Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Vacation Tour

This is the last day of my vacation from work; and since I didn't go anywhere - I will instead tour some websites I frequent often to see how they spent the last week:

  • Christian Carnival CLIII (153):
    • Jan at The View from Her is "Not So Literal"
      Ask me if I take the Bible literally, and I'll ask you, "Well, do you take the newspaper literally?" The answer is probably yes, because of course, the newspaper is filled with news, written by professional journalists and is nothing like the Bible … we read the newspaper according to its sections. We take the news pages literally. We know editorials express opinions. We understand sports metaphors. Opinions and metaphors are not literal. Christians read the Bible the same way. . .
    • Bonnie at Intellectuelle examines the "The ubiquitously deceitful heart"

    • Tom at Thinking Christian looks at "Miracles and Science":
      It's just about Christmas, time to celebrate the miracle of the Incarnation--God becoming man, born of a virgin. It's an obvious opportunity to consider whether the Christian claims of miracles are still credible in light of modern science. Christianity without the Virgin Birth is about as meaningful as Christianity without the Resurrection; both miracles were necessary for God to have conquered sin and death as a man. But what about scientific objections to miracles?

      These objections fall into three main versions: (1) Miracles can't happen, (2) Miracles shouldn't happen, (3) Miracles never have happened. The second of these will make more sense as I proceed. We'll start with the first, though.
    • Andre at Every Square Inch is "Deconstructing Racism"
      Few topics evoke as much emotion in our national conversation as the topic of race. In the wake of the Michael Richards episode, renown author Malcolm Gladwell writes about racism in his post "Defining a Racist". He proposes that a racist may be defined on the basis of three criteria: content, intention and conviction. Here are snippets of what he says with regard to each criteria.
  • A Kurd's opinion of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations in the Washington Post: "For Iraqis, A Promise Is in Peril". [HT: All Things Conservative]

  • Maureen Condic gives her perspective on "What We Know About Embryonic Stem Cells" at First Things. [HT: Stand to Reason Blog]

  • WorldMagBlog (and others) looks at the blasphemy challenge in which
    You record a short message damning yourself to Hell, you upload it to YouTube, and then the Rational Response Squad will send you a free The God Who Wasn't There DVD. It's that easy.

    You may damn yourself to Hell however you would like, but somewhere in your video you must say this phrase: "I deny the Holy Spirit."

    Why? Because, according to Mark 3:29 in the Holy Bible, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." Jesus will forgive you for just about anything, but he won't forgive you for denying the existence of the Holy Spirit. Ever. This is a one-way road you're taking here.
    I was hesitant to bring this up even for fear of helping someone to a hell I believe in; but luckily the site shows that scripture is "spiritually discerned" - what they consider to be "blasphemy of the spirit" isn't by my reading of this passage or its parallel in Matthew. Vincent at WorldMagBlog asks this question: Does This Site Matter?

  • In a victory for moderation (as mentioned in a few places), the President of Iran got embarrassed in the Tehran municipal elections:
    According to final results announced by the Interior Ministry, moderate conservatives opposed to Ahmadinejad won a majority of the seats, followed by reformists, who favor closer ties with the West. Analysts said Ahmadinejad supporters won less than 20 percent of local council seats nationwide. "People's vote means they don't support Ahmadinejad's policies and want change," Shariati, a leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran's largest reformist party, told the Associated Press. "We consider this government's policy to be against Iran's national interests and security. It is simply acting against Iran's interests."
  • Finally, Bonnie at Intellectuelle looks at Peter Yancey's article on Bonhoeffer in Christianity Today (Bonnie's link didn't work for me):
    "Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves," wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer while awaiting execution in a Nazi prison. "We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer."
    and Bonnie points out
    I think people err by over-correcting error in both directions -- people try to cope with a lack of compassion by insisting that sin is not really sin. (And they also try to cope with sin by insisting that it's not really sin, or by blaming others.) People also try to cope with the first error by insisting, in a judgmental manner, that sin really is sin.

Read more!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

It is "0-Dark-Thirty" and we are preparing for my daughter to arrive for Christmas.

She is in the Navy and very quickly she will be going to sea for a 7 month tour. She is one of those folks who forwards all sorts of emails to everyone she knows; and asks folks to pass them on.

Mostly, I ignore them; and never pass them on - except now . . .

A Different Christmas Poem

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know, Then the
sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.
"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..
To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
"I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

This Christmas morning please remember "who they are" that stand on the front lines even if you disagree with "what they do".

And, if you pray, lift one up for them this morning.

Read more!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Other Shameful Shoe

[Crossposted to Street Prophets ]

Frankly, I have been a little surprised at the reaction to my shame post (Street Prophets, Brain Cramps for God). A few things lurked in the back of my mind as I wrote it:

  • The shame/pain which drives the addiction of my brothers in FMO

  • By extension, the shame/pain that drives the addictions of alcoholics, gamblers, drug users, shoppers, etc.

  • The shame/pain that has driven folks away from the Body of Christ because they have felt they were told that "who they were" was wrong.
Holiday seasons bring this out like no other time of year. Happy families meeting and having fun together just increases the pain for those whose shame is based on family horrors. For many the emotional pain of our shame shows itself as loneliness, inadequacy, panic, hopelessness and particularly anger. These all get highlighted this time of year.

At Street Prophets, I expected more of a discussion of the universal worth of human beings; and whether "what we do" is, or is not, equal to "who we are". I also expected less of a pass on the (at least perceived) judgmentalism of conservative evangelicals that I self-describe myself as. I even hoped that some folks might talk about the impact of shame in their lives; and how they have (or haven't) overcome it. Instead, I ended up with a discussion fringing on "cultural diversity vs. natural law" (yuck), and perhaps relativism (yuckier yet). Oh well - one of the interesting things about blogging is that discussions do not go how we expect. At least I had the opportunity to check a piece of information I have been carrying for 45 years and confirm it was true; and perhaps get folks thinking and talking about shame.

I haven't really heard from the theologically conservative side of my circle of friends - but the link at WorldMagBlog was titled: "A Valuable Emotion Considered". (Valuable? Hmm) How do I expect conservative Christians to respond?
  • I expect criticism of my contention that no one is bad considering Christ said no one was good (even Him) except God. I did not mean any of us are good in comparison to God - only that God values us all and desires a relationship with each one of us. God does not do that because we are worthless; or because he made any junk.

  • I expect to hear about total depravity. Again, I agree with this concept, and even Calvin recognized we all have, at our core, good overflowing from God in the form of our conscience - that can lead us to be try to do right, resist evil, and seek God. Lewis called this a residual of our pre-Fall perfection that whispers to us that we can be more.

  • I expect to hear about the necessity of our pride being broken in order for us to take ourselves out of the center of our universe and seek God. This is indeed the most valuable good that comes from shame and the action of the furies: breaking our ego. Until we "hate ourselves" we may not seek God so that God can show us who we really are. Budziszewski is correct that the furies will drive us to destruction in order to give God a chance to save us. That is a value of shame. However, this does not overrule that God loved us enough to sacrifice His Son. Again, can any of us be without worth? Are any of us "good for nothing"?

  • I expect the question of our universal capacity to sin (not the sins themselves but our sin nature) to come up as something we all carry that we indeed need to hate about "who we are" and indeed is "flawed".
  • If the internal forces represented by the last two points cause us shame I have to trust that we will find people we will help us realize we are valued and loved by God - even while our interior life is demanding a remodel. I also have to trust that God, if He initiates that process, will protect us from the destructive elements of shame.

