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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Throwing Cold Water On The ALS "Ice Bucket Challenge"

I really don't mean to be a killjoy. I love the fact that millions of people are engaging in the latest "Ice Bucket Challenge" to elicit donations for finding a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS - Lou Gehrig's Disease). I've seen the moving story on ESPN about the gutsy baseball star (Pete Frates) from Boston College who initiated the whole movement. I pray that the almost 1000% increase in donations to the ALS Association as a result of this "Ice Bucket Challenge" phenomenon will accelerate the finding of a cure that cannot come too soon.

ALS is a heartbreaking, debilitating, evil disease. I know this because I've been watching my father-in-law suffer with it for almost 8 years now. I hate ALS.

But I hate the willful and selfish destruction of innocent human beings more.

The "Ice Bucket Challenge" has become a cultural phenomenon that only the modern social media monster could create. But those who engage in it need to know that the ALS Association's search for a cure includes their own unapologetic support for Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). Stem cells offer an exciting area of research that may prove to lead to the most powerful cures for some of the most horrendous diseases mankind faces. But we all need to distinguish betweens Stem Cell Research and Embryonic Stem Cell Research. When it comes to ethics and how we all value human life, the differences between them couldn't be more stark.

I and others at the Life Training Institute have written about the failures and ethical issues surrounding ESCR before (here, here, here, here, and here among other places). The moral issue centers on only one thing: From what source do you derive the stem cells? ESCR destroys frozen or cloned embryos of a small, defenseless human beings for the benefit of others. The simple fact is that the clinical promise and moral superiority of adult stem cell and induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC) over ESCR is undeniable and avoids the destruction of innocent human beings. We don't have to resort to barbarism to seek a cure for diseases.

So, what to do?

You can begin by reading a short news story on "What's Wrong With The Ice Bucket Challenge?" It gives a short overview of the issue and a couple of solutions:

1) There is an alternative research group that does not engage in ESCR, the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. Feel free to dump a bucket of ice water on your head if you are so-inclined, but then send your money to an institute that respects the value of human life at all stages.

2) Alternatively, if you want to donate to the ALS Association anyway, include with your donation a stipulation that your funds are not permitted to be used in any ESCR program. The Association's Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Carrie Munk, has made a public commitment that they will not use your funds to support ESCR if you do so.

To be fair, the ALS Association does support a wide array of alternative research programs. I don't want to disparage an organization that is doing so much to try to find a cure for ALS. But please, if you choose option 2), do so with great trepidation because Ms. Munk also claims that "under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future." Seeing that there are no "very strict guidelines" that are strict enough to allow for the destruction of innocent human beings, this doesn't seem like an acceptable risk to take.

Let's end ALS, but let's end it the right way.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Fantasy of Ungrounded Physics

As a follow-up to my last post about Darwinism's bad week, I also ran across this story ... an interview with South African Physicist George Ellis about the philosophical inanity that is regularly spouted by the New Atheist priesthood. Keep in mind that Ellis is not some easily dismissed Christian minister or Intelligent Design proponent (though I obviously have no problem with either of those). The article is from Scientific American and Ellis has co-authored books with the likes of Stephen Hawking.

From the piece:
Horgan (SA Interviewer): Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree? 
Ellis: Certainly not. He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did.  And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. Well, you can’t get any evidence about what existed before space and time came into being. Above all he believes that these mathematically based speculations solve thousand year old philosophical conundrums, without seriously engaging those philosophical issues. The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. 
... 
Horgan: Krauss, Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson have been bashing philosophy as a waste of time. Do you agree? 
Ellis: If they really believe this they should stop indulging in low-grade philosophy in their own writings. You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis. You can choose not to think about that basis: it will still be there as an unexamined foundation of what you do. The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined.Actually philosophical speculations have led to a great deal of good science. Einstein’s musings on Mach’s principle played a key role in developing general relativity. Einstein’s debate with Bohr and the EPR paper have led to a great of deal of good physics testing the foundations of quantum physics. My own examination of the Copernican principle in cosmology has led to exploration of some great observational tests of spatial homogeneity that have turned an untested philosophical assumption into a testable – and indeed tested – scientific hypothesis. That’s good science.
If this kind of common sense reasoning about the origin and nature of all reality interests you, I would also suggest an excellent book I read earlier this summer by the atheist, materialist philosopher Thomas Nagel, who has insulted the Priests of Scientism by having the unmitigated gall to question their religious devotion to Darwinism. It's a fascinating read with a great subtitle ...

Mind & Cosmos: Why The Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception Of Nature Is Almost Certainly False

Enjoy!


Thursday, July 17, 2014

An Embarrassing Week For The Priests of Darwinian Scientism

It's been a bad few days for the Priests of the Church of Darwin.

First, consider the pivotal example of resistance to malaria that Michael Behe used in his book, The Edge of Evolution, to show that genetic cell mutations could not account for significant, species-protecting evolutionary improvements in a species and therefore undermined the supposed power of natural selection to create more "fit" variations in an organism's genome. At the time, the likes of Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Kenneth Miller, Sean Carroll, and PZ Meyers -- the high priest's of scientism and Darwinian evolution -- mocked Behe's stupidity, his ignorance of how evolution works and the statistics they claimed he was misunderstanding.

Well, this week a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, confirm that Behe was, in fact, correct. Who wants to hold their breath waiting for an apology from these priests? My guess is that they will either pretend the study doesn't matter, or create alternate "just-so stories" for how they were right all along and the neo-Darwinian myth still stands on solid ground.

Second, Fuz Rana reports that the hominid species, australopithecus sediba, which has been sold as a "key transitional species" in the evolution of modern humans, has been found (by actual fossil evidence) to be a fiction. Considering the historical precedent of the priests of Evolution to create and perpetuate mythology, this comes as just the latest in a list of "surprises" that actually only surprise the priesthood -- who then go on to explain them away or pretend they're still true and publish pictures of them in the text books our children use in school.

Finally, the journal Nature reports that research using well-preserved Cambrian fossils of sea creatures show that their neural architecture is no substantially different from the ancestors that exist today (velvet worms). They haven't changed after more than a billion years of "evolution." In other words, when comparing the Darwinian model of gradual, new-species-producing change with the theistic model of the sudden appearance of species, followed by stasis (no change), and extinction ... guess which one matches the actual evidence?  (Thanks to Wintery Knight for this one)

If you're interested in keeping up with stories like this, check out Reasons To Believe's DAILY update: Today's New Reason To Believe (TNRTB). But, in the meantime, please notice that in each of these stories, the actual evidence undermines the pronouncements of the priests of Darwinian scientism and supports the model proposed by intelligent design proponents. The priests of Darwin make up stories that prove to be false, then taunt theists for operating on "blind faith."

