Evolution’s Narrow View


Young chimpanzees from Jane Goodall sanctuary of Tchimpounga (Congo Brazzaville)

Young chimpanzees from Jane Goodall sanctuary of Tchimpounga (Congo Brazzaville)

Some years ago I watched part of a PBS program hosted by Alan Alda. (Yes, the Alan Alda of Mash fame.) The program, Scientific American Frontiers, had some really interesting material, but all from an evolutionary point of view. So, too, the show to which I’m referring.

This one discussed researcher Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees, in particular some of her groundbreaking observations. Chimps can and do use tools. They have minimal rational thought, not just imitative behavior. They form “nation” groups with differing traits from one another. They exhibit emotions and even prejudice or at least aggressive behavior toward outsiders—chimp groups that have broken from the main body. They operate under a set of “moral” rules, with inappropriate behavior corrected by the leader or group.

All these observations are on film, and much of the program showed footage that gave evidence of these findings.

Honestly, I find it fascinating. But here’s the key assertion. According to Alda and his research team, this look at chimps is a look at Mankind’s earliest development.

Some might find this a natural conclusion: chimps do simple cognitive reasoning; man as a more developed creature does advanced cognitive reasoning. One leads naturally to the other, thus offering further evidence that the latter came from the former.

I find this conclusion to be based on narrow thinking. Rather than looking at the facts and asking, How can this be? these scientists look at the evidence and say, Then it must be this way.

As I see it, their thinking is along this line of reasoning: a pine tree bears pine cones which aren’t edible; an apple tree bears apples—an edible fruit—and is therefore more advanced. Consequently, pine trees must be the primitive fore bearers of apple trees.

On the surface that looks rather silly, but the logic follows the same lines as the idea that chimps are the fore bearers of humans.

The point of division is that evolutionary theory apparently only accounts for evolutionary cross-species changes in biological life, not in botanical life.

Admittedly, I am ignorant of a lot of evolutionary theory, so I could be wrong—possibly evolutionary scientists extend the theory to the botanical but for some reason based on their science, do not see pine trees as the forerunner to apple trees.

Nevertheless, my point remains, which is this: evolutionary theorists are narrow in their thinking. They see a set of observations and draw conclusions based on only one possibility—that similarities in species indicate a common source that underwent evolutionary changes, giving us life as we know it today.

The fact is, there is another possibility that fits the data just as well—or better. The observed similarities in species exist because the same Creator made both chimps and Man.

In fiction we talk about an author’s voice—a kind of signature woven into novels through word choice and sentence structure and characters and theme and genre and style and mood. Those familiar with an author can often pick out which lines are his simply because they know his work so well.

Why would it be a stretch to believe that Creator God, who said He created Man in His image, nevertheless showed something of His personality in the rest of the creatures He made?

An artist paints according to his style. A sculptor, an architect, a wood craftsman … all those who create, stamp what they make with their own identity. Why not God?

Seems to me, theorists that don’t at least consider this question are narrow in their thinking.

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Photo credit: Delphine Bruyere

This post, with some minor editorial changes, first appeared here in November 2009).

Jesus And Santa (But Mostly Jesus)


Just_Jesus006When I was little, I came to the realization that Santa Claus was pretend. Seeing Santas on every street corner when we were shopping might have had something to do with it. Shortly after I figured out Santa wasn’t real, I asked the key question: if Santa is pretend, what about Jesus?

No, my mother assured me, Jesus is real.

Some people will say my mother “brainwashed” me because she answered my question truthfully. Other people will explain how their parents told them all about Jesus, but now they’ve decided for themselves not to believe in Him. The point is simple: receiving information about Jesus does not equate with belief in Jesus.

When I was little, my most reliable source for information was my parents. Though I liked to ask why a lot, I still felt their answers were more often reliable than not. But at some point, I started asking questions from other sources. For instance, I remember asking a pastor who was visiting how we could know that God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were one.

There was a verse in 1 John, I think, that the King James Version had included which came right out and stated the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity. This pastor, however, pointed out that the most reliable manuscripts did not include this verse and that it was probably a later addition. I was shocked! Take away that verse and where did that leave the Trinity?

He kindly pointed me to a variety of other verses, some which required a little deduction. I wasn’t altogether satisfied, but as I’ve thought back to that incident, I realize it was critical to my understanding.

