Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Des Moines Register Article, appearing August 7, 2010

The marriage debate is not going away any time soon. In light of Wednesday’s ruling striking down California’s marriage amendment, the debate will likely intensify. The California decision has implications for Iowa, including efforts to put the issue of the definition of marriage to a vote. My wife and I divide our time between California and Iowa, and have experienced the ups and downs of voting on the definition of marriage, only to have our vote negated by judges, or, in the most recent case, one judge. Here in Iowa there is a slightly different dilemma, but the ultimate question for Iowa, California and the rest of the country is the same: Who decides the definition of marriage—the people, or judges?
Before discussing the effect the California ruling on Iowa, a little background.  In the year 2000 California, which has “direct democracy,” bypassed its legislature and passed a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman. This was two years after Iowa’s legislature passed a similar law. In May 2008 the statute was overturned by the California Supreme Court In a 4-3 vote. In order to put the issue above the reach of the State Supreme Court, the voters of California put on the November 2008 ballot a proposed amendment to California’s Constitution defining marriage as between one man and woman. That initiative, Proposition 8, was passed by voters. It was challenged in state court, but was upheld 6-1 (ironically, the lone dissent cited the Iowa case of Varnum v. Brien, the 2009 Iowa case that struck down Iowa’s marriage law).
The opponents of Proposition 8 then challenged it in federal court, claiming under the U.S. Constitution same-sex marriage was a fundamental right, which would trump California’s Constitution. The case was assigned to Judge Vaughn Walker, a 66-year-old single man living in San Francisco, who the San Francisco Chronicle reported was gay. After a 13-day trial in the spring, Judge Walker handed down his 138 page opinion on Wednesday, striking down Proposition 8, finding a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution to gay marriage. One man’s opinion trumped the votes of seven million who voted for Proposition 8.
The California decision will be appealed, and will likely be the one that makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a ruling there will ultimately determine whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Affirming California’s right to define marriage would also affirm the rights of the 29 other states that have thus far amended their constitutions to define marriage traditionally. What about Iowa? In Iowa there is no “direct democracy,” so Iowans must rely on the legislature to get the ball rolling by passing a resolution, twice, before the people can vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage. The majority in Iowa’s legislature continue to hold the voters hostage by refusing to pass the required resolution before Iowans can vote. In California a federal judge negated the will of the people on the marriage issue. In Iowa, the legislature has disenfranchised the people. Iowans who believe in democracy should continue to press their legislators to allow the people to vote on the definition of marriage, or vote new people into office who truly represent the will of the people.
While the marriage debate continues, we can and should all live together peacefully as Americans and Iowans, regardless of our views on marriage. But the courts have forced a massive disruption of our social order by elevating behavior that the most Americans consider immoral to the level of procreative marriage. If the moral basis for laws is eliminated, which is an implication from Wednesday’s California ruling, all legitimate arguments against polygamy, incest and prostitution are removed. President Obama’s appointee to the U.S. Human Rights Commission,  Chai Feldblum, argues that our government has a duty to promote gay sex as “morally good.” If Iowans want the law to reflect that homosexually is morally good, and have their children taught this in public schools, then do nothing. If Iowans want a say in how marriage and should be defined, then demand that state representatives give Iowans the right to vote.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why is Building a New Mosque so Controversial?

"Ground Zero" is a term for the place in lower Manhattan, New York City, where some 3,000 people died during the events on September 11, 2001. When the twin towers of the World Trade Center were struck by hijacked jets, leading to the eventual collapse of the buildings, America watched in horror. It took some just a few minutes to realize what others still have trouble comprehending--The United States of America was attacked, and we were at war. Only the war was not a conventional war, with uniformed combatants, rules of engagement, and Geneva Convention protocol. Non-combatants were no longer safe, because the enemy, radical Islam, saw all Americans as the enemy of the religion of Muhammed.

America's costliest war, in terms of casualties, was not World War I or World War II. It was the in-fighting called the Civil War that resulted in greatest number of dead soldiers. The Civil War was about keeping a nation united as much as it was about ending slavery. After one of the more horrific battles, near the farming community of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Lincoln was invited to make a few brief comments about the battle of Gettysburg, and the sacrifice of those who died on the field of battle. President Lincoln said, in part:

"... we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground....It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

President Lincoln saw the Civil War as the opportunity for a new beginning for America, where the people are free, and the people rule. He made it clear that the sacrifices of many, especially those who gave their lives on battlefields like Gettysburg, should not be forgotten. Keeping America free and united meant the soldiers did not die in vain.

The nearly 3,000 Americans who died on 9/11, including people working their jobs in the World Trade Center, New York City firemen, NYPD officers, and passengers in airplanes, did not know they were considered enemies, targeted for death. They did not see themselves as soldiers, or combatants of any type. Yet they were put in the cross-hairs of the most concerted effort to bring war to American soil since the War of 1812.

The "War on Terror" started before 9/11, but the attack on the twin towers brought home to 300 million Americans that the War was no longer "over there," but everywhere, including "here." The focal point of this new awareness was lower Manhattan, Ground Zero.

Similar to what President Lincoln said about the battlefield at Gettysburg, we cannot consecrate or hallow the ground where the World Trade Center once stood, but we can, and should, make sure that those who died did not die in vain. They died enjoying the very freedom that has set America apart as the "city on the hill." Their deaths provided an opportunity for America to count the costs, and recall that there were certain things worth living for and dying for, including freedom.

Of course individuals or religious groups have the right to build a building on their own property, subject to reasonable zoning restrictions. There are federal laws that prevent local governments from zoning out churches, synagogues, yes, and even mosques. The issue with the proposed $100 million Gound Zero mosque is not whether it is Constitutionally permissible for Muslims to build a mosque so close to the site of the attack on the World Trade Center. The issue is whether Muslims should build the mosque. The answer is clealy, "No!"

Why should Muslims not build a mosque on their own property in lower Manhattan? Because it would be a slap in the face of the victims of 9/11, and their families, to have what some perceive as a Muslim "trophy of conquest" just two blocks from where nearly 3,000 people died as a result of Islamic jihad. It would be a symbol of Muslims gloating (similar to the televised outbursts of glee from Muslims around world when the twin towers fell) to place a Muslim monument so close to the scene of the worst carnage on American soil since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It would be a visual claim to the greatness of Islam in an area where Muslims should hide their heads in shame due to the actions of fellow-Muslim terrorists.

In 1988 I lead a protest rally in which 25,000 people took to the streets to protest a film, The Last Temptation of Christ, that portrayed Jesus in an unfavorable, if not blasphemous, light. When we marched down Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood on that Thursday afternoon, August 11, 1988, we were not telling the producers of the film that they could not make and show the film. We appealed to their presumed decency and desire to be good neighbors to the millions of Christians who were offended by a film that denigrated Jesus. We asked MCA/Universal to show sensitivity to the sincerely-held religious beliefs of those who embrace Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Despite the appeals, MCA/Universal went ahead with the release of the film, and wrapped themselves in the flag and the First Amendment to insulate themselves from criticism. The old adage, "He who frames the question controls the debate" rang true. MCA/Universal tried to frame the issue as whether they had the right to make and show the film. Just like the Ground Zero mosque, the issue of whether they had the right to do something offensive was a red herring. The issue was should the film be shown. With the mosque, the issue is should it be built.

If the mosque is built, it would show not only how tone deaf the Muslims are who are in charge of the intended project, but it would provide justification for those that claim the mosque is intended to be a symbol of conquest, that lower Manhattan has become dar al Islam ("house of Islam"). In Islamic thought, there are only two kinds of territory--dar al Islam or dar al-Harb ("house of war"). Those countries that have not become part of Islam's conquests are considered to be at war until Islam subjugates the land. There is no third option. Jihad continues until all land is under Muslim sovereignty.

If there is such a thing as "moderate Muslims," (which many people who study Islam say, without trying to be flippant, is an oxymoron), they could show their good will and sensitivity by foregoing building the controversial mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. They could demonstrate that Muslims can and do assimilate into American culture, and that they intend to be good neighbors. But they won't. Why? Because it is not the nature of Allah or his followers to be benevolent or merciful. It is not consistent with the Qur'an to acquiesce to dhimmis ("non-Muslims living under intended Muslim rule"). With respect to non-Muslims, the Qur'an only gives three options on how Muslims are to deal with infidels: convert, subjugate, or execute. There is no fourth option.

