Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dump Gulls

Birds are wonderful creatures - incredibly complex, amazingly diverse.

We are not near any ocean, but we frequently see flights of sea gulls.  I imagine that they come down from Lake Erie, about 70 miles to our north, but I'm not sure about that.

The seagulls are clearly designed for a water environment. They have webbed feet for swimming. They are amazing fliers who can go long distances with very little effort - perfect for crossing large expanses of water. I know from seeing them at the ocean (and on nature programs) that they are excellent fishermen and usually nest near the sea.

But not around here.

Here they hang out in the Wal-Mart parking lot like juvenile delinquents.  They perch on top of the parking lot lights and waddle around near the shopping cart corrals.  They don't hold up cardboard signs, but they are clearly looking for a handout.  Left over fries or a discarded sandwich will cause a seagull riot.

Often I see gulls flying high overhead in the early morning light. They fly resolutely in a southeasterly direction.  Are they migrating?  No.  They are headed toward the county land-fill.  Down on that artificial mountain you will find thousands of them sunning themselves on the cover, or swarming over the newly arrived trash to find discarded food scraps.

They have become dump-gulls. They have given up their life on the edges of the sea and their work as fishermen to become scavengers of human garbage.  I'm sure they are perfectly practical in this adaptation - the waste is plentiful and easier to come by than fish.  But it somehow seems to be a shame.

I think people do the same kind of thing.  Instead of using our bodies and minds as God intended we find shortcuts that are easier.  We feed our minds on drivel and spend hours in shallow entertainments.  We take the path of least effort - least resistance - most immediate gratification.  But it is a shame - no deep thinking - no higher goals - no difficult accomplishments.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fall Days

Cool temperatures, bright sunlight, frisky breezes, crunchy leaves.

Raking, bagging and dragging leaves.

Cutting back the thorny rose canes. Trimming back the shrubs.

Dumping clumps of shriveled summer plants.

Mothballing the mower.  Gassing up the snow-blower.

Firing up the furnace and flushing the boiler.

Shorter days, longer nights, setting the clocks back.

Acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin pie and apple cider.

Browns, yellows and orange - warm colors of cold weather.

Breaking out the coats and scarves and hats.

Thanksgiving celebrations and family reunions.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Atheists In The News

I've noted several articles lately that spotlight atheists.

I wrote some time ago about the formation of secular "churches" frequently called Sunday Assemblies.  Atheists attend for comraderie with like-minded unbelievers.  They listen to lectures.  They sing favorite secular songs.  They read poetry.  They also get groups together to help in community service projects.

The Sunday Assemblies are in the news again because their numbers are growing - they more than doubled the number of their congregations worldwide. But don't get too excited.  Their numbers are still very modest - they have grown from 28 congregations to 63.  (32 in the USA.)  It seems that most secularists are not very motivated to attend weekly meeting of this sort on a regular basis.

An opinion article in "USA Today" asked the question, "Can Atheists Be Elected?" The article noted that although about 20% of Americans give "none" as their religion in polls, only one openly atheist person is running for national office in the 2014 election.  The author bemoans the fact that it is apparently impossible for an atheist to have a chance of being elected and suggests that many politicians are probably atheists who are lying about their religious beliefs for political reasons. The author thinks that more atheists should come "out of the closet."

I suspect that the author of the article is correct about there being plenty of politicians who are lying about their religious beliefs in order to get elected.  But I think it is strange to portray atheists who want to be elected as victims of some sort of bias. People want to elect people who they trust.  Most religious people don't trust atheists.  The attacks of atheists Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins on religious people do nothing to build trust in atheists.

So, they cannot have it both ways. If they are going to mock religious people for their religious beliefs and try to force religious people out of public life, they should not be surprised if religious people will not vote for them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sam Harris & The Demagogues

I love Sam Harris. He is smart. He is well spoken. He is a thinker. He is ironic and sarcastic and sees the humor in things. I really enjoy listening to his presentations and debates and interviews - even though I disagree with him on almost everything - certainly on his atheism.

