Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Don't Worship Facebook

See that little red circle around the black clock on my browser toolbar? That is a Chrome extension called Stay Focused. I have a list of sites that do not pertain to my work and are especially tempting time wasters. Stay Focused allows me to visit these sites for a predetermined time period. When time is up it blocks access to all the sites on my list. I've found it a great tool to help me manage my online time wisely.

My list of limited sites includes Facebook, Instructables, YouTube, and others.

But something happened the other morning that "got me ta thinkin'" about my use of Facebook. I woke up, and without much thought, reached over to my cell phone and opened my Facebook app. It was the first thing I wanted to do in the morning! I put my cell phone back down and admonished myself for being so shallow and felt really guilty for some reason. Still the desire to pick my phone back up and just scroll through a few updates was nagging me. What's wrong with me?

StayFocused keeps me from squandering internet time
I didn't know at the moment why I felt my desire was bad, why it should be labeled a "temptation" and not just a regular event in life. After some meditation on the subject I realized my danger. You see, the feeling I had toward Facebook was a feeling I had had before toward something else. I realized the desire I had to get up and discover what was happening on Facebook matched a similar desire I have had at times in my life to get up and discover what I could learn from time in the word of God. 

That "at times in m life" phrase may bother you because I am a pastor. Perhaps you believe as a pastor I should at all times be excited about reading my Bible. I confess I am not. Let me tell you why. Seeking God is an exceptional exercise. It is like mountain climbing. There is great reward, but there it requires great struggle. There are moments of ease and comfort, and there are moments that require great sacrifice and endurance. No one should be deceived into thinking that worshipping God is an easy or comfortable activity. But I can testify that it is worth it. The reward is incomparable. So, yes, I can only say that I am sometimes really excited about "getting into God's word" as we Evangelicals like to say. Other days I still make the effort. I still discipline myself to try because in the trying I am building up the endurance and patience and spiritual strength and wisdom it will take to be ready for the next thing the God has for me to experience. I have learned that it is worth it.

Now Facebook (or Pintrest or Twitter or ESPN or whatever .com it is that entices you) comes along and offers a much less rewarding yet more consistent experience of fulfillment. We have built into us a hunger to experience truth. That hunger is only rightfully fulfilled by God, but the internet offers the feeling of truth fulfillment. Social media gives us the feeling of connectedness not only to people but to a vast wealth of knowledge. Where God seems to be stingy with his revelations, the internet will leave no curiosity denied. Our smart phones represent an (apparently) endless repository of knowledge, the ability to know what all our friends are doing, instructions about how to be feeling about the world, and the chance to speak our thoughts in a way that we know will be heard and might possibly get instant feedback. All in a package we can carry around in our pockets.

When we pray to God we often get silence and waiting. When we pray to Facebook (status update) we get likes, shares and comments. When we read the Bible we often have to study diligently and endure puzzling difficulties. When we peruse our feed we don't have to spend time thinking about anything. We don't even need to read long articles; we can just watch the video and be told how to think and feel. When we allow God to speak to us we are often challenged to change out thinking or behavior. When we listen to social media we are reaffirmed in our bias, fears and comforts because we have a self-perpetuating system of likes.

I know it is all silliness. I don't really think Facebook sustains me emotionally or spiritually or intellectually. It just feels like it does. So like a drug gives your body the feeling of health and pleasure for a moment, Facebook can make my spirit feel sustained. Like candy makes your mouth happy, social media can give you an emotional sugar rush of affirmation. But drugs and candy will not sustain a healthy human! 

So if we really want to experience God--that is, if we really want to have a meaningful interaction with our creator in such a way that we are aware that He is real and He is active in our life. If you want to have that experience like I do, then we are going to have to squelch the competition. We are going to have to mute the things in our life that pretend to offer the same things that God does. It is not as easy as blocking tempting sites (though that may be a useful thing to do). There will always be new temptations, new false idols, new ways to be drawn away from a healthy hunger for God's kingdom. I do not want to allow "drugs and candy" to dull my spiritual hunger. I want to be fully alert even if it means temporary suffering, self-denial and waiting. 

Lord, watch over my heart and help me not to worship Facebook. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Suffering for future generations

Same-sex marriage is being allowed based on the idea that marriage is a matter of individual conscience, and as such individuals who practice homosexuality should have the same rights to enter in to marriage as those who do not practice homosexuality.

What is being ignored in this debate is the question of what is the government's role in marriage? Why is marriage an issue of public policy at all? If marriage is simply a matter of individual conscience (i.e. people should be able to marry who they want to) then what basis does the government have for limiting any type of marriage? If we are going to assume individual conscience is the guiding principle for who should be able to get married, then we must soon start repealing laws against polygamy, marrying family members, marrying animals, corporate marriages, marrying fictional characters and the list goes on. To be honest, I don't know if there are laws against all of those things, but I can imagine that human creativity and perversity will force those issues sooner or later.

If, you say, the government's interest is to protect people from inappropriate sexual relationships, I would point out that our society has almost completely removed sexual relations as an legal interest in marriage. Marriage is not legally required for anyone to have sex in any way imaginable. Marriage partners are not legally bound to respect the sexual norms associated with the tradition of marriage (i.e. marital faithfulness). There are laws against sexual acts that are seen as a violation of those who do not consent (or are deemed unable to consent with understanding). But even these laws are applied unevenly and without a well thought out ethical consideration. In society's mind some things are still "just wrong." I highly doubt that many people could give an ethical argument for why unwed consensual teenage sex is legal but child pornography is not, yet it seems the majority opinion is that one is okay (or even necessary) while the other is an abomination that requires the shame of going on a permanent, public database with a mugshot and address for the perpetrator. If children cannot responsibly give consent it should not matter who they are giving the consent to. Just because other children are doing the abusing it doesn't make the abuse any less.

Returning to my point, if we are going to have any marriage laws at all we need to have a basis for doing so. The debates have been about rights and equality, but few have addressed the real question underlying these laws--the relationship of the government, the individual and the community.
If those were the terms of the debate then we could talk with reason.

As a Christian I believe that homosexual activity is a sin. I see it as a perversion of the gift of sex that God gave us for the purpose of pleasure and procreation. I do not deny that some individuals may struggle more than others with a temptation toward homosexuality even to the point of feeling "born this way." It is clearly observable that many (most?) struggle with a temptation toward adultery and pornography and all sorts of other sexual perversion, but the presence of those temptations do not make them "natural" in the sense of being acceptable before God. While it may seem cruel for me to ask others to deny themselves the pleasures they feel they were born to posses, we must recognize that we do this all the time. The entire justice system is built on the idea that we must persuade people to restrain themselves from doing what they might feel they were born or compelled to do. I see homosexual activity as a sin that is an affront to God and damaging to those who participate. Because of this belief I would encourage people to find a way to avoid or flee that lifestyle, but I also recognize that it is not currently illegal (in most places). So I can speak in one way about my moral beliefs as a Christian, but what should I say as an American Citizen?

