Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Holy Yoga Contortions

The blog section of Holy Yoga's website includes videos that feature founder Brooke Boon giving brief teachings (called "meditations") on various Scripture passages. These meditations aren't any more disturbing than much of the drivel coming out of 21st Century evangelicals. She uses "The Message," a Bible paraphrase notorious for twisting God's Word into politically correct feel-good platitudes, and from there going off into applications that focus more on human "potential" than on the Lord.

Yet they are troubling, precisely because they present the same inverted gospel that's growing more and more prevalent in the visible church. Boon encourages her followers, in one video, that "God is pleased with you." As lovely as that sounds, she supports her statement with a partial quote from Genesis 1:31:

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (ESV)

From this verse fragment, she extrapolates that "everything about you pleases God." Excuse me? Is she speaking to people in general, as this text might indicate? If so, she's forgetting Genesis 3, which tells of humanity's fall from grace. Has she forgotten that, through Adam and Eve's willful rebellion, the same creation that God proclaimed to be good became so thoroughly corrupted that Jesus had to redeem it by shedding His own blood. In and of ourselves, therefore, we do not please God.

Apart from Christ, according to the Bible, human beings are decidedly unpleasant to a righteous and holy God. The Bible describes us in very unflattering terms:

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” ~~Romans 3: 10-18 (ESV)

If Genesis 1:31 is  Boon's sole reason for assuring her viewers that God is  pleased with them, she exhibits a definite disconnect from the very Bible she claims to love. Our intrinsic depravity breaks His heart! He showed immeasurable mercy through Jesus' death on the cross, certainly, loving us even as we hated Him, and I rejoice in that mercy. But I must always recognize that He extended mercy precisely because of my innate incapacity to please Him.

I do realize, however, that Boon's intended audience was professing Christians.  So in a sense, she could reasonably say, "God is pleased with you." But not on the basis of Genesis 1:31! A better text might have been 2 Corinthians 5:21:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)

We please God because Jesus gave us His righteousness, not because He created us. Creation needed redemption, and the preciousness of our Redeemer is the only thing that makes us pleasing to God. Had Brook Boon said as much, basing her meditation on 2 Corinthians 5:112, her meditation would have been more  accurate. Additionally, it would have placed the emphasis on the Lord's goodness, not on our self-worth.

This is but one example of how Holy Yoga twists sound doctrine. It's sweet to the ears, perhaps, but it ignores so much of the wonder of Christ's glory. I watched several other Holy Yoga videos, all of which convinced me that Brooke Boon is deceived. Please join me in praying for her.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Red Flags Of Holy Yoga

In response to a conversation on Facebook yesterday, I nosed around Brooke Boone's Holy Yoga website, which has been revamped  since I visited it a couple of years ago (more on its  changes momentarily). A few very red flags waved before me as I explored the various pages, strengthening my conviction that Holy Yoga is anything but Holy, and that its use of Scripture is irresponsible.

The testimonials and blog posts on this website are more vague than I recall. Two years ago, to be specific, I read a post describing how to meditate on the verse, "Be still and know that I am God." Rather than Christian meditation (understood as study and application), the technique isolated  the verse from its context and then recommended repeating it during breathing exercises. With each exhale, the person was to eliminate a word from the end of the phrase, until they breathed only "Be!" If that post is still on the website, it's quite buried, and there's very little explanation of what Holy Yoga is.

So, the new website provides little understanding of what Holy Yoga is, how it differs from traditional yoga, or how it draws anyone closer to Jesus. Several testimonials claim that the practice "transforms" a person, but nothing on it offers examples of what the transformation entails. Even less does the website explain why  Scripture is insufficient to provide all the knowledge of God necessary  "for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3).

Holy Yoga claims to provide a deeper experience  of Jesus. Deeper than what? Than "merely" studying His Word? At any rate, the implication is that it adds to a believer's communion with the Lord in ways that Scripture alone doesn't, again suggesting that Scripture is insufficient. Consider this excerpt from the "About" page of their website:

Holy Yoga is the intentional practice of connecting our entire being; body, mind and spirit with God; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  With complete reliance on God's Word and prayer, Holy Yoga invites us to surrender and introduces us to Grace.   When we breathe and move and have our being in Christ, we find ourselves in the flow of His magnificence.  There is often a misunderstanding that yoga is a religion, it is not.  Yoga is a spiritual discipline, much like prayer, fasting and meditation.  Yoga has the capacity to enhance our personal beliefs and faith.
We practice with our minds set on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8); not with our minds emptied. We meditate on the wisdom of God's Word (Psalm 119:9-16, 26-27); not on man's wisdom. We seek the transcendence and glory of God; not our own.

Yoga introduces us to His grace? I thought the Holy Spirit did that through regeneration. Yoga breathing causes us to find the flow of His magnificence? I thought the Bible did that. Yoga enhances our personal beliefs and faith? I didn't realize my personal beliefs and faith required enhancement beyond the Bible. I'm glad they claim to meditate on the wisdom of God's Word, though I question why they consider yoga a necessary part of meditation, as well as suspecting that their interpretation of meditation is subjective and based in experience.

Their Statement Of Practice, despite  its declarations to the contrary, betrays their attempt to fuse Hindu spirituality and a liberal version of Christianity. Its crafty weaving of Biblical and  Far Eastern  spirituality leave me shaking my head in confusion.

