Sunday, September 30, 2007

My Goal

From the Keswick hymn book, words by F. Brook:

My goal is God, Himself.
Not joy or peace or even blessing, but Himself, my God.
'Tis His to lead me there -- not mine, but His.
By any road, dear Lord, at any cost.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why Matters -- the Sequel

I started with the premise that "'Why' matters." Why we do what we do is important. Here's one I ran across the other day.

Where I work parking is at a premium. The lady who runs the cafe in our building told me that she pays $8 a day so she can park close to work. If I wanted to park near work, I'd be paying nearly $700 a year ... and next year it exceeds that. Not being willing to waste that much money, I park a half-mile away. I get some sunshine and exercise and save $500 a year. What could be better? Well, the other day, as I was making the trek back to my car, I noted someone parking in a nearby lot illegally. "The gall," I said to myself, righteous indignation rising. "Righteous indignation" -- that's what we call it when we get angry because someone else is doing something wrong. It may not be indignation, and it may not be righteous, but if we can put a nice label on it, we feel better. Then I realized that the fuel for my "indignation" wasn't a deep love of that which was right. Instead, it was a quiet, hidden envy for the wrong. I secretly wished that I could get away with parking illegally and saving myself all this time, energy, and money. That was a shock.

What else fell under that category? How about that irritating guy at work who rarely seemed to do anything and suffered no repercussions? Or what about that jerk on the freeway that didn't bother going with the flow of traffic, but weaved in and out of lanes instead? Or the guy who decided that he was perfectly justified in stepping in front of me in line at the grocery store because he had two items and I had 20? I realized that more often than I recognized or was willing to admit, the reason I got angry at people who did things wrong ... was because I wished I could do them, too. Oh, I wouldn't do them. I am bound by my beliefs of what is right and wrong. But I wished I could. And I realized that, despite my moral beliefs, I didn't hate sin like I should.

Now, don't get me wrong. Righteous indignation exists. It can be done. Jesus did it ... more than once. There is no other way to describe His response to the moneychangers in the Temple or His dialog with the self-righteous Pharisees. But His was never indignation over His rights or wishes. It was always on behalf of others -- primarily His Father's rights. Righteous indignation can happen. I just suspect that it's not as common among humans as we'd like to think.

I suspect that if we truly hated sin and truly loved God, our response would much more often be like Jesus's reaction when He approached Jerusalem and wept. More often than He was righteously indignant, it seems, Jesus was weeping over sin. He knew the cost. He knew the consequences. He knew the human tragedy. He knew the outcome. That would cause grief more often than indignation.

It is good to be moral. It is good to have firm beliefs about what is right and wrong. And it is perfectly acceptable to see when someone does something wrong. Sometimes, in this case, we are even obligated to respond. All well and good. But when was the last time you felt grief for your fellow human beings who were suffering the consequences of sin? The next time you feel your indignation rising over it, maybe you need to check yourself like I do. Is it actual indignation, or is it secret envy? The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. Don't I know it!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Politics for the Birds

I'm glad we're not voting tomorrow. I'm at a complete loss.

I've taken several of those online quizzes to find out where I fall on the political spectrum. According to each and every test, I'm a centrist ... and no political party aligns with my views. Oh, goody.

My father-in-law sent me a link to "find your candidate". It's an interesting exercise where they ask you about your position on various issues and then tell you where the candidates fall in relation to your answers. I wasn't the least bit surprised to find that Hillary and Obama were at the bottom of the list. I was amused that Duncan Hunter was at the top. Who? But no one -- not one of the candidates -- agreed with all of my positions. Given the short list and the limited options given, I had hoped that it would be a less impossible task ... as ridiculous as "less impossible" is.

They tell me not to waste my vote. If you vote for someone who is not Republican, Democrat, or, at the very least, "Independent", you're wasting your vote, they tell me. If you vote for someone who isn't in the lead, you're wasting your vote. So I'm left with a dilemma. Do I waste my vote by trying to elect someone who does not represent my views, or do I waste my vote by trying to elect someone who does represent my views but cannot get elected? And is it, as Michael Medved suggests, immoral to vote you conscience if it's someone who cannot be elected?

I have some time. We won't be voting for a year. I suspect, however, that in the next year that my choices will be limited even further. Duncan Hunter won't be an option. Neither will anyone who agrees with my view. At what point do I just admit that I'll be living in America without representation?

Sigh. I don't like politics very much at all.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why Matters

Remember the advertising tagline, "Why ask why"? The answer is because the answer to "why" matters. Here's an example.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Prov. 15:1).
Most of us have heard the verse. I've been told I'm a master at it. Since I was young, I've used that "soft answer" approach to avoid all sorts of problems.

I remember when my brother and I were on the patio folding newspapers for our paper route. The neighborhood bully came to the gate and called in to us. He wanted me to come out so he could beat me up. In my bravest voice I told him it would be kind of stupid for me to come out and get beat up, wouldn't it? And he left me alone. A soft answer, and I avoided a sure beating.

Then there was the time when I was working as a security supervisor for a grocery warehouse. I got the call that one of the workers at the produce warehouse had to be escorted off the property. He was causing problems. Oh, and he was a gang member ... and on drugs. (Oh, but he was a union member, so a lost day of work was all they could do. But that's a different topic.) Of course, someone in uniform with a badge was the last thing this guy wanted to see. When I showed up, he was ranting and raving to his supervisor at the unfairness of the situation ... without actually using reasonable terms like "unfairness." When he saw me he upped the volume. He proceeded to get in my face and explain to me all the various body parts he planned to remove from me and where he would stick them. When he paused for effect, I inserted, as calmly as possible, my input. "Look, it's not likely that I could stop you, so if you plan to do all that, go ahead. However, I want you to know that when you do, youll be arrested and put away for as long as possible, you'll lose your job, and I'll sue you for everything you have or will ever own." He looked at me for a moment, looked at his supervisor, and walked away without laying a finger on me. A soft answer, and I avoided a sure beating.

I considered myself the king of the soft answer for a long time. Then one day I learned that I had completely missed the point. Solomon didn't suggest a soft answer as a self-defense technique. The purpose of turning away wrath is not to simply deflect anger, but to connect with the person. Like just about everything in God's perspective, our job isn't about self, but about connections -- how we relate to Him and to others.

Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is the equivalent of doing the wrong thing. Why we do what we do is important. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered what I believed to be a positive in my column was actually a negative. I thought I was doing the right thing and here I was being self-centered and self-defensive.

I've worked on it since. It is my goal, when I wield the soft answer, to use it to displace anger and leave open the dialog. Self-defense is a reflex, so I'm not always going to get it right. Still, it's my goal. I will try to turn aside wrath to encourage relationships.

"Why" matters.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Really? A Sovereign God??

I am an unashamed believer in the Sovereignty of God. While most Christians would say the same thing, many wouldn't mean it like I do. I mean that I believe that God is sovereign in an absolute sense. Nothing occurs without either God's direct action or, at least, divine permission. Nothing.

I recognize that this belief carries some serious consequences, and it is precisely these consequences that put off other Christians. It means, for instance, that Hurricane Katrina with all its death and destruction was God-ordained ... likely even God-caused. It means that Nick Erfle's death was God's intention. It means that the horror that was 9/11 was God's plan. One of my sons asked me once how we can know the will of God for our lives. I said, "Well, if you want the easy way, look back. Whatever happened was God's will. Looking forward is a little bit tougher." You see, if God is sovereign as I mean it and believe it, then everything that occurs from the fall of Adam to the birth of Christ to the evil that was the Holocaust to the tsunami of 2004 occurred by the will of God.

In the past I've said why I believe this. I've written a variety of times on the biblical reasons for my firm conviction on the absolute sovereignty of God. And I've even mentioned the fact that this sovereignty gives me personal comfort. What I haven't talked much about is the alternative.

What if God was not as sovereign as I believe the Bible makes Him out to be? What if He was only as sovereign as so many Christians think He is? There are some that paint Him as a "gentleman" who won't interfere. There are some who suggest He just doesn't know what we will do in advance because ... well, we haven't done it. There are some who believe that God has surrendered His sovereignty to a large degree to Man's Free Will. However you want to paint this limited Sovereign we call God, it is a very odd picture to me.

Does God have the ability to forecast hurricanes at least as well as we do? Here's what I see back in August of 2005. "Oh, my," says God, "that hurricane is really getting big. If it gets over warm water and picks up wind, it could get all the way to a category 5. And, look ... it's headed straight for the Gulf Coast. Oh, my, that could be really, really devastating. I really wish I could do something about that because it could kill a lot of people ... but I can't ... or I won't. Batten down the hatches, New Orleans and Mississippi ... you're in for a big one and I'm not willing or able to stop it. But be assured, dear people, it wasn't my will."

What could have been going through God's mind on that fateful morning of September 11, 2001? "Oh, I suspected they were going to do something like that. They've hijacked those airplanes ... four of them! I can see where they're headed. I overheard their plans to fly them into buildings. I can see that this is going to be devastating. Lives will be lost. Families will be shattered. A whole nation will be affected, with a ripple effect to the world. Unfortunately, even though I know where they're going ... I'm too much of a gentleman to interfere. This is something I never would want for anyone. Too bad. My hands are tied. But rest assured ... it wasn't my will."

