Tag Archives: Jesus

Pro Choice Vs. Pro Life Logic

 

Disclaimer: This isn’t a comprehensive rebuke of the pro-choice position:

I got into a conversation this evening with someone taking up the dubious “pro-choice but personally opposed position.”  I thought I would share with you a bit of my reply.

The person I was dialoguing with said, “I don’t think you can label abortion right or wrong—it is merely unfortunate.”

It isn’t often that you get a softball when dialoging with abortion apologists, but this was a hanging curve.   Why would abortion be unfortunate?  Why exactly?  There must be a reason—and that must be a reason that the person thinks to be worthwhile, or they would have just said, “I wouldn’t have one, but I don’t care what others do.”  Notice, the person said it IS unfortunate.

I replied, “Your first point is noted; however, I could easily say, Eichmann and Goebbels didn’t enjoy killing Jews—that isn’t why they did it. They just worked for Hitler.”  Its not like it was their fault. They were just “following orders.”  How unfortunate for them!  I went on to say, “You would rightly note that such thinking is reckless and irrelevant.  They were guilty of actual crimes against humanity.”  But, what If I replied, “What crimes?  Nah, it was just unfortunate that they did that.”  How would they reply to that?  To what absolute would they point?  How do they know what is right or wrong?  By preference? By feeling?  In some countries, they love their neighbors.  In others, they eat them.  Do you have a preference?  Or is the latter just unfortunate?  This coincides with my friends previous statement that “Abortion is unfortunate.”  This is nothing more than relativism.

If things are just fortunate or unfortunate, there is no right, no wrong…No evil. Things just are.  Things are just unfortunate or not.

But here is the rub:  Why would a thing be unfortunate in the first place? In calling someont unfortunate, isn’t a person making a truth claim or a judgement by saying this? Why is abortion unfortunate, rather than just something that happens—arbitrarily in nature? I can think of no other reason to call it unfortunate except for the fact that the developing fetus might just in fact be a person—and we know that killing persons is wrong—whether on purpose or by accident. Can you think of another reason why an abortion would be unfortunate?  This is the problem with the “I’m pro-choice but personally opposed” fallacy.  Why would a person be personally opposed?  For what reason?  I can only think of one.

I noted that, “You go on to state that an abortion is between a woman and God.”  That is a VERY interesting line. In fact, I haven’t heard that phrase uttered by anyone on the pro-abortion side…EVER.  I commended them for it. What I often hear is, “It’s between a woman and her doctor.”

The truth is, when we bring God into the equation, we subject ourselves the world of absolutes. “It’s unfortunate” goes out the window when it comes to moral questions.  Therefore, the apologists for abortion cleverly remove the word God from the decision process.  When we enter this paradigm, what we personally believe about the morality of an issue doesn’t matter. Under a theistic paradigm, things are either right or wrong, regardless our relationship toward them.  Right exists whether we acknowledge it or not.  The same goes for wrong.  They are ontological categories.  If a thing is right, it is right even if we do not acknowledge that it is right.

But back, to the initial issue,  my friend was basically saying, “Just because you have a religious qualm with abortion, that doesn’t mean that the federal government should be able to legislate.” So, I applied the same logic to another issue: “Just because you have a religious qualm with slavery doesn’t mean that the federal government should legislate against it.” Do you see the problem? If our religious convictions can be pushed aside, then what are we left with?  If God is taken away, all we have left is man and the State.  That is a precarious position to be in.

And even at that, the use of the word “shouldn’t” invokes the absolue.  Why?  Is slavery wrong or is it just something that we “shouldn’t” do?  Why “should” the federal government legislate against slavery?  Who says?

In a relativistic framework, one could say, “I’d personally rather they didn’t keep slaves,” but they cannot say “shouldn’t.” Why?

Could it be because we know that things are either good or evil?  If that is so, how long will we continue to call abortion unfortunate?

Here are the basic questions of abortion:

Does abortion take a life?  I’d argue, yes.  Some might reply, “But we don’t know that a fetus is a life.”

In this case, there are only have 4 possibilities:

  1. The fetus is a life and you know it
  2. The fetus is not a life and you know it.
  3. The fetus is a life and you do not know it.
  4. The fetus is not a life and you do not know it.

Only one of those justifies an abortion.  The problem is, no embryology text supports #2.  So you are left with 1, 3, and 4.

How many potential babies will we allow to be murdered based on an agnostic (1, 3, or 4) position?

If a baby might just be under a haystack/or not—would you feel comfortable jabbing a pitchfork into it to find out?

Not a chance.

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Theology with a 6-Year old!

Every night after dinner, my family and I read a passage of Scripture and then go through a devotion that is based on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Tonight, our passage was from Exodus 34 and the topic of discussion was the character of God.  Let me just say that there is nothing more fulfilling, even amidst your 2-year old son wreaking havoc and being a perpetual source of sound effects and noise, than being a part of your 6-year old daughter engaging with real theological concepts.  Each lesson ends with a series of questions.  Ava, my 6-year old looks forward to this portion.  It warms my heart.

Exodus 34 picks up with Moses getting the second copy of the 10 Commandments.  He was on the mountain for the second time, you remember, because he smashed the original copy at the sight of the idolatrous outrage that was taking place at the feet of a golden calf.

The devotion very quickly moved to its main point:  Moses prayed that God would have mercy on them.  God is fully merciful yet fully just.  We often read that with little regard for what it actually means.  This is a difficult concept to comprehend.  Imagine for a moment,  Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump being found guilty of something horrific:  In Hillary’s case, exposing top secret info that was shown to have directly caused the death of 4 Americans in Benghazi.  In Trump’s case, evidence showing his willful colluding with the Russians in order to help them hack the DNC so he could win the election.  Imagine they went to court and were found guilty.  Instead of imposing a sentence, the judge says, “You are free to go.  Forget it even happened”  How would you feel about that?

When justice collapses in a society, hope collapses with it.

Total mercy comes as the expense of total justice.  Total justice comes at the expense of total mercy.  If someone was fully just they could not be fully merciful.  If one were fully merciful they could not be fully just.  Unless…well, we will get there in a moment.

Surpassingly enough, my 6-year old daughter, Ava, was able to grasp this paradox.  I believe I put to her a hypothetical situation in which she did something wrong, and rather than punishing her, I told her it was ok–that she could forget that it even happened.  Initially, she was ok with that.  Who wouldn’t be?  You could take something that isn’t yours, and then get no punishment.  But then it became more real:  I asked her, “What if someone did something very wrong to you; perhaps they stole your favorite toy, and I told their parents, ‘its ok, don’t worry about it–let your kid keep the toy?'”  She understood that my being overly kind would mean that she would not be getting a fair shake.

For her, justice would have been denied.  Complete mercy necessarily denies complete justice.

On the other hand, if I were fully just–If I called the police and reported the child for theft–what would that teach my daughter?  My lack of mercy would in the long run damage not only the kid who stole Ava’s stuff, but also Ava!  Would that be right?

No.  At times, justice must be bore by someone not involved.

This concept was strange to her.  It is strange to all of us.

One of the things we have been talking about lately in our home is the nature of sin.  Many Christians wrongly believe sin to be merely the wrong things that we do.  I remember hearing this as a child.  I was more concerned with whether I was doing the right or wrong things, that I defined sin as some sort of barometer for bad behavior.  There is perhaps nothing more absurd in all of Christendom than to believe that.  It took me a long time to be delivered from that way of thinking!  Heck, I am still being delivered from it.   While behavior is a part of sin, it is not sin in its fullest and most sordid sense.  Sin is more than just bad behavior.  Bad behavior is a symptom of something else–something more sinister.

In fact, if Jesus’ death on the cross only cured our sinful behavior, we would still go to hell. Yeah, read that again:

“If Jesus’ death on the cross only cured our sinful behavior, we would still go to hell.”

As I described to Ava, sin is like a perpetual cancer.  When we get the sniffles or the couch, it isn’t the sniffles or the cough that is making us sick. As Ava described it to me, “Its the germs that make us sick.”  Absolutely right.  Sin is like a disease that controls our being and dictates how we live. It is our moral compass.  Unfortunately, the byproducts of sin run the gamut from speeding to lying to rape to murder.   The New Testament refers to sin as a power that controls us.  Paul talks about knowing what he ought to do, but instead doing the opposite. If Paul had to struggle with sin, what does that say about you or me?  It is a power that influences us.  It can enslave us.

I asked Ava, “If sin separates us from God, and our sinful behavior was instantly cured, would we still go to hell?”  She thought about this for a few moments, and answered “Yes.”  I think she understood that sin is more than just bad behavior. If Jesus death on the cross was simply done in order to make us do good deeds, would that really be worth His death on the cross?  Isn’t that just some sort of moralism?

Jesus has brought us something more wonderful than just some sort of pragmatism.

I agree with Ravi Zacharias, “Jesus did not come into the world to make bad men good.  He came into the world to make dead men live.”  That, my friend, is worth shouting about.

We talked about that cosmic courtroom that is in session not because of our bad deeds, but because of our cancer–our sinful nature–the nature that caused human beings to crucify the Son of God.  The cancer that caused human beings to wonder, “Did God really say…?”

Because of our cancer–our sin–we deserve to go to hell.

Fortunately, God is fully just.  He is also fully merciful.  What is He to do with us?  We deserve death, but His character grants mercy, right?

This is where I was able to share with Ava the most incredible news of all:  Yes, we deserve hell, but instead of God banging down the gavel and sentencing us to death, Jesus entered the courtroom and volunteered to pay the price for our sin.   He intermediated on our behalf.  He had a direct influence on God’s wrath.

He went to hell in our place.

God was fully merciful:  he let us go free.  Yet, he was fully just:  Our sin was punished.  Jesus took our punishment.  He lived so that He could die.  He died so we could live.

Without Jesus Christ, none of us could escape hell.  We would all be there eventually.

God’s being fully just and fully merciful would be a paradox…unless…Jesus hadn’t come to be our propitiation.

I pray my sweet 6-year old can grasp that.  Full disclaimer:

I pray I can grasp that.

 

 

 

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GK Chesterton, TRUMP, CLINTON, the 2016 election, and the Medical Fallacy

TRUMP and CLINTON (hey, it was in the title).

Throughout the presidential campaign of 2016 we have heard a recurring theme:

“Our country is sick.  It needs to be made well.  Vote for me and I will provide the remedy it needs.  I will bring the healing that our country needs.”

There has been no shortage of rhetoric like this on either side of the political divide.

According to the inimitable G.K. Chesterton, however, this is a fallacy.  He terms this the Medical Fallacy.  How can politicians pontificate about what ‘well’ is in absolute terms, if the idea of well is of the most disputed issues in all of academia?  One side of the ideological divide defines well in one way, while the other defines it differently.

What is seen as a remedy by one side of the political spectrum will be seen as an exasperation of the original problem to the other.  This whole business of talking about “well” and “sick” is patently absurd.  It is play on emotions.  It is like invoking balls and strikes when talking about football.  Only in medicine and science can this terminology be used.

