Thursday, May 18, 2017

Why Christianity Should Die...

Reasons why Christianity should die...

Reason #1: Jesus and the first Christians were lunatics. Jesus claimed to be one with God, able to forgive sin, and preexistent to the Jewish patriarch Abraham. The early Christians claimed that a crucified Jesus had resurrected and appeared to many, including 500 people at one time. They died (some murdered even) professing this to be true, even claiming Jesus was a divine being worthy of worship (something no sane Jew would ever do). They even put these ideas in stories Christians call the New Testament, which leads me to reason #2...

Reason #2: The New Testament is full of contradictions. One gospel account says there were 2 angels at the resurrection of Jesus, another mentions only 1. Some gospel accounts have Jesus having supernatural abilities to read minds and predict the future, others depict Jesus as ignorant of future events and unable to do miraculous works. Clearly, the lunatics (see reason #1) did not sit down to collaborate and ensure we'd have a consistent story-line. If they were smarter, they would have worked out these kinks in the first century to ensure consistent ideas and practices. This naturally leads to reasons #3...

Reason #3: Christians are inconsistent practitioners. Christianity is a divided mess. They have pacifists and war-mongers. They have Mary-worshipping Catholics and Bible-worshipping Evangelicals. They allow Mother Teresa and George W. Bush to both claim to be Christians. In history, the Catholics kill Lutherans, the Lutherans kill Baptists, and the Baptists kill liberals (at least in the voting box). Why does such a divided, confused, and inconsistent religion still exist in the 21st century? Why hasn't this thing died off yet? It almost proves Christianity's belief in sin, ignorance, and the fallenness of humanity (but we can't give them that). It's almost as if something (or Someone) is behind all this. This makes me think of yet another reason...

Reason #4: Christians believe God is the power behind everything. Christians believe God created the world. Christians believe God is the ultimate cause behind all that happens in history (some Christians even say, God plans and purposes the evil actions of humans and demons). Such backward, pre-scientific, premodern, neanderthal ideas should have died. Surely, science and human thought can work out the origins of the universe, morality, and human dignity without looking to answers outside of space and time. Who needs God to know what's right and wrong? Hasn't all the wonderful things of the 20th century proven that science and atheism make countries more wholesome and peaceful? (Just don't look at the Soviet massacres, the evolutionary morality that propelled Hitler's Aryan race and the Holocaust, or the horrors of communist China and Vietnam, or the culture of death that has slaughtered millions of babies in the name of progress in the "enlightened" nations of the West.) Keep pointing those fingers at the lunatic Christians and their belief in a single deity who rules the cosmos. Such idiocy...oh, and one final reason.

Reason #5: Christians will never know till death if they are right. You can't test their beliefs in a laboratory. All their ideas are "pie in the sky," hopes of heaven. They think future happiness is to be postponed, that personal sacrifice and acts of love now are the way to ensure long-term, eternal joy. Such fools turn away from certain forms of physical pleasure and sexuality. They miss out now on what could be theirs, putting all their hopes in a future they won't even know is true until they die. They prize martyrs who gave up their lives for love and religion, but we know those martyrs were just lunatics. Mother Teresa was a fool. Eric Liddell an idiot. Christian doctors giving their lives among Ebola patients are crazy. Missionaries who give up the bliss of Western civilization to feed the hungry and share the message of Christianity don't have a clue. Darwin is right: it's all about survival of the fittest. The way to honor my species is to grow strong, populate widely, and ignore the weak. Let science be king and all else proven liars.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke

Neil Postman’s classic on the nature of television received the intriguing title, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985). Jacques Ellul penned The Technological Bluff (1990). Now in 2017, Tony Reinke writes a fantastic book, filled with penetrating theological insight, rigorous research, and probing analysis on the nature of the smartphone and its users, and the only thing that falls flat is the less-than-alluring title, Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You.

In 2016, Time magazine declared the iPhone as the most influential gadget of all time. The world of smartphones is far different from the world of silent movies or Atari. To minister in such a world, the church needs an army of servants, teachers, and shepherds who can personally find freedom from lurking smartphone dangers. Only then can we assist others to handle these amazing gadgets to the glory of God.

But what if you struggle with smartphone abuse as I do? For instance, my smartphone overuse at home is the most common argument between my wife and me. My kids will sometimes stand in front of me and say, “Dad, I thought you weren’t working today,” while I sneak in a quick email. Quite unconsciously, in the middle of meetings (that in my pride I have determined as boring) I will pull out my phone to check my favorite teams’ sports scores.

To whom shall we go? Answer: Jesus, and Reinke’s book can help. This book cannot save you, but the God to whom this book points can.

