Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Toothless Immigration Law

It is either fortunate or unfortunate, depending upon which side you are on concerning this new immigration law, that the undocumented workers in our midst do not realize that this new law is nigh unenforceable. First, the officers charged with enforcing this new law have had zero training on how to implement it. That means the average police officer knows about as much about this law as you do. Secondly, the restrictions on how to get "probable cause" to check documentation is very difficult. Allow me to explain.

This new law does not allow an officer to check documentation for the following reasons:

1. They cannot check documentation based on perceived ethnicity. That means that they cannot check simply because the person "looks Hispanic." No racial profiling.

2. They cannot check documentation due to an inability to speak English, or because of their accent.

That means if an officer pulls over an individual he suspects is of Hispanic origins who cannot speak English, he cannot check documentation based on these observations. So, what would lead to probable cause? That is, when the officer is summoned to court to testify, what will he say to the defense attorney that will satisfy the question of "Why did you ask for Mr. Garcia's documentation?"

How does the officer answer that? If he says it is because Mr. Garcia could not produce a valid driver's license, then that means you, my American friend, can now be detained for up to 48 hours until proof of your citizenship is attained if you lose your license and drive anyway. That may not sound too horrible, but consider this, However the officer answers that question can be directly applied to yourself. That means, inevitably, legal immigrants and even native born Americans can spend time in detention until they can produce proof of citizenship.

That's why I say that this new law is really toothless. No officer in Alabama wants to deal with the headache of accidentally detaining an American citizen because he did not produce a valid driver's license. No court wants to deal with the obvious problem of the officer who candidly admits, "I checked because he looked and sounded foreign." If he can't do this, exactly how are we going to enforce this law? I'm glad I am not a police officer in Alabama right now. This new law has certainly not done them any favors.

Don't worry about it overmuch. This isn't the first time that an anti-immigration law has passed that doesn't make any sense. In 1875, Congress passed a law that barred prostitutes from immigrating into the USA.

Perhaps we could help out our police officers by figuring out how they determined who was and who wasn't a prostitute in 1875. I think that would be an interesting study, don't you?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The execution of Troy Davis has once again put the issue of capital punishment in the spotlight. I confess at the outset that I am not sympathetic to the case. I believe that he received a fair trial and plenty of appeals. He was on death row for 22 years, and during that time his case was reviewed by 12 courts of appeal. He was convicted by a jury, and despite what is going around on the internet, there were multiple eyewitnesses who will still testify to this day that they saw Davis shoot a man in the middle of a parking lot in cold blood for interfering with the pistol whipping he was giving to another man.

The case made me wonder this: if the prosecution brought forward 34 witnesses to this deed, if a jury convicted the man, if the jury recommended the death penalty, if Davis lost every appeal, if the case was reviewed by 12 courts and once again at the order of the Supreme Court, and Davis was still executed, at what point would the critics of his execution be satisfied that due process was followed?

If someone is against capital punishment, I understand their never being satisfied with the verdict. It seems to me, however, that something different than that may be at play here. That is, if we live in a culture that has, by and large, rejected the idea of absolute truth. If we are allergic to objective truths by nature, then I wonder what sort of evidence is required now to prove anything "beyond a reasonable doubt"? It seems impossible to do so in a culture that is convinced the only reasonable thing to do IS doubt.

The PR team for the defense performed a near coup. They lost in the courtroom multiple times, but they seem to be winning in public opinion. How? They cast doubt on the judicial system. They said "seven of nine" eye-witnesses recanted. The public believed that, but is it true? There were 34 witnesses, not nine. None of the recantations made said that Davis didn't do it; they simply said they were no longer sure it was him. Actually, only two of the seven were supposed to have said that, but the defense never let them testify. Why not?

The defense also cast doubt on the officers who investigated the case by saying they coerced witnesses. Did anyone ask if the defense coerced the witnesses before the appeal? And, why are we ready to believe that the police stepped over the line without their being subject to a fair trial? The defense says that the witnesses said that they were coerced, and we just believe that? The courts didn't, and there are still witnesses to this day, even by the defenses account, that are willing to take the stand and say, "I saw Troy Davis shoot Mark MacPhail in the parking lot."

What does it take, then, to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt? Two eyewitnesses? Twenty? A video of the incident? DNA? Or could it be that we are simply so uncomfortable with saying, "This is the truth" that we can hardly pass judgment on anything anymore?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Primaries, Debates, and Figuring out who to Vote For

I believe that the Republicans have now held three major debates running up to the primary election. It seems to me, from reading commentary and the way the media portrays these debates, that the only function of these debates is to figure out which candidate to vote for. That is a terrible way to view the debate process, and because of this idea, it effectively silences all the candidates except the front-runners.

Take Ron Paul for example. He is definitely the weird uncle of the Republican primaries. I'm not going to vote for him, but I sincerely wish that he would get more time in the primary spotlight. Republicans need to hear the guy say what he says about Social Security, Medicare, and "preemptive attacks" on sovereign nations. Not necessarily because we need to adopt Ron Paul's views, but because we need to know that there are alternative view points.

Here is what is important to remember. Just because we elect Rick Perry, Barack Obama, or whomever America chooses, it does not mean that we have elected them whole-cloth, and that we can never oppose any of their agendas. Besides this, we may not completely agree with a certain agenda, but may simply wish it were more nuanced. Debates are supposed to help us do this with ideas. Debates are supposed to refine ideas and make them better.

Let's pretend that Rick Perry is your guy. You agree with him on 80% of what he says. But on the issue of Social Security, you actually like what Ron Paul says, with whom you agree with only 40% of the time. But to your dismay, Ron Paul is virtually ignored in the debates, and because Romney and Perry only want to talk about troop deployment, the serious issue of Social Security never even comes up. Worse, if Ron Paul drops out, you fear the subject will be virtually ignored. So you really, really want Ron Paul to stay in the race but you also really, really want him to lose because he is daft enough to say out loud that Iran should be allowed to have nukes!

The educated voter needs to have a good grasp of the issues. He needs to listen to the debates to see which ideas he likes the best. After he has his issues and ideas prioritized, then he can go about measuring the candidacy of each individual. This gives the voter the advantage of knowing his candidates strengths and weaknesses, and give him the ability to communicate to his preferred candidate his concerns should he get elected. It is our duty, as citizens of the United States, to respect our elected officials, but also to communicate to them our concerns in a respectful manner.

It is probably too early to have chosen a candidate for office. Unless, of course, you are a Democrat who thinks President Obama has done a bang up job, or you have followed the career of a particular candidate enough to know that this is your candidate no matter who else runs.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

You Can Never Go Back

A few friends and I had a conversation recently about how difficult it is to watch a football game now that is not in HD. We all laughed at how grainy old football clips are, even to the point of not being able to follow the football very well. The odd thing is that, at the time, none of us even noticed that the picture was grainy.

This phenomenon happens with just about every technology. Old pictures are far fuzzier than you remember when you first took them. We wonder how anyone ever played a game like "Pong" or "Space Invaders." And who doesn't notice the improvement of special effects in movies now?

I don't know of anyone who would trade HD for the old grainy TV. I hardly know anyone still using a "film" camera. We would never go back to those antiquated technologies. They simply do not capture reality as beautifully and as easily as modern equipment.

It is the same with the disciple of Jesus Christ. At each moment of our journey in Christ, we believe that we see our Lord clearly, and that we understand the beauty of His Word. Yet, with each successive day He comes into clearer focus, and His glory and worth becomes clearer. Sometimes, we will stumble across an old journal entry, or a note scrawled on a page, and we may chuckle at how we understood our Lord and His promises. We may marvel at our uncertainty, brashness, pride, or understanding. We see that, at that time, our picture of God was very grainy. We should be glad that the clarity has improved, and we should be grateful that we never have to go back.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Life as an Alien and Sojourner

This year I have the privilege of coaching U-8 soccer. I have three Hispanic boys on my team, one of whom barely speaks any English at all. The English of his parents is even worse. I communicate with them in a mix of my terrible Spanish and English. I love these folks, and they seem to genuinely appreciate that I have taken an interest in their children.

I try to imagine what these parents must have gone through to get here, and how difficult life must be from day to day, surviving in a world of white faces. I know what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land. I lived for about three months in Brazil as the only "gringo" around. My Portuguese was fair at best. You cannot imagine how complicated it is to continually calculate dollars to reals. How much is this Coke costing me? The figures are meaningless to you. Is 5 reals for a Coke good or bad? It looks like you are giving them five dollars, but you aren't. And how much change am I owed? What are the coins worth?