Why you might ask?  In medicine, we agree on what a well body looks like.  We agree on what good is.  The disagreement comes when it concerns malady.  In politics and social science, we agree on what bad looks like—we disagree on what constitutes the good.

That is a profound problem.

To give you an analogy, Chesterton makes this grand point:   It is a fact that a man may have pain in his leg and walk into a hospital, and due to medical necessity, come out with one leg less.

BUT HERE IS THE CLINCHER

Never will that man find himself under the scalpel of a doctor, and in a moment of creative rapture, walk out of the hospital, having being given one leg more.

Don’t fall for fallacies.  Nonsense doesn’t cease to be nonsense just because it is uttered by an “intellect” or a “smart” politician.

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What Then Shall We Do?

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom

The American founders recognized that man, by nature is flawed and capable of great evil.  This is why they distrusted rulers.  But they also recognized that for a society to be free, its citizens must be virtuous. James Madison noted, “a republic once equally poised, must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty.”  Similarly, Patrick Henry declared, “Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”  John Adams, who would go on to be our second president, noted, “The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a great Measure, than they have it now, they may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty.”

Without virtue, there is no hope.  Without God, there is no virtue.

Even the skeptical Benjamin Franklin recognized that, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” But even more directly, Proverbs 14:34 states, “Righteousness exalteth a nation.”  It would seem that our framers were speaking of a government whose aim was to govern those who were already engaged in private, self-governance.  It seems that they were speaking less of a freedom to do what we want, but rather, a freedom to do what we ought.

America is truly a beautiful place.  It isn’t made beautiful because of our inherent goodness, however.  It is beautiful because God has blessed our land with His divine providence, allowed us to flourish, and given us His blessing. She is only beautiful because, for America, God shed His grace on Thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea.

The framers all have a common theme in their words:  Virtue is required for freedom.  They also acknowledge that Faith is required for Virtue.  It is with this truth that we have what Os Guinness calls the Golden Triangle of Freedom:

Freedom requires virtue.  Virtue requires faith.  Faith requires freedom.

In 2016, I would argue that virtue is a relic of a long forgotten and provincially simple past.  It is an afterthought—condemned to oblivion in the hearts and minds of most Americans.  On the other hand, faith has been so pushed to the periphery of the public square, systematically attacked through government and culture, that, for the majority of Americans is not a part of their lives.

When faith and virtue become scarce, freedom becomes extinct.

Freedom is not doing whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want.  That is anarchy.  Freedom is the power to do what one ought.  You can see how the other necessary intangibles are important.  Without virtue, we cannot be free.  We are not capable of doing that which we ought.  Without faith, we can have no virtue.  We must have faith to believe that God’s precepts and His moral law is right.  And without freedom, we cannot practice our faiths in the public square.

Some say, “We have the right to have faith. Even in China they have the freedom to worship.”  No, my friend.  The Constitution guarantees us the right to exercise our faith.  No family owned business should be forced by the government to provide contraception if it violates their Christian faith.  Exercising our faith is a command.  We must exercise our faith.  In fact, the Bible declares that faith without works is dead.  It is not enough to just know truth. We have to act on it.

We live in a culture that wants to do away with consequences.  We want relationships without commitment.  We want sex without babies.  We want money without earning it.  We want results without discipline. We want freedom without the responsibility of virtue, and without the challenge of faith.

Where am I going with all this?  I think this election is a referendum on whether or not we want faith to be completely pushed out of the public square altogether.  I am not saying that Hillary Clinton is Nero.  What I am saying is that this election is clearly about going in a specific direction.

The direction of more state or less state.

The problem is, we want more state.  We aren’t governing ourselves!  Because our citizenry by and large has rejected virtue and faith, we are not capable of freedom; and as a result, we are in danger of losing our Republic.  Only a virtuous citizenry can govern themselves.  What happens virtue is gone?  I think we end up with an election that offers the choices we see before us.

The Bible talks about this.  In 2 Chronicles 15:3-6 we read:

For a long time, Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them.  In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil.  One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress.

As Tony Evans notes, “When God is your problem, only God is your solution.”

So what do we do?  Well, it isn’t as simple as just electing the right president.  Revival never starts at the White House.  It starts in your house.  We must be people of the Book.  We must be people of prayer.  We must be people who fast, discipline ourselves, teach our children the way of the Lord, and make disciples.  We must be people who engage the Bible more than just Sunday morning at Church.  We need to be in regular deep, critical, Bible study.

Can you defend your faith?  Can you give good arguments to destroy evil arguments?

Doing our Christian and civic duty is a responsibility.  It isn’t enough to attend church on Sunday and vote every four years.  That is a recipe for pretty churches, but dead souls.  It is a recipe for candidates who lie, cheat, and steal—and then tell you what you want to hear at election time.

Hint:  They know this about the culture.  They know we are docile.  They know we cannot govern ourselves.  They know they can lie without accountability.

Unfortunately, that mindset in both the church and the culture is why we see what we see.

You see, many of us want a McDonalds type of faith.  We want to drive up and take the things we want off of the value menu, but leave the expensive stuff alone.  It costs too much.  No, my friend.  We are called to take it all.  We are called to become like Christ.

  Too many of us want to work part time for God but get full time benefits.  We want love without sacrifice.  We want meaning without truth.  We want design without a designer.  We want good without the prospect of evil.  We want law but no lawmaker.  We want god but no God.

Likewise, as citizens, many of us know virtually nothing about our country.  We know where to locate it on a map but that’s about it. We are more likely to know the characters of the Kardashians or Chrisley Knows Best than we are to know how many members of Congress there are.

That being said, we are at a critical point, but we aren’t a people who are capable of governing ourselves!  We aren’t prepared.  We have given that away.  We want full control over our 1,000 cable TV channels, but when it comes to things that matter—like health care—we have given that decision away! We have abdicated it elsewhere.  So what do we do?

I argue that for Christians, the first responsibility is to actually commit to the Lord.  We must change.  We must take Him seriously.  We must turn from our current lackadaisical ways and make Him our priority and source of strength.  We must realize that we as Christians are the blame.  We are a barometer for the culture.  A cold in the Church is pneumonia in the culture.  Think about that.  As the Church goes, so goes the culture.

Meanwhile, if we are interested in preserving a culture that is at least not violently hostile to our living our faith in the public square, we should choose the best candidate with a chance of winning who does not show an open animus toward us. Notice that I didn’t say that person has to be a believer himself.  There have been numerous examples in history where non-Christians have governed in a way that was not dangerous to Christians.  Can one choose between Constantine and Diocletian?

What I am not saying:  I am not saying that a government must be tolerant of Christianity for Christianity to survive.  I am not saying that.  Christianity has outlived all of its pallbearers.  Chesterton notes that the Church has gone to the dogs at least five times.  Each time it was the dog that died.

Can an immoral man be fit to lead?  Could a Christian possibly vote for Donald Trump?  I cannot answer that for you.  All I can say is our country is not at the point where it could elect a Godly leader.  Aristotle in his book Politics talks about a righteous man amongst a sea of immorality.  He says the righteous man would be cast out.

We are an unrighteous people today.  There is no righteous candidate.  Any candidate who was close to being one was cast out.

I have said it before, elsewhere; I am a one issue voter.  The choices before me are bad on the one hand and catastrophically horrible on the other.  I will also consider which candidate, aside from his personal exploits, will be less hostile to the Christian faith.  It is something to think about.

But regardless of the election, let me just say this:  We as the Church have much work to do, and it might be extremely uncomfortable.

I leave you with a quote from one of GK Chesterton’s political novels.  Chesterton firmly believed in a fallen human nature. Because of this, he thought society would eventually give up on the difficult task of democracy. Look at this prophetic quote from the story:

We are, in a sense, the purest democracy. We have become a despotism. Have you not noticed how continually in history democracy becomes despotism? People call it the decay of democracy. It is simply its fulfilment. … The old idealistic republicans used to found democracy on the idea that all men were equally intelligent. Believe me, the sane and enduring democracy is founded on the fact that all men are equally idiotic. Why should we not choose out of them one as much as another. All that we want for Government is a man not criminal and insane, who can rapidly look over some petitions and sign some proclamations.

 

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The Morality of Greed

If you were to be completely honest, one of the prevailing themes you have grown accustomed to hearing is the idea that greed is inherently evil.  Now, I have to be honest:  As a Christian, I personally believe that it is my duty to seek first the Lord and His kingdom.  If I do this, all these things (my needs being met) will be added unto me.  So, for me, the byproduct of work is not primarily money.  The byproduct of work is, first and foremost, glorifying God through excellence.

That being said—if I seek Christ’s Kingdom first, there is nothing wrong with me also desiring to earn compensation for my work.  I cannot find any instance in the Bible in which desiring to be paid an adequate wage for ones efforts is wrong.  You might say, “But those greedy Wall Street guys are surely engaging in immoral behavior,” or “Greed is the root of all evil.”  Some of them probably are.  In fact, the very college academics that make that claim teach moral relativism, but when a banking executive actually exercises moral relativism in his work, he is suddenly immoral?  But Greed being inherently immoral?

The problem with this type of reasoning is that to make this case, one has to read social grievances into the Biblical text itself.  Jesus Christ did not come to give us a perfect economic system or to be a social agitator.  He came to cure man’s sin problem.  I do agree that Jesus talked about the impact of money, but I feel it comes from a different angle than just “wealth disparity.”  I think Jesus’ commands about money and not loving money have to do with what a person places ultimate value in.  Is your ultimate value your money?  If so, you are a slave to your money.  Is your ultimate value your body?  If so, you are a slave to your health.  Do you find your ultimate value in your financial success?  If so, you are a slave to work.

Our ultimate value should be found in Jesus Christ.  The Bible even says, “for they did not love their lives when faced with death.”  Our lives are not our ultimate value.  Neither is our money.

But is ‘greed’ necessarily evil?  Let’s look at it.  While we do so, let us remember that passionate issues require dispassionate analysis.

If you look objectively at definitions of greed, you will see that greed is very different from envy, jealousy, or covetousness.  It is different than materialism.  It is even different than greediness.  Greed is nothing more than seeing the furthering of one’s own interests as his primary motivation for work.  This goes against the conventional wisdom, without question.

So how can greed drive a person’s work?

Let us think about a few examples of this in real life:  Picture for a moment, a farmer in Idaho.  Can you imagine his days’ work?   Picture him getting up well before daylight, venturing out into a field—facing sleet, snow, and bitterly cold wind.  All this is done in order to harvest potatoes.  Because of his hard work, New Yorkers can have potatoes for dinner.

Now picture a Colorado cattle rancher.  He gets up well before dawn as well.  He feeds the cattle.  He breeds them.  He moves them from location to location so that they can eat greener grass.  His entire life is circumscribed by taking care of cattle.  He faces the dead of night, winter and snow, cold rainy mornings, and even the dry heat of the summer—all to make sure New Yorkers can have a steak next to that potato.

