Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Does the Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage Open the Door to Other Things?

Does the legalization of same-sex marriage provide the slippery-slope for the legalization of other forms of marriage like polygamy? Many would claim that it does! However, those who are instrumental in legalizing same-sex marriage deny the slippery-slope:

• Chief Justice Robert Bauman criticized this view for “miss[ing] the whole point.” “Committed same-sex relationships celebrate all of the values we seek to preserve and advance in monogamous marriage,” he said, adding that the “doctrinal underpinnings of monogamous same-sex marriage are indistinguishable from those of heterosexual marriage.”

However, there are good reasons to expect that opening this door will undermine the institution of marriage. For one thing, gays are known to be notoriously promiscuous. Psychiatrist and Yale and Harvard lecturer, Jeffrey Satinover writes that while sexual faithfulness is relatively high among married heterosexuals – “90 percent of women and more than 75 percent of heterosexual men have never engaged in extramarital sex” – the picture among gay men is very different:

• A 1981 study revealed that only 2 percent of homosexuals were monogamous or semi-monogamous – generally defined as ten or fewer lifetime partners…A 1978 study found that 43 percent of male homosexuals estimated having sex with five hundred or more different partners…Seventy-nine percent said that more than half of these partners were total strangers. (Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, 55)

Perhaps more important is Judge Bauman’s faulty reasoning. He claims that the “doctrinal underpinnings of monogamous same-sex marriage are indistinguishable from those of heterosexual marriage.” On the basis of what? Certainly, his contention isn’t based upon what is physically natural, or what bears children, or the teachings of any of the major world religions. It’s based on one thing only – the right to choose!

Therefore, if marriage is based upon the right to choose, then there is no longer any rationale to deny the right to choose to the polygamist or the pedophile. (After all, why should the right to choose be denied to the adolescent? Already, they can choose to engage in sex or to have an abortion!)

Society has opened a wide door. Soon, we will find that we can no longer shut it. Besides, there will be few left who even want to shut it.

“Hate Speech” Regulations vs. Free Speech

Before, restrictions on free speech involved only speech that would put others in direct harm – libel or speech inciting violence. Such speech could meaningfully be called “hate speech.” Now many universities – 97% of them – have adopted policies that define “hate speech” as speech that might possibly offend others relative to race, gender, religion, disability, national origin or “sexual orientation.”

However, it’s not merely “offensive” speech about “orientation” that has become punishable but also speech that questions the morality of certain sexual behavior. Specifically, questioning the virtue of homosexual behavior has been proscribed. Ironically, the university is supposed to be about responsible inquiry! However, questioning the correctness of homosexuality has become off-limits! Students can still discuss the morality and viability of polygamy, rape, bestiality, pedophilia, open marriages, and even masturbation without risking censure.

Censuring responsible inquiry and speech undermines the very credibility and rationale of the university. Can we take seriously then any studies that come out of the university on the subject of homosexuality? Why should we if any experiment or findings that might reflect negatively on this lifestyle will be prejudicially attacked or suppressed, while the positive “findings” will be trumpeted in support of university policy. Lies have become unnecessary when one is free to report in an unbalanced manner!

Fortunately, for the most part, the courts have ruled against this restriction on free speech. Wayne Grudem cites several instances of universities that have been ruled against in this regard:

• Georgia Tech University…engaged in viewpoint discrimination by defunding religious student groups, and fostered a state-approved religious view of homosexual behavior by informing students to shun religious groups that do not affirm homosexual behavior. (Politics According to the Bible, 492)

Oddly, Georgia Tech didn’t see their own speech to be in violation of their own regulations against religious discrimination. Grudem cites several other examples:

• Savannah State University in Georgia quickly settled with a student group that had been dismissed from campus for engaging in “harassment,” because they shared their faith with other students. (493)

• SFCC [Spokane Falls Community College] officials threatened Beth Sheeran and members of a Christian student group with disciplinary measures, including expulsion, if they chose to hold a pro-life event on campus to share information with other students, because the message was “discriminatory” and did not include a pro-abortion viewpoint. The school eventually settled. (493)

Ironically, university non-discrimination policies are often used to discriminate:

• Rutgers University used a “nondiscrimination” statement to require an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to accept leaders who reject the Group’s Christian beliefs.

How hypocritical. Would this university have required a Breast-Cancer-Survival group to accept males as leaders? RU isn’t alone in this hypocrisy. Arizona State and the University of North Carolina have brought similar charges.

Most famously, the Hastings College of Law in San Francisco required their student Christian Legal Society (CLS) to open up membership and leadership to non-Christians. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court ruled against the CLS student group by a 5-4 decision. Many similar cases are still pending.

Charges of “hate speech” have silenced many Christians. Gruden explains:

• Almost uniformly, such “hate speech” codes constitute wrongful restriction of freedom of speech. For the twenty years or so that such speech codes were allowed to operate freely on American campuses, they no doubt contributed to a remarkable muzzling of conservative moral and religious ideas (and probably conservative political ideas as well). Therefore, they effectively indoctrinated students in more liberal moral, political, and religious values. (495)

It is so ironic that what is now considered “hate speech” had once been considered essential speech by the Founding Fathers of this nation, many of whom weren’t Christians. Nevertheless, they all believed that the Christian faith and Biblical teaching were essential to the flowering of their new nation. In his 1796 Farewell Address, the beloved George Washington reiterated these broadly accepted sentiments:

• Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars…The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them…reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

The very thing that Washington had called “indispensable,” is now called “hate speech.” John Adams, who became a Unitarian, expressed a similar sentiment in a letter to his cousin Samuel:

• , founded in the supposition or expectation of extraordinary degrees of virtue [apart from Christianity], are evidently chimerical.

According to the Fathers, whether Christian or not, the Christian foundation of this nation was a necessity to “All projects of government.” The Frenchman, deist and lapsed Catholic, Alexis de Tocqueville, extensively traveled the States, starting in 1831, endeavoring to investigate the stability and monumental success of this new republic. In Democracy in America, he wrote,

• The religious atmosphere was the first thing that struck me on arrival in the United States.

Historian Thomas Kidd writes further about Tocqueville’s observations:

• The partnership of religion and liberty lay at the heart of America’s political success. To Tocqueville, the American’s Christian ethos kept democracy’s worst features in check…Freedom by itself would inexorably degenerate into rabid selfishness, but religion nurtured the purposefulness of freedom. In the American model, according to Tocqueville, ‘freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights.’” (God of Liberty, 245)

• Tocqueville manifested a view of religion not unlike that of several prominent founding fathers, including Jefferson…maintaining that it was essential for the masses to keep believing in Christianity—or at least in good and evil—and in the eternal rewards in the afterlife.

Sadly, we have become so entrenched in our cultural biases that we are unable to see that what we call “hate speech” is actually “essential” speech.

In 1863 the US Senate requested President Abraham Lincoln – and Lincoln gladly acquiesced -- to “designate and set apart a day for national prayer” (Grudem 500):

• [S]incerely believing that no people, however great in numbers and resources or however strong in the justice of their cause, can prosper without His favor; and at the same time deploring the national offenses which have provoked His righteous judgment, yet encouraged in this day of trouble by the assurances of His word to seek Him for succor according to His appointed way through Jesus Christ, the Senate of the United States do hereby request the President of the United States…to designate and set apart a day for national prayer and humiliation. (Journal of the Senate of the United States of America)

If only we would have the understanding and character to ask if we have committed “offenses which have provoked His righteous judgment!”

Traditional Marriage

When nations safeguard the institution of marriage, they safeguard themselves. Consequently, theologian Wayne Grudem writes,

• The history of marriage laws in the United States shows that society has a strong interest in protecting and encouraging marriage between one man and one woman because of the great benefits that this institution gives to society in multiple ways, benefits that no other relationship or institution can give. (Politics According to the Bible)

Many court decisions have reflected this fact. For instance, the Indiana Court of Appeals stated this in 2005:

• The State of Indiana has a legitimate interest in encouraging opposite-sex couples to enter and remain in, as far as possible, the relatively stable institution of marriage for the sake of children who are frequently the natural result of sexual relations between and man and a woman. One commentator put it succinctly as follows: “The public legal union of a man and a woman is designed…to protect the children that their sexual union regularly promotes.” (Morrison vs. Sadler)

It’s not only the USA that has come to his insight. It has been the consensus throughout history. Aristotle wrote,

• Since the legislator should begin by considering how the frames of the children whom he is rearing may be as good as possible, his first care will be about marriage – at what age should his citizens marry, and who is fit to marry. (Politica)

But is traditional marriage really essential to the welfare of the children? In The Case for Marriage, Linda Waite & Maggie Gallagher write:

• A preschooler living with one biological parent and one step-parent was forty times more likely to be sexually abused than one living with two natural parents. (159).

