Who We Are Instead

August 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

The Bible’s antidote for racism (and other bad ideas)

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The defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 signaled the end of Adolf Hitler’s poisonous ideas about “superior” and “inferior races” of humanity. But the recent displays of white nationalism resurging from relative dormancy in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us that evil persists in a fallen world. In America, we can’t put our own racist history to rest when it’s still so pervasive in our culture.

In the Bible we read about divisions of race and ethnicity, Jews and Gentiles, about women and children often viewed as property, and the enslavement of foreigners and those viewed as inferior. None of this was part of God’s good creation. While Scripture describes racism, sexism, and supremacism, it prescribes a solution through understanding who we really are.

First, we are all one race: mankind. All human beings are descendants of Adam and Eve (who, contrary to popular depictions, were likely not white). Genetically or taxonomically, there are no differences that provide a rational basis for ranking people by physical characteristics like skin color.

Secondly, we are all image-bearers of our Creator. As descendants of Adam and Eve, every human being—man, woman, child-—is made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27) and therefore equal in inherent dignity and value. By Genesis 3, Adam and Eve had sinned, and it wasn’t long before racial discrimination was conceived as sin spread to all mankind.

Thirdly, and consequently, we are all sinners for whom Christ died. Because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we have more in common than we like to admit. But the good news is that God loves us all so much that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sin, so that through faith in Christ we are saved (John 3:16). This offer is available to everyone. From God’s perspective, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Far from condoning racism, the Bible is an invitation to freedom for those Romans 6 describes as “slaves to sin.” From liberating Israel from Egyptian bondage (Exodus) to Paul’s message that it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free…” (Galatians 5:1), God is clearly for freedom and equality and against sinful notions of human superiority and inferiority.

“Monkeys are superior to men in this: when a monkey looks into a mirror, he sees a monkey.” (Malcolm de Chazal)

Racial differences are artificial, idealized by people seeking to control other people. If we choose to see ourselves and our neighbors as God sees us—one beloved yet fallen race of God’s image-bearers for whom Christ died to redeem—we can see there is no room for racism and a lot more room for love.

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)

(Related post: Why Racism Shouldn’t Exist)

Digging for the secrets of the universe in South Dakota

August 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

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From USA TODAY Tech: “The universe as we know it shouldn’t exist. Unlocking the reasons why may depend on once again striking gold in a mine buried a mile underground in rural South Dakota. … Scientists believe equal parts of matter and antimatter should have been created during the formation of the universe. But that didn’t happen, and no one knows why. Instead, the visible universe is dominated by matter. Neutrinos may be the reason why… Over the next 10 years, workers will remove more than 870,000 tons of rock and install a four-story high, 70,000-ton neutrino detector… The project will cost more than $1 billion, but scientists hope the payoff from about 12 million neutrinos per second passing through the detector will be far larger, tantamount to striking gold on a universal scale.”(1)

The fact that there seems to be more matter than antimatter in the universe has baffled secular scientists, but only because of Materialistic or Naturalistic presuppositions, assuming that matter and nature is all there is, and that you are an accident.

From Physics.org: “One would expect the Big Bang to produce equal amounts of matter and antimatter, and, since the two annihilate one another on contact, this should have led to a universe with no particles, filled only with radiation. This problem can be solved if there exists some process that favours matter over antimatter, leading to the excess that we see today.”(2) 

Is there “some sort of process that favours matter over antimatter”? Christians believe there is a Creator who favours a certain kind of matter—us, and the universe He created to point us toward Him.

A physics community driven by the assumptions of Materialism will continue to dig for answers, this time going underground in a 10-year $1 billion search. We may discover great things in the process, but for the answer to why this universe exists, we can dig into God’s revealed Word and find it now for free:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) …God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see… He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17) The heavens proclaim the glory of God.” (Psalm 19:1)

An undirected, undesigned “Big Bang” should not have resulted in this universe. But this universe is exactly what we should expect if God created it.

“Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding.
Search for them as you would for silver;
seek them like hidden treasures.
Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD,
and you will gain knowledge of God.”
(Proverbs 2:3-5)

1) Lackey, Katharine. “Secrets of the Universe May Lie in an Old Gold Mine in South Dakota.” USA Today. Gannett Company, 09 August 2017. Web. Accessed 09 August 2017 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/science/2017/08/09/secrets-universe-may-lie-old-gold-mine-south-dakota/534457001/)
2) Physics in Society. “Why Is There More Matter than Antimatter?” Physics.org. IOP Publishers, Web. Accessed 09 August 2017 (http://www.physics.org/article-questions.asp?id=121)

You’re Much More Than Far-Flung Star Farts

July 27, 2017 § 1 Comment

An EarthSky report(1) tells us “Northwestern researchers found that up to half of the matter in our Milky Way galaxy may come from distant galaxies. As a result, each one of us may be made in part from extragalactic matter. That is, atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and so on in our bodies may be created not just by stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, but by stars in far-flung galaxies.”

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Put another way, we are the result of ejected gas (Ew!) from exploding stars in a galaxy far, far away. Carl Sagan famously said “we are made of star-stuff” in 1973, but the idea that we are made of the same basic elements as the rest of the cosmos has been talked about by astronomers since the 1920s.(2)

And that’s accurate, according to the Bible.

Genesis 2:7a tells us that “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground…”, and indeed the 11 basic elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc.) found in the human body are also found in the top layers of the earth. They are not just earth elements, but they can also be found in the stars.

Where God’s Word differs from Naturalistic Cosmology is not the what but the how. “God formed man” out the same stuff which He created to fill the universe. Why not? That we are beings formed by an all-knowing and personal Creator, who loves us and also wrote us into His grand story, means we have purpose and value. Beings accidentally formed by “far-flung” star farts can have no real purpose or value. Unless you’re on purpose, you can’t have purpose. A purposeful creation isn’t true because it’s a happy thought; it’s a happy thought because it’s true.

I think regardless of theistic or atheistic belief, we all know better. Most people, even after contemplating that we are merely chemical accidents still live as if human beings have intrinsic value and dignity and rights and purpose. After all, people high on Naturalism or Materialism aren’t particularly depressed or suicidal due to the logical conclusion that life has no real meaning. Carl Sagan even romanticized the brute fact that we are just materials from space: “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”(2)

Why do we hang onto this idea of lasting purpose?

There was more to God’s creation of man than forming his body from the elemental “dust”. The second half of the above verse (Genesis 2:7b) says, “…and (God) breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Those common particles of physical substance landing on earth didn’t make us alive. There is no conclusive evidence that life can arise from non-life, especially from natural and undirected processes. Far-flung atoms sticking together cannot make a living thing, much less a rational, moral, self-aware living thing. Only God can do that, as He did when He breathed life into Adam.

At the same time, “man became a living soul.” We are alive and we are more than biology; We are body, soul, and spirit—image-bearers (Genesis 1:27) of a triune God gifted with clues of an eternal dimension (Ecclesiaste 3:11) and knowledge of a Creator, which we sometimes suppress (Romans 1:18), along with His moral law written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). I think it’s the soul that yearns to know that we are more than just far-flung “stuff”, and that there is more to our existence than a temporal and purposeless life.

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1. Byrd, Deborah. “We Are Galaxy Stuff” EarthSky. July 27, 2017 http://earthsky.org/space/origins-extragalactic-star-galaxy-stuff-galactic-winds
2. “We Are Made of Star-Stuff.” Quote Investigator. Garson O’Toole. June 22, 2013 http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/06/22/starstuff

Jack Be Nimble: Thinking About The View, Worldview & Just Baking the Cake

July 14, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Toward the end of a bike trail in Colorado Springs, I came upon an unexpected hill. During the exhausting climb, I noticed two women had set up a table displaying free Jehovah’s Witness material partway up the hill. I took the opportunity to stop and have a wonderful, Gospel-centered conversation with them—in my head 2 minutes after I rode past. I have also had great evangelical encounters with various atheists and agnostics, unfortunately many more in my head than in real life.

