Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Day Late . . .

A couple months ago, I received an e-mail from a woman who lives on the West Coast. She grew up here in New England but has lived out there for a number of years. She still has family in the the Northeast and, in particular, she has one brother who lives in my area. He was raised in the church but drifted away, leading a lifestyle that is contrary to what the Bible would condone. Worried about him, she wondered if I could pay him a visit sometime. I assured her that I would definitely give him a call and visit as soon as I could.

Unfortunately, as things often go, I got busy and forgot to call the man. It wasn't until this morning - two months later - that I came across his name again, and I decided to finally call him. When I called, a gentleman picked up on the other end. Not sure if it was him or not, I said, "I am looking for so-and-so," to which the man very hesitatingly responded, "He actually passed away last night . . . "

Silence on my end.

What a cold and sobering reality, and a very sad lesson learned. I don't know if he went to sleep in the Lord or not. I have a feeling that God will do all that He can to get him into the kingdom. But Lord have mercy upon me for neglecting such an important matter.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Review: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

About a week and a half ago, my brother-in-law, Duncan, and I went to see Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. If you are not familiar with the basic premise of this documentary, here is the gist of it: Ben Stein - who has involved himself in everything from speech writing, to law, to science professor on The Wonder Years, to game show host - investigates the idea that there is tremendous censorship in the scientific community in the United States. He documents the experiences of a number of scientists who have been ostracized from the scientific community for promoting the theory of Intelligent Design.

I had heard a lot about this movie before seeing it. I had read a number of reviews and blogs on the controversy surrounding it. Both PZ Meyers and Richard Dawkins - who are both featured in the movie - have been tremendously outspoken in their disdain for the film. The New York Times labeled the film as "conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry." Others have suggested that it is Michael Moore-esque on the propaganda scale. Of course, those on the other side of the aisle have been more positive about it.

With that being said, I found that the movie was decent, but not overwhelmingly so. It was a little slow at times, and the feature that really made me scratch my head was when they would cut-away to short, old-fashioned clips that were quite unrelated to the point that had just been made. I found this distracting.

Since I was not taking notes during the film, I cannot cite anything specifically, but here is one example that may get the point across: when Stein interviews an evolutionist who explains why someone lost their job, the movie might quickly cut away to a black-and-white clip that shows a boy shoving another boy. They would then cut back to the interview (again, this is not necessarily a specific example, but just the basic idea of what would happen). I found this kind of slap-stick cinematography very unnecessary - and it probably would have shortened the film considerably if these types of cut-aways were, well, cut away.

As far as the content itself, Stein spends very little time actually investigating Intelligent Design, instead focusing more on the unfortunate stories of ID advocates in the scientific community, as well as looking at evolution and some of its fruits. Evolutionists, of course, cry "foul" all the time when Darwinism is linked to eugenics, abortion, and euthanasia - to name a few. They especially don't like it when Stein predictably finds himself in the death chambers of Nazi Germany, concluding that Hitler, et al, were simply carrying out the logical outworking of Darwinian ethics.

Perhaps the most entertaining - and enlightening - points of the movie came when Stein interviewed evolutionists Michael Ruse and Richard Dawkins. The climactic interview with Dawkins at the end was, in my mind, worth the price of admission itself. But more of that in a second.

Ruse, on the other hand, gave the audience - all 10 of us - a good laugh or two. When Stein asks Ruse how, on earth, life could have formed to begin with, Ruse responds by saying one theory is that life formed on the back of crystals. In typical dead humor, Stein pauses a second, and then asks him again, almost giving him another chance to come up with a more intelligible answer. But Ruse again responds by saying, "Yes, crystals."

Meanwhile, every time I see Dawkins interviewed, I have a harder and harder time taking him seriously. With all due respect, he seems to make himself look more and more silly, with each successive utterance he makes (to be fair to Dawkins, in all sincerity: he seems to not have understood, when he was being interviewed, that the movie was ID propaganda). The fact that his own colleagues seem to want to distance themselves from him gives me more reason to wonder about his credibility.

But the movie comes to a climax at the end when Stein seeks out Dawkins to interview him on the important subject. The producers cleverly introduce Dawkins at the end by showing him getting his make-up on for the interview. Then we see Dawkins and Stein sitting across the table from one another, and Stein, in mono-tone, asking Dawkins about evolution. Stein wants to confirm that Dawkins doesn't believe in the God of the Old Testament. "No, of course not," Dawkins returns. "And you don't believe in any of the Hindu gods, or the god of Islam?" Stein counters. Extremely annoyed, Dawkins returns, "Why would you ask me that question?" In other words, "What kind of stupid, idiotic question is that? Do you know who I am? I am too important for you to ask me that."