Another study similarly concluded:

• Cohabitation is bad for men, worse for women, and horrible for children. It is a deadly toxin to marriage, family, and culture. (

We are led to believe that cohabitation provides a greater measure of protection for the spouse and for abused children. It is argued that the mother could more easily remove herself from an abusive situation if there isn’t a legally binding marriage. However, the statistics demonstrate the very opposite thing:

• Spanish statistics, which have been highlighted in recent years by Europe’s Family Policy Institute (FPI), and recently reported by the Spanish Newspaper ABC, indicate that while only 11% of Spanish couples cohabit without marriage, such unions account for 58% of the most violent crimes between couples. For every one protection order issued for a married couple, ten are issued for cohabiting couples. (

• Men in cohabiting relationships are four times more likely to be unfaithful…Depression is three times more likely…The poverty rate among children of cohabiting couples is five-fold greater…and 90% more likely to have a low GPA…Abuse of children is 20 times higher in cohabiting biological-parent families; and 33 times higher when the mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend. (Gallagher)

• A large body of research shows that marriage is much less dangerous for women than cohabitors…1987-88 National Survey of Families and Households: married people are much less likely than cohabiting couples to say that arguments between them and their partners had become physical in the past year (4% of married people compared to 13% of the cohabiting).” (155)

Psychiatrist and Yale and Harvard lecturer, Jeffrey Satinover, raises concerns about alternative marriages, claiming that male homosexual practice removes 25-30 years in life expectancy:

• We are designed with a nearly impenetrable barrier between he bloodstream and the extraordinarily toxic and infectious contents of he bowel. Anal intercourse creates a breach in this barrier …whether or not the insertive partner is wearing a condom. As a result, homosexual men ae disproportionately vulnerable to a host of serious and sometimes fatal infections caused by the entry of feces into the bloodstream. These include hepatitus B and the cluster of otherwise rare conditions…known as the “Gay Bowel Syndrome.” (Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, 51)

There are many elements of the homosexual lifestyle that can adversely impact children. Health and diminished lifespan are only two of them. Satinover writes that while sexual faithfulness is relatively high among married heterosexuals – “90 percent of women and more than 75 percent of heterosexual men have never engaged in extramarital sex” – the picture among gay men is very different:

• A 1981 study revealed that only 2 percent of homosexuals were monogamous or sem-monogamous – generally defined as ten or fewer lifetime partners…A 1978 study found that 43 percent of male homosexuals estimated having sex with five hundred or more different partners…Seventy-nine percent said that more than half of these partners were total strangers. (55)

Why aren’t these concerns ever raised in the media, an institution supposedly committed to balanced reporting and to making our leaders accountable? Meanwhile, cohabitation has almost become the norm and same-sex marriage has been legalized in a handful of states, always in opposition to the popular vote and without a word of protest from the mainstream media. Nor is our National Institute of Health sounding an alarm.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Consensus Science and Why We should be Suspicious

I was having a very pleasant conversation with a woman about faith. She then maneuvered the conversation to the question of evolution. It felt like a trap, but I allowed myself to be stood up at the firing line. “Do you believe in evolution,” she asked. If I said that I did, I would pass the test. If I said that I didn’t, the firing squad would be ordered to shoot.

“I think that there are many problems with macro-evolution,” I cautiously responded.

“Well, you just lost me. If you want to be ignorant and oppose science, that’s your business.” She then abruptly hastened away, confident that she had delivered the decisive knock-out blow. However, she wasn’t even a scientist. As far as I could tell she hadn’t even read extensively on the subject. Wh then did her very obvious confidence come from? She had put her faith in our prevailing and ubiquitous cultural biases.

We are too ready to adopt the present consensus of the scientific community as truth. However, there are many good reasons for caution. :

• This is a word redolent of the state of contemporary science. It is a political word, not a scientific one. Most of the great innovations in science have been by individuals, or very small groups, striking out from the prevailing opinion to establish new frontiers. As Einstein is reputed to have remarked, when the Nazis published a book in which one hundred German scientists pronounced him wrong, “It only needed one of them to be right.” There was indeed a “consensus” in physics at the start of the twentieth century that “the science is settled”, but that was blown apart by Einstein and his contemporaries. Most of the great breakthroughs in science are made by those who are in a minority of one. The moral pressure to join the consensus and support the establishment view is substantial, even carrying the threat of dismissal. Such things have no place in a free society. This is not persuasion, it is enforcement. Research funding is exclusively given to proponents of establishment theories and denied to opponents. It is a remarkable tribute to the human spirit that so many dare stand up to the bullies and accept the contemptuous label of “denialist” (not that the general public ever get to hear of them). Others, who have family responsibilities, have to preserve their reservations for private conversation.
Meanwhile, the contemporary consensus club gets all the grants and university positions. If you are not part of this club, you get nothing apart from ridicule and ostracism. The club also has the power to publish whatever studies promote the consensus and suppress whatever findings fail to promote it. The media then falls behind the club’s credentials and reports only its trusted conclusions. Those who oppose the club are marginalized and dismissed as cranks. For instance, the scientists at the Discovery Institute are maligned as religious fanatics who know nothing about science.

It is therefore difficult to see through the club’s assertions that their position is fact. It is also difficult to not adopt the condescending attitudes that cling to these assertions, like mold to rotten food.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Truth has Died and Politics Reigns as King

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared the death of God, and when God died, so also did truth. At least, it seems that way. Truth has now become merely what you feel or prefer. It’s your political preferences, your likes and dislikes.

This becomes tragic when brought into government – a body that depends on its legitimacy in the eyes of the governed. Judges must judge according to unchanging principles of truth and justice. Politicians must conduct themselves according to moral principles broadly regarded as truth. They must not steal and sell their favors. They must not use their power for obtain sexual favors. When they fail to conduct themselves according to truth, cynicism and general deterioration occur. When they fail to represent the people but instead the narrow interests of their own political party, the nation suffers. Proverbs remind us that,

• Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. (Proverbs 14:34)

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States of America (Roe v. Wade) overturned the laws of all 50 fifty states which either prohibited or restricted abortion, thereby allowing women to abort until the point of “viability.”

How did the Court justify taking such a radical move? The Court claimed that abortion violated the Fourteenth Amendment:

• Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

The Court claimed that this Amendment safeguarded a woman’s “right to privacy.” However, the Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to privacy. Nor was there any legal precedent to regard abortion as a matter of privacy. Besides, when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868, 36 States and territories had laws against abortion. The Amendment didn’t do anything to undermine these laws, nor was it ever intended to do so. Instead, its purpose was to guarantee that the newly released slaves wouldn’t be deprived of their liberties. However, it’s always possible to find something in the Constitution to support one’s sentiments!

Today, politics trumps everything else – truth, fairness, the will of the majority and even the Constitution. In 1987, Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork to the US Supreme Court. According to Wayne Grudem, “he had been called the most able constitutional scholar in the United States,” but his nomination was opposed because,

• They [those Senators in favor of abortion on demand] realized that if Bork’s nomination were confirmed, a majority on the Supreme Court would oppose and probably overturn the Roe v. Wade decision regarding abortion. (Politics According to the Bible, 146)

Three years after his failed nomination, Bork wrote,

• In the past few decades American institutions have struggled with the temptations of politics. Professions and academic disciplines that once possessed a life of their own have steadily succumbed, in some cases almost entirely, to the belief that nothing matters beyond politically desirable results, however achieved. In this quest, politics invariably tried to dominate another discipline, to capture and use it for politics’ own purposes…It is coming to be denied that anything counts, not logic, not objectivity, not even intellectual honesty, that stands in the way of the “correct” political outcome.