These are just some of the extreme examples. The same would be true in your everyday events. People are in accidents, robberies, broken relationships, car problems, financial difficulties, a myriad of things that occur in life. In every case, God would either have to not know or be unwilling or unable to prevent them ... or all three. And that is a God that is absolutely terrifying to me.

What would we say of a person like that? "You knew that someone was going to fly airplanes into the World Trade Center, had the ability to do something about it, and didn't? That is unconscionable at best and criminal at worst." "You knew that man was carrying a gun and would likely shoot Officer Erfle, and you did nothing to stop it? That makes you an accessory." "You knew that this event was coming and had the ability to prevent it and didn't? That's not a mistake; that's evil." "You claim that your hands are clean because you didn't cause or will any of this ... but you had the knowledge and ability to prevent it, so your refusal to do anything to prevent what you knew would occur makes you morally and legally culpable."

Maybe it is true that my belief in the absolute Sovereignty (with a capital "S") of God leads to some difficult conclusions. Maybe it is hard to correlate His Sovereignty and Man's free will (with small "f" and "w"). Maybe there are some sticky philosophical questions involved. To me, those sticky questions have a reasonable resolution. To me, the position is most biblical. On the other hand, I cannot comprehend the God of the other side. That is truly a baffling position to hold, both biblically and philosophically.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Freedom

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has many Americans fuming by his being allowed to speak at Columbia University. I understand. The man is a sexist, a criminal, a racist, a terrorist. He denies the Holocaust and promotes the genocide of all Jews. He was proud in his statement yesterday that there were no homosexuals in his country while oblivious to the fact that the reason it was true was because they kill homosexuals. He assured the world that Iran had no part in the violence in Iraq even though there is clear, irrefutable evidence that they do. The president of Columbia University, in his introduction of President Ahmadinejad, denounced him as a "petty and cruel dictator," an world-class fool who fills the international community with revulsion. I wouldn't want the man as my neighbor. I wouldn't invite him to my house. I wouldn't ask him to speak at the university. I particularly enjoyed Jim Jordan's suggestion that we arrest the man.

That having been said, I'm not on the side of the protesters or, in the final analysis, Jim Jordan. We are a nation of laws. Our laws say that diplomats have immunity. Thus, if we are to remain a nation of laws, we need to treat that criminal with that same respect. And while I would never invite the man to speak, I cannot raise my voice in too much complaint that he was invited. I spent 10 years in the Air Force defending the U. S. Constitution. That includes defending the right to free speech. And that includes giving a criminal dictator who denies his own people that right the same right here.

It irks me. It irks me that people have died to protect Ahmadinejad's right to speak freely in our country. It irks me that he would be allowed to lie to us openly. It irks me that we have provided him a propaganda victory which has translated into full-blown lies in the Islamic Republic News Agency. It irks me that a criminal, a dictator, and an enemy of my country would be allowed to express any opinion in this country. But I defended his right to do so and I will still stand for his right to do so. Sometimes it may feel like we need to revisit that right. Maybe we need to limit it. Maybe we need to dole it out more carefully. I don't even want to go there because I know where that would end up. While I am upset that the rights that I and so many others defended were abused by an enemy, I would be more upset if those rights were surrendered. So I'll keep my protests about Iran's president's visit here to myself.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Slavery

Back in the day when I was teaching an adult Sunday School class, we started off on a study of Philippians with, of all things, Paul's opening line:
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:1-2).
The word is doulos, and is most simply translated "slave." Paul classified himself and Timothy as slaves of Christ.

What complaints this statement stirred up! "Slaves? We're not slaves!" One even pointed to the passage before where Jesus told His disciples, "No longer do I call you slaves" (John 15:15). "See? We're not slaves." It didn't matter that I pointed out that Paul said this after Jesus made that statement. "We're not slaves; we're friends of Christ."

Perhaps its an American mentality. You know -- "No sovereign," "Give me liberty or give me death" -- that sort of thing. Americans are largely defined by the two terms "independent" and "equal", with the emphasis at this point going to independence. But, I wonder, is that really where we want to go when speaking of God?

Independence is defined as "freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others." That sounds good to some. Not me. We like "freedom from control" and even "freedom from influence", but do we really want "freedom from support and aid" ... when we're talking about God? In fact, do we even want freedom from influence when we speak of the Holy Spirit? Is "independence" really how a Christian should want to be defined?

Paul defined basic salvation this way: "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Rom. 10:9). (What does that say about people who call themselves "Christians" but deny His resurrection?) If the basic definition of "saved" includes "Jesus as Lord", do we really want to assert our independence and distance ourselves from His Lordship? In one disturbing passage, Paul asserts, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). It is disturbing by its inverse suggestion. If someone doesn't claim Jesus as Lord, can they claim that they have the Holy Spirit? And if they don't have the Holy Spirit, in what sense can they claim to be born again -- a Christian?

Freedom is a popular position. We all want it. We want it for others. We see it as a God-given right. And, in some sense, perhaps it is. But when we start asserting our freedom from being slaves of God, I think that we've gone too far. That would take us away from His control, His aid, His support, His salvation, and His Holy Spirit. I think I would much rather be classified as a bond-servant of God than a mere friend if it meant finding out that I was not His friend after all by making the assertion.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Sacred and the Secular

In America there is a growing trend to try to separate the sacred and the secular. "You can believe what you want," they say, "but don't do it in my yard." We aren't supposed to bring our religious beliefs into government. We aren't supposed to bring our religious beliefs into discussions or decisions on societal morality. We aren't supposed to bring our religious beliefs into the public square at all. It is a sharp division: the sacred and the secular. "Believe what you want, but if it's religious, do it at church."

Unfortunately, this mistaken belief is being fed by many Christians. There are many who compartmentalize the sacred and the secular. Praying: sacred. Going to work: secular. Reading your Bible: sacred. Driving: secular. Going to church: sacred. Going to the grocery store: secular. And this separation of Church and State in our daily lives leads to all sorts of further problems.

When we're at church, we act differently. We are pious. We tend to be kinder. We are certainly on our best behavior. You won't hear too many off-color jokes among people at church. You can pass a plate full of money in front of us at church and we wouldn't even think of taking money out ... because it's "sacred" somehow. Go find these same people at work and observe them in the secular world. Religious conversation is likely entirely gone. They can be unkind and vindictive to coworkers who get in their way. Their jokes are just as off-color as their non-Christian comrades. And stealing from the company isn't even considered -- it's a given. Why not take home pens, pencils, office supplies? And do they really expect you to work eight hours a day?

The problem is that biblically there is no such dichotomy. There is no "sacred" and "secular" in the life of the Christian. Biblically, when we have a relationship with Christ, it is full time. Husbands are to love their wives "as Christ loved the Church" (Eph. 5:25) and wives are to submit to their husbands "as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22). There is no "sacred" or "secular" in that. Slaves (employees) are to serve their masters (employers) "as you would Christ" (Eph. 6:5) "rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man" (Eph. 6:7) and masters (employers) are to "do the same" for their employees (Eph. 6:9). Prayer cannot be an "at church and once in the morning, oh, and at meals in the privacy of your home" kind of thing if we are commanded to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). Paul says, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31), which makes both what you do at church and your demeanor as you drive to work things that should glory to God -- sacred things.

Biblically, we cannot separate the sacred and the secular. To go to work without our relationship with Christ is like going to work without our brains ... which is likely a closer parallel than we might think. To be a Christian and a politician demands that your choices be informed by your walk with Christ. There ought not be any difference between the kind, well-mannered Christian of integrity that you find at church and the Christian at work ... or the grocery store ... or the roadway. In fact, if God actually works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11), even your job is a God-ordained event. It's not just a job; it's a vocation, a ministry, a calling, another place in which to walk in faith and live Christ.

As long as Christians continue to buy into the divide between the sacred and the secular, the world will continue to have a ready-made foothold to exclude Christ from our world. It's just another one of those places for them to point and say, "Look at the Christians; they make the same separation. Why shouldn't we?" Let's not give them that opportunity. Let's not light the light of Christ in us and then hide it under a bushel when we go into the secular world. To God, there is no difference in the final analysis. We ought not make one on our own.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tragedy in Phoenix


Meet Nick Erfle. Nick was a police officer for the Phoenix Police Department. Nick recently battled cancer for two years and won. He returned to the force to do what he loved best -- police work. His supervisors said that Nick had a gift: He could spot a criminal with unerring accuracy. So, on Tuesday, Sep. 19, 2007, when he noticed three people jaywalking and obstructing traffic, he and his partner went to work. Little did they know that one of the three had a warrant for his arrest. Anthony Sanchez pulled a gun and shot Nick Erfle. Then he carjacked a passing vehicle and fled. Some distance away, officers boxed the fleeing felon in and the chase ended. When Sanchez pointed his gun at the car's owner, police shot him to death. Nick Erfle died that day at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, leaving behind a wife and two children.

