Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Myth of the Gateway Drug

You have probably heard of this incredibly dangerous gateway drug. It's the drug that young people try and suddenly they become hard drug users. Usually the dreaded drug is Marijuana, sometimes alcohol or even cigarettes. If you use, then you'll wake up one day a heroine addict. The gateway drug is blamed for kids who become addicts.

Now let me start by saying these things are bad. Teenagers drinking and smoking and using drugs is a bad thing. It's why we have age restrictions. Teenagers shouldn't do these things. They are harmful and destructive and just bad. I'm not justifying use of these substances, but the common sense approach to deal with them. Let's begin with a fictional case study.

Dave is a freshman in high school. One day after school, someone gives him a cigarette and he smokes it. He begins to smoke regularly. By his sophomore year, he is also drinking regularly. Half way through his senior year, he quits school and is a regular user of marijuana. By the age of 24, he's in prison for meth.

Looking at Dave's life, you could blame the cigarette as the gateway drug. The problem is we are only looking at Dave's usage. In my fictional story, Dave lives with his mom and little brother. Mom works hard to pay the bills and is never home. Dave is angry that his dad left and things are so hard. Dave struggles in school due to undiagnosed learning differences. He's labeled a trouble maker. As a result, Dave surrounds himself with kids like him, looking for an escape. Many of them are trying and using drugs.

The usage in Dave's life escalates, but it's not from the cigarettes or alcohol or pot. It's from the socal abandonment of at risk kids. In this day and age, dual incomes in needed, and many families still barely get by. Single parent households with low income have a difficult time. The working poor, they struggle. The kids struggle and they are often angry.

Our education system is a mess, teachers forced to focus on tests and scores. They don't have the time and resources for someone like Dave. Shop class is being cut and kids like Dave lose interest, no one is investing in him and he knows it. He wants to feel better, because he feels unwanted. He doesn't feel like school has anything to offer him, he's better off quitting.

We lose Dave, we lose thousands of kids this way, and we blame some gateway drug. Wake up, it's our fault. At risk kids are called at risk kids because they are at risk! They are headed down a dark path, and a kid who drinks at 13 does so because he feels like that is what he needs to be happy. He wants to have fun and enjoy life and he can't seem to find it anywhere else. He takes risks because the benefits out weigh the risk. What does he have to lose anyway?

You want to win this war on drugs? Invest in kids, in people and resources. Telling kids drugs are bad doesn't work. We tell the kids the drugs are bad, we tell the kids they are bad, so they try the drugs. They need something in their lives to hope for, to want and they can't find it. We have to bring it for them.

We are blowing it because we are focused on the wrong problem. Let's look past the drugs, into the heart and lives of the people to find the hurt. Then, we bring healing. Let's stop giving lectures and start bringing hope.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Should We Be Celebrating Kim Davis?

Unless you have been under a rock, you have heard about Kim Davis, the Kentucky Clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses because she does not support same sex marriage. There has been a ton of opinions on both sides, mostly in the form of memes on Facebook. Many support Davis, and many oppose Davis. She has become a polarizing icon, but should we rally behind her in this situation?

Let me start out by saying the issue of same sex marriage is complicated. Marriage as a religious institution is defined by God as a union of a man and a woman. It's the foundation of building a family, community and society. God defined it, God established it and it's set and foundational. Calling a union of two men or two women does not create a marriage. Where it gets tricky is that marriage has been removed from the confines of religion and faith, and is now a government run and controlled institution. It's a function of the state, and as a state function it's not limited to those of a religious faith. The state has the right to define their institutions however they wish, and the state definition of marriage has become a union of two adults who desire to be married. Apparently, the definition of a state marriage is fluid, and can (and probably will continue) to change.

This is where the issue is, we have a combination of faith and state issues. We have a separation of church and state in this country, where the state is not allowed (in theory) to interfere with the church. In the same way, no church or religion is permitted to control or influence the state or government. Faith is to be free and independent from government. The issue is marriage, where it's both part of the church and part of the state. There has never been an issue like this in the past, so there was no need to make a distinction, but it's unfortunate that the state and the church use the same term and the same documentation. The state has a civil union that united two people in the eyes of the state. The church has marriage which unites two people in the sight of God. They are similar, but not the same thing.

This is why this is such a complicated issue. Davis hold to her religious beliefs, which is good, but works for the state. It's different that me not performing a wedding for a same sex couple, because the weddings I do are with a religious context, approved by the state. A justice of the peace, however, does not have the same freedom, they are an agent of the state. Davis is also an agent of the state, and as so, does not have the ability to refuse to go along with the law of the land.