Those who favor building the mosque, including New York Mayor Bloomberg, and those who fail to speak out againt the utter insensitivity of building it so close to Ground Zero, including President Obama, have, at best, a skewed idea of what it means to "do the right thing." MCA/Universal, when given the chance to do the right thing, cared more about what the Hollywood elite would think if they were perceived to have caved in to the demands of Jerry Falwell and Donald Wildmon to not release The Last Temptation of Christ. Millions of religiously-sensitive Americans be damned. The Ground Zero mosque builders, who are obviously aware of the controversy that has erupted, care more about not being perceived as weak in the face of demands from infidels. The opinion of their fellow Muslims, jihadists and terrorists included, will trump the heartfelt requests from the families and friends of 9/11 victims, themselves victims whose healing memories may be affected again by this latest Islamic insult. No, we cannot force people to be nice. We can only appeal to decency and good will. I will be pleasantly surprised if the Muslims in charge decide to forego building the mosque at the intended Ground Zero location. If they try to build it despite the outcry (and opposition from 70% of Americans, according to one poll), they will confirm our worst suspicions. It may be Islam's last and best chance to earn acceptance in America, the land of the free.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Does Science Lead Us to God?

March 26, 2010

The Bible starts out, “In the beginning, God….” (Genesis 1:1) The Bible assumes there is a God, and states in a few places that “the fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” (e.g., Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1). The Apostle Paul states that God’s “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature can be seen, being understood through what has been made….” (Romans 1:20) The Psalmist echoed this truth in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”

Today we have experienced an increase in popular writers who not only disbelieve in God, but either admittedly or by inference hate God. These writers generally employ arguments against the existence of God that are not philosophically sophisticated, and have been soundly addressed (and, dare I say, refuted) by theists over the past 200 years. Nonetheless, with the resurgence of atheism, and attempts by American atheists to rid the public square of any recognition of God (e.g., taking God out of the “Pledge of Allegiance,” removing “In God We Trust” from our coins, removing postings of the Ten Commandments from public buildings), it is time for a review of why atheism fails, and why Darwinian evolution fails as an explanation for the existence of life.

The threshold question is, “where did the universe come from?” Either it is uncaused (i.e., it created itself) or it was caused. Atheists have a difficult time trying to explain how energy, time and space came from nothing. Further, there is nothing within the natural universe that tells us why it is here (and why we are here). A believer in God (“theist”) holds that the universe came into existence (i.e., was caused) by a God who transcends the universe (i.e., He is not a part of it). Does the evidence support atheism or theism? Let’s look at the facts from science.

First, the complexity of the universe. The universe has at least 50 constants (e.g., the force of gravity, the charge of an electron, mass of a proton) that if they were different by one-billionth of a percent there would be no life in the universe. Calling the universe “fine-tuned” is quite an understatement. Evidence of the grand design of the universe is acknowledged by leading scientists, some of whom have made the logical step of concluding there must be a Designer:

1. Cambridge scientist Steven Hawking estimated that if the rate of the universe’s expansion had been smaller by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000 it would have re-collapsed into a fireball.(1) A stroke of luck, or an intelligent design by a Designer?

2. Physicist Brandon Carter determined that the odds against the original condition of the universe being suitable for later star formation (without which planets, such as Earth, could not exist) is 1 followed by a thousand billion billion zeros (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 zeros).(2) Coincidence perhaps?

3. Physicist and Astrobiologist P.C.W. Davies concluded that a change in the strength of gravity (or the weak force) by one part in 10 followed by 100 zeroes would have prevented a life-permitting universe.(3) The existence of life is either quite fortuitous or it was planned by a super-intelligence.

4. Sir Frederick Hoyle, late professor of Astronomy at University of Cambridge, said a common sense interpretation of the known facts about the universe suggest “a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics.”(4) Clearly, the evidence points to someone or something outside the universe creating what we now see.

5. Robert Jastrow (head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies) called the fine-tuning of the universe “the most powerful evidence for the existence of God every to come out of science.”(5)

Second, the origin of life. Darwin tried to explain life without any need to invoke a Creator. Darwin could never tell us how the first life got here which eventually evolved into trees, fish and Aunt Erma. Has evolution eliminated the need for a God that created our fine-tuned universe in order to support the creation of life? Here is what leading scientists (and not all of them admitted theists) have said about the positive evidence for a Creator of life, and the weaknesses of Darwinian evolution:

1. Sir Frederick Hoyle compared the absurdity of believing that life could result from time, chance, and properties in matter with believing that “a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the material therein.”(6)

2. “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary tree that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference….”(7) (Stephen Jay Gould, Professor of Geology and Paleontology, Harvard University)

3. “One problem biologists have faced is the apparent contradiction by evolution of the second law of thermodynamics (entropy). Systems should decay through time, giving less, not more order.”(8) (evolutionist Roger Lewin)

4. “The origin of life appears to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have to be satisfied to get it going.”(9) (Francis Crick, Nobel prize winner and co-discoverer of DNA)

5. “We now have a quarter of a million fossil species, but the situation hasn’t changed much…. ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transitions than we had in Darwin’s time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of Darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded…”(10) (David Raup, Curator of Geology, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois)

6. “Evolution became in a sense a scientific religion; almost all scientists have accepted it and many are prepared to ‘bend’ their observation to fit with it… To my mind, the theory [of evolution] does not stand up at all.”(11) (H.S. Lipson, British physicist)

As scientist Paul Davies said regarding science, “Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws…”

This fact is humorously illustrated in the film “Expelled,” when the film’s producer, Ben Stein, interviewed popular atheist author Richard Dawkins. Stein, asked, “What do you think is the possibility that intelligent design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or evolution?” Dawkins replied, “It could have come about in the following way—it could be that at some earlier time somewhere in the universe a civilization evolved (by probably some kind of Darwinian means), to a very high level of technology and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Now that is a possibility and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose its possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry and molecular biology that you might find a signature of some sort of a designer. And that designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe.”(12) In other words, Dawkins is open to the possibility of an intelligent design accounting for life on earth, as long as the intelligent designer is not God. What nonsense to suggest that life came from an advanced alien civilization, but not from God. Even if we entertain Dawkins’ theory, it does not solve the question of where life came from, because we then have to ask Dawkins, “where did the advanced aliens come from?” He has no answer for that question.

The good news is that more and more scientists are discovering that the universe had a beginning, and the best explanation for how it began is to posit an eternal, all-powerful intelligence that set the universe in motion. Who could that be? Back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God….”
(1) “William Lane Craig vs. Peter Atkins (HQ) 2/11.” 1998 Debate. Online video clip. YouTube. Accessed on 24 March 2010.
(2) “William Lane Craig vs. Peter Atkins (HQ) 2/11.” 1998 Debate. Online video clip. YouTube. Accessed on 24 March 2010.
(3) “William Lane Craig vs. Peter Atkins (HQ) 2/11.” 1998 Debate. Online video clip. YouTube. Accessed on 24 March 2010.
(4) “William Lane Craig vs. Peter Atkins (HQ) 2/11.” 1998 Debate. Online video clip. YouTube. Accessed on 24 March 2010.
(5) “William Lane Craig vs. Peter Atkins (HQ) 2/11.” 1998 Debate. Online video clip. YouTube. Accessed on 24 March 2010.
(6) Sir Frederick Hoyle, “Hoyle on Evolution,” Nature (November 12, 1981); 105.
(7) Stephen Jay Gould, “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History (April 1977); 14.
(8) Roger Lewin, “A downward slope to greater diversity,” Science (September, 1974); 1239.
(9) Francis Crick, “In the beginning…” Scientific American (February 1991); 125.
(10) Dr. David Raup, “Conflicts between Darwin and Paleontology,” Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin (January, 1979); 25.
(11) H.S. Lipson, “A Physicist Looks at Evolution,” Physics Bulletin (May 1980); 138.
(12) Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. 2008 “Ben Stein vs. Richard Dawkins Interview.” Online video clip from the movie Expelled. YouTube. Accessed on 24 March 2010.


