Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Old-Fashioned Christmas

I love those idyllic, Christmas-card pictures. A snowy landscape; a couple driving their horse-drawn sled toward a warm little bungalow; brightly wrapped gifts in the back of the sled. That, or some similar image of an “old fashioned Christmas” warms the heart.

In reality, often Christmas warms our heart but scalds our pocket book. For many, Christmas shopping is a pressure-packed time. Debt piles up. All the ideals of an old-fashioned Christmas seem reduced to a greeting-card picture.

Recently I was reading in Exodus 16 about the huge crowd of grumbling, disobedient Israelites in the desert. In that barren place, God provided manna for them. At first they said, “What is it?” God’s provision was not recognizable.

A couple things relate to Christmas in this story.

First, the people were in need. They didn’t have enough. Yet in the desert, we are told, “That evening quail came and covered the camp…” Yesterday, in an empty Pennsylvania field I saw hundreds of sparrows literally covering a portion of the field. How can a sparrow strip a field of seed? It’s easy. Thousands show up. God’s provision is abundant.

Second, what they needed was provided. “Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.” God often works that way. He meets the need, yet allows need to recur. He likes us to come to Him.

Lastly, the timing of God’s provision was impeccable. “The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled.” When we arrived in Pennsylvania in August, we needed housing. A family in our church offered their “cottage” adjacent to their house. They said, “stay as long as you like.” We were blown away at God’s timing.

So this year, why not experience an old-fashioned Christmas? Not the greeting card kind, but one where you ask the Lord for what you need. Grab a cup of coffee and get off into a quiet place. Have a private conversation with God. Tell Him what you need. It might be helpful if you admit to him you’ve grumbled and disobeyed quite a bit too. But talk with him. Then wait, be observant, and see if you don’t start recognizing the manna.

Merry Christmas and enjoy the sleigh ride.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Multiculturalism & Belief

Not all values, beliefs, and lifestyles are equal.

Does this sound contrary to “All men are created equal?“ It is true that all men and women are created equal. But all cultural values and lifestyles are not equal.

The Bible backs this view. The message from God to Pharoah in the midst of the Old Testament plagues was, “I will make a distinction between my people and your people.” (Ex 8:23) God Himself declares a difference between my and your.

Christian leader Josh McDowell writes, “The basic belief of multiculturalism … is that all cultural values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims are equal; there is no standard by which one can judge one cultural value as “better” or “worse” than that which exists in another culture.”1

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently said multiculturalism has failed in Germany. She challenged Turkish immigrants in Germany to embrace her countries ‘Christian’ values. Not to become Christians, but to adapt to the cultural values, lifestyle, and language of Germany rooted in a Judeo-Christian worldview.

In the New Testament Paul draws a distinction between the believers and the worldly. “All of us also lived among them at one time … like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath… But … God … made us alive…” (Eph 2:3-4) Us and them. In another place he writes, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” (2 Cor 6:14)

Today, many tell us that all beliefs and lifestyles are equal. If that is true, then the Ku Klux Klan lifestyle is equal to our current pop culture lifestyle.

As Christians we’re called to love all people and to hold what is true. We are not to give equal value to every belief.

How do we do this? We can begin by heeding the advice of Paul: “… speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) Not just speaking truth – and not just “love” that compromises our convictions. McDowell says, “strike the biblical balance of aggressively living in love while humbly standing for truth.”2 Aggressive in love… humble in truth!

1 - Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, The New Tolerance (Carol Stream, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers) 63
2 - Ibid, 97

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hey... That's Not Right!

I love Sci-Fi movies. As a kid, a favorite was the 1951 “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” When the remake came out, I couldn’t wait to see it. I did not remember the child character Jaden Smith played in the film. Inwardly I fumed, “Will Smith’ must have used his power to get his son into that script. That’s so unfair. They ruined a classic movie.” My daughter heard my gripes along these lines. I told her, “It’s nepotism.” She said, “How do you know that? Do you know the facts?”

Uhhhhh. Guess who was right?

Nepotism is “Favoritism to a relation, as by granting employment.”1 The operative word being “favoritism.” That’s the issue. There is nothing wrong with granting employment to a relative or letting Junior take over the family business. That is commendable. But when it’s done with favoritism, it is wrong. Favoritism implies someone else got the shaft.

Showing partiality, respect of persons, unabashed bias, being unfair, these are traits despised by our society. That’s the underlying suspicion that upset me about “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Nepotism has to do with the exercise of authority. How the authority is applied determines if it’s nepotism or love. If it involves favoritism and injustice, it’s wrong. If it is done fairly, then it’s virtue.

The Bible says “with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.”2 God’s character is fair, for “all His ways are just.”3 Authors Bickel and Jantz say, “God doesn’t grade on a curve, and He doesn’t play favorites.”4 All His ways are just! Because the Lord is perfectly impartial we admire impartiality in human beings. Social admiration is often directed to behavior congruent with the character of God.

Now we humans are a different kettle of fish. With a couple of rightly placed questions my bad attitude toward the Smiths was revealed. I had to admit I was accusing them. Why was I not so critical about others. How did George W. Bush get into politics? Doesn’t respected Christian author Josh McDowell get his son Sean exposure on a major level? That didn’t bother me. I was making assumptions without facts.

My bad. Will and Jaden … sorry.

To add insult to injury, I found out there was a child character in the original “Day...” Go figure?

Let’s face it, playing favorites and judging others often happens among us. One of Job’s comforters in the Bible, young Elihu boasted, “I will show partiality to no one.”5 Words are cheap, buddy. We tend to give close friends more stock than a stranger. Our kid is likely to get the nod over an acquaintance’s child sometimes.

