instance, that takes care of needy children, and Islamofacist terrorists who fly into buildings and think it's good to die killing others.

Sadly, Christians aren't a whole lot better. We're buying this stuff as well. Too often we think that faith and reason are separate entities. Too many believe in the total separation of Church and Mind. So you'll find people calling themselves Christians arguing that homosexuality is perfectly acceptable, sex outside of marriage is a valid form of recreation, and "Who really cares if I steal from the government as long as I don't get caught?" None of these things define "Christian", but all of them fly in the face of "Jesus as Lord", which does define "Christian".

Well, I suppose I'm the enemy here. I don't doubt that the planet's temperature is increasing, but I have no reason to believe that we are causing it or that we can stop it. Google may argue that it's okay to fly around in company jets because "you have to tackle the big problems. To think that people are going to stop traveling is unrealistic." That doesn't make it reasonable or supportable. Al Gore may have received an Oscar and the Nobel Peace Prize for his movie, but that doesn't make it right or reasonable. And just because there are a growing number of voices out there calling for the end of Christianity doesn't mean that their arguments are sane. We need to think. We need to examine. We need to ... renew our minds.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why We Believe

During my visit with family this last week, we had some interesting conversations with some of those on my wife's side of the family. One of the young men -- college age -- was quite agitated over global warming. He had seen An Inconvenient Truth and he had all the facts. How could any of us even question it? He had the science. He had the evidence. It was a certainty. Why weren't the rest of us as concerned?

I found the conversation interesting at times. When his grandmother pointed out that some of the facts of the movie are flatly denied by many scientists, he waved it off. Science had nothing to do with it, apparently. The only way to deny these facts was if they were liars with an alternate agenda. I mentioned that I was fascinated by the photograph I had seen recently. Al Gore had come to ASU (where I work) to talk on the topic and I saw a picture of the lot where the audience parked. Easily half the vehicles were SUVs. I said that it bothered me that so many people pounded their fists about how things needed to change but refused to change a thing themselves. Someone then asked our college kid, "So ... have you stopped driving?" Of course not. But he was caught off guard with that question and became much less irate.

The question that really struck me, though, wasn't so much the topic at hand, but the concept of why we believe what we believe. Two people in the room were quite sure that Mr. Gore had presented a true statement about the problem of global warming in his movie. No number of critics or scientists who disagreed would matter. He was right; they were wrong. The Earth is warming and the United States is the cause and if we don't act now we will kill everyone. More people in the room were quite sure that Mr. Gore had presented a less than truthful argument. They had seen the same information and questioned its veracity. They had heard the critics and opposing scientists and found them to be more compelling than Mr. Gore. None of the people in the room worked for the oil companies, so it couldn't be argued that they had alternate agendas.

My question is "Why?" Why did two of them believe Al while the rest did not? Why is my father-in-law adamant that we ought to ship every single illegal alien back to where they came from while the rest of the family is not? Why is my brother-in-law completely convinced that Jesus is the answer while his sister is convinced that Jesus never really existed? What is it that convinces us to believe what we believe? Why are there people who hear, "You know, the World Trade Center wasn't hit by an airplane; it was blown up by George Bush" and they believe it? There are conspiracy folks who leap on every possibility and conspiracy skeptics who think that a conspiracy cannot happen. There are folks quite certain that the Earth is flat and folks who believe that the moon landing was a fake.

Why? Why do people believe what they believe? It's not the evidence. Generally speaking we all have access to the same evidence. I cannot figure out what causes one person to buy into "A" and the other person to be equally convinced, viewing all the same evidence, that "A" is a lie.

I suppose if I knew the answer to a question like this, I would not only be a genius, I would be able to rule the world. I could just use this information to convince them to make me king. Now that is a scary idea. Maybe I won't pursue this question much further.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Trouble in the Jungle

It's not fair. We aren't allowed to go here. There is a "no touch zone" where we are not allowed to critically examine the topic. I'm crying "Foul!"

What am I talking about? Have you seen Bindi Irwin's upcoming song, Trouble In The Jungle? You know Bindi Irwin. She is that adorable little 9-year-old who has endured the heart-wrenching loss of her famous father, Steve Irwin, in a bizarre accident with a stingray. Undaunted and cute as a button, she has gone on with her own TV show, Bindi the Jungle Girl on Discovery Kids, fighting her father's fight for the preservation of wildlife. So, let's see, here we have a cute little girl who is following in her father's footsteps fighting for animals. What could be a problem here? Why would I want to "critically examine the topic"? What's the foul?

I'm relatively certain that Bindi doesn't write her own lyrics. Further, I'm quite sure that at 9 years old she is not going to carefully examine the concepts and ramifications of the song. The idea of the song is quite clear, but if I try to point to a problem, I'm going to be assaulting this poor little girl. Well, I'm all about examining ideas without attacking people, so here goes. Let's see if I can pull this one off.

The song is one of the latest in the long-standing attacks on human beings. I faced the same dilemma when I was a kid (which wasn't recently). A perennial favorite, the Disney film Bambi is quite clear when it comes to who the bad guy is. Why did the animals run? Who killed Bambi's mother? Who started the devastating forest fire? The narrator says, in ominous tones, "Man was in the forest." Bindi's song tells us precisely the same thing. Here's a sample of the lyrics:
I'm afraid of grizzly bears, but don't you see
Grizzly bears should really be afraid of me.
There's trouble in the jungle.
We find that mankind is not so kind at all.
The song attacks humans from various angles. We are a problem because we use animals for our own purposes. We are a problem because we continue to take more space to live. We are a problem because we don't offer animals the same level of protection that we offer people. Human beings, it seems, are the worst creatures to roam the earth.

I'm tired of it. I didn't like it coming from Disney; I don't like it coming from Bindi. I liked Disney and I like Bindi, but someone has to stop tossing out these accusations. You see, it wasn't us who put us here; it was God. It wasn't us who made us the dominant species; it was God. And while I can wholeheartedly agree that too many humans fail to properly care for our environment and planet, the bottom line is that we were given the role of dominion over the planet and we were made in the image of God -- two factors not included in the animal kingdom.

Paul expresses concern for the planet in Romans 8.
The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:19-23).
Nature has suffered because of sin. Paul recognizes that. Decay is the result of sin. Paul recognizes that. The answer, however, is not to try to save Nature; the answer is to try to save men. It is in "the adoption as sons" and redemption and, ultimately, "the freedom of the glory of the children of God" that Nature will find her release. Scolding humans and making us out to be the cause of all ills on the planet is neither true nor fruitful.

I don't wish to cast aspersions on Bindi. She's doing what she was told was a good thing. She's not thinking about what she's doing; she's feeling her way. However, if you combine Bindi and Bambi with the growing thought that humans are a cosmic accident, biochemical bags that simply occurred in nature without intentional cause or intrinsic value, then you will be setting the conditions for the necessity of annihilation of the human race so this poor old planet can continue on peaceably without mean ol' mankind meddling with it. It will be hard to fight off that argument if the environmentalists and the atheists have their way.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Family Thanksgiving

I don't normally do much personal stuff, but I'm just back from a week with family, so here's an exception. Besides, it was a Thanksgiving weekend, so if I'm thankful for family, it seems appropriate. I am, indeed, thankful for family. Truly, I have an unusually good one. Maybe you'd like to meet some of them.

Patti is my older sister. She's married to Jim. Jim has just experienced a forced retirement. He is a builder. The have traveled around the country, living in a 5th-wheel trailer, building things for various companies. Jim has experienced some physical difficulties that have forced him to give up the work he truly loves. Undaunted, Jim was the same cheerful guy the younger kids called "the monster" this week at the family gathering. It says a lot about the strength of his faith in God's guidance in these difficult times. Of course, Patti has had this same concept for some time. When she was graduating from high school, she was (finally) diagnosed with lupus, a diagnosis that prevented her from going to college in England as planned. Her response was remarkable. "I like these times when God makes His will absolutely clear." Patti has gone through many difficult times herself, not the least of which are the difficult times her husband has gone through. Today she has no symptoms of the lupus (that I am aware of), loves the Lord, and loves her husband. She struggles as we all do from time to time, but ultimately rests in the arms of her Savior, believing that no matter what comes, He will do what's right.

