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This Atheist Generation Part 1

Well, this post created so many comments, it shut down my site so I’m pulling it for now until I can get things straightened out.

 

Added at 10 AM CST

Well, I find it interesting that one of the points mentioned in a recent online article (I quoted in this post that I have pulled) against religion specifically and Christianity in general was the suppression of independent thinking. In other words, if you follow a particular religion, you are forced to think a certain way and any dissent is punished and quashed. But, it seems that any independent thinking is inappropriate if it goes against the majority opinion.

 

Interesting that my post focused on the “church’s” failure to truly represent the teachings of Christ in this new century and I was attacked for thinking outside the box not by fellow Christians but by others! I guess in today’s American culture, you can only express an opinion if it matches the majority party line. Talk about a lack of tolerance! Who is intolerant?

 

I know that Christians are accused most of the time of being intolerant, judgmental, arrogant, and just plain mean but really! It seems that intolerance really means that if you express any opinion different from MINE then your are wrong! And, you are intolerant! But, who is being intolerant here?

 

Tolerance means being respectful of anyone who disagrees with you and giving equal respect to that person even if you disagree with them. But, our current culture uses “intolerance” to punish anyone who thinks differently from the party line, the status quo, the majority opinion even to the point of people losing jobs, undergoing “re-education”, etc.

 

I’m sorry but these actions sound an awful lot like the very thing Christians are being accused of doing through the centuries. So, we are no different today than then regardless of our worldview. My point I tried to make in today’s post was that man is the real culprit in all of this. We will use any system, any belief, any rationalization to justify our opinion and respect and tolerance be damned. And we do it in the name of tolerance!

 

Let’s face it. We are a mean, angry, dysfunctional society and the sooner we learn mutual respect, including anyone who demonstrates “independent thinking” or thinking contrary to the popular majority opinion the sooner we can move forward as a healthy society and not one bent on self destruction. And this applies to my fellow Christ followers as well as to the “nones”. For the Christians, go read 1 Peter 3 and focus on that admonition to “do so with gentleness and respect”. Remember, we are to love one another as Christ loved us. I don’t see a whole lot of love coming from us most of the time. I see a lot of hate and condemnation and this is the face of Christianity today’s culture sees and focuses on.

 

So, I will not be reposting my original post. If I do, I fear I may be censored, vilified, fired from my job, arrested for hate crime, or who knows what. If anyone out there really respects “independent thinking” then why not engage in civil discourse over these issues? We have enough hatred in our world as it is. Why can’t we just get along and agree to disagree on these issues?

 

Frankly, I was expecting a lot more pushback from my fellow church goers since I agreed with most of the criticism of the modern “church” in the article I had quoted in today’s post. But, I guess you will never know what I had to say. I’ve been told to shut up and go away and hide in a corner and keep my beliefs in private where they belong!

 

So, for now, I will. But, I will not stay silent forever!

 

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Final Thoughts on Kiwis

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Our tour guide at Hobbiton, Sean, offers me some apple cider. Incredibly friendly the Kiwis are!

It has been a week since we returned from New Zealand. Getting back into our normal time zone has been challenging. I find myself wide awake until 3 in the morning! When you have to get up at 6 for work, that isn’t a good thing! But, gradually, I’ve been able to find that other part of me that seems to be hovering in the corner ala out of body experience style and like Peter Pan and his shadow, I’m finally getting the two of us back together. I discovered I do have at least one broken rib from my fall and my elbow is so painful I am sure there is a tear of my triceps tendon which is not a good thing!

Now that is a cup of coffee! Witness the awesomeness of a flat white!

Now that is a cup of coffee! Witness the awesomeness of a flat white!

I am slowly and painfully withdrawing from my daily dose of flat whites, that most remarkable coffee confection that is not found in the states. I miss my daily cup of flat white and my chicken and cheese pie. Thursday at physical therapy, I decided to get on the treadmill since my broken rib had finally become tolerable. Normally, I can only walk about 3 MPH because of my back. But, I found myself loping along at 4 MPH. All that walking in New Zealand uphill, both ways seemed to have paid off. I also lost 10 pounds while there. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I saw nary an obese native New Zelander during my visit.

It has also taken me a week to sift through my over 2500 photographs and I have yet to sort through all the videos. The photos help keep all of the stops and sites straight in my head. When I pause and reflect on our trip, we covered the entire country of New Zealand and saw probably 80% of the sites in less than three weeks! It’s no wonder I keep getting Queenstown and Wellington confused! That’s like confusing San Diego and Panama City!

Our new friends AND family, Alex and Grant!

Our new friends AND family, Alex and Grant!

I am also trying to wrap my brain around the best way to tell my friends and family what it was like in New Zealand. Their questions are legion. And, to try and summarize our experience in a short period of time is impossible. Yesterday, I spent a few hours with my friend Raymond who is building the website for www.steelchronicles.com and our upcoming depression rewrite www.conqueringdepression.com. He is the pastor of a mission church and I shared with him my experience with my Christian brothers and sisters in Christ in New Zealand. I told him it was uncanny how easily we dwelt in each other’s company as if we had known each other for years! Even though our language was different (WE have an accent, can you believe it?) in some of its conventions, we could easily communicate not only on a superficial level but also on a spiritual level.

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Kiwis LOVE to laugh! Kiwis LOVE life!

In my posts I have commented on what New Zealand still has that we as a nation have lost. I am still proud to be an American. But, I am not always proud of how our country has changed in the past century. The growing hostility toward Christianity, and for that matter, any public display of religious conviction is alarming. You do not see this in New Zealand. I see in our culture an intolerance to spiritual matters and a growing movement that says only science can give us real, true answers to our problems. The new series Cosmos even took a swing at Christianity in its opening show once again pouring gasoline (that is petrol for my Kiwi friends) on the battle between faith and science.

