April 25, 2015

Tools In The Toolbox III: Nails That Free Us From Freedom That Enslaves

Another post in a continuing series about things a person of God can add to their relational repertoire to properly help themselves and others in the church. There are certain questions about our brother and sisters in Christ that can asked and answered that will inevitably aid in them by supporting them individually. This will therefore help the entire church.

The next question we need to ask ourselves is…

Where do our brother and sisters tend to get discouraged and need the hope of the Gospel?

Everyone will get discouraged. There are many problems in life that are relatively easy to bounce back from. There are many that are not. Some portions of our Christian walk deliver blows to us that are exceptionally hard to recover from and some might even seem impossible to recover from. Knowing the truth of the Gospel is one thing. All true Christians know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives eternal life. 

That is just the beginning though. 

What happens when trials hit us head on and we don’t die? The eternal life part is great, don’t get me wrong. What happens though when a loved-one dies? What happens when someone we care about is afflicted with an incurable disease? What happens when financial crisis becomes so great that we begin to lose all that we have worked and struggled for? How does the Gospel get applied previous to death on the deathbed? How does Christ hanging on the cross alleviate the current suffering we are in now?

Firsts, the Gospel tells us that everything works out in the end for believers. We already know this from bible passages like Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28-30

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Romans 8:28-30 ~ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

It is interesting to note that both of these passages about everything eventually working out for God’s faithful are in a context of struggle and trials. Jeremiah’s statement is essentially a letter to those in exile. The Romans passage is at the end of a section dedicated to our present suffering and its future glory. God is a God of justice and the scales of justice assuredly balance in God’s eternal equation. If we lose sight of this fact life will take on a pointless nihilistic coloring that leaves a person no hope. God promises a pleasant destination but He never said the mortal undertaking would be easy.

How and where else does the Gospel help those in trial? I know from personal experience that when the odds are against things working out to my advantage and all hope looks lost, I only have faith in God to hold on to. I believe my faith is founded because I believe in a God that can resurrect men from the dead. God is a God who can bring dead dry bones back to life. Think about the narrative of the Gospel. Even in the loss of a death, there was victory. That victory can be ours also as co-heirs in Christ. You have a deceased relative? You as a believer will see them again. Your relationship is deader than a stone and you are on the verge of divorce? Christ can resurrect men form the dead, certainly he can repair a broken relationship? There is always hope until we go home to be with the Lord. As long as the Lord tarries and doesn’t take us home there is time on this side of the grave to reconcile relationship, right a wrong and seek forgiveness from our sins. It isn’t until we die that those chances cease.

How else does the Gospel give hope to those currently discouraged? The Gospel is Resurrection. Resurrection at its core is spiritual. It is grace. The Good News is not just the resurrection but also the underlying grace that allowed it. We have a god of grace that is merciful when we are suffering. The most profound evidence and assurance o this grace is the Gospel itself. God has prepared for us a future and it is wonderful, regardless of what we are faced with now. God has assured us in Scripture that whatever lies waiting for us on the other side will make todays struggles seem like mere inconveniences and light momentary afflictions.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ~ For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

The Gospel helps see us through our suffering because it gives us a relevant sounding board and comparison for our suffering. Let’s face it. Jesus suffered a horrendous and painful death. He was tortured and crucified. He suffered extreme shame that no man should have to suffer. He went through it all passively like a sheep before the shearer. He knew ahead of time what he was in for too. It isn’t like he was ignorant to the impending doom that He suffered. He was cognizant of it. He sweat great drops of blood and asked the Father that if it was possible that He remove the cup of His wrath….yet still submitted to the will of His Father. He knows what it is to be in our shoes. He didn’t like it either...but Jesus persevered to the bitter end for the will of the Father. To bring glory to the Father.

The Gospel calls us to not just accept the suffering we endure but to do it in a way that we suffer well. Many will write books about how God wants us always happy and not suffering. These people write under the premise that we should avoid suffering at all costs and to have suffered means God is somehow angry at us. Not only is this wrong it is totally not in the Bible. Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes and about a hundred others are totally off-base when preaching a Gospel of prosperity. Suffering hones us in a way prosperity never will. 

When we are pushed to a place we can no longer endure we only have the cross, the Gospel and the Resurrection to go to. Suffering and trials make us draw on faith we didn’t know we had and make us view the One who had no place to rest His head in a new light. Jesus had nothing in this life and suffered and ignoble death by human standards to add insult to injury. By the world’s standards, Jesus has nothing for us but by God’s Gospel standards, by suffering we have everything and it is the world that has nothing. Jesus Christ being immobilized and nailed to the Cross sets us free from sin. The world giving us our freedom to do whatever we want enslaves us in sin.

Our suffering then does not undo us but tightens us more tightly around that which matters. It turns us towards God. It gives us a better angle in which to view grace and love. We view it from a heart of compassion. It merges love to action and grace to charity. It merges means to missions. It puts our wallets in the offering basket and shoes to pavement for the homeless. The possibilities are endless like our limitless God who loves unconditionally.

The Gospel is a liberator but it requires that we restrict ourselves in love by choice. The world says we are free to do as we please and if we do so we remove all restrictions and become a slave to the very thing we claim in freedom. We pursue our own selfish pleasures and needs in sin. True freedom isn’t really freedom and what we believe gives us freedom in this world restricts us to a life of sinful oppression. 

True discouragement comes from turning our back on the Gospel which is the only true freedom we can ever know in this paradoxical world. We become discouraged because we lose hope without the Gospel. Existence begins to seem futile and pointless. When we turn against the one thing that can truly help us we can only ever face discouragement in this life. God frees us from the discouragement by freeing us from the guilt, anxiety and fear that sin instills in us. The Gospel pulls the teeth and claws out of suffering and death and neuters them. Things may discourage us momentarily in this life but the promises and hope of God are eternal and a sure thing.