So the next time you’re ready to rail on “the teacher’s pet,” the boss, or a fellow employee – repeat this prayer: “Lord, don’t let me be partial and unjust. Stop me from glibly accusing others of being that way. Enable me to be like you, fair and impartial, while not failing to bless my family and close friends. Amen.”

Well, I have to go. I’m gonna check out Billy Gray as “Bobby” in the original “Day the Earth Stood Still.”
Say, I wonder if Billy Gray had connections? How did that kid get the role anyway?

1 - Webster’s Standard Dictionary, (USA: Trident Reference Publishing, 2006)
2 - 2 Chronicles 19:7
3 - Deuteronomy 32:4
4 - Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz, Evidence for Faith 101, (Eugene, Ore: Harvest House Publishers, 2008) 70
5 - Job 32:21

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts on Tattoos

Recently in an NFL Game on tv, I noticed a big offensive lineman with tattoos running all the way up his arms. Tattoos and body piercing have long since become standard fare in our culture. Is there a biblical position on this issue?

Focus On The Family offers this comment regarding tattoos and body piercing. “Since the Bible does not offer a definitive answer regarding these topics, neither will we. However, we can provide some food for thought.”1 I offer some thoughts in that same vein.

The Bible is not completely silent about tattoos. “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”2 The Jews are generally against the practice to this day. Rabbi Howard Berman of Columbus, Ohio said, "Jewish law says that the body that God gave us is more of a loan than a gift, and our responsibility is to keep it as well as we can… We very strongly frown on tattoos."3 This is a basic position regarding tattoos held by some Christians as well. Our body is recognized as belonging to God or being the temple of God.

Some see tattooing as rooted in paganism. It was once common to associate tattoos with “heathen” tribes. A heathen was “an unconverted individual of a people that do not acknowledge the god of the Bible ...”4 Admittedly this language sounds harsh. I employ it though because I feel it is part of the issue at stake. (Jesus used the word twice, referring to Gentiles or unbelievers; Matt 6:7, Matt 18:17)

The practices of tattooing and body piercing by all accounts have ancient roots. In past times sailors brought back the practice from remote, far-flung tribes. A log entry by Captain James Cook illustrates the unusual character of body piercing to his crew in 1770. “Some part of their Bodys had been painted with red, and one of them had his upper lip and breast painted with Streakes of white… In the morning 4 of the Natives made us another Short Visit; …One of these men had a hole through the Bridge of his nose, in which he stuck a piece of Bone as thick as my finger. Seeing this we examin’d all their Noses, and found that they had all holes for the same purpose; they had likewise holes in their Ears…”5

What is new about tattooing is it’s current widespread popularity among westerners. Back in the 60’s tattoos were mainly limited to former military men, merchant sailors, or bikers. No women had tattoos. Interestingly, the theme of many of the tattoos of that era was of a sinister nature: skulls, dragons, and the like. To some extent, that is still true today. I saw a skull and crossbones on the back of a young mother’s neck at a store recently.

Admittedly many of the designs of what is now called “body art” are not morbid in any way. Many tattoos and body piercing are simply for cosmetic purposes. But what does it signify about our society in general?

Are tattoos and the more extreme body piercings a good idea for Christians? In our postmodern society do tattoos and body piercing incline toward old-fashioned heathenism? Or is it an innocent expression of a person’s individuality, not even worth talking about?

One survey suggests that among tattooed people above 25 years of age, as high as one quarter of them regret that they got a tattoo.6 We change as we go through life but a tattoo can be hard and painful to change. I recently learned that some have had their ears surgically repaired as the result of stretching.

I personally regret some things done when I was young. The Bible suggests this type of reaction.“After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.”7

In another 3-5 years, will the fad of tattooing be over? Personally I think it will.

Is it a primary issue for Christians or a peripheral? Probably a peripheral one. Is it a good idea for someone who wants to honor Jesus Christ?

As more food for thought, I read a good Biblical study on this topic. It’s worth reading. I would urge any person contemplating a tattoo to read this first. There’s much to consider, including health, marriage, and employability issues.

1 -
2 - Leviticus 19:28 (New International Version)
3 - Mary Beth Lane, The Columbus Dispatch, April 9, 2007, “For Some Believers Tattoos Signify Faith”
4 -
5 -
6 -
7 - Jeremiah 31:19 (New International Version)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Back Off Gentlemen

As I’ve said before, one of the greatest evidences of the truth of Christianity is that its principles work when applied.

Two highly visible situations involving Islam give us an opportunity to demonstrate the truth of our faith. As a principle, Paul told the Romans, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”1 We’re to avoid doing things that knowingly antagonize and alienate others. As Christians we’re to take the lead in living at peace with others. We do this to point to Jesus Christ who made peace between God and man.

Recently I watched a video of Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With A Mission. Loren said, “polarization leads to pride.”2 Polarization does not lead to peace with others.

Ground Zero Mosque

The mosque being planned near the site of Ground Zero in New York City has dominated political commentary in recent weeks. It has polarized opinion. The promoters say it is at least partly to honor the 9/11 victims. They say blocking the mosque will send the wrong signal to American Muslims and could lead to more Islamic radicalism. It could also cause other acts of “Islamophobia” they claim.

Opponents of the mosque have maintained that the site is wrong. It would symbolize Islamic triumphalism. It would dishonor the victims of 9/11. Most Americans, according to the polls, want the mosque built further away from Ground Zero. (For example, two thirds of New Yorkers oppose the site but not the right to build 3 )

Proponents of the construction correctly maintain that, as Americans, Muslim citizens have a right to build the mosque there. But not everything we have a right to do is the right thing to do.