One of the ironic things about Sam Harris is that he is often agreeing with people about principles even though he despises the people with whom he is agreeing. He agrees with people of faith that it is important to have universal moral principles and that Islam is not a religion of peace - but he despises people of faith. In various contexts I have heard him say something like, "...it is unfortunate that the only people who agree with me on this are religious demagogues."

I am pretty sure that he means that people of faith are coming to their conclusions through ignorance and prejudice, while he is coming to his conclusions through well reasoned argument. Fair enough. I think he can probably find many examples of ignorance and prejudice among religious peoples around the world.

I would make the point, however, that just because a view is held by people who are ignorant or prejudiced does not mean they are wrong about that view. One proof is the fact that Sam Harris sometimes agrees with the views of demagogues he despises and disagrees with the secularists that he identifies with.

On the other hand, just because Sam Harris is a scientist, it does not mean that he himself is not a demagogue. He preaches his anti-theistic views with as much demagoguery as anybody. Certainly he cannot argue that he is not prejudiced in his approach to every question. He is. He approaches everything from his own worldview presuppositions. Anything that does not fit is excluded.

As for ignorance (not to be confused with a lack of intelligence) Sam Harris makes errors even in his public presentations. He evidently subscribes to a long discredited theory of cultural evolution in which he sees non-western cultures as "primitive." He also seems to believe that people a mere 2,000 years ago were somehow less evolved than humans today - not able to reason as well as he is. (I'm sure he knows this is completely false even according to evolutionary science - but he treats people of those time periods and earlier as if they were idiots and very gullible.)

Then there is his faith. He has faith that there is no God. He has faith that matter and energy are eternal - they never came into existence. He has faith that natural processes and principles turned an explosion into the universe and eventually brought about life. He has faith that macro-evolution existed and brought about the incredible diversity and complexity of life we observe today.

So, when he preaches his messages, Sam Harris is also a demagogue. He sees himself as brilliant and people who disagree with him as idiots. He does not believe in God - any god. Morality is relative - depending on utility. There is no sin. There is no ultimate justice. There is no hell and no eternal life.

He believes, and so he teaches. But this is demagoguery - not proof.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Beheadings and Atrocities As Evangelism?

For most of us the ISIS organization seemed to appear out of nowhere. Suddenly they were sweeping over Iraq and conquering cities. Suddenly they were there and they declared themselves to be a Caliphate - the successors to Mohammed as the rightful leaders of the umma - the whole Islamic community.

Not only was it sudden, but it was shockingly brutal! Since they represent the true Islamic community, anyone who resists them should be killed. So they have slaughtered thousands - mass executions of prisoners, crucifixions, beheadings, and rape are part of their repertoire.

Not only do they do these things, but they broadcast them through social media. In particular, they recorded the beheadings of two American journalists along with a message of defiance against American airstrikes in Iraq.

So what is this all about? Why are they so brutal and so exibitionist in their atrocities?

For one thing, they are modeling themselves on the Islamic movement under Mohammed and the original Calphs that followed him. What they are doing is pretty much identical to the approach of early Islam as they swept through the Middle East, across North Africa and Spain. The severe brutality of their treatment of conquered peoples tended to increase "conversions" and reduce opposition.

Another thing they are doing is recruiting people to their cause.  For Moslems who live in secular countries (even the Moslem majority secular countries) this Caliphate is a promise of a return to the golden days of Islamic expansion and the promise of Islamic world domination. For them, this is the promise of a utopia where people all live under strict sharia law and justice for lawbreakers is swift and severe. For them the end justifies the means and participation in this fight is submission to God that will be rewarded in the next life.

This Caliphate is attractive to some who are jaded by American hyper-individualism and the constant pursuit of pleasure. The Caliphate offers community and a simple path to transcendent purpose in life - even if it requires brutality against the infidels.

How sad that American Christianity has been so absorbed into American individualistic "good times" culture that these nascent Islamists have not learned the true Christian path to transcendent purpose in life by following the call to love God; to love our enemies; to love our neighbors; and to love each other - as God has loved us in providing salvation through Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Where Cults Come From

Yesterday I was standing on the steps of the church greeting people as they arrived at church. A white van pulled into the parking lot and eventually stopped in the driving lane - positioned for a quick getaway, I think. A middle aged man got out of the driver's door and walked toward me.

