Debate: A Satanic Statue

January 16, 2014 – 10:29 am

In 2012, a lawmaker privately funded a monument to the Ten Commandments erected on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol.  Since then, there have been a few lawsuits questioning the legality of such a monument on grounds of separation of Church and State from Atheist groups as well as the ACLU.  While these lawsuits are mitigating, the Satanic Temple in New York has applied for a permit to erect a Satanic Statue next to the Ten Commandments.  But, in a surprising turn of events, the Church of Satan actually denounces the statue stating that it is “Crude” and “Pedophilic”.  Interesting times that we find ourselves in….

So, what are the issues here?  I first saw this article a few months back, but was waiting to see some of the out falling on this issue to mention it.  On the one hand, we have the ACLU and other related groups trying to remove the Ten Commandments monument on the basis that religion should be on the State Capitol grounds.  But in case the monument can stay, the Satanic Temple would like equal space for their statue.  The Temple says, the statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation (Catholic Online).  Of course the committee that approved the Ten Commandments indicated that the Judeo-Christian expression in the monument was part of the history and heritage of the state and city, but the statue of Satan does not actually have any historical merit.  They will not issue any approval or denial of this statue or any other religious expressions until after all lawsuits are completely mitigated.

So where should we stand as Christians?  This one is a tough one.  Obviously, if we are fighting for free expression in the public arena, we also need to share space with any other religion, based on merit of history or any else any other wacko claims.  To clarify, we need to share space and have a discussion with Hindus, Jewish, Islamic, Mormons, etc.  But sadly, we must also share the space even with those seeking to mock our faith like the Pastafarians who ‘believe’ in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  My view?  As long as Christians get the same space at the table, I am OK with it.  We need to be allowed in the discussion to the same extent that every one else is.  We need to push for what we believe in just like others push for what they believe in.  Let us just Preach the Gospel where we may to the people we encounter, but also live a life of extraordinary example not as hypocrites nor as Bible thumpers.

Let us let Christ defend Himself through the Word.  He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the father except though me. (John 14:6)”  Sorry, this means that neither Satan will help us in the this life nor the next, nor will a flying bowl of pasta, though I can say that at least the pasta will give us calories for the day.

What are your thoughts on all this?

Doctrine Trumps Relationship

December 20, 2013 – 9:09 am
Photo: A&Ehttp://www.aetv.com/duck-dynasty/pictures/phils-phil-osophies-for-a-happy-life

Photo: A&E

I have never watched Duck Dynasty, nor do I ever care to.  Part of it is that I do not like to watch much television, part of it is that I am not a fan of reality TV, and the final part is that I do not like the pure commercialization of Duck Dynasty paraphernalia.  But I have to offer great praise for the ‘Duck Commander’ Phil Robertson for his interview with GQ magazine and not forgetting about his faith.  Of course, as you may know, A&E indefinitely suspended Phil for some of his comments reported in the article.  Of particular commentary fame is this quote from the article:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Pro-homosexual groups jumped on this calling it hate speech.  I am not sure where the hate is.  I do not see hatred or anger.  Now, I do need to say that I disagree with Phil that homosexuality is the start of all of this.  Romans actually says that homosexuality is the ending result of various sins and general callousness toward God:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Romans 1:18-27)

The Bible itself does not hate the homosexual community, either, but it does call what they do a sin.

Now, when all of the commentators of the article in GQ were quick to jump on the hate-bandwagon, I believe that they did not do their journalistic due diligence, because they also seemed to forget about this quote from that same article:

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

The heart behind this statement is not hate.

So let us shift gears here.  The real reason for this article was a commentary I watched on The Kelly File recently.  Bernard Whitman said:

The fact that someone would equate the love that I have for another man with bestiality, or a drunkard, or adultery or something like this flies in the face of what it means to be a Christian.  What it means to be a Christian is to treat others how you would want to be treated.

Bernard is defining Christianity with some soft, feel-good social agenda that does not fit the pattern of Scripture.  The Bible is not about hating people or their lifestyles.  It is about obeying God, so let me help you out with this conflict:  When an action requires us to choose between a relationship or a word in the Bible, we must always always side with the doctrine.  Jesus does not tell people to love the woman brought to her in sin.  He tells her to go, and sin no more (John 8:11).  This is a common practice in the Scriptures.  Jesus also says that loving Him means to obey his commands (John 14:15).  Jesus also says:

 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23).’

So, all this being said, what does the Bible actually say about homosexual behavior?