February 13, 2010

Ready for a little etymology (the study of the origin of words)? The Latin word spiro means “to breathe.” In the English language spiro is transliterated (brought in letter for letter) as “spire.” Adding a prefix to “spire” gives us several meanings: The prefix “con” means “together.” Thus, “conspire” means “to breathe together.” The English prefix “per” means “through.” So “perspire” means “to breathe through” (for men this means “to sweat” but for women it’s “to glisten”). The prefix “ex” means “out.” “Expire” therefore means “breathe out,” meaning “to die” (as in “giving up the spirit”).

With this background, “inspire” means “to breathe in.” When we speak of the “inspiration” of the Scriptures, it is the process of God breathing into the writers of Scripture. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (II Timothy 3:16). The words translated “inspired by God” is one word in the original Greek text, theopneustos. This word literally means “God-breathed” from the word theos that means “God,” and pneo that means “to breathe.” The verb pneo is the root behind the Greek word pneuma that is translanted “spirit,” including biblical references to the Holy Spirit.

But how exactly did God “breathe” into the writers of Scripture? Often in Scripture we are told what God did (e.g., created the heavens and the earth) but not told how He did it. The apostle Peter tells us “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (I Peter 1:21, NASB). We gather that God not only wanted to communicate His message to humans, but He also wanted those communications recorded so that His followers through the centuries would have His truth available. Thus, Scripture is a depository of God’s truth.

The doctrine of “inspiration” deals with God’s influence upon the writers of Scripture. Within Christendom there are differing views of the extent of God’s influence. A low view of inspiration holds that biblical writers were inspired merely like Shakespeare was inspired, resulting in “inspiring” writings that have survived as cultural classics. This view does not seem to square with the teachings of the Bible. When many of Jesus’ disciples fell away, He asked the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68, NASB). Scripture presents itself as more than an inspiring religious text. It presents itself as being God’s truth, containing the words of everlasting life (“Thy word is truth,” John 17:17).

A higher view of the inspiration of the Bible, consistent with what is found within the pages of Scripture, is that the Bible is fully inspired. In short, all of Scripture, as opposed to mere parts, originated with God. The Latin word for “full” is plenos. Hence, a higher view of Scripture is referred to as “plenary inspiration,” i.e., the entirety of Scripture has its source in God.

A final question regarding God breathing into the writers of Scripture is whether His influence upon the writers extended to the thoughts they communicated through their writings, or even to the very words they chose. This is especially important when considering the words and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. There are two schools of thought within those who hold to a high view of Scripture: (1) The Gospels accurately capture the thoughts that Jesus expressed (the “authentic voice”) but not the exact words. (2) The Gospels contain the exact words of Jesus.

What is the support for the view that the Gospels are the “authentic voice” (Latin, ipsissima vox) of Jesus, capturing His thoughts but not necessarily His very words? First, Jesus probably spoke mostly Aramaic, yet the Gospels were written (as far as we know) in Greek. Therefore much of what is recorded in the gospels is already a translation, calling into question whether the exact words of Jesus are important, since precision can be “lost in the translation.” Next, Jesus spent hours teaching, yet most of the teaching passages in the gospels are very short, indicating the Gospel accounts are summaries. Third, where parallel accounts exist (i.e., especially when Matthew, Mark and Luke contain the same account), the Gospel writers often do not agree word-for-word, but rather thought-for-thought. (e.g., Matthew 16:13 compared to Mark 8:27 and Luke 9:18). Finally, New Testament quotations of the Old Testament are not word-for-word. These reasons are the primary arguments that the Gospels contain the gist of Jesus’ teachings, but not the very words themselves.

Critics of the “thought-for-thought” view find weaknesses in the notion that inspiration involves only the accurate portrayal of Jesus’ thoughts, not His very words. It is argued that ipsissima vox opens the door to questioning the place of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Gospel writers to record Jesus’ very words (“He will…bring to your remembrance all that I said to you,” John 14:26). Further, Luke states that he is writing “so that you might know the exact truth” (Luke 1:4, NASB).

Can we know the exact truth without having the exact words of Jesus? In other areas of life it may be alright to deal with things that are “approximately true” (like the old adage, “close enough for government standards”). But when dealing with words spoken by incarnate deity, “approximation” has troublesome implications (e.g., who would want a neurosurgeon to operate in an “approximate” area of our brain, with an instrument that was “approximately” what is used for the operation, with post-operative drugs prescribed that are “approximately” what is essential for our condition? I am reminded of the man who was said to have made $25,000 in the potato business in Maine. On closer inspection, that was “approximately true,” only it wasn’t Maine, it was Texas. And it wasn’t potatoes, it was oil. And he didn’t make it, he lost it. And it wasn’t $25,000, it was $250,000. And it wasn’t him, it was his brother. So much for “approximate” truth).

The more extended view of inspiration holds that the Gospels contain the “authentic words” of Jesus (Latin, ipsissima verba), a view commonly called “verbal inspiration” (“word for word”). Hence, divine involvement in the inspiration process extends beyond the thoughts of the Gospels to the very words chosen by the Gospel writers.

Evidence for verbal inspiration (ipsissima verba) includes Jesus basing His argument on the very tense of a verb in Matthew 22:29-33. After the Sadducees posed a hypothetical question to Jesus, thinking they had stumped Him on the issue of the afterlife, Jesus made reference to God in telling Moses that He is (not “was”) the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:6). His point was that at the time God spoke to Moses the patriarchs were long dead physically, yet God told Moses, “I am the God” of the patriarchs, indicating they were still alive, living in the afterlife. Jesus concludes, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” If Jesus did not have confidence that Exodus 3:6 was an accurate record of what God told Moses, right down to the tense of the verb (“I am” versus “I was”), He could not have made the argument. Therefore, a fortiori, Jesus’ words to the Sadducees had to be recorded precisely as spoken (ipsissima verba) for His argument to make sense, and to make sense as to why the multitude “were astonished at His teaching” (Matthew 22:33, NASB).

I would encourage those who have followed this journey into the subject of inspiration to not lose sight of the clear biblical teaching that God Himself is involved in breathing the words into the writers of Scripture (II Timothy 3:15, I Peter 1:21). Further, the Holy Spirit of God superintended the writers (John 14:26) so that the final product we called the “Bible” is, indeed, precisely what God desired to be available as the sole basis of faith and practice for His followers. As Paul the apostle wrote, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (I Corinthians 2:13, NASB). Remember what Peter wrote: “The grass withers, the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord abides forever. And this is the word which was preached to you” (I Peter 1:24, NASB).

Passing the Mantle

September 8, 2009

This summer I was privileged to teach the Sunday morning Bible class at Faith Bible Church in Panora, Iowa. I taught on the Gospel of John.

As I considered John’s gospel, there is both amazement and envy in reading the words of a man whom Jesus chose to be one of His 12 disciples, and even one of His inner three. It is amazing to consider what it would be like for a 1st Century fisherman to be summoned by the Messiah. However, I am envious that John was able to sit at Jesus’ feet for some three years, hearing things we will never know this side of eternity. (John admits that Jesus said and did many things that he did not write down in his gospel, because there was not room for recording everything–see John 20:30, 21: 25; plus, the purpose of John writing was so the reader would believe in Jesus–see John 20:31.)

John was in a unique position, being present with Jesus. He wrote his gospel so that we might read for ourselves about the words and deeds of Jesus. But John did not merely write his gospel account in isolation. Many of John’s activities are recorded in the book of Acts, where he is seen evangelizing his fellow-countrymen. He is recognized by St. Paul as one of the pillars of the early church. See Galatians 2:9. Beyond what is recorded in Scripture, we know from early church history that John himself discipled certain men, among whom were Polycarp and Papius.

Polycarp, born around A.D. 69, became a bishop in Smyrna, which is modern Izmir, Turkey. One of his pupils was Irenaeus, who reports that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by apostles, and communicated with many who had seen Jesus, including the Apostle John. Polycarp is among the earliest believers whose writings have survived (he wrote an Epistle to the Philippians).

Irenaeus, writing toward the middle of the 2nd Century (about A.D. 150) names Papius as a “hearer of John” and a “companion of Polycarp.” Presuming that this “John” is John the Evangelist, the disciple who wrote the 4th Gospel, then Papius also was discipled by a direct disciple of Jesus. Papius wrote a five-volume work on “Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord.” These volumes are lost, and are only known through fragments cited by later writers.