I think it is time to pour water on this fiery debate. As a Christian, I can no longer look at my atheistic or agnostic scientific colleagues and truly say they are without moral conviction or a humane way of life. Also, it is time for my colleagues to back off and allow those of us who have religious convictions to keep them and to RESPECT our choices! The key here is respect.

1 Peter 3:16 says that Christians should “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us but to do so with gentleness and respect”. The vast majority of Christians have no intellectual or academic foundation for why the Christian worldview reflects ultimate truth. We have only a thimble full of knowledge and it is time for us to truly become “prepared” to give a reason for what we believe. But, more importantly, it is time for us to act with gentleness and respect towards those we disagree with. This is called tolerance and it was a concept invented by the early church to reflect this very verse in scripture.

One thing I found in abundance in New Zealand was gentleness and respect. As troubled as America is and as contentious as our reputation can be throughout the world, I NEVER felt criticized or looked down upon by my Kiwi friends. They were always gentle and respectful. A lesson we can learn on both sides of the issue of faith versus science. So, let us put our gauntlets away and let us instead shake hands over this issue and agree to disagree with cordial respect. If you are a Christian, I plead with you to take 1 Peter 3:16 literally. Delve into the foundation of truth that underlies our faith. Learn some “apologetics” that is defense of the Christian faith. There are thousands of websites. Just look under my “Apologetics” tab to find some good resources.

But, most importantly, take the lesson I have learned from my Kiwi friends, and yes, now family to heart. Treat everyone with gentleness and respect.

A very friendly guide in Shantytown!

A very friendly guide in Shantytown!

Don’t forget to check out my book sales for all three Jonathan Steel books at www.steelchronicles.com and get the current edition of “Conquering Depression” at www.conqueringdepression.com before it goes out of print. I’ll share with you in the coming months of a new book about depression I and Mark Sutton have written that will be available in the fall.

Next week, it’s back on the airplane to Orlando. Mark Sutton and I will be tweaking our website for our new book release in the fall. So, come back in the near future to hear about “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression”!

Unto Caesar . . .

Today, I invite you to read a guest post by my son, Sean Hennigan regarding the relationship between Christians and, well, government.

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“You place your vote, misplace your hope in men

Who will let you down with empty dreams

And broken promises

It’s hard to keep from giving up

It’s easier to just fold up your arms” – Derek Webb

For some people of faith, last week was a week full of bitter disappointments. They see a moral arc of their universe bending towards corruption and ruin. They hear wars and rumors of wars on the borders of everything they hold dear. They feel threatened, neglected, discounted.

They feel like the world that created and sustained an environment amenable to the presence of God is passing on, and they worry that the world coming has little room for Him, much less His people.

They fear the consequences of a world that rejects their Savior so fully.

I don’t think they’re wrong to be concerned, because salt and light has always been challenging to the systems of the word and men have always rejected light for their love of darkness. To the people of Jesus, these things are not new. They rejected Him andthey will turn away from us, too.

However, I believe that the above is only part of the story.

ImageChristianity has always operated in an uneasy truce with the empires that govern the world around them. Throughout history, the people of God have lived as strangers and sojourners among the kingdoms of the mighty men of old, and to varying degrees found peace and coexistence with them. Very rarely have they been a kingdom of their own, and the times of kingdoms were marred with infighting and born of a desire to be like the other nations surrounding them. The kings frequently struggled to preserve their reigns, and the most prosperous kings in Israel’s history were judged by God for doing evil in His sight. God eventually led them into exile, a defeat of such magnitude that it forced  His chosen to be a people again, set apart and strange. His subversion extended even to their well-meaning messianic dreams, which embellished God’s deliverance into a military conquest and return to the kingdoms of old. When God finally fulfilled the kingdom restoration they dreamed of, He hung their mighty ruler to die on an empire’s cross. The victory of God was not over His people’s temporal enemies but their final enemy: death itself. God’s messiah changed the calculus governing the affairs of men, their rules for authority and kingship and power. Jesus inaugurated a kingdom of open peoplehood, a culmination of the promise that God would be King over His people, and they would grow to gather from and convey blessing to the whole world.

There is an uncomfortable truth at the heart of God’s story that we must reckon with now: we long for kings when we believe that God’s headship is not enough.

The American church of the last 100 years has often flirted with political power. America itself has always been a land of immense promise in our imagination, a place where the divine right of the old kingdoms was democratized, where divine blessing manifested not as enforced rule but as a popular consensus. In the 20th century, full of technology and war and the energy of the Great Awakenings, the church was a place of common cultural grounding, a shared quasi-nationalistic identity. Religious belief was a guiding consensus element of national identity, expected of men of influence and injected by government fiat into currency, classroom and national pledge.  Jesus became the border guard of our kingdom, separating us from the Axis and the godless Communists and the Muslim powers of the East.

In the last 35 years, the American church has become particularly aware of its power as a voting block. People of faith have gathered to voice their opinions on a number of social and political issues that have been reshaping the cultural and political landscape of the country. We especially oppose the pluralism inherent in the shift in national consensus identity from Judeo-Christian Enlightened Man to inclusive, post-religious Enlightened One. We have become a potent voting bloc and a fervent and well funded special interest group in American political life.

I believe that is wrong.

What I fear is that in the course of our political engagement we have started seeking kings so we can be like the other nations. For every David we find (if we find him at all) we are plagued with ten Sauls, men disingenuously consulting ghosts and forging bad pacts to win victories in conventional terms, hoping to be retroactively blessed because they pursued it in the name of God’s kingdom. We align ourselves with political leaders who claim to be like us, but who all too often exploit our fear and discomfort to accrue power to themselves and to pursue their own political ends.