Each chapter stirs our affections, challenging us to look away from our device and instead toward our satisfying Redeemer and Creator. In the end, Reinke’s counsel related to the smartphone turns out to be a tutorial on human engagement with all technologies.

With compelling sentences, Reinke forces theological inquiry in the face of technological temptation: “What if the rhythms of Snapchat selfies and our star-studded Instagram feeds are exposing the dimness of our future hope?” He offers a well-crafted turn of phrase, one after another, such as, “The clicks of our fingertips reveal the dark motives of our hearts, and every sin—every double-tap and every click—will be accounted for.”

Later in the book, Reinke argues, “It is better to lose the capacity to scroll for pornography than have your whole body thrown into hell.” Fitting words for someone like myself, greatly thankful that God freed me from a pornography addiction before the onset of smartphones. Sadly, this dark sin still shackles others with Tinder, chat rooms, and images squalling feverishly for lost souls in cyberspace. Others racked with crippling loneliness turn to their phones to deal with relational fears, believing the lie that through a few million microprocessors and network connections isolation will end.

So, read the book. Find freedom in Christ. And Crossway, after this book goes through its first printing, consider a retitling of the book (the existing title can serve as a subtitle), such as, Swiping Our Souls to Death, Seeking a Screen Savior, or iSwipe Therefore iAm.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A Review "Revenge of the Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter"

In 1989, I spent hours playing "Think Quick" on my father's new computer (the Atari got put aside to investigate this new game fought out on keyboard instead of joystick). This adventure/learning game captured my attention. It was the dawning of digital for me personally. It promised adventure, excitement, and the thrill of victory. I mastered the game, tasted sweet victory, and now almost 30 years later, I wonder if I was the thing mastered, if the technology took more than it gave, if it over promised and under delivered?

These are the running concerns in David Jax's 2016 work Revenge of the Analog. Jax's journalistic talents show up throughout the book. You feel the tension of the digital download generation. You feel the sense of lostness in a world of constant streaming sound. Soon you too see the hope of owning a record player, touching the plastic mold, marveling over the album cover, and placing that needle carefully upon the record so that sound flows forth.

Jax includes the insights of technology gurus such as MIT Professor Sherry Turkle who observes, “It [technology] promises friendship but can only deliver performance.”

He takes you on a tour of the famous Camp Walden, where technology is still nearly banned for weeks of a kid's summer. Then, he askes the Camp director why technology is at odds with the purposes at Camp Wadlen. “[Sol] Birenbaum [head of Camp Walden] didn’t hesitate to answer. ‘We look at the heart of what we do, and it is interpersonal relationships.’” (page 236, epilogue)

Sure, the iPhone has it benefits, but to bow before its (near-idol like) promises and power can only mean a loss of humanity. Life was meant to be felt, shared, and experienced with human persons. Or as Jax explains, “Ultimately, analog pursuits connect us to one another in a vastly deep way than any digital technology can. They allow bonds to form in real time and physical spaces, which transcend language and our ability to communicate with just words and symbols.” (239, epilogue)

Jax's book is a fun tour of several aspects of life (schools, work, music, games, films, etc.) that all show that digital cannot and should not be received without a wary eye. What Jax's book lacks is thoughtful theological and philosophical reflections on why digital doesn't satisfy (Turkle is one of the few exceptions).

For those looking for deeper answers than a journalistic tour of the world, you'll need to turn to the likes of Neil Postman's classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) or Jacques Ellul's The Technological Bluff (1990). And there's a fantastic new book (2017) by Tony Reinke (don't let the less than thrilling title fool you) Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You.

Here are a few nuggets to encourage you to read Reinke's book:

 “What if the rhythms of Snapchat selfies and our star-studded Instagram feeds are exposing the dimness of our future hope?”

“The clicks of our fingertips reveal the dark motives of our hearts, and every sin—every double-tap and every click—will be accounted for.”

Jax's book is a fun snapshot of culture. It's the other books that better ask and answer why culture and souls cannot find hope or salvation in the promises and patterns of digital living.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Quote of the Day: John Chysostom (349-407)

“The gospel produces the exact opposite of what people want and expect, but it is that very fact which persuades them to accept it in the end."

Monday, May 01, 2017

A Review "For the Glory"

Duncan Hamilton's 2016 biography of the famed Olympic great, Eric Liddell, For the Glory details a modern tragedy in the vein of an ancient Greco-Roman demigod.