"He's going to ask for money," I thought. Then I noticed the single page of paper in his hand. Maybe it is an invitation to an event. Maybe it is a documentation of his need for help. What could it be? He thrust it at me and growled, "Read this! You'll find it interesting!" Then he stalked back to his van and left.

I found it interesting, but not like he was suggesting. His paper is two full sides, single spaced with 64 points about the requirements of a church that is incorporated as a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization. The gist of the introductory paragraph is that an incorporated church is not a real "NEW TESTAMENT Church." (His capitalization.) He states that "they have joined into a covenant with the federal and state governments that supersedes the NEW COVENANT with Jesus Christ." (His capitalization.)

So, this is how cults get started.

This guy has a chip on his shoulder. I gather that he sees himself as one of the last true followers of God and his message is a prophetic condemnation of the vast majority of churches because they are incorporated as 501(c)3 tax exempt organizations.

Some of his points are true - churches are obligated to file tax info on their employees. But since Jesus himself paid taxes (Matt. 17:24-27), and since Romans 13 says believers are obeying God when they obey the government and pay taxes, I'd say his point has no point.

Some of his points are built on false assumptions such as being "nontaxable" (sic) is "a God given right basis (sic) on the Bible and the First Amendment of the US Constitution." Actually, Jesus said, "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." (Matt. 22:21) There is no suggestion in the Bible that churches should be tax free.

Many of his points are alarmist warnings that tax exempt status opens the door to government control that will lead to the ordination of women, same sex marriage, and building safety regulations. (Actually, it is our insurance company that wants us to take care of building safety.) I cannot say that there is no potential for government attempts to interfere with church practices in the future - but that is certainly not the case now.

But this is how cults get started. One guy with a grudge who is sure the existing churches are in league with the Devil. They are all false, but he is true and passionate (if maybe not all that accurate). He will work to distribute his prophetic message and will gather followers. They will huddle together as the last true church - the restored church - the remnant. They will preach mostly about their pet doctrines - and in this case will not pay taxes until they find themselves being "persecuted" by the IRS.

2Tim. 2:22-26 ¶ So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wonderful Hope

It is true that I have a fatal disease (myelofibrosis) and I've just used up the first year of my seven year "mean life expectancy" since diagnosis.  It is also true that my dear wife is about to begin difficult days of chemo and radiation treatments in an attempt to beat the odds on her endometrial carcinoma.

These unexpected and unpleasant developments are, in many ways, overwhelming.  We are being carried away by a tsunami of trouble in a sea of uncertainties.

Doubts and fears assail.  We don't know how these things will be resolved. We don't know how we will endure.  We don't know what it will cost us on so many levels... We don't even know what all the dangers are, much less how they will be met.

But if you were to ask how we are, the answer is, "Wonderful!" And we are... not that there are no fears or doubts or even tears. We are wonderful in that we have a confidence - a hope - that reaches beyond our problems.
"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." (Psalms 20:7)
Certainly we hope our doctors are competent and we hope Lola's treatments have their desired effect and we hope they will soon come up with some safe treatment for myelofibrosis... but these are not the sources of the hope that gives us peace.

The mortality rate for humans is 100%.  Everybody dies.  It is impossible to know if we will die from our disease or from the attempts to save us from our disease. 

But Lola and I have a hope that is sufficient even for facing certain death.  Our hope is in the one true and living God of the Bible.  We trust in him.  We trust that his provision in Christ is sufficient for our forgiveness and reconciliation to God. We trust that in Christ we will have everlasting life in heaven after we pass from this world. We trust that the struggles we are now facing will serve a good purpose in God's overall plan and will bring him glory.

God has not promised that this sin soaked world would be heaven on earth for those who follow him.  In fact, he said that if you follow him you will be a stranger here - often an outcast.  We don't follow Christ for a trouble-free life. We follow Christ because he is worthy of our devotion and worship - even in the midst of troubles.

We are not sufficient for these things, but God is sufficient. We hope in him.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:9–10) 

Friday, August 8, 2014


E.C. Haskell sent out this "thought for today:"

Many pray for forgiveness while in reality claim amnesty. Consequently our worship is cold [why thank God for a grace we don't need?] and our faith is weak.