The greatest lesson was probably that it’s OK to ask questions about the Bible. At the same time, I had my first experience with the reliability of the Bible—not necessarily in a neat little package as I might like, but as an authoritative revelation from God.

All that, and yet I knew Jesus was real before I’d ever asked that Trinity question. I knew because I’d met Him myself. To be honest, it was a little shocking for me to discover that some people didn’t believe He ever existed.

Sure, I got that others might reject His claims as the Son of God and Messiah, Savior, Lord. But how could they doubt He existed? It seemed ludicrous.

I did a little study to see if there was sufficient evidence to believe Jesus lived. Historical evidence, of course, is different from scientific evidence. There is no repeatable experiment during which you can gather data through observation and reach a verifiable conclusion. Rather, you piece facts together like a puzzle until a picture takes shape.

Generally the best puzzle pieces are primary sources—letters Jesus might have written, for example. Secondary sources are second best. These are written after the fact and may make commentary on a person or event or give a secondhand view.

Consequently, if I understand this correctly, letters such as those Paul wrote are primary sources, whereas the gospels and the book of Acts are secondary sources. Of course Jesus didn’t write any of these books, primary or secondary, (setting aside for the moment the doctrine of inspiration of Scripture and looking at the subject purely from a historical perspective) though He is quoted heavily and He is the subject of them all.

Add in the fact that a number of these books were written by eyewitnesses. James and Jude where Jesus’s brothers; Matthew, John, and Peter were in His group of twelve followers. Then, too, Luke who wrote the gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, was a physician, researching and writing with the express purpose of putting the events surrounding Jesus and the development of the Church into a logical order for a Greek individual some believe to have been his patron.

In other words, these secondary sources are ones most historians would love to include in their bibliographies because they are contemporary, reputable, and knowledgeable.

Of course the existence of Jesus doesn’t hang solely on the Biblical record of His life. There were extra-Biblical believers who provided secondary material in support of Jesus’s life and work, men like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Quadratus of Athens, Aristides the Athenian, Justin Martyr, and Hegesippus. Each of these believers wrote of Jesus, not as a spiritual entity or an idea or a hope, but as a man who lived on earth and fulfilled the claims of the Old Testament for the Messiah of God.

For example, the latter

converted to Christianity from Judaism after extensively researching the Gospel story for
himself. Instead of accepting the Gospel story [as] the word of others, he travelled extensively throughout Rome and Corinth in an effort to collect evidence of the early Christian claims. Hegesippus provides important testimony that the stories being passed around were not watered
down, embellished, or fabricated. (“The Historicity of Jesus: Did He Really Exist?”)

in another century, church councils took place but among the topics was not a question about Jesus’s existence. Rather the doctrines these councils were hammering out had to do with Jesus’s divinity and His place in the Trinity. There was no attempt to garner evidence to prove He had lived. That was not something these church leaders doubted because they were the grandsons and great-grandsons of eye witnesses. They knew the reliability of those who came before.

Beyond the Church, there were Jewish secondary sources, most notably Flavius Josephus, but also Greek, Syrian, and Roman scholars. One such individual was Celsus,

a second century Roman author and avid opponent of Christianity. He went to great lengths to disprove the
divinity of Jesus yet never denied His actual existence. (ibid.)

Perhaps the most telling is the documentation of Jesus’s execution at the hands of Pontus Pilate, recorded by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, a man known for separating verifiable events from hearsay and folklore.

In short, the evidence supporting the fact that Jesus lived on earth is substantial. Only someone bent on rejecting every iota of His person would ignore this body of documentation.

Santa, on the other hand . . . Let’s just say, it’s fun to pretend Santa lives at the North Pole and visits all children once a year in a single night.

Published in: on October 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Talking To Atheists


"Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape."

“Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape.”

Atheists and Christians look at life and the world from diametrically opposed views, so having a conversation between those who hold to those divergent opinions is not easy. On one hand, atheists, believing only in scientifically verifiable substance, are convinced that God does not exist. Some even question the historicity of Jesus. These fundamental positions lead them to dismiss the Bible as more myth than an accurate historical source.

In contrast, Christians know that God and an entire supernatural realm beyond the scope of science, exist. This fundamental position leads us to accept the Bible not only as accurate but authoritative since the words and thoughts are God’s, written by humans through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Most of that last paragraph would be nearly unintelligible to atheists. After all, from their perspective there is no God, therefore no Holy Spirit, no inspiration, leaving the Bible to be a book of made-up stories and rules.

