Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Does this ever happen to you?

I know everyone is unique, but I don't think of myself as dramatically different than anyone else. I'm guessing, then, that this may be a common occurrence and you, too, have experienced it. Maybe not. Here's your chance to find out if I'm as far out there as some have suggested or not. Does this ever happen to you?

I'm talking about an idea, a basic concept, but I have to do it with illustrations. I am a Christian. So someone finds out that I'm a Christian and they immediately start to question me about how I could be a Christian when so many people have been killed by religion. "What do you mean?" I'll always ask (because I always figure it's a good practice to determine what they mean rather than infer it) and sometimes they'll point to the fanatic Islam-types who kill people. "What does that have to do with me?" I'll ask. "I'm a Christian." Then they'll invariably come to the Crusades. "Those were Christians." So here I am, a Christian, being asked to defend something with which I disagree. I hate that. Or a Christian will find out that I'm a Calvinist. "Oh," they might say, "how can you be a Calvinist when he burned that guy at the stake?" Already I'm someplace I never would go. I didn't burn anyone at a stake. I don't favor burning anyone at a stake. And, bottom line, "Calvinism" came into being long after Calvin burned Servitus at the stake. So ... what's the question? "Oh, you know," they might go on, "you Calvinists don't believe in free will." Maybe it's not free will. Maybe it's that we believe that humans have no choices or maybe it's that we believe that the atonement wasn't sufficient for all sin or maybe it's that we believe that God doesn't love everyone. There are a host of "Calvinist" beliefs that will be trotted out and I'm supposed to explain how I could possibly believe in them. Oddly, I don't. Generally it's a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation. Sometimes it's dead wrong. And if I ask, "Where did you get that?" they'll say something like, "From Calvinists I've known." So, again, I'm left standing here trying to defend positions I find indefensible and trying to explain beliefs I neither know nor hold.

It happens in lots of places. It's not just religion. It might be Intelligent Design. I'm not in favor of putting it in science, but if I say that I believe in Intelligent Design, suddenly I'm anti-science, a lunatic intent on overthrowing the scientific world with my whacked out religious beliefs as demonstrated by (and they'll list names I've never heard) and (they'll list things they purportedly did or said that are not what I think). Science, philosophy, religion, politics, it happens all over the place. Labels are placed. Positions are taken. Battle lines are drawn. And I, somewhere not likely in any of those places even if I'm somewhat related to them, stand out here defending myself on issues and beliefs I've never held. Does this ever happen to you?

It's odd to me. It's like we believe there is some sort of monolith of beliefs. Everyone who is vaguely associated with whatever the position might be is immediately considered perfectly aligned with that monolith. No one deviates. There are no individuals. And if you protest and say, "Well, maybe some believe that, but I don't" you're shouted down as ignorant, stupid, or a liar. As if I don't know what I believe? As if I don't have the intelligence to believe what I believe? As if the only possible belief is that monolith? As if I don't have the right to come to my own conclusions? It's like saying "All Evolutionists believe the same thing." Of course that's nonsense. There may indeed be commonalities found, for instance, in the title, "Evolutionists," and there would likely be some rudimentary agreement, but after that I would expect each individual to vary, sometimes wildly. That's what I would expect. I know that I don't think like other Republicans. I know that I don't have the same theology as other Christians in general or other Calvinists in particular. I know I deviate in what I think as an American from other Americans. I know I don't fall in line with all Intelligent Design theorists even though I like the idea.

When I'm talking to someone and they express a viewpoint different from my own, I often try to ask questions. It might be easy to lump them with others who have expressed a similar viewpoint. However, I know that I've been too often lumped in piles I don't fit and taken lumps when they want me to defend beliefs I don't have. So I think I'm doing people who differ from me a favor by asking them for more details. I (blindly, perhaps) think that they might be individuals and they might have viewpoints that differ from the main. And I prefer to think that they're intelligent enough to have thought it out. If not, they'll prove me wrong and I can live with that. But I know how much I dislike having to defend beliefs I don't believe. I've done it for so long that I rarely, it seems, get to defend what I do believe. I hope not to subject others to that same torment. Does that ever happen to you?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Search for Answers

There are debates that have gone on in Christendom for centuries within orthodoxy. The existence of the concept, for instance, of predestination cannot be questioned. It's a biblical term. The question is exactly how that works or how far it goes. The doctrine of Election is unavoidable, but is it an individual term or a group term? Only the most narrow-minded individuals will claim "If you don't have this doctrine right, you're not a Christian." It's not a question of salvation; it's a question of doctrine. Now, I've already argued that doctrine is important, so the question arises as to exactly how important these types of issues really are.

One of the most common responses I've heard from Christians on these types of points goes something like this. "They've been debating this for centuries. What makes you think you're going to come up with the answer?" It sounds reasonable. It serves to stop discussion. It aids in preventing dialog. It's a good way to stop asking the question. Oh, wait ... is that a good thing? Here's the question. Is doctrine important or isn't it? I already weighed in on that. So is it a good thing to ask these questions and discuss these issues or isn't it? From my position on the importance of doctrine, I'd argue that we should be engaging in these dialogs. So how would I respond to such a position? Well, of course, I'd offer enlightenment to the actual truth of the doctrine in question.

No, I'm kidding. I'm not here to solve the questions of the ages. But here is what I would suggest. Maybe I/we cannot solve the questions once and for all, but is there an answer? Is there a right answer? If you would agree that there is a right answer, then it would seem natural that all lovers of God would want to find the right answer. And just because you don't find concurrence on the right answer doesn't mean that it's not the right answer.

On issues of salvation, we are mostly in agreement. There are fringe elements, to be sure, who argue otherwise, but basic, orthodox Christianity is in agreement that Man is sinful, that salvation comes through Christ alone, and only by faith in Christ can we be saved. Bingo! Christianity! There are natural derivatives. Is the Bible God's Word? If you are going to have any reason to believe anything about Christianity, you'll have to conclude that it is or Christianity loses its meaning. And what about the nature of God? Well, if you want to get right with God and be a follower of Christ, it seems essential that you'd need to have a right view of God and Christ. So doctrines like the Deity of Christ and the Trinity become non-negotiable. But, truth be told, Christians as a whole have these down without much argument. If there is debate it is in the details, the wording, the exact nature of these types of things. Despite the fact that lots of people point at Christianity and say, "You guys can't even agree on your own beliefs," we are for the large part in agreement on our own beliefs.

I would urge you, then, not to give up on searching out the truth about these other issues. What is the extent of Predestination? What exactly is the Doctrine of Election? You will not find sufficient answers to prove the case to everyone, but that is irrelevant. What is important is that you search and find answers that convince you. It's not a matter of being right. It's not a matter of being arrogant. It's a matter of rightly representing God and His truth. As such, we don't likely need to stand at our ramparts and launch attacks at those with opposing views. It should be a charitable discussion with fellow believers on matters of doctrine that don't affect salvation. But it should be a discussion. It should be a search. It should be a question worth answering. Don't give up because someone says, "They've been debating this for centuries. What makes you think you're going to come up with the answer?" There are answers, whether or not everyone concurs. Find them.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bloody Mess

I imagine that one or two of you are thinking, "Hey, where's Stan?!" I like to think I'm consistent enough that some who like reading this blog are used to knowing that it will be fresh when you're ready to read it. Well, not today.

I went to the Emergency Room this morning. Three years ago I had a blood clot in my right leg. This morning it was a left-leg clot. The last one was below the knee, so it was "safe". This one was in the upper thigh, so I spent the day in a hospital room being ... watched. I was probed, injected, shot several times (okay, so "injected" and "shot" are redundant), pierced, tested ... and finally released. They have given up thinking I'm going to die any moment. Hey, they've got plans for me (doctors' appointments) for weeks to come!

It makes me think, though. It makes me think how fragile life is. I'm preparing to celebrate a son's graduation from college, a third grandchild, and a son's upcoming nuptials. Wouldn't it be rude of me to die? Still, without any illness, injury, or even vaguely reasonable explanation, I was on the verge of a sudden death. We don't often enough thank God for the breaths we take.

It makes me think how fearfully and wonderfully we are made. There are processes, chemicals, hormones, mechanisms, and so much more that are all at work all the time without us taking control that all work together to ... keep us alive. Let loose a microscopic piece of coagulated blood in the system and it could cause a problem. But think about this: Most of the time it all works. Isn't that astounding?! We breathe, our hearts beat, our organs filter, mend, produce, our brains run (in truly amazing, unfathomable ways), and we aren't really aware of it ... until something doesn't.

I'm grateful for life. I'm grateful for family. I'm grateful for work. I'm grateful for health. All this comes to mind because today I was closer to death than usual.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Every Day Sunday

C.S. Lewis once said, "We only learn to behave ourselves in the presence of God." Worship is a great attention-getter. We know, in the backs of our minds, that we are always in the presence of God, but when we walk into church on Sunday there's something different going on. The concept is forced to the forefront. Believers are changed, somehow. They want to hear. They want to be quiet. They want to learn. They want to be lifted into God's presence and exult in His glory.

Worship, as it turns out, is a life practice for Christians. I've heard it said at Christmas time, "Why can't every day be Christmas?" Why can't every day be Sunday and every minute of our walk be done in the presence of God with an eye to His glory? I think it's a worthy aim.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

When should the shooting start?

