Friday, December 18, 2015

Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years....

From a fellow pastor in my denomination. Read ALL the way through.

Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years....

A poll taken at Harvard had discovered not one believer in the whole student body. They took a poll at Princeton, a much more evangelical place, where they discovered only two believers in the student body, and only five that did not belong to the filthy speech movement of the day. Students rioted. They held mock communion at Williams College, they put on anti-Christian plays at Dartmouth. They burned down he Nassau Hall at Princeton. They forced the resignation of the president of Harvard. The took the Bible out of a local Presbyterian church in New Jersey, and they burnt it in a public bonfire. Christians were so few on campus...that they met in secret, like a communist cell, and kept their minutes in code so that no one would know.

The Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining... In a typical Congregational church, the Rev. Samuel Shepherd sixteen years had not taken one young person into fellowship. The Lutherans were so languishing that they discussed uniting with the Episcopalians who were even worse off. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Samuel Provost, quit functioning; He had confirmed no one for so long that he decided he was out of work, so he took up other employment. (from Red Moon Rising)

The date of these events 1790....

You see, things are not so bleak as we tend to think. What turned it around? The power of prayer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Not All Atheists Are Fools!: Misquoting Scripture

I am not a Biblical literalist. I am a Biblical contextualist. That means when I study the Bible (and all ancient literature), my position is not to interpret it from my cultural point of view, but ask myself how the hearers of the day understood the work in their own cultural context.
Yes, that takes a lot of study and when you do that, you will quickly discover that some points adhered to by Christians and critics of the Christian faith are interpretations that make no sense to anybody who takes the trouble to study.

Psalm 41:1 is one of the most abused verses in Scripture and it always quoted incompletely: "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." The implication is clear. All atheists are fools. 

Only one tiny problem.

In the ancient Near East, the words foolishness and wisdom have nothing to do with intelligence. They have everything to do with morality. I can also say, I have known many atheists in my life. I can honestly say that very, very few of them are fools. The majority of them are actually quite moral and, though I may disagree with the particulars, they have a personal moral code that they follow for what they believe are very good reasons.

The fool in the 41st Psalm (and repeated again in the 51st) is an atheist, but a very specific type for a very specific reason. The fool mentioned here is a person with no morals at all. That is what the word means.

The fool referred to here is a nihilistic psychopath so when Christians talk to an atheist and quote this verse, they offend the atheist who thinks it is their intelligence being referred to, but in reality, you are claiming the atheist is a person of such low character they have no concept of right or wrong and are, in fact, aggressively following active evil. Not a good idea, but I will illuminate that in a moment.

Now by definition, a
nihilistic psychopath follows no moral code. They are true solipsists who cannot even fathom the concept of "other." And in the cultural context of the Psalms, a solipsistic,
nihilistic psychopath would be, by strict definition, an atheist.

But as I said, I know atheists who aren't. Therefore...

All solipsistic, nihilistic psychopaths are atheists, but not all atheists are solipsistic, nihilistic psychopaths.

Got it?

Now I've explained this to dozens of Christians and I've met the occasional one that doesn't want to have anything to do with "book larnin'" (an exact quote). Okay. Try this one on for size:
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:22)
Why such a strict command? Because to call somebody a solipsistic, nihilistic psychopath is an act of judgement on that person's character and that is not our role as followers of Christ. I can discuss actions. I can even condemn an action, but you and I and everybody else tread dangerous ground when we cast judgement on the person's value and worth.

And since "God so loved the world," that is not our job. Everyone has value in the eyes of God. Everyone is welcome to the table of Divine Grace. Even
solipsistic, nihilistic psychopaths.

Be careful what you say.

Why I Am Not An Atheist

I confess I have always had a fascination with atheism and many years ago I toyed with the worldview in my ill-spent youth. However, though well read in atheist and skeptical literature, there were a number of reasons I could not shed a metaphysical paradigm and years later there were good reasons I embraced Christianity and its worldview.

Now if you are an atheist reading this waiting for an attack, sorry. That is not going to happen. In my own personal research I have identified nine types of atheists and there are three of them that, though I disagree with their conclusions, I understand where they are coming from. If you are one of those three types, we probably could have a peaceful chat over a cup of coffee without any ill feelings. If you are one of the other five (the final ninth one only having my pity and who does not enter into this discussion), my problem with your worldview is that is shallow, immature, and an insult particularly to atheism and to humanity in general.