Here is the question:  What if New Yorkers—in their desire to have a steak and potato for dinner—had to rely on the inherent charity and willingness of ranchers and farmers to care enough about New Yorkers to send them steak and potatoes—rather than their desire to make a living for themselves?

I would be grieving for New Yorkers.

You see, in serving the interest of themselves, the rancher and farmer necessarily serve their fellow man.  Their desire to earn a living (greed) demands that they produce what other people want.

Our free market is driven by an imperative:  It is more profitable to serve your fellow man than not to serve him.  Adam Smith talked about these principles in his book, Wealth of Nations.  The free market system is essentially a moral one.  It depends upon supplying people with what they desire at a price that they are willing to pay for it.

This of course comes with risk.  What if the New Yorker doesn’t want to eat a steak or order a potato?  What if instead, he desires to eat bacon and eggs?  No one forces him to buy what the rancher has to offer.  Then again, no one forces the rancher to plant potatoes.  It is all about individual choice.

Similar to this is the idea that the free market works only because of trust.  When is the last time you bought beef at the supermarket and actually weighed it yourself to see if it weighed what the packaging said?  When was the last time you measured a 2-liter of soda to see if it really contained 2 liters?  In fact, we rely on trust all the time.  You dont carry around scales and measuring devices in your pockets.  It would cost too much.  It would take up too much room.  It would cost you convenience.  Trust is an important concept here.

Still yet, is an even more moral situation:  If I cut a person’s grass, and at the end of my work, he pays me 30 dollars; that is essentially a certificate showing that I served my fellow man.  When I take my thirty dollars and walk into the supermarket and buy steaks, potatoes, and sodas for my family and I to eat for dinner—the cashier of the supermarket basically says to me:  You want the rancher in Colorado and the farmer in Idaho to serve you?  How have you served your fellow man?  I then produce the certificate of achievement (30 bucks).

Wealth itself is nothing more than scarce information.  I have 30 dollars in my pocket.  If you just compare the cost of goods, you could say that my 30 dollars is worth much less than the food I eat at Applebees.  In fact, if I were to buy the same products that I will consume at Applebees, it might be half as much.  The problem is, I cannot consume 30 dollars.  It is only a piece of paper.  So, I exchange it gladly for something that is worth more to me than the money itself:  namely, food.  Because I am not in the restaurant industry, I do not have the skills, infrastructure, or the resources to make quality dinners.  I don’t have the extra time either!   So—for that scarcity of information, I gladly pay more than it is worth.

A thing derives its value by how much a person is willing to pay for it.

Consider this:  I walk into a supermarket and tell the manager I want a gallon of milk.  He charges me 3 dollars.  If that milk is worth to me more than my three dollars, and my three dollars is worth more to the manager of the store than the milk, we engage in a voluntary contract.  We voluntarily engage in a transaction of trust.  I trust he gives me a gallon of milk, and he trusts that my three dollars are worth three dollars.  I make him feel good and in return, he makes me feel good.  This is called a positive sum gain.  On the flip-side, if I were to walk into that same supermarket and hold a gun to the manager’s head and say, “Give me the milk or I will kill you,” I have just said, “If you do not make me feel good, I am going to make you feel bad.”  This is a zero sum gain.

In all of human history, there has never been an economic system prior to the free market that did not function without zero sum gains.  Most of recorded history notes looting, plundering, theft, and coercion as the norm.  The exception has been the free market system.  It is a system based on trust and reciprocity.

The rule among fallen men is theft.  The exception is voluntary trade.

These are all moral concepts.

Greed isn’t inherently evil.  It drives our transactions.  After all, what is wrong with wanting to better the lives of you and your family?  Even the most ardent socialists I know send their child to piano lessons.  Why?  They want the best for their child.

The contrast of greed is the idea of envy.  Picture this:  You work a 60-hour per week job sweeping floors at a Fortune 500 company.  One night while walking home, you see a large group of people who work at the company eating in the restaurant.  You pause and watch through the window.  The person driven by greed will think to himself, “What must I do to be where they are at?  What have they done that I haven’t?”  This might prompt your working so hard that everyone notices, taking night classes, reading more books so that you can pass a promotion test, or finding a new job at which advancement is possible.  Either way, these are healthy questions to ask.  The other view would say, “It is inherently unfair that they have what I do not.  How can I have some of what they have?”

Now, the political left is well aware of these two differing types of thinking. The conservative would usually reply to this man, “I am going to work to get you equality of opportunity; you are going to have to work to ensure an equality of outcome.”  The progressive, on the other hand would declare, “I agree with you.  It is unfair.  He only has his stuff because he stole it from you.  You deserve to be in there too.  In fact, if you vote for me, I will promise to take some of what he has and give it to you.  I cannot ensure equal opportunity, but I can ensure equal outcome.”

This is zero sum economics.

If you pick the pockets of Peter to pay Paul, you will always have Paul’s vote.

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What Alex Haley’s Roots taught me about real Freedom

When I was a teenager, my Dad introduced me to a book that has had tremendous impact on my thinking.  I am referring to Roots by Alex Haley.  Despite the numerous historical inaccuracies presented in both the book and film adaptation, the overarching message is quite important.  It follows the plight of a 15-year old African taken to America.  In America, this character, Kunta Kinte, refuses to accept his condition as a slave.  Not even when the slave catchers removed half of his foot after an escape attempt did his desire to be free diminish.  At one point, his daughter is caught aiding another slave in an escape and is literally ripped from his arms and sold away.  Several years later, her son George gains his own freedom.  However, because the law in that state dictated that a freed slave who stayed put for more than 60 days would lose his freedom, George is faced with an incredible dilemma.  Does he become a slave again and stay with his wife and children, or keep his freedom but leave?  He asks his wife for guidance.  She levels an incredibly potent and powerful line:  “I am married to a free man.  I will never be married to a slave.  Never.”

The ultimate freedom that exists is the freedom from sin and from death.  If we are in Christ—we have that freedom now!  Being free however, doesn’t come without sacrifices.  We must give up our lives in order to live in the glory and freedom of our Lord.  The thing that frustrates me is that even though I enjoy freedom, I continually flirt with a return to slavery!  Paul talks about this as well!

Each week as I worship Him though, I am constantly reminded of the image of chains falling off my hands and feet.  It happened! I have the scars to prove it!  The song says, “I once was blind but now I see.” It’s an amazing line.  But, in my personal experience, I can tell you that I once was bound—but now I’m free.

Jesus truly is the great emancipator.  It’s hard to keep a message like that to a whisper.

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Some thoughts on Adoption and Identity

Our beautiful son, John Will is turning one this week. I wanted to share with you a few thoughts as his birthday approaches.

I always viewed adoption as a good thing, but I have to be honest: For many years, I saw it like many people do—as a sort a predicament of permanent estrangement.  I mean, consider the reality:  The child will not grow up with his real parents.  He will never know his real siblings.  He and the adoptive parents will never have that real biological bond.  Then there is the most unfortunate part of all—He will always be the token adopted kid.

I know what you are thinking:  What do you mean by the word real?  Well, what does society say about it?  What is real to most people is what they see on TV or the internet.  If you listen to the armchair philosophers in the media, the above realities are real.  They are real in a ubiquitous sense.  Everywhere.  Case closed.  Settled science.  Hashtag it.

Let us be honest:  If the adopted baby happens to be of color, he could be looked at by his white parents and predominantly white peers as the definitive voice for the whole of the black race.  What he says about social justice will be accepted as gospel for many whites.  Can you hear it?  “My son is black, and he isn’t offended by that flag,” or, “My son is black—I couldn’t possibly be a racist!”  Because they have a black kid in the family, they think they are somehow experienced in the black experience.  He is their calling card in a sense.  Unfortunately, if he takes on the traits and speech patterns of his white adoptive family, he may run the risk of being an outsider when it comes to his black peers.  What if he grows up to be a political conservative in the vein of Clarence Thomas?  In this case, he will be cast out of the black community.  He will be in a sense living in no mans land.  A man with no country.  They may call him things like, “Uncle Tom.”  If he is nominated to the Supreme Court, men who are lifelong Lotharios (Ted Kennedy) may actually ask him during his confirmation process about his private entertainment habits.  This is just the truth.

Then, some will use him as certificate of absolution for white guilt.  By adopting a black child, they are absolving themselves of the great sin of the past:  Slavery.  They are enlightened now.  They are a part of the black experience.  They have evolved.

He will be seen as a racial bargaining chip in many instances.

If, on the other hand, he is adopted into a wealthy home, he could be seen as a status symbol.  Some people buy expensive rugs and pets from exotic places.  Today, the collector item that is style in some circles is the adoption of babies from exotic locations.  It is kind of like the cult of being a vegan, using a Mac, driving a Tesla, or choosing to obey the gluten free diet.  “Mine is from Nepal,” or “I got mine from Uganda.”  Two international adoptive mothers come into a coffee shop.  How do I know this?  They announced it loudly.

Then again, he might be seen as a leverage tool for advancing the pro-life agenda.  Heck, he may even be used just so that the parents feel good about themselves.

So, as for me, though I saw adoption as a positive, I saw it as the “last resort” option.

Because all the horrible things above exist, and I had just heard horror stories about them…I determined that adoption was better than abortion, but least the least preferable alternative.

This isn’t the first thing I have been wrong about.

The first thing that I failed to notice about my observations above is that they all presuppose that adoptive parents necessarily see their adopted kids as objects used for consumption rather than persons meant for relationships. In this thinking I was no different than the person who saw a black man as a piece of property.  I was no different in thinking that all whites think all blacks should be slaves.  My point is—though the above realities do exist—it doesn’t have to be that way.  The fact that those realities exist shouldn’t stop me from adopting a baby.  Why do I have to live like that?

I also failed to see that many of my objections came from an elitist progressive white Eurocentric worldview. Now, before you think I am some indoctrinated leftist who gets his news from the Daily Kos, hear me out.  I was Eurocentric.  Trust me:  The children in Mexico, war torn Africa, the slums of India, Thailand, or Vietnam—they would give anything to be adopted into a white family in the United States.  I am not even talking about a rich one.  Poverty in the United States is a lifestyle of luxury to the poor people in Laos.  I once heard a guy tell me about his ordeal in trying to gain citizenship into the United States.  I asked him why he wanted to come here so bad.  His answer blew me away:  “I want to live in a country where the poor people are fat.”

It isn’t insensitive or against multiculturalism or diversity to realize that compared to the rest of the world, the United States is the land of luxury.  This is the most exceptional place on the planet.  You want proof?  Go to the slums of India.  Check out the way people live in Cuba.  Go look at Kandahar.  Go see what they do to disobedient little girls in Saudi Arabia.  To presume that because I am from the West, that I couldn’t not contribute to the lives of people from the East is just absurd.