First, the Bible does not ever advocate hatred of anyone.  And frankly, I am sick of being labeled as a homophobe or of being intolerant for saying what the Bible says.  Starting with the verse that Phil actually referenced (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), the Bible lists a group of sins that are not consistent with Christian living.  Note that these are for people that profess to be Christians, not for the unbelieving world.  Homosexuals lies in this list, but is not specifically called out.  As I mentioned above, it does not start with homosexuality, but just that is one of the sins mentioned.  A similar verse occurs in 1 Timothy 1:8-11.  This is not a new principle.  Moses covered this in the Levitical law as well.  The whole of chapter 18 covers various sexual sins.  The specific verse about homosexuality reads:

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination (Verse 22).

The overall point is that the Bible is clear about homosexuality as a sin.  Some argue that it is on the same par with other sexual sins.  Some people elevate it higher.  I will leave that discussion for another time.  But my chief point here is that we, as Christians, are commanded to follow the Bible.  If the Bible calls it a sin, we need to excise it from our life!  We are also to love all other people (that is a command, too).  What happened here is that someone shared his view, and he has a legal right to do that in this country.  If A&E does not like it, that is their prerogative as well.  The Duck family may need to look for an alternative station to continue broadcasting.  And that is fine.

As for me, I have more respect for Phil because he did not compromise his faith.  As for my views of Bernard, I think that he needs to re-examine what he believes about Christianity.  Christ is in no way ever about just blindly loving people and letting them do what they feel.  Our hearts are indeed desperately wicked and can deceive us.  Love is truly important in the Christian faith.  But sorry, Bernard, Doctrine trumps love in every instance where they are in conflict in the Scriptures.

Intoleration Nation

September 4, 2013 – 12:41 pm

I just read in the news today that the owner of Sweetcakes in Oregon is closing down its business after a same-sex couple was refused service.  The state has a provision on the law books that prevents denial of private business services based on sexual orientation.  The debate has its supporters and opponents, with one side screaming ‘INTOLERANCE!’, though I am not sure why the other side is not doing the same.

Let me first mention the issue of the legal provision:  I think that a if a business opens up, they have a duty to fulfill the law of the jurisdiction as long as it does not conflict with Gods law.  If they do not like it, they need to seek the legal means of changing the law.  Does this particular law violate Gods commands?  I have been thinking about that, and while I think that it is a bad law, I can not find specific Biblical grounds to call it a violation of his law, though I think it comes perilously close.  On grounds of business, I think that it hurts free enterprise because it limits a persons ability to do business according to his conscience.  Now onto toleration.

Toleration is when we allow people to live, act, and believe as they wish even though we do not agree with it.  Toleration is also a two-sided street, a fact which I am not certain that some people believe or understand.  Please allow me to clarify.  As a Christian, I believe that the act of sex between same-gender people is wrong.  The Bible does say this, though it does not say to hate these people, or protest, or bully them.  Just that the action is wrong.  This is in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, thus it is something that is fundamental of the religious faith of Christianity.  As such, it is my belief that a Christian living the command of Christ to be Salt and Light to the community is not able, in pure conscience, to support homosexual unions.  But to the homosexual community, the Bible-believing people that do not support same-sex marriage are just plain intolerant.  They are so intolerant that they have to be rallied and protested again, harassed, the targets of death threats, and all this because they simply believe differently than the homosexual community does.  This is a double standard.  If you would like people to tolerate your views, you must also tolerate theirs.  We are Christians that would like to live our life as freely as you would like to live yours.

To the Christians out there, I give this admonition: The sin of homosexuality is truly a sin according to the Bible, but it is not the unpardonable sin.  Rather than focusing on the ‘evil gay people’, it would be better to love them and share with them the Gospel!  Let the Holy Spirit convict them of sin on Gods own timetable.  Our duty is to love all people regardless of their sin.  To the homosexuals out there, you are displaying intolerance if you scream, whine, cry, and throw a fit to or about anyone that does not agree with you.  I think you are wrong, you think I am wrong.  I believe that the intolerant one is the person that makes the most noise about it!

It is a shame that a company had to close down a business because of the intolerance of a homosexual lobby.  All the while, it is clear that their side was far more bigoted than the Christian business owners.  All the business said is to find another provider for your service.  They were not intolerant, they did not rally against the gay community to change their opinion, they just went back to work.  But the gay community calls them bigoted as a point-of-fact descriptive on an article from a pro-homosexual news site, and was clearly the side guilty of hate-based literature.

Stop being intolerant!

Bring Me Back

August 29, 2013 – 8:35 am

During my usual quick read-through the scriptures, I normally plow through the Word for familiarity, not deep study.  But this morning, I was not able to get past a verse of scripture dealing with life in the Lord, death, faith, and more.  The verse was 2 Samuel 14:14:

For we will surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again.  Yet God does not take away life, but plans ways so that the banished one will not be cast out from Him.