We believe that when God spoke the world into existence, His creative essence or "vibration" permeated all of creation. It has been documented that there is a vibrational frequency common to all of creation and that this vibration has the sound of "Aum". That frequency is often vocalized in classical yoga as "OM", or in Christian circles as "Shalom". Holy Yoga chooses not to use the practice of chant or "OM" invocations in classes in order to dissipate fear concerning their usage in relation to worship.

We believe that humans are created in the image of the One true God, and are therefore energetic beings. This energy is in constant movement within our bodies and accumulates is specific regions within the body. The common experience of knots in the stomach, feeling heavy-hearted, or being choked-up are just a few examples. The label used to describe this in classical yoga terminology is "chakras". The theory of chakras attempts to explain the physical manifestation of our emotional and spiritual being. We acknowledge that this is man's attempt to articulate God's truth in creation of the human body. Holy Yoga teaches God's truth, independent of man's labels.
We know that yoga is a spiritual discipline much like fasting, meditation, and prayer that cannot be owned by one specific religion. While yoga predates Hinduism, they were the first to popularize the discipline of yoga by giving it written structure. The language originally given to yoga postures was in sanskrit. Holy Yoga teaches their instructors to teach in their native tongue.

Nothing in those three paragraphs receives the slightest substantiation. Where does the Bible talk about God's essence vibrating throughout creation, and where is the documentation about the vibrational sound of "Aum?" If it has been so documented, and is the vibration of God's essence, why  should Holy Yoga hesitate to use it, or use the Sanskrit names of the postures? And do they accept or deny the theory of chakras? Seems to me that they try hard to distance themselves from Hinduism, even as they accept its basic principles.

I could go on, but will save one of the biggest red flags for tomorrow.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Picture Imperfect: The Distortion Of Female Leadership

Women are not inferior to men, and Scripture affirms our equality. But God assigns us roles that, in complimenting each other, demonstrate Christ's relationship with His Bride, the Church. When women assume leadership positions over men in church or in  marriage, therefore, they distort this demonstration.

Put another way, the rise of women pastors illustrates how the visible church is rejecting the Lord's authority and presuming to dictate to  Him what Scripture should (or shouldn't) teach. That sounds perverted, and it actually is. As evangelicals follow mainstream churches in adopting liberal theologies that manipulate Scripture's fine doctrines into "less offensive" ideologies, we're essentially telling Jesus to pipe down and let us take control. think my comparison is a bit harsh? Well, look at some of the trends in 21st Century evangelical churches, especially as examined by some of the blogs featured on my blogroll. Do you not see the Church telling her Bridegroom that she has ideas on how she can make His message more tolerant, more inclusive, more marketable and more updated? Isn't that an attitude of pride? Of usurping His authority.

The Lord places men in leadership, not to oppress  or dominate women, but as a picture of His relationship with His Bride. He leads her, though He also cares for her sacrificially. He corrects her, though He turns His wrath from her. If He disciplines her, He does so for the purpose of allowing her to share His holiness. He structures godly churches (and godly marriages, for that matter) to be led by men who respect women while also understanding appropriate gender roles.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Changing Masks

As an addendum to yesterday's post, I wanted to show you a few samples of how I can use different colors (and even gradients) to achieve various  effects with masks.  I used the Flower Background mask. Using a black background and white top layer brought it back to my original mask, which any PSP user is welcome to download and save as a mask:
I tried a pink/lilac combination, which came out really pretty! I'm considering removing the outer part and using the flower by itself. Depends on how much effort I want to expend.
John's   favorite color is green, so I tried a white background and green top-layer. The result is bold, admittedly, but I rather like it, perhaps for a St. Patrick's Day card.

I next tried a gold gradient background with a white top layer, just to see what would happen, and the result was interesting. I can't decide whether I like it with this particular mask or not.
So I flipped the  layers, placing the gold gradient on top of a white background. I'm still not entirely sold, but it has possibilities.
I hope this blog post gives you an idea of why I create masks and how versatile they are.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Who Was That Mask Artist?

Last night and today have been dedicated largely to playing with Paintshop Pro, and specifically to making masks. The Corel Paintshop Pro X5 Help site explains masks this way:

Masks are grayscale raster layers that cover parts of the layers in your image, either completely or with varying levels of opacity. You can use masks to fade between layers, or to create special effects with precision. For example, you can mask the details around the main subject in a photo, or you can use a mask to create a fading navigation bar for a Web page.
Mask pixels display 256 shades of gray, with each shade corresponding to levels of opacity. White pixels show underlying layers, black pixels hide underlying layers, and gray pixels show varying amounts of underlying layers.
Mask layers cannot be the bottom layer in the image or in a layer group. If the mask layer is at the main level (rather than in a layer group), the mask applies to all layers below it in the stacking order. If a mask layer is in a layer group, it applies only to layers within the group that are lower in the stacking order.

I'm going to show you my results, using this portrait that I did several years ago as a focal point:

This first mask is my least favorite, so I doubt I'll ever use it. Maybe I will, but it's kind of funky and awkward.
This oval mask frame pleases me a bit more, even though it's not exactly as intricate as I wanted. I'm certain I'll use it a few times, though I look forward to improving on it in the future.
Okay, I really like this flower background mask,  which will definitely show up on my projects several times. I love its understated elegance.

By far, however, I like this wide square frame. It achieves the effect I wanted, and I think it will frame many things nicely.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Initial Ruminations On Women Pastors

Does Scripture really prohibit women from serving as pastors? Some people assert that the verses explicitly forbidding this practice were actually concessions to First Century culture, and therefore not commands from God. (Please note that "gay Christians" make the very same argument!) I won't attempt to compose a thorough refutation of this position in today's blog post, as my physical limitations won't permit me to do that much typing, but allow me to at least begin to address the question.