I’m not an extrovert, so a witnessing encounter (and robust social engagement in general) is not always easy for me. I recently have defended the deity of Christ in real-life conversation with some JWs at my house, so I had no particular fear of the two ladies on the hill—I just wasn’t about to stop in the middle of a hill (note to evangelists in public parks: set up at the top), and on top of that I had been-there-done-that with Watchtower propaganda. Maybe I should have at least stopped and said hello.

Have you ever had great talks with non-believers about Jesus in your head after you part company? Whether it’s because of nerves, or fear of rejection, or lack of confidence in your own knowledge of your faith, I think it’s probably a pretty common thing to pass up on these opportunities.

While we (and I mean ‘I’) need to set aside fear and rely on the Spirit of God to help in such situations, the mental conversations later (often occurring in the shower, for some odd reason) can serve as valuable training ground for the next real-life opportunity.

Here’s another conversation you didn’t have, but Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop near Denver, CO, did have with hosts on The View recently. On the spot, Jack actually did a very good job of defending his much-maligned decision not to design and  create a wedding cake for a gay couple, a case that the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear. Jack says that everyone is welcome in his store, but he won’t make a cake for every event. He calmly and consistently defended the Biblical view of marriage and his Constitutional right to live out his faith in the public square. He was joined by his lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, who also does a great job of clarifying the case and its implications for every American.

Since we can learn from this conversation, imagine if you were in that hotseat surrounded by liberal talkshow hosts-turned-theologians, under the lights and cameras and studio audience cued to applaud after each progressive talking point. If you could freeze frame life for a few minutes to think about your answer (in lieu of thinking about it after the show), how would you respond to these questions?

Relax, you’re not in Jack’s spotlight, but one day you may be in a different one with your family, neighbor, boss, or a judge. Take some time to watch the segment yourself here. Below are the main questions thrown at Jack, and while his answers were good for on-the-spot responses, I’ll offer answers from an apologetic perspective, being safely out of the spotlight with plenty of time to process.

WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?

The theologian on the far right (her chair, not her political position) asked Jack: “If it violates your religious freedom to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple… do you then, when a straight couple comes in, do you ask them if they’ve had a child out of wedlock, if they’ve had premarital sex? Where do you draw the line, because those all could be deemed ‘sinful’ (she throws up her air quotes) to someone who’s religious as well.”

The only reason anyone talks about Jesus was because “sin” is a real thing and the whole reason He came. Jesus died to redeem us from sin by sacrificing Himself on the cross.

But the issue here is not the sins of the couple, but that Jack is being forced to in effect join in the artistic celebration of something against his religious beliefs and stamp his name on the entire project. The line is drawn exactly where he drew it. Jack’s concern is not over whether a couple is sinning in some way, but the consequences of compromising his beliefs by his participation in a same-sex wedding ceremony. If anything, the marriage of a man and woman who are already having sex has a redemptive aspect to it in that the couple would no longer be sinning sexually, and would be providing a stronger foundation for any child that resulted. But the reason Jack refused is because he objects to the event in question.

WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE?

The theologian in the chair to the left (our left) of the first theologian: “One thing that’s always confused me about this is that in the Bible it says many things if you read it, and I was raised in the church, and it says, you know, ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,’ but also says, ‘Don’t judge others.’ We’re not the final judgment. It also says ‘love thy neighbor.’ There are a lot of messages in there. How do you reconcile in your own spirituality, which ones to go with? Because in my mind, whether you believe it or not, and you should definitely not marry a man… but if someone else does, it’s not my place to judge them because God will…”

“The Bible says not to judge” is a frequent declaration by cherry-pickers. It’s found in Matthew 7:1-5: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NIV)

In context, Jesus is condemning hypocrisy (don’t point the finger of judgment at others if you’re doing the same thing yourself), not the discernment between right and wrong behavior. We know there is a correct way to judge, because Jesus tells a group of Pharisees in John 7:24 to “stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

So to the question, “How do you reconcile which message to ‘go with’?”, the answer is study. Approach the Bible as you would any other book you want to understand and practice sound exegesis rather than pulling bits of verses out of context. Read, rather than read into. When we do, well see that Jesus was both love and truth, and there is no contradiction between “judge rightly” and “love your neighbor.”