In science fiction literature a favorite topic is "first contact" where the question is "What do we do when we first come in contact with an alien race?" It's an interesting question. Do you annihilate the alien before they have the option of annihilating you? Do you assume they are friendly or hostile? Do you give them directions back to your home planet or take steps to make sure they don't know where you came from? If you need to shoot at them, when should the shooting start? And, of course, your prejudices will determine your answer. If you believe that all creatures are evil at their core then you'll need to kill these before they do anything. If you believe that all creatures are good by nature then you'll feel free to engage in friendly and open dialog. If you think that all creatures are liars, then you'll need to be cautious, walking a tight line between "destroy" and "friendly and open dialog." And, of course, trying to establish "dialog" with an alien race to even determine what the situation is will be difficult. So ... when should the shooting start?

Sure, a momentary mental diversion for sci-fi fans, but what does that have to do with everyone else? It seems to me that the question comes up in life much more often than we realize. Take, for instance, those "fighting words," "I'm a Calvinist." For the anti-Calvinist, the approach is often shoot first and ask questions later. Open fire on all the things you're quite sure this Calvinist believes before ever finding out what this Calvinist believes. And it's not just the anti-Calvinist. Often "I disagree with Calvinism" is grounds for the Calvinist to unleash an artillery barrage on the beliefs perceived to be held by the one who disagrees with Calvinism. What do they actually believe? We're never quite sure because we've already closed negotiations and opened fire.

Religion is a common arena for this kind of "when should the shooting start?", but it's not only in religion. Mention "Intelligent Design" in a room full of Evolutionists and you'll likely be set upon without mercy. You may hold that ID shouldn't be part of science and you may hold that Evolution is true, but if you haven't attacked ID in your opening statement, you'll likely be perceived as a threat rather than a person with which to converse. Shoot first, ask questions later. But that, I suppose, is still in the arena of religion. It's just as predominant in the area of politics. Shout, "Conservative!" in a room full of Liberals (sorry, "Progressives") and you're going to be lucky to get out with your eardrums intact. You needn't actually express an opinion; you just need to raise the concept. And don't think that Liberals (oh, yeah, "Progressives") are the only ones who do it. Someone could mention "raise taxes" and if they're foolish enough to think it out loud in a room full of Conservatives, they'll wish they hadn't. What do they actually believe about "raising taxes"? We may never know. They're shouted out of the room.

Now, I don't have it in me to stop all of you from doing this. I appear to have misplaced my magic wand. I didn't win the "Emperor of the World" election. I don't get to make the rules. I can, however, try to avoid it myself. I can make a conscious choice to treat individuals like, oh, I don't know, individuals. It is my suspicion that no two people are alike. I know ... far-fetched ... but that's what I think. So it is unlikely that no two people think completely alike. So assuming an "Evolutionist" is hostile to Christianity before they exhibit such hostility won't help me at all in the conversation. Assuming that people who are of a different ethnic origin than my own are hostile to me won't assist me in making friends with them. And, frankly, shooting first and asking questions later is a really poor way of conversing with people. So I will try really hard to avoid assuming that the people with whom I come in contact are of a certain mindset before they convince me otherwise. I can only hope that they will provide me the same courtesy. And I can only hope that you, too, might find this approach more helpful than the alternative.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I Predict

I'm not one for predictions. I'm certainly no prophet. So if I make any such prognostications, you can take them with a grain of salt. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction.

I've seen Expelled. I've also seen the reviews by others. What, then, do I expect will come out of this movie? Ready? Here's my prediction: Nothing. Nothing at all. I expect that Darwinian Evolutionists will continue to protest against Intelligent Design. I expect that Intelligent Design advocates will continue to complain that their views aren't being allowed in the academic arena. I predict that not much at all will come from this movie.

Here's how it works. If you're in favor of Intelligent Design (for instance), you will have seen a smart movie about how ID is not being allowed in the arena of academic discussion. You will likely have seen a movie that rightly questions Darwinian Evolution and makes some excellent points about the way things are and how they should change. Of course, you already thought that, so it isn't a change for you. If you're in favor of Darwinian Evolution (for instance), it's probable that you would have seen a very flawed movie which improperly portrays Evolution as some sort of "bad guy" and simply showers us with right wing propaganda (probably even Christian propaganda, even though Ben Stein is not a Christian) about some stupid, unnecessary suggestion that the philosophical discussion of Intelligent Design should be included in the realm of science ... which any thinking person would know is wrong. Of course, you already thought that, so it isn't a change for you.

In fact, that's typically how we operate. When Michael Behe came out with his book, Darwin's Black Box, do you suppose the scientists in the field of Evolutionary Studies picked it up and said, "Hmmm, I wonder if Behe is going to change my mind?" or do you suppose they picked it up and said, "Okay, let's pick this thing apart and figure out what's wrong with it"? I suspect the latter. And you Intelligent Design folks likely say, "Yeah! That's right!" So what did you do? I suspect your first thoughts were something like, "Well, now, here's someone who supports my views!" instead of "Is this a valid argument or not?" You see, we tend to accept with little evaluation the views with which we already agree and deny with little evaluation the views with which we already disagree. A Bible-believing Christian who gets an email that says, "NASA has a computer that proves Joshua's missing day" accepts it without question despite the nonsense of the claim because it agrees with his or her accepted view. And it's not like Christians are the only one. Equally problematic claims are made on the other side that cause you to nod in foolish agreement because they're what you already thought. We tend not to be very critical of things which agree with our position. We tend to be highly critical of things that disagree with our position. It seems very uncommon that we simply evaluate the ideas and arguments for whatever they're worth. All of us seem to have an agenda that we will maintain when we look at the field of arguments that we are examining.

I said at the outset I'm no prophet. I am, I suppose, a cynic. I think it's likely that the movie will not likely move anyone. Intelligent Design advocates will not see the flaws in the movie and argue, "I think that was likely a poor way to express it." Darwinian Evolutionists will not likely see the truthful parts of the movie and say, "He has a point." We'll likely just devolve into name-calling and ad hominem arguments and no one will shift a bit. But ... I'm no prophet.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Of What Use Doctrine?

The debate is often held about the importance of doctrine over practice. Which is more important? Is it more important to know the right thing or do the right thing? If you'd like some high-sounding terms, they are "orthodoxy" and "orthopraxy" where orthodoxy refers to right thinking and orthopraxy refers to right practice. "Clearly," a large number of Christians argue, "it's far more important to do the right thing than to think the right thing." Those who lean toward orthodoxy are often labeled "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good." And, truth be told, there is often a sense of both arrogance from the orthodox and irrelevance from the orthoprax. (I know ... no such word, but you get the idea.) Those who major on orthodoxy often come across as arrogant and those who believe that it's more important to live right will often suggest that understanding right thinking isn't really as relevant as understanding right living.

If you're one of those who leans more toward orthopraxy, I'd like to suggest that you might want to reconsider. I'll offer some ideas as to why.

First, I think it's a mistake to suggest that one or the other is right. It's what those in the logic world call a "false dichotomy." It suggests that only one can be right. Stop for a moment and think and I'm sure you'll see that it is possible that both right thinking and right action could be very important to the Christian. I point that out at the outset because I am not trying to suggest that orthopraxy is irrelevant. It only takes a cursory reading of Scripture to realize that we are to do. Yes, we are to practice right living and I won't argue otherwise. On the other hand, what is the fundamental distinction of a Christian? The fundamental distinction is faith. Faith is what you believe in. And surely you can see that "what you believe in" falls under "orthodoxy" rather than "orthopraxy." So maybe, just maybe, both are in order here.

That's a start. Now, let's look at it from the orthopraxy position. What is the first command -- the first thing Christians are supposed to do? Obviously it is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). We don't have to question that. Note first that "mind" is included. More importantly, try this. Imagine you are going to love your spouse ... without actually knowing your spouse. You commit to an absolute priority to love your spouse, but you argue, "right thinking about my spouse isn't as important as rightly loving my spouse." Doesn't make much sense, does it? It would seem, then, that part of loving God as we ought includes knowing Him as we ought ... or "right thinking" about God.

I think you can immediately see that "doing right" is not the basis of Christianity. We don't come to Christ by doing. We often say that Christianity is a relationship. That's not "doing." And most of us understand that there are certain fundamental truths on which Christianity rests without which it is not Christianity. You can't strip off, for instance, the doctrine of the Trinity without removing Christianity. You can't remove monotheism without undoing the Faith. The Jesus in whom you place your faith must be the Jesus of the Bible and not some manufactured version that didn't live, die, or rise again. There are fundamental doctrines required to classify it as "Christianity."

Some might argue that the Bible disagrees. "The Bible doesn't talk about doctrine," they might say. It's not true, of course. The basic function of the Church is "the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:12-13). Notice how Paul ties together both "the unity of the faith" (right thinking) with "the work of service." A "mature man" is one who has both. The result of this kind of maturity is "we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:14). Maturity -- right thinking and right living -- protects us from "every wind of doctrine." Paul tells Timothy, "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following" (1 Tim. 4:6). Clearly "sound doctrine" was important to Paul. Elders are supposed to have it (Titus 1:9). Teachers are supposed to teach it (Titus 2:1). And in the last days it will not be endured (2 Tim. 4:3).

There is this interesting call of Paul on Titus that should, again, string these two together. "In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine , dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us" (Titus 2:7-8). See that? Both orthopraxy and orthodoxy. You see, to do right, you have to know what's right. And to do it right, you have to know about it.

