Sunday, September 30, 2007

One Story, Two Accounts

Ben Stein (from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Visine eye drop commercial fame) is more than an ordinary actor and is certainly no intellectual slouch. He graduated from Columbia University with honors in economics and as valedictorian of his Yale Law School class. His latest film work, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, covers the debate between evolution and intelligent design, with a special focus on educators who have been ridiculed for supporting an intelligent design model of creation.

Right from the start, one can imagine that such a film would bring about a little controversy. In fact it has done just that. While I may watch the film when it is released in February 2008, an even more interesting subject is how the media has covered the film. The title of a recent New York Times article on the movie is: "Scientists Feel Miscast in Film on Life’s Origin." The author focuses first on an apparent controversy as to whether or not evolution supports were tricked into being interviewed for the film. Later in the article, it touches on the subject of the film -- educators that have been criticized and lost tenure for their support of intelligent design.

When one reads another article published by the Christian Post entitled, "Ben Stein Confronts Dominance of Darwinian Thought in New Film," it creates an interesting juxtaposition. This story focuses first on the educators and second on the supposed skulduggery of the film's producers.

Reporters know most readers only read the first portion of any newspaper article. If a reporter has a bias, the information they find important or worthwhile is placed early in the piece (it might also be helpful for me to point out that the authors to not write the headlines -- this is left to another person, such as the editor). Do either of the above referenced reporters have a bias? I guess that depends on your position on evolution. Like I story, two accounts.

This just goes to show that we should not get all of our news from one source (and read beyond the first paragraph). While I happen to fall more toward the conservative side in my politics and faith, I find it important to get my news and information from a wide variety of sources (including, God forbid, what some might term "liberal"). If we only hang around those who agree with us, we will find that we are never wrong.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

September 26

September 26th holds a lot of history for our country. In 1789, Thomas Jefferson was appointed America's first Secretary of State. Nixon and Kennedy held the first televised Presidential debate in 1960. The Beatles released Abbey Road (1969). In 1981, Nolan Ryan set a major league record by throwing his fifth no-hotter. In 1986, William Rehnquist was sworn in as the 16th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Well...some events held a little more weight than others.

September 26th holds mixed emotions in my family. My biological father was killed 30 years ago on this day -- which happened to be his mother's birthday. My mother later remarried and gave birth to one of my little sisters on September 26th. In 2005, my mother was admitted into the hospital on that day and placed into a medically induced coma after emergency surgery for a stomach problem. She died several days later. To say the day holds mixed emotions is an understatement.

I am visiting my paternal grandmother and little sister this weekend to celebrate their belated birthdays (they are 82 years and 24 years old, respectively). Both live 2 1/2 hours away, so my wife, daughter and I do not get to see them often.

Family is very important to my wife and me. September 26th always reminds me to keep family a priority in my life. I try to not put my career or personal interests ahead of my wife and child. The Lord giveth and He taketh away -- we never know when the last time we will see our loved ones on this side of eternity. Sometimes we get so focused on the material possessions (money, titles, knowledge, Ph.D.'s, cars, houses, recognition), that it is easy to put our families second. I have never met an older person who wished they spent more time at work. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

Material possessions, or more accurately obsessions, come and go. But our family will (or at least should) always be there for us. In my brief few years on this Earth, this is one of the few things I have learned. Unfortunately, the hard way.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nothing New Under the Sun

Atheist Christopher Hitchens posted a commentary in the "On Faith" section of the Washington Post's website yesterday. Not surprisingly, there was nothing really new that he said in his post, which railed against religion. However, it hit me while I was reading it that I also had nothing new to offer in response. King Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible that there is nothing new under the sun. How true he was.

The more I read about atheist comments against religion, it often sounds like a broken record. The opposite is also true, as I have not heard many new responses/defenses to religion. Throughout my life, I have succeeded in getting my car stuck in sand and snow on many occasions. As I spin my wheels, I only managed to dig my tires in deeper. I feel like this is what we are doing when we (people of faith) go back an forth with atheists debating God and religion. I don't feel that we should not lovingly disagree in a respectful manner. But the back and forth for the sake of debate can be useless.

