Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011

God has richly blessed me this year - far beyond all expectation.

  • This year we had three adults and two children make professions of faith.
  • In April, I was able to travel to China to help teach church workers there.
  • In June, Lola and I traveled 6,107 miles on a trip through western states
  • In August, Lola were enabled to buy our first house.
  • In October, I was privileged to take a week long class at Grace Seminary
  • November and December have been very busy with renovations, moving, membership classes, a new Sunday School curriculum and finishing my class project.

Praise the Lord - Great things He has done!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"The Right Thing To Do"

A news article today is from the AP and datelined "Greenwood Village, Colorado."  A man who was getting on a plane in Las Vegas found two envelopes full of money - $10,000.00.  Ultimately, he returned it to another man who had won it gambling, but had dropped it on his way to his plane.

The man who returned the money said that he wanted to show his children that it was the "right thing to do."

Now, here's the question.  Why is it the right thing to do?  And how does he know it is the right thing to do?

From a Darwinian perspective, it is the WRONG thing to do!  If everything is about improving your own survival and the perpetuation of your genetic heritage - you really should keep the money to feed, nourish and promote those children...  Right?  The honest man in this story has betrayed his own children - his own heritage.

The only way returning the money can be the right thing to do is if there is an ultimate arbiter who has a standard of right and wrong that he can apply to you.  And there is no knowledge of this objective reality of right and wrong if the ultimate arbiter has somehow made it known in objective terms.

Otherwise, any rationalization will do.  "Finders keepers, Losers weepers."  "Easy come, easy go."  "One man's loss is another man's gain."  Even this quasi religious gem from Ben Franklin - "God helps those who help themselves."

I applaud the honesty of the man in the story.  I hope he knows the God who makes the right thing the right thing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Poor Christopher Hitchens

I'm sure he would be disgusted to hear that I (or anyone else) feel sorry for him.  But I do.  Christopher Hitchens - famous atheist - author of "God Is Not Great" - and cancer victim - is dead.

And I am sorry for him.

His life was short.  Only 62 years.

Worst of all, he never realized the truth - that God IS Great!

He missed out on the glory behind the wonder of this world.

And he missed out on God's promise of eternal life in the next world.

And what exactly is the point of trying to dissuade people from believing in God?  What have you accomplished when you are done?  How have you benefited?  How have you helped?

And what if you are wrong?

Poor Christopher Hitchens!


(Psalms 14:1) The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fixed To Death

This clock was in bad shape when I found it.  The glass was missing from the bezel.  The clock didn't run.  The chimes didn't work.  The hands were twisted and jammed.

So I fixed it.

I got it running.  I got the chimes working.  I bought replacement glass for the bezel.  I put it on a shelf in my office and enjoyed hearing it chime every quarter hour.

I was delighted!  This clock was a major victory!

But I wasn't satisfied.  Every so often I would try to tweak something or another.  I got it to keep time more accurately.  I fixed the latch in the back.

But there was still something else and I thought I needed to take the works out of the case one more time.  Unfortunately, when I was working to get the hour hand loose, I pulled too hard and some of the pins let loose in the mechanism.  Teeth were sheared from the gears!  The clock was dead for good!

NUTS!

The perils of perseveration.

Don't stand here

It is raining here, but when you get gas at Murphy's they have a big roof to keep you dry.
Almost.
I was pumping gas this morning, when I was surprised by several big fat drops of water on top of my head!
I should have noticed the puddle. Evidently it is raining hard enough that some water gets inside the structure and then finds its way out there in the middle ... a few drops at a time.

Jedi Dog's Blast Shield

As a Jedi, my dog practices his skills with a blast shield over his eyes.

In this picture he is trying to draw food from the breakfast table to himself.

 He had remarkable success.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Dog Is A Jedi

Tiny - the Jedi Master
My dog may look like a poodle who needs a trim, but he is really a Jedi.  He knows the Jedi mind trick.

Without a word, he can make me open the door to let him out - even though he was just outside thirty minutes ago.

He communicates telepathically.  While I am cleaning up the breakfast dishes and talking to my wife, he is communicating directly with my brain.  While I am preoccupied with other things, I find myself at the door, with my hand on the doorknob, starting to open it at his bidding.  Sometimes he is out the door and off the back porch before I realize what is happening.

Occasionally, I catch myself and tell him the Jedi mind trick will not work on me.  But he knows it does.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Magic

We like the idea of magic.  Give me three wishes.  Give me a magic potion, a magic wand, a magic word.

Isn't this the appeal of many advertisements?  Slice and dice your vegetables!  Lose weight!  Grow hair!  Get rid of hair!  Flatten your abs!  Cook perfect omelets!

Whatever it is, it works like magic!  Perfect results every time!  Never needs sharpening!  Takes just pennies a day!  No salesperson will call!  Visible results in just thirty days or your money back!  Call now!

Magic is so appealing that we are all at risk of this kind of thinking.  We want great results, but we don't want to do the hard work it takes.  We don't want to make a real commitment.  We don't want to feel any pain.  We don't want to sacrifice any pleasure.  We don't want to pay any significant cost.

We think there must be a pill, or a tool, or a book, or a program, or a person, or a seminar that we can purchase for just pennies a day...  Somehow - somewhere - there must be a magic answer to all of my problems.

So people are searching.  And they will keep searching... for something that will magically satisfy all of their problems and fulfill all of their dreams.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sailing Through Ministry


(1 Corinthians 16:9 NKJV) For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. 
On a calm day a sailboat will not give you any trouble, but it won't move forward either.  You need a brisk wind to fill the sail and provide the energy to move you through the water.

But that is only part of the story.  

Unless you are content to be driven in whatever direction the wind is blowing, you also need a keel and a rudder.  The rudder - at the stern of the boat, allows you to turn the boat.  The keel extends down into the water and creates resistance to drifting sideways.  Now the energy from the wind can be harnessed to allow you to sail across or even into the wind.

Good progress in sailing requires some resistance.  So does good progress in ministry.  If all we do is preach happy messages to happy people we are becalmed.  When the winds of adversity blow, our keel and rudder reach down deep into God's word and allow us to make good progress.  Sin and heartache are turned into righteousness and hope.

Don't pray for calm.  Pray for wisdom in trimming your sail and setting your course to maximize the Glory of God from your situation.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Climate Change & Modernity/Postmodernity

"It's one thing when people disagree on the effectiveness of different approaches to fix a problem; it's worse when they refuse even to believe that a problem exists — despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that says it does. One of America's major political parties has, in effect, adopted denial as policy. How did we get here?"  http://news.yahoo.com/why-climate-change-denial-powerful-091004995.html

The quote above is from an article by Bryan Walsh in "Time" entitled, "Why Climate-Change Denial is So Powerful."  You can read if for yourself, but the gist of it is that most scientists agree that we have a climate-change problem created by human beings, but people are denying it because of the extreme propaganda blitz funded by big oil and big business.

It is fitting that Bryan Walsh and others would be stunned that anyone could disagree with SCIENCE!  Science in our world is seen in the naturalism & materialism of our age as the only trustworthy arbiter of truth.  Everyone should bow in worship of the "overwhelming scientific consensus."

But what Mr. Walsh is missing is that the same worldview that gives us Scientism also robs us of anything beyond our life in this world.