Now consider this. When you read through a comprehensive book like Paul's Epistle to the Romans, you find an interesting structure. Paul spends 11 chapters explaining what -- doctrine. He lays out right thinking. Finally, after all that, he gets to a turning point at the beginning of Chapter 12: "Therefore." After having laid out orthodoxy, he offers orthopraxy. In fact, he lays out orthodoxy as the proper motivation for orthopraxy. Look at many of Paul's letters and you'll see the same pattern: orthodoxy first, orthopraxy second. It's something like this: "Love your neighbor. Why? Because you are so greatly loved by God." You see, it is only on the basis of the truth (orthodoxy) that you can do the right thing (orthopraxy). Doctrine informs practice. Correct practice is predicated on correct thinking.

We are called to right practice and right thinking. Don't give up on one over the other. Don't minimize one for the other. And whatever you do make sure you don't fall in the category of not being able to endure sound doctrine. Right thinking about the truths of God and His Word are vital for the believer. Don't let anyone talk you into thinking otherwise.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Asking Questions

Science is about testing things and, frankly, falsifying them. That is, if it is to be considered science, you have to be able to prove that it is not a valid hypothesis. This is the stated reason why Intelligent Design, for instance, is not allowed to be discussed in the world of science. There is no test whereby someone could say, "No, this test shows that Intelligent Design is false."

It's odd to me -- I suppose because I'm not a scientist -- that this rule seems to be so unfairly applied. I'm sure that if I were an actual scientist I'd understand the exception clause where pet ideas don't have to be subjected to the same rule. Take, for instance, Darwinian Evolution. While "evolution" has a variety of meanings, Darwinian Evolution (the "Evolution" of the day) has a very specific definition:
The proposition that the phylogeny of all species is wholly ascribable to the combined effects of random variation (mutation) in genotypes of the members of a stock as a result of the operation of undirected accidents with consequences to their phenotypes and the operation of preferential (but by no means certain) survival of those resulting phenotypes most suited to survive in the contemporary environment.
Now, this definition has problems enough. What, for instance, is a "species"? Science disagrees with science on the definition. (So ... how does one falsify the varying definitions?) But apart from the problem of defining the definition, there are claims made in the definition that cannot be tested or falsified. It claims that the whole thing is a product of "random variation" (emphasis mine) as a result of the operation of "undirected accidents." Each point in these claims requires a lack of influence. Now ... test for that lack.

It just doesn't seem right to me. Darwinian Evolution makes a claim. It is an absolute denial of the possibility that anything outside of "random" variations from "undirected accidents" could have played a part in the existence of life on this planet as we know it. It is, in fact, a theological claim of sorts -- denying God. In other words, if you subscribe to Darwinian Evolution, you must deny Christianity and very likely the existence of God. Those who argue for Theistic Evolution do so against Darwinian Evolution because they specifically deny "random," "undirected," and "accidents." Sorry, guys ... you're not real Evolutionists. You're just a part of that faulty "Intelligent Design" group, obviously not prone to real science, and clearly accepting of unprovable claims of some "god" or something. You're just Creationists in Intelligent Design clothing. And Darwinian Evolution lets itself off the hook. "We don't need to test our own hypothesis ... but it's still science."

I could offer some interesting tests of my own on various claims, but they would be struck down because, after all, I'm prejudiced. (I am prejudiced, but show me the "real scientist" who isn't, and I'll show you a liar.) For instance, given the hypothesis that everything occurs by random events, what would you expect? Randomness, of course. And what do we see? Order. Hmm, looks like that might be a reason to doubt the hypothesis. Or, related, given chaos, what would you expect to see? Chaos. Instead, we find far too much order. How about this one? Given nothing, what would you expect to see? Nothing. Odd ... we find something. How very strange! Some Evolutionists make some strange responses to tests like these:
"It looks as if we are getting order out of random and chaos. That suggests that something orders it. Randomness doesn't produce order."

"No, you're wrong. We know that randomness produces order."

"How do we know that?"

"Because it did! Look at the world!"
Oh, I see, we prove "random variations" and "undirected accidents" by showing that the world is orderly so our hypothesis is correct? Sorry, but that's circular reasoning.

There are many who claim that anyone who is a person of faith can only be one of two things: Ignorant or stupid. Their corollary is similar: "If you hold tightly to your faith against what we know, you are arrogant." I have to wonder why people who ask "How does order come from chaos?" or "How do we get from inorganic to organic?" or "How would you explain the massive information stored in DNA by 'undirected accidents'?" are the arrogant ones while those who simply dismiss them out of hand are the reasonable, thinking people. Certainly people of faith make stupid claims and foolish arguments. I'd be a liar to deny it. But they're not alone in that. Mainstream "right thinkers" make equally stupid claims and foolish arguments. It is my assertion that science doesn't stand at the top of the heap as firmly as it thinks or claims. It is not the unbiased bastion of truth it thinks it is. And when we simply dismiss those with whom we disagree out of hand because they disagree with us, well, that's no way to come to the truth. Look, maybe you don't like the idea that when I see a watch in the field, I assume a watchmaker. Fine. But you have to admit that it's not an ignorant or stupid or unreasonable conclusion ... don't you?

(As a side note, I highly recommend reading 10 Ways Darwinists Help Intelligent Design, a three-part series over at Evangelical Outpost. You'll find them here:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
They make some excellent points on the questions at hand.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Expelled, the Movie

I had a rare opportunity to actually go to a movie this weekend, so I thought I'd go see Expelled No Intelligence Allowed. I know it will be a point of contention, so I thought perhaps I'd offer a rare movie review.

I think the movie isn't what people expect ... on either side of the aisle. I also think that people will come away from the movie with whatever their initial bias and expectation is going in. If you are a Creationist or a staunch Intelligent Design type, you'll likely come away having heard an argument in favor of your view. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Darwinian Evolutionist, you'll likely come away having heard arguments against Darwinian Evolution. I have to say that I didn't come away with that at all.

The movie is Ben Stein's brain child that approaches the question, "Why can't we discuss Intelligent Design in academia?" It is, therefore, Ben Stein's approach. If you're familiar with his dry humor, you'll see this movie riddled with it. He starts by laying out the cases of people in the world of academia who suffered consequences for expressing ideas regarding Intelligent Design. The movie travels through his reasonable set of questions. What's the problem? (We are not being allowed to discuss the theory of Intelligent Design.) Is the problem really that bad? (Yes.) Should we forbid the argument? Are there reasons to question Darwinian Evolution? So, what do you want?

On the minus side, I think Stein's pointed humor gets in the way at times. For instance, when he tells of the plight of one professor who was told she would be disciplined for mentioning Intelligent Design, the video cuts to a black and white film of a guillotine. Humor. I get it. But is this kind of hyperbole really necessary? There are constant cuts back and forth between old film clips and current content. Some of it is helpful. Some of it is not. When a certain perspective is expressed and the video cuts to a Hitler or a Berlin Wall, it's not helpful. It's intended, as I say, for humor, but when an argument resorts to demeaning those on the other side, it's not helpful.

But there is far more on the plus side. For the most part, Stein lays out the discussion rationally and without emotion. He allows for discussion against whatever view he might purport. He examines the issues and the evidence on both sides. And, in the end, he frankly isn't trying to prove a point. Did you read that? Do it again. He isn't trying to prove Intelligent Design. Nor is he trying to disprove Darwinian Evolution. The movie asks for one thing. The movie draws a parallel between the Berlin Wall and the divide in academia between Darwinian Evolution and Intelligent Design. It decries the fact that academia puts a wall up, preventing the discussion. Using the Berlin Wall as an example, Ben Stein simply asks, "Academia, tear down this wall."

I would like to see the questions asked. I would like to see the dialog open up. I'd like to see academic freedom really occur. That's what Stein is asking for. But I'm pretty sure that Darwinian Evolutionists will argue against Ben Stein (not the question at hand) and Creationists will argue for Ben Stein (not the question at hand) and movement will be negligible.

If you are a person hoping for an argument against Darwin, don't see this movie. It's not there. Unfortunately, many of you will see it and come away thinking it said something it didn't. You'll end up in a red herring argument that will take away from the movie's intent. If you are a person who despises Christians, Creationists, or anyone who disagrees with Darwin, don't see this movie. While the movie's only point is to ask "Can we ask questions?", you'll certainly come away angry that it is attacking your favorite bastion (Darwinian Evolution) and clearly panders to the Christians. (The fact that Ben Stein is not a Christian is irrelevant. The fact that it simply points out that there are reasons to ask questions about Darwinian Evolution is beside the point.) You'll end up arguing against things the movie never intended to argue. But if you're willing to see the movie for what it is, a call to allow for academic freedom, then perhaps you'll enjoy it. I did.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Deal With It?

I have this "reputation" of being a veritable font of knowledge. (Yes, folks, that is sarcasm.) Actually, I am trying to forge a name for myself as one who doesn't know as much as you might think. Based on some of my past posts, I think I'm well on my way. This is no exception. I don't know something, and I'm hoping someone can enlighten me.

As Christians, we hold lots of common beliefs. We believe in God -- one God. We believe in Jesus, that He lived, died for us, and rose again. You know, basic stuff. Stuff we all agree on. Since the source book of our beliefs says (among other things) that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12), we also must conclude that people who die without Christ do not go to heaven. You know, basic stuff.