Kari is my younger sister. Her husband, Jeff, is a great guy that works for a Christian credit union. Together they have four children. They managed to produce equal amounts of boys and girls, a feat I can't figure out. Jeff is a real money guy. He knows how to count it, manage it, grow it. At one point in their marriage he decided to change jobs from finances to police work. He had saved enough money to move them from Kentucky to southern California and survive without income for an extended period while he did the necessary preparations. Ultimately he gave up that dream because he felt that it would be detrimental to his family, and that was more important. I really respect someone like that. Now he has this dream job where he works at what he does best with coworkers who are Christians at a company devoted to Christian values. I mean, how many people work in a job in the secular world where they have weekly Bible studies as part of the job? I've watched Jeff grow from a new Christian to a guy hard after the heart of God. Jeff's not perfect -- who is? -- but he's growing. I have a great deal of admiration for Jeff as a professional, a father, and a husband. Kari is high on my list as well. She is a stay-at-home mom, perhaps one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. Raising four children is not easy, especially when one, the oldest, is autistic. He is, to me, the most difficult kind of autistic. If you're anticipating "autistic", you're prepared for what they are, but this one seems absolutely normal. He simply lacks the capability of empathy it seems. "How would it make you feel if ..." is a lost question on him. He's a great kid -- intelligent, energetic, and all that good stuff. His problem is in interpersonal relationships ... like with his siblings. It's deceptive and, as such, difficult to deal with. But Kari has stood firm in the task. She has four great kids, all individuals. I don't think she knows how much I admire her and appreciate her.

My younger brother is Ken. He's married to Kathy. Together they have two kids, both in college now. I've mentioned my brother before. He's the smart one. He has always seemed to be the accomplished one. He was better at the flute than I was at the clarinet, better at sports than I was, and certainly the academic. I've learned from him that being "better" isn't always all it's cracked up to be. Too often it is a measurement on faulty standards. Nonetheless, my brother has never been the arrogant type. We have always enjoyed a good relationship from our childhood on and I am so proud of and grateful for my brother. I really love Kathy as well. She is an accountant, herself a bright person. She is an individual, thinking for herself and doing what she thinks best instead of simply following the crowd. She is remarkable at numbers and remarkable at crafts. You should see some of the scrapbook things she has put together. More importantly, Kathy is ... a family person. Despite being an "in-law" by definition, she has always been at the family gatherings when other "in-laws" weren't too keen on it. You can always expect a "thank you" card from Kathy for a gift given because Kathy thinks that's important. While some parents are eager to let go of their in-laws and their kids, she is eager to hang on to both. I greatly admire that in her. The fact that both of their kids are in higher degree courses in college also speaks well of their parenting. The oldest is aiming at becoming an architect, and the younger daughter is looking at becoming an engineer. Very impressive.

My parents are perhaps the most remarkable. My father cries when his kids tell him they appreciate him and admire him as a father because he's quite sure he made a mess of it all. Obviously, reading the above, you can tell he's mistaken on that point. Using him as a standard for "father", I've fallen far short of the mark. I don't feel too badly, however, because he set the mark so high. My mother ... how can I tell you about how wonderful she is? How about this? She still sends birthday cards to my ex-wife. She just feels led by God to do it. How many mothers do that? She loves her kids in a remarkable way. She loves their spouses as if they are her own. As for her love for her husband -- well, that bar is set far beyond most of our comprehension. Yet, despite all the early difficulties, the two of them have a remarkable, solid, loving marriage. She once told my younger sister (she's 10 years younger than I), "The first 25 years are the most difficult; after that it just gets great." They've been married for 54 years and still going strong. I cannot begin to express my appreciation for and admiration of my mother and my father.

I have a great family. I adore my wife. I have really good kids. My parents are wonderful. My siblings are really good people with really good spouses and really good kids (with the exception, of course, of my older sister -- no kids). I have been blessed. It's nice to have had a Thanksgiving weekend to remind me again of some of those blessings. To me it's not at all about turkey and food. It's a reminder that God has been good to me from the day He placed me in this world.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Isaiah 43

"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!" (Isa. 43:1)
What a fantastic thing to hear from the mouth of God! "You are Mine." Coming from a lesser god, I don't suppose it would be of much benefit. It's reassuring, for instance, to hear my wife say, "I love you; you are mine." But to have from God "you are Mine" doesn't get any better.
"Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life" (Isa. 43:4).
"You are precious in My sight." Again ... from the mouth of God!
"I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins" (Isa. 43:25).
Now, most of you are fairly close to sinless, I know, but this is a sentence that just grips me. To know that the Judge of all the Earth will not call to mind my sins is a blessing beyond compare. And it is humbling to know that it is not for my sake at all; it is for His sake. I am most happy to bring glory to God by having Him wipe out my transgressions.
"The people whom I formed for Myself, will declare My praise" (Isa. 43:21).
As you join with other believers around the world today to glorify God, remember this. We are His people. He formed us for Himself. Let us declare His praise.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Just Desserts

A recent news item (if I knew the source, I'd cite it -- I don't) covered the changes coming to the English language. The changes were centered on the acceptance of common usage ... even though it's wrong. The idea was that since more than half the users of the language are using terms incorrectly, their usage becomes acceptable and the dictionaries all change to reflect it.

I've seen it a lot myself. One seminary student wrote regarding a class that he took that it was "fascinating to the tilt." I understand "fascinating to the hilt." "To the hilt" refers to a sword inserted all the way to its last inch. In more modern vernacular, it would be "to the max" or, in older terminology, "to the utmost." That would be a fascinating class. But "fascinating to the tilt" doesn't make any sense to me. It has no meaning. The only meaning that I can derive from it is by connecting it to "to the hilt" and assuming the author made a mistake.

One I've heard several times is the replacement of the term "fathom" with "phantom". Something is so complicated or deep that "I just can't phantom it." "Phantom"? "Fathom" would refer to the nautical practice of throwing out a line knotted with regular spacing of one fathom (about 1.83m) to find out how deep the water is. If they ran out of rope, it was "too deep to fathom." If "I can't fathom it", the topic was just too deep to figure out. But if I can't "phantom" it, I suppose there are ghosts of some sort involved that I don't understand.

"Free rein" refers to the concept of letting loose of the horse's reins and allowing it to go wherever it chooses. In fact, the concept of "reins" in terms of control have several idioms in our language. You can "grab the reins" when you take control. You can "rein in" a loose cannon. You can "take the reins of power" when you assume control. All of these are images of controlling a horse, and that imagery gives them their meaning. The dictionary, however, is changing. Too many people think of the term "reign". When you have "free reign", it means you are free to rule as you please. You can "grab the reigns" to take control and "reign in" a loose cannon by passing edicts based on your rule. In other words, since it makes sense to some people, it's ... right.

There is a website called Eggcorn Database that has a whole listing of these types of twists to the English language. You can "go at it hammer and thongs", miss "by a hair's breath" or even "a hare's breadth", discuss a "mute point", or have "a tough road to hoe". "Shoe in" is now "shoo in", "anchors aweigh" has shifted to "anchors away", and instead of "deep-seated" problems, you have "deep-seeded" ones. Although it started out as a "bare-faced" or "bald-faced" lie, most think of it as a "bold-face" lie. In fact, when I checked they had 596 entries of misuse of the language.

What is happening? Why is the language shifting ... and why is the shift replacing the correct? Well, the reason for the shift is primarily because most people don't know the source. More importantly, most people don't think about the source. They are simply mimicking what they heard ... or think they heard. They aren't examining what it means, where it came from, or how to use it. They are simply parroting with a parrot's understanding. When confronted ("How can you say 'reign in'"???), instead of examining the possibility they are wrong, they simply rise to their own defense ("I can make sense out of 'reign in' so it must be okay."). And why is it replacing the correct? That which is correct is replaced by that which is popular ... just about everywhere you turn.

A shift from the right to wrong use of the language is a small item. It upsets some of us, but most people could care less. (Note: The original phrase was "couldn't care less", but popular usage has made "could care less" the "correct" term ... even though it makes zero sense.) The problem is that this same concept has weaved its way into less innocuous things like, oh, I don't know, theology and doctrine. People far too often have decided that the right thing to believe about the character of God and the nature of Christianity is whatever they've heard. Does it make sense? Not necessarily. Do they know the source? Not really. Can they defend it? Not particularly. Do the ramifications make sense? Not at all. So we go on to discuss common terminology like "justification" and "sanctification" and "Trinity" and the like, it turns out that the connections are almost nonexistent. At this point it becomes important to bare in mind that it's not much to do about nothing. We need to nip this in the butt before these folks sail us down the river. Most people, however, consider it a mute point.