Ironic don't you think?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Faith of the "Faithless"

To see how this whole misapplication of what faith means plays out, I offer the assertions of the new atheist, Sam Harris, as an example.

Sam Harris was compelled to pen The End of Faith on September 12, 2001 and wrote his Letter To A Christian Nation a few years later. He is adamant about the fact that religious views, because they are not based in "evidence" (remember that the new atheists define "evidence" as "scientific data" and scientific data alone), are irrationally held. He is one of a growing number who equate the travesties perpetrated by Muslim terrorists with anyone who claims what he calls a "rigid" religious view. According to Harris, rigid thinkers are dangerous in this world because they become too extreme.

Keep that idea in mind as you consider some points of agreement that Harris claims to share the hard-core "Christian right." In summary, Harris agrees that (p. 3-4) ...
  • If one of us is right, the other is wrong.
  • The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn't.
  • Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation, or he does not.
  • True Christians believe that all other faiths are mistaken and profoundly so.
For all the relativists out there I would like to point out that Harris, like me, appears to believe in the existence of objective truth. That being the case, we each must admit that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. It has to be so. We cannot hold completely contradictory views and both be right.

In other words, in taking the opposite view of the nutty Christians, Sam Harris is actually admitting to hold some "hard-core" beliefs himself -- beliefs that are exactly contradictory, and just as rigidly held, as those of his Christian opponents. He demands that Christians are wrong, that the Bible is not the word of God, that Jesus in not the one true path to salvation etc. He writes books meant to convince you that he is right and you are wrong if you disagree with him..

In short, Sam Harris has described himself as a rigid thinker who, according to his own allegations, must also be dangerous.

My only beef with Harris is that he holds Christians in contempt for having the audacity to think they are right about the way they see the world, while he is doing the exact same thing.

Bottom line -- Christianity may be true or false. We can debate the evidence (and we will). But whether it is true or not, the fact that Christians actually believe it to be true is not the problem. It is not a badge of honor to be wishy-washy. And it is not a prelude to oppression and violence to hold to concrete beliefs. It all depends on what those beliefs are, whether there is evidence to support them, and whether or not they comport with the way the world actually is. Harris cannot condemn religious belief until he first compares the nature of the religion, the worldview it creates, and the actions that result from its adherents.

Belief is not the problem. What matters is what one believes. That is what makes one dangerous. Those who actually practice Biblical Christianity should pose no threat to anyone. Conversely, following atheist ideas can be brutally dangerous to those with whom the atheist comes in contact. It goes both ways. But the simple act of actually believing something says nothing about whether or not it is true, or whether or not it is "dangerous."

Monday, June 2, 2014

The "Faith" Thing

Many of us have understood atheism to be defined as a claim that God does not exist. This, in fact, is the primary definition of atheism we find in the dictionary, and is based on the simple fact that a (Greek: not), attached to theos (Greek: God) forms a compound word meaning "not God."
noun
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.
The new atheists, however, have become fond of insisting that their stance regarding deities is that they "really just believe in one less God than you do." Another way of putting it is that atheism is not really a belief at all; it's just a "lack of belief in any god." This video is supposed to explain this point of view for those of us who just don't seem to get it.




From The Video
"Belief and Faith are not the same thing ... Faith can be thought of as confidence in that claim in the absence of evidence ... The more faith they have, the further away from evidence they travel."
On the first point ("belief and faith are not the same thing") I would have to agree. I have often illustrated the differences between some of these concepts like this:
Belief = mental assent: There may be several reasons for my holding some belief but that belief is nothing but intellectual acceptance of a proposition. I believe that airplanes can fly.
Faith = active trust based on evidence: I not only believe that airplanes can fly, I demonstrate my confidence in that belief by taking active steps beyond mere mental assent. I get on an airplane
Knowledge = justified, true belief: This is the philosophical definition of knowledge. I have a belief that is justified by its correspondence to reality (truth). I have measured my belief against the real world and found that it is actually legitimate. I get off the airplane in Chicago.
Notice that (1:14 in the video), faith and evidence are said to be inversely related -- that "religious" faith is actually confidence in the absence of evidence -- that faith is blind. Where I claim that faith is "active trust based on evidence," the video says that exact opposite. Further, the video claims that:
"if you ask a non-religious person if anything could make them believe in a god, the answer would almost certainly be, yes. Conversely, if you ask a religious person if anything would cause them to disbelieve, the answer is always, no."
Think about that one for a second. This would mean that if God showed up in my living room tonight and introduced Himself, I would therefore cease to have any faith in His existence. Do you see how ludicrous that is?

What's going on here?

Spoiler Alert: Words Mean Things

The first thing to note is that when atheists try to advance this argument, they are using different definitions of words and demanding that we accept them. For instance, at the point where the video claims that faith is confidence in the absence of evidence (again, at about the 1:14 mark), notice what is being shown on the right side of the frame. The inverse relationship being contrasted is not between faith and evidence -- it is between faith and "scientific data."

Big difference.

The atheist is demanding that the only way we can consider "evidence" is if it comes to us in the form of scientific observation. Most honest atheists are materialists -- they believe that the physical, material world constitutes all reality -- and that demands that our study of the physical world (science) provides us the only means to gather evidence. So, when an atheist demands evidence, he is demanding that physical evidence is the only thing that counts.

Problem: God is not physical. No thinking theist has ever claimed otherwise. For that reason, studying the physical world will never prove -- nor disprove -- the existence of God.

Notice what happens when you understand this subtle point ...

First, the atheist claims that, if asked if anything could make them believe in a god, their answer would be, "Yes." Saying this makes the atheist sound very open-minded, and rational, and unafraid of free inquiry. But what it doesn't take into account is that the only evidence they would accept is physical, material evidence ... for an entity (God) that is not physical.

In other words, they have defined "evidence" in terms that almost certainly can never be attained short of the second coming of Christ into their living rooms. At the same time, the historical evidence we do have for the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is unacceptable to them because it infers some kind of supernatural reality, and they have already ruled out that possibility by a simple, atheistic presupposition that such an explanation is not allowed.

Very convenient wouldn't you say?