Burning the Qur’an

At the opposite pole, Rev. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, is promoting a day to gather people and burn the Qur’an. For a Muslim, the Qur’an is a sacred object of their religion. They are more emphatic about the physical book itself than are Christians. For a Muslim it’s an extreme insult to set a Qur’an on the floor. Dr. Jones, author of ‘Islam is of the Devil,’ is saying that Christians have to take a stand. He holds that this action will demonstrate that we must reject Shariah Law.

Opponents are saying Jones is putting Christians in many places in danger. Muslims are outraged. Significantly, many Christians including the National Association of Evangelicals are asking Dr. Jones not to have the burning. But the day is set for September 11 to burn the Qur’an.

Poles Apart

I fear that Loren Cunningham’s observation that “polarization leads to pride” is an issue here. Will the Christians take Paul’s advice and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Or will human pride prevent that? Can we expect the Muslim organizers to back off of the construction? It is our Bible that tells us to live at peace with all to the best of our ability. The Qur’an does not teach that.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the chief mosque builder has dug in his heels regarding the site of the mosque, in spite of public outcry. He told an audience recently, “the fact we are getting this kind of attention is a sign of success.”4 Terry Jones and his followers are steeling themselves in the face of much anger and many warnings from fellow Christians. A recent church e mail said, “City of Gainesville denies burn permit — BUT WE WILL STILL BURN KORANS.”5

Golden Opportunity

Does Christianity work? This is a chance for the Christians to take the lead by backing down from an antagonistic position and showing the world the supremacy of the Gospel. Jesus taught us to be willing take the low road. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”6 This is a critical moment. It’s a golden opportunity for Christians to demonstrate the preeminence of our faith.
Let us pray that Dr. Jones does the right thing!

I encourage you to email the Dove World Outreach Center and ask him to stop the burning on 9/11.

1 - Romans 12:18 (New International Version)
2 - From Loren Cunningham's message, “Ministering in the Opposite Spirit”
3 -
4 -
5 -
6 - Matthew 5:9

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Just One Small Difference?

A Christian friend was having a discussion with a Muslim co-worker. At a certain point, the young Muslim man said, “Our religions are basically the same. We only differ on our view of Jesus. We believe he’s a prophet, but not God. Otherwise, Islam and Christianity are alike.”

Is that really true?

It is sadly true that some equate “fundamentalist Christianity” and “fundamentalist Islam.” But that’s for a later blog. Here I write regarding the perception these two religions are basically the same except for what we believe about Jesus.

There are many differences between Christianity and Islam. To say they are the same except for one point is a statement of ignorance. For example, in the past three centuries, Christianity has promoted peace all over the world. Amy Orr-Ewing points out the dissimilar nature of Islam. “I could not agree that ‘peaceful’ was a good adjective to describe the religion as a whole either historically or in the present day.” [1]

But for the sake of argument let’s suppose what this boy’s view is true. There is only one difference. Our belief about who Jesus is.

Let me say, that if our belief about Christ is the only difference, that is a monumental difference! That one issue makes Islam and Christianity diametrically different.

Foundation of Christianity

Many of us forget that among the New Testament writings, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was the earliest. Paul penned that letter before the four Gospels were written. In the 15th chapter we have the first statement of faith regarding Jesus.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures: And that he appeared to Peter, … and last of all he appeared to me also …” [2]

Paul cites this gospel as “of first importance”. Jesus Christ actually died for our sins and His death was verified by the fact that He was buried. What is more, He was raised to life again, and appeared to many, including Paul. On these statements of first importance, our Islamic friends disagree.

They might say it this way. “Christ fainted on the cross and was temporarily placed in a tomb. Later he revived and he and his disciples duped the world into believing that he had been raised from the dead.” In the Koran Jesus is held to be a major prophet, although less than Muhammad. Muslims believe Christians are deceived and the New Testament is in error about what happened.

Paul’s version of events, written 700 years earlier than the Koran, is the bedrock of Christianity. This point “of first importance” is the all of the Christian faith.

Paul wrote that if the gospel facts are not true, as Muslims contend, then our whole religion is vain. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” [3]

So even if this one point is the only difference between Islam and Christianity, which it is not, it is a massive difference that forever prohibits these two faiths from agreement.

Ravi Zacharias closes this blog with a pertinent comment.“One of India’s leading “saints,” Sri Ramakrishna, is said to have been for a little while a Muslim, for a little while a Christian, and then finally, a Hindu again, because he came to the conclusion that they are all the same. If they are all the same, why did he revert to Hinduism? It is just not true that all religions are the same." [4]

[1] Amy Orr-Ewing, Beyond Opinion, Ravi Zacharias, Editor and Author (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2007) 13
[2] 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 & 8 (New International Version)
[3] 1 Corinthians 15:19 (New International Version)
[4] Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000) 158

Friday, July 2, 2010

Words are Cheap

On a recent episode of Larry King Live, the host interviewed pop singer Lady Gaga. Acknowledging her Catholic roots, King asked, “What are your feelings toward the church and religion in general?” Lady Gaga answered, “in terms of religion, I'm very religious… I believe in Jesus. I believe in God. I'm very spiritual."[1]

“I believe in Jesus.” Simple words. Ask most Hindus in India, and they will say, “I believe in Jesus.” Children in Sunday school sing, ”I believe in Jesus.” But words are cheap. What does it mean?

The New Testament speaks of various degrees of belief, like there are degrees of karate belts. Some believe for a while, but then stop. (Blue Belt) Some believe, but various concerns of life take precedence over that faith and it gradually dwindles. Some believe and their life produces a “crop.”[2](Black Belt) Some are said to have weak faith. “Accept him whose faith is weak…”[3] wrote Paul. Others are described as “lacking faith” and still others have a faith that needs to grow.