This is an article as to why I am not an atheist and without further ado, let’s start:

1. Legal and Subjective Proof:

A famous thought experiment by atheists is the one about the invisible, pink unicorn where people are challenged to prove there is an invisible, pink unicorn in the room. The resultant failure (because there is no invisible, pink unicorn in the room) is then presented as proof that there is no metaphysical world as it cannot be proved.

However, there is one flaw in the reasoning. Let us say I had a room and I induced strangers to walk in and out of it. If 95% of them walked out and said something along the lines of, “You’re not going to believe this, but I can’t shake the gut feeling there’s an invisible pink unicorn in that room,” you build up a mountain of legal and subjective proof that something is going on that transcends one’s normal senses.

Humanity is predominantly metaphysical in their worldview. The Barna Research Group has discovered that even  “many self-described atheists also claim to pray to a deity” and knowing human nature and its struggles, I find that neither odd nor hypocritical.

Now this is certainly not a proof for Christianity, but the worldwide phenomenon of the vast majority of the world embracing a metaphysical paradigm certainly is a valid argument for a supernatural position.

2. Archaeology

So far, archaeology has yet to find any information to disprove much of the Old Testament. Yes, there are still gaps to be filled in, but so far, what has been found is interesting. You can find a list of what are considered the major finds for 2014 here.

Recently, the gates to ancient Philistine city of Gath were found  as well as Jezebel’s seal from the 9th Century BC.

In fact, if you want to see a group of archaeologists discuss the ancient city of Jericho, this half-hour video is worth your time.

3.  The Person of Jesus Christ

In my mid-teens and searching, I concluded one day that the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate Son of God had to be a fabrication. However, I had studied enough of the Bible to know that what he said did carry much to value. This is why I am not surprised when I read that there are a percentage of atheists who continue to read the Bible. Even deist Thomas Jefferson found much about the person and character of Christ that he admired, a stance I understood and shared.

It was when I was reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, I came across his famous trilemma:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
Now this put me into one serious conundrum as I was willing to consider Jesus of Nazareth as a great, moral teacher, but I knew enough as he was represented in Scripture that he was not a liar and he was certainly not a lunatic. And to add another dimension, I have never been convinced that he was a legend. Therefore, I could only have come up with conclusion and that he was who he claimed to be.

Also, of the twelve apostles (if you include Saul of Tarsus who later became Paul), all except John were martyred for their faith. And understanding the cultural context of Scripture, that they were willing to die for a crucified person (which was the most shameful and disgraceful way to die in the ancient Near East) that meant there had to have been another event that overpowered their cultural revulsion for crucified people.

That was the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ himself.

4.  Coming to Understand Pain and Evil In a Fallen World

Yeah, this is a world where evil happens. Everywhere there is injustice and chaos and killing, some of it even done in the name of religion.

Some Christians have become atheists simply because they could not wrestle with the seeming  contradiction between a loving God and the presence of evil. However, one of the reasons that I became a Christian is that in the midst of it all there is still good to be found.

And why?

Why are we not so swamped by evil that that is all we find? If there is no God and therefore no inherent meaning in all of this, if the precepts of evolution with its mantra "survival of the fittest" are absolute, why are we not tearing each other to shreds? What biological advantage do I have in thinking a rose is beautiful or that Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring can move me to tears?

This essay would go on for days if I listed the steps as to how I came to peace with the dilemma of theodicy. In fact, I don't believe I could ever summarize it and it would be brutal of me to do so. Why? The pain that some of you have experienced cannot be "explained away" in a soundbite or a blog. That would be callous.

Yet I feel no need to blame God or excuse him for the state this world is in.

In a nutshell, after decades of research and thought and study, I have come to peace with the contradictions and I can only say it is not just blind faith and though my answer cannot be explained in a blog post, but I can give you a hint.

If you ask me what God is doing about all the evil in the world, my response is a simple, "He sent me."

He also sent you. And everybody else.

I hope you're keeping your end up.

And if you discover you can't, be at peace. I can't keep my end up either.

That's where Jesus Christ comes in and he's not my crutch. He's my entire hospital with attached trauma center.

And for some odd reason that I cannot understand, he has turned my wounds into scars and scar tissue is stronger than the surrounding flesh.

And it is those scars from which I reach out to people with understanding and empathy and I can play my small role in easing this world's pain.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I LOVE My Library

I'm a Christian and I read. My reading is eclectic and covers many disciplines and genres. I also read atheist works.

And as a hardcore bibliophile, I will never have a library big enough where I will say, "That's enough."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pastor Killer Churches

Job offers roll across my desk all the time but for all of them I am either not eligible (though I have two Masters degrees, I do not have a seminary degree) or their pay rate is somewhere around "all the tree bark you can eat."