So much here, first of which is the fact that we all must die.  Hebrews 9:27 echoes this statement by saying that we are all appointed to die once, and then we face judgement.  Now for some of us, death is after a long, fulfilling life.  It is welcome and does not creep upon us.  We have served the Lord and our time has come, and we long to jump into the arms of Christ.  But for others, death is a sneaky thief that grabs us when we are most unaware.  In the presence of fun, friends, errands, work.  He grabs us when he grabs us whether we are ready or not.  It is because of this sneaky death that we must be prepared to leave this life behind in a heartbeat, for our next heartbeat is nowhere promised.  Are you ready to die?  Will you be in heaven?

Our lives cannot be gathered up again meaning we do not get to redo our life.  We cannot take back our actions or our words.  Jesus reminds us in Matthew 12:36 that every idle word we speak will be judged.  James warns about the power our words have in our life and the lives of others (James 3:1-12).  Just like our words, our actions will also be accounted for.  Read about the life of David and his encounter to Bathsheba to see the consequences.  In a nutshell, despite the prophet Nathan telling David that The Lord has forgiven him of the sin (2 Samuel 12:13b), the final result was still the death of four of Davids children and the curse that violence would never leave his family line, indeed the same family line which also spawned the Prince of peace.  So I implore you to live your life including actions and words in such a way to be without regrets.  It is better to clean up a small puddle of water than a large one.

God does not take away life but plans ways… means that He is not willing to just sweep away our life, but rather, He is always planning a way for us to run into repentance.  If you look at the famous story of the Lost Son in Luke 15, verse 17 says that the son finally came to his senses.  This happens when we hit bottom, a term used in psychology and counseling for when a person has fallen into such despair that they reach out and cry out in any possible way to get help from their addiction.  God is actively bringing calamity into the lives of His children that are walking in ways contrary to Him.  He longs to bing them to their knees so that they repent and serve Him.  We separated ourselves from Him by damaging our own sanctification.  Now He longs to restore us.

True, we will all die, but for those that live to honor The Lord, they will have a life of great peace and a death into the open and loving arms of Christ Jesus, our Savior.  Though our past mistakes cannot be erased, they can be covered and atoned for.  He will seek to bring you back to Himself, and remember also that He has promised to restore the time that was lost to the trials (Joel 2:25).  Call on the Lord live in His presence.

The New Gospel

January 31, 2013 – 7:00 am

Are people reading the Bible and living by it?

The Barna research group has been collecting statistics about the state of the Christian Wordview for almost 15 years now.  The summary points are astounding:

  • 46% of professing Christians believe in absolute truth
  • 79% of believers think the Bible is accurate
  • Only 40% of professing Christians believe Satan is a real being
  • 53% of professing Christians believe you can get into heaven by good works
  • 62% of professing Christians believe that Jesus was sinless

(Barna Research Group)

These statistics beg the question: is there a difference between a true, believing Christian and one of Barnas ‘professing Christians’?  Indeed, Jesus declares:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

This truly means that some people in the church are not saved, and another one of Jesus’ parables makes this same point:

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

This concept was placed once again before my eyes as I hosted a dinner party of church-goers and the conversation turned toward scriptural concepts.  I reached for the Bible and quickly opened to one verse after another during the course of the conversation.  One person, and then another opened up to me that after years of church attendance, neither of these people had ever read the Bible.  I was not totally surprised, as when I made my profession of faith in Christ many years ago, I had a friend whom was also raised in the church.  He was shocked in unbelief that someone such as I could actually come to Christ.  He glibly asked me if I had read the whole Bible, which as a young Christian, I had not yet done.  But I saw him about a year or two later and he asked if I was a Christian, thinking that I would have fallen away.  I told him that ‘Yes, I am still a believer’.  He then again mockingly asked me if I had read the Bible yet.  This time my answer was an emphatic, ‘Yes!’, then I asked in retort if he had read the whole Bible.  He was silent for a moment before confessing that, no, he has never read the Bible.  Sadly, this is becoming the norm in the church today.

We can hypothesize as to reasons why people are not reading the scriptures.  Is is that the preacher is preaching too quickly for the people to find the verse?  Is it that the church puts the verses up on the big screen?  Is it that people are not bringing a Bible to church, or that they do not have one?  I am not certain if any or all of these are contributing factors, but I would like to say that I think there is a little more behind it.