All humor aside, we might be able to work our way around misuse of the language, but abuse of the nature of God and the doctrines of Christianity produce heresies like Open Theism, anti-Trinitarianism, and outright denials of justification by faith. These are not small items. Salvation and a relationship with the Father depend on them. When it comes to issues of faith and doctrine, "most people think this is true" or "it's the popular perception" will only get you into trouble if it's wrong. Not something we can afford.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I Deserve Happiness

I met with Dave (The names and details are changed because, well, it's probably the best thing to do.) some 15 years after working together in the Air Force. We had a lot of catching up to do. He had earned his pilot's license and gone on to be a professional pilot. He met his wife-to-be at a bar where he played as a musician on the side. She became his wife after helping him through some difficult times. They had two children together and he loved her other kids as his own. All was going okay until "she" came back into his life. She had been the one that got away, the love of his life, that special one that had broken his heart when she left years ago but was back now. He was now contemplating leaving his wife and running off with her. She was, after all, "the one". He surely didn't love his wife. He deserved to be happy, didn't he? How could anyone object?

It's not about Dave. It's about the standard mindset. Far too often it's not about what's right. It's about "what will make me happy". Sometimes that means that we leap into overbearing debt because "delayed gratification" isn't a reasonable thing to consider. "I want it and I want it now." Sometimes that means divorce. Marriage, after all, can be hard work. And what could be worth that kind of hardship? Sure, everyone knows that it hurts the children, but no one should think that I should have to sacrifice my own happiness for something beyond myself.

There are all sorts of ways that we evict the notions of personal responsibility, integrity, hard work, and sacrifice. It is so easy to think that these things get in the way of happiness. I don't really know why. We have all heard stories of people who work through difficult circumstances to come out with immense personal satisfaction. We all know that the people who are given comfort rather than earning it aren't happy with it. I suspect that we all have even experienced the satisfaction of a job well done, the joy of a hard-earned success.

Don't do it. Don't buy that lie. Don't shortchange others because "you deserve a break today." I mean, seriously, how can we be a culture whose marching orders for life are offered by a hamburger joint? Don't cut yourself off from the joys that follow some of the most difficult sacrifice and work of your life by opting for short term, surface "happiness" that lasts only as long as your first difficulty. Don't teach those around you that trials are evil, endurance is meaningless, and self is the only important thing.

During this season of "What do you want for Christmas", maybe we can think of something deeper than our immediate, short term, personal desires. There is a deeper joy out there in giving of self, surrendering of personal desires, and caring for those around us. Seriously, it's not all about you. You don't deserve happiness, but you will find real joy in self-sacrifice, personal integrity, and looking out for others. Give it a shot.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm grateful.

I'm grateful for family. The more I know about "normal" families, the more stunned I am at how good God was to me in giving me my family. I have marvelous parents, great siblings, a wonderful wife, and great kids. I even have remarkably good in-laws. I'm grateful for family.

I'm grateful for my health and life. I have a good job doing work I like making enough money to support my family and good benefits to take care of what I need to take care of. I remain healthy, rarely getting sick or suffering from physical ailments. I'm grateful for my health and life.

Years ago I asked my kids (when they were kids) what they were grateful for, and one gave the "naive" answer, "I'm thankful for God." I smiled and nodded and went on, amused, but the more I thought about it the more impressed I was with the answer. My relationship with God informs every aspect of my life. It makes tough times purposeful and joyful. It gives direction to life. It provides strength in struggles, purpose in life, and humility in high points. It provides motivation in doing my job, reasons to love my wife, direction and support as a father, even instruction on how to be a citizen.

My son was young and somewhat simplistic when he told me he was grateful for God. I have a whole lot for which to be grateful. I have family, health, life, salvation, on and on and on. All of it, however, is a gift from God. I am grateful to God for all of it. I am grateful for God for the benefits He provides and the God that He is.

His mercies are new every morning.

Count your many blessings.

Here's hoping you have a happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

You Gotta Have Friends

If one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart (Eccl. 4:12).
Friendship is an important thing to human beings. As the song says, "You gotta have friends." The Bible, on the other hand, records this interesting warning:
A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24).
Apparently, then, there are varieties of friends. Some are good, and some are not. We all know, for instance, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Prov. 27:6). So what's up with that?

It's fairly simple. I'm not divulging any deep thought. Friendship happens at various levels. The lightest level -- the surface level -- would be the acquaintance. Most of us have lots of people with whom we're acquainted. These are people who likely know our name and probably not much else. We can ask about their health or work and share how we are doing today (The standard acceptable answer is "fine, thanks"). They don't want to know and we aren't free to share much beyond that at this level. As we dig deeper into friendship, we will find the next level. I'll call it "casual friendship". This level generally shares commonality of interests. Shared interests provide opportunities for a little deeper connection ... but not too deep. As we dive through the surface level of acquaintance and start to select people with common interests, we end up with a smaller number of people that could be considered "close friends". Close friends have some level of commitment to each other. There is a shared set of interests, but more importantly there is a concern for each other in those shared interests. Finally there is that deepest level of friendship that I will call "intimate friends". I don't mean it in the sexual sense, but in the sense of a shared connection at the most intimate levels of the person. These friends are rare. Most people won't have more than two or three of these. These friends are given the right to correct us because we are convinced that they love us. We can share our deepest thoughts and feelings with these friends because we are convinced they are on our side.

As the levels of friendship deepen, the numbers decrease. There are lots of acquaintances, but fewer casual friends, even fewer close friends, and an extremely limited number of intimate friends. That last level would (hopefully) include a spouse and one or two others -- no more. Indeed, some people have real problems getting to that deepest level.

We need friends. God designed us for connection. We need people with whom we can share various levels of our lives. We need close friends with whom we can share our thoughts and feelings. Some people are so bruised in life that they close out the possibility of friends at anything deeper than casual friendship. They don't want to have deep conversations or share deep feelings. But we need them. We weren't meant to be disconnected.

I need my friends. I have enjoyed very few connections with sufficient trust that I can share the gammut of what constitutes "me". My friend, Steve, has been one of those very rare connections. We have shared it all. Now, having moved to a different state, I feel acutely the loss of that connection. The other night my wife and I visited the evening with Steve and his wife. What a wonderful time.

Be grateful for the friends you have ... at all levels. Treat them well. remember, even if a good friend causes you pain at times, "faithful are the wounds of a friend." Friends are a gift from God. Treasure them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Anyone who has spent much time out here on the web can miss this term -- freethinker. It is a popular term among atheists. Depending on who you talk to, the definition varies slightly. According to wikipedia, the term is "a philosophical viewpoint that holds that beliefs should be formed on the basis of science and logic and not be compromised by emotion, authority, tradition, or any dogma." More strident folks will argue, "Beliefs create mental barriers and have caused violence, ignorance, and intolerance." So to believe anything, by this definition, would preclude you from being a "freethinker". (I guess you'd have to believe that belief causes mental barriers to believe that a freethinker isn't supposed to believe anything ... but I digress.)

For most, it is assumed that a "freethinker" (I put it in quotes and skip the gap between "free" and "thinker" because it is its own term) is not a religious person. It is assumed that freethought is synonymous with atheism. It is assumed that the only way that a person can believe in a God of any sort is to be convinced by emotion, authority, tradition, or dogma. Any thinking person, they assume, can see that belief in God is "faith", not "reason", and not a matter of "science and logic." To put it most simply and in the way most seem to put it, there is no evidence for the existence of God. Therefore, any belief in God is not free thought, is not rational, and is not logical.

I cannot even begin to fathom where this idea comes from. Even Bertrand Russell, the famous atheist, admitted that "free thought" was not about what you believed, but how you believed it.
What makes a free thinker is not his beliefs, but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought, he find a balance of evidence in their favor, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem. [Bertrand Russell, "The Value of Free Thought" Bertrand Russell on God and Religion (ed. Al Seckel, Buffalo: Prometheus, 1986), pp. 239-40.]
Do a search sometime. Just Google "evidence for the existence of God". The listings are long. There are scientific listings and PhD types. There are quick and, unfortunately, silly listings. There are websites devoted to the question. There are books and DVDs and even a video on YouTube. Is there evidence for the existence of God? I can't imagine how one could deny it.