Jesus passed the mantle on to His disciples, mentoring and teaching them in order to prepare them for their commission (Matthew 28:19, “disciple all nations”). His disciples, like John, discipled the next generation of Christian leaders, including Polycarp and Papius. Polycarp, in turn, mentored Irenaeus, and so on down the line.

We, today, are called upon not only to believe, but also to serve. Part of that service is mentoring others, especially the next generation of Christian leaders. There is a wealth of precedent, based on the command of Jesus (Matthew 28:19), that our primary purpose on earth is to teach (“disciple”) people from every nation, passing to the next generation the mantle of leadership. John, Polycarp, Irenaeus, all the way to us, today. Someone (perhaps many) discipled you, and continue to disciple you. We thank God for those who have influenced our faith. Are there believers who thank God because we discipled them? There is a question that helps us soberly pause to consider whether we are, indeed, fulfilling our calling and purpose on this earth. Now is the time to consider if there is someone, or perhaps many, whom we are called to mentor and disciple. We are the ones not only entrusted with leadership, but also entrusted with finding faithful believers who need to be groomed as tomorrow’s leaders.

Are you working on passing the mantle?

Sotomayor and Identity Politics

July 17, 2009

In early July 2009 I responded to an editorial perspective in the Des Moines Register newspaper in which the deputy editorial page editor argued for having more women in the federal judiciary. The editorial was written in anticipation of the Senate confirmation proceedings for Judge Sotomayor, nominated by President Obama to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme court (due to the retirement of liberal Justice David Souter).

I wrote a lengthy essay in response to the editorial, which I expected would be edited down. To my delight the Des Moines Register editorial page editor contacted me and wanted to print my entire essay, which they did on Sunday, July 12. It is the longest of my opinion pieces to be published. Read the entire article below.

Here in Iowa the most listened-to talk radio station is WHO, AM 1140 in Des Moines. Their morning host, Jan Michaelson, is so popular that Rush Limbaugh’s show, which is on live at the same time as Michaelson’s, is taped and replayed an hour later so that Michaelson’s show can be heard live. On July 15 Jan Michaelson had me in studio for an hour and a half talking about Sotomayor, the confirmation proceedings, and a host of other issues. We have had wonderful feedback from the radio interview and from my opinion piece in the Des Moines Register. Since one of our goals at Rolling Stone Ministries is to get people to think biblically, the opportunities these past few days in Iowa have truly helped us meet that goal.

Des Moines Register July 12, 2009 Article: 

Sotomayor and Identity Politics 

Can’t blame Deputy Editorial Page Editor Linda Lantor Fandel for wanting more women in the judiciary. After all, she’s a woman, women make up more than half of the U.S. population, and the federal judiciary is only comprised of around 27% women. Further, Iowa has but one woman on the state Supreme Court. Given these statistical facts, Ms. Fandel is outraged, and argues that “this should change.” 

But has Ms. Fandel’s statistical observation made a case for more women in the judicial branch? Using her apparent reasoning (i.e., that the percentage of women in the judiciary should reflect the percentage of women in the general population) either she or Editorial Page Editor Carol Hunter should step aside, since women are obviously over-represented as editors of the editorial page of the Register (two out of two). 

Let us further scrutinize gender and racial disparities. Iowa’s United States Senators are both men. Over-representation. Both of California’s U.S. Senators are women. Over-representation. Two of the nine United States Supreme Court Justices are Jewish. Over-representation compared to the general population, which is less than 2% Jewish. In California it is estimated that one out of every eleven people is an illegal immigrant. Thus, for statistical symmetry, California’s judiciary should be comprised of 9% illegal immigrants. 

Everyone is part of a gender group and a racial group. Should we demand racial and gender parity only in appointed offices? What about elected office? How about private enterprise? The possibilities for quotas and “affirmative action” are endless. 

In reality, alternating “boy, girl” may work on the playground, but when it comes to judicial appointments (or elected offices, or editorial page editors) we need the best and brightest. Unfortunately, identity politics, where one vigorously supports a person based on ethnicity or gender, has clouded our collective thinking. Bill Clinton’s “I want a cabinet that looks like America” was a feel-good attempt to appear inclusive. However, the results were abysmal (think “Janet Reno”). 

Identity politics usually is a subterfuge for advancing ideology. For example, after the death of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American on the U.S. Supreme Court, there were cries for him to be replaced by another black. When Clarence Thomas was appointed by George H.W. Bush to replace Justice Marshall, opposition was strong, because Clarence Thomas wasn’t the “right kind” of black. Similarly, an articulate African-American female (a “twofer”), Janice Rogers Brown, was an associate Justice on the California Supreme Court prior to her nomination by George W. Bush to the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia. Her confirmation was stalled, though she was eventually confirmed on a 56-43 vote of the Senate. Why the delay and the close vote? As it turns out, she is a conservative—just not the “right kind” of black female. As a “white European male” I have much more in common with the views and values of Justice Janice Rogers Brown than of Supreme Court Justice David Souter, whom Sonia Sotomayor is set to replace. This helps illustrate how skewed identity politics is, and how it serves as a backdoor way to promote ideology, not parity or symmetry. 

As to Sonia Sotomayor, a threshold question that may seem impolitic is whether she would be a U.S. Supreme Court nominee if she were not Hispanic and female. Probably not. Her membership in a sexist (“exclusively female”) organization, her racially-tinged comment about a “wise Latina,” and her track record for reversals (the U.S. Supreme Court has reversed more than 60% of the opinions she wrote or joined) shows that she is a politically correct choice for this administration—not the best and brightest. However, the fact that she’s the “right kind of female” and the “right kind of Hispanic” will undoubtedly lead to an easy confirmation from a Senate where Democrats enjoy a super majority. 

The facts militate to the conclusion that Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment has more to do with political correctness and jockeying to please special interest groups that it does nominating the most qualified person for the U.S. Supreme Court. Perhaps we are stuck with identity politics that solely focuses on shouting, like the Buffalo Springfield in the song For What It’s Worth, “hooray for our side.” In a perfect world “our side” would not be women, men, black, white, Asian or Hispanic, but American. Until we reach the color-blind (and gender-blind) society, America will continue to be Balkanized into the tribalism we’ve allowed but never admitted. It’s past time that we truly reached across the aisle of race, gender and politics and put America first, regardless of the consequences. If doing so we might restore our collective confidence in a government that was designed to be of the people, by the people and for the people.

Is it well with your soul?

June 11, 2009

Back in September 2008 things in the United States seemed just fine. Although the country would be electing a new president on November 4, no one seemed to have a clue about the coming financial upheaval. Then, suddenly, we were told that Wall Street was in dire straights, and unless immediate action was taken, the world could plunge into an economic abyss.

America soon became familiar with the term “sub-prime lending.” Congress, reacting to cries of “The sky is falling,” hurriedly cobbled together a “bailout” of over $700 million for the good folks on Wall Street. Despite the greed and revelations of unconscionably-high salaries and benefits, all of a sudden we, the people, were told that our tax dollars were needed to prop up Wall Street.

The “sub-prime” meltdown of Wall Street carried over to banks, automakers, the insurance giant AIG and other industries. We were again told that our tax dollars were needed to prop up banks and automakers, or else the sky would resume falling. As a result, the United States government (that is supposed to be “us,” but does not feel like “us”—it feels more like “them”) now owns the majority interest in Chrysler. When a government takes over and runs a private industry, isn’t that an example of socialism?

Now, over a trillion dollars later, millions of Americans are struggling with loss of jobs, inability to make house payments and rising gas prices. All this while government laments that it can’t pay its bills. The complacency of September 2008, when most of us were feeling pretty confident about our financial security, demonstrates how fragile we are individually, and how fragile even the United State is when it comes to economics. No military on earth can bring America to her knees, yet unregulated greed run amok caused our country to have wobbly knees.

What lessons can be learned in the wake of our unexpected financial crisis? First, we need a national humility, not a national arrogance. The Scripture warns, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). Our government (both federal, and, for Laurie and me, in our home state of California) set the trend by living beyond its means. Resorting to deficit spending (i.e., spending money we don’t have by borrowing to pay our obligations) became a habit. The people of America have followed suit, with a minuscule amount of money being saved, and credit card and other debt increasing. The current financial crisis helps illustrate that trusting in mammon (money) is building a house on the sand, and instant gratification (i.e., buy now, pay later) can lull you to sleep until you are rudely awakened when the bill arrives.

