Symbols: The Cross

There has been a lot of hubbub in the news lately about crosses. First, there has been the huge debate about the cross on the Indian reserve. More recently, Penn State has received criticism that some t-shirts they are selling to students too closely resemble a cross. Why all of this antagonism towards the simple symbol known as the cross? I think that is because the vast majority of people clearly recognize it as that symbol which represents Christianity. Much like the Yin-Yang is representative of Taoism or the Om is representative of Hinduism and the like. Is this the only meaning the cross has? Absolutely not, the cross has had numerous and varied meanings throughout the centuries; but the fact remains that the cross is almost universally associated with Christianity.

Why is the cross so important in Christianity? It is because the cross is symbolic of the hope that is present in the lives of Christians. The hope Christians have in their lives is that they will join God in heaven for all eternity because of the work that was accomplished by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion on a Roman Cross. Titus 3:4-7 speaks this clearly:
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
The cross symbolizes and is a reminder of the sacrificial death of Christ. It was through his death on the cross that Christ paid the price for our sins in order that he could grant salvation to those who would accept it (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 6:23). For this reason, we are commanded to daily take up our cross and follow him.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it—Matthew 16:24-26 (Also see, Mark 8:34-35 and Luke 9”23-24).
Jesus clearly commanded that those who would follow him must take up their cross and follow him. Some other similar places Jesus said this is in Matthew 10:38, “and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” and Luke 14: 27, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” This statement by Jesus has confused many Christians. There is always the question of what does take up your cross and follow me mean? Before one can truly understand this, there has to be an understanding of what the cross was to Christ. The cross was not a punishment. Pontius Pilate even stated that he saw no reason to have Jesus crucified (Luke 23:13-14). In fact, Jesus could have prevented even being brought before Pilate. When the high priest and the Sanhedrin Council were interrogating him, he answered only one question. Matthew 26:63-66 records the question the high priest asked, Jesus’ answer, and the response of the Council:

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered.
Jesus could have simply answered, “No, I am not the Christ, the Son of God. You have the wrong guy. I am just a teacher (or prophet), but I ain’t God.” If Jesus had answered in that manner, they would have had no choice but to let him go free. However, Jesus answered the question in the affirmative. He declared that he was the Christ, the Son of God and with that answer began his journey to the cross.

Jesus chose the cross; it was his mission, his purpose for coming to earth. It was an expression of his love for us. Jesus made it clear that no one would take his life from him, but that he would lay his life down (John 10:11, 15, 17-18). One of the commands Jesus gave his disciples several times was to love one another. In John 15:12-13 and 1 John 3:16, this love is further explained by Jesus when he says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is exactly what Christ did. He laid down his life for us, so that we might live (1 John 4:9).

So how do we take up our cross and follow him? Jesus made this clear as well. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” and then he followed up this statement by explaining in John 14:21“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” The way we take up our cross and follow him is through obedience to his commands. Our obedience to his commandments expresses our love and devotion to him. Furthermore, 1 John 5:3 makes it clear that his commands are not burdensome. In other words, Christ has not given us commandments for the purpose of making us miserable or commandments that he knows we could never keep. He gives them to us as a parent who loves and protects their own child by giving them rules such as “don’t play in the street,” “don’t touch the stove,” “eat your vegetables,” etc.

So we daily take up our cross as we daily strive to live our lives in obedience to the principles and directive contained in the Word of God, the Holy Bible. But before a person can begin to take up their cross, before a person can begin to understand the hope that Christians have, they must have a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
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Remember Ida?


In May 2009, earlier this year, a huge story broke about a new fossil discovery. The fossil’s name was Darwinius masillae—or better known as Ida. There was a great number of news and science agencies heralding this discovery as a “missing link” between humans and lemur like primates—such as National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, and even some European news agencies like The Sun. Ida even had its own website—revealingthelink.com.

