THIS is Christianity

Mottel Baleston
check out this video (it will pop up in a new window)
     For many people religion is more of a cultural thing to appreciate and keep around like one does a family heirloom. It looks good on the shelf in the living room, but you don’t really use it all that much in real life.  For others, it’s just …foreign. At least, that’s often the impression given by the comments and reactions to religious expression we see from the talking heads of media and/or Hollywood.
     I’m probably being generous. Hollywood hasn’t understood Christianity or the Bible since the twelve apostles were still available to hire as consultants.
     And some of you… it’s okay to admit it…. won’t even get through the five-minute video above. After all, the Pew Research Center just informed us that Christianity is shrinking in America while the numbers of people with no affiliation with any religion, including atheists, and agnostics are growing. That’s especially true for anyone more youthful than 36 years of age.  So hey, if that’s you, then perhaps you don’t really care that some guy named Mottel Baleston decided to become a Christian after growing up Jewish.

     I understand. And I’m not posting this video to win any of these arguments. I’m posting this because THIS is Christianity.

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A Moment Worth Appreciating

I watched Fox News Sunday on March 8 because Chris Wallace was really hammering Lanny Davis over the Hillary Clinton emails and to be honest, it was interesting to watch the exchange. Already settled in and hooked by the promises of more important issues to argue over, I watched Wallace’s entire show.

As most such programs do, Wallace finishes with a special feature. This time it’s an interview with Representative John Lewis to commemorate “Bloody Sunday” and the march in Selma. Lewis was one of those who marched and you can see him on the ground in the above picture trying to protect his head as a police officer grabs the corner of his trench coat. Lewis, a true hero that day in my opinion, has been in Congress for 20+ years and he still has the scars from that day.  Wallace’s segment and interview of Lewis was inspiring, one of those feel good stories.

I still might have gone on with my day without thinking too much about it until my youngest son walks into the room and notices what is being said on television.  He proceeds to ask me what they are talking about so I tell him.  That’s when he gets the usual confused look of a kid who thinks it’s strange people would be discriminated against because their skin is a different color.

I noticed that look, and then it occurred to me that Selma wasn’t really that long ago.  John Lewis is in his 70’s but he was there. Lots of people who were involved in that day are still around. Bloody Sunday is still in the memories of people, not just in the textbooks. Yet the comparison of then and now is stark.

Today Wallace (a conservative leaning guy) is celebrating the heroism and example of those who marched, and celebrating specifically the heroism of Lewis, a man who probably disagrees with Wallace on several political issues.  But on this, on Selma, they are united.  On this, Wallace finds Lewis to be inspiring and worthy of recognition.  And Barack Obama, who would have faced the same discrimination in Selma for the color of his skin, is now President of the United States.

That’s worth noting. That’s worth a feel good television segment. Still, as good as those facts are, my favorite observation, the one that really got me, was my kid. It was the look of a 12 year old who can’t fathom why people would have acted like that over something as silly as skin color….

And THAT is especially worth appreciating.

We’re in a better place thank God.

Creationism is Wrong, Trust Us

So sayeth those opposed to Creationism, the belief that an all-powerful God created the universe and all that we see and perceive in the physical or even spiritual world.  Regardless of your particular idea of creationism, whether you have a Muslim theology or a Christian one, or whether you believe the universe is very old or very young, you are simply wrong.  All the evidence is against you.

So sayeth others, therefore it must be true.

It’s been going on for awhile in case you missed it and thought it was still up for debate.  Writing about nutrition of all things for Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy was quick to compare fad-diets with religion.

“…both cults and diets profess to have “answers” and impart benefits that will irrevocably change your life for the better. Veganism’s pitch isn’t very unlike Scientology’s. Caveman Diet’s isn’t all that different from certain sects of Evangelical Baptism”

Excuse me what?  Baptism?  Are people getting baptized for it’s health benefits or even spiritual benefits? Why didn’t I know this? Someone should mention to Ross that baptism isn’t about its benefits. It’s a outward act that says I belong to Jesus from this day forward. It’s symbolic, not therapeutic for crying out loud. What a weird analogy.

But nice job coming after my religion when I was trying to read an article about dieting… geez.

Ross made a better analogy, at least in terms of actually having something to do with the subject, a bit later.

“With all the conflicting and poorly designed research out there, it’s easy to find evidence to back any dietary assertion. In the same manner, overly religious types, such as those who promote creation science, latch on to data that coincides with their beliefs and disregard everything else. Though their ideas are awash in woo, staunch creationists can present a very persuasive case.”