Anthony Sanchez, as it turned out, was an illegal alien. He had been previously deported, but he returned illegally. His warrant was for shoplifting in Tucson -- a misdemeanor. Again, a criminal enters the country across our porous border and a good man dies for it. You can imagine the uproar. Indeed, according to the FBI, 83% of the warrants for murder in Phoenix are for illegal aliens. The numbers are worse in Los Angeles (95%) and Albuquerque (86%). In L.A., Phoenix, and Albuquerque, 75% of those on the most wanted list are illegal aliens. (You can find these statistics and more here.) While some voices are trying to paint this as an isolated incident, statistics say otherwise. And while there are certainly other concerns (economic and humanitarian concerns, for instance), to pass it off as unimportant is not reasonable.

The Christian radio show I was listening to the other day brought up the topic of the tragic death of Officer Erfle. The host wanted to try to make sure that we didn't make too much of this one incident, and he had a point. One incident doesn't make a trend. In this case, however, one incident simply added to the existing trend. Being a Christian show, one of the callers tried to make a point to help out. "Since we believe God is sovereign, it's pointless to argue that Officer Erfle would still be alive today if the borders were closed. When God says it's your time to go, it's your time to go." The Christian talk show host objected. "I don't believe that everything that happens is God's will."

We may -- nay, should be concerned about the problem of illegal aliens and the crime they bring with them. It's a real problem. But I am equally concerned about this trend among Christians. It is the absolute belief in the sovereignty of human free will. God does the best He can, but ... well ... stuff happens. Not everything that happens is, ultimately, God's will. Things happen that God didn't intend to happen. If you argue otherwise, you argue that none of our decisions matter and place God in the position of ordaining evil.

In Luke 22, Jesus placed God in the position of ordaining evil.
"But behold, the hand of him who betrays Me is with Me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:21-22).
Jesus said that His betrayal by Judas Iscariot was "determined" -- it was ordained in advance. Indeed, shortly thereafter Jesus Himself told Judas to go do what Jesus knew he was going to do (John 13:27). In the final analysis, the plan for salvation required that Judas do what Judas did. He was required to betray Jesus.

No one, including Jesus, however, applauded Judas for carrying out God's plan. In the Luke passage, we find the two concepts juxtaposed. There is pre-determination and there is personal responsibility. There is God's determined and certain plan and "woe to that man by whom He is betrayed." There is predestination and personal choice. And personal choice in this instance made all the difference in the world. Our choices matter.

The Bible upholds both concepts. God works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). Nothing occurs outside of His ultimate decision to allow or disallow events and choices. And humans have the ability and responsibility to make choices. These choices, even though they are made within the confines of God's sovereign will, result in either judgment or reward for the individual. What we choose matters.

Nick Erfle was a hero. He was one of the good guys. We will mourn his loss. Anthony Sanchez was a criminal and an illegal alien that demonstrated one of the problems that America faces with our failure to control our borders. These are true. I don't wish to take away from them in the least. But always remember that God works all things after the counsel of His will. No Sanchez can cross the border and commit murder without God's permission and good purposes. Sanchez meant it for evil; God meant it for good. God is sovereign and while we do wrong and bear the responsibility, God is the righter of wrongs, He who makes good out of evil. The unfortunate fact that we neither have the wisdom to fully understand this or the power to do so ourselves doesn't change the facts. It is only in this realization that we can make any sense out of things like this. Trying to pass it off as merely human failure and marginalize God in all of this makes it a pointless tragedy. Such a thing doesn't occur in God's world.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Prenuptial Agreement

At Bankrate.com, there is an article on prenuptial agreements. The article opens with this:
Nothing can kill romance faster than the word prenup. But with about one in three of all first marriages ending in divorce, and 50 percent of second or third ones hitting the skids, a prenup is smart financial planning, legal and financial experts say.
"Smart financial planning." That's the goal.

Prenups aren't just for the very rich. According to nolo.com,
In the absence of a prenup stating otherwise, a spouse usually has the right to:

* share ownership of property acquired during marriage, with the expectation that the property will be divided between the spouses in the event of a divorce or at death
* incur debts during marriage that the other spouse may have to pay for, and
* share in the management and control of any marital or community property, sometimes including the right to sell it or give it away.

If these laws -- called marital property, divorce, and probate laws -- aren't to your liking, it's time to think about a prenup ...
"Smart financial planning" that ensures that your spouse doesn't get to divide the property, incur debts, or manage community property -- that's the goal.

My son is engaged to be married. He asked me about prenup agreements and separate accounts. Good financial planning, you see. Protect yourself. After all, 1 in 3 marriages don't make it.

I, of course, am baffled by the whole thing. I wasn't aware that love and marriage Was a "do whatever is necessary to protect myself" proposition. I always thought that it was a "I'm giving all of me to you" kind of thing. In my limited worldview, I thought that in marriage "two shall become one" with all that that entails. To me, love is the kind of thing where you bare your heart to another person, with all the risks included. You see, love isn't where you protect yourself at all cost; it is where you give yourself at all cost. So where do we get the idea that the best way to approach love and marriage is to hedge your bets and build in defenses?

Biblically, marriage is a condition where two become one. It isn't simply about sex; two people become one person. How we work prenuptial agreements and separate bank accounts into something like that doesn't make sense. Biblically, love has a definition (1 Cor. 13). In that definition, there are four sweeping statements included: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:7). Put it another way. Love will bear up under difficult times. It believes the best of the other person. It maintains a positive outlook on the future. It will endure losses that may occur. Given just those defining points of love, try to work prenups and separate accounts into that definition.

You can guess what I told my son. I don't know if his wife-to-be will appreciate it, but love and marriage predicated on self-defense is neither love nor marriage in my book. But, hey, that's just me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Thinking

Fewer and fewer people are undertaking the journey to uncover the relevant and essential truths of life. The temptation to let the mind stew in its own unsure and apathetic juices is overwhelming a great deal of the populace. What can I say but that I can hardly blame them. Just to pick a major in college is a staggering hurdle to scuttle over with the vast number of options and their implications towards the future that are offered. And then we are expected on top of that to wade through the mire of philosophical battlefields to come out the other side with our own well thought out, critically accepted ideas about questions pertaining to morality, purpose, existence, and the essence of the cosmos. Even worse, we must come through it all with the correct answer or the whole agonizing trip will ultimately have been a waste. Those people who disdain a thinking existence sound wiser by the second.

And yet, we know that we have to make strides in that journey or else run the risk of a useless life. The twitter of an unused mind must be irritating to our omniscient God. So delve into those cavernous books, bring out the pocket dictionary to understand Hume's Treatise on Human Nature , clear your schedule of anything for the next six years (although you will most certainly need more than that pitifully short amount of time). After I've asked all the hard questions and conjured up all the deceased great thinkers of the past to answer those questions, to whose argument should I lend my ear? The majority of them have done an impressive job of sounding remarkably clear and remaining befuddling enough to make me curl up on my couch like Andy Capp. We are all reasonable creatures, but how many of us possess the ability to think cogently and logically? How many times are we persuaded to believe an idea based mostly on either our respect for the speaker or the quality of his speech rather than relying completely on the rationality God has bestowed on us?

The goal is simple. Ask every question you can ask. But you must be more than Socratic about it. Ask for an answer that fits or, at the very least, doesn't contradict the worldview you have constructed. It is not enough to just accept the world as it is handed to us. Even if you are given all the right answers, it's nice to know about all the wrongs ones to appreciate the sheer beauty of true truth.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

America's Pastime

Welcome to our crazy, litigous society. Last month, we got this:
In a landmark ruling, a US judge endorsed a lawsuit charging two federal agencies with wrongly funding international oil and gas projects that promote global warming, court documents showed.
The science is in question. The cause is undetermined. Whether there is a need to change things is under debate. The outcome -- good or bad -- is a matter of opinion. And we're filing lawsuits. Yes, "lawsuits", plural. On the positive side you'll find these stories:
Judge Loretta Preska dismissed a global warming lawsuit brought by the Attorneys General of eight states and the city of New York and two private citizen groups against American Electric Power Co., Inc., Cinergy Corp., Southern Co., Xcel Energy Inc. and the Tennessee Valley Authority. (Source)

A federal judge in San Francisco on Monday poked a gaping hole in California's bid to make the auto industry pay for any contributions it makes to global warming. (Source)
It's good news that there are judges who are dismissing these nonsense suits. It's bad news that there are not merely misguided citizens, but states that are bringing these lawsuits. Then we have a state senator who decided to file a lawsuit against God. Will it never end?

In years gone by, baseball was America's pastime. Now, it looks like litigation is surpassing baseball, with "stupid litigation" closing quickly.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Forgive and Forget

I've been thinking about this topic recently and then read this in Luke (Jesus speaking):
"Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" (Luke 17:3-5).
"Forgive and forget." We've all heard the formula so many times that we've come to assume that it's the right formula. Funny thing ... no matter how diligently I search, I can't find anything in Scripture that says we are to forgive and forget. Perhaps it comes from Jeremiah:
"They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jer. 31:34).
There are two problems with that. First, it is very difficult to speak of God as "forgetting" something, since that would negate His omniscience and, in truth, turn out that we know things He doesn't. Second, it is God speaking, and turning that into a formula for our forgiving others is quite dangerous. He does things we can't, aren't required to do, and never could do.

What is the formula? "If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." What does it mean to "forgive" in this context? To forgive means to give up a claim on an account. It means to pardon. Now, in real life, a pardon doesn't vanish from the records. It simply absolves the person from paying any penalty.