For openers, you need to know that I would love to be a pastor. Thankfully, my speech defect has kept that aspiration well beyond the realm of possibility. But as a writer and blogger, I frequently find myself struggling against the urge to teach, fully aware that men read my blog. I believe the Lord has shown me things in His Word, and has given me a passion to contend for the faith, but that He calls me to be "lady-like" in my presentation.

Although I feel a desire to preach and teach, I mustn't permit my desires to determine how I interpret Scripture. At times, I've felt called to teach the Bible (if only through writing). But the very Bible I desire to teach "limits" me to teaching women and children. Which is fine, except that I can't keep men from reading my blog. (In fact, I always ask my husband to read my posts immediately, wanting him to catch any errors I might make.)

It would be so comfortable for me, therefore, to accept the theories that the apostle Paul wrote under the constraints of a patriarchal society, and that the Lord approves of the "progress" women are making in breaking through cultural legalism to finally exercise our gifts with complete liberty. Certainly, I could then write actual sermons, expositing Scripture without fear of overstepping my bounds. The tension would cease.

And if I didn't have this speech impediment...

But the idea that anyone can disregard Scripture's prohibitions against women teaching men and having positions of ecclesiastical authority begs an even more troubling question. If Paul acquiesced to First Century culture on this matter, what other Biblical doctrines can we now discount? And if certain teachings of Scripture no longer have authority, is the Bible really God's Word? If not, why would anyone (of either gender) want to teach it anyway?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Christian Contender

Have you ever clicked the links on my blogroll? Some of the blogs are  just fun, but a majority deal with contending the faith. By "contending the faith" (a phrase from Jude 1:3), Christians generally mean arguing against errors and false teachings both without and within the Church that would undermine sound doctrine. Though the authors of these blogs are unquestionably more qualified and skilled at refuting aberrations in so-called Christian teaching, I share their deep concerns that liberal theology, pagan practices and hedonism are once again infiltrating churches.

I've been accused, as you might expect, of being divisive. That allegation sometimes muzzles me a bit because Scripture does condemn those who cause division. Interestingly, however, those warnings against causing division were originally intended for those who sought to introduce false teaching...not for those who had a concern for maintaining pure doctrine and biblical integrity!

Several years ago, I involved myself in a controversy regarding calling a woman to fill an assistant pastor position. I seriously considered the possibility that I was wrong in objecting to female pastors, causing me to seriously study the issue from both sides of the debate. As I looked at arguments supporting the ordination of women, however,  I couldn't help noticing how often they used the very same reasoning that pro-gay theology employs. From that point, I reasoned that God really does want men to be the leaders. Further study confirmed that, while the Lord gives women a wide variety of ministry opportunities, He reserves church leadership roles for men.

As I found evidence against hiring a woman as pastor, I emailed links to some friends directly involved in making the decision. As a result of sharing what I'd learned, the wife of the senior pastor confronted me for causing division. I meekly apologized and backed down.

Looking back on the incident, I believe the true division came from those who advocated for a woman pastor, wrenching Scripture out of context in order to support their desires. I stood for the Word of God. Thankfully, He intervened, and ultimately the church called a man to that pulpit. They decided, you'll be pleased to know, that calling a woman would...well, would be too divisive!

So, I'll risk being labeled as divisive as I stand against those things that would compromise the Church's integrity. Fidelity to God's Word trumps accommodation to culture. I will speak out in favor of Scripture, confident that the Holy Spirit speaks through it with an authority that transcends all culture and time. Though less accomplished than my fellow bloggers, I'm pleased to join them in contending for the faith.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Acting Outside The Blog

My afternoon got filled with activities that took priority over blogging. And that's okay, even though I had looked forward to following  up on what I  posted yesterday by getting into specifics. And there are so many specifics to address!

Yet, conversations and subsequent letters John and I needed to write dovetailed into the problem of Christians compromising with worldly values. We chose, in writing those letters, to make unpopular statements because we care about being faithful to the Lord's priorities rather than human strategies. We may offend people whom we love and respect, but we'd rather offend people than offend the Lord.

So, instead of blogging about taking a stand, I took a stand. I believe I did the right thing.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My Choice To Be Unpopular

Today, I read only a small portion of God's Word, though I took so many notes that I spent at least 90 minutes on the passage! I'm not telling you this in order to brag about any supposed devotion I have to studying Scripture. Indeed, I often fear I study very superficially, and not nearly as much as I could. As much as I do love and honor God's Word, I confess that reading it is pretty much a daily battle against my flesh. I can think of so many other things I'd rather do! Yet I know the Holy Spirit will speak to me as I open eSword on my computer and begin to read the ancient words that (as Hebrews 4:12 says) are still living and active.

This morning, however, the Holy Spirit surprised me, using a passage in 1 Kings 22 to clarify some of my thoughts concerning the liberal attitudes  creeping into most evangelical churches in the past 15 to 20 years. As you'll see momentarily, Micaiah faced the same pressure to twist God's Word into conformity to public pressure that present-day Christians face. Yet few of us in this age of political correctness are as willing as Micaiah was to resist the pressure in favor of faithfully speaking God's Word.