An older Christian once told me that there are occasions where it is wise not to continue to debate someone. When you have responded to every question they pose, and yet they still remain obstinate, it may to be time to end the conversation. I am not advocating that we should end the relationship -- just the conversation topic. The Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts did this on occasion. Several cities he visited did not want to hear the Gospel and ran him out of town. Rather than going back and continuing to debate, he obliged their wishes and moved forward.

It is important to keep an open ear, however, should our atheist friends truly have something new to say. I find that I often learn the most from those I disagree with (such as when I was listening to the Dawkins/McGrath video I previously posted. I gained a certain respect for Dawkins' when he explained why he felt so strongly about his desire to search for truth. I had never heard an atheist articulate this point). Atheists also can have important observations about faith that we on the inside may fail to see. But once we begin to spin our wheels, nothing more productive can come from the conversation -- and we as Christians can look bad in the process, limiting our ability to be an effective witness in the future.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." - Mahatma Gandhi

A new study released by the Barna Group on Monday gives new insight into young adults' perceptions of Christianity. The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds are more skeptical of Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago. The issue is also covered in a new book, entitled "unChristian", by David Kinnaman, the president of the Barna Group. The findings are sad and show particular negative views of Evangelical Christians. One common theme of almost 1/4 of those interviewed (Christian and non-Christian) is that "Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus."

Some of the findings include:
  • A decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a "good impression" of Christianity.
  • 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals, compared to 25% in the previous generation (Baby Boomers).
  • 91% of the nation’s evangelicals believe that "Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity." Among senior pastors, half contend that "ministry is more difficult than ever before because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity."
  • The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) - representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).
  • Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.
  • Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

One interesting finding is the growing number of non-Christians, or "Outsiders" as the study calls them. Of those over 60-years old, less that 25% are "Outsiders." Of those between 16-29 years old, 40% are "Outsiders."

David Kinnaman noted that when his group tried to determine why young people held such beliefs, he was "surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences."

All of this reminds me of the song by Casting Crowns called, "If We Are the Body."

It's crowded in worship today
As she slips in trying to fade into the faces
The girl's teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know

But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ
Jesus is the way

Evolution: Vast Atheist Conspiracy? Part II

I finished the book, "Language of God" by Dr. Francis Collins. It was a great book and relatively easy read given the complexity of the material (DNA). He spends half of the book describing the details of DNA, while he uses the other half to discuss broader issues of faith. He defends belief in God from a scientist's perspective and encourages a bridge between science and religion. All in all, it is a great apologetic resource even if one doesn't believe in evolution.

To answer my tongue in cheek title to this post...I do not believe that evolution is an atheist conspiracy. Some will differ with my assessment, but after learning more about evolution from a fellow Christian, I must confess that I feel persuaded to give evolution greater consideration. Collins, for the most part, takes critics of evolution head-on and attempts to respond to their questions -- especially those from young earth creationists and to some extent progressive creationists.

Prior to reading the book, I felt relatively comfortable with my position as a progressive creationist. I thought the fossil record was sketchy and the Cambrian Explosion (the sudden appearance in the fossil record of most animal types in the zoological tree) fell right in line with the Genesis account of God creating animals. The concept of irreducible complexity (such as the eye or bacterial flagellum) made me even more convinced that evolution could not be true. It also appeared that evolution violated the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, a fundamental theory in science (which states that things become less ordered, not more, as time goes by). Lastly, I could not grasp how macroevolution could work -- how would an animal gain new DNA to evolve into another animal?

To his credit, Collins responds to each of these questions and gives even more reasons why he believes that evolution is true (theistic evolution or BioLogos as he calls it). Rather than explain how he defends evolution in this brief blog post, I would encourage you to read the book. I will say that there are answers to the above questions (he even touches on the interpretations of the creation account in Genesis).

I wonder if atheists had not gravitated toward evolution, would Christians still have such a hard time accepting the concept? Atheists and agnostics have used evolution to remove the need for God. But, Collins makes the following observation, “At this point, godless materialists might be cheering. If humans evolved strictly by mutation and natural selection, who needs God to explain us? To this I reply, I do.” Evolution only explains a process, it cannot answer why we are here. Atheists and agnostics have made certain conclusions or assumptions after looking at evolution and assume that there cannot be a god. Collins feels that the “claim that science demands atheism…goes beyond the evidence…[T]hose who choose to be atheists must find some other basis for taking that position. Evolution won‘t do.”