Second, the video ends with the pronouncement that:
"atheism is not a belief and requires no faith since it's based in evidence"
From the prior discussion, it should be obvious that the faith/evidence claim is a convoluted mess that equivocates on both the definitions of faith and evidence. But here's another thing -- If the atheist really claims to have "no belief" regarding deities, all we need to do to show this to be false is to ask for a response to the following proposition: "God exists. True or false?"

There are only three answers:
  1. "I don't know" makes you an agnostic.
  2. "Yes" makes you a theist.
  3. "No" makes you an atheist.
All three are beliefs -- an assent or rejection of a given proposition. Everyone holds a belief about the matter.

Third, note that the video's claim that when religious people are asked if there is anything that would make them disbelieve in God, they answer, "No."

This is simply false. I can give a list of things that would make me quit believing in God in general, or Christianity in particular, tomorrow:
  • A reason to exempt the most profound effect (the entire universe itself) from the cause-effect relationship we accept in every other case. Atheist materialists try to do this all the time -- asserting either that the universe popped into existence without a cause, or that we are one of an infinite number of other universes that cannot, by definition, ever be detected.
  • A naturalistic explanation for consciousness (which cannot be demonstrated to be physical).
  • A naturalistic grounding for ethics.
  • A naturalistic explanation for the origin and content of information in DNA.
  • Evidence that refutes the resurrection of Christ -- this is not my idea, it is a tenet of Christianity itself and the demand of Paul in 1Corinthians 15.
Fourth, my conviction that Christianity is true is an active trust based on the Cosmological, Teleological, Axiological, Philosophical, Historical, Archeological and Experiential evidence I have before me. It is not blind and it is not a leap in the dark.

My position is that belief is belief is belief. We all hold beliefs. Religious ideas should not be held in some kind of separate category that atheists are allowed to define away. I believe religious ideas that they reject. That’s fine. But the fact that they reject them does not invalidate them. They hold beliefs that I reject but that doesn’t mean their beliefs are invalid. It means we disagree.

My religious belief is not “overwhelming” in the sense that I cannot be shaken from it. There are aspects of my beliefs that I question and doubt all the time. Any thinking human being who claims they don’t have religious doubts is a liar. But that doesn’t mean my beliefs are improperly held. Some of these ideas I believe in the same way atheists believe what they do about the makeup of the core of the Earth or the existence of a quark. They've never seen them but they accept them because they believe the evidence for them is more compelling than some other alternative. They take some of these beliefs on the expertise and authority of those they respect or whose credentials they hold in high regard.

The bottom line is that I don’t hold my beliefs in a vacuum. I don’t need to hold that with unquestioning certainty. I only need a 51% assurance that my view is true and that some alternative is not true. I have made an inference to the best explanation from the evidence I have in front of me. Both the atheist and I are operating on an active trust in the evidence we see.

The irony in all this is that the view I hold is actually the open-minded view that welcomes any kind of evidence and weighs it accordingly. I don't discount any kind of evidence or put limits on what is allowed into the discussion. The fact that many theistic believers may demonstrate otherwise does not constitute sufficient grounds to reject the evidence-based convictions of those of us who do.

Atheism is a belief that is not really open to serious inquiry. A simple discussion about these topics with mosts atheists makes that clear very quickly.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ham Fisted Sophistry

The other day I saw a Facebook post which had been "liked" by a friend of mine about how Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis fame) was lamenting the fact that Bill Nye, the fraudulent "science guy," has been smack talking him in the media since their infamous recent debate. At first I thought, "Well, there's a shocker," and moved on. But then, in a moment of admitted weakness, I returned to leave a comment (which has since been deleted ... explanation to follow).

My comment, as best as I can recall, was: "The problem here is that people are left with the impression that the only options they have on this issue are to choose Bill Nye's vacuous scientism or a Young Earth creationism devoid of supporting evidence. Since both are false, the debate has become polarizing."

By the way, my claim that "Young Earth creationism is devoid of supporting evidence," is not just my opinion. It is the admitted position of many of the leading Young Earth scientists themselves, but I digress.

Within a few minutes, Ken Ham himself responded to my comment as follows: "just like choosing to believe in a bodily resurrection [of Jesus] ... polarizing"

Do you see what he did there?

In one snide, snarky line, Ken Ham managed to: 1) illegitimately equate a young universe (for which there is no evidence) with the resurrection of Christ (for which there is plenty of good evidence), 2) construct a false non-sequitur that belief in an old universe is equivalent to denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus, 3) attach that belief to me unjustly, and 4) thereby create a straw man argument against a view that neither I, nor any other believer in an old universe that I know of, holds. 

That's how Ken Ham rolls.

Not one to let such a comment go unexposed for its lack of class and sound reasoning, I responded to point out the unjust and unjustified thinking in Ken Ham's snide remark by relating the same four observations I just noted and asking: "Either you don't know this and are therefore guilty of intellectual laziness and a failure to acknowledge and respond to your opponent's actual position, OR you do know this and are therefore guilty of intellectual dishonesty and bearing false witness against a Christian brother. Which is it?"

Ken Ham's response was to delete my comments and his own responses to my comments and block me from ever commenting again. Ain't that special? This, in the midst of what resulted in more than 440 entries of back and forth debate between atheists who mocked his position and allies who praised it.

In other words, you can kiss Ken Ham's ring, or you can be violently anti-theistic in your opposition, but don't you dare challenge his views or presuppositions from within a Christian view of the world. That makes you a heretic worthy of expulsion. 

That's how Ken Ham rolls ... and that's how little confidence Ken Ham has in his own ability to defend his position. He'd rather cover it up by making it (or you) just go away.

On the heels of my personal experience, I learned that this type of behavior has apparently come to be a little too common for Mr. Ham. It seems that he is taken with declaring those who disagree with him to be "compromisers of God's Word" and that he does so with a special sort of nastiness. The upshot of some of this behavior is that Mr. Ham and his organization, Answers in Genesis (AIG), have been disinvited and banned from future participation in the Great Homeschool Conventions that had welcomed them over the last several years.

From the Great Homeschool Conventions conference organizer Brennan Dean in the email he circulated announcing his dismissal of Ham from their events:
"The Board believes that Ken's public criticism of the convention itself and other speakers at our convention require him to surrender the spiritual privilege of addressing our homeschool audience."
"Our expression of sacrifice and extraordinary kindness towards Ken and AIG has been returned to us and our attendees with Ken publicly attacking our conventions and other speakers," Dean wrote. "Our Board believes Ken's comments to be unnecessary, ungodly, and mean-spirited statements that are divisive at best and defamatory at worst."
Well, at least it's not just me ...

