Saturday, July 30, 2011

Swapping Rights with our Biological Cousins

Whatever natural history museum you might enter, I will wager that you will be assailed by the “established fact” that we share 98-99% of our genes with chimps. However, this “fact” might not be as well established as the museum might like you to think. Biologist David Tyler writes:

• For over 30 years, the public have been led to believe that human and chimpanzee genetics differ by mere 1%. This ‘fact’ of science has been used on innumerable occasions to silence anyone who offered the thought that humans are special among the animal kingdom. “Today we take as a given that the two species are genetically 99% the same.” However, this “given” is about to be discarded. Apparently, it is now OK to openly acknowledge that those who are involved in this research have never been comfortable that the 1% figure was an accurate summary of the scientific information. But more recent studies have made it impossible to sustain the old orthodoxy. They have raised “the question of whether the 1% truism should be retired.”

More interesting than the biological facts is the question of why these “facts” had been so thoroughly promoted by the scientific community. Along with this strenuous assertion also comes the “conclusion” that we are kissing cousins to the chimp – along with several other hairy “relatives” – and that they should be accorded rights consistent with their levels of DNA correspondence with us. Regarding this narrow biological equation, Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, writes:

• DNA is beside the point. To concede so much to biology risks taking such privileges away from ourselves. [. . .] Chimps may resemble Homo sapiens in a tedious and literal sense, but in everything that makes us what we are H sapiens is unique indeed. Biology, in its proof of our physical similarity to other primates, underlines its own irrelevance.

What Jones argues is incontestable! It really doesn’t matter how similar we are DNA-wise to the chimp. Profound and obvious differences still remain, however we might explain them. Just ask your chimp to write you a sonnet!

Equally astounding is the suggestion that we should extend our rights to other living things based on our DNA likeness. I think that I had read that we share 50% of our genes with mosquitoes. Should we then criminalize killing them? Should we not use antibiotics against the Giardia parasite, which ravages our intestinal system? And if we do pass such legal prohibitions, would this not bring our legal system crashing down, doing away with the concept of rights entirely? Clearly, by extending to chimps, apes, and mosquitoes similar rights to the ones we enjoy, we endanger our own rights to our own detriment.

So let me ask again, “Why would evolutionists push such notions?” The most direct answer is, “They have vested interests – professional and monetary – for perpetuating their beliefs.” However, this doesn’t explain much. Why have they vested themselves in such questionable and costly ideas to begin with?

To answer such a question, one needs to be a doctor of the human soul. Since I am not that, all I can do is raise questions. “Is it that the shock value and novelty of these ideas is so attractive?” Or perhaps rebellion – the desire to trash traditional, restrictive values – is so irresistible? Perhaps it’s better to hold my tongue at this point.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Honoring God in All Ways, Even Nationally

I was just reading about another UN initiative attempting to overturn traditional sexual values:

• Campaigners at the United Nations are seeking more permissive laws and policies towards homosexuality, drug use, explicit sexual education, contraception, and prostitution on all levels of world government, framed as advocacy for youth’s sexual and reproductive health and “rights”…the UN Population Fund, issued a statement expressing a vision of “a world where Young People’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights are fully realized and where youth can experience and celebrate their sexuality.”

• Another major “sexual rights” proponent is Planned Parenthood. The international abortion and contraceptive juggernaut published a “sexual rights” guide ahead of the conference that denounced “widespread denial of young people’s sexuality”…“It is important for all young people around the world to be able to explore, experience and express their sexualities in healthy, positive, pleasurable and safe ways,” it states, going on to list abortion-on-demand as essential to “youth-friendly” health services.

Again, I found myself struggling with the question, “As a Christian, what must I do?” Interestingly, Christians come up with very different answers. One noted Christian had written:

• [Political engagement] is culturally impotent in dealing with the depraved hearts, minds and souls of a pagan world. Satan is pleased when any discourse designed for Christ and His gospel is turned into a political rally to pacify unsaved people in their sin while at the same time creating a superficial morality that is not based upon the salvific work of Christ alone! The tragic result is unredeemed people are left to feel comfortable and safe in a ‘Christian morality’—yet they are still lost, still dead in their sins.

I don’t think that there is any solid Biblical basis to argue against the primacy of salvation. However, should our Biblical preoccupation with the promotion of the Gospel preclude all other responsibilities? It seems that the Gospel imposes upon us holistic responsibilities for the welfare of all people:

• Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts… (Amos 5:14-15)

However, Michael Spencer attempts to argue that these responsibilities will detract from our number one emphasis:

• Evangelicals have linked their beliefs with political conservatism and the culture war, which non-Christian leaders perceive as bad for society…We have done so at the detriment of our faith. Christians have been so wrapped up in the political process and especially over the last couple of years…that we have ignored our number one mission, which is to tell the world about a loving and merciful God.

Spencer’s argument is not only with our failure to give enough attention to “our number one mission,” it’s also with the conservative causes we’ve chosen to undertake. However, should we not speak out against the murder of the unborn or against the insipient promotion of destructive sexual permissiveness? Of course, there are many other social justice issues worth championing. There’s poverty. However, we’ve seen how governmental entitlement programs have exacerbated the problem, rather than solving it. Therefore, for the most part, the church has tried to address this problem on the local front with homeless shelters, soup kitchens and pantries. Taking this low-key approach has avoided the social conflict that has arisen over the national debate on abortion.

There’s also the challenge of our failing schools. Once again, the churches haven’t been impressed with the political solutions which generally involve more testing and more money. Christians tend to perceive that this is merely a matter of throwing good money on top of bad. There are deeply entrenched problems in the system – philosophical, disciplinary, and behavioral – that additional money might simply enable. Instead, the church has opted to provide supplemental literacy programs and after-school programs.

Although Christians have also provided abortion-alternative clinics, most Christians realize that this great evil must also be challenged on the national level. There is no doubt that our causes have made us very unpopular with vast segments of our educated elite – so unpopular that we are utterly amazed by the things they say about us. For instance, Robin Meyers, in Why the Religious Right is Wrong, writes,

• Religious fanatics who run the country…are close to realizing their vision of a heaven on earth: an American theocracy.

Mel White, in Religion Gone Bad, writes
• We must resist before fundamentalists do what they have promised and turn the world’s oldest democracy into a theocracy ruled entirely by “righteous men.”

Although we realize that these charges are totally unjustified, many Christians have been deeply troubled by them and the obvious contempt that they reflect, even to the point of abandoning the “culture wars.” Understandably, they feel that we are turning the world against us, even at the expense of the penetration of the Gospel. They argue that we have to retreat and strengthen the things that remain, the basics – personal piety, Bible teaching, and love within the body of Christ.

Although I’m in sympathy with this perspective, I think that we can’t ignore the more global out-workings and requirements of the Gospel. Here’s my reasoning:


1. GOD REQUIRES OBEDIENT TO HIM ABOVE ALL ELSE: But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20)

2. IT IS WRONG TO WITHHOLD DOING GOOD, PERHAPS EVEN ON THE NATIONAL LEVEL: Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:17)

3. WE ARE REQUIRED TO SPEAK UP: Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephes. 5:11; Ezekiel 33:6)

4. THIS INCLUDES DOING JUSTICE: …Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17)

5. WE SHOULD NOT BE DETERRED SIMPLY BECAUSE THE WORLD WILL HATE US. THE WORLD WILL HATE US ANYWAY: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)


Martin Luther King had wisely observed,

• It may be true that a law can’t make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.

This observation demonstrates that we can and do legislate morality. I think of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 abolishing much of the slavery within the USA. I think of the 30 year campaign waged by William Wilberforce and his Christian associates against slavery, which finally resulted in legislation to ban all slavery from the British Empire.