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?

The theologian to Jack’s right says, “I know that you’re a Christ-follower, and Jesus was even criticized by some of His followers for hanging out with the lowest of the low and the tax collectors and the sinners. Did you ever ask yourself, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Instead of denying them, do you think Jesus would have said, ‘I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway?’ Do you think that would have had a more powerful testimony?” To which the theologian on the far left adds with conviction, “Jesus would have baked the cake!”

Jack rightly responds that Jesus would not bake the cake. We don’t have to guess what Jesus would say and do when we can read what He said and did. We know Jesus’ view of marriage from Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6, where He affirms God’s design for marriage from Genesis 1:27: “‘Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.'” (Mat. 19:4-6) 

Supposing Jesus would have said, “I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway” assumes that love doesn’t mean we tell others the truth. We, made in God’s image, often try to remake Jesus in our own image and imagine God as love but not truth (at least the truth we find inconvenient). But as Jesus displayed, He is both. Jesus indeed did share a table with sinners, and as Jack proves, you can sit at a table with those who believe very differently without them hating or suing each other. But by compromising our beliefs and joining in the celebration of an event that defies God’s design for marriage, we are not loving anyone, but rather propagating a lie. That is actually hateful.

JUST BAKE THE CAKE!

The conversation turns from theological to legal at this point, with Kristen politely shooting down a slippery slope argument and clarifying that an assault on Jack’s religious liberty affects everyone regardless of their belief. But not before the theologian 2nd from the left puts this challenge to Jack: “Lower courts have found that you’ve discriminated against this couple, but you’re taking this fight to the Supreme Court. Why not just bake the cake?”

It’s always easier for those without a certain deeply held conviction to suggest those who do simply give it up when the going gets rough. But that’s not how Christianity has ever worked. Still, it’s an appropriate question to consider while we aren’t on the spot, can we compromise on this front while loving God and neighbor? Are we prepared to answer, while we can have the conversation safely in our heads, before we will eventually be asked, “Why not just bake the cake?

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…” (Hebrews 10:23)

The Image of God in Human Creativity

June 17, 2017 § 1 Comment

IMG_2117One thing a career in art and design has affirmed for me is that animals and accidents do not conceptualize and create, but human beings do. Created in the likeness of our Creator, we are, among many things, little creators.

Though God created everything else ex nihilo (from nothing), He formed man from something else He had made: the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). In John 1 we read Jesus the Creator was the Word, who was God and with God in the beginning. In John 9:6 Jesus, appropriately, used the dust of the ground to remake a blind man’s eyes. In Revelation 21:5, it’s revealed that this same Creator will “make everything new.”

From Lego bricks to medical tech to countless art media, creative work that honors God will point to goodness, beauty and truth. It will help, heal and renew. Humans, separate from the animals and everything else in creation, reflect our Creator when we ourselves pick up other materials and make something new.

Find God, Find Yourself

March 16, 2017 § 1 Comment

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From TIME Magazine: “This week’s TIME cover story, with exclusive data from GLAAD, explores a change taking hold in American culture. The piece explores how you-do-you young people are questioning the conventions that when it comes to gender and sexuality, there are only two options for each: male or female, gay or straight. Those aspects of identity — how one sees themselves as a man or woman, for instance, and who they are drawn to physically and romantically — are distinct but undergoing similar sea changes, as teenagers and 20-somethings reject notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.”

What this article (‘Behind the TIME Cover Story: Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She”)(1) shows is that a generation is struggling to ground itself in any kind of firm identity, many opting instead to go wherever their feelings take them to search out an identity. Often we don’t like who we are, but I think the issue is more that we don’t know who we are. And we can’t truly know who we are unless we know who God is.