First, my moral beliefs are relevant when it comes to discussions of public policy. Even without evoking the Bible or my personal religious practices, I have a right to speak and promote what I feel is right and wrong for others to do. Liberty is the word we use for freedom in America, but to imagine that all individuals are free to do as they want is logically impossible. Liberty in America must mean a willingness to accept responsibility as a citizen of the People. Ultimately, it is the freedom of the People that is protected by the constitution, not merely the freedoms of the individual. I know that is a radical interpretation that has lots of implications for other debates, but that's how I see it. It is on this point, I believe, that democracy is most vulnerable. There is no final standard for values. The people must decide to agree, or else democracy fails. There is no king to go to to resolve disputes. There is no American Standard Moral Code. We have to agree, compromise, or fight ourselves into oblivion.

Second, as an American I have an interest in a public policy that brings stability to our society. The cold hard scientific evidence shows that traditional families are good for our society. Traditional families promote less crime, higher education rates, higher employment rates, better health, more stable markets. I believe that same-sex marriage is a change to marriage law that will benefit neither traditional marriage couple or same-sex couples. The results will be higher family instability, confusing and damaging legal situations, emotionally scarred children, an increase in divorce, and a decrease in the marriage rate. See AN ECONOMIC ASSESSMENT OF SAME-SEX 
MARRIAGE LAWS by DOUGLAS W. ALLEN from Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy [Vol. 29].

In spite of my ethical and philosophical approach to the idea of marriage I know that most peoples' opinion boils down to a simple statement we hear all the time. "If two people love each other, who am I to tell them not to get married?"

This simple statement is hard to argue against persuasively because it appeals to our American ideal of "live and let live" and an echo of romanticism that still drives pop culture (even though "love" itself has little real meaning beyond a commercial drive for fulfillment. Love, for the masses, is a tool that corporations use to sell their products). We want to agree with the statement, yet a critical eye can see the problem right away. We are not debating love. We are debating legal marriage. There have never been laws dictating whom you can love. Those would be unenforceable. We are not even debating laws about sex, adoption, benefits, photographers, cakes, etc. We are talking about marriage. If two people love each other great for them. When it comes to marriage, the law has it's own requirements and none of them are love. As far as the government is concerned marriage is an institution that simplifies a common situation of a man and woman wanting to unite a household, to support each other economically, and most importantly potentially raise children in a safe and stable environment. Alternate definitions of marriage threaten the intended public policy purpose of marriage. All the laws that currently apply to marriage will be complicated as they must be applied to situations they were not designed for. Future laws concerning marriage will be difficult to craft as they will need to account for all the different circumstances that will (eventually) be considered a legal marriage. The impact on future generations will not be worth the feeling of liberty experienced by a few.

My heart goes out to all of those affected by this non-debate. I don't doubt most people's sincerity. I can see that many people feel that they are standing up for what is right. I understand that there are real injustices going on against people who practice homosexuality. I don't deny that the pain is real or that rejection hurts. I'm sorry for that. Honestly, I see ways we could mitigate that pain somewhat in our society, but I don't think this shift in our thinking about marriage will result in less pain for the people of our society. On the contrary, I am convinced that because of this more people will suffer.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

With this ring I... enter into a pre-approval relationship of understood verbal consent for a limited amount of time

Sexual Consent

Where to begin? The Sexual Revolution changed society's view of when and with whom it is morally appropriate to have sex. I am not enough of a historian to say what exactly the views of society were before the Sexual Revolution, but conventional wisdom would have us believe that society was repressive in its values in that sex should only take place between individuals who had procured the legal rights to do so. Those legal rights were influenced partially by religion but more so by tradition. I say this because marriage practices vary from religion to religion, but they almost all carry the trait of defining the proper place for sex to happen.

I am not claiming that sex outside of marriage did not happen before the Sexual Revolution. I am simply stating that it was considered to varying degrees at different times and different places to be immoral--or at least for the most part, less than virtuous.

Now, in 2014, we have come full circle and we are making new laws to define the appropriate situation for sexual relations. Marriage has become... an economic arrangement? I can't think of another way to explain it. Marriage clearly no longer determines the legal bounds of sex or child raising. It no longer is a protection for women and children in dealing with property rights and inheritance. It has boiled down to a tax benefit. So since, marriage isn't fulfilling its role as defining "consent" it falls to college student policy handbooks. Yes, that's right, college student policy handbooks are now coming to the rescue of vulnerable female college students. Fifty years after casting off the restraints of sexual repression we are just now addressing a few of the ugliest results of the Revolution. It is not as if sexual assault is a new phenomenon. Perhaps it has been on the rise due to many factors, but the data is not completely clear. There are problems due to reporting and definitions. Part of the current issue with sexual assault is that society is even having a problem defining what consent means.

I don't mean to claim that sexual assault wasn't happening before the Sexual Revolution. Marriage was meant to be a protection for women, but evil men in every situation find ways to do what they will. Still, in communities where marriage was taken seriously and women were valued, it provided a structure of consent that extended not just to the married couple but to the family and community as well. It goes against our ideas of freedom to expect permission to do just about anything, but permission to do whatever we want is not one of our unalienable rights.

I wonder how far it will go. Currently, it seems they are pushing for verbal consent to be the marker for when it is okay to have sex (at least as a college student). How do they plan on enforcing this? Will college students need to use voice recorders to document their consent? That doesn't seem good enough. Video would be less fallible, but just think of the privacy concerns. Perhaps colleges should require a signature or a photocopy of a picture ID. That would be terribly inconvenient and, you know, really ruin the mood.

Some progressive student government might come up with the idea of pre-approval. Students could enter into contracts that would allow them to have consent for sex without a verbal agreement each time. Since this would put physically weaker students (usually women) at risk of sexual assault they would naturally be cautious about entering in to such an agreement. They would only want to have pre-approved agreements with men that they trusted not to assault them. Having sex without a pre-approval agreement would become risky for men since anyone they had sex with based on merely a verbal agreement would be able to deny making the agreement and thus accuse them of breaking the student policies. So all responsible college students would only be having sex with people that they had a pre-approval agreement with.

For these pre-approval agreements to be legally binding they would need to become a matter of public record to prevent fraudulent accusation. So I assume couples would need to register their agreement with the college. The college, since it has assumed the role of protector of its students, will have an interest in curbing STI's and STD's and will seek ways to limit the number of partners students are having sex with. At first it will have awareness campaigns and offer benefits to students who voluntarily limit their exposure. Then eventually, some heavy-handed institutions will restrict students to one pre-approval arrangement at a time. Before long, after a few lawsuits it will become the de facto policy of all colleges. Colleges will go to a policy of no sex without a pre-approval arrangement and students can only have one pre-approval arrangement per semester.

Of course students will roll the pre-approval arrangements into the social landscape. They will form ceremonies to recognize the formation of a new arrangement and social status will be based on whatever the norm becomes. Knowing the number of partners another student has had will undoubtedly affect students decisions about who to have sex with. Psychologist will have tons of new data to explore.

Perhaps over time social pressure, practicality and policies driven by litigation will limit students to having one pre-approved sexual partner for their entire time in college. Any students wishing to have the legal protection of pre-approval agreements will have to submit to the college's policies in order to have sex. Students who have sex without such agreements risk being assaulted with no recourse or being accused with no defense.