In the naturalistic, materialistic worldview of scientism everything is determined.  There is no such thing as free will.  You do what you were programmed to do.  Your "decisions" are an illusion.  Beyond this, (according to naturalism) there is no life beyond this one.  There is no higher authority to whom we will give an account.  There is no reward and no punishment.  When you die - you are just gone.

Under these circumstances, why should anyone worry about the effects of their decisions on future generations?  Life has no purpose.  There is no morality.  How can you say my actions are good or evil?  Why should you get rid of your big comfortable car on the chance that it might make a difference to a future generation that might or might not exist?

Perhaps some companies did put money into propaganda about climate-change.  But I don't think that is the deciding factor.  (The other side does the same thing.)  I think that people are living according to the worldview that scientism has pushed off on them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Scraping By


(1 Kings 17:11–14 NKJV) 11 And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”
12 ¶ So she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
13 ¶ And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son.
14 For thus says the LORD God of Israel: “The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’ ” 

Elijah lived at the widow's house. Every day they used up everything they had. Every day God supplied everything they needed for that day. But God provided just enough to meet their needs, every day.

This is the God we serve, but we often live with the illusion that WE provide for our needs and that we have stored up resources to meet our needs for years to come.

Sometimes we need a good long drought that drives us our of our complacency and lets us see the daily provision from God.

Praise God for providing our needs - every day.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Different Kinds of Prayer

(1 Thessalonians 5:17 NKJV) PRAY WITHOUT CEASING!
I grew up with an uneasy awareness of the command to "Pray without ceasing."  Over the years my prayer life has gone through many stages - it has grown up with me.  Still, I feel uneasy about praying without ceasing.  No doubt part of that is my American style rationality.  I read, "pray without ceasing" and think it means pray constantly without break or interruption.  

But it can't mean that we should spend all of our time, everyday, without stopping in a private place in full-fledged heart-felt and focused prayer.  I know that because the Gospel accounts reveal that this was not how Jesus prayed.  Jesus spent time praying that way.  But at other times he prayed in other ways.

There are different kinds of prayer.

There is intense, private and extended prayer.  For this kind of prayer Jesus taught that we should go to a private place.
(Matthew 6:6 NKJV) But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
In this same passage Jesus condemns those who make long prayers in public.  Such people are evidently praying in public in a way that should be reserved for private.  And they are praying to be heard by (and praised by) other people, rather than focusing on God.

Jesus himself spent extended times in private prayer by withdrawing to a remote place.
(Mark 1:35 NKJV) ¶ Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.
(Matthew 14:23 NKJV) And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 
But Jesus didn't spend all of His time in this kind of prayer.  He had a busy life - so much so that at times he didn't have time to eat (Mark 6:31.)  But Jesus obeyed the command to "pray without ceasing" by engaging in other kinds of prayer.

Jesus prayed in public in John 11:41-42.  This prayer is brief - only two sentences.  He prays to point people's attention to God the Father and His involvement in the miracle Jesus is about to do.

Jesus prayed when he was serving food to people in Matthew 15:36; 26:27; Mark 8:6; Luke 2:38; 22:17, 19.  We don't know much about these prayers, except that he "gave thanks."

Jesus prayed in the intimate group of the disciples.  In John 17:1-26 Jesus' prayer was largely about the disciples and their continuing ministry after Jesus' crucifixion.

Jesus prayed alone when his ordeal on Calvary was imminent.

(Luke 22:41–44 NKJV) And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed,
42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.
44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
This was a time of intense and earnest prayer that reflected the difficulty of the task before him.  This prayer was not completely private or solo.  Jesus had urged the disciples to pray at the same time, for themselves as well as for him.  I would call this parallel prayer.
(Luke 22:45–46 NKJV) When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.
46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
This is not an exhaustive list.  My point is that there are different kinds of prayer in our lives.  The different situations we face day to day and throughout each day call for different kinds of prayer.  The command to pray without ceasing means that we should respond to each situation and opportunity with the kind of prayer that is appropriate.  We should be like Jesus - people who are in constant contact with God as we go through our days.
(Ephesians 6:18 NKJV) praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— 


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Paper Cuts

Last week I was completing some mailings... writing letters, printing labels, buying envelopes & stamps.  The real drudge work, though, is the assembly... folding, stuffing, labeling, stamping and sealing.

As I applied my self to this unpleasant work I thought of the curse, "May you die of a thousand paper cuts."

Wouldn't you rather be killed outright?

I think we all suffer the emotional equivalent of paper cuts everyday.  Paper cuts are insignificant.  They hurt, but not with overwhelming pain.  We can keep on going - and accumulating more paper cuts.  They don't stop us.  They just irritate us.  They sting.  They bleed just a little, if at all.  They catch on the things we handle.  They make us flinch.  They are unpleasant, but not overpowering.

But how many of them can you stand?  There is a point where even paper cuts can drive you over the edge.  Your fingers are a patchwork of bandaids and your papers are dotted with your own blood.  You feel like you can't take it anymore.  You just want to collapse into self-pity and nurse your poor fingers in some safe corner.

Hang in there.
Don't give up.
Don't be discouraged.
Keep up your good work.

(Galatians 6:9–10 NKJV) And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. 
God is for us!  And if God is for us, who can stand against us?
(Romans 8:38–39 NKJV) 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,
39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Faith versus Gullibility

(Hebrews 11:1 NKJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 
Some people wrongly assume that faith is just another word for gullibility.  For them, faith means believing in things for which there is no empirical evidence.  For them, faith is accepting what you are told - hook line and sinker - no matter how bizarre or illogical.  For them, faith is primitive superstition used to explain things primitive people don't understand.

But the Bible consistently links the idea of faith to knowledge.
(2 Corinthians 8:7 NKJV) But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also. 
(2 Peter 1:5 NKJV) ¶ But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge,
Biblical faith is believing in things that cannot be proven to the satisfaction of a skeptic - but that doesn't mean there is no genuine evidence for the things that are believed.

As a child I was taught that the Bible was the inspired word of God - and I believed it.  That might have been my childish gullibility.  But as I got older (and more skeptical,) I grew in my experiential knowledge of the Bible, the physical world, the people in the world, etc.  In my case my faith grew stronger with my increased knowledge.  What I find in the Bible is consistent with what I find in the world around me.  The things in the world match what the Bible says about them.  The people in the world are just like the Bible describes them to be.  That helps me accept by faith the statements of the Bible that I cannot test by experience.

Some people are frustrated that their ideas about things like macro-evolution cannot be proven to the satisfaction of a skeptic.  But it isn't like they can do an experiment in which life springs into existence from nothing or evolves an eye on demand.  They say it makes sense because there is such a thing as changes in living things through adaptation.  They say is is the only truly "scientific" explanation because it doesn't include recourse to the supernatural.

But the more I know about the world and the people in the world, the more it is clear that macro-evolution doesn't fit the facts.  To believe it I would have to swallow the complete LACK of evidence for complex systems developing themselves and for complex codes compiling themselves.  I would need to ignore all the evidence to the contrary - the physical laws by which systems tend toward disorder and everything moves toward entropy.  I would also have to believe - against all I observe in myself and others - that good and bad and right and wrong have no objective meaning.  That there is no purpose or meaning in human existence.  That there is no ultimate justice.