First, I think that many of the people in the church are not believers.  After all, believers hunger and thirst for the Word of the Lord (Psalm 42).  If you ask a believer that seems to have it all together, but came to Christ later in life, you will find that they tend to have gone through a period of time when they could not get enough of the Word of God.  They fully relate to the author of Psalm 119Secondly, I think that people today are over-entertained.  In a message entitled Media: Friend or Foe, Stuart McAllister says that boredom is a symptom of a media-saturated culture.  If you know any teenagers, you have probably heard the phrase, “I’m bored” more times than you care to.  The problem is that they have been raised in a culture that is totally saturated in games, television, movies, music, and any other type of electronic media that serves the purpose to keep them constantly stimulated.  If that stimulation ceases for a moment, they reach for something to stimulate them again.  This same principle applies to adults as well as kids, lest you want to yell at the children and teenagers.  The fact is, the television, movies, news, or general busy-ness keeps adults from reading the Word.  Third, many people are intimidated by a book as large as the Bible.  It is funny to me that many of the people making this argument have read entire book series that together are several times the size of the Bible.  But another factor that needs to be considered is that most adults do not even read books at all during the year.  If we are not reading, where are we getting our ideas about church, God, and the Christian life?

As I ponder this concept, I think about what I call the New Gospel.  We are in an age where the church tries to get people to profess Christ, but does not teach what to do next.  There is very little accountability in the church, and very little motivation in the members. All this leads to a shallow Gospel that leaves members unprepared for the challenges that surround us daily.  The new Gospel is one where people profess to be Christians, but truly know nothing about the faith they profess.  So how do we move from a Gospel where people profess Christ to a church where people actually possess Christ?  I think that there are a few simple steps:

  1. We need a full relationship with God.  The core aspects of a relationship with God are prayer and Bible study.  Take some time to pray every day.  Start out with only a few minutes and build up as you feel lead.  Do the same for Bible study.  I recommend setting aside time each day for a general overview where the Bible is read in one year, and then also setting side time a few times per week for detailed study of specific chapters.
  2. Do not let service pass by.  We are called to do good works, not to earn salvation, but because God set them aside for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).  Seek out service that you can do in the church, whether it is teaching a class or cleaning the floors.  You can also find work outside of the church in a para-church ministry or community service.  Whatever you choose to do, do it to the glory of God.
  3. Engage in fellowship inside and outside the church.  This is not just doing things with a group of Christians, but rather, spend time with Christians opening up the Word together.  Let your friends ideas influence you and encourage your walk with the Lord.
  4. Focus on reducing time that you spend in secular media.  I am not saying to cut it out entirely, but significantly reducing it will make your life far more interesting, and you will also find one of your barriers to reading Scripture will be fading away.  You may even find that after spending so much time in the Word and in prayer will show you that the Christian life is far more exciting than any television program.

Take time to be in the Word and talking to God.  Do not be among the professing Christians that are ignorant of your faith, but rather, learn and practice your faith.

The Magic Bullet

January 30, 2013 – 12:03 am

booksAmericans are always looking for a magic bullet.  Whether it is money, health, or spiritual growth.  We can spot these all around us if we look, and I know that there was a time when I was a victim of the mentality myself.  I was in college studying biology, chemistry, physics and the like.  These were hard courses and like many students, I was having a hard time keeping up in class.  In my struggle, I searched for better books on the topics I was studying.  I found simple books, more books, and other books.  And I kept finding myself in the same situation that I started in:  a difficult class and poor understanding.  But I caught onto the problem early in my college career.  I was lacking discipline.

Discipline has a few good definitions, but here I will focus on a definition of training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.  Discipline is tragically missing today in our daily lives.  We have a TGIF mentality, seek pleasure rather than self-improvement, and it does not seem to matter whether a person is a professing Christian or not.  I will not focus any more on the personal growth issues in this article, but the lessons apply to that easily.  Rather, I am more concerned with the state of personal growth in our Christian walk.  We need more discipline in our churches, and we need more personal lives.

As I was teaching kids at summer camps, I would always go to the book of Titus for a few good reasons.  The first is, it is small enough that I could encourage the kids to read it and they could easily do so before the week is up.  That is encouragement for them that at least one of the 66 books in the Bible has been read.  Secondly, I like Titus because of all of the references to teaching young men to live serious and disciplined lives.  Lets have a look at a few verses that I would speak about over the week in devotions.

Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:6-8)

Look at the contrast between the Word of God and the actual actions of young men today.  While the Bible says for young men to be sensible, our modern age not only allows, but also promotes young men to live erratic and spontaneous lives.  While the Bible commands to demonstrate good deeds, our young men do not have a desire to really help anyone with any thing because it is possible they will miss the fun action of a television program or video game.  Dignity and sound speech are rarely numbered among people today, young or otherwise, and the church is not taking a stand to correct them.  When these traits happen among the unbelievers around us, we can accept it, but when it occurs in the church and no one seeks to correct the youth, the church, not the teenager is to be culpable for the sin (Ezekiel 3:17-21).