But then there is the unconditional love aspect—or sacrifice:  Many of the children adopted internationally have biological parents who love them so much, they would do anything for them to be adopted—just to escape real poverty.  The fact that I was unwilling to imagine such a reality shows how narrow minded I actually was.

But, then I also made the mistake of thinking that I wasn’t qualified to adopt. Sure, I had a biological child already—but adopt?  I don’t look like the adoption type, do I?  I have never contributed to any adoption agency.  I have never been a foster parent.  I have never sent money to one of those sad “Feed the Children” TV ads.  I am not an activist.  The only thing I know about kids is that I spoil my daughter.  How could I adopt?

Then I learned the reality:

Had we not adopted…our child—John William would have been aborted.

But my last objection was perhaps the most insidious of all: He will not share my genes!  He will never fit in at family reunions!  How will he carry on our family name—really?  He may have our name, but he isn’t one of us.  It could cause problems later on!  There might be challenges.  Oh No!

I can say it: What a bunch of narcissistic and selfish petulant idiocy. 

It is actually possible to adopt a child and love them for who they are—a distinct, unique, beautiful person—of infinite value.

Oh I forgot the other one:  We cannot afford it.  Ok.  My goodness…where is the faith?

Well, on a Wednesday in September of 2014, my wife got a phone call. It was through a convoluted maze of connections; but, there was a woman giving birth the NEXT day that wanted to give her baby for adoption.  Could we be at the hospital for the “C-section?”

After picking my wife up off the floor, we rushed to get ready for the birth of our…son.  We actually went that day and met the mother.  My son was in her belly sitting across the room from me.  She told us that she was at Planned Parenthood ready to abort the child–but something stopped her.  What?  Really?

Well, it happened.  He is our son.

Can I tell you that I have never viewed John William as adopted? I mean, I know he is, but—other than people bringing it up, or the doctor asking about his family medical history—I never think about it.  There has never been a moment in time that I knew about him that I didn’t think of him as my son.  What else could he be?  Who else could he be?  When he had trouble taking his first breaths, I felt pain.  When he had to have the chest tube and stay in the NICU for over a week—I felt the stress—and worried.  Me.  Not someone else.  I felt innate pain.

It may sound strange to you, but I see him in exactly the same way that I see our biological daughter, Ava. Even in the hospital, once he was born—with the birth mother just down the hall—he was my son.  Even as we waited the mandatory 72 hours for the birth mother to change her mind, I saw it as 72 hours for her to dispute the truth:  that I was the father of this baby!  When I first touched him, I didn’t feel that I was touching some child that we were going to take home—and learn to love.  I felt I was touching my son.  What womb he was carried in was the last thing on my mind.  I couldn’t have cared less.  When we went to visit him in the NICU, and had to use the name “Baby Boy White” to gain access, because they weren’t legally allowed to accept the name we had given him yet, we called him John Will.   You think that’s strange?  Can I tell you that when I look at him, I find myself involuntarily comparing his appearance to us?  “Oh, he looks like Ava when he does that.”  “Andrea, he has your smile.” “I think he has my…well, hopefully nothing.”  Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, but I identify him as ours.

Identity. What a word.  I don’t think I can remember hearing the word identity growing up.  Today, you cannot turn on a television set without hearing some blowhard pontificating about identity.  We live in a day and age where a man can use a woman’s restroom, so long as he self identifies as a woman.  If a woman in that restroom is offended by the presence of this man who identifies as a woman—it is HER problem.  She is the bigot.  His identity cannot be challenged.

Can I just say, our idea of identity is wrong? Our identity isn’t wrapped up in our sexual proclivity, our color, our intelligence, or our size.  Our identity is wrapped up in the idea of who we are.  Let me ask you a question:  Who are you…really?  How would you describe, you?  Most people would respond with a name and their occupation.  That isn’t what I asked.  I asked who you are?  There is more to who you are than what you do, your skin color, or what your name is.  If what you do is what defines you—then we have a pretty sad world.

Many today see themselves as objects to be consumed. They desire to be used as a commodity.  Just look at the clothing that many young people wear—or the outspoken statements on shirts that read, “I am a porn star.”  Even the LGBT movement—they will identify by their sex.  Ask them who they are and they will respond with their name and at some point their sexual proclivity.  If I were to walk into a room and say, “Hey, I am John and I am straight,” how would that be received?  It’s odd isn’t it?  So many of us place our identity in what we do, that we have no clue what a real person is.  If you think like that—that people are just objects, it will not only affect you:  It will affect how you treat those around you.  If we are nothing but the product of a mindless unguided process (Darwinian evolution), why would we treat each other as if we were more than just a bunch of matter?  What is the point?  But that question turns around:  If I am nothing but the product of evolution, why should anyone treat me as more than a heap of dirt?  There is no purpose.  The universe just is.  It’s all blind pitiless indifference.

Pathetic.  If you want to expose the malarkey in that, just walk up to the person that thinks that way—reach into their pocket—and take out their wallet.  Their real presuppositions about how they should be treated will emerge.

Why do I believe that people have worth? Well, quite frankly, it is because I believe that God created us in His image.

But, let us look at it a bit more philosophically:  If you take any philosophy in the world, you will find that it is based or grounded in one of three systems of thought.  They are epistemological, existential, and pragmatic.  Or quite simply, right thinking, right feeling, or right doing.  If you think the right things or acquire the right knowledge, or feel a certain set of feelings or have the right intentions or motives, or if you do the right things—you will have achieved what is ‘the good.’

Now the idea of good needs to be fleshed out. G.K. Chesterton once talked about what is good.  He wrote an essay called The Medical Fallacy in which he lamented the use of medical terminology when talking about social issues.  He noted that many politicians will say, “Our country is sick.  It needs a remedy.  Vote for me and my benevolent policies and we will see true healing begin.”  The problem Chesterton points out, is that social science is not medical science.  In medicine, doctors all agree on what a healthy body looks like.  They disagree on the malady.  In social science, it is the malady that is agreed upon.  We all can agree on what a dysfunctional society looks like.  It is the idea of what is good that we rip each other’s eyes out over.  One person sees this “solution” as a remedy—but the other guy sees the remedy as worse than the original problem.  Chesterton goes on to say, it may be necessary medically speaking, for a man to walk into a hospital and come out with one leg less.  But he quips, you will never see that man go into an operating room, and in a moment of ‘creative rapture,’ come out with one leg more.

The good. Can we find it in right thinking?  Many philosophies say yes.  How about in feeling or experience?  Many say yes.  How about in doing the right things?  Many say yes.  If our philosophy is based in these three areas, there are arguments to be made for which persons should be treated as objects.  Maybe they don’t have the right knowledge—or they are incapable of it.  Are they a drain on the taxpayers?  What is the solution?  Perhaps they haven’t experienced what they ought to—or they have the wrong feelings on a certain issue.  Can these bigoted people live in a tolerant and just society?  Then again, maybe they have done something that isn’t ‘o.k.’ by conventional standards.  Maybe they put up a flag on their flagpole that represents something awful.  Can we tolerate them?

Certainly arguments can be made that would subjugate each of these individuals to a second class.

The reason I believe people are of infinite worth is because I believe in a system that isn’t rooted in any of those three things. I believe in Jesus Christ.  Christianity is a system that is rooted in being—specifically—the being of Christ.  When I became a follower of Christ, my being was conformed to that of his.  I am no longer who I was before.  Now, I am an image of Christ.  This life isn’t rooted in right thinking, although there is no greater knowledge than knowing Christ.  It isn’t about feeling, even though I can think of no greater feeling than experiencing God’s presence.  And it isn’t about doing, even though Jesus said that true Christians will be known by what they do.

It is about being. I see people as beings—not machines.

Back to adoption:

Now, the conventional wisdom says children who are denied their biological parents—despite how wonderful their adoptive situation might be—face more challenges than other children. Those views all presuppose that we are purely biological.  I don’t buy this.  I have seen too much evidence to the contrary.  Plus, the Bible doesn’t teach this.  God told Jeremiah that He knew him before He formed him!  How could he know him before he was a living, breathing person?  Well quite simply, there is more to us than our bodies.  There is something to this knowing before forming business.  When I think about my biological daughter…I can safely say I didn’t know her or have any knowledge of her before she existed.  But God did.  There is something to that.

Ephesians says that before the creation of the world God chose us! That has some serious implications.  First of all, to be chosen before the creation of the world, means that before the first act of creation—we had some sort of existence.  We at least existed in the mind of God before “In the beginning.”  Let us put it this way:  The crucifixion of our Lord was foreordained long before the first verse in Genesis.  Why?  Because there would be a need for redemption.  Why?  Because of us.  Second, the Bible says that God chose us.  Out of all the things in His creation that are beautiful—out of all the capable animals—he chose us.  Why us?  There is obviously something different or unique about us.  C.S. Lewis once said that we aren’t bodies with a soul; we are souls with a body.  There is indeed something that I cannot see—or test in a laboratory—that makes my son who he is.  His physical appearance is a joy, but this is not who he is.  He is connected to us, despite what his DNA might say.  You could run a paternity test all day long, and I would fail it every time.  But you could put man after man in the room with my son and I am the only one he knows as “Da da.”  Despite the reality of what his DNA says he is, he is ours.  He is a person created for relationship!  He is a soul created in the image of God.  He has an identity that is beyond his blood and chemical makeup.  He was chosen before time itself.  God knew that this little boy would need a Mom and Dad who were not his biological parents.  A real sacrifice would need to be made for this little boy.  But more importantly, God knew that for this little boy, The ultimate sacrifice would have to be made on Calvary.

“Before” time began, my son and all his needs were known.

Likewise, you and I are connected to Christ despite what our pasts might say.  My spiritual DNA says sinner.  It does not say holy.  I am unworthy of the name Christian.  Despite that, Christ has adopted me as His child. I am connected to Christ despite the sins I will commit today.

Despite the reality of who I am, I am His.

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Peter and How Jesus recalibrated his view of reality and fishing.

Have you ever had your idea about reality recalibrated?  You might say, “Yeah, I used to be an Atlanta Braves fan, until they traded everyone away and started losing.”  Good point, but this is not what I am talking about. I do not mean to be persuaded as to another point of view because circumstances change or because new evidence is provided. What I mean instead is, that which was once was reality ceases to be.  It gives way to a new (real) reality that causes an unstoppable and utterly complete paradigm shift.

I have often heard about people who have been trapped in blizzards and were forced into using a pocket knife to sever a trapped leg out from under a boulder so that they could get to shelter. The reality of life becomes suddenly more important than the need for a leg.   Their idea of pain is recalibrated.   I have heard about POW’s who begin to view torture as normal (because they know that pain is an indicator that they are alive), or prisoners in Auschwitz engaging in activities that would seem gross and inhumane in order to survive. See the story of Roman Frister or Victor Frankl for more on that.

What if I were to tell you that our idea about what is the “good” can be recalibrated by a fresh glimpse of reality? It is even more than that. It isn’t only that our idea about what the “good” changes (that places too much importance on our ability to think); in reality, that which is the good itself completely changes around us.