Now, it is possible to argue "There is no proof of the existence of God." "Proof" is defined as "evidence sufficient to establish a thing as true or to produce belief in its truth." Is there evidence that the Earth is a sphere? Absolutely! Are there people who believe it is flat? Amazingly, yes. The evidence may be overwhelming, but it is not sufficient to produce belief in its truth. But the fact that there is no proof of the existence of God is merely a comment on the nature of "proof", not on the existence of evidence.

There is evidence that God exists. It cannot be denied. It can be denied that the evidence constitutes proof. It can be denied that the evidence is valid. It can be denied that there is a God. But the fact remains that there is evidence, whether or not it is accepted or sufficient, for the existence of God.

I get tired sometimes of the "superiority" of the "freethinkers". You'll find it on TV. Any real intellectual on the television shows denies the existence of God because, well, it's not rational. Denying that belief in God can be rational is not rational. It is entirely possible for someone to examine the evidence for and against and come to the logical conclusion that there is a God. Why it is that "freethinkers" need to vehemently deny this is beyond me. Me thinks they doth protest too much ...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gun Violence

News Flash!

Yesterday, an estimated 65 million gun owners in the U.S. didn't kill anyone.

Just thought you'd like to know.

(Short, I know, but I'm working from the road.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Communion of the Saints

When you go to church today, remember ...
You have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:18-24).
You have come to the city of the living God. You are among innumerable angels. You are joining with the rest of the saints -- the spirits of the righteous made perfect. You are going to be in the presence of Jesus. I cannot imagine how anyone could think for a moment, "Church is boring. There's nothing relevant going on here. I wish they'd make it more interesting." Enjoy this day of the Lord.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

His Dark Materials

I have already raised the flag about this new movie coming out, The Golden Compass. Due to my vast readership and expansive influence, I'm sure both of my readers are now fully aware of the danger. I noted the other day, however, the real danger in this stuff.

Philip Pullman, the author of The Northern Lights, the book upon which the upcoming movie, The Golden Compass is based, says of himself that he "is of the Devil's party and does know it." He says of this book that it was his goal to invert heaven and hell. He considers Christianity "a very powerful and convincing mistake" and believes that the constant function of the Church is to "control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling." His stories include Church-controlled scientists who kidnap children and perform gruesome experiments on them. His self-stated ultimate goal is the killing of God.

In the first book, however, The Northern Lights, we are treated to only the surface story. Pullman denies that it's his answer to C.S. Lewis (whom he calls a racist and "monumentally disparaging of women"), and he asserts that his books aren't anti-Christian -- they're anti-religion. But the effect here is a bit disconcerting. We will be given an exciting film looking for all the world like the Chronicles of Narnia with only a hint of anti-God in it. Kids will be excited and want to read more. They can run on over to Walmart and find the trilogy -- His Dark Materials. Oh, joy! Good reading! More fun! Parents, having seen nothing too disturbing about the movie, will allow this spiritual land mine into their homes, happy to have their kids read again. And Philip Pullman will be given the opportunity to poison young minds with his own hatred of the Church and his own lies about God.

I'm not against Pullman's freedom of expression. I would protect his right to say what he wants. I don't have to face God for his words at Judgment Day. And I don't think that my beliefs are so indefensible that they can't stand up to a bitter enemy of the church and his children's stories. None of that concerns me. What I am concerned about is that this material is going to be handed to children. These little minds are not prepared to analyze the information they're given. And parents rarely take the time to do it for them or with them. So, thinking that they're simply giving their kids another nice book to read, they will be handing their children poison of the variety that tastes good, goes down easy, and serves to repress the truth ... all without knowing it.

Maybe you're a concerned parent who reads with your kids and can walk them through this stuff. Good for you! Maybe you're a cautious parent who doesn't just jump up and down that your young reader wants to read and are concerned about what they read. Excellent! For the rest, please be cautious. It looks innocent enough, but the author himself has not hidden his intentions. Be aware.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Good from Bad

There is a peculiar passage of Scripture that reads like this:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
Strange ... very strange. How does one connect "joy" and "various trials"? Paul seemed to think in a similar way when he wrote:
For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil. 1:29).
Granted? What's up with that, Paul? You're talking as if it is a wonderful thing to be able to suffer for Christ's sake. That seems odd in our thinking. Perhaps, though, if we examined it carefully we might find that it's not so far out.

In a recent interview, John McCain spoke of his time in the prison camp in Hanoi during the Vietnam Conflict. Of that time he said, "It was then that I learned to really love my country." He was patriotic before that, but having lost the freedoms that he loved, he found a deep and abiding love for his country in those prison camps. He would not have found that love if he had not endured that suffering.

Many parents, upon being told that the child in the womb is likely a Down's Syndrome baby, seriously consider abortion. Ask any parent, however, who has had the hardship and joy of raising such a child if they would change their minds. I suspect that an overwhelming percentage would shout, "No!" They speak in glowing terms of the joy and love that they experienced in interacting with that child. They would never have wished it on any child or any parent, but neither would they trade it for anything.

The truth, it seems, is that the most growth, the most maturing, the most valuable lessons in life occur when we are most stressed. In times of comfort we don't grow much. It is in times of need and pain and travail that we seem to thrive, to grow, to move forward. As a simple example, when I learned tennis, I didn't really improve unless I played against people far better than me. I lost, but I learned.

No one wishes for suffering. No one looks forward to tough times. We don't ask for them or hope for them. We should keep in mind, however, that God promises suffering to those whom He loves, and that He will use these times for our improvement. In your tough times, then, see if you can learn to consider it all joy, knowing that God will use it for your best. And if you lack wisdom ... but you can read the next few verses of James 1 to find out what to do then.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Works or Faith? Yes!

There seems to be this constant back-argument that goes on among Christians regarding works. One side will say, "We are not saved by works; works has nothing to do with being a Christian." The other side will say, "No, it's not possible to be a Christian without works." Of course, most of the time the two sides are talking past each other and not really connecting. You can see this if you know that the other side actually agrees that we are not saved by works, so their statement regarding the necessity of works is not in terms of obtaining salvation, but in terms of being a Christian. However, the one side will always respond with something to the effect that "Oh, you believe in works-based salvation!" which, of course, isn't the case. And the dialog is lost.

I agree at the outset without equivocation that we are saved apart from works. There can be very little that is clearer in the New Testament than that statement. It was Paul's explicit, unavoidable point when he wrote:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
Obviously the emphasis was added by me, but I suspect that if Paul had the means, he would have done the same thing. The entire point is "not of works". It is one of the primary things that differentiate Christianity from every other religion on the planet. It is at the core of the Gospel. It is perhaps one of the single most misunderstood points of Christianity as viewed from outside. It is not about being good enough to get to heaven. Salvation is applied, not earned. Righteousness is imputed, not accumulated.

Okay, so, clearly works have nothing to do with it ... right?

That would be a faulty leap of logic. It requires that we ignore a whole lot of Scripture. It doesn't work if you want to keep the Bible in view.

When John the Baptist was preaching to Israel, he told his listeners, "Bear fruits in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8). Notice that "repentance" preceded (in time) "bear fruits". That is, they were expected to repent, then they would act on that repentance. The actions followed the fact. Paul makes the same argument in Ephesians (and this is problematic for those who would like to argue that John's repentance was just for the Jews, not for us).
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Eph. 4:1).
In Paul's economy of salvation there was the calling in which you are chosen and come to Christ followed by activities that match that calling. Paul, in essence, urged them to bear fruits in keeping with repentance.

Now, nothing in this formula suggests in the least that the activities brings about salvation. Rather, these works are a product of salvation. I think this is where the problem occurs in the back-argument discussion. One side is arguing against works-based salvation, and the other side is arguing for the product of faith-based salvation. Unfortunately, there is a tendency in thinking that works have no bearing on salvation to conclude that works have no bearing whatsoever. James heartily disagrees.
Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17).
Here James differentiates between "dead faith" and faith that saves. Note that the faith precedes the works. However, faith without works is not living faith. It's dead. It qualifies you to be a demon perhaps (James 2:19), but not to be saved. That kind of faith does nothing for your salvation.