So what is faith and what is gullibility?  For me, faith corresponds with the evidence that is available - even the scientific evidence.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dr. Sam Harris: Atheist Morality - Part 4

Sam Harris says that he shares the concern of religious people that "unless we have a universal moral framework... a sense that good and evil and right and wrong really mean something, then humanity will lose its way."

But what does he mean by "lose its way?" This seems to imply that there is a "best way" that could be missed.  But how can that be, given Harris's naturalistic and materialistic world view?

Toward the end of the same video Harris and Dawkins chortle together over the idea that all decisions are made before the person is conscious of what they are.  At that point they are affirming their belief in determinism - that there is no "ought" - only what is.  According to them, while people THINK they are making real decisions, in fact it is only an accident of their biochemical existence that is traced back through the evolutionary process over millions of years.

Harris has posed the question, "Who says science has nothing to say about morality?"  The answer seems obvious to everyone except Harris and Dawkins.  EVERYONE says that.  The secularists and atheists in the scientific community are pretty much unanimous on this point.  Harris admits that himself in his little talk.  The various religious communities certainly do not look to science for the answers to questions about morality.

When you look at things a bit more closely, you realize that even Harris is unable to say that there is a scientific answer to the questions of morality because his naturalistic, materialistic presuppositions push him into a mechanistic determinism that robs him of any "ought."  If his world view is correct, then what exists is inevitable.  What people do or don't do is predetermined by biochemical accidents.

In his world without God there is no basis for saying that anything is right or wrong - or good or bad. Someone's behavior is just the result of his evolutionary background.  If Harris feels that the other person's behavior is "bad" his feeling is simply the result of HIS evolutionary background.   But there is no "universal moral framework" for secular atheism.

And humanity has indeed lost its way.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On Textual Criticism

People of faith don't like the term "Textual Criticism."  Perhaps to them it sounds as if people are criticizing the Bible.  Skeptics like the idea of textual criticism because to them it sounds as if the text of scripture is unreliably fallible.

A recent article on the internet was headlined, "In Jerusalem, scholars trace Bible's evolution."*  This is an article about the textual criticism of the Old Testament text of the Hebrew Bible, from the perspective of the secular skeptic.  You can almost hear the author of the article chortling over the "evolution" of the text.  You can certainly recognize the author's prejudice that the text has been fundamentally altered over time and cannot be trusted.

She points out three examples of textual differences that are being explored.
  1. From Malachi: "The verse in question, from the text we know today, makes reference to "those who swear falsely." The scholars have found that in quotes from rabbinic writings around the 5th century A.D., the phrase was longer: "those who swear falsely in my name.""
  2. From Deuteronomy: "In another example, this one from the Book of Deuteronomy, a passage referring to commandments given by God "to you" once read "to us," a significant change in meaning."
  3. From Jeremiah: "The Book of Jeremiah is now one-seventh longer than the one that appears in some of the 2,000-year-old manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some verses, including ones containing a prophecy about the seizure and return of Temple implements by Babylonian soldiers, appear to have been added after the events happened."
It boggles her mind that the people engaged in this study are (and have been from the start) devout believers in the authority of the Biblical text - in this case Orthodox Jews.  She does not see (nor do many of the "KJV Only" persuasion) how textual criticism can be reconciled with faith.  "What we're doing here must be of interest for anyone interested in the Bible," said Michael Segal, the scholar who heads the project."  I agree completely.

The study of textual criticism is necessary because all manuscripts before AD 1450 (the printing press) were hand written and every single copy varied slightly from every other copy.  Since the Exodus was about 1450 BC, that leaves almost 3000 years of copying texts by hand.

The vast majority of the variations are going to be spelling differences.  There will also be some transpositions in word order (a difference that doesn't usually affect Hebrew meaning.)  But for about 98 or 99 percent of the text there will be no significant questions about the original reading. 

In the 2% or so where there are doubts about the original reading - the question is not the meaning of the text, but what exact words were used to communicate that meaning.  For example, "Those who swear falsely" are certainly swearing by God's name - so perhaps a scribe added the last part - or maybe left it out as redundant.  But the meaning is the same, regardless.  In her second example, whether the commandment was given "to you" or "to us," it was still given and you know what it is.  The meaning is unchanged.

As for correcting the book of Deuteronomy by the "2,000 year old manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls," it is not as impressive as it sounds since these scrolls were produced about 600 years after the original book was written.  What must be considered is that only "some" of these Scrolls include the shorter reading.  Older versions (e.g., the Greek translation called the Septuagint) contain the longer reading - so where did the shorter reading come from?  Were they shortened for some purpose - or were portions lost somehow?

 The study of textual criticism is not something that believers need to fear.  They should actually appreciate it.  Our confidence in the preservation of the text is not a blind leap of faith.  Our confidence in the text is solidly supported by the hard work of these devoted people who track down the original reading and root out even the minor differences that have been introduced over the years.  It is abundantly clear that the original meaning of the text is well preserved.  We know WHAT was said, even if 2% of the time there is debate over HOW it was said.


*http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5itVOexAUQyzm63cPPJabqJgexpHw?docId=6af926e599c0480daf772f95786ad395

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

As A Little Child

(Mark 10:13–16 NKJV) Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.
14 But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.
15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
16 And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.
On Monday I preached at the funeral for a baby who lived just less than two months.  One day she was thriving.  The next day she was gone and her family was thrown into an agony of grief.  It is a terribly difficult circumstance that weighs heavy on your heart and brings sympathetic tears to your eyes.

Some theologians have doubted the eternal destiny of infants who die before they can understand - much less respond to - the gospel.  But I think the matter is clear in the scriptures. There is a consistent presumption that infants who die are safe with God.

The basis of this confidence is not the ability or inability of infants to believe the gospel message.  The basis of this confidence is the character of God.

The God of the Bible is holy - infinitely good.  Among God's attributes are justice, love, goodness and truth which He has in infinite perfection.  He is omniscient and so is perfect in wisdom.  He is omnipotent and so is perfect in freedom to act according to His character.

Abraham, concerned for the welfare of his nephew Lot, asked a rhetorical question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25 NKJV)  There is only one possible answer.  It is inconceivable that the One who is the measure of all things could do anything other than what is perfectly right.

Like little children, we are completely dependent, and God is completely dependable. This is the nature of child-like faith.

We can entrust ourselves to Him. We can entrust our children to Him.

 Have faith in God.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dr. Sam Harris: Atheist Morality - Part 3

Early in his lecture on morality Harris chides theists for arguing against atheism based on the utility of theism in providing a basis for morality.  I could agree with that.  The main point for theists should be that God exists.  But Harris is in the same trap - and has perhaps misrepresented the theists' arguments.

I believe - based on what I consider to be the best evidence (and despite Harris' and Dawkins' and Hitchens' disbelief) - that God exists and has revealed Himself to mankind in general and to me in particular.  I know God and have a relationship with Him.  I believe there is a universal moral framework that is based on the reality of God's existence.  That moral framework shows up in written revelation, in the historical life of Jesus Christ and even in Sam Harris' gut reaction against man's inhumanity to man around the world.  I am not arguing for the existence of God based on morality - I am pointing out that true morality is based on the existence and character of God.

But utility is all Sam Harris has for the basis of his universal moral framework.  There is no objective  moral standard for Harris - everything is relative.  He doesn't have an ought.  He cannot say, "you OUGHT NOT to torture, murder or oppress each other."  He cannot say, "you OUGHT to live in peace and harmony and love and kindness."