Generally conversation between those holding the two opposing positions means one side creates a “convincing” argument dismantling the position of the other, only to have the reverse occur during rebuttal.

So does that mean there is no way the two can discuss the big issues of life? There certainly is a barrier. From my perspective as a Christian, I feel as if I’m trying to convince someone who is colorblind that the sky is blue. It’s an obvious fact to me, but he has no knowledge of blue and therefore considers everything I say to be nonsense.

From his perspective I imagine he has what seems to be the most obvious, basic, clear, tangible standards by which reality can be determined, but Christians claim truth on the basis of those standards plus something intangible, unclear, obscure, and convoluted.

If I’m right, both sides shake their heads at the other and say, how can they be so ignorant?

In reality, I as a Christian would like to learn to talk to atheists, but to do that means bridging this worldview divide. Oh, sure, we can talk at each other—I can quote Scripture, which they don’t believe, and they can quote “Bible scholars” who don’t believe the Bible. I can throw out names of Christian scientists and they can list three times as many atheist scientists. I can present archeological data supportive of the Bible, and they can point to detail after detail in the Bible for which no historical evidence exists. I can discuss cosmology and the need for an intelligent designer to explain intelligent complexity, and they can discuss evolution and the natural development of all life.

The point is, we aren’t actually talking to one another. Rather, I’d like to find out, beyond theory, why atheists believe as they do.

Some, of course, believe they have come to the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible, but that presupposes that the human mind can know all that is or is not in the vast cosmos, including the multiverse and the possible different dimensions, should string theory prove to be true.

Ah, but there lies the problem. We humans don’t know if string theory is true. We don’t know if there are other dimensions. And if there are? Why would those dimensions have to be like ours? Might not there be a spiritual dimension filled with the supernatural?

Humankind is still looking for evidence of life in space though we don’t know for sure if it exists or if it will be intelligent should it exist. Despite that uncertainty, atheists are certain God is not there. Life maybe; God absolutely not.

All the above to point out that claims to “the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible” are hardly sufficient to answer the question why someone is an atheist.

On the other hand, if someone asks a Christian why they believe as they do, I think the answer might also be categorical—something along the lines of, I’m convinced Jesus is who He said He is: Son of God, Savior, Lord.

And where’s the evidence, atheists will answer.

Where indeed? Within the pages of the Bible the atheist doesn’t believe in; by the witness of the Holy Spirit living in each Christian, which the atheist doesn’t believe in; through the power of a changed life which the atheist has no way to measure or to ascribe cause.

It seems we’ve returned to the impasse. But I keep coming back to the question why the atheist can’t accept what he can’t see for himself—at least when it comes to God. He can’t see gravity, but believes in it; can’t see black holes, but (most) would agree they exist.

When it comes to God, however, inferring His existence from the effect He has on life (which is how we know about gravity and black holes) is insufficient evidence. So “a cosmic accident” is a better explanation for the existence of life than is an intelligent designer.

Why?

Maybe if I understood that, I’d understand atheists better and we could talk.

For Atheists: Intelligent Design Suggests Intelligence


Earth from spaceApparently the position to ridicule these days is belief in the Bible as historical fact, not as a collection of myths mixed in with some principles of spiritual value (or as complete fantasy, as I’ve heard some atheists say). The most obvious point of attack is creation, but other stories in Genesis are also fair game—notably, the flood (see “Updates on the Creation Wars”).

The thing that catches my attention most is the idea that people today, because of the wonderful discoveries in science, are smarter than people of long ago who believed in supernatural claptrap—really just a form of superstition.

Now we KNOW. We know the world couldn’t possibly be created in six days. We know there was no such thing as a worldwide flood. We know that people didn’t really live for nine hundred years. We know animals didn’t live on a big boat for a year. We know serpents don’t talk. In other words, we know the Bible isn’t meant to be read as historical—at least not most of it.

And how do we know all this? Because we’ve never seen such things. They don’t fit with the observable scientific data we have.

Problem is, all these Biblical events hinge on one central point—God acted. If you posit a Supreme Intelligent Being who is omnipotent, then what could He not do?

And if He created Man, as He said He did–in His own image–you’d have to assume an intelligent being, not of the caveman variety who needed to evolve into a higher form. This view of Man is a complete contradiction to the picture Romans 1 gives of a natural world deteriorating as a result of sin.

