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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The True Iraq

One would think that, with all the technology and communications and all that we have today, it would be hard to hide current events. However, take some time on Google or something like it and try to find out the news from places like Iraq, and you'll find that only one thing is going on in that war-torn country -- death. No one lives there, not in the sense that we consider "living". Imagine the worst neighborhood of the worst city with the worst gang problem, multiply that by a thousand, and you've got a description of the country of Iraq. It's not safe to walk in the streets ... anywhere. Everyone is killing everyone. All Iraqis hate all Americans. And why is it that 137,000 American combat troops can't take care of the problem there? We know we're getting the truth from Iraq because we have "imbedded reporters", people who go along with the troops and report everything from an eyewitness perspective. So of course that's all the real thing.

It only takes seconds of reflection to realize that none of this is true. It cannot be. If the country of Iraq or even the city of Baghdad was actually in the condition that it is being portrayed, it would collapse in a moment. No business, no infrastructure, no success, no life. And about those imbedded reporters ... are they really telling us the truth? It occurred to me (again) after looking over the responses to the President's State of the Union address that two people observing the very same thing can have very different opinions and report very different things ... while being eyewitnesses!

I want to know what's really going on. As an example, occasionally there is a report that somebody blew up an oil pipeline. That says to me that it is occasional. That says to me that most of the time the oil is actually flowing from the oil fields in Iraq to the ports that will export it. That says to me "progress". But I'm drawing conclusions from a lack of information. Is it right? Or I hear all the time about fighting in a particular region of Baghdad. What about the rest of the city? Is all of the fighting relatively localized? Or is all of the city in flames all of the time? I'm drawing conclusions from a lack of information. What is the truth? And I notice that there appears to be almost zero news coming out of anywhere but Baghdad. Does that mean that there is relative quiet in most of Iraq? I'm drawing conclusions from a lack of information. What is the truth?

How many Iraqi troops are there at work in Iraq? I know, for instance, that of the 137,000 troops in Iraq, no more than perhaps a third of them are actually in combat situations doing combat-type duty. It takes a large number of support troops to take care of a small number of combat troops. If a third of the troops there are combat troops, that puts maybe 41,000 combat troops to work in the country of Iraq. If you throw in another 21,000, that is a significant increase in the combat capability. Is that a bad thing? But I don't know what they're going to do with them. I don't know how many are currently in combat situations. I don't know how many of those 21,000 would be used for what purposes. And I don't know how many Iraqi troops are assisting the unknown number of American troops, or how many troops from other countries are performing what other duties in that country.

I want to know what successes we've seen. The news is very happy to report the problems. That, I suppose, is news. But I didn't know, for instance, that the troops had cleared out a particular neighborhood of its terrorist occupants (I will not call them "insurgents.) until they finished the job, moved out, and started to go back a year later to do it again. Why didn't anyone tell us about that success? I keep hearing sprinklings of news here and there that good things are happening as well as bad. Why don't we hear that on the news?

I'm aware that mistakes have been made. I'm aware that bad things are happening. It is not possible to pay attention to the slightest news without knowing that. But if we "have the right to know", and there is actually balancing news to the conditions in Iraq, why don't we have the right to know those facts as well? Why is it so hard to get the truth out of that country? I know the President isn't perfect. I'm aware that there have been mistakes made. I suspect that one of the President's biggest mistakes, however, has been that he has been too quiet in disseminating the truth about what's going on in Iraq. If only we had a news media that would give us the truth rather than only that which suits their purpose. But, as all of us, I guess they're only human ...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Obfuscating Perspicuity

Okay, class ... are you ready for your new word? The new word is "perspicuity". The term is used almost exclusively by theologians, and references the doctrine referred to as "the perspecuity of Scripture." The word is an oxymoron of sorts because it refers to clearness, lucidity, intelligibility. In other words, we're using a vague, obscure word to describe those things that are intended to be clear and intelligible. Yeah, that works.

Obfuscation aside (oh, go look it up), the concept is important ... and I suspect somewhat forgotten or doubted. Here is the doctrine of "The Perspecuity of Scripture": The Bible can be read and understood. Yeah, that's tough. Well, let's say it another way so we can be clear and intelligible. The idea is not that the Bible is easy to understand. The idea is that the Scriptures are "plain to the understanding", that they are "free of unnecessary complications", that the Bible is not unclear about what it is trying to teach.

Now, to be sure, many would dispute this doctrine. But theologians are wise and have placed enough limitations on it so as to avoid being too far mistaken. We know, for instance, that to properly understand the Bible, there are certain requirements. Paul says that natural Man cannot understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), so we must be talking first about the spiritual Man -- someone who has been regenerated, who has the mind of Christ, who has the Spirit residing in him. Paul speaks in Rom. 12 of the "renewing of the mind" (Rom. 12:2), a process by which we change our character. To properly understand Scripture, then, one must be born again and walking in the Light. One must have moved from the original position of "dead in sin" (Eph. 2:1) and "blinded by the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). According to Scripture, there appears to be another factor. On more than one occasion there is a mention of timing, where believers didn't understand at the time but would understand later. I think everyone who has spent any time in the Word has discovered this to be a simple, irrefutable fact. There are things you read today that you don't get at all but, coming back some time later, are blatantly clear.

Still, given these limitations, there are still those who disagree. "If it's so clear, then why are there so many differences? What makes you think this doctrine is true?" Well, the reason for the doctrine is first a biblical one. Moses told Israel, "This commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" (Deut. 30:11-14). David referred to God's Word as "lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psa. 119:105). Scripture is understandable to children (Deut. 6:6-7; 2 Tim. 3:14-15). And the idea comes from the nature of God Himself. The idea is that God has given us Scripture to clearly communicate His nature and His will.

This doesn't mean that Scripture is easy to understand. Scripture itself indicates that some of it is difficult. Paul tells Timothy to "study to show yourself approved" (2 Tim. 2:15). The Bereans were commended because they checked everything Paul said against the Bible (Acts 17:11). Peter says that some of Paul's writings are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16) and the author of Hebrews says that "solid food" takes time and effort (Heb. 5:11-14). Perspecuity doesn't mean "easy to understand". It simply means that what God wants us to learn is clear, and if we are diligent, we will get it. Do you want to understand the deeper things of God? Try doing what the Word of God suggests: "Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" (Heb. 5:14).

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Practical Atheist

Simon Birch is a 1998 movie based on a novel entitled A Prayer for Owen Meany. The story revolves around two young boys, age 12. Joe is a bastard (I mean that as it is actually intended, not as we have come to use it.) and a good part of the movie revolves around Joe and his friend, Simon, trying to figure out who his father is. Simon, played by Ian Michael Smith, is Joe's best friend. He suffers from severely stunted growth, making him the target of much junior high ridicule, but the children love him. And Simon has an unshakable belief that God has made him that way for a very special purpose.

In a particularly difficult scene, Simon is sitting in the office of Reverend Russell. He is in trouble (again). He has, according to Reverend Russell, just created the first "full contact Nativity scene". The pastor has told him he has to stay away for awhile, and Simon counters with Scriptures that urge mercy. Finally, exasperated, Reverend Russell says, "What do you want from me, Simon?" Simon answers, "I want to know that God has a plan for each one of us. I used to be sure, but now I have questions." It's a simple question, pastor. A junior high kid is questioning the sovereignty, omnipotence, and omniscience of God. The answer is brilliantly simple. "Yes!" Yes, God has a plan for each one of us. Yes, what God plans comes to pass. Yes, you are right to believe that God has a plan for you. Yes, Simon, yes! The good reverend, however, collapses into practical atheism. He doesn't know. He can't say. Simon totters off depressed and shaken.

It's a movie. I get that. But I would suggest that practical atheism is the most common belief on the planet. While atheism resides way down at the less than 10% mark, practical atheism is the norm. The practical atheist knows the right answer to the question, "Is there a God?" Indeed, many practical atheists are regular church goers. ("Regular" here may be defined as "every Christmas and Easter".) Indeed, our Reverend Russell is a prime example of a regular church goer as well as a practical atheist. In other words, you will find them everywhere ... even in the pulpit. They claim to believe in God. Some claim to be Christians. So what is a practical atheist?

A practical atheist is one who claims to be a theist while denying in practice theism. They will claim to believe in a divine power, all the while denying His authority or existence by who they live. No right-minded person claims to believe in a Just God while ignoring all of His commands. This is a denial of simple reason. God cannot both exist and not exist. Yet, people routinely seem to hold this position.