If it is good enough for student policy handbooks, perhaps cities and states will consider providing the protection of pre-approved consent agreements. Then finally we can do away with marriage and replace it with a legally binding agreement that protects women from abuse, provides men the incentive to restrict their number of sexual partners and as a side benefit provides stable social structure for raising children. Wouldn't that be great?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Today I Need to Pray

Today I need to pray.

Because I don't know what else to do.

I'm not at the end of my rope. Not remotely. I'm not panicked or suffering. I just need to pray because what else am I for? I shouldn't be having an existential crisis all the time, but the question, "What am I here for?" just doesn't go away. Not that I don't have answers. Good, sensible, rational answers. Answers that should be inspiring and motivating and fulfilling. I know what I'm here for. At least, I know the answer. But I forget. ALL the time, I forget. It's like some kind of personality disorder. If you could hear the conversation in my head you would hear me stop what I am doing every few minutes and say to myself, "Why am I doing this?" It is the way of life that we get distracted. We even get distracted from being distracted. This goes deeper and deeper so that before we realize it, we can't remember what we were being distracted from in the first place.

So I need to pray. What else am I for? Prayer is a conversation. Conversation is an interview. Interviews consist of questions and answers. So I ask God questions. I interview my maker as I imagine him. Surely I don't speak to him as he really is, because I haven't seen all of him. It's just a disguised voice, an avatar. I speak to a stand-in who is the best representation I can come up with in my little human mind. I believe God puts up with this because that's grace. He desires I speak to him directly, and he will one day make that desire come to pass, but for now he allows our arrangement. He lets me talk to him as I do now because he knows that one day I will be able to speak to him in a better way. Today I am a child asking the silliest questions imaginable. "Why am I here? Are you listening? Do you care what I think? What's the point? What's my value? What does "meaning" mean?"
I can see my silliness, but what can I do about it? Can a child stop being childish? Should they?
I need to pray because it is the primary function I was made for. Or at least it is a reflection of the primary function I was made for. It is the closest I can get to the Garden of Eden. Prayer is me putting my hand against the prison glass while God holds his hand on the opposite side.

Then again, John Piper said, "Prayer is a wartime walkie talkie not a domestic intercom." That relates right? Yeah, it is true that prayer is our call for support and direction as we carry on the mission of serving God. I get that. But my first priority in prayer is not to call in a spiritual airstrike or even to find direction. My very first foundational task in prayer is to establish contact. Just to tune in and get a signal at all sometime seems like the biggest challenge. A lot of times the voice I hear when I pray most closely resembles my own. That doesn't mean that God isn't speaking to me, but it definitely makes it harder to listen.

It is easier not to pray. That is a lie that I often believe. It feels right in the moment. Distraction feels like a relief. A new distraction is like turning a corner when you're lost. There is no reason to believe that it will get you closer to your goal, but you get a feeling like it might lead somewhere important. All the while you've forgotten where you were trying to get to in the first place. Prayer means admitting that there is a real goal out there even if you are a little foggy about it at the moment. It is admitting that those distractions that are so enticing actually lead no where. Prayer introduces all the danger that an encounter with the Divine entails.

Danger! It is such a good word to go with prayer. You know that feeling when you approach the edge of a great height? When you are safely away from the edge, but walking closer gives you the feeling that you might be doing something foolish. At the same time it is exciting. The height itself takes on a personality. It draws you in. It promises you a scenic view that elicits a primal response that makes you feel alive.

Sometimes I don't think we like to feel alive. That's why distraction is so enticing. It helps us forget, not that we are going to die, but that we are alive at all. Distraction makes us feel like there is nothing at stake, like there is nothing to lose after all. Danger reminds us that loss is imminent. Prayer that doesn't feel dangerous is just more distraction. Today, I need to pray because I need to be dangerously close to God. Just stepping in his direction feels dangerous and that's good. Why do I need it?

Because I am franticly worried that I'm missing the most important part of who I am. That's why I signed up with Jesus in the first place. Yes, even when I was a child I new "something was missing." I didn't say it that way then, but I believed what my world presented me--that I was a sinner loved by God needing his mercy. I knew I needed something. My immature self was incomplete in a way that I felt would not be answered by learning more in school or asking more questions of my "why?"-weary parents. I can't explain it, but I knew. So I threw in my lot with the Lord. Since then I've made furtive advances. I shuffle my feet in the right direction, but I can rarely bring myself to look in the right direction for more than a moment. I'm stalling because I know the closer I get to the edge the more danger I'll see. For me prayer is like walking directly toward the edge of an unknown cliff. God is dangerous I know, but how dangerous? How ready am I to see him, really see him? I very well could be destroyed in the process. Oh, I know we deny that possibility by claiming the promises of salvation. But what is eternal life really? Will I be able to bear it? Is it survivable? Foolish questions I know, but I am a child. I ask childish questions.

I need to pray because when I've forgotten everything else and lost my direction I can see somewhere above me a single point of light. I can gaze at that light and somehow remember that I exist. I can follow the ray of that light down to my feet and see that I am indeed standing and can indeed move forward. Prayer is looking at the light and seeing what the light illuminates (hat tip to C.S. Lewis).

What am I doing? I'm praying. Yes. That's it. I need to be praying.

Monday, August 25, 2014

What is the Christian's Response to Violence?

The latest Israel-Palestine conflict is bringing an age-old question to a new generation of Christians. When you read much of the media coverage there is a big question that hangs over all of it especially for readers below the age of 50.


I don't mean to suggest that readers over 50 really know why the conflict is going on, but I do believe they've been through the same (or similar) cycle more than once during their adult life. My generation will most vividly think back to the "first" Iraq war, what we called the Persian Gulf War, and remember live CNN reports with journalists in gas masks in Israeli hotel rooms. We were all holding our breath to see if the Patriot missiles would out perform the SCUD missiles.

That actually had little to do with the Palestinian situation. It was merely Saddam Hussein's attempt to rally anti-Zionists to his side against Coalition forces. But it made us wonder about this whole Israel v. Middle East situation. Those of us in the Evangelical world felt sure it was closely related to the Bible and End Times. " the Middle East" was a popular saying for politicians and rappers.

A generation later we have renewed violence between Israel and Palestine and the reaction is all over the map. Some cast the Palestinians as being oppressed and murdered by Israel. While others are rallying behind Israel as champions against terrorism. As I read the analysis I am struck by a philosophical assumption that goes so deep no one is bothering to defend it: death is bad.

But I wonder, why do they assume this? Stick with me a moment. It is a great human tradition that goes back as far as we can remember to assume that one's own death would be a bad thing. That makes perfect sense. It even makes since to feel like the death of your family, friends and business associates would be bad. What I don't quite logically follow is why secularists can assume other peoples' deaths are bad. Now I'm not attacking a secularists right to make moral assumptions. I just wonder if they understand that they are making an assumption that requires justification. Let me put it this way, if we are products of evolution, and if science is the ultimate arbiter of Truth, where does this universal (though selective when you consider the unborn) ethical preference for life come from? Secular society has been willing to question and abolish every other moral/ethical assumption. Why do we hold on to this one vestige primitive taboo and call it humanitarianism? Why does the mandate to save lives trump every other argument in any debate? Is there nothing more important than human life? If so, why are we so bad at protecting it?