    As Bonnie at Intellectuelle said:
    of course, no one wants to talk about shame, not only because of their own sense of humiliation but because of the devastatingly hurtful way that others often receive those who fail, or are vulnerable in the area of shame. This dynamic can become a self-perpetuating downward spiral.
    What is my job, as an evangelical Christian, for those I am in personal contact with who are going through that interior process (or even the external one I will talk about next)? Helping shame along? Pointing out the "rotted core" of the humans around me? Helping "crank up" people's shame level until they break? No, that comes from their conscience, and the furies, driving them to righteousness. My job is not to "convict someone of sin" but to show how the love of God, through His Grace and Mercy, frees me from the pain and destruction of shame. John Roberts says that the place of the church is also not to make us "feel more guilty" -- it is to provide a place of healing and hope.

    However, it is not those interior forces I am really hitting at in these two posts - it is the external forces that cause shame and pain. Pure Desire lists three major areas that shame us and start the shame/pain/wrong pleasure cycle -- what the author called the "addictive root":
    • Family dysfunction -- abandonment and abuse (mental, physical, sexual), divorce, etc. "Don't feel; don't talk"

    • Personal trauma - severe stress that leaves deep emotional scars requiring special coping techniques. John Roberts talked specifically about the "father wounds" that nearly every sexual addict carries.

    • An addictive society -- encouragement by society to see yourself as less; and to pursue wrong ways to be more
    John Roberts in Pure Desire:

    Our nation is getting trounced in this area . . . the torn tapistry of people's lives is blowing in the winds of abuse, abandonment, and personal trauma.

    God created us to be in families, which either become the place of our connectedness or our bondage.

    . . . they didn't understand we are as sick as the secrets we hold

    A vast number of folks carry shame issues in these areas; and, if they haven't come to grips with them, are "keeping secrets" that affect their self-image and all of their relationships. What haven't you told your significant other about your thoughts, history, etc? What pain and weakness are you hiding rather than dealing with?

    I suppose "everyone knows this". However, in case you haven't done so: examine yourself for those areas where you think there is something wrong with "who you are" rather than "what you do" - and work to break the shame/pain cycle in your life if you find one.

    For those who have faced the shame, and its pain, in their life, and are working on breaking its grip on you, the comments would be a good place to offer ways you have found to deal with this process.

    Merry Christmas!

    Read more!

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    A Few Things

    I will just run together a few things:

    A Tool and a Jewel

    e-Sword is a great downloadable tool with a large number of:

    • Bible translations
    • Commentaries
    • Dictionaries
    • Graphics
    • Extras, where the jewel of my title - The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozier - is located. In addition:
      • Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews, by Josephus
      • Ante-Nicene Fathers (9 volumes)
      • Concerning Christian Liberty, by Martin Luther
      • Doctrinal Works in the Reformed Tradition
      • Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin
      • The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence
      • and much, much more
    • Devotions

    The Current "On Faith" Question

    Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God? If so, what exactly does that mean? If not, who was he?

    With answers by:

    At least, as of now.

    Last, and certainly not least:

    Christian Carnival CLIII (153)

    The introduction from Leslie at Lux Venit:
    I must be crazy! I don't know what I was thinking when I agreed to host the Christian Carnival the week before Christmas . . . Merry Christmas and enjoy reading this week's carnival. I have no idea which number carnival this is...can you say "worn slap out?" . . .

    Read more!

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    The Shame of Shame

    [Crossposted from Street Prophets]

    For some reason as this Christmas season rolls along I keep being brought back to the issue of shame. Whether it is the "New Member's Packet" I have been working on for my FMO group; trying to figure out where I have been shamed in my life (and still carry shame from my life); or trying to discuss the difference between shame and guilt (and how to react to each) - I keep coming back to the horror of shame: the shame of shame.

    As a theologically conservative follower of Christ who believes that there are actions that separate us from God, it becomes important to understand the difference between guilt/conviction and shame and the response to each. This is especially true since calls to righteousness are frequently called, and can be, attempts to shame someone; and while calling someone to righteousness may be a good thing - shaming them never is.

    That is because while no human being has a good reason to feel shame (we all feel shame for many bad reasons). We all have reason to know we are guilty, need to repent, and be healed (this is good) but must avoid shame/pain (this is bad). So, lets start with a diagram:

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    The are three components to that diagram; and we will look at each below (quotes, unless noted, are from the "The New Man's Survival Guide", by Pure Life Alliance):

    All men and women experience shame, but many confuse guilt and shame. Guilt is about what we do. Shame is about who we are. It is an internal assessment that as a person we are bad or flawed. This shame leads to an emotional pain that cannot be effectively ignored for long
    You can tell a child "that was a bad thing to do"; but you can never say "you are a bad child" -- my wife
    This distinction between guilt and shame is essential. It is why I can say I love the sinner (the "who" who did it) and hate the sin (the "what" they did). In fact, the Bible is all about bad acts and not about bad people. It is not about "bad people" because God loves us; and did not make any junk.

    This society drives shame. We are all "bad people" in some way:
    • Too fat or too thin
    • Too smart or too dumb
    • Too tall or too short
    • [Fill yours in here]
    On a superficial level, this is because the feeling of being bad or flawed creates the cycle we are examining; and the pain that it creates drives our seeking medication to "relieve" the pain; and this seeking of "medications" to "cure" our "flaws" is good for the economy: the seeking of medication for the pain helps fuel consumerism. It also drives addictions and lifetimes spent on various and sundry bad "medicines" to cure the pain. The only cure for the pain is to remove the shame itself - to understand who you really are. The deeper level of this is that "the evil one" (hey, I believe in Satan) desires us to feel shame because it drives us away from God.

    No one is bad. To say someone is a "bad person" is to lapse into judgment:
    Romans 2:1-4 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
    The boldface comment is critical: even if we do these "things" - it is God that redeems us (leads us to repentance); and God, even while we were all sinners, loved us so much that He gave up His own Son for us - each one of us. Again, God created no junk, and loves us all.

    As an "exclusivist", I will of course be asked whether or not non-Christians are "bad" and therefore worthy to feel shame. No, the verses above leave no out for this - our choices may end up being "bad", and we may suffer for them; but we are imago dei - we are made in the image of God. We all carry the seed of our pre-fall perfection in our deep conscience; and each of us has within them that overflow of God's goodness. Again, God created no junk.

    Certainly, after we become part of the Body of Christ we have no excuse for not recognizing the significance, acceptance, and security our position in Christ brings us; and there is no room, if we recognize that, to view ourselves as "bad people". That we have no excuse does not mean we will not view ourselves as "bad": then our choices are to feel shame (with the start of a separation from God out of disobedience); or guilt/conviction for which we repent and turn back to God and see ourselves as He sees us. We are certainly not reborn as junk either.

    The particular shame (I think) that drives my addiction is the shame of not being able to be an adequate provider, husband, and father in my family. There is a proper guilt aspect to this: I am not an adequate provider, husband, or father. Rather than see this as something I am doing badly, I tend toward thinking I am "just wrong" or flawed - and that is "just the way I am". If I do that, then I experience the next step - pain; and not the step of repentance or change - and I certainly I find it harder to turn to God (since I am not worthy).

    It is difficult for men people to identify pain in their lives. Often it looks like loneliness, inadequacy, panic, hopelessness and particularly anger. For many of us, wrong sexual pleasure "whatever" becomes our emotional pain medication.

    Wrong Sexual Pleasure
    The alluring part of this medication is that it works...but only for a short time. Our body releases naturally occurring drugs called endorphins, similar in makeup to morphine, though even more powerful. Our pain relief is short lived, as deep toxic shame comes crashing down, with destructive thoughts like: "I'm defective, I'll never change, and I'm worthless!" and the cycle begins once more.
    This was written about sexual addiction - the one that gives us the greatest endorphin rush known; and it is applicable to all the ways we seek pleasure to medicate the pain our shame causes.