So ... what do you do when someone you love dies without Christ? I've seen various approaches to this problem. You see, no one really wants to say, "My dear (fill in the relationship) died and went to Hell." So people come up with a variety of ways to deal with it. One is to change their theology. Universalism suddenly appears much more appealing. Maybe there is a loophole in the "salvation in no other" concept. Maybe we're being too rigid in our beliefs or in our reading of the Bible or in even using the Bible as a source of belief. Some eliminate the concept of Hell entirely. It doesn't exist. It's a failure to properly understand the Bible. The Roman Catholics like the Purgatory concept where you just spend time getting purged, not actually in Hell. Eventually you'll get to Heaven. Others refuse to ask the question. In fact, they can get quite offended when someone else does. "Who are we to know? How can you know they didn't accept Christ in the last seconds of their life? You can't know. No one can!" And, truth be told, we cannot know. We can't know the heart of another. Still, there are plenty of folks that we know that have made it their life's goal to stand firmly against the calling of the Spirit, and they've done it quite well. Sure, miracles happen, but it would take exactly that in many cases. Nonetheless, lots of people seek their comfort in their uncertainty.

Still I ask, other than denying the faith or denying reality, what can you do when someone you love dies without Christ? The ultimate argument of the atheist is generally to question how an all-loving God could allow bad things to happen. What could be worse than this? It may not bode well for us, but the truth is that when unknown or far-removed folks die without Christ, it doesn't shake us as much. When a staunch, outspoken anti-Christian dies, we might even quip, "Well, now they know the truth, don't they?" We're not so glib when it's someone close to us. Without denying the faith or reality, then, how do you deal with it? Without the glibness reserved for the distant death, what do you tell yourself when a dear one perishes? Do you succumb to the atheist's complaint? Do you surrender to the skeptic's view? Do you close your eyes and adopt the military's "don't ask don't tell" approach? I have ideas, but I want to know what others might suggest. If the Bible embraces the notion that people that die without Christ do not go to Heaven, should we? If so, how do we do that?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What You Worship Shapes You

"A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Saturday, April 19, 2008


So, you're enjoying a pleasant hike in the woods with your significant other -- you know, your girlfriend or wife. (Ladies, please play along as if you're the male in this scenario.) It's a lovely day. You break out of the trees into a canyon with a river rolling through it. You walk up the canyon a ways, enjoying the surroundings. Then you round a curve in the canyon and come upon two people standing on a sandbar on the edge of the river. They're engaged in a heated debate. You look around, trying to figure out what has them so agitated. It appears to be the ancient native American drawings on the wall. Clearly very old, these drawings are interesting and strangely eerie. But what are the two arguing about? You listen in.

"Don't be ridiculous," one of them says. "It is patently obvious that someone drew these pictures."

"Oh, yeah," the other retorts. "What evidence do you have for that? How do you know it didn't just happen? How do you know that currents in the river didn't cause these?"

"Oh, come on," the first replies. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this is man-made, not natural."

"And you call yourself a scientist," the second answers. "What kind of science is that? Wild guess? You leap to that conclusion without any evidence? That's not science. That's philosophy!"

"Philosophy?! How can you say that?! It's abundantly clear that this kind of structure and form doesn't simply occur at random. It's too complicated, too specific, too ... designed!"

"There you go again! 'Design'! Just because it looks complicated and appears like design, you label it 'design'. No science. No evidence. Pure conjecture. How do you know it didn't just happen? How do you know it's not just a natural phenomenon? What does deductive reasoning have to do with science??!!"

You begin to back away from the pair. For one, it appears they're close to coming to blows. But the real reason is that you're questioning the sanity of one of them. You're there with your sweetheart, and you don't want her getting hurt by this loon. So carefully, slowly, as quietly as possible you back away from the crazy person.

The question is which is the crazy person? Is it the one who sees design in something that appears to be designed, or is it the one who patently denies any possibility of design when faced with a complicated, interconnected structure that shouldn't appear naturally and has no real, rational explanation? Is it the one that appears rational, or is it the one that is standing firmly on the god, "Science"?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Capital Punishment

The recent ruling by the Supreme Court on Capital Punishment has started the conversation anew. Should Christians favor the death penalty or should they oppose it? Most people state their position with finality, as if "I have arrived and anyone who disagrees with me isn't thinking." I suppose that's generally the case in most subjects. I find this one a bit more sticky.

A lot of people on the Christian side of the question will argue against the death penalty. They do so on a variety of biblical passages. (Anyone who suggests that "those who oppose the death penalty do so apart from the Bible" aren't paying attention.) The most common approach is the "turn the other cheek" and "forgive" arguments. "Jesus never executed anyone," they might say. "We are commanded to 'turn the other cheek' and 'forgive your enemies'. How can you execute someone and obey those commands?" This argument, to me, is problematic. If this interpretation of "turn the other cheek" is accurate, then there are many ramifications. Christians cannot be concerned about justice of any sort. They can't call for jail time for felonies or tickets to speeders. They cannot lock their doors at night or defend themselves when attacked. In fact, it seems as if those who make such arguments are violating their own position because they are defending their views when they should be simply turning the other cheek. In other words, if "turn the other cheek" is an absolute command to not respond to any sort of insult or attack, then there should be zero response from Christians when insulted or attacked, even if it's to defend such a view.

The second problem with this argument is the sense of "forgive" that is offered here. It appears that "forgive" has two components here. First, it means "no consequences." It is not possible to forgive if there are consequences to one's transgressions. If God, for instance, forgives a repentant drug addict, He would be obligated by the term "forgive" to prevent or repair any damages that the drug use might inflict. Those would be unjust consequences for a forgiven person. A murderer who truly repents should not be arrested or jailed because forgiveness should include "no consequences." I don't think anyone would actually argue this, but it's the only logical conclusion from the argument that "forgive" precludes Capital Punishment. The other component is the problem of who can forgive whom. It appears, from this "forgive" argument, that all Christians are required to forgive all offenses. The problem is that the right to forgive doesn't fall on all Christians; it only falls on the wronged parties. A child rapist doesn't wrong everyone. He wrongs the child and God and, to be fair, the family, but not everyone. A Christian in California doesn't have the right to forgive a murderer in New York if their only connection is that they are fellow human beings because the murderer in New York didn't do anything to the Christian in California. Only wronged parties have the right to forgive.

There are other arguments by Christians who oppose the death penalty. One is the argument that Jesus would forgive. This seems odd since Jesus clearly only forgives the repentant at any time, yet the argument suggests that Jesus would forgive everyone all the time. That doesn't work unless we are going to embrace Universalism. Some argue that the Bible says, "Thou shalt not kill." This one often comes from a "pro-life" approach. "How can you be in favor of Capital Punishment and oppose abortion? If you're pro-life, you must oppose both." However, the "Thou shalt not kill" blanket statement seems to say more than it intends. No Christian could be a police officer because they may be called on to shoot a criminal. No Christian could serve in the military for obvious reasons. However, when you examine the command, it turns out that it references murder, not general "killing", and requires malice rather than simply death. And if you can't see a fundamental difference between a convicted murderer and an innocent newborn, you have bigger problems than "Is the death penalty biblical?" So these arguments are problematic.

One of the really popular arguments is not from Scripture, but from compassion. "If you put someone to death, you will end their opportunities to come to Christ." It's a funny thing. This is not a biblical argument, but it seems one of the most difficult to answer. The problem, of course, is that it ignores the sovereignty of God. It assumes that God wants to save everyone and knew that this one would come to Him, but, somehow, got cheated because the government agencies put the poor guy to death before God could reach him. Poor God! Nice try; no prize for you. Sarcasm aside, I think you can see the problem here. It's just that we don't often take God's sovereignty into account when we make these types of arguments.

One of the more disturbing biblical arguments is "Jesus came to abolish the Law." It is absolutely undeniable that Capital Punishment is an Old Testament concept. God Himself passed laws that demanded the death penalty for certain crimes. Before the covenant with Israel, there was the Noahic covenant where God told Noah that murder was punishable by death "by man" (Gen. 9:6). The argument, then, suggests that Jesus changed all that and all of the Old Testament Laws are out the window. This is seriously problematic. First, Jesus said, "For verily I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, until all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18). The Law in some form must continue until the New Heaven and the New Earth. Second, if we argue that the Old Testament Laws are out the window, then we remove the Old Testament Laws. "Yes," you might say, "that is what we're saying." So ... how is it that you wish to retain the Ten Commandments then? You see, if you toss them all, you toss them all. If not, then some remain. If some remain, which ones? On what basis would you toss the Gen. 9:6 rule? You see, this argument becomes a real problem.

Other arguments are farther from Christianity. "Capital punishment is not a deterrent." This may or may not be true. I would agree that today's version (where the convicted criminal stays on death row for decades) is likely not a deterrent. The Bible agrees. "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil" (Eccl. 8:11). And in our current system I'm not entirely sure we can change that fact since it is absolutely imperative that the condemned be given every right to prove innocence. But I'd like to point out something that isn't considered in this argument: Capital Punishment isn't intended as a deterrent. If it would provide deterrent, that would be good. However, the intent is not to deter others, but to correct a wrong. It is not intended to deter others, but to provide justice for an evil committed. And in one very real sense, it cannot be denied that a murder who is executed will certainly be deterred from committing the crime again.