When Dawkins goes on to explain that he has felt "liberated" and "relieved" from the tyranny of theism, and that many people around the world share the same sentiments, Stein asks him how he - a scientist who relies on empirical evidence - knows this. Dawkins responds, "I receive letters from people all the time, saying this." Without missing a beat, Stein responds, "There are 6 billion people in the world. How many letters do you get?" Dawkins, tongue-tied and caught off guard, replies, "Well, yes, yes, of course . . . I know that."

Dawkins's response is priceless - one that you have to see for yourself. It kept Duncan and me rolling for hours after, imitating the "Uh-oh" expression that Dawkins far-too-often portrays.

What was perhaps just as entertaining, though, was when Stein asks Dawkins what Darwinian evolution says about the origins of life on earth. Dawkins is unsure, but ultimately concedes that there could have been alien life forms on other planets that could have developed to the point of planting life on our planet. When Stein naturally asks him how life started and developed on that other planet, Dawkins concludes that it must have been Darwinian mechanisms there - thus moving the problem of "origins" back one stop (or up one planet). Of course, people like Dawkins would say that if "God" is the answer to the origins of "irreducibly complex" organisms, then you still have the problem of trying to explain the origins of God - an irreducibly complex organism (this "quandary" isn't all that troubling for theists, though, who recognize that no matter what you say about the origins of life - whether it's the Big Bang, or alien life form, or God - you have to base it on faith, rather than observable empirical evidence).

In the end, I think that the movie is, perhaps, more polarizing than anything else. Though it could probably appeal to those in the "middle" who are not necessarily convinced one way or the other, I believe Stein's efforts only serve to strengthen the resolve of those who already believe in Intelligent Design, and those who are diabolically opposed to it. The type of sarcasm that is used throughout the film usually tends to raise the ire of advocates of evolution - the same way that a similar film produced by evolutionists would only infuriate advocates of Intelligent Design.

Yes, I agree with just about everything Stein advocates, but I am not sure the movie contributes anything to a healthy discussion of the issues (of course, that is pretty much the point to begin with: evolutionists do not even allow for a discussion to begin with).

Here's an interview of Ben Stein by Glenn Beck on CNN. About two minutes into the clip there is a piece of Dawkins's interview.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The End of Suffering? (Warning: contains graphic images)

A few months ago, Camille came home in the afternoon after school, claiming that she had seen a dead bear on the side of the highway. Although I have seen plenty of bears in my life - and they are quite common in these parts - I had never seen a dead one beside the road. For some reason, I just thought bears were too smart to get hit by a car I guess! So I drove the same route later in the day, and didn't see any such thing. Thus, I concluded that she was having hallucinations.

Well, I got a call from Camille this morning as I was in the middle of my devotions, saying, "I am not sure, but I think I just saw a dead bear cub." She was a lot more hesitant this time to make such a bold proclamation, so she made sure I knew she was unsure. But she asked me to go check it out for myself, since it was only a few minutes from our house along the highway. Skeptical, I hopped into my car, got onto the highway, and slowly drove southbound. She told me that it was just a few hundred feet after you got onto the highway.

As I drove, I saw the tiny body of a dead animal. When I saw it, I immediately thought it was a black cat, or some other small animal. Since it was facing the other direction, though, I had to look back at it to see its face and, I had to admit, the face looked an awfully lot like a bear. So I called Camille and told her that she could be right, but I needed to circle around again to have a better look.

After getting off at the next exit, and driving back to the spot, I pulled over after the dead body, got out of my car, and approached the small carcass. Sure enough, it was a small cub that had been hit by a car. I couldn't believe my eyes. Never before had I seen a cub this small - and, perhaps, maybe it's the first time I'd ever seen a cub at all. And, to be sure, it was the first time I'd seen a dead bear, period. So I took a picture on my cell phone and sent it to Camille, as well as my sister and mother.

Camille was happy, but sad, to know that she was vindicated. And it is, indeed, a sad reality of this world's falleness. As Paul writes, "For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now" (Romans 8:22). Because of our continued bad choices, not only do we as humans have to suffer, but the rest of God's creation does as well.