While there were many who were proclaiming that Ida was such an important find in regard to human evolution, there was also a fair amount of scientists who doubted that Ida beared out what was being claimed.

Now, several leading scientific journals and news agencies are reporting that Ida is nowhere close to being a link in the human evolutionary chain. Nature, Science, MSNBC, ABC, and the BBC are all running articles decrying Ida as a missing link.

There is something that bothers me about all this. When Ida was being reported as a “missing link,” the main stream media picked up the story and ran with it. Now, I am willing to bet that Ida will barely get a mention in the ticker on the bottom of the screen. Why? Because reporting that scientists have found a “missing link” is a much better story for ratings than reporting that scientists were wrong. I hope I am wrong. I hope the main stream media will report this late developing part of the story as well. The reason I say this is that I fear many years ahead of people proclaiming that sceintists have shown that humans evolved from apes and asking, “Don’t you remember that fossil they discovered named Ida?”

Do you think the main stream media will report this part of the Ida story?

Am I wrong about the years to come and people still believing Ida is a “missing link”?
What'd you think? 


Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Before I can answer the question of whether or not Christians should celebrate Halloween, I must tell you about the holiday and its meaning. Halloween originates from the ancient Celtic celebration known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in). This celebration marked the end of the summer and the beginning of the winter. It was celebrated on the winter solstice, which was usually on or around October 31st.

The Celts believed that on this night, the barrier between the spirit world and the physical world became extremely thin. So thin, in fact, that spirits could “cross over” into the physical realm. Because the spirits were believed to be wondering the physical realm, it was also believed that this time brought with it an increase of magic. The Druid priests would practice divination and make predictions about the next year. These predictions would then be spread around the village that night. This has been suggested to be a possible origin for the modern tradition of telling ghost stories on Halloween.

Huge bonfires were lit around the villages in order to scare off those spirits that might be evil or have malevolent intentions. It is believed this tradition brought about the association of bats with the holiday because mosquitoes and other flying insects would have been attracted to the light of the fires and these insects would have attracted bats. In addition to lighting the bonfires, the villagers left food and sweets on their steps for the spirits that would be wondering the night.

As the Roman Empire grew, it would eventually come to encompass the Celtic regions. The Romans were notorious syncretists—meaning they would combine the religion of other nations with their own religious beliefs. At almost the same time of year, the Romans held their own celebration to the goddess Pomona—the goddess of gardens and fruit. The apple was often used as a symbol of Pomona. As the Romans began combining their harvest festival to Pomona with Samhain, the tradition of candied apples and bobbing for apples began to take shape.

The changing and molding of Samhain didn’t stop there. Pope Gregory III is believed to be the originator of the celebration known as All Saints Day, which is celebrated on November 1. Pope Gregory had an interesting philosophy when it came to dealing with pagans and attempting to convert them. He is often credited as saying, “If you come across pagans worshiping a tree, do not cut the tree down and tell them their error. Rather, consecrate the tree to Christ and urge them to continue meeting there.” All Saints Day was also known as All Hallows Day and, therefore, October 31 became All Hallows Eve. It was only a short trip from All Hallows Eve to Halloween.

Halloween in America, however, has had plenty of ups and downs. It basically went extinct during the Great War. However, it came back with a fury in the 50’s and 60’s. This also marked the commercialization of the holiday in America. Costumes, candy, and decorations are all items most Americans deem essential to properly celebrating Halloween. The selling of these items makes Halloween only second to Christmas in terms of revenue and retail sales.

So has Halloween become and innocent night of fun? To many Americans that is certainly the case. Most people don’t know the origins of Halloween and to these people it is simply a night to let loose and have fun. However, some of the traditions ingrained into the very essence of Halloween go against the very core of the Bible.

In the Old Testament, Leviticus 19: 26 and 19:31 expressly forbid participation in acts of divination, witchcraft, or magic: Deuteronomy 18:9-14 likewise condemns these things:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so.
The New Testament also condemns these actions in Galatians 5:19-21.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Revelation 21:8 and 22:15 are among other passages that condemn participation in witchcraft, sorcery, divination, etc.