One atheistic journal wrote,

• European Christianity failed to prevent the mass slaughter between the faithful in the Great War and actually contributed to World War II, insofar as conservative churches supported fascism. The failure of the churches to provide sound moral guidance may help to explain the [European] Continent’s postwar lack of enthusiasm of religion. (“The Big Religion Questions Finally Solved,” Free Inquiry, Jan. 2009, 29)

This is an extreme statement. Although many conservative churches lost their Biblical bearing and supported the status quo – the German State – some didn’t. However, this quotation illustrates an important point. Although the world may damn us for our political involvement, they will also damn us for our lack of political involvement, and sometimes for good reason. The southern church failed to challenge the status quo of segregation and often even upheld it. Understandably, this generation accuses them for this failure. But perhaps, the next generation will accuse us for our failure to address the social ills of this day more strenuously!


Western Civilization is becoming less tolerant of our freedoms of religion and of speech. They now perceive that our freedoms are interfering with their freedoms. Here are a few examples:

1. A Christian Pharmacist is required to sell the Day-After pill,
2. Pastors required to keep silent regarding homosexuality (Canada)
3. The New Hate Crimes bill also proscribes any speech that might possibly contribute to a hate crime.
4. Christians fired for speaking off the job about their faith.
5. Christians required to allow their facilities to be used for purposes they regard as unethical (Ocean Grove)
6. Discrimination against school pro-life groups and Christian groups (Hastings Law)
7. Suit against Bible publisher because of “homophobic” passages.
8. On-line dating service was required against their faith to also accommodate LGBTs match-ups (E Harmony)

There is now also talk against allowing churches to religiously discriminate in hiring. This also includes who we call as pastors and teachers! It seems that we will not be able to avoid legal conflict, not if we want to preserve our faith and that of our children. Instead, I think that we have to pay careful attention to the words of Jude:

• Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 3-4)

This is no reason to restrict this counsel to the local level. Justin Martyr, regarded by some as the first Christian apologist, didn’t. He addressed his defense of Christianity to,

• To the Emperor Titus Ælius Adrianus Antoninus Pius Augustus Caesar, and to his son Verissimus the Philosopher, and to Lucius the Philosopher, the natural son of Caesar, and the adopted son of Pius, a lover of learning, and to the sacred Senate, with the whole People of the Romans, I, Justin…present this address and petition in behalf of those of all nations who are unjustly hated and wantonly abused, myself being one of them.

We too must “contend earnestly for the faith.” Those who despise us will not desist. They are even in our churches, bringing lawsuits against us, alleging discrimination. I ask myself if there is any way to avoid the conflict and remain faithful to God. I don’t see how.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

To Judge is to Love

We want our Christian faith to be attractive. We’ve heard the many voices of our culture clamoring against it, so we modify our faith to make it amenable to our culture. This happens in many ways. After science had assured us that the universe always existed – the steady-state theory – the church jumped onto this bandwagon to show the scientific community that the church was amenable to science. After the scientific community abandoned the steady-state theory in favor of the big-bang, the church jumped-ship to the big-bang theory to demonstrate that it was progressive and in step with the latest “findings.”

Now, according to sociologist and preacher Tony Campolo, “we have no right to judge other religions.” Why not? For one thing, this kind of judging is not in line with the educated sentiments of our culture. According to multiculturalism, we don’t have any right to judge other cultures or religions. To do so just shows our prejudices. We thereby become Islamophobic or Hinduphobic. According to multiculturalism, all belief systems are basically the same! Perhaps there are differences, but they are only superficial. Eckhart Tolle puts it like this:

• If you go deep enough in your religion, then you all get to the same place It’s a question of going deeper, so there’s no conflict here. The important thing is that religion doesn’t become an ideology…the moment you say 'only my belief' or 'our belief' is true, and you deny other people’s beliefs, then you’ve adopted an ideology. And then religion becomes a closed door.

Tolle represents the prevailing spirit of the day. Truth is a matter of finding those universal principles that unite all humankind and all religions. Unity is in, and distinctions separate and are out. Ironically, Tolle has made his own distinctions, his own statement of faith. While he blames others for claiming to have the truth, he too is claiming to have the truth. His truth is that everyone is the same, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong and is a “closed door.” However, there’s no way around making truth-claims.

Campolo falls into this same trap. When he claims that we have no right to judge other religions, he himself is judging other religions. Those religions that judge are wrong; those who don’t judge are right. Those who judge are walking in darkness; those don’t judge are walking in the light. Sadly, he fails to see that he too is judging.

Besides, a religion that doesn’t judge has no boundaries or substance. To not judge other beliefs, is also to not affirm one’s own beliefs. A Christian believes that Jesus died for the sins of the world. However, all other religions reject this belief. If it is illegitimate to judge that these other religions are wrong about Jesus, then it is also impossible to believe that I am right about Jesus. Present-day Judaism denies that Jesus is the Messiah. If I can’t make a judgment about this claim, then I also can’t affirm that He is the Messiah.

Judgment is a natural and necessary part of life. It may sound harsh, but there is no way around it. Nor does judgment preclude love. My wife judges me about the way I clean and where I through my clothes. She even judges some of my beliefs! Fortunately, our love doesn’t require that we throw all judgment out the window. We can love despite our disagreements about running the household. There can be unity even in the midst of diversity and our differing opinions. That’s life!

It’s also life to judge other religions and value systems. We judge the suicidal cult of Jim Jones. We dismiss the truth claims of Heaven’s Gate, whose members committed suicide in order to board a passing comet. We justifiably deride Nazism. We warn against the impact of certain religions. Understandably, the Bible is full of such warnings and judgments against other religions.

How then can Campolo make the judgment that we “have no right to judge other religions?” He asserted something to this effect:

• Jesus even claimed that He didn’t come to judge the world but to save it. What right then have we to judge the world?”

Although Jesus didn’t come to bring judgment upon the world, He clearly said many things of judgment. Here’s just a few:

• Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are…Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (Matthew 23:13-25)

Although His strongest denunciations were against the religious leadership, Jesus also said many things in judgment against His own disciples:

• Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:23).

This points to something often ignored by our permissive society. Judging can be loving! We correct our children and their beliefs because we love them. We also judge the beliefs of others because we care about them. We might sternly advise a friend to not proceed with his plan to have an adulterous affair. We might alert him to its impact upon his entire family. We also have a responsibility towards those of others religions, although there are legitimate and difficult questions about how to proceed with this.

In contrast, Campolo warns us against making any assessment regarding who’s in and who’s out. Although such judgments can be difficult and dangerous, even Jesus gives us license to make such judgments. According to Him, repentance was a necessary requirement or sign of salvation:

• Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. (Luke 10:13-15)

• Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:1-5)

Following Jesus’ lead, we have a duty to warn the unrepentant that if they refuse to repent, the Bible offers little hope. Love requires such a warning. However, instead of issuing such warnings, Campolo insists that those who refuse to repent have a post-mortem hope. To support his claim, he cited a verse whose interpretation remains very uncertain:

• He [Christ] was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water. (1 Peter 3:18-20)

However, this verse says nothing about any second chances after death. Instead, it talks specifically about Noah’s contemporaries. By citing this verse, Campolo is extending a temporary palliative, a false hope.

Jesus also taught about another necessary criterion for salvation. He insisted that even the people of the Promise, the Jews, had to believe in Him:

• I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins. (John 8:24).

Christ Himself has given us authority to warn people that if they refuse to believe in Jesus, they are without hope. Therefore, the Christian to proclaim the necessity of faith in Christ. This truth is taught throughout the New Testament. John the Baptist proclaimed.

• Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)

The Apostles likewise judged the ruling Sanhedrin:

• “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

This might sound judgmental and exclusivistic, but it’s also Christianity. A watered-down and compromised “Christianity” might win friends in the world but not Christ, who stated:

• I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Rev. 3:15-16)

Repentance isn’t a suggestion; it’s a requirement. It seems that everything that Jesus said was in judgment of some attitudes or beliefs. When He sent out His disciples into all the world, He instructed them to teach the very things that He had taught them (Matthew 28:18-20), instead of telling them, “Well, just teach those things that accord with the beliefs of other peoples. Don’t offend by making judgmental statements.”

We are taught that the two greatest commandments are both centered upon love – loving God and then our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). But what does love require? Accommodation to social norms or adherence to the truths of God?