Politics and its short-sighted gains trump everything else. Bork continues:

• In law, the moment of temptation is the moment of choice, when a judge realizes that in the case before him his strongly held view of justice, his political and moral imperative, is not embodied in a statute or in any provision of the Constitution. He must then choose between his version of justice and abiding by the American form of government…To give in to temptation, this one time, solves an urgent human problem, and a faint crack appears in the American foundation. A judge [who is supposed to interpret the law, not legislate it] has begun to rule where a legislator should. (The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law)

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is monumental. By using elastic principles of interpretation of the law, it is possible for judges to find just about any justification to suit their own tastes. These “interpretations” then become law. Actually, they are little different from new legislation and not strict legal interpretations, and these have the power to invalidate the popular vote as “unconstitutional.”

A good example of this is Proposition 8, limiting marriage to one male and one female. Twice, it was passed by popular vote, and twice it was declared “unconstitutional. The lawyer who challenged Prop 8 erroneously argued that “the Establishment Clause [that a State religion mustn’t be established]…says that a majority is not entitled to impose its religious beliefs on a minority.”

However, the Constitution and every state constitution say nothing about the right of same-sex marriage. It’s merely an invention! Yet, the courts have declared this prohibition “unconstitutional,” even against public opinion. Where then do they derive the justification for their actions? Again, politics triumphs over truth.

Judge Richard Posner of the US Court of Appeals sums up the injustice of one judge deciding for everyone else this way:

• Nothing in the Constitution or its history suggests a constitutional right to homosexual marriage. If there is such a right, it will have to be manufactured by the justices out of whole cloth. The exercise of so freewheeling a judicial discretion in the face of adamantly opposed public opinion would be seriously undemocratic. It would be a matter of us judges, us enlightened ones, forcing our sophisticated views on a deeply unwilling population. (Quoted from Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible, 229)

Why isn’t the media screaming out against such violations? Grudem argues that,

• There is a strong media bias in favor of more liberal policies and in favor of Democratic policies and candidates…This means that the “watchdog” function that should be played by a free press is largely missing from the national media. (586)

Truth and integrity fall before politics and self-interest.

Winding Down: The Reality of Deterioration

My computer had flat-lined. The tech-people explained that they gradually accumulate corrupted information. They don’t correct themselves. A dedicated software expert has to go in to correct them, and this does require a lot of intelligent dedication.

It’s like the mutations and corruptions that gradually accumulate in our own human genome and are passed along from generation to generation. I began to wonder why the information decay within my computer program wouldn’t produce at least one beneficial change. My computer never gets faster, smarter, or acquires more memory on its own. I’ve never heard of a computer that began performing a new and improved operation, and why should it?

Everything falls apart. Our tech-person told me that I might want to consider purchasing a new computer in a year or two. I didn’t think of asking him about the possibility that my computer might just improve with age. However, this is the very thing that macro-evolution asserts – development in time.

However, this is not what we are finding. Instead, our genome continues to suffer deterioration, just like my computer programs. Bruce Malone writes,

• This [collection of defects] is exactly what is happening to the human genome at an alarming rate. Thousands of tiny mistakes are building up with each generation.

The commitments and presuppositions of evolution can blind us to the weight of these findings, according to John C. Stanford:

• Modern science has difficulty explaining why cells stop making perfect copies. This is because modern science assumes evolution to be a fact which requires a belief that we are increasing in complexity – evolving upwards. Therefore, cell reproduction should be getting better with time, not worse. Furthermore, if humans have been around for 1 million years (or more), then there have been over 20,000 generations of humans in existence. It is documented that every generation has between 100 and 1000 mistakes added to the DNA code. (Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome, Third Ed. 2008, 45-88)

If this is the case, we should expect to find de-evolution and not evolution, and this is exactly what we find in many respects. Richard Kleiss observes that

• One-third of all known species [of birds] on the [Hawaiian] islands have become extinct within the last 1,500 years. Yet no new species of Hawaiian birds have developed over the same period…This evidence implies that the millions of different life forms on Earth could not have come from evolution, because creatures become extinct far faster than they could possibly evolve into new types. (A Closer Look at the Evidence)

Tangentially, Kleiss also observes,

• If humans have evolved from less intelligent creatures, one would expect the earliest written languages to be the least complex. The opposite is true. The oldest languages are the most complex.

Our garbage dumps are a profound testimony that our computer do not last for long. Likewise, we have already lost 98% of our known species. Where are the replacement species, which evolution would expect to see? Instead, we seem to be winding down. Anyone see any new human species appearing or at least in progress?

Friday, November 25, 2011


C.S. Lewis famously declared something like this:

• I believe in Christianity in the same way that I believe in the sun. It’s not simply because I see it, but also by its light I can see everything else.

Christianity enables us to make sense of the entirety of our lives. It’s a roadmap that details the major roads and shows their relationships, thereby allowing us to successfully navigate the byways of life. In order to illustrate this claim, let’s look at Jesus’ teaching on “worry.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, He begins by warning that we can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). We can’t serve both worry and God. They will necessarily be in competition for our allegiance. I can’t be responsive to God’s agenda and the needs of others if I’m worried about getting a promotion or making an appointment. I’d probably just pass by the motorist in need!

Jesus then launches into the problem of worry:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25)

If life is merely a matter of food and body – the things of this material world – worry is inevitable. Each grey hair and pulled tooth becomes an assault on our personhood and identity. Life is a train on an inevitable crash-course with the grave. However, according to Jesus, “life” is far more than these passing things.

The Book of Hebrews informs us about how Jesus was able to endure the Cross. He endured by fixing His attention on “the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2-3). This means that if we lack the joyful expectation of being with our Lover for all eternity, we will have no other place to anchor our worried thoughts but on our deteriorating circumstances.

In contrast, the secular approach is unable to lift us out of the rut of our moribund physical existence. Edward Hallowell, instructor at the Harvard Medical School, and director of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health, advises:

• Get the facts. Base worry on reality, rather than on a terrifying fantasy your imagination has concocted…The problems that reality provides are serious enough without adding to them in your imagination. (Worry, 296).

This is certainly sound advice. But what do we do when “reality” threatens our very faculties, friends, family, finances, and even our own existence? Hallowell advises exercise, reading, crying and having “a network of people on whom you can depend to give you reassurance” (296).

Indeed, this can be comforting, but the threatening problems still remain. Jesus understood that we need reassurances not only about the next life, but for this one also:

• Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
(Matthew 6:26-29)

Although the reassurances of our friends can be comforting, friends often lack the power – and sometimes even the willingness – to do anything about our situation. However, God is both willing and able. We can see this in how He provides for His creation. We observe its incredible beauty, artistry, functionality and sustainability.

Many will protest that this world instead is filled with pain and death. Although this is true, these observations need to be put into context. For the most part, our Creator does provide incredibly for His creation. They thirst for water, and He provides it. They hunger for food, and He supplies the appropriate nourishment. They need rest, and He provides sleep. They need companionship, and He provides family. I think that we have a tendency to focus on the unmet needs rather than the divine provisions.

Jesus also would have us question the utility of worry. What does it give us? As Jesus points out, worry can’t add “a single hour” to our lives. Others will protest that worry is important. It keeps us focused on a problem that requires a solution. Hallowell therefore writes:

• Separate out toxic worry from good worry. Remember that good worry amounts to planning. You need to plan…Toxic worry is unnecessary, repetitive, unproductive, paralyzing, frightening, and in general life-defeating. (295-96)

Hallowell seems to assume that anxious worry is unavoidable if our problems are to be addressed. If I’m hungry, I take a trip to the supermarket and get the job done. There’s no worry involved. This is because I’m confident that I can make the purchase. Worry comes when we lack confidence. However, life throws many things at us for which we shouldn’t rationally have any confidence, like being terminally ill.

However, this isn’t the end of the world. Jesus taught that we can do nothing without Him (John 15:4-5). Rather than a put-down, this was an invitation to draw closer to Him, casting all of our cares and worries upon Him.

