Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Distracted



Please don't read this blog while walking down the street. Distracted walking can be a cause of injury or even death. One article on the subject has noted that, "The combination of distracted walking and distracted driving is commonly blamed for the recent increase in pedestrian deaths . . ."

When asked for comment, one pedestrian admitted, “I’m a severe texter and walker, so I don’t know if I can quit on my own."

Several cities are considering "distracted walking legislation" to prevent serious injury. I think we can learn to put our screens away while we walk and drive. It simply takes personal discipline.


Image courtesy of Liberty Mutual Insurance.




Thursday, December 11, 2014

Truth-Telling, Torture, and Confession

A US Senate committee has released a damning report on the interrogation methods used by the CIA. In over 500 pages the committee accuses "the spy agency of inflicting pain and suffering on prisoners beyond its legal limits and deceiving the nation with narratives of life-saving interrogations unsubstantiated by its own records."1 The report tells of how prisoners were tortured, in some cases until they died, and that the ends did not justify the means. The report states that the methods used either did not render valuable information which would thwart future terror attacks; or, in some cases, where important information was gained through torture, other sources were available that could have led to the revelation of that same information. The report makes it clear that this was a systemic problem brought on by the fear of major terrorism such as the attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York City and the Pentagon. It was not a rogue group of operatives acting alone and the entire CIA administration and senior government leaders are found to be complicit. Even former president George W. Bush must take responsibility for this dark time in American history despite the fact that he asked not to be told about the "enhanced interrogation methods."

This has been a hard truth for the American public. Commentators speak of loss of the moral high-ground. How can America challenge countries such as China and Iraq regarding their human-rights records when this report reveals such disregard for basic human-rights? Can the CIA ever be trusted again? How do we know that such tactics are not still being used? How long must the people of the United States of America wear this label of shame? Canada must also bear some of the disgrace of this report since our intelligence agencies may have used information gained by the use of torture.

Certainly there are lessons to be learned from this incident. This report has allowed the light of day to shine into the dark corners of a system that allowed this evil to breed and grow. There is hope that this report will lead to a major over-haul of the policies of the CIA and a removal of those who continue to promote a culture of disrespect and violence. What I find particularly encouraging about this report is the fact that it exists. I am not aware of any document like this in any other country. America is not the only country in the world that uses such techniques on its prisoners; but it may be one of the few that allows officials to investigate, criticize, and report on it. When such things are brought to light, there is hope that change may follow. It also allows for the confession of guilt that otherwise oppresses.

There is a biblical principle which speaks to this. Psalm 32 is a poem about the joy and healing found in the confession of sin. Verses 3 to 5 and verse 10 in the New International Version (NIV) say,
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave the guilt of my sin. . . .
Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.
You see, when sin is bottled up, it does damage. It causes psychological, physical, and spiritual harm. It takes away strength and leaves us feeling oppressed. But when sin is acknowledged and confessed, there is release, forgiveness, love, and trust. This principal works both on an individual basis and at a collective level. Truly, confession is good for the soul. The Senate Committee Report is incentive for all of us to examine our lives and see what dark tendencies lurk inside our own hearts. Then we will have opportunity to confess and be healed.
. . . the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. - James 5:15 (NIV)


1"U.S. Senate report condemns CIA harsh interrogations;" CBC News; http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/u-s-senate-report-condemns-cia-harsh-interrogations-1.2865440

Friday, December 5, 2014

Where Can I Go?

The band Petra released an album in 1977 called Come and Join Us which contained the song, "Where Can I Go" written by Bob Hartman. It is another creative meditation on Psalm 139:7-12.

Where Can I Go
(Words and music by Hartman Robert M; Published by Word Music, LLC)
(Listen while you read)

I could take a plane to New York City
I could hitchhike all the way to L.A.
I could follow the sunrise tomorrow
But be as close to You as today
I'm beginning to see what You mean to me
I just can't get away from Your love

Where can I go without Your love there to haunt me
I do believe You're playing to win
I can't understand what makes You really want me
But I'm feelin' like it's time to give in

I could climb the golden stairway to heaven
I could catch the crowded highway to hell
If I could find a place nobody has ever been
I bet You'd probably be there as well
I don't know why I've waited so long

Where can I go without Your love there to haunt me
I do believe You're playing to win
I can't understand what makes You really want me
But I'm feelin' like it's time to give in

Darkness is the same as the light to You
Daytime is the same as the night
When You put Your chains of love around my soul
I know it won't be long before I let You take control

I could take a submarine to Atlantis
I could take a flying saucer to Mars
I could ride on the Milky Way someday
But You've already numbered the stars
I'm beginning to hear Your voice is so near
Tellin' me You love me again

Where can I go without Your love there to haunt me
I do believe You're playing to win
I can't understand what makes You really want me
But I'm feelin' like it's time to give in

Psalm 139:7-12 (New International Version):
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Praying Portions of Psalm 139

Oh God, You see me.
I can't impress You
For You have seen me in all of my circumstances.
Even if I wanted to, I could not get away from You.
You saw me in my mother's womb.
You already see me in my tomb.
You know the days and seconds of my life.