The Apostle Paul realized that we do not start out as Christians following God.  He reminds us later in Titus: For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another (3:3).  But Paul does not end there.  He describes salvation to Titus: But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (3:4-7).  Paul continues: This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men (3:8).

We are not to stay where we are when we are saved, we are instead to grow through a disciplined life.  You need to transform your mind through the washing of God’s Word.  Romans 12 declares: Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (1-2).  Do not keep doing the same things.  Learn from the Word and place your new lessons into practice in your personal life.

An Open Letter in Our Mind-Numbed Age

January 7, 2013 – 8:17 pm

For today’s article, I wanted to resurrect a letter that I wrote almost five years ago.  To set the stage, I had just graduated with my doctors degree and I was teaching at Bucknell University.  I was always in contact with several of my teachers from High School and I noticed that my old principal was still at the school, so I sent an email detailing my academic accomplishments.  He remembered that I was not specifically a problem student, but rather, that I was not a very good student.  I started high school in learning labs for students with low academic success, and I went through low grades for my first year and a half.  He sent me an email asking me what the change was.  I sent the following letter, which I still think is excellent advice for our day today.  The letter only retracts the names of the specific teachers, everything else is unedited.

I had to take some time to reflect on your question about what drove me to success in academics.  I think it must be a question of either philosophy or spirituality.  From my perspective now, Christ is the reason for this change, but because I never turned to any religious ways until way after I was proved academically successful, I must point to something else, but no matter how I slice it, it is a principle that is found in the Judeo-Christian proverb found at Proverbs 29:18.  There are many translations of this curious verse, but the literal translation is this: “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.”  I think that this basically sums up the mental philosophy of students these days.  Students tend to have no real direction or plan in life, and without it, they “cast off restraint” meaning that they do not discipline themselves to learn because, in their mind, there is no need for it.  Why suffer through the yoke of education when pleasure is so common and easy to get?

To understand this mindset, let me take a brief tour of our culture and mindset and how it has changed over the years.  I would recommend that you would read a few books.  The first two are from the 1980’s by Neil Postman.  In his closely related books “The Disappearance of Childhood” and “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, the author examines the shift in epistemology over the years.  He traces how we are in danger of shifting from a print-based culture able to hold attention into a culture constantly requiring stimulation and amusement.  Sadly, we have arrived to that latter state.  In the recent book “Rejuvenile” by Christopher Noxon, the author clarifies this mindset with the final line in the first chapter, “Play, to the modern rejuvenile, is indeed the whole point of life.”  This book is a must read to understand where we are, but it is scary because of the things that adults are doing across the developed world to cast off responsibility as earlier generations would define it in order to play and be mused.  While I agree that the ‘rejuvenile’ movement has certainly brought to question legitimate points, the answers of that culture are off base and contribute more problem to the society than it solves.  Another book I would recommend is from the field of psychology titled “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman.  In this book, the author traces in one chapter how the academic programming in America is stronger than most other countries, but if a student has a life of turmoil, he does not care about solving math problems or other school work, because he has far more pressing matters on his mind.  I believe these cultural shifts in mindset all boil the problem of education down to a core question: How do you deal with the lack of care in careless society?

I believe that this careless is the root to the current education block in America, but the students can break out.  Those that do will hold the world in their hands.  They will be the leaders, the business owners, the scholars, the elite.  And the others will be serving French fries from a drive through window.  This difference in expression is detailed well by the story in the book “Einstein’s Dreams” where the author considers the ‘Nows’ and the ‘Laters’ in a world where time and life goes on forever.  The difference here has little to do with formal education, but rather, care in the careless world.  In my personal case, I did not care because life was too hard for me.  And while I was still statistically on the rarity in that time, the life I lived has become far more common today, that is why I think that education has more to do with the heart than the mind.  I grew up without a father, I was in trouble with the law by 7th grade, I saw drugs in 8th grade, I knew of no direction or guidance by 9th grade.  Life was just hard, and that was that.  In short, I gave up on caring.  Because I had no care, I also did not have direction, a goal, or a mission.  This is where high school was able to step in for me, not officially, but through the teachers, that amazing, dedicated, and often underpaid workforce.  It is interesting that we, as young men and women, do not appreciate the things that we have at the moment.  If you will give me a moment to reminisce, it was [my guidance counselor] who first gave me the hope.  I can not tell you what the conversation was, but she was the first person who told me that I could succeed in life.  I think that was the primary turning point for my change.  It was the vision that I needed, a goal to shoot for, and that single-handedly caused me to examine how I was living.  She was not alone, however, I can remember [my 10th grade English teacher] in conversations about herbs as I was exploring the plants in the world around me.  I still have some of the encouraging remarks she made on class assignments.  [My 12th grade English teacher] and I traded garden plants often thus showing interest in and supporting my hobbies.  [My chemistry teacher] was impressed by my level of skill in math without a calculator and always asked me to keep in touch so she knows what I am doing.  [My environmental science teacher] was certainly instrumental as a friend during field trips in Environmental Biology II.  This was the teacher that passed me in 7th grade science with a D-, had me again in 9th grade, and then was completely impressed by my turnaround as evidenced by my knowledge of plants by 12th grade.  I remember [my government teacher] listening to some of my early poetry and commenting on how continuing to write would help me in my life.  Indeed this is true since poetry has been an important form of expression for me over life.  [My precalculus teacher] encouraging me in the use of the TI calculators and was a great, fun teacher, and I can not say enough about how [my biology teacher] has help me over the years.  I view him, my 10th grade biology teacher, as a mentor, a role model, a friend, and at times, even a father figure.  What do all those have to do with education?  Simple: nothing…and everything.  Knowing that someone did express real care for me in my life was a turning point for me.  While I did not learn a whole lot of scholarly things from most of my teachers at that time, I believe that they set me up to have a vision for my life.

