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Friday, February 26, 2010

This Joker is a "Good Person."

What are your thoughts about what he says?

Glory to God in the Highest Thought, part 2

As my pastor says, "let's go back to the top" and consider how grade one thinking from the highest pinnacle of thought actually informs man's situation.

It can be said theologically that “anthropology is the study of man” in terms of a literal definition. Man’s creation, existence and purpose has only one logical explanation in the person of God, the uncreated Creator. The Scriptures clearly and distinctly teach that God created man, that he is the result of an act of immediate divine creation.

Asking the question, "how can we trust God’s perspective as recorded in the Bible?" moves us from level two to level one thinking, demonstrating we are pursuant of truth. First, the Bible can be trusted because it introduces and contains certain, verifiable history. Second, quotes itself and is quoted by people throughout history as being true. Third, the facts recorded in the Bible, including the creation and probation of man, lie at the foundation of God’s whole revealed plan of redemption. As before, an evaluation of differing views and levels of thought will benefit as we examine the benefit of thinking the highest thought, Godward.

The first position of consideration may be called the atheistic position, which declares that man was created ex nihilo; that is, that man is made out of nothing, from nothing and for no reason. This is significant because the position assumes that man is the result of eternal matter, matter that was always there (whereever "there" is) and would always be there, a swirling mass that eventually produced man. African theologian John Mbiti chronicles an example of this thinking from the pagan religions of Africa: heaven and earth were joined together by a rope. The inhabitants of both worlds went up and down the rope. One day, two brothers came down from the society in the sky, but one returned there and the other remained on earth. The brother who remained here had sons who in turn founded different tribes. (1)

Much like the failed sciences already examined in the previous article, the story does not really tell us where man can from. The account assumes the inhabitants were already there. Where did the rope come from? Who put it there? The story only tells us that the inhabitants of two ancient worlds settled in one place or another. The only other options that remain are that man is the result of eternal dualism (good and evil eternally battling back and forth and in the course of battle man somehow came into being); or, that man is the result of eternal purposelessness and there is nothing for him.

Another failed approach may be called evolutionary pantheism/polytheism. Pantheism assumes that all is god, which eliminates the distinction between man and God. This viewpoint also assmus that the cosmos is always changing. Grade two science would have men believe that the universe is in an eternal cycle of compression and explosion ("Oscillating Big Bang" theory). Man, a resident of this evolving universe is merely a molecule of “godness” or a piece of reality. Nothing different about man from everything else. Before Charles Darwin came on the scene, polytheism (many gods) said that man is God's representative of all the forces of the cosmos.

Theism itself even has some competing views. On the one hand, one may say that man is intentional, created in the image of one God; on the other hand, another may say that man is a mistake, the result of forces at work in the world--and if man is a mistake, then woman was more of a mistake. Egyptian mythology taught that man came from the sun-god, Ra and purpose or meaning does not come from life, but death, when one’s ka talks with the gods before the person enters the afterlife. The Greeks had many different stories, but the theme is common among them: everything was basically created by gods sleeping around with each other (procreation results in "creation"). Man came about as the result of divine strife: as the gods fight they get cut to pieces and their destroyed genitals become man. The Babylonians explained that gods fought because someone was making too much noise and from the bodies of the dead gods laying around (zodiac), the universe was formed and Man came from one of the bodies.

Here, we may move from away from grade three or grade two thinking by asking what the value is, of man being made from dead bodies, or from blasted god genitals?

Ladies, consider what the Greeks and Romans taught concerning women (there were two views as neither apparently could not decide which was best): either woman was created by one god to be crafty and deceitful, for the purpose of getting revenge against another god; or, Jupiter (Zeus) who made the first woman and sent her to Prometheus and his brother, Epimetheus as punishment because they had stolen fire from heaven; thus, the woman was sent to be punishment for man. (2)

These are nice stories, but they do not tell us who man is. They tell us that God (or gods) created man as other things were created but there is no distinction between man and everything else. John Mbiti sums up a catalog of African Traditional Religions that teach how man fell from the sky or the heavens; other peoples a world away believe that man came up through holes from under the ground and is no more than a toad.

Moving out of the trap of humanistic autonomy and shallow (and cruel) grade two thinking, moving toward loftier thinking, we consider the implications of biblical Creation. God is distinct and has created distinctly. Biblical monotheism is unique compared to other religions and philosophies. The biblical record gives man dignity despite the fact that it was written about the same time of some of these other accounts we have refuted. What makes the Biblical record different, and the thinking so much higher?