I had sent Dr. Campolo a copy of the above to which he and his assistant replied, asking me to remove it from my blog. I told them I would if I had misrepresented him. However, I would first need to re-hear the sermon. Upon listening to it again twice, I wrote them a second response attached below reaffirming what I had initially written along with highlighting some additional charges:

Dear Tony and James,

Thanks for the info about Ocean Grove carrying the sermon. Actually, I appreciate Dr. Campolo’s strong affirmations of Jesus and Scripture, his compassion for the poor, and also his humility. I would not hesitate to call him a “brother.” However, upon re-listening twice, I find that there are also many troubling elements, the very ones that I had responded to at the first.

After Campolo states that we can’t judge other religions, he justifies this by saying, “It does us well to not judge others [religions] lest we be judged.” This is a mis-appropriation of Matthew 7. Jesus wasn’t saying that we can’t judge the truth claims or means of salvation of other religions. He was talking about judging individuals. Nor was He saying that we absolutely can’t judge other people, but first we have to remove the blindness from our own eyes so that we can see clearly enough to remove the splinter from another’s eye.

He then tried to justify his position that we absolutely can’t judge by citing the fact that Jews, Muslims and Christians have all done evil things. The Jews committed genocide when they entered the Promised Land. This however is a misuse of Scripture, to equate jihad with what God had ordered the Israelites to do to the Canaanites, when they were carrying out the righteous command of God.

Besides, a Christian does not primarily judge other religions based upon their performance but upon their faith in Jesus – this is central – apart from works of the law.

Campolo next turned to judging the salvation of gays. Firstly, he misrepresented the texts of Leviticus against homosexuality, equating this practice with “touching the skin of a dead pig,” which he erroneously claims is part of the context where God calls homosexuality an abomination. He then wrongly invokes Romans 8:38-39 in hope of proving that homosexuals can’t be separated from God because of their sinful lifestyle.

Although I too believe that none can be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus, the real question is whether or not those who refuse to repent have actually come to Christ in saving faith. However, the Bible extends no more hope to the unrepentant than it does to those without faith.

Campolo then erroneously conflates two separate issues:

• Whether there is salvation through other religions – the issue at hand – and
• Whether God has spoken to those in other religions. (and whether He is at work in the hearts of the unsaved.)

Orthodox Christianity has never questioned #2. However, it has insisted that there is salvation through Christ alone. Although Campolo affirms the necessity of Christ, he seems to dismiss the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation.

Campolo then suggests that we shouldn’t judge (be too quick to condemn others to hell) because Jesus didn’t judge. Although Campolo seems to identify himself as an Evangelical, he is also very quick to judge Evangelicals, presenting them in an overly negative light. He does the very thing (judging) that he accuses others of doing. However, Jesus did do a lot of judging, even to assert that those who didn’t believe in Him were still in their sins.

Also against judging, Campolo suggests that 1 Peter 3 and 4 gives us hope of post-mortem salvation:

• 1 Peter 3:19-20 through whom also he [Jesus] went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water.

These verses are very controversial. But even if we take them literally that Jesus did actually descend into hell to preach, it says nothing about salvation. Nor does it suggest that He is still doing the same thing today. I certainly don’t want to limit God’s grace – and I even suspect that His grace will be more expansive than is explicitly promised in Scripture – it is also wrong to presumptuously assert that this proves post-mortem salvation. To speak for God where He hasn’t spoken is offensive to Him.

These are all significant issues. Campolo’s positions will have the effect of discouraging evangelism if salvation is to be found through other religions. They will also discourage Christians from making the critical distinctions that Scripture mandates that they make.

The Bible has consistently denounced the other religions – the Baalim, the Ashteroth – as sinful inventions, as attempts to rebelliously produce God-substitutes. We must also, in love, of course! They are all without excuse (Romans 1:20.)

After Tony’s sermon, we spoke to some of the youth involved in his ministry. Unsurprisingly, they reflected his “non-judgmental” stances. One asserted that the ideal was to “preach the Gospel and only if absolutely necessary, use words.” In fact, they were unable to even begin to use words intelligently, and became very uncomfortable and defensive in response to our questioning. They erroneously believed that it would be enough to just love others. This however isn’t the Gospel, and such an expectation will lead to shipwreck. Instead, Paul asserted:

• I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

Thanks for listening!

Your Brother, Daniel

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rejection of the Church and Gospel: Why?

Why are people walking away from the church? The latest survey indicates that people have been making their exodus en masse:

• In 1991, just one-quarter of adults (24%) were unchurched. That figure has ballooned by more than 50%, to 37% today.

Although there are undoubtedly many reasons for this, I think that the failure to truly grasp the Gospel is one of them. It took me many years to appreciate the Gospel. Although I had believed that Jesus is the promised Messiah who died for my sins, I just didn’t see that I was all that sinful. Consequently, I regarded myself as a fairly deserving guy, who was saved because, in some sense, I was worthy of it. I was more spiritual than the next guy. In fact, I had convinced myself that I was a pretty darn good catch.

As a result of this self-delusion, I never felt that I fit in. Worship was a meaningless bore; prayer was an arduous duty; and Christian fellowship was alienating and failed to affirm me. This is because I hadn’t truly known the Jesus who infuses these activities with richness. Worship was meaningless because my mind was fixed on the wrong thing – myself! Although I knew that I had problems, I didn’t fully grasp my real problem – sin. Prayer was empty because I failed to see how utterly hopeless and helpless I was without Christ. Not seeing my need, I failed to see the One who could more than compensate for it.

Of course, Christian fellowship was meaningless and alienating because I was either associating with people like me, all subtly competing to promote themselves rather than Christ, or people unlike me who were all about Christ. With these, I couldn’t connect. Neither group made me feel better about myself.

However, this changed, and it came about slowly through painful ordeals that revealed my true status – a hopeless sinner – before God. As God became more to me, the things of God also became more to me. But first, I had to decrease in my own estimation, and He had to increase.

John the Baptist’s disciples came to him. They were very troubled. There’s had been the top show in town. However, their ratings were taking a serious hit, and they felt that something had to be done about it:

• They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan--the one you testified about--well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him." (John 3:26)

John explained that this downturn was inevitable now that the Messiah Himself had arrived. Without any self-pity or disappointment, John informed his disciples, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Instead of lamenting his loss in prestige, John was rejoicing. He not only understood that this change must take place but also that it was for the glory of all of us.

Normally, we don’t like to decrease. Anyone knows it’s painful to decrease and it’s joyous to increase in money, attainments, recognition, power, and popularity. We have engineered our lives to increase in our own estimation and also in the estimation of the world. However, John rejoiced in the opposite. This is because he understood the far surpassing value of having the Christ:

• For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. (John 3:34-36)

There is no life without the Son. Neither is there any enduring peace or joy without the Son. Our increasing carries many hidden costs. It requires us to continually try to prove and establish ourselves. We become self-obsessed and obsessed with comparing ourselves to others. When we decrease in favor of our Messiah, His increasing becomes our increasing; His glory becomes our glory and also freedom from our self-obsessions. If I am named as the US Ambassador to the UN, I participate in the power and glory of the body that I now represent. This is even more true when we become the ambassador of the Master.

I gladly exult in my Christ’s increase. It means my increase. The Apostle Paul had also been painfully aware of those things that he relied on to increase his sense of self-importance. He wrote about his pedigree, his education, and his stellar performance of the law. In these things he had placed his trust. However, understanding the surpassing value of having Christ, he would now gladly decrease:

• But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philip. 3:7-9)

Paul’s education and good deeds were not worthless rubbish, but placing his trust in them was! They also had blinded him to the source of real righteousness and peace. I can now thank God for the painful trials, which have revealed to me that I have no “righteousness of my own.” Instead, He has given me something more valuable.