    If we attempt to medicate the pain we feel from shame, we tend to make bad choices for our "medicine". This is because we haven't dealt with and removed the shame (the true cause of our suffering); still feel we are "bad"; and can only attempt to satisfy the five furies in ways that fail to satisfy them:

  • The normal outlet:
    1. of remorse is to flee from wrong;
    2. of confession is to admit what one has done;
    3. of atonement is to pay the debt;
    4. of reconciliation is to restore the bonds that have been broken; and
    5. of justification is to get back in the right
  • If we do not do "feed" the furies the right way; then they will be fed in some other way - driving our lives further out of kilter. For example:
    1. we do not flee from wrong, but just from thinking about it;
    2. we compulsively confess every detail of the story but the moral;
    3. we punish ourselves again and again offering every sacrifice but the one demanded;
    4. we simulate the broken bonds of intimacy by seeking companions as guilty as ourselves; and
    5. we seek not to become just but to justify ourselves.
  • The greater purpose of conscience is not to inform us of moral truth, but to motivate us to live by it - driving our lives out of kilter is the exhortation of last resort. Therefore,
    pursued by the five furies, a man becomes both wickeder and stupider in a progressively downward spiral: more wicked because his behavior becomes worse, more stupid because he tells himself more lies. -- J. Budziszewski
    This is, of course, the classic description of people on their way to "bottoming out". In my opinion, our conscience drives us to the bottom in this way so we will "break", and in breaking, be open to truly repent and change - and become who God sees us as. This process does not just occur in the classicly addicted.

    This brings us to the latter stages of attempting to "medicate" the pain from our shame:
    This cycle causes a need for greater doses of "pain medication" because we build up a tolerance to these endorphins. As a man person takes stronger "doses" of wrong sexual pleasure, [their] shame and pain grow. This means [they] needs even stronger medication the next time
    So, remember, you have absolutely nothing to be shamed over. Be guilty if you are and repent; but shame almost guarantees you will not feed your furies wisely.

    ["The Other Shameful Shoe" drops here]

    Read more!

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Christian Carnivals 151 and 152

    CLI (151)

    The introduction from Nerdmom at The Nerd Family:
    I have been blessed to once again host the Christian Carnival. We have received many great entries. Please read them all and let the authors know how you feel!

    CLII (152)

    The introduction from Buzz at The Buzz Blog:
    Welcome to this week’s edition of the Christian Carnival . . .

    To kick off this week’s Carnival, here’s some scripture:
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. - John 1:1-5

    About Christian Carnival:
    Contributing a Post to the Christian Carnival

    The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

    Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

    Update: As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal. Blogs with content that is focused on a business, that has potentially offensive material Christians may not want to link to on their sites, or has no reference to distinctively Christian thought may not be included in this Carnival. There are other Carnivals that would be a more appropriate venue for that material. I realize that this will be a judgment call on the part of the Carnival administrator, and being human she may make mistakes. However, as the Christian Carnival is getting quite large, and it is sometimes questionable whether the entrants are seeking to promote Christian thought, I find this necessary.

    Update: We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

    So, if you have a post in this framework - go here to find out more: Christian Carnival Participation Instructions.

    Read more!

    Monday, December 11, 2006

    An Answer to . . .

    It is truly impossible for followers of Christ to remove their faith from their politics. The Great Commandment is that we first love God with our all; and then we love our neighbor as ourselves. To say we love God with our all means that we look at everything - everything - through the lens of our love for God: everything.

    In the latest variation on the "followers of Christ must set their religion aside to be good citizens" meme - "The Power of Sacrifice" - it is presented that if we are unwilling to sacrifice our Christian doctrines in order to be part of a pluralistic society (if we put our religion first) than we cannot truly live out the sacrifice represented by President Kennedy's call to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" because we are not willing to sacrifice our faith for the "common good" established by the overall society. It seems strange to quote this speech considering the context of this remark; and for that I will quote a bit more of the speech:

    . . . we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom - symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning - signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.

    The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe - the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God
    . . .
    Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah - to "undo the heavy burdens -. and to let the oppressed go free."
    . . .
    Now the trumpet summons us again - not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are - but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation" - a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

    Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

    In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shank from this responsibility - I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

    And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

    My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

    Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
    Considering this speech then, how would President Kennedy respond to this assertion:
    Are there any Christians who aren't focused on Christian first, America second? That frame to me- Christian first, America second- isn't a frame about common sacrifice because you aren't giving up anything.
    How would the man above who said:
    And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe - the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

    The natural law theme of that quote, and most of his speech, is evident - that our rights as human beings do not flow from whatever protections a particular government may, or may not, give us; but from our rights as imago dei - as images of God. I share that view of the rights of all "images of God"; and of the responsibility of government, to God, to protect those rights. President Kennedy also contended that everyone on the planet - regardless of the form of government they live under - has those same rights flowing from God; and that the United States was going to be a defender of those rights, for everyone - everywhere in the world. This was not a man who put country first and his faith second.

    I have problems with the speech because it appears to fall into one of those mistakes that followers of Christ (particularly conservative ones) in the United States get sucked into - civil religionism:
    The first moral error of political conservatism is civil religionism. According to this notion America is a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious aspiration; according to Christianity America is but one nation among many, no less loved by God, but no more.
    . . .
    The mistake in all these stages is confusing America with Zion. She is not the inheritor of the covenant, not the receiver of the promises, not the witness to the nations. It may well be that all nations have callings of sorts-specific purposes which God in His providence assigns them. But no nation can presume to take God under its wing. However we may love her, dote upon her, and regret her, the Lord our God can do without the United States.
    However, certainly President Kennedy in asking for the sacrifice he was asking for was not placing this request outside his faith; and in fact couched it in our responsibility to God to protect the rights bestowed on us by God and not by the social contracts of mankind.

    This was how Thomas Jefferson expressed our rights in the Declaration of Independence ("endowed by our Creator"); and, of course, his "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)" made it clear that all ideas, religious and otherwise, must be free to contend in the public square because
    . . . truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them . . .
    I believe those people in this country who talk about Christians needing to couch our views in secular terms, place our faith second to our country, and/or not advocate for the views of our religion are violating Jefferson's warning about removing Truth's "natural weapons" - free argument and debate.

    Neither Jefferson nor Kennedy sacrificed
    because of faith in the common good which isn't about God, but about Caesar's power over us.
    They sacrificed because they believed that only in looking at God's view of us could we moderate and control Caesar's power over us - only by seeing other humans as imago dei. Throughout history the primary issue has been one man removing another from this classification - whether black slaves in Jefferson's day or whoever today. The progress in the human race has been in slowing including more and more people in the category of "image of God".

    Because we look to God to understand those inalienable rights it is incorrect to think that followers of Christ (or members of any other ethical and/or moral system) will not try to derive from their ethical structures an understanding of what rights God endowed us with. Certainly pornography is one of those kinds of issues: one person's free expression fuels, and funds, an industry that is responsible for a good portion of the remaining slavery in the world today - trafficking. It is not true, in that case, that allowing freedom to practice what folks want is a "common good" necessarily.

    However, the major issues the author of "The Power of Sacrifice" concentrated on were abortion, gay rights, and gay marriage. In the case of abortion and gay rights, there is an assumption in the diary that followers of Christ, and only followers of Christ, oppose abortion and gay rights and/or marriage. This isn't true - particularly about gay rights.

    My primary argument against abortion is secular - exactly aimed at the "common good" and human rights; but for many followers of Christ this is just one more example of human beings being excluded, for the convenience of others, from imago dei. Frankly, there is no direct discussion of abortion in the Bible - it is generally derived from all humans being created in His image.