First, is the object of highest thought: God Himself, who is pure, holy, righteous, just and not comparable to the creator of the other stories. The immorality of the gods in world religions was the immorality of the people while the Bible teaches that man is to be like His creator (we will cover this later). The gods of paganism tire of man’s problems and many stories tell of them leaving to go to another place far away from man. God did not retreat away from man but became man to deal with man’s problems. What does God say? “God created man in his own image; in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” (Gen 1:27, NASB) "Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man. As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it." (Gen 9:5-7, NASB)

When God is not in the picture, when God is not the object of highest thought, the world can only maroon it's inhabitant with a cheap life for a nobody.

What do I intend to do with my knowledge of God? Be changed.

"It is only a fool that will say that a bitter tree by constantly bearing fruit will at last become sweet. As a matter of fact a bitter tree can become sweet by being grafted on a sweet tree, so that the life and qualities peculiar to the sweet tree will pass into the bitter one and its natural bitterness will pass away. This is what we call a new creation. So too the sinner may have the desire to do what is right, and yet the only result is sin; but when he repents and by faith is grafted into Me the old man in him dies, and he becomes a new creature. Then from this new life which has its origin in salvation good deeds come forth as fruit, and this fruit abides for ever." (3)

(1) Mbiti, John. Concepts of God in Africa. London: SPCK, 1970. p. 165
(2) Bulfinch’s Mythology, http://www.bulfinch.org/fables/bull2.html
(3) Singh, Sadhu Sundar. At the Master’s Feet. London: Fleming H. Revell: 1922.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Glory to God in the Highest Thought, part 1

William Golding is best known for his novels "The Lord of the Flies," “Free Fall” and the sea trilogy "Rites of Passage," “Close Quarters” and “Fire Down Below.” Golding should have received greater recognition for his essay, "Thinking as a Hobby." Here Golding helps the reader understand how he came to the conclusion that there are three grades, or categories of thinking.

Grade three thinking is "feeling, rather than thought," much like animal instinct and as equally reactionary. This is the thinking grade of addictive behavior, hedonists and Jedi Knights. Grade two thinking "destroys without having the power to create;" that is, while grade two thinking may enjoy discovering and pointing out contradiction, it provides no answers, solutions or security. This is the thinking grade of humanistic science, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and psychology. The danger of grade two thinking can be compared with the undertow, which drags the swimmer away from shore and strands him. Grade one thinking is the most simple and the most profound, for grade one thinking apprehends truth.

Thought is easy to take for granted and a majority would rather die that begin to think (which is odd when you think about it, for it takes more energy to sit up in bed than to think a deep thought). Character and intellect (understanding) are not cultivated by merely exposing the mind to the libraries of the world; rather, one must first learn how to think. The greatest contribution of Golding’s essay is what the reader learns about himself and the way he or she thinks. The one would read Golding's essay and come away saying, "I enjoyed that" (like a Sunday morning sermon, or movie) simply remains on grade three; however, the grade one thinker will mature from grade two and will now ask questions that matter: now that I have read (or heard or seen), then on what shall I think?

Now one learns there is an upward progression to think great thoughts and before long finds he is on the cusp of contemplating the greatest subject: God. Anything less than God is just that, anything less. Free thinking may claim to begin with God (or gods) but will quickly find reason to dismiss theology of any kind in order to become autodidact. Rejecting God as the highest object of thought is to make nails out of feeling, will, suspicion and rebellion in order to crucify Him, do away with Him and move on to something else. J.I. Packer asks, “Why should I occupy my mind with the things of God?” The answer becomes evident when one considers the failed systems of grade two (“marooned”) thinking, which is limited to how man understands, or tries to understand, himself.

You know the story of the man who went out to hunt and as he came around the bush he looked down and saw large footprints in the sand. He could not tell what kind of footprints they were because the sand was so loose and the details ran together, but they were footprints for certain! He was excited about the hunt! The man followed the footsteps wherever they went and soon found another set of footprints! There were two things to hunt now! How exciting! With his head down, keeping his eye on every mark on the ground he walked, following the footprints. It was not long until he found yet other set of footprints that had joined the first set and second set. There were three! How his excitement began to turn to fear-what if there was a whole herd? Many of the sciences are like this hunter, finding prints, only to discover they were his own and he was walking in circles. He was hunting nothing but himself.