April 22, 2015

Tools in The Toolbox II: Bottled Wind

As stated in the first post of this series, the context of this series revolves around what a person of God can add to their relational repertoire to properly help themselves and others in the church. What relational tools or ideas can a believer add or take away to aid them in supporting those in the church both physically, spiritually and in a relational manner? 

Knowing exactly what tools to have in your toolbox to do the job right the first time benefits the most people.

The second thing a believer should ask themselves is this:

Where do people tend to buy into an unbiblical world with its accompanying hopes and dreams?

An unbiblical worldview is an example of what a believer should avoid. This is where the rubber meets the road in the Christian walk. Asked another way, "Where do people accept the culture and what society deems appropriate when it is firmly and clearly against the Bible and what God deems appropriate?" The topics in the culture are multitude: Abortion? Adultery? Homosexuality? Licentiousness? Avarice or Greed? How about some of the lesser known sins like celebrity or cult of personality? Patriotism over God? And then there is the American favorite which is fierce individuality, autonomy and independence in a Church that calls for community and sacrificial love to others first.

The Church needs to remain distinct from the culture or it becomes extinct and irrelevant. This is just the opposite of what the culture will tell us or tell the Church. The culture will say that the Church needs to adopt and adapt to the culture to gain more respectability, members or relevance. To acclimatize and adapt to the culture makes the church no different than the culture. When the church ceases to be distinct it will become extinct because it will have no reason for existence. If the church becomes exactly as the culture it is no different than an enabler that takes the form of a motivational speaker. We already have enough of these in the form of the Joel Osteen’s and the pimping prosperity preachers that are literally a dime-a-dozen today on television and cable.

As I said before in other posts…

When we shape the church to the culture we end up shaping it around man's entertainment, man's business models, man's traditions and man's feelings. In this way we allow the spirit of Babylon instead of the Spirit of God to permeate and shape the Church. Instead of the church taking on the shape of a cross, it ends up taking the shape of black hole which sucks the life out of anything that comes near it. The shape of man creates a false church. The shape of the Cross creates salvation.The world says success, triumph and excelling. This is an illusion and when this superficial illusion is exposed for the empty promise that it really is, people are devastated and many never recover. The Scripture says success is on God's terms which is triumph through meekness and exaltation through humility.

The true path to the cross is through struggle and pain to reach triumph. There is no promise that the triumph will be in this life either. The Church needs to be transforming the culture, not the culture transforming the Church. The relevance of the true Church is its ability to show people a realistic view of life (warts and all), and help the downtrodden to overcome their trials within the Gospel. The true church shows how the Gospel is the true answer to people’s struggles in this life. The false church feeds people empty hopes, warped dreams and cultural platitudes that fall flat when a family member dies, becomes ill, when finances become lean or when relational problems seem insurmountable.

People struggle in their faith and they often lose faith. It never totally disappears it just wanes to the point that it becomes unrecognizable or it is difficult to function in a spiritual manner. These pitfalls must be avoided because they are damaging to our relationship with God and other people. We hear it in the echoes of Jesus down through the ages when he speaks to people like the disciples, “Oh, you of little faith.” The ideals and ideas of the culture in this day in age are not even remotely biblical. Where people would willingly embrace them over Scriptural commands and imperatives shows a complete disconnect of faith and shows pronounced disobedience.

If we believe the garbage the culture tells us and we hope, dream and depend on the culture’s promises…we will be let down. You know the mantras: Do this and in twelve easy steps you will have happiness. Serve yourself and look out for yourself and you’ll be fine. Money makes life comfortable and comfort makes life better. As long as mankind wants to believe there are simplistic answers, 10 step programs and solutions to problems they will continue to look for them and pay people to teach them the so-called "secrets of highly successful people". People that are successful according to the world. It’s all tripe. The Bible warned us of these types of false teachings and snake oil salesman long before the term snake oil salesman existed.

Dreams are exactly that…dreams. They are figments of our imagination. We need just as much faith to chase down the whimsy of our own imaginations as we do to have faith in the promises of Scripture. The difference lies in real history. We see the fruition of true faith in the disclosed or unfolded events of the Bible. Faith in God’s promises pays off real dividends in the Bible both spiritual (eternal life, blessing) and sometimes physical (health, well-being). Additionally, the only dreams that have had any validity in the Bible are the ones sent by God (Jacob, Joseph). The dreams in the Scripture need to be aligned with the principles of Scripture. If we have similar dreams and they don’t align with the Bible we can assure they did not come from God. We are better off pursuing biblical lines of reasoning and rest in the promises of God. Not only do they have a proven track record, they are proven to be spiritually beneficial.

Chasing the dreams shaped by the culture have us running ragged for that which is perishable instead of the eternity of God. We end up chasing the dragon/demon. When we chase the culture’s portion it is like trying to bottle the wind. In other words, we gain nothing and bottle nothing. We waste our time better utilized to chase God. It is similar to sowing wind to reap the whirlwind. The type of seed we sow determines the type of crop we harvest. If we chase empty meaningless dreams we will gain only empty meaningless outcomes. 

Hosea 8:7 ~ For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it.

It is ironic that Hosea's quote is a response to Israel's idolatry. This is exactly what the original question for this post points to. Remember what the original question asked? 

“Where do people tend to buy into an unbiblical world….?” 

What is really being asked here is this: Where do we derail from God’s will and pursue idolatry? Idolatry is anything that becomes more important than God and takes the worship and the attention that God rightly deserves. Anything that takes our attention off of God has to be considered an idol. By chasing the world we will certainly get the world…and the world really isn’t that much of a prize, is it?