I honestly can't claim to understand the situation in Israel. When one tries to find the historical roots of the conflict one finds a tragic story of foreign powers making seemingly inconsequential decisions that end up affecting millions of people for generations to come. As far as I can tell, Jews, Christians, Muslims and others have all lived in the area for thousands of years. No one can claim exclusive ownership of the land based on history or heritage. It has been alternately conquered and and ignored for thousands of years. The Jews, at least, have a theological reason for wanting it, but who is to say that the State of Israel has any right to make a claim based on religion? The rule of Nature would say that whoever is powerful enough to own and posses the land will own and posses the land. The map as we know it was formed by violence at some point in our history. How do we (or how can we) differentiate between the violence of a thousand years ago, and 50 years ago, and 50 minutes ago? Was it justified then but not now? I don't think most people who have formed an opinion have thought through all those issues. I wish they would. I don't know that it would bring a quick solution, but at least they wouldn't sound so flippant in their affirmation of violence on either side.

For the Christian the question is simpler. We value life because God values life. He created people in his image. Therefore we are to respect life as an act of worship toward our Creator. Jesus has freed us from worry about where the "Promised Land" is. The Sabbath he has won for us is not a day of the week or a patch of land on this earth. The Sabbath rest Jesus leads us into--like Joshua led the Hebrews--is a never-ending land "flowing with milk and honey". It is not a day of the week because there will be no night. It is not a place under the Sun because there will be no sun. Jesus will be our source of light. We will not have to take up arms to conquer or defend it because He will put all his enemies under his feet. Forever.

I haven't answered questions about who we should support or how we should support them. Those are things I still struggle with. What I know above all else is that God is not pleased with the destruction of the people that he has created, and neither am I.

ALS Ethical Dilemma

Just wanted to pass some info I found along for those of you in a similar situation to me. I was honored enough to be challenged to the ice bucket challenge. I figured that would eventually happen. I also wondered when some dirt would be dug up on the ALS Association incriminating them in funding some dastardly deeds. That's the way it works right? We all get excited to be helping some cause then a blogger in Indiana finds out that it's a scam or that it is funding golf trips for executives or the torture of hamsters.

As has been pointed out by many this "dirt" came in the form of embryonic stem-cell research. Many sources started pointing out that the ALS Association does fund stem-cell research including one study that uses embryonic stem-cells.

There are mitigating factors to consider. Embryos used are those created as a byproduct of fertility efforts. When in-vitro fertilization is attempted there are usually unused fertilized eggs that parents can choose to donate to science. The research isn't creating embryos to experiment on. Still, does the source really matter? Also, it appears that the one embryonic study that is funded by ALSA is fully funded by one donor, meaning that currently none of the money that you give would be diverted directly to that study.

So what's the problem? ALSA could decide at any time to start funding embryonic stem-cell research.

What's wrong with that anyway? (This part is pretty involved. If you're just looking for alternatives to ALSA the skip to the end.)

Well, that depends on when you believe life begins. The Roman Catholic Church's as well as most pro-Life organizations' view is that life begins at conception, by which they mean at the moment of fertilization. Some even within the Pro-Life camp would clarify that they believe live begins at implantation. Further down the spectrum others believe in markers for life such as a heartbeat or brain activity. Finally, there are those who seem to believe that life doesn't begin until a child is born or maybe even several minutes after they are born.

If you are with the majority of Catholics and Evangelicals who believe life begins at conception then you also need to be against embryonic stem-cell research since that would be destroying living humans. You should also be opposed to in-vitro fertilization since that is what makes such research possible to begin with.

If you are with the segment that believes life begins at implantation or even at some point after, there is still an ethical question before you. Just because an embryo is not yet technically alive does that absolve us from any ethical responsibility to it? You see, the question isn't ultimately a scientific one, it is a philosophical/ethical one. Embryos are undeniably living (all of our cells are technically alive). The question is are they to be treated ethically as human beings. It seems clear to me that from the moment of implantation what you have is a viable human life that will, according to the rules of nature, progress if left unhindered into a fully formed self-actualized human being. The moments between fertilization and implantation may be a grey area, but what an important grey area! So important, I believe, that it is a far better moral option to avoid the grey area. By that I mean that it is better not to create fertilized eggs that will not have the chance of implantation. Creating embryos that will have no chance implanting and progressing to life is something that should be avoided wherever possible. This type of creation happens in nature (that is, embryos that are doomed to fail), but when we bend the course of nature to create them we become responsible for the outcome of this nascent human life.

So if you want absolutely no part of it, what are your options?

  1. If you've already given to ALSA, take comfort in the fact that it is very unlikely your funds will be used in this type of research.
  2. If you've yet to give but feel obliged to give to ALSA because of a promise or good faith statement or something, you can still do so. Simply stipulate that your funds must not be used for Embryonic Stem-Cell Research. (There are no common ethical objections to using adult stem-cells for research).
  3. If you haven't given yet, but you would still like to give toward ALS research, there are alternative charities. 
    1. I personally would like to suggest St. Jude Children's hospital. They are not currently doing any embryonic research, and while they do not have a clear guideline that they will never do it, it seems they are on a course to avoid that kind of conflict all together.
    2. Team Gleason Is another suggested alternative that I haven't researched.
    3. John Paul II Medical Research Institute Is an organization that explicitly states they do not and will not support embryonic stem-cell research. 
    4. The ERLC has more suggestions.
  4. Give to whoever you want! Honor the spirit of the challenge by keeping the movement going and supporting the cause of your choice. 
Above all, avoid the temptation to become cynical. It is easy to find seedy human motives behind every activity we take part in. The challenge for those of us seeking Wisdom in this life, is to cling to that which is pure and holy wherever we may find it. 

Philippians 4:8  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (NASB)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Screwing Up: There's a right way and a wrong way

At men's bible study this morning we looked at John 13:21-38. It is the story of Jesus foretelling his betrayal by Judas and his denial by Peter.

Here you have two men. Both of them messed up big time, but their outcomes were very different. Why? Why was Peter's end so different than Judas's? There are probably many reasons, but one big thing stuck out to me this morning.

Judas's sin was covered in secrecy. He didn't tell anyone what he was planning. He hid his intentions so well that nobody believed he could do it. Even after Jesus told John who would betray him John didn't take it seriously enough to do anything about it or tell anyone. He must not have thought Judas capable of such a great evil as outright betrayal. Judas had kept all his intentions secret. He hid his actions so well that the men he spent all his time with didn't have a clue.

Peter on the other hand went ahead and said exactly what he was thinking. He believed he would never deny Jesus even when his life was on the line. He told Jesus his feelings and received a rebuttal and some humility. Of course, he still ended up denying Jesus, but ultimately he was able to be restored to a position of honor and leadership.

Judas probably had good intentions at first. His mind drifted to who knows what fantasies. Perhaps, at first, he thought betraying Jesus would speed up the coming of the kingdom. Maybe he had become disenchanted at Jesus' vagueness about his plans. Maybe he had gotten in trouble financially. Maybe he had hatched a plan to boost their treasury that had been exhausted under his watch. Whatever he was thinking, he hadn't shared it with anyone. When you are the only one evaluating your plan it can start to sound like a really good one. Over time you can fall into patterns of thinking that are so unrealistic they would sound insane if you said them out loud. Which is all the more reason to keep them secret. By being isolated Judas opened the door for Satan to "enter in."By being isolated from his friends Judas gave himself up to the enemy.