The close relationship between atheism and evolution has caused me great hesitancy in supporting evolution. But this should not be the primary reason why I dismiss it. Those of faith have used religion, in some cases, for horrible purposes (such as the Inquisition). But we should not dismiss religion because it has been used for evil. In the same sense, we should not dismiss evolution because non-religious persons have hung their hat there. If God directed evolution (theistic evolution), then many of the materialistic, humanistic, and relativistic conclusions that can be drawn from evolution by the non-religious do not hold water.

As people of faith, we must be willing to accept science when it shows that its findings are persuasive. If we do not, it can undermine our witness. Saint Augustine, an early Church theologian, wrote on this subject around 400 A.D. “Usually even a non-Christian knows something about earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world…and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, taking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such embarrassing situation, in which people show a vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but the people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books and matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience in the light of reason.”

I do not believe God would mislead us through our observation of nature (general revelation). When there is an apparent contradiction between the Bible (specific revelation) and nature, we should reassess whether our observations are correct. If they are shown to be correct, we must ask if we are interpreting scripture in the correct light. It has become almost trite, but this is what occurred when Galileo found that the Earth revolved around the sun. The Bible was not wrong, but our interpretations were.

As I said in my previous post on the subject, I do not believe that evolution is heretical or contradicts Genesis. However, I understand that some would fiercely disagree with this statement. Given that the subject is not a key tenant to salvation, I would say that we can and should debate it vigorously, but must not break fellowship. I have a lot of respect for people who hold to the views of young earth creationism and progressive creationism (I have friends and fellow Christians who hold to such beliefs).

I still am not 100 percent in the theistic evolution camp, but at this point I would have to say that their arguments are rather persuasive compared to the others I have seen. In the end, however God created us does not minimize His love for us -- or my love for Him. I still have the same dedication to the teachings of Christ and to spread His word.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Be All You Can Be

The slogan, "Be All You Can Be" was the U.S. Army's tag line for 20 years. A few years ago, they changed the slogan to "I Am An Army of One" because the old message campaign lost its resonance with the Army's target audience of 18-24 year olds. Call me old-fashioned, but I liked Be All You Can Be.

I almost enlisted in the Army out of high school and then came close once more in college with the Army ROTC program. To me, military service shows dedication and love for our country and the ideals for which we stand. Besides the patriotic component, I was drawn to the slogan which I have already mentioned "Be All You Can Be." I knew boot camp would take me to my ultimate limits and I would come out better for it. It is said that they break you and build you back up better than before. In the end, you learn who you are -- physically, mentally and emotionally. You create new limits and standards for yourself, which are higher than they were before. In the end, you become part of something whose sum is greater than its parts. Hence why I do not like, “I Am An Army Of One.”

I have been thinking about the concept of “Be All You Can Be” from a Christian perspective and how it might apply to our lives as believers. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." When we become believers, a transformation takes place and we become new. Living up to the standards that the transformation places in us is not easy, or Paul in Romans 12:1 would not tell us to "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." A previous pastor of mine said that Paul makes this statement because a “living” sacrifice continues to fall off of the alter, as opposed to those in the Old Testament that die one time. We must continually die to ourselves by putting aside our own selfish desires and replacing them with God’s. Each time we fail to live up to the standard that God has set for us (falling off of the alter), we must climb back up.

I sometimes wonder how often we as Christians think about passages like 2 Corinthians 5:17. We are new creatures, with new standards -- higher standards. What if one day we woke up and found out that we were royalty in some distant country, how might we change? Romans 8:17 says that we are “fellow heirs with Christ,” so in a sense, we have a royal calling. If we would just realize our God-given gifts and calling, imagine the impact the Church would have in this world for the sake of Christ. When tempted with sin, if we were to consider that what we have been given through Christ is superior and sin is beneath our God-given calling, how often would sin win? But this is all certainly easier said than done.