Even if Hallowell is right that we can parcel out good from bad worry, exercising this form of mind-control is impossible for those of us who suffer from chronic worry. I chronically worried about my jalopy until I found a mechanic whom I could trust. Of course, I had to pay him his fee.

However, there are many problems that my mechanic couldn’t possibly address – not even my doctor. I need help from above, and I need to know that God really wants to help me even though I am unable to pay Him any wage. However, in so many ways, Jesus assured His followers that God is more than willing:

• “If that is how God [gloriously] clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
(Matthew 6:30-32)

Even if we are “of little faith,” Jesus assures us that this will not impede the Father’s cares for us. Jesus encourages us that we are His crowning achievement. Therefore, if He takes care of the animal and plant kingdoms, He will certainly care of us!

This is a view that is increasingly attacked in today’s universities, where it is common to hear, “Man created god in his own image. Therefore, man projects his own belief upon god that we are his crowning achievement. Instead, one life-form is no more valuable than the next.”

In contrast to this, Scripture uniformly informs us that we are special – the objects of God’s greatest concern. Besides, if these materialists tried to bring law into conformity with their philosophy, we would be foolishly brought up on murder charges for swatting a mosquito!

There is no greater protection against worry than the assurance of God’s love and protection. Clearly, Hallowell recognizes that we require a confidence beyond ourselves. He therefore advises,

• Make friends with angels. Even if you do not believe in angels, make up fictional angels in your imagination and allow yourself to become friends with them. This is not psychotic; it is helpful management of worry. (304)

Our ability to cope with worry and life’s problems is severely limited. Hence angels! Although Hallowell assures us that “this is not psychotic,” such a “friendship” will not bear fruit unless the worrier actually believes in it. However, in embracing this fantasy we sacrifice reality – the very thing that Hallowell had been preaching. However, he also advises,

• Have faith. In what, of course is up to you…Let go of your impossible need for control. (305)

Indeed, worry is concerned with maintaining control. We have to relinquish our demand for control in order to mitigate worry. But to whom? For Hallowell, imagination and fantasy trumps truth. While faith in a loving deity is powerful stuff, if the faith isn’t based upon truth, it will eventually fail us. Our faith needs to be nurtured by tangible evidences that He truly cares for us. This faith also has to be able to accurately explain our lives – our feelings, observations and experiences. It has to serve as an accurate roadmap or GPS.

Elsewhere, Jesus states,

• Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:29-30)

He loves the sparrows, but He loves us far more. Because of this love, He also has a yoke for us:

• But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
(Matthew 6:33)

Our welfare is best served by serving God. If we put Him first, He’ll put us first. If we honor Him, He’ll honor us. However, this yoke of service is relatively light (Matthew 11:28-30). In fact, it’s a joy, providing our lives with wonder and meaning. Most of us would cherish the opportunity to polish the shoes of George Washington. How much more of my Savior Jesus!

Once again, His provisions are the very provisions we need to climb out from beneath the weight of our worries. I still fall prey to my worries. I come from a long line of worriers, and I have remained faithful to this family tradition. However, I have learned at whose feet to unload my baggage.

The Monopolistic Stealth Religion

The West is so interconnected, not only by communication, politics and economics, but also by ideas – so much so that the innovations instituted in Europe and then in Canada soon come knocking at our door.

• Nearly a year after the Quebec government banned religion from the province’s subsidized daycares, they have signaled that they will extend the directive into daycares run in private homes…stipulating that government-funded daycares must not offer any activity that aims to teach a belief, dogma, or practice of a particular religion. The directive, which took effect June 1st, banned religious prayers, crafts, and songs – including many Christmas carols. Religious symbols, such as Christmas trees, crucifixes, and menorahs were allowed as cultural expressions, but staff cannot explain their religious significance.

Although this ruling doesn’t affect unsubsidized daycares, it would effectively drive them out of business. This is because they would be entirely unable to compete with the subsidized daycares:

• Unsubsidized daycares are unaffected by the directives, but they must compete with the $7-a-day program offered through government subsidies (which amount to around $40 a day per child).

This ruling, as are many similar ones popping up in the West like ragweed from infertile soil, is nothing short of hypocrisy. Whenever a law is passed, a judgment is made, or even when a textbook is chosen, values must be invoked, one’s religious stance must be consulted, explicitly or implicitly. Therefore, when the Quebec government ruled against religion, it was stealthfully promoting its own relativistic religion. This was illuminated by another revelation made on Thanksgiving Day:

• The Canadian Press revealed today [11/24/11] that through an access to information request it has obtained a talking points brief by Conservative Government bureaucrats to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, advising the minister about how to approach the issue of religious freedom in a meeting with a Vatican official…The memo warned Baird to avoid the topic of a controversial and mandatory Quebec school course forcing children to be taught relativistic religion from which parents are unable to exempt their children. The course mandates that all religions be taught to children as if they were of equal value without preference to any specific religion. The course is mandated to be taught not only in public schools but also in private religious schools as well.

Hypocritically, all of these instances of the imposition of secular moral-relativism are justified by an appeal to neutrality – that their program will be acceptable to people of all faiths. Clearly it won’t and can’t be.

For one thing, the West is promoting a new religion based on misinformation. All religions aren’t of “equal value” and they aren’t the same. Any religious practitioner will tell of great differences among them, and they yield entirely different fruit. The Heaven’s Gate suicide cult bore different fruit from the Shakers and the Animists. In fact, the very reason that the secularistic West has imposed its own ideas of moral-relativism and religious-pluralism reflects that fact that the secularists value their own religion more than they do the others.

But is a religion that teaches certain ethics – do not cheat, do not bully – apart from the belief in a supreme and loving deity superior? No! Instead, it is logically incoherent, self-refuting, and hypocritical.

From a moral-relativistic stance, it isn’t logical to impose any “should” or “ought” or any law for that matter. If morality is merely a matter of what the lone individual might be feeling or deciding at the moment, it shouldn’t become a “should” for anyone. Such a “morality” just doesn’t carry even an ounce of moral weight or judgment.

Once morality is cut off from a Supreme Being, there are no higher standards to which to aspire. We are left in the confusion of always introspecting our own feelings and decisions, where everyone’s whims carry the same moral “authority,” and where there is no definitive standard to decide among them. It’s nothing short of chaos!

Consequently, there is no way to demonstrate that bullying or cheating is wrong. They merely violate the arbitrary rulings that are presently in force.

If the new secularism is indeed superior, let the secularists demonstrate this fact openly and honestly instead of hiding behind the false claim of neutrality.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Salvation: What’s Required?

Confidence in God is confidence about His gift of salvation. Knowing that salvation is a gift from start to finish enables us to take our attention away from ourselves, and whatever contribution we need to make, and place it gratefully and joyously upon our Savior. However, if we are not confident of this knowledge, our attention will recoil back upon ourselves. We will obsess about whether our performance is adequate enough or our good deeds plentiful enough to merit God’s grace.

Such an obsession will either produce arrogance, if we are blind to ourselves, or depression, if we can see our inadequacies clearly enough. Our only remedy is the certainty that God’s grace is sufficient and that our salvation is a settled matter. Consequently, we are liberated to praise and adore Him.

However, there are several factors that can deprive us of this confidence. Our failure to understand Scripture properly can undermine this confidence. For example, many verses indicate that our righteousness has to exceed that of the religious leaders if we are going to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). Others seem to equate salvation with achieving a certain level of holiness:

• Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

Meanwhile, Jesus also seems to equate salvation with attaining a certain level of goodness:

• Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-30)

I had been tormented by these verses and others like them. I didn’t know if I was good enough to make the grade and my hope that I’d be able to attain to these heights was quickly vanishing. The harder I’d struggle to make the cut-off point, the more I saw my depressing adequacies and sins.

Fortunately for me, the torment turned me back to Scripture. For instance, the writer of Hebrews demonstrates what he means by “holiness” through the example of Esau who cared so little about his standing before God that he sold his birth right for a bowl of cereal. Although he later regretted it, he never repented of his sin (Heb. 12:16-17).

This understanding was liberating. I now understood that “holiness” wasn’t a state of purity that I could never attain, but a gift granted to the penitent. Verses began to come together for me. I recalled that by confessing my sins, my God would forgive and cleanse me of all their filth (1 John 1:9). Instead of producing waves of anxiety, even the word “salvation” slowly became a refuge for me.