There is no formula for happiness and normalcy in this life nor did the Bible give us that formula. There is Jesus Christ, there is the Gospel, there is Scripture, there is prayer and there is belief in the promises of God. Everything else is hard work, boots on the ground and callouses on the hands of faith. People want a miracle drug to lose weight and stay healthy…it’s called exercise and work and even that is  not a guarantee. Likewise people want a perfect life…the Bible said that doesn't exist on this side of the grave. The closest we will come to a perfect life on this side of a marble tombstone is through faith in the only One capable of living a perfect life and giving us one in return...Jesus Christ.

April 17, 2015

Tools in The Toolbox I: Idol Repellant

The context of the next few posts is pretty simple. Paul Tripp made a list for an article on The Gospel Coalition website found here. It was an article on advice to young pastors. The entire article was framed beforehand by a question to Paul David Tripp and two other gentlemen in ministry or theology that will remain unnamed for clarity. I will also remove the second part of the question and zero in on the first core question because that’s where the crux of spirituality lies. The questions is as follows:

In addition to Scripture and sound doctrine, what should young pastors today be studying?

The person that poses this question is asking knowledgeable Godly men what other tools that will need in their toolbox other than the utter necessities of Scripture and doctrine.  The interviewer is biblically sound in asking the question this way because even the interviewer understands that the backbone and core of a church, small group, family or even an individual starts with Scripture first and then sound doctrine. Paul knowing this immediately launches into the next most important thing about churches, discipleship and relationships…he discusses people. And the dynamics in a fallen world that negatively affect them both internally and externally. 

Again, Paul is smart enough realize that the Christian life is not just subject to demonic attack from external sources but also sinful motivations from within. Hence the warnings of idolatry in even non-graven images in the Bible. Paul rightly says that we must tear down anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4. That is because we fight against ideas, spiritual entities and principalities not just physical evils. Not everything wrong in life is a demonic attack. Our sins are forgiven but there are consequences for sin. In the end, the choice to act is solely an inner one that the believer will need to take accountability for and answer for in the presence of the Lord.

The advice Paul Tripp (and Apostle Paul) gives is not just sound for young pastors but all who will be called to the position of leading, teaching and preaching to the people of God. In the article Tripp proposes that many pastors are often excellent exegetes of Scripture but when it comes to interpreting and understanding other people, they fall flat on their face. To measure where these pastors stand, Paul asks very astute spiritual questions. Paul correctly frames the condition of relationship in this post and in his questions. He frames them spiritually and relationally. We are to become students of other people to learn what makes them tick and figure out how to best relate to them. This doesn’t just apply to just strangers either, it even applies to family, friends and close acquaintances.

What is interesting about these questions is that they should be asked by all members of a congregation at a church about their fellow brethren. That is because, in reality, as most members mature and grow in the faith they should be discipiling and teaching others from the fruit of what the Holy Spirit is giving them. This of course requires to things: That one is growing and what is willing to give. If these are missing there is evidence of a major shortcoming in a believers life. What is discipling it is not a position of teaching by word and example. In this way, we should all answer these questions or should at least understand why Paul Tripp asks them. I will break them down over the next three (3) posts.

Here is the first of the helpful questions to ask yourself as you attempt to be a student and exegete of your people:

(1) What are the cultural idols that are particularly attractive to my people?

The issue of idols is an ongoing ever-present battle for the believer. It has been since the days of antiquity and the Garden.  In simplest terms an idol is any person, place or thing of the created order that a believer makes a god. It is anything that a believer places before God in their thinking that either potentially usurps God’s position in a believer’s life. Idolatry is to give honor to (specifically divine honor) to anything that is created by God rather than God Himself. It is insulting to God and demeaning to the person that does it because it says that our Creator is less than magnificent. Think about that for a moment. What does that make us? It makes us even of lesser value…in other words…we border on worthless. The difference to proper reverence to God and a subtle slip into idolatry is a condition of the heart a spotlight off of obedience and onto a sin. Idolatry says that God is not enough. God is infinite…to think this way makes no logical sense and is spiritually and physically deadly.

The prophet Isaiah paints an excellent example of an idol and the sheer stupidity of making it their god (lower case “g”).

Isaiah 44:9-17 (edited & paraphrased) ~ “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless….Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing?...The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline [of an idol] with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in human form, human form in all its glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!”

Please understand that worship isn’t just bowing down to an object in veneration but it is anything that obsesses and makes a person fixate on things of the created world: Money, other people, family, material possession. Some will even go as far as to say it isn’t fixation on another person, it is love but when love seeks to control and manipulate by inadvertent insistence to inane rules, it is not love, it is obsession. An obsession of any form is too intense a focus on something other than God. That obsession is therefore and idol that has replaced God. It is abusive not only to the object of control (note I said object not person), and it is destructive to the person obsessing because it takes the proper focus off of God and lets them pine away for a mental construct of a person that is an ideal in their head…it is not reality. It is idols. Idols cannot save people, only kill them. Any perceived power behind an idol cannot be of God because God has forbid them...so it has to be demonic.

We need to see where idolatry is affecting our brothers and sisters (and even those on the street) and at least inform them of the presence of it in their lives. If it has too much of a grip on them and they cannot extract themselves from idolatry we must help them do so because we are all fallen and just as susceptible to idolatry as everyone else. If I fell into it which I often do, I as a obedient Christian would wish to be told so that I can begin to make inroads to stem the tide of sin and demoniac activity in my life. Only a fool would not.

April 12, 2015

In Their Own Words XXXII: God Is The Means and The Ends

“Knowing there is a world that will outlive you, there are people whose well-being depends on how you live your life, affects the way you live your life, whether or not you directly experience those effects. You want to be the kind of person who has the larger view, who takes other people’s interests into account, who’s dedicated to the principles that you can justify, like justice, knowledge, truth, beauty and morality.”  – Steven Pinker, Cognitive Scientist

This will be a difficult read to slog through but hopefully it will payoff for the reader. 