Theism is often defined as the belief that god exists, but this is a short version. Other beliefs, such as deism, polytheism, and pantheism also claim a belief in god or gods, so there is another distinguishing characteristic that sets theism apart. Theism generally includes the belief in an "immanent" god. Deism holds that there is a god, but that this god doesn't actually interact with its creation. Theism, on the other hand, believes in a god who interacts with human beings. Christian theism takes this a step further and holds that this God is personal, transcendent, and intimately involved in everything that occurs. Christian theism holds to a God that is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. This God actually accomplishes everything He plans to accomplish. This God leaves nothing to chance. He allows and uses human choice, but doesn't rely on it. He maintains a delicate balance between so-called "free will" versus His own unassailable Sovereignty. Without a doubt, this God of Christian theism has a plan for every single human being on the planet.

One of the lines from Simon Burch has Joe's mother shouting, "That boy has more faith than you'll ever have." It's a movie, but in the movie it's true. This young kid with an overactive libido and parents who hate him has more faith than the pastor who teaches him. It's a movie that reflects the too often truth of churches today. We live in a world of practical atheists who sometimes hold positions of leadership in the church. It is these who will stand before God someday and say, "Lord, Lord, look what we've done for you" and hear in response, "Depart from Me; I never knew you." My prayer is that it won't be any of you.

(Completely unrelated, I need to shout out a "Happy Birthday!" to my son, David, who turns 26 today. I love you, son.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Literal Bible?

"Do you take the Bible literally?" It's a common question among detractors, Christian and non-Christian alike. There is no real question intended, generally. It is asked with incredulity. It is assumed that no sane person could ever take the Bible literally. "You're not going to claim that you do, are you? That would be intellectual suicide!" That's what is generally suggested in the simple question.

To be fair, there is a problem "taking the Bible literally" if you don't define what you mean. You see, "literally" means something different to various people who use the term. Some suggest that if you are a true believer, you must take the Bible in a "word-for-word" fashion. That's what they mean by "literally". So if the Bible says, "The whole city was gathered together at the door" (Mark 1:33), it actually means every single man, woman, and child stood at the door. You question that???!!! Well, obviously you don't take a literal view of the Bible! (Infidel!) The truth is that taking the Bible in that fashion is nonsensical. The "whole city" concept is an obvious one, but they only get funnier from there. Jesus is a vine and a door. I'm expecting, when we get to heaven, to find that He has hinges and doorknob because, after all, He did say, "I am the door." And, hopefully, at once you begin to see how problematic this approach would be.

However, having discarded a "word-for-word" fashion, I still take the Bible literally. What is meant by most thinking Christians when they say, "I take the Bible literally"? Generally it is intended to convey the idea of "true to fact; not exaggerated; actual or factual, being actually such, without exaggeration or inaccuracy." It is more accurately expressed in the term "as written" than "literally" or "word-for-word". The concept is that we take it to be true as written.

What is the difference between "as written" and "word-for-word"? When we take it as written, we take into account the writer's intent. A historic narrative is intended to give us a narrative of historical events. (Yeah, talk about obvious.) It is not intended to give us myth, metaphor, or parables. A parable, on the other hand, is intended to be a story (not a real event) that portrays an underlying principle or idea. We don't assume that the narrative never happened nor do we assume that the parable ever happened. Taking into account "as written", we include such things as poetry and the nuances allowed that genre that don't go with other forms of writing. We include metaphor, simile, and things like anthropomorphisms. In case you're not clear, an anthropomorphism is when we assign human characteristics to a non-human thing. So when Isaiah writes, "You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands" (Isa. 55:12), we don't actually think that the inanimate objects will become animated. It is an anthropomorphism. We also allow for what is called "phenomenological language". In this approach, a writer explains something in the way that it appears, not necessarily in the way that it is. We use this concept routinely in our language. The weather man will report times for "sunrise" and "sunset". What ... is he stupid? Doesn't he know that the sun doesn't rise or set? Everyone knows that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Idiot! Of course, we understand that this is just a description of how it appears. So when we read that the four angels were standing at the "four corners of the Earth", there is no reason to get up in arms over "See? The Bible teaches a flat Earth!"

When we take the Bible "literally", we mean that we take it "as written". Let metaphor be metaphor, poetry be poetry, narrative be narrative, and so on. We don't take a narrative and assume it to be a mythical parable. We don't assume that all poetic language should be taken at pure face value. We learn to distinguish between passages intended to convey doctrine and passages intended to convey wisdom because these are different styles and intentions. When hyperbole occurs, we assume it to be hyperbole without needing to be defensive. "Okay, so the whole city didn't actually turn out to see Jesus. What's your point?" When we take the Bible as written, just as you would take any written material, many of these so-called problems go away. So, in answer to the question, yes, I take the Bible literally. I don't find it an intellectual dilemma because I understand "literally" to mean "exactly as written". My return question to any Christian would be "And why would you not take it as it is written?"

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Don't Feed the Atheist

Richard Dawkins is famous. If you haven't heard of him, he is an outspoken anti-theist. I use that term rather than the softer "atheist" because Dawkins is on a campaign to convert people who believe in God to atheism. Dawkins is fair. He believes that not only organized religion, but all religion is bad. He is not only against extreme religion; he is against all religion. He considers religion not only to be foolish, but "very evil". He equates raising children in a religious tradition with "child abuse". Richard Dawkins is a scientist who has made it his mission to eradicate religion in all its forms.

Sam Harris is a best-selling author of two books. His The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation have raised his visibility to that of Dr. Dawkins. The End of Faith is intended to explain how faith and reason cannot coexist. He argues against all religion, including moderation of religion, suggesting that it will be the death of the human race if it is allowed to continue. Oddly, he suggests, among other things, the alternative of Eastern mysticism to replace the foundation of morality and spiritual experience in our world. After the release of The End of Faith, Harris received thousands of letters from Christians telling him how wrong he was. His response was Letter to a Christian Nation. In his introduction he explains that one of the biggest problems in our society and his primary reason for writing this book is that Christians believe that Jesus is coming back. This belief, he suggests, destabilizes the future of humanity.

These are just two, loud voices out there. They are "best sellers". They are being carried in Newsweek, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe ... every major news outlet wants to spread their dogma. But these are just two. Many more are out there, squeaky wheels becoming louder and louder. They are calling for the end of tolerance. They are clamoring for the death of Christianity. And they are doing so in a country founded by people who sought to be allowed to practice their Christianity without regulation. False religion isn't the problem in the world. A lack of morality isn't the problem in the world. The mere existence of religion at all is the problem, they hold, and specifically it is Christianity that is the problem. If we could just eliminate that problematic belief system, many of our problems would go away.

I could launch into reasons why this is problematic thinking. I could explain why it is illogical and untrue. But that's not my point. In fact, there aren't enough people reading this to make a difference if I did. My point is to suggest, just as Peter did, that we should be aware of and ready for it. Persecution is coming. Oh, not that lightweight stuff we whine about these days. "They wouldn't let us pray at graduation." "They said mean things about our beliefs." "That TV show misrepresented us." "I don't think they like us at all!" Yeah, yeah, that might be the foothills of the mountain range to come, but it cannot be classified as "persecution". What is coming is persecution. And I'm not encouraging a defense; I'm suggesting that we be ready mentally and spiritually. As Peter said:
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? 19 Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Peter 4:12-19).
Sam Harris complained that most of the "hate mail" he got -- the harshest, most unpleasant responses -- was from "Christians". Let's not feed the irrationality of the anti-theist, okay? Nowhere are we called to assault the atheist. And we should certainly take steps to defend, legally, the rights of religious freedom given to us by our country's founders. I'm not suggesting that we lay down and die. I simply want Christians to be aware that it's coming. Judgment is required and it begins with us. Do not be surprised. Do not be guilty of suffering for being a "troublesome meddler" or an evildoer. Instead, rejoice! Suffering, according to Peter, is "God's will", and we must entrust our souls not to government, law, or our own loud voices, but to the faithful Creator who is doing what is right.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Global Warming

Global warming has become a bit of a joke around here lately. Here in the desert we have experienced snow where snow never falls. We had the coldest temperatures since 1990 (I mean, who ever heard of 18°F in Phoenix?) and the coldest consecutive days since 1978. I'm afraid that if this global warming keeps up much longer we're likely to freeze to death.

But global warming is no joke. Them's fightin' words to some. Do not impugn the eminent scientist, Dr. Al Gore or his fine piece of science, An Inconvenient Truth. Look ... it got two Oscar nominations. How much more proof do you need? Do not question the facts of global warming. Do not question the science of global warming. There is no question to be had. The uncontested scientific opinion on the subject is that the temperature increase over the last 50 years is directly due to human activity. If you question this, you are a closed-minded, head-in-the-sand, equivalent of the Flat Earth Society. You probably still think that the Moon landings were done on a Hollywood sound stage. Only an idiot would question any of the facts.