I certainly qualify as overly religious if that is possible. By this time I have forgotten that the article is actually over diet plans, and have become immersed in the typical attack of our culture against Jesus. Simply dismiss it without another word. Those of you who have been digging into the details, the evidences, and the facts are wasting your time. It’s decided already. No one won the debate, in fact Ross admits creationists can be persuasive, but that’s beside the point. It’s over.

As proof, and as proof that Ross was only mildly interested in writing about dieting, he linked an article attacking creationism entitled “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.”

After all who listens to nonsense? That’s the point, see. The argument is over.

Our world does not write these articles or say these things with the purpose of having an enlightening discussion. They say these things to scoff just as the Bible predicted they would in II Peter chapter three.  And although it was talking about something else, the advice of Revelation 14:12 “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus” applies very well.

Patience is very much in order, especially as I perused the article he linked.

You gotta love that the #3 Answer of the 15 Answers to Nonsense was upset that creationists give a “blanket dismissal of evolution.”

lol

Pot? Kettle. Kettle? Pot.

Ok, seriously though. What if we actually dug into these things instead of dismissing each other? I’d be willing to bet Bible believing Christians would realize that not all scientists are militant atheists, and militant atheists would realize that Bible believing Christians often have scientific degrees, credentials, and a valuable point of view.

And we’d all learn a lot of science.

For instance, the fact we do not find humanoid skeletons in the lowest layers of the earth does not prove humans evolved, even though evolution would predict that we would not find humans there.  Score one for evolution, but there are other explanations, even ones consistent with the Bible, which also predict finding the same thing.

Harder questions remain for evolution such as when it misses predictions, which it has often done. Evolution predicted that we would find junk DNA for instance, yet that turned out to be largely untrue. It predicted that Neanderthals would have smaller brains which is completely untrue, and it predicted we would find transitional forms, a slow development of life in the fossil record, and DNA proof that we all came from a single cell in one evolutionary tree.

And figuring out how something mutates into a substantially different creature sporting radically different DNA has been next to impossible in evolution so far. In other words, everyone tells you evolution happened, but no one can do more than guess at how it happened.  But trust us, they say, it did.

One final point. When you are left with blaming alien beings from outer space as your best guess for how it all started… you know you’re struggling.

The crazy thing is all of this is incredibly interesting. Too bad the discussion is over because this is the best it’s ever been. In fact, even though Christians are usually accused of being closed minded, the truth is most evangelical churches I know do NOT tell people to shun science.  Instead they advise to question everything and examine closely.

Even if the rest of the world is done examining.

Here Comes the Virus

If you’re like me, you hear American government officials and experts assure us that there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to Ebola and you wonder if they just don’t want us to panic. It spreads like HIV (and even then for only a few days) and therefore is highly controllable. Most fears are overblown, fear-mongering, especially if Donald Trump says it.

And then you watch the news, hear the doctors talk about it being out of control, and well… c’mon it sure seems like Ebola spreads a bit easier than HIV. Like one comment tweeted to the CDC, I feel like asking:

“We are told it can only spread through contact with bodily fluids-similar to HIV. But seems more contagious than HIV? Why?”

The CDC assured the tweeter that yes Ebola is spread like HIV and you need close contact with bodily fluids, and then only in a certain window of time.  Ok. Granted.

But…ummmm….

That’s not exactly like HIV, which takes more than mere “close contact.”

HIV is NOT spread through touch, tears, sweat, or saliva.  So says WebMD anyway.

Ebola evidently is.

The bodily fluids that do transmit HIV -like blood for instance- “must come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into your bloodstream (by a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur.”  So says the government. I added the italics.

The CDC, however, makes no mention of Ebola needing to come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue.  To catch Ebola, the CDC says you need only come in “direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person.”  They go on to explain that it spreads in hospitals where people are not wearing “protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves.”

Then when you go to the Canadian Health Department, it gets scary.  They add that people are at risk when, and I quote: “handling the bodies of deceased humans in preparation for funerals, suggesting possible transmission through aerosol droplets.” That explains the need for gloves and “protective equipment.”

Then shockingly, they follow up with, “In the laboratory, infection through small-particle aerosols has been demonstrated in primates, and airborne spread among humans is strongly suspected, although it has not yet been conclusively demonstrated.”

Again I added the italics because I was sitting there going “whaaaat???”

They end by saying poor hygienic conditions can aid the spread of the virus.

Ok, maybe the Canadians are fear-mongering despite the fact they are not named Donald Trump.  I don’t know. I’m not a researcher or any sort of an expert on Ebola or other pathogens.  Neither is it surprising that there is conflicting information about a disease we haven’t fully understood yet.

Nevertheless, it seems a bit obvious that Ebola is spread, and is spreading easier and faster than HIV does. The amount of close contact it takes to spread Ebola is much more casual, which is one reason why doctors don’t have to wear spacesuit-looking gear when taking care of a patient with HIV.