Second, we are not promised tomorrow. It is always possible that by tomorrow what we’ve labored for will be gone, and it’s possible that by tomorrow we will be gone. Are we prepared today for the uncertainties of tomorrow? When Dwight Moody was on a boat caught in a violent storm on Lake Michigan far from shore, others on the boat were below deck praying earnestly for survival. One man noticed Moody was not present, and, thinking he might have been washed overboard, hurried above deck to find Moody sitting on the bow, riding the swells as the boat rocked back and forth. The man shouted out to Moody, “why aren’t you below praying with us?” Moody, with a contented grin, replied, “I’m prayed up.”

There is a time for prayer, a time for preparation, and a time to say, “it’s in God’s hands—I’m prepared and prayed up.” Are you prayed up and prepared for whatever tomorrow brings? It has been said that we don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. David summarized how we can be ready for whatever comes our way: “Commit your way to the LORD. Trust also in Him and He will do it” (Psalm 37:5). If you’ve committed everything to the Lord, then you have nothing to lose, and your heart is ready to sing those words penned by Hortio Spafford, “Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”

Same-Sex Marriage

March 17, 2009

Irony or ironies, last year (2008), the day after Laurie and I left California for a writing sabbatical in Iowa, “same-sex marriages” began to take place in California. Then, the day after we left Iowa to return to California, the Iowa Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the Iowa law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. I am not suggesting that had we stayed longer in California or Iowa the result would have been different. Instead, it is a graphic illustration as to how our civilization is changing before our very eyes, even in places like the heartland of America.

Some who read this blog may not be fully aware of what has been happening here in California. As in all other states and all other countries (since the dawn of civilization) marriage was between a man and a woman (yes, at some point in history there have been societies that did allow more than one spouse—(polygamy)–but these were still heterosexual relationships). Thirty years ago no one thought much about same-sex couples being married. In the 1970s some Californians noticed that state law never formally defined marriage as between one man and one woman, even though that is what everyone understood marriage to be. But just in case, marriage in California was officially defined as between a man and a woman via a statute passed by the California State Legislature in 1977.

By the mid-1980s there were still some states in the United States that criminalized same-sex behavior. In 1986, in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick, a Georgia statute that criminalized homosexual activity was challenged before the United States Supreme Court. The Court held, 5-4, that it was constitutional for states to criminalize such activity.

Despite millennia of laws and practices recognizing marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman, and despite the United States Supreme Court ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1990s saw a growing chorus of homosexual activists agitating for recognition of same-sex relationships. Given the decline in societal values, and the replacement of Judeo-Christian, traditional morality with a secular moral relativity, it was only a matter of time before the marriage debate took center stage. In 1991 I wrote, “It is not difficult to anticipate a time in the near future when cohabitation by persons of the same sex will be afforded the same legal status as traditional, heterosexual marriage. In fact, the practice of homosexuals participating in formal ‘marriage’ ceremonies has been going on for years. It’s only a matter of time before jurisdictions ratify such activity as constituting lawful marriage.” (God in the Chaos, p. 36, Harvest House, 1991).

In spite of warnings from myself and others who saw the handwriting on the wall, few people took the “marriage debate” seriously until court decisions in the State of Hawaii got the nation’s attention. In 1993 the Hawaii Supreme Court suggested that denying state recognition of same-sex couples might constitute “sex discrimination.” The Hawaii Supreme Court sent the matter back to the trial court, which, in 1996, found that Hawaii’s state marriage laws violated the state’s “Equal Rights Amendment.”

These events in Hawaii served as a shot across the bow, alerting America that traditional marriage was under attack. The court decisions in Hawaii were the catalyst for the United States Congress stepping in and passing the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) in 1996. The federal DOMA defines marriage in federal law as a legal union between one man and one woman, and provides that no state of the United States is required to recognize same-sex relationships, even if recognized in other states.

Back to California, in the late 1990s there was concern that some of the more “liberal” states in the United States would allow same-sex marriage (perhaps, at that time, California did not see itself as being “progressive” as many do today). In order to make sure California would not have to recognize same-sex marriages, petitions were signed, and a proposed law was put on the March 2000 ballot that read, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Known as “Proposition 22,” this proposal to define marriage in the traditional way was overwhelmingly passed by the voters of California, receiving 61.4% of the vote.

Even though the people of California had spoken, rather than accepting the “will of the people” as binding, same-sex marriage advocates did an “end-run.” They filed legal challenges to Proposition 22, with hopes of finding a sympathetic judge who would strike down Proposition 22. Even though over four million Californians voted for Proposition 22, one judge, Richard Kramer from the San Francisco Bay area, decided he knew better, and struck down the voter-approved law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

In early 2007, a California appeals court reversed Judge Kramer, and a showdown loomed in the California Supreme Court, which in the fall of 2007 had agreed to hear the challenge to Proposition 22. I wrote one of the amici curiae (“friends of the court”) briefs arguing that Proposition 22 should be upheld.

Those who wanted to protect traditional marriage were concerned that the California Supreme Court might strike down Proposition 22. Therefore, petitions were once again circulated, this time to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2008 ballot that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. The difference between Proposition 22, which became a statute when passed, and the proposed constitutional amendment, is that the State Supreme Court can strike down statutes that it finds violate the state constitution. However, since the Constitution of California is the supreme law of the state, reflecting the sovereign right of the people to determine how they shall be governed, the Constitution is therefore presumptively above the reach of the Supreme Court.

In March 2008 the State Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Proposition 22. On May 15, 2008 the Court, in a 4-3 vote, struck down Proposition 22. The Court found that there was a fundamental right to marriage in the State Constitution, and that “right” extended to same-sex couples. The Court ruled that homosexuals were a “suspect class” requiring the Court to strictly scrutinize any law that infringed on their right to marry the person of their choice. The Court found there was no compelling state interest in keeping marriage between opposite sex couples that was sufficient to deny same-sex couples their “fundamental right” to marry a person of the same sex. Thus, the Court ruled that same-sex couples would be allowed to marry in California.

Just a couple of weeks after the California Supreme Court’s decision regarding Proposition 22, the proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman qualified for the November 4, 2008 ballot. As a result, the Court was asked to stay the commencement of same-sex marriages until the November election. Part of the argument for staying the May 15 decision was that if the Court allowed same-sex marriages to take place, and if the new constitutional amendment passed, it would create chaos and uncertainty as to the validity of the same-sex marriages that would take place up to the election on November 4. The Court denied the request for a stay and ordered that same-sex couples could be legally married commencing June 17, 2008.

From June 17 until November 4, 2008, some 18,000 same-sex “marriages” took place in California. Unlike Massachusetts, which in 2005 allowed same-sex marriages for residents of Massachusetts, the California ruling did not require any residency for same-sex couples wishing to marry. As a result, same-sex couples came from all over the United States and many foreign countries to get married.

The proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman (using the exact same 14 words as Proposition 22) became “Proposition 8.” Each side of the issue raised and spent millions of dollars trying to convince Californians to vote their way. Laurie and I participated in a town hall meeting, a debate at Whittier Law School, a panel discussion at Chapman University School of Law, and a marriage documentary, advocating the passage of Proposition 8. Emotions ran high, and there were hundreds of reports of “Yes on 8” signs being stolen or vandalized (compared to only a couple of reports of “No on 8” signs being stolen or defaced). Finally, by late in the evening on November 8, it was clear that Proposition 8 had passed, and the words “only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in California” became part of the State Constitution.

Remember the end-run around Proposition 22 (in other words, a run to court to find a sympathetic judge to overturn the will of the people)? The day after the November 4 election three challenges were filed against Proposition 8. Not only lay people, but even attorneys asked, “How can anyone challenge a Constitutional amendment, since by definition the Constitution is the final word on an issue?” Never underestimate the cleverness of lawyers with an agenda. The primary argument that Proposition 8 should be stricken claimed that the 14 words constituting Proposition 8 were actually not an “amendment” to the Constitution, but a “revision.” A “revision” is a wholesale change in the structure of the government, and “revisions” must be first passed by the legislature before being voted on by the people. And, of course, the California legislature in 2008 never did (and never would) support keeping marriage between a man and a woman. Thus, the argument went, since Proposition 8 is actually a “revision” (because it allegedly denies equal protection to same-sex couples, and equal protection permeates the State Constitution, and that constitutes a wholesale change in the structure of government), Proposition 8 should be stricken.