What about Jeremiah's comment? Doesn't it say God forgets? Well, at first blush that's what it appears to say. But the statement isn't exactly "forget"; it is "not remember" and there is a difference. To remember means to call to mind, to recall, to think about. In older English we might have used it as a verb this way if we met a friend on the road: "Remember me to your wife." It's not that his wife forgot you; it's that you want him to call you to her mind. God says, "I will not call to my mind the sins that I have forgiven." That doesn't require that they no longer reside in memory. It simply means that He's not going to bring it up anymore.

That, in fact, is how forgiveness works. In forgiving people, we absolve them for their error. We, in essence, agree to take the loss. We acknowledge that we were wronged. (So many people think that forgiving is finding excuses for what they did. That's not forgiving; that's excusing.) We agree that what they did was wrong and we agree to absorb the loss. Then we set it aside, not to call it back up. It isn't stored in an account someplace, ready to be flung back in their face when it comes up a second or third or a seventh time. This doesn't require that it be forgotten. It simply requires that it not be recalled.

Forgive and forget, in fact, is somewhat easier than the command Jesus gave His disciples. If you've forgotten a wrong, then forgiving "seven times a day" is no problem; you don't remember the previous events. No, this is much more difficult. You may remember; you just cannot recall. It operates from a position of strength that says, "I have faith that God is providing all I need." It comes from the belief that "you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). It is based on the belief that God works all things together for good to those who love God (Rom. 8:28). It is simply a function of love (1 Cor. 13:5) This is why we must cry, as did His disciples, "Lord, increase our faith!"

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Letter to a Lover

Years ago I sent this "letter" to someone. It's fictional, but ...

Dear Lover,

You have told me you love me. I'm having my doubts. Maybe we need to reexamine our relationship.

When your friends at school ask you if you know me, you deny it. I have written reams of letters for you to read, and you won't even pick them up. I offer to meet you every day and you ignore me. I invite you to my house and you won't come. I will go wherever you go, but you don't want me along. I want to talk to you all the time, but you hardly say a word to me at all. I'm deeply interested in every aspect of your life, but you don't want me meddling in your life and you don't want to know much of anything at all about me.

Are you sure you love me? I wonder if we have a relationship at all. What would you think if someone treated you this way? Would you nod and embrace it as "love"?

Usually, when you love someone you are concerned about them. You want to do those things that make them happy and you definitely try to avoid doing those things that hurt them. So why is it that you make so little effort to do anything that you know pleases me? And why doesn't it slow you at all to do those things you know will hurt me?

Sure, when you have a problem and can't find your own answers you might come to me. If something really "fun" is going on at my house you might show up, but when you do you don't spend time with me. You've glanced through my letters or heard about them from other people and picked out snazzy little sayings that you like the best, but you've never actually read them all or even examined your favorite sayings in context. Can you imagine how disturbing it is to me when you take what I said to you out of context and turn it to mean something entirely different and say, "That's what he says"? And what am I to think when the only time you acknowledge me to your friends is when you're with the friends who acknowledge me themselves? What am I to conclude when the only time you want to spend time with me is if you're trying to satisfy your few friends that want to spend time with me? What am I to think when the only time you talk to me is when you need something?

Perhaps you don't know how much I love you. Perhaps you're unaware of what I've done for you. Perhaps you don't know what I want to do for you. Maybe you don't really know how much I have to offer to you ... that I'm simply begging to provide for you.

Frankly, I'm baffled. You tell yourself that we are close and that you love me. On the other hand, nearly everything you do, say, or don't do and say tell me the opposite. You have told me you love me. I'm having my doubts. Maybe we need to reexamine our relationship. Maybe you need to ask yourself if we even have a relationship at all.

Love, God

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Weight of the Words

Have you ever weighed words? Most of us don't, really. It's obvious in our unconsidered speech. I heard a well-known narrator on a nature show speaking about crab fishermen in Alaska tell us, "They self-regulate themselves." Now, the weight there is no big deal, but the language informs us that he wasn't paying attention to what he was saying. They can either self-regulate or they can regulate themselves, but to self-regulate themselves is straight out of the Redundancy Department of Redundancy.

I'm not too concerned about a faux pas like that. I'm thinking more of our day-to-day conversations that seem to take place without any real thought to the consequences. You share with a close friend an embarrassing event from someone else that you received in confidence and soon it's all over the internet. Gossip is a killer. Secrets rarely remain that way. But of even greater concern to me are those persistent attitudes in our communications. Have you ever been around a complainer? Everything is wrong. Everything stinks. Everyone is out to get them or doing something wrong. Even writing this begins to get me down. Stay around someone like that for long, and you'll find that everything is wrong in your world, everything stinks, and no one is doing things right. Why? It's the weight of the words.

Very few like the "pollyanna" types who see everything as rosy. It's not real. We prefer real. But ... do we? The truth is that if you spend much time around people who prefer to see the good in things, you'll likely find yourself seeing the good in things. Some people seem to have a positive outlook, and when you spend time in communication with these folks, it is infectious. It's the weight of the words.

I remember a sign one of my pastors had when I was a teen. It said, "Engage brain before opening mouth." Perhaps we ought to do that more often. What effect will the attitudes my words express have on others? Is it my goal to encourage or discourage? Paul said we should be "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15). Some of us really like that "speaking the truth" thing, and we'll clobber you over the head with it if we have to. Others of us are completely enamored with that "in love" part and are willing to fudge the truth in an ill-conceived attempt at love. Paul says we need to speak the truth and we need to do it with love. Are we weighing our words for truth and love? We ought to. Perhaps we should pray, as David did, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer" (Psa. 19:14).

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Obedience is Hard Work

The other day I was driving down the freeway on my way home. Now, I'm in the habit of doing the speed limit. It saves money. It saves gas. It saves me from worrying about speeding tickets. It produces less "gotta get there" tension. It's a good thing. In the rearview mirror I saw a police car approaching, lights flashing. Quick check: Speed -- good, lights -- checked, registration -- current. "I wonder," I thought, "where he's going?" You see, I knew it wasn't me he was after.

Jesus said, "Whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me" (Matt. 10:38). He said, "Take My yoke upon you" (Matt. 11:29). Paul said, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). It seems that Christianity, while a gift of free grace, is hard work. You need to be obedient. You need to work out your salvation. You need to take up your cross. Work, work, work.

Most of us think that way. Being obedient is hard work. Being bad is easy. So why do we read that there is "rest" in Christ? If being good is all that hard, why would Jesus say, "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:30)? Well, there is more than one reason. One is really important. Following Paul's exhortation to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" he says, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). Being obedient for a Christian isn't as hard as it seems because the work being done within us accomplishes everything we need to do it. God Himself gives us the desire (will) and power (work) to do what He wants. What else is necessary?

Another reason is illustrated in my opening example. I didn't have to fear the police because I wasn't doing anything wrong. Speaking of civil authorities, Paul says, "Do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain" (Rom. 13:3-4). In broader terms, Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28).

Sometimes we get the idea that being obedient is a lot of work and being bad is easy. Perhaps there is some truth to it. Being bad come naturally to sinful humans. But in the bigger picture, it's a lot harder to be bad than obedient because of the costs involved. Let me offer another example. It's really easy to ridicule your boss when your boss isn't there. If you didn't know he was standing behind you, you might easily make fun of him. But if you knew he was there, it is a lot harder to deride him. That takes real effort because of the real risk.

Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). Is it work? Yes, a "yoke" implies hard work. But, in the end, it is "easy" and "light" and provides "rest for your souls". Maybe it's not really so much hard work to be obedient.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sports Scandals ... Again

The sports world seems to be awash with scandal. The Patriots were caught cheating by video-taping their opponents. How long has this been going on? What affect has it had on games in the past? What kind of drab apology was that from the head coach? Players in various sports ranging from baseball to biking are accused of taking performance-enhancing medications. What does that say about their accomplishments? Who is taking them that we don't know about? One quarterback pleads guilty to crimes revolving around dog fighting. What kind of role model is that?

In the early days of Hollywood, the studios went out of their way to shield the public from the rotten character of stars. No one knew that Rock Hudson was gay until the end. Indiscretions of big-named actors were covered up. Who was a communist in the 50's? Hollywood didn't want anyone to know because it hurt the bottom line. Today, of course, Hollywood is synonymous with outlandish behavior. No one is surprised that Brad left Jennifer for Angelina. Big deal. In fact, try to name a couple who hasn't split up in Hollywood. One of the longest running couples, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, aren't even married. And a long-time marriage in the Hollywood set is almost unheard of. Most people think of the Hollywood elite as a group of party-goers, drug users, promiscuous folks. The same is true in the secular music world. Who doesn't equate "sex and drugs" with "rock and roll"? It's a given. We no longer hold these folks to the same standard we did in the first half of the 20th century.

I'm wondering, then, why it is different for sports? I know. It's the "hero" concept. "What is it saying to our kids?" We have all heard the term, "sports hero." Oddly, it doesn't seem like there are other such terms. You never hear "parental hero" or "political hero." You won't find kids collecting cards for their favorite congressional members. You rarely find a teen who says, "I want to grow up to be a senator." In today's climate, in fact, you rarely hear a young person say, "I want to grow up to be a father and husband (or mother and wife), a wage earner, a homemaker" or any such thing. No, the most common is "sports star" it seems.