Hopefully, we will get all of these things ironed out, and the US government is not just trying to make us feel better.  Although, between you and me, don’t you just feel like it’s just a matter of time before someone in America gets carried into a hospital and tests positive? I hope not. I’m probably just thinking like this because I’m trying to quit diet soda.

So onto the big question:

Why God? Why did you ever invent anything like HIV or Ebola? Or E Coli for that matter??

If Genesis is correct and God created everything, then one would predict in the beginning everything was “good” like the Bible said.  Since then, however, everything would be breaking down.  The Bible says this started when sin entered the world.  The universe might have been created in perfect balance at one time, but when death and decay became part of the equation, we started to get more and more out of balance.  So a creation point of view would predict viruses or bacteria would get worse over time because they would break down, mutate, or get out of where they were supposed to be.

There’s an article on this you might be interested in, so I won’t go into as much detail, but suffice it to say that many viruses actually serve purposes, or at least didn’t kill us.  One virus was recently discovered that almost every human being has, which scientists theorize is meant to keep the bacteria inside our gut (we need bacteria) in balance.  In fact without bacteria, the world would die. Turns out at least some viruses play a bit of symbiotic role with them and thus… are actually necessary.  The implication is originally, before mutations took their toll, or the environment changed for the worse, that all these things were in balance, living where they were suppose to live, and doing what they were supposed to do.  You have “good”  E coli inside you right now, but there is one strain which lost some DNA somewhere that will make you sick now.  Creation would predict that sort of thing.

Which means that if Genesis is right, then Ebola would be expected to have had some purpose, or some place where it could exist and not harm humans.  For instance, the ocean is full of viruses but sharks and sea life still exist. (However, mutations or changes in that balance could also cause once harmless viruses or bacteria to cause problems. Like with the starfish dying off.)

So why did God create Ebola? I have no idea, but I bet in the beginning it didn’t harm anyone.  I bet  eventually we will discover it played a helpful role somehow. And ironically, if people followed God’s instructions on life, food, etc… We would have avoided many of those viruses. Weird, huh? It’s almost like he knew….

See, HIV didn’t wipe out the primates where it originally lived, and syphilis wasn’t killing sheep right and left either.  Originally, things were in more balance.

Or as the Bible said, it was good.

Since sin entered the world, however, the earth is slowly “wearing out like a garment”. (Psalm 102:25-26 and Isaiah 51:6)

I’m convinced God is letting the ship sink slowly (the earth) so people will look for the lifeboats.

Knowledge Versus Obedience

As a minister it is easy for me to critique another person by their depth of knowledge, the logic they use, and the way they present an argument. It sounds a little prideful to say that, but don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that I have everything mastered, myself. It’s just part of my every day life to study, teach, and speak in front of people so I look closer at those things.  A basketball player will watch another basketball player with a more critical, discerning eye than the regular fan, and a welder will gauge another welder’s work more closely than I would. So while most people who attend church are listening to what the pastor has to say, when a pastor actually gets to attend another church, it’s easy for us to sit there measuring not only what is said, but how it is said. I’m sure most pastors try to be gracious and understanding, but like everyone else, it’s not always quick and easy to “turn off” the job.

That’s a big reason why it always means more to get a compliment from someone who works in the same field. Not only do they know what they are talking about, but they can judge closer, too.  The best compliment I ever received for doing radio play by play for basketball, came from another radio announcer.  And the best compliments I’ve received for preaching, came from another preacher. It just means more coming from them.

The thing is, however, sometimes in the midst of feeling… ummm… qualified to criticize… 

God steps in and humbles you.

If you haven’t read the discipleship training book T4T, you really should. (It’s reasonably priced on the Kindle, but expensive as a paperback for some reason. Regardless, it’s still worth a LOT more than the goofy $18 paperback price…)  Among the gems you find is the observation that (and I’m paraphrasing here)…

Spiritual growth is not only measured by how much you know, but  also by how much you obey.

So even if I might have my doctrine fine-tuned better than someone else, or might be able to deliver a sermon with more creativity and force, or put together a better organized system of outreach…

…Hey, a guy can dream…

Even if I could do all of that better than someone else, what does it matter if I’m not obeying Christ?

We sometimes judge each other by our doctrine, or some measure of performance. We have baptism figured out, or we understand Bible prophecy better, or we have a better grasp of the New Covenant in Jesus. Maybe our church is better at praise and worship, or our greeting ministry is ten times better than some other group. But what if instead of measuring each other by doctrine, or some outward appearance, we measured each other by our obedience to Christ in our lives?  You know, the actual “fruit’ test where we look for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control etc…?

Sounds obvious? It’s not.