Have you ever learned a new word, or come across a fact that you previously didn’t know? Have you noticed that when this happened, all of a sudden you started hearing that word used in conversations, you started seeing it in books, or that fact that you just learned suddenly shows up in every article you read? It isn’t that those things have just come to light. It isn’t that because you learned them, all of a sudden they exist. In truth, it is because they exist—and because they have been imparted in you that now you notice things around you that you didn’t notice before. You are different.

Do you know the story about the calling of Simon Peter?  If you don’t, there is no better time to brush up on it than now!  The story is located in Luke 5:1-11 and it is captivating.

Done reading it? Short and potent, huh?

To begin, this story doesn’t take place in a synagogue, nor does it involve a hushed crowed listening to an intellectually learned and eloquent disquisition on a Psalm.  Instead, a crowd has gathered to hear Jesus (a traveling teacher) teach on a smelly boat landing—with fisherman nearby (no doubt smelly)—who are disgruntled (probably using the language or sailors) and cleaning their nets after a night without a catch.

The first glimpse of reality:  Jesus walks into a world of people rather than summoning them to step out of their world and come to him. We often think that God is calling us to leave the pull of earth’s gravity and meet him somewhere in the sky. This couldn’t be further from the truth.  If we all lived in California and Heaven was located in Hawaii; and all we had to do to get there was swim the whole way, how many of us would make it?  There would be some who would drown nearly as soon as they started.  Some would drown a hundred feet in.  Some would make it a mile.  The triathalets might make it several miles.  But the point is, we would all drown.  Unless Hawaii was moved closer or we were carried to Hawaii, none woud make it.  God did this for us.

God became a man. He came to us. There is no way we can go to Him. The last folks who tried by way of a huge tower were stopped dead in their tracks. They got pretty high, but God still “came down” and stifled them. We don’t have the ability to climb that high.

So—the boys (professional fisherman—serious anglers) have just returned from a night of fishing—they caught nothing.  While they are maintaining their gear, and probably complaining, Jesus hops onto the boat belonging to one of the fishermen, Peter.  He tells Peter to take the boat out to the deep water and to lower the nets.  So, let us set the scene:  Peter is an expert fisherman and Jesus is a traveling preacher (who has probably never fished in his life) who has jumped on a fishing boat (without so much as an “excuse me but I’m going to be joining you”), and is now giving a trained angler instruction on how to fish.  Imagine for a moment a professor of postmodern Spanish History at some Ivy League school walking into an auto garage and telling the mechanics to let him look over the engine.

Now—Jesus doesn’t get right to it—telling Peter how much his life is lacking because Christ isn’t in it—No.  Instead, he plays up to Peter’s greatest strength—fishing.  Jesus basically jumps in the boat and says, “Bro, I need your help!  Please help me!”  Now this is realistic.  I am sure Peter’s nautical abilities have been relied upon before.  People know he is an expert on the water, and an expert at catching fish. In this case, Jesus needs a platform from which to teach and he needs a source of amplification.  He needs Peter, because he cannot simply preach from a drifting boat.  He needs Peter to steady the vessel so he can effectively teach from a stationary position.  He also intends to use the natural sound carrying properties of the water as a natural amplification device.  This is all very realistic.  It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus relies on humans for help.   If you remember simple pleas for help from Jesus like, “Give me a drink,” then you will see this request as the same.  Often times, Jesus puts people through tests.

What I find interesting is that Jesus isn’t really “teaching.”  He is fishing.  He is fishing from a fisherman’s boat, with a fisherman, but he isn’t after fish.  He is after the fisherman, himself!  He is fishing in a fishing boat to catch a fisherman. In Peter’s world, when he catches fish, the fish die in the process.  In Jesus’ world, when he catches fish, they begin to live.  This story converges two different realities of fishing.

Reality is about to be changed.

Peter was no doubt very adept in the water.  For this reason, he was probably able to put his boat steering skills on autopilot and listen to the teaching of Jesus. He had no choice—and he was helping!

I am reminded of a guy who was a skeptic who started attending this youth group. They decided to take a retreat, but because they lived in a country in which Christianity was illegal, they had to figure out a way to get to the camp which was a few kilometers away and would have police all along the route. The skeptic, however, had powerful parents. The mom actually once dated the chief of police. She phoned this man and said, “Do you remember me?” He replied in the affirmative and asked what he could do for her. He granted them the request to go. They also needed the permission from the Minister of Interior. It just so happened that his mother knew the minister of interior. With a second phone call the trip was set. The young man actually went with the camp organizers three days in advance to set the camp up. He helped set up the living quarters, the teaching areas, and the recreation activities. He was saved on the second day of the camp. You could say he played a role in planning, organizing, and executing his own conversion. Peter is pretty close here!

Now, when the sermon is over, we expect Jesus to thank Peter for his services and to be taken back to shore and to go on his way.  This would be reality.  Instead, this land-loving carpenter gives orders to the professional fisherman concerning how and where to catch fish. This is a new reality.  It is also a test.

Jesus commands him to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  Now, let us be honest: this may be the most absurd suggestion ever given to a fisherman.   There is only one right response to such a situation:  “Get off of my boat you moron!”  After all, Peter knows that the fish they are after in Sea of Galilee do not live in the deep water, but rather, in the shallower, more oxygenated areas near the mouths of streams.  This is how they stay alive (eating the bait fish entering from the streams).  Secondly, it is daytime.  The fish they are after congregate under the rocks during the day.  They are night feeders.  If you go to the Sea of Galilee today, you will see the fishermen fishing at night.  Not the day.  William M. Christie notes,

“We have seen shoals at ‘Ain barideh and ‘Ain et-Tabigha so great as to cover an acre of the surface, and so compact together that one could scarcely throw a stone without striking several.  In such cases the hand-net is thrown out with a whirl.  It sinks down in a circle, enclosing a multitude, and these are then gathered in by the hand, while the net lies at the bottom.”

This may sound foreign but it isn’t.  Go to YouTube and type in, “cast net for mullet” and see that it happens TODAY in the South.  In fact, I learned to fish using a cast net. I once heard a man say, give a young man a cast net and he will never starve. That is great wisdom.

Now—The Sea of Galilee drops off into deep water very close the shoreline, and is dangerous in many areas for swimming.  Casting for fish is either done by boat or—for more experienced fishermen, standing in the water.  The fisherman in this lake know that successful fishing takes place at night.  The very idea that a preacher would suggest dropping the nets in the day is bordering on the absurd.  Now, Peter isn’t a teacher.  He knows very well that he cannot enter into the debates about the law or the finer points of the Sabbath—but he does know a thing or two about fishing.  He replies to this request with sarcasm:

“Teacher!  We toiled all night and took nothing!  But at your word, I will let down the nets.”

Let me do my best to paraphrase this exchange:  “Listen teacher, me and my boys are pros.  We know were the fish feed—it’s along the shore and at night.  In fact, we were out there all night and didn’t catch a darn thing.  We are tired, and I have stayed awake much longer than I would have liked—helping YOU—serving YOU—ever since you hijacked my boat.  You rabbis think you know everything and now you think you can hop on my boat, preach to a bunch of peasants, and then tell me where to tell me to fish?  Very well!   We will go do it.  Let’s just see who knows about fishing!”  It reminds of the scene in Jaws where the salty sea captain Quint, tells the college trained rich boy, Matt Hooper, “It proves one thing Mr. Hooper:  That you college boys don’t have the education enough to admit when you’re wrong!”

In fact, when Peter calls Jesus, “Teacher,” the word used is “epistates” which not only can mean teacher but more accurately, “boss,” or “chief.”  It is a term of sarcasm.  So, tired and weary—and annoyed—Peter and his team set out to fish the deep water in the daytime.

But something happens. Reality strikes.  They catch a great wealth of fish.

He hauls in a large catch.  The nets break the catch is so heavy.  He signals over for help and both his boat, and the boat of the helpers become so full, they both begin to sink.  This is worth commenting on.  He signals rather than calling for help.  Just as we saw Jesus use the sound carrying characteristics of water, Peter doesn’t want to inform EVERYBODY about the fish.  Financial secrets must be kept! This is his livelihood. If you were a beggar and lived among other beggars and you found a supply of food, would you tell everyone where it was at? This is a question worth pondering.

He waves them over discretely.  Jesus is watching this behavior as well.

This next part is the gem of the story:  You see, Jesus has approached Peter at the point of his greatest strength:  fishing.  But Peter isn’t shocked at the catch—at least not for long.  What shocks him is that this person, Jesus, has obviously made a choice between money and something else.  Here is a man who could be the best fisherman in the world.  He has caused Peter to catch an abundance of fish—when the fish weren’t supposed to be there.  The thing is, Jesus doesn’t want it.  He doesn’t care about the fish—instead he is wandering around the Sea of Galilee teaching the crowds for free. He is interested in something else.

For the first time in his life, Peter has met someone who is driven by something greater than mammon.  Could you imagine meeting someone who could shoot 10 under par—every round they played—at any golf course in the world—giving that up so that they could wander around rural driving ranges and giving free talks on a second birth?  All night, Peter and crew work tirelessly to catch fish—but this man—says, “drop the nets,” they catch the motherload—and he isn’t cashing in? He is more interested in people.

Peter knew that anyone with this knowledge of fishing could be rich instantly.  So, why was Jesus, a poor traveling teacher—traveling around teaching people for nothing?  What could possibly be worth more than 2 boats full of fish? Like Isaiah, Peter knows instantly that he is in the presence of someone great and that he is unclean. Reality strikes.  His vocabulary changes.  Where once he called Jesus, “epistates” or “boss,” he now calls him “kyrios” or Lord.  “Teacher” opens the first speech, and this one closes with “Lord.”

Oh, what a little reality will do.

He begins his repentance by asking Jesus to get away from him because he is unclean.  Jesus dismisses this.  Jesus wants to recalibrate Peter’s understanding of reality.  You see, when Peter uses his sarcasm, rather than getting upset, Jesus reprocesses his anger into grace.  Peter is not blind to this.  He has insulted someone holy.  Peter is now acting as if he were a leper in the presence of a healthy man. He thinks that his uncleanness can defile Jesus.  But unfortunatley for Peter, he has never met the giver of life.  He is about to have his world rocked.  In reality, it isn’t that Peter’s sin can defile Jesus; but rather, that Jesus (the Good) can offer Peter the gift of righteousness. Peter’s sin cannot infect Jesus, but Jesus can infect Peter with the Holy Spirit—and as a result, cure Peter’s illness. Reality.

The Son of God did not come to make men good.  The Son of God came to give men life.

Jesus dismisses Peter’s concerns.  He assures him that he will still use his fishing skills, but for a different type of catch.  He was now to enter the business of catching people.  No longer will he catch things that die.  He will catch things and Jesus will give them life.

From this very boat, Jesus caught people from the shore and gave them life—including Peter!