It is an interesting idea that amnesty is an "intentional overlooking" - usually by a government regarding some sort of widespread crime. For example, there is sometimes "tax amnesty" for cheaters if they make some minimum payment. After the Vietnam War there was a general amnesty for those who dodged the draft. Some conservatives are adamant against giving amnesty to illegal aliens living in the United States.

The suggestion in the E.C.'s "thought" is that forgiveness is more than amnesty. I'm not sure that distinction holds up in general English usage. Amnesty and forgiveness are listed as synonyms. Of the two, forgiveness seems to be the more general term.

But the underlying point is valid - sometimes take God's grace for granted.

Maybe it is that amnesty is general and forgiveness is personal. People have largely forgotten about the holiness and judgment of God. They have become functional universalists who believe God has given a general amnesty to everyone for all sin. But the forgiveness of God is personal - offered to individuals who come to him in faith and repentance. Perhaps if we reflected on the personal aspect of forgiveness we would be more sensitive about our sins.

Maybe our carelessness is because amnesty usually means there is no penalty. God's forgiveness, however, is based on God's atonement through Jesus Christ. We are forgiven our sins, but Jesus took our punishment on himself. Perhaps if we reflected on the tremendous cost for our forgiveness we would be more grateful for our salvation.

Maybe it is just our sense of entitlement. We don't think our sins are all that bad. We think we have done God a favor by choosing to be on his side. In our minds we think, "Of course God saved me - what's not to love about me?" Perhaps if we thought about the infinite crimes we have committed in our rebellion against our infinitely good Creator we would be more grateful for his gracious salvation.

Our sins are serious. We deserve nothing but hell. God, the righteous judge, did not just throw out our case and acquit us of our crimes against him. He provided a substitute who took our punishment, paid our penalty, so that we could be forgiven.

Grace doesn't mean there was no cost - it only means that the cost was borne by another. Thank God for his indescribable gift. Don't take God's grace for granted.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Live Like You Were Dying

Tim McGraw had a county song, "Live Like You Were Dying." Generally speaking, I'd say he makes some good points.

When we assume that we have unlimited time, we are not careful enough about using our time well. We think, "there is always tomorrow or next week or next year." The "nice thing" about having a life threatening disease is that we have to be more disciplined - to take care of the most important things in life while we still can.

I would not suggest that you should put your life at risk by sky diving or bull riding. (One life threatening thing at a time is plenty.) But I think McGraw is suggesting that if you are already dying, why not try something dangerous? I would say, "If you are already dying, why not show the courage to face important but difficult things?" Stand up for what is right. Be courageous for the truth. What can they do to you?

To me, "live like you were dying" means not taking life for granted and doing the things in life that are most important. Like the song says, we need to concentrate on our relationships with God and men. We need to think of others and express our love while we have the chance. We need to use our days well - all the days we get. We need to appreciate life and not just rush through it.

We are all dying whether we have a diagnosis of a deadly disease or not. If you live like you are dying then a fatal diagnosis will not change your life so much after all.


He said: "I was in my early forties,
"With a lot of life before me,
"An' a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
"I spent most of the next days,
"Looking at the x-rays,
"An' talking 'bout the options an' talkin’ ‘bout sweet time."
I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end?
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man whatcha do? 

An' he said: "I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'." 

He said "I was finally the husband,
"That most the time I wasn’t.
"An' I became a friend a friend would like to have.
"And all of a sudden goin' fishin’,
"Wasn’t such an imposition,
"And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.
"Well, I finally read the Good Book,
"And I took a good long hard look,
"At what I'd do if I could do it all again,
"And then: 

"I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'." 

Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An' what did you do with it?
An' what can I do with it?
An' what would I do with it? 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Good Is Evil

Isaiah 5:20-21
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!

This is not talking about putting sugar in the salt shaker or salt in the sugar bowl.

Yesterday a court ruled that restrictions on abortion requiring doctors to have admitting privileges in local hospitals was unconstitutional because it would effectively close several abortion clinics and interfere with a woman's right to kill her unborn child.

Meanwhile, the same people who celebrate this decision are pressing to have the "barbaric" practice of capital punishment abolished under the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Killing an innocent infant is good, but killing a convicted murderer is evil.