At best he can say, "there is greater utility in doing A instead of B."   Utilitarianism holds that the guiding principle of conduct ought to be the greatest happiness or benefit of the greatest number.  This is all Harris has to work with in coming to a universal moral framework and it is not a new idea.

One of the side effects of that is that Harris is inconsistent in his application of his (so called) moral standards.  For example, he would support a woman's right to abort her unborn baby, but oppose a Muslim father's right to kill his daughter.  These views have nothing to do with some objective reality like the inherent value of human life.  (Harris is promoting the deaths of far more people than he is worried about saving.)  It is simply Harris' opinion that one is right and the other is wrong.

Instead of an objective morality based on the existence and character of God, we are left with a relative morality based on the existence and character of Sam Harris.  If utility is not a good basis for an argument for theism (and it is not), then it is no better as an argument for morality.
(Romans 1:28–32 NKJV) 28 ¶ And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers,
30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful;
32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dr. Sam Harris: Atheist Morality - Part 2

Dr. Sam Harris thinks that secularists and atheists should be able to establish a "universal moral framework" - based on consensus that "the worst possible misery for everyone is bad."  This moral framework would work for the "greatest possible well being of conscious creatures."

At first blush this sounds reasonable.  And that is exactly what Harris thinks it should be... a product of reason and not religion.  But take a second look at this objective and see that it doesn't really have any foundation.  There is no hook to hang it on.  There is no fulcrum to give leverage to his rationality.

Harris is an atheist who espouses naturalism (no supernatural) and materialism (the material universe is all there is.)  According to these presuppositions, everything that exists is a meaningless accident of natural laws at work.  Laws of chemistry and physics governed the contraction and expansion of the materials of the universe that over the course of time resulted in the present order of things.  Life is an accident of nature - not designed - without purpose or meaning.

In such an accidental, meaningless and purposeless world, nothing is bad or good - it just IS.  Every event, every action, every reaction is simply the continuation of the laws of chemistry and physics as the purely material world moves through time.  Gravity pulls one or another galaxy into the vortex of a black hole.  The chemical reactions of one person's brain results in rape and murder.  The chemical reactions in another person's brain results in healing and nurture.  Life and behavior are random.  Nothing is good or bad - it just is.

In that philosophical context, what is the basis for considering anything - life, death, pain, pleasure, etc. - as morally good or bad?  Why would the well being of conscious creatures be good, but the suffering of conscious creatures be bad?  What if the well being of some conscious creatures was improved by the suffering or destruction of other conscious creatures?  What if Sam Harris decides that it is good to end the "suffering" of conscious creatures who don't share his view of the universe?

Although Harris claims he wants right and wrong to really mean something, he has no objective purpose or value in the universe on which to base that meaning.  He is left with his purely subjective feelings which (according to his worldview) are accidents of nature and are in no way superior to the worst examples he cites of child rapists, radical Islamists, etc.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Home Again, Home Again

We have been home again for a full week now.  It was good to be back in my pulpit after three weeks away.  Little by little we are catching up on the things that got away from us while we were on the road.

But we had a WONDERFUL time.  God blessed us with safety and good weather over 6107 miles of traveling.  We praise His name!

Sunrise Over Vishnu Temple at the Grand Canyon - June 17, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dr. Sam Harris: Atheist Morality - Part 1

I recently watched a fascinating video of a Richard Dawkins production.  It is a brief lecture at Oxford by Sam Harris entitled, "Who Says Science has Nothing to Say About Morality?"

Sam Harris identifies himself as a secularist and an atheist, but admits that he is troubled by the prospect of a world without "a universal moral framework."  He points out that religious people have long suggested that atheism would lead to an erosion of moral standards.  Dr. Harris says that he shares the concern that "unless we have a universal moral framework... a sense that good and evil and right and wrong really mean something, then humanity will lose its way."

Harris outlines his theory for atheist morality beginning with the premise that "the worst possible misery for everyone is bad."  To him this seems obvious.  Since that is so, he says he has a basis for morality quite apart from religion.  According to Sam, the universal consensus should be that it is good to seek the "well being" of conscious creatures.

Sam focuses on the the "sadism and misogyny" of the Taliban in Afghanistan as an example of he thinks must be agreed upon as being truly bad.  He describes the misery and peril of women and girls in Afghanistan.  He points out that women there die at world record levels.  He uses the example of a father throwing acid in his daughter's face as punishment for learning to read.

Harris mocks an unnamed woman who apparently shares his atheism/secularism but who, in discussion with him, said that the sadism and misogyny of the Taliban was not objectively evil, but only evil in Sam's opinion.  Harris laments the irony that it is the religious dogmatists that agree with him about the moral evils of such things.

I empathize with Dr. Harris over the his feelings that we need a universal moral framework.  But I disagree completely with his idea that any consensus of human opinion can ever be an adequate basis for any moral standard.  I believe that a true moral standard is determined by its correspondence to a morally perfect Creator God.

For one thing, if moral standards depended on the consensus of human beings there would never be moral standards because there are very few things that we could reach a consensus about.  A consensus is much more than a simple majority.  A consensus requires general agreement.  Even in the matter of Harris' example of the Afghan Taliban Sam would not be able to come up with at consensus that it was morally wrong.  As he points out, his fellow secularists and atheists think it is just a matter of opinion.  The billion or so Muslims in the world (14% of earth's population) might object to his views.

For another thing, even if consensus over morality were possible, we would still be left without the desired "universal moral framework... a sense that good and evil and right and wrong really mean something."  This is because such a consensus could (and almost certainly would) change over time.
 
Besides that, the consensus would not mean anything universal.  The "evildoer" in Dr. Harris' example, who throws acid into the face of his little girl might be hailed as a hero in his Afghan village - or even in the wider Muslim community - for putting his piety above his family.  If this were the case, how does Dr. Harris' belief that this act is "evil" really mean anything at all?

Unless there is a personal moral being who is greater than man and who can bring man into judgment, then every man will be a law unto himself.
(Judges 17:6 NKJV) In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Science of the Gaps

In arguing that evolutionary science is empirical and creationism is not, evolutionists have often mocked what they call the "God of the Gaps."  They say that when creationists come to something that they cannot explain - like what could be a reasonable precursor of the biochemical molecular machines in cells - creationists jump to the idea of divine design rather than continue to pursue a naturalistic explanation.

Of course the biochemical machines in question are more complex and elegant than any man made technology - say a cell phone or laptop computer - and they operate according to large volumes of programmed information (DNA) without which they would be meaningless structures - like a cell phone without a network.  Evidently if an evolutionist found a cell phone on the sidewalk, he could imagine that it was NOT the product of design, but somehow fell into place by fortunate accidents.

I was watching a BBC program about modern cosmology.  Starting with the Big Bang they outline the "Standard Model" and the ability of scientists to apply mathematics to the observed universe according to the theory that everything sprang from nothing 14 billion years ago in a huge explosion.  (I won't deal here with the fact that 14 billion years - even if it were all given to biological evolution with a "positive" mutation in every generation - could not begin to be enough time for the complexity of life as it now exists.)

How fascinating!  The Big Bang and the Standard Model explain everything we can observe!