You cannot ask the right questions. You don't know if you've received the right change. Everyone is looking at you because you are different; you feel isolated and out of place. You finally muster the courage to speak this strange tongue, and your inquiries are met with blank stares because you misspoke. They cannot understand you. You can't find the bathroom, and you cannot ask where it is. You think you got short-changed, but you can't be certain. If you add to this a general sense of hostility from the locals and the sinking feeling that you aren't wanted there, and you have a recipe for high stress to say the least.

This is how what the Hispanics go through here, every day, whether they are legal or not. If they are illegally here, it is much worse. The paranoia of getting caught must be overwhelming. Why did they come here? To flaunt American laws? Surely not! The vast majority came to find a better life. They came to escape the horrible drug lords and wars that are raging south of the border. Some came to escape a mass grave. Have you read the news about what's happening in Mexico? Would you stay with your family, or would you run for their lives?

This is not simply an economic issue. This isn't about an over-burdened tax system and non-contributors. This issue is about people. It is about children. It is about families. Yes, it does present a challenge to us and to our schools. But our first concern should not be the budget's bottom line. Any decision we make must be seasoned with compassion for a fellow human being, even if that decision is inevitably deportation.

Christian, you ought to have compassion for the alien and sojourner in your midst. You ought to remember that we are all aliens and sojourners here: this is not our home. You ought to remember that you are called to be a servant of the nations. Does this mean that you can't have a strong opinion on deportation of illegals? No, it does not mean that. It does mean, however, that you cannot treat law-breakers as sub-human money sponges.

Show compassion to your neighbor. Have mercy on the alien and sojourner in your midst. Treat them like beings made in the image of God. To do any less is unthinkable. Remember, the Lord your God is the Lord of All, and he loves the aliens and sojourners in your midst, and He is swift to take the side of the poor. We ought to be like Him.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday is for Fallacies

Fridays are fun days, and as such I have decided to post overheard logical fallacies. For fun and to show off, you can name that fallacy in the comment section.


Wife: I'm telling you, that man is no good. Women's intuition is better than a man's; you can tell because we're right more often.

Husband: I couldn't agree more, dear. You could use our marriage as an example.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Prophetic, but Not Inspired: The Difference Between Prophecy and Inspiration

As the argument over the use of the miraculous sign gifts continues, I want to quibble a bit with my cessationist allies. Often in the conversation over whether or not "prophecy" is still a continuing gift, cessationists will talk as if a prophecy should be "added to the canon." I think that this is a careless way to talk about the gift of prophecy because there is a difference between prophecy and inspired Scripture. They have many similarities, but they are not the same thing.

As a caveat, I confess that I do not know how God inspired the apostles and prophets to write Scripture. I do know that prophecy came in various forms: audible voices, dreams, visions, and apparently even in song. The act of writing inspired Scripture, however, remains a mystery. Nevertheless, it is important to note that both are direct revelations from God, regardless of the means in which they are delivered.

As far as similarities go, both prophecy and Scripture are divine revelation, and they are both 100% correct and binding. This may make them appear to be analogous on the surface, but it doesn't. Prophecy could be far more limited in scope than inspiration, and it was often not universally binding. Scripture, however, is always universally binding when applied correctly.

Here is what I mean. Nathan was a prophet who spoke prophetically to King David. His most famous prophecy involves his confrontation of King David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. By revelation of God, Nathan uncovers David's sin, and lets David know that though he will not die, God is going to punish him. This story is both prophetic and inspired. It is inspired because it is written down; it is prophetic because it was direct revelation from God.

However, Nathan's prophecy to David does not apply to the reader in the same way it applied to David any more than Jonah's prophecy to Nineveh directly applies to Russia or the United States. As the inspired canon, these prophecies fit into the great whole to teach us lessons about God's sovereignty and forgiveness and severity, but we cannot go about telling cities that God will overthrow them in forty days or that God will deal with adulterers in the specific ways outlined to David.

We know, for instance, that there are prophecies that were not inspired. I can say that all prophecy is given by direct revelation of God, but not all prophecy is inspired. (You might say it this way: Not every teacher can pastor, but every pastor must teach.) I'm using the word "inspired" technically, meaning the infallible word of God written down and applicable to all people. One example is found in 1 Samuel chapter 10. There, King Saul prophesies with a group of travelling prophets. We know that he prophesied, and we know that there was a travelling band of prophets. We do not, however, know the content of their prophecies. We know that they were revelation from God, and that they were applicable and binding on someone, but they were not inspired for the world.

I only write this in an attempt at caution, lest the cessationist wind up overstating his case. Prophecy is not necessarily inspired canon, and it should not be considered as such. Prophecy was and is binding on those for whom it was meant, and so it is serious business. After all, false prophecy was a capital offense.

I do not believe that the prophetic ministry has continued from the days of the apostles. The apostles and prophets never uttered an 'iffy' prophecy, and they never wondered whether their word came from the Lord. They never prophesied with the caveat of "sometimes I'm wrong." No modern day 'prophet' has the chutzpah to prophecy like that, and the reason is because whatever it is he is doing, it isn't what the apostles and prophets of old were doing. If it were, he would not be confused or shy about it. He could say, on pain of death, "Thus saith the LORD!"

There, my small point is over. I'm sure that this minor addition to the conversation will inevitably lead to an end to the entire imbroglio.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why Evolution is More Absurd than TV Evangelism

I had a couple of minutes to kill today after stuffing myself at the local Mexican restaurant. I saw this article on Yahoo! and thought it might be fun to read. For the most part, it was. Until I got to this quote:

Genuine smiles and fake smiles are governed by two separate neural pathways. We know this is true because people with damage to a certain part of the brain can still break into a spontaneous grin even though they're unable to smile at will. Scientists speculate that our ancestors evolved the neural circuitry to force smiles because it was evolutionarily advantageous to mask their fear and fury.

According to this theory, some cave man somewhere thought, "Heeeey...I'm really ticked at the tribal chief right now. I really, really wish I could fake a smile so he wouldn't see my inner fury." Hearing this desperate plea, Evolution stepped in, and after hundreds of generations of progeny, granted his request. And people claim that evolutionists aren't a people of faith!

Do people really find this easier to believe than a con-artist TV evangelist's forehead slapping ministry?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Immigration: The Positives and the Problems Part 1

It is unfortunate that the current economic woes of the United States serves to obscure the issue of America's immigration problem. The highs and lows of Wall Street are only symptoms; they can only point to problems that are foundational. You cannot fix the economy by fixating on the fluttering of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. You can, however, begin an economic recovery by concentrating on the working and living conditions of the people who live in and contribute to the economics of the country. The people of a country are, after all, the country's most valuable resource. Therefore, immigration is a foundational issue, not a symptomatic one.

Immigration is a boon to any country. There is not a single business in the United States this is not dependent upon immigration for growth, success, and innovation. Immigrants bring with them a vitality and perspective that native citizens sometimes lack. They are an adventurous sort and visionary. They are a people willing to leave behind all that is familiar and beloved in order to build a new life for themselves and for their families. They are highly motivated, resourceful, and willing to sacrifice for success. Any country that doesn't have a healthy influx of immigrants is a country on the decline and is in danger of stagnation.

Unregulated immigration, however, can cause serious problems for a country. Even the Boar's Nest of Hazzard County charged $1.00 cover to keep out the riffraff. If a country has unregulated immigration, there is nothing to keep the unsavory sorts from entering the country at will. Such people come, not with the intent of building a life for themselves, but rather they come to exploit the native populations through criminal activity. This serves to give the rest of the immigrant population a bad name, and it makes their dream of integrating with the native population very difficult.

This is the dilemma that faces the United States. Our borders are not secure. This allows anyone access to the country. Hence, illegal immigration is a real problem. What good does it do to deport someone from the country when the back door is wide open? Deportation and the threat of deportation is like a rubber-toothed bulldog: it sounds mean but it lacks any real bite.

In fact, illegal immigration does not simply aggravate natural citizens. It aggravates legal immigrants. In fact, some of the people most passionately against illegal immigration are naturalized citizens. They recognize that illegal immigrants give them a bad name, and it is galling to the naturalized citizen that they had to learn the language, pay for the proper paper work, and work hard to earn their right to be here; only to face discrimination and suspicion because of law-breakers from their own native countries who came here illegally.