We do it because we believe that we have no choice. We do it because we are convinced that if we don’t follow the rules of presiding empires then we will be cast aside or persecuted. We want to protect what we love and store up the rich blessing that God provides  and we see no other way to do it but through a king.

The trouble with Jesus is that His kingdom, a kingdom of people, transcends nationhood and call us to radical love and sacrifice. God’s Messiah is the fulfillment of Saul and Solomon and Caesar — the God-king whose kingdom is one of wholeness and unity and everlasting peace. He speaks of purchased fields and mustard trees and unfair wages and forgiveness, and He does not idly assent to defend the political fortunes of particular nation-states. His kingdom and people overcome by story and blood, not might or power, as He patiently asserts His reign over the world. When the end comes, He will conquer with a sword in His mouth,  it His powerful right hand, and He will judge the nations alongside and through His people.

What temporary power we might hold to enforce our faith through political action is tempting because we believe that we will exercise it fairly. We see our political will as a rare blessing from God to legislate His kingdom into the world, not as a political enshrining of His redemption but as its agent of enforcement. While the government plays a role in protecting from evil and promoting justice and general welfare, we hope it to go further to enforce the particular ethics of our peoplehood on others. We hope that governmental enforcement of the outcomes of our transformation will somehow lead people, in reverse, to their Cause.

We become convinced that we must act because our way of life will be dismissed otherwise. And in defense of conscience and of kingdom, we relive the sins of Saul and David and all the kings who trusted in their own power above the Lord’s, even when they thought they were acting in service of His work. We count our armies and ask Him to bless that work while He beckons us to be His people and desires to be our King. He jealously guards His loving dominion over us, and He shares that dominion and worthiness of worship with no one but His Son.

At our best, at our most true, we are a peculiar people in the world, people who have no home apart from the one we create together with Him and with each other. He works through us to preserve and shape our communities and our culture through radical, sacrificial love. His kingdom work transcends social morays and political boundaries. He is not limited by the boundaries of our expectation and He does not take kindly to the notion that there are places He cannot go. His Spirit wind blows where it pleases and He does need us to take Him there by force.

Ultimately, we are His and He is our king. Ours is the task of loving and serving and living out — His is the finished-but-still-finishing work of His kingdom’s rule. The kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdoms of our God and King, and  we are His children when we like Sarah call Him lord and do not fear anything that is alarming. We persevere through love not into violence and scarcity but into abundance, rest and victorious peace.

When Jesus walked the earth, He resisted the temptation of Satan and of the crowds and even of His disciples to fulfill the militaristic, messianic Kingdom dreams of His day. As His servants-turned-friends, we should expect no less a temptation, and no less a calling, for ourselves.

“One day you’ll wake and the curse will break

And even you won’t be the same.

Your hope is not wasted on a day when everything will change.”

The Biopsy

When I look at the man in the mirror, I’m not sure who he is. It’s not the image I have of myself in my head. I’m still that slim, athletic twenty something guy that was running 6 miles a day and had a 28 inch waist. Now, I’m lucky if my thigh is under 28 inches in diameter!

Getting old is NOT for the faint of heart. Since 2009 I’ve had neck surgery, almost broke my hip dancing to Thriller on the XBox, had major problems with my legs related to a herniated disc in my back that will one day have to come out, chest tightness in May resulting in a cardiac catheterization that was normal, and just recently a brush with prostate cancer. It was that last thing that plagued me now for almost three months.

My PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen also known as Profound Stress Anxiety) doubled on a routine screening test in November. My urologist recommended a biopsy with the statement, “When your PSA doubles at your age, the changes you have cancer are 30% or 3 chances out of 10”. My father had prostate cancer. His father died of prostate cancer. I decided to go for the biopsy. Problem was, I could not have it until January. I would not be off from work and in town long enough to have the biopsy until then. True, I was off the week of Christmas, but who wants a shiny new prostate biopsy for Christmas!

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It is all said and done, now. And, looking back I’d like to make some observations:

The Anticipation of the Event was the worst part of the whole thing. Endless waiting for the day to arrive. This has really opened up my eyes to what patients go through after I tell their physician, “The CAT scan shows a mass and I recommend a biopsy.”

“Local” anesthetic is NOT anesthetic! My urologist placed a probe up inside my rectum and then uttered these words: “You’ll feel a little pinprick when I deaden the tissue.” Pinprick my, well, my lower anatomy! It hurt! Bad! I use local anesthetic on just about every procedure I do, although my procedures usually go through the skin which is far less sensitive than the lining of my, well, lower anatomy. I now have a new appreciation for what my patients are feeling when I use local. From now on, I will say, “This will feel like a big wasp sting and it is going to hurt like hell”.

Completing the procedure in a timely fashion helps a great deal. My urologist was quick and efficient and literally, the 14 biopsies took less than a minute. It didn’t make them any less painful. But, I hardly had time to think about what was going on before the next biopsy was being done. I’ve noticed this in my own practice. I try not to prolong the procedure with unnecessary “down time” such as preparing the biopsy tray or long chit chat with the patient. Get it done as painlessly as possible and as efficiently as possible. It is wonderful news to hear from my patients when they tell me what I told my urologist: “It’s already over? Thank goodness!”

Getting the news, good or bad, is very, very stressful. I was scheduled to return a week later for my biopsy results. Being a physician, I knew that the results would probably be in much sooner than that. My urologist showed me professional courtesy and called me the minute he had the results. In one way, this was great. I didn’t have to wait a week. On the other hand, it was harrowing. I didn’t know WHEN I would get the news. I would almost have preferred to wait a week knowing the exact date and time I would find out as opposed to watching the clock and the calendar and my iPhone screen waiting for the call. I was a nervous wreck with anticipation. But, good news or bad, I was relieved just to finally know.