Although I agree with Steven Pinker's sentiment, I disagree with his godless methodology for getting to the end result (which he doesn't state but his belief system shows me). Like him, I believe there needs to be a Deontological Ethic/Aesthetic . 

Deontological Ethics simply means an ethic that judges the morality of an action based on the action's adherence to a rule or rules. Pinker and I part ways on what rules need to be adhered to. He believes man's rules devoid of God are to be followed. I believe that God's rules and principles should be followed.  

Right from the beginning we see that Pinker believes mankind can be just and make proper moral decisions. They cannot. How do I know for certain that Pinker believes a man should be the measure of these attributes? Simple, he is a supporter of secular humanism. He has also been on the advisory boards of both the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Secular Coalition for America.  

The truth is that as we drift from God, justice in the courts is being perverted more and more. A majority of our judicial system doesn’t even adhere to an idea of moral/natural law anymore when arriving at judgments. As a matter of fact, it was the topic of natural law that was a sticking point during the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas in the early 1990's (just ask Joe Biden who was grilling Justice Thomas on this exact issue). 

Furthermore, US Supreme Court Justice Scalia was known to have said that the Courts cannot or should not legislate morality. In “Mullahs of the West: Judges as Moral Arbiters,” Justice Antonin Scalia told the North Carolina Bar Association that the court has no place acting as a “judge moralist” in issues better left to the people. Since judges aren’t qualified—or constitutionally authorized—to set moral standards, he argued, the people should decide what’s morally acceptable. In this way he copped out and was rather spineless for a conservative justice. If there is anything you can legislate to improve society...its morality. So, if they’re not legislating morality or basing the lex terrae in a true moral (Godly) underpinning, what are they basing rules/rulings on? You guessed it, they are basing it on something other than God. They are basing justice in man himself. It is called positive law. Believe it or not, Joe Biden is not as dopey as he acts, hence his grilling of Thomas.

Positive law/ius positum is just a fancy name to describe man-made laws that oblige or specify an action. It also describes the establishment of specific rights for an individual or group. The laws of the land that guide this nation therefore are now primarily based on the whims of sinful men or on case precedents divorced from God. The justices and leaders who base their morality and values on a man-based value system therefore leave themselves open to horrible corruption. They are people adrift on a sea of immorality without a true moral compass or true moral anchor.

Deuteronomy 16:19 ~ “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous.”

1 Samuel 8:3 ~ “Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.”

Ecclesiastes 5:8 ~ If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness,  do not be amazed at the matter,  for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.

Ecclesiastes 5:8 actually gets to the heart of the matter when it comes to judges and rulers perverting or upholding justice. God tells us not to be surprised if there is perversion of justice in leaders. Pinker's idea of a person or persons needing to be principled in true justice is a moot point. A person cannot have an idea of true perfect justice devoid of the God of Scripture. If God does not back justice, it isn't true or absolute justice. God is the only perfect measure of morality, knowledge and justice. 

Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that courts often pervert and bend justice in favor of bias, preconceptions or even prejudices. Although Pinker believes man is obliged to act morally and justly does not mean they are capable of doing so. Quite the contrary. Man is by his nature sinful and prone to sin. The Ecclesiastes verse shows a progression of accountability that eventually leads to God. Whether or not atheistic/agnostic leaders or intellectuals admit there is a God or are willing to submit to His measure of morality is irrelevant. They will eventually answer to God and be judged by Him whether they believe He exists or not. Their failure to acknowledge His existence indeed shows their inability to make proper decisions. 

The Bible is clear that the rulers and leaders will be judged more harshly. That is because they have more of an impact and influence on a greater amount of people and should always be addressed first. If one man can so greatly affect a multitude it behooves us to correct the morals and ethics of a nation at the individual level to affect a change on the nation at large. As Jesus showed, true change starts one heart at a time. If we change the hearts of individuals one at a time, this in turn changes the masses. In this way the Kingdom of God overcomes the kingdom of world. It is in this way that Jesus did indeed overcome the world and continues to do so. He changes one heart at a time and turns that heart towards the Gospel.

John 16:33 ~ "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

We can change the world but it will not be through a man-made court system or government. True Godly change will never come to society as a whole if society is falling away from God. The positive changes Pinker refers to need to start within one person at a time by the Spirit of God or there will be no permanent societal change. This is how the Kingdom of God takes effect. There can be no Kingdom if there is no King allowed to reign in each individual's life.

Finally, we approach the idea of true knowledge and truth itself. Is truth possible absent God? Yes, but it will only be subjective or relative truth. This is why postmodernism is rampantly overtaking the modern world. God is gone so relativistic knowledge reigns in His place. Information and how it is used is a matter of interpretation. Postmodernism essentially adheres to a philosophy that says words do not have definitive meanings. It says that the words or terms themselves have no true absolute bearing in our lives. 

To a postmodernist, words or symbols at best are abstract and nebulous concepts that cannot be defined by either/or only maybes. It would suffice to say that postmodernism likes to deny absolute truths and to deconstruct words until they have either no meaning or a meaning not in adherence to a correct definition. It has long been understood that if you can control the terms or words you control the beliefs and ideas. If you control ideas you control the way people think. If you control the way people think you can control their actions. The Bible said it this way…

Isaiah 5:20 ~ “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

Therefore it needs to be understood that the justice, knowledge, truth, beauty and morality of things is directly affected by the presuppositions of the observer.  Man being flawed will always tend towards injustice, immorality, corrupted truth and perverted beauty. For Pinker to say that a man should be the measure of things like knowledge and truth assumes that a man could do so properly. He cannot because his knowledge is based in relativism. Men can only poorly imitate God which in turn produces flawed results. 