Listen, if you want to believe in a young universe and defend all that goes along with that view, God Bless You. That's your right and, who knows, you may be right. But please, do so with intellectual integrity, a smidgen of class, and respect for the well-thought out and biblically orthodox views of other Christian believers.

In other words, don't do it like Ken Ham ... or at least find someone besides him to do it for you.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Scientism or Intelligent Design?: What's Really Stupid

I had been looking forward to the remake of the Cosmos series this year because I knew the update would include all kinds of wild scientific discoveries that have widened our knowledge in the 30 years since Carl Sagan brought the wonders of the universe into our living rooms. Talk about being disappointed.

Part of the problem with the show is the absolute disdain its host has for considering anything beyond his narrow scientistic view of reality. That, and he's not a very compelling speaker or relayer of information. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson has become quite famous recently because of the show, but to demonstrate what I mean, check out this video that was suggested to me by the atheist tildeb a while back to show me how stupid Intelligent Design is and how brilliant Dr. Tyson is. Let's just say that when you watch the video, it becomes very apparent that both of those claims are patently and obviously false:



Dr. Tyson wants to make a big deal about the fact that there are an overwhelming number of factors "out there" that seem to be trying to kill us.

Exactly!

I guess I'm not sure how someone so brilliant (and I mean that sincerely) would miss the fact that in spite of all that, here we are.

He says, "That's not what I would call the Garden of Eden." No, Dr. Tyson, it's not what anyone would call the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden is a unique place in an already unique world. You have to be able to explain both of those. That's kind of the point of the Anthropic Principle -- that it is highly unlikely that a place could exist anywhere in the universe that should be able to allow for and sustain life. Proponents of Dr. Tyson's view have gone to great lengths to explain that fact away -- such great lengths that their leading proposal is that there are an infinite number of other universes and we just happen to be in the one that allows for us. Never mind that, when it comes to their reliance on scientific observation, all these hypothetical universes are, by definition, unobservable. This small point renders their view unfalsifiable and therefore ... wait for it ... unscientific!

From there he descends into the usual childish mockery we have come to expect from those who have no good argument to offer for how things that they admit look to be designed came to be designed. Instead, he challenges us to "stop looking at all the things that confound [the] revelation" that there is no design and accept the fact that there is no purpose for anything. One example he gives of something that no designer would come up with is "an entertainment complex in the middle of a sewage system" -- his description of the human reproductive and waste elimination systems.

I think this is telling.

Not only does a grade school level statement like that dodge the fact that every system that makes up the human body is exquisitely designed; not only does such a childish statement demand a transcendent, omnipotent point of view that Dr. Tyson most certainly does not have -- the sad fact is that a scientist of Dr. Tyson's stature seems to be so blissfully ignorant of the purpose for what he calls "an entertainment system."

Human sexuality and reproduction have a purpose in this life and that purpose is most assuredly not for "entertainment." Even a diehard, atheistic Darwinist should know that. The human reproductive system is meant for ... reproduction. This is not rocket science, but Dr. Tyson's view of it betrays the fact that his disgust with, and denial of, all things for which one could deduce a purpose stands not on scientific grounds but on a volitional and/or moral view that will not countenance the existence of any Designer who claims to place limits on the extent to which he seeks to entertain himself.




_______________

See also: "The Folly of Scientism"

Friday, April 18, 2014

Abraham And Easter

Those of us who share the conviction that Christianity is actually true believe that a reset button got pushed on the first Easter Sunday when the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth. No argument about that here.

But, as a result of that mindset, many Christians seem to take that view to mean that the Old Testament was therefore rendered invalid, overridden, or somehow not applicable to how we understand our faith. Beyond citing the creation story or the 10 Commandments once in a while, we seem to have disconnected the Old Testament from the New. But doing so strips the overarching story of the relationship between God and man of much of its meaning. The history we see in the Bible has always been leading somewhere. It's all about the same God. It's all one story -- and it's a rich story that gets even richer when you take the time to see the unmistakeable connection between Old and New.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the life and mission of Abraham and the covenants God made with him that foreshadowed everything that would happen thousands of years later. In the story of Abraham we see all there is to understand about The Plan God put in place from the very beginning to save humanity. In Genesis 12:3 we get the biggy -- "... all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

All the peoples.

The nation of Israel was a "chosen people" only insofar as from that nation, and from the House of David within that nation, would come the Messiah for all the peoples. Israel was never meant to be the only nation God would save. It was simply the nation through which He would make a way to save Israel and everyone else.

The way He would do it was through a covenant relationship like nothing anyone had ever imagined before. It would be a covenant of law and love that was both conditional and unconditional simultaneously. If that sounds weird, it is. It is "weird" because the God who fashioned it is like no other God and the way in which He offered to save mankind was unlike what any other god could offer. He demonstrated it to Abraham in Genesis 15 when God showed Abraham the meaning of Easter.*

In covenant agreements between kings and peons of those days, it was customary for the great king to demand an animal offering from his peons. This was done by killing and cutting up the animals, then laying the pieces out on the ground. The king would promise to protect the peons if the peons would abide by the terms of their agreement with him. In such a case, the agreement was conditional on the part of the king. To "sign" the covenant, the servant who was promising to be loyal to the king would walk between the pieces while swearing an oath that in essence said, "If I do not live up to this agreement, may I be cut up in pieces like these animals." (OK, that's weird too. I'm not defending the practice, just relaying what it was).

And then came Abraham.

At first the ceremony commemorating his covenant relationship with God looked the same as it always had. He was instructed to prepare a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove, and a pigeon. Abraham did as he was told, spread the pieces on the ground, and waited for further instruction; but no instruction ever came. What came instead was the "thick and dreadful darkness" of judgement. Abraham was overwhelmed and fell into a deep sleep. But when he awoke the most astonishing turn of events up to that point in human history occurred right before his eyes.

A pillar of smoke and fire just like the one that would later lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt appeared. It was the manifest presence of God himself. As Abraham watched, the pillar of fire and smoke moved between the pieces to guarantee the agreement. The God who created the universe -- the King himself -- passed through the pieces with a promise to bless the peon Abraham. This was exactly backwards from the way things were supposed to be, but it didn't end there. Just as startlingly, Abraham was never asked to walk through the pieces himself. He was never called to make an oath of loyalty.