Expect the worse and when it doesn’t happen, you are relieved. If it does happen, you are prepared. My wife doesn’t understand this. My father taught me this principle when on the first night in my new bedroom after my sister moved out he brought a hammer and placed it on the night stand by the bed. “What is that for?” I asked. He looked at me and frowned. “To break the glass out of the windows when the house catches fire so you can jump out.” My eight year old mind was alarmed and I slept with the hammer clutched in my hand the entire night but truly never slept waiting for the first tale tale odor of smoke. But, by anticipating what it would mean to have a positive biopsy, I was already prepared. I had researched the treatment options and had even chosen the surgeon and oncologist if the biopsy was positive. I was prepared. And yes, when I heard the results were negative, I danced with glee; shrieked with joy; and thanked God and everyone who prayed for me.

Telling people “It’s going to be okay.” just doesn’t work very well. I learned this the hard way. My friends told me over and over, “Don’t worry, Bruce, it will be negative. You’ll be fine.” I am not normal. I started tallying these remarks and when they were approaching 100, I realized that if this were a democracy, there would be no way I could have prostate cancer. However, there was only one “vote” that counted and that would be the pathologist who examined my biopsies and declared them truly normal. In my atypical, paranoid way the more reassurances I received, the more certain I was that my biopsy would show cancer. Certainly not my friends’ fault. They meant well and it was ME who was having a problem. Weird, warped, paranoid Bruce! Go figure! But, what this taught me is that when I have a friend or relative in this situation in the future I am going say, “No matter what the outcome, I’m thinking about you and praying for you and if there is anything I can do, let me know.” But, then, thank goodness most people aren’t as paranoid as I am! Or, or they????

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So, let me play off of that last paragraph with the thought that brings all of this together. What we need is HOPE. From my friends, my wife, my children, and everyone who prayed for me, I received hope. I can’t receive hope from the world. Our world is not founded on the hope of Christ. It is founded on the hopelessness of chance; randomness; relativism; naturalism. Only the worldview of Christianity gives us ultimate hope. It tells us that the pain and suffering of this realm are nothing compared to what lies beyond. For, in our future is Another Country with a swift Sonrise and a fair shore where pain and death are but a distant memory. A New Heaven and a New Earth. Our scientific view of the universe promises only a slow, cold death as the energy of the universe dissipates. And, we cannot change the universe. But, there is a second creation coming according to Christ; a world in which these trials and pains are nothing more than training programs for what lies ahead. Hope. That is what got me through the endless weeks. That is what got me through 2012.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

The Fulcrum

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In the past few days, I’ve been involved with interviews that propose the question “Do Violent Video Games Make Teenagers Violent”. I’ve been preparing for this question for months as I research data on depression among young adults for the update of “Conquering Depression”. That book was released in February, 2001 and the world is SO much different now. My co-author, Mark Sutton, and I started talking about this update in May, 2012 when I became more aware of the prevalence of depression on an increasing basis in our culture. In a previous post, I talked about my shock to discover that in an artistic conference with 90% of people under 30 almost everyone admitted to having depression!

So far, I have been stunned by what I’ve learned just through the radio interviews. Young adults today see nothing wrong with playing violent video games in which they kill innocent people. They vehemently deny that violent video games or violent media produce changes in their behavior. And yet, the studies show just the opposite. Here is my analysis. There is a subgroup of teenagers and young adults, proportion unknown, who have the capacity to play these games and not allow them to effect their worldview. These kids all seem to have sound values, involved parents, high self esteem, and the ability to separate fantasy from reality. BUT, there is another segment of teenagers and young adults who are drawn to these games; who spend hours and hours immersed in these games; and who are unable to separate the fantasy from reality completely. It’s called the “Tetris Effect” and occurs when these gamers see elements of their game show up in their real world.

The problem and solution, as I have mentioned in my interviews is three fold.

1 — Violent video games and the video game industry continue to make these games. Violence and sex sells. But, they have also stepped up to the plate and put at least some type of rating on the games and a description of the content.

2 — Retailers are asking for IDs on teenagers to make sure they aren’t purchasing a game meant for over 17. I’m not sure how many of these retailers are doing this.

3 — And, finally, parents are not engaged in what their teenagers are playing. They have no idea about the rating system, the description and content of the games, and that they can put a parental block on game consoles.

Perhaps we need to dig deeper to understand this problem. It is a cultural problem; a society that has abandoned values we once held high. Yesterday, I showed my readers an answer from my son on his take on the current state of this problem. But, he also gave me a solution. It is striking; stunning; and for me as a father, ultimately satisfying in a way no father can even begin to imagine. I was involved in my son’s choices throughout his childhood. My wife and I told our children over and over to make the right choices and we provided spiritual and practical guidance on how to do that. We allowed them limited freedom but strong boundaries. We emphasized that THEY had to learn discernment so they could make the wise choices on their own. I think my son has done so. Here is the remainder of his response to how to deal with a society that is incredibly violent:

Let’s start with the Lord. I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world. He is the Center of the universe, the Fulcrum of creation, the Mass towards which all created things eventually bend. He is the True Great Intelligence, the Author of the Story we inhabit and inherit. He is beyond and above all created things (even time), yet He orchestrated our mechanics so that we are a part of His full work. He is the True Doctor – fire and ice, humor and majesty, grace and justice. He is the missing piece that resolves all of our mess into a beautiful whole. He is in all and through all, pulling all creation towards redemption. He is the true Word, the unbroken Orthodox Logos passed from Adam, Noah and Abraham through Jesus and His church to this present day. He is the Power, through the cross, to restore creation and heal wounds and deliver sinners from hell. His is all glory and dominion.