Men will tend towards their fallen sinful condition. By returning God to the equation we return the perfect measure of beauty, perfect morality, the perfect judge and the perfect measure of truth. Atheists, agnostics and followers of false religions (like Secular Humanism) cannot truly understand true wisdom/knowledge. They cannot be truly moral, nor can they make just decisions. Additionally, they are poor judges of true beauty as define by the God of the Bible. 

That is because they do not know the God of the Bible. They are quite simply...blind.

So the bottom-line about Pinker's quote looks like this. True wisdom starts with a fear of God. There is no true beauty without God and love. God has told us that He is the truth. Real knowledge starts with God. Pinker believes none of these things. Therefore we need to ask ourselves a question about Pinker's original statement. Are Pinker's ideas and understanding of morality and truth philosophically valid as an atheist? I suggest not. Nor is it logical.

Ecclesiastes 3:11~ “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

Proverbs 1:7 ~ “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As Immanuel Kant once said in his Categorical Imperative, man is not a means to an end, he needs to be the end. Pinker seems to be shape-shifting in an out of both of these philosophies with his quote because he is using man to gain the only knowledge he finds acceptable (empirical) and it seems he also has man in mind for an ends (to give the empirical evidence to). 

On the other hand, I will state unequivocally: 

Man isn't the means or even the ends to which we need to gain knowledge. God is the means and the end to which we live our life. 

Without God we cease to have ultimate meaning and Nietzschean nihilistic philosophy would therefore end up being correct in a self fulfilling man-made prophecy. Without God, life would have no meaning. For the Christian, knowledge has to be ascertained in light of God or the knowledge and truth ceases to have any relevant meaning (especially for a Christian). True knowledge is not gleaned from our lives devoid of God just as true value, justice and truth isn't gained devoid of God. If it is...it really isn't knowledge, justice and truth, because partial godless bias was used to gain it. Partial knowledge being that the person denies God's existence. To deny God is to deny an ultimate and absolute Law Giver and ultimate just Judge. These are two things man could never be ...as history has repeatedly shown.

I don’t know about you the reader but I believe I’ll stick to the Bible when it comes to defining these things. The Bible has the better track record when it comes to creating or shaping moral, just and beautiful people. Conversely, today’s culture and society has done a successful job of creating nothing more than godless, mindless, immoral and loveless monsters. 

Thanks....but no thanks. Joe Biden and the US court system can keep its positive law. The historians can keep their revisionist history. The postmodernist can keep their minimalist non-linear art and nebulous thinking. I will keep the rock-solid assurance of the Gospel and the truth of the Scriptures if only because of the One who backs their validity.

Paulson, Steve. "Proud Atheists." Saloncom RSS. Salon Media Group, Inc, 15 Oct. 2007. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. http://www.salon.com/2007/10/15/pinker_ goldstein/

April 9, 2015

In Their Own Words XXXI: The Universe Had No Beginning

Cosmic Microwave Background
All-Sky Map-C
reated from 9 years of WMAP data
Since religion intrinsically rejects empirical methods, there should never be any attempt to reconcile scientific theories with religion. [An infinitely old universe, always evolving may not be compatible with the Book of Genesis. However, religions such as Buddhism get along without having any explicit creation mythology and are in no way contradicted by a universe without a beginning or end.] Creation ex nihilo, even as religious doctrine, only dates to around AD 200. The key is not to confuse myth and empirical results, or religion and science. ~ Hannes Alfvén [Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988)]

Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén was a Swedish electrical engineer, plasma physicist and winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on magnetohydrodynamics. His biggest contribution to science appears to have been his research of plasma and charged particle physics. On his religious views, Alfven was irreligious and critical of religion. It is a shame that he wasn’t more critical of his logic, scientific claims or his own statements. The quote I have pulled out of the past is a real winner from both a logic and science standpoint.

This is a really telling statement if analyzed carefully with a philosophical and theological eye. Many assumptions and clear biases are shown. Unabashedly too I might add. He is framing religion to be the sworn enemy of science in his very first sentence. Hannes states, “Religion rejects empirical methods.” Eh, no, it doesn’t. In accepts empiricism in that empiricism physically provides truths about the physical universe. Christianity doesn’t stop there though. Christianity accepts knowledge not just from empirical methods (General Revelation) but also accepts the spiritual (Special Revelation). Christians are not by definition Empiricists though. Religion believes in the physical world and the spiritual world. In this way Christianity is much more accepting and encompassing of all forms of knowledge both a priori and a posteriori, spiritual and physical.

In reality, it is today's science that rejects something. It rejects anything that is non-empirical or metaphysical. Science specifically limits its sources of information and data to only the empirical realm. Christianity accepts empirical-type methods in the natural world…it just denies that empiricism and logical positivism are the only ways to gain true knowledge. A fact that modern science denies. For science, if knowledge or data is gained any other way than through physical sense experience (a posteriori) that knowledge is denied or is relegated to irrelevance or is considered irrelevant by science and atheistic philosophy. Like I said, Hannes is disingenuous or extremely philosophically ignorant.

It was said another way by sociologist Clifford Kirkpatrick three-quarters of a century ago…

“Science recognizes no personal powers in the universe responsive to the prayers and needs of men. Belief in mysterious powers which constitutes, according to our definition, the conceptual aspect of religion is usually an animistic belief in personal powers. Science in effect denies the existence of spiritual beings which religion affirms. ~ Clifford Kirkpatrick-Religion in Human Affairs (1929)

Hannes then further digresses and makes a false analogy and/or straw man argument between Christianity and Buddhism by touting Buddhism’s failure to have a Creation narrative as a positive or "redeeming" feature. His comment about Buddhism being compatible with some science (by implication) because it doesn’t have an explicit Creation narrative is intellectually disingenuous. Buddhism by its very nature is practical atheism...of course it doesn’t have a Creation account. Hannes avoids stating as much (most likely on purpose) just as he fails to name Christianity by name as if it doesn’t merit mentioning. He alludes to Christianity in a backhanded manner by mentioning the Genesis account being incompatible with his beloved evolution. Again he is using a secular or atheistic benchmark by which to gauge the Genesis Creation account and Christian belief in general.