Why? What is it about sports that galvanizes the attention and makes heroes? They don't accomplish anything. They make money to entertain. We pay large sums to watch them ... play. Well, of course, that's why they're such heroes to kids. What kid wouldn't dream of making lots of money playing. Work is hard; playing is good.

Perhaps we need to shift attention for our kids. While you will find few who think of members of congress, presidents, CEO's, or parents as "heroes," you will be equally hard pressed to find many who think of rogues, scoundrels, thieves, and murderers as "heroic". Perhaps we ought to stop pushing a morality on sports that it has patently rejected. Perhaps we should call it what it is -- a game meant for entertainment, not hero-worship. It is populated by rogues, scoundrels, thieves, and murderers. There are, of course, still many in sports who are people of character, but they're getting to be as rare as the Hollywood marriage that survives. Perhaps we should stop romanticizing the sports world and recognize it for what it is -- amusement. What is "amusement"? The word comes from the Greek "muse" which means "to think," and the "a" in front of it means "NOT". Sports doesn't contribute anything to our world. It just allows us to not think for awhile. Do we really expect something that costs so much and produces nothing to be moral and praiseworthy?

I don't know. I'm reviewing the situation. Are we allowing our kids too much freedom in choosing their heroes? Are we allowing too many worthless things (Psa. 101:3) for them to watch? Are we expecting too much from the world?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Life gets tedious, doesn't it?

In a world of extremes, there are antinomians and legalists. The antinomian will tell you that there are no rules and the legalist will tell you that you must never do these things and always do those things. The legalist will tell you that there are lots and lots of things you must not do and the antinomian will tell you to do whatever you want.

There is a place in most of us that likes the antinomian. "Let me do whatever I like." But there is another place in most of us that likes the legalist as well. "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it." You know ... twelve steps to a better life, five rules for managing your time, The Creative Process Simplified ... that sort of thing.

In a biblical worldview, it's easy to shoot down the antinomian. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). And, of course, it's equally easy to silence the legalist. Paul wrote, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law" (Gal. 5:18). Okay, good. The extremes are dead. And here is where life gets tedious. You see, we neither get to do whatever we like nor are we given twelve steps to a better life. In life, there are actually very few "always" and "nevers" in what we can and can't do.

Consider for a moment something that talk show host and ethicist, Dennis Prager, had to say the other day. He said that it was gravely immoral to go to someone's house without calling first. What? That would be the statement of a legalist. Some people love it when you drop by. On the other hand, the antinomian's "Do whatever you want" doesn't work either because some people are sorely offended when you drop by unannounced. And life gets tedious. Why? Because the right answer doesn't have rules in black and white. Sometimes it is gravely immoral to drop by someone's house without calling because they would be upset. Sometimes it is perfectly acceptable to do so because they don't mind at all. Then throw in other factors. Almost no one would be upset if you banged on their door without calling to tell them that their attic was on fire. On the other hand, very, very few appreciate having someone drop by unannounced when they're in the middle of dinner.

You see, it's far more complicated than either extreme would like you to think. You have to think! You have to know people and what they prefer. You have to consider their feelings. Take, for instance, those fine seminars on how to make a marriage work. When they go beyond principle and get into practical, it gets real "iffy". What is practical for one couple is not necessarily so for another. And, truth be told, people change. What is pleasant for a spouse now may become an irritation to them later. There are principles at work, but there are few black and white, hard and fast, step by step rules. Sure, you should never cheat on your wife. Oh, that's easy. Now, define "cheat". Is your wife offended by the way you talk to other women when you're together? Does your demeanor cause her concern about your faithfulness? Does the way you interact with other guys come across to your husband as "flirting"? You see, these are not necessarily in the realm of "adultery", but if you love your spouse, you had better take their perceptions and feelings into account.

Life would be a lot easier if either the antinomians or the legalists were right. Either let me do whatever I want, or tell me exactly what behaviors I can and can't do. Unfortunately, most of life is a "walk by faith, not by sight" kind of existence. Christians are not "under the Law", but they are to be "led by the Spirit," as nebulous as that gets. We aren't supposed to do whatever we want; we are to obey Christ's commands. His primary command was to love. And love is complicated. It sets me aside and takes into account all those people with whom I come in contact and don't often know well enough to be clear what love looks like in each individual case. Yes, sometimes life gets tedious, but "if you love Me, you will keep My commandments."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Team

Have you ever listened to really good music? Well, of course you have. Regardless of the genre, music is always best when it is a collection of parts. Whether it is an orchestra or a choir, a band or a singing group, good music is composed of parts whose sum is greater than the whole.

Without actually changing the subject, let me tell you a little about the place I work. We are doing complicated research and production. It includes scientists, research assistants, and test technicians that require more skills than your average technician. But there is more. There is electronic design and software design. There is cutting edge manufacturing methods that are creating things not created before. However, remove one part, one of those functions, and you've lost the end result. Good products are composed of parts whose sum is greater than the whole.

Back to music for a moment. Have you noticed the trend in pop music? It seems to be less and less that you hear good harmonies. Everyone wants to sing the lead. You see, the truth is that when you are a component, you often end up outside the center of attention. When a group sings, everyone can pick out the lead singer, but exactly who is singing what harmony part is much more difficult. Everyone can name the lead singer, but the rest are simply called "back up singers" and don't seem to actually have names.

Still, if you remove a component, you've lost the end result. Music with a melody alone is, well, boring. It may be pleasant, but it isn't really good. Someone has to be willing to play behind the lead. In fact, there are a lot of someone's needed. You need stage hands and sound folks and lighting. You need someone to clean up before and clean up afterward. At work we need people to build electronics and we need people to sweep the lab and we need people to clean the bathrooms, without which none of the amazing work could be accomplished. But you never really know who the stage hands or janitors or assemblers are, do you?

The truth is, most of us are janitors. We sing harmony. We are behind the scenes. Too often we let people tell us that we're "less" somehow. We don't sing lead. We don't get the credit. We aren't recognized. Paul has something to say to those of us who are "inferior" in this way.
14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, 24 whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (1 Cor. 12:14-26).
It's a lesson for the Church, to be sure. But it's equally applicable in life. No part is more important than another. We cannot function without all the parts. And, despite what our society might say, it is the less honorable parts that are most necessary and worthy of "more abundant honor." Those of us who aren't lead singers, top scientists, CEO's, or the like should keep that in mind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why I am NOT a Calvinist

Andy Osenga of Caedmon’s Call wrote his own response to Dr. Olson. (Dr. Olson referenced a song by Caedmon's Call in his article.) In Andy's response, he started out by saying, "The band and I consider ourselves Christians, with a Presbyterean/Reformed viewpoint. We do not consider ourselves Calvinists."

I sympathize with Andy. For years I have fought the label "Calvinist." I always preferred to think of myself as a biblicist who was heartened to find that in many cases John Calvin saw Scripture like I do. Of course, it's a losing battle, and rightly so, but I thought I'd explain it once, just to be clear.

John Calvin is credited with starting what is referred to today as "Calvinism". Of course, Calvinism as we know it came about years after Calvin died when followers of Jacob Hermann, better known as Jacobus Arminius, brought forth complaints (called "Remonstrances") to the Church of their day. They had five basic disagreements with the standard theology of their day. (Think of it ... only five.) The Church took up their challenges, met at what was called "the Synod of Dort", and ended up with what we refer to now as "TULIP" or the five points of Calvinism. Funny thing -- neither Calvin nor Arminius were involved. Oh, well. Today we have "Calvinists" that agree with the Synod of Dort and "Arminians" who almost never call themselves "Arminians" but still disagree with the outcome.

Truth be told, Calvin didn't originate Calvinism or its synonym, Reformed Theology. To suggest such a thing is simply to ignore the facts. Calvin and Luther and many others in this line of thinking got their theology from the Bible. Both Calvin and Luther drew a great deal from Augustine, but it wasn't Augustinianism; it was biblical. To call it "Calvinism" would be a disservice. It was biblical theology. You may disagree with their understanding, but it is still unfair to call it anything but biblical theology.

As for me, I was raised Arminian. Oh, I didn't know it. I was taught that you couldn't lose your salvation, so I considered myself "Calvinist" while those pesky "Arminians" taught that you could. As it turned out, I was a four-point Arminian. But it wasn't John Calvin that forced me from my pleasant perch. It was Scripture. I read that we were all dead in sin and I was forced to conclude that we were all dead in sin. I read that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God and I was forced to conclude that we were all hostile to God. I saw the multiple references to the concept of "the elect" or "the chosen" and was forced to conclude that there were those who were "elect" or "chosen." So I was dragged, kicking and screaming, from my Arminian roots to Reformed theology by Scripture long before I gleaned anything from Calvin.

As I surrendered, piece by piece, my original positions to the authority of the Word of God, I found something very interesting was happening. Things started to make sense. Puzzle pieces started to mesh. Scripture aligned with Scripture. Rational thinking became the friend of the Bible reader rather than the enemy. I didn't have to make leaps from the pages of my Bible to make it reasonable. It lined itself up in orderly, straightforward fashion. I liked that. And I ended up with a view of God's grace and sovereignty that far overshadowed anything I had carried around before. I really liked that.

