Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why Secularists Need Christians to Express Their Beliefs in Politics

It seems like I can hardly go a day without reading a story or getting into a conversation about some violation of "separation of church and state." This idea has become so prevelant in our culture, but your average man-on-the-street has no idea what it even means. For the average person this conjures up images of a theocracy where lawmakers sit in congress combing through The Bible to craft legislation.

This idea combined with the obnoxious redefinition of "tolerance" to mean accepting everyone's choices and all ideas as equally valid, and now we have this bizaar idea that someone even expressing their religious views publicly is somehow offensive. Like nonbelievers will burst into flames upon hearing it. You even had people wanting a cross memorial removed, claiming the mere sight of it caused them to be physically ill.

Children are told not to bring Bibles to school, Jesus is banned from homework assignments, employees are forbidden from publicly displaying or talking about their beliefs, and recently in California, student organized Christian clubs were told they could not limit their leadership to only people who expressed the same beliefs.

The idea is that your religious beliefs are fine as long as you keep it in private. What you do in church is nobody else's business, so keep it to yourself. ESPECIALLY if you want it to have an impact on law making or public policy.

Now, I don't intend to argue this in detail here, but the idea of "separation of church and state" originally meant that the state was to be hands-off when it came to matters of the church. It did not mean that the church (or especially individuals who happened to go to church) could have no influence on the state. That is a new invention.

And I argue that it is one that secularists would do well to abandon for their own good, and the good of society.

If I am not supposed to base my position on political or puiblic policy issues on my religious convictions, then I cannot be opposed to things like murder or fraud. I cannot advocate and campaign for civil rights or caring for the poor.

My religious beliefs shape my views on these things. Mankind is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Because of this every man woman and child have an intrinsic value and worth that should be respected and protected.

Murder is a sin (Exodus 20:13) specifically because mankind has been made in the image of God (Genesis 9:6).

Fraud or deception / corruption is a sin (Exodus 20:16) because moral obligations are defined and grounded in the nature and character of God, who cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).

Civil rights is based on mankind being made in the image of God, the same as murder. Plus, since the Bible teaches that we all descended from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:20), that the so-called "races" were a result of the single human being scattered at Babel (Genesis 11), and Jesus Christ died to reconcile any who would believe from all of humanity - not any specific "special" people (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11; Revelation 5:9), this means that all people are to be treated equally. We are all equally valued and loved by our Creator, and all in need of His grace. Because of this, I see the need for civil right, that one "people" should not be slighted for the benefit of another.

God commands that we care for the poor (Deuteronomy 15:11; Psalm 41:1; James 2:1-5).

If it is not for the commands of The Lord and the religious beliefs and convictions that go with them, what reason do I have to care about these things? Especially to the point of wanting public policy to be shaped accordingly?

Sure there is "enlightened self-interest," the idea that my life would be better if everyone's life went better. Or the betterment of society. Or some culturally defined standards that such things should be fought/advocated.

But these are all horribly subjective, and ultimately have no more binding meaning than my preference for chocolate ice cream or cheesy sci-fi movies. Surely it does not take much effort to see that personal preference should not be the standard for policy that shapes a civilization and can have such drastic effects on so many people.

However, if I am not supposed to apply my religious beliefs to my influence, my voice, or my vote on legislative/policy matters, then to be consistent I would be reuired to not support civil rights or charity programs, and I could not oppose things like murder and fraud.

Is this really the direction people want our culture to go when they beat the drum of "separation of church and state?" Exclude religion from the public square, and this is what you have.

"If God does not exist, everything is permitted." - Dostoevsky

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"You're a Bigot!"

I was recently told that I was a bigot because I "woship a being who would punish people for holding a different opinion." The conversation devolved into us talking around each other because we were operating from different understanding of "intolerance" and "bigot." Not to mention this person's complete misunderstanding of Christian doctrine.

The issue of "tolerance" is addressed in another post, here. Essentially, to be tolerant of someone there has to be a disagreement in place. If you agree with someone's opinion, position, or behavior, then it is not "tolerance." It's just plain ol' agreement. Being tolerant has to do with how you treat people you have differences or disagreements with.

"Bigotry" similarly deals with how we relate to people who are different, or have different beliefs, than ourselves. According to, a bigot is "a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion." Also, "a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, esp on religion, politics, or race."

So, in order to qualify as a bigot you would first have to be describable as "intolerant." Remember, simply disagreeing or thinking the other person is wrong does not make you intolerant. Disagreement is required in order to be tolerant. Intolerance is expressed in how we treat others. If you treat others different from yourself with toelrance - not wishing ill for them, or thinking them less of a person,  but giving themdignity and respect due any human being since we are all created in the image of God - then you cannot be a bigot.

As followers of Christ, we are commanded to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), consider others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), treat others the way we'd want them treating us (Matt. 7:12), and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). Also, Scripture tells us that we should not judge those outside the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 5:11), and then we are reminded to have humility becauswe we were once sinners just like them (1 Cor 6:11).

We are commanded to be tolerant and treat those different than us with love and grace.

So how is that bigotry?

Well, according to the individual I was talking with, the very fact that I think God is just when He punishes unbelievers makes me a bigot. But that does not follow.

I love my country, and I think our court system (generally) acts justly when it punishes criminals. Does that make me a bigot? Absolutely not. I am not "bigoted" against criminals because they are of the opinion it's ok to break the law and ignore governmental authority. Now, if I TREAT them differently because of this or think them lower than me or somehow less human, .. that would then be bigotry. But simply acknowledging that lawbreakers get punished does not make one a bigot.

In the same way, those who break God's laws or deny His authority, trying to take His place and be their own god, get justly punished by the rightful, "governing" authority ... God. Accepting the reality of this, and even believing it is just, does not make one a bigot.

Bigotry is only when you allow that knowledge to shade your opinion of the person such that you view them as less than you or somehow unworthy of the basic dignity and kindness due to any human being created in the image of God - and treat them as such.

Simply having a different belief does not = bigotry.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Immoral Argument for God's Existence

A common argument for the existence of God is the moral argument which basically states that if there is an objective moral law, then there has to be a moral law giver. Since there are universally accepted, objective moral laws, then that shows morality objectively exists, so therefore God exists as the Law-Giver.