It makes me realize that we should ever seek to respond wholeheartedly to God, not simply so we can see our long-lost relatives in heaven, but so that the suffering in this world - and the suffering in God's heart - can finally be ended. (Of course, until that day does come, we should do all that we can now to make sure that things like this don't happen again - whether that be a dead bear, or an innocent person who has been gunned down in Los Angeles or Darfur or Baghdad.)

"Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20).

Below is the picture of the cub. Notice just how small the it is. Those grooves in the road are the "rumble strips" in the breakdown lane, probably not more than 16 inches wide.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Maybe Joel Osteen is on to something

Though I don't really make a big deal about it, I have not been all that excited about Joel Osteen. I don't have a huge burden to discredit his ministry, because I'm sure that people are being blessed by him to some extent. And though I am not totally prepared to say that he is the greatest thing since sliced bread (he's more of a motivational speaker than anything else), a few things I've learned about him recently have softened my opinion about him.

One of which, if you haven't already seen or heard, is that he has spoken out against eating unclean meats - quite a step for anyone to take, but especially him. He admitted to his church that he has not been eating pork for a while, and that we should abstain from lobster, craw fish, etc.

You can watch the video of this here (Windows Media).

No matter what you think of the man, you at least have to give him credit for talking about this issue and candidly telling his church that something is wrong!

A Trip to Florida and an Ellen White Quote

I got back yesterday afternoon from a weekend trip to Florida. I spoke three times on Sabbath at Advent HOPE Florida, which is a Sabbath School group that meets at the Forest Lake Church. I had a great - but tiring - time speaking about the Song of Solomon and meeting wonderful people who have a similar passion for the Lord. It is always nice to meet other young adults who have a burden for sharing the three angels' messages.

As an added bonus, I got to spend some time with my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and a few aunts and uncles - who all live in the Orlando area. It was my niece's first birthday on Sabbath as well, and it was great to be there for her big day. On Friday afternoon, we went swimming at my brother-in-law's parent's house. The picture to the right is of Calleigh and me enjoying the water. (The one below is Calleigh's reaction to her birthday cake. For some reason, she starts going berserk when she sees birthday cake. We're not sure if it's the cake itself, or the candle, or the fact that everyone is focused on her. Imagine a child that refuses to eat cake, though!! Perhaps we should have given her a broccoli cake instead.)

My brother-in-law, Duncan, and I also saw Ben Stein's controversial movie, Expelled, which was fairly enlightening and interesting. I'd like to share my in-depth thoughts on that at some point in the near future, so stay tuned for that!

Perhaps the only bad thing of the weekend is that my luggage didn't arrive with me from Orlando. You would think that with a direct flight, it would be fairly easy to get my bags to Manchester, but, alas, it was left in Orlando. At least they didn't lose it the other way around: it's always a lot easier to cope without your luggage when you are home than when you are on the road.

Finally, I wanted to share a wonderful Ellen White quote that I came across this morning. As always, she is right on. Her thoughts on a grateful and appreciative heart are a very appropriate reminder to what I consider the most important - yet neglected - element of the Christian experience:
Gratitude should fill our hearts as we think of what God through Christ has done for us. The thought of the infinite gift made to us should refine and ennoble us. As we think of the love and goodness of God, we should banish selfishness from our hearts, asking the Lord to make us kind and compassionate. Has not God a right to our affections? Do not our powers belong to Him? What more could He have done for man than He has done? In one great gift He poured out for us all the treasures of heaven. Why then do we not talk of His love and tell of His power. (1888 Materials, p. 569)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Global cooling, anyone?

So now the "scientific community" is telling us that the world is experiencing global cooling - "a result of a natural and temporary shift in ocean currents." They predict that this cooling effect could last for the next 7-22 years, and that it has been going on for the last ten years or so.

Whatever happened to global warming? Whatever happened to Al Gore's infamous line, "The planet has a fever"?

Apparently it doesn't.

Admittedly, there is a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth among these environmentalists, as they worry that the decrease in temperature across the planet "may take the heat out of action to fight" global warming.

Gee, do ya think?

The funny thing is, we keep hearing that our human activity is causing this massive shift in the climate - the warming, that is - and that if we don't change, then, well, who knows what will happen? But let me get this straight - global warming is man-made, but global gooling is natural?

Isn't that a bit arbitrary?