The moral of the story (at least the moral I come away with for this one aspect of the story) is that anybody can, and often will, screw up big time. What can make all the difference is how connected you are to a community of loving people to protect you and restore you when needed. Having people who know you to give you reality checks and perspective prevents you from building up a dream world where you set up unrealistic expectations. Submitting your thoughts to others gives you a healthy flow of humility because foolish ideas often don't sound foolish until they are seen in light of another's perspective. And when you do mess up, having a loving community gives you the chance to be restored quickly. Those people give you a "home" to return to when you have gotten lost. They are the ones who know you well enough to see and understand your mistake for what it was. They are the ones who can forgive you and set you back in your proper place. Peter had it. Judas didn't.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Prayer, Depression and Hope

Depression is in the news.
Depression statistics infographic Robin William's death is a reminder of what we already know. People all around us are quietly suffering more than we understand. Most everyone, I assume, has experienced depression of the non-clinical kind. That is to say, everyone has been really sad at some point. I know I have. I've even gone through long periods of what I would call unexplainable sadness. At the time I might have said I was depressed, but looking back I would say those were times when I was simply struggling with life, meaning, contentment...normal parts of growing up.

So I can't really claim that I've faced the worst that depression has to offer. But I do feel sympathy. I know what it feels like when my emotions seem out of control. When you are sad and you don't know why, you get angry with yourself. Your anger adds to the sadness, and it is a cycle that is hard to break. Worse, your human nature drives you away from the very things that might help you and toward the things that will definitely make it worse. Instead of confiding in friends and loved ones and bringing your pain out into the open you suppress. Your natural shyness becomes worse. You worry that you are making other people sad or letting them down. You become paranoid that people are rejecting you (when really they are just naturally responding to your aloofness). Maybe you can see all of this happening, but you feel helpless to stop it. You search for other ways to deal with the pain. Usually these are bad for you too. Drugs, alcohol, deviant behavior. They provide temporary relief, but ultimately make things worse.

What does prayer have to do with it? Well, I've spoken to people in Christian culture who have suffered clinical depression. One of the frustrations they often have is that church leaders generally resort to tried and true advice: "Just pray that God will make you happy." Gee, I hadn't thought of that. Here I am trying everything under the sun and I forgot that all I had to do was pray. 

I'm not saying we don't need to pray when we are depressed. I'm just saying that "Pray til you get happy," might not be the best advice.

The Atlantic Reported that...
A new study published in Sociology of Religion suggests that prayer can help ease people's anxiety, but whether it does so depends on the personality of the God they believe in. That is, whether someone has a relationship with what they perceive to be an angry, vengeful God or more of a friendly figure could determine whether prayer brings relief—or simply more stress.

The article goes on to suggest the correlation could go the other way (anxious people tend to blame God and therefore have a negative view).

Prayer may not be the end-all solution to depression, but it is clear that its usefulness is at least partially dependent on the way we do it. In Luke 11:1-13 Jesus tells some stories about how we should pray. Now from Jesus -- the most "spiritual" man who has ever lived, the holiest human ever, the miracle worker, rabbi of renown, the very Son of God -- you might expect a challenging word about prayer. You might think he would remind his disciples that prayer requires great discipline, intense focus, personal sacrifice, holy preparation, physical alacrity, and spiritual fitness. As I read these stories, Jesus does just the opposite. Jesus tries to unburden his students from worry about how God might react to their prayers. He reminds them that God is like a father but better. God is at least better than a lazy friend. Jesus paints a picture of a God who is willing and eager to hear our requests and give us just what we need. He is careful not to commit God to the status of wish-granter, but he fully encourages his disciples to persistently seek the intervention of God and faithfully expect good outcomes.

This brings us to Hope. That faithful expectation that God is good and will ultimately bring good outcomes is the root of the kind of prayer Jesus was teaching about. Hope is the antithesis of depression. Depression robs people of the hope they need to survive. Suicide (often) is like a death by starvation of the spirit. Even Christians who have their hope assured can suffer from a spiritual malnutrition caused by a squelching of that hope. Life circumstances, health issues, mental health issues, trauma, or outright spiritual oppression can make people feel hopeless even when they have great reason for hope. That is why it is so upsetting for the friends and family of a depressed person to see them suffering. It usually seems needless. It looks from the outside that they simply don't want to be happy. Robin Williams had more reason than most people to have a hopeful outlook on life, but for whatever reason perhaps he didn't feel hopeful enough to go on with life.

So how do you share hope with people who are hurting? Well, I don't think simply telling them there is hope is good enough. It is likely they have already told themselves, and perhaps they could make the rational argument that life isn't so bad. That doesn't necessarily get one closer to feeling hopeful. Experience has shown me that the best strategy for helping is human to human contact. What I mean is, there are some hurts that can only be relieved by the community. Some pain can only be worked out by the kind of prayer that happens while holding hands and sharing food. Some burdens con only be broken through the power of tears shed on another's behalf. Some oppression can only be dispersed by a posse of loving friends who intercede relentlessly. This isn't something you do to or for a depressed person. It is something you do with them. It is not easy or flippant to commit to such a thing, but it is loving. It honors Jesus. It glorifies God.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sad Trombone

I have to admit, I was a little bit excited when I saw that Coeur d'Alene was passing an ordinance about robots. I thought, "Wow, the city government is really thinking forward. They are willing to step out and try something innovative for the progress of the city."

Then I read the ordinance. 

1) A robot must not harm human beings, other living creatures or property, or, by inaction, allow human beings, other living creatures or property to come to harm.
2) A robot must not injure a human being, other living creatures or property, or, through inaction, allow a human being, other living creature or property to come to harm.
3) A robot must not carry weapons, attack living creatures or cause damage to personal or real property.
4) Humans may not intentionally interfere with or harm a robot unless the robot poses a reasonable threat of causing harm to any living creature or damage to personal or real property.
5) Robots may not photograph or record, in any manner, any human being on private property or any private property without the express consent of the human being(s) or the owner(s) of the property.
There is also a licensing requirement:
1) All robots weighing 100 pounds or more or any robot operating on public property must be licensed with the city of Coeur d'Alene City Clerk and a license fee paid. The license fee shall be set by City Council by resolution.
Waaaa waaaa whaaaaaaaaaa...

What I thought might be a simple, well thought out ordinance that helped lay the groundwork for safe and appropriate robot development in our area amounted to a poorly worded, ill-informed, legally questionable, ethically naive, publicity stunt. I mean, I knew as soon as I saw the headline that this was a publicity stunt. I just hoped that the intention was something more than to make a headline. All this really does is relieve me of the need to take those who passed this seriously.

In case the stupidity of this ordinance isn't immediately evident I'll point out just a few problems.