There are layers of problems to the United States' immigration woes. First, the border is insecure, making deportation a lousy deterrent. Secondly, we actually need immigrant labor, and legal immigration is currently so difficult that we cannot get people here properly to fill the jobs. Thirdly, we have to realize the temptation to jump the border is overwhelming. Why would someone wait years and go through all the red tape, monetary outlay, and rank bribery required when they can get across the border more easily by sneaking? You don't believe that the red tape is real? Why on earth would a sane person pay a "coyote", who is basically a thug, thousands of dollars to sneak them across the border if it were easier to go through legal channels?

In the next post, I'll try to go through some of the challenges that we face regarding illegal immigration. In this discussion, we must always keep one thing very much in the forefront: We are talking about real people. People with hopes, families, and dreams to make a better life for themselves. Yes, some illegal immigrants are drug running criminals, but it has to be a small minority or we would be in a much worse condition that the one we now face.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Confessions of a Cessationist

If you do not know what a cessationist is, then this post may not matter to you anyway. If you are curious as to what this might mean, then I hope that this post might be helpful to you. If you do not know what to think of miraculous sign gifts, then I hope that you will find this post helpful.

What is a cessationist? A cessationist is someone who believes that the miraculous sign gifts that were present in the 1st Century church are not being given to the church today. These would include the apostolic gift, the gift of miraculous healing, prophesy, the ability to write infallible Scripture, and the sudden ability to speak and be understood in a language one is not familiar with.

This is not to say that a cessationist does not believe in miracles or Providence or the influence of the Holy Spirit. We certainly do. We simply do not believe that things are happening in the church now as they were in the early days of the church. I surely believe in miracles. I count my own conversion as a miracle, and every other conversion for that matter.

So why did I become a cessationist? I certainly did not start out as one. I tried very hard to be a charismatic. I was enamored with the supposed 'super-powers' that some claimed to have. They believed that they could speak in an unknown tongue, could lay hands on the sick and heal them, that they could know the secret thoughts of men at a mere glance, and that they were privy to things that would happen in the future. Who wouldn't want that? I knew that God was all-powerful, that He loves me, and that He gives gifts to men. So why should I not desire, even eagerly, these gifts?

My conversion to cessationism, then, came and still comes from two fronts. First, I noticed right away that the supposed miracle-workers were not doing exactly what happened in the Bible. Secondly, I noticed that they were dumbing-down the requirement for prophesy in the New Testament era. It is plain in the Old Testament that anyone who claimed to speak for the Lord God was held to a high standard. A false prophet faced the death penalty. I could not find a single modern prophet who would be willing to be held to that high standard.

Instead, they pretended that after the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church, that prophesy somehow became less reliable than it was in the Old Testament. Now, God spoke to his prophets in a way that could be misunderstood, leading his prophet to prophesy in error. This seemed to me to be patently ridiculous, and it still does.

As for the gift of miraculous healing, I simply never saw anyone "command heal" in a genuine way like Peter or the apostles did. No one, except for the charlatans on TV, were grabbing crippled people by the hand and lifting them up to be perfectly well. I've never seen this happen. Ever. And I have known many believers, and I have been to many churches, and I have prayed over many sick people (some of whom, by the grace of God, have recovered.) But I have never witnessed anyone healed like Peter did it. I have never seen a dead person raised from the dead like Peter did or Paul did. I have never seen anyone heal like Jesus or the apostles.

The very fact that anyone has to go around and argue that these things are present in the church today is a sad sign that they really aren't. No one argued with the signs the apostles performed. In fact, the opposition was miffed because of the fact that "a notable miracle has been done through them (that) is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem and we cannot deny it" (Acts 4:16). The same thing goes for the miracles of Jesus. This is simply not the case with miracle workers today. It is always anecdotal, they do not heal 100% of the time, and the charlatans rely on mass group suggestion and friendly environments to ply their healing trade. Not one of them has ever gone to a hospital or met a random cripple and healed them like the apostles did. Not one. Every story you hear is someone who has a friend who knows a missionary who raised the dead at a hut in some village in Africa.

I believe in spiritual gifts. I believe that the Holy Spirit Himself is the gift given to every believer in Jesus Christ. I believe that God can lead the believer through His Word and through Providence to make wise and wonderful decisions. I believe that God heals the sick through the prayers of His saints. I just do not believe that there are miracle-working apostolic types among us today, though I believe there are a pile of lying and self-deceived hucksters. It is simply the choice of God who is not building His church by the Acts of Supermen but upon the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My cessationism is that simple, and if evangelicals today had a modicum of common sense and less fear of man, we might be able to get rid of a few of the worst wolves masquerading as servants of Christ, and we would be able to call more of our puffed up brothers to repentance and rid them of their delusions of self-grandeur. Who doesn't need that?javascript:void(0)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Importance of Teaching Wisdom

I have been reading the articles that are coming out now about the rioting in London and the UK. It saddens me that people are acting this way, and it further saddens me that the behavior is being excused by appealing to the disenfranchisement or the poverty of the rioters. There is, in the end, no excuse for this type of behavior when other means of protest are readily available.

I could easily write an article on why it is wrong for the people to behave as they have, but I hope that most people could think of a reason why they ought not be knocking through windows of privately owned stores and taking what they please from their fellow citizens. Instead, I want to prepare my children to be the type of person who would walk away from the mob and not go into the store and take what isn't theirs.

I read an article that a journalist wrote that had a snippet of a conversation that she overheard during the looting. Apparently, three young men were watching the riots, not participating, when one of them saw an opportunity to go into a store and take what they wanted. He tried to talk his friend into going down and getting themselves the loot. The article did not say how the young men decided. The conversation, however, reminded me of this:

My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we shall find all precious good, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse.." (Proverbs 1:10-14).

I imagine that one of those young men watching the mayhem is my own son. I know that the pull of the chaos, the promise of free treasure, and the adrenaline that the thought that such an act would bring would be a powerful temptation for a young man. But the end of that behavior is death. It is madness to do what these people are doing. It is death, both physical and spiritual, to participate in that kind of wickedness.

My son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors (Proverbs 1:15-190).

People who break in to steal and destroy are more foolish than birds. A bird will avoid a trap it sees being set; these rioters are setting a trap for themselves. They will drive out business; they may be arrested; they may die. Inevitably, they will have to live with what they have done, they will have to deal with knowing that they brought hurt to many, including the death of some. For what? A television set? A bicycle?

Ultimately, God will judge the earth. He will judge between the wicked and the just. I pray that I will teach my son these lessons well so that he will not consent to walk with sinners. I am resolved to plead with him as the writer of proverbs pled with his son. I have lived long enough to know that the path of the wicked leads to destruction, but that righteousness leads to life.

Do you think that these looters were taught these things by their parents? Or did they teach them that their poverty gives them the right to strike out against "the man", even when "the man" is their neighbor who sells goods down the street.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Go Spartans?

This video is worth your time, especially if you are a sports fan. If only everyone lived with the attitude that he admonishes his fellow athletes to live with.

HT: Kevin DeYoung

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Test to See Whether the Average American Should Be Allowed to Vote

I want to make a confession here that is certain to get me into trouble. Mainly, I fear it will get me into trouble because what I am about to admit may be rabidly anti-American and mostly misunderstood. But I'm going to say it anyway and invite you to call me names afterward: sometimes, I wish there was some sort of test required in order for a person to get to vote.

Let me clarify by saying that this is not prompted by any sort of age, race, or demographic snobbery. It isn't even based on IQ, as the kind of test I am proposing would change from election to election based on the current democracy-ending, economy killing, Western Civilization overthrowing issue we are currently facing. This year, it seems, we are headed for financial catastrophe, and so a little economic test should be given before anyone is allowed to vote in the voting booth.

First, I imagine a very sagacious old man politely stopping each voter before they go into the booth, and after apologizing for the inconvenience, he would say that he has to ask them a few simple questions before they are allowed to vote. Should they fail, they will have to go home and steady, and furthermore, they have to stop commenting on Congress and the President until they come back and pass the test. Here are a few sample questions this wise old man might ask:

1) Friend, is debt always bad?