    Certainly, there is a Biblical argument about homosexuality being sin; no New Testament basis for any hatred or lack of justice towards gays as just another class of sinner; a strong case for Christian marriage being between a man and a woman, and no Biblical case for followers of Christ imposing that on non-Christians. In fact, one of the major points of Christianity was that Hebrew law was unable to create righteousness; and that we were free from the law in Christ. To try to impose righteousness by secular law is certainly un-Biblical.

    The author of "Sacrifice" and I may agree on another error of conservatism that followers of Christ fall into:
    moralism. According to this notion God's grace needs the help of the state; Christianity merely asks the state to get out of the way . . .

    Now I am not going to complain that moralism "imposes" a faith on people who do not share it. In the sense at issue, even secularists impose a faith on others-they merely impose a different faith. Every law reflects some moral idea, every moral idea reflects some fundamental commitment, and every fundamental commitment is religious-it proposes a god. Everything in the universe comes to a point. For moralism, therefore, the important distinction is not between religion and secularism, but between faiths that do and faiths that do not demand the civil enforcement of all their moral precepts.

    To the question "Should the civil law enforce the precepts of the faith?" the biblical answer is, "Some yes, but some no; which ones do you mean?" The New Testament contains literally hundreds of precepts. However, Christianity is not a legislative religion. While the Bible recognizes the Torah as a divinely revealed code for the ruling of Israel before the coming of Messiah, it does not include a divinely revealed code for the ruling of the gentiles afterward. To be sure, the Bible limits the kinds of laws that Christians can accept from their governments, for "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). However, it does not prescribe specific laws that they must demand from them. . . .

    Christians, then, may certainly commend a law as good or condemn it as evil. They may declare it consistent or inconsistent with the faith. But not even a good law may be simply identified with the faith; Christians must not speak of a tax code, marriage ordinance, or welfare policy as Christian no matter how much, or even how rightly, they desire its enactment or preservation. That predicate has been preempted by the law of God. The civil law will be Christian-if it still exists at all- only when Christ himself has returned to rule: not when a coalition of religious conservatives has got itself elected.
    A follower of Christ is going to look at everything through their love of God. They are going to put God in the center of every part of their life. While it may not be the most effective thing politically, they may refer to God in their political views and analysis'

    And, as they have for 2000 years, they are going to struggle with their role in the secular political sphere. However, Biblically, there is no admonition that their service to "Caesar" impinges on, or competes with, their service to God. They are different spheres with different requirements.

    Read more!

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    Christian Carnival CL (150)

    Galatians 5:14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

    Most followers of Christ are aware of the fruit of the Spirit listed in verse 22 and 23. Most of us do not particularly look at the spoiled fruit of the flesh in 19-21. We do well to gauge our individual walks in the Spirit by the positive fruit; and by checking ourselves against the spoiled ones as well.

    So, let us carefully select our fruits for the:

    The Holiday Fruit Basket Edition

    Love vs. Enmity

  • Bryan and Mike presents "A New Right Wing Europe?" posted at THEOdyssey.

  • Diane at Crossroads says "Thank You! Young Fathers".
    It's gratifying to see so many Christian young fathers take such an interest in their young children at school and at church. And although it didn't start in the church, at least it's there now.
  • Bill at Rev Bill has found a site for "Advent Devotions: Love's Revelations"
    How has love been revealed to you? What did it taste like? Look like? Smell like? Did it come as a piece of chocolate left as a surprise for you, or from an unexpected word of kindness? Welcome to Goshen College's online devotionals for the 2006 Advent season! "Love’s Revelations" is this year’s theme.
  • While Joe at Evangelical Outpost did not submit this, I am going to "adopt it" as my submission; because we need to start "The Next Abolition Movement: Abolishing Slavery in the 21st Century"

  • Joy vs. Jealousy

  • Martin at Sun and Shield guesses that no one has ever posted "I'm thankful for the electromagnetic spectrum" as their Thanksgiving post, until now.

  • Annette at Fish and Cans expresses her joy in the promises of God expresses in "1 Peter 2 - part one"

  • Peace vs. Strife

  • Jack Yoest presents "Charmaine Speaks To The Pew Forum on Religion and Politics" posted at Reasoned Audacity.
    In the linked transcript involving Charmaine and Eric Sapp, there is a very good discussion about Christians and partisan politics - and it was kept largely strife-free
  • Mike at Faith at Work discusses "How to Have an Emotionally Healthy Church".
    Our challenge at New Life is how do we process our pain and the pain we have caused others in an emotionally mature manner?
  • Jordan at Acton Institute's Power Blog takes up "Hugh Hewitt and the Mormon Question":
    If the long knives are brought out by Christians to attack Romney on the basis of his religious commitments, it won't be long before secularists attack Christians on similar grounds.
  • Penitens, A Penitent Blogger, looks at "News of terror and words of peace" - A brief reflection on inner peace through Christ in a world of terrors.

  • Stuff guest-blogs at Ales Rarus on overcoming fear and her conversion to the "The Vocation of Marriage and Parenthood"
    . . . I was scared $#!%-less. I understand how women can be talked into abortions. I was in my 5th year of pharmacy school, freshly married, and dirt poor. And as the youngest of five children in a family that puts the FUN in dysfunctional, I wondered what God could possibly be thinking giving someone like me something so fragile and impressionable as a baby.

  • Patience vs. Dissention

  • Ruth presents "I Still Don't Get Church" posted at Journal of Ruth.
    I love my church and my pastor and the people there. But I find it hard to be part of them. I always feel like I’m outside, watching in. (But then again, I’ve always felt like that in all the churches I’ve been in.) This is the best church I’ve ever been a part of but … I don’t feel like I’m part of them, y’know? I’m attending the church, but I’m like an attendee, not family.
  • Barbara at Tidbits and Treasures sees that "With God, All Things are Possible" including drawing Muslims to Himself through the gospel.

  • Stephen from Practical Quandary discusses seeing Christianity as a worldview can give us "A New Set of Glasses" that allow us to see the world in a clear manner.

  • Henry at Participatory Bible Study continues his series on Isaiah 24-27, with "Isaiah 26: Praise and Lament in Trouble" and its meaning in the study of the end times.

  • Kindness vs. Anger

  • Amanda examines Bart Campolo's "The Limits to God's Grace" at Imago Dei.

  • Goodness vs. Impurity

  • David Ker presents Preaching peeve #1: Seed-pickers posted at Lingamish.

  • Richard at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos theophilos discusses one of the interesting results of the last election connected to "Religious Value Voters".

  • Lillie submits a post by Father Chip Harper from All Saints Anglican Church: "Liturgy Lesson: Sunday Next Before Advent - Laying on of Hands" at Devotionals from Father Chip

  • Tia from Home Where They Belong - a homeschooling site - writes about "The Crime of Isolation" in Germany.
    Frauke R, who is pregnant, told newspapers while her husband was in jail, "We prepared the children for his arrest and they are OK. I miss him, but God will take care of him."
  • Jeremy Pierce presents "Explanations for Evil, Part I" posted at Parableman:
    This is the latest post in a series on the problem of evil, looking at responses to questions about some particular kinds of evil manifesting itself in particular ways.
  • Josh at Church Hopping examines the evidence of a "New Testiment: Extended Edition"

    • Faithfulness vs. Idolatry

    • Rodney Olsen: One of the most enduring Christian books over many decades has been "Who Moved the Stone" by Frank Morison.
      According to popular belief, Morison was a lawyer who was skeptical of the claims of Christians regarding Jesus Christ. The story goes that he set out to prove the Bible wrong. That story's almost true. The fact is that 'Frank Morison' never actually existed.
    • In "Is This Accurate?", Veracity at Veracity - The Way asks :
      why are we so reluctant to be Bereans and search out what Scripture actually says about a matter? Why do we accept carte-blanche what a ministry or pastor or leader tell us? We are going to get ourselves into serious trouble this way
    • nikola presents "Dostoevsky: Russian Prophet" posted at Victory or Death.
      I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly and more perfect than the Savior;...If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not the truth. -- Dostoevsky
    • Mike Pace presents "How cults recruit and keep their members" posted at THEOdyssey.

