Four reasons I am a Christian, in order of importance:
Four reasons I am a Christian, in order of importance:
“There is nothing new under the sun.” Solomon penned those words millennia ago and his observation has largely stood the test of time. Oh, sure; we have new ways of doing things. Labor saving technologies have increased our efficiency, but the basic functions of human life remain utterly basic.
For instance, agricultural advances have made it possible for farmers to produce yields that would have been unimaginable just a hundred years ago. Is that something new? No, it is feeding ourselves. That’s something we have always done. Tractors and irrigation are only a new and better approach to an old task.
What about smart phones? Aren’t they new? Smart phones enable us to access and share data faster than ever before. They are able to process media in dozens of different formats. But really, we have been processing media ever since the first humans drew on cave walls or beat on drums. Smart phones and web-access have simply sped up the process, for better or worse.
More data, more exposure to ideas, faster access…the increased pace of information is simply another new way to process an ancient human experience. This includes exposure to problems and needs. Social media has made it possible for everyone across the world to be instantly aware of needs, and respond in kind. Remember the mud-slides in Sierra Leone last summer? I found out instantly through a friend that lives in Freetown. Hours later, international news outlets were carrying the story, while survivors were still trapped under the mud.
GoFundMe pages are a dime a dozen. The faces of missing children are splashed all over our news feeds. Political campaigns, Police and Firefighter associations, animal rescue foundations, all of them have joined in the incessant buzz of information. What else can we expect? This is the same activity that we humans have always done, on a digital platform. Faster. And broader. Instead of sharing with our village, we now share with the entire world.
How is a supporter to choose where to give? I say, support the greatest need. I want to highlight human trafficking for you. What can possibly be worse than being sexually exploited? This is another example of an ancient activity that has simply moved to a digital space. Chances are, if you are reading this, you are already aware of the situation. Children are kidnapped or coerced and moved to major metropolitan locations across the world (yes, even in the “civilized” west!) and kept enslaved for the perverted use of unscrupulous men. Most of the people that are forced into this lifestyle are exploited, become addicted to drugs, get sick, and die young.
In response, some brave folks have begun to combat human trafficking. Those on the cusp of this wave are the new abolitionists: brave, empathetic, fueled by a deep sense of justice, anger, and compassion. You may already know some of these people and the organizations they have built: International Justice Mission. Exodus Road. Trafficking 911. Dozens of like-minded groups have stood up in the last decade to renew the fight against slavery, that was tragically dormant for much of the 20th Century. We thought Wilberforce and Lincoln might have won the fight. We were wrong.
What can we do? Clearly, the campaign to raise awareness is in full swing. Some of the Anti-Human Trafficking (AHT) links you see on your social media feed will simply add to the white-noise of information that you sift through on a daily basis. They are important. Read and share them. We can also give. Most of the AHT organizations are not publicly funded, and subsist on generous donations. They need our financial backing. A few people will volunteer. Organizations like The Poiema Foundation function mostly with volunteer labor, although it takes a special type of person to “put boots on the ground”.
One especially new field in AHT needs more exposure than it has been given so far: aftercare. It is easy for operations that locate and liberate human slaves to get press-time. It’s glamorous. It’s exciting. It’s the quintessential Hollywood drama: good guys burst through the door and save the underdog. But what happens after that? Aftercare. This is a relatively new (albeit, ancient) avenue of ministry to the most oppressed people in the world.
Our friends at Genesis Ranch exist to do the long, hard work of restoring hope to victims of human trafficking. Coordinating with State and Local law enforcement officials, folks in psychology and trauma-care, GR staff are passionate about not only justice, but restoration as well. The ancient Hebrews were liberated from slavery and brought to the wilderness to recover and what it is to be free sons and daughters of God. So while GR is part of a new field of ministry, the concept is as old as Moses. Follow the link and get involved.
I make my living interpreting. As a pastor, one of my main responsibilities is to study the Bible and help people understand how to apply it to our lives. The most important part of that process is understanding the intent of the original author. So the question of intent is a part of my everyday life. It would be irresponsible and selfish of me to insert my own opinions and feelings into a sermon and represent them as Biblical fact. Every responsible pastor works hard to ensure that what is taught from God’s platform on a given Sunday is God’s opinion, faithful to the intent of the Bible’s author.