God was promising to take the curse that would result from a broken covenant on himself and making the pledge to honor the covenant relationship for both parties. As Timothy Keller puts it, God was promising, "Not only will I be torn to pieces if I don't fulfill the covenant, but I will be torn to pieces if you don't fulfill the covenant."

And we didn't. And He was.

The Gospels record three hours when the darkness of judgement smothered the world from above a wooden torture post at Golgotha as Jesus, the promised Messiah ("Anointed One"), suffered for us because we had broken the covenant. An immortal King submitted himself to the same kind of physical mortality that his peons had brought on themselves. The King of the universe fulfilled His promise to Abraham in Genesis 15. Judgement for the sins of the peons had come and the Judge stepped down from the bench to take the peons' sentence for them. A New Covenant -- one that had been promised in Jeremiah 31 -- was put in place. But the new covenant cannot be seen in isolation from the older ones. The overarching story of salvation is one story. The whole story leads to Easter. Looking backward, it all makes sense.

To see the foreshadowing of Genesis 15 is to understand the story of Easter. It is the story of an infinite gap between an infinitely perfect God and His rebellious peons that could only be filled by the infinite sacrifice only God himself could provide. It is the story of the unconditional love of a God who abides by the conditions of a covenant He didn't break. If someone were to ask whether our covenant relationship with God is an unconditional or conditional covenant the answer is, "Yes."

Easter is the culmination of The Grand Story of the relationship between God and man being brought to its unanticipated, majestic conclusion. God fulfills all the terms of both sides of a covenant agreement by suffering the punishment we deserve, then overcomes a death He didn't deserve three days later to verify to us that He is God ... and that we are not.

The King walked through pieces with Abraham in anticipation of our being at peace with Him on Calvary.


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* For an excellent treatment of this idea, listen to Timothy Keller's podcast, "A Covenant Relationship," of October 9, 2013. That sermon brought this all together for me in a way that nothing I had ever heard previously had done. I credit it with the central idea of this post.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Jerry Coyne: Censorship Czar

Jerry Coyne represents a Darwinist Priesthood that is apparently not only afraid of open debate, but believes it is within their rights to demand that those who disagree with them just Shut Up.

At least they are consistent with the "Might Makes Right" Darwinian model to which their worldview leads -- In every case where arguing for opposing viewpoints becomes an issue, those on Coyne's side want to shut debate down, while Intelligent Design proponents want to open it up.

Hmm ... I wonder why that might be?


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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Reality of Subjective Morality

Ravi Zacharias is a master communicator and apologist. So, after the knock down, drag out debates about the differences between objective and subjective morality that can go on-and-on for pages on a blog and its comments, leave it to him to demonstrate the point with crystal clear ease in under three minutes.

I am thankful for Ravi and those like him. Enjoy ...


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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is The Creation Model Viable? -- A Debate Between Ken Ham and Bill Nye


Tonight the Creation Museum and debatelive.org hosted a debate between Ken Ham, founder of Answers In Genesis, and  Bill Nye, The Science Guy. Those who know me also know that I don't have much patience with either one of these men for reasons I have detailed in the past here (on Ken Ham) and here (on Bill Nye).

The topic of the debate was, "Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins in Today's Modern Scientific Era?"

Because of my experience in observing both of them, I honestly had no interest in watching what I considered to be a waste of time. But, since many people I know and respect were interested in the event, I decided to force myself to sit through it. There was nothing surprising in the case either of them made but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised at the tone of their interaction. Good for them.

For what it's worth, here is my take on a summary of the debate:

Ken Ham is very good when talking Evolution -vs- Creationism, which is what the debate is supposed to be about. I think he did a great presentation of the differences in the views and the presuppositions on which they rest. Contra Nye, he showed some powerful evidence of brilliant scientists (including the inventor of the MRI) who are Biblical creationists. He made a great point about the fact that Creationists are perfectly willing to admit their assumptions while simultaneously accepting the actual evidence in question, while the Naturalists who defend Evolution also accept a religious belief system that they are not willing to admit is just that. In his first rebuttal, Ham did get into the "obvious meaning of the words of the Bible" (as long as you agree with him), death before the fall, and a "perfect" creation (I have addressed those topics here), and the fact that salvation depends on belief in Jesus Christ and not on the age of the Earth. Amen to that. I just wish he was that generous with the Christians he has debated on that topic in the past. Overall, he was more polite than I expected him to be and I think he did an admirable job.

Bill Nye keeps wanting to prove the age of the earth. Now, I happen to agree with him on that point ... but that was not the topic of the debate! Nye seemed so determined to show that a young earth model is preposterous, he forgot that wasn't the point of the debate. He never once -- in the entire two and a half hour event -- addressed the philosophical assumptions that underly his view of the world. He seems incapable of even comprehending what that means. Either that, or he is a master at avoiding the question. He resorted to "the-Bible-translations-rely-on-playing-the-telephone-game" nonsense that anyone who has any clue about the realities of textual criticism knows is nothing like how the Biblical text was transmitted. He repeated his previous empty assertion that Creationism stifles scientific progress and technological innovation -- a claim that is not only logically incoherent, but demonstrably false. The defenders of Naturalism need to find a better spokesman than the engineer-comedian turned "Science Expert," Bill Nye -- he couldn't even explain the simple concept of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. It's unreal to me that he has kept this label of "science guy" when he is really more of an embarrassment to their cause.

Both debaters fell flat when asked what I believe was the best question of the night, "What would change your mind?" Ken Ham demonstrated that his presuppositional approach to apologetics is indestructible. While I admire his reliance on Scripture, he seems unwilling to accept two things that are made perfectly clear in that Scripture: 1) That it is perfectly acceptable, biblically, to seek and accept revelation from outside the Bible, and 2) that in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul challenges us with the idea that if the resurrection did not happen, our faith is in vain and we are all fools. I think he would have been more credible if he had admitted that. For his part, Bill Nye fell back on different naturalistic explanations than the ones his naturalistic presuppositions already demand are true, once again demonstrating his complete lack of understanding of his own blindness on the issue.

In summary, it is very frustrating to me that there seems to so little realization in the general public that there is a view out there that accepts the truth in both their points of view, and rejects their falsehoods. A view that accepts the obvious evidence about the age of the universe, is completely comfortable with the philosophical limitations and realities of human reasoning, and does both with a healthy and respectful view of the authority of Scripture. There are plenty of spokesmen out there for that point of view -- "Old Earth" Creationism -- but neither side in this debate seems interested in addressing it with some intellectual honesty.
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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

God Is Good. Period.