    • Vynette presents "The Curia Mail : Vol 3" posted at The Race is Run.

    • Mike at Discerning Discipleship is confused about the purpose of a new book about Australian religion, and would really like to know what "Spiritual Aerobics in Australian Emerging Churches" is.

    • Dana presents "Family as Idol" posted at Principled Discovery.

    • Gentleness vs. Dispute

    • [LOL: Didn't know where else to put this] John at Light Along the Journey shows what you get when a guy stares too long at his books and starts free associating pro wrestling? You get "Friday Night Theological Library Smackdown":
      So I was wondering…since Pixar Studios has taught us that toys come to life when we leave the room, what if books come to life too? . . . and I’m thinking who could take down who if they were went mano e mano like they are lying side by side in the shelf?

    • Self-control vs. Immorality

    • Mick at Romans 15:4 Project asks "Who will stand for our nations girls? Who will protect their innocence and purity?"; and asks us to "Stop Taxpayer Funding of Planned Parenthood!"
    • Read more!

      Christian Carnival CXLIX (149) is up

      The introduction from Iohannes at Touring With Virgil:

      Welcome to the Thanksgiving (U.S.) edition of the Christian Carnival! Dinner is served:
      I am the host of the next Carnival. Read the guidelines below the fold, and send me a submission by 11:59 pm Eastern time on Nov 28th to ChristianCarnival [at] gmail [dot] com. I will not be having a submission of my own, so if you want me to consider cross-posting, and "guest submitting", one of your diaries from the last week (22nd or after) here let me know in the comments below.

      About Christian Carnival:
      Contributing a Post to the Christian Carnival

      The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

      Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

      Update: As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal. Blogs with content that is focused on a business, that has potentially offensive material Christians may not want to link to on their sites, or has no reference to distinctively Christian thought may not be included in this Carnival. There are other Carnivals that would be a more appropriate venue for that material. I realize that this will be a judgment call on the part of the Carnival administrator, and being human she may make mistakes. However, as the Christian Carnival is getting quite large, and it is sometimes questionable whether the entrants are seeking to promote Christian thought, I find this necessary.

      Update: We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

      So, if you have a post in this framework - go here to find out more: Christian Carnival Participation Instructions.

      Read more!

      Sunday, November 19, 2006

      Spiritual Experiences and Observations

      [Crossposted with minor changes from Street Prophets]

      Starting with Simplicio's "Religions Don't Deserve Special Treatment"; continuing with my "Science, Reason, and Faith"; and then NoJoy's excellant question in "gedankenexperiment 0: religious experiences" - there has been some interesesting discussion about the line between faith and science

      NoJoy got my position slightly wrong in her diary:

      JCHFleetguy makes the case that because religious experiences are so pervasive, the burden of proof should fall to the areligious when it comes to the existence or nonexistence of God/gods/etc
      "Burden of proof" implies I think proof is possible - either for or against the existance of God - and I do not think such a silliness. Indeed, my reason for dissing on brothers Harris and Dawkins is that they are silly enough to think that such proof is possible. What I said is that the huge number of people who have had religious/spiritual experiences on the planet deserve respect for what they have experienced; and that earning respect from society doesnt't require me to prove scientifically the basis of what I have experienced.

      However, God proved Himself to me . . .

      This is a post for those who have experiences outside the "natural" - the supernatural, the spiritual, religious, etc. to post those anecdotes. This is to be a safe place. I am not going to answer the "Couldn't that be swamp gas?" kind of questions because the Holy Spirit has shown me that what it "could have been" is irrelevant - God touched my life in these areas. I am the first to admit that others could have had very similiar experiences from purely naturalistic causes. Again, irrelevant.

      So, this is a place for folks who wish to offer up those experiences that you "just know" are supernatural. You are not required to offer "proof"; nor should proof be asked of you. If you wish to do this at your own blog, please leave a link in the comments below.

      I will start with myself:
      • Anti-racism: This is one of my "orientations" that had nothing to do with choice; or apparently upbringing (as such). I was raised in SW Missouri in a segregated community with segregated schools. My mom was from Texas; and my sisters say everything they took from my mom and our upbringing was to be racist - I think my mom taught me not to be racist. I think God took a hand in how the same inputs that my sisters viewed one way struck me entirely differently. I have, from the earliest of ages, known racism was wrong. Thank God

      • Wife's first child: My wife had a horrendous PID as a teenager that fried her fallopian tubes. The doctor at the time said that with surgery she would have a 10% chance of having children. No surgery, and she got pregnant. Then, under pressure from her boyfriend who said he would not support the child, or her, if she gave birth - and her father who said he wouldn't either - she went to our local abortion clinic. After the initial interview, the intake worker sent her home because her head wasn't right. She gave birth, and the boyfriend picked up the baby and became the best father on the planet (thankfully, still not a great boyfriend or I might not be in this story). God wanted her to have this child against the physical odds, and touched the intake worker, her father (who entirely came around), and Les.

      • My first date with my wife: At one point in the movie I held her hand and we both felt electricity (aw, how romantic) - and we both believe God welded us together at that point. More about how that immediately changed us is here

      • The whole process of my finding God again. There were a series of people, places, and experiences that drew me back to Him. I will not try to re-outline that here - but you can read about it here

      • Our child: Remember those fried fallopian tubes - a pregnancy got stuck in one, it exploded, and my wife nearly died. Down to one tube. Folks around here know my wife has a mental disability and takes the plethora of medications that go with that. Some she was taking for a while made her think she was pregnant all the time; and we had a pregnancy test done like every two months (exaggeration probably). The irony was, as her doctors kept telling her, that the medications stopped her from ovulating. Anyway, she goes in for another pregancy test and:

        • after the urine test they did a blood test
        • Hey, while you're here we might as well do a cervical examine
        • Do you mind if we do an ultrasound, we thought we might check out the condition of your uterus
        • Hey, we have no idea how this happened, but you're pregnant

        The funny part: she tells her psychiatrist she is pregnant, gives him her doctor's name, phone number. Later, right after her 21st week ultrasound; she goes in for her psychiatric appointment and the doctor tells her that usually in a case like hers (someone with her medications and history thinking she was pregnant) they assume some kind of delusion is going on. He had never even contacted the baby doctor to check. She showed him the 21 week ultrasound picture in her purse. My wife, incidentally, caught me during our Bradley birthing class referring to our daughter's conception as a miracle - and knew for the first time that her continous prayers for me were beginning to work.

      • Lupus: my wife was diagnosed with Lupus - confirmed by three out of the four tests normally given to detect its effects. Pat contacted her prayer list, the church, etc. She went in to take the fourth test, the most expensive and most accurate, and it was negative. Hmmm. They re-took the first three: now all negative. The doctor had never seen this before - ever.
      There are more, but that is enough to get the postings going.

      So, what experiences and observations have you had that confirmed the existance of the supernatural to you? Again, if you wish to post this at your own blog leave a link in the comments.

      Read more!

      Friday, November 17, 2006

      Christian Carnivals 146, 147, and 148

      CXLIV1 (146)

      The introduction from admin at The Evangelical Ecologist:
      Happy All Saints Day to you all!

      With the obvious connection between All Saints Day and the beginning of the Reformation in Wittenberg, it seems appropriate to recognize our own Wittenberg Dory, the Carnival's patron saint. (No offense meant to our Catholic mates. ed) We appreciate all you do to keep the Carnival rolling along, Dory

      CXLVII (147)

      The introduction from Rev. Ed at Attention Span:
      This edition of the Christian Carnival is being published right after Election Day here in the United States. For many of you, that wouldn't make a whole lot of difference, but for your humble host it means that I'm mighty tired. I was at the local Board of Elections last night and was doing all manner of other things political all day long. That is part of the reason this post is going up a bit late.

