Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tolkien on Sex

While rank pagans debate the symbolism of J. R. R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" books and now movies, in his letters to his sons he left no doubt as to his views on sex. Do I have to tell you its explicitly Christian? Click the link and enjoy the fruit of Al Mohler's study of Tolkien's letters.

Not So Stealth Religious Litmus Test

While the Constitution says, "... no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" (Article 6, end of clause 3) the current debate regarding Judge Robert's nomination to the Supreme Court sure looks like a religious test.

CNSNEWS is generous in calling what is happening a "stealth" attempt. In my opinion it is not so stealth. Sadly those who are opposed to a man of conservative, perhaps even Christian, convictions don't even realize that they are imposing - in the name of irreligion and separation of church and state - religion on the country. Everyone acts out on some worldview and its impossible to not in any instance.

The debate in appointing and confirming a Supreme Court nominee isn't about whether a candidate will bring religion into his opinions but rather which religion. For more on this matter from my keyboard see Never Neutral.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Already Answered Science Questions - take 1

World Magazine (can't find the link on their website) alerted me to a special feature in Science magazine upon their 125th anniversary. They've constructed a list of the top 125 questions left unanswered by science. Even just the top 25 are a field day for this former scientist turned pastor.

Expect a few posts along these lines as I consider a few of the supposedly unanswered questions which Science can't yet answer but God already has in His Word.

The 2nd question in top 25 list is, "What is the biological basis of consciousness?" They can keep asking this question and seeking an answer but they won't find it. As long as science maintains materialism as its idol and version of the lie (see Romans 1:25, New King James Version), it will be unable to explain human consciousness.

Human consciousness is of course mediated through a body while on this earth but is not dependent upon a body. In Revelation 6:9 we read that the souls of the martyrs cry out for vengeance. Though deprived of their bodies, they are utterly conscious especially that their blood has not yet been avenged.

Try as they may as long as science refuses the fact that man is a psychosomatic (soul & body) whole, they will be unable to answer some questions. It strikes me funny that an industry which happily relies upon non-material entities like laws of logic refuses that man could be made up of a material aspect and an immaterial aspect.

Lance Isn't the Center of the Universe

On this day after Lance Armstrong wins his 7th consecutive Tour de France, he's rightly receiving honor for his hard work and obvious physical and mental abilities. However ...

I'm loathe to give honor to Lance alone. The purpose of all Creation is to give praise to its Creator. Infrequently Christians give the time necessary to getting what I call "behind" a wowing aspect of Creation. Let me explain what I mean.

Few people - perhaps none - have witnessed the incredible power of Niagara Falls and not been rendered speechless. But how many took the moments to then "get behind" the phenomena of Niagara Falls to the One who can create such a wonder as easily as your or I can chew a grape.

Everything which awes us in Creation is to bend us back towards worship of Yahweh - our Creator and Redeemer. So as you mentally gawk at Lance, don't forget that Lance's prodigious mental and physical abilities are derived from our God. Can you imagine what His abilities are that He can make Niagara and Armstrong?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Covering Up Reality

I rarely get to read the New York Times Magazine (and you can't either if you don't pay for it somehow). But the issue from June 12th had some great pieces in it that deserve to be commented upon. In a piece by Clive Thompson (the link would drive you nuts if I provided it so just think I'm saving you the hassle and believe that I'm giving you the real gist of the story!) titled "Not Ready for Their Close-Up: The unintended consequences of high-definition TV" the author relates the fact that plastic surgeons are busy. They're busy fixing up TV people in their 30's.

Why you might ask? Well it seems what was invisible via regular TV broadcasting technology is now visible using High Def technology. So that scar you got falling down as a kid what was hitherto invisible is now ugly. Wrinkles it seems stand out rather prominently making those who are apparently beautiful not so.

If we bring this closer to how we might evaluate this trend from the Bible's perspective I suggest that the 30's TV type at the plastic surgeon is merely doing a sophisticated version of fig leaf weaving. When Adam and Eve sinned they realized they were naked and sought to hide reality from others in their shame.

Moderns do this in multiple ways ranging from the age-defying antics of medical plastic purveyors to the strong silent type American male who refuses to find or reveal what is going on his heart to the unbeliever who is unwilling to face the facts regarding their sinfulness. All of these are attempts to hide reality because we don't like it. They are in essence to put up a good front and appear "righteous" or "perfect" in some form or another through hiding.