He also makes a statement that the concept of ex nihilo (Creation out of nothing) only came into existence around the year 200 A.D. As if it had never ever existed before. Hannes appears to have assumed that because it wasn't solidified as doctrine until this point, the concept or idea had never arisen. This is a false assumption. In truth the reason the Church formulated the doctrine of ex nihilo which they were already aware of, is because of the same reasons other doctrines arose (as did the creeds.) The doctrines and creeds arise to correct error and protect from future errors. It wasn't until heresies, half-truths and outright lies (like Hannes') began to creep into the church that doctrines like ex nihilo needed to be formulated and officially stated.

Ex nihilo became doctrine because of rising pressure of the false teaching of Gnosticism. Gnosticism drew a distinction between the God of the Old Testament, the one they believed had created this world...and the God of the New Testament. Gnostics regarded the God of the OT as a lesser deity than the God of the NT. Irenaeus responding to this Gnosticism around the year 200 rebuked the teaching of two Gods. He also argued against Greek philosophy which taught that matter pre-existed and God became the divine architect as He ordered this pre-existent matter. Irenaeus said that there "...was no preexistent matter; everything required to be created out of nothing" (McGrath, p. 38). Just because it was not a doctirne pre-200 A.D. doesn't mean the concept didn't exist at all. Hannes is appealing to ignorance here.

What is even more embarrassing for Hannes is his infinitely old universe claim (as a fact). The universe isn’t infinitely old. There is a complete failure to understand or acknowledge generally accepted science. Ask any cosmologist that studies the Cosmic Microwave Background or the thermal radiation left over from the Big Bang.  To exacerbate and compound Hannes’ absurdity he also commits a another fallacy of logic. It occurs when Hannes states that Buddhism is, “…in no way contradicted by a universe without a beginning or end.” The last I checked, a majority of science still held to a Big Bang inception event for the creation of the universe.

Increasingly science is moving in the direction of believing in an infinite universe, parallel universes or similar theories because these theories pose fewer problems when attempting to deny God. Regardless, those in science that do not accept that there was a universe inception event are then in serious danger of committing a surprisingly elementary logic error called an infinite regress. In an attempt to deny that God is the Aristotelian Uncaused Cause of the universe, atheists often resort to an infinite regress of events that have no cause (a logical error, therefore not plausible). The physical evidence within the universe itself points to a beginning. It had to have had a first cause. Because of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics exists (entropy), science and atheism are prevented from scientifically and logically claiming the universe had no beginning.

What claim am I making here to nullify Hannes' comment about a beginningless universe? Simple really…

It is called the Kalām Cosmological Argument for God’s existence. It goes like this in syllogism form.

  • Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  • The universe began to exist.
  • Therefore: The universe has a cause.

From the conclusion of the initial syllogism, we further  append the premise and conclusion based upon ontological analysis of the properties of the cause. It goes something like this.

  • The universe therefore had a cause.
  • If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful.
  • Therefore: An uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful.

Explained in a more simplistic manner: Energy is “winding down” (entropy) in the universe. That is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Therefore there is a finite or limited amount of energy in the universe and it is progressing towards disorder or absence of order. This means that at some distant point in the future, if followed out scientifically and logically, the universe will suffer heat death, cease to exist or use up the energy of the universe barring no divine intervention. The fact that the universe has a finite amount of energy and order and it has not lost all its energy or order since it is still being expended as we speak…argues consistently for the fact that universe was indeed created at a past date or point in time. Therefore the universe began to exist. If the universe does have a finite amount of energy and it hasn’t been exhausted shows that a quantifiable amount of “gas” was put in the cosmic fuel tank of the universe at its creation as the “initial start-up condition”. Before such time, the universe did not exist. After the “gas” runs out of the universe’s “tank” it will end barring a catastrophic or cosmic calamity beforehand (i.e.: Judgment Day, Day of The Lord).

The universe is generally considered a closed system in physics and therefore finite. It then stands to reason that the universe was indeed created at a definitive point in the past and had a cause outside of the physical realm since whatever created the universe or caused it had to be beyond the physical realm/universe. This “ultra-mundane" being must have therefore transcended time since physical space and time are linked together by Einstein’s Space-Time Continuum. Since there was no time as we understand it or one moment followed by another in sequential linear order, this “ultra-mundane being” must also have the characteristics of timelessness. If He/It/God/Uncaused Cause is timeless He/It must therefore be changeless since changes require linear time also. To be timeless, changeless and not of the physical realm dictates that this Being must also be immaterial and dare I say it, spiritual and beginning-less since without time there cannot be an Infinite Regress anyway even if someone wanted to violate the rules of logic. It is at this point the illogical infinite regress fails because an infinite series of events require time to unfold in linear sequence backwards in time. Either way, it is at this point of absurdity that my point about God’s existence has been made. Hannes’ infinite universe has been logically dismantled.

What we inevitably see in Hannes Alfvén is a rabidly anti-theistic man who has fallen victim to his own wishful thinking. Just because he wants the infinite universe to exist doesn’t mean he can violate logic to make his flawed belief reality. When he also goes against physical evidences like the Cosmic Microwave Background to make his erroneous theological point he gets two strikes against him.

One error provokes theists and Christians, the other dismays his own brethren in his own scientific ranks because it makes them look ridiculous too. I’m guessing those that study in the field of Physical and Observational Cosmology aren’t really thrilled with this guy because in one fallacy ridden quote he discredits their entire field of study. That has got to be frustrating for them.