And then some don’t believe at all. (White Belt) Jesus’ own brothers didn’t believe in Him at first.[4] John writes of some Jews who did not believe, “even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence…”[5]

Secondly, it is critical what we believe about Jesus. Mahatma Gandhi believed Jesus was a good teacher, but not the Son of God. I remember reading D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion describing some as having “mere intellectual assent” toward Jesus. Like I believe in Napoleon. That totally ignores the what.

According to the earliest record of Christianity, we are to believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead and that true believers will be raised also;[6] we’re to believe all that the Old Testament prophets wrote about Him[7]; that He is the Messiah, the Holy One of God[8]; we’re simply to believe that He exists and rewards those who look for Him[9]; we’re to believe the Good News[10], and that Jesus is the actual Son of God[11]! This is the what of believing.

Belief in Jesus is not subjective. When Lady Gaga goes on stage, she sings a song with mostly pre-arranged, fixed lyrics and melody. Likewise the Bible says our faith rests on a specific objective content.

That content of belief is the message regarding Christ.[12] Paul writes to the early Christians about the faith they were “taught.”[13] That means faith based on a specific teaching about Christ. Paul refers to the “deep truths of the faith.”[14] These deep truths are the historic teaching of the church. They include doctrines taught from the very beginning about who Jesus is and what His mission is. The content of faith is not up for debate.

Believing in Jesus is not mere intellectual assent or self-defined belief. It is a commitment of the total life to a Person. Francis Schaeffer wrote, “To believe Him… every moment, one moment at a time, this is the Christian life, and this is true spirituality.” [15] That’s black belt faith! Words are cheap for Lady Gaga or for me and you except our faith be rooted in His truth.

With Paul, can we say “I know whom I have believed…?”[16] May our belief conform to a biblical standard, and not our own ideas.

[1] CNN Larry King Live, Interview With Lady Gaga, Aired June 26, 2010
[2] Luke 8:11-15 (All references from the New International Version)
[3] Romans 14:1
[4] John 7:3-5
[5] John 12:37
[6] Romans 10:9,10, 1 Thessalonians 4:14
[7] Luke 24:25
[8] John 6:69
[9] Hebrews 11:6
[10] Mark 1:15
[11] John 20:31
[12] Romans 10:17
[13] Colossians 2:7
[14] 1 Timothy 3:9; 4:6
[15] Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, p. 108
[16] 2 Timothy 1:12

Monday, June 7, 2010

Nobody's Perfect

Last night we were discussing Christianity with some young people. I asked them, “What connects your faith to real life?” After some discussion, my wife said, “Christian principles work in real life.” Others added stories of how “loving your enemy” had worked in their experience. One girl said, “I called many friends that I’d had issues with. I asked forgiveness, and later, I felt so free. I think they did too.”

Christian principles work. In a clear example at Detroit on June 2, a young Tiger pitcher (Armando Galarraga) was one out from a perfect game. (When a pitcher gets all 27 batters out) It would have only been the 21st time in baseball history. But umpire Jim Joyce called the last batter safe on a play at first base. The perfect game was gone. Joyce’s call stood, even though the replay showed the batter was out. The fans screamed. Some kooks made death threats! A blogger called it, “one of the worst blown calls in baseball history.”[1]

What happened next was kind of magical. After the game, Joyce watched the replay and promptly admitted his mistake.“About a half hour after tonight’s game, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was asked to visit Jim Joyce in the umpires’ dressing room at Comerica Park. Galarraga said Joyce told him, ‘I’m so sorry in my heart. I don’t know what to tell you.’”[2] Galarraga gave him a hug!

Even more touching, the next day Joyce openly wept when he walked out onto the field for the Tigers game.

The resulting public reaction was a massive show of admiration for Joyce’s response. Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski said, “You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry.’ He felt really bad. He didn’t even shower.”[3] Media commentators lauded Joyce’s character. Peter Gammons wrote, “the most important lesson to be learned from what happened in Detroit is that Joyce, Galarraga … never lost their dignity. They treated the game and one another with respect.”[4] As Joyce travelled to his next game in Philadelphia, he said, “I walked through the Detroit airport today and people were patting me on the back,” Joyce told more than a dozen reporters … choking up again. “I had a police officer actually say thank-you to me today.”[5]

So a man commits one of the worst blown calls in baseball history and people are patting him on the back? Go figure!

The Bible says, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.”[6] Joyce made an error, not a sin. But to have denied he missed the call would have been wrong. Instead he took responsibility for his mistake. That is called humility. The apostle James told us, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed”[7] Jim Joyce is experiencing healing. He found redemption by responding as the Bible counsels. Joyce didn’t do this as a Christian testimony of some sort. But his actions lined up with the Bible, as do many actions that are widely perceived as the virtuous thing to do.

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven…”[8] Jim Joyce knows that. He told NBC’s Today Show, "Well, I've probably been at an all-time low, and steadily climbing to … an all time high, I guess," [9] NBC's Matt Lauer told Joyce he was going to use the umpire's willingness to admit his mistake and apologize for it as an example for his kids.

Yes, Christian principles work in real life.