Let's face reality ... we are becoming-wrinkly people with sinful hearts who do sinful things that are embarrassing. Without Christ cover up is needed because a close-up will reveal who we are. With Christ we can sustain the ultimate high def, the presence of God, because what will be seen is Christ's righteousness not our lack thereof. Run to Christ and don't mind the close-up it is reality after all.

Pastors, Get Blogging

I have to admit that I was at first a reluctant blogger. Having imbibed joyfully a great deal of Neil Postman, I'm always wary of new mediums and their effects upon their adherents. I was struck though by the argument of a pastor friend who eventually convinced me that I should be blogging.

That friend (whose blog can be found here) convinced me that blogging was an extension of something I already did in my congregation. A bit over two years ago Phil Ryken, Senior Minister at Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church convinced me at a conference to begin addressing cultural issues with my congregation.

Ryken accomplishes this development through the publication of a weekly "Window on the World" (some of which have been collected in He Speaks to Me Everywhere: Meditations on Christianity and Culture). I set to work in my congregation and began in May 2003 writing "Cultural Perspectives". My congregation greatly profited from the very enjoyable time I spent writing those pieces. I will likely continue those pieces at a future point in my congregation's life. But for now, I'm switching to blogging with joy.

Why you might ask? Ryken's congregation gets a weekly dose of developing their Christian worldview for most of the year. My congregation - at the height of my writing Cultural Perspectives - got two doses per month. This is a reasonable pace at which to teach people but not ideal.

I've recently been preaching on the Ten Commandments and was reminded when I read Calvin's sermons on the Commandments from Deuteronomy that a number of the sermons were preached not on a Lord's Day but on a weekday. It used to be the case that church people received doses of God's Word multiple times during the week. Sometimes we pastors are lucky to get them once a week now. Obviously we don't lower the importance of weekly attendance at church. But could we recover the daily interaction people need to have in order to develop their Christian worldview in the midst of a culture which pushes them in pagan directions constantly?

In my mind blogging is not at the same level as hearing Calvin preach a sermon a weekday. Preaching and blogging are different tools in the pastor's tool kit. But my contention is that it ought to be in the pastor's tool kit. Your people called you be their pastor for a reason, they wanted to hear what you have to say week in and week out. Blogging serves a similar need as is usually taken care of through a phone call or email asking for a Christian perspective on this or a Christian answer to that.

But blogging is better because it's an answer given to everyone in your congregation who wants to know. Blogging is a multiplication tool. Better than that, when the pastor reads other pastor's blogs he can point people to significant things that other people are saying. Just today I pointed my readers to a friend's blog where he did an excellent job of explaining the nature of Biblical forgiveness. Now I don't have to write that, I can point people to that blog entry and then we can talk about it if necessary. In my mind blogging is the shorter version of giving someone a book to read to gain perspective on an issue.

Does blogging take time? Sure, everything takes time. But if you're like the typical pastor, you spend an enormous amount of time reading and interacting with cultural media forms. You constantly thinking through things and assessing how you might teach your congregation how to think Biblically. All blogging does is allow you to bear the fruit of your thinking sooner than later.

Conclusion ... pastors, get blogging. It'll be good for you to be forced to synthesize your cultural thoughts more frequently and it will bless your congregation as their Chrisitan worldview is built piece by piece day by day.

Clarity on Forgiveness

David Wayne, a PCA pastor in Glen Burnie, MD, has written a phenomenal blog entry on the nature of Biblical forgiveness that is absolutely worth reading. With so much fuzziness around the matter of forgiveness and its relationship to repentance in the Christian world, this is a breath of fresh air. Read and learn.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Revealing Incarceration's Powerlessness

Just today, a national sex offender registry was launched. The concept of publicly identifying those who have committed crimes has a long history. In fact Hawthorne wrote a book about the idea called the Scarlet Letter. My interest however is not history but in the possibly of change in wicked people.
Why is a sex offender registry needed? It's needed because no one - well almost no one, more on that in a minute - believes sex offenders can change. All the proof you need is the recent case in Coeur d' Alene to prove that. Making sex offenders register allows those around them to see their Scarlet "O" and keep their distance. But is this enough?
Modern penology avoids attempting to embody any spiritual understanding of humans and as such treats them as animals. Supposedly scaled back versions of re-education camps (read prisons) are the answer to people who cause others harm. Avoiding the possibility that people are at the core sinful, modern penology assumes that people can be released when the recognize that what they did is wrong and have a desire to not do it again. "Did you learn your lesson? If so, return to public life. But wait there's more ... you do need to sign this registry because we don't actually think you've changed but we'll set you free anyhow." Hopeless!
The existence of a national sex offender registry reveals that incarceration can't accomplish its goal, the rehabilitation of prisoners. Never can someone be said to "have been" a sex offender but instead will always "be" a sex offender. Sounds strangely like the modern assumptions regarding abuse of alcohol in that someone remains an alcoholic but may not be practicing now.
Into this hopelessness the Bible's perspective comes as a breath of fresh air. Hear what God says in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, " Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were . But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." Notice the bolded text. Some of the Corinthians were sexually immoral (sex offender fits here) but now they are not. Why? Becuse the Spirit of God came to reside in them effecting real change at the heart level permanently changing behaviors and tendencies making possible substantive change in life.
Incarceration can't change people where they need it, at the heart level. But the incarnate Son of God's Spirit can and does. He did it to the Corinthians and He can do it today.