Every year, as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I see plenty of people I know and respect making lists of things they are thankful for. I understand their thinking and I share their gratefulness for all our "first world" blessings. No doubt about the fact that all of us owe some thanks for those things we mostly take for granted.

Because of the religious origins of Thanksgiving in this country, I also understand why our thankfulness is many times tied to God. Within the greater Christian community, being grateful seems to come with the parallel understanding that the blessings we get are a part of the healthy, wealthy, prosperous, and happy life that God truly wants for us. Our "best life now," you might say. When things go our way, we are quick to add-on the heartfelt announcement that "God is so good!"

Being one that has his antennae up to detect cultural assumptions that find their way into the church, it occurred to me that this might just be one of them. After all, we are called to have "the mind of Christ," and it was Christ who said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

So, if Jesus promised us we would have trouble:
  • I'm wondering why would expect the Christian life to be without it ...
  • I’m wondering why we think we deserve "our best life now" ...
  • I'm wondering why we would think the words we speak have the power to make things turn out the way we desire them to be, when He never said any such thing ...
  • I'm wondering why we're always trying to figure out "God's will for our lives" when He has already told us very clearly and very simply that "[His] will is that we be sanctified."
To be sanctified ... or to be healthy, wealthy, prosperous, and happy? That is the question.

In light of these reflections, I decided to make a Thanksgiving list of my own. Here it is:
  • I'm thankful for separation from family and friends because it makes me cherish the time they're with me even more ...
  • I'm thankful for suffering because it challenges those who witness it to show compassion ...
  • I'm thankful for poverty because it pleads with us to be charitable ...
  • I'm thankful for fear because it teaches us courage ...
  • I'm thankful for unanswered prayer because it requires us to be patient ...
  • I'm thankful for sickness because it exposes how helpless we really are ...
  • I'm thankful for loneliness because it forces us to realize that we are not the center of the universe ...
  • I'm thankful for evil because it gives us a way to recognize the perfect Goodness of a Perfect God ...
This may seem like a weird list but I made it because I believe her when Joni Eareckson Tada says that the accident that broke her neck and has left her a quadriplegic since she was a teenager "was the best thing that ever happened to her" because it forced her to seek and find God.

I believe it when C. S. Lewis says that "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

I believe that if James, the brother of Jesus can be beaten, taken to the top of the Jerusalem Temple and thrown off, then stoned to death because he survived the fall; if Peter can endure the sufferings we learn of in his epistles and then die crucified upside down; if Paul can be beaten, tortured and left for dead in a ditch outside Lystra, stoned, imprisoned and beheaded on a Roman street, I believe him when he writes that, "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope ..." (Romans 5:3-4)

If suffering was good enough for the apostles, I'm not sure why it isn't good enough for me.

Of course, this is all easy to say sitting here in my oversized, first-world office and it may be that sooner or later I will be forced to practice what it is so very easy for me to preach. But I consider these ideas now so that if/when the suffering starts, I won't be trying to wrestle with its purpose from inside the storm.

Jesus Christ sweated blood, was flogged and beaten mercilessly and then nailed to a cross to hang there until he died. If being sanctified means being made more like Christ, I think we should stop thinking that suffering is not for us, and start thinking about what it really means to be sanctified.

No one likes pain but I am thankful for it because I have to trust that God's purpose in this life has Him at the center of it, not me. His purpose for this creation is to annihilate suffering, and evil, and pain ... forever. Part of that purpose is that I need to develop the eternal virtues of charity, compassion, patience, courage and humility (among others).

So this Thanksgiving, I say we start telling the truth. Instead of just expecting the pleasure, let's start anticipating the pain with full knowledge of the reason we are called to endure it -- our sanctification. Our transformation to be like Christ. And then let us remember that regardless of our circumstances, we know they have an eternal purpose, that we are a part of it, that it is bigger than us, and that God is good whether we're personally doing well at the moment or not.

And let's be thankful for that too.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ain't That N.I.C.E.?

I wrote this more than four years ago … and things have only gotten worse. It's interesting to see how some bad ideas (and names) have changed -- for the worse.
_______________

In the third installment of his space trilogy,Space Trilogy That Hideous StrengthC. S. Lewis' main character (Mark Studdock) was seduced with the promise of joining the inner ring of a powerful English society that used questionable tactics to establish an "efficient" state bureaucracy run by controllers who saw themselves as being a cut above the rest of the world. The name of the society Mark yearned to join was the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments -- N.I.C.E.

Lewis described N.I.C.E. as:
"the first fruits of that constructive fusion between state and laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes for a better world. It was to be free from almost all the tiresome restraints ... which have hitherto hampered research in this country. It was also largely free from the restraints of economy ..."
This, in fictional form, was the epitome of what Lewis feared would become a socio-political reality. Some of his reviewers begged to differ. The New York Times described That Hideous Strength as "superlatively nonsensical excitement, challenging implications," while Time magazine called it a "well-written, fast-paced satirical fantasy." That was in 1946.

Fast forward to 2009.

John C. Goodman, writing in National Review (September 21, 2009), reports on the contemporary British health commission:
"which currently recommends against any treatment that costs more than $45,000 to save a year of life. Because of [the commission], British cancer patients are denied access to drugs that are routinely available in the U.S. and on the European continent, and thousands die prematurely."
The name of the commission is the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, but the Brits refer to it by the more commonly recognized acronym: N.I.C.E.

I wish I could make this stuff up. In fact, when I read it I assumed that Mr. Goodman had made it up. He didn't. But the creepy stuff doesn't stop there.

The reason Mr. Goodman cited this fact was because N.I.C.E., according to former Senator Tom Daschleis the model for American health care reform. He said so in his book, Critical: What We Can Do About The Health-Care Crisis. Barring the inconvenience of paying those pesky income taxes that only those of us who are not driven to work in a limousine should have to bear, the good Senator would have been the one overseeing our American N.I.C.E. guys.

Today, we see hypocritical politicians passing laws they've never read. We see the unilateral decisions of Barack Obama changing the duly passed, "settled law" of the Affordable Care Act to favor his cronies and union bosses. We see Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle touting the fact that they will also be covered by ObamaCare while conveniently avoiding the subject of their under-the-table subsidies. We see this is "necessary" to preserve the crop of geniuses in Washington D.C. from experiencing a "brain drain" if forced to live under the law like the rest of us chumps. We see HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who, as we have seen, will not only fill that role but also be the one to decide which pool of federal funding will be used to fund abortion.