The importance of intent does not only weigh on pastors, though. Whether we know it or not, all of us wrestle with the deep and sometimes confusing process of interpretation. Here are two examples that have forced their way into our lives: the debate on gun control and the debate on the national anthem. My purpose is not to weigh in on either issue. There are literally millions of voices sharing their opinions on all sides right now. The reason I decided to weigh in is that I see that the main, most important tool in a pastor’s toolkit can (and should) be used in both conversations, and probably others as well. So I present to you a parable…
Once there was a wealthy bachelor. He had everything that life could offer, except for love. Don’t get me wrong, he received plenty of attention from would-be lovers. But the chemistry was just never right. Except once.
Linda was wonderful. Her laugh was sublime. Her wit was quick, yet gentle. She loved her nieces and nephews, and she seemed to sincerely care for the wealthy bachelor for his own sake, not his money. They dated for several months and things seemed to be going perfectly, until they had a tragic misunderstanding.
It was a stormy evening, and the power was out in the entire neighborhood where the bachelor lived. The fire was lit in the fireplace, and several candles burned on tables around his richly adorned living room. He had been planning a wedding proposal for Linda and was busy with the details, at the same time trying to rebuff a previous romantic interest. But there was a problem: she wouldn’t take the hint, despite a face-to-face conversation, and multiple phone calls and text messages. So in frustration and desperation, the bachelor crafted a cutting message and shot it to her in a text: “We’re through. There is someone else now. Don’t try to contact me again. It’s over. Do you understand? OVER. Whatever we had was not real and there will never be anything between us again.”
Satisfied that the unpleasant task was done and he could now focus on the real love of his life, the bachelor set his phone down and gazed into space for a moment. Closure. Peace. It was over.
Then his phone vibrated. What’s this? How could she have misinterpreted his message? But no…it wasn’t the other woman, it was Linda. He had somehow missed a phone call from her and was now listening to a voicemail…she was clearly upset, her voice quavering, breath raspy. “I don’t know where we went wrong. I didn’t realize you were seeing someone else…I’m so embarrassed…”
The blood drained from his face as the truth of his error washed over the bachelor. He had sent his pointed text message to Linda instead of the other woman! He tried to call Linda, but his battery was now dead, and the storm had knocked out his landline! Over the next hours, our tragic lovers tried to reconnect and straighten things out, but misunderstanding upon misunderstanding created an ever-higher barrier between them. By the next morning there was no hope for repair. They had both lost.
Months went by, and the bachelor suffered with regret. Nothing seemed to have the power to alleviate the creeping depression. Eventually, he found himself writing a suicide note which was not entirely coherent. Later, police and lawyers struggled to know how to handle his estate. He had no living relatives, and the only personal connection that he mentioned was cryptic and vague: the note ended like this: “I will always love her.”
Of course, neither Linda nor the woman who was supposed to be dumped could be certain to whom the note referred. Each of them would have stood to inherit a great fortune, but the intent of the bachelor was unclear. Both would benefit from being the intended beneficiary, but in a probate court, their opinions would mean nothing without corroborating evidence. Facts are more important than feelings.
Which brings me to the point: intent is everything. This is a much needed message in the current media atmosphere. From the largest news outlets to the most obscure tweets, we are seeing the words of public figures dissected, twisted and misrepresented like no other time. Why? We like straw-men. We want to believe the worst about our enemies. We are often angry, and seeking further justification for our anger. It is inconvenient to practice objectivity, because it means that we have to question our presuppositions. But it is so important.
Here’s an exercise that can quickly illustrate the power of a fallacious straw-man argument: google the name of the political candidate that you didn’t vote for in the last election. Read the first article or two and ask yourself the following: Is the person who is the subject of the article quoted directly? Is the source of the quote given? Is there a link to a full transcript of what they said? If the answer to any or all of those questions is “no”, you are probably dealing with a straw man article. BUT…its probably tempting to accept it at face value, because you didn’t like that candidate. What happens when you google the other candidate? Does the media treat them with the same level of scrutiny? You see, the truly objective media consumer will evaluate each article with the same level of skepticism, whether they like the subject of the article or not. Don’t give any media outlet the benefit of the doubt! Work hard to find out what the subject of the article INTENDED to communicate. Why? Because you would want the same treatment if it was you being quoted.
When we proffer or consume a straw-man argument, what we are saying is “I don’t really care what you meant. What I say you meant is terrible.” What we should be saying to one another is “What did you mean when you said, ‘x, y, z’?”.
How does this question change things in the gun-control debate? Or the national anthem at NFL games? It’s your job to find out. And don’t be afraid to go back to the song-writer of the national anthem or the folks who drafted the 2nd Amendment. Pastors go back way further than that every single Sunday.