However, I don't think we even need to go that far. I think a good argument for not only a vague theistic deity, but specifically for the Christian God, is the universality of immorality. 

Think about it. It is a basic tenet of Christianity that man was made perfect but is now corrupt and sinful. That's the whole reason why Christ had to come and die: to pay the price for our sins.

But what sins? The common refrain from skeptics and unbelievers is, "Who are you to judge?" Or "What gives you the right to tell everyone else what is moral?" Or something to that affect. However, we don't even have to use Biblical morality to prove the point.

No matter what moral code a person adopts, .... they will not be able to live up to it!

No one does. From the staunchest legalist to the most free wheeling relativist, we all have a concept of right/wrong which we will violate. 

It's a universal reality that none of us escape. We have all fallen short, because it is in our nature to do so. We are prideful, corrupt, selfish people who will fail any standard we attempt to live by.

We may not be able to agree on the specifics of an objective moral code, but we can all admit that we're flawed. That there is something in us that fails to "be good," however we define it.

That flawed nature, that failing, is proof positive that the Bible got it right when it speaks of us being a Fallen people in need of a savior. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Having Faith in Naturalism

If you have ever been the sort to engage in deeper conversations with your unbelieving friends, then you almost certainly heard a statement like this, "I have reason, you have faith." Or maybe, "Since there is not scientific evidence for the supernatural, then it doesn't exist." Never mind the obviously false claim that science doesn't show the fingerprints of The Creator upon His creation, but that is a topic for another day.

This is a mindset, a philosophy, a worldview, that claims that the natural world is all that exists (or can be proven to exist) and may be referred to as naturalism, materialism, scientism, or physicalism. Those all have subtle differences, but essentially all hold the same idea: the supernatural cannot be scientifically proven thus does not exist.

The term "supernatural" is usually used to mean things like, God, angels, demons, ghosts, spirits, miracles, etc. However, the word simply means beyond or above (super) the realm of nature (natural). Anything that is immaterial, not made of matter or energy, can be said to be supernatural. When I grasped this idea, it just opened up doors of understanding for me.

Supernatural is not limited to the fantastical claims of religion and spirituality. The term also encompasses things like logic, mathematics, and induction (assuming that the future will be like the past).

I have always had a hard time discussing, debating, arguing, etc. with naturalists and materialists. For someone to say, "There is no such thing as the supernatural," and demand I give them "evidence" is like standing in the desert at noon and demanding evidence that the sun exists.

Once it finally clicked and I realized that "supernatural" is not spiritual but anything that is not material or physical, then I realized what was going on.

We live in a culture that has become infatuated with science. Science has given us a great many wonderful things. As a way of thinking, we have elevated the scientific method to a place of high honor. Those who practice this method are revered, and the conclusions they reach are sacred.

This way of thinking has so permeated our culture that we don't even realize what is going on when the naturalist asks for "evidence." To them ONLY physical, material, scientific evidence counts. But we know that there is more to life than what our 5 physical senses take in.

How do you account for mathematics in a naturalistic world? What molecule is the number 4 made of?
How do you get a foundation for the Laws of Logic in a naturalistic world? What experiment was done to prove that A = A?
For that matter, what scientific experiment was performed to determine the nature and proper methodology of scientific experiments?
If we are just meat machines guided by the purposeless chemical reactions in our brains, where do you get ethics or morality? Or how do you even determine the need for something like reason or rationality?
How can you be sure the universe is orderly and won't suddenly fall into chaos?
Why do you assume that tomorrow will go just like today?
Why bother arguing or trying to discover any truth at all? If the chemicals in your brain randomly create thoughts about God and the chemicals in my brain randomly create thoughts about atheism, which random chemical reaction to we appeal to for discernment to know which is right?
For that matter, in a materialistic world, what is the basis for even needing to determine what is right?

We have science, yes, but we also have intuition and experience, and feelings and logic, the spiritual, and our volitional consciousness. However, non of this can be explained by blind, unguided material processes.

Here is what the naturalist is doing. They build a nice, cozy little box where everything on the inside is blue. Then they invite you to come into their little box, close the door, and then only using the things they have placed inside the box prove that there are colors other than blue.

However, they say they want proof (material, natural, scientific) that the immaterial exists. Since no such proof can be presented, then the immaterial cannot exist. But that's crazy talk. You can't give evidence of immaterial realities by using material. That's like demanding proof of music using only visual evidence.

The reality is that we are not only physical beings but spiritual beings as well. We are not bodies with a soul, we are souls with a body. We posses a volitional consciousness, that is, we have an awareness and will separate from our physical bodies.

The chemistry in our brains may have some effect on our moods and thoughts, but so too can our thoughts shape the chemical make up of our brain. There may be cases of chemical imbalances that require medical assistance to correct, but there is also a greater frequency of times that we can literally WILL ourselves to refocus, feel better, or think differently. This cannot be simple chemical processes in our brain. This is a separate, immaterial will being imposed upon the brain.

Here are a couple of examples:

My daughter has a very active imagination. She is at that age where she is having trouble determining between dreams, fantasies and memories. As we raise her and teach her, we do not manipulate the chemistry of her brain. We train her mind to think so that she will be able to know the differences. In a purely naturalistic world where brain chemistry is all there is, there is no mechanism to objectively determine the difference between dream and memory.

Several years ago, I spent a few months caring for my great grandfather who had Alzheimer's. During his confused moments, as his brain chemistry was malfunctioning, you could visibly see the frustration as his mind, his consciousness was aware that something was wrong. He was not just a slave to his biology. Like when a limb falls asleep and won't behave like your mind is wanting it to, his brain was not performing like he knew it should. If we are nothing more than material processes in the brain, a malfunctioning chemical process doesn't know it's malfunctioning.

These are two small example in a lifetime of day-after-day experienced that clearly demonstrate that we are more than animated meat sacks being guided by chemical reactions in our head.

For the naturalist to exclude an entire realm of reality and experience from is an act of faith. Despite the evidence to the contrary, the naturalist decides to trust only in what his 5 senses tell him. He places science as the ultimate guide to truth and rejects all else that does not fit into this little box.