If they answer Yes! They are not allowed to vote. Now, being out of debt is always preferable to being in it, but just because someone owes money or owes nothing is no indication of their financial status. The bum on the street who owes nothing and has $10 in a tin cup has no debt. The recent college graduate may have $120,000 in debt because he has a mortgage and an education and a job that pays $50,000 a year. Who is in better shape financially?

2) Friend, how much, exactly, do you owe in credit card debt in proportion to your personal income?

Now, a formula would have to be worked out for this, but if the statistics of indebtedness to credit card pirates is any indication, this would flunk the average American right out of the voting booth. But not for the reason you might think.

See, the current debate over borrowing and raising the debt ceiling is all about credit ratings and ...well, borrowing. If a fellow cannot figure out that paying 25% interest on three pairs of Gap Jeans and two Polo shirts is fairly stupid, coupled with a barely manageable mortgage and two car payments, then the old man should tell them stories about why it is good to save aluminum foil and string until the potential voter is embarrassed and goes home.

3) What are the reasons that the Congress and the President are debating the debt ceiling?

The voter would only be required to have a passing knowledge of such things. Anything other than a blank stare, and also they cannot simply say, "It's just politics!" There are very good reasons why this debate is happening: Democrats and Republicans have significant disagreements on government spending and borrowing and what things fall into the category of "goods" and what falls into the category of a "right". For example: Health care. If it is a right, then the government must figure out a way to pay for it. If it is a good, then the government might help, but it is not an obligation.

It is a good thing that we are almost in long as we don't actually default. It should present us with a chance to discuss the direction of the country and how we can move forward economically without a digging ourselves a hole we can't climb back out of.

4) Why is Social Security an entitlement?

This one is a no-brainer. It is an entitlement because we (most of us, anyway) paid for it. The problem is that we also blew the money and the current wage earners aren't paying enough taxes to pony up the dough for those retiring. The guys who stuck their hands in the cookie jar are either dead or are playing golf and nobody wants to be the dude left holding the bag. It's like a horrific game of musical chairs and every politician is raiding Social Security in order to find a seat. Someday, the music will stop and somebody is going to be standing there like an idiot.

I think that this little quiz should be sufficient. Bad answers, even Democratic ones, would be allowed. Just please, no blank stares. Let's actually think about this for a bit, and if you don't, you are hereby banned from saying that Congress is stupid, that our politicians are acting childish, or anything else of that nature. Also, if you make an average wage, and you are contemplating buying a new X-Box game on your third and nearly maxed out credit card, all the Congress is going to come over to your house and horse laugh you if you post something about financial responsibility on any social media.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Can Sin Be Cured?

If I had a platform to teach evangelicals about sin, the first thing that I would tell them is that sin is not a disease. At least, it is not like a virus or a bacterial infection. Unfortunately, it appears that this is how we tend to think of sin, and even more unfortunate is the tendency to think that sin can be 'cured' here by prayer, piety, or will power.

This type of thinking is detrimental to Christians, especially people young in the faith who do not know any better. The immature tend to think of sin in terms of things we do: like cussing, looking at pornography, sleeping with one's girlfriend, or drinking too much beer on the weekend. The cure for these 'sins' then, is to simply stop doing what you used to do that the Bible calls sinful. Thus, the young Christian thinks that he is becoming better by stopping his or her sinful behavior, and because of this, they may declare that they have been cured.

In the zeal that comes from first understanding the gospel of Christ, one's resolve to be obedient can indeed squash down old sinful impulses. The problem comes when those old impulses arise again. The believer may begin to think that something is wrong with them, which is correct, but they may blame it on the wrong thing. They may think that God has suddenly abandoned them or that they have become less faithful. Neither may be the case. They may simply be learning what having a sin-nature really means.

If sin were to be compared with a disease, it would have to be compared with a genetic one that is currently incurable but is treatable. Let's take high blood pressure as an example. High blood pressure can be genetic, and the effects of high blood pressure can be aggravated by poor eating and exercise. In the case of conversion, a young believer begins to 'live healthy', forsaking harmful behaviors of the past, and so the symptoms of sin lessen. Over the course of time they find, despite their good diet and exercise, they are still having high blood pressure. The only way to treat this is by medicine. In our case, the medicine is grace.

I worry when people begin to say that homosexuality and other sins may be 'cured' by prayer or some other form of piety. This is tantamount to saying that lust may be cured. Our sin is an inherited disposition. It is no simple disease. The symptoms of sin will manifest despite the fact that the Christian is living faithfully. God allows these impulses to continue so that we will learn to take our medicine, that is the grace that is offered us through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Le Tour de France 2011

I am a flag-waving fan boy for the Tour de France. I confess it. I actually record each stage and watch each one from nearly start to finish. I know that most people would probably find this more boring than golf, or NASCAR, or baseball, or watching paint dry. I don't care, really. This race rivets me.

The Tour starts on July the 2nd, and by the time it is finished on July 24th, the riders have covered about 2,131 miles. They cross mountain ranges and vast stretches of countryside on their journey to Paris. After all of those miles of racing, this years winner managed to beat out his closest rival by only 1 minute and 30 seconds. Can you imagine racing a guy for that many days, over the mountains, through the valley, over the rivers and through the woods, only to have him beat you at the end by less than two minutes? After over 2,000 grueling miles, Andy Schleck lost the Tour de France to Cadel Evans by less time than it took me to write this paragraph.

So why do I love it so? For one thing, I love to ride my bike. I have a road bike that was Tour worthy in 2009. I have logged a 1,000 miles or so on it since I won it, oddly enough, watching the Tour de France with friends. I have climbed little mountains on it, rode the flats, and watched my friends ride away from me when I didn't have the strength to keep up. I have run out of gas as little rises in the road have kicked my tail, and I have felt the pride of climbing a steep incline without having to get off the bike and push...even if that option would have been faster.

So I love to watch it because I understand the sport. I love to watch it because these guys astound me. I love to watch it for the races within the race: the battle for the green jersey for the sprinters, the battle for the white jersey for the best young rider, the battle for the polka dot jersey for the King of the Mountains, and of course, love the drama of watching the guys battle for the coveted yellow jersey, the jersey that signifies the overall leader.

All of these are good reasons for me to enjoy the Tour de France. But they aren't the real reason why I love the Tour. I remember my first real bicycle. It was a Pittsburgh Steeler dirtbike that I got for Christmas one year. That bike meant freedom to me as a little lad of maybe 6. Back in those days, parents were a little less paranoid than they are now, so I could basically hop on that bike and go where ever I liked. That bike meant adventure. It meant trips to the gas station to buy a Dr. Pepper, some baseball cards, and a pack of gum. I also remember the day I got up and headed to the garage to find my bike gone. Some jerk stole it right out from under our car port. If I ever get my hands on that guy...

So that's why I love the Tour. Deep down, I just like the adventure of it. The idea that a guy can hop on his bike with his buddies and ride all over Europe getting chewing gum and Dr. Peppers, and while they are on their way, a million people stop by to cheer for them as they fly by them on the way to the Champs Elysees.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Theology of Disliking MMA and Enrolling My Son in Karate

Occasionally, I will read about some pastor extolling the virtue and manliness of cage fighting. If you think that getting into a cage with another man with the goal of beating him into unconsciousness or submission for sport is manly, I think that you and I have different ideas about manhood. I am truly concerned about the sort of hyper-manliness that is rolling east from Seattle these days, because I think it is ridiculous, unmanly, and fleshly. I think that it doesn't take the imago dei seriously enough, and while I will defer settling the matter in the Thunder Dome, I will enter the more civil arena of the blogosphere.

Before you read my two cents on the matter, you ought to go and read The Confessions of a Cage Fighter. It is one of the better reflections on the subject of MMA that I have ever read, and the fact that the writer used to be a MMA fighter helps the street cred of the article. It is actually the best take-down of Mark Driscoll style manhood that I have read to date.

Now that I have laid out my disdain for the sport of MMA, let me try and establish my manhood credentials so manly men will continue to hear me out. I spent six years in the military, the Army National Guard to be exact, I have taken self-defense courses, I have engaged in fisticuffs, I can grow a garden, I like to shoot and eat wild game, and I have a wife and two children. There, I'm sort of manly. I also want my son to be manly, and so I let him enroll in karate at six years old. The point of this article is to square that with my dislike of MMA as a sport.