Meanwhile, Al Gore goes around and wins Nobel Peace Prizes for his fight against climate change (what climate change has to do with peace, I still haven't figured out) and we keep being propagandized by this environmental agenda. About a month ago, I went to two IMAX movies at the Boston Museum of Science and both of them talked about global warming, citing them, much like evolution, as cold, hard, assumed facts.

In the second movie, on the Grand Canyon, I listened as, in plain English, the narrator (Robert Redford) told us how, 500 years before, part of the Colorado River had dried up where a Native American tribe had lived. There was a terrible drought that disbanded the village. And then he said, "And we want to make sure that doesn't happen again. So take shorter showers. Don't buy bottled water. . ." And then in the next shot, they cut away to Las Vegas, telling us how this city has "drained" the Colorado River of its once-plentiful water.

I was utterly confused. Surely lands Las Vegas couldn't have caused the drought 500 years previously. And surely the drought didn't come about 500 years before because Bobby took 10 minute showers instead of 8. If a drought happened before - sans Las Vegas and bottled water and the 6 billion people that roam this planet now - whose to say that anything I do now will prevent it from happening again?

In the other film, we were taken to the Swiss Alps - a place where the glaciers are seriously disappearing. Yet the movie itself seemed to admit that these same glaciers go in cycles every couple of thousand years or so. But a few minutes later, they say, "Global warming is jeopardizing these glaciers. Stop driving your car."

Apparently the producers are a little confused, as are many scientists.

Well which is it? Global warming? Global cooling? A natural cycle? El Nino? La Nina?

Meanwhile, with this whole global cooling epiphany - whose mention is scantly found anywhere on any major news station or newspaper - scientists have now given themselves a little cushion so they can come up with another explanation 15 years down the road when they realize that this global warming thing isn't panning out.

And, oh yeah, New Hampshire almost set a record this year for snowfall.

And by the way, I definitely believe that we should take care of God's planet. We are definitely called to be stewards of it. But let's just make sure we know what that stewardship really looks like, instead of being sold a bill of goods. Should we try to conserve water? Yes. Does this mean I shouldn't buy it in a bottle? Maybe not. Should we become vegetarians so that more of the rain forest in South America - where a lot of the cattle is raised, only to find its way onto American's plates - is destroyed, all the while displacing thousands of people from their natural habitat? Most definitely. But, again, let's just make sure we know what we're talking about so we don't needlessly place ourselves in slavery to the environment. We are called to be "stewards" of this planet, not slaves to it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Follow-Up on Salvation

I just wanted to share a quote from Ellen White that I happened to stumble upon this morning. It speaks beautifully to my previous post on "Defining Terms" and how a person is "saved." Regarding the idea that there are "conditions" for salvation, notice what she writes (all emphasis mine):
The question will come up, How is it? Is it by conditions that we receive salvation? Never by conditions do we come to Christ. And if we come to Christ, then what is the condition? The condition is that by living faith we lay hold wholly and entirely upon the merits of the blood of a crucified and risen Saviour. When we do that, then we work the works of righteousness. But when God is calling the sinner in our world, and inviting him, there is no condition there; he is drawn by the invitation of Christ and it is not, "Now you have got to respond in order to come to God." The sinner comes, and as he comes and views Christ elevated upon that cross of Calvary, which God impresses upon his mind, there is a love beyond anything that is imagined that he has taken hold of. (1888 Materials, p. 537)
She seems to be unequivocally clear that the only "condition" for salvation is that we come to Christ by faith. The idea, as some have proposed, that faith and works are a condition for salvation, does not jive with the biblical witness, or Spirit of Prophecy.

I was accused by a well-meaning brother this last week of buying into "the popular line in contemporary Adventism" (proposed by Morris Venden and Jack Sequiera, they claim) that "first we get saved, then we become obedient." Besides the fact that I don't say we "get saved" (an evangelical straw-man phrase which implies that I believe once a person "gets" saved, then they cannot lose that salvation), it seems evident to me that obedience does follow salvation. As Ellen White says, "When we do that [ie., come to Christ by faith], then we work the works of righteousness." Those works of righteousness do not precede faith. On the contrary, they accompany it and are the result of a true and living faith - which is what James has said all along.