Like all great tragedies, the life behind the tragedy speaks volumes for centuries. Liddell gave up a near certain 100 meter gold in 1924 to honor his views of the Christian Sabbath. He gave up future Olympic glory to keep his vow to missionary work in a dangerous mission in late 1920s China. He honored his missionary agency's request to stay in enemy occupied territory when WWII erupted. Like other non-combatants, he was held in a war camp for simply being British when Japan was at war. He sacrificed for the sake of other inmates day in and day out for over 18 months. He loved, he forgave, he served, and 5 months prior to his war camp's release, he took his last breath.

Eric Liddell (immortalized in both athleticism and character in Chariots of Fire) was a full soul, not just a great body. His dedication to excellence, service, and humility comes across as an act, but it's near perfection for 4 and 1/2 decades has no holes, no guile, no gild. In fact, the one missing piece of Duncan Hamilton's rich story is the power behind the life. Hamilton paints Liddell as a saint, and surely he was. But saints aren't built by human hands. Truths Liddell conveys over and over, but truths that get lost in Hamilton's account.

Hamilton notes that Liddell based his life on the Sermon on the Mount. Liddell even penned a short devotional work on the truths of the Sermon. The secret to his whole life (and the life of any who would follow after God) was summarily described by Liddell as "knowing God." One quote in a work by Liddell noted this, "A disciple is one who knows God personally, and who learns from Jesus Christ, who most perfectly revealed God. One word stands out from all others as the key to knowing God, to having his peace and assurance in your heart; it is obedience."

The centrality to Liddell's life was focusing on Jesus Christ, the one who perfectly revealed God. Only in Jesus Christ can someone have peace and assurance in the heart. Obedience will follow, indeed. But obedience flows from faith. We don't obey to be saved, but we obey because we're saved.

So read Hamilton's majestic book on a majestic person, but know that the power, peace, and assurance, the fueled Eric Liddell was Jesus Christ--his life, his death, his resurrection. As I read Liddell's life, I saw a life of glorious renewal and the power of God's grace. It exposed that I fell short of God's holy standard. But the solution isn't to lace up and try to run like Eric. The solution is to know the God that Eric knew.

This God allowed Eric to write these words, the very last words to come from his pen, words that speak to hope beyond this life, hope procured by Jesus Christ's bloody death and glorious resurrection, words that can be true for all who put their trust in Jesus Christ. These words: "All will be well."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Being Gay is Not a Sin

You can quote me on this...but do read the whole post first.

Gay is a physical and/or emotional and/or erotic attraction to a person of the same gender. This is similar to a definition I found on the online Merriam Webster dictionary that reads, "sexually attracted to someone who is the same sex."

Are people born gay? From various scientific and psychological articles, the general consensus is probably some are, and probably some aren't.

Do people choose to be gay? From various scientific and psychological articles, the general consensus is probably some do, probably some don't.

The condition, feeling, and experience of being gay is not sin. Anyone who is gay or has a close friend or family who is gay knows that many who are or feel gay wish they didn't. It's a difficult cross to bear, even in a permissive 21st century culture. Who wants to be the topic of every other media post and social media interaction?

I have friends and family with both unwanted same-sex attraction and others who welcome their orientation. I love them both and pray my friendships deepen.

Let's move on...

The condition, feeling, and experience of being straight is not sin.

Now, it is possible for straight people to sin. It is possible for gay people to sin.

A straight person is sinning if they engage in a sexual relationship with their sibling, no matter how consensual the action is done, even by adults. Even if they say they are naturally attracted to their sibling, it is still sin. Even if they say, they are born attracted to their sibling, it is still sin. Even if they find it pleasurable, say it is not harming anyone else, and take measures to prevent pregnancy...still sin.

Likewise, a straight person is sinning if they engage in a polygamous relationship, no matter how consensual. A straight person is sinning if they engage in an adulterous relationship, no matter how consensual.

These are moral positions held by most people for centuries. These are moral positions held by Christians for centuries because they are the plain reading of Scripture in both the Old and New Testament. We could add bestiality and pedophilia as other practices that are sin regardless of consent, feeling naturally attracted to, and arguing no one is harmed.

In a similar manner, because I believe the Bible is more sane, trustworthy, and sure than the changing waves of culture, I also think when gay people engage in consensual sexual activity they are also outside the moral bounds set by God and Scripture. This activity (not their condition or feelings or attractions) is what the Bible says is sin. (contrary to new attempts at interpreting the Bible, the Bible does not condone homosexual practice...see Kevin DeYoung's What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?)

Throw in Jesus' warning that lusting sexually is also our hearts engaging in adulterous sin, every person reading this post is guilty before God. No one (NO ONE) is sexually whole. All are broken, struggle with seemingly natural desires that go beyond moral bounds, and thereby hurt others, hurt themselves, and sin against God.