We see, in other words, that all the N.I.C.E. guys are really just lying through their shiny white teeth.

Remember all the talk about "death panels" in ObamaCare? Well, given the ideology and bureaucratic impulses of our current cast of political characters, does anyone truly doubt that there will be rationing. When resources are limited and controlling costs is the reason the reform was pushed in the first place, this will be the inevitable result. Someone will be charged with responsibility of deciding who gets what. Someone like Mark Studdock.

And that is a hideous strength to wield.


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Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering Jack


Everyone who was alive 50 years ago probably remembers where they were and what they were doing on this date in 1963. It's a day that is emblazoned in our minds because it was the day that one of the greatest and most influential men in modern history died. Sadly, I didn't learn the significance of that day until nearly 30 years later. I'm still learning how much that man influenced my life and how indebted I, and many others, are to his life's work.

His friends called him Jack, but the man I'm talking about is not the man that you are probably hearing about in the news today.

His name was Clive Staples Lewis.

On the first day of classes in my Master's Degree program at Biola University, Craig Hazen welcomed us to the campus and asked us to go around the room for an introduction that included a short explanation for how and why we became interested enough in Christian Apologetics to enroll in the program we were just beginning. As I recall, there were about 28 of us in the room. Twenty five of us (me included) invoked the name of C. S. Lewis.

This was not, and is not, idolatry. Jack Lewis would reject and admonish the very thought of such a thing. It is simple respect and gratitude for the memory of the death of a great man and the enormous impact he had, and is still having, on this world.

His books are still being published. His allegorical stories and novels are still being made into films. Max Mclean has made himself deservedly famous for his one-man-show theatrical presentations in which he does nothing but give a dramatic recital of Lewis's books (so far including The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce). Think about that. We live in the age of instant news, YouTube videos and Snapchat. Max Mclean is reciting 70 year-old C. S. Lewis books ... and his audiences are mesmerized by them.

It is hard for me to imagine that any one person outside the biblical authors could ever again have as much influence on the thinking of so many people in ways that defend and promote the truth and reality of Christianity as C. S. Lewis. His way with words, the depth of his thoughts, and the prescience with which he anticipated the world we now inhabit is breathtaking to comprehend. He was a master of language and a brilliant observer of culture.

He was not a philosopher. He was something better. He was someone who could make philosophy real. He could see where philosophy was heading. His predictions and philosophical forecasts from the 1940s and 50s have become today's headlines. If you're skeptical of that claim, don't take my word for it, just sit down for a couple of hours, read The Abolition of Man, and try to fathom the fact that it was first published in 1947.

Beyond that, C. S. Lewis was a model for both Christian believers and rationalistic skeptics who have both stopped thinking about life's most important questions because they've already found their answers. He grew up an atheist but later admitted that his atheism was motivated by the emotional consequences of the pain he experienced in his youth that he could not reconcile with a good and loving God. That is a difficult thing to overcome. It is the most common reason for rejecting belief in God's existence. It is the enemy of reason. Yet, Jack Lewis vanquished each of these because he was more committed to the rational pursuit of truth than a victim of the tendency to let emotion succeed in locking the door behind a closed mind.

Lewis' mother died when he was 8 years-old. His father shipped him and his brother off to boarding schools where he gained not only a superior education but a love for books and inner reflection that was born of loneliness. Many of Lewis' childhood memories shaped the characters he would later create. His vivid pictures of those times became the settings for his stories. He relished the influences of George McDonald and G. K. Chesterton, who made him a lover of story and challenged him to think for himself. He fought in World War I, was wounded, and had one of his dearest friends (Paddy Moore) die in that war. Then, because he honored a pact he made with Paddy, on his return to England, Lewis spent the next 32 years caring for Paddy's mother -- an enterprise that was both strenuous and stressful but that Lewis rarely mentioned.

This was a man who had every excuse to be bitter and angry but everyone who knew him thought him to be the most cheerful and joy-filled person they had ever met. Lewis rejected bitterness and emptiness because he turned toward the Truth and power of Christ.

In his autobiographical and ironically titled, Surprised By Joy, Lewis describes his arrival at Oxford and the idyllic picture he had in his mind of the place that would become his academic home and anchor. He got off the train and wandered through town looking for a place to stay. As he wandered, the town "became more and more shabby, with one dingy shop after another, [but he continued] 'always expecting the next turn to reveal [its] beauties.' Only when it became obvious that he was coming to open country and there was no town left did Jack stop and turn around. Then he saw [Oxford] in all its glory, with its grand collection of towers an spires reaching toward the sky, a picture of academic splendor unsurpassed anywhere in the world* ...

"I did not see to what extent this little adventure was an allegory of my whole life."

With Douglas Gresham
Recently, I got as close as I could ever get to meeting Jack Lewis when his stepson, Douglas Gresham,  along with Dr. Devin Brown of Asbury University and author of, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis, visited a nearby church to spend a couple of hours telling stories about him. It's a book that any skeptic or any fan of Christianity should read and consider because C. S. Lewis was both. I wish we would all be so dedicated and insistent on pursuing the Truth.

In an age where sound bites and celebrity count for more than substance, Jack Lewis -- a man of whom there only exist 38 photographs in the world** -- still resonates with and touches those who are privileged enough to take in his work. Over the years I have found that there are some of his ideas that I may take exception with but there is no Mere Christian who has made me think more about our shared convictions than Jack Lewis. I look forward to the day when I get off the bus at heaven's gates. I don't think I'll have to look far to see a barely recognized figure who seems somehow more imposing than all the familiar faces whose own earthly notoriety was their goal. When I do, I'll remember the words from The Great Divorce when the traveler's guide/teacher assured his student that: "[He] is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things ... Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder [gentleman] to waken all the dead things of the universe into life."


________________

* Devin Brown, A Life Observed, p. 97.
** According to The Magic Never Ends documentarian Chip Duncan as cited in: Devin Brown, A Life Observed, p. 18.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

J. Warner Wallace: Christian Case Maker



A new addition to the staff at Stand To Reason, J. Warner Wallace is a fantastic apologist whose clarity and attitude should inspire us all to "bloom where we're planted" as defenders of our Christian convictions.