So when science disagrees, it is stupid, willfully ignorant, politically motivated, or simply not worth considering. When Chris De Freitas, Associate Professor at the University of Aukland, says that the satellite data denies that there has been any significant warming of the surface in the last 20 years, he's a buffoon. When a group of scientists say that the temperature of the Earth may be rising, but suggest that the cause is not known, they're disengenuous. When a large number of scientists agree that the Earth is getting warmer, but link it to natural causes, they're liars. There is even one, Sherwood Idso, President Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, formerly a research physicist at the USDA Water Conservation Laboratory and adjunct professor Arizona State University, who has suggested "[W]arming has been shown to positively impact human health, while atmospheric CO2 enrichment has been shown to enhance the health-promoting properties of the food we eat, as well as stimulate the production of more of it. ... [W]e have nothing to fear from increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 and global warming." Liars, buffoons, idiots, perhaps even criminals, every one.

Me? I'm not opposed to the science of global warming. I'm not a scientist and wouldn't stake a claim on the topic. But when one group decides that the best response to the argument is derision, insults, wild accusations, and attempts to silence the discussion, it makes me leery. When Man decides that Man has the capacity to alter Nature to the extent that the loudest voices are suggesting, it makes me leery. And when Christians begin to tout this as a matter of spiritual necessity, it makes me very leery. Perhaps we can take the rhetoric down a peg.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Another Time

Total losses in combat were 292,131. Another 115,185 were killed in non-combat situations. There were 671,801 wounded. Additionally, an estimated 11,200 civilians lost their lives, with more missing or wounded. The war, technically, lasted 5 years. It was one of the most expensive wars in terms of American life. In terms of money, the war cost $288 billion, or $412,926 billion in today's dollars. This was no little war in terms of lives lost or economic impact.

Our first official involvement in this war was a battle that cost the lives of 2388, including civilian deaths, and included 12 ships sunk, and 164 aircraft destroyed. But America wasn't to be trifled with. We went to war.

As the Japanese returned from their victorious attack on Pearl Harbor, they overran Wake Island. The American forces there put up a valiant fight, but in the end all of the military personnel and 70 civilians were killed. Later, in October, 1943, the Japanese executed captured American contract workers who had been doing forced labor.

The next target was the Philippines. The Japanese managed to destroy the bulk of the American aircraft on the ground. They landed 100,000 troos on Luzon and overran the island, forcing the surrender of American troops in May, 1942. The result was the Bataan Death March where 76,000 prisoners including 12,000 Americans were forced to march with hands tied behind their backs and no food or water for 60 miles to the prison camp. More than 5,000 Americans died in that march.

In 1942, General Dolittle led 16 B-25 bombers in an attack on Tokyo. The damage was minimal, and all aircraft were lost, along with 11 crewmembers. The Japanese search for the crews in China cost the lives of an estimated 250,000 Chinese. Dolittle expected to be court martialed upon his return to the U.S., but the boost to American morale instead earned him the Medal of Honor.

In May, 1942, the U.S. Navy engaged the Japanese Navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea. America lost one of the two aircraft carriers in the battle group, the USS Lexington. The USS Yorktown was also severely damaged, but managed to survive. While the American force managed to sink two Japanese carriers, 540 Americans died in the battle. (The Yorktown was later sunk in the Battle of Midway.)

The list goes on. While the American public was fed a steady diet of "good news on the front", Americans were dying at an alarming rate. In 1944, when the invasion began to take back Europe, the attack was a ludicrous nightmare. Prior to the invasion, 12,000 troops and 2,000 aircraft were lost in preparation. Nighttime troop drops prior to the morning landings were almost hopelessly disarrayed. Most of the beach landings were miles off their expected location. Enemy guns that were supposed to be silenced were in full operation. Total Allied casualties on that one day are estimated at 10,000. Twenty-four warships and 35 merchant ships were lost. In the subsequent Battle of Normandy, the Allies suffered 209,000 casualties including 125,847 American soldiers.

How, do you suppose, would the Americans of the 1940's have responded if they had this information up to the minute like we do today? Do you think they would have called for an end to Americans fighting in Germany and the Pacific? Would they have complained that the price was too high in lives and dollars and we shouldn't be there? If the American media of the 1940's had portrayed American involvement in World War II in the same light that they portray American involvement in Iraq today, would the Americans of the 40's call for a withdrawal, or would they have insisted on staying in the fight? I don't know the answer. I suspect the Americans of the 40's weren't the same as today's Americans, but I suppose I'll never know.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The State of the Union

The President talked about a variety of issues last night. He congratulated Nancy Pelosi on being the first Madam Chairman, and the crowd applauded. He called for a balanced budget, and the crowd applauded. He encouraged Congress to do more about education, and the crowd applauded. He suggested health insurance initiatives, and the crowd applauded. He called for immigration reform, and the crowd applauded. He called for real change to our environmental approach, and the crowd applauded. Then he talked about Iraq. He didn't try to get their response on his decision to send more troops. He just told them he had done it. But he did try to explain why:
It would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.
There was applause, but it was starkly obvious that the Democrats in general and the outspoken opponents of President Bush in particular did not applaud.
If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by Al-Qaida and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country — and in time the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq, would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens ... new recruits ... new resources ... and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September 11th and invite tragedy. And ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East ... to succeed in Iraq ... and to spare the American people from this danger.
Again, the applause was light, and his opponents were outspoken in their silence. With arms folded, the Pelosis and Obamas and Clintons made their statements. "No, Mr. President, we disagree. We do not believe that it is necessary to keep our promises or stick with our friends. We do not care about future security. We are not concerned about Iraq, its struggle, or the chaos that we all know would follow if we withdrew now. All we care about is getting our people out now. Let someone else deal with the results of that move."

Perhaps I read too much into their silence. But when Katie Couric interviewed Hillary Clinton after her declaration that she would run for president, Hillary stated that her plan was "phased redeployment". Now, that sounds like she plans to simply move troops around with some plan, but she explained in the following sentences that by "redeployment" she simply meant "bring them home". They would be redeployed ... the the U.S. And in his response to the President's speech, Senator Webb had a similar suggestion:
Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.
The suggestion is "Get our troops out of there and let's just talk to them." Substitute forces with "strong regionally-based diplomacy". You know, if we would only start a dialog with these people, they'd see the error of their killing ways and leap onto the democracy bandwagon. We don't need forces over there. We just need good talkers.

I have asked on more than one occasion what the alternative is to the President's plan(s). It seemed to me at those times that the only alternative being offered is "pull out". It would appear that my assessment was correct. According to polls and to Senator Webb's response, "The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military." The conclusion is that we must, therefore, put an end to the war and withdraw our troops. This is because, you see, the majority rules in America. Instead, what we have is a Commander in Chief who was duly elected by the people and is operating on his pre-stated principles. What the majority of America has done is decide that his principles are irrelevant, that the notion of a "republic" is nonsense, and that we are not willing to bear up under difficult times in order to achieve what we set out to achieve. The majority of Americans have become ... the stereotypical American. Delayed gratification is a meaningless term. Hard work and effort is pointless. Democracy isn't really worth anything if it doesn't benefit me immediately. And those other countries ... well, they can just handle their own problems because we don't care.

Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be called an American.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

The human brain weighs approximately 3 pounds, about 2% of the total body weight. It contains over 100 billion neurons. These neurons transmit thought via electro-chemical activity. The brain is 70% water, but capable of more ideas than there are atoms in the known universe. A modern computer can handle perhaps 100 million instructions per second, but the human brain is estimated to be able to handle 10 quadrillion instructions per second. And with all of our advances, we still don't really know how the human brain works.

When you think about it, it is astounding to think about what goes on without thinking about it. Without your conscious thought, your brain does an amazing number of things. It regulates your heart and respiration. It maintains your body temperature. It manages the astounding flood of sensory information that deluges your system every moment of every day. You don't have to think about how to walk. You just do it. You don't have to analyze language. You just know it. There is no conscious effort involved when your nose itches and your hand scratches it. Your brain monitors all of the nerve inputs from every inch of skin, all of the smell inputs from your nose, all of the visual inputs from you eyes, all of the sounds entering your ears. It determines, without you even being aware, what is worth bringing to your attention and what to ignore. "Excuse me. It's getting cold here on the skin. How about getting some heat?" "That's a painful pressure on the bottom of your foot. Perhaps you ought to stop stepping on that rock before it ruptures your skin." "That sound is nearing dangerous levels. You need to cover your ears."

We know things without thinking about them. That facial expression she just made means something. We don't analyze it; we just know it. This surface would be useful for rubbing my itchy back; that one would be useless. The word he just used has 14 different meanings, but I know exactly which one he meant without giving it a single thought. And while we make mistakes -- we are, after all, only human -- the sheer numbers of stuff that pours through the brain untouched and error free would put the post office to shame.