Over the past month I’ve had encounters with people who were extremely opinionated over some point of doctrine and were interested in arguing with me over it.  Well, it’s probably more accurate to say they wanted to educate me because it was hard for me to say more than a sentence or two before I would be interrupted and they continued on with their points.

While I wouldn’t want to judge their specific motivations, I think it’s fair to say that from time to time all of us want to out-argue someone else, or prove our belief is right, because of a selfish desire to feed our ego.  There are also a few people, you probably call them know-it-alls, who always want to be the smartest person in the room. Or on Facebook.

I was thinking these very thoughts, judging them a bit for not letting ME speak enough, and judging their views because they disagreed with ME.  I’ll even admit I thought: hey, our church is way bigger than yours!  But that’s when God hit me with the question…

Who is obeying me in their life?

And that ladies and gentlemen, is an entirely different question than who has their doctrine correct on the New Testament or how many people attend on Sunday. It’s also an entirely more important question.

Some Scripture is vaguely coming to mind here, hmmm… something about not being hearers of the word only, but being doers…. Jesus said something about building a house on sand if you don’t do what he says… knowing a tree by it’s fruit…it’s not what goes into a man but what comes out… but hey… that’s just the Bible.

Anyway, for one of those persons especially, I had to admit they seemed to be faithful to God in how they lived. In fact, I admired their faithfulness.

So while I might still think I’m right on the doctrine part…

They win this time. :)

Me and Mini-Me

Kicking back on thMe-Daniele Fourth of July weekend. Hope everyone had a good one, and thank you to all the men and women who sacrificed to make it possible. God bless!

and yes, that’s a Tough Mudder shirt.

Started The Daniel Plan this month at church on Wednesday nights. That’s Rick Warren’s latest book with help from Dr. Daniel Amen a pioneer in neuroscience.  His bio is unreal, it goes something like: physician, double-board certified psychiatrist, teacher, eight-time New York Times best-selling author, founder of the Amen Clinics, and a man whose work is featured in The Dr. Oz Show, 20/20, Newsweek, TIME, Parade Magazine, the New York Times, and TED talks. Oh by the way, he’s a Christian so evidently believing in a Creator God does not keep someone from contributing to science…

Aaaand Rick Warren also got help on the book from Dr. Mark Hyman, a practicing family physician, six-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field of Functional Medicine, plus founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, medical editor of the Huffington Post, and regular medical contributor on Katie Couric’s TV show, Katie.

Wow, those are serious heavy weights in their scientific fields teaming up with a pastor. Once again it demonstrates you can be a Christian and embrace scientific discovery. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

Anywhoo, we’re going through the Daniel Plan, and I’m starting to do the hardest part for me and that is to incorporate the diet suggestions and change some of the things I eat and drink.

Over the past three years I’ve gotten myself in decent shape, but I’ve cheated around the edges. I lost 20+ pounds, and the other day ran 5.1 miles with an average pace of 8:32 a mile. Working out in the gym twice a week, I’ll spend 50 minutes on weights and do 1000 crunches on a stability ball plus a few other exercises. Through all of that however, I’ve continued to drink diet Mtn. Dew, eat junk food occasionally although I watch the calories, and I even still stop at McDonalds and sometimes buy the fries.

The Daniel Plan is telling to me to quit that silly stuff.  It’s actually a little easier than I thought as it focuses on eating whole foods. In fact, it says you can eat anything you want but make it whole foods. If you want fries, chop your own from an actual potato. Eat fresh fruit, whole vegetables, whole grain everything, and stay away from unnatural sweeteners in drinks. That part isn’t easy at all, but I HAVE learned to make a smoothie…

I’ll have to let you know how it’s goes.

Thinking About Hope when Life is Unfair

A classmate of mine passed away a couple of weeks ago, and he was probably one of the best of guys I’ve known.  Funny.  Humble. He was a walking definition of sincerity.  It’s people like him who make death at 46 years old seem very unfair.  Unfortunately, it’s been a month of unfairness.  Another friend of mine had a classmate pass away, and just tonight, a 17-year old student who has attended our church and made many friends has died in an apparent tragic accident.

This is the point I’m supposed to ask where is God.  If God exists, these things shouldn’t happen so randomly perhaps.  If God exists, there should be some semblance of rhyme and reason involved.  There should be a why.  Otherwise God is either hiding or ignoring us, or he doesn’t exist at all.

Something like that.

To be fair to God, He made something I consider good come out of the death of my classmate.  He gave my classmate real hope.  See, my friend had always been an atheist because when he was young his dad had died.  My classmate couldn’t understand why, and rejected any belief in God as a result. Things changed in him when he faced own death.  And it didn’t change as you might imagine. Continue reading