The problem on the other side occurs when people arguing that faith produces works begin to equate salvation with those works. Again, a mistake. Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). There is a definite sequence here. First, abide ... second, fruit. Fruit occurs in time and follows a connection to Christ. Fruit does not cause or even enhance the connection to Christ. It is simply the result. It is, however, the unavoidable, necessary result.

In the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23), there are various types of soil (people) in their response to the seed (the Word). Some reject the Word outright, but most do not. In some cases it takes shallow root. In other cases it is choked out. The only group that is actually classified as "good soil" has the singular distinction, not of believing, but of bearing fruit. There are many who will claim to believe (Matt. 7:13-21). The difference is visible in the result. The result is fruit. The difference is in how you behave as a follower of Christ.

Now, I would caution us all to be careful about being "fruit inspectors". It's generally not beneficial. On the other hand, it is equally dangerous (for others and yourself) to ignore that fruit. If God says it should be there, who are we to ignore it? So let's see if we can find a helpful balance. Works do not provide salvation. Works, on the other hand, are an unavoidable result of true salvation. Perhaps we ought to watch ourselves more carefully instead of assuming "I believed ... I'm done, right?" And perhaps, if we care about those around us, we can help them keep an eye out as well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Carrot and Stick

It has been suggested (ad infinitum, ad nauseam) that Christianity (like all other religions) is a "carrot and stick" religion. The idea is simple. Be good. If you don't, you will go to hell (stick). If you do, you will go to heaven (carrot). Those who typically make this suggestion, in whatever words they choose, usually intend it in a disparaging way. "What a superficial way of looking at things! We should be above all that! My way of looking at life is much higher than that."

There are a couple of things that need to be said about this accusation. First, it is not true that Christianity teaches this. It is simply a lie. I can't sugar-coat it. It is directly contrary to the actual truth of what Christianity teaches. Christianity is predicated on the notion that no one is good enough to go to heaven. So "be good and you can avoid hell and go to heaven" is fundamentally incongruent with Christianity. Instead, Christianity teaches "We have all earned hell and nothing we can do on our own will change that. The possibility of heaven can only occur if someone else fixes our problem and that's what Jesus did when He died for us." There is absolutely no such thing in Christianity as "good enough" when it comes to avoiding hell or gaining heaven. Cannot happen. The message at the bottom rung of Christian doctrine is "saved by grace through faith in Christ; not of works."

That having been said, it would be equally nonsense to suggest that Christianity does not carry a "carrot and stick" aspect. It would be nonsense because everything in this life carries something like it. Human beings, like the rest of the beings on this planet, operate solely on two basic motivations: 1) Hope for gain, or 2) fear of loss. That's it. That's all. One is a carrot and one is a stick. Now, humans are not like every other creature on this planet in that they can operate on higher levels of those two basic motivations. In the earliest, least mature human, the primary operating motivation is just these. I will either try to obtain for myself that which I consider gain, or I will try to avoid that which I consider loss. As we mature, we might go to the next stage. It is more altruistic (although I question, in its true form, whether actual altruism exists). It says, "What will be gain to you or what will cause you loss?" It's the correct operation of any spouse, for instance. A good spouse won't operate simply on what they want; they will try to provide for their partner what the partner wants. A good spouse won't simply try to avoid personal loss; they will try to protect their partner from loss. Sometimes it happens that a person operating on this level of the motivational tree will take personal loss for the sake of another. That's considered heroic. We value that. Still, it is fundamentally a carrot and stick. I want your gain (carrot) and I want to avoid your loss (stick). We can go on to see a third level of this same motivation -- hope for God's gain and fear for God's loss -- but the point, I think, is made. All of life operates on the carrot and stick approach.

The suggestion is "What a superficial way of looking at things!" I would offer a counter suggestion: It's simply the way life operates. What the gain is or what the loss is may vary, but we always do what we do for a reason. In fact, the Bible suggests the same "carrot and stick" approach. It is first found in Genesis when God told Adam, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17). Stick. Israel was thick with the concept in Deuteronomy as God pronounced blessings and curses throughout -- blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Carrot and stick. In the New Testament, Jesus spoke about the torment of those who died in their sin and the eternal life of those who believed (e.g. Matt. 25:36). Carrot and stick. Paul sprinkles throughout his epistles the promise of reward for those who are faithful. Others, on the other hand, "will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction" (2 Thess. 1:9). Carrot and stick.

God has chosen to operate, in one dimension of His relationship with humans, in terms of blessings or cursings, gain or loss, carrot or stick. While Christianity does not teach that we are saved by being good, it would be foolish to suggest that this dimension doesn't exist. All of life on this planet has this dimension. Sometimes the effect is direct; sometimes it is indirect. The effect, however, is ever-present and denying it even for those who operate outside of a Christian world view would be dishonest. The only real question is what gain or loss will motivate you?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lesson from a Cactus

The Saguaro is the classic American southwest icon. It represents, in one image, "the desert". You can find it in stylized images or photographs. It is present in the classic western movies to prove the location.

The Saguaro cactus is a special cactus. It is only naturally occurring in the Sonoran Desert. It can be found in Arizona, a portion of northern Mexico, and a corner of California. Nowhere else does this magnificent cactus grow. It is very localized. Near Tucson, Arizona, there is a national park devoted entirely to the Saguaro because it is so plentiful there.

The cactus is very long lived. It will typically take 50 years before it grows its first arm. Some are over 150 years old. There is one version of this cactus called the "cristate saguaro" in which the arms are fused into a bundle at the top, looking something like a green, prickly brain on a pole. Scientists haven't been able to figure out what causes this mutation because it takes so long for the cactus to grow that it outlives the scientists doing the testing. And they can be quite large. Some Saguaros have been known to grow over 50 feet tall and weigh up to 7 tons.

The Saguaro is a desert mainstay. Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers will dig holes in its sides to create safe nests for their young. These nests, no matter how intrusive they need to be, typically don't seem to bother the cactus one bit. And since they never return to the same nest, other birds such as the Cactus Wren or the Elf Owl can use the opening later for their nests.

The Saguaro bloom is the state flower of Arizona. These cacti will typically produce a bouquet of white flowers at their various tips, providing nectar for bats and for bees and other insects. Eventually, the white flowers fall off and the fruit that they leave ripens, splitting open in a bright red display. Birds of all sorts will come to feed on these treasures.

Here is a little piece of trivia. I like to take nature photos. Since these things are so awesome, I'm always keeping an eye out for an interesting Saguaro. One thing I keep an eye out for is your standard, two-armed version. You know the one. It's in every icon. It's the standard cactus. Everyone knows what it looks like. It has two arms, one on each side, growing out and then up. You've seen it. You know you have. Funny thing. I haven't. Well, to be accurate, I have only seen it rarely. Twice, to be specific. I've driven through the Saguaro National Park more than once. I've hiked and driven through various parts of Arizona's deserts. I've likely seen thousands of these endangered cacti. And in all that time, I've seen exactly two of them that actually match what everyone thinks of when they think "southwest cactus". A large number of them are too young to have any arms. Those that have arms typically have multiple arms -- three, four, or more. Occasionally I'll find one with two arms ... but they're not normally on opposite sides of the cactus from each other. Sometimes I'll get a glimpse of the classic cactus with an arm on either side, only to find that it is hiding a third one behind it or some such. Oddly, the cactus that everyone equates with Arizona -- the two-armed cactus -- is almost never seen anywhere.

The cactus itself is interesting to me. It is an endangered cactus with extremely limited range. It can be ancient and survive in environments that would kill you and me. It provides food and shelter for life in the desert. It's in interesting cactus to me. But I learn an important lesson when I examine the stereotype compared to the real thing. The stereotype almost never matches the real thing. So the next time someone suggests, for instance, that "Christians are like ____" based on a stereotype or "Calvinists think that ___" or "Conservatives believe ___", be cautious. Like the large gap between the image of the Saguaro and its reality, often it is true that icons don't match what is true.

Monday, November 12, 2007

On Hell

What do we know about Hell?