I have recently found a new appreciation for athletics, especially at the professional level. Such individuals train their bodies until they are machines. Martial arts is of particular interest to me. These fighters must patiently keep their wits while under attack and wait for the perfect moment to counter. Just as in physical sport, we need to train ourselves to control our behavior. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."

Physical training hurts, but it is what builds muscle. The muscle tissue that is torn during such exercise comes back stronger the next time. After months of training, one can run farther, lift more weight, etc. Such is the case with spiritual issues and sin. While we may "fall off of the alter" a few times (or miss the gym for a few days), we must continue to deny ourselves what is not good for us. While I often fail, it helps for me to think of the calling given to me by God -- to be like Christ. While such a goal is unattainable on this side of eternity, it gives me something to strive toward -- to Be All I Can Be. I try to discipline my body, as Paul notes in the verse above, so that when I am tempted to sin, I do not follow through. Just as with physical activity, it is hard at first. But after a while, it becomes easier.

The ultimate goal is for such behavior to become second nature. To willingly sacrifice my own desires for those of someone else - namely God or my neighbor. The ancient Greeks had a saying, "Either with your shield, or upon it,” which meant, after a battle, a soldier must come home either with their shield or carried home on it. It was said by Spartan mothers to their sons before they went out to battle to remind them of their bravery and duty to Sparta and Greece. Losing one's shield meant desertion. These soldiers trained so their reactions during battle were second nature. They had such confidence in their fighting skills that they were fearless. If they did receive a mortal wound, then they died for a cause higher then themselves. That is a standard, more so an expectation, that is worth emulating today. Except our ultimate allegiance is not to any man-made construct, but to the teachings of Christ. Our fearlessness does not come from our own courage, but that which is given to us from God. Such a standard is not manifested in a physical battle with another, but it is a battle against our own selfishness.

It is impossible to do this unless we are trying to Be All We Can Be in the name of Christ.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

God Must Have a Good Attorney

A Nebraska state senator filed a lawsuit against God last week. No, serious. He did. He was attempting to make a point to other legislators who want to limit frivolous lawsuits, stating that "anyone can sue anyone they choose, even God."

It seemed ingenious...but it now looks like God has a good attorney running around in Nebraska. According to an article from the Christian Post, "A one-page document marked "Special Appearance" mysteriously appeared at the Douglas County Courthouse in Omaha...In the paper, “God” says the suit by Sen. Ernie Chambers (D-Omaha) should be thrown out because there was “[n]o proper and sufficient service of summons” by a deputy...a longtime defense attorney, said, “It looks to me like a legitimate document that would have to be sustained by the judge," also noting that “God” has a good strategy."

The anonymous author of the document has a point. It is kind of hard to serve a summons on the Big Guy. (Has anyone seen Michael of Gabriel in Omaha lately?).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Moral Compass

The New York Times has an article today highlighting an interesting perspective on the origins of morality that is worth a read. A psychologist from the University of Virginia believes that our moral compass can be explained through evolution. The article notes, "At first glance, natural selection and the survival of the fittest may seem to reward only the most selfish values. But for animals that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there will be no advantage to social living. Could the behaviors evolved by social animals to make societies work be the foundation from which human morality evolved?"

Can we explain our morality from a strictly biological perspective? Dr. Francis Collins -- a theistic evolutionist -- dismisses the argument that humans obtained their moral reasoning from the evolutionary process. For one, evolution does not explain why humans commit acts of kindness unknown to anyone. Secondly, why do we risk our safety to help people outside of our group (as did Mother Teresa and Oskar Schindler)? The apparent existence of right and wrong, he believes, is a persuasive argument for the existence of a god. Many others who wrote before Collins (including C.S Lewis) also hold such beliefs.

All of this begs a bigger question: If there is not a god, can there be such a thing as an objective right and wrong? Morality presupposes right and wrong -- but whose definition are we using? If we are using a human definition, then right and wrong is subjective and anything goes, as long as most people feel it is okay. In essence, morality changes with the times. An objective morality given from god does not change.

I do not want to completely dismiss the idea that morality may have some biological roots. But a strict biological explanation takes us down a slippery slope of moral relativity where we cannot truly say something is wrong or evil. Evil has reared its head in this world (sometimes in the name of religion, sometimes not), but we need to be able to call heinous acts what they are -- wrong.