I applaud Davis for standing up for what she believes. I think the judge wanted to make an example of her, and he went way overboard with jailing her without bail. The situation all smells like a political stunt. Davis is solid for standing on her convictions, but it would have been the correct move to resign if she can't go along with the rule and laws. It's not as public, she would lose her income and her position, but it would be the right thing to do. While I don't agree with same sex marriage, I can't stand in the way of a law. I don't believe in abortion, but I can't stop a woman from having one. I can only cry out to God, plead with the mothers and talk to my representatives. We have a voice, we have options, but some things we shouldn't do.

What I fear is that Kim Davis has created a bigger division between the sides and closed down all chance to have civil dialogue. Religious Marriage and Civil Union need to be seen as separate and independent. It's an issue where the separation of church and state has become blurred. We need some clarity to prevent things like this from happening. That is my opinion, what do you think?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Let's Talk About War Room

So like so many others, I checked out the movie War Room. I saw it with a group of Christian friends and my wife on a Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed it, I would recommend it, but don't set your expectations too high. It's basically Fireproof with some Courageous, and a bit of Facing the Giants added in. I hate to say it was predictable and rehashed, but it was the same Christian movie we have been going to the theaters to see,  complete with inspiring speech at the end.

Let's face it,  as Christians we only know how to make three kinds of movies. It's gonna be about a family with a crisis of some sort, either in the marriage or parenting or both, it's going to be about Revelation, or it's going to be a Biblical story retelling.  Most of the Old Testament stories these days have been told by downplaying the actual text.  Exodus Gods and Kings and Noah were both pretty far away from the actual biblical text.  Anyway,  those seem to be the movies we have,  sometimes told by vegetables, sometimes with Charlton Heston and sometimes with Kirk Cameron or is animated.

War Room is a good movie,  I enjoyed it but it seems the writers have pretty much the same script with different characters,  the same problem. Learning to pray,  being a better husband,  the threat of infidelity,  some drama with a child or children. There is usually some conflict where someone has to make a hard choice to do the right thing. It can be predictable.

May I submit that we can do better.  While not making overt Christian movies,  I have enjoyed the theology that M Night Shyamalan has had in his movies. I have not seen all of them,  but Signs had a great message about God's Providence.  Lady in the Water had a lot to say about community. Unbreakable had a good message about having a purpose. There are solid Christian themes in the movies,  and sometimes I think we would be better off with more imagery and more metaphor and less of the same story line.

I hope I haven't stopped you from seeing War Room,  because it is worth seeing.  I just hope that Christian movies can make some progress towards more variety and depth.  I would like to see a Christian studio put some serious time and money into a Frank Peretti book, like This Present Darkness, and do it well and do it right. Just something to throw out there,  I would definately go see that one.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Can the Forgiven Be Unforgiving?

I recently was told that I did something that was unforgivable. For the record, I think I did the right thing, and I would do it again, but it upset someone who claims to be a follower of Christ. This leads me to a quandary, can Christians be unforgiving?

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
 (Matthew 6:14-15 [ESV])

That seems pretty cut and dry doesn't it? And then there is this parable from Jesus:
 Then Peter came up and said to him, Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?  Jesus said to him, I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, Pay what you owe.  So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, Have patience with me, and I will pay you.  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.  Then his master summoned him and said to him, You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?      And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. 
(Matthew 18:21-35 [ESV])

So what happens when a Christian says that something is unforgiving or unforgivable? The scripture makes it clear that if we do not forgive, we are not forgiven. Does this mean that a Christian can lose our salvation? I think we would be making a mistake if we go that far, because we know from Romans 8:1, there is no condemnation for those in Christ. When we are saved, we are saved from the eternal consequences of sin. We are saved from hell. To what does it mean that you will not be forgiven if you don't forgive?

There are a couple of possible interpretations. It could mean that as a Christian, you will not be unforgiving. The work of the Holy Spirit in your life will always lead you to forgiveness. While this is a great idea, I find it hard to reconcile the number of verses that command us to forgive if forgiveness comes automatically. I know in my life, I sure wish forgiveness came automatically.

Of  course, those who believe our salvation is dependent upon our keeping of the commandments will stay that forgiveness will cause us to lose our salvation. I reject this idea, I believe we are kept by the power of Christ and not from our own actions. This verse becomes difficult in the context of scripture, that we are forgiven and there is no condemnation. It would be easy to just assume those who hold forgiveness are not saved, but I know that all of us struggle to forgive at some times. I find that I struggle often to forgive a few individuals who have caused me a great deal of pain. So what are we to do with this passage?