We know that for a good portion of the Bible "Hell" (and its synonyms) is not a reference to the eternal resting place of the unsaved. For the most part, it refers instead simply to the place of the dead. This place is in view when Jesus gives His parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). The place of the dead included a place of torment and a place called "Abraham's bosom" that was quite comfortable it appears. We know that, in the final judgment, death and Hell are thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). It's called "the second death". So we know that we should be careful in our examination of the subject of Hell because sometimes it's not that place that people think of.

We know that the place that people think of, the place of "eternal torment", the place most people think of as "Hell", is a real place. Try as the modern "scholars" might, it is not possible to move this place to an imaginary condition and retain Scripture. Why do I say that?

Jesus often referred to a place -- an actual place -- called "Gehenna" (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5). James used it in his epistle (James 3:6). Gehenna was the trash dump for Jerusalem. It was in the valley of Hinnom. At one time the Ammonites and, later, Israel worshiped Moloch there, including the sacrifice of children by fire. It became the place that they burned everything -- animal corpses, trash, whatever. Of that place it was said that the fire was unquenchable (Mark 9:48). Matt. 18:8-9 refers to it as eternal fire. So what goes on there is eternal.

Modern thought is tainted with a "literalist" perception brought by the likes of Dante and his types. They gave us an image of "Hell" as a place where there is fire and lots of naked, writhing bodies. This "literalist" approach, however, is not likely the actual truth any more than the idea that, when sinners are finally judged, they will end up in the valley of Hinnom. In Scripture there are places in which human comprehension is exceeded and we're left with metaphor to try to get the message. John's Revelation of Jesus Christ is full imagery that is clearly intended to convey what John saw while lacking the words to actually get it across. In Rev. 21:18, for instance, the streets of the New Jerusalem are described as "pure gold, like clear glass." Now how does that work? Is it clear or gold? John's description in Rev. 1:12-16 is clearly not literal, but John's attempt at getting across an image that we couldn't possible comprehend without having seen it. In the same way, the biblical descriptions of Hell are not likely intended to be literal any more than the descriptions of heaven should be taken at simple face value. In both cases God is attempting to get across to the finite human mind something that is outside of our experience and comprehension. How do you do that? You tell them things they do understand in comparison.

Hell -- the final resting place, the "lake of fire", the final home of the unsaved -- is a place of eternal torment. How painful is it? Not likely physical pain, but let me try to get you to understand the depth of the torment. Imagine, if you will, that you're standing in blazing fire. There is no protection. There is no end. You are not consumed. It's just a constant searing burning pain beyond any other pain imaginable. Or, here, try this. Imagine that you're being eaten alive by worms. You don't actually get consumed; you are just being eaten. You know, something out of the most hideous horror film ever made. Got it? Well, Hell is much, much worse. It's not simple physical torment. It's eternal separation from God. How to get that across is beyond me. Truthfully I'm not 100% clear on it myself. But it's the worst of all possible torments you can imagine, and telling you it's like a fire is a start.

There are those who would like us to believe that the place we've always been told as the place of eternal punishment doesn't actually exist. No such place will ever be. God is too gracious. Some suggest that no one need worry about such a thing; God will save everyone. Others understand that this doesn't work with Scripture. So they assure us that He'll simply annihilate you. You'll just cease to be. Neither of these options meet the standard of what Scripture pictures for us. The torment will be real and eternal. It is contrasted with the real eternal life offered to the saved. In Matt. 25:46, there is either eternal punishment or eternal life. Universalism or annihilationism doesn't meet that definition. Rev. 14:11 says of those who serve the beast "the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever". Universalism or annihilationism doesn't satisfy that requirement.

So, I'm thinking that Hell, that place of eternal torment, is something that I'd like to avoid and something that I'd like the people I care about to avoid. Just a thought.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day, 2007

I watched a report on CBS about blacks in the military. Since they were first allowed to join, they have been a mainstay of the armed forces of America. They have often gone far above and beyond the call of duty, partly because they felt they had something to prove. Recently, however, there has been a fall off of enlistments from the African-American community. In the news item I heard comments like "It's not our fight" and "They're not following in the footsteps of their fathers and uncles because they now have other options."

In the 1940's America faced the second World War. There was no avoiding it. Europe needed our help again, but Japan brought it to us. So America geared up and went to war on two fronts -- Europe and the Pacific. This was no small war. It was not cheap in terms of dollars or in terms of lives. It wasn't merely expensive to the government; it cost each individual. Men joined the military in droves and were ashamed if they couldn't get in. Women threw themselves into the job market to help provide the necessary goods for life and war. Families sacrificed basics like rubber, sugar, and gasoline so that this war could be won. Companies like Singer who made sewing machines shifted their entire line to help provide machine guns. There were even Japanese-Americans who were desperate to take part, fighting valiantly in Europe. And there were no complaints. You didn't hear protests about the cost. You didn't hear that we needed to withdraw because too many lives were being lost. You didn't hear that it was costing the nation too much money. You never heard, "It's not our fight" or "I'm joining because I have no other options."

We owe a debt of gratitude to those folks. They, as a nation, chose to willingly sacrifice for a common cause. So strongly did they feel the need for freedom and security that they were willing to risk it all to have it. It was a different time and place.

Today this country is largely an embarrassment to the spirit that was then. We are not willing to sacrifice. We are not willing to serve. We are not willing to see things through. Politicians and leaders around the country have suggested without a thought that the only reason young people join the military is to get out of it what they want. They have suggested that the only reason to join is to avoid problems, to get a leg up on their community, to try to get ahead in life. Nothing about service, community, patriotism.

Having served ten years myself, I am shocked and dismayed. I know of no more patriotic Americans than those who have served in the military. There may be personal gain from joining up, but that shouldn't diminish the cost, the patriotism, the heart, and the service of our active duty military folks. It's just too bad that they don't have the support of a nation like the one that valued community above self back in the '40's.

From the First Day

I read this recently in Philippians:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now (Phil. 1:3-5).
The book is a joyous book. Paul says over and over again "rejoice" and shares his joys, even the joys of being a prisoner in chains. He has learned, he says, to be content in every situation. So in the opening passage, Paul tells the beloved Philippian Christians how grateful to God he is for them.

There is an interesting phrase in the last verse there. One of the things for which Paul is grateful is "your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now." Paul says that from the very first day that they came to Christ they began participating in the work he was doing. You don't see much of that these days.

Most people have bought into the idea that you need to be trained. One of my favorite musicians, Steve Taylor, once did a song called I Want to be a Clone. In it, a new convert says, "I kinda wanted to tell my friends and people about it, you know?" to which "they" reply, "What?! You're still a babe. You have to grow! Give it twenty years or so! If you want to be one of His you gotta act like one of us!"

You see, we don't want new converts mucking things up. They're enthusiastic, sure, but they're loose canons. (I didn't misspell "cannon".) They're going to say the wrong things. They haven't been taught how to lead people to Christ. I mean, would you allow a kid out of high school to perform an operation or an auto mechanic to lead a church? Of course not! "What?! You're still a babe. You have to grow! Give it twenty years or so!"

But ... what if things were different? What if, just theoretically, of course, instead of making converts we made disciples? What if, instead of simply dropping this babe in Christ off and letting him or her go, we walked along side? What if we swept them into our activities and ministries and lives and, oh, I don't know, taught them to observe all that Christ commanded? Just an idea here, but what if we invested our lives into the lives of others rather than spinning them off into insulated training sessions to teach them the right words and the right thoughts? What would that look like?

What kind of Christians would that make? They wouldn't be detached and on their own. They wouldn't be "church hopping" or stuck trying to figure out this whole Christian thing on their own. They would immediately involved in ministry ... you know, like Christ did with His disciples. Take them along. Have them participate. Walk along side. Sometimes send them out on their own. It would develop mature Christians rather than poorly fed believers not quite sure of what they believe or why. It would engage their talents and spiritual gifts rather than leave them to flop about and figure what to do ... maybe.

Well, of course, we're not doing this for the most part, so I guess it's just a loony, off-the-cuff, crazy, biblical idea I had ...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Death's Door

Death has been bugging me lately. Not my death. Clearly I'm still alive. It's the deaths of people around me. Last May my grandfather died quite suddenly. While he was 90 going on 91, it was still a surprise to me. A couple of weeks ago someone else I cared about passed on. She was old and tired and went to be with the Lord and, while her husband of 68 years will miss her dearly, it was definitely her time. And it was still sad. This week a friend and coworker had to take time off for bereavement. Seems like the older I get, the more people are dying around me.