Three responses are in order. We must first turn to God for forgiveness of sin through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He alone can atone for our sin. He alone can give us the Holy Spirit to enable repentance from sexual sin and dangerous attractions outside moral bounds.

Second, we must continue to uphold moral truths for our lives (first! to avoid hypocrisy, see Matthew 7:1-2) and then for others as well. God's Word is light. We do no one a favor by consenting to the dangerous darkness that always hides the truth. Paul warns us in Romans 1 (a passage that mentions the sin of homosexual practice beside envy, greed, and gossip) that we should not approve of any moral transgression that keeps people from God and the truth.

Three, we must treat people engaged in sexual sin with love, respect, and honor because they are made in God's image. Yes, we can share the Good News of Jesus Christ and invite people to repentance. This will involve years of welcoming them into your home and life, lots of listening, and lots of prayer. Many will refuse to see what seems plain to you in the Bible, but don't forget, you too resisted God and re-read the Bible to make it say what allowed you to keep on doing what you wanted to do (and if you're like me are probably doing this very thing in some area of your life right now). Only God's penetrating and illuminating grace can free people from sin to see and live the truth. Only God saves, and praise God, He saves sinners like you and me.

Monday, April 17, 2017

An argument for being a "Late Adapter"

Definition: A late adapter is somebody who is slow to embrace a new product, technology, or idea.

Let's be honest, if you're involved in technology, social media, and popular idea conversations, it can be very embarrassing to "not be in the know." 10 years ago, you were mocked if you said "I just posted on Twitter," and quickly corrected, "No, buddy, you tweeted." Technological snobbery is as ripe as an October apple. 

And so, we're tempted to try and embrace all new technological tools, Apps, and online networks, just to avoid the fear of being "on the out." So an invitation to LinkedIn, requires an immediate new account. An invite to Snapchat requires your humble submission. 

You go out and buy the newest I-Phone, Amazon Echo, and GalaxyS-400, just in case this new technology turns out to be the sliced bread you've been missing.But if you're anything like me, 3 days later, you're hundreds of dollars poorer, and your life is as full or empty as it was a week ago. 

Oh, and did I mention the accumulating paper weights of technological devices that we're not sure if we're supposed to throw away or donate to charity.

With this in mind, let me offer 3 arguments for being a late adapter (whether it's the next App or next device):

1. Old things have proven value. Many "new" items turn out to be a big bust. Also, new stuff have glitches to be worked out. My touch screen PDA of 2004 was useless in under 12 months. My 2004 myspace account lasted less than a year before Facebook proved its superior value. My Kindle e-reader of 2011 had a 6 month shelf-life before I could achieve everything and more with a different device. I wasted time and money purchasing and learning a device that turned out to not serve me well. Let a device or app be proven of its value before you attempt to adapt it to your life. 

2. There is nothing new under the sun. The deepest longings of human souls have never been met nor will be met by human ingenuity. Our hearts long for what only eternity can satisfy; the next gadget will never measure up.

3. Eyes on the future, betray our responsibility for the present. If you're always looking for that new thing, for a new experience, to solve those new problems, you'll miss the responsibilities facing you today. Not to mention, most of these responsibilities are solved through the ordinary actions of love, communication, forgiveness, hard work, and emotional presence (things that devices can't conjure up if they tried). 

So, be a late adapter...and just so you know, being a later adapter doesn't mean you go out and buy a rotary phone. It might look like this:

1) Wait for a new device or APP to be in the market 6-12 months before reading reviews and considering to purchase it.
2) Find wise, responsible, successful people, and ask them what Apps they use and avoid.
3) Talk to these same people about how they manage their technology overall. 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Embrace Your Weakness

"Our problem is not our weaknesses; God's grace is up to the task. Our problem is our delusions of strength that keep us from seeking the grace that strengthens us in our weakness." - Paul David Tripp

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

As I lie horizontal in bed with intense back pain...

Thomas Watson (1620-1686): "It is God that has put me in this condition; he could have raised me higher, if he pleased, but that might have been a snare to me: he has done it in wisdom and love; therefore I will sit down satisfied with my condition."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Temporarily Abled

I am one of those red-blooded Americans who only gets sick a few days a year, has only broken a few bones in the midst of sporting activities, and been blessed with fully functional arms and legs since birth. I have never been called "disabled" or "handicapped."