Here lies the crux of the matter. To participate in the full celebration of Halloween is for a Christian to align his/her self with that which is opposed to Scripture. Going back to Pope Gregory’s quote might help clarify what I mean. It is usually most unhelpful to chop the tree down because those who worshiped it will view you as hostile and refuse to listen to anything you try to tell them. However, simply consecration the tree to Christ means nothing to them. If a Christian truly wants to change them, he/she must get them to abandon the tree of their own accord and accept Christ.

I think this is the spirit of many Halloween Alternatives that churches now offer. However, I think many churches fail to demonstrate and offer Christ to those who attend these events. The population simply sees it as an endorsement by churches of the holiday. In other words, people often see this as the church in essence saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, might as well join ‘em.”

At the same time, I think it is a huge opportunity to demonstrate the love and care of the local church to the community and to offer a safe way for families to celebrate the holiday together. Our church does offer a Halloween Alternative and has for years. While many other churches in our area also offer alternatives, our church’s is quite different. It does not attempt to simply Christianize the holiday. We simply make an atmosphere that people will enjoy, while extending an invitation to attend our church and purposely sharing the gospel in several ways (actively and passively). I am not declaring that this is the only way to handle Halloween as a Christian, but I believe it is one of the best ways to honor and glorify God on a night that represents so much of what is opposed to God. I think this principle is also demonstrated in the Bible.

When the Apostle Paul entered Athens, he spent time observing their culture. He observed how and who/what they worshiped. After he had taken time to understand their beliefs, he didn’t go to them and begin declaring that they worshiped gods that didn’t exist (i.e. chopping down the tree). However, he also didn’t go in and simply tell them that they had the wrong name (i.e. consecrating the tree to Christ). He used their own beliefs to begin sharing with them the gospel.

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you—Acts 17:22-23, NIV.
So should Christians celebrate Halloween? If that means that they participate in the “spirit” of the holiday, absolutely not. However, to condemn those who celebrate it because they do not know Jesus Christ or what the Bible has to say about it is wrong. Christians are supposed to be representative of Chris and beacons of light. Halloween is a celebration marked by darkness and we should be reaching out with the true light—Jesus Christ. So find a way to be a messenger of light without participating in the darkness.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible…Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil—Ephesians 5:8-16.

What are some ways that you or your church reaches out with the gospel on Halloween?
What'd you think? 


Ardi: The Missing Link? (Part 2)

"The fossil evidence Darwin could only have dreamed of..."

In my previous post, I covered a few points about the documentary titled “Discovering Ardi” that aired on the Discovery Channel this past Sunday evening, October 11, 2009. In that post I gave a brief summary of the research that has taken place over the roughly 15 years since its discovery. The documentary was two hours in length and probably could have covered all of the information in about one hour. That aside, the first half of the documentary details out Ardi’s discovery and research while the second half is mainly devoted to Ardi’s public relations preparation.

The research team hired J.H. Matternes to sketch out Ardi’s skeleton. One problem here is that they don’t have a complete skeleton. They have a partial skeleton which lacks most of the central structure. The hands feet and skull comprise the majority of Ardi’s fossil remains. There is only part of the pelvis and essentially no upper torso fossil bones. This means that Mr. Matternes had to fill in the gaps when he was creating the sketch of Ardi’s skeleton. This is where some other statements in the documentary bothered me.