For three years Syria and Israel continued without war. But in the third year Jehoshaphat the king of Judah came down to the king of Israel. And the king of Israel said to his servants, “Do you know that Ramoth-gilead belongs to us, and we keep quiet and do not take it out of the hand of the king of Syria?” And he said to Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?” And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”
And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the Lord.” Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?” And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, “Bring quickly Micaiah the son of Imlah.” 10 Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah were sitting on their thrones, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria, and all the prophets were prophesying before them. 11 And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.’” 12 And all the prophets prophesied so and said, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.”
13 And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” 14 But Micaiah said, “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak.” ~~1 Kings 22:1-14 (ESV)
Micaiah could have easily joined the 400 false prophets (who were, essentially, yes men to King Ahab) and perhaps such self-protection might have even quelled Jehosaphat's sense that the Lord would not give Israel victory in Ramoth-gilead. (Jehosophat's reluctance to accept Ahab's prophets as representing the Lord intrigues me, but that point may be fodder for another day's blog post.) It took courage for Micaiah to go against such an overwhelming majority of prophets, thereby risking the king's displeasure, in favor of remaining faithful to God's Word.

In the 21st Century, Christians face a multitude of temptations to adjust God's Word to culture. Regarding issues such as cohabitation, abortion and homosexuality, there's an increasing trend of interpreting grace to mean that God doesn't hold us accountable for such behaviors...and may even bless them. A growing number of evangelicals, having learned to regard feelings, thoughts, impressions and experiences as God's voice, minimize the Bible's authority by adapting it to  these feelings, thoughts, impressions and experiences. After all, they tell us, no one has the right to question another person's spiritual experience.

The pressure to lighten up on Biblical Christianity now swells up within the very evangelical churches that claim to be Bible-believing and Spirit-filled. Seeking to appeal to young people, we trade theologically rich hymns for shallow "love songs to Jesus," we shorten sermons and make them more topical than expository, and we ignore all references to sin, repentance and hell. Like Ahab's 400 false prophets, we become yes men to a type of spirituality that opens itself to other forms  of expression, such as yoga and contemplative prayer. My goodness, some of us even embrace Oprah Winfrey as a Christian.

Micaiah, as I'll read tomorrow, failed to win popularity by telling Ahab what the Lord really had to say about a conquest of Ramoth-gilead, just as  I fail to win popularity by adhering to sound doctrine. Non-Christians call me intolerant. Professing Christians call me legalistic. But I know I must stand solely on God's Word, regardless of public opinion. If my flesh resists reading it each morning, I'll continue walking by the Spirit by choosing to open eSword to see what the Lord has to say!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Difference Between Girl Scouts And The Cheesecake Factory

A memorial service is happening at our church as I type. We had hoped to attend, but the cold weather has returned, making it a risk to our heath to go outside. I feel a bit guilty that we could go out to lunch for Valentine's Day, but we're missing the memorial today and church (for the fifth consecutive Sunday) tomorrow.

Of course the guilt feelings are completely irrational, since we're staying home solely because the cold weather threatens our health. Obviously, both of us would rather be at church today and tomorrow, as well as all the other Sunday's we've missed this winter, knowing that we need the fellowship. And they need us! We haven't chosen this season of separation from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Actually, this season has forced the separation on us. It happens every winter, and can be chalked up to living in New England and being disabled.

I know precisely where the guilt feelings come from, though. When I was 10, Mom allowed me to go to Girl Scouts on a day that I'd missed school because I'd felt sick. As a troop leader, Mom had to go to the meeting, and perhaps she thought taking me was better than leaving me with Granny and my sister. When she saw me prancing around in my walker, however, she wondered if she should have made me go to school. Had I faked being sick?

"From now on," she sternly informed me, "if you're too sick for school, you're too sick for anything else!"

So, 49 years later, my emotions tell me that, if we could go to The Cheesecake Factory and Target day before yesterday, we should be able to go to today's memorial service and tomorrow's church service. Never mind the more than ten degree drop in temperature and the rain and snow this weekend! Very seldom do emotions align with reason.

Missing this weekend's activities has nothing to do with skipping school only to play my heart out at Girl Scouts. This situation is completely different! When the weather warms up (which it soon will), we'll be more than thrilled to return to church. After all, we need the fellowship.

Friday, February 15, 2013

What's A Blogger To Do?

It's not that I have nothing to say. On the contrary, I can think of  a number of topics, from the theologically complex to the downright silly. I know, if nothing else, that I could concoct a not-too-shabby post based on the chapter I read in the Bible this morning, as well as comments I'd like to make on yesterday's conversation with a fellow wheelchair user. My mind is full, and therefore going in so many directions that I'm not sure how to harness it today.

Additionally, fewer people tend to read my blog on Fridays and Saturdays. That realization decreases my motivation, certainly. Yet not blogging at all lowers readership even more.

What's a blogger to do?

For better or for worse, I am a blogger. I don't know exactly when blogging passed from being an  extra-curricular hobby to my primary activity, but I take it seriously and hold myself accountable to be consistent. Legalism? Oh, I hope not! I don't think so, though I admit to having a legalistic bent to my personality (probably a by-product of my four years at a college founded by Roman Catholic nuns).

Yet, I'll process much of life these days by taking a thought, an idea or an experience and evaluating whether or not it would make a good blog post. That's not legalism; that's the heart of someone who loves blogging. I don't have to blog in the sense that I fear retribution if I skip a few days. Rather, I have to blog because I have words tumbling around my brain, demanding to be released onto a computer screen where they can entertain, teach or challenge an audience. If, in doing so, they bring people into  a better understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ, so much the better! But I can't not blog!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Improbable Treasure

Over the past twelve months, John had more brushes with death than I care to recount. So as Valentine's Day approaches, I feel grateful that he's celebrating with me again this year.