I agree with Mark Driscoll about many aspects of manliness. One, I do believe that the responsibility for protection is a manly art. I want my son to be able to defend his sister if he needs to, and if that means punching someone in the jaw, then he needs to be able to do that. I am not raising a total pacifist; I just do not want to raise a man who beats other men for sport.

I would allow my son to train in the mixed martial arts. I would allow him to get into a ring with another fellow in order to train and spar. I have done this myself. But I have never gotten into a ring or onto a mat where the over-riding purpose was to beat the other fellow into submission. Rather, it has always been to learn the arts of defense and offense should force become necessary. This is a key difference from the goal of a cage match.

If any of my close friends wanted to take a self-defense course with me, I would get into the ring or onto the mat with them and learn from them or from our coach. I would not, however, aim to do them any harm. They may get injured, I may get injured, but that is not the goal. The goal is to learn, not to harm, and that is the difference between MMA as a sport and as a discipline of defense. A soldier trains to fire his weapon accurately in the hopes that he will never have to fire it at another person. A gladiator learns to use the sword in the hopes that he can run his opponent through in the arena. A soldier can be a man whose heart loves peace. A gladiator is a man whose heart is full of murder.

So go and read that article that the Cage Fighter wrote, and think long and hard about why MMA is becoming a popular, even accepted past-time in the church. And yes, I am willing to throw boxing under the bus as a sport for the same reasons listed above.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Debt Ceilings, Politics, and Stuff

I'm a little irked at what is going on in Washington D.C. right now. I'm irked because the truth about the economy, jobs, and American debt is being hidden behind a rhetoric meant to make us afraid. It seems, dear American, that the current strategy of the Republican party might be to scare us into voting Republican next round.

I find this disconcerting. First of all, I'm probably going to vote Republican anyway. If not that, then I'll vote independent. My reason being that I am a financial conservative and an ethical conservative, and at least the Republicans pretend like that matters to them.

My purpose in writing here is not to go off on a rant, it is to muse about the facts as they are being presented in order to see if a rant is justified. Lately, the Congress has been battling the President over the 'debt-ceiling'. That is, they are fighting on whether or not they can raise it to borrow more money. The simple fact of the matter is that we are spending more money than we are raising in taxes. Our choices, then, seem simple: raise taxes or cut spending or hope for a miraculous economic boom.

Raising taxes is not an option, according to Republicans. I like that because this is what Republicans are for: cut taxes. You will never hear me complain about a tax cut. Ever. The rule of thumb is not to raise taxes in a recession, and it seems that we are in one right now. Plus, any tax raise that is significant to the bottom line must come out of the pocket of the "wealthy". The logic here is that the wealthy are the ones doing the hiring, so if you take away their money, less people get hired. So don't take job-producers money and give it to the government. Argue about that if you like, but at least it makes sense in theory.

So let's move to the sticky issue of the debt-ceiling. This is what really cooks my grits when I think about those pesky facts. Here's one: during the Bush administration, the Congress raised the debt limit...count'em...six times. Did we have all of this grousing back then? Was their the thundercloud of a coming apocalypse hanging over us at that time? I don't remember it if there was. The guy going nuts about this debt ceiling hike this time, Representative Cantor, voted for the increase in the debt ceiling back in the Bush era. Why is it the end of the world now?

Perhaps the politics have changed. I like that, too. Maybe we really do have some fiscal conservatives in Congress now who will do a good job of trimming the budget. (And all of us will feel this, trust me on that. We are all far more dependent than we pretend.) But here's what I don't like: don't act like you are taking the moral high ground on this if you have been part of the problem. (I'm looking at you, Congressman.) Admit that you used to be an economic free-wheeler back in the day, but now enough is enough. Don't operate on a politics of fear, but in truth.

Is that asking too much?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

You Don't Have to Punt God for Science

One of the greatest challenges for the modern Christian is to reconcile the relationship between their faith and science. Certainly, this difficulty is not only felt by Christians, but any religion that has an authority that they view as superior to the natural order. Conflict arises when the data seems to be telling us one thing, while our religion tells us that another thing has occurred. In Christianity, this is most obvious in things like the resurrection of the dead, the age of the earth, and miraculous healings, and the fore-telling of the future.

Here is how the conflict generally begins. For example, let us take the idea of the age of the earth as our example. If we take Moses seriously in Genesis chapter one, then God created this universe in the span of six days. He wrote, "And God said, "Let there be light" and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were day one" (Gen. 1:3-5). He put in evening and morning, and he called it day one. Pretty hard not to follow Moses' thinking.

It is scientifically ridiculous to believe that this is possible. This act of creation cannot be duplicated, it cannot be verified as to how it happened, and everything in science indicates that the universe must be billions or trillions of years old, not mere thousands as the Genesis account seems to indicate. If the universe were only thousands of years old, we wouldn't be able to see the stars because the light wouldn't have even reached earth yet! So how is the Christian to reconcile these things.

One thing to do is to punt Genesis One as allegory or poetry. The problem is that everyone knows that this is cheating. Genesis one wasn't written as allegory and it doesn't conform to Hebrew poetry. Moses was writing simple prose, and he was quite serious. Punting is an option for a Christian, but it isn't a very brave or thoughtful one. Much of what the Christian faith teaches is just as scientifically absurd as creation ex nihilo, not least of all the idea that Jesus is fully God, fully man, and that he died, stayed dead for three days, and then resurrected himself. Oh yes, and Jesus did all of this 2,000 years ago in order to save people from the eternal consequences that adultery brings. So really, Christians shouldn't wuss out on Genesis One because they haven't thought through their authority structures with regard to truth, too much is at stake.

If a Christian does go ahead and own Genesis one, then the modern world will look at them incredulously. They seem to be denying the obvious: the universe is 'old', not new. This is, in the end, an appeal to authority, and science is a good authority. It is observable, and it is testable, and it works. It works almost every time.

We can use science to fight disease, determine age, and make a multitude of discoveries about the universe and everything in it. But something God does something unusual, like instantly eradicating cancer, raising someone from the dead, or create an entire universe out of nothing. This is where science will fail. It simply cannot be used to test the veracity of a miracle; it cannot prove a miracle has occurred.

Herein lies the dilemma of the scientist or naturalistic man. The religious man has to decide if he wants to punt on Genesis for the sake of science. The naturalist has to decide if he wants to punt miracles, and ultimately the existence of God, so that science can be his supreme authority.

I do not write about these things merely to convince the naturalist to believe the Bible. I write these things so that both Christians and scientists can understand what is at stake when they discuss these things. This is about miracles, God, and science. The Christian can live with all three. The naturalist cannot.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Good Death

Death is a strange and morbid topic. At least, many consider it to be so. Myself, I think about dying almost every day. It comes with my vocation. I know many people, and because of this, I go to many funerals. Everyone dies. You will die. I am going to die. I think about this every time I speak at a funeral or simply attend the funeral of an acquaintance or a loved one.

I have never been to a funeral where the actual death of the person is not discussed. It would be absurd if it weren't. Sometimes, it is quietly discussed when the means of death is dishonorable. Yet, hushed or open, the means of death is discussed. It does not matter if it is suicide or cancer, accident or old age, sudden or foreseen. The manner of death is always discussed. Quite often, this is followed by a judgment on whether or not this is a good way to go, and personal preferences on the method of death are discussed. The general consensus seems to be that most people want to die suddenly with as little foresight as possible. Dropping dead instantly of a heart attack or dying in one's sleep is the means of choice.

I do not want to go out like that, though I confess I have no choice in the matter. I hope that I have a window of time that I might see the approach of the inevitable. I would like, if at all possible, a time of reflection before I die. After all, I am spending every day of my life preparing for my demise. Dying will be a big day for me. I do not look at death as a dread, though I admit I do not look forward to the pain involved, I do not dread the actual being dead part.

You may find me hopelessly morbid, but I do daydream about dying from time to time. There are several constants in my daydream. My wife is always there, because I hope that she will outlive me. This is very important to me because when I die, I want to die faithful to her. I want her to be there without regret, and I want the vows that bound us so many years before to be more meaningful and beautiful on that day than on the day we made them. I want for her to feel and know that she has been loved. I want her to know that each day I had with her has been to me the highest of all of my privileges here in this life.

My children are also there. Every day, I pray that my heavenly Father will make me a good father to my children, that they will know that I love them, and that they will feel treasured by me. I want them to know that being their father has been the highest privilege I have had in this life.