Let me give a practical example. One day I typed into Google, "How long does a budgie live?" The question is about lifespan; the question is about how long the bird will "live". Now, you readers have no problems determining what is meant by "live". You know how to pronounce it. You know that I'm not asking about whether it's "live or videotaped". That's a different "live". It's like the word "invalid". If I looked for "invalid argument", I might find articles on logical arguments that are not valid, or I might find arguments about whether or not there should be handicapped parking, because "invalid" can refer to the validity of something or it can refer to an infirmed or sickly person. You know from the context which I mean. Software would have a very difficult time figuring out context and nuance to determine which it is. So when I google "How long does a budgie live?", I can found out where they live, how long they live, the survival rate of budgie cells, and where I can see the rock band "Budgie" live. The software cannot tell the difference for all these uses. Your brain understands the question without giving it a moment's thought, while our software can't figure it out for all of the possible variations. The brain, it seems, is a marvelous thing.
I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knows it very well (Psa. 139:14).
Perhaps there are many, many reasons of which we're not really aware that we are told "in everything give thanks".

Monday, January 22, 2007

Jefferson's Koran

When Keith Ellison did his ceremonial "swearing in", he did it as promised ... on the Koran. It wasn't just any Koran. It was the Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Ellison wanted to show that he was the same sort of visionary as Jefferson, and that Jefferson believed there was wisdom in the Koran.

Congressman Ellison either displayed his own ignorance or intentionally played off the ignorance of Americans, because the story doesn't quite match up to the facts. Everyone knows the Marine Hymn. "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli" the song begins. To what is it referring? The reference to "the shores of Tripoli" is a reference to one of the very first official actions of the United States Marines. This was the First Barbary War of 1801-1805. In this conflict, Marines marched on Tripoli. Thus the reference. But ... why Tripoli?

Muslim pirates had reigned along the North African Mediterranean for hundreds of years. Treaties with France and England kept them safe, but when America cast off its connections with Britian, she was on her own. In 1785, two American merchant vessels were taken hostage. The new American government decided to pay the ransom against Ambassador Thomas Jefferson's recommendation. But the attacks kept coming and America kept paying. The ambassador asked Tripoli's envoy why they had such animosity toward the United States. He reported that their answer was as follows:
The ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman (Muslim) who should be slain in battle was sure to go to heaven.
What wisdom did Thomas Jefferson wish to glean from the Koran? He wanted to know the reasons for the fighting and animosity. He wanted to know the thinking of these people. And he wanted to know the source book of the ones he would declare war on when he became president in 1801 and sent the navy and Marines to put an end to the piracy.

I have to wonder which part of this Keith Ellison had in mind when he intentionally tossed out the traditional root of American government and replaced it with Jefferson's source book for what was wrong with Islam. Was it ignorance? Or did he simply expect that Americans don't really know their history? I am pretty sure that the latter is valid. So many Americans are still thinking of this whole thing in Iraq as a "police action" and can't figure out why we're not "getting the criminal Osama Bin Laden" instead of fighting a war on terrorism. If Americans can't remember yesterday's history, why would they have the slightest sense of the previous centuries? I'm fairly confident, however, that Ellison hasn't a clue that the book on which he swore his oath was intended to be a helpful tool for killing Muslims in the 1800's.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Right and Real Answers

Have you ever noticed that many times there is a "right answer" and a "real answer" to certain questions? It's interesting to me how often we lead people into a lie by asking these types of questions.

The first example of this that springs to mind is the horrible question wives ask their husbands: "Does this dress make me look fat?" The possible answers are diverse and range from flattering to potentially fatal. But no husband in his right mind would offer a truthful answer if the answer was "yes". That's the "real answer", but it's not the "right answer".

These questions abound. When there is a major connection of a person's feelings to the question, the likelihood of a divergence between "right" and "real" answers increases. A newlywed husband is tasting his young wife's first attempt at meatloaf, and it resembles sawdust. She looks at him with anticipation. "Well?" Will he offer the real answer or will he offer the right answer? You tell your son, "Take out the trash." He may respond with "No way" or "Yes!", but you don't know which is the real answer until he either acts on it or does not.

Our Christian circles also lend themselves to this problem. Ask a friend at church, "Do you know Jesus?" and they really have no choice but to answer in the affirmative. That's the "right answer". The truth may be that they're having doubts. The truth may be that they don't know Jesus very well or maybe not at all. The truth may be that they only know about Him and the truth may even be that they're painfully aware of the difference. But admitting that the truthful answer to the question is "No" would be too difficult. So we ask and receive an answer that we expect and think we've actually received the truth.

We are commanded to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Somehow we need to learn how to 1) answer with the real answers rather than the expected ones and 2) encourage others to do the same. Perhaps we ought to ask better questions. Perhaps we need to convey love better, wherein we don't condition our love for others on their answers. And whatever else we do, we should keep in mind that sometimes you will get the right answer, and sometimes that's not the real answer.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Equally Abominable

Back on January 10, I wrote a piece on Abomination. A friend commented on it and asked for help evaluating further such "abominations". She sent me the "icon" in question. Here it is.







Let me spell it out so you can see the claims:

Equal abominations before the Lord:
1. Shaving Lev. 19:27
2. Shrimp Lev. 11:10
3. Tattoos Lev. 19:28
4. Work on Saturday Lev. 19:30
5. Polyester Lev. 19:19
6. Bunnies Lev. 11:6
7. Hamburger Lev. 17:10
8. Vegetable Gardens Lev. 19:19

Now, let's look at them individually:

1. Shaving is an abomination before the Lord. Proof -- "You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard." There you have it. God hates shaving. Wait! I'm looking, I'm looking ... no, nowhere do I see anything in this passage that says God detests ... anything. Leviticus 19 does not address abominations; it addresses laws. This, of course, will have a ripple effect on many of the following assertions. The claims regarding tattoos, working on Saturday, polyester, and vegetable gardens are all referenced to Leviticus 19 which does not once contain the term "abomination". Further, it is not "shaving" in reference here, but a particular look -- rounding off the hair at the temples or beard. This, according to many biblical scholars, is a reference to something we no longer understand. It is believed to have been a particular look intended as a worship to a particular idol of the day. It is suggested that Israel knew what it was because of their years of slavery in Egypt. Thus, it was idolatry that was forbidden and, by no stretch of the imagination, a blanket law against "shaving".

2. Shrimp is an abomination before the Lord. I will attempt to be fair and conclude that the intent was "eating shrimp" as opposed to merely "shrimp". First, it is true that Leviticus forbids Israel from eating shellfish. We'll all agree on that point. From there we spiral into a crash on this point. The "abomination" in Leviticus 11 is not "to the Lord", but to Israel. Israel should detest it, not God. And the New Testament declares all food clean, removing entirely the problem of "unclean food". And there it hits bottom. Throw this one from the train.

3. Tattoos are an abomination before the Lord. Referring back to Item 1, nowhere in Leviticus 19 do we find a reference to "abomination". Please delete this claim, then, from the list in your mind. Further, the notion of adorning oneself with tattoos was unknown at the time. Tattoos were performed as a ritual for idolatry, a body mark for worship. It is not general "tattoos" in mind here, but the acoutrements of idolatry being forbidden.

4. Working on Saturday is an abomination before the Lord. Again, the term "abomination" doesn't appear in this passage. Further, it is not "Saturday" in view, but "Sabbath". There is no doubt that God commands no work on the Sabbath, but there is nothing in the command that links it to an "abomination".

5. Polyester is an abomination before the Lord. I'm hoping that people are laughing at this, since polyester didn't exist at the time. Further, we're still in Lev. 19 which carries no reference to "abomination". And, finally, what was meant by the term "mixed material" is not really known. The original Hebrew word is obscure. The intent is equally obscure. Most believe it is a reference to a particular type of material that is showy, such as Joseph's "coat of many colors".

6. Bunnies are an abomination before the Lord. I like this. Bunnies are detestable to the Lord. Good stuff. Of course, I'm sure it's a reference, again, to eating bunnies, not bunnies themselves. And, of course, it's a lie. What does Leviticus 11:6 actually say? It says that eating rabbits is not to be done because they are among the "unclean" animals. Further, this, according to Lev. 11:10, is not a matter of being an abomination to the Lord, but something that Israel should detest. And, again, the New Testament declares all foods clean, so this requirement from the Old Testament was no longer in effect in the New, and the point is moot.

