Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Faith, Serenity, and Humility

On April 8, 1932, during a “severe storm, beyond all imagining,” an aspiring 43 year-old political hopeful requisitioned a plane with his aides against the warnings of everyone. A political rally had been scheduled for that day, and the political hopeful would not disappoint. Otto Dietrich describes the flight:

  • This is no longer flying, this is a whirling dance…we whip our way through tattered clouds, again a whirlpool threatens to drag us down, and then it seems that a giant catapult hurls us into steep heights. And yet what of feeling of security is in us in the face of this fury of the elements! The Fuhrer’s absolute serenity transmits itself to all of us. In every hour of danger he is ruled by his granite-like faith in his world-historical mission, the unshakable certainty that Providence will keep him from danger for the accomplishment of his great task. Even here he remained the pre-eminent man, who masters danger because in his innermost being he has risen far above it. (Nazi Culture, 291-92)
As I contemplated my own flight-through-the-storm – my visit to the dentist today – I reflected on Hitler’s “unshakable certainty that Providence will keep him.” I was humbled as I thought about my own should-be “unshakable certainty.” Why was Hitler sustained by his pagan beliefs, while I was shaking at the non-life-threatening prospect of extensive work on the dentist’s chair?

Of course, the Nazis widely used this story as propaganda, and so it is unclear whether or not it can be trusted. We also know that Hitler’s faith failed to sustain him in his final years. However, we do see something very remarkable as the Apostle Paul faced his final years and the prospect of martyrdom. He expressed his own unshakable faith in his final visit with the Ephesian elders:

  • I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. (Acts 20:23-25)
Again I am humbled. How much I would love to be able to say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me!” However, I find that life’s concerns and fears cling to me like flies on a sticky paper. How I wish that I could see the dentist today with such gaiety that she’d have to ask, “Why are you so joyous?” And I would answer, “I am not concerned about my own life but only about serving my Lord faithfully!” This truly is my prayer!

In contrast to my humbling thoughts, I know that this is a possibility for me today. My Lord has promised that He is fully able to keep me in perfect peace:

  • You [God] will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:3-4)
I’m glad that He has thoroughly taught me that  I am entirely incapable of providing “unshakable serenity for myself” (John 15:4-5). Therefore, I’m not going to subject myself to the mental gymnastics of trying to wrestle myself into an exalted state of faith. I’m going to leave it entirely up to Him, convinced that He is able, and He is! I’ve read about the many martyrs – and they weren’t much different from me – who had been chewed apart by wild animals or burnt alive on the stake, as they joyously praised their Savior.

The Book of Acts gives us a good illustration of how our God can fortify His children, even when facing a horrible death:

  • But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:55-59)
 Of course, I’d rather be able to say, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God," than to pray “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." However, I trust that my Lord will give me what I need, even if it turns out to be another humbling experience.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Condom Invasion and Secularism

Are condoms the answer to teen pregnancy, abortion, and STDs? California seems to think so. Evidently, this state is so certain of this that they have boldly invaded unwitting homes with their surprise gift package:

  • The California Department of Public Health has begun a program of providing free condoms by mail to children as young as twelve. The Condom Access Project (CAP) was rolled out the week of February 14th in Alameda, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Kern and parts of San Francisco counties under the direction of the California Family Health Council.
Oddly, when the church insists on abstinence, it is “pushing religion.” However, when the State pushes condoms, even into private homes in “unmarked envelopes,” this is not “pushing religion.” When the church takes issue with the condom program, the secularists scream, “separation church and state,” as if secularism itself is not a religion. However, if an anti-condoms initiative is a religion, then the pro-condoms initiative is also religion. It is not right that only one side be heard, because the other, deemed “religion,” is thereby silenced!

It would be one thing if the secular State could demonstrate that their approach works best. A little evidence might go a long way. However, the studies haven’t been kind to the secularist. For instance:

  • A report issued by the devolved Scottish government has shown the failure of “safer sex” campaigns to teach ever-younger audiences about condoms and other sexual practices intended to reduce the rates of teen pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases. The report says that all age groups know about “safer sex,” but that teen pregnancies and rates of sexually transmitted diseases still continue to climb. 

In another study:

  • Out of Spain has found … that contraception actually increases abortion rates. The authors, who published their findings in the January 2011 issue of the journal Contraception, conducted surveys of about 2,000 Spanish women aged 15 to 49 every two years from 1997 to 2007.  They found that over this period the number of women using contraceptives increased from 49.1% to 79.9%. Yet they noted that in the same time frame the country’s abortion rate more than doubled from 5.52 per 1,000 women to 11.49. 

It is not enough for the secularists to scream, “separation church and state” – and they too are in essence a church - in order to support their religious approach. They need some hard evidence. However, the evidence has consistently pointed its indicting finger back at secularism. The proliferation of secularism throughout the West in the sixties has ubiquitously been accompanied by every indicator of social deterioration – the explosion of crime, drug abuse, abortion, STDs, single-parent families, divorce, suicide, mental illness, and now skyrocketing debt.