The other argument is the Roman Catholic argument. It was hinted at in my last paragraph. "What if you execute an innocent man?" This is a valid concern. We've seen lately several examples of wrongly-convicted people being sent to prison. There may have even been wrongly-convicted people who were executed. And this, I think we all agree, is a bad thing. Still, it begs the question. Do we fail to act at all on the possibility that we make a mistake?

I want to point out that I have made no arguments here for the other side. I haven't argued for Capital Punishment. I think there are arguments on that side to be considered, but this isn't the intent here. I don't, in fact, have all the answers. (Surprise, surprise!) It's just that I have to wonder about the Christianity that these arguments will leave us with. We cannot defend ourselves. Forgiveness requires "no consequences". Christians forgive all sin (which, according to Jesus, is a right reserved by God). God is not actually sovereign if someone gets put to death before they were going to come to Him. There is no law for Christians, no rules, no moral code. You're on your own. Be good ... whatever that means. There are real concerns for Capital Punishment that need to be addressed, but I'm afraid that the "Christianity" we're left with when we actually consider most of these arguments is not a Christianity we're familiar with. It's certainly not a biblical Christianity.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I Wonder

I wonder how birds manage to find seed, even the stuff that spilled a little far from the feeder.

I wonder how light striking my eye ends up in an image that I can interpret.

I wonder why animals such as my cat don't seem to mind the heat in the summer even though they're wearing fur coats.

I wonder about the balance between sheltering children against false ideas and teaching them how to deal with them.

I wonder why, no matter how often answers are given, the same questions are asked.

I wonder how many real Christians are in America and how many are just walking through the paces because that's what they were told was right.

I wonder how many people got small doses of Christianity early on, generally a weakened strain, and were inoculated against actually contracting the condition.

I wonder why people that believe that human Free Will determines who gets saved pray, "Lord, bring them to You!"

I wonder, given the successive generations I've observed in my lifetime, what my grandchildren's children will accept as normal when God calls it sin.

I wonder how long God can tolerate evil in this country.

I wonder why I still do stupid things ... you know, like sin.

I wonder how my kids are ... every day ... even though they're all adults.

I wonder how I can make my wife happy ... even though I know that no person can make another person happy.

I wonder why I wonder about inane things like doing the impossible (like making my wife happy).

Oh, there is so much I wonder about. Isn't life wonder-full?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How Free?

We in America love our freedom. We consider ourselves the most free people on the planet. If America has a god, it is freedom. That freedom enables us to worship our other gods, such as power, money, and, above all else, self. What is America if not "the land of the free?" We even have a "Bill of Rights" that guarantees our freedoms. In one single amendment to our Constitution we are assured that we have the freedom of speech, the press, the right to assemble, and ... get this ... "to petition the government for a redress of grievances" -- whatever that means. (It means "Tell them you were wronged ... as if they'll do something about it.") There are ten of these amendments.

You may note that I skipped one of the key freedoms we celebrate in that First Amendment -- the freedom "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." I skipped over that one because it is the springboard for this post. The question I want to ask is exactly how free we really are or even want to be? The reason I ask is the events of last week when the government raided a compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Now, the raid was not a function of religion. It was a function of child abuse and statutory rape. Still, the question remains. How free are we and how free do we want to be? You see, if it is true that the government shall pass no laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion, and my religion wants to practice, say, child molesting, should the government be allowed to stop us from practicing our religion? I would hope that no one would argue that religious freedom should be that free. If someone chose to practice the worship of Molech, would we want them to be allowed to throw children into the sacrificial fire? Please tell me that no one would stand up for their free right to do so.

You see, we want freedom, but we certainly understand that we cannot have absolute freedom. We understand that we have freedom of speech, but we don't have the freedom to cry "Fire!" in a crowded theater. We don't want people to have that freedom. We want to have the right to bear arms, but we don't want to give that right to insane killers, so we have background checks to prevent it. We don't want people to have that freedom. On the other hand, we all know that the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure has resulted in real criminals being freed on technicalities.

So it begs the question. How free are we and how free do we want to be? We are guaranteed, for instance, "the right to a speedy and public trial." Now, how does that work? Well, after arrest we can expect arraignment, preliminary hearing, Grand Jury, indictment, possible plea-bargaining, and pre-trial procedures before the actual trial occurs. It could take years. In what sense is that "speedy"? Of course, the other side of the argument is that it takes all that time to get all the information and give a fair trial. So ... do you want "speedy" if you're wrongly arrested, or do you want all the information? How would you even define "excessive bail" or "cruel and unusual punishment"? We have the "freedom of speech" and "press", but when Don Imus decides to broadcast racial slurs over the airwaves, he is castigated and fired. What about his freedom?

We practically worship our freedom. On the other hand, it's not true that we're as free as we like to think. We happily limit our freedoms for the sake of the common welfare. We demand the freedom of speech, but when someone complains about what is said, it gets banned. We prefer the freedom of safety, for instance, over the freedom to bear arms, so we prevent felons from having firearms. On the other hand, we defend the freedom of speech for pornographers as if they have something to say. We want a free economy, but we have laws against monopolies and we're almost begging our government to step in and pass laws to fix the foreclosure problem. We demand freedom of religion but will not allow religious activities that we believe violate the laws for the common welfare. (Doesn't that beg the question? At what point do we negate all freedom of religion in the name of "the common welfare"?) Are we too free? Or are we not free enough? And do we really want freedom? We recognize the need to regulate freedom. Who gets to say what freedom is regulated and what isn't? Tough questions.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


I spent 10 years in the Air Force. Back then we used to wear fatigues to work in. You know, those green suits. Some called them "pickle suits." Anyway, the rule then was that we weren't allowed to go to public civilian places in fatigues. We could wear the blues, but not the fatigues. So one day I was (in civilian clothes) going with my family to the local mall. In the parking lot I observed an interesting interchange. A sergeant in fatigues was walking ahead of a lieutenant in blues. The lieutenant started yelling at the sergeant, barking at him about the violation of the rules and not going in there in fatigues. Suddenly the sergeant swung around, covered his name tape, and explained in expletives what he thought the lieutenant could do with his ideas. Then he turned around again and headed off into the mall.

What was up with the covering of the name? Anonymity, of course. As long as the lieutenant didn't know who the sergeant was, the sergeant could violate the rules of the Air Force and of standard courtesy without consequences. Anonymity provided the sergeant the means to be a bad person.

In life, there are varying levels of anonymity and ... nonymity. Okay, I made the word up, but you get the idea. We find ourselves in places where we are well known and places where we are not known. We find ourselves in places where we cannot hide and places where we cannot be found. Those, of course, are extremes. Generally we are somewhere in between. The problem is that the closer we find ourselves to anonymity, the closer we are to being able to be jerks (at best) and lost (at worst).

On the Internet, anonymity proves to be an excellent opportunity for all sorts of bad stuff. Because you're anonymous, you can be whomever you wish in a chatroom and no one can know. You can be a male representing yourself as a female. You can be an adult representing yourself as a kid. You can be an atheist representing yourself as a Christian. You can go to blogs and launch tirades against ideas and people you hate without the slightest regard for their feelings because, after all, no one is going to trace it back to you. No one will actually hold you responsible. You won't have to move among the masses face to face tomorrow and fess up to whatever cruelty or even evil you inflicted. Anonymity on the Internet gives license to all sorts of problems and evils.

Anonymity is prevalent in many, perhaps most churches. People show up and they smile and shake the hands of the guy or gal at the door and they go inside and sing along or not and listen to the sermon and go home without ever once actually being engaged. If they did give their names to anyone, it's not like there will be any real connection based on it. So they come in -- problems, pains, and all -- and head on back out -- problems, pains, and all. Hopefully the Gospel was tossed out there for them to hear and hopefully they respond, but no one is actually connecting to them. This same anonymity occurs in all sorts of what I call "shotgun evangelism." You know the kind ... door-to-door or big-crusade or street-witnessing types. Assuming it is the Gospel they are given, it is still simply launched out into the air and hits those whom it hits. Rarely is there a follow up. Rarely is there a connection made. The Gospel is given to anonymous people who never get pulled in, never get connected, never get discipled.

In churches where this anonymity isn't allowed, it's a different world. I've seen one or two like this. People that visit these churches will get sucked in. They don't get to "attend"; they have to be part of it. They don't get to show up and leave; they find themselves being cared for and, in return, caring about others. Their cares and concerns become others' cares and concerns. Discipleship -- that "walk alongside" kind of teaching and living Christ -- becomes a given rather than a rarity. People are held accountable for their actions and helped with their problems.

Of course, these types of churches are quite rare. And when you find them, you'll also find that some people won't like them. You see, anonymity gives a license to sin. If you can cover your name tape and sin to your heart's content, why would you want people around you holding you accountable and sticking their nose in your business? But, then, if "sin to your heart's content" is what you're after, I suspect that the Gospel is what you need because repentance hasn't come yet. Besides, no one is ever truly anonymous. So my question is why aren't there more churches like the ones that won't allow you to be anonymous?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Christians, Be Tolerant

Tolerance -- what is it? We're not entirely sure although most people are pretty sure they know. One thing most people are quite sure about, however, is that Christians are intolerant and need to be tolerant.

Okay, let's try first for a definition. According to Webster's, "tolerance" is defined as "indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own." Of course, there are lots of variations. says it is "the capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others." The thesaurus there says it is "a disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior." You'll also find "allowing the right of something that one does not approve." Interestingly, in many disciplines, "tolerance" refers to the range of allowable deviation from the standard. To illustrate, you could say, "This meter is accurate to +/- 0.2 volts."