Now, he is offering this to Peter. Reality has changed.

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Kurt Eichenwald and his presuppositions

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With the coming of Christmas and other Christian-observed holidays often come the obligatory Christianity-bashing articles that seem fit to be printed by publications like Newsweek, The Huffington Post, and Patheos.com.  No one should be surprised that these types of articles are written.  What should be of surprise is the lack of scholarship that is being used in writing these critiques.

I for one long for the days of Bart Ehrman’s informed criticisms (though they are far from right).  You have to hand it to folks like Ehrman who write polemical work aimed at Christianity:  At least the guy knows where the library is.

The article in question appears in the latest issue of Newsweek Magazine.  It is written by Kurt Eichenwald who is very well known inside the readership of the New York Times and the Vanity Fair publications.  He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and it is safe to say that this guy is no slouch.  His area of expertise seems to be in the areas of business or financial topics, and especially covering business scandals.

The cover story here isn’t about a scandal in a Fortune 500 company.  Instead it is titled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” and unfortunately, in this particular instance Eichenwald seems to be far removed from his area of expertise.  I cannot stress that enough.  It is amateur hour at best.  He tries to establish his credibility by claiming to be standing upon the work of mainstream biblical scholarship; however, when one investigates this further, it is clear that he only cites critics of evangelical Christianity–and even in this–he fails to accurately portray some of their views.

This essay doesn’t come across as an objective piece of scholarship.  Instead, it comes across as a hit piece.  When he does cite scholars, it is only those on the critical fringe of Christianity.  I cannot locate a portion of his essay where he cites any scholar who works within the orthodox Christian tradition.  For those who say Fox News is biased, at least they have Juan Williams and Bob Beckel.  Eichenwald doesn’t want a debate.  He wants to remove the need for debate.  Eichenwald doesn’t waste any time getting to the point, either:

 “They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.”

Now, to be fair:  I do know some folks that fit perhaps most of that description.  They do exist.  I concede this without reservation.  The problem is, they are as far to the fringe of evangelical Christianity as pro-lifers are to the Democrat party.

Why only talk about the thought that is going on at the fringe?  How in the world can surveying the fringe thinking be considered objective journalism or scholarship?  Shouldn’t like Matthew Arnold said, we look at things by examining the best and brightest that has ever been said or thought?  Isn’t it a mistake to judge a worldview by looking at its worst representatives?  Why not cite those who are well respected by both critical and orthodox scholars?

When I think of the greatest thinkers in modern Christianity, I don’t think of the notorious Fred Phelps, or the guy at the breakfast joint who has a Scofield Commentary on the table, a “South Will Rise Again” t-shirt on, and a God made “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” trucker hat on.  I think of men like the late Francis Schaeffer, Ravi Zacharias, R.C. Sproul, William Lane Craig, John C. Lennox, Peter Kreeft, Eleanor Stump, Michael Ramsden, Alister McGrath, Paul Copan, Gary Habermas, and Stephen C. Meyer.  None of them are on the fringe, but all of them are respected.  This angry fundamentalist riff that Eichenwald gives us doesn’t seem to reflect reality.  Does Ravi Zacharias sound angry at homosexuals here?  Hardly.  Take William Lane Craig.  Does he sound like he is sympathetic to anti-science views? Not a chance.  What about Alister McGrath?  Does he sound like the fundamentalist anti-evolutionist that the author would make him out to be?  Not even close.  I mean, I can find atheists like Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, or PZ Meyer who say some pretty acerbic things about Christians—does that mean I dismiss them flat out and refuse to take any of their arguments seriously?  Hardly.

What this author is attempting to do is take the whole of evangelical Christianity and lump them into a straw man at whom he can toss fiery darts.  It doesn’t work.

I do however think his criticisms are worth looking at.  Many Christians cannot interact with an essay like this and make a lucid rebuttal.  If it were up to the guy at the breakfast joint, he’d reply with—“Well, my pastor says different.”  This is not the way to “give an apologetic.”  We are commanded to be able to provide answers.  Therefore, we must already in our pre-evangelism begin to look at what the questions are.  There are no new questions, only new people who ask them.  There have been several outstanding rebuttals already made elsewhere on the internet(Michael Kruger, Al Mohler, Daniel B. Wallace), and for those reasons, rather than focus on Eichenwald’s egregious attempts at exegesis, I am only going to focus on a few of his assumptions.

One of the first of his assumptions that is almost ubiquitous in the writings of the anti-Christian worldview adherants is the univocal contention that if you believe in God, this somewhow means you believe less in science.  I am reminded of C.S. Lewis who noted, “I believe in God like I believe in the sun.  Not because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  He also noted more specifically, “Man began science because he expected law in nature.  He expected law in nature because he believed in a lawgiver.

I am not going to go into a lengthy discussion about faith vs. science here, I have done it elsewhere.  What I am going to say is that the conflict doesn’t lie between faith and science.  It lies between two opposing worldviews, theism and naturalism.  Theism on the one hand says that all matter is derived from a purposeful agent; atheism on the other hand says that all matter is the end product of a mindless unguided process.  Let me ask you a question:  If you knew that the computer that aids the flight of a jumbo jet was the product of a mindless unguided process, would you trust it?

Secondly, this assertion that anyone who posits an intelligent agent as the creator of the universe is just absurd.  Let us look at it one way:  If I walk onto the beach and see giant letters that spell the name “Barack Obama,” do I suddenly deduce that this is the result of chance?  No, I posit a person.  Why?  Because words carry semiotic meaning.  Why is it then when the longest word in the history of man (the human genome) is seen, we suddenly posit chance and unguided process?

David Berlinski says it well:

I imagine this story being told to me by Jorge Luis Borges one evening in a Buenos Aires cafe.

His voice dry and infinitely ironic, the aging, nearly blind literary master observes that “the Ulysses,” mistakenly attributed to the Irishman James Joyce, is in fact derived from “the Quixote.”

I raise my eyebrows.

Borges pauses to sip discreetly at the bitter coffee our waiter has placed in front of him, guiding his hands to the saucer.

“The details of the remarkable series of events in question may be found at the University of Leiden,” he says. “They were conveyed to me by the Freemason Alejandro Ferri in Montevideo.”

Borges wipes his thin lips with a linen handkerchief that he has withdrawn from his breast pocket.

“As you know,” he continues, “the original handwritten text of the Quixote was given to an order of French Cistercians in the autumn of 1576.”

I hold up my hand to signify to our waiter that no further service is needed.

“Curiously enough, for none of the brothers could read Spanish, the Order was charged by the Papal Nuncio, Hoyo dos Monterrey (a man of great refinement and implacable will), with the responsibility for copying the Quixote, the printing press having then gained no currency in the wilderness of what is now known as the department of Auvergne. Unable to speak or read Spanish, a language they not unreasonably detested, the brothers copied the Quixote over and over again, re-creating the text but, of course, compromising it as well, and so inadvertently discovering the true nature of authorship. Thus they created Fernando Lor’s Los Hombres d’Estado in 1585 by means of a singular series of copying errors, and then in 1654 Juan Luis Samorza’s remarkable epistolary novel Por Favor by the same means, and then in 1685, the errors having accumulated sufficiently to change Spanish into French, Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, their copying continuous and indefatigable, the work handed down from generation to generation as a sacred but secret trust, so that in time the brothers of the monastery, known only to members of the Bourbon house and, rumor has it, the Englishman and psychic Conan Doyle, copied into creation Stendhal’s The Red and the Black and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and then as a result of a particularly significant series of errors, in which French changed into Russian, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Anna Karenina. Late in the last decade of the 19th century there suddenly emerged, in English, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and then the brothers, their numbers reduced by an infectious disease of mysterious origin, finally copied the Ulysses into creation in 1902, the manuscript lying neglected for almost thirteen years and then mysteriously making its way to Paris in 1915, just months before the British attack on the Somme, a circumstance whose significance remains to be determined.”

I sit there, amazed at what Borges has recounted. “Is it your understanding, then,” I ask, “that every novel in the West was created in this way?”

“Of course,” replies Borges imperturbably. Then he adds: “Although every novel is derived directly from another novel, there is really only one novel, the Quixote.”

All kidding aside, this is where his presumptions begin:

The first is that truth cannot be known.  This is a pervasive view in the academy today.   It used to go something like this:  “Look, What is true for me is true for me, and what is true for you is true for you—let’s all have our own truths and just be happy that way.”  This fell out of fashion a while ago because quite simply its absurd.  If someone were to make that statement, they aren’t only wanting you to believe it, they are wanting you to consider it absolute truth.  What they are saying is, “You should think this way too.  This is how all enlightened people think.”  The problem is, if that is true, then it is not the case that what is true for me is true for me and what is true for you is true for you.  If it is true for everybody, it isn’t just true for me.  This is a problem.

I am reminded of a talk I heard a guy give—he said that after engaging with a group of skeptics at a major university, a professor who was in attendance came up and challenged him to a verbal duel.  They ended up going to lunch the next day, and the professor began to tell this particular guy how he had greatly mistaken what Eastern logic is all about (the speaker happened to be from India though).  The professor had a problem with the idea that something is EITHER true OR it is false.  Something cannot be BOTH true AND false at the same time.  This is the law of the excluded middle or the law of non-contradiction.  So, this professor, in the middle of lunch began to regurgitate all his vast philosophical ideas about the Hegelian and Marxian dialectic down onto the placemats around him.

When he was finished, the professor began to cut into his food.  The man who had sat dumbfounded by all this then said, “So what you are telling me is that something cannot be EITHER true OR false?  It must be BOTH true AND false?”  The professor nodded and answered in the affirmative.  It was here that the professor was trapped.  The other man kindly said, “But if something can only be both true and false, rather than either true or false, aren’t you telling me that when looking at the world, EITHER I use the both/and view OR nothing else?”

At this point, the professor who had just put a piece of congealed halibut into his mouth uttered begrudgingly, “The EITHER/OR does seem to emerge doesn’t it?”  Something is true or it isn’t.  There is no alternative.

This is where things have begun to change in the last 20 years or so.  Now the common line is, “It isn’t that truth is relative to people; on the contrary, truth doesn’t exist.”    The view is that everyone thinks they have truth, and everyone is looking for it—but no one has it—which is good news because it is liberating.  The problem with this view is that when someone says, “There is no truth,” they are telling you that they believe the statement, “There is no truth” to be true.  Here is the rub:  It if were true that there were no such thing as truth, then what they are saying isn’t true.  But if it isn’t true that there is no such thing as truth, then what they have said is false.  But if there is no such thing as truth, then they have said absolutely nothing but in a very complicated way.  This is why British philosopher Roger Scruton says, “When someone tells you there is no such thing as truth, they are asking you not to believe them—so don’t.”