Perhaps there is a need to start a new movement – “Occupy-the-Media.” Last night, Neil Gabler, while interviewed by Bill Moyers, insisted that the Media is failing to cover all sides of the issues. While they proclaim diversity, the last thing they seem to want is diversity of viewpoint. If management requires accurate feedback, then also the government and all of us who participate in the democratic process.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Repressive State and its Religion

Repressive, totalitarian regimes are never satisfied with merely controlling the political process. They also seek to control the mind and indoctrinate the youth. Hughes and Mann wrote about the goals of National Socialism:

  • From the beginning the Nazis were determined to subvert German youth to their own aims…By the end of 1933 all other youth organizations had been either banned or subsumed into the Hitler Youth…In 1939, two executive orders…made “youth service” compulsory…The Nazis monopolized every free hour and parents dared not object lest they were seen to be troublemakers. Youngsters, living more and more with their comrades, were gradually being weaned away from their families. (Inside Hitler’s Germany, 50-54)
Secular Western nations are quickly following in the steps of National Socialism and its totalitarian cousin – Communism – by indoctrinating children. Even as early as 1973, Dr. W. P. Shofstall, the state superintendent for public schools in Arizona commented that, “The atheists have, for all practical purposes, taken over public education in this country.” The results have been obvious:

  • On November 17, 1980, the Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky law that required the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. The Court said that the Ten Commandments were “plainly religious…and may induce children to read, meditate upon, and perhaps to venerate and to obey the commandments.” (Erwin Lutzer, The Rebirth of America, 82.
Meanwhile, the Court has raised no qualms about the children venerating pornography or another religion – militant secular humanism:

  • Secular Humanism would like us to believe that they are broadminded, pluralistic and neutral in moral matters. They are opposed to censorship, sectarianism and intolerance. The media has done a successful job of getting the American people to believe that it is he so-called right wing religious fanatics who are seeking to “impose morality on society”…Secular Humanism is imposing its own morality on the American public. It does so through the media, the schools and the courts. There is a clear intent to keep Christian thinking out of the mainstream. (83)
  • As columnist George Will put it so ably, “And it is, by now, a scandal beyond irony that thanks to the energetic litigation of the ‘civil liberties’ fanatics, pornographers enjoy expansive first amendment protection while first graders in a nativity play are said to violate the First Amendment values.” (84)
However, this insipient totalitarianism doesn't just apply to education. James Schall, S.J. describes it is as a full frontal attack:
  •  We have been taught to think that “democracy” is automatically “the best regime,” the only alternative to any totalitarian state power. Though it has been coming for some time, within these past couple of weeks, we are seeing clearly that the desire, force, and will to subsume all subsidiary social institutions, especially religion and family, under the control of the state is also endemic in current democratic societies.
Although the Secular West is not seeking to build an empire based upon racial ideals, it is trying to impose its own utopian values – multi-culturalism, moral relativism, humanism, naturalism, sexual-permissiveness - under the guise of neutrality. Interestingly, Secularism, National Socialism and Communism have all attempted to achieve their goals through the neutralization of parental and Christian influences.

Although we don’t have to contend with the Hitler youth, we do have public education which has become increasingly secularized to the point that the Bible is now verboten! Private schools are only an option for those districts that have a voucher system or for those parents who can fork out the big bucks. Consequently, the public system has been awarded a virtual monopoly over the minds of the youth.

Some decades ago, prayer and moral absolutes were rejected and “values clarification” exercises quickly filled the vacuum. These conveyed to the youth that there is no correct moral answer. Consequently, there can be no correct or even incorrect behavior, as long as it didn’t interfere with the schools’ interests. Instead, morality became just a matter of clarifying the subjective and arbitrary reasons that govern our meaningless choices.

In Canada, parents have just sustained an additional blow:

  • In the past week we have witnessed the Supreme Court of Canada dismiss the appeal of a Quebec family for permission to exempt their child from that province’s controversial ethics and religious culture course, which critics say is “relativistic,” and teaches that all religious are equally valid. And we have heard a spokesperson for the Alberta education minister state that under the province’s new Education Act even homeschooling parents will no longer be allowed to teach their children traditional Christian sexual ethics. Without the right to educate our children as we choose according to the values we choose, what do we have left? State-imposed orthodoxy. Totalitarianism. These two developments come amidst the ongoing efforts of the Ontario government to impose their “equity” program, “diversity” curriculum, and transparently ideological “anti-bullying” bill on all schools – whether Catholic or public. Already the largest school board in the province has said that parents will not be permitted to exempt their children from parts of the curriculum they deem unacceptable.
This raises an important question that is seldom discussed by our secular establishment. Who should have the primary responsibility for the education of their children? To put it another way – why should parents be denied the right to veto and exempt their children from certain subjects? And why should certain morally objectionable materials be imposed upon private schools and the private and intimate relationship that parents enjoys with their children? What is the compelling national interest, if there is one?

Interestingly, Reich Youth Leader, Baldur von Schirach had expressed more reverence for the authority of the family than do many of our secular institutions:

  • The Hitler Youth leader, however, should consider it his duty not only to maintain the best relations with the parents of the youngsters entrusted to him, but also to allow them every possible insight into the work of the organization. [In contrast, our schools are often secretive about the nature of their moral teachings.] He must be ready to answer questions put to him by the parents of his young charges and should try to become the confidant of the family…Every youth movement needs the spiritual cooperation of the parental home…The parental home is in an ever better position to give unqualified recognition to the service of the Hitler Youth, since this service supports the authority of the parents and does not impair it. (Nazi Culture, 296-97)
Ironically, our evolved secular institutions seem unconcerned about the “authority of the parents.” However, both the Hitler Youth [HY] and the secularists win our children by honoring them as “adults.” HY taught the youth the use of weapons, insisting that their youth were vital to their national defense. Similarly, the secularists insist that our children have the same rights as adults. Consequently, they should now report their parents for spanking them. (The communists also manipulated the youth against their parents, encouraging them to report any anti-communist talk or activity.)

