Curses Foiled

November 3, 2016 § 2 Comments

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Many Chicago Cubs fans would say a curse was lifted late last night when their team won the World Series for the first time since 1908. The “Curse of the Billy Goat”(1) dates back to the 1945 World Series, when the Cubs were in game four leading the Detroit Tigers two games to one. William Sianis, owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern, tried to bring his pet goat to the game (he had two tickets). Wrigley Field told William his stinky goat was not welcome, and William pronounces the curse: “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more.” The Cubs went on to lose that game and the series, never to see another post-season victory. Until last night, at 11:47pm Iowa time, with game 7 against the Cleveland Indians going into extra innings, when a Cubs victory broke the curse(2).

This was a welcome ending to our November 2nd, 2016, a day that began with news of the ambush-style murder of two Des Moines-area police officers(3) shortly after 1:00am. We’ve been lamenting the news of cops getting killed all over the nation, and yesterday it hit home. It was a day of mourning, of bringing flowers and other notes of appreciation to local police stations, of hugs and tears at two flower-covered street corners, of blue stripes and lights appearing on cars and houses across the city, of churches(4) like ours canceling normal Wednesday services and opening their doors for a hurting community to come and pray.

Thankfully, the alleged shooter was caught and neighbors came together to support one another, but the evil behind the killing of Des Moines Police Sgt. Tony Beminio and Urbandale Officer Justin Martin is a reflection of another curse. Genesis 3 tells us about the curse over creation brought on by sin at the dawn of creation. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)

I don’t want a comparison of the curse of sin to the “Curse of the Billy Goat” to make light of those fallen officers. A World Series win can’t bring them back. But maybe the Cubs’ day-ending and curse-ending victory could serve to remind us of the hope we have in Christ and God’s promises to us. Sin is the most serious business there is, and the evil and suffering brought by Adam’s sin in the beginning is part of a curse which will one day meet an end. The suffering of Christ for the sin that cursed creation will in the end heal it and renew it. “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” (Revelation 21:5).

The truth of God’s Word bookends history; the tragedy that began the day of mankind will be made right by day’s end. In the midst of a broken and groaning world, we are “more than victorious” (Romans 8:37) with our trust placed in Jesus Christ, the one who has already proclaimed victory over sin and death. That’s a promise worth celebrating now.

1) billygoattavern.com/legend/curse
2) nbcnews.com/…/chicago-cubs-bury-curse-first-world-series-title-108-years-n677091
3) cnn.com/…16/11/02/us/iowa-police-shooting
4) whotv.com/…/community-showing-support-for-police-in-variety-of-ways

The Existence of God is Worthy of Debate—But an Atheist Minister in a Christian Church?

October 3, 2016 § Leave a comment

atheist-pulpitFrom the UC Observer Magazine, published by the United Church of Canada: “After nearly a week of deliberating, the sub-Executive of Toronto Conference voted to ask the General Council of The United Church of Canada to conduct a formal hearing to determine whether to fire Rev. Gretta Vosper — the last step in a long process that now seems increasingly likely to remove the atheist minister from her pulpit.”(1)

Ponder these things:

1. Somehow, there is a congregation that identifies as a Christian church that at some point actually hired a minister who identifies as an atheist.

2. Somehow, an atheist has been allowed to minister at a Christian church for 19 years.

3. Somehow, it takes a “long process” of “deliberating” and a vote to request a “formal hearing” to consider whether or not an atheist should continue to pastor a Christian church.

Does a doctor, while seeing a patient with a knife in his gut, deliberate for weeks over the decision to remove the knife (whether or not it was self-inflicted or allowed to fester for a long time)? This boggles the mind.

For sure, people are upset because bounds—that should never have been set—are being overstepped in the process, and some fear that “the United Church may be turning its back on a history of openness and inclusivity”—code words for theological compromise that began long ago. Obstacles that should never have been.

Gretta Vosper has fans in the church (she is also “a prolific blogger, author and guest speaker”). In fact “a petition in support of Vosper…calls on the church ‘to show loving kindness to everyone, irrespective of belief or no belief.'”

Loving kindness respects all people as human beings made in God’s image, regardless of their beliefs, and love calls us to seek God’s best for them. Loving kindness does NOT invite heresy, or entrust the preaching and teaching of God’s Word to someone who does not even believe in God or His word. This doesn’t seek God’s best for the congregation either.

“Vosper calls herself an atheist and has been serving her church for 19 years. She has stated that she does not believe in a Trinitarian God or a supernatural god. She said love is the most sacred value and that she had stopped using the word ‘God’ because it was a barrier to participation in the church.”

God is love. To exclude God from Vosper’s “preaching” is to exclude love. If “God” is a barrier to participation in this church, what can there be in this church that is worth participating in? The love of God? The truth of God’s Word? The good news of salvation from sin through God’s one and only Son? If “God” is not preached from Vosper’s pulpit, the silence of the name of “Jesus” will be even more deafening.

Thankfully, “others have been frustrated that the United Church has allowed someone to be a minister in a Christian church while disavowing the major aspects of the Christian faith.” At least someone sees the problem.