On one hand you have Creator God saying all He made was good, that sin entering through Man’s disobedience started a downward spiral which has Humankind confusing good and evil and falling further into decline.

On the other you have science which can only postulate an accident—which probability says is incredible—to explain how we came to be and can say nothing at all about why we are here or what happens after this life. And yet, according to this thinking, Man is smarter now than ever.

But which sounds the most intelligent: A) an uncaused accident yielding complex life and intelligence or B) an intelligent person yielding complex life and intelligence?

I’m not sure what there is to debate.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Rom 1:19-23

Or, as is the case today, unbelieving people bypass the images and go straight to giving glory to mortal man.

Imagine an island where all the people ignore their sense of hearing. Instead of talking, they learn to communicate by signing. In fact their ability to hear begins to fade as they grow older.

One day a hearing person arrives. He soon learns to communicate with them, but when he tries to remark about the crash of the waves on the sand or the chirping of birds or the wind rustling the leaves, they say he is making up stories.

At first they humor him, but when some of the children start to say they think they also can hear these sounds, the adults turn angry. You’re deluded, they sign. You’re making up stories and confusing the children. Be gone.

Sadly, he sails away.

What a fool he was, the island people sign to one another. Sounds. What a horrible thing that would be, to hear the cry of the wounded and dying. How glad we are that we’re not like that foolish, deluded man who made up stories about sound. We’re too smart, to learned, to believe such an impossible tale.
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This article first appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction March 2013

Published in: on October 27, 2014 at 7:19 pm  Comments (5)  
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Watch Where You’re Bathing


David and Bathsheba031It’s not a popular position today to say that how a woman dresses has anything whatsoever to do with how a man might act, but let’s face it—women bear responsibility for suggestive behavior.

For example, an eighteen-year-old Notre Dame football player just recently grabbed public attention by posting pictures of his date with a hot porn star—a forty-two-year-old porn star. She’s old enough to be his mother, and a few months earlier, she’d be guilty of statutory rape. (Yes, reportedly some of the pictures were of the two of them having sex.)

Of course most of the attention is on the young man. Some think he scored big or that he’s looking for a role in the porn industry himself. Others wonder what his Catholic university might have to say about his actions.

But I can’t help but think, would he have taken pictures of himself and his date having sex if he hadn’t been drawn into porn by the women he watched?

Women have been seducing men since the fall, and men have been guilty of sexual sin for just as long, but only today, it would seem, we acquit women of all culpability.

Perhaps the most famous seduction story in the Bible is King David’s adultery with Bathsheba, though we generally think of Bathsheba as an innocent party. She was anything but innocent.

Yes, David had plenty of guilt in the matter. He did all the wrong things a man could do, it would seem. He stayed at home instead of going with his troops to battle, as he had been doing. It was the equivalent of staying home from work to watch porn.

He was lounging on his bed and only arose in the evening to take a walk. He saw Bathsheba—not a quick glance, because he made an assessment of her beauty—and inquired after her. When he found out she was married, he pursued her anyway.

But what about Bathsheba? She “just happened” to take a bath in full view of the king’s residence. Did she not realize how close she was to the palace? Or that someone walking on the roof (the equivalent of a porch) could see her as she bathed? I doubt if she was so oblivious.

In truth, we don’t know for sure because the story is told from David’s perspective. For example, when David had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed, how did she feel about their affair then? We only know that she mourned Uriah, but I suspect she carried a lot of guilt with her to that funeral and even to her subsequent wedding with David.

We know David grieved the death of their child, conceived in adultery, but we don’t know how Bathsheba reacted. We know God confronted David, through the prophet Nathan, because of his sin, and David repented. Did Bathsheba have that same encounter with God and the opportunity to confess her sin? We simply don’t know. Scripture doesn’t tell us because the story is focused on David.

Because the Bible doesn’t explicitly point out Bathsheba’s responsibility or perhaps her open seduction of the king, I think a lot of people bypass her part in the sin. He was the king, after all, and she had to go to him when he sent for her. Really?

If she had wanted to remain faithful to her husband, she could have refused to do David’s bidden the same way Uriah did when David tried to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy by sending Uriah home. He wouldn’t go, choosing instead to sleep with the king’s servants. His sense of duty wouldn’t allow him to be with his wife while the rest of the army was out in the field of battle. Too bad David didn’t have that same sense of duty.