Faith is the step of trust that completes the journey, bridges the gap, from evidence to belief. (more on that here: Faith, One Step Further)

Christian faith encompasses the entirety of human knowledge to support the viability of trusting in God. The gap between knowledge and belief is much smaller.

Naturalism denies all sources of knowledge but physical science. By adopting a self-limiting pool of evidence to draw from in the search for truth, the naturalist has a larger gap between his evidence and conclusion than does the Christ.

Hence it takes more faith to be a naturalist than a Christian.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why are You so Nervous?

Could it be that we are awkward talking to non-believers, not because they (or their possible objections) make us uncomfortable but because we are uncomfortable talking about Jesus Christ?

Think about it for a moment. What are the things we seem to have no problem talking to anyone about? A recent movie or TV show we watched. Something that happened at work or school. The slow guy in the fast lane on the highway. A recent sports event. A concert we went to. A vacation we took. Some cute or ridiculous thing our child or younger sibling or friend did. I'm sure we could all keep coming up with more.

What do these things have in common? It can't be shared interest, at least not primarily. We will talk about some of these things even if the other person is visibly not interested, whether a complete stranger or close family. There are just some things we want to talk about.

And I think that is the key: stuff we want to talk about.

If you are excited enough, passionate enough, annoyed enough or care enough, you will talk to anyone about whatever it is.

Typically, when asked why they don't share their faith more, most Christians usually respond with something like, "I don't know what to say," or "I'm afraid they'll ask questions or have objections I can't answer." But that doesn't seem to stop us from talking about anything else.

When was the last time someone was uneasy talking about the Cowboys because the other person might come back with criticism? ..... OK, bad example .... but you get what I mean! If we enjoyed a concert over the weekend, we don't hesitate to talk to our co-workers or classmates about it just because they may not be fans of that type of music. We don't shy away from talking about all sorts of things.

We simply do not use the same excuses with other things that we use with talking about Christ.

I think about the guy born blind in John 9. Jesus puts mud on his eyes and tells him to go wash it off.

When he does, he can see. Challenged and questioned by the religious authorities of his day his simple response is, "I don't know about that, I just know that I was blind and now I see."  (paraphrased)

We see this with people Jesus heals all over the place. They run off and tell everyone what happened. They didn't wait to take a class on Biblical doctrine or apologetics or methods of evangelism or read books on tough questions by skeptics. They just went and said, "look what He did!"

Are we interested enough in what Jesus has done for us to want to tell other people about it? If not ... why not?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What's Your Guide?: Aaron Tippin, Martin Luther, and Jesus Christ

Do you have a guiding principle or idea that is the foundation for your decision making? Is there one thing that is the thing that you measure everything else by?

I have developed a habit on social media with friends, and people I know with good senses of humor, that when they post something that is completely opposed to what I see as reality (or especially what they profess to believe themselves), I comment the opposing view to what they posted. 

Just yesterday someone posted that we need to first love ourselves, and from our self-love we then love others. As far as I know this person is a Christian, so I commented that I have nothing loving, or lovable, in me. It is God's grace and His love which fills me that I then pass on and share with others. Any love I might possess of myself is inadequate to the task of loving others. Oddly enough, this friend "liked" my comment. 

And I get this a lot! People giving agreement to the exact opposite idea of what they just stated. These ideas cannot both be true. Logicians call it The Law of Non-Contradiction. You cannot have "A" and "not A" at the same time. Opposite truth claims cannot both be true.

Then a few days ago, I saw this:

So which is it? Do you tell someone you love them or not?

The picture on the left was posted by a lady, the mother of a girl from my youth group who recently moved away. The one on the left was posted by the girl. And mom showed her agreement by "liking" it. 

These two pictures occurred in my news feed almost right on top of each other (There was post between them that was a sponsored "you might like this" sort of thing, so I don't think it really counts). They had been posted and "liked" within minutes of each other by the same people.

Two opposing ideas being liked and agreed upon by the same person. 

I see this sort of thing often, especially with the youth I work with. They have no guiding principle for determining what is true. 

I'm reminded of Proverbs 18:17, "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him."

It's as if we just jump from one thing to the next neat thing without any critical thought about what is actually true. And if this is what we do with catchy slogans and minor details, is it what we are doing with the weightier matters of life?

Does God exist? Well, at church I think so, but at school or work my friends or co-workers make sense that He doesn't.

Is it wrong to lie? It makes sense when the pastor explained it, but now it doesn't seem like so big a deal.

Is it ok to have sex before marriage? My parents sounded like they knew what they were talking about when they said not to. But my friend says its no big deal when they do it. But my pastor says God doesn't want me to. But my boyfriend/girlfriend really loves me .. and is really hot. The talk about diseases worries me, but all my friends are doing it and they don't have diseases. My older friend got pregnant on her first time and tells me its not worth it. My other friend does it all the time and hasn't gotten pregnant. 

It all makes so much sense, and depending on who we are listening to at any given moment, our "hey that sounds good" response just goes along with the latest idea.

I never liked country music growing up. My mom had one of those bumper stickers that says "There are 2 types of music: country & western." But I often joke that the older I get the more country music makes sense. 

I believe it was Aaron Tippin who said, "You've got to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything." 

So what are you standing for? What are you standing on? What is the foundation for the way that you view the world and make decisions? 

In Matthew 7 Jesus says that our lives should be based on His words. That to do otherwise is to have your house (life) built on shifting sands, and it cannot hold when the storms come.

"Feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving. My warrant is the Word of God -- Naught else is worth believing." - Martin Luther

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

GIRLS: Starting Over with a New Boyfriend

I saw a recent Facebook post that said something like this: "Girls don't want to start over with a new boy, meeting his family, sharing her secrets, and giving him her body. She would rather the one she is with get his act together."
I got to thinking of the three things stated as part of "starting over", which implies that they are necessary parts of forming a relationship with a new "boy":
1. Meeting his family
2. Sharing your secrets
3. Giving your body
Are these really three things that are necessary to develop a meaningful relationship? Notice, I said "develop" not "have". Maybe I am reading into it, but it seems to imply these things need to be done at the beginning or at least earlier on in the life of the relationship. Even if the post didn't say it, our culture certainly does. So here's my breakdown of these three ideas.
1. Yes, you absolutely need to meet his family, even though this can be a stressful and awkward experience. A pastor friend of mine commented on dating during a Q&A event with area teens. One of the points he made was that when you date you must date the whole family. These people, should the relationship persist and become a long-term proposition, will be a big part of your life. You will celebrate holidays with them, and they will get into your business. This should happen as soon as possible. It gives great insight into the guy and what you can expect in the days, months, and years to come.