[1] Robbed! Blown call costs Armando Galarraga a perfect game
By 'Duk, Big League Stew Yahoo Sports Blog
[2] John Lowe, Free Press Sportswriter, Umpire Jim Joyce apologizes to Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga for blown call, denying perfect game Posted: 6:15 p.m. June 2, 2010
[3] Michael Santo,, 6/3/10
[4] Peter Gammons, Tigers, Joyce Show Class, Posted 6/3/10
[5] Mark Snyder, Free Press Sportswriter, Jim Joyce out of Detroit but not the spotlight, Posted 6/4/10
[6] 1 Peter 5:6, New American Standard Bible, (NASB)
[7] James 5:16, NASB
[8] Psalm 32:1 NASB

Monday, May 24, 2010

We Have To Know Who Our Enemy Is

“many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” 1

When I was in seminary my Old Testament Prof, Eliyah Mohol, said one day, “We have to know who our enemy is.” He was referring to 19th century theologians who doubted the truth of the Bible. For some reason, that statement was very profound to me.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) exists as an enemy of the cross of Christ. You take nearly any case they are involved in, and they will be diametrically opposed to a Christian perspective.

Their website says “The ACLU is our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.
These rights include… freedom of religion”2

Sounds good, right?

“We have to know who our enemy is.”

In Texas, for example, the ACLU has objected to a revised Social Studies curriculum being formulated by the Texas Department of Education. The ACLU claims that the new Social Studies curriculum is ideology driven and not factual. To some extent, they might be right. Shall we suppose the Social Studies curriculum of the previous 10 years in Texas, that the ACLU supported, was not ideological? That curriculum placed Cesar Chavez alongside Benjamin Franklin in importance. Fact or ideology?

Four of the ACLU’s objections3 to the Social Studies Curriculum include:

1. Objection that individual school districts in Texas should determine the content for elective courses on the Bible offered in Public Schools. These are electives! The ACLU claim this will violate the rights of students and parents under the clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”4 Why the fear of local school board members?

2. The ACLU objects that Texas’ 4.7 million students will have to critically evaluate “well-established” scientific principles such as the Big Bang and cell formation. I wasn’t aware that the current theory of how cells evolved was a well-established fact?

3. The ACLU complains the curriculum portrays the U.S. and its allies in history as acting with good intentions nationally and internationally. Words like “expansion” will replace “imperialism” in the textbooks to describe U.S. actions abroad. We have plenty of faults as a nation, but surely it wasn’t all imperialism?

4. The ACLU feels Islam is being portrayed falsely by being singled out with regard to terrorism and fundamentalism. They contend that these “acts and doctrinal beliefs” are a part of many of the world’s religions. Can you name one for me?

The worlds religions are not the same. Ravi Zecharias writes, “One of India’s leading “saints,” Sri Ramakrishna, is said to have been for a little while a Muslim, for a little while a Christian, and then finally, a Hindu again, because he came to the conclusion that they are all the same. If they are all the same, why did he revert to Hinduism?”5

To be fair, some issues raised by the ACLU are valid. They felt it was unfair to highlight Republican Ronald Reagan and to minimize Democrat Ted Kennedy. Why not emphasize both? Seldom is one side right on every point. Why not let students decide? Is it possible to be factual and not ideological?

On May 21st the Texas Board voted after 3 stormy days of debate. To the consternation of the ACLU, the more conservative curriculum passed 9-5. That has determined the content of Texas Social Studies books for the next 10 years. Hooray! Victory! Or is it?

Will the ACLU go away? No. They are committed to minimizing Christianity, regardless of what their web site says.

“We have to know who our enemy is.”

Now that we know, we need to pray for the ACLU. Pray for it’s leaders like Susan Herman and Anthony Romero. After all, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”6

This is a challenge to me. To disagree and not hate. That’s what I need to work on. God help me. It’s not enough just to know who my enemy is!

1 Philippians 3:18 New International Version
3 “The Texas State Board of Education: A Case of Abuse of Power”
4 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States
5 Ravi Zacharias, “Jesus Among Other Gods,” (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 2000) p. P 158
6 Luke 6:27-28 New International Version

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head

"The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters."
God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so.”

This is the Biblical account of the origin of water on earth. First water is made, then within that canvas, God creates.

“God … separated the waters which were below the expanse (the oceans) from the waters which were above the expanse…” The expanse was “heaven.” The Hebrew word means the “visible arch of the sky.”[2] Some have called ‘the waters’ a vapor canopy… eerily almost like a womb, in which God created.

“Evidence of water ice on 24 Themis asteroid’s surface” read the headline in the Chennai, India newspaper a few days ago. Two scientific teams have found evidence for “a thin film of ice”[3] on the surface of this 120-mile wide asteroid. Measuring the spectrum of infrared light reflected by the asteroid revealed this ice. For the first time water ice was discovered on an asteroid. This is an exciting breakthrough.

The article continued,“This evidence supports the idea that asteroids could be responsible for bringing water and organic material to Earth.”[4] Scientists had previously classified asteroids as cold lifeless rocks. Comets were credited with bringing water. Comets are now ruled out because the isotopes for hydrogen in the comet's water do not match up with Earth’s.[5]

How did we get water on the Earth? Have asteroids continued to hit the Earth forming oceans? Seventy percent of our planet is water. If it was a random process, why wasn’t the entire earth covered with water? Or just 10% covered? Scientists Ward and Brownlee recognize our good fortune in having just the right balance of land and sea. “The critical question is why, on Earth, the volume of water was sufficiently large to buffer global temperatures, but small enough so that shallow seas could be formed by the uplifting of continents.”[6] The existence of some shallow seas, essential for marine life, provide the perfect environmental balance.