On March 5, 2009, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the challenge to Proposition 8 (now Section 7.5, Article I of the California Constitution). The questions from the bench have caused most observers to conclude the Court will uphold Proposition 8. (Laurie and I have a side bet—she thinks Proposition 8 will be upheld 5-2, I think it will be 6-1 or better.)

If the Court upholds Proposition 8, then it must further decide what to do with 18,000 same-sex marriages that the California State Constitution now says are not “valid or recognized.” Most observers of the March 5 Supreme Court hearing (again, based on their questions and comments) think the Court will allow those marriages to remain valid. It is difficult to see how that could be, given the clear language of the amendment (not “valid or recognized”).

When asked about whether Proposition 8 should be applied retroactively (i.e., to marriages that took place between June 6 and November 4), the advocate supporting Proposition 8, Kenneth Starr, Dean of Pepperdine Law School and former Solicitor General of the United States, said it was not “retroactive.” However, Dean Starr argued that based on the language of the amendment, from November 4, 2008 same-sex marriages are no longer valid or recognized. This position seems to be the only reasonable one, given the clear language of the constitutional amendment. Those sympathetic to the 18,000 same-sex couples believe (and hope) that the Court will not “invalidate” their marriages. It is possible that the Court will, despite the clear language of the Constitution, allow those 18,000 marriages to still be called “marriages,” which presents a whole new set of problems (e.g., how is that “fair” to same-sex couples that missed the May to November window of opportunity to get “married?”).

 Despite the prediction that the Court will allow those 18,000 same-sex marriages to continue, I am holding out hope that the Court will rule that those same-sex “marriages” were valid until November 4, 2008, and are now no longer valid as “marriages,” but are valid as “domestic partnerships.” The Court has 90 days from March 5, 2009 to rule on the challenge to Proposition 8.

Most same-sex couples believe the threshold issue is “personal autonomy” and “recognition” of the validity of their relationship. No one denies that people of the same sex can be attracted to one another (most studies suggest that about 2-3% of the population is homosexual), and can be committed to one another. The State of California provides that such couples can be legally recognized “domestic partners,” which provides the exact same rights and privileges to same-sex couples that are afforded to married heterosexual couples. California Family Code §297.5(a). The only difference is that domestic partners cannot call themselves “married.” Thus, the entire brouhaha over “marriage” is over the nomenclature. To me, and to every civilization in recorded history, marriage is a relationship with procreative potential that serves as a protection to the children that may spring from the marriage. This creative potential, by itself, sets apart opposite sex relationships of one man and one woman from any other type of relationship.

If the California Supreme Court does uphold Proposition 8 (Article 7.5, Section I of the California State Constitution), is the war over? Far from it. On January 26, 2009 a proposed constitutional amendment initiative was submitted to the California Attorney General’s office that would repeal Proposition 8. On March 9, 2009, a Title and Summary was issued by the Attorney General’s office for a proposed constitutional amendment which would have the term “marriage” removed from all government legislation. In short, this amendment would eliminate all state-recognized marriages in California and would relegate the State of California to only provide “domestic partnerships.” If enough signatures are gathered, these two proposed amendments will appear on the 2010 California ballot.

This latter proposal is similar to what has happened recently when a Christian club wanted to meet on a secular high school campus which allows other non-curriculum-related clubs, such as chess clubs, ski clubs, and, yes, even “gay and lesbian” clubs. After the Christian club was denied the request to be a recognized club, the issue was taken to court, and the court upheld the right of the Christian club, ruling that to do otherwise would be “viewpoint discrimination” (i.e., because of their beliefs or views, they are singled out and denied access). In the recent case, rather than implementing the court’s decision to allow the Christian club to meet, the school eliminated all clubs. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!  Now the same-sex marriage proponents are essentially saying, “If we can’t be married, then you heterosexuals can’t be married, either.” So much for tolerance.

Finally, lest you wonder whether I am imbibing the secular kool-aid of moral relativity and the post-modern kool-aid of subjectivity (having thus far not raised any biblical arguments in support of traditional marriage), I also believe that God ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman. Genesis 2:24 provides the divine principle: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” And just in case someone thinks that Genesis is mere mythological tradition, the correctness of the marriage principle found in Genesis 2:24 is repeated—by Jesus Christ—in Matthew 19:4-5: “Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’” I cast my vote (figuratively and literally) with tradition, with reason, with the Creator, and with Jesus.

Back to Kenya

March 15, 2009

Kenya. Home away from home. This April (2009) will be our third annual trip to Kenya. It will be like returning home. Meeting our dear Kenyan Brothers and Sisters for the first time two years ago made us feel more than welcome. They made us feel at home.

There is something to be said about being on an entirely different continent, on the other side of the world, in a foreign culture, among people who speak another language, where poverty and disease are rampant. However, the very first Sunday we walked into a Bible believing church in one of the slums of Nairobi, which happened to be Easter Sunday, was like coming home. And I’m not talking about home as in where we live most of the year in Southern California. I’m talking about our heavenly home.

Faith, hope and love radiate from our Kenyan brethren. Their style of joyful worship ushers believers into God’s powerful presence. God does inhabit the praises of His people (Ps. 22:3). Although we come to minister, their praise and worship minister to us. We wonder how we became blessed to share in their joy. We want to bring them back to the U.S. with us to teach the American church a thing or two.

Anticipating our next venture to Kenya, which begins April 1, we know to expect the unexpected. The many hours on a plane will be tiring. The roads and traffic in Nairobi will be challenging. The availability of electricity will be unpredictable. The dust from the roads, long hours, and food may bring illness. However, our joy in serving will be remarkable. The rekindling of friendships will be touching. The fellowship with Manna Bible Institute students will be precious. The new relationships we form will have lasting impact. After teaching classes at Manna, preaching in three churches, speaking at women’s conferences and on Nairobi radio, we will leave feeling like we’ve made a difference for Jesus. Humbly we will feel like we received way more than we were able to give. Living out our faith, we are transformed.

 Returning to Southern California, we will linger over the hundreds of photos we will have taken, holding on to the vivid memories and lessons. With great excitement, we will hardly be able to contain ourselves as we look for opportunities to tell anyone and everyone about our experiences with anyone who will listen as we ramble on and on. It is an amazing thing to go on a mission trip. Amazing. It has the power to change us, forever, if we let it.

These are not some high hopes. It is the reality of life spent wanting to live out The Great Commission and follow Jesus. To think, even these earthly rewards, joys and experiences, pale in comparison to what waits us in eternity for those spending it as joint heirs with Christ.

Do you know Jesus? He says, “Behold, I am coming soon. My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” Rev. 22:12. People get ready. Jesus is coming.

St. Paul’s Case for the Resurrection

March 3, 2009

Spring is nearly in the air. It is a time of renewal. It is a time of rejoicing that the winter is over (this means much more in parts of the world, like Iowa, where the winters are severe, and less in places like Kenya where the weather barely changes). It is a time when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus—the proof that Jesus was, indeed, who He claimed to be, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. It is a time that Christians worship their risen Lord.

What do we know about the resurrection of Jesus? First, there are several accounts in the gospels in which Jesus predicted he would rise (e.g., Matthew 16:21). According to Matthew’s gospel, even the enemies of Jesus were well aware of His prediction that he would rise from the dead on the third day. Because of His predictions, the enemies of Jesus took special precautions to secure His tomb in order to prevent anyone from claiming that He rose (Matthew 27:62-66). Along with Jesus’ predictions that He would rise, all four gospels contain accounts of Jesus appearing alive after he had died.


But are the gospel accounts the most compelling evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? For many modern scholars, the answer is “Perhaps not,” because many of these modern scholars are skeptical of the gospel accounts. Is there any hope that those who question the gospels can still find compelling evidence that Jesus rose from the dead? Absolutely, “Yes.” If not in the gospels, where is the evidence of Jesus dying then appearing alive? The evidence is found in the letters of St. Paul. Before presenting Paul’s case for the resurrection, we need a little background.