I will therefore gladly decrease and regard all of my self-esteem and self-trust as “rubbish that I may gain Christ.” I now perceived that in every area of my inadequacy – my doubts, worries, failures, and fears -- He was more than adequate for me. I longer need to justify myself, because He justifies me. He became for me my righteousness, sanctification, wisdom and strength (1 Cor. 1:30). Let Him increase, and me decrease!”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Fear of God: A Sermon

We should never think it an unusual thing or a strange experience when life turns nasty and smacks us down. King David, a man after God’s own heart, often experienced this. On one such occasion, while he was evading the pursuit of King Saul, while sojourning in Philistia, he and his 600 men returned to their camp in Ziklag to find that it had been totally destroyed by ravaging Amalekites. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Their entire families—including their wives and children—had been taken captive by the Amalekites, along with David’s two wives.

As a result, “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Samuel 30:4). He had already forfeited his first wife, Michal, in his flight from her father and king, Saul. Now it was happening again! To make matters worse, David’s loyal men were now ready to stone him to death for his bad decision to leave the camp unprotected.

The easiest solution would have been to rally his men together for a mad dash after the Amalekites. This strategy would have deflected his men’s plans to stone him and, at the same time, would have provided some hope for the restoration of their families. However, this wasn’t David’s decision. Instead, “David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:6; KJV).

What form had this encouragement taken? Earlier, when Saul was pursuing David to take his life, Saul’s son Jonathan risked his own life to meet secretly with David:

• And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God (1 Samuel 23:16; NASB).

Jonathan encouraged David in the Lord! He didn’t say, “Well David, you’ve been through worse situations. Remember, you are a great warrior and have many successes under your belt, and you’re respected by all the people. Therefore, I’m sure you’ll overcome this challenge.” Instead, Jonathan wisely counseled David in accord with the previously-revealed promise of God:

• "Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father shall not find you, and you will be king over Israel…" (1 Samuel 23:17).

This was something that David already knew. He had been anointed years earlier by the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel, but he also needed to hear those encouraging words again. David also knew that it wasn’t about him—his strength and righteousness—but about His faithful God. When, years earlier, he went out against the fearsome Goliath, David warned the giant:

• "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down …” (1 Samuel 17:45-46).

David’s greatness rested in one fact alone. He knew that he wasn’t great, but instead, he served a GREAT God, who could do all things! Instead of directly pursuing the Amalekites, David called for his priest, Abiathar, to bring the ephod in order to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord answered him: "Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them, and you shall surely rescue all" (1 Samuel 30:8). And this is exactly what happened.

I think that the biggest problem that confronts today’s church is self-confidence. We’ve convinced ourselves that we can handle our problems, and that our judgment is sound. Instead of recognizing that our challenges are primarily God’s challenges and that our victories are His victories, we confidently pursue the “Amalekites” in our lives without hesitating to pray. David had warned Goliath that it would be THE LORD who would deliver him into David’s hand. He knew that it wasn’t about him, but the Lord.

Self-confidence is an esteemed commodity these days, eagerly grasped without any thought of reading the small print. We fail to understand the costs of buying into its intoxicating power. One of these costs is denial. When we trust in ourselves alone, it becomes necessary to deny anything that might cause us to doubt. There might be a shortcoming in our personality or a lack of knowledge or experience that might serve to warn us of our inadequacy. But these are denied outright or are not given a second thought. We can become so blindingly confident that we end up denying reality as we forge ahead.

Another cost is arrogance. When we place our trust in our performance, our assessment is inevitably based upon a comparison with others. Our confidence, then, becomes a measure of whether or not we regard ourselves as superior to others—a mind-set guaranteed to destroy Christian fellowship, or any kind of fellowship or relationship, for that matter!

Today we think that the battle is ours and not the Lord’s. I too am guilty of this. Often, when I write responses against the ideas of atheists and heretics, I forget to ask the Lord to direct my pen. I race off after the Amalekites without first enquiring of the Lord, as if my wisdom and judgment were sufficient.

The Apostle Paul had it right when he confessed…

• Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Cor. 3:5).

If we really understood this lesson, we wouldn’t tackle any problem without first praying and inviting God to take charge. I’m not saying that we are always going to get a clear answer like the one David received. However, by bringing God into our decision-making process immediately, we acknowledge that we are trusting in Him and that we will give Him all the credit for anything good that happens. When we humble ourselves in this manner, we are trusting Him fully. Then we can rest assured that He will exalt us (Luke 18:14).

In stark contrast to the humility that God prescribes and encourages, an I-can-do-it attitude represents a rejection of God’s help:

• Thus says the LORD, "Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. (Jeremiah 17:5-7)

Trusting in ourselves is diametrically opposed to trusting in God. If we trust in ourselves, we are not trusting in God. But if we do trust in God, how blessed we will be. After overcoming the Amalekites, David returned with such abundant spoils of war that he was able to share it with all of his men. The great evil had been turned into a great good!

There is something else we need to glean from this account. David was more concerned about God’s opinions than man’s. Ironically, the more we stop being people-pleasers and forsake the fear of man in favor of the fear of God, the more we will grow in favor with people. When David fled from his son Absalom and his traitorous insurrection against him, he was joined by the very men who had wanted to stone him years earlier at Ziklag (2 Samuel 15:18).

Life is not without its meltdowns. Let us learn from David to be God-centered, not man-centered. David’s confidence was in God, not in himself. Our temptation today is to place our trust in ourselves and others before God, and race off after the Amalekites. However, our Lord assures us that “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD.”

Authority and Human Flourishing

“You’re a slave to that book!” charged one individual on a Facebook page. This response isn’t unusual. It’s reflective of the general contempt for the Bible that I’m encountering all over the blogosphere. The Bible is a kill-joy, the tool of a threatening and over-bearing cosmic policeman. Nor does it seem to matter if I patiently and sensitively try to explain that God sets certain limitations upon us because He loves us and knows what’s best for us. If anything, this type of counsel just turns up the conversational heat. Perhaps, this is because they intuit that a loving God has a greater moral claim upon our conduct than does a robotic, uncaring god.

On top of this, seeking our individual satisfaction and fulfillment, without someone getting in our face about it, has become the general expectation of Western society. Radical freedom, rebellion and challenging authority are the new norms, while those who emphasize any form of obedience are regarded as repressed, mindless twits.

Victor Lee Austin’s book, Up with Authority: Why We Need Authority to Flourish as Human Beings, suggests that “authority” isn’t a dirty word. Actually, it is necessary for human flourishing. This is a strange sounding thesis, since we usually associate authority with the SS and coercion.

However, Austin invites us to understand authority in terms of a symphony orchestra, where the experience of each member is enhanced as they surrender their own individual choices to those of the conductor. Well, couldn’t reason, discussion and democratic decision-making bring about just as good results? Austin argues that there are some things that group reasoning simply can’t accomplish as well as authority. For one thing, some choices are merely a matter of taste. For another thing, performing a symphony requires too many choices. The democratic process would prove quite messy.

There are many examples where authority tends to maximize our own flourishing. I had a short and unhappy stint as a substitute teacher in the New York City school system. Even there, the teacher is supposed to be the authority, but does not have recourse to adequate sanctions to fulfill her responsibilities. Consequently, many of the schools are virtual jungles, where the number one preoccupation of both teacher and student has become survival, socially and physically.

I think that the bulk of the problem results from the fact that the supportive moral scaffolding has eroded. In our schools, it’s rare to hear about unchanging moral absolutes and standards. Instead, young minds have been indoctrinated into the world of “values clarification,” where there is no right answer and every choice is valid. They have drunk deeply from the inkwell of moral relativism, and have been encouraged to think that their parents might not know best. The new moral “authority” instead dictates slogans like “be true to yourself” and “be all you can be.” What we feel has become more important than the exiled idea of truth.

When the schools have to deal with behavior problems, they resort to the reasoning and authority of “self-benefit” – “You shouldn’t cheat, Charlie, because you’re just hurting yourself.” Betraying our own best interests has become the ultimate “sin.” Everything has to be couched in this language of self. The teacher has to be constantly mindful of the “rights” of the students. These might include the “right” to not be shamed.