      But that's also the reason why this Christian Carnival has been dubbed "The Election Hangover Edition." So don't go looking for snappy banter or wise observations in this post -- go visit the contributor's blogs, as most of them got more sleep than I did last night!

      CXLVIII (148)

      The introduction from Diane at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet:
      Welcome to this week's Christian Carnival. And now....here it is.......

      About Christian Carnival:
      Contributing a Post to the Christian Carnival

      The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

      Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

      Update: As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal. Blogs with content that is focused on a business, that has potentially offensive material Christians may not want to link to on their sites, or has no reference to distinctively Christian thought may not be included in this Carnival. There are other Carnivals that would be a more appropriate venue for that material. I realize that this will be a judgment call on the part of the Carnival administrator, and being human she may make mistakes. However, as the Christian Carnival is getting quite large, and it is sometimes questionable whether the entrants are seeking to promote Christian thought, I find this necessary.

      Update: We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

      So, if you have a post in this framework - go here to find out more: Christian Carnival Participation Instructions. BTW, if you really want progressive Christian thought to have wider presence . . .

      Deadline for next Carnival: 11/21 at 11:59pm EST.

      Read more!

      Tuesday, November 14, 2006

      A "Dee Dah Day": Part 2

      [I am continuing to journal the study questions from Chapter 4 ("A 'Dee Dah Day': The Practice of Celebration") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. For previous posts, and a "look ahead" at the chapter titles click the index link at the bottom.]

      Somebody thanked me for the questions. I cannot take credit - they were created by Kevin G. Harney.

      Additional Small-group Questions

      1. The author writes about people who have a unique ability to destroy joy.
        • Without using any names, how have people like this impacted your life?
        • What can we do to keep these people from robbing us of joy?

      2. Impatience kills both joy and time. How have you seen impatience kill time in your life?

      3. Read this quote from G. K. Chesterton:
        Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown' up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown' up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
        • How does Chesterton's vision of a youthful and joy-filled God affirm or clash with your vision of God?
        • What kind of a picture of God were you given as a child growing up in your home or church? Go to this poll
        • What kind of a picture of God do you have today? Go to the poll below

      4. If you asked the members of your small group to describe your joy-quotient, what do you, think they would say about you in terms of joy or non-joy?

      5. The author says, "Joylessness may be the sin most readily tolerated by the church." Why do you think the church is so quick to accept and even encourage joylessness?

      6. What are some of the natural and joy-filled moments that occur in your week that you need to begin noticing and celebrating?

      7. The author says, "Often it is the people closest to suffering who have the most powerful joy." Tell about a person who has modeled this truth and what you have learned from his or her life.
      As an exercise in contrast [to the above quote], imagine for a moment how the opening sentences of the Bible might read if God were not a supremely joyful being. Imagine Genesis if God approached his work as we so often do:
      In the beginning, it was nine o'clock, so God had to go to work. He filled out a requisition to separate light from darkness. He considered making stars to beautify the night, and planets to fill the skies, but thought it sounded like too much work; and besides, thought God, "That's not my job." So he decided to knock off early and call it a day. And he looked at what he had done and he said, "It'll have to do."

      On the second day God separated the waters from the dry land. And he made all the dry land flat, plain, and functional, so that-behold-the whole earth looked like Idaho. He thought about making mountains and valleys and glaciers and jungles and forests, but he decided it wouldn't be worth the effort. And God looked at what he had done that day and said, "It'll have to do."

      And God made a pigeon to fly in the air, and a carp to swim in the waters, and a cat to creep upon dry ground. And God thought about making millions of other species of all sizes and shapes and colors, but he couldn't drum up any enthusiasm for any other animals - in fact, he wasn't too crazy about the cat. Besides, it was almost time for the Late Show. So God looked at all he had done, and God said, "It'll have to do."

      And at the end of the week, God was seriously burned out. So he breathed a big sigh of relief and said, "Thank Me, it's Friday."
      Next in series: "An Unhurried Life" Pt. 1
      Index to Series

      Read more!

      A "Dee Dah Day": Part 1

      [I am beginning to journal the study questions from Chapter 4 ("A 'Dee Dah Day': The Practice of Celebration") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. For previous posts and some "look ahead" at the book, check out the index at the linked at the bottom.]

      After the introductory first three chapters, John Ortberg begins to go through some spiritual disciplines he thinks are important.

      The first one: the practice of being joyful and celebratory . . .

      Small Group Discussion Questions
      1. The author tells this story:
        Sometime ago I was giving a bath to our three children. I had a custom of bathing them together, more to save time than anything else. I knew that eventually I would have to stop the group bathing, but for the time being it seemed efficient.

        Johnny was still in the tub, Laura was out and safely in her pajamas, and I was trying to get Mallory dried off. Mallory was out of the water, but was doing what has come to be known in our family as the Dee Dah Day dance. This consists of her running around and around in circles, singing over and over again, "Dee dah day, dee dah day." It is a relatively simple dance expressing great joy. When she is too happy to hold it in any longer, when words are inadequate to give voice to her euphoria, she has to dance to release her joy. So she does the Dee Dah Day.

        On this particular occasion, I was irritated. "Mallory, hurry!" I prodded. So she did-she began running in circles faster and faster and chanting "dee dah day" more rapidly. "No, Mallory, that's not what I mean! Stop with the dee dah day stuff, and get over here so I can dry you off. Hurry!"

        Then she asked a profound question: "Why?"

        I had no answer. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do, no meetings to attend, no sermons to write. I was just so used to hurrying, so preoccupied with my own little agenda, so trapped in this rut of moving from one task to another, that here was life, here was joy, here was an invitation to the dance right in front of me - and I was missing it.

        So I got up, and Mallory and I did the Dee Dah Day dance together. She said I was pretty good at it, too, for a man my age. -- John Ortberg
        • If you were having a Dee Dah Day, how would people know it?
        • What would be the outward signs that give you away?
        • Tell about your last "Dee Dah Day" moment. What brought you joy and caused you to really celebrate life?

      2. What are some of the ways we tend to squelch the spirit and enthusiasm of those around us who seem to have more than their fair share of "Dee Dah Day" moments?

      3. Dee Dah People:
        • Who is one person in your life who models the "Dee Dah Day" spirit?
        • What have you learned about joy by watching this person?
        • (Remember, this person can be any age.)

      4. Read:
        Nehemiah 8:9 Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest {and} scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved." 12 All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.
      5. A joyful God:
        • What is one place in God's creation that gives you a profound sense that God is a joyful God and the happiest of all beings in the universe?
        • When you are in this place, how is his joy passed on to you?
        • How does living in the joy of the Lord bring strength to you?

      6. Describe a time when life circumstances brought you unexpected joy. What are some practical things we can do to seek joy on a more regular basis?

      7. Joy is strength. Its absence will create weakness. Or, in the words of Dallas Willard,
        failure to attain a deeply satisfying life always has the effect of making sinful actions seem good. Here lies the strength of temptation. . . . Normally, our success in over, coming temptation will be easier if we are basically happy in our lives. To cut off the joys and pleasures associated with our bodily lives and social existence as "unspiritual," then, can actually have the effect of weakening us in our efforts to do what is right.
        Here is a key task for spiritual vitality: We must arrange life so that sin no longer looks good to us. One gets the sense that when Mother Teresa drove in congested traffic, she didn't have a hard time keeping herself from making rude gestures or calling other drivers bad names. Why? Such actions no longer looked appealing to her. She found a better way to live. The joy of the Lord brought strength. -- John Ortberg
      8. Willard is making two points. First, when we are joy-filled, we are less likely to be drawn into temptation. Second, when we are joy-deprived, we are more likely to fall into temptation. How have you experienced these two principles in your life?