While the HY used weaponry, the secularists have used an even more powerful weapon – sex – to convince the youth that their parents are backward and repressive and that the secularists will treat them with more dignity. They have been increasingly insistent that children have a right and even a duty to themselves to explore their sexuality.

No society will last long which turns the youth against their parents, those who truly love them and would sacrifice to protect them. The wise King Solomon realized this, so that when two women came before him – each claiming a certain newborn to be her own – he ordered that the newborn be cut in two, one half for each claimant. This propelled the real mother to cry out:

  • "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!" But the other said, "Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!" (1 Kings 3:26)
Our secular institutions are like the second woman. They must have their way despite the mountains of evidence demonstrating that society is faltering under their watch. How odd it is that “even home-schooling parents will no longer be allowed to teach their children traditional Christian sexual ethics” even in the face of unacceptably high levels of out-of-wedlock births, abortions, venereal diseases, and the many resulting social ills.

In the mid-eighties, D. James Kennedy wrote about this irony, claiming that his own Westminster Academy, which had been operating for nine years at that time, had never had an illegitimate birth:

  • While the rest of America is marching forward with 600,000 unwanted births among high school students…by innumerable hundreds of thousands of abortions…by epidemic drug use…alcoholism…suicide….while we are marching forward into that brave new world, the Christian schools are teaching people about the moral standards of God…who can read far better than the students coming out of the public schools and are academically superior to them. (126)
What compelling reason does secularism have for its intolerance of home-schooling and Christian education? We tend to think that the proof is in the tasting – the results. However, secularism has proven that their ideology trumps the evidence. Why then is secularism committed to a uniformity in belief and religion – moral relativism, humanism, naturalism - even when this uniformity, this State religion, conflicts with the natural interests of the family and our First Amendment rights?

This brings us back to the question – Who should have the primary say over the education of children? The wise Solomon believed that it should be the biological mother, the one who was willing to surrender the child for his own well-being. Secularism repeatedly casts its vote in favor of State uniformity. But why? Does the secularist/atheist have compelling evidence to justify wrenching the child away from parental authority? Can the secularist/atheist demonstrate that society and its children have clearly benefited from secular indoctrination since the sixties?

All indicators would say, “No” – the highly elevated crime rate, drug rate, abortion rate, divorce rate, venereal disease rate…  What then is the justification for continuing this repressive, totalitarian, religious experiment?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Where is God when I Hurt?

Where was God for all of the suffering and martyred Christians? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Can I trust Him with my deepest concerns? These are questions that arise as quickly as the dust on a hot dirt road, but questions which the Psalms have examined from many different angles.

Disappointment with God had driven one Psalmist to conclude that following God was for naught:
  • Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. (Psalm 73:13)
God just didn’t seem to be working for him. Instead, it was the wicked who seemed to be inheriting God’s blessings:

  • For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills (3-4)…This is what the wicked are like--always carefree, they increase in wealth (12).
The Psalmist admits that he was tormented by the silence of God in the face of this horrible injustice and confusion:

  • All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning…When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me (14-16).
However, where his wisdom had utterly failed him, God opened the Psalmist’s eyes to the big picture. Everything then came into focus when:

  • I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors (17-19)!
Through this revelation, God assured the Psalmist that although it seemed that God was not at work, He had His own time-schedule. He also assured him that, although he didn’t see God’s blessings, they were rock solid:

  • Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you (24-25)
The Psalmist demonstrates that if we have these reassurances, we can endure the worst circumstances. When he saw the grand panorama of God’s plan, he was able to find rest for his tormented soul:
  • When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you (21-22).
Our Lord doesn’t want to feed our natural arrogance. Therefore, He often allows us to see how unspiritual we really are and how undeserving!

The knowledge of God made all the difference for the Psalmist. It provided all the comfort and elicited all the praise. While the Psalmist had received this revelation in the Temple, we can receive it through the Word and in prayer.

However, there is no assurance that we will receive this revelation in our timing. Sometimes, our Savior allows us to stew for a while. King David certainly did a lot of stewing:

  • How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
It felt that his God had rejected him and had left him without any uplifting revelation. Nevertheless, he knew who God is and recalled His goodness, reminding himself that His grace was certain:

  • But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me (5-6).
Sometimes, surrendering to praise is our only recourse as we continue to contain our tears. Meanwhile, we ask ourselves, “God, I don’t understand your ways. Why are You so slow in responding to my cries? And why must I wait for so long?”

Part of the explanation is that we don’t know what’s good for us. We think that having our prayers answered in a timely fashion is good, but we might fail to see the hidden costs. While many are certain that by winning the Lotto, they would be happy, most of the time, such a win was actually a loss. It eventually brought misery.

We also fail to understand the necessity of suffering. Only after thirty-five years of following Jesus can I say, along with David:

  • It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71)
In my earlier years as a believer, I was unable to see how much was wrong with me – I wouldn’t allow myself to see this – and how much refinement I required. If these things are true about us, we need to entrust our concerns and demands to God’s will. King David learned that waiting was a virtue, especially in the midst of his pain and uncertainty:

  • I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)
David had learned the necessity of waiting. He concluded by praying that we might also learn the same lesson.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Arab Spring and the Persecution of Christians: A Open Letter to President Obama

While the Western Media is still celebrating the Arab Spring and promoting another Western intervention on behalf of Syria’s Arab Spring, there is a lot of victimization that it refuses to cover. Muslim-turned-atheist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, reports:

  • We hear so often about Muslims as victims of abuse in the West and combatants in the Arab Spring’s fight against tyranny. But, in fact, a wholly different kind of war is underway—an unrecognized battle costing thousands of lives. Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm.