2. My wife and I often are amazed at what people share on social media. So many people vomit all their intimate details all over the web for anyone to see. But despite the amount of information many people put out, we still edit what we share (usually) to put a better face forward. Studies show that while we may be more connected than ever before, we are also more lonely than ever as well.

The fact is, we build walls and hide feelings, not wanting to be vulnerable. But when a special someone comes along who we think cares about us, feeling so desparate for connection we drop our walls and defenses and let them have access to our heart's most tender of places, sometimes with past wounds still not healed, and we place a burden on the relationship that it simply is not strong enough to bear.
There are 2 things to consider here: (A) Do not give over the keys to the kingdom until he has proven himself responsible and mature enough to handle the delicate contents within. Also, (B) even a safe and responsible guy has his own baggage and limited ability to handle yours if dumped on him all at once. Discovery is part of the journey. Rather than dumping all of your deepest thoughts and desires on a guy right at the beginning, make him get to know you a little at a time.
Often the discovery and learning process is what keeps a relationship interesting and fullfilling early on. Also, it keeps you safer when you only trust him with as much as he has proven himself able to handle. That way, if you do part ways, you are not left with yet more wounds from his mishandling of your heart.
3. Closely related to how a guy handles your heart is what he wants from your body. A guy who is interested more in your body than your heart will be careless with both and will not appreciate either. I cannot stress enough ladies, a guy can not be trusted with your body until he has proven himself capable of handling your heart.
Even the best of guys with the greatest of intentions WILL be careless with your heart if you give him your body first. It's just the way we are wired. Girls/women tend to be more about the heart, and guys tend to be more about the body. That is where his passions and desires lead him. Intimate access to your body is the very last thing you give a guy, ... ever.
This should be a progression. Meet his family. Make sure he's not from crazytown. Gradually hand him your heart as you get to trust him. If, after all of that, he has proven himself to be trustworthy and caring with your heart, a man worthy of your affection and attentions, then and only then do you give him your body.
This is why sex is for marriage. Only someone who has proven himself to be worthy of your heart should be given your body as well, and the ultimate proof of his worthiness is the willingness to commit the rest of his life to care for, nurture and cherish you. Only then do you give him your body.
A man's desire for the physical, as a future reward for his handling of your heart, will drive him to be responsible with your heart. But when you give him your body before he has proven himself worthy, even the best of guys lose some motivation to treat your heart with respect and care.
You don't keep running once you reach the finish line. For many guys, especially "boys", access to your body IS the finish line. Don't put the finish line at the beginning of the race, or when he gets there he stops running (caring for your heart).

You have been made in the image and likeness of God. Your are His beautiful creation and unique handiwork. A guy who is worth your heart will be willing to treat you accordingly. Make him earn it.
Any guy who's not willing to work for it does not deserve your heart.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Relax! It's Worse Than You Think

When we look at our public life and think we are worthless or don't match up, or when others see the person we are in public and treat us as not-good-enough ... stop and honestly think for a moment.

What if they ALSO knew your inner thoughts and feelings? If we could record all of your thoughts, daydreams and feelings and project them up on a jumbo-tron for people to gather and watch, would you want to be in the room? No way! None of us would.

Why not? Because as bad as we may feel or look on the outside, let's be honest, ... it gets much darker and uglier on the inside.

So, if I know this is true about me, and someone says (through word, implication, body language or behavior) something negative, insulting or offensive about me, then my response can honestly be, "You don't even know the half of it!" "You think I'm a jerk? Dude, you should have heard what I WANTED to say!" (Not that I should even be thinking it, but that is just further proof of my point that we don't measure up to any standard of "good" that we would like to claim for ourselves.)

So I don't measure up to the standards or expectations of others ... or even myself? So what? I DAILY fail and fall short of the standard of the Creator of the universe. Something is very very wrong in me. Something is broken. Something is flawed. I don't want the things I should want. I don't do the things I should do.

Have I let you down or offended you? Did I let myself down? Big deal, what's that compared to God, whom I let down, insult and defame on a regular basis? Despite my efforts to not do so. My Creator made me for a purpose, and I am broken and don't fulfill that purpose.

Wow, that's depressing. How does this possibly make me feel good?

I'm glad you asked.

However bad or low someone else makes me feel ... or I make myself feel ... I know that I deserve far worse and far more ridicule and scorn than I am getting. Especially from God. Because God doesn't give me what I deserve. Through Jesus Christ He gives me Grace and Mercy and Love and Peace. Not because I earned it or deserve it or have anything to offer Him in return. Simply because He's God.

And that's just how He is.

He gives Grace to the humble (James 4:6). But He opposes the proud. Pride is what puffs us up and wants a higher self-image than we deserve.

Someone insults or mocks me or depression wants to take me ... "Yeah, I know. You're right. I'm actually worse than you think (or even I realize), but I'm trying to be better. I'm not there yet, but God's working with me, and He loves me. ... Me! He loves ME! How crazy is that?!"

And knowing that despite it all, that He loves me enough to offer me grace and forgiveness I can find some peace ... knowing that while I may be flawed and broken now, one day I will be whole again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Is Theology Practical?

You don't talk about politics and religion in polite company. That's the conventional wisdom, anyway. The idea being that these are such devisive topics that it will quicly turn impolite. However, I would say that to never consider or discuss such important, life-affecting issues with at least close friends and family may be downright rude. Of course, if opinions were currency I would be considered wealthy and generous.

I once had a systematic theology book given to me titled "Practical Theology". It was sitting on my coffee table, and a friend commented something like "'Practical Theology', isn't that a contradiction?" I was floored. This was by no means a dimwitted, shallow-minded, surface level thinker. She was the sort to think things through and not shy from tough issues. So hearing her claim that a person's thoughts on God had no practical purpose was astonishing. Once I unleashed a rant on her stating the error of her ways (maybe not the wisest approach), she did back track a little and conceded some, but still, this has rolled around in my brain for years now.