Too bad Bathsheba didn’t either. When David sent for her, “she came to him.” Would he have sent if she hadn’t been bathing where he could watch her? Clearly not or the affair would have happened sooner.

I want to be clear on one thing: I am not saying women who are raped are at fault. That kind of blanket statement is foolish.

I am saying that women dress to be attractive and that can mean, draw the attention of men to their sexiness. In other words, how some women dress is with intent to make themselves sexually appealing. How is that any different from what Bathsheba did?

If tight or short or low cut get men to turn their heads, is dressing that way really innocent, innocuous conduct? How can we continue to think women bear no blame for setting men up to fail when it comes to their lustful thoughts?

Of course David bore his guilt for his affair with Bathsheba, and so must every man who has lust in their hearts, whether they act on it or not. But because David sinned doesn’t mean Bathsheba was without sin. I suspect many of us women bear guilt of like kind to Bathsheba’s. If only we could value purity above the world’s requirement that women “be attractive”–i.e., head-turningly sexy.

Instead Christian young women swallow what society says: men want sex so women should show their sexiness. And we wonder why divorce rates are high in the church and young people are sleeping around. We might be preaching purity and abstinence, but we aren’t teaching young people, or married couples, for that matter, what steps to take to avoid sexual immorality.

One thing that will help for sure is if young women pay attention to where they are bathing.

Giving And Receiving


offering_plateA friend and I were talking about giving and receiving the other day. Not an exchange of gifts like at Christmas, but generously sharing from the abundance of our wealth with those in need. And those in need receiving what they’ve been given.

I’ll admit, I think I’ve been on the receiving end more often than the giving. When I was a kid, both my parents taught in Christian schools, and we were poor. There were months that the college where my dad was employed, couldn’t make payroll. I don’t know how often this happened, but I remember one occasion when someone left a bag of groceries on our porch.

Later when we moved to California, we children benefited from “hand-me-downs” from some of the other faculty, as I had from my older sister for a number of years.

As an adult, I received support from family and friends during my three-year short term missions experience in Guatemala.

Recently I’ve received money more than once when I needed it for odds and ends like rent and food, the gift of a brand new Kindle from writer friends and a used iBook computer—such valuable tools for a writer. Then there is food. One friend has regularly shared tomatoes from her garden or oranges or left over dishes from church gatherings. My former neighbors used to give me bread and tortillas from his work. Another family gave me plates of food when they didn’t use everything they’d prepared for a church get-together. In the past two weeks two other neighbors have given me plates of food.

And there’s been more. It astounds me a bit because I’m sure I don’t look like I’m starving! These people are sharing out of their abundance and because of their generous spirit. It’s an incredible blessing.

The thing is, that’s the way God wants the Church to work. Paul explained to the body in Corinth:

For this [sharing with others] is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK.” (2 Cor. 8:13-15)

The truly amazing thing is that the person or church group who receives is not, in reality, the one who benefits most. Paul made this clear to the Philippians when he was commending them with sharing with him when he was in need:

Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. (Phil. 4:17)

When Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of their promise to give to the famine-stricken church in Jerusalem, he established some principles of giving:
* it should be bountiful

So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness. Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Cor. 9:5-6)

* it should not be spontaneous but thought out and planned for according to each person’s ability to give
* it should be with a cheerful heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7)

Paul’s admonition builds to a crescendo, a tipping point: you promised to give, so plan on giving. Do so lavishly, not because you have to but because you enjoy giving. God will supply for you all you need so you can give to the needs of the saints. But more so, your giving will be an occasion for those believers to give thanks to God. And it will build unity among the Church because those who receive will be filled with warm feelings for those giving and will pray for them.

How cool is that! Receivers actually create an opportunity for givers to be blessed, to profit through God’s rewards and the receivers’ prayers. AND the occasion of receiving heaps thanksgiving on God.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written,
“HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR,
HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER.”
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. (2 Cor. 9:8-14, emphasis mine)

Both giving and receiving are part of God’s plan. It produces equality but the spiritual benefits and the glory God receives can’t be calculated.

Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Good Listening


advice-from-dad-202988-mToday on Facebook a friend of a friend decried the loss of debate in our society. I happen to enjoy debate but know exactly what this man was talking about—so often online discussions break down. Sometimes either the tone of the original post or one of the comments is rancorous or the topic is contentious or the view of the writer, extreme. All these can incite something closer to hate speech than to discussion.