Filling the seas must have taken a lot of asteroids. A lot of big, big asteroids… almost like intergalactic water tankers. We only count the ones that hit us. Could 329 million cubic miles of water have been delivered from asteroids like 24 Themis? It puts a whole new meaning to "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head." A blogger commenting on this theory said, “It's certainly very likely that some water and organics arrived via asteroids, frankly the ridiculous improbability that ALL of it arrived via asteroids is too stupid for words.”[7]

If we take God out of the picture, we have to stretch to find a reasonable cause for Earth's abundant water. The Biblical version states, "You alone are the LORD. You have made …the seas and all that is in them.”[8] Friends, God did it. It wasn’t by asteroids pelting the Earth over billions of years.

[1] Genesis 1:2, 6,7 (NAS)
[2] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Book House, 1985)
[3] “Evidence of water ice on 24 Themis asteroid’s surface,” The Hindu, Thursday, April 29, 2010
[4] Ibid.
[6] Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth (New York: Copernicus Books, 2000) 264
[8] Nehemiah 9:6 (NAS)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Letter to Kathryn Bigelow

Dear Kathryn,

Recently I saw your Academy Award winning film, “The Hurt Locker.” I can understand why your film won an Oscar for its portrayal of a squad of American soldiers in Iraq who detonate hidden explosives. It is a good film, very tense, and I appreciate that it wasn’t designed to be a political statement. It just tells a story. Thanks for that.

I do have to say, Kathryn, that as a Christian there is one very objectionable scene. It involves the young Iraqi boy nicknamed “Beckham.” (Played by Christopher Sayegh) As you know, Beckham sells DVDs to the Americans. Isn’t he about 10-13 years old in real life? Was it in the name of realism or artistic freedom that you had him offer a GI (Jeremy Renner) “gay sex” videos? I noticed you portrayed Beckham as being willing to smoke and engage in adult conversation with words that most parents of 12 year olds object to. Can you let me know how that was important to the script?

Kathryn, I’m trying to come to grips with what constitutes child exploitation. I don’t know how Christopher Sayegh has been raised. I do know he’s a real boy who acts in films and not a sales boy on an American army base, isn’t that right? Let’s get real. He is just a kid. I am wondering if you would have been comfortable having her own 12 year-old play that part Kathryn? Couldn’t Beckham have been selling Super Bowl videos?

Your company hired a child. You decided to teach him lines about adult subject matter, and have him say them for the whole world. Hmmm???

I wonder if very many people would consider this child exploitation, Ms. Bigelow? I wish the film industry, and actually the entire entertainment industry, could be a little more accountable for what it requires of children.

Were you aware that the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that child maltreatment involves “The failure to … protect a child from … potential harm ... harm to a child may or may not be the intended consequence.”[1] You probably know that it’s a fact that early exposure to sexual material can be harmful, though I am sure you intend no harm to Christopher Sayegh. Or do you prefer that I call him “Beckham?”

Ms. Bigelow, a Bible verse says “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”[2] I think that means good stuff like loving others and being honest. I don’t think it covers gay sex. As a biblical Christian, Kathryn, I say let a child be a child. He’ll find out all that stuff sooner or later anyway! Right?

When I brought up this topic one day to my 16-year-old daughter she felt “Hurt Locker” was kind of exploitative of young Christopher. Then she said, “What about the little girl in “The Exorcist?” Remember actress Linda Blair? In 1973, she reportedly said, "I wanted to be a princess. I wanted to be in Disney movies … ", I didn't want to be a monster…"[3] Evidently after the Exorcist she had several roles in which she played a 13 year old alcoholic and a rape victim among others. I guess those guys who made the Exorcist were really trying to be realistic, huh?

So thanks for a great movie. I really mean that. But can we work on making kids roles a little less exploitative?



[1] Child Maltreatment: Definitions, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
[2] Proverbs 22:6

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ferrari or Ox Cart Morality?

Recently in Bangladesh, I saw a cool red Ferrari tooling down the street. Really unexpected in a land where ox carts are more common. What a contrast. It’s like the contrast between modern morality and biblical morality. Some say biblical morality is outmoded ideas or Victorian “rules” that restrict human freedom. Some say it’s the blueprint of how to live life to the fullest.

Last night I watched George Clooney’s movie, “Up In The Air”. Comparing the modern morals of this film to the yardstick of biblical morality… is like comparing the latest Ferrari with an ox cart.

This depressing film with numerous heart-rending scenes of people being fired presents a sleek modern Ferrari of morality. Postmodern and post Christian morality; human “freedom”; The only rule in “Air” is that there are no rules. It’s the story of a high flying businessman (Clooney) whose job is firing people on behalf of bosses too afraid to do so. Eventually, Clooney, who has no attachments with anyone and for whom “home” is a DC-10, meets another high-flyer, Vera Farmiga. A steamy relationship ensues which consists of meshing their schedules and meeting in hotels in various cities.

In a sub-plot, Clooney is travelling with an ambitious young co-worker (Anna Kendrick). He is showing her the ropes of how to fire people. For Clooney it’s a job. He tells her, “We come along side them in their moment of despair and cut them adrift.” At this unlikely point, old-fashioned ox cart morality kicks in. Kendrick is deeply affected at seeing people’s lives shattered by termination. Nameless people become real to her. One terminated African American man, whose face twitches with emotion as he talks about his despair, is especially poignant. Eventually, after a woman commits suicide, Kendrick realizes she can’t work in a job that shatters lives. She quits. Her response is the biblical moral highlight. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” 1

The Ferrari parts include Clooney and Farmiga comparing stories of having sex on airplanes “in the day.” The casual nature of jumping into bed together, with no strings attached. Afterwards, their shock at the suggestion that they are dating. Any suggestion of commitment beyond raw sex is uncomfortable. One morning after another night in a hotel, Clooney and Farmiga admit to one another, “I like you.” Wow… how risqué!