It's not my death that catches the corner of my mind's eye. It took some time, but several years ago I came to an understanding of Paul's statement, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). I think I've come to the same place he did. Besides, my parents saw to it that I'll never die. A couple of weeks ago when I was in the doctor's office and she was reviewing my family history, the doctor remarked, "My, you have an amazing set of genes, don't you?" I'm sure she wasn't talking about my Levi's. No, we're a long-lived clan. Someone once said, "My heart is so healthy that when I die they'll have to take it out and beat it to death." Maybe I'm not quite that healthy, but I'm not anticipating death by natural causes for many years to come.

It's just that, having passed the half-century point, I have to expect that I will start to lose people around me that I love very much. My mom and my dad, amazingly enough, are a couple of decades older than I am. They are very dear to me and I can't imagine how it will hurt when God calls them home. When we get together there is such sweet fellowship as a blood and a spiritual family. And while they enjoy the same good genes they passed on to me, I can see that Dad is slowing down and every so often I hear that Mom has had some sort of health scare. No one lives forever. Then there's my wife's parents. I'm close to them as well. They don't have the benefit of my family's genes. He has survived prostate cancer and she has survived a stroke and it's just a matter of time. I expect my siblings will likely live as long as I do if not longer. That's good. But I expect I'll likely outlive my dear, dear wife, and that will be a tough row to hoe. She really is my better half, and living without half will be hard. I've already told my kids that they have to be careful because they're not allowed to go before me. Not allowed, you understand. But they're good kids. I anticipate they'll do as they're told.

Of course, the good news is that I expect most of the people I care about to leave this world and go straight to heaven. That's certainly a comfort. They'll be so much better off. But I have to be honest. When I get to heaven, I don't plan to be looking around for the people that went before me. My plan is to lay at the feet of my Savior. I'm thinking of starting out with the first 10 or 20 thousand years or so like that. I love my parents and my wife and siblings and my kids, and if they go on before me I'll be delighted for them in heaven, but I won't be looking for them. It's the sweet, sweet face of Jesus that I'll be looking for.

So I guess I'd better use the time I have now as wisely as I can. Don't waste it. Let those people I love know that I love them. Find others to love. There's plenty to spare; I don't need to be stingy with it. Enjoy the time that the Lord gives me now with those whom I love. I'd better get to it. That time isn't infinite, like the time I'm going to have with my Lord in eternity.

Friday, November 09, 2007

On Election and God's Stated Will

Then He began to denounce the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you." At that time Jesus declared, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will (Matt. 11:20-26).
The current popular view among Christians goes something like this. God wants to save as many as He possibly can. Fortunately, He knows in advance who will come to Him and what it will take to bring them. So, knowing who they are and what it will take, God brings to bear all the required forces to save as many people as He can without actually violating their wills.

It's a nice view. Sounds quite friendly. It seems to keep God's sovereignty in place while retaining the sovereignty of Man's Free Will. It places the onus of choice where it should be -- on the person -- and paints God in the best light, that of wanting to save as many as He can. Then we come to a passage like this and one has to ask, "How do you maintain that view with passages like this?"

There are several interesting facets in this passage. He denounced them because they didn't repent despite all the signs He performed. There appears to be layers, levels, if you will, of hell where it is "better for" some than for those on other levels. These are important points. But there are two points I'm seeing that may cause the "current popular view" problems.

The position holds that God wants to save as many as He can and will do what is necessary to obtain that goal. Oddly, Jesus says, "If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago." Wait! God knew what it would take to bring them to repentance. Apparently He just didn't do it! He says something similar about Sodom. Further, Jesus says that God played an active role here. "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things ..." The Father actively hid these things! According to Jesus, "Such was Your gracious will." It was God's will to hide things from some and reveal them from others!

It appears from this passage that God did not intend to save some. He deliberately avoided doing those things that He knew would cause them to repent. He had the ability (since Jesus was doing them), but He lacked the will. He deliberately hid from them those things that would have saved them. Indeed, it was His will to do so. Now, how does that fit with "It's God's will to save as many as He can, and He will do whatever He can to make that happen"?

One other point here. This suggestion I'm making -- that God deliberately chose some not to be saved -- will undoubtedly cause people to be upset. It's not fair. It's not kind. It's not reasonable. Well, it was Jesus who said it. Note Jesus's response to His own suggestion that 1) God did not take the steps necessary for people to repent, and 2) that God willfully hid these things from some. "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth." Jesus didn't seem to have the same moral outrage that such a suggestion causes so many. Jesus seemed to think it was just fine. He calls it God's "gracious will."

We are so easily caught up in the idea that God owes us, that we deserve "fair treatment", and that a loving God would never treat us with anything other than the utmost respect. We forget that we are creatures, creations of His whose value is only real as long as He chooses to make it so. We forget and exchange the glory of the immortal God for mortal man (Rom. 1:23).

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Systems vs Tasks

I work in largely technical fields with largely technical people. I started my career in the Air Force working on aircraft navigation systems. I went on to a civilian company working on recorders for spacecraft. Then I worked on extremely specialized, highly accurate timing and frequency systems. I left California and went to work for Arizona State University. Now I'm working with scientists who are developing nanotechnology for forensics. I can tell you the name of the group I work for, but I'm not entirely sure I understand what it means. I can even tell you the title I have here, but I'm not sure I know what that means either. It's all very specialized, very technical.

In working in these fields, I've noted two types of people. One type is the most common. It's the task person. These are very competent, very focused people. You tell them, "Build me a gonculator" and they'll set about designing the thing. They'll likely do a good job with it, too. The other type of person is the system person. This kind of person isn't nearly as common. You tell them, "Build me a gonculator" and they'll ask, "What for? What is it going into? How does it interface? Will it work with the other parts that you'll need?" and questions like that. They are not as focused, but they are certainly more well-rounded. When they finish their job, it will likely work -- maybe not as intricately as the task-oriented person's version -- and it will work within the system for which it was designed. The task-oriented person's version will be genius, a wonder to behold, really, really clever ... but doesn't quite communicate properly with all the other functions it is required to work with because the task-oriented person didn't take those into account. It wasn't the assigned task.

Working as a systems person is quite a bit more complex than working as a tasks person. A systems person has to go a lot farther and put in a lot more effort. There are more questions, more interactions. They need to find out the end product, the final goal, what tasks other people are assigned, how all of these tasks relate, and so on and so on and so on. They will likely be coming up with solutions to all the other tasks as well as they correlate requirements on interactions. They will suggest that, while X is perhaps a good idea within a task to do Y, it won't work in the greater scheme of things because of Z over in this other part.

We need more systems-oriented people. We are, on the other hand, producing more task-oriented people. The systems people see the big picture and work to solve the big picture. The task person might say, "This will fix that problem" and the system person will say, "Ok, but when it does, there will be ramifications out here that will kill us all."

Unfortunately, our entire society is aiming itself at task-oriented people. At the end of high school you have two possible choices. You can start a career ... or you can go to college. Starting a career will put you into a specialized field. Going to college will ... put you into a specialized field. You can become an auto mechanic right out of high school or you can go college and design robotic hands. In either case you make choices that will eliminate all other possibilities. In our highly technical, highly specialized world there is little room for "generalists", people who can see how a car's engine could be improved or a robotic hand can connect with biology.

In the university we call it "cross discipline". A microbiologist might work with a electrical engineer to design a prosthetic hand that connects to the patient's nerve endings. What a grand idea! Unfortunately, while it's much vaunted, it doesn't happen nearly as much as one might think. You see, while "cross discipline" is a fine theoretical idea, it involves people. What happens when a genius at microbiology is told by a genius at electrical engineering, "Your idea won't work here"? It's not a coalition; it's a collision -- a clash of egos. You see, she has had many years of special training and work in microbiology and how dare he tell her that it won't work??!! Task versus system.