When I talked to the assistant principal about the disciplinary problems at her school and what I thought might be some of the underlying problems, she exercised her authority, and I was out.

We are facing a tsunami of self-interests gone wild. When people charge that “You are just a slave to your bible,” they are merely reflecting their times. But are they reflecting wisdom? In one sense, we proudly admit that we are servants of our God. However, does this “bondage” minimize or maximum our lives?

Freedom is often maximized by its limitations. A chess match needs rules to be meaningful. If the pieces could be moved in any manner, there can’t be a meaningful game. Closer to home, a goldfish’s freedom of movement is maximized when it is “held captive” by the water. He was made for the water; we are made for the solid ground.

We are also under God’s authority to forgive others as He has forgiven us. Many can attest to how liberating it has been for them to not only forgive but also to confess their sins to those whom they had offended. Consequently, we have found that the path to a meaningful freedom is also the path that has brought us under the authority of our incredible Savior, the very thing for which we were created!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The New Perspectives on Paul

A cadre of scholars has claimed that they now have a “new perspective” on the teachings of Paul. According to this reassessment, Paul never regarded legalistic works righteousness – the earning of salvation through good works, as opposed to trusting in God’s mercy – the problem of 1st century Judaism. Instead Judaism’s problem was that they regarded other ethnic groups as inferior or unworthy of salvation. Of course, it is not a matter of either-or, but rather both!

Associate professor of New Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, Timothy Gombis, agrees with the cadre that the problem hadn’t been works righteousness (self-righteousness):

• Because of this “new perspective,” scholars now recognize that Paul would not have regarded Judaism as legalistic. (Christianity Today, July 2011, 48)

In support of this new perspective, Gombis offers a single Dead Sea Scroll, which has a grace perspective, as evidence. However, this “evidence” falls miles short of proving that the Judaism of Paul’s day was grace-centered and not legalistic. Any number of Dead Sea Scrolls couldn’t prove this. After all, the Hebrew Scriptures are also grace-centered and Messiah-centered. However, this didn’t insure that the Israelites were open to the message. Thinking that he had proved his point, Gombis then concludes,

• The problem in the early church, therefore was not the temptation towards legalistic works righteousness. They faced the communal challenge of incorporating non-Jewish converts into the historically Jewish people of God. First-century Judaism didn’t have a legalism problem; it had an ethnocentrism problem. The first followers of Jesus were all Jewish, and had difficulty imagining that the God of Israel who sent Jesus Christ as their Savior could possibly save non-Jews without requiring them to convert to Judaism.

Gombis is right about several things. Judaism had an “ethnocentrism” problem. And the early church inherited their Jews-only mindset. Therefore, they believed that non-Jews would first have to convert to Judaism in order to be saved. However, his assertion that they weren’t tempted "towards legalistic works righteousness,” is far off base. We are all tempted to look towards our legalistic performance to assure ourselves of our standing before God. Even more importantly, the Jews were not only tempted, they wholeheartedly embraced this thinking.

We find evidence for this throughout the Gospels. Jesus often denounced the most righteous people of His day on account of their self-righteous legalism:

• "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

The religious leadership appeared “as righteous” because this is the image that they presented to the world. They were men of eminence because they deserved it! They performed legalistic acts to be seen favorably by men (Matthew 6). This pattern of life is not true of people who trust in God’s mercy alone.

In fact, everyone seemed to partake in this legalistic works righteousness worldview. After talking with a man of status, Jesus informed His disciples,

• “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24)

The disciples were astonished by this. The riches of the rich man demonstrated that he had achieved favor before God. He was the cream of the crop. In perplexity they exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?” They had regarded the rich man as supremely worthy of salvation. If salvation was impossible for the rich man, then it was also impossible for them:

• Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" (Matthew 19:27)

Peter and the others thought that they were purchasing salvation with their legalistic sacrifice of “everything.” They still didn’t understand that salvation was a free gift. This legalism is reflected in so much of their speaking. When they saw a man born blind, they naturally concluded that his misfortune was either the result of his sin or that of his parents. When others who they deemed as unworthy – not just gentiles – wanted to approach Jesus, the disciples tried to impede them. However, when those with status – the legalistically worthy – wanted to approach Jesus, well then, that was entirely a different matter (John 12:20).

It can also be argued that almost all of Jesus’ parables were directed towards the legalistic self –righteousness, which seemed to infect everyone. The parable of the Prodigal Son exposes the legalistic righteousness of the obedient son who claimed that he had never disobeyed his father (Luke 15:29), and he therefore was the more legalistically deserving. Jesus told this parable to the scribes and Pharisees who complained that Jesus was keeping company with unworthy, undeserving sinners (Luke 15:2). Evidently, they thought themselves legalistically deserving. Clearly, they had no understanding of grace.

Jesus also told a parable about two men entering the Temple:

• To some who were confident (“trusted” NKJV) of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable. (Luke 18:9)

When we trust in our own righteous behavior, we have no idea about depravity and grace. The other man lacked the confidence to even look up. Instead, he cried out for mercy and was forgiven. He had mercifully been stripped of legalistic works righteous, but this had only been the case for a small group of people.

Jesus had been rejected by His people, not because of an innocent mistake in Biblical interpretation, but because their hearts were so hardened by self-righteousness that they didn’t even believe in Moses:

• How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? "But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" (John 5:44-47)

That greatest praise from God occurs when one sinner comes to repentance, disavowing any notion of legalistic works righteousness. The religious leadership wouldn’t believe and repent because they felt that their own righteousness would suffice. They therefore gladly received the praise of men, convinced that they deserved it. Full of themselves, they didn’t even believe what Moses had written. How then could they believe in Jesus?

Everything they did suggested that they were trusting in their own legalistic righteousness. They didn’t submit to the baptism of repentance of John, because they felt they didn’t need to repent. Their own righteousness was sufficient.

Volumes can be written on the subject. How would Gombis counteract these Biblical observations? He offers that Paul continued to follow the law, citing his taking a Nazarite vow (Acts 21:23-26), proving that “Paul wasn’t anti-Jewish.”

This is absurd. I don’t know any respectable theologian who would claim that Paul was “anti-Jewish!”. Besides, this isn’t the issue! Paul’s primary concern wasn’t about following the law, but rather following the law for the wrong purpose – to achieve one’s own legalistic works righteousness. Although he preached against circumcision, his concern wasn’t about the physical act or the requirement of the law – he even had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). Instead, his concern regarding circumcision was that it was being urged as a first requirement to obtain a righteousness that supposedly would come by virtue of our works performance. Similarly, taking a Nazarite vow didn’t reflect Paul’s faith in his own righteousness obtained through observing the law.

It is amazing that anyone would suggest that Paul was not concerned about legalistic works righteousness. In many places, he emphasizes that we are saved by grace apart from any works of the law (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:9; Romans 3:26-29). Why would he continue to make this disclaimer unless his people were being seduced by a works theology? And this was exactly his concern. He spoke very strongly against the legalistic circumcision party:

• Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh. (Philip. 3:2-3)

No one could put any “confidence in the flesh,” to attain their own righteousness through obedience. Paul explained that if anyone was able to have this confidence, it was he. However, he determined that he was not going to trust in any of his accomplishments to achieve his own righteousness. Instead, he would reject any form of self-trust:

• But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philip. 3:7-9)

Paul wasn’t calling the law or even his obedience to the law as “rubbish.” Obedience is important, but trusting in our obedience to win the favor of God represents a rejection of the righteousness that is given as a free gift from our Savior. On the one hand, Paul affirms that we must uphold the essence of the law (Romans 3:31), but this is not to achieve our own righteousness. But on the other hand, if we are trying to obtain a righteous by our works performance, we are in bondage to the law and have been separated from the grace of Christ:

• It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:1-4).

The problem wasn’t they law but our attempt “to be justified by law,” a rejection of the righteousness that can come from Christ alone. There is a wealth of evidence that the culture of Paul’s time was immersed in legalism, as is the case with any culture. Legalism is the religion of man following his rejection of God.