  1. What is a robot? Do remote controlled devices count? Like camera-equipped quadricopters? Like traffic cameras? How about a car with cruise control? That would be more than 100 pounds. Perhaps it only refers to autonomous robots. Who knows?
  2. What if a robot lacks the ability to prevent a human being or other living creature to come to harm or even know what harm means?
  3. Why can't humans interfere with or harm a robot? What if I want to reprogram my robot (against its wishes) or use it for target practice? Surely that is interference. Maybe they just meant other people's robots.
The license for operating on public property is actually not a terrible idea, but without a definition for what constitutes a robot it is very troublesome to think how this might be applied. The stated goal was to let the world know that this is a place of innovation. What it actually does is let the world know that whatever the citizens might be doing with technology the council doesn't really "get it." My only hope is that they thought this was a big joke. Maybe they heard about robots and laughed and said, "Robots? Yeah right. Next thing you know we'll have to make up a speed limit for those motorized carriages!"

I wonder if they put just as much thought into the sexual orientation ordinance passed last year. It makes about as much sense. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

We are an Experiment

I don't know whether this post falls under Husband, Daddy, or Pastor, perhaps all three.

Every few years around patriotic holidays I dig up a commencement speech given by Bono back in 2004. I love to re-read it because it is a major dose of perspective from an unlikely source. The fact that this speech was given by an Irish rock star (and international celebrity) makes it just amazing. The part that keeps bringing me back is this:
Me, I'm in love with this country called America. I'm a huge fan of America, I'm one of those annoying fans, you know the ones that read the CD notes and follow you into bathrooms and ask you all kinds of annoying questions about why you didn't live up to thatÅ . 
I'm that kind of fan. I read the Declaration of Independence and I've read the Constitution of the United States, and they are some liner notes, dude. As I said yesterday I made my pilgrimage to Independence Hall, and I love America because America is not just a country, it's an idea. You see my country, Ireland, is a great country, but it's not an idea. America is an idea, but it's an idea that brings with it some baggage, like power brings responsibility. It's an idea that brings with it equality, but equality even though it's the highest calling, is the hardest to reach. The idea that anything is possible, that's one of the reasons why I'm a fan of America. It's like hey, look there's the moon up there, lets take a walk on it, bring back a piece of it. That's the kind of America that I'm a fan of.
The first time I read that it made me really excited to be an American in America. It is a broader perspective of our country than a shallow look at our current policies can portray. You see, we act as if the U.S.A is a given. We seem to feel that the country we have was a foregone conclusion and the most likely outcome of history. We think, "Of course society would progress to the point of forming a government based on equality and democracy. We are the product of evolution and nature and we have become civilized."

But here's the deal, it is not natural at all. There have been advanced societies before but no America. There have been revolutions before but no U.S. Constitution. There have been global powers before, but nothing like us. The more I learn about the situation and the founding of our country the more unlikely I find it to be.

We also seem to think that now that the idea of America has been established it will never fade away. We think that because the world has seen our way of life it is only a matter of time before everyone buys in to the idea and, if they could just get their stuff together, form free constitutional democracies. We are shocked and frustrated to see that even when we go in and do all the hard work for them (Iraq and Afghanistan) they can't seem to hold a free society together. Maybe we're the problem, perhaps if it starts with the people themselves it will work. Nope (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia). Why is freedom so hard?

All this reminds me that none of what we have is to be taken for granted. From a historical perspective this American Idea is still an anomaly. 238 years is a brief little blip on a timeline and American influence hasn't always been what it is today. Also, let's not forget that for a large part of that 238 years America endorsed a brutal form of slavery that was the exact opposite of liberty. For another large part of that time racism was as patriotic as a Lee Greenwood song. I would say that the American Idea is really more of an ideal. It is a vision that many high-minded men and women have committed their lives to over the last 238 years. It has been hard fought and there have always been setbacks. The enemy of America is not some foreign power. The real enemy of America is our own tendency to forget what we are about. We repeat cliches about liberty and freedom, but we forget that those things require sacrifice. I'm not talking about paying young men and women to go fight in wars so we don't have to, I'm talking about tolerating your neighbor. I'm talking about enduring the expression the opinions of others that you adamantly disagree with and finding a way to respect others for being human even if you can find no other reason. 

There is a worldview that makes America work and it has nothing to do with liberal vs. conservative or capitalism vs. socialism or sacred vs. secular. It is not an exclusively Christian idea, though I would argue that Jesus Christ is the sole source for it. It is a worldview that goes against nature. It is the view that people are more than animals. We don't naturally believe this. We have to force ourselves to pretend that people have value even when we don't believe it is true. Though we call ourselves human our nature is inhuman. Those lines in the Declaration of Independence "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." contain the idea that humans have an innate value bestowed by their creator.

But it isn't really self-evident is it? The evidence doesn't show that "all men are created equal..." and our so-called rights certainly seem alienable to me. Men aren't born equal. Some are strong; some are weak; some are missing arms; some have extra; some are really smart; some are good looking--people are not intrinsically equal. What the writers of the Declaration are saying is, "We have decided to pretend and act as if these ideals are true because we think it will make our world a better place." Rather than striving with each other for power over each other we are going to work and sacrifice to try to honor everyone and encourage them to work and sacrifice alongside us.

It is a breathtaking vision, but the founding fathers didn't come up with it.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Love one another.
Greater love has no man than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
But many who are the first will be last and the last will be first.

Sound familiar? Jesus said these things and many more that suggest that being a true human means we find a way to treat others with love and respect even at our own expense. There aren't many important people in history who said such things. And there is only one person who said it and then did it perfectly.

So America is an experiment. The outcome is still very uncertain. The goal of the experiment is to see how long can humans (by nature, inhuman) hold on to the idea of humanity. How long can a society strive toward the ideal of "all men created equal" before the tide turns and our inhumanity takes over again? History teaches us that it cannot be long. But you know what? History never knew about America. History has never seen anything like us. We get pretty down in the dumps because of setbacks, disappointments, and complete failures. But for 238 years Americans have been facing these same toils in the face of even greater odds. They sacrificed comfort, money and sometimes blood so that another generation could have hope of becoming more human.

For what it's worth, I intend on doing the same.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

J-word Overload

Like any good geek dad I'm reading the Narnia books to my kids. This is partly because they love it, but it is also selfish on my part since I love the books too. I sometimes get so into the book that I get frustrated when they interrupt or fall asleep during a good part. Then I have to remember that I am a grown up. For these little ones I am THE grown up. I'm their prototype male figure--the paterfamilias. I also have to remember that they are very young and will likely get to read these books again someday. It is not important that they "get it" right now.

Anyway, one thing I love about the books is the way C.S. Lewis captures the effect a glorious being has on those around him. Between the lines of the book you get a sense of wonder/awe/sanctity/magic that accompanies Aslan (the fictional creator of Narnia, as if you didn't already know that). Last night I tried to help the kids understand that this is the way I feel about my Creator. Just like the animals all listen and get excited and quiet and energetic and peaceful around Aslan, my maker is the one who makes me feel those things. My oldest just stared at me contemplatively, dimples raised.

But when is the last time Jesus made me feel those things? When is the last time that just saying his name made me take a breath and feel...anything? Yes, I've had good times of worship and prayer and Bible study, but those were anchored in things about Jesus. I know I should be moved by Him. I know it probably seems like semantics, but there is a specific thing I'm going after here. When I hear the name of my Savior and Master, I should feel something. Too often I can say the word with hardly a thought at all. I don't generally listen to much Christian Music on the radio, but when I do the name is used rapidly and repeatedly. In my reading I come across his name quite a bit. As a preacher I use his name daily in conversation. I'm worried that it has somehow become too common.