I think often we forget that there are consequences for sin beyond eternal. Yes, sin brings death and that death is eternal in hell.  When Christ died, he carried the consequences of death by taking the wrath of God upon Himself. The sins of the elect are atoned for, but there is more to sin than just the eternal consequences. There is also the consequence of the broken relationship with God on earth. When we hold forgiveness, we are separated from the Father, in a spiritual sort of prison, like the servant in the parable.

The earthly consequences of sin causes our relationships to be strained. God can become silent in our lives, and darkness, depression and pain are the natural result. This isn't hell, but it's as close as a believer will come. This isn't outer darkness with the wailing and gnashing of teeth, but it's definitely a prison. When we hold onto unforgiveness, we break the bond with the Father as our sin breaks the relationship and kills us inside. A Christian can be unforgiving, but the abundant life of Christ is lost. We must ensure that each day we do what we need to do to be forgiving.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ashley Madison, Our Outrage and Blindness

This week we all heard about a hacker group that released the names of the users of an Internet service called Ashley Madison,  which is set up to help people have an extramarital affair.  There has been shock and horror as names of Christians have been released.  Maybe we need to stop and take a look at what has brought us here and maybe the shock will become grief and hopefully repentance.

The group that claims responsibility said they wanted the site shut down. Apparently they think it's a bad idea for people to have an affair. The problem is they need to be working on shutting down the porn industry,  that would definately be David and Goliath.  The porn industry in this country is huge,  in size,  influence and income. The amount of money brought in by pornography is staggering and we may never fully know the extent. It's said that 50 to 75% of men have a pornography addiction and the rate is quickly rising among women. 1 in 2 Christian men is addicted to porn,  that includes Pastors,  Elders and Deacons. The problem is so much bigger than Ashley Madison.

Combine that with the soft porn that is all over media, and you have hyper-sexualization. My boys can't even walk to the video game store in the mall without seeing the Victoria Secret pictures in the mall. Teenage girls are wearing tiny bikinis that were once only worn in raunchy college movies. The problem is out of control and way bigger than Ashley Madison.

Satan has two huge weapons,  lust and greed and they are together in this country to create a mine field. Marriage as it stands today is bombarded with attacks. I have seen numbers that 50% of marriages report some sort of infidelity.  That is report,  who knows how high the actual numbers are.  Combine that with the porn addiction of many men and women,  the promiscuity of our population and the greed of Internet porn industries,  and Ashley Madison is born,  and of course it's successful. It's the next stage in our depravity. People want to have the dangerous and erotic and now there is a business to help you do it. The hackers may have released the names of the users,  but the company won't go away. How do I know? I see people arrested for prostitution in my local paper,  but there are still prostitutes in my town. I see people arrested for drugs and drinking and bad behavior, and they continue to do those things.

What do we do in response to finding Christians and Christian leaders on Ashley Madison? We realize the problem is much closer than we want to admit. We would like to say the issue is in Vegas and New Orleans and San Francisco. It's not,  it exists in the small towns,  in the Heartland,  in the Bible Belt,  in the church.  It exists in your home,  soft porn is finding it's way in through the TV,  magazines, Internet and all over sources of media. We must resist it,  pray against it and hold it at bay with all we can muster,  but don't be deceived. We cannot assume that this reality won't enter our homes,  our lives.  The individual who says they will never have an affair is often the first to fall when temptation comes along,  and it will come. Let's be aware,  let's be vigalent and let's pray for one another. Lust and greed are ever where,  and the temptation is great. We need God!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Believe a Review of Ralf Crawford's book.

I was intrigued by the title. Believe: Proof That God Is Real. The title and the book claims to be able to prove there is a God. I believe in God, but everyone wants some proof,  right?  So I read it.

It wasn't a bad read, and there were some good points made. The book is apologetic work,  and it makes good and rational arguments,  but unfortunately they cannot be considered proof. There are many things that validate the claims of scripture,  but nothing that can be tested in a lab and shown to be proof.

Science in the only way to have proof.  Science is the study of the natural world. God,  by definition,  is supernatural,  outside of the natural world,  so science cannot prove,  disprove or even test for God or anything about God. As Phil Vischer states in his video series "Do You Know What's In The Bible",  using science to test for God or miracles is the wrong tool.  It's like trying to tell time with a thermometer. Science can't tell us about things outside of the natural world. Since we can't study God with science,  we can't have proof.