Except that there is a uniformity in the universe - all the same temperature/energy all the way through and across and in every direction.  That doesn't fit the theory.  If there was a Big Bang then things should be as uneven as in any explosive blast.

Solution?  INFLATION.  The Big Bang was not so big after all, but remained relatively small for a billion years until all the energy evened out throughout it.  THEN the universe suddenly inflated (at many times the speed of light) to its enormous size.  How or why this should happen is completely unexplained.  But it is an accepted theory because it allows science to cope with the fact that the Standard Model doesn't explain the uniformity of the energy in the universe.

Wonderful!  The Big Bang and the Standard Model, plus Inflation explain everything we can observe!

Except that the galaxies we observe don't behave like the model predicts they should behave.  Given the known laws of gravity the galaxies are spinning wrong.  The outside elements are moving at the same speed as the inside elements.  That cannot be happening.  But we can see it with our own eyes.

Solution?  The Theory of DARK MATTER.  There must be more matter out there than we can observe.  It must actually be more of the stuff of the universe than the matter we CAN observe.  It must be invisible and it must be completely uninhibited by visible matter.   We cannot see it.  We cannot catch it.  We cannot measure it. (Can you say, "Blind Faith?") But it must be out there because it balances the equations for us.

Tremendous!  The Big Bang and the Standard Model, plus Inflation, plus Dark Matter explain everything we can see in the universe!

Until we discover that unlike the Standard Model predicts, the universe is both expanding and accelerating in its expansion.  The Model predicts that expansion should slow - that the enormous mass of the universe should cause gravity to pull everything back together.  But the acceleration of everything away from everything else means there is still some sort of energy operating on the universe that is greater than the pull of gravity!

Solution?  There must also be DARK ENERGY.  We cannot see it.  We cannot measure it.  We know not where it originates or why.  But it must be out there because otherwise the equations don't work.

Fantastic!  The Big Bang and the Standard Model, plus Inflation, plus Dark Matter, plus Dark Energy explain everything we can see in the universe!

But wait!  There are places in the universe where the objects are behaving in a very peculiar way!  There are places where everything seems to be swept up in a stream and funneled together.  This shouldn't be happening.  How can this be?

Can you guess the solution?  There must be something called DARK FLOW!  (The program suggests that this is not widely accepted yet - but it seems to be the leading candidate to explain the observations.)  Somehow there are unexplained rivers of energy sweeping up hundreds of galaxies.

As far as I know, all of these theoretical fixes to the standard model may someday be proven in some objective way.  That doesn't bother me.  I believe that the God of the Bible created the universe and that He has made it wonderfully complex for His own glory.  (Inflation - the universe moving out to its current size in a few micro-seconds at a speed far exceeding the speed of light - sounds more like the biblical account of creation than like the big bang.)

The more important point from my perspective is that these naturalistic scientists - who cannot admit any "supernatural" elements in their theories - are nevertheless incorporating unobserved, unmeasurable and inexplicable elements of Inflation, Dark Matter, Dark Energy and Dark Flow.  It seems to me to be science of the gaps.  Any explanation will do, as long as it does not lead to God.
(Psalms 19:1–2 NKJV)
1 ¶ The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.
2 Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chasing Rabbits

 


There is a rabbit in this picture.  Can you see it?  Tiny is willing to chase rabbits - even anxious to chase rabbits. But since he only sees in black and white - he cannot see the rabbit unless it moves.

He looks kind of sheepish here because he didn't find the rabbit when I told him it was there.  He ran out into the yard and looked everywhere but where the rabbit was.  He got to within about six feet of this rabbit - and STILL didn't see it.
 
At that point he spotted a different rabbit and ran after it.  (He didn't run very fast, though.  He has an agreement with the rabbits not to actually catch them.)

 I called to him with instructions about where to find the first rabbit, but he didn't understand.  He kept looking, but he never did see it.  Poor Tiny.

He wants to please me.  He felt guilty that he couldn't spot the rabbit.

 After he came back to the porch he kept looking for the other rabbit.  He knew he had missed it.  He kept looking and looking.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sovereign Comfort

(Philippians 1:6 NKJV)  being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
What a wonderful verse - full of sovereign comfort!

As human beings we are conflicted by the fact that we WANT to control things and the fact that we CANNOT really control anything - including ourselves.

I have long believed that depression is related to our inability to control our world.  Loved ones die.  Trusted ones betray us.  Disaster comes on us unexpectedly.  Our expectations remain unfulfilled.  Our ambitions are crushed.

Isn't that depressing?

Many people avoid depression by denying these facts of life.  They pretend that they can control all of life.  The world is full of promises of health and prosperity through one or another secrets... vitamins, science, philosophy, religion, government, exercise, etc.  But eventually the truth will catch up with everyone.

Should we be depressed?  CERTAINLY NOT!

We cannot control the world, but we can know the God Who is Infinitely Good.  God does not change.  God's purposes cannot be thwarted.  God's love will never fade.  God's promises are sure.
(Hebrews 11:6 NKJV) But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. 
We find in God the Person we can trust absolutely.  We can even trust Him with all the "Whys" of our lives.
(Lamentations 3:22–23 NKJV) Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rain, Rain...

It feels like the rain is following me.
  • It rained here in Canton all through the beginning of last week.  
  • When I traveled to New York last Wednesday, it rained all along the way.  
  • While I was there it rained everyday- but here in Canton there was no rain. 
  • Now that I'm back in Canton... surprise...  It is raining again!
 They should import me to drought stricken places to see if the rain would follow me there.



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

THE END IS NEAR!

(With Harold Camping proclaiming that May 21 is the date for the Rapture and the Day of Judgment, I thought it was a good time to re-post this blog from last year.)

The iconic image of the religious fanatic is a mangy looking man in a robe holding a sign. What does it say on the sign? "The End Is Near."

Why is this the universal language for "religious fanatic?"
  • The man with the sign is anachronistic. He is on a modern cement sidewalk next to modern city buildings being passed by modern people in modern business attire - but he is barefoot, wearing a robe, with long (wild) hair and beard.
  • The man's message is trite. Many have said that the end is near and some have predicted the exact date and time for the end. But we are still here. The end has not arrived. The promise (or threat) is unfulfilled.
  • The man's point is vague. What exactly does he expect people to do about it? Can they avoid the end? Should they try? Is there any way to prepare for the end? Will panic help?
  • The man's authority is questionable. Who told him the end is near? Did he figure this out on his own? Is there astrological evidence? Was this direct revelation? Has he broken some secret code from some sacred text? Why is this man alone in his proclamation?

Nevertheless - it is my fanatical duty to state in no uncertain terms that "the end IS near." (In the interest of full disclosure I will admit that: I do have a beard - but it is short. As I write this I am dressed in a polo shirt and shorts and my feet are bare.)

THE END IS NEAR! How near? I'm not sure, but I am sure that it is nearer than most people would like to think.

At the very least, our personal end may be VERY near! Hundreds of thousands of people die everyday. Old people, young people, good people, bad people, white people, black people are dying right now. They die of disease or in an accident or by murder - for them, the end has arrived. And what makes you or me any different from them? You might be carrying some unknown disease that has not yet appeared in symptoms or tests. You certainly cannot know about the accident you will have this afternoon.