But then I get some like this that make me run screaming:

I only have one thing to say:

Let's talk some commonsense here.

You can have a leader who is a teacher/administrator (task orientation) or you can have a leader who is a preacher/counselor (relational orientation), but you cannot have both. In both Exodus 18 and Acts 6, God teaches us the serious danger of trying to fulfill every role. Moses and the apostles learned this the hard way.

I know way too many pastors who have burned themselves out attempting to meet unrealistic expectations and if the church who sent out the job call insists on a pastor who would fulfill all five roles, the search team has set a course for certain disaster. Scripture and my interaction with burned out pastors affirm this.

Just out of curiosity, what about your church's expectations?

The Parable of the Tiger (Human Sexuality)

Dear Francois,

It is almost midnight. But I want to answer your letter right away.

You write that Christ hasn’t heard your prayer. I ask you, what did you pray for? That he would deliver you from being a man? What do you want? To be without sex? To have no more desire at all?

What you speak of is not possible. All that one does, one does either as a man or a woman. Your sexuality is in your waking and sleeping. It is present with you when you work and when you pray. In your holiest feelings and in your purest prayers it is there.

If you believe in Christ, then you know that your body has become a temple of the Holy Spirit. If you pray for the mutilation of the temple, then Christ will not hear you. Christ wants to make you capable of living with your manhood. 

Must the one who believes flee from love? I know there are many Christians who withdraw themselves and who turn their backs on it. They avoid the opposite sex and think by doing so that they are especially mature and redeemed Christians.

They fool themselves. He who believes does not flee.

You can’t run away from your manhood: it belongs to you; it is a part of yourself.

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time there was a tiger. He was captured and put in a cage. The keeper’s task was to feed him and guard him.

But the keeper wanted to make the tiger his friend. He always spoke to him in a friendly voice whenever he came to his cage. The tiger, however, always looked at him with hostility in his green, glowing eyes. He followed every movement of the keeper, ready to spring on him.

The keeper was afraid of the tiger and asked God to tame him.

One evening, when the keeper had already gone to bed, a little girl got lost in the vicinity of the tiger’s cage and came too near to the iron bars. The tiger reached out with his claws. There was a blow, a scream. When the keeper arrived he found dismembered human flesh and blood.

Then the keeper knew that God had not tamed the tiger. His fear grew. He drove the tiger into a dark hole where no one could come close to him. Now the tiger roared day and night. The terrible sound disturbed the keeper so that he could no longer sleep. It reminded him of his guilt. Always in his dreams he saw the torn body of the little girl. Then he cried out in his misery. He prayed to God that the tiger might die.

God answered him, but the answer was different from what the keeper had expected. God said, “Let the tiger into your house, into the rooms where you live, even into your most beautiful room.”

The keeper had no fear of death. He would rather die than go on hearing the roar of the tiger. So he obeyed. He opened the door of the cage and prayed” “Thy will be done.”

The tiger came out and stood still. They looked into each other’s eyes for a long time. As soon as the tiger noticed that the keeper had no fear and that he breathed quietly, he lay down at his feet.

That is the way it began. But at night the tiger would begin to roar again, and the keeper would be afraid. So he had to let the tiger come into his house and face him. Again he had to look the tiger directly in the eye. Again and again. Every morning.

He never had the tiger completely in his power “once and for all.” Again and again he had to overcome him. Every day brought the same test of courage.

After some years the two became good friends. The keeper could touch the tiger, even put his hand between his jaws. But he never dared take his eyes off the tiger. When they looked at each other they recognized each other and were glad that they belonged together and that each was necessary to the other.

Francois, you have to learn to live with the tiger, courageously, eye to eye. For that purpose Christ will set you free. 

(From I Loved a Girl, by Walter Trobisch, reprinted in My Beautiful Feeling: Correspondence with Ilona, by Walter and Ingrid Trobisch) 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Life Well Lived

I have done many a memorial service in my years as a pastor, but today, for the first time, I looked at the timeline of the life of the man whose life we celebrated today.

Born Wednesday, August 8, 1923, Earl DeHaven, Sr, passed away on Friday, July 10, 2015, a total of 91 years, 11 months, and 3 days or, a total of 33,575 days.

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
The gentleman left behind an incredible legacy: nine children, six stepchildren, 24 grandchildren, nine step-grandchildren; 54 great-grandchildren; three step-great-grandchildren; and 18 great-great-grandchildren.