McGrath, Alister E. Theology: The Basics. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

April 8, 2015

A Scout Is Reverent, Part II: A Moral Compass

[Herein you'll see the outline of the morals/ethics class I taught local Pack 523 for Scouts. It was for 8 year old boys. The moral/ethical scenarios are pretty clean-cut. How they are dealt with are not overtly Christian with Bible Scripture but the principles underlying how the scenarios are dealt with are very Christian.]

What Is The Scout Oath?
On my honor I will do my best  To do my duty to God and my country  and to obey the Scout Law;  To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong,  mentally awake, and morally straight.
The Scout Oath says, “…I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country” Another part says scouts will, “keep myself…morally straight.” Here we see the basis right within the Boy Scout oath to be morally upright.

(Scenario 1) There is an older boy who hangs around Jason’s school. He tries to give drugs to the children. What would you do if you were Jason? Why?
  • Drugs aren't good for anyone. They’re particularly bad for kids whose body is still growing.
  • Drugs can damage the brain, heart, and other important organs you’ll need your whole life.
    • Some drugs can even kill people.
  • While using drugs, people are also less able to think well, make good decisions.
  • Drugged people do dumb or dangerous things that could hurt them or other people.
  • Drugs will end up driving you away from other friends you age.
  • Why do you think and older boy would come to younger ones to give drugs to them?

What do we learn from this? 
Drugs Drag You Down

(Scenario 2) Justin is new to your school. He has braces for his legs and walks with a limp. Some of the kids at school tease him. They want you to tease him, too. What would you do?
  • What would you think if someone walked into your school like this?
    • Do you realize that some people have disabilities that you can’t see?
  • Some people are really, really sensitive to loud sounds, crowds. They cannot process and absorb too much noise. Because of this they tend to not communicate well because they’re overwhelmed. 
    • It is called Asperger’s Syndrome.
  • Why is teasing people wrong? 
    • It is you trying to make yourself better than others
    • When you do this it puts down others.
  • God made people the way they are. Everyone has a purpose to God.
    • If we put others down, we put down how God made people.
    • This means we think we know better than him too.
What do we take away from this? 
People with Disabilities Are Different but not Beneath Us

(Scenario 3) Mr. Palmer is blind. He has a guide dog. One day he is crossing the street, some kids whistle and call to the dog. They what you and your friends to all to the dog, too. What would you do?
  • Mr. Palmer is handicap. He has no control over how he is. He might have been born this way.
    • Again, this is the same as Justin in the last story.
    • …and by whistling to the dog, we are literally taking Mr. Palmer’s eyes away from him right before he crosses the street
    • Is this safe. No! It’s dangerous and life threatening.
    • So what we are doing is threatening his life.
    • That’s as bad as pushing him into traffic.
What do we take away from this? 
People with Disabilities Are Limited but not Less Important

(Scenario 4) Some kids who go to Bob’s school want him to steal candy and gum from a store, which they can share later. Bob knows this is wrong, but he wants to be popular with these kids. What would you do if you were Bob?

  • When you steal you betray people’s trust.
    • It’s dishonest. It’s illegal.
  • By stealing you are taking for free what someone else had to earn.
  • Stealing from someone shows you don’t care about them, don’t love them.

What do we take away from this?
People that steal don’t care about the people they hurt

April 3, 2015

A Glimpse From The Bottom, Part III: Paradox of the Beaten Down

The conclusion of my study of Jeremiah, Chapter 38. It is lengthy but I am trying to tie a lot of theological ideas together.

Lack of Conviction Leads To Apostasy

Jeremiah 38:14-16 Then King Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah the prophet and had him brought to the third entrance to the temple of the Lord. “I am going to ask you something,” the king said to Jeremiah. “Do not hide anything from me.” 15 Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I give you an answer, will you not kill me? Even if I did give you counsel, you would not listen to me.” 16 But King Zedekiah swore this oath secretly to Jeremiah: “As surely as the Lord lives, who has given us breath, I will neither kill you nor hand you over to those who want to kill you.”

Verse 14 and 15 says that Jeremiah feared for his life for telling the truth. Jeremiah had hidden nothing from Zedekiah all along and look at what he had gotten in return: prison, beatings, and the polluted cistern. He risks the same punishments for the truth by telling it again...which is exactly what he does. To Jeremiah telling the truths of God (the Gospel for us) is more important than living comfortably.

It tells us today that it will be costly to stick to the truth. As Jesus said, people that follow Him (in righteousness or for righteousness' sake) will face persecution. It is then that Jeremiah then tells the King that he must surrender and submit to his enemy that God sent against him because of disobedience.

Jeremiah 38:17-19 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “This is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live. 18 But if you will not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from them.’” 19 King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Jews who have gone over to the Babylonians, for the Babylonians may hand me over to them and they will mistreat me.”

In fairness to King Zedekiah it is obvious (and ironic) that he is afraid of the exact same type or treatment that Jeremiah himself has just endured. By God allowing Jeremiah to counsel the king, God has allowed the perfect counselor for the king. A counselor that would have full empathy for the king's plight and fears. A person that had gone through nearly the same type of circumstances that the King faces in uncertainty. In Jeremiah’s counsel we see the king slightly comforted and encouraged to do the right thing. Sadly, due to Zedekiah's oscillation and lack of faith it is easy to see that he would not inevitably listen to Jeremiah. His lack of faith and fear would rule his actions.

Had the king obeyed he would have avoided the negative consequences of disobedience. The irony is that the mistreatment Jeremiah endured was at the hands of this very king’s ambivalence. Even more ironic is that Jeremiah was being faithful and obedient to God when he was mistreated unlike the king he currently speaks to. Up until this point the King Zedekiah was being rebellious to God and mistreating one of God’s prophets poorly through apathy to the situation...even though Jeremiah was telling him the truth.