It would, admittedly, be very difficult to tear myself away today from the understanding I now have of Scripture. I have seen it make sense in the Word. Then I found that it has been a common belief throughout Church history. And, oh, by the way, other greats such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon and many, many more have agreed. No, there is too much weight on this side of the teeter-totter to make it very easy to sway me now. But it wasn't Calvin. I have never read Calvin. No, to be honest, I got an abridged version of his Institutes, but I never even got halfway through that ... and that was long after I came over to this side of the fence. So I'm likely stuck with terms like "Calvinist" and "Reformed theology" as the most common shorthand for what I believe and the easiest way to transmit that in brief. But I'm not a follower of Calvin or the Reformers. It's just what I found in my Bible ... and frankly I'm not sure why everyone else doesn't see it as clearly as I do.

We Remember

Monday, September 10, 2007

Imprimis on Global Warming

In their August issue of Imprimis, Hillsdale College has published a lecture by S. Fred Singer, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. Now, Dr. Singer is not a "right wing religious nut." He's not some religious wacko. Nor is this piece one laced with overblown arguments. He simply addresses some of the evidence of Global Warming and asks if it is man-made or natural. Based on the title of his most recent book, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years, I think you can guess his conclusion.

Dr. Singer brings up some interesting points. He addresses, for instance, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report so often referred to as "consensus" by the pro-Global Warming folks. On this he points out, "Most of the panelists have no scientific qualifications, and many of the others object to some part of the IPCC’s report. The Associated Press reported recently that only 52 climate scientists contributed to the report’s "Summary for Policymakers.'" And, as we know, science doesn't work on "consensus"; it works on pushing the envelope. It functions by going beyond consensus to places that people don't agree to settle such questions. Dr. Singer doesn't deny that the temperature around the world is rising, but he points out a basic fallacy: "What about the fact that carbon dioxide levels are increasing at the same time temperatures are rising? That’s an interesting correlation; but as every scientist knows, correlation is not causation." He points to various facts that contradict the man-made global warming theory, such as the fact that the climate has cooled at times during the last century of accelerated CO2 production by Man's industrialization. He suggests that the computer models that are predicting the end of the world as we know it have failed to accurately depict what is occurring, and have failed to do so because they have failed to take into account relevant data. In fact, Dr. Singer suggests that the most likely culprit for global warming is not Man, but the Sun. He goes on to suggest that it isn't necessarily all bad news; there may be large benefits from an increase in the Earth's temperatures.

One of the things that I appreciated in the article was that Dr. Singer was the first I've read to offer reasons why there is such furor over the topic when science is so undecided. What is the motivation for pushing this Global Warming Catastrophe scenario if it isn't true? If global warming is such a certain catastrophe, why does the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012? If it is such a serious problem, why do they allow for the "Clean Development Mechanism" in which a major CO2-producing nation can avoid reducing their production by coming up with a reduction scheme for developing nations? What's wrong with this picture? Dr. Singer points out that power companies and other entities are collecting "windfall fees" from consumers to reduce emissions without actually reducing emissions. He points out,
Environmental organizations globally, such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Fund, have raked in billions of dollars. Multi-billion-dollar government subsidies for useless mitigation schemes are large and growing. Emission trading programs will soon reach the $100 billion a year level, with large fees paid to brokers and those who operate the scams. In other words, many people have discovered they can benefit from climate scares and have formed an entrenched interest.
We've arrived at an interesting point in history. If you don't agree with the "consensus" (which Dr. Singer questions), you aren't merely in disagreement. You are "anti-environmental." If you don't believe the absolutist claims that Man in general and the U.S. in particular are to blame for global warming, you are a wacko with something to gain at the cost of the entire world ... bordering on criminal. Instead of the "religion" of our age -- science -- being allowed to do its job, people are simply leaping on the misinformation bandwagon and pointing accusatory fingers at those of us who say, "Wait! Perhaps we ought to examine the evidence?" We aren't counting the cost or considering the consequences or asking the questions. That is neither right nor safe.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Science vs Religion

There has been, for some years now, a conflict between science and faith. I know ... that's an understatement. Watch the TV. Read the various media. Peruse the blogs. It's more like a battle. You see, the perception is that science and faith are at odds. You can either believe in science or you can believe in religion, but you can't believe in both.

This, of course, is a nonsensical position. There are many scientists who are people of faith. Modern science itself has its origins in Christian belief that an orderly God created an orderly universe, and we ought to examine the universe to think God's thoughts after Him. Indeed, many have suggested that nature is the other revelation of God. No, not another Bible; the idea is that the heavens declare the glory of God. Oh, wait, that's not a "Christian" idea, is it? No, those are David's words in Psalm 19. Paul echoes the sentiment, assuring us that "since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made" (Rom. 1:20). So, while our best understanding of the character of God and His truth comes from the Word that He inspired, that Word also insists that we can gain much understanding of who He is from what He has made.

For some reason, faith itself has become something it was never intended to be. This, I believe, is the root of the misunderstanding. Science is the study of evidence. (I know, I know, very, very shorthand, but bear with me.) Faith, on the other hand, is "a blind leap." That's how it is perceived. You either examine the evidence and come to a conclusion, or you ignore the evidence and leap to a conclusion. Obviously these two are in opposition. So obviously you can't be a person of science and a person of faith. There are, in fact, people who will argue that reason negates faith.

The biblical version of faith, of course, isn't anywhere near this position. The children of Israel weren't capable of believing God blindly when He came to rescue them from Egypt, so He set about hardening Pharaoh's heart to give them sufficient evidence to believe He could finish the job (Rom. 9:17). When God called on them to submit to His commands, He did it based on evidence (Exo. 20:2). When Paul says that Man is without excuse, it is because of evidence (Rom. 1:19-23). Indeed, the Greek word for faith used throughout the New Testament suggests that it includes evidence. It means "to be convinced." That doesn't come without reasons.

Me? I am constantly amazed. I look around and see God in every corner. Whether it is in the amazing design of a feather or the astounding intricacies of the human brain, the bizarre balancing of rocks in nature or the power of a bolt of lightning, I see God's power and care, His design, His love, His wisdom and knowledge, and so much more. I don't see God without reason; I see Him because of reason. And everything I see gives me more reason to love and trust Him more.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Do No Harm

In many moral debates, the idea that often comes to the surface is "If it doesn't hurt someone or deprive someone else of a right then we should back off." You'll see this in the "gay marriage" debate. You'll see it in the premarital sex debate (which, unfortunately, is all but over in this country). You'll see it in the debate over the legalization of prostitution or drugs. Many are considered "victimless crimes" and the suggestion is that if there is no victim, why is there a law? Why should we outlaw two people who love each other from marrying just because they're the same gender? Why should we prevent prostitutes from making a living just because of some religious perspective that it's wrong? That, you see, is often the core of the argument: "Why do we allow religion to dictate our societal morals? If it's not hurting anyone, let them do what they want!"

This, of course, is the standard problem. And, of course, the standard person doesn't see the standard problem. The standard problem is "I will be the final arbiter of what is good and bad, what 'hurts someone' and what doesn't, what is right and wrong." Here, let's see if I can put it in a way that will help you to see why it's the "standard problem": "I will be like the Most High." Sound familiar?

Our society has gotten itself turned around. God is bad because He exercises judgment (e.g., the Flood, clearing Canaan, etc.). We are good because we know better than Him about what is good (e.g., homosexual behaviors, when to have sex, what harms or doesn't harm the human being, etc.). We are so turned around that smoking is evil, but free sex is good. We are convinced that free needles to drug users is good, but allowing Christians to believe that they have the truth is evil. We are confident that gay marriage is perfectly acceptable, but polygamy, incest, and other perversions of marriage are not, and we don't even try to explain why. And even though science keeps changing its mind about what is harmful or helpful to the human body, we're quite certain that we know what is harmful and helpful to humans, their lives, and their society ... and it's not religion. Our society, as a whole, has brazenly lifted its clinched fist to the sky and shouted, "I will be like the Most High."

I am convinced that the Maker of the Human Being is the best arbiter of what works for the Human Being. Some people think that God is a cosmic killjoy, passing rules just to make us unhappy. I don't think so. I am quite sure that He made laws based on what was best for our existence. "Do you want to avoid sexually-transmitted disease? Then only engage in sex with one person for life." Now -- and this is important -- that's way too simplified. I don't think that God's rules limiting sexual relations to marriage were merely about sexually-transmitted diseases. In 1 Cor. 6:16, for instance, Paul suggests that the act of sex produces a union -- "one body" -- that exceeds our standard typical understanding. In Eph. 5:22 he speaks of the oneness of a married couple as a great mystery. So I'm suggesting that God, as the Maker of the Human Being, knows far better than we do what makes the Human Being tick, how it operates, and what will cause it not to operate correctly.

Given this premise, it would make more sense to suggest that the laws of God would be the best arbiter of what hurts someone or not. We know that we are often unaware of damage to our lives brought on by events in our lives. We see this in the medical world, where people ingest things over years and suffer horrible consequences, never knowing that it was something they were doing that didn't seem to harm them. What makes us think that we are best suited for knowing what harms people or not? Why should religion dictate our societal morals? I would say it is because God knows best what we need and wants our best. Why would He not be the best source?