I wake up each morning with gratitude that my husband lays beside me. The first thing we say to each other is: "I love you." Yet it's never mechanical, spoken out of obligation and habit while our minds are really elsewhere. Both physically disabled for most of our lives, we spent decades struggling with the probability that neither of us could ever marry. Once the Lord did perform the miracle of making us man and wife, we recognized the need to treasure each other and to celebrate our improbable union.

This past year has intensified my gratitude for John. Each day we're together represents another demonstration of God's mercy in allowing me to have this wonderful man just a little longer, reminding me that John is a precious gift to be cherished and appreciated. More than ever, I understand how special John is, and what a shame it would be to take him for granted!

Tomorrow, as John and I go to The Cheesecake Factory for our Valentine's Day lunch, we'll think about the Lord's goodness and kindness in allowing us, not just to be married (which, in and of itself, is a wonderful miracle), but to be married to each other. Further, we'll rejoice that, despite everything his body has been through this past year, he's still with me. Truly, this Valentine's Day marks more than just hearts and flowers; it marks God's continued grace against more difficulties than we ever could have imagined.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Inept Guards And Cowrdly Grave Robbers

According to Scripture, the evidence for Christ's resurrection far outweighs any other theory. For instance, the most common theory, first presented by chief priests to an understandably nervous group of Roman soldiers, insisted that His disciples stole the body.

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. ~~Matthew 28:11-15 (ESV)

Verse 14 serves as the key to understanding why the disciples could not have taken Jesus' body from the tomb. Those soldiers had been appointed to guard Jesus' tomb precisely because the chief priests remembered Jesus' prediction that He would be raised from the dead. Fearing that the disciples might try to perpetuate the idea by taking His body out of the tomb, the chief priests had asked Govenor Pilate for heightened security.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. ~~Matthew 27:62-66 (ESV)

Notice the seal on the stone. It was the official seal of Rome, and the men guarding the tomb in Rome's name therefore had an obligation to ensure that no one tampered with it. Breaking this seal carried the  death penalty, both for the disciples and for the Roman soldiers. Matthew 28:14, then, demonstrates  that the chief  priests would find ways of appeasing Pilate if he got wind of the fabricated story that the disciples stole the body. But in actuality, the soldiers would have never allowed such a robbery to happen, being acutely aware that such negligence would require their execution.

In addition, it's crucial to bear in mind that the eleven disciples, at that point, were still terrified of being arrested because of their association with Jesus. All but John had fled from Him after His arrest. Although Peter tried to attend part of the trial, he vehemently denied knowing Him because he feared repercussions. These men, being such sniveling cowards, were hardly the sort to brazenly sneak past a full Roman guard, break a Roman seal and carry the Lord's body out of the tomb! Especially knowing that the Roman guard was expecting them! 

It's unreasonable to suppose that the disciples could have taken the body, given the above facts. Anyone believing that theory needs to explain why those soldiers, who knew their lives were on the line, did such a sloppy job of keeping their post. Additionally, that person would need to explain how such fearful men could attempt such a risky feat as stealing such a heavily guarded body. The resurrection makes infinitely more sense!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Apple Carts And Authenticating The Gospel

Just as I'd planned to offer a series of blog posts arguing for Christianity from sources apart from the Bible, Cripplegate's Mike Riccardi had to go and challenge my thinking with his February 8 blog post, Presuppositional Apologetics: An Evaluation. While I nurture the hope that my more serious readers will click the link and read the entire article for themselves, I'd better confess that I click links in other people's blogs only about 30% of the time. That character flaw of mine being the case, allow me to quote the portion of Riccardi's post that upset my apple cart, and then make a few comments on how I hope to reassemble my Granny Smiths:

Secondly, the presuppositional apologist has the advantage of never having to pretend that reality isn’t the way it is. Notwithstanding the unbeliever’s disagreement, from a purely objective standpoint, God actually does exist. He actually is who He says He is. He actually did create the world in six days. And the Bible actually is His infallible and inerrant Word. It is a good thing, therefore, to reason as if all of those things are actually true and not merely likely or probable.

Both evidentialism and classical apologetics require the apologist to (temporarily, and for the sake of argument) surrender presuppositions about the world that are actually true in order to have their discussions. This is surely an epistemological weakness. But it is also a practical weakness. Surrendering those presuppositions—especially that the Bible, as God’s revelation, is the starting point for knowledge—denies in practice what the apologist is aiming to prove; namely, that God exists and His Word is authoritative. The apologist should not deny by his methodology the very thing he desires to persuade his hearers to believe.

In fact, this is consistent with the way the Bible itself speaks about the existence of God and the integrity of His Word contained therein. Scripture is clear that God has not left these matters open for debate. God never presents Himself in Scripture as a proposition to be coolly evaluated and decided over. Nobody ever gets to tell God, “Wait a second, let me see if You really do exist.” He simply asserts, “I AM WHO I AM.” Trying to evaluate the evidence for God or for the veracity of Scripture apart from Scripture is an endeavor on the order of asking to measure a meter stick. We do not measure the instrument of measurement; it does the measuring.