  • The portrayal of Muslims as victims or heroes is at best partially accurate. In recent years the violent oppression of Christian minorities has become the norm in Muslim-majority nations stretching from West Africa and the Middle East to South Asia and Oceania. In some countries it is governments and their agents that have burned churches and imprisoned parishioners. In others, rebel groups and vigilantes have taken matters into their own hands, murdering Christians and driving them from regions where their roots go back centuries.

  • The media’s reticence on the subject no doubt has several sources. One may be fear of provoking additional violence. Another is most likely the influence of lobbying groups such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation—a kind of United Nations of Islam centered in Saudi Arabia—and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Over the past decade, these and similar groups have been remarkably successful in persuading leading public figures and journalists in the West to think of each and every example of perceived anti-Muslim discrimination as an expression of a systematic and sinister derangement called “Islamophobia”—a term that is meant to elicit the same moral disapproval as xenophobia or homophobia.
  • But a fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other. The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop. Nothing less than the fate of Christianity—and ultimately of all religious minorities—in the Islamic world is at stake.
  • As Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, pointed out in an interview with Newsweek, Christian minorities in many majority-Muslim nations have “lost the protection of their societies.” This is especially so in countries with growing radical Islamist (Salafist) movements. In those nations, vigilantes often feel they can act with impunity—and government inaction often proves them right. The old idea of the Ottoman Turks—that non-Muslims in Muslim societies deserve protection (albeit as second-class citizens)—has all but vanished from wide swaths of the Islamic world, and increasingly the result is bloodshed and oppression.
The Arab spring in Syria, through which the Sunni majority has been trying to wrestle the power away from the Shiite leadership, has proved to be a Winter for its Christian minority. The UK-based Barnabus Fund reports:

  • “Christians in Syria targeted in series of kidnappings and killings: 100 dead.”
World Magazine reports that,

  • If opposition forces take control of Syria, that aggression could grow worse and threaten one of the last sizable populations of Christians in the Middle East. (Feb. 25, 2012, 42-43)
In contrast to Western Media, Open Doors USA, via World, reports that,

  • Syrian Christians are increasingly afraid to leave their homes…Several Muslim taxi drivers vowed to harm all women customers who are unveiled…[One worker stated that] “These women, mostly less orthodox Muslims and Christians, are being kidnapped, raped, or even killed.”
  • Virginia-based Jubilee Campaign also reports that Syrian protesters are targeting Christians: “The culmination of these protests end in raids on Christian communities to take women from their homes and families and rape them.” Greg Treat of the Jubilee Campaign elaborated, saying that sources say extremists appear on Syrian television encouraging Muslims to kill Christian women.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has demanded Bashar al-Assad to step down in favor of a “democratic future for Syria” and possibly arming the “popular” uprising. However, the promised imposition of Shariah Law does not comport with a “democratic future” or even the “human rights” to which this administration has committed itself.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tolerating Goodness through Self-Affirmation?

We tend to disdain the courage of whistleblowers when they’re in our space but admire them when they’re a good distance away. Writer Matthew Hutson mentions three well-known examples:

  • Copter pilot Hugh Thompson halted the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam and was ostracized by other soldiers.
  • Frank Serpico testified about corruption within the NYPD and was shot in a suspected setup by his fellow officers.
  • Joseph Darby turned in photos of the other Abu Ghraib guards misbehaving and was put under protective custody. (Psychology Today, Nov/Dec 2008, 32)
Why? Hutson reasons that the’ courage and moral rectitude of the whistleblowers deflated their co-workers’ self-esteem. He suggested,

  • There’s a perfect defense though: self-affirmation…it frees us to rethink our own disobedience and maybe even respond to clever behavior by emulating it.
But self-affirmation is what we normally do, and we never can seem to get enough of it. Surely, the soldiers who had ostracized Hugh Thompson congratulated themselves that they were really the smart ones, doing what needed to be done! We have an amazing ability to construe whatever we do as the right thing (Proverbs 21:2).

Besides, there are countless studies that demonstrate that good self-esteem has little to do with good behavior. In fact, it’s found that poor students have higher self-esteem than the good, prisoners have it over those who’ve never been behind bars.

While the late Professor of Psychology at Paton College, John G. McKenzie, asserts that we all need “self-respect, a sense of dignity, a sense of purpose; these are the very things which underlie all mental health,” he laments that these are hard to find:

  • Is it not a tragedy that in our modern world it is only in war that the individual regains his status? (Nervous Disorders and Religion, 1962, 154)
However, this “status” has proved inadequate to insulate the soldier against the deflated self-esteem that results from the presence of the good whistleblower.

How then can we tolerate the presence of the good without psychological deflation? Jesus taught that the way up is the way down; that the way to life is the way through death. He told a story about two praying men. For the religious leader, the way up was the way up - through “self-respect, sense of dignity.” He was well-practiced in effortlessly reciting his achievements, but he eventually proved himself a killer.  The other had such a low self-esteem that he couldn’t even look up as he confessed his sins, but it was this man who was forgiven. Jesus concluded:

  • I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:14)

How can eating humble pie represent the high road? How can debasing ourselves ennoble? The
Apostle Paul wrote:

  • God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
We no longer need to build our self-esteem, since Christ has become our self-esteem. We ran after movie stars in the hope of merely getting their autograph. But the ultimate Star has died for us and has given us more than His autograph! He has promised us everything that is His, even His righteousness. What better affirmation could we have?