I think that Job had learned a similar lesson. During his trials, he had issued many imprudent accusations that God wasn’t treating him justly. However, after a humbling encounter with God, Job wisely confessed: “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6).

God now addressed Job’s friends:

• "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. (Job 42:7)

This is astounding. Job had said many wrong things about God. However, once Job confessed his sins, everything changed! In God’s mind, he was righteous. He had now spoken “what is right” about God! Everything was radically different. He had been restored to such a state of purity that all his deeds were now pure in God’s sight. Job’s confession – not his purity – opened the door.

But what about the many verses that claim that we must be righteous or “good?” If anyone had failed the “goodness test,” it was King David. He was given everything, but evidently was dissatisfied with what the Lord had given him. He committed adultery with a married woman and then killed her husband when his cover-up failed to work. Nevertheless, in one of David’s memorable penitential Psalms, he declared the blessedness of the righteous:

• Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD'S unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! (Psalm 32:10-11)

Evidently, David, with what seemed to be a great display of presumption, considered himself among the “righteous” and the “upright!” How could he have numbered himself among the righteous after the horrible sins he had committed? What hubris! Or was it? David didn’t deny his sins:

• Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"-- and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:3-8 )

David had learned a painful lesson. He now saw that blessedness was not the result of his own goodness, but of God’s gift of forgiveness that came through David’s confession of sin. In light of this forgiveness, he embraced the fact that he was now “righteous” and “upright” in God’s sight. His status had been miraculously transformed in an instance. He now regarded himself among the holy and the righteous because his God regarded him in this manner. In verse six, he reaffirms this fact: “Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found.” Despite his grievous sins, David realized that he could still be counted among the “godly!” What a blessing that we can confess our sins before God!

Who then are the “good” who attain to the resurrection of the righteous (John 5:28-29)? Clearly, no one has ever been good enough to deserve this resurrection. None of us will ever be able to acquire enough merits to inform God, “Look at this list of my good deeds. Now, as You can see, I deserve salvation!” Instead, here is our real status before our God:

• As it is written: "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)

Who then are the righteous or the “good?” Certainly not those who have attained goodness! They simply didn’t exist:

• Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

According to Paul, righteousness was something that a mere human has never achieved. Although the law seemed to provide a means to attain righteousness, it instead convicted us of our utter lack of righteousness and then pointed us to our only hope (Gal. 3:22-24).

If true righteousness is an impossibility for us, then who are the “righteous” to whom David refers? There is only one possible answer. These are believers whose sins have been forgiven and cleansed – the very people who mourn over their sins and hunger and thirst after a righteousness that can only come from God. We along with David now stand cleansed before our incredible Savior.

However, there are verses that seem to identify our works as the determining salvific factor:

• "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:44-46)

Here, our uncertainty is based upon our confusion of root with fruit, cause (grace) with effect (good deeds). Jesus had taught that if we are a (born again) good tree, we will inevitably produce good fruit. If I trust my doctor, I will take the medicine he gives me. If I don’t trust him, I won’t take it. I might not always take it on time. Nor will I always take it in the right manner (on an empty stomach). I might even get angry at the side effects it produces and stop taking it. However, my faith in my doctor will at least lead me to confer with him about my problems.

The fruit doesn’t cause the fruit tree. Instead the apple tree causes the apple. Good deeds don’t save us. There are merely the fruit of salvation. If I truly have faith, there will be changes pleasing to God. If I trust in my Doctor, I will go to Him and confess to Him what is wrong and listen to His admonition, even if it hurts.

Our obedience might be fumbling, but it’s still the fruit of salvation - obedience. Abraham’s nephew Lot had lived a compromised life at Sodom, but in his God’s eyes, he was (and is) “righteous Lot” (2 Peter 2:7). If we have confessed our sins to Him and trust in His provisions for us, we are TRULY His!!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Seek Judgment but also Forgive

If we are supposed to forgive our enemies, how do we explain this:

• When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (Rev. 6:9-10)

How can the holy martyrs of God cry out for vengeance? Shouldn’t they instead be crying out for the forgiveness of their persecutors? Let’s not be too quick to dismiss this cry for vengeance as just an Old Testament sentiment – something that the God of the New Testament had wisely repented of. God’s judgments – His righteous requirements – are deeply woven into the fabric of even the NT:

• See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? (Hebrews 12:25)

Justice remains an enduring concern of God. He instituted the justice system to punish injustice, calling the courts “God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

The Agent of mercy – Jesus Christ Himself – even instituted judgment within His church. After church “due process” had been exercised, the unrepentant member was to suffer the judgment of excommunication (Matthew 18). In addition to this, when Christ returns,

• Destruction will come on them [the unrepentant] suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thes. 5:3)

With these examples of the holiness of God’s judgments, how can we fault the martyred saints for clamoring for judgment? But if they are a normative example for us, what happens to “forgive as you have been forgiven?”

Perhaps judgment and forgiveness can coexist together? While God had forgiven King David for his grievous sins involving Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, who David killed, David also had to endure the just punishment of his God. Evidently, punishment can coincide with forgiveness! Likewise, although we are to pray for all and to maintain an attitude of forgiveness, we are also to pursue justice – judgment and punishment – through the proper channels.

Paul required us to forgive and “bless” our enemies and to not seek revenge, because God had put in place another institution – the criminal justice system – whose role it was to exercise the “wrath” of God (Romans 12:14-21; 13:1-4). The justice system in its role to deliver justice frees us up to show mercy. God’s love and forgiveness didn’t eliminate the necessity for judgment. The evildoer would receive a taste of both – blessing and curse, the mercy of God and the severity of God. The two are partners.

Christians are often confused by this. They feel that if we bless and pray for the offender, we shouldn’t bring criminal charges against them. They wrongly think that we have to choose one alternative or the other. This misunderstanding might imprudently enable the abuser to go free and abuse again, bringing contempt upon the church because of our foolishness. Instead, we can personally forgive and pray for the offender and pursue justice at the same time.

We even find a similar principle among the congregation of believers. Although we must pray even for our enemies – and this includes our brothers in Christ – Jesus taught that a tangible and complete forgiveness, entailing restoration, requires repentance:

• "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4)

No repentance, no restoration! This same principle also applies to excommunication. There could only be restoration when the excommunicated person repented (Matthew 18:15). Nevertheless, Jesus taught us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). However, “love” clearly isn’t the same thing as receiving the offender into fellowship. We should pray for our lying friend who ruined our reputation, but we shouldn’t invite them back home until they have confessed and repented. Loving can be tough and even punitive.

There is nothing unholy about pursuing justice as long as it is pursued in a proper manner. If this is the case, there is nothing wrong with praying that God should right the wrongs. Nevertheless, mercy must take precedence over justice, as James wrote:

• Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:13)

How then do we pray? Pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. His will sometimes requires judgment. However, with a forgiving heart, pray, before all else, for mercy. Forgive as you have been forgiven. But as the sinner cannot partake of God’s forgiveness until they repent, the excommunicated brother should not experience restoration – the full measure of forgiveness – until he too repents.

So pray for God’s wrath, but even more so, pray for mercy and forgiveness.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Guilt, Shame, and the Uglies

Have you ever felt so ugly and contaminated that you just wanted to run away? Your thought-life can do this to you. I have an ugly thought-life, and it makes me feel ugly within. I won’t tell you the substance of my thoughts. I’m just too ashamed to do so. Ironically, they really become ugly when I’m in the place of my spiritual hopes and greatest expectations – the church. They can become so filthy that I don’t want to see anyone afterwards. I just want to run.

However, the Lord has taught me some very important principles to deal with the uglies:

They are all too natural, and they intimately adhere to us – as closely as our own body. Paul explained it this way:

• For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17)

Therefore, don’t be surprised by the intense internal battle (1 Peter 4:12). The Lord, however, has achieved a beach-head within our lives (Romans 8:10, 23). Although the final outcome has already been guaranteed, the war will continue to rage until we are finally home with our Savior. This means that we won’t see the end of the uglies until then. If instead we expect to decisively slay them ourselves, we will be disappointed and will think that something has gone wrong.