      9. Some people have a contagious joy that makes them "joy-carriers."
        • What characteristics mark the lives of these people?
        • What are some practical steps you can take to develop these characteristics in your life?

      10. Read this story about the bride and the lesson:
        It takes a certain kind of heroism to continue to celebrate what deserves to be celebrated even when all the details go disastrously wrong. A favorite story of mine expressing this kind of spirit is told by Robert Fulghum, about a wedding that was produced on an epic scale by an unhinged character known only as the Mother of the Bride (MOTB). The logistics-from an eighteen-piece brass-and-wind ensemble to gift registries spreading across most of the continental United States to twenty-four bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower-petal-throwers, and ringbearers - were of a scale usually seen only during the military invasion of a sizable country. But the plans were all working-until the climactic moment of the processional:
        Ah, the bride. She had been dressed for hours if not days. No adrenaline was left in her body. Left alone with her father in the reception hall of the church while the march of the maidens went on and on, she had walked along the tables laden with gourmet goodies and absentmindedly sampled first the little pink and yellow and green mints. Then she picked through the silver bowls of mixed nuts and ate the pecans. Followed by a cheeseball or two, some black olives, a handful of glazed almonds, a little sausage with a frilly toothpick stuck in it, a couple of shrimps blanketed in bacon, and a cracker piled with liver pate. To wash this down - a glass of pink champagne. Her father gave it to her. To calm her nerves.

        What you noticed as the bride stood in the doorway was not her dress, but her face. White. For what was coming down the aisle was a living grenade with the pin pulled out.

        The bride threw up.

        Just as she walked by her mother.

        And by "threw up," I don't mean a polite little ladylike urp into her handkerchief. She puked. There's just no nice word for it. I mean, she hosed the front of the chancel - hitting two bridesmaids, the groom, a ringbearer, and me. . . .

        Only two people were seen smiling. One was the mother of the groom. And the other was the father of the bride.
        Fulghum explains how they pulled themselves together for a much quieter, gentler ceremony in the reception hall. And how "everybody cried, as people are supposed to do at weddings, mostly because the groom held the bride in his arms through the whole ceremony. And no groom ever kissed a bride more tenderly than he."

        But the best part of the story is that, ten years later, everybody was invited back for another party to celebrate this disaster. They watched the whole thing on three TV sets-the MOTB had had three video cameras going at once during the wedding. And this party was thrown by the Mother of the Bride herself.

        How could all these people rejoice when everything had gone wrong? Because, in spite of all the mess, the bride still got the groom. At the end of the day, that was all that mattered. The bride got the groom. It was a Dee Dah Day. -- John Ortberg
        • What are some of the unchangeable and eternal joy-gifts God has given you that no one can ever take away?
        • How can these be a regular source of joy . . . even when times are tough?

      Next in series: "A 'Dee Dah Day'" Pt. 2
      Index to Series

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      Monday, November 13, 2006

      Science, Reason, and Faith

      [Crossposted from Street Prophets]

      Simplicio's position that "Religions Don't Deserve Special Treatment" doesn't get much of a rise out of me: Christians are "privileged" in this country in that they are not threatened with death for being Christians, or a type of Christian, as we have for the vast majority of our history in a vast majority of the world. Perhaps if we lost some of that privilege we might rely on God more and ourselves less - and our faith would glorify and honor God (as it should do) more.

      Matthew Krell did a great job addressing the political and legal issues of maintaining the separation of church and state in a country peopled, in super-majority fashion, by followers of Christ - here and here. To simplify one of Matthew's argument: don't poke sticks into hornet's nests (sorry Matt, you are way too erudite to say that).

      Finally, my fellow SPer's of all faiths, particularly PastorDan did an admirable job of handling the arrogance of the "materialists are rational, the religious are not" arguments intrinsic in the Simplicio's diary. I will also question the reason of the "rationalists" (used in the same form as "Christianist") and pointed specifically at believers in Scientism (or here). Most of the atheists and agnostics, and most of us of faith, on the Street show Boreas' understanding of being worthy of respect.


      Regretfully, there are extremes on both ends that do not. One of those extremes is that of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins who have decided that they too are going to derive meaning about the universe - from science's recording of observations and its theories to explain those observations. Of course, real scientists do not dip into "meaning" - and Harris/Dawkins and some ID scientists have crossed out of being scientists and become religious in their view: they are attempting to find the meaning behind the facts of the universe. I do too, but I do not use science to do that; and they think only science can do that:
      . . .very roughly, two views have been held. First, there is what is called the materialist view. People who take that view think that matter and space just happen to exist, and always have existed, nobody knows why; and that the matter, behaving in certain fixed ways, has just happened, by a sort of fluke, to produce creatures like ourselves who are able to think . . . The other view is the religious view. According to it, what is behind the universe is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know . . . You cannot find out which view is the right one by science in the ordinary sense . . . Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, 'I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20 a.m. on January 15th and saw so and-so,' or, 'I put some of this stuff in a pot and heated it to such -and such a temperature and it did so-and-so.' . . . But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes--something of a different kind-this is not a scientific question. If there is 'Something Behind,' then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way. The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. And real scientists do not usually make them. It is usually the journalists and popular novelists who have picked up a few odds and ends of half-baked science from textbooks who go in for them. After all, it is really a matter of common sense. Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, 'Why is there a universe?' 'Why does it go on as it does?' 'Has it any meaning?' would remain just as they were? . . . Since that power, if it exists, would be not one of the observed facts but a reality which makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it . . . If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe--no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. -- C.S. Lewis, "What Lies Behind the Law", Mere Christianity [this is, of course, part of his argument about one of those ways God shows himself by other means than scientific]
      Simplicio's diary is, in part, an apologetic for the evangelical atheism, and scientism, of Harris and Dawkins; and he is shocked that we do not understand that science has indeed defined the "meaning" in the universe and there is none - just our "selfish genes".

      More importantly, as Simplicio said here, Harris thinks they can force the faithful back into their holes and cover them up by use of "conversational intolerance" - what a lovely term. Certainly, you can see this intolerance anytime you read Dawkins or Harris on people of faith; and their attempt to push people out of the conversation by their insults and demagoguery. Most attempts I have seen at achieving the "conversational intolerance" of people of faith amounts to attacks on person rather than a reasoned argument; but people of any faith should be prepared to have a reasoned argument.

      Before leaving science's ability to prove or disprove things, I want to say that some of what Simplicio posted as scientific fact isn't even accepted by the scientific community as fact - or even really as an adequate theory that explains the facts. For instance, no one really knows the chemical conditions of the "primordial ooze" that abiogenesis supposedly took place in - it is becoming clearer that the earth had far more oxygen and far less nitrogen than was originally thought (that is not good for abiogenesis). No one can explain (and there are multiple theories equally called science) about how amino acids formed, then chained up to produce useful proteins, and especially how those huge (and essential for evolution) molecules like DNA and RNA formed; and then developed cellular structure - all within about 170 million years (even scientists agree that is not a lot of time for this process). Certainly no known evolutionary process or mechanism can explain how this occurred. He, however, religiously cited this as fact. Further, while random mutation and natural selection can be clearly seen driving variation within a species - no one has really shown either from the fossil record, or in an existing species, how a new, biologically distinct (unable to mate back to the precursor) species has arisen (especially in higher level animals), or by what process: right now science isn't even sure what the precursor of homo sapiens is, much less been able to track us back to the primordial ooze. They have a few planks to remove from their eyes before they worry about anyone else's splinters; because the statements like "we do not know now but we will" are faith statements. They may never know; and in fact, for events that are singular and not processes (like abiogenesis and new species formation) they will never know because they will never have the ability to observe these events as they already unfolded.