Gombis presents two other arguments to support his case that Paul wasn’t concerned about legalism. He states that “Paul never calls upon the Jews to reject Judaism.” While this is true, it is also irrelevant to the point Gombis is trying to make. The problem wasn’t with the Judaism of the Bible; the problem was with what men made of it – a vehicle to achieve their own righteousness. Instead, Paul argued that the law was given to show us our sins (Romans 3:19-20) and thereby to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:22-24) – a deterrent against legalism, lest any should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

Gombis presents one final argument. On at least two occasions (Acts 23:6; 26:4-6), Paul called himself a “Pharisee.” Gombis seems to reason from this that Paul was therefore affirming their entire religious stance. Consequently, they couldn’t have been legalists.

Such an interpretation is utterly unacceptable. Paul certainly affirmed the church, but not everything about it. He had many complaints against churches and individuals. He would have much more complaints in regards to the Pharisees. Instead, Paul was merely affirming that he belonged to that particular party.

To deny the clear Biblical concern about legalistic works righteousness is to detract from the Gospel. This is because legalistic self-righteousness has always been humankind’s refuge once God’s righteousness is rejected. It’s the only opposition to the Gospel. It says, “I don’t need God and His domination over my life. I can handle my own life. I’m righteous in myself.”

We find this principle manifested even at the beginning. Once Adam and Eve rejected God’s Word, they resorted to their own self-righteous means. They covered themselves with fig leaves instead of confession. They foolishly trusted in their ability to hide from God, instead of crying out for His mercy. They resorted to their own lies and half-truths, instead of seeking His forgiveness.

To suggest that the 1st century Jews were free from self-righteousness is not only a gross misunderstanding of Scripture and human rebellion, it also deprives the Gospel of the fullness of its meaning. I am dismayed that Christianity Today continues to publish such unbiblical works without any rebuttal.

What is Mental Illness and What is the Cure?

You might be surprised that definitions can be very elusive. We tend to think of depression, for example, as a form of mental illness. However, it is widely recognized that the depressed see reality and also themselves more accurately that do the “normal.” Psychologist Shelley Taylor (Positive Illusions) writes,

• Normal people exaggerate how competent and well liked they are. Depressed people do not. Normal people remember their past behavior with a rosy glow. Depressed people are more even-handed…On virtually every point on which normal people show enhanced self-regard, illusions of control, and unrealistic visions of the future, depressed people fail to show the same biases. (p.214)

Perhaps pain and depression shouldn’t be regarded as illnesses if they enable us to get a better hold of reality? Interestingly, once the psychological torment passes, self delusion returns. Taylor confesses,

• When depressed people are no longer depressed, they show the same self-enhancing biases and illusions as non-depressed people. (p.223)

This truth leaves us with an uncomfortable choice – Do we define mental illness in terms of (1) freedom from painful symptomology, but also having a host of self-delusions or (2) freedom from self-delusions, but not from painful symptomology? Neither choice is very appealing. Should we instead define “mental illness” in terms of what is “normal?” Martin Gross raises significant questions about the “normal” criterion:

• The individual…has been falsely taught that he lives in a continuum between normality and insanity, the common aberration called “neurosis” in between…We imagine – and are subtly told by the Society’s professionals – that there is an ideal, virtually anxiety-free paradigm from which we somehow deviate. (The Psychological Society, 325)

This raises the question about normalcy. Is it an unattainable goal that makes us feel like failures? Gross argues that our definitions of the “normal” are arbitrary and culture-dependent. Our psychotherapeutic norms reflect our culture. Therefore, what is “normal” in one culture, might be considered pathological in another. For example, in many more traditional cultures, sexual inhibition is considered a good thing, especially for women. Modesty is a virtue. However, in Western culture, getting what you want, right now – satisfying yourself – is a virtue.

Likewise, in Eastern cultures, submission to one’s elders is the norm, along with putting the interests of the family above one’s own. Duty, therefore, is the higher virtue. In the West, inhibition of personal desires and welfare is considered neurotic. Peter Kramer, the famous promoter of Prozac, explained one of his “success stories” this way. One of his clients, a single mother, was very “repressed.” Instead of dating, she devoted herself exclusively to her children. However, once on Prozac, she experienced less anxiety about leaving her children and began to date, leaving her children with the baby sitter.

Is this a success story or merely an accommodation to the values of our Western culture? Gross is understandably disturbed by the philosophical tyranny of our psychological culture:

• In establishing such a model [of normalcy], which exists only in psychological fantasy…the society serves as its own neurotic-producing stimulus [hinting that those who don’t fit in are not normal]. It forces millions to perceive their individuality – the very essence of human normality – as a psychological disturbance. (325)

Consequently, many have been influenced to think that they are pathological and need to change. If they are overly anxious about their children, there is something the matter with them. Of course, it’s more difficult to live with anxiety, but anxiety might pay dividends in other ways, perhaps in terms of better care for the children and the household, and even personal fulfillment.

If normalcy is merely a reflection of our social prejudices, must we throw out this concept entirely? I don’t think so. I think that the Biblical definition enables us to understand ourselves and the plight of others. What is normal is sin and self-delusion:

• "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)

This levels the playing field. We’re all in the same leaky boat. If anything is normal, it is sin, and its effect upon the mind is powerful: “For sin…deceived me, and…put me to death” (Romans 7:11). Consequently, we are self-deluded, and whatever we do, we rationalize (Proverbs 21:2). Why? Because our conscience is a powerful alarm which painfully alerts us when we sin! We then have two choices. We can confess our sins to our loving and forgiving Savior, or we can deny or rationalize them away. Denial – a hardening and a refusal to see – is the beginning of self-delusion. Everything that follows – the positive affirmations and achievements – serves to cover up the foundational problem, un-confessed sin.

What then is the cure for our negative symptomology. Confession and repentance, of course! Yes, there are other ways to reduce symptomology. There are drugs, social supports, and even success, but these are no more than band aids, since they fail to address the underlying problem and leave the underlying condition festering.

We are moral and relational creatures. When our primary relationships are undermined, popping a drug isn’t the most appropriate response. We have to address the real problem, if it is at all possible. The same is true with our relationship with our Creator. We may be unwilling or unable to recognize this, but this relationship has been broken and needs repaired (Romans 1:18-32).

When instead we pursue pleasure, popularity, prestige, or power to cover the brokenness, we hurt ourselves. When we harden our heart against our sin and God, we also harden it against life and other relationships. We’re all a mess, not just those deemed “neurotic” by society.

While we can define “physical health’ to our satisfaction, defining “mental health” is an entirely different matter. It is not a matter of maximizing pleasure as secular culture seems to imply. It is a metaphysical question requiring a metaphysical answer. The answer involves taking into account moral absolutes and ultimate meaning, and these can only come from God. In his lecture to the Athenian philosophers, Paul affirmed the God-centricity of our existence:

• “'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'” (Acts 17:28-31)

When we deny this fact, we deny much of our fullness as human beings.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Viewpoint Totalitarianism: A Satire

My Dear Wormbottom,

I simply cannot resist telling you about our stunning recent victories. Are you ready to read a few paragraphs that are guaranteed to put a huge smile on your face?

After the historic passage of New York State’s same-sex marriage bill, just listen to what Republican State Senator Jim Alesi declared: “I went to Mass Sunday in my church and I was so warmly received. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, but I know in my religion, when I went up to receive Communion, my priest embraced me.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I count it a stupendous success when our well-oiled propaganda machine can win over even the priests—the very ones who until quite recently we counted as some of our toughest adversaries!

But it doesn’t stop there, not by a long shot. I’m sure you will be positively delighted to hear that our ever-more powerful forces have just succeeded in closing down all the Catholic adoption agencies in Illinois. Let me guess—right about now you are wondering how in the world we were able to pull off this veritable cultural coup. Oh, it’s so simple, my friend…those agencies are now officially closed down in the whole state because they had the nerve to refuse to allow their children to be adopted by us. What a wake-up call, eh? Undoubtedly, this will teach them that it is absolutely futile to resist us.