Born during the administration of Calvin Coolidge, Earl lived through 15 presidential administrations.

In 1927 when Earl was just shy of three years of age, Charles Lindbergh made the first successful transcontinental flight. Earl also saw the start of the space age, men walk on the moon, and he was 4 days short of experiencing humanity finally visiting every large body in our solar system as the New Horizons spacecraft sped by Pluto.

Earl served on the USS Hornet during World War II as a signalman under Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey Jr. and the story is that Halsey preferred the way Earl made coffee over everybody else. After WWII, Earl also lived through the Korean Conflict, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Vietnam War, and all the other recent conflicts we have all experienced.

Yet, Earl was a farmer almost all of his life and he lived in tune with the transition of the seasons.
While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. (Genesis 8:2)
And yet in the midst of it all, Earl lived his life in very much what reminds me of the  first line of the poem, Desiderata:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

There is much wisdom that comes from being a farmer. Life is not only a teacher, but nature’s Creator speaks with a wisdom all His own:
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, (Romans 1:20)
Earl was also a Christ-follower.
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." (Romans 10:9-11)
I suspect that when Earl opened his eyes to see the eternally green fields of Heaven, his first question was probably, “Where’s my tractor?” and the first words were that of Halsey saying, “DeHaven! Finally! It’s about time I get a decent cup of coffee up here!”

It is a privilege to know Earl’s family and it was a great honor to lead his celebration of life.

So what do I want for you to carry away from this?

You call them cemeteries. I call them “God’s library.”

Each tombstone represents a story. Write a good one. Make sure it has a happy ending and does not have for its sole purpose only to serve as a bad example. We celebrate the conversion of Scrooge with multiple readings. You only read the tragedy of Tess of the D'Urbervilles once.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (The Apostle Paul writing to his friend, Timothy)
May God's peace be with those who mourn.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Logical Fallicies In The Pro-Gay Marriage Movement

Written before the Obergefell v. Hodges by the Supreme Court that made gay marriage legal in all 50 states. However, the argument against logical fallicies still holds.
I hate having to make posts like this, but I confess that I've become weary of the supposed logic of certain arguments I see thrown about in social media in the form of what is supposed to pass as a witty graphic.

I could make a witty graphic for this as well, but I have a bad habit of not insulting the intelligence of other people and I'm not going to insult yours.

Now most of you will think this post is about homosexuality, but it isn't. It's about logical fallacies and how to read ancient documents. And I must confess I have no idea why I wasted my time writing that sentence because there are some of you who are going to injure yourselves with your keyboards rapidly typing out how much I'm a homophobe and a throwback, ad nauseum and will delightfully miss the whole point of this post.

But for the adults present, let's talk about the real point of this whole shebang.

People who support homosexuality as a valid lifestyle use two arguments against the stance of most evangelical churches: the supposed fact Jesus said nothing against gay marriage and the argument that the verses that speak against homosexuality in the Old Testament book of Leviticus also speak against all sorts of other actions that Christians do not follow today.

For those gay supporters on my friend's list, please stop using these. I confess they may work against a lot of Christians because the level of education in most American churches is so low that most church attenders today probably could not pass a standard fourth grade Bible class test, but I have a Bachelor of Science in Bible Studies and two Masters degrees. So allow me to explain.

Argument #1: Jesus said nothing against gay marriage, therefore he was completely cool with it.

This is called argumentum ex silentio (the argument from silence) and is a logical fallacy. Let me explain:

On your own social media, you have never condemned yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater and you have never condemned sacrificing children to the ancient god, Molech. Therefore, since you have not condemned them, should I assume you support these and other unsavory activities?

Jesus was a good Jewish boy and as I will address in the Levitical argument, you need to understand all ancient literature in its cultural context. Jesus did not speak against gay marriage or cannibalism or going on a berserk murderous rampage because it was a cultural given. Regardless of your own personal stance, everybody back then agreed these were automatically wrong. One does not need to restate the obvious.

Whether you agree or disagree, the Jewish culture of the day looked down on homosexuality, period. Anybody who studies ancient Near East literature knows this.

Now you may not like this little factoid, but if you continue using the argument from silence, you will understand why I place you on the same intellectual level of a backwoods, snake-handling, pulpit thumper who "don't need no book larnin'!" (an actual quote)

Now let's look at the Leviticus argument.

Argument #2: Leviticus condemns homosexual practice and also condemns wearing a shirt composed of two different materials, eating shrimp, and a whole host of rules not followed today. Therefore, homosexuality can no longer be considered immoral.