Even if our personal end is years ahead of us, it is nearer than it may appear. I am 54 years old. I don't feel much different than I felt when I was 27 - half my life ago. I am unlikely to live another 54 years - but what if I lived another 27 years to the age of 81? The last 27 years have passed like a flash of lightening! I suspect that the next 27 will seem just as fast or faster.
(James 4:14) ...you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

So, the end is near. But what is the point of saying so? There are several...
  1. Make the most of the time you have left. There is no time for procrastination. The opportunities you have today are not guaranteed for tomorrow.
  2. Don't be presumptous about your ability to keep yourself alive. Acknowledge your dependance on your Creator who has granted you life - and honor Him with your life.
  3. You had better find out now what God requires of you. You do not know when you will be called to account. What answers will you be able to give God when He examines you - and will they be sufficient?
(2 Peter 3:3–4) knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,
4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”

What about authority? Up to this point I have used logical authority... everyone has an end that is more or less near. But beyond this we have revelation from God - the Bible - that clearly says God will someday call a halt to the current order of things.
(Romans 13:11–12) ¶ And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
(James 5:9) ¶ Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
(1 Peter 4:7) ¶ But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.
The end is near! Do not ignore this warning!
(Hebrews 9:27) ...it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reality?

I don't watch much TV.  We got rid of TV back in 1985 and now we only see it when we are staying in a hotel or at someone else's house.

Last Friday, my wife and I were at a hotel and were able to catch a glimpse of the wave of Reality TV.

Wow!

This is popular????

Why on earth do they call this "Reality" TV?  If anything, it is sheer FANTASY.  What I saw was so unbelievably fake I could hardly stand it.

A young couple with four children wrestles with the difficult decision of which vacation home to buy in Fiji.  Their budget is limited to a half million dollars.  (What does this guy do for a living?)  The struggle is agonizing, but they somehow muddle through and settle for a $450,000.00 property.  Which will be perfect once they do a little work on the railings and add several thousand dollars in new furniture.  After the purchase they also come back to Fiji (again without the kids) to initiate the place with a huge party - at which the Fijians welcome them with traditional drinks and dance.  No doubt.

Reality?  You must be kidding, right?

I only saw ads for "Real Housewives."  I am very glad I didn't see more.  From the sound of it, they could better call it, "Real Fishwives."  That would fit with the shrieking and slandering that are evidently a big part of the dialogue.  Otherwise, REAL has no place in the title unless you are referring to the work of their plastic surgeons and hair stlylists.

Bizzare!

I watched a little bit of a cooking contest show where teams of chefs cook for celebrity food critics and a rock band in a sad RV kitchen.  Then they come in to be grilled by the panel about their cooking.  Nothing about that is real.  Wouldn't you rather have a REAL job?  But instead you can make money allowing yourself to be embarrassed on national TV!  I guess money is money.

I did enjoy some REAL cooking shows where celebrity chefs cook at home.  There you might learn something about cooking.  (I did learn that you should not add the garlic to the hot oil - because it will get burned.  Add the garlic later.)  The food looked great!

I also watched "House."  House wasn't at all real either, but it isn't called a reality show.  Nevertheless, it had an interesting story line.  It was frustrating that I could not rewind to catch things I missed (like on a DVD.)  It was also maddening that after five minutes of the show you had to endure five minutes of terrible commercials.

We won't be subscribing to cable anytime soon.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Weird Rules

I remember an old Bill Cosby routine where he talked about the strange signs on public buildings.  In particular, he described a sign on the post office door that said, "No Dogs Allowed."  Under that it said, "(Except Seeing Eye Dogs.)"  His question was - about the last line.  He asked, "Who is that line for?"  Is the dog supposed to read it?  Or is it for the blind person?

I thought of that the other day as I was using the restroom at Lehman's Hardware in Kidron, Ohio.  Clearly the health department must have a rule about posting signs in places that serve food.  You see such signs in all restaurant rest rooms.  They say something like, "Employees must wash their hands before returning to work."

I wonder who this sign is for?  Don't the employee's KNOW they should wash their hands before returning to work?  Do they need this reminder?  (I shudder to think...)  Maybe the signs are to reassure the customers that the employees will wash their hands.  (But that doesn't seem right, because I've noticed the signs are in the language most likely to be read by the employees - Spanish in Mexican restaurants and Chinese in Chinese restaurants.)

Assuming the reminder is needed, where should you post such a sign?  Many places post the sign near the sinks.  But if an employee is not inclined to wash his hands, he might never even see the sign as he rushes from the toilet to his place in the food preparation line.  (Ewwwww....)

At Lehman's the sign was posted on the wall above the urinals.  I suppose that was a good spot.  That way the employee could think about this reminder while he was taking care of business, then he could remember to go to the sinks afterward.  But this sign had something else.  Underneath the English lettering there were tiny bumps... Braille!

Now who do you suppose THAT is for?

How would a blind person even know that the sign was there at all?  If he could see well enough to see the sign, he could also read it.  If he can't see at all, should he just feel the wall above the urinals to see if he can find any Braille messages?  Should the health department be encouraging people to read Braille messages while they are standing at a urinal?  (Yuck....)

I don't read Braille - but I think the meaning of that sign is clear.  "The health department is an example of bureaucracy running amok."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Double-minded

(James 1:5–8 NKJV) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
God is is not a vending machine for the things we want.  He is the Sovereign Creator, Eternal, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Holy, Righteous and Glorious!

God cannot be conned.  God cannot be manipulated.  He sees our hearts.  He knows our motives.  God hears both our spoken words and our innermost thoughts.

Double-mindedness is a prideful disrespect for God.  When we should be sincerely seeking God's will and God's leading into His will, we are often only interested in what we want.  We want God to serve our will - as if He were our servant, our ox or our tool.  We see God as powerful, but not as the sovereign of all the universe.

Double-mindedness is impurity.  Instead of having pure motives of honoring, serving and glorifying God, we really want to build our reputation and serve our own pleasures.  (This can be especially pernicious in church ministries... "Lord, build your church so I will look good!"  or "Lord, give me a good sermon/lesson/solo so I will be praised.")
(James 4:8 NKJV) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Double-mindedness is halfhearted commitment to God's will.  We know what God wants us to do, but we love our pleasures.  It is hard to get up and study God's word, spend serious time in prayer, learn to share the Gospel with others or reach out to serve.  Double-mindedness results in tokenism.  We glance in our Bible and call it study.  We mumble a few words and call it prayer.  We leave a track on a park bench and call it evangelism.
(Psalms 119:113–115 NKJV)
113 I hate the double-minded, But I love Your law.
114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.
115 Depart from me, you evildoers, For I will keep the commandments of my God!
Double-mindedness is unbelief.  The double-minded do not love God and so they do not love God's word.  They are evil-doers who have not genuinely devoted themselves to keeping God's commandments.  Their religion is a sham.

So what can we do?  Believe in God and believe God's word.  Meet with God and develop genuine love for Him.  Make God's delight your own joy.  Carefully examine your heart and root out your sinful & selfish motives.
(James 4:8–10 NKJV)  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Such As I

It has been a wet Spring.  Out on the parking lot I can find many of these doomed worms.

They've been driven out of the ground by the water and now risk drowning in the puddles.  They are easy prey for the birds.  If they escape the birds and the damp, they will dry out and become worm crisps.

Meanwhile, they blindly grope in the vast blackness of the parking lot.  They have no eyes, no map, no hope.  They are doomed.  Do they know it?