Humankind has always been psychologically threatened by the sight of authentic goodness, so much so that the religious and the civil leadership put Jesus to death. No amount of self-affirmation would have made a difference for them. They had something even better—the respect of their community. But like any drug, the more we have, the more we need. Self-righteousness is a vulnerable righteousness, always requiring another fix, another affirmation or compliment. And even with heavy doses of affirmation, we know that we are a parched wasteland.

In contrast, Jesus informed a woman who had given Him a drink of water that, if she drank His water, she would never thirst again (John 4:13-14). Such is the righteousness that comes from God. It penetrates our desert and revives us. Yes, we still carry about our insecurities and ego-issues like a leaky colostomy, but Christ has given us the means to cleanse it and to find peace.

I still carry around many of my old insecurities and nasty reactions. I still am inclined to become resentful and jealous. However, if I now have everything through Christ, I can laugh at myself and place all of my bruised feelings, hopes and dreams on Him!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Closing of the Mind, the University, and Skewed Research

After Allan Bloom wrote about “The Closing of the American Mind” (1987), writer and professor, Roger Kimball, picked up the baton in 1990 to show how the universities were being converted from educational institutions into institutions of political indoctrination:

·        Demands for ideological conformity have begun to encroach on basic intellectual freedoms. At an increasing number of campuses across the country, university administrations have enacted anti-harassment rules that provide severe penalties for speech or action deemed offensive to any of a wise range of officially designated victims. Ostensibly designed to prevent sexual, ethnic, and racial harassment, these rules actually represent an effort to enforce politically correct attitudes by curtailing free speech…What this alarming development portends is nothing less than a new form of thought control based on a variety of pious new-Left slogans and attitudes. (Tenured Radicals: How Politics has Corrupted Our Higher Education, xv-xvi)

The fruit of these changes continue to ripen. Here’s a recent example of how politically correct politics drives and frames research:

·        The study titled “Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Childhood Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth” appeared online yesterday in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The study is reportedly the first to use a population-based sample to look at the relation between gender nonconformity and abuse.

·        [This] Harvard study has found an association in young people who were exposed to childhood “physical, psychological, and sexual abuse” and who experienced childhood “gender nonconformity” [or gender confusion].

The understanding that abuse directly impacts appropriate gender identification is nothing new. However, the conclusions and recommendations of the researchers are clearly politically-driven:

  • “If [parents] have a kid whose behaviour is not gender typical, they really need to be supportive and protective of those kids,” [Researcher Andrea Roberts] said, adding that the “consequences of intolerance can be quite serious.”
There is an apparent disconnect here. If gender confusion is caused or related to abuse, and if this confusion can lead to many well-documented psychological and medical problems, it would seem to follow that something should be done to intervene into this pathological chain of events. However, there is no mention of any corrective measures. Instead, the researchers recommend that parents must “be supportive and protective of those kids.”

To demonstrate the lunacy of this advice, let’s just suppose that there was no correlation found between abuse and gender confusion. What then would the advice be? The exact same – Parents should “be supportive and protective of those kids.” “Tails I win; heads you loose!” This shows that this advice has already been prepackaged for the consumer, irrespective of the outcome of the research!

  • The above statements make clear the framework in which the authors interpret their data and reach conclusions. Instead of viewing the child’s “gender noncomformity” as the anomaly that requires professional help so that the child can become a self-fulfilled little boy or little girl, it is suggested that it is simply the parents’ negative reaction to their child’s gender nonconformity that is the cause of the child’s trauma.
The researchers’ advice does not line-up with their findings:

  • “Some parents also believe their own parenting can shape their child’s gender nonconformity and future sexual orientation; thus, their parenting may become more physically or psychologically abusive in an attempt to discourage their child’s gender nonconformity or same-sex orientation.”
The idea of corrective therapy is simply not on the table. Whether gender confusion is genetic or the product of abuse, the orthodoxy of the university requires that the parents just accept it, even though it has repeatedly been statistically demonstrated that there are tremendous costs associated with same-sex behavior

In contrast to the conclusions of the Harvard study, Dr. Paul McHugh, psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, claims:

  • “We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it.”
However, we are forbidden to proclaim the obvious. We are like Hans Christian Andersen characters required to praise the non-existent clothing of a naked and foolish king. How long must we be required to utter such absurdities?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Peace: Living According to Your Values

Peace and harmony result when each part of the puzzle finds its proper place.  Peace of mind works similarly. Each of our faculties has to be working in harmony if we are going to have a smooth ride. This is especially true when we live in harmony with our values. Our conscience must give its approval to our values and choices. This isn’t merely a Christian idea. Carlin Flora writes:

  • If you aren’t living according to your values, you won’t be happy, no matter how much you are achieving. (“The Pursuit of Happiness,” Psychology Today,  Jan/Feb 2009, pg. 69.)

Flora acknowledges that “Some people, however, aren’t aware of their values.” Even if we do act according to our values, we are often unaware of what these values are. This problem is exacerbated by postmodernism and  moral relativism, where “values” are just a matter of how you feel when you wake up in the morning. Rather than our values directing our lives, our lives, preferences and feelings direct our values. They are consequently no more than our tastes – things we have randomly acquired like the flu.