However, I am understanding more and more where this idea comes from. We live in a bizaar type of cultural skitzophrenia where we buy into both naturalism and relativism at the same time.

Naturalism, usually taught through public education, claims that only what can be observed in the physical world is real and (in most cases) denies any non-natural, super-natural or metaphysical explanations to things. If such things do exist they are perceived as irrelevant.

Relativism on the other hand, usually gained through media/entertainment, is all about experience and feelings, claiming that we can't really know anything for sure so everything is true/good/etc. as long as we believe it is.

So we are trained in school that supernatural things don't matter (if they even exist), and trained by pop-culture to go with what we feel. "So God, if He even exists, is not something I feel like thinking about (you know with the judgment and morality thing), so therefore it doesn't matter because I choose what is important for me and besides I can't see Him anyway ... if He's even real."

Is it any wonder that even more deeply thinking people would consider the study of God as an impractical pursuit?

One of my favorite quotes is from AW Tozer in "Knowledge of the Holy" where he explains, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us," and "because we are the handiwork of God, it follows that all our problems and their solutions are theological."

There is no more practical question for human beings than what we believe about God, who He is, and who we are related to Him. That understanding will shape every other belief, choice and aspect of our lives. However, since He is both outside of nature and absolutely objective, this runs against the grain of both the naturalism and the relativism in which we culturally walk daily.

Our culture screams at us to not worry about or not waste our time with seeking God or thinking about theological things, meanwhile our heart whispers to us that we were made for something more than this world has to offer. As CS Lewis said, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world."

With that in mind, knowledge of God and related things (theology) becomes the most practical thing in our lives. That being the case, how could we NOT discuss this with others?

Friday, July 25, 2014

I'm a Selfish Jerk

Reposted from a year or so ago, but still a good thought.

So today I had to deal with some insurance and medical stuff for my daughter. Through some mess up or the other, the insurance will only speak with me and not my wife. While we are trying to get it changed, the process takes time. My daughter has a persistent rash and some other symptoms and is overdue for her 3 year checkup, so we are trying to get her in ASAP. Unfortunately, the new insurance had her down with a doctor who isn't taking new patients. I had to find a doctor who is taking new patients and accepts the insurance then call the insurance and get that set up and then call the doctor and make an appointment. They set the appointment for Monday, but my wife wanted in sooner, so I had to call to see about getting a sooner one, etc. etc.

My job allows me a small amount of freedom and flexibility. In the midst of all of this, I am at work trying to get work done but also have some school work that I would rather spend my “flexible” time doing. Long hold times, bureaucratic muck-ups, lost study opportunity and rude CSRs were all wearing on my already raw nerves. So where did my selfish and pride filled heart direct all that angst?

At my wife, of course.

Here I am working to pay the bills, studying to further my 'career', I have a sermon to write and errands to run of my own. I am busy doing good and worthy things. How dare she not be able to take time out of her day and take care of this! Doesn't she realize how busy I am?! ARGH!!!

Then that pesky Holy Spirit tapped me on my spiritual shoulder and reminded me that I am to love my wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25): He sacrificed Himself for her. My pregnant wife (who's “morning sickness” doesn't seem to know when morning is over) is home with a rather rambunctious and hyper toddler who's bum is itchy and allergies are in full swing. Throw on top of that the seemingly endless unpacking we are doing on top of trying to keep the house clean and maintaining some level of sanity.

And here I was, upset and frustrated because I had to use my 'precious time' dealing with aggravation and stress of doctors' offices and insurance providers. My selfishness was saying that what was needed was for my already-at-wits-end wife to be the one to deal with this mess and this stress and leave me to my cushy job and my stressful-but-highly-enjoyable school work. What a jerk!

No, I am happy that God allowed me to handle the mess and stress of dealing with overworked nurses and “I hate my life” customer service reps. Its those moments when we are able to say, “Here let me bear that for you” that we see real Grace and real Love lived out.

If my frustration and aggravation allowed in even some small way for my wife's day to be a little better …. thank you, Lord for allowing me to suffer through that.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

God and Suffering: What's the Point?

Note: This post is not meant to comfort and ease. It is an attempt to consider a usually not considered perspective.

If you've never heard of Dennis Prager, he's one of those radio talk show guys railing against this or that issue of the day. On politics, he's pretty solid, but his religious and spiritual views leave me flat. I find it hard to listen to people too often who's fundamental life-shaping principles are off, even if we do agree on most other things. One good thing about Dennis is that he will do an "Ultimate Issues Hour" where he addresses some major spiritual or life impacting issue. Kudos to Dennis. He will actually bring on people he disagrees with just to bring up the conversation and get people thinking.

Well, a while back he had on Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a best selling author, who has been described as “America’s rabbi.” He has a book out called "The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Suffering and Tragedy."

The whole basis of his book is that God does not want us to suffer, and therefore in the face of tragedies (like Sandy Hook) we should not tell people that God has an ultimate purpose or that their loved ones are "home now" with God or any other number of plattitudes we tend to offer. He said, on the program, that we shouldn't seek to find the good in a tragedy, but instead recognize that all suffering is evil and seek to end all suffering.

That's when it occurred to me that Shmuley has an idol problem. He has placed comfort and physical, earthly well-being above the holiness and glory of God.

God's main concern with our well-being is not our physical conformt or emotional satisfaction, but our spiritual condition, namely our righteousness (or our tremendous lack thereof).

Shmuley contends that God could easily find some way to teach us our lessons or get His points across without allowing suffering. But really, I think Shmuley misses the boat. Ending suffering is just simply not on God's top priority to-do list.

Suffering is a result of SIN, and it will end when everything is made new as explained in the book of Revelation. God's issue is with the root cause of suffering (sin) not how much of it we experience.

Oh, you need examples. Ok.