We, His church, are heirs to (and stewards of) that dominion. Filled with His love and emboldened by His Spirit, we are His explorers and heralds. We are His captive train, full proof of His sure and complete work of redemption, and a promissory note of that work’s fulfillment and true expression. We are not just beggars with bread – we are vagabonds and explorers who have been to the lost city and have seen its hidden riches. We are maps and signposts to a good Kingdom. We are evidence that the stories are true.

That Spirit of freedom, of equality, of deliverance, is the root of my passion, the theme of my song.

# Yesterday’s entry was here.

Jesus answers violence with Himself, a man of peace whose Kingdom is of peace. We are His body and temple, His bride and His family; therefore, we are peace as well. We show that peace by our love. Revile us? We love. Strike us? Love. Hate us and wish our destruction? Love and more love. God is the center of the universe, and His heartbeat is love, in mercy and in justice. His is the judgment, so filled with His Spirit and trusting in His promises, we love.

We love actively. When we love our enemies, we act in peace to both acknowledge their worth and call out the oppression in their actions. When we love one another, we do so honestly, in full faith and trust. We also do so in openness and diversity, undoing the trendy perversion of tolerance by trusting the Holy Spirit to build the community He wants, the Body He desires, rather than the same-painted tribes of our comfort or preference.

We love comprehensively. We must show that in the face of man’s deprivation or God’s plenty, our community is one of love. Jesus’ tribe is different: a God without a land, a Temple in our hearts. We must meet extortion with generosity, war with peace, hate with love.

We can only do this from a place of victory. If Jesus is not King, then we must fight to protect what we have and who we are because we might lose. We would “build the kingdom using the devil’s tools” because the are the only tools we have. We are pagans and fools, old gods in a new land with no one to worship us but ourselves.

Or.

If God is King, if Jesus is the true Caesar, the final Lord of Lords and the Center, then what do we have to lose? Who do we have to fear? If we give Him the space, He will perfect our love, overtake our dreams and ambitions with His own, and utterly, fully cast out all of our fear. We can live generously, love freely and walk wisely because He is true and His Way is true. If the stories are true, if the treasure is real, then with love and peace we can sell all we have to buy the field and the pearl. In so doing, we model Christ – King of peace and love and wisdom and justice – who gave His all to deliver us from sin and redeem all of creation. When they see His love in us, they can choose Him or reject Him, but they cannot break away from His grasp.

This is what I struggle in my unbelief to take hold of every day. This is the rest towards which I trudge and march and dance in hopes of one day fully entering. This is the redemption, the Truth on its way to set me free. This is the good news in which I stake my all, and for which I would give all I have away. This is what I wish and pray for every struggling brother, for every doubt, and this is the truth I pray against the enemy’s deception.

If you would like to discuss these issues with me in an interview, drop me an email via the CONTACT tab and I would love to accommodate you.

Are We All Equal?

There were only two women in my medical school class of 100 students. Back in the late seventies, women doctors were few and far between. It was a time of women’s “liberation”. Frankly, I didn’t get why women were not treated “equally”. My mother and father had set an example for me. My mother was a working woman back in the 1950’s and 1960’s right up to her retirement as a school bus driver in the mid 1970’s. My father shared the job of cooking and cleaning. Every Saturday morning, he swept the entire house of all the dirt and dust of the prior week. I never heard him say anything about “women’s work”. Both of my sisters were career women even after they married and had children. I guess I was fortunate that my parents taught me that we are all equal in the eyes of God no matter what our gender, religion, race, or stature in life.

That particular belief did not come from a political point of view. It came from our devotion to the teachings of Christ. As I mentioned two posts ago, I want to look at the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in this Christmas season and focus on those teachings without focusing on the religious claims about Jesus. I maintain that Jesus of Nazareth taught us powerful lessons that transcend culture and religion; lessons that even an atheist or agnostic can live with. In fact, Jesus taught us powerful lessons that everyone should apply to our lives.

Stop for a moment and consider the status of women in first century Palestine. Among the Roman culture, women were considered objects of sexual conquest and were often the center of many pagan religious practices. In the Jewish culture of Jesus of Nazareth, women were very low in status. They were little better than possessions. A man could divorce a women just be stating it was so. Women who had serious illnesses were considered “unclean” and “untouchable”. If a women was caught in the act of adultery, she could be stoned — forget about the man’s transgressions! The testimony of a woman was useless and never to be taken as truthful.

However, we see an entirely different attitude toward women in four encounters Jesus had with a woman of his time. Each encounter is a teaching moment for us all to understand.Woman-at-the-Well-5001

First, Jesus met a woman at a well. This woman had been married many times and was considered an adulterer. She came to the well in the heat of the day hoping no one would be there to make fun of her. She was also a Samaritan, considered lower than low; the most undesirable of the undesirables by any good Jew of the day. She met Jesus of Nazareth that day. He did the unthinkable and SPOKE to her! He told her all about herself. He told her that the water she drank from this well was temporary but that she should seek the water of spiritual fulfillment.

Here, Jesus illustrates one of the first of many very powerful lessons that all people are of equal value and of equal worth.

Second, Jesus was dining with a religious leader of the day. A woman appears suddenly at the door. She ignores the ridicule and chiding of the religious leaders and comes to Jesus. She produces a vial of expensive fragrance, pours it on Jesus’ feet and his head and washes his feet with her tears and her hair. While the rest of the men present ridicule the woman’s actions, Jesus accepts them as a gift and says that wherever and whenever his teachings are told down through the ages, this woman’s devotion will be remembered.