Also in the news...
New study finds children exposed to religion have difficulty discerning between fact and fiction.
Commentators were amazed over a man being acquitted for spanking his child.
Courts across the country are striking down laws against same sex marriage as unconstitutional.

It would be a huge mistake to see this as a liberal versus conservative issue. Some of the most conservative voices are promoting greed, selfishness and oppression as patriotic virtues. They call good evil and evil good - just like the liberals.

The source of the problem is human pride that believes its own sense of right is a sufficient measuring rod. They are guided by their own feelings and their own interests as they perceive them. But they have no regard for God and no objective guide for what is good and what is evil.

Up is down, left is right, light is dark... This is our world.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

God Is Good

1 Chronicles 16:34
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

This psalm of praise is a theme throughout the Old Testament. In times of celebration and in times of crisis, God's people are encouraged to remember that God is good and His steadfast love endures forever.

The future is unknown. We are flying into the darkness at the speed of light. We are bumping into obstacles and experiencing surprise and pain. How can we keep from panic? How can we avoid depression and despair?

The answer is hope.

Right now we can only see one glob of paint on the canvas and it is so close to us that it is not even attractive. But this is a work in progress. There is a painter at work who is competent and careful. He will add other colors, use different brushes and keep working until the whole picture is complete. Then we will stand back with him and see the whole. Then we will appreciate the beauty of his plan.

We must have hope that life is not random. The work we do, the relationships we have, the trials we face are all part of a meaningful pattern that we will appreciate when we can see it from the right perspective. 

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

We trust in the God who has revealed himself in the Bible. Our hope is in him. We can't see the whole picture, but we know about the painter. He is good and his steadfast love endures forever.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pursuing God

I recently caught just a snippet of a radio program. The person being interviewed talked about the difference between success and mastery as objectives of endeavor.  She pointed out that the pursuit of mastery comes from a love of the process, while the pursuit of success comes from a desire for society's approval.

That is about all I heard, but I've been thinking about this.

Presumably, two people could engage in the same activity for completely different reasons. They might, for example, both take up target shooting with a pistol. They buy the equipment, they study the subject, they get training and they go to the range to practice or compete.

The one is pursuing success. For him, the ultimate objective is to win his matches and receive the prizes and recognition that come with winning. It is not that he will give up if he doesn't win every match, but unless he sees his progress and feels that he can ultimately begin winning matches, he will not be satisfied.

The other is pursuing mastery. In his case, he just likes the whole experience. He likes the equipment, the study of it, the people associated with it, and most importantly, he likes doing it. He might never actually enter any formal competition, but he will keep practicing. Winning a match is unimportant to him and his enjoyment of the sport. He works to master the skill for love of the process.

It is easy to see the application of this to Christian living and ministry. Some pursue Christianity and even ministry out of a pursuit of success. By being a Christian they might be praised by other Christians. By being in ministry they might get more praise and there are even celebrity Christian ministers. The big danger is that very few get much success out of the pursuit of Christianity. They may end up frustrated and discouraged.

Christians should pursue Christianity because of a love for Christ. We love to get to know Christ better through the study of his word. To spend time with God in prayer is our delight. To fellowship with other Christians is refreshing. To teach or preach is a tremendous privilege and a great joy. We strive to master the material out of a love of the practice of Christian disciplines.

Lola and I are going through some deep waters these days. A year ago, I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis - a kind of chronic leukemia. I was told my mean life expectancy was about seven years. This summer my dear wife, Lola, was diagnosed with uterine cancer. After her hysterectomy a few weeks ago, the pathology showed that she has stage III C 1 cancer, so she is preparing for a long series of radiation followed by several rounds of chemotherapy. The statistics give her a 47% chance of surviving five years.

These developments give me a sinking feeling. They definitely don't feel like "success" and it is very tempting to say, "Why did we spend all these years and all those dollars pursuing our educations, ordination, certification, etc.? What have we accomplished - and now we are hanging on by the skin of our teeth."

The answer is, "We pursued these things for the love of Christ and he is worth it all." Our delight in God and his word and his people has motivated us. Our respective cancers are another opportunity to learn to depend on God through difficulties and to demonstrate God's sufficiency in trials.