So I open myself to You.
Test me - I do not mind.
I desire to be melted and purified.
Destroy the sin
Wipe away the worry
Keep me from hurting others.
Lead me in Your truth.


Psalm 139 (New International Version)
(For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.)

1 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Four Views of the Historical Adam

Denis O. Lamoureux is one of four authors that contributed to the book, Four Views of the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). I am thankful to all four authors for their contributions and critique of each other's work. The four views presented represent a large span of the theological continuum regarding the historicity of Adam:
1.    No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View 
2.      A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View 
3.      A Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View 
4.      A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View
I am most drawn to the words of Lamoureux. I want to be able to make his theological perspective, my theological perspective. It would save me a lot of effort to simply adopt rather than work through the arguments myself. Lamoureux is also appealing because of his everyday language, his sincere faith in Jesus, and his journey from a young-earth creation viewpoint to an evolutionary creation perspective. Yet, I have a sense that every word in this book is important. I must learn to listen closest to the voices with which I disagree the most. They provide the greatest test for my own developing perspective on the historical nature of Adam.

For some, this will be a new conversation. Lamoureux and I have been pondering these questions for many years. If we had met in 1975 at the time of my decision to place my faith in Jesus Christ, I would have espoused a half-baked idea of theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism while he might have made short work of my theology with his superior knowledge of the young-earth creationist arguments. My journey started with trust in science which led to questions about God, creation, and faith, followed by a melding of science, evolution, and creation. I honestly saw no contradiction. Over the years, I have realized how my initial synthesis was inadequate and that the theological implications of the evolutionary creation viewpoint are larger than I had imagined. Now, both Lamoureux and I espouse an evolutionary creation perspective and would find ourselves sitting down to tea and congratulating each other on our understanding of theology, creation, faith, and all things scientific. That is why we would need to invite John H. Walton, C. John Collins, and William D. Barrick to our tea party. We need them to challenge us with the awkward and difficult aspects of our shared view.

But, once the tea party was over, what perspectives would we find changed? After reading the whole book, with all of the responses and rejoinders, Lamoureux and I are still in agreement that
The fossil record and evolutionary genetics reveal that we share with chimpanzees a last common ancestor that lived about six million years ago. Along the evolutionary branch to humans, there are approximately 6,000 transitional fossil individuals. Scientists have also discovered that about 99 percent of the DNA sequences in our genes are similar to chimpanzees, including defective genes (psuedogenes). This is like our own families in that we share with relatives genetic similarities, both good and bad. In addition, the archeological record discloses that humans who behaved like us (creating art, sophisticated tools, and intentional burials) appeared roughly 50,000 years ago. . . . Finally, science has found that the genetic variability among all people today is quite small and indicates that we descended from a group of about 10,000 individuals. . . . I suspect that . . . similar to the way we do not really know when exactly each of us personally begins to bear God's Image or commits our very first sin, I believe the arrival of the first true humans is also a theological mystery.
About such things, we all wish that we could know more and be able to speak authoritatively about the final answer on all such mysteries. The truth is, we are better off allowing for ambiguity and mystery. We must speak with humility and recognize that there will be many questions that will go unanswered until we see God face-to-face.

Until that time, I will assert with Lamoureux, what I believe to be true, that "The nonhistorical first Adam is you and me. But the Good News is that the historical Second Adam died for our sins and frees us from the chains of sin and death." I will also suggest that all of the authors of this book would agree with Lamoureux's assertion that "Adam's story is our story. . . . To understand who we truly are, we must place ourselves in the garden of Eden." Who am I? I am a human, created in God's Image. I am a sinner saved by grace. I am a man who will trust in the God who created birds and fish; butterflies and flowers; dinosaurs and sharks; and Neanderthals and Humans.