Dinosaurs in the Bible

The ability to laugh at oneself always helps to keep life in perspective. While I am not a young earth creationist, I found this video rather humorous.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Salt and Light

"Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." - Otto von Bismarck

I have always loved this quote. My years in politics have reinforced Bismark's wise observation. Since politics pays the bills, however, I kind of have no choice but to watch and be part of the sausage-making process. The good thing about sausages is that in the end you get to cook them into a beautiful pasta rustica. Laws, on the other hand, do not allow for such immediate gratification - and no amount of Parmesan cheese make the bad ones go down any easier.

On November 4, 2008, we as Americans will have an opportunity to elect our next commander-in-chief. The presidential election season is already upon us and the blitz of adds and campaigning will only get worse over the next year. The last presidential election caused me to pause and think about how my faith influences my politics. As this election season approaches, the same thoughts are beginning to percolate again. Specifically, how should Christians interact with the culture in general and our government specifically? Where should we draw the line in advocating for Biblical principles in the public square, or is there even a line?

H. Richard Niebuhr wrote the classic book called "Christ and Culture" in the early 1950's, based on a series of lectures. In the book, he touched on ways Christians, since the early church, interacted with the surrounding culture in general (not politics specifically). He noted that some have shied away from culture and government (to establish monasteries or small communities). On the other end of the spectrum, some have tried to transform the culture and create a "present renewal." Some of his types are a bit dated, as our world and our culture have changed dramatically since World War II, but the book is a useful tool to begin to look at the subject.

C.S. Lewis also wrote on the subject. His writings were more direct and warned Christians (see Meditation of the Third Commandment, in God in the Dock) attempting to become a part of the political process. He noted that a political party that advocated for strictly Christian principles would not be politically feasible in any culture. As such, Christians would have to become part of other political parties and compromise certain principles. The Lewis essay inspired the book by Stephen J. Carter called "God's Name In Vain: The Rights and Wrongs of Religion in Politics." I have yet to read the book, but have added it to my list.

From a practical perspective, individuals such as William Wilberforce (and many other Christians over the years) have used their influence to change the world around him. Wilberforce was instrumental in ending the slave trade in England.

With all of this in mind, I still did not have any clarity or answer to my initial question and my head hurt after all of the reading. So, I opened my Bible and began to seek direction there. Faith in God provides a moral foundation for governments to draw when determining human rights. Without God, I do not see any objective way of determining human rights, or right and wrong in general. So the question I then asked was, how do we balance the free will God has shown to be so important and God given human rights/laws.

One passage that I returned to is 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you."

In light of this verse, I have a hard time with requiring (especially via legislation) a non-believer to live by the Bible's complete set of moral standards. If America were a Christian theocracy, this would not be an issue. But we are in a Republic that prides itself on free will - a concept taught throughout the Bible. Legislation presupposes Government coercion to force and/or punish those in violation of such laws. God does not coerce us to do good or to choose Him. He wants us to freely make these choices. However, when a person's free will begins to impede upon mine, Government has a role to protect my liberties (as our founding father so eloquently noted in the Declaration of Independence). On the flip side (as opposed to government laws prohibiting certain behaviour) Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us that another important role of government is to stand up for the rights of the oppressed, afflicted and needy.

Jesus changed society from within, despite having an opportunity to become an Earthly king (John 6:15). Jesus' kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36-37). He did not come to forcibly change humanity, but to "testify to the truth." Nor did Jesus support Jewish leaders that advocated rebellion against the Roman occupation.

Now I began to have a little clearer picture in my head as to where I thought the Bible is calling Christians to interact with the culture and government. We should change ourselves and our fellow believers first and stand up/protect those who cannot stand up for themselves.

I have heard some say that since we are called to be salt and light to the world, that this means we should change laws so that it can act as a "moral preservative" to the world around us (just like salt is a preservative to food). The problem with this concept is that sometimes we can add too much salt to our food and light that is too bright can blind us.