So, in Jeremiah we see grace to forgive an atrocious wrong and in the king’s temporary acquiescence to Jeremiah’s counsel we see a willingness to humble oneself to gain wisdom from God’s prophet. In the King we also the willingness to admit a wrong (if only in temporarily and in secret [v.16]). Unfortunately, in the long-run the King does not do as he's told in obedience and only selfishly shows concern for himself.

Jeremiah 38:20-22 “They will not hand you over,” Jeremiah replied. “Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared. 21 But if you refuse to surrender, this is what the Lord has revealed to me: 22 All the women left in the palace of the king of Judah will be brought out to the officials of the king of Babylon. Those women will say to you:“They misled you and overcame you—those trusted friends of yours. Your feet are sunk in the mud; your friends have deserted you.’

In verse 22 we again see the parallels between Jeremiah’s predicament that he has just been extricated from and the predicament the king would soon find himself in for disobedience. The king's feet would be sunk (as would his people’s) in mud just as Jeremiah’s had been in the bottom of a dry cistern. The cistern I believe is a metaphor for the dried-up spiritual condition of the nation. I also believe Jeremiah’s trial was a foreshadowing of the plight of the king and nation encapsulated. This of course would be similar to the play-acting Ezekiel did with miniature models of Jerusalem, feces, nakedness and scales. God chose to use Jeremiah as an embodiment of Judah. Furthermore Jeremiah says that the king’s friends deserted just as Jeremiah’s fellow countrymen and other prophets had done to him when he was dumped in the cistern.

Jeremiah 38:23-28 “All your wives and children will be brought out to the Babylonians. You yourself will not escape from their hands but will be captured by the king of Babylon; and this city will be burned down.” 24 Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Do not let anyone know about this conversation, or you may die. 25 If the officials hear that I talked with you, and they come to you and say, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you; do not hide it from us or we will kill you,’ 26 then tell them, ‘I was pleading with the king not to send me back to Jonathan’s house to die there.’” 27 All the officials did come to Jeremiah and question him, and he told them everything the king had ordered him to say. So they said no more to him, for no one had heard his conversation with the king. 28 And Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard until the day Jerusalem was captured.

Those who King Zedekiah had thought were his close friends were not friends at all but acted as enemies. As a matter of fact, the closest friend King Zedekiah would ever have was the prophet which he had treated with such negligent indecision...Jeremiah. The king had taken Jeremiah's (and God's) love for him for granted. The king was going to sink in the mire or quicksand of his own indecisiveness. Jeremiah pleaded for the safety of the King's own family that he obey God. It is sad irony that Jeremiah was a man who had yearned for a family of his own but had surrendered it for the higher call...just as he had done for his nation and was thrown in a cistern because of it. 

In Zedekiah and the nation of Judah we see the result of weak and vacillating leadership. America could learn a significant lesson from this story. As a judgment on a nation God often sends weak "leaders" to them that lack conviction and are hesitant to lead in strength for fear of "offending" someone. Being morally ambiguous in leadership usually leads a nation deeper into apostasy and farther afield from God because of a refusal to make firm moral decisions. John F Kennedy once put it this way:
"For in a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, 'hold office'; everyone of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve." John F. Kennedy ~ Profiles In Courage, pp.265
Judah was not a democracy so it is clear that it was God that gave them the weak king that they deserved. It was clear that this would be Zedekiah’s last-stand to save the city, the nation and its people. All he had to do was trust God through His prophet and surrender to Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldean armies (which was the same as surrendering to God). Zedekiah instead of fearing God, feared the mere opinions of men. This is quite similar to many modern leaders inside and outside the church. Due to the fear of the political repercussions, he was frozen into inaction. In so doing he chose a spiritually suicidal route instead of obeying God. This led to seeing his sons put to death, then subsequently having his own eyes put out. He was then put in chains and carried into Babylonian captivity (2 Kings 25:1-7; 2 Chronicles 36:12; Jeremiah 32:4,-5; 34:2-3; 39:1-7; 52:4-11; Ezekiel 12:13), where he remained a lowly prisoner (essentially to his sin) until his death. 

Between Jeremiah Chapter 37 and 38 we see repeated opportunities for King Zedekiah to essentially repent and obey God. Sometimes hope and renewal can only happen by wiping the slate clean and starting over. Sin can be so hard to let go of sometimes. As we have seen all throughout the history of Israel and Judah, stubborn refusal to hear the truth, accept it and obey it leads to certain death. I emphatically state that we see the same today both in our government, the secular culture and even in much of the church. In Zedekiah we see a failure to live up to Joshua's statement of conviction centuries earlier. 

Joshua 24:15 ~ But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Invariably we see this entire episode of Zedekiah's failure to heed Jeremiah's warning as a painful and awkward instruction to all believers. We need to be open to God's corrective word and corrective actions even if they seem harsh and unloving at times. God will call all to accountability at some point whether it be in this life or the next. Sometimes these corrective actions might seem painful, but by enduring them, we avoid a greater punishment. God is both love and wrath. Sometimes the route to His love requires walking directly through the refining flame of His wrath. 

We must submit to God's chastisement sometimes even when it makes no sense to us or lasts what seems like forever. The king's safety (or ours) will not be found in avoiding God's commands but observing and obeying them. Safety lies in the divine will. We might lose nearly everything but we will at least live another day to give thanks to God if we stay in His will. Sinners most often cause their own suffering (therefore God's wrath) by their own sin. As we know from Bible narrative and history itself, a brighter day will come. A new covenant was coming. Jesus was coming...and He will come again. Until that day we will need to live in faith with perseverance, conviction and courage. Just as Jeremiah did. Just as Zedekiah did not.
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