I might not be able to get rid of them at will, but I can confess and resist them. The Lord has shown me that I need to confess them as often as they pop up. It’s like a pinball machine. Whenever the bad-guy pops up, I’ve got to shoot him down. I do this by confessing my plight and crying “help me, Lord.”

This might sound childish or ridiculous, but we are children, sometimes simple principles really work! Consequently, I no longer have to flee church. My Lord truly forgives and cleanses me as He promised (1 John 1:9). The filth is really washed away! I can face others, confident in my Lord.

This trust is really the victory that overcomes (1 John 5:4-5) the sin and shame. We tend to erroneously think that freedom from sin is our victory. Instead, it is our sinful failures that lead us back to Christ. In fact, Scripture singles out confession/repentance as the only thing that makes the angels rejoice (Luke 15). Now that’s a victory!

I no longer have to vainly try to heighten my self-esteem and give myself pep-talks to combat my ugly feelings. Yes, I do give myself a pep-talk, but it’s His pep-talk and consists of His Words – His purifying wisdom (John 15:3). If I abide in His light, the darkness eventually flies.

I have to take captive the unbiblical thoughts and replace them with the Biblical (2 Cor. 10:4-5). I can’t merely confess the sinfulness of my thinking without substituting my thoughts with God’s truth. The vacuum left when I reject the sinful thoughts must be filled by others. Besides, I need verses of Biblical wisdom to repeatedly expose the sinfulness of my thinking. They are just too seductive! I need constant reminders of how filthy they truly are and my blessedness in Christ.

I have learned to be thankful that the uglies make me feel ugly and contaminated. These feelings place a gun to my head. They leave me with a sense of desperation and humble me. They coerce me to hate my sinful thinking. They also make me return to Scripture, which works mightily within me (1 Thess. 2:13).

Atheism: The Great Faith

Increasingly, militant atheists arrogantly charge that we believe in fairy tales, and they’ve convinced themselves that they are providing a needed service to mankind by exposing this “fact.” While it is sometimes best to wipe the dust off your feet and move on, sometimes this isn’t advisable. Their attack take place while you are talking to a group about your Christian faith, and your flight might be interpreted as a failure to provide an answer. Therefore, here are some strategies you might consider.

You might ask them, “I wasn’t aware that I believe in ‘fairy tales.’ Can you point one out?” They usually have a prepared list including talking serpents and donkeys.

You might then answer, “Is there any reason why an all-powerful Creator couldn’t enable a serpent to talk?”

They’ll probably respond that you or he have never seen such a thing, to which you might simply respond, “Does the fact that we’ve never seen something mean that it’s impossible? Please tell me what makes something a ‘fairy tale.’” Or

“Don’t you believe in things that you haven’t seen – like atoms and gravity?”

As you can see, questions can be an affective tool, and you can do it with a smile on your face. They put the pressure on the atheist to defend his allegations. You can also take your questioning into his territory:

“What makes a ‘talking serpent’ more of a ‘fairy tale’ than your belief that everything just sprang into existence without a cause?” Or

“What makes a ‘talking serpent’ more of a ‘fairy tale’ than your belief that life just suddenly arose from non-life?”
or “that all of life’s building blocks just miraculously self-constructed and came together?”

Of course, he can‘t give you a good answer. If he tries to, you might ask, “Where’s your proof?” He might instead assert that all credible scientists believe that natural causation explains these things and that it’s simpletons like you who deny naturalism and evolution.

Don’t be intimidated. Intimidation and ridicule are part of his strategy. Again, think of a good question that summarizes his charge and reveals its foolishness:

“Are you saying that whenever we question the prevailing scientific consensus, we become no more than ‘simpletons?’”
or “Are you suggesting that we should always acquiesce to the ‘experts?’” You can even ask a simpler question:

“How do you know that ‘all credible scientists believe in natural causation to explain these things?’” Once again, you are putting the responsibility back on the atheist to prove his wild claims, and this is where the responsibility belongs!

Eventually, your questions might force him to concede that science still doesn’t have the answers for the many mysteries of life – freewill, consciousness, life, DNA, the cell, the fine-tuning of the universe and even the “natural” laws of nature – but he’ll assure you that science eventually will have the answers.

You might merely conclude, “Well, it seems that you are a man of great faith, in fact, greater than mine!”

Friday, November 18, 2011

Anti-Semitism and Islam

Anti-Semitism isn’t creeping back; it’s lunging forth according to Kevin Deutsch of the Daily News:

• In New York’s Jewish neighborhoods, the fear is palpable and the evidence mounting that there’s a surge in anti-Semitism. (Monday Nov. 14, 2011)

On the same page, Weichselbaum and Nelson wrote about,

• A recent spate of hate crimes and violence that has left the Jewish community on edge…The torching of three cars in Midwood, Brooklyn, the spraying of swastikas and the brutal beatdown of a Hasidic man in Williamsburg.

This escalation should not take us by surprise. Nor should we brush it off as merely unconnected events. They are occurring all over the West – wherever there are sizable Islamic minorities:

• In 2004, France experienced rising levels of Islamic antisemitism and acts that were publicized around the world. In 2006, rising levels of antisemitism were recorded in French schools. Reports related to the tensions between the children of North African Muslim immigrants and North African Jewish children. The climax was reached when Ilan Halimi was tortured to death by the so-called "Barbarians gang", led by Youssouf Fofana. In 2007, over 7,000 members of the community petitioned for asylum in the United States, citing antisemitism in France.

• There were recorded well over a hundred antisemitic attacks in Belgium in 2009. This was a 100% increase from the year before. The perpetrators were usually young males of immigrant background from the Middle East. (wiki)

• After Germany and Austria, Sweden has the highest rate of antisemitic incidents in Europe.[177] A government study in 2006 estimated that 39% of the Muslim population, harbor strong and consistent antisemitic views. Former Prime Minister Göran Persson described these results as "surprising and terrifying". (wiki)

• In 2010, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation after one year of research, revealed that anti-semitism was common among Norwegian muslims. Teachers at schools with large shares of muslims revealed that muslim students often "praise or admire Adolf Hitler for his killing of Jews", that "Jew-hate is legitimate within vast groups of muslim students" and that "muslims laugh or command [teachers] to stop when trying to educate about the Holocaust". (wiki)

Anti-Semitic incidents in Canada also reached record highs in 2009, according to an annual report released by the B'nai Brith Canada organization. The survey showed an 11.4 percent jump in the number of incidents over the previous year, 2008…The organization noted there has been a five-fold increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Canada over the past decade. According to the Toronto Muslims website, Muslims living in Canada today number more than 750,000, with some 61 percent of those residing in Ontario, where the majority of the anti-Semitic incidents occurred.
The outbreak of anti-Semitism even seems to be worse in the Netherlands:

• Sixty percent of Dutch Jews are ready to pack up and leave the country. The cause is a boom of Islamic antisemitism in the famous multicultural Netherlands.
• The list of Dutch victims is dramatic: from the killing of the anti-Islamist political leader Pim Fortuyn to the persecution of the Somali dissident Ayaan Hirsi Ali to the murder of the director Theo Van Gogh, condemned to death for his film "Submission," a denunciation of the crimes of Muslim theocracy. Fortuyn's successor, Geert Wilders, has lived under 24-hour police protection for many years. Now the Dutch Jews are ready to flee Holland.

Why? The article cites many reasons including, “attacks on the street, the appalling security around Jewish institutions, the attempted burning of synagogues…”

• From the data of the last report of the Dutch police, the number of anti-Semitic acts in the country has increased by 48 percent this year… Lester M. Wolff van Ravenswade described the difficulties faced by Jews living in Amsterdam. "I cannot go to public events dressed as a Jew, let alone go out on Saturday night. Which party do I have to vote for in order to live safely with the kippah on my head? ".

