Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Planning For 2009

Though it may be an exercise in futility, I am going to try to be more organized and methodical about posting in 2009. Here are the four goals I have for the coming year:

I will attempt to offer semi-timely responses to the big events of the year. I say "semi-timely" because my commitment here will be to prioritize a thoughtful interpretation over just getting something out there quickly.

I will be more disciplined about addressing the claims of the (so-called) New Atheists. I say this for two reasons. First and foremost, the topics swirling around the New Atheist beehive are extremely important and relevant, especially to those who I am most passionate about reaching -- the high school and college students who are most vulnerable to their implications. Second, some have expressed a real interest and appreciation for discussing these issues.

I will do my best to make my posts shorter and spread longer treatments of the issues over several posts instead of putting up posts that are too long-winded or hard to follow.

I will try to provide a theme for the month and, as best I can, stick to it. Here is my plan for the first half of the year:
  • January: Doubt

  • February: Darwinism (This month is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth)

  • March: Defending Life

  • April: Technology and Humanity

  • May: Technology and Humanity

  • June: The Real Jesus
That's the plan. We'll see how it goes. If you have ideas or issues that you would like to discuss, please let me know. You can contact me at: bob@truehorizon.org.

In the meantime I wish all a Happy New Year and look forward to bantering with you and seeking the Truth together in 2009.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas In Your Heart

Christmas is more than a historical holiday, the concept of Immanuel – God With Us – more than just a description of the fulfilled hopes of a Jewish nation.

Christmas encapsulates our entire faith in one short story. Christmas is a picture of the manifestation of Christ within us. It happens every day. Like the lowly surroundings of a manger in a stable, unimpressive in the eyes of the world, Christ comes to us where we exhibit the essence of humility and powerlessness, where we are poor in spirit. It is there that we possess the kingdom of heaven. It is then and there that the Messiah arrives.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Like the wonderstruck shepherds, terrified by the glory of God that enveloped them, our contact with Christ upends the world we know, transforms us and changes our fear to joy. We are irreversibly changed.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Like the wise and affluent magi, we find him when we seek him, only to learn that our earthly wealth, influence and perceptions crumble at his feet. He leaves us no choice but to worship him.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The birth of Jesus was not a one time event. It happens every day, in every heart that yearns to receive him. Every day we make the choice to re-welcome the Christ child.

Every morning we awake to a new beginning. We meet the day with a clean slate; free to determine our attitudes and responses to the world around us; free to forgive and love one another. Every morning we are blessed by the virgin birth of our souls, newly refreshed by the Grace of God.

. . . to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness . . .

Our culture celebrates Christmas only once a year. Don’t fall for it. Every day is Christmas in your heart. Jesus is the Christ in Christmas. But he is more than that. He is the Christ in you.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Peace With The Bedlamites

The irony in the linguistic morphing of Bethlehem into Bedlam goes beyond the modern parallel between a British insane asylum and the month of December in an American shopping mall. We have not just got a problem with our perspective -- we have a problem with our theology.

In the songs we sing, the cards we send, and the seasonal movies we watch, we have come to see Christmas as a season of joy, of giving, of love, and of family. Nothing is wrong with any of these, of course. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that these are the heart of Christmas. Each descends from a more central fact about Christmas that is closely related to another of our favorite Christmas phrases but misunderstood just the same. Linus made it famous in the Charlie Brown Christmas. You can watch it here for old times' sake if you wish, but here is what Linus is quoting:
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [Messiah] the Lord. "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
The phrase I'm talking about is right there at the end: "Peace On Earth." Do you see it? I hope not -- because it's not there.

Though it's the title of many a Christmas card and the advertising on many a holiday shopping bag, you might notice that is also not what the text actually says. It's not even what Linus says. You may also notice that the entire passage is not about our joy, or our giving, or our love, or our families -- it is focused on God himself.

It is not unusual (in fact, it is human nature) to turn things that are supposed to be about God into things about us. It is also not unusual for us to twist the meaning of things just a tad when we do so. And that's where the "Peace on Earth" thing comes in. It makes us feel good to say that Christmas is our hope for "peace on earth" but first we have to recognize that, once again, the peace is not a promise for us in our worldly relations -- God knows that hasn't proved true over the 2000 years since Jesus' birth -- instead, Biblical translators point out that ...
"The meaning seems to be, not that divine peace can be bestowed only where human good will is already present, but that at the birth of the Savior God’s peace rests on those whom he has chosen in accord with his good pleasure."
Do you see the difference?