Say the words “church” today and, depending on your hearers, one of several images will enter their minds. This is because the church is diverse. Fifty states, diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, diverse cultural backgrounds, diverse theological emphasis. Many people view this diversity as evidence that the church is not unified, and therefore its foundational claims are false. This is a non-sequitur, and while some disunity is negative, the diversity in the American church today can be viewed from the positive end of things as well: in gospel centered Christianity, we are united on essentials and (on our good days) gracious when it comes to non-essentials. The current generation of churches, in fact, have moved in a decidedly “non-denominational” direction, in part because of the bad taste of unneccessary division in decades past. But I digress…
The ugly version of the church that is so beloved by the American media is a straw-man. Not that the church is without its problems, but when public perception of the church is fed by news stories of only the worst actors in the church (think pedophiles, gay-bashers, con-men and the like), and the good stories are ignored, the result is a skewed understanding of who the church really is.
The ugliness is there, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen it and, to my shame, contributed in some ways. There are evil men in church leadership. There are prideful wolves with dubious motives, heads full of knowledge and hearts full of greed. There are those who have an overdeveloped “us vs. them” mentality. There are those hypocrites who are content to have cute religious gatherings with music and give not a care to the broken world of poverty and pain outside the walls of the church. There are all of these things and more, including the unholy alliance of “evangelicals” to unsavory political characters. But those things aren’t new, nor are they the end of the story.
There are also redeemed souls who, while not perfect, are the essence of Christ. They are humble, kind, and forgiving, because they have been forgiven. There are salt-of-the-earth men and women who faithfully and selflessly serve their congregations and communities for DECADES with little thanks and no expectation of earthly reward. I know them. Norm, Jerry, Suzy, and dozens of others who simply follow Jesus because they have been transformed by the power of his life in us.
There are young people, too. Not enough, but they are there: bright and full of potential, signing away their culturally perceived rights to earn a comfortable lifestyle in exchange for serving Jesus in the third world. I know a young man who has funded several of his own trips to Lesvos to assist refugees fleeing from ISIS. I know a young mother who had it made as a real estate agent, and left her home and extended family to establish an eco-farm in rural Cambodia. I know a young couple who left their familiar surroundings to learn Mandarin and share the love of Jesus in Taiwan, and a Woman who spent close to twenty years ministering to poor people in central China.
The dramatic stories of overseas missionary sacrifice sometimes eclipse the ordinary, stateside brilliance of Jesus-followers together, but they are there as well. Families who host soup kitchens, week after week, year after year. Couples who foster and adopt. People who give generously, no, scandalously because they have been freed from greed and believe sincerely that nothing belongs to them. Pastors who labor in small churches for years with no expectation of increased pay: many need to work second and third jobs to make ends meet.
There are more than anecdotes: there is statistical support to show that Christians and churches generally make a positive impact on their community. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/03/31/what-do-churches-contribute-to-the-community/
Once upon a time, this was common knowledge. That’s one reason why churches have always been tax-free in the United States. Is it any wonder that when public opinion turns against the church, the voices calling for the end of church exemption get louder and louder?
Let’s not be naive. The church has always enjoyed unpredictable popularity. We have rightfully earned the skepticism of those outside. A group of people associated with the Spanish inquisition (however loosely) should be. So what if the majority of us are decent, hard-working people who give back to the community? Even on our best days, Jesus promised that the world would hate us…(John 15:18). Why wouldn’t the stigma of our past and present shame hang over us?
We can’t be too concerned about public opinion. I have encountered people who would craft the strategy of their outreach based on the perception of the community. This, I believe is a mistake. We are to serve Christ first and let him take care of our reputation. What if we are misrepresented? “Blessed are you when others revile you, and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Humans are made to worship. You can see this played out everywhere there are people. We worship the sky, the sun, animals, statues…even each other. Even in this day, when our culture has largely lost the concept of worship, we still worship. Money, celebrities, classic cars…all these and more have the power to absorb our attention and affection. Carl Sagan, celebrated host of the original “Cosmos” series demonstrated a visceral awe at the created universe that has been called Pantheism. That’s worship. Even the Humanist movement, which is blatantly non-spiritual, worships the human. Have you seen “Interstellar”?
What the Bible shows us is that we don’t truly understand ourselves; truly find ourselves until we find the proper object of our worship. The Apostle Paul, in Acts 17 publicly spoke to the Athenians gathered at the Areopagus. They were professional worshipers, crafting idols to represent every conceivable deity under the sun and above it. They had even set up a shrine to “the unknown God”, just so they wouldn’t offend anyone by leaving them out. (Picture your grandmother at Christmas, trying to make sure all of the grandchildren have received equally valuable gifts.)