If this is our values-orientation, we will only live by them when they deliver a payoff, when they work for us. This orientation is unable to provide for us a meaning-of-life, something that ennobles our lives and connects us to something bigger than we are. Consequently, we go no further than connecting to ourselves, and our lives are confined to waiting for the next sensual, mindless fix, the next meal, movie, or distraction.

What then is the answer? Invent a system of values and arbitrarily invest it with meaning? This strategy has often been tried and found wanting. The atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche astutely observed,

  • He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.

However, inventing this “why to live for” can be deceptively difficult, perhaps even impossible. We may not be able to produce a meaningful set of values from our creative imaginations. Values must be discovered and not invented. Invented values are arbitrary, temporary and subjective and therefore fail to carry the necessary authority to direct our lives.

After a few months in college, I gladly became a nihilist. I refused to believe that we are constrained by certain values or moral absolutes from above. Instead, I believed that I was free to re-create myself. I was the captain of my ship. However, my ship failed to carry me where I ultimately wanted to go – to a place of meaning and peace. It was like simply imagining that I was the savior of the world. Although this fantasy might initially give a sense of self-importance, its ultimate port-of-call was a psychotic non-reality.

If our values are going to govern our lives, we must be convinced of their transcendence. The idea of submitting to a value that is no more than a chemical reaction does not carry the necessary authority to constrain our lower impulses. A strong impulse to take revenge cannot be curbed by the lesser chemical impulse of a value. Our animal impulses will inevitably predominate, and so will depression!

Similarly, basing our value system upon our decision-making capacity suffers from the same weaknesses. Philosopher Charles Taylor writes:

  • I am free when I decide for myself what concerns me, rather than being shaped by external influences. Our moral salvation comes from recovering authentic moral contact with ourselves. Self-determining freedom demands that I break the hold of external impositions, and decide for myself alone.

Taylor is convinced that his internal GPS is more authoritative than any external standards. But what if his GPS is no more than an electro-chemical reaction? Why place such weighty expectations upon it?  What is the “self” that it should be our compass? Will it also become a bridge to our ultimate hopes and dreams? Do we find the truth for which we search within its changing dimensions and emotional upheavals? Do not our value judgments require something more stable?

Confusion, instability and the sense that we have no inner core are the fruits of this. Besides, there are many conflicting feelings and ideas in our hearts. What makes the pursuit of justice any more noble than the pursuit of revenge or lust? Aren’t they equally children of the self? Are we then left without any guidance?

Instead, we truly discover ourselves and our values when we view them from a true and unchanging source. In the same way that we need a mirror or a photo to see ourselves as we are, we require something more than just our conflicting inner intuitions as our moral compass.

Perhaps, we are pursuing the antithesis of values and meaning? Perhaps our Western quest for self-sufficiency has blinded us, placing a defective compass in our palm? Instead, we were created for a relationship with the One on whom we can rest our burdens and carry His. Jesus counseled:

  • "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

His yoke must become our values. It is under His burden and in His service that we find our rest and sense of authentic self.

Irreducible Complexity, Gradualism, and Faith

The concept of “irreducible complexity” observes that many – or all - biological structures cannot suffer the loss of any one part and still function optimally. Each part is necessary. Loss never means improvement. Hardening of the arteries never gives a functional advantage.

In contrast, the engine of evolution – Darwinian gradualism - must explain how each incremental step, each additional building-block, in the development of an organ or a structure, gives the host organism a survival advantage, even before the organ, as we know it, is functional.

The pericardium of the heart is one such building-block. There first has to be a heart before the pericardium can provide any advantage. However, without the pericardium, the heart will quickly burn out. It seems that all the parts have to be present before the organ to function properly. Bruce Malone explains:

  • A sac called the pericardium is a tough, thin, fibrous membrane which surrounds and protects the heart. Imagine it this way, your heart is in a plastic sandwich bag with another sandwich bag surrounding it, and between the two bags is an oily lubricating fluid. Your heart is essentially encased in this tough sac with the lubricant fluid between the heart and the sac…When the heart beats, it can now slide around in the fluid without creating friction…A heart without this marvelous sac would soon produce enough heat to kill us. (Inspired Evidence)
Some biologists argue that all functional structures – even the microscopic ones - are irreducibly complex. How then do evolutionists explain the evolution of such structures? Darwinian gradualism seems unable to explain, in any detailed way, how those many necessary parts can each confer a survival advantage as they are added gradually one-at-a-time.  Therefore, Malone concludes:

  • These kinds of details are ignored by the evolution believers. They just wave a magic wand and say, “Evolution did it.”
Ah, the wisdom of evolution!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How Do We Experience God?

We no longer see the church as a place to learn about God but a place to experience God. Likewise, discipleship has been replaced by therapy; meditation on Scripture has been pushed aside by meditation on our inner states and visualizing God. Brennan Manning writes:

·        “The first step in faith is to stop thinking about God in prayer…” “Contemplative spirituality tends to emphasize the need for a change in consciousness…we must come to see reality differently.” “Choosing a single, sacred word…repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often.” “Enter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard.” (The Signature of Jesus – Quoted from Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing, 83).