It is not that world peace broke out on that cold winter morning in Bethlehem; it is that God came down in human covering to offer the only possible way of reconciliation between His perfect moral goodness and the bedlam that has broken out since we staged our human rebellion against Him.

We've been at war. The peace we're offered is between us and God.

The joy comes in realizing that to be true. The giving and love come in mimicking the selflessness we witnessed in the gift He gave that cost us nothing. Our families are the means by which we replicate and disseminate that love "for all the people." The difference is subtle but imperative; each of these things is impossible to celebrate fully, or practice appropriately, unless we first make peace with our Creator and Messiah.

Though I don't know that I've ever seen it used as a Christmas card, I can't imagine a better representation of what we Bedlamites have made Christmas into than the fresco on the Sistine Chapel that Michelangelo titled, "The Creation of Adam." In the most gracious act in human history, the Creator himself reached down to touch us in human form, while we appear only vaguely interested. Look at the way God is stretching His arm down to man -- and at the way the first Bedlamite halfheartedly reaches back.

May we all celebrate this Christmas with the intention of divorcing ourselves from the accuracy of Michelangelo's artful depiction of our state. May we all replace "Peace on Earth" with "Peace with God" and recognize the power in the subtle difference.

{I want to give credit to Greg Koukl who, on his 12/7/2008 STR podcast, articulated the core meaning of the Luke 2 passage cited above as I've addressed it here}

Monday, December 15, 2008

Creating Bedlam

I'm not sure why they started calling it "Black Friday" but the day after Thanksgiving has lived up to its name this year. On November 28th, a Walmart employee died when crazed shoppers burst through the doors of the Long Island store he worked in and trampled him to death in an attempt to be the first to nab the sale priced items for which they had waited in line for hours.

Within hours of that incident, two shoppers were shot dead -- not in a robbery attempt or a high speed chase with police -- but arguing during a scramble for a sale in a Toys-R-Us store in Palm Desert, California.

Happy Holidays! Welcome to the season formerly known as Christmas. How did we get here? Has our society lost its mind? It seems that with regard to the celebration of Christmas the answer is clearly, "yes." As a point of interest ...

In 1247 the sheriff of London, a man named Simon FitzMary founded a priory for the sisters and brethren of the order of the Star of Bethlehem just outside the city walls. It was used, as one of its special purposes, for the housing and entertainment of the bishop and canons of St Mary of Bethlehem, its mother church, and thereby became known as the Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem.

By 1330, records show that the priory had become a hospital and that by 1403 some of its patients began to remain there permanently. When King Henry VIII later dissolved the Catholic monasteries in Britain, the priory was given to the city of London and, in 1547, officially sanctioned as an insane asylum which soon became infamous for the brutal ill-treatment meted out to the insane and the clamor, commotion, and pandemonium that could be heard emanating from within it. Because the local residents spoke in a dialect that didn't quite live up to the King's English, their cockney pronunciation of Bethlehem came out as "bedlam."

So, in a way that only human beings could contrive, the word we now use to describe lunacy and chaos actually has its source in the name of the city of Jesus' birth: Bethlehem.

Today's news stories simply reflect the sad link we have created for ourselves in turning the birth of Christ into a consumerist marketing frenzy. The lunatics are not only running the asylum, we created it.

A little more on that next time ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Really Late Term Abortion

I hesitate to address this story but as I sit here watching the latest "breaking news" about the apparent finding of the remains of the missing Florida girl, Caylee Anthony, it occurs to me that intense moral outrage being expressed by members of the press (and many others) toward Caylee's mother, Casey, is not just a little hypocritical. Let me explain.

One CNN commentator (Jane? a woman I have never seen before but her name is irrelevant) reports that this case betrays an attitude that is "sadly repeated to a lesser degree all over this country every day." Her reasoning?

Casey Anthony didn't want her little girl.

I was unaware of the fact that Caylee's mom tried to give her daughter to a friend at some time in the recent past. It seems that Caylee was cramping her partying lifestyle. Apparently, the case ended up before a judge who insisted that Casey keep her daughter and own up to her responsibility to care for her. Casey wasn't happy about it. So now we have a motive for the murder of Caylee.

To be fair, Casey Anthony has not been convicted of anything. She is innocent until proven guilty. I want to emphasize that my comments here have nothing to do with her guilt of innocence. All I want to do is point out the warped thinking that was exposed in the obvious implications of the CNN commentator who reported the story. To paraphrase her comments, she finds it objectionable that a judge forced Casey Anthony to keep a daughter she didn't want. She should have been allowed to get rid of her if she wanted to. In this commentator's mind, the judge's decision runs parallel to those who, by attempting to deny the "right" to abortion, would force women to keep children they don't want either.