Referring to that shrine, Paul said “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it…made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”
Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.
Worship is that the heart of who we are. We cannot deny the impulse to lose ourselves in awe and wonder. The promise of the gospel is that when we find the proper object of worship (or rather are found by him), we are complete. This is why in scripture we are warned so consistently against idolatry. Its like God is saying “I am actually not far from you. Don’t settle for that counterfeit!”
Not only does idolatry rob you and I of the fullness of life that comes when we find the proper object of worship, it grieves the heart of God. Picture a husband or wife cuddling up to a picture of their spouse instead of the living, breathing version. (This shouldn’t be too hard, since pornography creates the opportunity for that scenario). Doesn’t it strike you as absurd? The spouse who is left out may experience feelings of jealousy. This is God when we pour our affections out on something other than him: the jilted spouse.
That isn’t to say that there is no space in the Christian life for relationships, pursuits and interests other than Christ. The healthiest married couples do not live in a social vacuum: they enjoy other friendships, good books, and hobbies, all in their proper context. God made pleasure. He made us in such a way that we would enjoy a sunset over the mountains, but he intends for the awe that is generated to be channeled into worship for Him, not worship of the sun. God made us artistic beings, but we should not worship the art. He made food for us to enjoy, but we should not worship our stomachs. He invented sex, but it was intended to reflect the intimacy we might have with him; not replace it.
In short, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Much of our confusion, dysfunction and pain comes from worshiping the gift instead of the giver.
I heard an earth-shattering observation that concerns the two main approaches to life in Western society. According to the observer, religious communities generally raise children to believe that man is basically evil and the purpose of religion is for for man to battle the evil in his heart. Communities that raise their children in the absence of religion tend to emphasize the need for change in society rather than the need for personal change. The battle, according to this theory, is either within oneself, or without.
While we can grant that there are exceptions to this rule, it seems to be a great way to begin to explain many phenomena in American culture. Can you find religious groups that are interested in making an impact in society? Certainly. Are there non-religious folks who emphasize self-help? Of course. There will always be outliers, but the theory is a helpful tool in understanding competing worldviews in the mainstream.
Call me cynical, but each approach offers false hope. The child who was reared in religious circles often finds himself disillusioned with the church (or whatever tradition she was raised in). In spite of all his effort, he is no less sinful than he was last year, or the year before. Likewise, the social activist will often run out of steam when his ideals are rejected at the polling station…or when the ideals are implemented, but fail because of the human element.
Which philosophy is right? Is it the human heart that needs correction, or society? Where is the failure?
In short, both. While a multitude of societal ills would be cured if real heart change has occurred, Social Action is not necessarily a bad thing. It just seems to treat the symptom rather than the disease. But neither approach (self-improvement or social action) will work. If you have not been down one of these paths and found yourself exhausted and disillusioned, you need only look to history and see the legions of examples of folks who have failed to improve the individual or the group. Real change begins with the heart. If my own experience is any indication, the human heart resists change like water resists oil!
Historically, how can one change the human heart? The Bible says that we are born into sin, powerless to change the evil inclinations that are part of the fabric of human souls. We are cursed. The only hope is for something more powerful than evil to work its power from within. This isn’t possible by imposing an ethical code! Good preaching cannot change the heart! Good education and social reform have proven powerless in the battle against evil–just look at crime rates in communities with lots of social programs.
What must we do? Jesus was sent to defeat the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). He once told a prominent wise man that the only way to see the Kingdom of God is to be born again (John 3). The only agent of change in the human heart is its creator. How is this different from battling the evil in our own hearts? Self-improvement is a scam. God’s improvement comes with the promise of power, renewal and love. And when individuals are transformed by God’s power, societies tend to change as well.
Dr. Morse delivers a talk based on her book “Smart Sex” at Harvard University.
The MP3 file is here. (21 Mb)
52 minutes of lecture, 33 minutes of Q&A from the Harvard students. The Q&A is worth listening to – the first question is from a gay…
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Michael Denton, in highly technical terms, questions the explanatory power of evolution for speciation…as far as i can tell. He explains that while microevolution, which is an observable process, is a scientific certainty, the transitional forms which would provide supporting evidence for macroevolution are absent. He also appeals to several examples of complex biological processes and abstract biological features which provide no survival benefit, bringing into question the possibility that they developed in response to survival pressures. This is the first in a three part series.