In John 11 Lazarus dies. Jesus KNOWS he is sick and will die. He purposely waits for Lazarus to die and THEN goes to Bethany. Read the story. Mary and Martha are definitely suffering. Not to mention the other mourners that are mentioned. And what about Lazarus? Any death causing illness could not have been pleasant to endure, especially one that took days to kill him. There is lots of suffering going on ... and Jesus could have spared them all if He would have just come sooner (actually, He is capable of long distance healing). But he didn't ... ON PURPOSE. The greater thing for everyone to experience was not a lack of suffering, but to witness that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah who held power over death.

In John 9, Jesus heals a man who had been born blind. A MAN... adult. So for several decades this guy ... and his parents ... had to suffer the hardships of blindness in 1st century Israel. The disciples of Jesus were debating about WHY the man was born blind, and Jesus' response ...? "that the works of God should be revealed in him."

That's it. All the suffering of this man's life, not to mention the hardships it put his family through, for decades, all so on this one day Jesus could display the power and mercy of God by healing him.

God has bigger concerns than our temporary, earthly comfort.

But Shmuley's a Jewish Rabbi, not a Christian. So let's go Old Testament.

Check out Numbers 21. The Israelites start bad mouthing Moses and God, so what does God do? Verse 6, "So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died." And that's not suffering He "allowed", God was the CAUSE of that suffering.

Have you read the book of Judges? God uses foreign nations to send judgment on His people. When a foreign power takes over (especially back then), they don't just take over the capital and hang out new flags. People (God's people) would have been killed, beaten, have their possessions taken, and let's not even dwell on what the conquering people might do with the women. And this pattern repeated over and over.

In Exodus, the plagues that God sends on Egypt.

God is not concerned about our comfort level here on earth. We have a far bigger problem: SIN.

The perfect, righteous, holy, Creator of the universe looks at mankind and sees a hard-hearted group of rebels. We, by nature, are sinful, treacherous, usurpers in open and defiant rebellion against God. The Bible says we are "storing up wrath" (Romans 2:5), and one day God is going to settle this once and for all.

If what it takes to get the point across to us hard-headed stubborn rebels is some suffering ... then suffering is what God will give us.

And it is possible that He also just simply allows suffering to occur as the natural consequence of sin, just so that we get the picture of how serious and damaging sin is. Sin is our problem, not our suffering.

Jesus didn't come to end our suffering. He came to forgive our sin. And one day when He establishes His kingdom and puts and end to sin ... the suffering will be gone, too.

But I will agree with Shmuley on one point. People who are suffering do not need our platitudes ... they need our compassion. In John 11 when Jesus goes to bethany to raise Lazarus, He doesn't give Mary and Martha a sermon on divine purpose and the Messiah's reign over death. He doesn't explain how God has a higher purpose or that Lazarus is home now. He weeps with them.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Science, Religion, and the 'Preferences of the Human Heart'

I have a special event coming up at my church addressing the scientific validity of Darwinian Evolution. As I have been thinking on this topic and meandering around cyberspace looking at blogs and YouTube videos, I came across this quote:

"The radical novelty of modern science lies precisely in the rejection of the belief, which is at the heart of all popular religion, that the forces which move the stars and atoms are contingent upon the preferences of the human heart." ~Walter Lippmann

Now, I have no idea who Walter Lippmann is, and I have very little interest in finding out. This quote, however, jumped out at me as a great example of how the naturalistic, humanistic, and secularistic philosophies have infected our culture. I have observed more and more that, even among people who claim to be religious or even Christian, the starting point for their assumptions and view of the world is not Christ or God. It is from a secular mindset.

This quote says that "science" rejects the belief that the forces behind nature are contingent upon "the preferences of the human heart." 

First, "science" doesn't accept or reject anything. People do. Science is a method of investigating the world (and not the only one). It may also describe the body of knowledge gained by that method, but that "knowledge" is itself subjective and at the whim of the scientists.

Second, I would completely agree with Mr. Lippmann that the forces of nature are not contingent upon the preferences of the human heart. And he might be surprised to know that the Bible would agree with Him as well. The forces of nature are contingent upon the will of the Sovereign Creator who made them. The preferences of human hearts do not enter into it.

Oddly enough Mr. Lippmann seems to have gotten things backwards. Religion points to God as the force behind nature. It is science which, as a body of knowledge and theories, is based on human understanding. It is largely influenced by the biases and philosophies of the human scientist making those theories and conclusions. Biases and philosophies which are "contingent upon the preferences of the human heart."

Between science and religion (especially Biblical Christianity), if one can be said to be based on the preferences of the human heart, it is most definitely science.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Generation Led Astray

The above link was shared by a friend on Facebook. It is all about how the younger generations are deluded narcissists. They have everything handed to them and everything in their lives are constructed to communicate how awesome they are. I remember as a tutor in both high school and college settings, I would see students making passing grades, but they could not even perform or articulate the fundamentals of a subject. I saw college students who couldn't read or do simple division but somehow graduated. In the article above, the author mentions Facebook where anything negative can be edited, blocked, ignored or otherwise ejected from life. Video games allow us to feel the high of (false) accomplishment, and reality TV show us “ordinary” people living extraordinary lives. All of this creates the idea that life is about us and that we are better/greater/smarter than we really are. Younger generations are being brought up separated from the reality of the inherent unfairness and hardships of life.

As a youth pastor, this is troubling for me on several fronts. Not only does such a delusion create negative effects that will ripple through society for many years to come, but a people convinced of their own (supposedly) inherent goodness are blinded to their own brokenness and need for a Savior.

On a purely psychological side of things, we have students who are being taught on every front that life is about them and that the point of life is happiness and pleasure. When this view of the world collides with reality, we get depression, anxiety, and fear that manifests itself is a myriad of ways from cutting to drugs to bitterness to bullying and many much more tragic behaviors. And popular culture's answer to these things is a need for more self-esteem, usually in the construction of an even bigger illusion of being OK. And so further down the spiral we go.

Doubly frustrating for someone trying to minister to teenagers is the fact that its not just the secular media giving them this idea. Even much of Christian music and teaching, though well intended, seems to focus on the love of God without giving much, if any, mention to the brokenness and sinfulness of people. So as I am trying to teach the bible and communicate the Gospel, I am being undermined, not only by secular influences, but also other Christian “authorities”. So that even the “good christian” kids who are actually trying to follow after Jesus, have this bombardment of YOU-centered ideas.