Owen Lovejoy, the project biologist made a statement concerning J.H. Matternes, which is as follows:

He is the equivalent of a super-computer, into which years and years of primate structure have been poured and recorded and out of which comes an almost perfect image.
Following this comment by Lovejoy, Matternes said, “My job is to interpolate from what is there and what is missing.” Then Lovejoy adds:

We can take something like a partial foot and describe and interact with him (Matternes), as to what’s present, what’s missing and then based on our joint anatomical knowledge, replace the missing part.
What really bothers me about this is that an hour was just spent describing how Ardi was completely astounding in physical structure, that she was unlike anything they had before seen. Matternes and Lovejoy may have years of familiarity with primate anatomy, but they are completely unfamiliar with what Ardi’s missing skeletal anatomy might have been. It seems to me that they assume too much in their ability to “fill in the gaps.” For example, if Ardi’s feet would not have been discovered, would they have sketched them the same? Almost certainly not. I understand their desire to try and complete the picture, but the statement that Matternes can produce “an almost perfect image” and that using their knowledge they can “replace the missing part” is going beyond what the evidence can bear.

Then there was an interesting point brought out towards the very end of the documentary. Owen Lovejoy stated:

As we track humans back through time into the fossil record and all of our individual special characteristics begin dropping out, when you get to the very bottom, it is simply bipedality that becomes the defining character of being human.
He also noted that bipedality “is a terrible form of locomotion.” Owen Lovejoy is most certainly correct that bipedality is not the fastest or most efficient method of locomotion. The documentary really emphasized bipedality as the defining characteristic of humans also. What really bothered me is the lack of honesty in this statement. Humans are not the only animal that walks upright on two legs. Therefore, the statement that bipedality is the only thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom is simply not the case. What about Ostriches. Do they not use bipedality as their form of locomotion? Emus, closely related to Ostriches also use bipedality as their method of locomotion. Kangaroos use bipedality as their primary form of locomotion. There are other animals that use bipedality at times, such as penguins when they are on land. Before someone comments on this, I also realize that humans are the only animals that walk completely upright, but we aren’t the only ones that use bipedality.

One question that I know many people are asking is why did it take them 15 years to release this information if it was so revealing and ground breaking? The answer is not extremely simple. One reason is the public relations campaign that had to be prepared. They couldn’t simply release the research. They needed accompanying sketches and digital renditions of Ardi in her habitat.

Another reason is the condition of the bones. They were so fragile that the researchers removed them with clumps of dirt in plaster molds. Then in the controlled setting of a lab, they slowly and carefully removed the fossil bones from the dirt. After they were removed from the dirt, they then had to be reconstructed because of the poor condition of the fossils. The article published in the 2 October 2009 edition of Science. written by Ann Gibbons noted this very problem:

It was the find of a lifetime. But the team's excitement was tempered by the skeleton's terrible condition. The bones literally crumbled when touched. White called it road kill. And parts of the skeleton had been trampled and scattered into more than 100 fragments; the skull was crushed to 4 centimeters in height. The researchers decided to remove entire blocks of sediment, covering the blocks in plaster and moving them to the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa to finish excavating the fossils.
In short, the fossils are in such bad condition that many researchers are skeptical that it can be claimed with any measure of confidence that Ardi walked bipedaly. Ann Gibbons notes this point too in her article, “However, several researchers aren't so sure about these inferences. Some are skeptical that the crushed pelvis really shows the anatomical details needed to demonstrate bipedality.” Who are these skeptical researchers? Paleoanthropologist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri, Columbia; Paleoanthropologist William Jungers of Stony Brook University in New York; Paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

If that’s not enough to make someone skeptical, then consider this tidbit also from the Science article:

By March of this year, Suwa was satisfied with his 10th reconstruction. Meanwhile in Ohio, Lovejoy made physical models of the pelvic pieces based on the original fossil and the CT scans, working closely with Suwa. He is also satisfied that the 14th version of the pelvis is accurate.
They went through 14 versions of the pelvis and then want everyone to believe they have solid evidence that Ardi represents the connection between humans and chimp/ape primates. I think Ardi is destined to go the way of Ida as far as sensational “missing link” claims are concerned.

What'd you think? 


Ardi: The Missing Link? (Part 1)

"The fossil evidence Darwin could only have dreamed of..."