But, then, what is the likelihood that my world is going to come knocking at my door? "Oh, thank you, Stan! We see it now!" That doesn't stop me from suggesting that sin, in any form, is harmful to people, and it would be unkind of me to fail to point it out.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Protect Our Police

In a recent post I referred to the troops in Iraq as "the world's largest police force." It got me to thinking. Phoenix recently mourned the death of a young police officer shot and killed in the line of duty. Last year there was a similar incident.

Much of America is calling for withdrawal of the troops from Iraq without any sense of what happens afterward. The idea is "Who cares about Iraq??? No more Americans should die!" What if we took this same approach here?

"Police officers are dying trying to enforce the law here in Arizona. Who cares about enforcing the law? No more police officers should die!"

The logic seems identical. It sounds quite noble. We love our police officers. They are brave and honorable men and we don't want them to be killed. Let's get them out of harm's way. That's the same thing the "pull out now" folks are saying about the troops in Iraq.

It begs the question(s). Do we actually want to pull our police force out of harm's way ... at any cost? Apparently we want to pull our troops out of harm's way at any cost. Why not our police? And is it really honoring those people to remove them from the job they so dearly want to accomplish? I mean, if you said, "We're pulling you police officers off the streets because we want to protect you from getting killed in the line of duty," would they thank us and see it as honoring? Do you suppose the military men and women in Iraq would? And if the right thing to do is to pull our troops out of Iraq, why is it not the right thing to do to pull our police off our streets? Is it because we have a right to lawful society, but Iraq doesn't? That can't be right, can it?

Like I said, it made me think ...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Is There None Good?

George Whitefield was a well-known contemporary of John Wesley. He was a Methodist, as Wesley was. He parted company with Wesley on the topic of Predestination. Wesley was an Arminian, and Whitefield was a Calvinist. Indeed, many view Whitefield, not Wesley, as the founder of the Methodist Church. Whitefield was known for the sermons he preached in America that were part of the Great Awakening. There were times that he would preach every day for months on end to large crowds ... without projectors, PA systems, or the proper warm-up band. One of his famous sermons was entitled, The Method of Grace. In this sermon he lays out the Gospel, always his fondest subject. In it, of course, he calls for repentance. But Whitefield said some things that might be startling to some Christians.
Before you can speak peace to your heart, you must be brought to see that God may damn you for the best prayer you ever put up; you must be brought to see that all your duties, all your righteousness, as the prophet elegantly expresses it, put them all together, are so far from recommending you to God, are so far from being any motive and inducement to God to have mercy on your poor soul, that he will see them to be filthy rags, a menstruous cloth, that God hates them, and cannot away with them, if you bring them to him in order to recommend you to his favor.
I don't offer the quote because I am a Whitefieldian. I don't give it because we should derive our theology from Whitefield ... or Wesley ... or Calvin. I offer it because I'm hoping that because someone else said it, I won't be construed as being radical.

As many of you know, the reference to "menstrous cloth" is a reference to a well-known verse in Isaiah 64:
We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags ; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Isa. 64:6).
The term "filthy rags" was a Hebraism referencing women's used menstrual rags. It's not a pretty sight, and it was Isaiah's intent that it be so. You see, we all know we have sin problems, but very few of us comprehend the depth of it. We see ourselves in varying degrees of sin. We see ourselves as worse than some but not as bad as others. We do some good things. So when Paul writes, "All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one" (Rom. 3:12), most of us feel as if he is engaging in hyperbole. He's making a point. He's not being serious here. Some people do some good things. In fact, if we were honest, everybody does some good things. But Paul and David (whom Paul quotes) and Isaiah all seem to disagree. Could it be that we are wrong and Whitefield is right?

Remember when Jesus was addressed by the rich young ruler? "And a certain ruler questioned Him, saying, 'Good Teacher , what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone'" (Luke 18:18-19). Jesus agreed with Paul and David and Isaiah and Whitefield. "There is none good except God alone." It is my belief that we are confused about "good". We see it in relative terms and define it according to our own standards. God sees it quite differently. Everything done by and for Him is good. Anything else is not. Even then, He works all things together for good, so even the bad He works for good. Oh, how confusing it can all get!

Sometimes you think, "I'm not so bad." You think that maybe you're "earning points." Oh, if you're at all like me, you'd never actually say it. But sometimes it just feels like God must be pleased with something you just did that was "good". When you do, remember, Jesus thought differently. Remember that your best righteousness is filthy rags. Only that which is done by and for God is good. Your only option is to allow Him to do that work through you. Of course, in that case you can't think, "I'm not so bad." You are just the conduit. But what a great thing to be ... a conduit for God's work for His glory!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Is This Baptist Theology?

Dr. Roger Olson is a Professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, a component of Baylor University, the largest Baptist university in the world. The Lariat Online, Baylor's online newspaper, has published an article by the good doctor entitled Calvinist view of bridge collapse distorts God's character. Now there's an "olive branch" title if I've ever seen one.

Dr. Olson is writing first about the bridge collapse in Minneapolis and John Piper's response (although Piper is not specifically mentioned). "To him and his followers, God foreordained, planned and indirectly (if not directly) caused the event." Olson finds this a distortion of God's character. But it gets worse. "A popular Christian band sings 'There is a reason' for everything. They mean God renders everything certain and has a good purpose for whatever happens." Can you imagine that anyone would think that God has a reason for everything and works all things together for good? Can you even fathom that someone would suggest that God works all things according to the counsel of His will? What nonsense!

Dr. Olson complains, "What about God's character? Is God, then, the author of evil? Most Calvinists don't want to say it. But logic seems to demand it." He has an alternative suggestion. "But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?" Dr. Olson sees this God as "more like the God of the Bible":
In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, "OK, not my will then, but thine be done -- for now."

And God says, "Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that's one of my self-limitations. I don't want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world."
I find it ironic that a professor of theology at the largest Baptist university in the world finds his version of God "more like the God of the Bible" without a single reference to the Bible. I understand his intentions. "It's a different picture of God than most conservative Christians grew up with, but it's the only one (so far as I can tell) that relieves God of responsibility for sin and evil and disaster and calamity." Poor God. He needs to be relieved of responsibility for sin, evil, disaster, and calamity.

Can you imagine being God's lawyer in a court of law? It would be tough. You'd have to keep Him quiet -- make sure He doesn't testify on His own behalf -- because if He spoke, He'd sink Himself.

"God, exactly how far does your influence go?" the prosecutor asks.

"I work all things after the counsel of My will1," God answers, and His lawyer cringes.

"All things?" the prosecutor would ask. "What about disaster and calamity?"

"I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these2."

"So, you admit to causing disasters. What about sin? Do you admit to any involvement there?"

"I don't tempt anyone3, but I harden whom I desire4, send evil spirits5 and deceiving spirits6, and even make sure that some folks never hear or understand the gospel7."

God's lawyer puts his face in his hands in utter defeat and the prosecutor, his face beaming in triumph, looks to the judge for a verdict ... only to find that the Judge is God Himself and no one -- no created being -- has the option of passing judgment on the God of all the universe.
You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? (Rom. 9:19-21)
Dr. Olson, I would suggest that, rather than attempting to conform God to your personal preferences and calling yourself a "professor of theology," you practice the study of God ("theology") and conform your idea of God to what He has revealed in His Word. It's a different picture of God than you might like, but it's the only one (so far as I can tell) that conforms to the God of the Bible.

__________________________
1 Eph. 1:11
2 Isa. 45:6-7
3 James 1:13
4 Rom. 9:18
5 1 Sam. 16:14
6 1 Kings 22:23
7 John 12:39-40

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

To Be Good or Not to Be

We know how it goes in the public square these days. Urge chastity and you're narrow-minded and short-sighted. Suggest individual integrity and you're preachy. Call for personal responsibility and you're judgmental and intolerant. Tell people that it is possible for one religion to be true and all others false and you're arrogant. Even hint that it's better to teach people to do work rather than allow them to live off welfare and you're a right winger ... and that's not good.

Sure, Christians call for all sorts of unpopular things. Well, truth be told, we simply call for whatever we are told to call for by the One we follow. Still, when we say that sex is to be within marriage only, we're not well-accepted and when we say that people need to have integrity -- to be honest and forthright and responsible and reliable -- we're being unrealistic and overbearing. We say that it is the duty of society to protect the weaker members of society -- which includes the unborn -- and we're pushy. It's not pleasant to be part of the "religious right wing", as we are inevitably labeled for such standards.

It's a funny thing, though. You aren't supposed to call for these things, but people sure want them. Men prefer to marry virgins rather than well-used women. Employers will hire and retain people with integrity, but don't much care to keep around people who can't be trusted. My youngest son, when he was just 16, worked at a Fatburger. He simply showed up on time and did his work, and he stood out among the other workers so well that by the time he was 18 he was the manager of the store. It wasn't vast skill; it was personal integrity. People respect folks who are confident about what they believe and question those who can't make up their minds. In short, while we aren't well received for suggesting moral behavior, it seems that the people around us really appreciate good behavior and want it around them.