Wrong Question Yields Wrong Answer

Much of the modern cultural debate regarding contraception revolves around when/if contraception should be available to young people and whether emergency contraception should be available without a prescription. We'll have to wait for the FDA to rule on the 2nd matter in September.
Regarding the first matter it seems somewhat universal to assume young people will engage in sexual activity and to inhibit their freedom is "wrong" or put more nicely "misguided". Interestingly what used to be "wrong" - i.e. fornication - is now "expected" with those who now impinge on fornicators the ones who are "wrong". Given this cultural landscape its unsuprising then that in this recent piece the primary issue brought to the reader is whether condoms are effective or not.
What's missing? What is missing is any concern for the well being of young people who would use the condoms safe sex advocates want to distribute freely. Certainly there is a concern that the rate of uintended pregnancy be reduced as also the incidence of STD's. These are laudable goals but short-sighted. What about the mental, relational and spiritual health of our young people? Sexually active teens have higher depression and suicide rates. The onset of sexual activity in a relationship is the greatest indicator that the end of the relationship is coming. College students understand this and now practice anonymous sex not even bothering to gain the name of a sexual partner.
Far from anyone's mind in the debate is the fact that God, who made us and watches over us through His law, tells us that sexual activity outside of the marriage bed is out of bounds because it damages human beings. The issue with condoms is not their effectiveness but rather their effect when used outside of a marriage bed. Do you want to seriously drop the rates of unintended pregnancy and STD incidence? Discouraging fornication is the best way.
And yes, realistic labeling that helps condom users understand that usage of the product doesn't ensure perfect prevention of pregnancy or transmission of STD's (condoms are ineffective in transmission of STD's that reside on genital surfaces not covered by a condom) would be helpful. But there also ought to be on condom packages a disclaimer about the relationship and spiritual effects of their usage outside of marriage.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Why would the truth need to be defended violently?

Truth is a wonderful thing. Because truth always reveals itself to be such by its consequences and effects, it doesn't require to be defended with force. This is the historic Christian view of the truth and why freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are hallmarks of American culture - or used to be, but that's another blog entry for another time (read this if you think all is well in America regarding our freedoms). Anyhow ... historically Christianity didn't defend itself violently because it believed the truth makes itself plain by consequences. Here's an easy test to see what I mean. Find someone who wouldn't want to live in a culture where the 10 commandments were followed by everyone. Contrast the historic Christian view with this poll which reveals that Muslims in large numbers - but thankfully less numbers - say "suicide bombings that target civilians are justified in the defense of Islam". Since when did the truth have to be defended by force? If Islam was the panacea that academia says it is, why would it need to break the law to defend itself? We should always doubt what someone claims as truth when it has to be enforced with violence.

Alzheimer's and Family - Unsurprisingly A Good Combination

I had the privilege of participating today in the kickoff event for our local Alzheimer's assocation Memory Walk. The featured speaker (Dr. W. J. Monsour, a local Alzheimer's doctor) said something which resonated with me as making sense given the Christian worldview. It seems patients with Alzheimer's do better if they are cared for by family rather than by an institution. Since God made us for community (think of "it's not good for man to be alone" and all the references in the NT to the "Body of Christ") a person ought to be healthier in community. There is also broad research which indicates that Alzheimer's patients who have a spiritual component to their life also do better. This is unsurprising as well since God made us for worship.

Defeating Death, My Way

If we take for granted that humans were designed by God to live forever as a psychosomatic (soul & body) whole, it would make sense that fallen human beings would seek to achieve this goal apart from God and His provision for eternal life in Christ. One way this happens is through cryogenics. This recent article speaks about the cryogenics company that froze Ted Williams' head opening up a new facility. In their own words, "We're about defeating mortality". One could only wish that their instinct for eternal life and immortality could meet up with the reality that such is available through Christ.