I can communicate to my students that Jesus died in order to glorify God. That His mercy and love and grace could be shown. But then they turn on the radio and hear that he “thought of me, above all” or other songs that focus and center on US instead of God. Or DJs that constantly pour forth syrupy sweet platitudes about how wonderful you are and how much God loves you. Yes, He loves us, but that's because He's God. That's who He is. Not because we are so wonderful.

The most tragic part of this is that, as the bible says, “God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) Pride is essentially that frame of mind that builds us up in our own thinking and makes more of us than we really are. To believe such a thing is to build your life on a lie. Like the foolish man who build his house on the sand (Matthew 7) the foundation of your own greatness WILL wear and erode away by life and reality. It may happen slowly over time or in one tragic event, but eventually you are left alone and broken with nothing to rely on, to shelter you from the storms of life, because you put your hope in your own goodness, and that just wasn't enough to get the job done.

The truth, what the bible teaches, is that we are broken, we are corrupt, we are fallen and sinful. Dirty and hopelessly wicked before the awesome and eternal holiness and righteousness of God, who created us. But that brokenness and sinfulness can be “fixed”. We can be healed. We can be reconciled and made whole, but ONLY through the forgiveness and grace paid for by Jesus on the cross and the new life extended to us through the resurrection.

Ephesians 2:8, “It is by grace that you have been saved through faith.”

That faith is expressed in repentance, a turning away of our sin and our old way of thinking and living. We turn from all the junk the world's way of thinking has taught us and we run after God and His way of life.

Here is the real tragedy in the self-centered, “I'm so awesome” mentality that pervades the younger generations: A person who believes they are so great and that life is about them and their happiness will not repent of sins that they do not believe they have in order to receive forgiveness that they do not believe they need from a God that they believe just wants to take the fun out a life that they mistaken believe is all about them.

Not only have we created a culture that says life is about being happy and feeling good, but we have created a society built on the idea that we should not only feel good, but that we should view ourselves as inherently good, and anything that says otherwise is evil.

In such an environment and with such a view of the world, God's grace is either ignored as unnecessary or accepted as given. After all, “why wouldn't He love me? I'm awesome!”

And even if multitudes of Americans are able to medicate and numb away the pain of living in a broken world with a broken heart and live a moderately “happy” life, I fear that they will only have accomplished feeling good about themselves as they merrily skip down the broad road that leads to ultimate and final separation from God.

Friday, June 27, 2014

It's Not About Me

As you may well expect, as a youth pastor, I am subscribed to a smattering of youth ministry related resources that do everything from advertising material, to sharing testimonies, discussing popular culture, and giving tips on dealing with teenagers.

I understand that not everything I get will always be Biblically based and doctrinally sound. Many of these resources are used mostly for games, illustrations, etc. - the kind of stuff, I generally don't care about but that youth enjoy. I rarely go to them for lesson material. I have specific trusted sources for that, first and foremost being the Bible. However, every now and then I come across something that just strikes me as utterly ridiculous.

The title of an article I recently received by email was, "Ways to Know if Teens Are Connecting with You." As you might expect, I would prefer to know I am making a difference in the lives of my students, so I actually stopped to read it.

Here is the opening paragraph:

"As youth ministers, we often wonder if we are making a difference
among our teens. Usually we have to wait several years to see if
they become strong Christians, but what about now? Where does our
instant gratification come from?"

Hold on! "Our instant gratification?"
I'm really trying to not sound overly pious here, but right out of the gate we have a grossly misplaced sense of priorities. I love every student God has placed in my care. In my younger years, as a tutor, there was hardly a more satisfying moment than when a student had that "ah ha!" moment. I love that! And do I want to experience that? Of course I do. But it's not a priority. Its true that your preachers, ministers and pastors need some encouragement, and you should give it, but it's not why we do what we do.

"Do your teens take your advice? What a great feeling it is when a
teen walks up to you and says, "I need your advice on something."
Man, what a breakthrough moment! What a feeling of accomplishment.
They trust your judgment."

I don't want them to trust my judgment. I did a right fine job of screwing up my own life, thank you very much. Don't look to ME for your sound judgment.

I plead with my students to test everything they hear and read from teachers and preachers against the Bible. The only promise I can make to my students is that I WILL fail them, disappoint them, and possibly lead them astray on something. Don't trust MY judgment.

Trust the Word of God and the discerning of the Holy Spirit in you.

"Do your teens spend time with you? At youth group, or any other
event, do your teens just sit around and hang out with you? Have
you noticed that when you are sitting alone that some may walk over
and just sit with you? Have they invited you to one of their
special events? Take notice, this is important."

The best teacher I ever had was a tyrant. Yeah, we had interesting lessons in his history class (or maybe I'm just a nerd like that), but the man handed out loads of daily homework like candy on Halloween. He was a strict disciplinarian in his classroom, and had zero tolerance and no mercy. In algebra (Yes, he double majored in social study and math. What's up with that?), taking shortcuts in your math got the whole problem marked wrong, even if you got it right. In history, we had pages and pages of detailed outlines, that were strictly graded on their format, not just their content.

This was not a man that teenagers were lining up to hang out with. But we learned. His job was to teach us that material, and to this day I can solve equations of polynomials with multiple variables faster with scratch paper than with a calculator. Why? Because he was more interested in doing his job than in being our friend.

My "job" is to teach the Word of God and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not to have kids want to come hang out with me. ... though, it is cool if they want to.

"You really connect with your group when you notice that they laugh
when you laugh and they hurt when you hurt."

Taken as a whole, what I see being described is a list of how to know if your students like you. I was never the cool kid. Even when I was a kid. I'm white and nerdy to the core. I will never be the hip and cool youth pastor. It's not me.

We all want to be liked. We all want to be thought of as cool, or smart, or wise, or ... whatever it is that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. If that's what "connecting with my youth" looks like, then count me out.

YES, if there is a personal connection it is better and easier for the more compassionate and counseling aspects of pastoral ministry. But I have experienced and seen too much in youth and college ministries to see that "connection" turn into a cult of personality. If my students' "connection" with me in any way hinders their connection to Christ, then I have failed them. They don't need to connect with ME, they need a connection with their Lord and Savior. I'm just the messenger. I'm just His emissary.