That should give us a feel for the term. Let's look, then, at the very first component that you find in the term "tolerance" -- judgmentalism. "What?" you say. "It's specifically not judgmentalism!" No, that won't work. You see, it can never be said that you "tolerate" beliefs and practices that are in agreement with your own. It makes no sense to argue that a homosexual, for instance, should be tolerant of homosexual behavior. When there is no variation from the standard one holds, tolerance is not needed. You have no need to tolerate allowing others to do things of which you approve. You don't tolerate a wonderful day at the beach. You don't tolerate a great meal. Tolerance requires judgmentalism, the belief that something is different from your beliefs, preferences, practices. Indifference eliminates tolerance because indifference doesn't require it. Tolerance demands that you find beliefs or practices that vary from and, in fact, disagree with your own beliefs and practices sufficiently for there to be a question as to whether you will allow it.

Now, given this judgment, the second aspect is "allow." That is, first, I recognize something that significantly differs from my views and then, second, I allow it. Tolerance demands that I do not terminate the difference. It is a given in tolerance that I do not approve, but tolerance says next that I still allow it. I exert no force to stop it. I don't pass laws to eliminate it. I let it go on. Tolerance, then, is the recognition that a belief or practice significantly differs from my own and the decision to allow it to continue.

What, then, can we eliminate from the concept of tolerance? Tolerance does not mean approval. Try as they might, just because many in society argue that tolerance entails agreement and approval, it makes no sense. If you approve, you don't tolerate. Nor does tolerance preclude disagreement. For me to argue against a viewpoint that differs from my own is not intolerance. Intolerance is attempting to force agreement or force those who disagree to stop. So, when a Christian argues against the views of atheism, it isn't intolerance. On the other hand, when religious views are banned from the public square, it is intolerance.

There are lots of things I cannot tolerate. I cannot tolerate my wife. Why? Well, because she's a great wife! What's to tolerate? "Tolerate" requires disagreement or disapproval, and I wholly approve of my wife. So all the things of which I approve I cannot tolerate. It's a contradiction in terms. On the other hand, I cannot tolerate murder. Why? In this case it is something with which I disagree, something of which I disapprove. However, this activity is so egregious that I favor laws that prohibit it and favor forcibly preventing it. There are some things that we ought not tolerate. And I pick these two things to illustrate the problem with the idea of tolerance. There are some things that are not tolerated because we already approve. That's not tolerance. There are some things of which we disapprove that must not be tolerated. "Be more tolerant" is used as a blanket term to suggest "You should approve of what I approve" and "It's wrong to disapprove of things with which you disagree." Both ideas in absolute terms are patently wrong.

We've abused tolerance for too long. To too many, tolerance is "you must approve of whatever I do and I can disapprove of whatever you do." To too many, tolerance means "no recognition of differences of opinion." Let's begin to shift that opinion because, well, it's just wrong. And Christians, we need to be tolerant. We need to be able to recognize that beliefs and practices differ from ours, to speak out against them, and to still allow them to be. Because, well, that just makes sense, doesn't it? I mean, using force to make people Christians doesn't make any sense at all. We know that.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Today's Worship

What is worship? Besides that wonderful origin -- "worth-ship" -- Christian worship is a rather large concept. Some of it is familiar to us. Some isn't quite as clear.

We all know that Christian worship includes singing songs to God. Everyone knows that. Unfortunately, most people think that the aim of these songs is to encourage warm feelings towards God, while the truth is that the real purpose of worship singing is to ascribe to God the worth He has. The confusion lies in the fact that when we rightly ascribe to God His worth, we generally feel good toward God. So sometimes we reverse it. That's a mistake.

Most people know that there is more to worship than a songfest. Worship is part of the gathering of the saints. It includes prayer. Prayer includes such things as adoration and confession, which are worship in and of themselves. We also assign worth-ship to God when we confess our sins to Him and even when we present our supplications to Him. It's all worship.

Many people know that the sacraments entail worship as well. Baptism and, particularly, Communion are acts of worship. They remind us of His grace and mercy. They point us to Him. Pointing us to Him is a good thing. Anything you can do to move your attention from you to Him is a good thing. So the sacraments definitely are part of worship.

A good number of people know that worship also includes the preaching of the Word. For some reason, some people aren't aware of this. It is, in fact, a major portion of worship. Preaching the Word (please note that I didn't just say "preaching" -- it must be the Word) again turns our attention to God. It serves as a Mt. Sinai moment for Christians. It lets us hear God speak. It tells us what God wants us to hear. We all know that when we listen to someone, we attribute a great deal of worth to them. The preaching of the Word is exactly that. It begs the question, of course. What about those churches that don't preach the Word? What about those preachers who preach the topic? Well, I'll let you decide on that. More importantly, however, is the corollary question. What about those congregations that cannot bear the preaching of the Word? What about those who complain, "The sermons are too long"? What does it say about us when we cannot stand more than 20 minutes of listening to God?

Fewer still recognize that all of Christian living is worship. We die daily as an act of worship. We surrender our lives because of His unending worth. We lay down our bodies as living sacrifices because it is reasonable worship. Every day is worship to the true believer, and every godly act or thought is worship to the true believer.

Sunday is our "day of worship". That is good and fitting. It gives us a chance to celebrate weekly the Resurrection of our Savior. It gives us a day to gather with all the saints to turn our uninterrupted attention to God. Every day is worship, but Sunday is special. As we sing and we pray and we share in Communion and listen to God's Word, let's celebrate with all the saints the magnificent worth of our Savior.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Regulative Principle Revisited

Recently I wrote about the Regulative Principle of Worship. I see some value in it, but I have problems with it as well. The last time my problem was how to implement it. One of my commenters brought up the false dichotomy of worship and living. Good point!

We've made a false split between the sacred and the secular. It's an understandable division. In the Old Testament, they had first the Tabernacle and then the Temple. These were prescribed by God. Their accoutrements and procedures were carefully laid out by God. When Israel worshiped, they went there to do it. When sacrifices were made, they were made there. This was "the holy". And this was carefully regulated by God. Life had a lot of variables, rules, and choices, but there was nothing variable in the Temple. Everything was prescribed by God. When the moneychangers (which had an actual God-given role at the Temple) strayed from the service they were supposed to provide to their money-making role, Christ came to blows with them. God is holy, and He will be regarded as holy. Ask Nadab. Ask Abihu. Ask Uzza.

Here's the problem. When the Son of God gave died on the cross as our Passover Lamb, things changed. Less than a generation later, all questions regarding this change were removed when "the holy" -- the Temple -- was destroyed. We know, of course, that we aren't without a Temple. Paul assured us that the Church has replaced the Temple. In place of the building made with hands, the people of God form the Temple (1 Cor. 3:16). Indeed, as individual believers, your body is the Temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19).

Most people, Christians included, when they think in terms of "worship", think in terms of a particular place, a particular time, and a very limited set of practices. Most think of singing songs as worship. That's about it, thank you very much. We're done. More informed believers understand that there is much more to worship. The preaching of the Word is worship. Giving tithes and offerings constitutes worship. Everything that goes on at church on Sunday constitutes worship. It is the very rare person that remembers that even this is a limited view of worship. I suppose many know it; it's just hard to remember.

What constitutes worship? Is prayer part of worship? Sure it is! And we are commanded, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). I would suppose "without ceasing" would extend beyond Sunday morning church. How about rejoicing in the Lord? Is that part of worship? Of course! And we are told that we are to "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil. 4:4), and certainly "always" includes much more than Sunday morning. We are required to "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:18), including those which don't occur on the weekend. Paul tells us that reasonable worship includes presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). What constitutes biblical Christian worship? We always in the presence of God, and the believer's worship is supposed to occur on a daily basis in everyday living.

If Christians constitute the Temple of God and daily living is supposed to be a matter of worship, how exactly do we work out the Regulative Principle of Worship? No, we don't discard it. That would be a mistake. But to put it into the confines of "music" and what we display in our churches is a shame. It's not about singing only Psalms. It's not about what days we honor (Col. 2:16). It's about a life of worship.

God will be regarded as holy. The lives that we live are to be lives of worship. The life that we offer as sacrifice must be as He prescribed. I've heard some, for instance, suggest that they can offer their adultery as worship. "I'll love another. God is love. That's good!" That's insane. It has been popular in some circles to think that you can worship through drug use. "These drugs make me feel closer to God." That's not worship. That's not the worship prescribed by God. Worship is built up of holy-living people of God. The prescription for worship of God is the entire Scripture.

God is holy. No, God is holy, holy, holy. He demands that we be holy as well. As we are sanctified -- becoming holy in our thinking, living, perspective, etc. -- our lives become living worship. We subscribe to the Regulative Principle of Worship by living holy lives of worship. We are the Temple. We are the sacrifice. We live the worship. It isn't limited to Sunday morning. It's full time. Now, try to assimilate that in your Regulative Principle of Worship.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Sky is Falling

There is a crisis upon us. For some reason, some are skeptical. I admit it; I'm one. But I'm obviously wrong. Everyone but me, apparently, knows that there is a global climate crisis. Ask anyone. Ask Al Gore. He'll tell you that anyone who denies it is the equivalent of those who deny that America put a man on the moon or that the world is round. (Seriously, that is his accusation.) No, no, there isn't a thinking, informed person on the planet that doubts that we're all doomed.