This may cause the reader a bit of confusion since I just wrote that I want my wife to know that being her husband has been my greatest privilege. Reflection upon death and life and love has led me to realize many things that confuse others but do not bother me in the slightest. I believe in a Triune God who is One Being in Three Persons. I adore each person of the Trinity as the only True God. It is no great stretch for me to suppose then that I have more than one greatest privilege in life. I love more than one person "the most". I cannot divide the substance of the love I have for my wife and my children and my friends, it is the same and yet different. Perhaps I cannot explain this to anyone else in a way that will satisfy, but in my heart I know the truth of it.

This brings me to another constant: my friends. I have some friends that I have known and loved for most of my life. May they all outlive me and exceed me! In my dreams, they are there as well. They are there in my deathly daydream because they will know that I have loved them and they have loved me for it. They will be there because they will know that I have counted their friendship as the highest privilege in my life here.

My daydream ends with me surrounded by those who I have loved so much that they cannot deny that they have been loved by me. This is what it means for me to live each day as if it would be my last. If I could only die this way, then I could fly to my Savior unashamed. He is the one who bound me to all of these by the cords of love, and this is the only and greatest burden that He ever put on me as his servant. He has commanded me to love, and he is teaching me to do it. I hope that I will be found faithful until that day comes, and I pray that I will live each day with dying in mind so that I might live well until I do.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Jeremiah sat in the dust of a city in its death throes. The streets, once packed with people and activity, were now mostly silent. The stillness only being broken by the occasional wail of grief or agony, the garbled cries of the dying for the dead. The smell of the market place, once rich with the smell of fruits, spices, and bread, now bore only the stench of rot.

"Young and old lie on the ground in the streets; my young women and my young men have fallen by the sword; You have slain them in the day of your anger, you have slaughtered and not pitied." The corpses of his people littered the streets like refuse. Jeremiah had to cover his face for the smell of them and gather his robes to step over them. He saw them, like skin and bones, dead by the sword, by hunger, and by disease. He said the Yahweh had done this. His God whom he served had slain his own people. God had given their bodies to the birds.

"You summoned as if to a festival day my terrors on every side, and on the day of the anger of the LORD no one escaped or survived; those whom I held and raised my enemy destroyed." Jeremiah saw his friends die. He saw them perish by the sword in the streets; he saw them die desperately in their homes of hunger; he watched them waste of disease and die in their own filth with no one to help. God invited him to survey the slaughter, and his God moved his pen to write of the horror he beheld.

"See, O LORD, and consider! To whom have You done this? Should the women eat their offspring, the children they have cuddled?...the hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food during the destruction of the daughter of my people." They ate their own children. They boiled them for food. Jeremiah bore witness. "I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light." God thrust him into the horrors. His God, whom he loved, compelled him into the darkness, into the nightmare of Jerusalem, to see the gaping mouths of the dead. The disfigured forms of the starved and maimed, eyes transfixed in horror. The Lord made him look, see, and write.

Such sights might drive a man insane, but this man Jeremiah recorded what he saw in a poem. It is called the Lamentations. He wrote it under the inspiration of the God who brought the slaughter. God did this for at least two reasons. One is for you and me. That we may see the just recompense for wickedness, and the hellish consequences of a life lived in abandonment of God. Secondly, he writes that we may read this, "The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD...Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust---there may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him, and be full of reproach."

Christian, have you read the Lamentations and pondered upon the terror that God brought upon Israel? For what? It is very important that you ask yourself this question, lest you get swept up into the hysteria of this age and forget what is important. God did not judge Israel for running up a national deficit. God crushed his beloved, his own garden, because the men were not faithful to the wives of their youth, because they were swindlers and cheats, because they exploited the poor, because they perverted justice for a bribe, and because they pursued their own lusts with abandon. And why did they do these things? They did them because they did not love God with all their heart, he who is lovely above all things, and because they chose a lesser glory, they became objects of contempt.

Behold the end of a people who claimed a form of godliness and denied the power thereof. Behold the end of a people who pay lip service to God, but are inwardly ravenous wolves. Read the Lamentations, and then pray that God would drive the idols that you pursue far from you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where There is no Sin, There is no Forgiveness

I wonder, when was the last time you saw the word 'sin' in the newspaper. I think that it is exceedingly rare to see that word in print. Have you noticed that? Think of the most recent scandals in the political world. Has anyone said that the former governor of California sinned? The recent texting/twitter scandal in Congress has moved many to call for the offending politician's resignation. But has anyone said that he sinned against his wife or the American people?

This is not a rant about the media not knowing about the difference between right and wrong or good and evil. The actions of these particular men have been fairly well condemned by all, or at least they have been ridiculed. I'm not trying to make the point that their behavior has been deemed acceptable by the lack of the use of the word "sin". I want, instead, to point out something else.

The reason, I suppose, that we are loathe to use the word 'sin' is because sin is a religious word. Perhaps it is too closely tied in with the idea of an offended deity, and as such, it is unpalatable to the mainstream. Besides, if we can simply use "wrong" or "irresponsible" or "moral failure" to communicate the same idea with the heavy religious baggage, isn't that sufficient?

I confess that the word sin is a loaded word. It does conjure up the idea of an offended deity or an objective moral standard. This type of standard is, seemingly, more and more passe in our society. But with the death of the concept of sin, it seems to me that the ideas of repentance and forgiveness are also falling by the wayside.

Part of this, I admit, comes from the fact that most folks seem hardly repentant. Further, public apologies seem contrived in order to save face or maintain political position. I get that. But still, I have this nagging feeling that as we lose our ability to call things 'sin', we may be, by accident, losing our ability to forgive sin as well.

If we have a society that does not believe in sin, that does not believe in an objective moral standard, then we may also come to live in a society that cannot find a place for absolution. Think for a moment about that governor and that congressman. What can they do to find absolution? Public apology? That certainly will be received with much seriousness. And what of their wives? If they decide to forgive their spouse, how can they do such a thing and not look like a weakling?

If there is no God, then there is no sin. There is simply stupid behavior that gets you fired and kills your marriage. But if there is a God, and there is sin, then there is also the chance for absolution for the sinner and the sinned against. If God is real, then He knows about everyone's sin. He knows what you've done in your house, in your bedroom, and in your mind. He knows where you've gone on your computer, and He knows what has motivated your actions. And God has offered to every sinner absolution through Christ. Someone who believes this knows what it means to be forgiven of sin and what it means to be genuinely changed by forgiveness. It can make them strong enough even to forgive. Strong like Christ Jesus, who stooped to wear a thorny crown in order to win our absolution.

I fear that a society that loses its grip on what sin is will ultimately lose its grip on compassion and forgiveness. Where there is no sin, there is no forgiveness. I fear that such a society will spiral into a sort of cynicism that will cause it to be unable to trust any public figure. Is this what we are coming to? Are we already there?

I'm not saying that the former governor or the current congressman is truly repentant. I am saying that they have both sinned. They sinned against their wives, their families, and Almighty God. Therapy cannot fix this, and neither can resignation. But I also want them to know that there is a place for the sinner to find forgiveness, and I want their spouses to know that real forgiveness is borne out of might, not weakness. It takes courage to forgive, and it takes faith. This courage and faith can only come from one who has himself or herself already experienced the power of the forgiveness of sin.

The former governor and the congressman and their families have already experienced the power of sin, whether they would call it that or not. I pray, and I truly hope, that they may also find out about the power of grace and forgiveness through Christ.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What is Our Major Malfunction?

One of the major aspects of pastoral ministry is the ministry of counseling. Unfortunately, for many the idea of counseling conjures up a sort of session where one fellow is on a couch talking about his problems and another fellow listening, nodding at the appropriate times, and jotting down notes that, undoubtedly, will lead to a cure for the patient's problems.

This brings us to the second problem of the view of counseling, that is the idea that someone who seeks out help is a 'patient'. By that, I mean the idea that because someone perceives that someone is wrong with them, or wrong in their life, and that this problem is perhaps beyond their fixing without help, makes them weak, a patient, or someone who needs special treatment.

Both of these things are at least partially true. A good deal of pastoral counseling is one on one, it does involve careful listening, and it does include taking note of what is being said. Secondly, it is true that someone being counseled needs help. The problem is that we fail to recognize that everyone needs help, including the counselor. No one is above human weakness, and by weakness I mean the effects of sin. We are all sinning and being sinned against, we live in a world that is contaminated by the fall of man, and so everyone needs counseling. Every single person needs help. Including me. Perhaps especially me!