Ready for more good news, friend? This little tidbit is even better than the last, if that is actually possible. For, you see, Cisco Systems—that high-flying, high tech darling of Wall Street—just summarily fired their leadership and teambuilding program co-ordinator, Dr. Frank Turek And just why, you might ask, did Cisco terminate Dr. Turek’s employment? Well, for no other reason than that he had the audacity to write a book that was against gay marriage. His firing had absolutely nothing to do with his work-related performance—what he did or said on the job. And that’s the utter beauty of it, you see. With what has happened in this case and in the cases that are sure to follow, the opposition is going to be terrified about saying even the most innocuous things against us, on and off the job.

I know this is absolutely wonderful news, but please don’t overlook the irony that is also beautifully at work here...we have now arrived at the dawn of a new era when our side can say WHATEVER we want against the Bible and its god-awful church, but they can say absolutely NOTHING against us!

Are these not wonderful days to be alive? Now, please read on to find out what else makes this victory so juicy.

According to Turek, “My job performance was deemed excellent, and I was ‘inclusive and diverse’ by working in a respectful manner with people of all moral, religious and political views.” My dear Wormbottom, are you comprehending the magnitude of how good this is for us? For you see, Turek’s dismissal communicates a most potent message. It no longer matters how well-established or cooperative or even competent an employee might be. If we discover that he has views against same-sex marriage—SSM—he goes bottom-up! No pun intended.

Do you comprehend what this means? I hope, my good man, that you are following this to its logical conclusion. We have now officially arrived at the point where every Christian’s job is at jeopardy if they don’t smile and assure us to the best of their ability that they fully endorse SSM and the gay lifestyle. To weed out the riff-raff, we now have carte blanche to target them and “innocently” ask what they think about SSM. If they don’t give us the answers we are looking for, they’re history, gone, out of there--fired! Now it is they who will shake in fear as we strut down the corridors. And, if you need any icing on this “cake,” I fully believe that these decisions and the atmosphere they create will also undermine the Christian faith. Yes, sir, I believe that when Christians find out that they can’t be open and forthcoming about what they believe, they will have to change their ideas to fit our way of thinking. I predict that many of them will lose their faith rather than lose their jobs.

I could not be more excited about these changes. I just love what Cisco’s chief “inclusion and diversity” officer told Turek:

• “We’re very sensitive about protecting our culture of acceptance of everyone; we don’t want anyone to ever feel excluded and that means all opinions.”

Of course that cry-baby Turek had the audacity to complain: “Why didn’t Cisco’s relentless emphasis and training on ‘inclusion and diversity’ serve to prevent [my firing]?” But that kind of reasoning is gone forever now—it’s nonsense, that’s what it is. The only difference is that now it will be Turek and his idiot Christians who will feel excluded! I just love it! Who cares whether this represents a double standard? The media are so completely in our pocket that they won’t raise even a whisper to protest our hypocrisy. And, just as a delicious aside, can you imagine the look on Turek’s face when he was fired?

But it doesn’t stop there, not at all. In fact, are you ready for some international good news? Try this on for size…Canada’s New Democrat Party unanimously passed a resolution to call on the government to revoke the charitable status of “ex-gay” groups—those Christian organizations that advise homosexuals that there is hope that they might change and be able to leave the gay lifestyle. If this resolution is adopted, it will mean that our brethren to the north will be able to discriminate against the opposition and hurt them, once again, where it hurts the most—in the purse! Before too long, these groups will be losing their tax-exempt status. And, what’s more, the way public opinion is shifting, it will not even seem like discrimination. After all, who in their right mind actually believes—except the most fundamentalist and ignorant people—that it is really possible for someone who is gay to return to the “straight” life? Because of our overwhelming success in getting the media to carry our propaganda far and wide, it is now the established conventional wisdom of the day that sexual orientation CANNOT BE CHANGED. We have even gone so far as to characterize the people who work in those supposed “ministries” as perpetrators of violent crimes against us. And the public is buying it, my friend— hook, line and sinker!

Before we travel to New Zealand for more good news, let me share just one more story from Canada. When it comes to commanding the ear of the press, you will be so gratified to learn that we have no trouble getting allies to come on board in support of our noble agenda. For example, our man Randall Garrison, the NDP’s “queer issues” critic, told Xtra that Christian groups like Exodus focus on the most vulnerable members of the homosexual community and “…bully them into believing that gay, lesbian and bisexual people are sick and lead sad and lonely lives, and that the only hope is to become straight.” Of course Exodus isn’t doing anything of the kind but, once again, the public is buying what our media machine is manufacturing! It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that we haven’t been able to produce a single instance of a Christian bullying or even attacking a gay. However, in trying to understand this strange phenomenon, we must always remember that, in the day and age in which we live, perception is absolutely everything. Please forgive me if do a bit of bragging here, my good man but—we have become the ultimate masters of perception. And we are now pulling all the right strings!

I just knew the Canadians would come through and help us as we continue in our enlightened struggle to tighten the noose around the neck of all dissent!

Now, let us continue to highlight our world-wide triumphs, this time in New Zealand. Using strategies which I have already outlined, the government of New Zealand has revoked Exodus Global Alliance’s charitable status. I love it! Isn’t it delicious? We can discriminate against them, but THEY CAN’T TOUCH US! All we need to do is continue to perpetuate the perception that we are the hapless, innocent victims of a cruel and hopelessly outdated legal system. So far, my friend, this strategy is working like a charm!

Oh—talk about late-breaking news…let me share something that I just pulled from the web that spotlights the indisputable fact that these really are glorious days for us!

• A bill requiring public schools to teach the “historical contributions” of homosexual Americans was approved by the California legislature on Tuesday, July 5. This bill prohibits any school material or instruction that reflects adversely on homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism. In addition, it prohibits parents from removing children from classes over offensive material.

Now we can wrestle those little minds away from their bigoted parents. Hurrah for the State! It’s through the State that we will now be able to invade that sanctuary of all bigotry, the family. And what makes it even better? They cannot protest; they can’t speak against us. When they bring their petty complaints to school board meetings, we can shout them down with charges of “homophobia” and “hate-mongering.” I hope you appreciate how successful this strategy has become. We can scream all we want about Christians or Republicans with absolute impunity, while they can’t even breathe a whisper against us.

Now, to bring this little diatribe to an appropriate close, how about another cherry on top of the delectable “sundae” that you’ve just been served? For your sublime enjoyment, here it is…In the midst of all these monumental changes that are convulsing society as we know it, no one—at least no one of any real substance or importance, that is—has had the audacity to raise the question of why we should be the only protected class of people. For, when you think about it, isn’t that exactly what we have become? Who knows—perhaps this more than anything else we’ve accomplished is our most important victory.
Ah, all this success is going to my head. I’m almost swooning with the delight of it all. Our lifestyle is now almost untouchable. You could try, but I don’t think there’s any way you could wipe that smile off your face!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Real Victims: Ex-Gays

“Many ex-gays are afraid to come out of the closet because of the harassment they will receive. The tactics of gay activists are to go after anyone who comes out publicly as ex-gay, force them back into the closet, and then claim that ex-gays don't exist because there aren't any out in public. For example, see:

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays
(PFOX) also document instances of harassment:

• Unlike gay groups, ex-gay groups like PFOX are routinely denied equal access to participate in public school events, donate books to public school libraries, and present speakers on diversity day.
• Transgenders and cross-dressers are affirmed for changing their gender but former homosexuals are ridiculed for making the decision to change their sexual orientation.
• Ex-gay conferences and seminars across the country are frequently picketed by anti-ex-gay protestors like PFLAG, a parents organization run by a gay activist, and Soulforce, a homosexual religious organization.
• Presidential candidate Barack Obama was criticized by gay activists for allowing ex-gay gospel singer Donnie McClurkin to sing at a fundraiser. They insisted that Obama drop the African-American singer from the program. Gay singers did not receive this treatment.
• Washington DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was forced to apologize for issuing a certificate of appreciation to an ex-gay civil rights leader after receiving complaints from the gay lobby. In signing gay marriage legislation for the nation’s capital, Fenty had promised equality for all DC residents.
• Equality Virginia demanded that Washington DC Metro remove PFOX’s subway billboards advocating tolerance for ex-gays.
• An ex-gay volunteer staffing PFOX’s exhibit booth at the Arlington County, Virginia Fair was physically assaulted because he refused to recant his ex-gay testimony. Wayne Besen, a former spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, falsely reported that the assault had never occurred.
• After speaking at an ex-gay conference, Michelle McKinney-Hammond lost her programming on a broadcast station because Besen made good on his threat to complain to the station about speakers making appearances at ex-gay events.
• Bash Back!, a gay group that retaliates against heterosexuals who vote against genderless marriage, can be seen in this video screaming and chanting against an ex-gay meeting held at a Boston church -- This incident is cited in a federal complaint filed against Bash Back for intimidation – see paragraph 68 of the legal filing at
• After writing a letter her local newspaper as a concerned citizen, Crystal Dixon was terminated from her job as an Associate Vice President of Human Resources for Toledo University. An African-American, Dixon challenged the civil rights comparison of race with homosexual behavior. Dixon’s letter also revealed that some gay people have overcome unwanted homosexual feelings, as evidenced by the growing popularity of PFOX and other ex-gay organizations.

Greg Quinlan, president of PFOX and ex-gay, adds,

• While the media look the other way, the ex-gay community is being harassed and publicly denounced by unforgiving gay activists because of our unpopular sexual orientation. Wayne Besen of the hate group Truth Wins Out…stalk and ‘out’ ex-gays in a negative light to ensure that they retreat back into the closet. Lambda Legal supports the establishment of GLBT Centers at public universities but blocks any attempt at ex-gay equal access. Corporate shareholder resolutions to include ex-gays in anti-discrimination policies are repeatedly defeated by the gay community. The Human Rights Campaign demands same-sex “marriage” for gays while fighting ex-gay equality. One of their latest victories is to successfully bully the World Bank into denying funds to ex-gay charities while allowing gay organizations to participate.

All of this represents a horrible injustice and victimization perpetrated by the very institutions that are supposed to stand against this!

Self-Transformation? – Bah!

Christianity is exploding in India. By some estimates, the Indian sub-continent now hosts 58 million Christians; by other estimates, 70 million. This growth is taking place mainly among the Dalits and other “untouchables.” Tim Stafford, senior writer for Christianity Today, explains:

• To be Dalit is much worse than being poor, for no matter how much education or wealth a Dalit accumulates, he or she remains polluted, a shame on the face of the earth. Dalits are like biblical lepers, except that in mainstream Indian culture, they cannot be healed. (CT, July 2011, 29)

In practical terms, it’s no surprise that Dalits would be attracted to the freedom, forgiveness, and cleansing of the Gospel. One former Hindu and now church-planter puts it this way:

• “The Gospel is a message of deliverance, not just for heaven. It is a message of freedom. The truth is that God made man in his image.” (32)

However, the Dalit embrace of Christianity cannot be explained by just the appeal of the message. Underneath the message is a self-sacrificing God who came to die for us. While the proud and arrogant refuse to look outside the box, Christ came for the poor, rejected and marginalized (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

One Dalit woman had been barren. A Christian mysterious showed up at her door and prayed for her. She subsequently conceived a son and daughter, and when her daughter was “severely jaundiced, passing blood,” the Christian once again appeared, prayed and the daughter was healed. She confessed to Stafford that,

• “I realized that Jesus is the living God…We used to drink and every day we would fight, fight, fight. Jesus Christ brought peace to our family. I have no fear, because I have come to know the living God. I trust in him.” (29-30)

It is through the lens of weakness and desperation that our priorities can fall into place. Weakness is a canary in a coal mine. It detects the presence of gas sooner than we humans. Likewise the despised Dalit knows that their hope isn’t in meditation, psychotherapy or in any other form of self-help. It is only the “living God” who can help!

It took me years to learn this lesson. Two decades of severe depression drove me to Israel as a Zionist. I had seen five highly recommended psychologists, and each had left me worse off than the previous one. I had convinced myself that once I had immersed in Zionism, I would find meaning and purpose, and this would pull me out of my depression. Well, it didn’t, nor did my pursuit of the ideal community or lifestyle.

It seemed that only God was left. Consequently, I plagued every religious person that I met with a series of question. Finally, one friend suggested that I spend some time with an evangelistic, orthodox community, which was completely devoted to God and to bringing confused Americans to Him.

Even there, no one could answer my questions to my satisfaction. Finally, a convinced follower assured me that there was a Tzadick (a highly esteemed rabbi) in Tel Aviv who could answer all of my questions and also prove to me that the Torah was the Word of God.

This sounded like just what I was looking for. The next evening found us awaiting the Tzadick to enjoy a private consultation – a great privilege! My heart was beating uncontrollably. We sat in silence for the first minute while he studied me. Finally, the verdict came:

• “You’re not ready to study the Torah yet. There is too much confusion and restlessness in your life. Find yourself a good orthodox Jewish community, study, live the life and relax, and then we’ll talk again.”

I hadn’t even opened my mouth, and the consultation had come to an abrupt end. Even though I thought he was right about my “confusion and restlessness,” I also knew that such a prescription couldn’t address my problems. They were just too deep. Evidently, I was a loser, and I knew that I couldn’t change myself. But it seemed that neither could God. The Tzadick was of the opinion that I had to first get my life together before God could help me. If that was the case, then there was no hope for me. I left totally dejected.

Thankfully, being a “Dalit” isn’t the worst thing that can befall us. In fact, I’m now proud of it! Years later, I learned that,

• If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

My psychotherapists and the Tzadick had all been wrong. Life didn’t depend upon my transforming myself but upon an incredible Savior, who can reach down and rescue us from whatever “pollution” we might find ourselves. He is the “Living God.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Atheism Gives Liberation

One atheist triumphantly described his atheism in this manner:

• To become “converted” … to atheism is, indeed, inspiring. It’s extremely liberating to realize that there is no Big Guy in the sky watching over your every move (particularly, for reasons that are not at all clear, the moves you make in the privacy of your own bedroom).

I told him that I appreciated his openness in this matter. It was illuminating. Often, after I would share my testimony of liberation, atheists would counter that they too had been liberated after rejecting the notion of a God! I found this troubling and didn’t know how to respond. However, I’ve subsequently learned that liberation means entirely different things for different people. For the Christian, liberation is from sin and all its many effects; for the atheist, liberation is from the hated, watching God, as Jesus stated:

• “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” (John 7:7)

God is hated and then rejected because He reveals the truth about us. This is something that we ordinarily find intolerable:

• This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. (John 3:19-21)

We either hate the light and want freedom from the light, or we love the light, because we have found consolation and forgiveness in the light. Those who hate the light will also hate those who stand in the light:

• If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:18-20).

Perhaps this will help me to accept the fact that Christ will be hated, along with those who love Him, and that only a small number will come to Him, truly? Slowly?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The “Bigoted” Church?

Is the church the malignant presence that atheists and the media suggest? In a new nationwide George Barna survey, it was found that

• three-quarters of U.S. adults believe the presence of a church is “very” (53%) or “somewhat” positive (25%) for their community. In contrast, only one out of every 20 Americans believes that the influence of a church is negative—either very (2%) or somewhat so (3%). That leaves about one out of six adults (17%) who are indifferent toward the role of churches.

This means that 75% believe that the church of the USA is at least “somewhat positive.” With all of the negative publicity – we’re often portrayed as “bigoted” and “ignorant” – attached to Christians and the church, such a high percent expressing approval is remarkable. While it can be argued that public opinion polls might not be that valid, it can equally be argued that what we hear about the church in the media is equally invalid and unrepresentative.

Predictably, it was those aged 18-27 who expressed the highest levels of dissatisfaction with the church. Why? Perhaps because age gives us more perspective, while the youth is more influenced by this present Christophobic culture!