7. Hamburger is an abomination before the Lord. The prohibition of Lev. 17:10 is a rule against eating blood. I would guess that, providing the broadest amount of charity to the argument, the suggestion is that there is blood in hamburger. Now, since there is no more blood in hamburger than there is in any other meat, this seems ludicrous. God allowed, nay, commanded the priests to eat meat. It had to be cooked. So, we might allow the stretch of going so far as saying it is a sin to eat raw hamburger, but we should all agree that it's not only a sin -- it's stupid. But the claim here is that eating a hamburger is an abomination before the Lord. Odd thing ... I find no reference to any such thing. Eating blood is forbidden, but nothing in the passage says "abomination". Unless we simply conclude that all sin of all variety is an abomination to God, we would be wise to avoid making such claims on an individual topic recklessly.

8. Vegetable gardens are an abomination before the Lord. This argument belies the arguer's intent. The goal here is not to offer a valid argument. The goal here is to offer a foolish argument. It is intended to be an emotional argument, not a rational one. The real hope here is that no one actually looks at the claim, but simply reacts. To deny this is a violation, according to the argument, of "common sense". And with only the briefest of examinations, one sees that this claim is devoid of common sense. The prohibition here in Lev. 19:19 is not against vegetable gardens. The prohibition is against mixing seeds. Indeed, this is common sense. Trying to grow two different kinds of crops in the same field is foolishness. It is suggested by many that the entire context of the verse is not in reference to specifics, but the general idea that "My people will be set apart." They suggest that the intent of this prohibition is specific to Israel for the purpose of living lives that demonstrate purity, without mixture. Whatever the intent, there is, again, no mention in Leviticus 19 that any of this falls to the category of "abomination to the Lord".

In contrast to all of the above, we find Leviticus 20 with a series of rules about sexual sin. Adultery is punishable by death. Incest is punishable by death. Bestiality is punishable by death. There is a list of sexual sins they were commanded to avoid and the penalty for committing them. And then we get to Lev. 20:13 -- If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. None of the previous sexual sins in this passage are referred to as "an abomination". None of the sexual sins that follow it are referred to as "an abomination". Only this one. Why is that? Could it be that this one falls in a category of its own in God's perception?

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Interpreter

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

26 And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Rom. 8:18-30).
(I needed the whole passage for context.)

We all know this section. It's often a favorite among Christians. There's that wonderful part about "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God." It's even more wonderful to people who are willing to put a period (in principle) behind "good" and not limit God's goodness to "those who love God." Calvinists love this passage because of the unbroken chain from "predestined" to "glorified" with nothing in the middle about "what I do". One of the popular ideas from this passage is the notion of a "prayer language" in which the Spirit helps us to pray when we don't know how.

That's the one. Funny thing is ... I don't see it. Paul doesn't say, "When we don't know how to pray as we should." Paul says, "We do not know how to pray as we should." There doesn't appear to be any occasion to the statement. It doesn't appear to be "sometimes". Paul seems to say that we never really know how to pray as we ought to pray. According to this passage, all of our prayer is filtered through the Holy Spirit who operates on our behalf in a language too deep for words. It appears that, just as creation suffers from the Curse, we suffer from an inherent weakness -- the inability to know how to pray.

Imagine, then, how delightful, how marvelous it is to have the Holy Spirit as our eternal interpreter. We pray -- wrong -- and He intercedes perfectly. He knows what is on the mind of God and connects what we are praying with God's thinking. I picture it something like this. "Father, I know he asked for this, but what he really meant was that." Of course, that's way too simplified, since it's "too deep for words", but the idea that the Spirit is always interceding my behalf makes my prayers so much more effective even when I don't think a single one is heard or answered. I like that.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I Had A Dream

Following up on the post on Discipleship from the other day, I had a dream of possibility that was just fun to think about. I think I'll share it with you.

Imagine your pastor, Pastor Bob. Pastor Bob is in his late 40's and is a beloved pastor. So Pastor Bob reads my comments on discipleship and takes them to heart. He goes to the junior high group and asks who among them believe they might be led to be a pastor when they grow up. A few raise their hands. So he takes these under his wing.

Pastor Bob undertakes a serious discipleship project with these three guys. He spends time with them during the week. He teaches them the Word. When he goes to visit someone in the hospital, he always has at least one of them with him. When he officiates at a funeral or performs a wedding, at least one of them is on hand as well. He has them sit in on some of the less personal counseling sessions, such as premarital counseling and the like. He has them attend board meetings with him. He's serious about this project.

As they grow, they start doing their own teaching. As high schoolers, they help out with the younger kids. As they get to be seniors, they help out with junior high kids. They attend college locally for a couple of years and help out with the high school group. The church helps fund those who want to go to Bible School or seminary. Of course, of the original three, not all continue. Some drop out. But one, at least, continues forward. He comes back after seminary, is ordained in your church, and starts to work as an assistant pastor. He preached on occasion when he was in seminary, but now he preaches when Pastor Bob is away on vacation or out for other reasons. He is more involved in the ministry, being a pastor now. And when Pastor Bob decides it's time to retire, there is no need for a pastoral search committee. Everyone knows that our young pastor who has been discipled by their beloved Pastor Bob and been a part of the ministry all this time will be the next pastor. The change will be nearly seamless, since Pastor Bob has invested so much of who he is into this young man. His doctrines are the same. His goals and visions are the same. His love for the church is the same. And his love for discipleship is the same. He will perpetuate this approach. A perfect arrangement.

I know. It's a dream. But it isn't so far fetched, is it? And why wouldn't it work in other settings as well? Why can't an elder train young men to be elders? Why can't teachers teach others to be teachers? I know. It's a dream -- a wild one at that. But imagine a church where the leadership takes individuals under their wing to teach to be leaders, and where the older men teach the younger men how they ought to be, and where the older women teach the younger women how they ought to be ... oh, wait, that's biblical, isn't it? If it is a pipe dream, it's a biblical one.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Discipleship

"Disciples" -- we know the term. It refers to the twelve followers of Jesus, right? Well, actually, only if we let it. The Greek word is mathetes and references "a learner". It refers to a person who claims to have learned particular principles from someone and holds to those principles on the basis of the authority of that other person. Greek has another word for teaching: didaskalos. This word primarily refers to the transfer of information. Mathetes, on the other hand, carries with it the idea of learning and endeavor, the idea of actually following the teaching (didaskalos) of another. In other words, disciples are not only pupils; they are followers.

Paul warns against being followers of particular leaders. He writes, "I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, 'I am of Paul,' and 'I of Apollos,' and 'I of Cephas,' and 'I of Christ.' Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?: (1 Cor. 1:11-13). Oh, good. So we're off the hook. No one needs to be "discipling" others, right? We're all just supposed to be disciples of Christ. Not hardly.

Most Christians have heard the term, "The Great Commission", referring to Jesus's command to His disciples that they share the gospel. Of course, that's not what the command actually contains:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20).
"Make disciples" ... that's the command -- matheete├║sate. That's not the same thing as "spread the gospel". The gospel, in this case, would be only the beginning. Where does it end? "Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." Notice, in fact, that it isn't simply "teaching them all that I commanded you." It includes being disciples. They are to learn what was commanded and observe it. The Great Commission is a command of Christ that His followers make disciples of others.

Paul tells Timothy to do the same. "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2). This is a primary function of believers in the Body of Christ. It is part of the process that God has built into the Church with the overall goal of "the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:12-13).

There are, of course, problems with this notion. The primary problem is ... we almost never do it. It is the Great Commission of Christ, but we ignore it, preferring our hit-and-run "spread the gospel" instead of actually discipling ("teaching to observe all things"). Our refusal to follow a direct command of Christ is rooted in the other types of problems with this notion. One is the American notion of "independence". No one can tell me what to do. I need no one. We are all equal. You're no better than me. That all works fine in certain applications and under particular conditions, but it doesn't work at all when it is in direct contradiction to Christ's command. But American independence works well because of human pride. It feeds the notion that I'm the really important person and the rest of you are not. It's a lie. This problem, then, is our natural wish to make it on our own rather than have someone else help us or admit that someone else can help us.

The other problem, apart from this sinful aspect, is the work it takes. "Hi, here's a tract, you need Jesus, have a nice day" is easy. "Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" is hard. Look through the Christian bookstore or search for "discipleship" on the Internet and you'll find lots of helpful stuff on discipling ... but it's all "once removed". Real discipleship is a day-to-day walk-alongside relationship. It engages in real time and gets to know the person. It doesn't plop a set of principles on the table and say, "There, run with that." It says, "How does this work in your life? How do you observe this?" It is work. And it is time consuming. Since it encompasses "all that I have commanded you", it isn't finished in a 6-week course covering this nice little book on being a godly parent or how to have a healthy marriage.