Anthropology attempts to understand man through ancient and modern cultures, through the role of language in human life and through the origin of people groups; however, anthropology cannot explain who man is, who man is to be like, what will become of man, nor can it answer how man is to think about himself. Anthropology only repeats back what we already know in less scientific categories: we live as people in communities, we have ancestors, we communicate and we had a beginning (congratulations, you now have a degree in Anthropology)! Anthropology can tell us many things-but we already know them and in so knowing, we are not smarter than before we started. We have walked in a circle, bringing us right back to where we started. How can we, who don’t know how to think about ourselves, provide an answer as to how we should think about ourselves?

Sociology can be defined as “the scientific study of social life, including how groups are organized, how they change and how they influence individuals”(1, see below). Someone once said that Sociology is the present-day of equivalent of reading the entrails of chickens (2). Sounds much like Anthropology, doesn’t it? Some sciences give man control over his surroundings by modifying what exists in the world around him, but Sociology supposedly frees man from “ill-regulated experimentation” allowing man control over himself (3). Man is to overcome all he is taught (4): overthrow all standards; break the moral compass; stop “fitting in” and “stand out” [“You can go your own way” with Fleetwood Mac]. Stop being what others what you to be and be yourself! William Randolph Hearst has been held as a great hero of this worldview, amassing around himself such great power and wealth, but he was anxious underneath this appearance of strength, particularly with regard to dying--he would never allow anyone to use the word “death” in his presence. Is it possible for anyone to to be “disciplined” or to become the “master of self” by merely casting off standards? When the bad in a man is not under control he is called “undisciplined” or, “enslaved to self,” so which is it? Is he master, or slave? There is no replacement for a broken compass.

Philosophy, (“the love of wisdom") has been defined as “an activity undertaken by human beings who are deeply concerned about who they are and what everything means.” (5) This means that a philosopher is one who measures patterns of experiences in search of meaning--like chasing footprints around a bush. Philosophy says the reasons to study are: to sharpen the mind; to help is clarify issues so we can make better decisions; to enhance our lives by enlarging our world beyond our private interests (shares with Anthropology here); to challenge presuppositions and establish convictions.

Philosophy is a good thing, but someone once said “logic is the art of going wrong with confidence” and it becomes easy to think or “philosophize” oneself into a corner. Philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that man is made up of memories, what he knows, what he loves and hates-and that man is a fragment, not a total sum of reality; that man is in no place to evaluate, judge or prove anything real. (6) Acquaintance with things does not mean we know everything about things. Mortimer Adler shows us where we are marooned by Philosophy in his book, "Ten Philosophical Mistakes" (Adler actually preferred the title Ten Subjects About Which Philosophical Mistakes Have Been Made, which is more telling) (7):

  1. We are unaware of the contents of our minds and how ideas work;
  2. We confuse perception with reality: assumptions;
  3. We misunderstand “meaning” and how to get it;
  4. We can’t often distinguish between opinion and knowledge;
  5. We can’t consistently judge what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil;
  6. We are not content and cannot distinguish what we want from what we need;
  7. We don’t know if “freedom” means--to do as you want, or to do as you should?
  8. We cannot agree on the identity of human nature;
  9. We don’t know how to relate to one another;
  10. We don’t know where to live: in the physical or spiritual realm.

Psychology is perhaps the most controversial field of our consideration. The word literally means, "the study of the soul." One textbook in the field of study contains this as a definition: “Although it is sometimes useful to have clear and simple definitions of the subject one is studying, these definitions are frequently misleading. Such is the case with psychology. The most widely accepted definition of psychology is simply that it is the science of behavior and experience.” (8)

First, observe this is no definition at all. It’s a science, but the ones who use it can’t say what it is. Second, throughout the rest of the textbook, starting with the paragraph that immediately follows the one above, the margins are filled with definitions--how can definitions be useful if the book that contains them says that definitions are misleading? Third, if this is the acceptable definition of psychology, why does it sound more like an integration of Sociology (behavior) and Philosophy (experience)? Finally, psychology (as it stands) makes no claim that it is helpful to any of man’s behaviors or “conditions.”

Another textbook is less vague, defining psychology as “the discipline that attempts to describe, explain, and predict the behavior of organisms.” (9) First, notice this is a disciplined attempt--nothing is certain. Second, there is no claim that psychology is helpful to any behavior or “condition.”