But you see, this presumption is even more sticky.  Today, the view has shifted to this idea that truth can be known, but it can only be known—but it can only be found in science.  Science alone can lay claim to truth.  The problem with this is obviously, it is a self-defeating statement.  If only science can make truth claims, it is false.  That isn’t a scientific statement, and science doesn’t say anything.  It is a method.  Hume said that all truth must be either self-evidently true or empirically verifiable—if it is neither—toss it to the flames.  Well, is his statement self-evident or empirically verifiable?  No. Toss it to the flames!  It was poor logic like this that caused ardent atheists like AJ Ayer and Antony Flew to reconsider their views.

But from this, the view has become that anyone who believes in God believes in something that cant be empirically tested—therefore they are believing in something that isn’t there.  Today, the politeness around this area of conversation has all but disappeared.  I used to hear things like, “John, I am happy that you believe what you believe.”  What they mean by that is “I can see that you are genuinely fulfilled as a Christian, and that your belief excites you, and that it has given you meaning.  I am happy that you believe this, and I wish I could believe it too, but I cant!”  I have heard that almost word for word over the years and I started to think about just what they were saying.  What they are saying is:  “Look John, I am happy that you are happy, but the reason you are happy is because of your faith (which they understand is believing in things that aren’t there). “  Now what do you call people who believe in things that aren’t there?  Crazy People!  What they are saying is, “John you are insane, but the main thing is, that you are happy and insane.  I am happy that you are happy, and I wish I could believe what you do, because I would like to be happy, too…but I simply cannot embrace such insanity and join you!”

The second assumption that Eichenwald holds is that faith is a positively bad thing.  It isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for society.  It is best demonstrated by people who go around blowing things up.  So the above politeness has turned into, “I am not happy for you.  I am against what you believe.  Faith is dangerous.”  I was reading something right after 9/11, and one of these atheist writers basically said, “Do you know what Christianity and the 9/11 hijackers have in common?  They fuel their fanaticism at the same holy gas station.”  The attack is on the idea of faith itself.  The problem is, there is a lack of understanding about what faith is that is prevalent today.

This idea that faith is blind belief in something absent of evidence, or even contrary to evidence, is a definition that goes against 2,000 years of Christian thought.  Of the hundreds of thousands of books written on the idea of faith, you will not find a definition of faith that sounds like that.  Likewise, faith is not believe in something that makes you happy, or is convenient, or fulfills your wishes.  Faith isn’t fantasy.  The word faith, when used in the bible (pistis), is always used in response to something that us true and real.  In other words, it would be like me saying, “I have faith in the President.”  By my saying this, I am acknowledging that he exists, that he is trustworthy.  It doesn’t matter whether or not I want him to exist—if he exists, he exists whether or not I wish for him to or not.  Secondly, I am acknowledging that he is dependable and keeps his promises (perhaps the current president is a bad example here).

This is the sense that the Bible speaks of faith.  It talks about knowing that he is, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  That is a statement about his truthfulness.  In Hebrews it talks about being “certain (fully persuaded) as to things that are not seen,” or talking about a full and complete assurance that something is real.  Notice, that this use of the word faith is completely different than saying, “I hope the Lakers win tonight,” because this cannot be guaranteed.  Christianity claims to be rooted in reality and truth.

The third assumption that Eichenwald holds is that many Christians are arrogant because they are certain.

Now, to set this up, we have to realize that many people find Christianity to be offensive because it claims to reveal things as they really are.  If I were to say to you that there is a book on the table—and you look and there isn’t—then my statement claims to reveal something that is wrong.  It doesn’t reflect any reality.  Either I was mistaken, or there is moral issue of deception at play.  It is the revelatory nature of truth that makes people uncomfortable.

Aristotle wrote a book titled, Politics which sheds light here.  In the book he asks for you to imagine a perfect society—and in this perfect society, a perfect person suddenly shows up.  They are so perfect that they are considered to be a god amongst men.  Aristotle asks, “What would a society do with such a person?”  He is very clear in the answer:  They would be killed.  Why?  A perfect person, if he ever did show up in our midst; his very presence would reveal our faults and all our imperfect, and even the imperfection of our society.  In other words, would you want it to be openly revealed, who you are?  Who you really are?

This is what Jesus claimed to be—a God amongst men—a being without fault.  Do you see the problem?  When Jesus himself stood before a judge, he proclaimed, “Everyone who is on the side of truth believes in me.” To this, the judge replied, “What is truth?”, and then walked away.

If you knew the moral complications that were happening inside of the man examining Jesus, you would understand—but interestingly enough, the man proclaims to the crowd that he finds no fault in Jesus—that is to say, nothing deceptive or morally wrong.

It is the idea of certainty that makes many of our contemporary friends upset.  In fact, this is what Eichenwald is driving at.  “How can you be so rude as to be so certain?”

I remember talking with a friend who happened to be a Buddhist.  She had a problem with what I was saying about Christianity.   She said to me, “Christianity is so arrogant.  It claims to be the only right way.  How can you hold to such a morally abhorrent view?”  I replied to her, “Do you follow the teachings of the Buddha?”  To this, she replied in the affirmative.  I asked her, “Didn’t the Buddha, after leaving Hinduism to start his own system, say that he rejected the Vedas?  Doesn’t this fly as an insult in the face of millions of Hindus?  How can you believe such an abhorrent view?”  To this, she said, “Uhh, John, I don’t like where this is going.”

Here is the thing, whenever you say that something is true, you are saying that any contrary statement is not true.  Further, when you say that Christianity is true, and that those who follow God are going to heaven, many people take offense to this.  It is as if they think you are saying, “I know I am going to heaven—I am better than you—you aren’t going.”  That isn’t at all what the Christian faith says.  What it says is that those who trust in God will inherit the Kingdom of God.

But this is where the idea of certainty gets uncomfortable to people.  They will say, “Surely being good is all that matters.  If I am good, and God is loving, how could he send me to hell?”  The interesting thing is that in the Bible, Jesus addresses this very question.  A guy asks him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? No-one is good, but God alone.” (If good people are going to heaven, and only God is good, then who is going to heaven?  We need help.  In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a story that is pertinent to our situation, which shows us that there are only two possibilities as to how a person can become righteous, either (1) we make ourselves righteous or (2) someone else makes us righteous.

So the question persist:  “How can you be so certain, when it all seems so fuzzy?” Now, my first answer would be, “On what grounds am I certain that my wife loves me?”  If I asked this of my Dad, he would reply, “After 30 plus years of marriage, I am absolutely certain that she loves me.”  You know, I think God wants for us to be certain.  It is no mistake that in the Bible we are told, “These things are written so that you may know…”  You see, there is a basic issue with the question itself.  Here it is:  When people ask me, “How can you be so certain,” they are presuming that I am coming to believe in God because of all the reading I have done or all the high power arguments that I can give.  In truth, nothing could be further from reality.  Of course the arguments are important—but, think of my wife again.  I can’t prove to you through mathematics that she loves me.  Even the certainty we get in mathematics cannot be found in science.  We can’t get it in medicine; we can’t get it in biology.  What we can talk about is evidence.  I would say that I am an evidence based Christian.  There is no difference, except that when it comes to eternity, there is more at stake than in science.  My faith in God is based on evidence just as the doctor has faith in medicine.  Neither can be proved in the mathematical sense of proof, but evidence can be given to support the veracity of what we believe.

Many people will follow the Freudian path and say, “You know, you Christians, you have just constructed God.  You need an idea of God in order to be happy.”  The problem with that, besides the fact that if God does exist, this very argument can be turned around at atheism; is that Christianity and its veracity has nothing to do with my intellect or my desires.  Christianity isn’t about man looking for God, it is about God looking for man.  The central claim is that God became a man in Jesus and that through Jesus God was revealed to us.  Let’s supposing I wanted to get to know you.  I could submit you to a PET scan and put all kinds of microbes and wires on your head, and even monitor your heart—It might be true that I could learn a lot about you this way—but I could not know you this way.  To know you, you have to reveal yourself to me.  We have to talk.  I can begin to develop, based on our relationship a high level of confidence in you.  I have a high degree of confidence in my wife because I know her.  What gives me the confidence?  She does.  It isn’t that within myself, I have to come up with all this confidence—no.  The power of my faith lies in the object that I place my faith in.  God gives me the confidence the more I get to know him.  I am confident in Christ, but this confidence has nothing to do with myself.

In fact, only the Christian faith is set up this way.  If you look at every other belief system, you will find that it is either based in knowing, feeling, or doing.  You must master a certain set of thought, experience something specific, or follow a list of rules.  In philosophy we would call this epistemology, existentialism, or pragmatism.  The Christian faith does not rest on any of these three.  The Christian faith isn’t a system of knowing, even though there is no knowledge more important than knowing Jesus as Lord.  It isn’t an existential system where one must engage with feeling—even though, there is no feeling greater than coming to know the Lord.  Finally, it is not a system of pragmatism, even though Jesus said you will know true Christians by what “They do.”

The Christian system is a system of being.  It has to do with Christ’s being in us.  You can take every religious system and remove its founder and it will still stand.  Remove Muhammad, and Islam can still stand.  Someone else could have been the prophet.  You can remove Buddha from Buddhism and it can still stand.  In Christianity, if you remove Jesus you have nothing.  In fact, Michael Ramsden quips, “If you remove Christ from Christian, you are left with Ian and Ian cannot help you.”

When people follow these other systems, it is as if they are basing their faith on a merit system, and ultimately in their abilities.  The question, “How can you be so certain,” then has a more stinging meaning.  It is as if they are saying, “Who are you to be so confident that you will be accepted by God?  You are a human like the rest of us.”  To this I say, “absolutely—I am just like you.”  The secret is, my relationship with God isn’t set up on a merit system.  It isn’t like a university system.  In school, how you do you know you will get a degree?  Well, honestly you don’t.  If you told your professor on the first day, “I am absolutely confident I will ace this degree program,” I am sure he would reply, “Yeah?  We will see.”  You cannot be certain here.  Not only that, but the professor himself cannot guarantee you that you will get a degree.  Why?  It is a merit based system.  Either you meet the requirements or you fall short (there is that either/or again).  The problem with God is that many people think that he works in the same way.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

When I met my wife, what if I had decided the minute I met her, to propose marriage?  What if I brought her a cookbook, and in the cookbook it stated, “These are the laws for making Cherry Pie.”  The law says, “Thou shalt take 100 grams of flour, and 40 grams of cherries…., and so much sugar and water…and heat it up to such a temperature,” and so on and so forth.  What if I then told her, “Do you understand how to follow these laws?”  She replies in the affirmative.  Then I reply with, “Of course I wouldn’t dream of accepting you now, but if you will keep the rules in this book for the next 30 or 40 years I will think about accepting you—will you marry me?”

Unfortunately this is how many people think about God.  We wouldn’t begin to insult a human being with this type of thinking, yet we gladly subject God to it.