Is this a Ferrari, or a cart in front of an ox?

My biggest beef with the sports car morality of “Up In the Air” is that it seems okay to hide real life in order to pursue personal desires. Toward the end, one character is exposed as having lived out a lie. What kind of a parent, spouse, or an executive could one be if leading a double life? Wasn’t that the issue with Tiger Woods? Am I being too Victorian? To its credit, the film does paint the coverup in a bad light. But it also pointedly does not introduce you to any person that Clooney or Farmiga would have commitments to. We don’t want to complicate the racy plot with any expectations or commitments of the ox cart variety.

“Up In The Air”… Sex with no strings attached… an uncaring corporate world… hopeless people without jobs. Predictably sad ending. Ferrari morality doesn’t work, even in fiction! Or was it fiction?

1 - Romans 12:15

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Ultimate Proof

I lay back looking up at the brilliant stars. No clouds obscured the view. There was Orion, 'the Hunter’, and to the left, the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, in the Canis Major constellation. Sirius is twice as massive as the sun and 25 times more luminous. I thought, “Ever since man has been on this planet, he has looked up at this same view. It has not changed.”

I often think about how God has made Himself known in nature. It’s there for all to see. General revelation. His Being, stamped on all that He made. It is so subtle, and yet it shouts at us. So easily ignored, yet so obvious. “… The skies display His craftsmanship… night after night they make him known… their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth…” 1

But the modern message, especially in academia, is that the skies don’t have a message. They just happened. There is no evidence of design or intelligent causation. This has been endlessly debated and will continue to be.

But one fact of God’s revelation stands above every silent signpost. It is His specific revelation. “But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman…”2 This was not inferring a Creator, as we might from the intelligent content in a strand of DNA. This was not merely the moon’s orbit insuring our climate stability. This was an exact representation of God in a human being. The One who made it all entered as one of us. Many years after the fact, John wrote excitedly, “We saw Him with our own eyes and touched Him with our own hands.” 3

Jesus Christ was a historical figure. It is beyond question that He lived in Palestine about 4 B.C. to 30 A.D. In addition to the four Gospel accounts of His life and activities He was mentioned by secular historians such as Josephus. That the movement He founded, and the people that believed Him to be God made a lasting impact on the Roman Empire is historical fact.

The accounts of His life written by contemporaries of Jesus and eyewitnesses cannot be discredited. From the 19th century onward painstaking efforts to do this were undertaken. The Bible has been maligned, criticized, and attacked more than any other book in history. Apologist Ravi Zacharias notes, “If a spiritual idea is eastern, it is granted critical immunity; if western, it is thoroughly criticized.”4 In spite of this our modern Bible versions are accurate to the best and oldest existing manuscripts. They have been meticulously translated. The Bible is not “full of mistakes” as so many erroneously say.

You may tell me that this planet, that appears to be custom-made by Someone for human beings, was not made for human beings. You may tell me that man’s appreciation of beauty in art is simply the result of billions of years of natural selection, and not a God-given capacity. But you cannot tell me that Jesus did not exist and did not do remarkable things, including claiming to be God and rising from the dead.

When I look at the night sky, it’s a general, unfocused revelation. But when I look at the Jesus of Scripture… the focus becomes sharp and clear.

1 - Psalms 19:1-4 (New Living Translation or NLT)
2 - Galatians 4:4 (NLT)
3 - 1 John 1:1 (NLT)
4 - Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers,2000) vii

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bad Stuff Happens

Bad stuff happens.

A few days ago I read in the Dhaka, Bangladesh newspaper about a horrible accident that had occurred. A city bus had negligently run over a 5 year old boy and his mother. The boy was dead and his mother was in critical condition, but survived a head injury. As it turned out, the bus driver had a bogus drivers license. The bus had no mirror on the left-hand side where the accident occurred. The local newspaper headline screamed, “Menace-bus.”

I was shocked by the comment of the detained bus driver, Shamshur Rahman, “We have no hand in road accidents, as Allah decides it.”1 This reflects an Islamic world view. Personal responsibility is not an issue, everything is God’s will. Never mind that we didn’t have a mirror and the driver was unproven. It was Allah’s will. Rahman’s shirking of any responsibility seems to conflict with the spontaneous response of some of the passengers who “mildly” beat him before his arrest according to the paper.

Bad stuff happens.

In February 1946, Miss Toshinki Sasaki lay in a Japanese hospital in depression. She was hovering near death from physical and emotional injuries sustained in the atomic explosion at Hiroshima six months earlier. She had become “morbid and depressed” because of her circumstances and radiation sickness. She would be a semi-cripple for life due to a leg shattered in the blast. She was not a Christian, but a friend of Miss Sasaki called for a Catholic Priest to visit Sasaki. On his second visit, Father Kleinsorge, also a Hiroshima survivor who himself would have chronic illnesses for life due to the effect of the A-bomb, was asked “‘If your God is so good and kind, how can he let people suffer like this?’ She made a gesture which took in her shrunken leg, the other patients in her room, and Hiroshima as a whole. ‘My child,’ Father Kleinsorge said, ‘man is not now in the condition God intended. He has fallen from grace through sin.’2 It is man’s sinful condition that leads to evil, hurt, and destruction. Somehow this Christian explanation of the evil that fills this world chimed with Miss Sasaki. Why should this weak, ailing Priest spend his energy to visit her? Her depression began to lift. Her body healed. And eventually she took baptism and became an outstanding Christian, serving orphans.