Third, is the most beautiful account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. We know from the account that this was a setup to trap Jesus; a trap set by the religious leaders of the day. Jesus literally disarmed the men ready to stone the woman with one of the most powerful statements in history, “Let he who is among you that is without sin cast the first stone.” Then, Jesus does not condemn the woman but tells her she is free and to “go and sin no more”; that is don’t allow yourself to get into the situation you were just in that almost led to your death. Learn from this and CHANGE your life for the better.

Fourth, it is very interesting that the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection tell us that the first people he appeared to were women! A woman’s testimony was worthless! If the story of the resurrection were false; that is, fabricated by men. they certainly would NOT have used women as the first line of testimony to the resurrection. Whether you believe this fact or not, the idea that Jesus would appear to women first is significant. His acknowledgement of women’s worth for its time was astonishing.

We see in these few examples (and there are many more) that Jesus of Nazareth disregarded a person’s race (Samaritan), gender(female), and ethnic background (again, Samaritan). In fact, Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders of the day calling them hypocrites (More on this later!). Jesus seems to be teaching that we are all equal in his eyes. Amazing, isn’t it? Don’t believe me? Look at this statement from a letter Paul wrote to the church in Galatia:

 

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).

 

Where did we go wrong? How did mankind continue to claim to be followers of Christ in western culture and still embrace the bigotry of race and slavery and the sexism against women? Because we are man; we are broken; we listen but we do not learn. Even our founding fathers ignored their own words from the Declaration of Independence when it came to slavery:

We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.

It has only been in the last forty years that we have finally given race and sex a fair deal. But, Jesus taught this fairness two thousand years ago!

What have I learned from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth that I think all men and women should embrace:

Each person is unique and worthy.

No person is better than another.

No person is greater than another.

One should NEVER be looked down upon because of a difference in race, gender, religious beliefs, or stature in life.

We should look upon EVERYONE with respect as our equal.

Once again, Jesus of Nazareth has taught us to do the HARD thing because it is the RIGHT thing to do!

Turn the Other . . . What?!?!?

I was asked to talk to an irate patient. I went to the patient’s hospital room and tried to soothe his ruffled feathers. After all, I am regarded as a very calm person under pressure; a peacemaker. The man claimed we had been experimenting on him during his recent diagnostic test in the department of radiology. I calmly explained the procedure he had undergone and thought I had succeeded in calming the man down. Then, he cut his eyes in my direction, let loose with a long string of vile curse words and called me a liar.cheek

Something popped behind my eyes and anger took over. I wadded up his complaint sheet, threw it at his face where it bounced off of his shocked and surprised eyes and then told him I hoped he died the next day during his surgery. I was in a daze after that and found myself sitting at my desk down in radiology wondering “what just happened?”. As you can imagine, so did the administrators who had sent me to the man’s room to calm him down and answer his admittedly baseless complaints. Instead, I had told the man I hoped he died! Where did that come from? Why had I reacted in that way? How did I allow this man to push all of my buttons?

It is no mystery to anyone that we live in a very angry, frustrated culture. Road rage is at all time highs. Revenge is encouraged and there are revenge “sites” on the internet. Our entertainment glorifies blowing someone away. We’ve taken Dirty Harry’s advice to heart and we hope that someone will “Make my day!” so we can unload onto them. Rage and fury and revenge are the emotions of the day. They fuel the hate and violence in the Middle East. They have spread across the globe in wave after wave of destruction and death. Where did we go wrong?

I want to explore the simple teachings of a rather simple man, a carpenter, a philosopher, a teacher who changed the world. Put aside the trappings of deity and savior we associate with Christ for the moment. Let’s look at his words. Words spoken by a simple man to simple, struggling people. The populace of first century Palestine were not too different from today. They were under repression by a very effective, cruel Roman government. Their king was a vile man with perverted tastes in pleasure and a ready tendency to lop off the head of anyone who displeased him. Their local leaders were strict, legalistic religious leaders who were devoid of compassion, mercy, and love. They were being taxed into poverty; crucified for speaking out against the government; sold into slavery at a whim. In short, these people were ANGRY.

So, why would Jesus of Nazareth, regarded by the people of this era as a future king and conqueror, tell these angry people thirsting for vengeance that the best response to an attack on their person was to “turn the other cheek”? What? Be a coward? Bow to the repressive and abusive leaders around them? Worse, don’t fight back, even in self defense?

This teaching, more than any other by Christ, has been discussed and explored down through the centuries. In fact, it has been claimed that a follower of the teachings of Christ must be a coward if they are true to those teachings. But, I believe, this is a very poor understanding of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I may be a simple man with no deep background in theology or Christian doctrine but I believe there is a deeper, more profound thought here than just turning tail and running.

As a physician I am aware of a condition known as the “fight or flight” response. When we are threatened physically or mentally, our body goes into flight or fight mode. Adrenaline kicks in, the heart races, the lungs bring in more oxygen, blood is shunted from the skin and gut to the brain preparing us to either stand and fight, or to run away. This physical reaction is totally beyond our ability to prevent. But, it is not beyond our ability to control our “response” to this physical “reaction”.

The remarks of Jesus of Nazareth must be taken in context. Not only does he tell us to “turn the other cheek” when we are struck on the cheek, he tells us to go the extra mile, to carry the extra burden. When taken in its total context, there is a deeper meaning here. I believe what Jesus is telling us is to deny our simple, easy “reaction” to fight and to pursue a thoughtful, considered “response”. In other words, don’t fly off the handle! Stop the adrenaline surging and the purely animal instinct to fight or to flee and think. After all, we are human beings. We have considerable options in the thinking category over animals. Why not use a thoughtful response? Why not do the unexpected? Like, turn the other cheek? Or, offer to carry the soldier’s burden for another mile?