This is precisely why Christ instituted the church. We are not meant to go it alone. We are, by nature, covenant creatures meant to live in community with one another. It is through community that real change can take place, and by change I do not mean simple shift in behavior. I mean real sanctification, or progress in godliness. Change takes place by conviction from the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit works through the fellowship of the church, teaching from the Scripture, and the accountability that friendship brings within in the Christian community.

Where do our major malfunctions come from? Are they mainly biological? That is, are some people melancholy by nature because of their genes? Are some people predisposed to certain behaviors because of DNA? Or, are we a product of our environment? That is, do we behave in certain ways because of how our parents raised us? Or because they abandoned us? Over-protected us? Under-protected us? If the answer is yes, then how can the church help with these things?

I believe that the answer is yes. We are a product of our DNA, and we are products of our environment. I think that we also have a host of issues that are our own making that cannot be linked to DNA or parenting. However, none of these things give us an "out". That is, we are still responsible for our actions. Because of the fall, we have inherited spiritual, mental, and physical infirmities. The ultimate cure for these things is found in Jesus Christ who has come to restore all things; he himself is the wonderful counselor.

So what is our major malfunction? We are sinners, surrounded by sinners, in a world where sin permeates everything. How are we able to overcome this? By the applied counsel of God's Word and by following Jesus as the center of the universe. When we do this, in the context of a healthy church community, God re-orients the desires of our heart, unmasks our selfishness, convicts us of our need for change, enables us to change, and teaches us about patience and forgiveness.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

What is the Final End? His Glory

I confess that, once upon a time, I read a bunch of Jonathan Edwards. What is even cooler is that, on occasion, I understood what Jonathan wrote. When I did, it was totally worth the hours of effort I had to put into it. One such work that I understood, mostly, was The End for which God Created the World.

In this work, Edwards observes that every action we take is a means to a calculated end. That is, we always have some goal in mind when we act, some larger purpose. Somehow, each action we take fits into our larger plan that we are attempting to achieve. If we understand the "end goal", be it our own or someone else's, then we will be in a better position to determine who that person really is and what motivates them to act as they do.

For example, let's take something simple act like helping an old lady across the street. Is this a good action? Is it a good deed? What if the boy is helping the lady across the street because he wants to earn a Boy Scout badge for community service? But that badge isn't really his end. He wants to earn the badge because he wants to become an Eagle Scout, and he wants to become an Eagle Scout because it will garner him praise. Also, being an Eagle Scout might help him get into the college he desires, a prestigious college, and a degree there will get him praise as well. This boy, then, has helped the lady across the street because he desires praise.

My intention here is not judge this particular boy, it is only to make a point. That point is that everything we do is motivated by a goal, whether we are directly conscious of that goal or not. God, too, has a goal. That is what Edward's book is about. He is exploring the end for which God created the world. His conclusion is very, very important for us if he is correct. Here is Edwards' conclusion: God created the world, and everything in it, in order to glorify Himself.

God, then, created the world, we might say the universe, for Himself. God wanted to display his glory. That means that we are only a means to an end, not the end itself. The universe, if Edwards is correct, is not about you and me. It is about God. Salvation is also not about us, our salvation is also a means to God's end. That is, salvation is about glorifying God. We are not the center of God's universe. God is the center of God's universe. We are a means to an end, and that end is to display the awesomeness of God. That is God's end. To put it jarringly, God's plan is to show off.

I believe that Edwards' thesis is solidly confirmed in Scripture. We know that the Father's plan is to unite all things under His Son, Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it, in Christ God is "making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 1:9-10). God the Father's end is to unite all things in Christ, to the praise of His glory.

For his part, the Son seeks to glorify the Father. That is his chief end. The Son seeks to glorify the Father through the very act that the Father brings glory to the Son. Nowhere are their "ends" clearer than in Philippians 2:9-11, "Therefore God (the Father) has highly exalted him (the Son) and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." See that? God the Father exalts God the Son who turns the glory to God the Father who continually turns every eye to His Son. And what does the Holy Spirit do? He joins the Father and the Son in their pursuit. Does this mean that the Holy Spirit is not glorified? Certainly not, for as the Father and Son are glorified, so is the Holy Spirit because, in the end, they are all One.

That means that salvation, evangelism, the church, our children, and everything else in all of creation is moving towards one all-encompassing end: the exaltation of God Almighty. Our privilege lies, not in that we are indispensable as the chief end, but in the fact that we are privileged to get to see God's glory. This is the essence of eternal life. Jesus said it like this, "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). This is what eternal life is: to know the glory of God.

The good news is, as many have said before, that God's self-revelation of His own awesomeness is a very, very good thing. It is something that will keep us eternally satisfied and happy, and it is so wonderful that it will blow to smithereens any idols we have crafted and coveted here on earth.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Find...and Fulfill your Destiny

This is a short regarding the foreknowledge of God. In general, I do not think that Christians have thought very deeply about the implications of God's exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events and how that might relate to their own personal freedom and autonomy. Sometimes, it's fun to think about something that has the potential to blow your mind, so put your thinking cap on and let's think about the omniscience of God.

Most of the time, when I talk to people about God's foreknowledge, they generally conceive of it in terms of God's knowledge of events in the future. I get the feeling that people conceive of foreknowledge as a more robust sort of prophecy, that is, God when they think of foreknowledge, they have the idea of God passively watching the future from His armchair in the past. God, from his seat in the past, watches future history unfold as determined by the free will choices of the subjects he has created.

There are several interesting conundrums that arise from this view of foreknowledge. First, it doesn't deal adequately with God's omnipresence. Specifically, that means if God could comfortably watch the future unfold from the past, he would always see himself working in the future because he himself is already in the future. God cannot "passively" watch the future because God is always active in the future. In other words, because God already perfectly knows Himself and how he will "react", and because he already knows where he wants the future to wind up, God cannot simply "look ahead" to see what will happen. The future cannot exist without God, and because God knows God and God exhaustively knows his creation, he must necessarily know the end from the beginning, just as he said he does. This seems to exclude the idea that God is anxiously sitting in his armchair waiting to see what his "free" creatures will do: he already knows.

This puts the idea of human free will in a precarious position. That is, if God is influencing every moment of every day, and if he already exhaustively knows the outcome of every event, and if he is actively guiding the universe to a predetermined outcome, then are we really free at all? In other words, if God wants person A to marry person B, and the outcome of his plan for history hinges on person A to marry person B, and God already foreknows that person A and B will marry, do these people really have a choice in the matter?

This is where the idea of the "two wills of God" comes into play. It is clear that God does not desire men to murder one another. Yet, men murder. So, does God abdicate his will in the matter and allow men to freely murder each other, or does God, though forbidding murder actual plan for men to murder one another. The easiest example of this sort of destiny is the murder of Jesus. Did God will the murder of Jesus or not? On the one hand, He certainly willed the murder of Jesus. He planned the murder of Jesus in order to save men. On the other hand, God found the murder of Jesus repulsive, and He will hold men responsible for this crime.

How is it, then, that God can plan an event, ordain an event, foreknow an event, and actively make certain that an event comes to pass, and then blame men when they execute His plans and call their actions sinful? The apostle Paul felt this tension, which is why he wrote this in Romans 9:19-20, "'Why does (God) still find fault? For who can resist his will?' But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?'"

Some have decided that this is simply absurd. Something has to go. Some have ditched the idea that God can know the free will actions of creatures. That is, free actions are by nature unknowable, therefore God does not know what men will choose in the future. This gets rid of the problem, but it eviscerates the teaching of the Bible. How? Because the Bible demonstrates that God does know the future actions of his creatures, one of those being the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot.

Another place some will go is to embrace destiny to the point that all of our actions are basically meaningless. They believe that since God has already orchestrated every event, then there is no reason for them to try to preach the gospel, or really do anything other than what they fill like doing. Because if they do anything, it must be because God meant them to do it. This is partially true, but partial truths are terribly dangerous. This type of thinking destroys the Bible's teaching on human responsibility. God planned for Joseph to be sold into slavery in order to save his family, but God still condemns the act of his brothers in the selling of Joseph. In other words, they should not have done it, and it is no excuse that they did it because the event was ordained.