If the word literally means "study of the soul," then where in these definitions is the soul even mentioned? Also, if psychologists are interested in man’s behavior and experience, how is the soul of man helped by psychology? Right away, with a little "grade one thinking" we begin to understand that psychology is a self-contradictory pseudo-science. (10)

Given the benefit of the doubt, what have psychologists of the past said about man, his problems, and what solutions have they offered? (11) Sigmund Freud said that man's problem is that he cannot accept the sexual side of life, so he should have sex. Otto Rank said that people simply feel inferior, inadequate and guilty, so he must keep talking until the feelings change. Karen Horney held that man cannot get over the competitive feelings of who gets ahead of whom, and like Rank, needs to talk it out. Rollo May postulated that man simply feels empty and all is futile (is there an answer?)

“True psychology (i.e. 'the study of the soul') can be done only by Christians, since only Christians have access to the resources for understanding and transforming the soul.” (12) These resources are none other than those that begin with God. What answer does grade two, humanistic psychology give to man? What hope is offered?

“The feeling of emptiness . . . which we have observed sociologically and individually should not be taken to mean that people are empty, or without emotional potentiality. . . the experience (emph. mine) of emptiness, rather, generally comes from people’s feelings that they are powerless to do anything effective about their lives or the world they live in . . . . he cannot act as an entity in directing his own life, or cange other people’s attitudes toward him, or effectually influence the world around him.” (13)

[End, Part 1]

(1) De Fleur, M., DeFleur, L. and D’Antonio, W. Sociology: The Human Society. 4th ed. New York: Newberry, 1984.
(2) Brown, Steve. “Impacting Lives in an Alien Culture: 1 Peter 1:1-12”. Key Life Tape/CD
(3) Burgess, E. and Park, R. E. Introduction to the Science of Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1921.
(4) May, Rollo. Man’s Search for Himself. New York: Signet, 1953. pp. 17-18.
(5) Honer, S., Hunt, T. and Okholm, D. Invitation to Philosophy. Belmont: Wadsworth, 1982.
(6) Russell, Bertrand. Problems of Philosophy, The. London: Oxford, 1959. p. 143.
(7) Adler, Mortimer. Ten Philosophical Mistakes. New York: MacMillan, 1985.
(8) Lefrancois, G. Psychology, 2nd Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth, 1983.
(9) Dworetzky, J. Psychology., 3rd Edition. St. Paul: West, 1988.
(10) MacArthur, J. and Mack, W. Introduction to Biblical Counseling. Dallas: Word, 1994.
(11) May, Rollo. Man’s Search for Himself. New York: Signet, 1953. pp. 13-14.
(12) MacArthur, J. “The Psychology Epidemic and its Cure.” Our Sufficiency in Christ. Waco: Word, 1991.
(13) MacArthur, J. “The Psychology Epidemic and its Cure.” Our Sufficiency in Christ. Waco: Word, 1991.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"The Sin of Being A Discourager"

The home on the range seldom hears a discouraging word, at least that's what the song says. Have you ever wondered why? Because pioneering life is difficult enough; but, we are not pioneers--at least we are not of the the wagon-train variety. Yet, having not lived before, we are still pioneers either wandering from or following the one who gave us life and a destination, the author and captain of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian needs be reminded that life is exactly as He promised: abundant with enough hardship that our anticipation and hope grows with each passing day for His return and our deliverance from the presence of sin. So, how do we pass the time as we relate to one another?

Anyone who has participated in "The Love Dare" knows what the first challenge is: "say nothing negative to your spouse at all. If the temptation arises, choose not to say anything." This challenge is directed at just one person--"your spouse." What about the family of God? Is it possible to go through one entire day and say nothing negative to the brethren at all? Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "so I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you." (2 Corinthians 2:1). How quickly we should run out of words! Pain hurts and the last thing Paul wanted to do was face discouragement with brethren.

J.R. Miller's book "A Life of Character" (1906) contains the chapter with the above-mentioned title. Here Miller does not discuss optimism nor pessimism (these words are not even found in scripture); rather, he helps to clarify the contrast:

"There are some people who always look at the dark side. They find all the shadows in life, and persist in walking in them. They make darkness for others wherever they may go—never brightness. These people do a great deal of harm in the world. They make all of life harder for those they influence. They make sorrow harder to bear, because they exaggerate it, and because they blot out all the stars of hope and comfort which God has set to shine in this world's night. They make burdens appear heavier because, by their discouraging philosophy, they leave the heart beneath the burden less strong and brave to endure. They make life's battles harder because by their ominous forebodings, they paralyze the arm that wields the sword. The whole effect of the life of these people—is to discourage others; to find unpleasant things and point them out; to discover dangers and tell about them; to look for difficulties and obstacles and proclaim them."