The last thing I want to say comes by way of Isaiah Berlin.  Berlin was a 20th century polymath who lived in the United Kingdom.  He was a brilliant thinker and he wrote on a variety of topics.   One of the things he wrote a lot about was the idea of freedom. He asked often, what does it mean to live in a free country?  He talked at length about monism—or the view that there is only one form of truth. He equated this with the despotic regimes of Hitler and Stalin.  Unfortunatly, Berlin saw tyranny first hand and they bothered him.  He began to say that if you want a free society, pluralism must be allowed to live.  Now, keep in mind, his definition of pluralism is different from the way a postmodernist would define it.  What he wanted was a free, loving, and just society.  The essence of this is pluralism.  There are multiple truths.  We are back at where this essay began.  Here is what Berlin said:

“The enemy of pluralism is monism — the ancient belief that there is a single harmony of truths into which everything, if it is genuine, in the end must fit. The consequence of this belief (which is something different from, but akin to, what Karl Popper called essentialism — to him the root of all evil) is that those who know should command those who do not. Those who know the answers to some of the great problems of mankind must be obeyed, for they alone know how society should be organized, how individual lives should be lived, how culture should be developed. This is the old Platonic belief in the philosopher-kings, who were entitled to give orders to others. There have always been thinkers who hold that if only scientists, or scientifically trained persons, could be put in charge of things, the world would be vastly improved. To this I have to say that no better excuse, or even reason, has ever been propounded for unlimited despotism on the part of an elite which robs the majority of its essential liberties.

Someone once remarked that in the old days men and women were brought as sacrifices to a variety of gods; for these, the modern age has substituted the new idols: isms. To cause pain, to kill, to torture are in general rightly condemned; but if these things are done not for my personal benefit but for an ism — socialism, nationalism, fascism, communism, fanatically held religious belief, or progress, or the fulfillment of the laws of history — then they are in order. Most revolutionaries believe, covertly or overtly, that in order to create the ideal world eggs must be broken, otherwise one cannot obtain an omelette. Eggs are certainly broken — never more violently than in our times — but the omelette is far to seek, it recedes into an infinite distance. That is one of the corollaries of unbridled monism, as I call it — some call it fanaticism, but monism is at the root of every extremism.”

This is a sobering thought. After reading this, I found myself struggling with it.  I believe that there is one truth—am I really like that?  I think the answer to this question is answered simply: Can one hold truth and at the same time extend grace?

I think what Eichenwald and Berlin and many who hold this view would say is: How can you dare to know truth—you will judge everyone else with it!  Instead, we need to love.

Here is the problem: Love discriminates, love judges, love fights.  Love does not exist in the absence of judgment, but only in the presence of it.  Have you read the brilliant treatise written by modern day philosophers, “The Black Eyed Peas?  They have a song called, “Where is the Love,” and in the song it says at one point, “If you never know truth then you never know love” I don’t know if they wrote that lyric themselves, but it is exactly right.

Peter Kreeft says it this way,

“Love fights. Love cares. Love discriminates. And therefore there is in Scripture, very clearly, a thing called the ‘wrath of God’. God hates all enemies of love as the doctor hates the cancer that’s killing his beloved patient. If you really love a human being you will hate all the dehumanizing forces that are harmful to that human being.  If on the other hand you don’t really love a human being but just tolerate a human being, then you will hate nothing, so, love and hate go together. Love of a human being, no matter who he is, and hate of a human being, no matter who he is, are exact opposites, they are black and white. But love of all humans and hate of all sins – that goes together.”

Consider for a moment—what is mercy and what is justice?  Well, for humans, we always extend mercy at the expense of justice, and we exercise judgment at the expense of mercy.  If your sister is raped, and the judge lets the offender go free, saying, “we must be merciful and understanding of those who rape,” then where is the justice?  In Christianity alone, do we see a God who exercises mercy not at the expense of justice, but through the exercise of his justice.  This is the justice of the Cross.

A friend once asked me, “Don’t all roads lead up the mountain, to God?”  The issue is this, if you stood at the top of a mountain, could you see all the paths at once?  Where would you have to be to have such a perspective?  Answer:  In multiple places at once—omniscient.  So, when a person says that all paths lead to the top of the mountain, they are saying that they can see all the paths.  If only God has that type of view, who are they claiming to be?  I think Jesus answer to the question, “Don’t all paths lead to God” would be, “There are no paths that lead to God, only the path that God has made in coming to us.”

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God’s Character

Have you ever known you were called to do something, and you were good at it?  As assured as you can be that you are right for this particular thing, we cannot escape our human instinct that manifests itself in a performance mentality—which is usually judged by numbers.   I remember Michael Ramsden, who is the European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, once admitted that he had lived by this rubric, and then at some point had retreated from it.  Though his ministry was based around this numbers system, he says a turning point came when he was preaching in South Africa, at a golf club.   A prominent member of the club had arranged an evening meal. Hoping for 60 people to come, it turned out that 137 came. There were more non-Christians than Christians. The group was comprised predominantly high class business types.  Michael says that he was extremely excited about the meeting, but then minutes before it was time for him to speak, a colleague approached him and said that the meeting was a mistake—that this audience would not be receptive.

He said that he went on to give the worst sermon he has ever preached.  None of his points seemed to connect—no one seemed to be moved at all by what he had to say.  At the end, Ramsden gave an invitation—and he also handed out cards for people to critique what they just heard. 

He asked them to mark their card, on each respective question:  A to E. These people would essentially grade his sermon. 

Grade it:

 A = one of the best sermons you have ever heard

E = The worst.

The card also had a place for them to circle a statement.  From “I became a Christian tonight” to “Never invite me again.”  Ramsden says that after the meeting he couldn’t sleep.  He was intently concerned about what had just happened. 

The next morning at 7:30, the organizer called him.  Michael said his wife answered the phone and told him who was on the line.  He was hesitant when he put the phone up to his ear:

46 people ticked box A – ‘I gave my life to Jesus.’

48 people ticked box B – ‘I want to go to the Bible study.’

4 ticked box E.

Weeks later, most of the people from box B became Christians.   2 from box E did too.

Ramsden said he learned valuable lesson.  He decided that from that day forth,  to always give people the opportunity, no matter how I feel. He said, “My feelings are not a strong basis to operate this ministry from!”

He’s right you know.  It’s about trust—Trusting God.

 

There is a problem though.  Many Christians are not sure if they can morally trust God.  Non-Christians like Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, would say our God is morally abhorrent.  He even goes on to say that the theology of the cross is abusive and sickening. Here is the thing—and I am not trying to exculpate Dawkins—but—if you don’t know God is trustworthy – you can’t trust him.

 

Well, is God trustworthy?  What is his true character?

In the book of Jonah, which is arguably one of the oldest pieces of Biblical literature we have, we see a remarkable story about God’s compassion. The whole city of Nineveh was saved.  Who was Nineveh?  Just know that they were considered an enemy nation to the Israelites—if for no other reason than they enjoyed using the skin of Israelites for lampshades.  Isn’t this remarkable that God would have mercy on them—and use an Israelite to bring the message to them?  You’d think that was encouraging.  Mass salvation of an enemy nation. So, just how does Jonah the preacher feel about it?

Chapter 4:1 – it displeased Jonah greatly – (literally gut wrenchingly exceedingly upset) and he was angry.

As Christians, we get displeased that revival doesn’t come.  Here is Jonah made that it has come.  He hated the people he was preaching to, but he knew God was gracious and compassionate.  In fact, you could say it this way:  The kind of God he was, is Jonah’s problem.

Often we can get angry and upset when we see the people who are our enemies forgiven and restored.  Doesn’t it sometimes seem like God is schizophrenic?  One the one hand he is loving and nice, and on the other, there is fierce wrath.  We need to not set them in opposition to each other, but see them in the light of each other.

In Jane Austin’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, there is a scene where Mr. Darcy says he loves her (Elizabeth) against his will, his better judgment, and his character. (Unsurprisingly she rejects him!)  If there are some people who know you (everything- the real thing), YET they love you – those are the most valuable relationships. To be known warts and all – and loved.  What could be better?

Here is the truth of the matter:  True love does not exist in the absence of judgment – but in the presence of it.  Think of a marriage where as you get to know each other and in the face of flaws etc., you healthily grow in depth.  As they get to know you and your faults better, the love gets stronger.

God really knows you. Do you have emotional stability that comes from knowing that God loves you despite your flaws? (Tis doesn’t mean God is happy with them or that we should excuse them). He knows it. God is not interested in covering things up. That’s not the path to true relationship.

 Have you ever said something stupid to a friend and made them upset or hurt them?  Lets supposing the next day you go to them to apologize.  It’s great when they forgive you.  All is well in the world, right?  But, consider if they say, “It’s nothing” – and walk away, and you know – it’s something! And now there is something between you. It’s not the same.  Things are estranged.  Or suppose we try to make up for it. We make a fuss. We try to serve them in some way to earn the forgiveness rather than look at the problem. We no longer have real relationship. Covering up wrongdoing (in that sense) becomes a barrier to relationship.

Isn’t that what we are after?  Restored relationship?

The word Compassion – comes from ecclesiastical Latin. It literally means ‘With Passion.’ It means to make a moral judgment and be moved from the depth of your being to do something about it. You have compassion when you say, “That’s wrong – we have to DO something!”

 

God is compassionate in this way.  He looks at the world and all its sin, and he is deeply moved to step in.  He goes to a cross, NOT to cover our sings—but to justify us by publically dealing with it.  He has to deal with the wrath of God.  God is fully merciful but also fully just.  He cannot extend mercy while at the same time undermining justice.  Justice isn’t served despite merry, it is served through it. 

Through Christ on the Cross.

The message is nothing other than that while we were still sinners, he found us! He had already paid the price, he has moved! He knows exactly what we are like, and what was required. And he’s with us.

We hear the phrase, “God loves you” so much, it becomes meaningless.  The truth is, God loves you and me because he knows exactly who we are—and what we have done.  He isn’t deluded.

We don’t have to pretend to be someone we aren’t with God.  He is already fully aware.  It isnt any help to myself or God to refuse to be transparent with him.  It also gives me transparency with others. I know I have been forgiven – because he forgave me.

There is only one basis for me to be forgiven:

If I have done wrong to someone – I should not be able to say ‘I’m forgiven’ – except and unless the other party is willing to forgive, and offers it – and through repentance I have received that forgiveness.

If that’s the case, it is not arrogant for me to say, “I am forgiven.”

We are dependent on him, his promise. God has said it! It’s dealt with. So I can be secure, whatever other insecurities I might wrestle with.  Are you totally assured as to the character of God? Are you utterly sure of him?  Are you utterly sure he really means his words of love and assurance? That he has chosen, called and loved you? That’s the reality!

Are you prepared to fail on that basis?

The basis on which I know I can fail, is that I know it’s not about me. I do and can blow it. When preaching or leading worship, it’s not about how many respond etc. I am okay of others reject me on the basis that God has accepted me.

We need confidence – to trust the God who transforms lives.

In all other worldviews God can be merciful, by passing over his justice. For us, it’s not at the expense of his justice, BOTH operate together.

 

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