Alas, this post is already too long. Maybe tomorrow or the next day I will write a continuation on this thought experiment...if the Lord wills. Feel free to ask questions or pontificate in the comment section.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Your Kung Fu is Weak

My wife and I have jumped on the latest exercise fad/bandwagon. We just started working out using the P90X videos. These videos promise that in 90 days, if we keep up the work, we will go from an expanding waistline to completely ripped abs and awesomeness. All it takes is dedication on our part, and a lot of rolling about in the floor trying to do one more push-up/sit-up/crunchy frog. Should be fun.

As I was looking at the upcoming exercise videos, I noticed that one of the routines is called "Kempo". I imagine that this is a sort of kick-boxing type of training akin to the now out-dated Billy Blanks Tae Bo videos. That is, we'll be jumping around acting like we are doing martial arts, but instead of actually training to fight people, we'll only be fighting the battle of the bulge.

The thought of my wife and I jumping around in the living room doing karate kicks after we put the kids in the bed is a rather funny thought for me. It also makes me laugh to think that karate, which was invented to help people defend themselves, has now been re-invented to help us keep from getting fat. As I was musing upon our upcoming karate exercise night, I thought about how ridiculous it would be for me to start thinking that because I had done a bunch of Billy Blanks Tae Bo and now P90X Kempo, I was now a deadly martial artist. Can you imagine how silly that is?

Reality would soon settle in if I ever tried to test out my battle prowess I've learned on exercise videos in a ring against a real opponent. The wise words of Mike Tyson come to mind, "Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth." As humorous as these thoughts are, it suddenly occurred to me that this is exactly how many Christians treat their study of the Bible.

What I mean is that many Christians spend all of their time with other Christians. They have never really been around non-Christians,and they have never had any of their views challenged philosophically or theologically. The extent of their arguing has been when they are talking about other religions with other Christians. It's easy to prove how silly atheistic beliefs are when you are talking to another Christian. If a Christian is never really challenged, they wind up like the guy exercising to a Tae Bo video. They start to feel like they are strong, like they have pretty good kicks and punches, and therefore they must be a fairly deadly fighter. And then, an atheist or agnostic or Muslim or Jehovah's Witness or college professor punches them, theologically of course, right in the mouth.

It's not just heresy that will catch such a Christian off-guard, but also life in general. Tae Bo Christianity is unprepared for death, tragedy, tornadoes, infidelity, and grief. Life punches you in the mouth, and all the comfortable cliches in the world can't stop the bleeding. Some lose their faith completely because they are so devastated by the onslaught that they imagined they were prepared for.

So how do we keep ourselves from becoming Tae Bo Christians? We must actually challenge one another. If we are all a bunch of Daniel LaRusso's, then we need some Mr. Miyagi's to help us see the light. That is, wax on/wax off might really help us, but we are going to need Mr. Miyagi to throw a few punches our way so we can realize we are able to defend ourselves.

The lesson is that we, as Christians, need to challenge one another, no holds barred. We have to ask questions like these: How do you know that God is Sovereign? What does it mean for man to be depraved? How can you know that there is a God? What makes you so sure that Jesus rose from the dead? How do you reconcile the theory of evolution to the Bible's teaching of creation? What happens to babies when they die? And once we have asked these questions, we must not be satisfied until they are Biblically, rationally, and soundly answered. If not, somebody out there is going to punch us in the face, and the result is not going to be very pretty. If our Kung Fu is weak, we want to know about it before we meet the crazy guy with the knife, right?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Eternity in Our Hearts

Where do dreams come from? What is fantasy? Everyone wishes that they were someone else, a better someone, a more powerful someone. This is part of the reason we read books, play games, and day-dream at the office. We have dreams for our children. We want them to live out dreams that we have had, experience things of which we were capable but missed along the way out of folly or cowardice. This is why fathers scream at little boys playing t-ball.

What do these things have to do with eternity? Before we can answer that, or think about that, we have to first wonder what an eternity is. Do you think that eternity is simply time extended to infinity? When Solomon wrote, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11), did he simply mean that man has the ability to think about time extended to infinity?

I think it could be the case that dreams are born from the eternity placed in our hearts. Eternity is not merely time extended into infinity. It is a place where death is no longer allowed to hunt us. When death is banished, and where youth is eternal, dreams can flourish and come true.

Solomon says that eternity is set in our hearts, yet in a way that we cannot find out what God has done and what he is going to do. The eternity we have in our hearts is put there to make us stretch out, to dream, to grasp what could have been, what should have been, and what might be. Our dreams and hopes are stirred by an eternal longing for something better: for ourselves, for our children, and for our friends.

The whisper of eternity blows through our dreams. We dream of being stronger, smarter, and more attractive. We want to be a hero. We want to slay the dragon. We want to be admired. We want this for our children. The love that we have for them is a desperate kind of love, and this too is born from eternity.

The naturalist may say that we are only evolved protozoa, but when love springs to life and bonds them to a child, they will fight and die for their dreams for their children. Is this mere chemical, evolutionary bonding? Or is it that innate whispering that only the parent of the child really hears, that whisper that affirms that this child is special, not simply because he is yours, but because he simply is. Every parent knows that his child is special, that his child is the best, this is not mere conceit: it is the gift of eternity, the gift of significance, the fragrance of love on the wind of eternity that promises more than we now see and hear.

Some day, when death is gone, we will have time to become what we should be. God has not withheld His plan from us because He is cruel; He has withheld it so we may dream dreams that only eternity can deliver (1 Corinthians 2:6-10).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Folly of Works Based Righteousness

One of the best rebukes I ever received came from a beloved friend and former Marine. He and I were shopping at K-Mart and, amongst the other assorted goodies that I had come to buy, I purchased an extension cord. As I checked out, I had the feeling that something wasn't quite right. It seemed that I was getting out of there just a bit too cheaply. As I walked towards the car, I examined the contents of my bag versus the receipt I had received. Sure enough, the clerk did not charge me for the extension cord.

I hurried myself back into the store and told the cashier that they had forgotten to charge me for the cord, and I asked to pay for it. The clerk shrugged, and acted like I was being a bother. I should have accepted my good fortune and moved on. I could not do that, I explained, as that would be stealing.

I got back to the vehicle after the exchange, and my friend asked me what had taken so long. Quite proud of myself, I quickly explained how I had to return to pay for the extension cord, despite the protest of the clerk. He looked at me with a bit of disdain and said, "Well, don't get proud of it. You only did what you should have done." I was a bit ruffled. I was seeking praise for a good deed, not a rebuke for pride.

Of course, the problem is that he was exactly right. I only did what I should have done. A person does not deserve praise for doing what is required. This is how people, even Christians, misunderstand the law of God. We know that God says that we should not steal, or covet, or cheat on our spouse, or lie. We congratulate ourselves when we avoid these no-no's, and we think that we have accomplished something. Such self-righteous congratulation is the ultimate proof of our moral stupidity.

God has other laws in the Bible. For example, God tells his people not to have sex with animals, or one's mother, or one's sister. I do not know anyone, thankfully, who comes to the end of the day and writes in their journal, "Dear journal, I was exceptionally righteous today. I did not lay with a goat, my sister, my brother, or any other relative."

I know that these are extreme and somewhat offensive examples for our tastes. So let us return to the easier commands. How about not lying and stealing? Should a man have to be told not to lie or steal? And if he refrains himself from lying and stealing, does he deserve a congratulations? If a man refrains from beating his wife, should we pat him on the back?

The innate desire to turn the law of God into a check list for righteousness is why we have such trouble understanding Jesus' sermon on the mount in Matthew 5. Jesus tells us there that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Then he informs us that not only should we not murder, but if you call your brother a fool you are in danger of hell. He goes on to say that committing adultery isn't just bad, it is bad when you lust after a woman with lustful intent. Jesus is saying that the law isn't a checklist, it is a principle. The law is given to show us what we should be like, and the fact that we have contrary desires indicates that something is wrong with us.

All the law of God flows from two principles: Love God; love your neighbor. Any violation of God's law comes because our love of God and neighbor is defective. So if a man refrains from adultery, thievery, and lying...big deal! He's only doing what a man ought to do. If every man agrees that these things are wrong, then refraining from them does not merit reward. And if everyman agrees with these things in principle, what shall become of the man who violates them?

This is why the law kills but cannot heal. This is why salvation from sin, which is what we call law-breaking, must come from somewhere other than the simple resolve to keep laws everyone regularly breaks.