In his book, Cold Case Christianity, Jim puts his experience and expertise as a cold case homicide detective in Los Angeles to work to analyze the evidence for Christianity. It's a great book that I highly recommend.

If you've been challenged about the ability of the New Testament writers to write the Gospels, this is a great article by Jim about the authenticity of the Gospel of John:

How Could a Poor, Uneducated Fisherman Write the Gospel of John?

Good stuff all the way around!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Buried Treasure

Yesterday I completed a project that I have been putting off for months when I finally brought in some topsoil to regrade a spot in our backyard, seeded it, covered it with straw, and set up a sprinkler to water the new grass to life. As you can see, the shape of the area in question is fairly odd for a Fall replanting project. A perfect square? What's up with that?

Well, fourteen and a half years ago, when we moved into our new house, our five boys were 11, 9, 7, 4 and 2 years old. The younger part of the crew requested a sandbox in the backyard. Not being one to go out and buy some flimsy metal contraption that would rust away before the next summer, I reacted with overkill to produce the kind of sandbox I would have wanted as a kid. It took me a while but I finally created a 10' x 10' monstrosity. It had two layers of 6"x6" treated lumber to form the frame, bench seats on the corners, and probably two cubic yards of fine sand I lugged in bags from the hardware store over the several trips I made to find the right stuff to build it. And it wasn't going anywhere. The boards were held together with 6" countersunk lag bolts and the whole thing was anchored to the ground at the corners with pieces of 2 foot re-bar that were pounded home with a sledgehammer.

Now that's a sandbox.

Our boys spent a lot of hours playing in that thing. They built castles using Tonka trucks and bulldozers. They conducted full scale war re-enactments in that sand complete with tanks and plastic men shooting from tactically advantageous positions. They threw sand at each other. In fact, experts estimate that close to one cubic yard of that sand found its way back into our house over the ensuing 14 years.

But the sandbox days are over. Over the last several years, the sand became a breeding ground for those thick, spiny weeds that viciously attack you if you try to pull them. Rusted trucks found their way to the garbage. The wood was dried and cracked. The sandbox became nothing but an eyesore that made mowing the backyard more difficult than it really needed to be. I just couldn't bring myself to do anything about it. When Hank, our beloved golden retriever and The World's Best Dog, died a few years back, we planted a willow tree to remember him ... right there next to the sandbox.

The willow is getting bigger but the sandbox is just getting more overgrown.

So, this summer I had to cave to reality. We chopped the boards and pried rusted re-bar from the ground. Our sandbox frame became a funeral pyre for nasty weeds and plastic toys. Yesterday I lugged bags of topsoil to cover the dirty sand and, as I was raking it smooth and level, a few buried army men found their way to the surface begging for one more day in the imagination of a little boy.

I saved the army men.

And so a square of dry hay now covers the place where the sandbox used to be. Our water bill will be a little higher until the grass sprouts and, eventually, the yard will be easier to mow. But the sandbox won't be gone.

I was too lazy to replant the area the way I probably should have. I just left the sand where it was and covered it with a few inches of topsoil. My guess is that that square in our backyard where the sandbox used to be will always be a little soft and get mushy when it rains. The grass may grow a little differently in that square next to Hank's tree. Most people probably won't notice but we will. If you know where to look, you will always be able to see the outline of the place where five carefree little boys just played with army men.

That's my plan, anyway.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fast Food

In mid-February a friend of mine mentioned that a few years ago he started a personal tradition of fasting during the Lenten season leading up to the celebration of Easter. He said that the impact the experience had on him the first year he attempted it was powerful and had led him to continue the practice every year since. He didn't tell me what he meant by "powerful" but he challenged me to give it a try.

Coincidentally, I had been considering doing exactly that, though on a much smaller scale than he suggested. My friend had researched the issue and found that the original practice of the monks who instituted Lenten fasting was to fast every day except Sunday for the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. The monks apparently believed that Sunday, being a day of rest, should also include resting from the practice of fasting. So, though he was not in any way Catholic, my friend had decided to do the same thing. He suggested that instead of going directly to a full-blown fast, I should wean my way into it by eating only fruits and vegetables for the first week. He told me this on the day before Lent began.

The next morning (after breakfast), I decided that instead of just teaching and talking about the spiritual disciplines (you will find a good summary of what they are in a blog series by Ken Boa here: Spiritual Disciplines, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), I might actually try putting them into practice. And so, almost on a whim, I vowed to give it a shot. I had no idea what I had signed up for.

Before I go any further, please understand that I realize the whole subject of the "spiritual disciplines" can be controversial. There are some who attribute these practices to eastern religious influences, to the occult, or to a dualistic, works-based view of spirituality. These can include unbiblical ideas like "learning to hear God's voice," adopting Gnostic concepts, or succumbing to the false notion of Catholic asceticism and the like. I understand and agree with those concerns. I am not addressing those here. My only goal during this whole ordeal was to use fasting as a tool to recognize my own self-centeredness and to redirect the energy I usually spend thinking about me to instead think about the God who sustains me.

I took my friend's advice to institute a purely fruit and vegetable diet (except that I added nuts to the list because I was a wimp) and it was only a matter of hours before the effects were obvious -- mostly when I had to drag myself kicking and screaming out of the pantry I frequent all-too-often. This was the first lesson I drew from what came to be an eye-opening, 40-day excursion into self-discipline and prayer. It is not about what you fast from or how far you go with your commitment. It is all about making the commitment in the first place. I found that when I put the brakes on my self-indulgent nature and forced myself to focus upward or to say a prayer - no matter how short or un-lofty - my propensity for the former gradually morphed into my practice of the latter. After a couple of weeks the practice took less and less effort.

Fasting is not meant to make us "better" or more "spiritual." It goes without saying that it should never be used as a self-serving method of impressing other people with the awesomeness of your own humility (see: Matthew 6:16). It seems to me that anyone who really understands the purpose of fasting also understands that doing it with the right intention means that no one will ever know you are doing it ... until you write about it on your blog, of course.

In other words, I found out what my friend meant when he described his fasting experiences as "powerful." The power in this or any other spiritual discipline comes in recognizing just how much we don't think about what we should be thinking about. The power comes in recognizing that we are powerless in every way that really matters. The power comes in the tangible realization that the most impactful aspects of this life we are living are the ones that are intangible.

When you recognize the Source of that power and recognize that it does not reside in your own head, you can go revert to your old ways of doing things (as I have) but you never go all the way back. You can't. And that's the point.