We aren't dead yet and it may be that God will give us both twenty more years of life... but we just don't know. What we do know is that he is worth living for, no matter what happens in this life.

(Philippians 1:20 ESV) as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Did I Wake You?"

This morning, at about 8:15, as I was getting in my truck to come to the church office, my phone rang. I answered it and the person on the other end - a dear friend and brother in Christ - said, "Did I wake you?"

I get this pretty often, and I'm not sure why. At almost any time of the day I will get calls from my church members who will start the conversation by saying, "Did I wake you?"

Is it because they were afraid of waking me up?
Is it because I sound groggy?
Is there something about my voice?

I am an early riser. Since I was in junior high school (many many years ago) I have usually set my alarm for 5:00 AM. I rarely sleep in, but sometimes I get up even earlier. By 8:00 AM I have been active - exercising, reading, writing, praying, etc. - for just about three hours. (I most definitely have had at least one big cup of coffee.)

Of all the hours of the day, I love the early morning hours the best... the dawning sun, the bird songs, the fewer interruptions.

"Did I wake you?" What, at 8:00 or 9:00 or 10:00 or 11:00?! Not likely!

Why would people think they woke me up? I worry that they think I'm lazy and I sleep in until noon everyday. Maybe they get up early, but they think everybody else sleeps in late. Maybe they think pastors are especially likely to sleep in late. Maybe they just think that I personally am the type of person who sleeps in late.

I don't know, but it does make me nervous!

Monday, April 7, 2014

"True Love" Is The Problem

Why do so many people's relationships end badly? People who professed their undying love to each other end up leaving the relationship and professing their undying love to someone else. In many cases this is a serial behavior... one after another... time and time again.


I think that true love is the problem.

Of course, true love is also the ideal of romantic fancy. Somewhere out there is the one person who is your true love. The goal is to find that person and in that relationship find the perfect joy of absolute fulfillment that results in "happily ever after." Songs and books and films and children's storybooks all promote this ideal.

But how does one recognize one's "true love?"

Well, you just know, of course. Somehow you recognize your true love and your heart sings and you are completely, head over heals, without reservation, sure that this person is your true love.

But this "true love" experience is very much like simple infatuation. The new person is exciting. There is sexual attraction. There are interesting mysteries and stimulating conversations. There is the thrill of having another person interested in you. And there are very few known foibles that will irritate you later.

"Happily ever after" ends up being much less exciting than the initial relationship. Now there are the foibles - the bad breath in the morning - the chewing with his mouth open - the uneven sharing of household duties - the competing interests.

Eventually, true love doctrine leads to the conclusion that you've made a mistake. This person was not really your true love. You could never be irritated by your true love. You could never be disappointed in your life with your true love. Your true love must still be out there somewhere! You must look for him or her... over and over again.

True Love (so called) is actually sensuality - living by your feelings. As long as the other person makes you feel really good - they are your true love. But if they fail to make you feel really good - they must not be your true love.

REAL Love, on the other hand, is commitment. In our culture there must be some basis for initial attraction and some level of compatibility in beliefs and values. But there is also a realistic understanding that the other person is imperfect. There should also be an understanding that both of you will change over time as you have good experiences and bad experiences. You will struggle as you deal with stressful situations and you will fail each other on many occasions.

But real love says, "I am committing myself to you, no matter what happens, no matter what changes, as long as we both shall live. Riches or poverty, health or sickness, success or failure, pleasure and pain are all the different fields on which I will prove my commitment to you. You will be my one and only. I will prove my loyalty. I will never give up."

That is real love. That's what you want.

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.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Everybody's Got A Water Buffalo (Or Should Have)

Everybody's Got A Water Buffalo
I walked out of the gate of the retreat center we were staying out and almost ran into the bigger water buffalo in the picture.

The fields in the background of the picture are rice fields. Each has a little dike around it so it can be flooded. The water buffalo are used as beasts of burden for plowing, pulling carts, etc.

I'm not sure where these guys were going. There was a small calf trailing along with them, so it might have been a whole water buffalo family. I don't know.