Lord, please do not let me or my desires to be liked or be "cool" get in the way of ANY of these students being connected to YOU.

John 3:30
"He must increase, but I must decrease."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Judgment or Advisement?

 I never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, on many things I am very slow on the uptake. Just ask my wife. Subtle hints are completely lost on me. I try to tell it plain, and tend to hear it plain, and sometimes forget that not everyone does.
From time to time I have been horribly misunderstood and sat in the wake of someone blowing up at me, calling me "hateful," "judgmental," or worse, and I was left wondering what just happened.
Recently, a conversation took a turn towards the "Who are you to judge others and say they're wrong?" I was taken back a bit because my language and demeanor was one of explanation and not declaration. At least that's what I was trying to get across. Unfortunately, what I was saying and what they were hearing were miles apart.
Once I had a couple of youth who stopped coming to Sunday service for a while because of something the pastor said. Something that they completely misheard and misunderstood.
When we hear/read something, we filter it through our own understandings and ideas. It helps when communicating to be aware of the other person's filters and ideas. When taking in what someone is saying, it helps to be aware of their filters and ideas, .... and our own as well.
One filter that many people have now days is that to disagree or voice disagreement in any way is a form of being judgmental or intolerant. Or, many people also have the filter that Christians ARE judgmental, and so any time a Christian voices disagreement they are automatically seen as being hateful or judgmental.
Here's the deal. Many times whenever I, or others I have witnessed, expressed some form of "You shouldn't _____," it gets heard as "If you _____, you are a despicable, sinful piece of trash!" At least that's what is implied by the tone and fervor of the response I sometimes get.
But now who's being judgmental?
If I say, "You shouldn't drink alcohol," how do you know my meaning and motive? What variety of meanings could that statement have? Here are just a few off the top of my head.
1. Is the person being addressed a minor for whom it would be illegal to drink alcohol?
2. Are you a friend who I know to be prone to addictive behaviors?
3. Do you have a track record of bad results when you drink and I'm just concerned for you?
4. Maybe I understand that there's nothing inherently evil about alcohol, but I have a general experience of nothing worth-while coming from the consumption of alcohol and think it unwise.
5. Or maybe I think drinking is of the Devil and if you partake of his vile drink you are courting darkness and demonstrating that you possess a wicked and corrupt soul. SINNER!!
Oddly enough, when I say, "You shouldn't drink alcohol," because I am a Christian, many people assume number 5.
However, generally, unless I am quoting a direct "Thou shall not..." from the Bible, when I say, "You shouldn't ____," I'm giving an advisement of what I believe to be wise behavior, not a judgment about a person's moral character.
Don't listen to this song.
Don't watch that movie.
Don't go to that place.
Don't hang out with those people.
Don't read those magazines.
Don't share those things on social media.
Don't do that thing.
Don't make that choice.
Don't ______.
When I make those sorts of comments, I know that I am no authoritative voice or judge in your life. I do hope to be an influential one, but that is about it. You're not answerable to me. I have no position, authority or grounds to pass judgment, and my comments, even if I were passing judgment, have no power or control over you.
The statement is not, "If you do X, then you are a bad person."
The statement is, "If you do X, then it will turn out bad for you. I care about you, so please don't do X."
Most of the time that I see, read, or hear about Christians being labelled as judgmental, intolerant, hateful, etc. what is really taking place is that they are expressing a compassionate concern and advising as to what should or should not be done, with the person's well being or benefit in mind. Different people communicate this with varying degrees of success, but seldom do I actually witness the judgmental, "You're a dirty, rotten sinner!" attitude so often accused.
Here's a breakdown of how this may work on a couple of different hot-button issues:
"Abortion is murder."
What they hear: "Evil baby killer!!"
What was meant: "That is a human life who didn't ask to be in this situation. It's not the baby's fault. You're not a murderer. Please don't end an innocent life."
"Homosexuality is a sin."
What they hear: "God hates fags!!"
What was meant: "God has a design for human sexuality, and we should use and enjoy sex within the limits of His design. Like fire, when it's in the fireplace, it lights and warms the house, but get it out of the fireplace and it can burn the house down."
For various reasons, some deserved and some not, there is a large segment of society that filters all Christian statements through a filter of hate or judgmentalism.
Are there hateful and judgmental people who proclaim to be Christians? Of course. Does Christ or the doctrines of Christianity teach hate and judgmentalism? No.
Christ teaches love and compassion that is able to stand in the face of what God calls sin, admit that it is sin, but still have a heart of compassion for the individual. In John 8 Jesus treates the woman caught in adultery with compassion, turns away her assailants who seek to kill her, and even says that He doesn't condemn her. But in no instance does He say what she had done was ok, and He even ends the exchange by imploring her to stop sinning. Compassion and admission of sin at work side by side.
Do Christians do this well? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are Christians in the world.
If there is one thing I could hope my friends from "the other side" get from this is that when you hear/read a Christian say "X is a sin," or "You shouldn't do Y," please do not let your knee-jerk reaction be an assumption of hate and judgmentalism. Chances are, if they didn't care about the person (community/state/nation) in question they wouldn't be saying anything at all.
Most Christian activism is not based on bigotry, hate, or just wanting to force our views on everyone else. (Yes, there are some people who are simply jerks, but it can be argued they're not actually "followers of Christ"... different issue.)
We actually do love and care about people and believe God's Word presents Truth. And we do not want our nation, our communities, or the individuals around us to suffer the harm done when we venture outside of the way God designed things to work. That's not a stance of hate. That is a stance of love.
We are not judging "those people," we are seeking to love our neighbors by arguing for our position, trying to persuade people to see a different point of view, and advising those around us of a wiser and better way.
You may not think it is a wiser or better way, but that is a whole other issue. We certainly should have that conversation. But that conversation cannot take place as long as one side has an erroneous understanding of the position of the other.
You don't cast us all as hateful, judgmental bigots trying to set up a theocracy, and we won't assume you're all a bunch of godless, anti-American communists, conspiring to tear down the foundations of society to meet your own twisted agendas.