Thursday, March 13, 2014

On Being Scammed

One of the realities of pastoring a small church is the fact that you are going to be hit up for money frequently.  I have found this to be true in both rural and urban ministry.  People you don't know will stop by the church or parsonage or will call on the phone and try to get you to give them money. Preferably cash.

I've been approached four times just recently.

  • A call on the phone from a guy "stranded" at a hotel... in need of help with another night's lodging... suffering because he hasn't had his medications.
  • A man stopping at the church during the day... in need of gas money to get to Cambridge to pick up his daughter who ran away to her grandparents after his wife left him.  He strongly suspects his wife is using drugs again.
  • A woman who appeared at church this past Sunday right as people were leaving... in need of money for food, diapers and household items. She and her family of nine people just moved to Canton to escape the chemical fumes in Steubenville. 
  • A man who came to the church this evening when he saw the lights on because of a ladies' sewing group meeting there.  He was in need of bus fare for himself and his family - and a ride three miles one way to where he had left his family.  (This and his father had just died an hour ago at Aultman hospital and his car had been towed after the serpentine belt broke.)

Now - are these people "for real?"

They are real people, but as for their stories, I have my doubts. Everybody who comes has a similar story. They all need help through no fault of their own.  They are all good Christians who go to church somewhere else.  (This last guy is supposedly the pastor of a small congregation in town.)  Nobody they actually know can help them until a few days from now.  They all are going to receive a government check, a disability check or a pay check in the next few days.  They would be glad to pay you back.  Their story almost always involves helping some invisible person(s) who are somewhere else.  They have always come to town or need to leave town or get across town to reach some person in distress.  Your help is really for that distant, stranded, youthful person.

They are expert at needing cash.  If you have food, there is some reason they cannot eat it.  If you have a bus pass they need to go somewhere the bus doesn't go. If you have a gas card, they need food. If you have a grocery card they need gas. Cash is the only thing they really want and they can be quite impatient with you if you don't give it to them.

I believe they are all fakes. Yes they live in some sort of generational poverty - but that is because their whole plan for making a living is to scam people out of money - five bucks here - twenty bucks there - and once in a while a Walmart gift card.

It always places me in an awkward position:

  • I can call them a liar to their face and cause a scene.
  • I can pretend that they are genuine and tell them "no" I'm not going to help them.
  • I can play along and give them at least some of what they want.

The Bible does say that we are to have compassion toward "the poor" and to not close our ears to their cries.  But the poor the Bible is talking about are people you know personally who have suffered some sort of disaster.  You know them. You know their family. You see them every week.  I will stretch myself to help them in significant ways.

But the scammers in the world are living foolishly and living by lying.  They think they are getting something for nothing, but they are not.  I'll help them in fives, tens and twenties. They are frauds and fakes.  The money they get will never take them very far.  They will never be delivered from their life of scamming through a life of scamming.  And for that reason I truly pity them.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Karl W. Giberson on Creationism

This weekend I read a well written article by Karl W. Giberson entitled "How Liberty University Creates Creationists." Giberson claims to be a Christian - although he doesn't define the term. He definitely does not believe the biblical account of God creating the earth ex-nihilo, and his article suggest that he thinks the idea is laughably simplistic.

I found the article excruciatingly depressing. I have so many objections that I barely know where to begin.

1. Giberson claims that very few people have historically taken the creation account literally. From his perspective the Genesis account of creation is easily dismissed as a poetic expression of... something. Evidently not something important to being a Christian, since he says he is one.

But in truth the account of creation by God from nothing by the word of his power is not limited to Genesis, but is reiterated throughout both the old and new testaments. It is reinforced as the basis for the seven day week and the sabbath day rest is a direct reference to the account of creation in six days. By observing the Sabbath, people were honoring the God who created all things in only six days.

Jesus himself refers repeatedly to the Genesis account of creation as explanations of how God intends things to be in the world. One of his primary conflicts with the religious leaders of his day is over his view that "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." He talked about Adam and Eve and God's original design for marriage. If Jesus took the creation account literally, I think I should too.

I would like to ask Giberson if the God he believes in is big enough to create the universe out of nothing or not?

2. Giberson believes in the Big Bang, evolution from a common ancestor, etc. Why? Evidently because, "The Big Bang theory is a near universally accepted explanation for the origins of our universe. It is supported by multiple lines of evidence, including red shifts, stellar evolution, the universal background radiation, and the convergence of several dating methods on an age of around 14 billion years."

My first reaction is that many "near universally accepted" explanations by scientists have historically proven incorrect given enough time.

My second reaction is that the "multiple lines of evidence" are far from unified in their support of anything. Several lines of evidence create huge problems for the theory - holes which are plugged with handy patches like the theories of inflation, black matter and black energy. (These are taken by faith because they make the math work.)

The big bang theory initially proposed that the universe should be contracting (it was near universally accepted) - but now it is known to be accelerating in its expansion. The universal background radiation is amazingly even in every direction - so in what direction is the center of the bang? (If we are looking back in history when we see distant stars, then we should see more energy, right?) The theory of inflation is an acknowledgement that something is amiss - the universe is too big to have gotten in place so soon after the bang unless everything traveled much faster than the speed of light.

These scientists were not present at the beginning, nor do they know anyone who was. They propose various ideas for how things might have happened, look for possible evidence and wrestle with the contradictions they find. But they do not ever consider any supernatural cause because they have a previous commitment to naturalism, materialism and uniformitarianism. It is not that the evidence excludes the supernatural, it is that their presuppositions exclude the supernatural.

I would like to ask Giberson how he knows that a universe created by an infinite personal God would not look exactly like the universe he is observing - including red shifts, steller evolution, the universal background radiation, etc.?

3. Giberson rejects not only the biblical account of creation, but also the biblical account of Noah, the flood and the ark. Once again, this account is not just a simple story in Genesis, but is found throughout the Bible, including in Jesus' teachings. Significantly, Noah and the people of his generation are mentioned by Jesus in his predictions about the coming final judgment.

I do not think that one must be a creationist to be a Christian. But how can a person claim to be a Christian if he deliberately rejects the God of the Bible and the views of Christ? According to the Bible God is the creator of mankind and it is because he is the creator that he can and will judge sin. Not only is his creation of the world an evidence of his greatness, it is also the source of his rights over the things created. In the end, he creates a new heaven and a new earth in which his redeemed ones live with him in sinless bliss. (I am guessing that Giberson does not believe in that either.)

I would like to ask Giberson what part of the Bible he actually does believe?

I said I find the whole thing depressing because it proves the Bible is true in disturbing ways.
(Romans 1:18–32 ESV) 18 ¶ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 

23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 ¶ Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 ¶ For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;
27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 ¶ And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,
30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.