I don't anticipate I'll preach people into being better behaved. I don't expect that I can nag them into being nicer people. So here's my goal: I'll let my light so shine before men that they can see my good works and glorify God. I know. Not an original goal. But it will do.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Difficulty of Bad News

Having already suggested the difficulty of identifying good news, I would like to muddy the waters.
And we know that God works all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
How is that for clear as mud? We already know that it's easier to identify "bad" than good. Now we have this word from Paul. God works all things together for good. Just when you thought you figured out what was bad, I confused you with "But do you recognize what is good?" And then, while you're mulling over what is good, God says that He works everything for good.

Let's look at some unlikely examples. Starting in Genesis 37, Joseph angers his brothers with his dreams. They turn on him, planning first to kill him, then moving instead to sell him as a slave. Joseph has a tough time of it. He served well in Potiphar's house, only to get falsely accused of attempted rape. He spent years in jail, forgotten by people who owed him a favor. Then, one day, he ended up in front of the pharaoh. He interpreted a dream and wound up as Egypt's number two man. When it all came to fruition and Joseph's brothers found themselves at their brother's mercy, he told them, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). You see, God causes all things to work together for good ... even evil men's evil intentions.

Or how about the story of Jehoshaphat and Ahab (1 Kings 22)? The evil King Ahab asked the good King Jehoshaphat to join him in a battle against his enemies. Jehoshaphat agreed, but wanted to verify that God said they should go. Ahab assured him that all his prophets said it was God's idea. Jehoshaphat asked, "Don't you have any real prophets?" "Oh, sure," Ahab said, "but he always says mean things to me." "Let's ask him." Ahab sent for Micaiah and his errand boys told Micaiah, "Tell the king what he wants to hear." So Micaiah told Ahab, "Go to war." And Ahab wasn't impressed. "Tell the truth!" "Okay," Micaiah said, and proceeded to tell of a vision of a gathering in heaven. God told them He wanted Ahab to die in battle. Someone said, "I will entice him" (1 Kings 22:21). "So," Micaiah concluded, "the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you" (1 Kings 22:23). This is not what one would consider a "good thing". God did. Ahab, believe it or not, dies by a "random" arrow (1 Kings 22:34) and God accomplished what He intended.

Then there is God's statement in Isa. 45.
I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things (Isa. 45:5-7).
This is a God who claims to create calamity. He doesn't sidestep the issue. He doesn't deny it. He claims it.

God, then, uses the evil intentions of evil people for His good. He uses lying spirits for His good. He actually creates calamity for His good. What, then, is "bad"? He works all things together for good. Is the "bad" getting more difficult to identify? You have to wonder if we have any reasonable concept of "good" and "bad".

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Difficulty of Good News

Have you ever thought about how hard it is to quantify "good news"? "Bad news" is pretty easy. "This went wrong." "That bad thing happened." "We had a disaster over here." The reason "bad news" stands out, however, is because it ... stands out. Imagine, for a moment, a large white sheet. The sheet has a single, small black mark on it. If someone held it up in front of you, where do you suppose your eyes would go first? That black mark, of course.

The other day I was listening to a news item about how our society is moving away from using cash and heading toward a cashless society. They commented, "The government has saved millions of dollars using these cards." And I thought, "There's good news ... but how do you quantify it?" How do you quantify how much money was not spent? My friend bought a new car the other day and reported to me his "good news": "I saved $5,000!" He bought a $25,000 car for $20,000. But I saved $25,000 ... by not purchasing the car at all. Isn't that better news?

It's hard to quantify sometimes and more often than not we're not even looking. We hear, for instance, that 40,000 people died in car accidents last year. We don't even think that more than 250 million Americans did not die in car accidents last year. We remember the 3,000 that died in the World Trade Center disaster but don't even think about the 50,000 that were supposed to be there and weren't and, therefore, didn't die. How many auto accidents do not occur every day because people do observe red lights? How many people do give to charity to help homeless, poor, and starving people? How many problems are avoided by doing the right thing? When your car breaks down, do you think about all the time it worked or are you mad that it failed this time? Am I getting this idea across?

Humans have a tendency to be ungrateful (Rom. 1:21). And because of its nature, bad news stands out. Maybe, just maybe, we would benefit from careful and considerate review of the truth that God is gracious and gives us much good rather than immersing ourselves constantly in the bad things that seem to press in so often. After all, Paul does say, "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:18).

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Inconsistent Atheist

In the dialog between Christians and atheists, atheists often complain that Christians portray them as immoral people. The suggestion, they think, is that it is impossible to be moral if you don't have a belief in God. Now, this isn't entirely accurate. Nor is it entirely inaccurate. Christians believe that atheists are immoral ... because Christians believe that all people are sinners. That would include Christians. So on one hand it is accurate to say that Christians portray atheists as immoral, but that's only because they portray all humans as immoral. On the other hand, it isn't accurate because the suggestion is that Christians hold that atheists are immoral because they are atheists. That's not true.

The position is that morality is based in God. That is, for moral law to have any meaning, there must be a Law-giver. And for it to carry any weight, there must be ultimate justice. Since we know that ultimate justice does not occur here on Earth, there must be a final, Ultimate Judge who dispenses ultimate justice. The characteristics of this Ultimate Judge include omniscience so that He knows all aspects of the case, omnipotence so that He can carry out the sentence, holiness so that He is not able to be accused, immutability so that He doesn't mete out varied rulings, and, of course, justice. In other words, for morality to mean anything, there must be a God. The position, therefore, is not that atheists are immoral because they don't believe in God. The idea is that they don't have a logical basis for morality. The fact that there are indeed relatively moral atheists isn't in question. The fact that they are moral without any rational basis is the question.

To get this across isn't easy because, well, we all seem to "suffer" from Christian influence. Whether we are religious or not, there is a Christian moral heritage built in to most of our thinking. We call it the "Judeo-Christian ethic". So we basically agree on things like "murder is wrong" and "rape is wrong" and "it's wrong to steal" and the like. We are almost universally in favor of protecting the more helpless members of society. Very few would argue, for instance, that torturing a 2-year-old for private enjoyment would be anything but evil. We agree. But why? Well, in Jewish and Christian thinking, Man is made in the image of God. As such, we are required to respect human beings. Murdering them is immoral. Stealing from them or violating their well-being is akin to attacking God Himself. And it is moral, based on that premise, to protect those who can't protect themselves. It's obvious. Everyone sees it. But that's because it's such an ingrained product of the Judeo-Christian ethic.

Try removing that ethic and replacing it with an ethic without God. Let's assume that human beings are the product of billions of years of evolution, the top of the animal chain, with no "higher being" to whom we have to answer, no "heaven" or "hell", no "Law-giver" or "Final Judge". It's just us, folks, human animals living on this rock we call "Earth", biochemical bundles of nerves, flesh, and bones. We're on our own. Where does that leave us morally? Well, let's see ... Rule #1: Survival of the Fittest. If there is any rule to which we must adhere, it has to be that one. Without it we could end Evolution entirely. So, all this protecting of the weaker members of society must stop. It's bad for the race. It's bad for the society. They're using up resources. Think, for instance, of how much we spend trying to take care of sick people. Stop it! If they can't fight off sickness, do we want them reproducing? I mean, look at the animal kingdom as a whole. They don't do it, do they? Sick members of a herd are simply food for predators. Sure, protect them to some extent, but not at any risk to your own life. "Your own life" -- that would be the essence of Rule #2. Take care of yourself at all cost. Nothing else matters. Anything else is meaningless because all you have is here and now. Killing a rival if you can get away with it is no problem. Taking what you need if you can do it isn't an issue. If you can kill a chicken for food, you can kill a coworker for a promotion, right? What difference does it make? Oh, sure, sometimes it benefits you to be nice to others. That would be fine. But to limit your survival strategy to that would be unnecessary. Now, maybe you're ambitious. Maybe you want your influence to carry on beyond this life. How would you do that? Well, have lots of kids, of course! That will likely include a promiscuous lifestyle, but that's not a big deal because the rules are "Survival of the fittest" and "Look out for #1", and "promscuity" doesn't violate either of those. You'll likely need to make a lot of money to ensure the survival of lots of offspring, to do whatever is necessary. Beg, borrow, or steal. All that matters is your goals and desires. Is that little 3-year-old not showing any potential? Kill it. Who cares? Or, better yet, sell it to some bleeding heart type. Income, you know, for yourself.

None of this falls in the realm of Christian morality. It is abhorrent to Christianity. And, the truth is, generally speaking it is abhorrent to most atheists. Oh, sure, you find a Peter Singer or the like on occasion who suggests that it's okay to experiment on the sick and useless. There are still Joseph Mengles around who value human life like oxen and don't mind sacrificing people to personal goals. But, for the most part, it's wrong in most everyone's book to operate the way I just described. The question is not whether or not atheists are that way. The question is why are they not? I agree that atheists are often very moral people -- sometimes even more than some Christians. They act as if they have something to prove. But the question is ... why?

I have no animosity towards atheists. I obviously think they're mistaken, but I don't view them as worse than any other humans in terms of morality. I simply hope that they remain inconsistently moral because the world that they offer without Law and Judge is a frightening world to me.