Objective truth can be grounded in the nature of God, but without belief in God or truth that is objective, absolute, or universal, we would have no reason to believe in something like the immutability of gender or sexuality. In fact, if truth were relative, what would it mean to finally decide who we are on our own? Any future conviction we may have about our identity would be just as subject to change as our current convictions. Facebook’s 60 options for a user’s gender are not nearly enough.

God’s word reveals that “God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27) While God has no gender, it’s noteworthy that the completeness of the male and female complementarity came right along with forming mankind in His own likeness.

If nothing else, this tells us that male and female “binaries” are not merely “notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.” This is our Creator telling us who we actually are and have always been.

The truth that we are God’s image-bearers, that He made us and loves us, justifies any notion of value or self-worth. If the God of the Bible does not exist, then we are likely accidental collisions of molecules. Do we matter then? Or are we just matter?

I met a high school student who had written YOU MATTER on both his own forearms with a pen. When I asked him about it, he said he’s not sure if he really believes he really matters, but seeing it there helps him through his depression. We only matter if God made us on purpose. This already depressed young man is in particular danger if he follows his atheism to its logical end.

Given the high degree of depression among the LGBTQ community, especially teens, and those with gender dysphoria, there is an accelerated danger in rejecting our Creator, His pattern for sex and gender, and trying to redefine both for ourselves.

We will never be fully satisfied in remaking ourselves in our own image because then we have idolized autonomy, choosing to live in “my reality” vs biological, historical, or spiritual reality. We’re told we can be whoever we want to be, but we need to start with who we actually are. A confused culture “in the throes of self-discovery” will not find its true identity until it finds God.

1) Steinmetz, Katy “Behind the TIME Cover Story-Gender and Sexuality: Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She’.” TIME Magazine 16 Mar. 2017. TIME.com Web. (Link: http://time.com/4703058/time-cover-story-beyond-he-or-she/)

Sunday School at the GRAMMY Awards

February 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

Most religious lessons happen Sunday morning, but quite a bit of theology was on display Sunday night at the Grammy Awards.

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The most notable performance of the night was from Beyoncé, which the Washington Post explains(1) was inspired by African, Hindu and Roman goddesses, and possibly the Virgin Mary, noting that “Beyoncé was teaching.” What is she teaching? The deities portrayed “signified womanhood” and love and fertility (Beyoncé is pregnant with twins) and represent an eclectic sampling of various religious beliefs. None were specifically sung about, but hinted at through costume and visuals that few understood until later analysis. Still, the Post reports, “It was described as ‘ethereal,’ a ‘sci-fi fertility ritual’ and just plain ‘weird’.”

It’s nice to see pregnancy portrayed as a blessing as it’s so often portrayed as a curse in today’s culture, but what other picture of the culture can we see in the theological lessons of the Grammys? Alongside the confusing nods to multiple pagan gods, there was a clear declaration of one God in particular. In the somewhat less popular performance by Chance The Rapper, we heard “the type of worship make Jesus come back a day early… Name above all names, He’s worthy of all praise… My voice belongs to You…” As reported in the Christian Post, Chance the Rapper “was joined by Kirk Franklin, Francis and the Lights, and Tamela Mann for a gospel performance of Coloring Book’s ‘How Great’ and ‘All We Got.'”(2) A video of his performance can be found here.(3)

One thing is clear from the Grammys, and that is that we are persistently spiritual people. In this world, bold declarations of truth often get lost in the barrage of confused portrayals of who God really is. The apostle Paul faced the same confusion in first century Mars Hill:

“Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.” (Acts 17:22-29)

  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/02/13/these-goddesses-will-help-you-understand-beyonces-grammy-performance
  2. http://www.christianpost.com/news/chance-the-rapper-kirk-franklin-performance-turns-2017-grammys-into-worship-service-video-174877
  3. Video: http://uproxx.com/realtalk/chance-the-rapper-grammy-performance-2017/
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