Ironically, “thinking about God” is the essence of all prayer and worship. We endure the hard times by thinking of Jesus (Hebrews 12:2); we reconfigure our lives according to our Scriptural understanding of God (Phil 3:3-8); we are even transformed as we contemplate God (2 Cor. 3:18 – 4:6). Jesus promised that we are freed by this truth of God:

·        To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:31-32

We are never admonished in Scripture to meditate on a magical “single, sacred word” but on truth:

·        Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)

According to Scripture, we grow and are transformed, not by any techniques or visualizations, but by truths that the Spirit applies to our heart and mind:

·        In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. (1 Tim. 4:6)

·        Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation. (1 Peter 2:2)

·        And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Why did God devise salvation – a saving relationship with Him – through acknowledging the truth instead of through spiritual techniques? A Samaritan woman informed Jesus that the essence of their religious differences were a matter of geography. The Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerazim and the Jews worshipped on Mt. Zion. However, Jesus insisted that true worship – true relationship – had to be based on truth, the nature of God:

·        “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:22-24)

Consequently, we are not free to worship or approach God in any manner that feels right to us. We have to approach the Almighty according to the truth of His Being.

This should be obvious to us. I am not even free to love my wife in the way that feels right to me. I must love her according to who she is. I cannot love her because she might remind me of my first flame. Such a “love” is not an adequate foundation for a relationship. Nor can I love her by visualizing a sexier woman or through the repetition a sexy word or through pornography. I must love her as she truly is. Love has no other foundation apart from truth.

If we are going to connect to God, we have to do it through the truth that He has revealed to us.  Instead, the church has been seduced by all manner of mystics. One popular one is the deceased Henry Nouwen who wrote,

·        “The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart…The way of simple prayer…opens us to God’s active presence.”

However, “the quiet repetition of a single word” does not follow the pattern of Scripture. Instead, it is the truth of Scripture that transforms us. The Apostle Paul affirmed this truth in many ways:

·        "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

In fact, Jesus had warned against mindless “repetition[s] of a single word”:
·        And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7)

According to Jesus’ thinking, the church is returning to paganism – the pursuit of the ultimate experience. Interestingly, Moses had had the ultimate mountain-top experience. It was so intense that his face literally glowed. However, it didn’t glow because he had merely been with God. Instead, it glowed “because he had spoken with the Lord” (Exodus 34:29). He had been transformed by truth.

Knowing the primacy of God’s truth as the basis of transforming experience, Moses didn’t share his feelings and experiences with his brethren, the Israelites. He didn’t give them a how-to course on “Experiencing God.” Instead, he conveyed to them the very Words of God.

I don’t mean to demean feelings and experiences. We all crave them. However, I hope to understand them in their proper context. I have never been able to conjure up an experience of God. However, I often do feel very intimate with Him when I contemplate who He is and what He has done for me. It is because of these truths that I feel grateful and energized. Likewise, when I think about all that my wife is and what she has done for me, I treasure her.

I certainly don’t want to limit the experience of God to just these experiences. Actually, I even thank God for the severe depression I had undergone for many years. Sometimes it was so crippling, that I was only able to crawl into bed with my Bible. Sometimes I was so tormented that I couldn’t read or even pray. At other times, it felt like I was reading mere empty words. However, there were also times that the words of Scripture became magically alive for one moment. For example, I might read a very simple verse – “And the Lord heard his prayer.” Light came bursting down upon me so miraculously, so intensely, that the depression was driven away as the sun drives away darkness.

I have no formula for this or a technique to bring about such an experience. I just have my God and the knowledge that He loves me and is working in my life even when it feels like He has abandoned me.

I also learned lessons from my encounters, bringing me back to the primacy and the all-sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 4:6-7) and the Spirit who works through it.

Our God cares about truth. That’s why He has ordained that all spiritual blessings would be conferred through the medium of Scripture:

·        Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3)

Meanwhile, Manning and the other mystics assure us that if we “enter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard.” However, our Lord doesn’t require mystical techniques, but repentant souls who are willing to love Him by meditating on His Word:

·        Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (John 14:21-24)

Speaking against Injustice and Hypocrisy: It isn’t an Option

Many Christians have accused me of erroneously portraying Christians as persecuted, marginalized and stigmatized victims.  Well, I don’t want to erroneously portray anything or anybody. However, I am deeply concerned about the dimming of the light of the church and of Christians. I think that some of the problem arises from the secularized media and schools that consistently portray Christians in a negative light and use this as an excuse to act in prejudicial ways towards the church and what it stands for.

There are so many examples of this hypocritical intolerance of the church. Here is just the latest:

  • Officials at Dixon High School in Dixon, Mo., took down posters advertising the "Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity," claiming that they were offensive to some at the school.
How long will it be that the Bible or the Christian faith is deemed “offensive?” Meanwhile, secularism ignores the fact that they too are offensive, and by their own standards, they should be silenced:

  • "Time and again students find themselves being censored … when speaking from a pro-life perspective," said [Matt] Sharp [of the Alliance Defense Fund]. "They have rights that should be protected, nourished." Sharp found it interesting that although the school took down the pro-life posters, posters not taken down include ones showcasing students as "bloody zombies" and the school's Gay-Straight Alliance's "Day of Silence." "Of all the posters, [the pro-life posters] are the only ones we know of that have been torn down," said Sharp, who considered the selective censorship to be a "dangerous thing." 
There are many parents and students who find the Gay-Straight Alliance and much of what passes muster in the schools as offensive. If everything that was deemed “offensive” was censored, we could no longer even conceive of a public domain. There couldn’t be such a domain at all.

However, our secular masters will not follow through with their logic. They would rather make false distinctions – secular vs. religious – so that they can discriminate against religion, erroneously appealing to the separation of church and state. In order to pull off this false dichotomy, they insist that they are not a religion. By doing this, they can then claim that their own values are not subject to censorship while “pro-life” is!