I was finally able to sit down and watch the "Discovering Ardi" special last night. It was a very interesting documentary on the work that was accomplished over a period of more than a decade. There were several things which were discussed or stated in the documentary that I would like to address. Before I get into those things, a little background on this discovery is in order.

The full name of the fossil discovered is Ardipithecus Ramidus. It was discovered in Ethiopia in the Middle Awash area. They began discovering some teeth and small bone fragments from many different individuals. How they determined they were different individuals was not mentioned in the documentary. Then they began to discover fragments from the same individual. All of the bones were extremely fragmented and very delicate, to the point that the researchers cemented the bones together and lifted them out in plaster castes. Several years of excavation were conducted before recovering all of the bones which comprise the partial female skeleton that is the current topic of discussion. The researchers then began the painstaking work of removing the bones from the surrounding matrix (dirt) being careful not to damage the bones. They also transported the bones to Japan where they were scanned by a CT machine allowing them to create extremely accurate digital renderings of the bones. The researchers then hired J.H. Matternes to create full-scale reproductions of the fragments. Matternes then drew a complete skeleton followed by a skeleton covered with muscle and then skin, hair, etc. Owen Lovejoy, the project biologist then went to a company to have them create digital videos of how Ardi might have walked and moved through the terrain.

I must state that I think the researchers were very thorough in their work. From watching the documentary, it did not appear that this was hurried or that they were looking to make this “the missing link.” However, some statements made in the documentary caused me to question their conclusions. First, project paleontologist Tim White stated:
“Hominids are incredibly rare. They were rare on the landscape. They had very long life-spans, so few of them die and end up with carcasses on the landscape. They are very smart, smarter than most mammals so you don’t find very many of them trapped in the sediments. So they are extremely rare.”
Few of them die and end up with carcasses on the landscape. ..I don’t think he really thought through his statement here, because I’m sure that he would agree if I asked him if all animals eventually die. This puts one hole in his statement concerning why hominids are rare. They didn’t keep living forever or we would be finding them alive today. To be fair, I don’t think that is exactly what he meant. However, the point is still the same—it doesn’t matter if they lived 150 years or 50 years, they would all eventually die. He also claims that they were smarter than most mammals. The problem I have is that this is an assumption inferred back onto hominids because we as Homo sapiens are extremely intelligent and Tim believes that we evolved from hominids. Please hear me, I am not arguing against the point that we evolved from hominids, but I am arguing against this intelligence assumption. We don’t know how smart they were because it cannot simply be inferred from brain size.

The bones did not contain any material useful for dating the bones themselves. To explain how they dated Ardi to 4.4 million years ago, Yohannes Haile-Selassie a project paleontologist explained:
“We don’t really date the bones themselves, so we rely on geologists to give us dates for the rocks that are above and below the fossils that we are finding.”

How do they date these rocks? There were two volcanic rock bands, one above and one below the location they discovered the fossil. They then take samples from these bands and measure the amount of argon gas built up in the rocks. From this they can determine the age of the rocks. I am not familiar with this type of dating. It sounds very interesting and I will be researching this and learning more about it. One interesting point however, the two different tests came back to essentially the same date. At this point, I would think they might have asked to have the tests repeated because there was a lot of sediment between the two bands, several feet of sediment.

I will continue to make more posts on this documentary and fossil find. If you weren’t able to catch the special when it aired this past Sunday night (October 11, 2009), the Discovery Channel has the entirety of it on their website in small clips.

Click Here to Read Part 2

What'd you think? 


Book Review: Setting Up Stones

Greg and Martha Singleton. Setting Up Stones: A Parent’s Guide to Making Your Home a Place of Worship. Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2008, 158 pp.