Unfortunately, contentious exchanges aren’t the only reason people no longer enter into substantive discussions. Another reason is that we in western society are losing the will to listen to each other. I’ve seen it on line; I’ve seen it in person.

Online our communication suffers because we’re all in a hurry and one or more party is skimming, not reading. Of course some commenters simply drop their opinion into the middle of a conversation and run away. Others do not take the time to read what people before them have said, so their contribution is warmed over rehash.

In real life we are also in a hurry, so our communication with one another is often part of multitasking. One example is a practice we know to be dangerous (and in some states, illegal)—texting and driving—and still we are tempted to do both things at once. People also hold conversations with others who are reading or watching TV.

These exchanges are far from what I consider good discussions. Once people sat around the dinner table and talked to each other. They listened to what others had to say, thought about what they’d heard, and contributed something if they thought it would advance the conversation further.

These kinds of conversations didn’t just happen after a meal, either. Sometimes people were invited to a friend’s house just “to visit”—a euphemism for entering into a conversation with someone else. Often people at church would stand around in the foyer or out front and talk, sometimes about the sermon, sometimes about their week.

The key in all these successful discussions is listening. Both or all parties listen to one another. They aren’t planning their next spiel or waiting for the current speaker to take a breath so they can jump in with their thoughts.

One way you can tell if someone is listening is by the questions they ask . . . or don’t ask. In a real conversation, there is give and take spurred by questions asking for amplification or explanation. New ideas might also be sparked, but those are clearly pertinent to what came before.

Listening is such an important skill in interpersonal relationships, so it seems like a serious loss that we no longer understand how to discuss. But even more important is our need to listen to God.

First we need to hear His word. James says clearly that real hearing isn’t hard to detect—it will lead to doing. If we hear God’s command to love our neighbors, we will not continue to ignore or belittle or slander them.

But God has also given us His Holy Spirit who guides us and teaches us and convicts us and comforts us—if we’re listening. Sadly some Christians shy away from communion with the Holy Spirit, thinking such “private communication” is akin to gnosticism. Well, it’s not.

The Holy Spirit lives in us for a reason, and it’s not for Him to act like a silent partner we never consult. Rather, He’s the dynamo, the source of power for our Christian walk. He wants to embolden us, to provide strength when we are weak, to spark our thoughts when we don’t have an idea what to write next (which happens a lot on this blog! :-D )

Of course, to benefit from communion with the Holy Spirit, we have to listen. Scripture says we are not to quench the Holy Spirit, which is another way of saying we aren’t to ignore Him. It’s a great metaphor though because the Holy Spirit made a visual manifestation to the early church as tongues of fire. But those believers realized they could put the fire out.

I’m amazed that God would allow us to ignore Him. When I was teaching, I did what I could to keep my students listening. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t optional. But not with God. He tells us—commands us—not to douse the Holy Spirit and in the command there is the implication that we can in fact do the opposite. We can quench Him. And we do that every time we ignore Him.

What’s frightening is, when we ignore the nudges from the Holy Spirit, it becomes harder and harder to tell when He’s giving us a nudge and when we’re operating from our own emotions.

Lots of times we say God gave us peace about this or that decision, which is well and fine. I’ve said that myself any number of times. But peace is only a byproduct of obeying the Holy Spirit and it’s not a constant.

I have a friend who teaches a Bible study at a women’s shelter. Every day she goes to teach, she is eaten up with anxiety, and yet she goes. For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit has not given her peace. She prays for it and knows intellectually that God will give her the ability to teach so she doesn’t have to worry, but the feelings have not followed. However, her obedience to go and to teach speaks far more about her willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit than any amount of inner peace.

You might say obedience is good listening.

Fear And The Christian


King_Saul006Yet another serial killer surfaced in the US this week. The Stock Market took a beating last week, Ebola is killing more people (more Africans have died in this last outbreak than Americans who died in the World Trade Center), and ISIS is threatening yet another town.

All this on top of the usual fears about aging and relationships and child rearing and politics and job stability and drought (or hurricanes or floods or earthquakes, depending on what part of the country you make your home).

I see people talking about fear and panic, especially in connection with Ebola—though only two people contracted it on US soil. The news ran a piece about not needing to be afraid of the people returning from quarantine. The CDC put in new guidelines to protect medical personnel caring for Ebola patients. And there’s some quick response team that’s being prepared—part of the National Guard, I think, but don’t quote me.