This means that a school can promote abortion and same-sex rights, while the anti-abortion or anti-Gay-Straight Alliance reasoning is prohibited. Oddly, the secularists even appeal to the 1st Amendment to support their hypocrisy.

A small minority of Christians will say, “If that’s their game, let them play it. We have more important things to do.” However, I can’t go along with this reasoning, even if there are more important things than this “game.” Here’s why:

  1. We have a responsibility to uphold society.
  2. We have a responsibility to defend the religious and free speech rights for everyone.
  3. We have a responsibility on behalf of these beleaguered Christians to speak up on their behalf, like the churches that now are being banished from the NYC schools or the Christian institutions, now being compelled to finance insurance that violates their faith.
  4. We have a responsibility to our youth to provide a more realistic portrait of the church. Many are leaving or wanting to change the church because they have been indoctrinated by society to think that the church has utterly failed.
  5. We also have a responsibility to he church and before God to be prophetic – to speak against the dangers of sin in all its forms.
Being prophetic in these matters isn’t an option:

  • Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. (James 4:17)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Gospel Critics and Gospel Authenticity

Have you observed that the New Testament critics criticize the four Gospels when they are too similar – they claim that they borrowed from each other and therefore do not represent four independent accounts – but then they also criticize them because they are dissimilar (John vs. the Synoptics).

Jesus made a similar observation about the critics of His day. They criticized both John’s seriousness and Jesus’ merriment:

  • “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners."  (Luke 7:33-34)
According to Jesus, these critics weren’t motivated by a desire to understand but rather by a hatred of the light.

We often find this same critical spirit underlying many disputes. Regarding Jesus’ belief about His own identity: Some critics allege that if Jesus believed He was the Messiah, He would have stated this fact more plainly. Meanwhile, other critics charge that the Gospels are overly plain, contrived by the early Greek-speaking church to bring Jesus’ words into conformity with their own messianic beliefs. Consequently, the Gospels are poor in terms of the actual words of Jesus and rich in the words and concepts of the early church. As a result, their contrived Jesus conveniently believed Himself to be both Messiah and God.

However, Orthodox Jewish scholar, David Klinghoffer, represents a more balanced position. In Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, he tries to justify the Jewish rejection of Jesus:

  • “If he [Jesus] ever preached his messiahship openly, why did none of the Gospels record this? It stands to reason that he did not…[But] to reject Jesus, in his lifetime or after, was to condemn oneself as an unbeliever [according to the New Testament]. This hardly seems fair. You were supposed to acknowledge Jesus in a role he refused to publicly to claim?” (61)

Klinghoffer raises a fair point. Jesus’ teachings weren’t very explicit. Therefore, you can’t indict a man for gambling if there’s no law against it! Nor can you indict the Jews for rejecting Jesus!

Yet Klinghoffer does acknowledge that, privately, Jesus did acknowledge His messiah-ship. Here are the three examples Klinghoffer cited:

1.                  After Peter acknowledged that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus affirmed, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)

2.                  After Caiaphas asked Jesus, “Are you then the Son of God?" Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am."  (Luke 22:70; Mat. 26:64; Mark 14:62)

3.                  After the Samaritan woman at the well mentioned the Messiah, Jesus responded, "I who speak to you am he." (John 4:26. To these acknowledgments—as opposed to directly preaching that He was the Messiah—can be added numerous other passages—John 5:16-28; John 8:28; John 10:24-38; Mark 13:26; 14:64)

Ironically, these passages and other equally cryptic passages demonstrate the authenticity of the Gospels:

1.                  The early church wouldn’t have concocted these subtle references of Jesus acknowledging His messiah-ship, as the skeptics allege regarding the Gospel accounts. Instead, the church would have fabricated verses where Jesus would have preached His divine identity loud and clear.

2.                  All four Gospels preserve equally cryptic expressions regarding Jesus’ self-disclosures, even while they record very different incidents and sermons. Why didn’t the enthusiasm of the Apostles commandeer their pen to craft more direct and compelling disclosures? Their concern for accurate reporting evidently trumped their enthusiasm and theological concerns!

3.                  In addition to this, the Gospels preserve the same cryptic, parabolic quality in Jesus’ teachings about other essential doctrines. He never taught clearly or exhaustively on the New Covenant – words that the early church would most assuredly have placed in His mouth. Only in the end did He explicitly refer to a New Covenant (Mat. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20. Although the Gospel of John doesn’t explicitly mention Jesus bringing the “New Covenant,” this concept may be conveyed in the idea that Jesus is the new Temple, suggesting that He is replacing the Old – John 1:14; 2:19)

Klinghoffer believes that Jesus’ indirect self disclosures reflect His uncertainty about His calling. However, in keeping with Jesus’ strategy, He often commanded those healed to keep the lid on the light. Also, He was hesitant about giving His opponents the quotable ammunition they wanted to bring charges and crucify Him before His time. By explicitly saying, “I am the Messiah,” or “I am God,” Jesus would have served Himself up into an eager Pharisaic platter.

Klinghoffer is wrong for another reason. His veiled manner of speech could not have been a cloak for uncertainty. He purposely talked in perplexing parables so that only His chosen ones would understand (Matthew 13:10-15). And they could only understand once Jesus explained the parables to them. The early church would never have invented such perplexing speech in order to support their theology.

And what about Klinghoffer’s claim that Jesus’ countrymen couldn’t be held accountable for something that He never clearly preached? Jesus explains it best:

  • “If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.” (John 15:24)