Do you remember Mrs. Snow? She is a character in the classic story, "Pollyanna." Think for a moment what her name implies: blanketing whiteness; thick, peaceful silence, stillness. When Pollyanna meets Mrs. Snow, she is hardly anything her name implies--she is gloomy, forboding, always planning her funeral from under the blanket of her self-made "sick bed," and determined to make life miserable for her daughter and anyone else she meets. Pollyanna is not phased; rather, through the course of the story, she brings in light and hope.

Encouragement is not about assuming a Pollyanna attitude, making a "glad game" out of every instance; rather, encouragement is about showing love. This is not about flying about with fairy dust and the power of positive thinking. Jesus, who wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, was not in hopeless dispair amidst sleeping friends (how uplifting); rather, He was on His way to the greatest expression of love that could ever be shown. This is good news to a world who builds monuments to the champions of the blues and dispair!

Without love, words don't matter. If love does not accompany words, we are no different than pagans (1 Cor. 13:1). Without love, what you know does not matter (1 Cor. 13:2) because love is comprehensive and strengthens knowledge. Without love, what you do does not matter (1 Cor. 13:3). Either do it all, or give it all up. Buying love is prostitution.

Love demands suffering long (patience), which is always found in the context of relationships, not circumstances. Here's a way to test your patience (1 Cor. 13:4): how do you treat others, especially when you have the advantage? Who is "below" you; and if anyone is there, why are they "below" you, when they should be above? This reflects on yet another aspect of love: kindness. Have you stopped being jealous, envious yet? How does bragging and arrogance communicate how much you believe God?

Love has manners, respect (1 Cor 13:5); that is, love does not start without itself (where you start determines where you go). I received an e-mail once from a woman who claimed to be The Holy Spirit and demanded my worship of her. I asked her how she came to this realization, for her testimony, and she wrote me back very upset that I would even ask. I asked her how she felt she was doing living up to the role of the Holy Spirit as described by our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel of John (chapters 14 and 16)? She wrote me back with such venom and hatred that her failure was perfectly obvious. I encouraged her to repent and embrace the love of Christ. She responded by accusing me of harassment (she wrote to me). Love is not provoked, or easily angered--how is bad temper the work of the Holy Spirit?

Love and discourgement are not compatible, for love is always upward-looking (1 Cor. 13:6). Love hates sin and rejoices in truth! Don't miss this: love actually believes that truth exists and can be apprehended! Love is also outward-looking (1 Cor. 13:7) and does not quit. Love is not an emotion, but a decision to press on!

The great magician Harry Houdini collected photographs of tombstones of the people he admired and considered them to be badges of his success. He also collected many of personal items of the dead as well, including an electric chair (much to Mrs. Weiss's chagrin. She moved it to the basement only to have it returned to its' place in the living room by Houdini himself--twice). Houdini did this was because he looked up to those who had died. He felt that those who had gone before him had literally prepared the way for him (so to speak); and, because they were in a position they would not suffer his contention as a rival. Consider: the badge of our good news is a cross and an empty tomb, left vacant our Lord Jesus Christ who: living, loved; dying saved; buried carried our sins; rising, justified and one day is coming--Oh Glorious Day!

How will you be a prophet of gloom, or a herald of hope today?
The sin of being a discourager is the sin of lovenessness.

Life is tough; but, God is good!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Men's Health: Columbia 13th 'drunkest city' - Local / Metro - TheState.com

"Men's Health Magazine has ranked Columbia 13th in its list of the top 100 "drunkest cities," a list based on a suite of alcohol-related factors.

The rankings, discussed in the magazine's March edition, are based on death rates from alcoholic liver disease, drinking-related vehicle crashes, frequency of binge-drinking, number of DUI arrests, and severity of DUI penalties."

Read the full article at Men's Health: Columbia 13th 'drunkest city' - Local / Metro - TheState.com

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" . . . nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:10)

Dear friend, please: repent of your sin, put your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and find cleaning and forgiveness.

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