No, I guess that's not right. But that's only because they don't actually know the extent of the crisis. According to an article in the Telegraph, "Carbon emissions from developing countries will result in a climate crisis within a generation." Twenty years, they say. If the northern hemisphere -- the developed nations -- managed to immediately eliminate all emissions, "Within 20 years they will be producing more CO2 than the rich industrialised countries." We are without hope.

And what would it take to eliminate the problems the developed nations are causing? One article tells us everything that will be required to solve the problem. Let's see what they have in mind. We need to make our houses so energy efficient that we could heat them with a candle. We need to eliminate electricity usage. Flat-screen TVs and dryers are out of the question. The remaining power requirements must be clean power. Al Gore's group, We Can Solve It, assures us we'll need to spend trillions to change to clean power. We'll need to stop cross-country trucking and settle for local products only. And no one is saying it, but we all know that one of the primary problems is methane, and we all know that cows produce an unbelievable amount of methane, so we'll need to eliminate beef entirely. Sure, the extinction of a species is extreme, but the world is at stake here. Beyond that, we'll have to eliminate the global community and develop small, local communes. Socialism is the answer here. That and a measure leap backward. No industry. No automobiles. No travel. Communism, really, with everyone getting along with simple food and no income. Really ... you'll love it.

Paul Epstein from Harvard has some other suggestions. Cooking food is a bad idea. Anything at all that uses fossil fuels or produces carbon will be a problem. You'll need to stop driving and ride your bike. Life won't be as comfortable unfortunately because we'll be giving up things like "carpets, paints, fertilizers and pesticides." And listen, while we're at it, we have got to give up plastics. I mean, seriously, you all know that plastics are an eternal environmental nightmare.

Maybe that's too extreme. Maybe all we need to do is eliminate George Bush. That's what a lot of people seem to think. The current president is standing in the way. You see, whatever the problems are, it's America's fault, and whatever America is doing wrong, it's apparently President Bush's fault. Well, it's certainly not Al Gore's fault. I mean, he's the good guy who told us about the problem. Sure, he's still producing the same amount of emissions as before. He still lives in a home that consumes 20 times the energy of the average American home, still flies in private jets, and still drives in SUVs, but he's concerned about the problem, so he's off the hook. You see, you don't really have to do anything about it; you just have to be concerned. You know, like the Kyoto Treaty. It's a wonderful plan. You don't actually have to change anything. You can just be concerned enough to pay someone else to change. Like buying "carbon credits."

The ironic thing is this. If the whole crisis is a crock, we'll never know it. See, here's what will happen. The Earth will stop its warming because it hit the top of its natural cycle and is now cooling again (and watch out for the "Global Cooling" and "There's an Ice Age coming!" calls). We'll never know that it was a natural cycle. Al Gore will pat himself on the back and assure us all that he not only invented the Internet ... he also saved the Earth. All the "Global Climate Crisis" alarmists will say, "Whew! We did it! We averted the problem. Good thing we were so loud." And who can say that they didn't? We're easily swayed by "2500 scientists who signed the IPCC (Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change) Report" and we're swayed by what everyone else is saying. (And, please, don't start that "But lots of them have sued because they didn't intend to sign it" stuff. We can't be bothered with facts here.) How can we deny that they didn't save the universe? Well, it's just a good thing that we have our Chicken Littles around here to set things right.

(What do you think? Too much sarcasm? Maybe. But every once in a while ...)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Put Up Your Dukes

Someone pointed me to a new blog. I won't offer a link to the blog. The disrespect is unnecessary. However, the opening statement for the purpose of the blog includes this: "This blog is basically a chance for apologists to put forward their arguments to someone who has absoloutley NO respect for religion whatsoever."

Does that do it for you? In your mind, is this a red cape to a bull or a bucket of water to a fire? Is that a challenge or a turn off?

I read that and here's what I hear: "I think you're a complete idiot, so bring me your best defenses so I can laugh at you and call you an idiot. No, I have no reason to listen. No, I don't intend to actually consider anything you have to say. No, this won't be an actual dialog. If you thought otherwise, you weren't paying attention. 'I have absoloutley NO respect for religion whatsoever.' So, regardless of how well thought out, cogent, rational your views are, I'll snub you. (And, please, don't try to pull that 'If you're so smart, why can't you spell absolutely?' kind of thing. This is not a matter of 'smart'.)"

Well-meaning, sincere Christians seem to like to rise to these occasions. "They asked for my input. I'm going to give it to them." And true believers understand the need to share the Gospel. However, it is situations like these that clearly illustrate that "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). We do indeed need to have answers. We do indeed need to be ready to give reasons. But we also need to keep in mind that it is not our wise, well-considered, carefully reasoned arguments that will convince people. So have them, use them, but don't rely on them for results.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Psalm 141

Here we go again ... another head scratcher for me. I hope by now my readers understand that I definitely don't have all the answers.

So, I read this in the Psalms and, frankly, I find it puzzling. Maybe you wise readers can come up with a helpful suggestion to aid my understanding.
Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness with men who do iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies (Psa 141:4) (NASB).
"Well," some might say, "that's what you get for reading a modern translation. Take a look at an older version."
Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties. (KJV)
Yeah, that's not much better. Newer translations say something like, "Do not let my heart incline to any evil," but you won't find that in any of the literal translations. No, David here prays that God would not incline David's heart to evil.

My first thought was, "Huh?" I know ... deep thinker ... that's me. I though it was kind of like my wife asking me, "Please don't flap your arms and fly up onto the roof today." Okay, dear. Because, of course, I cannot. But that wasn't right. It isn't that God cannot. So it was more like "will not." My wife, for instance, has never had sauerkraut in the house -- ever. It would be like when she says, "What would you like for dinner?" I would answer, "Anything but sauerkraut." What nonsense! Sauerkraut has never been on the menu. There was no reason that it couldn't be, but it never was. To me, David asking God not to incline his heart to evil was very similar. It would be like David asking, "Please, God, train my hand for war (Psa. 144:1) and, oh, when I go to battle, please don't let the enemy use elephants." Huh? Of course they won't use elephants in war. They didn't do that then. It was outside of the realm of reality in David's day. So the request didn't make sense to me.

Is David saying that God has the capability to and actually has inclined people to evil? Is he saying that God does that at times and "please don't do it to me right now"? The "God is a gentleman" crowd would argue that God never interferes in human will. Obviously, then, it is absolutely impossible that God would incline anyone's heart to do anything at all ever. Which begs the question, then, "What is David asking of God?" Then there is the fact that James wrote, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one" (James 1:13). But is it temptation to incline a person's heart to evil? What about the time in 1 Kings when God sent a lying spirit to the mouths of Ahab's prophets (1 Kings 22:23)?

It would seem that if God never ever inclined anyone's heart to evil that requesting He not do that would be somewhat ridiculous. On the other hand, if He does on occasion incline hearts to evil (Remember, He hardened Pharaoh's heart.), how does that correlate with James? Where is the line? Exactly what is God capable of in terms of interfering in human will? The "God is a gentleman" concept just doesn't seem to hold up, but neither can I seem to get to "God inclines people to evil." So I'm not getting what David intended in this prayer from Psalm 141.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Not of Faith

Romans 14 is considered to be one of the primary chapters on the topic of Christian Liberty. The doctrine of Christian Liberty is essentially this: That which is not specifically forbidden or commanded is up to the individual to decide. One of the key statements in this chapter on that topic is the last line of the last verse: "Whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23).

I have to be honest. I don't really get that. Most people read it this way: "If you think something is sin, it is sin for you." Fine. I suppose you could get that out of this verse. However, that's not all it says. "Whatever is not of faith is sin." There is the aspect most people see, but there is more to it than "if you think something is sin." The concept is "faith as the motive", not "what you think."

I've talked to more than a few people who have taken that as a literal standard. One guy I knew was out of work. "How is the job hunt going?" I asked him. "Oh, I'm not hunting. I'm waiting for God to give me a job." You see, if he looked for a job, he was relying on his efforts to find employment, and everyone knows, "Whatever is not of faith is sin." On Easter Sunday, Madeline Neumann of Wisconsin, an 11-year old girl, died of diabetic ketoacidosis. Her parents hadn't taken her to a doctor because that wouldn't have been of faith. Their lack of faith, they believed, killed their daughter. Maybe God will resurrect her if they have enough faith, but medical treatment was out of the question. "Whatever is not of faith is sin", and going to the doctor would have been putting your trust in doctors, not God. Clearly ... sin. At the conference I attended last month, I sat and talked for a short time with a guy who was doing contract work for Ligonier Ministries. He was helping them find fundraising sources. Now, wait ... is that faith, or is that worldly means? And if a church changes its structure, format, appearance, or any such thing to try to attract more people, is that faith or is that method? Is it sin?

This line of thinking has all sorts of ramifications. Is it wrong to lock your doors at night because you are supposed to have faith that God will protect your home from intruders? Is it wrong to get regular check ups from the doctor or dentist because you're trusting in them, not God? Is it wrong to own a gun or take martial arts for self-defense rather than trusting in God alone? Is it a sin to have a 401K because you're setting aside for your retirement rather than putting your faith in God to provide? Now, most of us would say "No" to all of these questions because we think it's a given, but how do we answer the charge that it is "not of faith" when we act on our own rather than simply leaning on God? What would you say to the Neumanns who are quite sure that "Whatever is not of faith is sin?" How do you answer the counter argument?