When we take this initiative, we have taken CONTROL of the situation. We are now in the driver’s seat, not the offender. This will throw the offender off his/her game. It might even stop them in their tracks and cause them to rise up out of their primal anger to the higher levels of cognitive thinking. A measured response is far better than an instinctual reaction. Now, I’m not talking about life threatening situations. I’m not talking about self defense. And, I don’t believe Jesus was talking about this either. He was talking about the day to day interaction we have with ordinary people we encounter along life’s path. A measured response gives some degree of respect and a glint of wiggle room to the offender. Often, the problem with the offender is a deep seated problem that is unrelated to the anger that person is showing you. Maybe they need someone to stop them in their tracks and make them consider another option. Maybe they need someone to stop them from reacting and encourage them to respond.

I might be wrong here but there is another verse not uttered by Jesus of Nazareth that is profoundly true,

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Proverbs 15 verse 1. I might be wrong, but in this season of gift giving and peace to all men, why shouldn’t we heed the words of Jesus of Nazareth and turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; repay anger with a gentle word; do the unexpected.

So, what happened to my patient? His son appeared in my office about an hour after that exchange. By then, I had been interviewed by a couple of administrative reps about MY behavior. The son smiled at me and said, “Thank you for standing up to my father. He has run over everyone he meets because he is afraid that he will not wake up from his surgery tomorrow. But, he told me to tell you that he was going to survive just to prove you wrong. So, I know this sounds strange, but you actually helped him by showing him how he was acting towards others. I want to thank you.”

Who would have thought? But, as positive as this may have turned out, I was the one who suffered. I was the one who felt horrible for losing my temper. It may have worked out for the best, but this is the exception, not the rule. Anger seldom has positive outcomes (except when Jesus needed to drive the thieves out of the temple).

 Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

 

Here is what I learned from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth:

RUR — Resist the Urge to React. Rather, take time to THINK and then RESPOND.

Control — By avoiding a blind reaction, you can take some measure of control of the situation (maybe not completely but at least your side of the situation).

Empathy — An expression of anger often is an indicator of a deeper problem and you might just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Looking for the pain behind the anger might help you to understand why this person is so angry.

Love Your Enemy — Here is the HARD thing to do. But, in this teaching we see the necessity of looking at the other person as an individual with a worldview and a motive that we might understand if we were in their situation. It is hard to love someone you loathe; someone who is lashing out at you. But, an attempt to at least understand their point of view and then trying to find a way to respect that person as a PERSON might help defuse the situation. In other words, sometimes we have to do the HARD thing because it is the RIGHT thing!

I’m a Doctor, Not a Philosopher!

Doctor McCoy made this profound statement to his friend, the logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock during the original Star Trek episode. I have always had a hard time understanding philosophy. And so, this statement made me sit up and take notice:

“Christianity is not a religion. It’s a philosophy!”

I was somewhat surprised to hear Bill O’Reilly make this statement Wednesday night in his conversation with an atheist. The atheist, as expected, protested vigorously that Christianity IS a religion. Bill countered with a valid argument. Being a part of Catholicism or being a Methodist is “religion” based on the “philosophy” of Christianity.

So, which is it? Is Christianity a religion or a philosophy? Here are 5 definitions of the word “philosophy”:

Examination of basic concepts: the branch of knowledge or academic study devoted to the systematic examination of basic concepts such as truth, existence, reality, causality, and freedom.

School of thought: a particular system of thought or doctrine. 

Guiding or underlying principles: a set of basic principles or concepts underlying a particular sphere of knowledge.

Set of beliefs or aims: a precept, or set of precepts, beliefs, principles, or aims, underlying somebody’s practice or conduct.

Calm resignation: restraint, resignation, or calmness and rationality in somebody’s behavior or response to events.

Look at the fourth definition. Maybe Bill has a point. Christianity is a set of beliefs or aims underlying the practice or conduct of a person who follows the teaching of Jesus Christ. Ravi Zacharias, well known speaker and apologist makes the statements:

Religion begins with man. Theology beings with God.

Ah, here is a valid point. Religion is man’s attempt to organize the philosophy of Christianity into a system of everyday “practice”. Religion defines the “rules and regulations” of the “practice” of Christianity as an outward manifestation of its tenets and beliefs. Religion, then, is a way of living out or bringing the inward belief system of Christianity into everyday practice.

And, here is the problem. By inserting “man” into the process; by putting “man” in between the teachings of Christ and the everyday human behaviors based on those beliefs, there will be an inevitable watering down, and sometimes down right perversion of those tenets and beliefs. Man is an imperfect creature and based on our history, we can really screw up even the most perfect system of beliefs.

And, in defense of Bill’s atheist guest, complaints about “religion” can be valid. It is the ABUSE of Christianity, as well as other “philosophies” down through the ages that have led to charges that those “religions” are dangerous. The new atheists claim that all “religion” is inherently dangerous and should be outlawed. They claim that teaching children “religious” concepts is equal to child abuse. There may be some valid points here. After all, if a child is taught to hate anyone thinking differently from them and tells them it is glorious to strap a bomb to their chest and kill dozens of people, then I would whole heartily agree that “religious teachings” can be dangerous when they veer away from the underlying pure “philosophy” of that man made religion.

However, the potential danger of religion does not take away from the peaceful “philosophy” of Christianity. After all, Jesus of Nazareth never asked his disciples to kill or maim or hate or carry out revenge. He rebuked Peter when the man cut off a guard’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I would like for us to consider the possibility Christianity may be the most valid thought system and belief system in the history of humanity. I would like to explore the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Over the next few days, as we near the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I would like to look at the “philosophy” Jesus taught to his followers. Was it dangerous? Was it controversial? Is it dangerous today? Should Christianity as a philosophy be labeled as dangerous by today’s culture? Are we justified in outlawing any expression of the celebration of “Christmas” at this time of year?