A wise friend of mine once asked me, "What does legislating 'scriptural' behavior accomplish. I mean really accomplish? Is more time spent in the New Testament describing, imploring, a 'heart' of Christ, fruit of the spirit, etc. or only overt external behavior?" He was right. Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Often times we seek to change the world around us by reacting in an overt and forcible manner. We can prohibit someone from acting a certain way, but is their heart really changed? When I was a kid and would get in trouble for doing something -- like standing on the couch -- while I was being made to sit, in my mind I was I was still standing up. This is what forcing scriptural behaviour from non-Christians will accomplish -- outward compliance, but inward rebellion. As such, Legislating against the effects of sin will only have limited success.

Along similar lines, Ezekiel 16: 49-50 says, "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it." The outward sin of Sodom was the effect, not the cause.

Where, then, does this leave us? We should be careful in forcing someone to live a way that they do not desire. There are moral absolutes which governments must base their laws (as we saw in the Nuremberg Trials where Nazis where tried and convicted for crimes against humanity, while their acts were legal under German law). But when it comes to passing laws to address certain behaviours we find offensive, based on the teachings of the Bible, we should first take the plank out of our own eye and then out of the eyes of our Christian brothers and sisters. But that is just my opinion, and it is worth as much as it cost for me to give it to you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Miracle Spring Water!

As I was eating my Total Raisin Bran and sipping my coffee this morning before I left for work, I took in a little TV. I am a habitual flipper and it drives my wife crazy. One program caused me to stop flipping for a moment. It was, for lack of a better word, an "infomercial" for Peter Popoff's Miracle Ministries. I almost dropped my cereal after watching for a few moments. Mr. Popoff was offering to send me his Miracle Spring Water for a small donation. If I acted fast, he would upgrade the size of my Miracle Spring Water.

He interviewed a few people who have been blessed by his "miracles." One was able to lay down her crutches and walk, while others were "blessed" with financial windfalls due to Popoff's intervention with God on their behalf.

Popoff's name sounded familiar and I realized that he was the same guy that magician "The Amazing Randi" (aka James Randi) showed to be a fake in the late 1980's. During his public events, Poppoff would miraculously call out folks in the audience, mention personal details about their life, claiming to get the revelation from God, and proceed to "heal" them. After watching one of these events, James Randi hired an electronic surveillance expert. At the next event, the expert located a radio frequency and found that Popoff was communicating with his staff via a small device in his ear. His staff would gather information before the event on people and communicate to Popoff during the event. All of this made Popoff look like he was receiving a special revelation from God. After James Randi's expose, Popoff fell off the radar screen for a few years...but recently popped up again (no pun intended), hence the special opportunity I had this morning during breakfast.

The program brought two questions to mind:

1) How are we as Christians called to react to such people?

2) Does the Bible promise a gospel of prosperity, minimizing God to a cosmic genie?

As to question 1, Jesus tells the disciples in Mark 9:38 not to stop a non-disciple from casting out demons in His name and states, "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us." Does this mean we should not call out folks like Popoff? I guess it depends on the definition of a miracle. If Popoff was actually performing miracles, I would be inclined to follow Christ's admonition. I doubt, however, that secretly deceiving people and cashing their checks counts as a "miracle." (His ministry brought in over $23 million in 2005 and he earned a salary of over $620,000)

Question 2 is more rhetorical, as you may have noticed, but it brings up an important point regarding those who preach a prosperity gospel. Folks like Popoff claim that God stands ready to give us whatever we want if we have enough faith (and a few dollars to give to their ministry). Christ does tell us in Matthew 7, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For whoever asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door is opened." However, Christ also taught us to pray as follows, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." In essence, our will must match up with that of God. He is not a genie waiting to grant every wish we desire. Those who preach such a gospel are setting people up to be disappointed and worse, might cause them to fall away from the Church.

There is much more that could be said on this subject, but I will leave it at that. It you are up early in the morning and come across Popoff's infomercial, try not to drop your coffee. Although, if you do order his Miracle Water, it might come in handy to clean up the stain.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Evolution: Vast Atheist Conspiracy?