To apply this material and directly answer your questions: The first thing to do for the students to somehow let them know how much they are cared for, especially if they do not get that care at home.  Note here that it is often the hardest to love student who needs the most love.  The bullying, outbursts, and tough front are a mask for the great pain behind their lives.  Showing interests in hobbies, music, or even having teachers share their hobbies and interests with students is a great way to begin this course of friendship.  Next, instill in them a vision.  Frankly, it is better that they have a vision to be the best garbage person they could be than to wander through the halls of higher education aimless.  College costs too much to have no direction.  Vision here could be academic success, but it does not have to be, but a person armed with a dream is far more effective at impacting the world than a person armed with facts.  Trust in this: instill in the students a vision, and they will have a passion to pursue education.  Next, provide ways for the students to explore and learn in a safe setting.  Sadly, adolescents will experiment.  To date, I have worked with over 100 children and youth through summer camps, mentoring programs, teaching, etc.  I have seen a lot of experimenting going on.  What I have found works well here is giving them their experiments; otherwise, they will seek out their own experiments, often to their detriment.  An approach to giving them their experiments can consist of giving them clever questions that will inspire them to seek out the answer, or by giving them a project that contains elements one step beyond what the student can do.  In short, give the students love, a vision, and an opportunity, and then let them figure out the rest on their own.

I hope this helps you in your struggles with your students.  It is not a problem localized to your school district, but rather, it is a large scale epidemic.  I see the same trends in my students here at the university level as well.

This is still timely advice for today inside of schools as well as outside of schools.

Peace in Christ,
Tom

The End is (not) Near

December 20, 2012 – 9:35 am

the_end_is_nearThe world is abounding with news of the end of the world. Some people are really freaked out about it and others are comically planning ‘End of the World’ parties. That is expected as Peter says that scoffers will come and make light of the end of the world predictions (2 Peter 3:3-9). But Christ says that no one will know when the end will arise (Matthew 24:36). So I do believe we are in the final days, but that could days, months, or even years off yet. I do not know for sure and neither does any appropriately educated Christian.

Of course we all have a morbid desire to know when the end of the world will come, and the apostles were no exception to that trend, and the fact that they asked Jesus when the end times events will come, Jesus gave them, and by extension, us, the answer that no one can ever know the exact time when the end will come, but we do know that it will be like a thief in the night, or in modern terms, a time that we do not expect (Matthew 24). Thus, this day, too, will likely pass with the end coming.

In our culture, we have tended to try to determine the end from information in the past. I am old enough to have lived through various end-of-the-world projections. I remember the initial end predictions from the 90′s from the first accounting of the Mayan calendar. I remember the Hale-Bopp commit cult, Y2K, and a few minor ones. Of course all of these were not even in alignment with the only thing we know about the end times: that God has reserved the end times for fire. Is that nuclear war, or a volcano, or something else? I do not know, the Bible just says that it will be hot (2 Peter 3:7).

So our latest prediction is based on this Mayan calendar and that it ends on December 21, 2012. There are many funny things about this prediction. First, I find it funny that a culture that rejects the Bible because it is ‘old and out dated’ will subscribe to a culture’s calendar which did not even survive to the end of their own calendar! Second, it was written on a round tablet.  How do we know the spacing was correct, and that they were not just predicting the shape of an Oreo cookie! Third, and most important, the Bible says that no one will know the day or the hour of the end times, but somehow this pagan culture figured it out hundreds of years ago? Not likely.

mayan_oreo

So I declare that the end could very well be here, but I am going to doubt it. After all, we have only had one end of the world party day and there are many more scoffers to come yet. See you on Saturday!