I had the thought that I needed a J-word detox. Not that I need a break from him, only a break from the casual use of his name. I considered a fast from the use of the J-word to help me consider it more deeply over a month or more. I'm afraid I would have a lot of explaining to do to my church. I could try preaching exclusively from the Old Testament for a time, but our focus is the Gospel and it is hard to imagine a sermon that would leave out naming him to which all scripture points.

So maybe I won't fast from using his name in public, but I really would like to recapture some of the wonder I feel like I need to have over the mere name of my Lord. Do you ever feel like the church is guilty of the gratuitous use of "Jesus" in our music, prayer, t-shirts, ties and breath mints.?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pastor's Ideas for Summer Outreach

We live in an area that has some drastic changes during the year. We go from a winter wonderland to a summer play land. These two opposites present unique opportunities to be faithful worshippers of Jesus Christ. Now that summer is approaching I am praying about what we can do as a church to love others in our very special context. I thought I would pitch these ideas just for feedback and to see if anyone is interested. Assumed for each of these is an understanding the WE NEED TO PRAY. Attempting any of these things without praying, seeking God, and submitting to his will is pure vanity and will produce no Kingdom fruit.

Park Outreach
We have the best kid parks. For some reason citizens of the CDA area will not settle for lame play structures. Nor, it seems, is it possible to go more than two miles without discovering yet another awesome park. My kids take it for granted and have become a bit snobbish about which parks they will settle for. With this in mind perhaps we should find a way to live out the Gospel in some of our parks this could include:

  • Passing out water bottles and snacks to parents watching their kids
  • Gathering for song and story times and including anyone who wants to come
  • Hosting informal worship gatherings in the park
  • Looking for opportunities to "Share Jesus Without Fear"
  • Meeting new people and asking them "How's life?"
So you see, some of those things would require a little planning and organization, but some of them just require adopting a "park outreach" mentality. Again, it all starts with prayer. Pray when you visit parks, and think about what God might want you to do. 

Easy Kid Programs
We are already planning a great kids' outreach opportunity called Vacation Bible School. That will require a lot of time and work, but it will be a great and effective (not to mention fun) way to show kids and families God's love. What I'm thinking about here is less time/work intensive opportunities that still provide kids and families something fun to do that points back to the Gospel. Ideas:
  • Mommy/Kid story time. We did this several years ago at the old building. It is basically the same as the story time at the libraries, but instead the pastor reads a bible story and sings fun Christian songs with the kids. This would be about 30 minutes once a week and doesn't require volunteers since the parents/grandparents stay with their child. As a bonus someone could organize some refreshments for a fellowship time to follow. 
  • Project Craft Day for older kids. Okay, I don't know what to call it. But older kids can get bored during the summer. Grown men and women can be immature (at any time) and need excuses to do stuff that only kids should like. Examples:
    • Build water rockets
    • Build compressed air rockets
    • Make your own play dough
    • Make marshmallow shooters
    • Build a water balloon launcher
    • Other dangerous and messy things.
    • Okay so those are all things I want to do. I'm sure there are other things you might like better. The point is we can get kids together to do these things. They can invite their friends and their parents and we can all be friends and talk about Jesus and share his love with each other. This could be a weekday thing to give stay-at-home parents a break, or it could be a Saturday thing for those working parents needing something engaging to do with their kids. All I know is, at some point, it should include rockets.
Parking Lot Party
We tried the block party thing one year and learned some things. 1. We have a great parking lot and grounds for doing things. 2. People don't automatically come.

So I'm not sure what the missing ingredient is, but I would love for us to find a way to invite the community into our parking lot in a way that lets them know we love Jesus and we love them.

What Else?
So there you go. Three thoughts about some possibilities. It doesn't take a church-wide or special team effort like VBS or the Montana church build for you to be involved in serving Jesus. His command to "teach... and baptize..." is meant for wherever you go. There's an old song that says, "Wherever He leads I'll go." That's a perfect attitude for us. Phrased another way it is also true-- wherever you go He leads. There is no aspect of your life, whether it's where you live, work or play, where God is not at work. Let's join him and seek every opportunity to serve and worship Him.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Hawk Fail

Normal weekend day at home. Sitting at the table picking crumbs off my plate when I hear something hit our front window. Something biggish. Then my wife gasps from the living room like she just saw a unicorn explode.

"Jana, what is it?" I ask, too lazy to get up and look.

No answer for exactly two seconds. This makes me panic. If you gasp like that you should explain yourself quickly. No answer means that my primal male instinct is about to be called upon to protect my family at all costs. Suddenly, the crumbly sandwich crumbs on my plate are not my biggest concern. "What is it!?" I demand as I leap from my chair and run into the room.

She is a little dazed. "Sorry, I think a bird hit the window. It almost broke it I think. It was...really big. It might have been two birds."

My three kids crowd around the window to see. They are usually quite graceful kids, but for some reason when they get around windows, sharp corners, coffee cups, etc. they turn into slapstick clowns; which would be funny if when they fell they just honked a bike horn and jumped back up instead of crying and wanting me to pick them up and hold them while they, all three, cry loudly directly into my left ear canal. So I get all Barney Fife, "move along people nothing to see here..." and no one in my family gets the joke. Nor do my kids understand the literal command to "move along." I resort to my physical strength and move the kids out of my way so I can confirm Jana's bird report.

Indeed, I see two birds. A small one and a large one. My five-year-old daughter nervously laughs and says, "The little one has a really tiny face."

My wife and I exchange a look of awestruck disgust. "Kids, move along. Seriously, go play for a minute."

I finally get a good view of the scene. Right below the window is a small hawk of some kind. It is laying on its back panting and wide-eyed, obviously dazed from the impact with our window. Next to the hawk is a very small bird WITH NO HEAD. That's right. A cute little decapitated bird. The "tiny face" my daughter saw was actually a few vertebrae sticking out of the bird's neck.

"What do we do?" my wife asks. The possibilities rush through my mind as I walk to get my phone to take a picture (obviously this would be one for the family scrapbook). Maybe we should call an animal hospital to come rescue the hawk? Maybe we could put it in a shoebox and nurse it back to health. You know, bandage its wing and hand feed it hamburger meat. Maybe I could have a pet hawk and we could go hunt field mice next to our kids' park. Before I took a few steps and had time to laugh at my own stupid ideas, Jana grunts again, "Oh gosh. It flew away."

Which one? I thought. I looked out again. The hawk left behind its decapitated prey. Not cool. Very inconsiderate. I hoped it would come back and get its snack, but it never did. Evidently, this young hawk had snatched up a little bird and snapped its head off. Then, perhaps rushing home to show his mom or maybe running away from a bully hawk trying to steal his lunch, he tried to take a shortcut through our house. Only we were protected by an "invisible forcefield called glass" (credit Blue from Rio), and the hawk flew away confused and hungry.

Great job, hawk. I usually think you guys are pretty cool, but in this case you just delivered me a bird corpse.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

As a Daddy Who Likes Space

Russia has crossed the line. I'm not talking about the Ukraine foolishness going on. That is in itself a horrible mess and a reminder of humanity's hopelessness when it comes to working out our own problems. What I'm talking about is the smack talk going on concerning our space program.