Do you see? Sometimes, for me, what seems to be the easiest passages in Scripture become confusing to me, while some of those that trip up a lot of people seem crystal clear to me. Maybe I am out of sync with reality.

Monday, April 07, 2008


You have to wonder sometimes if the protests we lodge are actually saying what we intend them to say.

Consider, for instance, the popular bumper sticker "Stop the War!" What is left unsaid in that cry is huge. "Stop the war! Forget about the Iraqi people! Don't even think about the horrible effects that such a radical action in this tenuous situation will have on public perception, the people of the region, and our own national security. Don't think about what that says to the troops who were there to do a job and not allowed to finish it. And don't think about the fact that it would make all the loss of life up until now pointless. Just pull out our troops." Or how about those pro-choice stickers? (The one that nearly made me cry was this one: "6 billion miracles is enough.") One reads "Keep your laws off my body" and you have to wonder about the logical extension: "I have the right to choose to do whatever I want with my body. If that includes taking drugs or throwing it off buildings, so be it. If that includes throwing it in front of your car on the freeway ... it's my body! If that includes killing babies in there, so be it. My only concern is my rights, not the rights of children! Keep your laws off my body."

I wonder sometimes if this isn't often the case. Even Christians make arguments without considering the ramifications. For instance, if we argue that we must "avoid all appearance of evil", the logical conclusion is that we must avoid doing just about anything at all because just about everything will appear evil to someone. (As an example, there are those claiming that simply being a Christian is evil. Do we stop being a Christian to avoid "the appearance of evil"?) Too often we will make assertions that end up saying things we never intended.

I have to wonder if this isn't often the case in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. Claims are made that, frankly, carry quite harmful ramifications. Consider some of the following attacks I've seen lately.

"God did not ordain sin." This is very popular, even a certainty to many. Now, consider the effects if such is true. If God did not ordain sin, then something happened that God did not ordain. If something happened that God did not ordain, then other things can happen that He does not ordain. If anything happens that God does not allow, then He is not actually sovereign, but, at best, only mostly sovereign. And you can never really know if something that happens to you happens because a loving God allowed it for your best interest or it slipped by a negligent God.

"Christ's death and resurrection paid for all sin." It's a nice-sounding thought and even seems biblical. "He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself" (Heb. 7:27). "See? He died once for all." Here's the problem. If all sin is paid for, then on what basis can God justly punish sin? If payment is already applied, then payment cannot be demanded. "Oh, no, it's not applied," some assure me. "It depends on their acceptance of the payment." That would resolve the problem of God's demand for payment, but it doesn't resolve the question because an unapplied payment is not a payment and it cannot be said that Christ paid for all sin but didn't pay for all sin. The statement, then, creates a problem for God. "Christ paid for it all ... but God will ignore that payment until you agree to it. Oh, but, He's God, so He can do what He wants, even if it isn't just."

"It is God's will that everyone be saved." Can there be any question here? It's right there in plain Scripture. How can this assertion be anything but true, and what possible ramifications can there be? Well, first the Scripture: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). How can we even question it? It says the Lord is, and I quote, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." The reason anyone (like me) would even question such a passage is the simple (and biblical) fact that not everyone will come to repentance. Why is that a problem? Well, if God wills something, what is the first certainty you can state? "It will happen." So if God indeed wills that none should perish, then none will perish. If any perish, then God did not will that none should perish. So the first problematic ramification to the assertion is that if God wills it and it doesn't happen, God is not sovereign. "No, no," it might be replied, "that 'will' isn't like a decree. That 'will' is like a desire or wish." That's fine, and I would indeed agree that God wishes that everyone be saved, but that's not the same thing as claiming that it's God's will. God may wish for something that He decides not to accomplish because He has something better in mind. God, for instance, takes no delight in the death of the wicked ... but He still does it. He wishes for something else, but He still does it. So if we move from "will" to "wish", we've moved from any objection to the Reformed concept that God chooses to save some and not others.

Choices and consequences ... life is made of choices and consequences. Some of the things we choose to say or believe have unintended consequences that we haven't considered. In a "sound bite" age such as ours, this likelihood is even more common, since context isn't often offered and commentary is rare. I suppose, then, that it's up to us to carefully examine the Scriptures and consider the implications or that which we affirm. Sometimes it will change what we affirm. Sometimes it will force us to change other thinking. Always it's a good idea to think these things through.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Psalm 150

Try as I might (or not), I can't really improve on this:
Praise the LORD!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty heavens!
Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with trumpet sound;
Praise Him with lute and harp!
Praise Him with tambourine and dance;
Praise Him with strings and pipe!
Praise Him with sounding cymbals;
Praise Him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD! (Psa. 150)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Mohler on Marriage

It doesn't get much better than this. Dr. Al Mohler has captured a clear presentation of the biblical view of marriage here in this article entitled Marriage and the Glory of God. If you might get married someday, read it. If you are getting married soon, read it. If you are currently married, read it. If you are considering terminating a marriage, read it.

Not that I have an opinion on the article or some such ...

Friday, April 04, 2008

Credit Where It Is Due

The argument of the prevalent Christian today is that God did 99.9% of what was required to save us and we are required to take that last step by responding in faith. It is our choice. God lets us make that choice without influence or interference. It's up to us. And if you argue, as the Reformed faith does, that God originates that final choice, eliminating that last 0.1% and placing Him as the one that did 100% of the work, well, you're just plain wrong -- maybe even evil. You rotten Calvinist!

I once asked a friend who held this view to consider this illustration. There is a (fictional) community that resides at the base of a rather steep hill. At the top of the hill is an unusual, natural phenomenon. It is a gigantic boulder resting an the cusp of the hilltop. Natural forces should cause the boulder to roll down into the town, but there happens to be a small, fist-sized rock at the base of the boulder placed just so that it won't move. In all the time that it has been there, nothing has caused it to shift at all. The town lives in apparent jeopardy, but it is actually safe and even interesting because of this phenomenal rock formation. One day, a local problem teenager named Bobby walks up the hill. He examines the Rock, as they call it. He wonders about how it stays where it is. It looks like it should fall. It is 99.9% ready to fall. Why doesn't it fall? He spies the little rock at the base. "That's it," he says to himself. "What do you suppose would happen if I take that stone?" So Bobby snatches that little stone from under the boulder and steps back. As sure as gravity, the boulder moves an inch, another inch, a foot, and then, with gathering power, tumbles down the hill. It demolishes houses and cars in its path. It rolls right into the center of town, leaving destruction in its wake. It's a disaster. The question to ask, then, is this: Who is responsible for the destruction?

There is no real question. Even though Bobby only removed a tiny rock -- 0.1% of the equation -- he will be held responsible for the damage because nothing happened before Bobby acted. In the same way, if God did 99.9% of the work of our salvation, but nothing happens until we act in faith and choose Christ, who will get the credit for the salvation that befalls us? You'd like to say that Christ will, but it is unavoidable that you must get some credit because without your correct faith and correct choice, nothing would have happened for you to be saved.

My friend didn't have an answer to that.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Teach Your Children Well

Most parents are quite aware that they are required to teach their children. When it comes to raising their own offspring, "the buck stops here." Sure, there are resources. We can use church and Sunday school and teachers and relatives, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents.

So most parents are careful in what they teach their children. They tell them to mind their manners. They tell them not to beat up their younger sister. They tell them to say "Please" and "Thank you". They tell them to obey the policeman. They tell them to avoid strangers. They tell them what they need to be good kids.

Something is missing, of course. There is more to teaching children than what you tell them. There is more to raising children than telling them the right things and finding good teachers for them. Unfortunately, many parents never consider the most common form of teaching: modeling. What do you model for your children? What behaviors do you teach them by your behavior in front of them?

When you yell at your spouse, what are you teaching your children? When you go for a walk with them and cross in the middle of the street, what are you teaching your children? When you take a drive and you're going 65 in a 55 zone, what are you teaching your children? Do you model self-centeredness or selflessness? Do you teach charity by example or only in words? We are careful about what we tell our children, but we rarely consider what our actions tell our children. And I'm convinced that our actions speak louder than words.

I wonder what a kid thinks when their parent is breaking speed laws and telling them, "You have to obey the law." How does a child process that? You may (or may not) think, "There are some laws I can break that don't matter; I know the difference." The child doesn't know that and cannot process it. So when they become teenagers and try drugs, we're shocked. "What made you think you could do that?" Well, the likely answer is "You did", but you probably won't hear it. Is it any surprise that young children are using language that would make your hair curl simply because their parents use that language? I wonder what a child concludes when their parents tell them, "You must respect your parents" but show no respect for each other. I would imagine they're somewhat surprised when they mimic your tirade at Mom and you berate them for it. "Show your mother some respect." They may not say it, but they are certainly thinking, "Why? You don't." We sternly warn our children not to tell lies. They must always be truthful. Of course, when the phone rings and it's your mother-in-law and you tell them, "Tell her I'm outside", will they be able to distinguish the difference between the lies they're not supposed to tell and the ones you do?

Sure, there are things that adults can do that children cannot. Children cannot drive; adults can. Children must not drink alcohol; adults may. And those things need to be taken into consideration. But I'm quite sure that each of us are guilty on a regular basis of teaching our kids by example things that we would never want them to learn by choice. Maybe ... just maybe we ought to consider the classroom of our actions and make the necessary shifts in those activities to demonstrate the behaviors we want them to learn.