How Could a Good God Let This Happen?

December 18, 2012 – 10:39 pm

Dont Deny God Exists and then blame Him for the choase that results.Bullets echo through the halls of schools, the corridors of malls, and the darkness of theaters. Gun control proponents scream to ‘get guns out of American society!’ and the world breaks into tears wondering why this would happen…again, and then someone, probably an agnostic, asks if there is a Good God, how could He let this happen? This is a very fair question, but one that is often met with the wrong answer in America today.

Although many news stations have brought on theology experts, I still have not seen a satisfactory answer to this question. Of course it is possible that they are trying to be sensitive and not place an answer in front of grieving people, and thus, I wish to qualify this article to say that I am not talking to the parents who lost little children in the most recent school shooting, for I have no words to give to those people, but I leave it to their friends, families, and religious leaders to address. Rather, I write this article to those people who are watching on the sidelines, wondering what the solutions could possibly be, and asking the honest question: How could a Good God let all of these shootings happen?  And I hope to propose a solution.

The Character of God

True that most of the time people ask this question, it is a rhetorical hatred of the Christian claims of an all loving God. I understand that, and I do not wish to cast my pearls before swine. However, there are also people that either honestly do not know the answer to that question, or there are people of faith that want to reconcile this apparent contradiction to have a closer walk with God. It is for these two latter cases that I write this article.

First, we start by saying that God does have the power to restrain evil. He could make the shooter die of a heart attack before the event, but He does not. He allows the tragic events to unfold for a purpose that may be unknown to us, or maybe, there is a cause we can determine. The chief end of man is to honor God and serve Him alone. The first commandment is to place no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3). And I would point out that a god is anything which you consider more important than God. Is it possible that one reason God allows these events to unfold is so that many people come back to serving Him?

Do you remember September 11, 2001? During that event many people began to attend church again for the first time. Many of those people fell away but some stayed with God since then. This is not God causing the tragic events, but it is God allowing it to happen and using that tragedy to bring people to faith in Him, which achieves the end purpose of man.  This view is not as one person said, God’s judgment on America.  Be sure that God’s judgment, whenever that occurs, will be far more severe than a school shooting or 9/11.  But this is God allowing evil people to do bad things, and then using the tragic fallout for His purpose in bringing people closer to Him.

The second possible reason is there is such a thing as a wrath of abandonment. In this situation, God will give a culture over to sin as a response to constantly ignoring God and refusing to follow His moral law (Romans 1:18-32). If this is the case in these situations, God removes His restraining power over sin and lets a culture into the path that it insists on wanting to go.  This wrath of abandonment will serve to leave the unrepentant sinner to have no good consequences in their life, causing them to hopefully hit bottom because when you are at your most desperate, you start to reach up to the only power strong enough to save you: God, Himself.  There are no atheists in foxholes and when you are at the bottom, the sin is no longer fun.

Indeed, there is sufficient evidence that God is loving, but what precisely does that mean? We interpret love though our selfish ambitions and sinful heart. I know that sometimes when parents do things that they perceive as love, they are actually harmful acts of self-ambition. Think of it, you may think that it is loving to let a child do whatever he or she wants in the world, but in reality, love is to set that child up with responsibility in life. You are loving to say ‘No’ you can not have that whole bag of candy in one day because it would make that child sick. So love does have a standard, not based on our feelings, but rather, based on our ultimate outcome.

So, indeed, God is loving and He does have the power to restrain evil. So there must be a reason that He chooses not to intervene. Let us examine that next.

On Free Will

On knowing that God can restrain evil, it is important that we examine the hot-topic of Free Will. While I do not subscribe to free will in salvation, I do agree that we have free will over many areas of our life. And there is a very good reason why: If God did not give us free will, we would not choose to love Him and our love would be false.

Liken this principle, if you will, to a dysfunctional parent that always insists their child ends the conversation with ‘I love you’. If the phrase is forced, is it really a true emotion? Perhaps, but there is no guarantee.  Rather, the parent will hear the words out of compulsion and feel good, but the child has no free will in this matter and starts to resent it.  What follows is the child blindly says their words, but their heart is far from the feelings.  God is interested in our heart condition, not the blind following of a rule or set of rules.  He gives us free will so that we can love him out of our own choice, not out of compulsion.