From our youngest days we are classified, divided up, specialized. We are part of the "in crowd" or we are not. We are on the spelling team or we are not. We are athletes or we are not. We are cool or we are geeks. Some of the divisions are real and unavoidable, but most, quite frankly, are artificial and even lies. We are given sharp boundaries that we are not to cross, boundaries that only become sharper with education. Traversing them is hard, sometimes impossible. And by the time we come out the other end of the educational tubing, we are set in stone. East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet. Unfortunately, that is task-oriented. Without systems-oriented thinking, we will be forever playing catch up with our tasks that work fine in this single application but don't seem to work together in the entire system. We will find ourselves asking for all of the fine solutions we are given, "Can't we all just get along?"

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tax the Rich

We've been getting commercials lately for, a product, apparently, of the AARP. The commercials are all the same. There are children who tell us that if they could vote they'd vote in someone who would give them what they want -- health care and financial security. On the cover of the web page it says, "Divided We Fail was launched to raise the voices of millions of Americans who believe that health care and lifetime financial security are the most pressing domestic issues facing our nation."

I don't know about you, but I'm tired. I'm tired of being told that children are wise while adults are foolish. Pick a movie or TV show where children play a substantive role and you'll see that they are always the ones that teach the adults what they apparently missed. Now the AARP of all things has decided that the best way to get their message out is to call on the vast wisdom of children, people who aren't old enough to vote because they lack the experience, education, and life-wisdom to vote. We can learn a thing or two from them I suppose.

I'm tired of being told that it's the government's job to provide health care and financial security. Now, to be fair, obviously the AARP's primary concern for "financial security" is for when people retire. And, to be honest, I, too, am concerned about Social Security and Medicare and all that. But that's not what is stated overtly. The concern, the call of so many (including the likes of Hillary, Edwards, and a whole host of others) is financial security for all.

How would the government go about accomplishing this task? Well, ostensibly, they would "tax the rich". It's a popular concept older than the legend of Robin Hood. Steal from the wealthy and give to the poor. And we all ("we all" being "those of us who are not the rich") feel that from time to time (or more). I mean, how is it fair that such a small group of people make so much more money than all of the rest of us combined? And you know they're just wasting it on stuff that we can't even dream about, let alone actually ever afford.

Something about all this has always bugged me, nagging at the back of my mind. The guys that are making the most money, it seems, are the ones that make the big companies work the best. What is a "big company"? Well, it's a company that employs a lot of people. So these big money makers are the guys that keep the big employers employing people. And why do the guys that make these big employers big money get paid the big money? It's called "incentive". The big companies want to make big money, so they pay the guys who can do that for them big money. Now, step in with the government and yank that incentive. Take away the big bucks and give it to the poor because it's so much more ... just. What do you suppose the guy who was making big money for the company would do? I'm thinking that he'd stop. He likely has enough millions now to simply quit working. And no one else is going to be able to take the spot because they'll all face the same lack of incentive. So no one will drive the big company to make big money. Without the big money, the company cannot be the big employer that it was. And the lists of "the poor" would increase.

I don't really understand, I suppose. Socialism or communism sound really nice. They seem very compassionate. They've been tried, however, and have failed miserably time after time. There has never been a socialist nation that advanced. More importantly, every socialist nation has ended up hurting its people rather than helping them. Now, I'm guessing that those kids in the AARP commercial aren't likely aware of that. Apparently the rest of those calling for socialism in various forms don't seem to know that. So why would I listen to kids on this ... or Hillary or Edwards or ...?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Election 2008

We are now within a year of the 2008 Presidential Election. Things are likely to get dicey. Hillary is a front runner even though 50% of those polled don't trust her. Giuliani might take the candidacy for Republican nominee even though the conservatives have real problems with him. Regardless of who is running and who is winning, none offer a perfect answer to our individual or collective concerns. So, as things shake out and people jockey for position and fears rise and fall, here's something to remember:
Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself (Phil. 3:20-21).

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Implications of Calvinism

In a recent post over at The Walking Fish, Isaac warns us of some of the horrible implications of Calvinism.

1. Calvinism produces cults. He warns that the Jehovah's Witnesses were started by someone who rejected Calvinism, thus producing a cult.

Think about it.

David Koresh led the Branch Davidians, a group that came from disfellowshipped members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Sun Myung Moon, originator of the Unification Cult, started as in Confucianism until his parents joined the Presbyterian Church. However, his Charismatic beliefs led him to conclude that the Holy Spirit can speak today providing information contrary to Scripture provided his basis for the cult.

Jim Jones started what ended up as The People's Temple in Indianapolis, coming from a Disciples of Christ background.

Mary Baker Eddy grew up as a Congregationalist, but rejected doctrines like predestination and Original Sin and founded instead the Church of Christ, Scientist. (Since Christian Science denies that Jesus was God or the Messiah, that there is no such thing as sin or the devil, and that Jesus didn't die, the group would be qualified as a "cult".)

Joseph Smith was upset by the variety of Christian denominations, so he joined none of them and started his own.

The Holiness movement of the 19th century produced the Pentecostal movement of the early 20th century. The Pentecostal movement produced the Oneness Pentecostals who deny the Trinity, mandate a specific baptism formula for salvation, require speaking in tongues as a sign of salvation (that is, without it, you cannot be saved), and hold that it is not possible to be saved outside of the Oneness Pentecostal church.

Conclusion: Cults can come from anywhere and everywhere. They can come from out and out lies or from shades of truth. The truth does not produce cults. Sinful people pervert the truth and produce cults. In other words, it does no good to argue that liars come out of any given structure; we must discuss the truth of the structure.

2. Aborted Babies Burn in Hell

Not much to say here. The opposition holds that the truth is something called "the age of accountability", a very nice doctrine that can't seem to be found in the Bible anywhere. Since Calvinism does not teach that "aborted babies burn in hell" and the Bible doesn't teach "the age of accountability" it's hard to argue about it.

3. Calvinism stalls evangelism.

It's a popular belief. It's also incorrect.

Calvin taught that Christ reigned, that the means God uses to bring people to Himself is the preaching of the Gospel, and, therefore, that Christ's reign required the preaching of the Gospel. In his commentaries, Calvin wrote, "The Lord commands the ministers of the gospel to go a distance, in order to spread the doctrine of salvation in every part of the world." In Calvin's The Bondage and Liberation of the Will: A Defence of the Orthodox Doctrine of Human Choice against Pighius he writes, "Although [God] is able to accomplish the secret work of His Holy Spirit without any means or assistance, He has nevertheless ordained outward preaching, to use it as it were as a means. But to make such a means effective and fruitful He inscribes in our hearts with His own finger those very words which He speaks in our ears by the mouth of a human being."

Calvin had a passion for missionary work. He started sending missionaries to France in 1553 who, by 1562, had established an estimated 2,100 churches with a membership of over three million people. According to various sources, Calvin's church in Geneva sent some 142 missionaries out in 1561 alone. They sent missionaries to the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Poland, Hungary, and Brazil (no small feat in his day).

Beyond this impressive array of missionary work from Calvin himself, it is regularly understood the the father of modern day missions is William Carey. Carey was a Particular Baptist -- a Calvinist. He defied the hyper-Calvinist beliefs of his day and argued instead that we should "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." He wrote An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, founded The Baptist Missionary Society, and became a missionary himself to India.

Does hyper-Calvinism stall evangelism? Sure. But hyper-Calvinism is a lie denied by Calvin and Calvinists alike.

4. The Doctrine of Election Produces a Lack of Peace.

Interesting argument. First, the doctrine of election is unavoidable. We can debate exactly what it means, but we cannot debate its existence. There are simply too many references to "the chosen" and "the elect" and such to deny it. Further, it is actually the Bible that suggests that we must "be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10). Now, to remove election as a doctrine would be to simply cancel this verse. "Sorry, Peter, you just don't know what you're talking about." Indeed, it would require that we shut poor old Peter up here: "Don't you know that requiring people to make sure of their election is to produce a lack of peace???!" In other words, it's not "Calvinism" in question here; it's the Bible.

On the other hand, when someone accepts the doctrine of election and actually follows Peter's prescription of making sure, the peace is more sure than anything the lack of that doctrine can produce. If God actually chooses you, what have you to fear? On the other hand, if it is solely up to you, can you ever be sure of anything?

These are common objections, easily dispatched. They may represent "implications" of Calvinism, but they are opposed to the Scriptures, to Calvin's teachings, and to Reformed theology. Can they be considered any more valid than the accusation that Christianity promotes war because of the Crusades?