Isaac Watts wrote "Alas! and did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die?  Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?" 

But this kind of language is unpopular now.  Our church hymnal reads, "...For sinners such as I?"  Others are evidently shy about even calling people "sinners."  They have, "...For such a one as I?"

I believe that Watts had it right and that it is good for us to recognize the truth about ourselves and about our salvation.
(Romans 5:6–8 NKJV) For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
Jesus did not die for us because we were so attractive to God, but in spite of the fact that we were repulsive rebels - hopeless & helpless.  We were doomed.  We were slimy with sin.  We were groping about blindly while waiting to die.
(Ephesians 2:4–5 NKJV) But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
It doesn't require mercy to be kind to nice people.  It is not remarkable to show love to people who love you.  There is no grace in giving people what they deserve.

But we were truly worms - dead in our trespasses and in sins - willing subjects of the Prince of the power of the air - children of disobedience who walked according to the course of this fallen world.

Only when I recognize the truth about myself in my lost condition can I properly appreciate the magnitude of God's love for me in Jesus Christ.

Alas, and did my Savior bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I have done,
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died
For man the creature's sin.

But drops of grief can ne'er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
'Tis all that I can do!

~ Isaac Watts

Monday, April 25, 2011

Joy in Trials

(James 1:2 NKJV) My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 
Why joy?
  • Because the trials prove the genuineness of our faith.
  • Because the trials lead to patient endurance.
  • Because the trials are necessary to developing maturity.
  • Because the trials assure we will be completely equipped.
Anyone can say (and many do say) that they have faith.  Is that faith genuine or false?  It is interesting that we can ask, because some people don't recognize this as a possibility.  Nevertheless, the Bible asks the question and provides this means of answering.  The profession of faith may be genuine or not, but the proof of the faith is demonstrated under the pressure of trials.

In chapter two, James will say it a bit differently: "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:20, 26)  His point is the same, however.  Abraham's faith was put to the test in the requirement that he offer up his son, Isaac.  But since his faith was genuine - he unflinchingly moved to obey - and his faith was demonstrated to be genuine.  Rahab's faith was put to the test in the treasonous decision to side with Israel by hiding the spies - instead of turning them over to the authorities of Jericho.  She did it because her faith was genuine.  (James 2:20-26)

Some poet said, "When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!" but patient endurance is more attractive.  Nobody wants to see people lose their temper or their composure.  A person who is ranting and raving or running away has failed the test.  But trials endured build patient endurance and that is what we want - so we can rejoice in trials.  This is how we grow into maturity.

I suppose that many Marine recruits might think the training program is too difficult.  Running, jumping, marching, practicing, polishing, crawling, climbing, etc.  But for people heading into combat, it would be no favor to ease off the trials of training.  They need every muscle and every skill to be completely developed so they are ready for whatever they will face in the war.  Moreover, they want every other recruit to be trained to the same level so they can all count on each other.

This is the message of James to the Christians.  These trials are not an accident.  They are planned by God to develop you.  As you patiently endure these things you will become completely equipped - ready for your continued service for God.

Count it all joy when you fall into various trials!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Terra-Cotta Soldiers

I was excited to be able to visit the site of the terra-cotta soldiers near Xi'an, China last week.  Some of the museum displays were closed the day I visited, but the major exhibits were open.  They did not disappoint.
The soldiers are fascinating on many levels.  For one thing, they are an art form of their own.  They are life size with tremendous detail.  Heads, hands and legs were made separately.

Some are in armor, some are in robes.  There are infantry and cavalry soldiers.  There are standing archers and kneeling archers.  There are officers and regular soldiers.

The heads are each unique individuals.  The different hats and topknots designate people from different people groups of the time.


In these pictures you can see that each soldier has a different facial expression.  Some look pleasant and happy - others more serious or even unhappy.

What was most surprising is the size of the army.  In the picture above, there are more than ninety soldier in just the first three rows.  The official count is over 6,000 warriors.  This would have been a considerable military force - had they been real soldiers.


But, in fact these were just clay.  Emperor Qin began the construction of his tomb and these soldiers soon after he became emperor at age thirteen.  Preparations were not yet complete when he died about forty years later - in spite of a conscripted work force of over 700,000 real people.  In spite of all of his efforts, neither his vast human army, nor his large clay army could help the Emperor when he faced death.
(Psalms 20:6–8 NKJV)  Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven With the saving strength of His right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.
8 They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Big Wild Goose

While in China, I visited the "Big Wild Goose Pagoda."


It is an impressive tower, originally built with five stories
in 652.  It collapsed after 50 years and was rebuilt with ten stories in 704.  In 1556 an earthquake damaged the pagoda and it was reduced to the current seven stories.

The pagoda and various buildings on the grounds of this Buddhist Monastery commemorate the travels and work of a famous Chinese Monk named Xuanzang.

Xuanzang lived in the 600's and traveled to India to aquire a complete set of the Buddhist scriptures.  His journey took over 17 years and involved many adventures.  When he came back, he translated the scriptures into Chinese.
Inside the Temple
It is interesting to me that Xuanzang's work in bringing the complete Buddhist scriptures to China are contemporary with the arrival of Christianity in China in 635.  (This is also around the time that Islam was being developed in the Arabian peninsula - but Islam didn't come to China until much later.)
Man Burning Incense & Praying


At the temple many of the people were tourists like ourselves, but there were also those who were participating in Buddhist worship.  This involved burning incense, bowing and praying, and lighting candles.

Lighting Candles & Incense
While the setting is different, it occurred to me that the practice is not all that different from the practice of some groups that call themselves Christian.

The golden images, the saints, the incense, the bowing, the candles, the pilgrimages are all hallmarks of religion based on human works.  It makes no difference at all if the image is of Buddha or Jesus or Mary.  The underlying premise is that by our act of worship I am earning the favor of the Deity.

Biblical Christianity recognizes that salvation cannot be earned.  Salvation in the Bible is a gift of God's grace through the completed works of Jesus Christ - both His sinless life and His atoning sacrifice of Himself for sinners.
Woman Bowing and Praying at the Incense Trough










Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Religious China

While in China I saw many expressions of religion that are not at all common in the USA.  The picture here was taken on the sidewalk just yards from our hotel in Xi'an.  Notice the chalk circle drawn on the sidewalk.  If you look closely, you might notice that the circle has an opening on the side.

Apparently, it represents a grave.  People draw the grave, then burn papers and fake money in the circle to for the benefit of their deceased relatives.  Exactly how this benefits the dead was not clear to me.
Vendors, conveniently located near the Buddhist temple down the street, sell supplies of paper ventilated with square holes (to assist the burning process) and all sorts of oversize paper money (including Chinese & US currency).

In the morning you would find the circles all down the sidewalks with smudges of ash still in the center.  I saw these both in Xi'an and in Beijing.

I don't know what exactly is going on in the minds of the people who are participating in these practices.  But it does seem to me that they are at least thinking about fact of human mortality.

Praise God that as Christians our hope is in Jesus Christ, who overcame the power of sin and death by His resurrection.  We will not need to hope that our living relatives will burn counterfeit money for us after we are dead.  We have an eternal dwelling - provided by God for us.

Back From China

Late last night I came home from my brief trip to China.