Where these well-meaning brethren come up short is that they all-too-often point away from Calvary, when the Bible and Ellen White keep pointing us back to it. For some reason, we cannot get it through our thick skulls that the cross of Christ is powerful enough, in and of itself. We do not need to say that we are "saved by faith and works." We do not need to say that "obedience is a condition for salvation." Understanding Christ and Him crucified is what "saves" us, and contemplating Christ's infinite sacrifice is powerful enough to compel a person into an obedient and mature walk with God. "For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor 5:14, 15).

Why is that idea so scary to some people?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Leap in Logic

So I just read this article in the Wall Street Journal, talking about how human beings are innately wired to react positively to the face of a baby. It is a fascinating hypothesis, though, of course, that's just what it is: a hypothesis. Judging by the fact that I am with my little niece right now, though, and I love to see her little face, I would have a hard time arguing against it.

What is more unbelievable, though, is the conclusion that researchers have drawn from this study. Oxford child psychologist Alan Stein reflects: "It suggests we are probably all hard-wired to respond and care for babies, to help us perpetuate the species." With such a conclusion, Stein goes from any scientific explanation, to pure conjecture. Nevermind that the hypothesis is debatable to begin with - the conclusion that this is some innate wiring that evolution has built into us has no basis in the evidence.

Yet if someone were to declare that this is some wiring that God has built into the human psyche, they would be laughed out of the scientific community.

While we should be intrigued by such research, making highly speculative leaps in logic is problematic.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Can't We All Just Get Along?

My sister was telling me yesterday about a Bible study that she attends every week. There are five or six women - from varying Christian faiths - who attend this study, and they have been looking at different aspects of Christianity. Just this past week, they got sidetracked a little bit, and they got to talking about different theological questions that always seem to come up. Among them, a question invariably came up that stumped my sister. She admits that this is the one question she has the most difficulty answering. A few of the ladies asked, "Does it really matter what we believe? We all pretty much believe the same things when it comes down to it. As long as we all believe in Jesus, we should be able to put our differences aside, shouldn't we?"

In this postmodern climate that we live in, this seems to be a fairly popular sentiment. And I understand why. The history books show us the results of allowing theology to divide. The Spanish Inquisition claimed the lives of thousands; Ulrich Zwingli had Anabaptists drowned in Switzerland because of their insistence on rebaptizing; and we still see the conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics. Why should one's views on God be the cause of so much animosity and hatred?

Problem is, the Bible doesn't work that way. And neither does life. We all have a yearning to understand truth on some level. At some point, kids give up on the idea of Santa Claus really existing, and if a grown-up were to insist on his existence, we would question his sanity. This is not to say that anyone has ever been killed in the name of Santa Claus and, to be sure, killing in the name of God is absolutely repulsive, but one of the basic yearnings of the human heart is to be able to separate truth from fiction. We may all have a desire for community and for getting along, but that will never be enough to put a pause on our desire to understand truth.

Take marriage, for example. When I first started dating my wife, I wasn't merely satisfied with staring into her eyes for hours at a time, silently passing the hours away. I wanted to know everything about her. I wanted to know her fears, her dreams; I wanted to know the truth about her.

And so it is with God. The person who has a deep heart-experience with Him doesn't simply want to "get along" with everyone else at the expense of knowing God. That person naturally wants to know all the peculiarities of God's personality. He or she cannot be satisfied with peripheral knowledge about God, and forfeiting a knowledge about God for the sake of community would never satisfy that person. Deep down inside, we all have a deep yearning to understand the things of God, and to ignore that knowledge and truth would be to go against that which we long for.

More significantly, however, the Bible has some strong things to say about truth. I came across a delightful verse the other day - before talking with my sister - that addresses this very issue. It's not a verse we hear quoted very often, but it has great relevance to those of us who just want to get along at the expense of a deepening understanding of God. Paul writes that there are certain individuals who will perish "because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved" (2 Thess 2:10).

Did you catch that? Paul makes it abundantly clear that, in order to be "saved," we have to have a "love [Greek: agape] of the truth." This mentality of "it doesn't matter what you believe" is unbiblical and will ultimately lead to a person's destruction. In our pluralistic culture, this idea doesn't sit well with us. And yet, if we choose to humble ourselves to the authority of the Bible, we have to grapple with this idea.

No, we shouldn't let theology divide us to the extent that it far-too-often does. But neither should we feel that it doesn't matter if, for example, I believe in Arminianism, and my buddy believes in Calvinism. God cares immensely about how He is presented to the world. Wouldn't you also feel hurt if your character was misrepresented to others - the way that God is so often misrepresented today?