The bigger animal had the rope right through the cartilage of his nose - so I know why he was so docile on that long rope. The smaller animal had the rope tied around its horns. Nevertheless, they ambled along without giving the man any trouble.

The building in the back left of the picture is a temple for ancestor worship. As it was explained to me by a Chinese man there, the building is paid for and maintained by gifts from the family members. The building is used for family gatherings and there are shrines inside with names of various ancestors. Incense and other offerings are made. Prayers are offered.

This is more than just honoring the memory of a departed patriarch. The ancestors are not necessarily seen as "gods," but more like spirit beings who could influence your life for good or evil depending on how you please them with honor and offerings.

The man who talked with me said this kind of ancestor worship is a problem for people who convert to Christianity. They do not want to participate in it, but if they refuse to give money to support the family shrine or temple they can be thrown out of the family and shunned by their relatives. I suppose this is more of a problem in these small rural villages than in the cities.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Secret Cure For Self Pity

I believe root of self-pity is pride. I feel sorry for myself when I think I deserve better than I've received.

The cure for self-pity is to realize what I really deserve (the wrath of God against my sin) and to remember what I got instead (a new heart, a new birth, forgiveness and eternal life.) From there I can go on counting up the many blessings I have received and continue to receive day by day.

Another cure for self-pity is to focus on other people and to try to comfort them in their times of trouble. Today I get to make a couple of calls - one in a hospital and one in a nursing care facility. While talking with these people about their situations and their fears, my own concerns fade into the background of my thinking. I go to be a blessing and I am blessed myself.

God is SOOOOOOO good!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Preach The Word

I suppose that nobody plans to pastor a small church. In our pastoral minds we see people flocking (pun intended) to the church to hear our excellent preaching and teaching. Eventually the church will grow so that it is no longer a small church. But the truth is that most of the churches are actually small - less than 75 people.

Pastoring a small church means that the pastor is a shepherd (which is what pastor means). The shepherd is personally responsible for feeding the sheep, protecting them against predators, and dealing with their individual injuries. In a larger church the pastor is actually more of an administrator and the sheep are cared for by their small group leaders. (So the small groups are actually small churches within the large church...)

But pastoring is full of painful disappointments. For one thing people are not generally flocking to hear biblical preaching. Andy Stanley writes that people are not all that interested in truth - they are interested in happiness. So the solution (according to him) is to scratch their itch and make the church services and messages about their happiness. Messages that are more motivational talks than divine proclamation. Everything is topical and gives people practical advice that they can take home and plug in.

The problem is that I cannot do that. The commission I have from God goes like this...
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1–4) 
It seems to me that this specifically orders me to be concerned with communicating the truth rather than with teaching the things that suit people's own passions. If suiting people's passions is the secret to building a big (or bigger) church, then I guess I'm in trouble.

The word of God does not address the temporal happiness of people except to say that is not what they should be pursuing. They should be aiming higher - at eternal happiness.

Ironically, Andy Stanley justifies his happiness approach by referencing Jesus' sermon on the mount. Stanley (correctly) points out that the "blessed" in the beatitudes can be translated "happy." So, he says, Jesus is attracting people by telling them how to be happy. But look a little closer at Matthew 5:1-12

According to Jesus they would be happy if they:
  • Are poor in spirit (i.e., afflicted)
  • Are mourning (ironically)
  • Are meek (i.e., not the great and powerful)
  • Hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • Are merciful
  • Are pure in heart
  • Are peacemakers
  • Are persecuted for righteousness sake
  • Are reviled, persecuted and slandered for following Christ

The general point of the passage is that things are not the way they seem to the people of this temporal world. Those who are happiest and most powerful here are not the ones who will ultimately be happy. Those who are oppressed here for the cause of Christ (which involves a knowledge and obedience of God's truth) are the ones who will be ultimately blessed. But that blessing is beyond this world.

So, I guess I'm stuck. I would like to see people flock to the truth, but they don't. And while bigger flocks of people would make me happy in this temporal world - I am counting on happiness in the eternal life God has promised me. Part of that eternal happiness for me will be related to obeying God's word by preaching God's word - the whole counsel of God.

Preach the Word. It is the truth that people need - even when they don't want it.