At the suggestion of Chuck, at A Guy in the Pew, I have begun to read "The Language of God" by Dr. Francis Collins. Collins, a former atheist, is head of the Human Genome Project. Under his leadership, the Project mapped the 3 billion letter long human DNA sequence -- certainly no small feat and one of the greatest scientific achievements of our lifetime. Interestingly, Dr. Collins is a Christian (having converted shortly after obtaining his medical degree) and a "theistic evolutionist." His book discusses his conversion to Christianity and attempts, in is words, to find a "harmony between scientific and spiritual worldviews," including evolution.

Evolution is a term that has drawn the ire of many in the Evangelical Christian community. Atheists and agnostics have used the concepts of evolution to replace the need for God in the development of creation. How, then, could a man that calls himself a Christian also believe in evolution? This is what I hope to find out by reading Collins' book.

There are several ways that creation has been explained, including evolution (or macroevolution) and intelligent design. Each of these camps have subcategories. Evolution can be divided into gradualism (meaning that new life forms evolved gradually over long periods of time) and punctuated equilibrium (meaning that new life forms evolved in relatively short "rapid bursts" in history). There is debate in the scientific community about how evolution works, but not about the existence of evolution. Intelligent design can be divided into young earth (meaning creation was formed in the literal 7 days in Genesis and each species was formed by God without evolution) and progressive/old earth/day-age (meaning that creation was formed over a longer period of time, but God still formed each species without evolution). Christians also have internal debate about which model best fits scripture. To put it mildly, both sides (evolution and intelligent design) have significant debate within their circles and between one another, arguing passionately that the other is misguided.

Theistic evolution is an interesting hybrid of evolution and intelligent design -- stating that God used evolution to form creation. In essence, He is the guiding force behind evolution. These folks (such as Collins and Allister McGrath, who I mention in a previous post) are hammered by both creationists and evolutionists.

I have finished half of Norman Geisler's book "Unshakable Foundations." He makes a persuasive argument for the progressive/old earth camp and dismisses, after much thought and argument, evolution -- even theistic evolution. At this point, I would have to say that I am leaning toward the progressive/old earth model of creation, but am open-minded about evolution. It is hard for me to dismiss scientists like Dr. Collins, and quite frankly most of the scientific community, who believe that evolution best explains the formation of life.

I do not believe evolution violates the teachings of scripture, and thus do not throw evolution out the window a priori. Nor do I believe that Christians who believe in evolution are putting man's knowledge above God. I do admit that I am hesitant to accept evolution with open arms given its association to those who have used it as a means to dismiss God and in some instances attack people of faith. However, if I dismiss evolution simply because atheists support it, then I am no better than those who dismiss intelligent design simply because it adds God to the equation.

Evolution would require us to take a different look at God's creation and our place within it, just as was done in the 1500's when Galileo and Copernicus showed that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Galileo's pronouncement did not undermine mankind's uniqueness or abdicate our responsibility as humans. I do not believe evolution will do this either, if viewed in the context of a God guiding such a process.

I will write another post once I finish the book.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

May God Have Mercy on Your Soul

In today's Arizona Republic, columnist Laurie Roberts covers a story about a little known murder victim named Mabel Lopez. The 69 year old Lopez was killed in 2000 by two men in their 20's she helped off of the streets. It seemed they didn't like her telling them that they could not to drink beer in her house. They proceeded to stab her 19 times.

Roberts notes that at the trial of one of the two men was asked what Lopez was saying as she lay dying. His response, "May God have mercy on your souls." Lopez's daughter goes on to say, "With her dying breath, she was praying for her murderers. She wasn't praying for her children; she wasn't praying to have her life saved. She was praying for her murderer's souls. That's a hell of a lesson."

I could not promise that is what I would be saying after to men stabbed me 19 times and left me to die on my back patio. She certainly took the lesson of Jesus to heart -- to forgive even when someone is not asking for forgiveness. Such grace is a rarity and when it is seen, it catches my attention.

It looks like the mercy requested by Lopez was granted to both of the men, as they were spared the death penalty and given life in prison. I pray that they use the opportunity to find forgiveness from the One after which Mabel Lopez modeled her life.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dumb Christian

"The difficulties of belief are great; the absurdities of unbelief are greater.“ -- George Hanson.