All these preparations sound logical and necessary, but what we haven’t learned yet is that God is not subject to our plans and precautions. Should He wish to judge this nation or any other part of the world by sending pestilence, all our careful plans will not stop what God intends to do.

King Saul never learned that lesson.

He was disobedient to God and lied about it. As a result, Samuel, speaking the word of God, told Saul the kingdom would be torn from his hands. Instead of repenting and acknowledging God’s sovereign right to do as He chooses, Saul tried to hold onto the kingdom God said he’d lose.

At first he pretended he was doing it for his son Jonathan. Except, there came a day, Saul tried to kill Jonathan because of his friendship with David. Scratch the “I’m doing it for my son” excuse.

Irony of irony, when Saul was about to go into his last battle, he inquired of God whether or not he’d be successful. God was not answering. Saul went to the priest, offered sacrifices, used the ephod which was apparently some form of divining God’s will, and uniformly, he got no response.

He really didn’t need one. God had already given His verdict on Saul and his kingdom, but Saul didn’t like what God had to say. So he persisted. He went to a spiritist—apparently someone who could divine the future through some means apart from God.

Again, he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear. Yes, the woman he went to, the medium, brought up Samuel who Saul wanted to talk to. But Samuel’s message was anything but comforting:

The LORD has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. As you did not obey the LORD and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the LORD will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the LORD will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!” (1 Sam. 28:17-19)

Not only did this message confirm God’s judgment, but now Saul knew it was imminent. He reacted like most people would react—with fear.

Then Saul immediately fell full length upon the ground and was very afraid because of the words of Samuel (v. 20a)

This occasion is one of the few times in Scripture when a person responded in fear to a spiritual being and wasn’t told not to fear. In other words, Saul received no comfort. He was faced with God’s judgment and he was afraid.

How different life is for the Christian. Of course we face fearful things. Christians are not immune to cancer or ALS or car accidents or terrorists flying planes into the ground. Christians lose their homes in economic downturns and get laid off and don’t know how they’ll pay the phone bill.

We face the same problems in the world that our unsaved friends and neighbors face. But in all this there’s a difference. From Psalm 37:

When he falls he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.

We’re not going to be hurled headlong, and we know it. We might die or be in a wheelchair for forty years or lose a spouse or have a stroke, but that is not the end, and we know it.

Through those circumstances we have the great comfort that we aren’t going through them alone, because the Lord is the One who holds our hand. He isn’t going to grab us after we fall (though there’s a pretty funny joke about that). He’s with us, holding onto us, keeping us as we go through those circumstances.

And for me, that changes everything.

Published in: on October 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Loyalty To The King


President_Obama_at_MLK_Memorial_dedicationSome times a democracy can be harmful. I’m so happy the founders of the US established the kind of government they did, but the fact is, our right to vote has translated into a right to criticize. And criticism more often than not yields to grumbling and complaining, which in its turn can lead to slanderous invectives.

The US is in a unique period of our history. The nation is divided in a disturbing way—people on opposing sides have little respect for the individuals who hold a different view. The idea seems to be, only morons would not agree with my position, therefore you in the opposing camp are a moron, and I don’t have to listen to you. If fact, I’d rather if you simply did not speak.

Nothing could be more detrimental to a country that depends on compromise between legislators, between the two legislative houses, and between the legislature and the executive branch of government.

Compare where we are with David, youngest son of Jesse, who found himself in the opposite camp from the king of the land. Though he did not harbor rebellion in his heart and only fulfilled the king’s every wish, David became King Saul’s enemy.

We’re not talking about Saul hurling insults at David. He hurled spears. More than once. He ordered his men to pull him out of his house and kill him. He murdered seventy priests because one, thinking David, the King’s son-in-law to still be a loyal member of his court and on the King’s business, gave him food and a weapon.

Saul took an army of 3000 to hunt him down; he bribed and pleaded and cajoled and threatened to get people to disclose where David was hiding.

Sometimes his schemes seemed to work, and he closed in on David. Once when he was pursuing David in the desert, he took a break in a cave—a siesta, of sorts, in the middle of the day to get out of the heat. As it happened, David was hiding in the recesses of that cave, but Saul never knew it.

David’s men urged him to put an end to the persecution once and for all by killing Saul. But David refused for one reason and one reason alone—Saul was God’s anointed. In other words, God had put Saul in authority, and David was not about to supersede God’s decision.