Vosper’s lawyer “called for Conference to put the review on hold for a year in favour of a structured dialogue or debate,” meanwhile Vosper would remain a minister. Structured dialogue and debate is a great thing, but if you’re expecting that process to take a year, you’re likely not looking to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”(2) You’re contending for theological liberalism or atheism, heresy we already know God detests and Jesus died for.

If a minister is an atheist, and a congregation is a Christian church, then the atheist belongs in the pew, not at the pulpit. The pairing makes no sense at all, and frankly there’s little to debate about that. Now if we want to debate the existence of God, let’s have a dialogue.

1) Milne, Mike. “Atheist minister Gretta Vosper one step closer to dismissal, formal hearing requested” UC Observer Magazine. United Church of Canada, 22 Sep. 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016. (Link: http://www.ucobserver.org/faith/2016/09/vosper_atheist_minister/)
2) Jude 1:3: Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

The Effects of a House Divided

September 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

“The children of divorced parents have grown up to be adults of no religion,” a new Pew Research Center study(1) says, according to the Washington Post. “People whose parents divorced when they were children are significantly more likely to grow up not to be religious as adults, the study found. Thirty-five percent of the children of divorced parents told pollsters they are now nonreligious, compared with 23 percent of people whose parents were married when they were children.”(2)

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The correlation in this study seems pretty strong. Does it make sense that when an impressionable young person sees something as fundamental and life-shaping as a safe and sound family structure, where he placed his faith, divide, it can lead to the shaking of other foundational structures, like his understanding of God and faith? And maybe in particular faith in the community aspect of church life?

From the Post article: “Everything in a divorce gets divided. Literally everything. Parents’ friends get divided. Relatives get divided. Everyone takes sides… Even religion takes sides. The church gets divided. Dad leaves Mom’s faith, or vice versa. Negotiating those worlds becomes difficult.”

From politics to family to church, Jesus’ words (also famously quoted by Lincoln) seem to have an increasingly wider application: “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)

Maybe the lesson for the church is to strive in unity and love as an answer to those soured on it by broken families, if they will come.

1) Cooper, Betsy. “Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back” Pew Research Center. PRRI, 22 Sep. 2016. Web. 29 Sep. 2016.
2) Zauzmer, Julie. “How Decades of Divorce Helped Erode Religion” The Washington Post. WaqshingtonPost.com, 27 Sep. 2016. Web. 29 Sep. 2016

Tim Kaine’s missing Bible pages: Redemption—not celebration—of a lost world.

September 14, 2016 § 1 Comment

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How many pages does your Bible have? Tim Kaine’s is apparently missing a few, specifically everything after the first chapter. From CBS News:

“Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine touted the importance of LGBTQ equality as a campaign issue and recounted his own struggle to reconcile his support for gay rights with his Catholic faith. … The Virginia senator said that while Catholic doctrine is at odds with marriage equality, his interpretation of the Bible celebrates diversity. ‘My church also teaches me about a creator in the first chapter of Genesis who surveys the entire world, including mankind, and said it is very good,’ said Kaine. … ‘Who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family? I think we’re supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it.’”(1)

In Genesis 1:31, God does indeed survey His creation and call it “very good.” In chapter 2, however, we find the clear distinction of male and female and God defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In chapter 3, the “very good” creation from chapter 1 is corrupted by sin’s entrance into the world through man’s disobedience to God. We no longer live in the “very good” world that God created, but a world deviated from God’s very good plan for, among many things, marriage and human relationships, a world that seeks sexual autonomy above just about everything else. As Genesis 2 might have revealed to Tim Kaine if he’d gotten that far, God’s “very good” creation was never intended to include homosexuality and gay marriage. A short-sighted view of Genesis 1 and our current reality of a sinful Genesis 3 world is what Tim Kaine is actually seeking to celebrate in LGBTQ “diversity”.

“Did God REALLY say…?” (Satan, Genesis 3:1)

But thank God there’s more to the story. The chapters that follow Genesis 3, in fact the rest of the Bible, lay out God’s plan to redeem the world from sin, culminating in the sending if His one and only Son to buy us back from our slavery to sin. What we know from considering the whole of Scripture, not just the first chapter, is that He will one day restore all things to “very good.” Until then, we should be a part of redeeming a lost world, not celebrating it.

1) Brown, Erica. “Tim Kaine opens up on reconciling LGBTQ equality, religious faith.” CBS News, 11 Sep. 2016. Web 14 Sep. 2016 (Link: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tim-kaine-opens-up-on-reconciling-lgbtq-equality-catholic-faith-campaign-2016/)

 

‘Hedge of Protection’ Prayer Gets an Upgrade

August 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

The popular prayer for a “hedge of protection” may be getting an upgrade to stronger materials. Many pastors and missionaries, seeing a higher level of danger both physically and spiritually in today’s culture, are praying for a more substantial means of protection than the hedge, which dates back to the book of Job.

-1x-1“A row of leafy bushes simply doesn’t cut it anymore in today’s world,” said Dale Hill, a pastor and structural engineer in Bakersfield, CA. “At our church, we’ve started to pray actual fences. Wood or vinyl at least. When we feel really spiritually oppressed, we go for steel-reinforced concrete barriers and the like.”