When you read ancient literature whether it be Beowulf, The Illiad, or the Old Testament, you need to understand its historical and cultural context.

The Leviticus argument says that since Christians use the passages of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 to condemn homosexual practice, then they are hypocrites because the passage also condemns such unique practices such as eating shrimp, not wearing two types of fabric in a shirt, etc.

Sorry. That don't work on me because I understand the historical and cultural context not just of Leviticus, but of the entire Torah. In its context, the Old Testament laws are divided into three areas. Quoting J. P. Holding:
1. First, universal moral laws. This includes do not steal, do not kill, by common agreement.
2. Second, cultural universals. By this I mean laws geared to Israel's culture that have a universal moral law behind them. (As an example, some have suggested the prohibition on trimming your beard [Lev. 19:27] relates to pagan practices that cut facial hair for magical purposes. So the universal behind this cultural would be, don't do the occult.)
3. Finally, ceremonial laws. Instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant, for example. 
Sometimes, all three types of laws found themselves stated side by side in the same chapter (Bible chapters and verses, by the bye, are a man-made invention to help with finding certain passages. The original writings don't have them. Did you know that? No? Hmmm.)

Regardless of your stance on homosexuality, the sanction against homosexual practice was considered by both the Old and New Testament to be a universal moral law.

By the way, Levitical law also condemns incest and sacrificing children. Should we toss those aside as well? Just asking.

Now again, you can continue to use the Leviticus argument, but if you do, what does that leave me to ask about your intellectual integrity?

Again, this is a going to blow your mind, but this post is not about homosexuality. It's about coming up with better arguments because the two I addressed should not be used by intelligent people. They just don't work.

I'm .... What Now????

I was told that because I do not support gay marriage, I am homophobic and deep down inside, I am actually gay myself.

Because I am genuinely terrified of bats, does that mean deep down inside I am actually Batman?

Yeah, baby! I'm BATMAN!

Just keep those creepy winged mice away from me.

ADDENDUM: A little while ago, I used my new-found discovery that I am the Batman to attempt a dramatic leap off the roof of my home.

I must now painfully deduce that I am NOT the Batman and therefore, following logic, neither am I subconsciously gay.

BATMAN and all characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics. The image is used in compliance with fair use laws.

A Quote To Consider

Tounge In Cheek Explanation of Several Bible Translations

Original graphic is located here. Personally, I use the NASB (New American Standard Bible).

Saturday, July 11, 2015

What Is A Lukewarm Christian?

I was asked to explain what a "lukewarm Christian" was. Below is my response:

Actually, I’m probably the best person to come to as interpreting Scripture through its cultural and historical context is my bread and butter. I imagine that you will discover that my answer mirrors several other responses you’ve gotten.

The phrase originates from the third chapter of Revelation.
14 "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation.
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
16 So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (NASB)
Now take a trip back with me to around Anno Domini 85 to the ancient city of Laodicea.

Laodicea was a city of immense wealth. In fact it was so wealthy, when the city was devastated by an earthquake in AD 60, the citizens turned a down an offer from Nero to help rebuild the city on his dime. Imagine a city that almost mirrored the glory of Rome herself. Lovely architecture, beautiful statues everywhere, and an aqueduct that carried water to the city that was so well built, a good portion of it exists to this day. It is also home to a very famous medical school and there is a tradition, most likely untrue, that Dr. Luke, author of the gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts, studied there.

Now let’s go back to that aqueduct. The water supply for the city came from hot mineral springs about five miles from the city. By the time the water reached the city it was of a tepid temperature and reeked of sulphur. The water was nauseating to the taste and smell.

Now lukewarm water does not taste good. In order for water to be of any value it must be hot or cold. Cold water refreshes; hot water cleanses and heals.

What Christ was saying was that Christians who are neither refreshing to the world around them or healing to the world around them are to him of no value. As I tell my own congregation, nobody is allowed to sit in the bleachers. As Christ-followers we are all down in the playing field and we better be refreshing or healing.

Hopefully, this answers you question, but if you need any more info, please ask away. Just be aware that it may be weeks before I respond due to many deadlines nearing in my personal and vocational life.

God bless.

About White Rabbit Ministries

White Rabbit Ministries is the brain child of Craig Alan Loewen: ordained clergyman, author, parlor magician, public speaker and lecturer, and adventurer extraordinaire.

It's mission is to faithfully serve the King of Hearts (and dodge the Queen's axe) in this ... um ... interesting world of Christian ministry.