Israel is often blamed for the outburst of violence. Some argue that when the Israel – Palestinian problem is resolved, there will be peace among Jews and Muslims. However, this doesn’t seem likely. Anti-Semitism is embedded within the very fabric of Islam:

Muslim religious schools operating in Britain are using poisonously anti-Semitic textbooks from Saudi Arabia to teach children as young as six that Jews are descended from "monkeys" and "pigs," and that Zionists are plotting to take over the world. The schools are also instructing children on how to chop off the hands and feet of a thief as per Islamic Sharia law. These are just a few of the findings of a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) exposé of Saudi-run Muslim schools in Britain.

Where do these allegations “that Jews are descended from ‘monkeys’ and ‘pigs’ come from? They are part of the sacred writings of Islam, deriving from the Muhammad’s disdain of the Jews for not receiving him as their prophet and his subsequent genocide of at least one Jewish tribe. Consequently, we find that the Koran states,

• [Surah 2:65, 5:60, 7:166] “Jews are those who were cursed and transformed into apes and swine…”

• [Surah 8:55-56; 98:6] “Jews are the worst of Allah’s creation…”

The various collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad also encourage violence:

• Muhammad the messenger of Allah said, “Do not greet Jews or Christians with peace if you meet one of them in you way then push them over to a ditch or a narrow path.” (Hadith Number 4030, Reported by Al Muslim)

• Muhammad said that “the hour will not come until Muslims fight and kill the Jews and the Jews will hide behind trees and rocks, and these trees and rocks will cry out saying, ‘O Muslim, slave of Allah, this Jew is hiding behind me, come and kill him.’” (Hadith no 5203; Reported by Muslim)

If Jews are no better than “swine,” it is not surprising to find such violent teachings. In light of the Islamic foundations for violent anti-Semitism and the escalation of anti-Semitism all over the West, it is imperative that the West take adequate actions to counteract both the hate crimes and the teachings that encourage them.

Instead, we find in the West a naïve assumption that if we are commodious enough to our Islamic minorities, they will assimilate and accept Western values. Such an assumption is unfounded and receives no support from any nation where Islam has planted itself. Rather, we need to understand the belief system that now confronts the West. It should be understood that Muslims can’t take others as friends. Consequently, any show of friendship by serious Muslims is only feigned in order to win others to Islam:

• [Surah 3:27] “Let not the believers take the disbelievers for friends rather than believers. And whoever does this has no connection with Allah

• [Surah 5:54] O ye who believe, take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors. They are but friends and protectors to each other.

• [Surah 60:1] “O you who believe! Take not My enemies and your enemies (i.e. disbelievers and polytheists) as friends, showing affection towards them, while they have disbelieved in what has come to you of the truth”… [60:4] “Indeed there has been an excellent example for you in Ibraaheem (Abraham) and those with him, when they said to their people: ‘Verily, we are free from you and whatever you worship besides Allaah, we have rejected you, and there has started between us and you, hostility and hatred for ever until you believe in Allaah Alone’”

Jesus instructed His followers to be “as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.” However, gentleness only represents wisdom as long as there remains a viable justice system to suppress evil. We therefore need to pray and to petition our leaders to be wise in this regard.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We Need to Suffer Various Trials

The Christian life leads us through the “valley of the shadow of death.” It’s the only way to the heavenly city. However, as we journey through this “valley,” we often loose our way, thinking that God has utterly abandoned us.

For years I had experienced horribly troubling doubts about my salvation. It just didn't seem that my life was lining up with the promises of Scripture. I was convinced that someone took a wrong turn somewhere. However, I subsequently learned that these trials are normal for the Christian life, even necessary. They were also the “daily bread” of the Israelites, who often felt abandoned by God. In the midst of their various trials, they would forget about the many ways that their God had delivered them. Moses, however, admonished them to recall the things of the Lord – both the trials and the deliverances:

• Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut. 8:2-3)

It's important for us to understand the Lord's ways, so that when the trials arrive, we will not despair. Besides, we will never learn how to abide "on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" without trials. If we are too comfortable, we will not seek the Scriptures for a deeper understanding.

Eaglets become too comfortable in their nest to try out their wings. The parents therefore begin to make the nest inhospitable by removing the down. Only then will the eaglet venture forth and depend on their wings.

We need to learn how to depend on God. This requires us to despair of ourselves and our circumstances. David had thanked God for his periods of torment and affliction:

• Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word... 119:71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:67)

All of God's chosen people must endure affliction:

• We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor. 4:10-11)

If we want to manifest Christ in our lives, we have to experience His sufferings. These can take many different forms. It’s important to understand this, because we often doubt whether our suffering is the “authorized” suffering. We’re tempted to think that our suffering represents a form of pathology and therefore doesn’t count. We forget that our Lord works all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

Our Savior loves us too much to not prune us back so that we can bear fruit for His glory sake (and ultimately our own):

• I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:1-2)

The grape vines must be pruned back every season if they are going to be productive. Otherwise, the vines have a tendency to suffocate themselves. Ironically, their fruit production can prevent them from bearing more fruit if they are not skillfully attended.

If we are not pruned back, our past accomplishments can blind us with pride – the most deadly threat to the spiritual life. Consequently, I find that after every spiritual success and that warm accompanying glow, my Savior must hold up the mirror to my face and show me who I really am. He reveals to me my lack of any true spirituality and righteousness. He reminds me of my utter helplessness and dependence upon Him, and He does this through painful trials.

I don’t like the trials and never will. They are painful as they must be to produce the types of fruit that God is looking for (Hebrews 12:11). If He loves us – and He does – He works on us overtime:

• For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" (1 Peter 4:17-18)

If we fail to see how necessary the struggles are, we will not be prepared for them. Therefore, Peter warns:

• Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

The trials are inevitable. They’re also necessary. They prepare us for this life, and they also prepare us to meet our Savior with great rejoicing when He returns. If earth’s delights are so tantalizing, who then will long for their final home?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Prayer: It's Beyond Our Ability

There are times when we find ourselves utterly unable to cope, to even do the simplest of things, like talking to God. This can be terrifying. Not only do we feel cut off from God at such times, but it even feels as if we are bereft of any spirituality or even salvation! The more we try to reassure ourselves that we are spiritual people, the more this assurance seems to totally escape us, leaving us with the sense that there must be something horribly wrong.

However, these experiences instead serve as opportunities to lead us into a deeper level of trust. It’s so hard for us to believe that we are utterly helpless, like sheep who can’t even get off the ground on our own. Even though Scripture warns us of our complete inability, it just doesn’t sink in until we encounter it head on. Paul referred to his utter inadequacy as a minister of the Gospel:

• Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Cor. 3:5)

In other words, what feels like a curse – our inadequacy to even pray on our own – actually is a blessing, an opportunity to find another area to remove remaining vestiges self-trust and to trust in our God exclusively, giving Him all the thanks and praise, as He deserves.

There is always a great risk that our good will turn putrid. Boasting in our good works is a great threat to not only fellowship with the brethren but even fellowship with our Savior. For this reason, He ordained salvation as purely a gift, lest any should boast (Eph 2:8-9).

There is also a danger that we can take credit for our time in intercession and think, “Look how spiritual I am! I spend more unselfish time in prayer than others do!” Of course, such an attitude is an abomination before God (Luke 16:15), who purposely chose this world’s rejects so that none of His elect could boast (1 Cor. 1:29).

Therefore, Jesus taught His disciples that it’s all about Him – His grace, His righteousness, His sanctification. And there’s only one way that we can learn this lesson – we need to constantly be pruned back so that we can bear more fruit (John 15:2). This pruning will then teach us that He alone is our hope:

• Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

I used to think that I could keep my own faith. I proudly reassured myself that I would never turn my back on Him. However, He taught me through many painful lessons that I can’t even keep my own faith. Instead, He must keep my faith for me:

• [We] through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5)

So let me suggest to you a model for your prayer:

• “Lord, I can’t do the slightest thing without You. Therefore, it is You who must keep my faith; it is You who must enable me to pray and to meditate on Your Scriptures. Without You, I am helpless, but You have purchased me and it’s no longer about me (Gal. 2:20). You’re going to have to enable me to stand (Romans 14:4-5), because without you I can’t even stand.”

Psalm 62 says it much better than me:

• My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken…Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

Occupy Wisely: Idealism Needs Wisdom

My wife and I met with University of Pennsylvania student “Occupiers.” We stood in a circle and offered our opinions. I was really impressed at how well they listened and how respectful they were to each other as they offered their disparate comments about the present economic crisis.