Basically, in response to the US move to sanction Russia over their operations in Ukraine, a Russian official played the space card. He suggested that Russia might take their rockets and go home, leaving NASA to try to use trampolines to get to the ISS.

The nerve.

I mean who does Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin think he is? Just because we BUY rocket use from Russia doesn't mean we are dependent on them to get to space. It just means they are cheap. It is not as if they are giving us the usage of their rockets out of the kindness of their heart. They didn't toss NASA the keys and say, "Just fill it up with gas when you're done."

What a joke! We have private companies ready and willing to send folks to space, but finances (and bureaucracy) make it simpler for the time being to use Russia's Rockets.  They are making $60 million per person that we send to space. He is basically asking us to take our business somewhere else. I hope we do, as soon as possible.

Also, THIS IS AMERICA! If we decide we want to launch astronauts using a trampoline we will find a way to do it. But trampolines are lame. If we decide to use alternatives to rockets it would be something cool like a slingshot. It would be called the Slingatron and it would rule.

Good day.

Monday, April 14, 2014

You Are a Pervert

Yesterday, I used a word in my sermon that, hopefully, made some people uncomfortable. Yes, it was my intent to make people uncomfortable. It is not naturally something I like to do. In fact, it is exactly what I don't like to do. I am much more disposed to making people feel comfortable. It is my joy to show mercy, to overlook faults in others, to dwell on the good, and to forgive the evil. It is the way God made me.

However, God also made me a preacher of the Gospel. There is one aspect of the Gospel that shows no mercy. With this particular truth of the Gospel there is no room for softening or sugar coating. There is no explaining or excusing or hedging or hem-hawing. There is not a nice way to say or a flattering way to frame it. So it was my duty and responsibility to find a word that cannot be construed as nice or respectful or flattering.


Yes, I could have used the word "sinner." I could have talked about our fallen nature or how we are rebels or traitors or some other word that would have been accurate enough. The problem is we've grown accustom to all those words. We don't feel too bad about being called sinners, after all "nobody's perfect." We're fine with recognizing that we are fallen and that mankind is in rebellion.  The word I chose to use still makes us uncomfortable. As it should. If you are in a public place you are probably uncomfortable just having the word on your screen lest someone should walk by and wonder what you're reading about. We generally reserve this word for people who have so far diverted from the human path that they are sick in the head. We put these people on lists and make them do all sorts of humiliating things so we can protect our children from them. We keep online databases of where they live so they can be harassed by vigilantes.

But here's the thing, I believe there is no better word in contemporary language to express our spiritual condition before God. Here is the internet definition of the word from


  [v. per-vurtn. pur-vert]
verb (used with object)
to affect with perversion.
to lead astray morally.
to turn away from the right course.
to lead into mental error or false judgment.
to turn to an improper use; misapply.
to misconstrue or misinterpret, especially deliberately; distort: to pervert someone's statement.
to bring to a less excellent state; vitiate; debase.
Pathology to change to what is unnatural or abnormal.
to convert or persuade to a religious belief regarded as false or wrong.
a person who practices sexual perversion.
Pathology a person affected with perversion.
a person who has been pervertedespecially to a religious belief regarded as erroneous.

We have been led astray morally; we have turned away from the right course; we lead others into mental error and false judgement; we have turned our lives to improper use; we have misapplied our gifts; we have misconstrued, misinterpreted and distorted the Truth; we have brought this world to a less excellent state; we have changed to what is unnatural; we have converted to a religious belief that is wrong; we practice sexual perversion. Sick. Twisted. Messed up. That's what we are.

Am I wrong? Of course I'm not. Read the news. Look at your own heart. Human kind is downright inhuman. The fact that we can still recognize it and be disturbed by it is evidence of God's common grace. The fact that we can be distressed by this condition and yearn for something better is perhaps the clearest sign we have that we are in need of a savior. If we are all perverts then who can help us? Other perverts? That's a joke. Perverts distort the truth. Who can we trust? Who can we turn to? All of us deserve to be put on a list, a searchable database with a map of where we live and a disheveled mugshot. It should say, "Don't trust this person. They are a pervert and will try to hurt you. They are sick in the head and cannot help but try to manipulate you, use you, reject you and harm you."

If not humans, then who can we turn to? God? But won't he destroy us? If we are so guilty, he is the only one who can judge us. Wouldn't turning to him for help be to sign our own death warrant? A just God would surely put a quick end to perversion. We are better off hiding from him as long as we can. Criminals who turn themselves in expect judgement and punishment. But our guilt is against a holy and eternal God. The punishment is too much to bear. What a sorry state we are in!

This story is bitter, but true. It is written not only in scripture, but in our very consciousness. We can see it in the depths of our own minds. Psychiatrists see it, though they may explain it differently. Counsellors understand it. Police, divorce lawyers, tech support workers, teachers, social workers--they all know this story to be true. If you deal with enough people you will see the recurring theme that there is something deeply wrong with all of us. This Wrong makes us fear people and hurt people. The more we fear, the more we hurt. The more we hurt, the more we get hurt. The worse we hurt, the more we fear. We are stuck in a cycle that leads us away from God, into the Abyss. The fate of perverts.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
How could God do such a thing for perverts? Well, let's think about what Jesus did. Knowing the situation we might think the most loving thing he could have done would have been to release his grip on Creation to end it all in a moment. But that's not his style, you see. Instead, Jesus...
...although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The Cross! The Cross, what a shameful, disgusting thing! What a spectacle of inhumanity! What prominent example of our perversion! If you or I, not used to such displays, happened upon the scene of the cross we would have thrown up and fainted. Why would Jesus subject himself to such a thing? Why would the Word, God's Only Son, subject himself to the full display of our sinfulness? Why would a perfect Son of Man, the only human not deserving such a punishment, submit so willingly to be completely stripped of his humanity by people acting so fully inhuman?

There is only one answer that makes sense. God is love.

Could anything but love lead to such a sacrifice? Could any love but God's be powerful enough to accomplish this? His love compels him to do the only thing that can remove our hurts, our guilt, our perversion. Jesus' physical act of sacrifice is a mirror of the spiritual truth that our perversion destroys us. He allowed our perversion, our inhumanity to destroy his flesh--his human flesh--so that we can know that our inhumanity also destroys our souls. He took that destruction upon his perfect self as a just punishment for our sins. The Atonement was not just Jesus removing the wrath of God from those who would trust in him. In it he restores to us our God-given HUMANITY. He makes the way for us to be human again the way that God created us to be. He loves us! Why? Because that's the kind of God he is! And glad we should be. We should celebrate that the bitterness of our story is being overcome by a sweetness that gives the story a perfect flavor of richness, depth and delight.

In Jesus, the Holiness of God and the Perversion of Humanity were crossed. Two opposite (yet not equal) things were crushed together in the flesh of Jesus. It was and is a bitter and ugly thing. It is a reminder of our guilt, but it is a reminder that should make us all the more thankful for the outcome. The love of God is so powerful that even the Perversion of Humanity could not overcome it. The inhumanity of humankind is overcome by the perfect humanity of our savior, the one and only, Jesus Christ.