How 'bout them apples? As I read that passage, my mind went back 41 years to a Bible Study I attended as a new Christian.  The teacher, an American Baptist minister with a zeal for teaching the Bible to hippies and teenagers who had come to the Lord through the Jesus  Movement of the 1970s, told us, "Just share the Word; God will speak through it." I held that bold confidence in Scripture for several years, even through the intellectual demands of college, confident in that pastor's assurance that Scripture is God's Word, whether or not a non-Christian accepts its authority.

Riccardi's post goes on to make the point that the non-Christians who argue that defending our faith by appealing to the Bible is circular reasoning fail to take into account that their own reasoning is just as circular.

For example, if I ask a rationalist for evidence for his credence in rationalism as an adequate theory of knowledge, he’s going to give me a reason. Or if I ask a naturalist for evidence for his credence in naturalism as an adequate theory of knowledge, he’s going to give me a summary of observable facts of nature. They’re turning to their “Bible,” if you will. But when they demand evidence of Scripture’s genuineness and we Christians give them a Bible verse, they shout, “Circular reasoning!” But that’s no more circular than what they do. It’s simply remaining consistent with one’s own epistemology.

See, rationalists appeal to reason as the source of knowledge. That’s what makes them rationalists. Naturalists appeal to nature as the source of knowledge. That’s what makes them naturalists. But Christians must appeal to the Scriptures as the source of knowledge. That is what makes us Christians. We should not, therefore, surrender what makes us distinctively Christian in our epistemology. Besides, if I’m trying to help an unbeliever understand that the Word of God is the supreme authority for the lives of all people, what higher authority could I appeal to in order to demonstrate that? There isn’t one!

Why should non-Christians intimidate us into using their presuppositions? Although the evidence for Christianity certainly finds credible support in scholarship beyond the pages of Scripture, that scholarship must remain a secondary validation. Since all Scripture comes from God the Holy Spirit, we Christians don't need the world's methods for authenticating it.

Perhaps Riccardi, instead of upending my apple cart, brought me back to the cart that I'd been taught to push as a teenager. How I've allowed myself to adopt a lesser apple cart sadly doesn't perplex me, because I've allowed myself to accept the delusion that I need a world that is blind to the things of God to legitimize my faith. Praise God for using Riccardi's blog post to remind me that  I can reason from Scripture with confidence.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Beyond The Blizzard

Thankfully, we got through the Blizzard of 2013 without losing power, so we were able to "reward" the friend from church who graciously spent the night (to give me personal care assistance) by showing her All About Eve with Bette Davis and Ann Bancroft. The time spent watching the DVD accounts for my neglect of blogging earlier today.

So, we'll postpone any involved post until a later time. This weekend is for relaxing and praising the Lord for taking care of us.

Friday, February 8, 2013

White And Gray Wishes

Sunday, when the blizzard passes into the record books and the Boston news channels return to speculation on what Republican could possibly run (with any chance of actually winning) for John Kerry's seat in the U.S, Senate, I hope to feel relaxed enough to continue blogging about why I believe in the Lord. But, not knowing when, or if, the power will go out as the winds increase, I'm reluctant to commit to typing anything that serious, only to lose it to a power outage.

When I was growing  up in California, I envied kids who lived in "snow country." Thoughts of snowball fights, sledding, and building snowmen with carrot noses filled my imagination, and seemed ever so much nicer than the plain gray rain of Bay Area winters. Now, those winters (with temperatures that barely brush down as low as the high 30s) seem really appealing. I guess I'm forgetting the flood of 1982 and the 32 consecutive days of rain in 1995. As I idealized New England winters in my childhood, today I'm idealizing winters in the Bay Area.

So, I'm sitting here,  not certain how long our electricity will last, thinking I'd better stop blogging in case (or before) we lose power. Hope to blog soon!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Appealing To Hard Evidence

Why am I certain that Jesus is God? Or that the Bible is true? Partly, just by faith. At least, that's what I would have answered ten years ago, basing my answer on my personal experience of reading the Bible as a teenager and sensing deep in my spirit that it was, in fact, true.

But an answer so subjective makes truth relative, validated by an individual's experience, desires and feelings rather than hard evidence. I once had a pastor who said (from the pulpit, no less!) "No one can argue with your experience," and I believe most people in our society bank on that very supposition. We assume our experience is authoritative, and therefore immune from questioning or examination. But if one person's experience says one thing, and another person's experience says quite the opposite, how can both be true? Both, admittedly, could be false, but there's only one true answer.

So, to properly defend my position that Christianity is the  one true worship of the one true God, I first appeal to the way courts judge evidence. Two or more witnesses are required to substantiate that a matter is true.

The requirement of two or more witnesses brings me to the various accounts of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Many people--some of whom had been at the cross three days before He rose--had interactions with Him. They ate with Him, they  touched His nail-scarred hands, they felt His breath and had conversations with Him. At one point, He appeared to over 500 men (see 1 Corinthians 15:7), many of whom were still available to be cross-examined when Paul wrote that letter.

The case is strengthened by contrasting the absolute cowardice of the disciples at Jesus' arrest and immediately after His crucifixion with the unmitigated boldness after He rose. Ten of the eleven (Judas, remember, committed suicide before the resurrection) suffered brutal executions for refusing to agree that they had fabricated the resurrection story, and John was exiled to a prison camp. Why would these otherwise cowardly men willingly suffer for a lie?

The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is simply the starting point for explaining why I'm convinced that Christianity is true. And I could go more in depth to demonstrate the evidences, though doing so would take several blog posts. Beyond the resurrection, I'd reason that the event authenticates everything Jesus said about Himself. And from there, I could show reasons for believing that the Bible is reliable as God's Word.