Work Cited:
Lamoureux, Denis O, et al. Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Zondervan, 2013.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Follow-Up To Itching Ears

Yesterday I included the lyrics to a song that addressed the concept of itching ears, as described in 2 Timothy 3:4. This idea of people being told what they want to hear and being attracted to churches by fine words is not limited to churches that have been converted to discos. Those of us who preach and teach must be alert and constantly test what we say. We need to watch for the influence of Satan in every context. Keith Green creatively quoted the devil in one of his songs when he said, "I put some truth in every lie to tickle itching ears; you know I'm drawing people just like flies 'cause they like what they hear."1

The message of the Gospel is vital and must not be compromised by our methods or by our words. There are plenty of high profile, celebrity preachers who preach prosperity and health to those who follow their words. Would it not be better to simply speak the words of the Bible and let those words transform the lives of the people? Isaiah 55:8-11 reads,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
God's word will not return empty. Even when we do not fully understand His word, we can speak it and trust that it will achieve the purposes for which He sent it. If we are honest with ourselves and others, we will recognize that there is still great mystery in the words of the Bible. For example, how do we reconcile these two statements:
"He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45) and
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)
Who does God reward; the evil and the good; or those who earnestly seek Him? The truth is, my itching ears want to hear that it is only those who earnestly seek God that will be rewarded. I want to hear that if I go to church, read my Bible, and pray, I will be rewarded with health and wealth. I want to believe that. I don't want to believe that God will send His excellent rain upon the evil as well as the good. My ears are just as itchy as the next person; but, here is my commitment to myself and to others. I will seek to truly hear the word of God. I will trust that it is good and true and beneficial. Even as I struggle to understand the Bible, I will listen to the hard words as well as those that sound good to my ever itching ears.

Let us speak both of these words and trust that God will reconcile them in our lives and in this world. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. His thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. They operate on a higher plane than our own. In the higher plane, there is no apparent contradiction between Matthew 5 and Hebrews 11. Therefore, let us speak these words of truth and trust that they will accomplish the purposes of God.



1 See http://hungerandthirst4.blogspot.ca/2010/10/no-one-believes-in-me-anymore.html for all of the words to this song. You can even listen to the song while you read along: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt42MXX2CXg

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Are My Ears Itchy?

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. - 2 Timothy 4:3



This Disco (Used To Be A Cute Cathedral)
(Words and Music by Steve Taylor; from the album, "On The Fritz")
(Listen while you read)

Sunday needs a pick-me-up?
Here's your chance
Do you get tired of the same old square dance?
Allemande right now
All join hands
Do-si-do to the promised boogieland
Got no need for altar calls
Sold the altar for the mirror balls
Do you shuffle? Do you twist?
'Cause with a hot hits playlist, now we say

This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where the chosen cha-cha every day of the year
This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where we only play the stuff you're wanting to hear

Mickey does the two-step
One, Two, Swing
All the little church mice doing their thing
Boppin' in the belltower
Rumba to the right
Knock knock, who's there? Get me out of this limelight
So, you want to defect?
Officer, what did you expect?
Got no rhythm, got no dough
He said, "Listen, Bozo, don't you know"

This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where the chosen cha-cha every day of the week
This disco used to be a cute cathedral
But we got no room if you ain't gonna be chic
Sell your holy habitats
This ship's been deserted by sinking rats
The exclusive place to go
It's where the pious pogo, don't you know

This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where the chosen cha-cha every day of the year
This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where we only play the stuff you're wanting to hear
This disco used to be a cute cathedral
Where the chosen cha-cha every day of the week
This disco used to be a cute cathedral
But we got no room if you ain't gonna be chic

Steve Taylor once gave an interview which explained how this song came to be.
I'm down in New York city, and there's this disco that used to be a church, called "The Limelight." So I did my little on-the-scene investigation and went down with some friends one night, had to pay fifteen dollars just to get in--I had to walk home (no, not quite.) We go up and it was really bizarre. We come in, and first we walk by these sarcophagi on the walls and stuff like that. I think the person that was taking the tickets was dressed like a nun or something like that. They were showing Ten Commandments on the video screens and stuff. 
We walk into the main sanctuary part, go up the stairs to the balcony--there's like two balconies--and the floor of this big church--I mean, it must have been able to seat like a thousand people--is literally jammed with probably 1,500 people dancing, and there's a video screen showing the latest Madonna sleaze on the video and stuff like that. So I'm looking down at this--scratch the Madonna sleaze--my mind starts drifting, I imagine that this is Sunday evening and the deacons have devised this as a way of getting new membership, right? [laughter] 
So it's a very satirical song, but the point is--especially like in California where I'm from you've got this country-club Christianity springing up, where Christianity is supposed to appeal to the beautiful people, and we try to get the right elements in our churches--the elements that are going to give money and everything like that. That's not the church's mission. Jesus talked about coming to heal the sick, not those who are well, and so it's essentially a song against this idea of country-club Christianity.  - Steve Taylor interview1

Have we learned anything in the last 30 years?

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. - 2 Timothy 1:1-5



1 As reported at http://www.sockheaven.net/discography/taylor/fritz/this_disco_used_to_be_a_cute_cathedral/#about