There is, I have noticed, another little problem with the concept. It's the word, "disciple". We are all aware that we are to be disciples of Christ. So if I ask, "Are you discipling anyone?", it is uncomfortable. "No, I'm teaching them to follow Christ." That's discipling. "No, but I'm mentoring some people." That's discipling. "No, I'm not doing any such thing." That's sin.

Christianity is a relational religion. (Don't choke on that word; it's biblical.) We are to know God. We are to be known by God. And we are to love one another. We have decided, it seems, to do so at a distance. Throw a good book at it. Let's meet on the Internet and I'll post some nice things for you to read. We are commanded to walk alongside and teach them to observe all that He commands. Of books, Solomon writes, "The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body" (Eccl 12:12). Perhaps we need to stop sinning on this count and start developing discipleship relationships.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Other Options?

You may not like the President's views, but you have to admire his tenacity. He sticks to his principles no matter what.

The Washington Post says that the White House has little support for his new plan from either the Democrats (no surprise to anyone) or the Republicans. But the Post reports this:
"We recognize that many members of Congress are skeptical," Bush said in his radio address yesterday, adding: "Members of Congress have a right to express their views, and express them forcefully. But those who refuse to give this plan a chance to work have an obligation to offer an alternative that has a better chance for success. To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible."

Many Democrats, in fact, have proposed alternatives centered around pulling out troops, an idea Bush flatly rejects.
There you have it, folks. We now have three alternatives. 1) Continue as we have been. 2) Try something new like amending the rules of engagement and adding troops. 3) Pull our people out of there and let Iraq fall as it may. Everyone, the President included, rejects the first option. It clearly hasn't worked, and he admits it. Judging by the loudest public voices, it appears that the second one is not acceptable either. The only acceptable option is defeat and shame. Cleaning up the mess that is Iraq is not an option. Assisting the people there is not an option. Trying to do something to put an end to the sectarian violence is not an option. What all true, God-loving, warm-hearted Americans want is a complete withdrawal. Those men and women who have given their lives thus far? Too bad for them -- it's for nothing. The people of Iraq who will undoubtedly succumb to bloody civil war? Not our problem. Forget about them. And to the world looking on at the "superpower" that we once were? Let 'em laugh. we still think we're tough ... as long as you don't look cross-eyed at us or call us mean names or threaten us with violence. No, no, we're just as tough as the French are reputed to be.

It's the same question I asked way back here, and I still haven't heard an answer. Apparently the President hasn't either. What are the other options?

Add more troops or pull out entirely. Those seem to be the only current options on the table. Is that it? Is that the best we have? Are the White House's bitter antagonists really going to sit back and say, "Yes, 'withdraw in defeat' is our best option"? As a kid I always wondered why the United States didn't seem to be figured in endtimes scenarios. I suppose when America has become the paper tiger its people have made it to be, there is no wonder.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Gospel at the Door

A missionary came to my door Saturday morning. He wanted to tell me about the peaceful life to come. He wanted to assure me that in this troubled world, Jesus could eventually bring a peaceful kingdom. Look, here in Revelation 21. He shall wipe away our tears. How nice. He was not invasive. He didn't ask to come in and talk to me. Nor was he connective. He didn't ask my name. At no point did he ask how I was, what I thought, anything at all about me. He didn't know if I had my own beliefs or even if I was married. He was there to shed light on his beliefs and then leave.

From the day of his visit and the tract he left I knew he was a Jehovah's Witness, but that was irrelevant. I thought, "Is this any way to spread the good news?" I thought back over other encounters with missionaries from all faiths and thought, "Is this any way to spread the good news?" I can't recall a single one who cared about the person to whom they were speaking. I can't recall a single one who wanted to know me, who gave even a hint about concern for my condition, state of mind, or well-being. Despite the fact that we all know that the singular tell-tale sign of being a disciple of Christ is our love for one another, I can't recall a single missionary I've encountered (I mean the ones who have come to my door) that gave a hint of love for one another. Is this any way to spread the good news?

I don't wish to design techniques or diminish approaches. I'm sure that God has the ability to use a whole variety of methods. I'm sure that there are actually people who are saved at a crusade surrounded by thousands of people intent only on making converts. I'm sure that there are people who come to Christ because someone knocked on the door of a stranger and handed them a tract. I'm not saying, "Don't!" I'm asking, "Is this the best way?"

I think that the best way to share the good news is to earn the right. When Jesus met the woman at the well, He didn't start with "Woman, you're in need of living water." He started with a conversation. He engaged her. She didn't believe because He told her what she needed. She believed Him because He knew her. In fact, one of the prime differences between Christianity and other religions is its relational aspect. According to Jesus, eternal life is defined as knowing God (John 17:3). According to Paul a Christian is one who is known by God (Gal. 4:9). The problem the false prophets had in Matt. 7:15-25 was "I never knew you." And yet, the good news we try to offer is so often devoid of relationship. We want to impart information and run rather than engage in relationship.

It's a lot harder to earn the right than to throw a tract and a canny line. It's work. The result, however, is discipleship rather than conversion. And we are not called to make converts; we are called to make disciples. I'm sure that God can use a variety of methods to achieve His goal. Paul spoke of people who were sharing the gospel in Rome. "Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice" (Phil. 1:15-18). And so will I rejoice when Christ is proclaimed, even with less than good methods. But shouldn't we be aiming at the good rather than "envy and strife" or "selfish ambition" or any other technique that falls short of good?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wait on the Lord


Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary (Isa. 40:31).
We all know that one. It's a heart-warming thrill to think about. "They will mount up with wings like eagles." We've seen the pictures or maybe even seen the real thing. There is very little that is as inspiring and majestic as eagles on the wing.

But ... what does it mean to "wait for the Lord"? When was the last time you waited on the Lord? Do we even think at all about what that entails? What is that waiting like? What are we waiting for? What exactly is in mind here?

There are many references in Scripture to waiting on the Lord. As early as Genesis we read, "For Your salvation I wait, O LORD" (Gen. 49:18). Waiting on the Lord is in the New Testament, such as Paul's remarkable statement "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20). It is not a small biblical concept. What can we learn about waiting on the Lord?

There appears to be two aspects to waiting. One is immediate and the other is long term. There appears to be times in which people wait on the Lord for immediate circumstances and immediate answers, and there are other times in which it is a continuous, ongoing process. In several places in Scripture the people of God would come to Him with a problem and wait for His response. In Psa. 69, David cries out to the Lord in a particular circumstance. He says, "I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes fail while I wait for my God" (Psa. 69:3). This is clearly a specific event and a short term "waiting", at the end of which he expects an answer and can stop crying. In the time of Jeremiah's grief that is the book of Lamentations he writes, "The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him" (Lam. 3:25). Often waiting on the Lord is an event that is due to singular circumstances and has a limited time frame.

More often, however, waiting is described in terms of a longer time frame. Psalm 25 is an entire psalm that appears to be devoted to the concept of waiting on the Lord as a lifestyle.
O my God, in You I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for You shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know Your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths (Psa. 25:2-4).

Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day (Psa. 25:5).

Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for You (Psa. 25:21).
This version of waiting appears to be at all times. It includes a trust in God in difficult circumstances. It includes salvation. It includes the process of learning God's ways and walking God's paths. It includes a lifestyle of integrity and uprightness. And it produces peace.

Hosea writes, "Observe kindness and justice and wait for your God continually" (Hos. 12:6). The psalmist says, "I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it, and I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones (Psa. 52:9).

How do we wait for the Lord? Scripture isn't very clear on this point. That is, there doesn't appear to be a "formula", a "12-step program". There doesn't appear to be an outline of the process. Sometimes it is in private. Sometimes it is in a group. Sometimes it is at home and sometimes it is in a gathering. Sometimes it is an event and sometimes it is a lifestyle. It appears to be linked to trusting the Lord. God can be trusted, so we're trusting Him for ... whatever is at hand and whatever is to come. The idea, then, is that there is the unknown, either tomorrow or the murky future, and we are going to lay this unknown at the feet of the Omniscient One, the Omnipotent One, the One who can handle it all and who can save us, both from sin and from difficult circumstances. Whatever comes our way, we are going to lay it at His feet and wait for His response.

What are we waiting for? What is the product? Well, Isaiah has already told us that waiting on the Lord produces "strength". Psalm 27 says, "Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD" (Psa. 27:14) -- courage. Waiting is often linked to resting, as in Psa. 37:7, suggesting peace and rest.