First, if we conclude that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses and those who interviewed the eyewitnesses, then the gospel accounts of the resurrection are sufficiently reliable to support the conclusion that Jesus rose again. This position, namely that the gospels are historically reliable, firsthand accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, is the view held by most professing Christians. Such a view is a far cry from the purely subjective reason for believing Jesus rose that is found in the final stanza of the song He Lives: “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.”  The first position espouses a faith founded on historical testimony from eyewitnesses, while the second promotes a faith based on personal experience. It is difficult for those embracing the subjective position to explain why their experience is to be preferred over the experiences of other religions. History and evidence matter if we are going to convince thinking people that Jesus rose from the dead. But are the gospel accounts of the resurrection the best evidence for the resurrection? In some circles, no. Why is that? And what evidence outside of the gospels supports the resurrection of Jesus? First, let us look at why some critics are skeptical of the gospels.

There are many scholars of the liberal, critical stripe that challenge the authorship, date and reliability of the gospels. They find the resurrection accounts in the gospels contradictory. They question whether the gospels were written by the traditional authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They generally assign dates for Matthew, Luke and John long after the time of Jesus, and even after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. They assume that the gospels are a compilation of stories told and retold (“oral tradition”), resulting in distortions (like in the game “operator” where in a room full of people you take a phrase, whisper it to a person, who whispers it to another, and so on; by the time the last person hears the phrase it is totally different from the original). In short, critical scholars view the gospel accounts of the resurrection with a jaundiced eye based upon their conclusions that the earliest gospel was written some 35 years after the death of Jesus, that the gospels are a compilation of oral tradition rather than eyewitness accounts, and that the resurrection accounts contained in the gospels are too problematic to be reliable.


Of course, if a person’s world view, whether a scholar or not, does not allow for anyone to be dead for three days then come back to life, then no amount of evidence will convince that person that Jesus rose. This rejection is not based on evidence, but on the person’s assumptions (“presuppositions”) that limit what will be found before the investigation is even begun. It’s like the farmer who grew up on a farm, never read a book, never watched television, and had never been to the big city. When the farmer was taken to the zoo, he stood in front of the giraffe cage, and while gawking at the 17-foot tall creature, mumbled, “there ain’t no such thing.” Why did the farmer doubt what he was seeing? Not because of the evidence before him, but because a 17-foot tall animal did not fit into his experience. A giraffe did not fit into what the farmer believed to be true, therefore it could not exist.


Back to the evidence. For those who have trouble accepting the resurrection accounts in the gospels, how can Paul’s letters provide better evidence? The answer lies in what scholars, whether liberal, moderate or conservative, do accept as true. If 90% or more of scholars agree on something, that consensus can serve as a beginning point in presenting evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Here is a brief summation:

Virtually all scholars (99% by some counts, whether liberal or conservative, atheist or Christian) accept that Paul wrote Romans, I & II Corinthians, Galatians and Philippians. These same scholars agree that Paul was converted around 18 months to three years after the death of Jesus (using A.D. 30 as the date for Christ’s death, Paul’s conversion was AD 31-33). These same scholars accept that Paul wrote I Corinthians between A.D. 53-55 from Ephesus, at least 10 years earlier than the AD. 65 date given to Mark’s Gospel, which is assumed by many to be the earliest gospel written.

Since Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is deemed authentic by nearly all scholars, is it then reasonable to conclude that what Paul wrote is “reliable” history? People who want “reliable” history naturally prefer writers who were in the right place, at the right time. Sometimes that preference is not available, such as with the history of Alexander the Great. The best-known history of Alexander was written 400 years after he lived, yet few dispute the general reliability of that history. When we consider the resurrection of Jesus, who, besides the 12 disciples, was in the right place at the right time? One person certainly fits that bill–Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul.


In Acts chapter one, after the death of Judas, the apostles decided to choose someone to replace Judas. In the process they listed certain requirements before someone could be considered as an apostle. This list included the person having been eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians (9:1) he asks, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” He later tells the Corinthians (15:8) “and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He (Jesus) appeared to me.” Paul was in the right place, at the right time, to provide a reliable account of the resurrection of Jesus. And what specifically does Paul tell us?

Paul tells two important things in I Corinthians 15. First, Jesus rose from the dead (vs 20). Second, Paul saw the risen Christ (vs 8). Paul centered his message on the resurrection of Jesus as he ventured out on three missionary journeys recorded in the Book of Acts. In I Corinthians 15:3-4 he summarizes the gospel message: “Christ died for our sins…was buried…and was raised on the third day….”

Paul was quite obsessive about whether his gospel message was accurate. According to Galatians 1:18ff, after his conversion he spent 15 days with Peter, James (the brother of Jesus) and John in Jerusalem in order to have them check out his gospel. Paul’s meeting with them likely occurred in approximately A.D. 37, just five years or so after his conversion, and seven years after Jesus’ resurrection. Around 14 years later Paul revisited Peter, James and John, and had them scrutinize his message again. Paul summarizes their conclusion in Galatians 2:6: “They added nothing to me.”


So we have Paul, Peter, James and John. Paul says he saw the risen Jesus, and he says that Peter, James and John saw the resurrected Jesus, too. Further, Peter, James and John agreed that Paul taught the same message as they did. And Paul states as fact that Peter and John saw the risen Jesus—a fact he must have heard directly from Peter and John when he first visited them following his conversion.

Before the death of Jesus, James, son of Joseph and Mary, thought Jesus had “lost his senses” (Mark 3:21). Paul tells us that after Jesus’ crucifixion He appeared alive to James (I Corinthians 15:7). How did Paul know James saw the resurrected Jesus? Paul met with James after his conversion, so it is reasonable to conclude that James told Paul during their 15 days together (Galatians 1:18ff) about having seen the risen Lord. James went on to become a “pillar” in the early church, presiding over the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15, and writing the Epistle of James.

Thus, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians unite Paul, Peter, James and John as fellow observers of the resurrected Jesus. These letters from Paul are considered authentic by even the most skeptical critics. Contained in those letters is the summary of what Paul likely learned directly from Peter, James and John, namely that they all saw the risen Jesus.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians around A.D. 51-53 about an event (meeting with Peter, James and John) that occurred just 15 years earlier, and that event was a mere five years after Paul’s conversion, and only seven years after the time of Jesus. Hence, we have an authentic letter from a person (Paul) who was on the scene at the time of Jesus, who personally claims to have seen the resurrected Jesus, who interviewed Peter, James and John about their encounters with the risen Jesus, and who summarized those accounts in I Corinthians 15.


In conclusion, even in an age of general skepticism toward the gospels, scholarly consensus (including atheists and believers, liberal and conservative) accepts that Paul wrote I Corinthians. And in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he tells us with certitude that “Christ rose from the dead” and “He appeared to me.” Thus, we can build a case from Paul’s writings, from the ground up, that provides a first-hand account of the resurrection of Jesus from documents that are accepted as authentic by even the most liberal and critical of scholars.

The evidence supports the conclusion that the gospels are also reliable historical documents that accurately recount the death and resurrection of Jesus. But even those skeptical of the gospels must account for Paul’s discussion of the resurrection found in I Corinthians 15. There is no question that Paul was there—the right place, at the right time. The reasonable conclusion for those with an open mind is that Paul told the truth—he did see the risen Jesus, and so did Peter, James and John. And if Jesus rose from the dead, what are the consequences for those who follow Him? The best answer is to consider the words of Jesus Himself, as recorded in John 14:19: “Because I live, you shall live also.”

John’s Recap of Our 2009 Visit to India

February 20, 2009

Rolling Stone Ministries has served on three continents–North America, Africa and now Asia. Bwana asifiwe! (“Praise the Lord” in Swahili)

In January Laurie and I had the privilege of spending two weeks in India, where we taught classes and lead seminars.

The founder of the Institute where we taught received his training at the same time and at the same California college where my father attended. The founder’s son, who currently heads the Institute in India, attended the same graduate school that I did in California (just a few years after me). With all those connections, I never met the founder’s son until we arrived in India!

Wherever we go in the world, the “common salvation” spoken of in the New Testament book of Jude (verse 3) jumps out of the pages of Scripture and comes alive. Even though we were 12,000 miles from home, meeting fellow-believers in places like India confirms that our spiritual heritage is a greater unifying factor than race, ethnicity, language, etc. In short, we felt at home with the saints in India, as we also have felt in Kenya. The Spirit of the Lord transcends political, cultural and linguistic boundaries.