Come back in the next few days as I explore the pure teachings of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. In deference to those who are atheists or agnostics I will discuss the teachings of Jesus from his strictly human point of view. I think that we will find that no matter what we may now believe about Jesus Christ in our individual “religions” that his teachings are universal and can become the foundation of the best way we as humans can conduct ourselves in this day and age of fear, anger, hate, hopelessness and coming darkness.

 

Can Christians Make a Difference Anymore?

I am stick to my stomach!

I am repulsed beyond repulsion!

I cannot believe what I read last week.

Two medical ethicists working with an Australian university have written a post in the Journal of Medical Ethics that if abortion of a fetus is allowable, so should be the termination of a newborn.

That’s right! If you missed your chance to have an abortion, then just have the newborn killed! And, we’re not even talking about throwing babies in the fire to worship Baal!

Here is more of what they said:

 “Alberto Giubilini with Monash University in Melbourne and Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne write that in ‘circumstances occur[ing] after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.’”

They want to change the name of such a “procedure” to “after birth abortion” instead of infanticide because it

“[emphasizes] that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child.”

You must read this article NOW at this link:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/ethicists-argue-in-favor-of-after-birth-abortions-as-newborns-are-not-persons/

Why am I making such a big deal, other than the obvious reasons this is INSANE and WRONG?

We have seen the devaluation of human life before. When humans become mere chunks of flesh or “meat sacks” then we have lost our way as humans. We are indeed animals. No surprise here. Look what Paul said in Romans 1:

 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.

Now, I have friends who are atheists, agnostics, evolutionists, naturalists, Muslims, and Hindus. I cannot imagine a single one of them condoning the killing of a newborn because the mother and father no longer desire to raise the child. This transcends world views! This transcends philosophies and theologies. If we, as a culture, condone killing newborn babies, then we, as a culture deserve to disappear; be destroyed; be cast down and ground under like dust. The killing of newborns is NOT an act of a civilized nation. And, any thinking person MUST stand up to this! We simply must! For if we don’t, then we are no better than those who killed 6 million Jews because they were deemed “inferior”!

But in doing so, beware. To take a stand on anything implies that we have an absolute value system about that issue. It makes the statement that there are transcendent values; moral values that cannot be made or destroyed by human agency. Our Declaration of Independence labels these as “inalienable” rights. The right to LIFE, LIBERTY, and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Inalienable means a right that is transcendent and beyond human control. It CANNOT be taken away!

As published Christian authors, those of us who tell the Story of Truth can help to shape and mold public opinion. Writers have for centuries represent the forefront of cultural change mostly for the worse. But, we can do the opposite. We can write blog entries, essays, emails, Tweets, and, yes, stories that champion the kind of values that our culture has lost. We can be salt and light in the world, raising the beacon of Truth to a world steeped in darkness and evil. If we don’t speak up; if we don’t put into words our outrage over such changes in society, then God will hold us accountable for every letter, every word, every paragraph that was put forth for the world to see that failed to raise the light of Jesus Christ.

What do you think? What is our responsibility as followers of Christ? What can all of us, regardless of beliefs, do to help reshape a broken culture?

F.A.Q.s From the Faithless

I have been invited to speak at a breakout session at the upcoming Evangelism Conference for the Louisiana Baptist Convention January 23 and 24 in Alexandria, Louisiana at Louisiana College.  I will be speaking Tuesday afternoon on Frequently Asked Questions from the “Faithless”. It will be a two part session covering six of the most importantly asked questions from skeptics and nonbelievers regarding the Christian faith. Here is my description of the presentations:

F.A.Q.s from the Faithless! Part 1 and 2

This presentation will be two 45 minute sessions. Each session will discuss three of the most asked questions by skeptics and nonbelievers regarding the veracity of the Christian faith for a total of six questions. In today’s culture of growing hostility toward the Christian faith, Christian’s MUST be prepared to answers these challenging questions and practice “pre-evangelism”. In fact, these questions are asked by Christians and our inability to answer these questions is at the heart of many who are leaving the Christian faith. Come to both sessions and learn simple answers to these challenging questions. This introduction to “apologetics”, the defense of the Christian faith will show you there are answers to these questions and there are reliable resources available to equip Christians with the tools we need to defend our faith! Be prepared to answers these Frequently Asked Questions from the Faithless!

F.A.Qs from the Faithless Part 1

Question #1:

In light of the bestselling books by the “new atheists” such as “The God Delusion” or “God is NOT Great” the prevailing thought is that if you believe in God you are delusional. Or, as Stephen Hawking would say, you’re believing in a “fairy tale”. What kind of rational, reasonable proof do we have that the God of the Bible exists?

Question #2:

Science and faith are at odds and science is the enemy of faith. The Bible says kooky things like the universe is only 6500 years old when the Chinese have written historical documents older than that. So, what gives? Are faith and science enemies? How can a Christian believe in science and the Scriptures?

Question #3:

Why can’t everyone just leave me alone. It’s up to me to decide what is good and what is bad. Truth is in the eyes of the beholder. Why should I confine myself to YOUR truth. Is there such a thing as absolute truth?

F.A.Q.s from the Faithless Part 2

Question #4:

Speaking of the Bible, it seems to be an old book written over thousands of years full of contradictions. I’m sure it has been changed over time to fit the current political climate of the church. How can I believe in an ancient book that has changed so much over the centuries and is filled with so many glaring errors?

Question #5:

Earthquakes, floods, wars, famines, disease — the world is filled with evil and suffering. If there is a God, why does He allow these things to happen? Since they are happening, there must not be a God.

Question #6:

Millions and millions; possibly billions of innocent people have been killed over the past two thousand years in the name of Christianity. Why should I become a Christian and join the ranks of those who perpetrate these atrocities?

 

Got Questions? Get Answers!

 

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