The nail in the coffin I'm afraid came at the end of the book. The archeological claims of Ron Wyatt are suspicious at best.  He claims to have discovered,  among other things,  the Arc of the Covenant,  but has not produced any evidence outside of his own story. This is the last piece of questionable "evidence"  along with crying statues,  appearances of Mary,  and the Shroud of Turin.  All interesting points to consider,  but far from proof.

This is a fun read,  give it a try to learn a few things,  but I don't recommend buying a stack and giving it to all your atheist friends.  It's not going to convert them,  it will give them more ammunition about unsubstantiated claims. Some of the material is evidence,  but the book is far from "proof".

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Can We Trust Ourselves

One of the most cumbersome obstacles in the search for truth is overcoming our own opinion. If there is a truth, if there is a standard that it is completely independent from us and what we think or know or like about it makes no difference on it's existence. If it's true, it doesn't matter if we agree or like it or want it to be. The main issue is our own perception. We have complete trust in our own perception and senses, believing what we can see or hear, touch or taste. We never doubt our own senses of reality, even though there is no way to substantiate if our senses are truly accurate. We have no standard to base our perception of reality, so what if your perception of reality and my perception are different. Who is right, which perception is correct? Does that mean there is no reality, or is it simply the consensus of the majority?

Even more dangerous is perhaps we think we agree on what is real, but our thinking, perceiving and experiencing are totally opposite? There is no way to judge, there is no proof that your experiences have any base in reality or truth. This problem is elevated by the reality of social and ethical relativism. How can we trust personal perception without any evidence that it can be trusted?

Taking the example of a crime scene with eye witnesses. Often the police try to get as many witnesses as they can. Each one seeing from a different perspective, it takes many eyes to get a full picture. Society can be the same way, so how can a society trust a system that creates relativism with so many opinions, when it takes multiple perspective for just one truth? Doesn't it seem that the lack of credibility in all the multiple perspectives points to the unreliable nature of the observer? After all, if you and I witness the same event but have different stories, clearly someone is wrong. If I say the car is blue and you say the car is red, I can be wrong, you can be wrong or we both can be wrong. We cannot both be right, so someone's perspective is skewed.

Knowing that experiences and perceptions cannot be trusted, how do we arrive at fact and truth? If the social decay had eliminated the possibility of the multiplicity of witnesses, we are left with a couple of options. We can blindly choose the one which we like the best, which is the foundation of ethical relativism. We can wait until a power or force comes and commands us and compels us towards a certain belief system. That is much of the strategy of Socialism and the tactic of some in radical Islam. We can simply change our belief system based on the situation, adopting a situational code of ethics. Lastly, we can find something that stands as a pillar and a foundation. This has been the function of moral code, laws, ethics and religion. As these things fall apart around us, can truth be found? In which direction do we look, who becomes the keepers of truth, and who's perceptions do we trust as wise? Is there a sage or guru that can be trusted?

The reality of this day and age is so many try to be experts, but with so many voices shouting so many things from so many direction, there is no way to make any of it out. It becomes a tirade of noise and static, everyone screaming from their own direction, quoting statistics and research, contradicting one another, attempting oneupmanship, all in order to get their version of the truth heard. It's no wonder that social and ethical truth has fallen away, because in the marketplace, it cannot be found.

Even in the abandoned places we once considered sacred, those remaining behind cannot agree. The opinions in theoretical, philosophical and religious debate has turned from a dialogue to an assault. Many in the theological and philosophical have turned to the postmodern deconstructionist ideas in order to stay relevant to survive. Others have held on to the foundational truth they have found in the Bible, while others have held to tradition, not changing and hoping they can ride the storm. Many have tried a combination of these approaches, simply to find themselves so confused and lost they quickly fade away into the noise and chaos of the argument.

 If we can't trust our experience and our senses, and if we can't trust the thousand voices, what can we trust, where should be look for a foundation? What is the key, where is the map on the search for reliability, for foundation, for truth? When we reach the end of desconstruction and get to the basics of everything, what is left, what is the core and what is the center? Is there something we cannot toss away or get rid of? What is the one thing that unites and has in common with all mankind? I would argue that one things is the bond that holds people together. Call is love or devotion, commitment or community, it's that thing that keep us talking and sharing. It makes us care enough to find a code of conduct. If this is the core component, where does it come from? Why does it exist and what can it teach us? What are the implications that we are not solitary by nature? Does it lend itself to the connection to something greater than ourselves? If we take the connecting piece of this draw for unity and community, combine it with the ever present search for truth and exploration and add in man's creativity and desire to build and create, can we find a road map? Can we find an undeniable path to find truth and reality, or are we left with nothing.