Many may, of course, reject whatever evidence I might offer, and that's up to them. But they'd have to admit that my faith stands grounded in more than my subjective personal experience. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Evidence Against Me

Suppose Christian activity became illegal in America. And, by the way, current misinterpretations of both Jefferson's "separation of Church and State" and the First Amendment could well lead to the outlawing of Biblical Christianity, especially for the purpose of advancing gay rights and protecting a woman's reproductive rights. If, then, the day came when public expression of your faith became a criminal offense, would there be evidence on your computer,  your tablet or your mobile phone to convict you of being a Christian? What about your Google+, Twitter and/or Facebook accounts? Or your blogs?

If online life  has such potential to get Christians in legal trouble, perhaps it's advisable to avoid mentioning the Lord online. Surely, one can blog about a wide variety of other matters, such as Paintshop Pro and jaunts into Boston. Tweets can  be alerts on what your dinner menu is or how much snow you got last night. Even if Christianity remains "safe and legal," it's still more comfortable to avoid the subject. After all, it can offend people.

Well, yes.

And Jesus had a habit of offending people, especially by claiming to be God and saying those who didn't follow His narrow way were destined to eternity in hell. From a human standpoint, those audacious, intolerant claims caused the Establishment to crucify Him.

His disciples, after His resurrection and the Pentecost event of the Holy Spirit empowering them to be Christ's witnesses, didn't comply with political officials who demanded their silence. Although they respected the laws of the land in general, when human law conflicted with God's command to teach all nations the Gospel and make disciples, they felt compelled to obey the Lord.

18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” ~~Acts 4:18-20 (ESV)

I enjoy blogging about my digital art, my Boston Adventures, and the Museum Of Fine Arts, and I certainly feel the liberty to post Facebook Status Updates about sports or my relationship with Greek yogurt (Chobani vanilla, in case anyone's wondering). But I can't keep the Lord off my computer for the same reason Peter and John couldn't stop talking about Him. He's so predominate in my life, and I'm so completely convinced that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) that I can't resist flooding my share of the Internet with Him. I know I'm leaving dangerous  evidence that could cause trouble for me. And  that's okay.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Darth Vader Religion

During a light-saber fight in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader tells Luke Skywalker, "I am your father." He then implores Luke to join him be coming over to the Dark Side. He tries to entice him by promising more power than the Jedi side of The Force offers.

As John and I watched the movie last night, Darth Vader's implication that he could offer Luke greater power than Obi-Wan Kenobi could reminded me of Satan's empty promises. If we'll just forsake Jesus (just a little--we can  keep enough Christianity to make us feel like we'll go to heaven), he'll give us more control and satisfaction than we could ever hope to enjoy by following Jesus. We can take charge of our destiny, simply by teaming up with him.

Satan understands that his desire for equality with God cost him eternity in heaven, and that he's ultimately destined for destruction. In his perversion, he wants to take as much of mankind with him as he can. So he twists minds with subtle intimations that he can give us prestige, power and pleasure that the Lord would withhold.

Even worse, he'll create a false Jesus--a puppet in Jesus' outward likeness through whom he'll twist Scripture to again make deceptive offers that stroke our egos and excite our lusts. Although he appears to be "an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14), he's still calling us to "the Dark Side" with counterfeit assurances of deeper spirituality or greater experiences of power. If we  won't follow him with a straight-forward rejection of Jesus, his imitation Jesus can be frightfully effective in luring us away from the truth.

Luke Skywalker could have accepted his father's offer of co-regency over their galaxy, but he knew better. He trusted all Obi-Wan and Yoda had taught him, just as Christians must trust Scripture, especially in the face of Satan's lies. After all, the actual promises of God give us ever so much more than Satan would.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sputtering And Fuming 49ers Fans

Of course last night's game disappointed me, though not as badly as it might have if the 49ers hadn't come back in the second half. After the game, we phoned the Associate Pastor of our church, who's a devoted Raven's fan, offering heartfelt congratulations. Because I love this pastor, I had resolved to be happy for him if his team won. To my surprise, that resolution came much more easily than I thought it would. And rejoicing with him dissipated my disappointment considerably.

Today, after looking at various comments about the game on Facebook, I'm disappointed  in the lack of sportsmanship that some 49ers fans exhibit. Granted, certain calls the referees made seem questionable, but the Ravens did play well, and a failure to acknowledge their accomplishment shows a mean spirit.

Perhaps society has forgotten how to win and lose graciously. What a sad prospect! Yet, shouldn't sports teach both players and fans to congratulate winners and compliment losers on a game well played? I was brought up with that ethic, and try to keep such attitudes. I'm very competitive, mind you, and I don't like losing, but I understand that good character, not a high score, is the truly important thing. As a matter of fact, I was always taught that character development was the true purpose of sports competitions.

I wonder if the grumbling and anger among some of my fellow 49er Faithful grieves the Lord. Oh, those who don't claim to know Christ can sputter and fume to their hearts' content without bothering me (though many of them have impressed me today by choosing the high road). But a few Christians, rather than applauding the Ravens' accomplishments (such as Jacoby Jones' 108 yard touchdown), are gorging themselves on sour grapes. Does the Lord take pleasure in their rancor?