Are you waiting on the Lord? When difficult circumstances arise, do you set aside time to simply listen, to simply lay it at His feet and see what He will do with it? Is your life marked by waiting on Him? Or are you one who tries to handle everything? "Don't worry, God. I have this one. If something really big comes up, I'll give You a call." Many Christians complain of weariness, worry, exhaustion. Could it be that we aren't waiting on the Lord? "Teach me, Lord, to wait."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Crazy Factory

Turn on the TV or the radio or pick up a newspaper and start looking at what's going on in the world. It doesn't take long to wonder about the sanity of the world. The craziness is graduated, of course. There are levels of crazy. A woman went shopping twice in one week and left her Lexus with her baby inside to the parking attendant while she took her dog in to shop at Macy's. Insane. But, of course, it gets worse. On the day after Christmas in Scottsdale, a step-father walked into his home and shot his wife and children. The oldest son survived and managed to stab his step-father to death. He was unable to save his 17-year-old sister or his mother. Crazy. And, of course, it gets worse. Iraqis are killing Iraqis. Day after day they blow each other up in market places or walk into cafes with bombs strapped to themselves or just start shooting at people in the street. Crazy. In Sudan, groups are trying to eradicate groups. Genocide. Their differences are minimal. "It's a Sudan thing; you wouldn't understand." Absolutely insane. One has to wonder when a trial lawyer tries to get his client off by reason of insanity. What was originally sane about anyone who ruthlessly takes the life of another? What is potentially sane about a person who rapes someone?

I know, I know, this "sanity" of which they speak is a particular type. We'll let it go. But you get the idea. People are crazy. And we don't need the extremes of the news to see it. Each of us suffers from insanity to some degree. He knows that driving while drunk is a bad idea, but he does it and gets arrested for it. She knows that the soap operas she is watching are fiction, but she's still all caught up in them and wants to know why she can't find a guy like that. Everyone has heard "Honesty is the best policy", but all of us lie. Each of us, at some time or another, consciously does something that they know is wrong and stupid. It's crazy.

Where does this rampant, universal insanity come from? I'm not talking about those more specific types of insanity from which a few individuals suffer. I'm talking about this universal insanity that everyone seems to indulge. All of us do what we know to be wrong. All of us suffer to some degree or another from being crazy. Why?

I believe there is an answer. In Paul's letter to the Romans, he lays out the need for the Gospel pretty clearly by pounding them with nearly three complete chapters of bad news. The bad news is that humans are sinners, and that all have sinned and deserve damnation. He says that the basic problem is the suppression of truth (Rom. 1:18). He tells us that there is a core problem of ingratitude (Rom. 1:21). And the real problem: We do not acknowledge God (Rom. 1:21-25). In answer to my quandry, Paul makes this statement: "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done" (Rom. 1:28).

It is my belief that sin rots the brain. When humans indulge in sin, their reasoning capacities, at least in the area of morality, are diminshed. And the longer one indulges in sin, the more incapacitated one becomes. That which is morally questionable becomes "good". That which is clearly immoral becomes acceptable. People suffer from what Paul terms a "seared conscience" (1 Tim. 4:1-2). And insanity sets in. And since we are all sinners, we all suffer, to varying degrees, from this insanity.

What's my point? If we who know that the God of the universe hates sin (Psa. 5:5) can begin to see this insanity in ourselves, we can begin to face it. We can begin to hate it in ourselves. We can get "therapy", that "renewing of the mind" that Paul writes about (Rom. 12:2). And we can begin to see the urgency of it. We need to seek treatment right away. Don't delay!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Another Vietnam

That's the perception of many when it comes to the Iraq conflict. What is meant by the phrase, "another Vietnam"?

The 2nd Indochina War (probably the best name for the conflict) took place from 1959 to 1975. America originally sent military advisors, but in 1965 started sending large numbers of American troops to attempt to defend South Vietnam from Communist North Vietnam. The attempt failed. America's leadership favored the philosophy of a "limited war". They restricted targets and denied the military leadership the option of prosecuting this war as they saw fit. As a result, the Vietnam Conflict became America's miserable failure. After 10 years of battle both in Indochina and at home and after losing the lives of more than 50,000 American soldiers, America retreated with her tail between her legs. The Communists of North Vietnam swallowed the Republic of South Vietnam. And America lost her first war.

So what is meant by "another Vietnam"? It may mean "an ill-conceived conflict". It may mean "a war that the military could win if its hands weren't tied by the government." It may mean "the foolish concept of a 'limited war'." I suppose these are all saying the same thing. What made Vietnam an "ill-conceived conflict"? The government decided to dictate military strategy. The government decided that 1) strategy was secondary to political correctness, and 2) the will of the people ultimately decides the military's approach and will. Why? Because the goal was too obscure. The original goal in the conflict in Vietnam was to save South Vietnam from Communism because of what was called "the domino theory". The belief was that if one country in Indochina fell to Communism, more of Asia would fall.

So, here we are again. Congress is aiming at derailing the funding for the war in Iraq. A growing number of Americans are calling for withdrawal. The original goal for going there and staying there is moot. Who cares if democracy gets a foothold in the Middle East? Who gives a plugged nickel about those day-to-day Iraqis and their problems? Saddam is dead. Bring home the troops. Forget about democracy, at least for other nations. Forget about Arabs. Let them kill each other for all we care. It's not our problem. We're Americans, and the only thing we really care about is Americans. No, check that. The only thing we really care about is ourselves. Let's spread that concept to the rest of the world and call it "caring".

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Mathematically Just

I have a friend (Hey, yes I do! I know it may be hard to believe ... but I digress.) who is stationed outside the country and, therefore, unable to review my blogs. He asked for an update and I sent him the month of December. Since then he has been responding to various blogs. I wanted to post this response to my blog of Dec. 7, 2006 entitled Is God Just? because I think he made some very interesting points. Here it is in its entirety.
I just finished reading December 7th's post, and I don't know if I quite agree with the entirety of your approach. I think you were right on until your third point. Now, before I get too far into it, I do agree that humans are guilty of cosmic treason, but... I don't think it is because of the reasons that you stated.

The United States is a government that God has instituted on this earth (like every other government), and has imparted authority to it to execute justice. Therefore, by transgressing the laws of our country that are within our country's right to legislate we are defying God Himself. It's the same mentality that was used in Europe for a long time. An assault on the king's soldiers is an assault on the king himself because they are his agents.

However, drug trafficking or counterfeiting is not treason. Not in any way. Choosing to not obey or remain under law is not the same is trying to overthrow the government which is what treason actually is. But with the way you have handled it in your blog, we have no other way to interpret transgression than as treason. The line becomes too blurred with your approach.

Like I said earlier though... I do believe we are indeed guilty of treason because when we were unregenerate, we were lending aid to the forces of darkness. We worked with the enemy to undermine and overthrow God's governance. We literally made war with God who is the rightful sovereign. That is why we are guilty of treason.

The other weakness I see in your argument is that you did not address the issue of annihilation. After all, our country ends the life of the offender for treason, but God does not. He tortures him for eternity. Now, I don't think the eternity part of it should be addressed, but whether or not we would be right in torturing those who have engaged in treason as long we possibly can.

Granted, we could argue that by the OT punishments, God has shown us the extent to which we should punish such people, but is that because they don't deserve it or is that God's wisdom acting to keep man's governance in check? Either is a perfectly valid argument since it can be demonstrated that it is God's habit to make rulings in the law for those reasons since the OT law is more like Israel's constitution. But the side of torture does have the advantage of God's example in how He handles treason.

Now, Annihilation would not adequately punish all sins. For example, let's say that it would be warranted for treason, but not for lying (hypothetically). But simply Annihilating the person, the lie is not really punished, only the treason. And so it goes for all sin... if all sin is worthy of annihilation, unless God recreates and reannihilates sinners until their sin is paid for, justice is not served.

So I am still left to the conclusion that a temporal sin committed against even an eternal country does not by necessity merit eternal death. Now, I know that this is a point where our doctrine's diverge a bit. I believe that sinful man's mere existence is a repugnant offense to God, and that is the root of our punishment. Our actions are merely evidence in court to prove that so that our mouth's might be stopped (one of the law's purposes so says Paul). So unless our nature is made new, we will always be deserving of divine wrath and are constantly indebted to receive it.
Annihilation in this case would be mercy, not justice.

Let's look at it from a math standpoint.

t = time
Tp = Time of punishment
To = Time of the offense
Tw = Total Wrath

Tp > To - Your first point in your post.
Therefore: Tp = f(To) = kTo, where k is some constant of proportionality > 1 associated with the severity of the sin.
Every moment of man's existence earns him wrath: { t | t = To }
If we integrate f(t) (giving us the total amount owed, since the current function only describes how much wrath man is earning at each point in time) we get:

Tw = F(to) = [k(t)^2]/2

Plotting it on a graph, with time being the x-axis and Tw on the y-axis, we can see that as time approaches infinity (eternity) so does Tw, but at a much faster rate. Therefore, man can never exhaust his punishment, and God's wrath is never fully satiated, ergo.... punishment is eternal.