Julian Deever, who leads worship at Hillside E-Free in Denver, is trying a more transparent approach. “We’ve actually constructed sturdy plexiglass cages, like the one surrounding our drummer, for our entire worship team and pastoral staff. Take that, Satan!”

Denise Stewalski, a prayer warrior who owns ToughTree Landscaping in Chicago, doesn’t think Christians need to abandon the traditional hedge concept just yet. “There are some very sturdy bushes available to pray around your pastors, missionaries, and loved ones. Junipers, for instance, make pretty formidable barriers, and the reasons most homeowners hate them make them a great option. The roots are tough, they’re prickly to the touch, low maintenance, and they’re usually full of spiders and lost baseballs. I’d like to see the Devil try to get through a Juniper hedge.”

“We also have a sale on them this weekend,” she added.

What many Christians see as an issue over what a “hedge” is made of, some have a greater faith in the One who plants it. “If God puts a hedge of protection around you, the kind of shrubbery doesn’t matter. You are safe!” says Ellen Green, head of Horticultural Ministries at Park Forest Chapel in Memphis, TN.

If God’s ideal place for Adam and Eve was a garden, should we worry that His “hedge of protection” won’t protect us? Maybe we’ll be just fine among the hydrangeas.

Science and Religion Bowing to the Trans-Agenda

August 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

Our culture is clearly trending transgender. But it’s interesting how society seems itchy to remake itself by blurring gender distinctions in other ways, specifically science and religion, to conform to the demands of the transgender revolution.

IN NEUROSCIENCE: “Eminent brain expert Professor Gina Rippon said the pop-psychology theory that the sexes are as different as alien races – Men from Mars and Women from Venus – is a delusion driven by sexist prejudice.” (From this Daily Mail article)

Despite scientific consensus that indicates boys and girls’ brains are different from birth, Professor Rippon argues such studies “are ‘neurotrash’ which simply reflect the bias of researchers.” Rather, boys and girls change their thinking by how they are raised, she says.

It’s certainly fine to challenge scientific consensus, as long as you do so scientifically (this article doesn’t describe her research enough to know if she does), and it’s certainly true that bias plays a part in our conclusions. But she also must challenge our common experience as parents, where we can observe boys and girls interacting with other kids a certain way, or playing a certain way, long before parents have a chance to buy them G.I. Joes or Barbie dolls or otherwise nurture them into a particular gender role. She must also challenge the Word of God, which explains that men and women are distinct and complimentary creatures with equal value but differing roles. We can’t expect a secular movement to regard Scripture, but it’s Scripture that corresponds with what we experience and what we’ve discovered through science, that is, up until the transgender revolution.

IN RELIGION: Here comes the question from a Rabbi, who claims to have figured out what we’ve all mistakenly thought for millennia, happily coinciding with the transgender revolution: Is God transgender? (From The New York Times)

Rabbi Mark Sameth explains that “the Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender.” The term YHWH, he says, “was Hebrew for ‘He/She.’ Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity.”

God refers to Himself as “Father” and refers to the second Person of the Trinity as His Son. However, God is spirit and therefore has no biological sex, and we can’t apply gender to Him the same way either. Scott Eric Alt provides a good response to Rabbi Sameth’s claim at Patheos:

“Not dual-gendered, Rabbi Sameth: non-gendered. God is not both male and female; he is neither male nor female. Pronouns, of course, do have gender—for gender, properly, is a grammatical construct—but it behooves us to not get excited and jiggly and read our agendas into the fact that some pronoun needs to be applied to God. That a pronoun has gender should not lead us to suspect that God has a gender, or multiple genders, or is transgendered, or is gender fluid, or whatever else your agenda compels you to want to say about God. God is transcendent.”

Alt also counters Sameth’s view of certain passages that to Sameth seem to support a transgender view. Alt’s post is a good apologetics resource, so read the whole thing.

IN THE END: Pandering to the transgender revolution means both scientists and religious leaders must abandon sound reasoning and long-held doctrine to do it, resulting in new definitions and a radical understanding of sex and gender (like this one from Slate, claiming that “there’s no such thing as a ‘male body’.”).

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (1 Timothy 4:3,4)

I think we’re there.

‘First They Came’ Redux

July 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

That’s a poem written in 1946 or so by Martin Niemöller, a German pastor who spoke out against the Nazis, but regretted not standing up for his Jewish neighbors during his own imprisonment. Here’s how a Christian in Iowa, in light of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s latest measure about churches and public accommodations(1), might rewrite Niemöller’s poem today, considering the advancement of the modern sexual revolution:

First they came for the florists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a florist

Then they came for the bakers
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a baker

Then they came for the photographers 
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a photographer

Then they came for the pastors
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a pastor

Then they came for me 
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

 

1) Patroski, William “Churches Challenge State on Gender Identity Law.” The Des Moines Register, 6 July, 2016. http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2016/07/05/church-sues-state-iowa-over-transgender-bathroom-rules/86700392/

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