A friend of mine emailed me a link to a video taped discussion between Richard Dawkins (a prominent author, scientist and atheist) and Alister McGrath (Christian theologian and apologist). A few days later, as I was pursuing the Stand to Reason website, I came across a link to the same interview. Not one to believe in coincidences, I took the hour or so to watch the interview. The interview was filmed for the Dawkins television documentary "Root of All Evil?" but was left out of the final version. Although it is unedited, raw footage, it proved to be a very thought-provoking and worthwhile hour. I enjoyed the intellectual give and take where the two were able to disagree without being disagreeable. McGrath gives a respected defense of Christianity. One facet of the discussion, pertaining to faith, grabbed my attention.

My last post touched on the difficulty Mother Teresa had with her faith. The Dawkins/McGrath interview brought to mind the question of the definition of faith itself. Dawkins (I am paraphrasing) looks at faith as if Christians blindly believe in God, based on nothing concrete. McGrath, on the other hand, clarifies that Christian faith is based in reason and thought.

As a young Christian, I had many questions about my religion. I became a Christian in grade school but never had a strong foundation for my beliefs. It was difficult to find answers to issues such as: the existence of evil and suffering; validity of the Bible; deity of Christ (and existence of God in general); why is Christianity the only way to God -- just to name a few. Since I did not find answers, I thought I just needed to have more "faith" to be a Christian. In fact, some older Christians even told me this. It was a depressing idea and I could not bring myself to having faith in something that did not make sense. I envied some persons who had been raised Christians from birth, for they did not seem to ask the why and how questions that I could not get out of my head. In short, I concluded that one could be a dumb and naive Christian or a smart non-believer.

When I married my wife, I began attending church again. I enjoyed my Sundays off, but going was important to her. She had been a Christian for many years. Even though I went, I kept a skeptical outlook on what was being preached.

During a bible study in 1 Peter 3:15 one evening, I came across a verse that commands us to be prepared to make a defense for our beliefs. The word that is translated in English as "defense" is the Greek word "apologia" meaning "a reasoned statement or argument." For the first time I was confronted with the concept that that the Bible equated reason and logic to belief and faith. God does not want us to have "blind faith" but a faith of substance. If this was true, then I concluded that there must be answers to the questions that I posed over the years...and there were. I found that I was not the only Christian to ever struggle. In fact, there were those that had more difficult questions that I had ever contemplated.

I went on to find that there were several Bible verses that encourage reason and thought:

  • The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 that we should “test everything.”
  • Matthew 22:37 says, among other things, that we must love God with our “minds” (or intellect).
  • Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as the “substance (or assurance) of things hoped for; the evidence of things unseen.” The word for evidence in this context is the Greek word elegchos, which is a legal term dealing with the conviction of a person. A Greek lexicon notes that the word implies not merely the charge on the basis which one is convicted, but also the manifestation of the truth of the charge. In other words, early Christians believed that there is truthful evidence and substance for our faith -- and that it can stand the test of critical assessment.
  • Finally, Jesus promised, as documented in John 8:32, that if we continue in His word, we will "know the truth and the truth will make you free."

Based on these writings, Christianity seems to encourage reason. Moreover, it encourages us to test its claims. Since Christ promises that truth is within our reach, it is the responsibility of all Christians to determine why they believe what they believe. Anything less is disrespecting God’s commands. Jesus called us to be “disciples” not just believers. It is not enough just to show up to Church on Sundays sing a few songs, sleep through the pastor’s sermon and go home. We are called to take up our crosses and follow Him. We cannot do this if we only half believe in the teachings of Christ.

Since I have become a father, one of my greatest hopes is that my children will grow up to believe in the teachings of Christ and dedicate their lives to serve Him. I do not, however, want my children to believe simply because mom and dad said they needed to do so -- a “blind faith.” I want them to believe because it is a choice that they make for themselves. It is vital to own your choice of submitting to God’s will (I know this starts to get into the Calvinism/Armenianism debate, but I will save that for another day). I want my kids to feel safe to ask questions, knowing that they will not be shunned or disowned by their parents. I hope I can do this because of the difficulties I went through with coming to grips with my faith, which is definitely not “blind” any longer.