Some of the comments were so sophisticated and involved that I struggled to wrap my mind around them. However, they were all united in their idealism. They felt assured that they could make a difference. Meanwhile, I felt almost like a saboteur in their optimistic presence as I tried to hijack the conversation, perhaps illegitimately, in the direction that I thought more productive – Jesus:

“Don’t you think that whatever system we might put in place would be undermined by moral relativism? If morality is just subjective and therefore governed by our immediate and pragmatic concerns, don’t you think that even the best system would become corrupt?” I baited my hook and waited for any bites.

“I don’t think that we need moral absolutes,” several responded. They mentioned the ethical systems of Kant, Plato and Aristotle. They didn’t mention Jesus, but I was still thrilled. My stealth worm had attracted some fish, even though I felt somewhat guilty about my “subversive agenda.”

A professor, who seemed to serve as an advisor for the group, tried to bring the conversation back on-track: “It doesn’t matter whether or not we come from different religious and philosophical places. We can still work together on the basic problems of the economy.”

However, it seemed that many of our present economic woes resulted directly from greed and cunning. Don’t such problems require a re-examination of our basic moral foundations? If we believe that morality is nothing more than our own arbitrary and changing decisions, how can we be expected to act in morally responsible ways? Why should we conduct ourselves with integrity if integrity is just an illusion?

I was reminded of a recent survey of college students. They were asked if they might indulge in rape if they were absolutely sure that they wouldn’t get caught. An astounding 60% admitted that they would!

How shocking! We are little more than beasts. If we are willing to violate another human being, why shouldn’t we also be willing to violate an impersonal system? There are no regulations – no monitoring agencies, no governing bodies – that can contain our lusts. Therefore, the ultimate solution must come from within and not from without. We must first be born again! In the Hebrew Scriptures, it is described this way:

• I [God] will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Without the change of heart, there can be no meaningful change in attitudes and behaviors. There are certain things that all of the policemen and armies in the world cannot effectively address – the perversions of the heart.

We regarded it as such a privilege and a blessing to go with two of the student “occupiers” to a café after the hours we spent with them in the circle of conversation. Perhaps they saw in me a fellow “subversive.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Life is a Wasteland, or is it?

The way we think is the way we experience. The way that we conceptualize our lives is the way we suffer them. One friend assured me that he had married the wrong woman, and she that was a constant aggravation to him. Although I agreed with him that she sounded like a difficult woman, I didn’t agree that his marriage was a disaster.

Conceptualizing his marriage as a disaster, he experienced it as a “negative.” I tried to explain that, by regarding his marriage as a “negative,” he was torpedoing the possibility of working it out as a positive.

To demonstrate the power of our conceptualizations, let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine that you just returned home from the hospital after triple-bypass-surgery. The next morning you awoke with excruciating pain. Terrified, you immediately went to see your surgeon who subjected you to a battery of tests. He then explained that what you are experiencing is the best-case scenario. It demonstrated that the surgery has been successful. Consequently, if you trust your surgeon, although you might still be experiencing the same pain, your orientation towards the pain (and your experience of the pain) will be very different. What you had regarded as a negative you now see as a positive, and therefore you experience it differently.

This is the very thing of which the Bible assures us – negatives can really be positives in disguise. The Apostle Paul had suffered with an unnamed affliction, and he earnestly prayed that he’d be healed of it. However, God had something else in mind. He informed Paul that He wasn’t going to heal him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). The “negatives” are really positives in God’s hands.

This lesson does not only apply to our troubling relationships, it applies to all areas of our lives. Just take the person who has struggled with years of depression and thinks he is “pathological” or “mentally ill.” He needs to see his “negatives” or “weakness” as a glorious opportunity for God to perfect him.

This is the lesson Paul had learned. He had experienced such great suffering that he wanted to die:

• We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

Paul’s eyes were opened to the fact that what had seemed to be a negative was actually a positive! Our lives are filled with apparent negatives – circumstances that cause us to fear and despair. It’s so important that we learn to see them as positives. We need to see our difficult husband as a gift through which God will perfect and prepare us for our eternal home. This isn’t a matter of the power-of-positive-thinking; this is a matter of the reality of the hope we possess in our Savior Jesus!

Sadly, this encouragement is meaningless for people who don’t believe in our God. For them, fear, failure, pain and weaknesses are unmitigated negatives, without any redeeming virtue. They can no more be positively regarded than the finality of death. It is only our assurance in our loving God and His eternal rest that enables us to put a positive spin on the inevitable threats of this painful life. Without Him, life will grind us down, as the brilliant atheist Bertrand Russell confessed at the end of his road:

• I wrote with passion and force because I really thought I had a gospel. Now I am cynical about the gospel [of atheism] because it won’t stand the test of life. (Os Guinness, The Journey, 106)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Culture and What is does to Us

We are a product of our culture, even of our sub-cultures. I worked for the New York City Department of Probation for 15 years. During my first two years, I wrote numerous letters to many higher-ups, pointing out serious flaws with the system. Typical of whistle blowers, I only received threats for not following the chain-of-command. Even when I did meticulously follow this chain, threats were always the response. When I finally became a supervisor after eight years, I had absorbed enough of the company culture, sometimes in ways that I wasn’t even aware of at the time. At least, I had learned how to navigate those treacherous waters. Writings letters was no longer a part of my vocabulary.

Culture is like a pair of sunglasses. Everything we see is colored by those lenses. It becomes difficult to step outside of our culture even when we know that it is profoundly influencing us. Recently, I saw the movie Courageous and was thoroughly uplifted and touched by it. I cried throughout most of it. OK, I realized that my response had largely been conditioned by my Christian faith. And yes, Courageous is contrived and preachy. If you do the right thing, it demonstrated that there’d only be good results – not exactly an accurate representation of the Christian life, at least in the short run. However, it was filled with so many poignant touches, and they worked so well for me.

I therefore was surprised that Christianity Today (CT) only gave it three out of five (3/5) stars – a mediocre grade. Nevertheless, CT admitted, “While Sherwood [Pictures] tendency toward didactic storytelling persists, Courageous is its most ambitious and watchable film to date.” Nevertheless – 3/5! Why? CT complained that “once the struggling protagonist[s] recommitted his life to God, everything went his way.”

So what? No movie can capture the many twists of our lives. There will always be imbalance and bias! Usually, we find the good guys triumph over the bad, and justice triumphs over injustice, and this pat message doesn’t stop the critics from giving those movies 5/5! Why the disparity?

Meanwhile in the same issue, CT gave Martin Sheen’s The Way, about a pilgrimage along El Camino de Santiago, the highest recommendation – 5/5! Although I enjoyed this movie, its spiritual message was uncertain, unclear and most likely undefined. Nevertheless, it did preach the well-worn message that, “It’s all about relationships” (not shared spirituality).

Circumstances brought four very difficult and troubled people together along the Way. Two were obsessive talkers and two were obstinately angry. Although they collided abruptly, their pilgrimage somehow kept them together. Predictably, they bonded and learned to value and enjoy each other.

We’ve seen this formula played out in countless movies. It’s a formula no less contrived than what we had seen in Courageous. Why then did CT find The Way’s preachy-ness acceptable, while it panned Courageous? This question becomes even more perplexing, when we note that, while so many movies contain the very same overused message as we find in The Way, we seldom if ever encounter the message of Courageous!

Perhaps, this is a case where our culture takes charge of our sentiments and determines what is valuable and what isn’t. Do we actually think that there are neutral standards of judgment? After all, all movies are contrived to deliver one effect or another. Why should CT endorse one contrivance over another, especially when the contrivances of Courageous are truths that CT ultimately embraces? Why can movies preach about the beauty of relationships and not the beauty of God? And why do Christians even take issue with the latter? Have we uncritically absorbed too much of our cultures?

What should we take away from these questions? I think we need to do some digging? Proverbs 20:5 warns us that, “The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” But why should we draw them out? Why not simply live impulsively in accordance with our cultural programming?

We have a higher calling – to live in accordance with the truth:

• Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Tim. 2:22)

What should this mean in terms of movie-criticism?