The flip side of the free will coin is that people also are free to not love God, and thus, get farther and farther away from Him.  As a person becomes farther from God, the fruits of the flesh as more manifested in their life, slowly over time.  The fruits of the flesh are the following:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

As these list items are more prevalent in our personal lives, they also become part of our culture over time.  As we have removed God from our culture, our culture starts to become more callous, violent, sexualized, and aggressive.  This type of culture is the perfect breeding ground for mass acts of violence among a small set of our members.  Lets examine this a little closer, and see what solution we can find.

God’s Word and Our Life

The book of James calls for the believers responsible living in our world. I want to focus on the fourth chapter. James starts out by examining the source of quarrels and conflict in our heart. He defines the root as our own pleasures that ‘wage war against your members‘, a phrase very much related to Paul and his struggle to do what the spirit calls for though his flesh is not able (Romans 7:14-25). Earlier in his letter, James also identifies our lusts and pleasure as the root of our temptations that will eventually lead us to sin and death if we do not overcome (James 1:13-15). So the first point is that when our pleasures start to control us, it is easy to slip into quarrels and conflicts. If you are still in doubt, place two cookies in a room with three pre-schoolers and watch what happens.

James continues that we lust for things that we do not have, and so we commit murder. Perhaps not literal murder, but anger and envy are just as bad. The point is, when we are energized for lustful desire, we tend to justify any means to achieve our end. We will fight, lie, cheat, steal or anything else needed to get to the proper end.

James uses a very strong phrase next, ‘You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?‘ James is not talking about the beautiful creation, or being on this planet, but rather, the sin culture. ‘World’ here is the cultural makeup of humanity, complete with it’s sin and hostility. The bottom line here is that God is displeased when we follow the sins of the culture because they are fun, or we have liberty. Rather, he instructs us in the Psalms to place no worthless things before our eyes (Psalm 101:3-4). 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 He tells us to examine every thing carefully, hold fast to the good things and cast out the evil. Paul says finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8). So let us walk with faith and not entertain ourselves with the sin of the world.

What To Do

It is quite clear that we have excused God from the room of our culture. The restraint that for so long empowered America was that same power over which held the Israelites in power in the time of David and Solomon. But as that people walked away from the commands of God, we have done the same. We have many times even forgotten basic decency in our country. Christian children play games and watch movies that glorify the evil, and no one seems concerned. Christian adults do not think it bad to watch movies rife with immoral sexuality, and we spend so little time in prayer and studying the Word that we so profess on Sunday to have the power for all things in life.  These are the Christians!  Those call to be the salt and the light!  I can tell you first hand what you see among the non-Christians, and it is not pretty, but I will not divulge details here.

If all of this is disheartening, read on, for James gives us the solution: ‘Draw ear to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, your double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be tuned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of The Lord, and He will exalt you (James 4:8-10)’.  It is simple, turn to God and truly follow His commands out of love.  The result is a manifestation of the Fruit of the Spirit in the citizens, which will bleed over into the culture.  When the culture is defined by individual people that exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control, we will be a society that honors God and by extension, loves one another.

So the final answer to our question is this: A Good God let this happen so that we as a culture will turn from our sinful ways and return to Him, and His principles for living.  This does not apply only to the subset of people that experienced these violent crimes, they were no better nor any worse than the rest of us.  These are wake-up calls for all of our society.  The ball is in our court.  How shall we act?

God is the Source

December 13, 2012 – 7:00 am

The Cedars are the beautiful trees of Lebanon which were used in the Lords temple created by Solomon.  They are magnificent trees considered of high value in the Holy Land.  The Cedars category comes from the study title that an old pastor of mine used as a method for discipleship.  It is based on the reference of Psalm 92, which I will quote verses 10-15:

But You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
I have been anointed with fresh oil.
And my eye has looked exultantly upon my foes,
My ears hear of the evildoers who rise up against me.
The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree,
He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Planted in the house of the Lord,
They will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still yield fruit in old age;
They shall be full of sap and very green,
To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

We see so much imagery here about the beauty and health of the trees, and it is also an image of us as we couch ourselves in the Word of God.

Verse 10 shows God to be the ultimate source of our growth.  In Christ, we learn of righteousness, and that righteousness will cause us to flourish.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 to “Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness and these things shall be added to you“.  In this instance, ‘these things’ refers to the physical needs of the body.

When we lose our focus on Him, our righteousness suffers and we start to fall into complacency and finally sin.  But keep focus and righteousness will come.  Keep righteousness and His kingdom will be in sight.  Keep that place and He will provide for your needs and you will not have to worry.

Though we frequently forget to keep focus on God and rather focus on all the work we need to earn our paycheck, we should instead to resolve to be sure to take some time each day on relaxed focus on God in Prayer.