Anyway.... that's my take on it. I do believe that for example, that if Christ had not paid for the sin of someone who was regenerate that that person would be able to in a temporal sense pay for his sin by taking his "lickings" for it, since the influx of sin would be stopped by regeneration. But that's a moot point because we have a Father and a Husband that couldn't stand by and let that happen.
First, I thought the math approach was fascinating. Frankly, I didn't understand all of it. (I'm sure you readers could figure that if I did have a friend, he'd likely be smarter than I.) But he managed to show mathematically that finite sin requires infinite punishment.

I thought his point about annihilation was a good one. My question was "Is God just?" He said, "Annihilation ... would be mercy, not justice."

I did want to address his objection, not because he's wrong, but because someone else may have thought the same thing because I wasn't clear enough. He said that violating the law of the land is not necessarily treason, so my parallel didn't work. He's right. Violating God's laws isn't treason. But that wasn't my parallel. Treason is defined as a violation of allegiance to one's sovereign or to one's state. The reason we break God's laws is because human beings have decided to give their support to His enemy, Satan, and have agreed to usurp God's rightful authority in their lives. Humans say, with Satan, "I will be like the Most High." This is why they violate specific laws of God, and this is treason on the cosmic level.

I will have to wait for my friend to read this and see if it clears anything up for him (or if he still disagrees). In the meantime, I thought some of you might enjoy the math approach. I liked it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Abomination?

"Abomination" ... what a stunning word. I speaks of more than "dislike." It is an intense loathing. An abomination is something detestable, abhorrent, vile, shameful.

The Old Testament is full of "abominations".
The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God (Deut. 7:25).

If you hear in one of your cities, which the LORD your God is giving you to dwell there, that certain worthless fellows have gone out among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods," which you have not known, then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword (Deut. 13:12-15). (See also Deut. 17.)

You shall not eat any abomination (Deut. 14:3).

You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the LORD your God (Deut. 17:1).

When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a wizard or a necromancer, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you" (Deut. 18:9-12).

A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God (Deut. 22:5).

You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God (Deut. 23:18).

When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance (Deut. 24:1-4).

You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God (Deut. 25:13-16). (See also Prov. 11:1; 20:10, 23.)

Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret (Deut. 27:15).

The devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence (Prov. 3:32).

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers (Prov. 6:16-19).

Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight (Prov. 11:20).

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him (Prov. 15:8). (See also Prov. 21:27.)

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD (Prov. 17:15).
A quick list:
* Idolatry
* Eating "unclean" food
* Sacrifice with blemishes
* "Divination" (any of a variety of things considered "magic" related)
* Cross-dressing
* The fee of a prostitute given to God
* Remarrying a spouse who remarried
* Dishonest business practices
* False judgment

Interestingly, most Christians would still agree to this day with many on that list, even though it's "Old Testament". Oh, sure, we might question the "unclean food". Some might question "cross-dressing". And, of course, very few are concerned anymore about divorce and remarriage.

Some are questioning some of the things God says are "abominable" these days. One of the primary reasons is the "Old Testament" nature of it. A lot of Christians have bought a wholesale dismissal of "Old Testament", as if God changed His mind. Without really fighting that fight, I have to ask the rationale when it comes to this shortlist of "abominations".

Here's the suggestion, even though it's never voiced. "God hated those things back then, but He feels a lot better about them now." Now, I can see that some things might change. An extremely obvious example would be the command against sacrifices with blemishes. Clearly our current sacrifice, Christ Himself, was without blemish and, therefore, we don't make sacrifices with blemishes. Does that mean that God likes blemished sacrifices now? Obviously not.

The question I'm asking is how it is that God would change? The idea is that He found some things beyond wrong in times past; He found them detestable. They weren't merely a violation of His commands; they were abominable. What would make us think that has changed?

Still, Christians are uncomfortable when it comes to these passages:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Lev. 18:22).

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them (Lev. 20:13).
When you see Christians trying to discuss why they think homosexual behavior is a sin, they will mention these in passing. It's "Old Testament". It doesn't matter to us anymore. Even the president in the series The West Wing used this to lambaste a Christian. "Oh," he chided, "should we get rid of footballs because pigs are unclean?"

I think the point is missed. I'm not talking about bringing back Old Testament Law. I'm not talking about restoring the command to avoid having sex with your wife when she's menstruating or outlawing pork. That debate isn't necessary here. The Bible says that it isn't merely immoral; it's detestable. It's not merely the wrong thing to do; it's abhorrent to God. We can debate all day whether or not the Old Testament Law is still in effect for Christians, but can we even start to suggest that somehow God changed His mind about what He likes and abhors? I'm not getting it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Stagnation through Pride

Independence and dependence, two of the hardest-to-navigate straits in the day-to-day walk of humans. On the one side, it takes little thought to realize the pitfalls that dot the entire landscape of the dependent individual and I don't intend to get into them. So what about independence? Especially in western civilization, (even more so here in the US) independence is one of the first building blocks upon which our youth are raised. Go to school, get a job, move from home, start your own family. Necessary tenets for every household. Of course, as in most things, there is merit to be found in such principles, but the soft fall to destruction is hard to spot and difficult to avoid. It is not so much the independence that is the problem, but its terrible offspring, Pride. It is a short stride from standing on your own two feet to thinking that you stand on your own two feet without even making use of the ground underfoot. No matter how hard one tries or how well one succeeds on their own, it is simply a matter of time before the realization comes that all their independence and all their pride does not bring the entire world to them on a silver platter. And once that happens, the time comes for depression, loss of motivation, stagnation. As amazing creations as we are, self-sustaining is not one of our characteristics. We are designed dependent from birth. To our parents, to our circumstances, to our surroundings, but most of all (whether we admit it or not) to our God. All the other things we might depend on have the possibility of failing or hurting us, leading us to desire more independence, but only through depending on God can we ever be free; free from our own fears and failures.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Grease is the Word

All good Christians know the evils of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. All good Christians know that heavy metal music is of the devil and R-rated movies are wrong. All good Christians know these things. So what's wrong with me?

To me, the real threat to the Christian mind is not the obvious evil, but the "hidden" one. Sing a song about "Satan rules" and nothing gets by us -- it's evil. Sing a song about "spending the night together", and it's a love song -- what's wrong with that? Rarely do we examine our church song content for errors because they're ... church songs. And the G or PG rated movie should be no problem at all, right?

Last night my wife watched the new NBC show, "Grease - You're the One that I Want", and I was reminded all over again how much I despise this show. My wife loves it, but to me it represents this same creeping evil that so few bother to evaluate because it's a "harmless" little ditty about high school life in the 50's. What could be wrong with that?

Meet Rizzo, the leader of the Pink Ladies, a group of tough girls that hang out with the T-Birds, a group of tough guys at Rydell High. Near the beginning, Rizzo, a high school senior, believes she is pregnant. Well, now, I wonder how that happened? Her boyfriend, Kenickie, tries to "do the right thing" as the father of her child, but Rizzo assures him he's not the father. Hmmm ... I wonder what that says about Rizzo? And, of course, there is Rizzo's popular solo. To Rizzo, being good is "the worst thing I could do." Amen, sister! Preach it!

Meet Danny and Sandra. Danny Zuko is more or less the leader of the T-Birds, a high school ruffian, who meets Sandy Olsson over the summer. Sandy is a good girl who genuinely falls in love with Danny. Both are surprised, however, when they end up in the same school for their senior year. Sandy is stuck. She's a genuinely good girl in love with a genuinely bad boy, but she doesn't know he's bad. Danny is a bad boy trying to become good against the flow because he really does care about Sandy. So Danny makes some changes. He takes up track, earns a letter, and actually graduates from high school. So this is the warm and heartening "bad boy turned good" story, right? No. In the end, it is Sandy who changes. She turns slutty, Danny tosses his letter jacket, and Sandy sings, "If you're filled with affection you're too shy to convey, meditate in my direction. Feel your way." Instead of turning into a good guy, we take the genuinely good "Sandra Dee" and make her just as bad as the rest, dropping any advances Danny made in the process.

The message is clear. Don't try to be good. It's boring. Just do whatever you want. In the words of Rizzo, "Even though the neighborhood thinks I'm trashy and no good, I suppose it could be true, but there are worse things I could do."

And we smile and snap our fingers to the catchy 50's-style music and enjoy the romp through memory lane (or something like it) and miss entirely that this "fun" little "harmless" piece is exactly what Paul was talking about in Romans 1 when he said, "Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (Rom. 1:32). Now, maybe approving of Grease isn't all that bad, but when we accept this kind of message without evaluation, that is the worst thing we could do.