It is the Christian worldview that provides an adequate answer to the question of Miss Sasaki. “If your God is so good and kind, how can he let people suffer like this?” We must note that it’s not only Christianity, but Islam, ancestor worship, Shintoism, and every other religion and worldview that have to answer this question. Even the atheist. Which answer leads to hope and life? The evils and tragedies that befall us are not God, but are the result of the sin-filled world we live in. It is mankinds sins in general that open the door for evil in the world. Not because of the individual sins of a little Muslim boy or a young Japanese girl does bad stuff happen to them. We all share in the responsibility. It is our corporate sin that has led to this. Pain. Injustice. God is not punishing us. He is feeling our pain, as He did in Christ’s death, and He is reaching out to console and give us hope to go on as He did to a young Japanese girl in a hospital in 1946. “For God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved…”3

1 The Daily Star, “Menace – Bus,” Dhaka (Vol. XX No. 22) Thursday February 4, 2010
2 John Hersey, “Hiroshima,” (United States: First Vintage Books, 1989) p 83
3 John 3:17 (New American Standard Bible

Thursday, January 7, 2010

“It Really Works, You Should Try It”

Recently on an Indian train, I shared a compartment with 7 Hindus on a pilgrimage to South India. One man was on his 17th annual trip! They traverse India carrying a food offering. They trek up the mountain, wait to make their offering, and then walk down and board the train for home.

They were nice people. They had offered me several kinds of homemade food earlier. I realized the food had probably been dedicated to the idol they were going to venerate. Before taking it, I pondered what to do. If I refused the food, they might feel slighted. Would I be compromising by eating it? Seconds later I decided to be friendly and eat. I said a quick prayer to Jesus, “Lord, bless this food.” I personally felt the liberty to eat what the New Testament calls “food offered to idols”. I would not advise others to do it. Many Christians and Muslims in India would have said “no.”

Paul the Apostle spoke about this.

“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?

For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.”

Please note two things in this passage. First, we are warned against placing a “stumbling block” before the one whose conscience is “weak.” Secondly, if I do that, I am sinning against that person’s conscience and against Christ. This is the principle. Paul concludes that to avoid making someone stumble, he will never do it again. Never!

Holy Yoga

Switching to a more common practice, today many “Christian” yoga establishments thrive. They sport such names as “Breath of Life Yoga,” “Yoga Devotion,” “Holy Yoga Ministries,” “Yahweh Yoga,” and one particularly sad one, “Saffron & Crimson,” – saffron being the color that Hinduism is identified with, and crimson, I am guessing, meaning Christ’s blood.

Because it is clearly controversial, yoga falls into the same category as eating food offered to idols. While it is a practice that some Christians obviously feel free to do, it also holds high probability to cause others to stumble by violating their conscience. Practicing aerobics or going to a gym, recognized as non-religious exercise regimens, eliminates this danger, does it not?

Yes, yoga is controversial. First, it is definitely a page out of Hinduism. Yoga (with its postures, breathing exercises, and meditation or “relaxation”) is meant to bring realization of the oneness of the “yogi” with God. This is pantheism. It is not biblical teaching. Says Swami Param, “All of yoga is Hinduism.”[2] We westerners try to neatly divorce the exercise from the philosophy behind it, and walk on dangerous ground by doing so.

Secondly, the breathing exercises are to release spiritual energy. Says one yoga website, “Proper breathing is to … control Prana or the vital life energy.”[3] The Sanskrit word “pranayama,” literally means to “lengthen or regulate the life-force.” One "Christian yogi” writes, “In the same way that measured breathing is essential to yoga, the Spirit—which in both biblical Greek and Hebrew also means breath—is indispensable to my soul. Breathe in. Breathe out. Holy Spirit in. Anything that's not from God out.”[4] I’m sorry, but where did Jesus say we deal with evil by breathing it out? That is not a Christian concept.

Thirdly is the stumbling block factor. I fear that those who say, “Yoga works for me, it totally reduced my pain,” will encourage others to try it. Some will delve further into Hindu ideas. That is the nature of Hinduism. If it gets its foot in the door, it tends to push in and occupy. Unfortunately, today many follow anything that works.

Yoga in Perspective

I wonder what Paul would say if gushing friends who attended classes at Yoga With A Difference said, “It really works, you should try it!” I’m speculating, but I think he might answer them “if doing yoga and telling others about it causes my brother to stumble, I will never do yoga again…”

I remember meeting Mother Teresa once when I lived in Kolkata. Two girls said to her, “O mother, we used to be Catholics, but now we’re in a Buddhist monastery.” She answered them with a question, “Wasn’t Jesus enough for you?”

Quotes of Note ... The Invisible World

“Spiritual warfare is learning to recognize the strategies, refusing to cooperate with them, and aggressively cutting off the schemes of the devil in Jesus’ name.” Dean Sherman

“those who protest that God cannot exist because there is too much evil evident in life… Evil exists; therefore, the Creator does not. That is categorically stated… If evil exists, one must assume that good exists in order to know the difference. If good exists, one must assume that a moral law exists by which to measure good and evil. But if a moral law exists, must not one posit an ultimate source of moral law, or at least an objective basis for a moral law? By an objective basis, I mean something that is transcendingly true at all times, regardless of whether I believed it or not.” Ravi Zacharias

“But the Devil is no big threat to God’s purposes; he is not even remotely comparable in power. He has been given a limited time before his final judgment to try to prove his case, just as all other moral beings who have chosen to live in rebellion against heaven.” W.A. Pratney

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I've served as a life-long missionary in Samoa, the Pacific region, India, and now in Pennsylvania. The Christian faith is reasonable and works in real life. It is true to the facts. Hope you enjoy some of the thoughts. I appreciate feedback.

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