I don't want to give the impression that this CNN commentator sympathizes with, or somehow condones this horrific crime. She doesn't. And she says so over and over again. But the implication of the comments she offered in the monologue she used to open her show was an obvious comparison of Casey Anthony's morally horrific decision and the same kind of decision that is made all over this country every day -- the decision to abort and those who would oppose it.

Why is it that Casey Anthony's selfish murder of her own offspring is reprehensible but the same decision, made for the exact same reasons, by a woman who does so while the child is in-utero, is defended as a private choice about which none of us (especially a man who can't even become pregnant) should have anything to say.

Casey Anthony has not been convicted of anything. But the sad fact is that it seems that Casey Anthony chose to administer her own version of a really late term abortion. It is a sad fact that Scott Peterson, another infamous person whose crime was a national news story, was convicted of two murders when he killed his wife and unborn child in California in 2002. In each case, the child in question could have met the same fate, for the same reasons, at the hand of an abortionist and you would never have heard of either one of them.

Somehow that just doesn't make sense.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Naturalism's Legacy

Last month Jesse Kilgore (pictured at right) walked into the woods near his New York home and killed himself. The 22-year old was attending college after a stint in the military and, according to his father, was prompted to read Richard Dawkins', The God Delusion by one of his professors. I have addressed Dawkins' book here before (and intend to do so again) but I bring this sad story up for three reasons directly related to the purpose of TrueHorizon and my invovlvement in the apologetics.

First, Jesse's dad has reportedly blamed his son's death on Dawkins, his book, and the college professor who challenged Jesse to read it. While I could never hope to understand the shock and trauma with which Jesse's dad is dealing, it seems unfair to blame the author of a book for any actions taken by someone who reads his work. So, while I can't blame Richard Dawkins for this tragedy, the story brings a relevant reality to light. College professors have an inordinate amount of influence over our children after they leave our homes. These people weild authority based on their position and their opinions carry the weight of academia behind every pronouncement they make. In this case, some reports claim that the professor in question regularly taunted Jesse or anyone else who shared his religious views. His challenge to Jesse to read The God Delusion was just a part of his personal atheistic evangelizing program.

While the fact that a professor can act like this is disgusting, the truth is that this kind of scene is far too common. Our kids need to be prepared to deal with it. It is directly attributable to The 75% Problem that CrossExamined.org is attempting to address.

Second, the fact that Jesse Kilgore was taken aback and his faith was shattered by Dawkins' book is sad -- but it was also completely avoidable. Listen to his relative's description of the impact the book had on Jesse:
"He mentioned the book he had been reading 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins and how it along with the science classes he had take[n] had eroded his faith. Jesse was always great about defending his beliefs, but somehow, the professors and the book had presented him information that he found to be irrefutable. He had not talked … about it because he was afraid of how you might react. ... and that he knew most of your defenses of Christianity because he himself used them often. Maybe he had used them against his professors and had the ideas shot down.
Listen, the arguments Dawkins uses in The God Delusion are weak and, in some cases, completely juvenile. As a scientist Dawkins speaks with an air of superiority based on his credentials but even a cursory analysis of his scientific claims renders them impotent. Ironically however, Dawkins book contains very little science! Instead it is loaded with presuppositions posing as arguments and philosophical assertions that disintegrate under scrutiny. Even if we grant that Dawkins is a brilliant scientist, his lack of credentials as a philosopher are blatantly obvious in the disjointed and unconvincing "arguments" he thinks he makes. It saddens me deeply that no one was able to point these deficiencies out to Jesse Kilgore.

Finally, this story exposes the complete emptiness of naturalism. Jesse's father was of the opinion that his son was well-grounded in Christian thought, but one of Jesse's relatives paints a different picture:
"He was pretty much an atheist, with no belief in the existence of God (in any form) or an afterlife or even in the concept of right or wrong," the relative wrote. "I remember him telling me that he thought that murder wasn't wrong per se, but he would never do it because of the social consequences - that was all there was - just social consequences."
Here we see where atheism leads. Though atheists can be good, moral people, they have no way to explain the foundation of that goodness or morality. Whether they realize it or not, to act morally is to borrow from the theism they claim to reject. Sadly, not all of them are content with that fact and eventually come to realize that their worldview is vacuous in its ability to explain things like right and wrong, good and evil, pointless and meaningful. In a materialistic world where atoms banging into one another is the full explanation of reality, there cannot be things such as these. At some point the atheist either chooses to live with this dichotomy and ignore it, or is faced with the reality that his worldview renders his life meangingless.

Sadly, the consequences of the second choice can be eternally significant.