But in reading Andy Crouch's 2014 book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, I was struck by the reality that I am only "temporarily abled." That is, like many, one day my back will ache, my knees will deteriorate, and my functional arms and legs may cease to function. My heart will one day quit beating and my lungs will take in a final breath. Then, death.

So, how should I use my season of temporary ablement? Should I squander it on reckless eating, drug use, and dangerous activities? Or just maybe, is this temporary season of strength for the benefit and stewardship of others less abled?

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Mark 10:42-45 (NIV)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Easter and Good Friday Services in Marion and Cedar Rapids, Iowa

I hope you can join us for our 2017 Holy Week celebrations with Cornerstone Church.

Good Friday April 14, 6:00PM: We will be doing a combined Good Friday worship service with the congregation of Northbrook Baptist Church at our location, 925 Blairs Ferry Road, Marion.

Easter Sunday April 16: See all the festivities below that will take place at The Warehouse (925 Blairs Ferry Road) on Easter Morning!
    9:00AM: Easter Brunch (no cost)
    9:25AM: Resurrection Sunday Worship Service

May God richly bless Cedar Rapids and Marion, Iowa this Easter Season.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

C.S. Lewis on the Fall of Humanity into Sin...

Once again, the great Oxford Don summarizes well difficult theological topics:

God might have arrested this process by miracle: but this - to speak in somewhat irreverent metaphor - would have been to decline the problem which God had set Himself when He created the world, the problem of expressing His goodness through the total drama of a world containing free agents, in spite of, and by means of, their rebellion against Him. The symbol of a drama, a symphony, or a dance, is here useful to correct a certain absurdity which may arise if we talk too much of God planning and creating the world process for good and of that good being frustrated by the free will of the creatures. This may raise the ridiculous idea that the Fall took God by surprise and upset His plan, or else - more ridiculously still - that God planned the whole thing for conditions which, He well knew, were never going to be realised. In fact, of course, God saw the crucifixion in the act of creating the first nebula. The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God's own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces. The doctrine of the free Fall asserts that the evil which thus makes the fuel or raw material for the second and more complex kind of good is not God's contribution but man's. This does not mean that if man had remained innocent God could not then have contrived an equally splendid symphonic whole - supposing that we insist on asking such questions. But it must always be remembered that when we talk of what might have happened, of contingencies outside the whole actuality, we do not really know what we are talking about. There are no times or places outside the existing universe in which all this 'could happen' or 'could have happened'. I think the most significant way of stating the real freedom of man is to say that if there are other rational species than man, existing in some other part of the actual universe, then it is not necessary to suppose that they also have fallen.

Chapter 5, "The Fall of Man," in The Problem of Pain (1962).

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

I was born this way...

I was born with a short temper.

I was born with an appreciation for sports.

I was born with a tendency to overeat.

I was born with a love for nature and the great outdoors.

I was born with sexual attractions for women besides my wife.

I was born with a love for excessive TV watching.

I was born with a love for knowledge acquisition, preferably through reading.

I was born with a desire to be in control and to overpower people.

I was born with a penchant toward sarcasm and cruelty.

Which of these natural tenancies should I develop? Which should I restrain? Which are morally and socially beneficial?

Being born a certain way in no way determines its goodness, so I've decided to turn to Holy Scripture and to be guided by its teachings, as revealed and fulfilled through Jesus Christ (see this post for those who wonder how Christians determine which laws from the Old Testament are still in play).

Beware of arguments that suggest "how I feel" means "how I should act." Moral philosophers call this creating "ought" where there is only "is." Morality stands outside of nature (supernatural). Any morality that shifts with culture ends up not being morality at all because it's been relegated to a natural entity. But when I allow an outside morality to serve as the standard of moral actions and behaviors, it is certain that I will fall short, experience shame, and feel guilt.

Turns out, contrary to modern ears, shame and guilt are exactly how you should feel when you go against morality. Shame and guilt are gifts, designed to send us toward healing, hope, and forgiveness. And where can we turn to feel this way, to know this forgiveness? Only Jesus. He identified with those most shamed and most guilty in his day (prostitutes, criminals, sexual deviants). He loved them; extended them forgiveness; invited them to repentance; and said that surely the kingdom of God is for such as these. And so I come with all my deviant natural tendencies...O Lord, receive me again, through your cleansing and sacrificial blood.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What is THE WORK to be done?

Quote of the month:

Samuel Davies (1723-1761): "It is an easy thing to make a noise in the world, to flourish and harangue, to dazzle the crowd and set them all agape; but deeply to imbibe the Spirit of Christianity, to maintain a secret walk with God, to be holy as he is holy--this is the labour, this is the work."

From Iain Murray's Revival and Revivalism (1994).