Xi'an - Ancient Drum Tower (at right)
Even if I were not seriously jet-lagged, it would be impossible to sum up my impressions of China in only a few words.  The country is huge.  It has a recorded history that dates back to thousands of years before Christ.  The cities I visited were very busy places packed with people.  Their economy seems to be booming with literally hundreds of building cranes visible in every direction erecting high rises.


My greatest impression, however, is about the people there.  They were friendly, polite, helpful, curious and wonderfully unassuming.  Of everything I encountered in China - the people were what made my trip such a delight!

I will write more about my experiences there once I get caught up on my work.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Remember Lot's Wife

(Luke 17:32 NKJV) Remember Lot’s wife.
This is one of those verses kids love to memorize because it only has three words.  But what does it mean?  Who was Lot's wife and why should I remember her?

The story is told in Genesis 19.  God has decided to judge the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by raining fire and brimstone on them.  Before bringing this destruction, however, God sends angels to rescue Lot and his family.  Rescuing this family turns into quite a chore, however.

First of all the men who are supposed to marry Lot's daughters don't believe him when he tells them.  They think it is a big joke and just laugh at Lot.  Secondly, Lot and his wife and daughters can't seem to get ready to leave.  In verse 16 they "lingered" in spite of the warning to hurry.  So the angels actually take them by the hand (by God's mercy) and bring them out of the city.

He wants to be saved, but not right now.

At this point the angels tell them "escape for your life..." and warn them not to stay anywhere on the plain and not to look behind them, but to run for their lives to the mountains.  But even here, Lot dithers.  He doesn't want to go to the mountains.  He wants to stay in the small city of Zoar.

He wants to be saved, but not THAT saved.

Finally, as the family is fleeing to Zoar, the fire and brimstone start falling on Sodom and Gomorrah.  I suppose that it must have been pretty spectacular - similar to a volcano erupting nearby.  (The probable location is now the lowest place on earth - near the Dead Sea.) I imagine there was a lot of ash and smoke and noise.

They should have been highly motivated to keep on going... But Lot's wife looked back - and was turned into a pillar of salt.  (I think of her when I see people who have been excavated from Pompeii - turned to rock when they were engulfed in hot ash.)

This is the history of the instruction to "Remember Lot's wife."  In Luke 17, Jesus is teaching about the coming day of judgment.  He is saying that we should be intent on escaping and not hesitate.  This will be true in the final days that Jesus is predicting, but it is also true today.

People are today confronted with the Gospel.  They admit they are sinners who deserve God's judgment.  They believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to save them from their sins.  They know they should call on Jesus for salvation.

BUT... they hesitate.  They want to be saved, but not right now.  They want to be saved, but THAT saved.

They want to be saved, but they turn back for a last longing look at their past life.

And that can be their undoing.  They don't make it.  They are ensnared in their past life.  They are frozen there - a pillar of salt at the edge of the destruction - entrapped and entombed.

Remember Lot's wife.

Don't hesitate.  Don't look back.  Give up your old life.  Give up this world's values.  Keep your eyes on heaven and run for your life!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lord, Lord...

(Luke 6:46 NKJV) ¶ “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?
I am a proponent of defining terms when we are talking to people about religious beliefs.  One of my pet peeves is the question, "Do you know the Lord?"

This question is definitely one of the worst ways to start a conversation with someone about their beliefs.  Who do you mean by "Lord?"  What do you mean by "know the Lord?"  Virtually anyone in any Christian denomination or cult will surely answer "yes."  Many people in non-Christian groups might honestly answer "yes."  (For example, the Hare Krishna mantra is devotion to "Lord Krishna.")

We need to be more specific.  "What is your relationship with Jesus of Nazareth?" 

What do you believe about him?  Who is he?  What did he teach?  Is the Bible account about him truth or fiction?  What is the meaning of his life and death?  Did he arise from the dead?  Is he alive today?  Is he coming back again?

What difference does Jesus make in your life?  Do you worship him as God?  Do you follow him as your Master?  Do you trust Him as your Savior - the atonement for your sins?  Is he the basis of your access to God and your hope in God?

"Do you know the Lord?" could mean almost anything, so it means nothing.  Those who use it think it helps them open a conversation, but in fact it stops them from having the conversations they need to have about the biblical claims for Jesus of Nazareth as Lord and Savior.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Snappy Comebacks...

(Proverbs 15:1 NKJV) A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.
Quick acceleration is admired in an automobile, but the ability to come up with a quick reply is dangerous.
(Proverbs 15:2 NKJV)  The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, But the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness. 
Quick answers are usually considered "witty."  That is, "showing or characterized by quick and inventive verbal humor."  But humor is based on irony and irony is closely related to sarcasm and sarcasm is frequently employed to embarrass or even to silence another person.
(Proverbs 16:13 NKJV)  Righteous lips are the delight of kings, And they love him who speaks what is right. 
Quick answers are not necessarily righteous answers.  They depend too frequently on puns - things that were not intended by the first speaker and that add no value to the conversation.
(Proverbs 16:18 NKJV)  Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall. 
Quick answers often spring from a proud heart.  But because they are QUICK answers, they cannot be carefully considered, and might be the equivalent of accelerating quickly into the path of an oncoming truck.
(Proverbs 16:21 NKJV)  The wise in heart will be called prudent, And sweetness of the lips increases learning. 
How much better to be cautious and careful with our answers!  The true value of our answer is not measured in speed, but in wisdom.
(Proverbs 16:23–24 NKJV)  The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, And adds learning to his lips. Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.
We don't need "snappy comebacks."  We need wise answers - well considered answers - God honoring answers - helpful answers that are "sweetness to the soul and health to the bones" of those who hear.
(Proverbs 16:32 NKJV)  He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. 
The victories we should be pursuing are not verbal victories over other people, but internal victories over our own spirit.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Glory Thieves

(John 15:5 NKJV) ¶ “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
Spring is almost upon us!  The snow has pretty much disappeared.  But I haven't seen any sign of early Spring flowers - not yet.  Where are the crocuses and daffodils?  Nothing yet, but the little dogwood looks like it is going to bloom again.

On the ground I have a litter of small branches, twigs and leaves.  They litter the ground and are just litter.  Broken from the tree, they are lifeless.  They are good for nothing but to be raked up and disposed of.

Jesus tells His disciples that it is the same way with us.  Life and productivity come only from our life giving connection with Jesus.  With Jesus we can bear fruit.  Without Jesus we can do "nothing."

Nothing?  What about the people who don't know Jesus (or disbelieve in Jesus), but still seem to be able to do something?  There are many nice people in the world who do many good things, champion good causes, raise good families, etc. all without reference to or belief in Jesus Christ.

Well, whether they believe in Him or not, the Bible says that Jesus is the Creator who sustains all things.
(Colossians 1:16–17 NKJV) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 
This being true, even the unbeliever owes everything good to Jesus and this results in a surprising irony.  The unbeliever's "good" will bring them God's condemnation because they fail to give God the glory He deserves for His grace in their lives.

They are glory thieves!  When they take the credit for their good, they blaspheme the God who is the true source of all good. 

Who made them into the wonderfully complex and self aware creatures they are?  Who imbued them with a sense of right and wrong or of good and evil?  From whom did they get the life that animates their otherwise material body?

Without God - we can do nothing.  All glory for all good things belongs to God.
(Romans 1:20–23 NKJV) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,
21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.