      Finally, the closest I can come to proving the existence of God is by the statements of His Son; and then Jesus' proof of those statements by the resurrection - walking around on the earth for 40 days after being killed and buried is a bit unusual. All empirical data - 500+ eyewitnesses, inability of the Romans and Jews to produce a body, the secondary literary proofs - all support the resurrection account. However, adherants of scientism attempt to ignore the empirical evidence by methods that are feeble at best - certainly not capable of achieving "conversational intolerance" with anyone with any support for their beliefs at all.


      Now, it is clear to at least 85% of the world's population that science cannot prove, or disprove, the existence of God - and never will. However, other than saying we must prove God exists empirically (which is impossible and always will be), we were also said to be irrational - lacking reason. Unless you believe in scientism, you also realize that reason and science are also two different things. So, despite my admitted understanding that I believe in something that cannot be proven empirically, are there reasonable and rational arguments for the existence of God? Sure there are:

      Experience and Observation:

      I was an near-atheist, certainly the hardest of agnostics, and then came back to Christ. Some insight into that can be seen in my testimony; but the point here is that I experienced God. Period. I was not argued into being a Christian; and I cannot be argued out - because I know because I experienced Him. Rationalists will say that anecdote is not data, but that is nonsense really. Enough anecdotes is indeed exactly data; and what scientists do is observe as many anecdotes of a process as they can in order to generalize from the specific (the anecdote) and arrive at a general explanation of the phenomena they have observed. So, the experience of 85% of the people on the planet that "something" underlies physical reality that is supernatural is indeed data - and worthy of respect. Scientism tries to isolate us as individuals of faith and convince us our personal experiences are unreliable and unprovable. That is, BTW, fully opposed to the scientific method.

      There is a reason that 85% of the US, and an equally vast majority of the world, believe in some form of God or spirituality. Paul said:
      Romans 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. [Paul would have to add "Science" to the list of idols today]
      Observationally, God is evident both within us and in His creation; and 85% of the planet who are not "fools professing to be wise" feel that and see that.

      However, that too is really an attack against person - it is not nice to tell a blind man that he just doesn't get it because he can not see what is visually clear to everyone else. Perhaps, there is some metaphysical sense organ that allows the 85% to "see" more of reality than the poor 15% who cannot. You would hope the 15% who are blind would not be so arrogant as to challenge the 85% to prove that vision existed - but Harris, Dawkins, and Co. are exactly that arrogant; and we should be able to deal with their "reasonable" arguments against the existence of God - since they have only their intellect, and spiritual blindness, to operate with.

      Philosophical Plausibility:
      I can certainly provide rational arguments for God's existence -- whether they are convincing on an individual level is another matter. I've come to realize that the problem lies not with the arguments but with the nature of belief itself. Belief in God, like almost all beliefs, can be rationally avoided. Skeptics can always find reasons, however implausible they might be, for refusing to concede that God exists.

      Are we to conclude that theological arguments are therefore useless? Certainly not. For while they will not convince those whose passions rule their reason and prevent them from facing the truth, such arguments can be useful for shoring up a culture's plausibility structures.

      Everything that we believe is filtered through our plausibility structures: belief-forming apparatus that acts as a gatekeeper, letting in evidence that is matched against what we already consider to be possible. For example, if I were to find a box of cookies in my kitchen cabinet I would assume that my wife had bought them at the store and placed them there herself. If someone were to argue that tree-dwelling elves baked the cookies, packaged them for their corporate employer, and stashed them in my pantry, I would have a difficult time believing their claim; the existence of unionized tree-dwelling elves is simply not a part of my plausibility structure.

      Plausibility structures can prevent us from forming beliefs that are inconsistent with experience and evidence. But they can also have a negative impact, preventing us from forming true beliefs about reality. This appears to be the case within a broad segment of modern science. By accepting a plausibility structure that is limited to purely naturalistic explanations, many in the scientific community have imposed self-limiting and irrational criteria for explaining reality. The same is true for the small segment of atheists who truly believe that it is implausible that God exists.

      . . .

      It is this implausibility that needs to be continuously pointed out and brought into the open. Theological arguments aid in this effort by pointing out that belief in the existence of God is more probable, more plausible, more reasonable, and more rational than its denial. While we should be respectful of individuals who adhere to skepticism or atheism [no creation of "conversational intolerance" allowed to me], when these beliefs are brought to the public square their mystical and improbably assumption should receive the utmost scrutiny.

      The use of these arguments does not require that Christians become full-time apologists. All that is required is a basic knowledge of their structure and an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Whether they are directly useful in leading unbelievers to Christ, they can be indirectly useful in reshaping the plausibility structures of our culture.

      As I add posts to this series I'll include them under the following categories:
      • Cosmological Arguments -- A general pattern of argumentation that makes an inference from certain alleged facts about the world (cosmos) to the existence of a unique being, generally referred to as God.

      • Ontological Arguments -- Ontological arguments are arguments, for the conclusion that God exists, from premises which are supposed to derive from some source other than observation of the world ? e.g., from reason alone. [Alvin Plantinga is a Catholic philosopher, and one of the best around. You can check out a bunch of his stuff at the Virtual Library of Christian Philosophy here; his Wiki article; and his home page at Notre Dame

      • Teleological Arguments -- theistic arguments which share a focus on plan, purpose, intention and design. [The closest to a scientific argument for the existence of God is here: fine-tuning]

      • Moral Arguments -- theistic arguments that include or rely on a moral component. [This is where C.S. Lewis's argument from the first five chapters of Mere Christianity would fall]
      Joe Carter: "Dismantling Implausibility Structures: The Uses of Theistic Arguments"

      Anti-Intellectualism and Christianity

      Up to now I really haven't been focusing on Christianity - but faith and belief in God and the supernatural in general. Now I am going to say something about followers of Christ and faith. As I quoted my ex-pastor in "Loving God with All Your Mind":
      We live in a culture that is very opposed to critical thinking. By critical thinking, Carl means carefully examining something to see if it is true or not. We are so bombarded with lies that (since we have lived in a culture where we are told we determine what is true) now people no longer know how to think very well. That should not be true of followers of Jesus Christ. We should be leading the way in the right use of the mind.

      Some Christians in America have also become anti-intellectual. They will say things like:
      • "Do not try to understand this with your mind - just believe"; or
      • "Faith is not really a reasonable thing"; or
      • "Faith is not intended to be logical"; or
      • "Faith is a leap in the dark".
      • "God's thoughts are above our thoughts".
      What do all these mean? Does that mean God is not logical? That His logic is different from ours? That He would say 2+2=15; but we cannot understand that so we just have to believe? If you hear something like that you should hear a large warning horn going off somewhere - these things are not true.

      The message of God - the Bible, the Cross, the blood of Christ, salvation - is logical. It is reasonable. It is coherent. It is consistent. It is sound. It is true. It is not true because someone says it is; or because you believe it - it is true because it is real. There is such a thing as an absolute objective reality. God has said He wants you to know; and He has given you a mind with which to understand the truth. Our faith is not based upon a leap in the dark - it is based on eyewitness testimony. Our faith is a reasonable, logical, coherent, consistent system of truth that is understandable.
      You can certainly see how the list above would play into the hands of those like Harris and Dawkins. If you wish to be bashed about by the "conversational intolerance" of these blind men you are certainly welcome - I am not up for that. However, we are told in scripture to:
      1 Peter 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope [elpiß -- "joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation"] that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence
      Not much room there to allow yourself to be isolated by "conversational intolerance"

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