Football is only a game. But like most trivial pursuits, it can expose hearts, therefore turning something that really ought to remain in the realm of triviality into something of great consequence. For those unable to say "good game" to opponents with a sincere heart, I'd ask you to offer your heart to the Lord for His review. Ask Him to show you the cause of your anger. Then exchange that anger for a willingness to rejoice with those who rejoice. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Sort-Of, But Faithful, Fan

Sports pretty much bore me, though I enjoy supporting teams. Since moving to New England from the San Francisco Bay Area, I've developed a fairly passionate love for the Red Sox, and I don't mind rooting for the Bruins and the Celtics.

Ah, but when it comes to football, I'll always be a 49er Faithful! I remember the glory days of Joe Montana, followed by the  almost as glorious Steve Young. Not that I was actually a serious fan, because I don't understand the game and get somewhat bored actually watching it. Yet, I love the idea of the 49ers, and I've been euphoric all season as I've heard reports that they were doing well.

Two weeks ago John watched the nail-biting Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons, shouting scores to me from the bedroom as I monitored Facebook updates from my friends back home. During the final minutes of the game, I drove my power wheelchair into the bedroom, tense from the knowledge that the Falcons were frightfully close to a touchdown that could keep the 49ers from the Superbowl. Thankfully, the Niners kept them from moving while the clock ran down, and I smiled for days, gloating unabashedly.

In a little more than two hours, the Superbowl begins, and I'm looking for a win. This is one game I fully intend to watch!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Revolutionary Wife

While Abigail Adams' outright rejection of the Trinity keeps her from being my spiritual role model, I've long admired the way she supported her husband John. Often, as he spent long years away from their homes in Braintree (the portion now known as Quincy) Massachusetts, she managed his farms, his children and much of their finances with  skill and competence, allowing him to actively work for American independence from England and to help build a new nation.

Admittedly, at times she complained. And her complaints were understandable, particularly during the many years that he was away in the Netherlands and England with their eldest son, John Quincy. For instance. on December 27, 1778, she opened her letter to her husband by writing:

How lonely are my days? How solitary are my Nights? Secluded from all Society but my two Little Boys, and my domesticks, by the Mountains of snow which surround me I could almost fancy myself in Greenland. We have had four of the coldest Days I ever knew, and they were followed by the severest snow storm I ever knew remember, the wind blowing like a Hurricane for 15 or 20 hours renderd it imposible for Man or Beast to live abroad, and has blocked up the roads so that they are impassible.
A week ago I parted with my Daughter at the request of our [Plymouth] Friends to spend a month with them, so that I am solitary indeed.
Can the best of Friends recollect that for 14 years past, I have not spent a whole winter alone. Some part of the Dismal Season has heretofore been Mitigated and Softned by the Social converse and participation of the Friend of my youth.
How insupportable the Idea that 3000 leigues, and the vast ocean now devide us -- but devide only our persons for the Heart of my Friend is in the Bosom of his partner. More than half a score years has so rivetted it there, that the Fabrick which contains it must crumble into Dust,e'er the particles can be seperated.
"For in one fate, our Hearts our fortunes
And our Beings blend."
     (Spelling, grammar and capitalization are as she wrote, and in accord with 18th Century standards.)

Naturally, this brief blog post isn't conducive  to offering even a condensed biography of Abigail Adams. Rather, I simply wish to express my admiration for the personal sacrifices she made for the establishment of our country. She loved her husband so intensely, and yet so unselfishly, that she let him pursue his passion even though it cost her the joy and comfort of being with him.

Several weeks ago, John and I spent some time in Quincy, where we visited the statue depicting  Abigail Adams and young John Quincy Adams as they rushed up Penn's Hill to gaze across Boston Harbor at the smoke and fire created by the Battle of Bunker Hill. I leave you with a photo John took of me with the statue:

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Power Of Coupling Comfort And Fear

As I read Acts 9 this morning, verse 31 caught my attention:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. ~~Acts 9:31 (ESV)

Yes, the Holy Spirit's comfort promoted church growth, but His comfort coupled itself with the fear of the Lord.   This fear has nothing to do with a possible revoke of salvation; those who are genuinely saved cannot lose or forfeit the precious gift of salvation which Jesus purchased for them on the cross. But His actions of slaying Ananias and Sapphira (as Luke recounted in Acts 5) because of their self-serving spiritual hypocrisy had taught them that God's grace didn't negate His desire for holiness among His people. Although His Spirit most assuredly comforted them with promises of God's mercy, grace and forgiveness, the Lord also demanded that they respect His hatred of sin. Comfort and fear worked in cooperation with each other.

The balance between comfort and fear reminds me of my childhood relationship with my mother. When I was hurting, physically or emotionally, I found shelter in her. She had only to stroke my forehead to banish my anxieties. Even now, at times of stress, I dial her phone  number and the mere sound of her voice (with its almost imperceptible Southern accent) offers solace.

Yet, especially as I neared adolescence, nothing terrified me as much as much as my teacher calling her to report my misbehavior. He could inflict any punishment he wanted on me, and I didn't mind, but that look of disapproval on Mom's face tore me to the core. Although I knew she still loved me and wouldn't reject me, I feared her in a way that (at least sometimes) curbed my rebellious behavior.

Professing Christians in the 21st Century emphasize  God's compassion, grace and acceptance, but do so in a manner that ignores--and sometimes even repudiates--the command to fear Him. 

As we wonder why our pews grow empty and our efforts at evangelism fall flat, perhaps we should consider the possibility that the comfortable caricature of God we present doesn't command anyone's attention. Milquetoast generally offers little nourishment and even  less flavor.  The early church, in contrast to our present day church, saw a comforting Father Who also inspired them to fear Him. And their numbers multiplied.


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