Later he had a second opportunity to finish Saul when he made a foray into his camp at night. As it happens, God put a deep sleep upon everyone, and David slipped in, grabbed a couple things belonging to Saul to use as proof that he did not plan evil against the man who sought to kill him, then slipped out.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.”

In all this David did not rail against Saul or paint him as a monster. He didn’t brag that he too was anointed by God, and he didn’t use his choice by God, carried out by the prophet Samuel, as a special reason for no longer honoring the King.

David lived out his loyalty to God by remaining loyal to His chosen King. He was willing to let God deal with Saul. This position is precisely the one the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter preached, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to Christians in the first century.

They happened to fall under great persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but Peter says

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

By doing right we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Not by calling them names. Not by signing petitions or starting impeachment campaigns or painting Hitler mustaches on the government leaders we don’t like.

David was right to let God deal with Saul. He had to wait, and he got tired of waiting which led him into a bad situation, but he remained firm about taking matters into his own hands. He would not move against Saul. He would let God take care of him.

His wait paid off.

When I see Christians treat our President with disrespect and accuse him unjustly, I am confused. God’s command in His word is clear: we are to honor our leaders:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1)

Even more clearly, Paul said to the Romans, who would have had a front row seat to all the abuses of the Caesars and their minions:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6)

Notice Paul does not qualify his statements. He’s not saying be subject to authorities with whom you agree or to ones who aren’t corrupt.

David’s example shows, however, that being subject to the King didn’t mean to stand still so he could skewer him with his spear. David ran and hid and ran some more so that Saul wouldn’t kill him. But he didn’t assassinate his character or take the man’s life.

Would that Christians today had as much confidence in God’s sovereignty and His omniscient plans as David did all those years before. He didn’t have Scripture to direct him in his decisions. We do, and still we speak with such disrespect about our rulers.

It’s democracy, I tell you. But that’s not an excuse.

Published in: on October 20, 2014 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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What To Do About False Teaching


False teaching has far reaching effects. Christians, like someone standing on the sidewalk when a car splashes through a muddy puddle, end up sprayed and splattered by false teachers and their followers.

Scripture spells out the harm that false teaching does, to those who buy into it and to the true Church:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3 – emphasis mine)

Seems to me, because of the destructive nature of false teaching and because God and His Truth are maligned as a result of it, Christians ought not stand idly by.

But if we take it upon ourselves to correct false teachers, what’s to prevent us from becoming like the hateful Westboro Baptist people who picket funerals with signs bearing offensive messages?

Not that there isn’t a place for rebuke. There is. 2 Peter goes on to say

forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. (2 Peter 2:15-16)

OK, in Balaam’s case, no one else was around to rebuke him, so God opened the mouth of his donkey. Rebuke would seem to be a vital part of handling false teaching.

But there appears to be a difference between rebuke and reviling. Peter and Jude both make a point of saying that even the angels don’t dare bring a reviling judgment on false teachers.

Jude actually gives a blueprint to the Christian for handling false teaching:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (vv 20-23)

The first admonition is for believers to focus on our own spiritual walk—our faith, our prayer life, our love of God, our expectant hope for eternal life.

In addition, there are some to whom we are to show mercy—those who are doubting. I suspect this may refer to those who have been subject to false teaching and consequently have doubts. How can we extend them mercy? Certainly not by picketing funerals. But we can pray. We can live lives of faith. We can testify to God’s goodness and the truth of His world. We can also be forgiving rather than easily offended.

Others we are to snatch out of the fire. James 5:19-20 comes to mind:

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

How do you turn someone back from the error of his way? I suspect only someone who has a relationship with a person straying from the truth can effect this change. In the parlance of the world, this might be an intervention. In Biblical terms, it would be “going to a brother” as described in Matthew 18.

With some we are to have “mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Strong language, but it seems to me these are pictures of running away, not fighting against.

Our act of mercy would be what? I’m not sure. I do know that extending mercy is not something hateful or oppressive. But doing so with fear and hating even the outward manifestation of sinfulness doesn’t sound like we’re having coffee with those caught up in false teaching.

In other words, it seems there’s a point when someone is pulled in so far that we are not to pursue them, or if we do, we should tread carefully, mindful of the quicksand we’re edging toward, mercifully willing to throw a line, but hating the grime so much we stay clear of it ourselves.

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This article, with some editorial changes, first appeared here in October 2011

Published in: on October 16, 2014 at 7:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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