At the Institute in India I taught in their two graduate programs. I enjoy the academic challenge of preparing teachings for graduate students and find it even more challenging when I have no clue ahead of time about the culture of the students in my classes. The students at the Institute were very attentive, and very bright. I always aim to provide practical application no matter what subject I teach. The graduate students appeared to truly appreciate the emphasis on practical application. These are the future leaders in India and we considered it an awesome privilege to help in the shaping of their thinking and training.

The first week at the Institute, Laurie taught a three-day seminar on prayer to a group of female students who came from a northern Indian state. This was the only time that either of us needed an interpreter during our time in India. Most everyone we encountered in the area has some proficiency in English which made our teaching and speaking much easier. During the second week, Laurie taught a three-day seminar to the staff of the Institute.

There is no easy way to summarize two wonderful, rewarding weeks in India.

Suffice to say that we caught the vision of what is being done and what needs to be done. We trust that our efforts played a role, if only a small one, in bringing that vision to fruition. Much work needs to be done, which from the human perspective seems impossible. However, with God nothing is impossible
Please join our continuing prayer for the people of India. Thank you for partnering with Rolling Stone Ministries as we avail ourselves of this opportunity.

See Photo Gallery for photos of trip to India.

The Myopia of Government Bail-Outs

February 10, 2009

St. Paul told the church at Rome, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due….” (Romans 13:7a). In 21st century democracies (e.g., the United States, India, Kenya) there supposedly exists what American President Abraham Lincoln called “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Why does it seem that most of the time government is for itself, not for the people?

The economy of the United States has a significant effect on the rest of the world. When the current economic crisis was finally acknowledged in the fall of 2008, government leaders claimed that unless unprecedented amounts of capital were infused into the banking system, there could be total economic collapse. There were warnings that the lack of available credit, primarily due to the “sub-prime” lending practices of the banks that needed to be bailed out, would prevent the economy from rebounding (i.e., no business investment, therefore no new jobs).

The result of the “sky is falling” predictions was a hastily-drafted $700 billion bailout called TARP (“Troubled Assets Relief Program”). Needless to say, TARP was thrust upon America without well-thought-out safeguards. But, hey, it’s only taxpayer money. Even more disconcerting is the fact that TARP effectively puts government in the position of having a say in how private banks and investment firms run their businesses (and we’re not talking about mere regulations, but investment strategies). This encroachment of the government into the private sector is a further step away from free-enterprise, and another step closer to socialism. But, of course, the TARP bailout would stimulate the economy by restoring the flow of credit. Or so we were told.

The encroachment of government into the private business sector is consistent with government intrusion into the charitable sector. Most religious people, and Christians in particular (who make up the bulk of citizens in the U.S.) are inclined to helping the poor and needy through providing food, shelter and medical services to the needy. These services have historically been provided directly by churches and para-church ministries. The 20th century saw government begin to usurp what had been a mission of the church, starting its own “War on Poverty” and other social programs that involved large giveaways of taxpayer money. The noble goal was to eliminate ghettos and provide equal opportunity for all. But, as evangelist Billy Graham once said, “You can’t get man out of the ghetto until you get the ghetto out of man.” In short, what the government myopically saw as an economic problem (ala Marx), turned out to be something else. Those who take the Bible seriously see it as a spiritual problem, requiring a change of the heart before there can be any significant change in the way we live.

When government began to socialize ministry to the needy, not only did it bungle the job (as the debacle of Hurricane Katrina so graphically illustrated) but it created a disincentive for Christians to continue providing services to the needy. Since our tax dollars were being used for disaster relief, many wondered why should we also give money to the church to do what the government has now begun doing? Of course, a close look at the Katrina saga shows that other than the first responders such as the Coast Guard, who rescued many who otherwise would have perished, the best short and long-term assistances came from Christian organizations who saw helping their neighbors as a ministry as opposed to a job. Many of those organizations are still a presence in the Katrina-ravaged areas, long after the photo-ops disappeared. But the bulk of the money allocated by the government to rebuild sits unused as government agencies fight over who gets to spend the money.

Fast forward to February 2009. Since we haven’t learned our lesson that government involvement typically makes things worse, at least the $700 billion TARP bailout fixed the economy, right? Of course not. Today the U.S. Senate approved an $838 billion “stimulus package” to fix the economy. This latest tax-dollar giveaway was sold to the American people as essential to avoid a greater catastrophe, i.e., the further down-spiraling of the economy. But wait—isn’t that what we heard back in October 2008—that unless the government acted immediate, the sky would fall? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Now that we’re up to $1.5 trillion in bailouts from taxpayers, can we seriously expect that our government leaders’ latest hastily-cobbled plan will work? We hope so, but we have no objective reason to believe so. Given its track record, when the government tells us to “Trust” it, we are being asked to exercise a blind faith at best, credulity at worst.

Regarding the $838 billion plan, President Obama says it will help “create or save” four million jobs.” A worthy goal, even if it’s not the government’s role to do so. But, first, how will we ever know whether the plan works? How does one determine whether someone’s job was “saved” because of the stimulus package? If 100 million people are working jobs in the U.S. at this moment, and if in one year there are still 100 million people working, did the stimulus package save those 100 million jobs? Only if the government can prove that without the stimulus package there would be no jobs.

Finally, using $838 billion to “create or save” four million jobs comes to $209,500 per job. Must be nice jobs. Maybe the government should, instead, just give all unemployed people $100,000 to spend as they see fit. That should “stimulate” the economy for awhile, until the next crisis that demands immediate attention and several hundred billion dollars in government spending and bailout.

The dye of socialism has been cast. People of faith are having their role usurped by a growing leviathan called “government.” It is difficult to consider the government as being “we, the people.” Instead, it looks more like “you, the elite.” And those elite who spend our money continue to miss the spiritual roots of most of the problems facing America and other countries. As the world continues its decline toward secularism, the reality of “good” and “evil” is diminished, and what has traditionally been labeled “wrong” for millennia is now just “different.” The ultimate solution is not an economic bailout, but an inward transformation of the individual, a spiritual re-birth. As the Apostle Paul said to the Church at Corinth, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and new things have come.” We don’t need a change of environment, a change of economic policy, a change of climate, or even a change of government leadership. We need a change of heart. That, my friend, comes through trusting Jesus Christ, and allowing His Spirit to lead you. If we follow Him, we can indeed say we are on the right path.

How do we defend our faith?

January 7, 2009

St. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi that “in the defense and confirmation of the gospel you are all partakers of grace with me.” The word translated “defense” is from the Greek word “apologia” that means “to give reasons why we believe.” What Paul is telling the Christians at Philippi is that as he went all over defending and proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, the Philippians shared in his ministry through their prayers. What Paul is not telling them is that defending the faith is solely his task, and not the task of the church. The New Testament clearly teachings that defending and confirming the gospel is the task of all believers. St. Peter wrote, “always be ready to make a defense (“apologia”) to anyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Thus, we all need to be ready to defend the faith. But how do we defend our faith?

First, know the facts. The Old Testament Scriptures predict that God would send a Messiah to rescue us from the sin that separates us from God. There are at least 60 major prophecies that tell us the identity of the Messiah, and Jesus fulfilled every one.

The New Testament was written by eyewitnesses, or by those who had contact with the eyewitnesses, and all 27 New Testament books (with the possible exception of John and Revelation) were written by A.D. 70. These firsthand accounts were copied and recopied, but we possess so many old and reliable copies of New Testament books that it is easier to reconstruct what the New Testament originally said than it is to reconstruct any 10 works of antiquity combined. In short, the New Testament, especially the Gospels, are reliable historical accounts from eyewitnesses and primary sources.

In the Gospels Jesus claims to be God in the flesh, Who’s mission is to die for the sins of the world. Jesus also said He would rise from the dead after three days as proof of His claims. The validity of everything Jesus said and did hinged on the historical event of His resurrection. And just as He predicted, He rose from the dead and showed Himself alive to hundreds of people.

Defending the faith means knowing how to tell people that God is faithful, and the He did as He promised by sending Jesus to die in our place. Defending the faith means proclaiming the life-transforming words of Jesus, as recorded by the eyewitnesses, which tell us of God’s love that made a way for us to be forgiven of our failures and be given the gift of eternal life. Defending the faith means letting others know that they, too. can receive God’s precious gift of salvation by His grace, through faith in Jesus.

Defending and confirming the gospel (Philippians 1:7) is not a mere option for those who believe in Jesus–it is a command that should be practiced as a natural outflow of our inward faith