This book is aimed at helping parents make worship a regular part of the home. There are two sections in the book. The first section covers some of the philosophy of why worship is an important aspect of family life in the home. The second section covers some of the practical ways that worship can be created around typical family events like holidays, birthdays, etc.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I found myself thinking of how I could help to improve my family’s worship as I went through the different chapters. The book presents the material in a very straightforward and easy to understand format. It was also very easy to read. The chapters were not too long or uneven. I found it easy to comfortably read through a chapter in 10 or 15 minutes. There were some features of the book that I really enjoyed. Hints, tips, and ideas the authors provided were placed on the edge of the page and set apart in a shaded area. After reading through a book like this it is nearly impossible to absorb all of the information. These sections will allow easy reference in the future to an idea you might remember but don’t know the exact chapter or page on which it was located. Another feature that will help accomplish the same goal is an activity index contained in the back of the book. The index lists all those hints, tips, and ideas that are contained in the sidebars in one location sorted by different categories such as “Bible Focus,” “Physical Activity,” “Creative Arts,” etc.

I think any family looking to make worship a regular part of their family’s life or just looking to improve upon their family’s worship together should read this book. I am sure I will be referencing it in the years to come. You can purchase this book at Amazon.com or the WMU.
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Have we finally found the missing link?

The Discovery Channel is going to be airing a program titled "Discovering Ardi" this Sunday evening at 9:00 PM ET. This is the latest fossil hailed as evidence shoring up evolution and one more piece of the puzzle from apes to upright bipedal humans.

Obviously I am not posting a critique of the show as it has not yet aired, but I wanted to make all of you aware of it in case you might be interested in watching it. I am recording the show to watch later that evening or Monday evening and I will post my own thoughts and reflections on it after I have a chance to watch it. Look forward to some possible discussion on it with all of you.
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Religious Hairdos???

There are some passages in the New Testament that a lot of Christians struggle with. The first one is 1 Timothy 2:9: I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes. The other passage is 1 Corinthians 11:6: If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. These two passages have been interpreted to mean that women should never cut their hair nor braid it. This is what has given way to the common “look” of women in the Apostolic and Pentecostal churches. By common I mean that when you see them in public, you can identify them by their hairstyles (in combination with their attire). Paul wrote both of these passages. He wrote them to two different audiences, but with the same goal in mind.

The Corinthian church was having a lot of problems. The wealthier members were using the Lord’s Supper as a time for gluttony and drunkenness while the poorer members went hungry (1 Corinthian 11:20-21). There were divisions in the church over whom they were going to “follow,” Paul or some one else (1 Corinthians 3:4). There was rampant sexual immorality—to the degree that they were celebrating that one of the members was sleeping with his mother or possibly stepmother (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). There were members suing one another (1 Corinthians 6:7-8). The list continues to go on with the wrongs that were taking place in the Corinthian congregation. The issue being addressed in Chapter 11 was worship. They were not conducting worship appropriately. Apparently, the members were bringing in pagan worship practices into the worship of the church. Not in an overt way, but in a very subtle way—the women were dressing and acting like the priestesses in the local temples. In other words, they didn’t have an identical worship service to that of the pagans, but they had held on to some aspects of the pagan worship practices that “really weren’t that bad.” Paul is simply reminding Timothy, his companion in ministry, about this principle in 1 Timothy 2:9.

We often miss these things as we read the New Testament because the actual worship practices of many of these idols are no longer practiced today. They are not just a foreign concept, but an absent concept. An article in the Huffington Post has recently shed a little light on these passages regarding hairstyles. The article contains several pictures of “religious hairstyles” and what their significance is. It is a rather interesting article that I would encourage everyone to go an LOOK AT.

The article demonstrates that the Bible isn't against hairstyles "just cause." Often times hairstyles can carry a very specific religious meaning, one which could be counter to the commands of God.
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Is Christianity Based on a Myth?

Last week I posted “Jedism: Latest Up and Coming Religion?” It was somewhat of a funny tongue-in-cheek post. I would like to address an anonymous comment that was left which stated:

LOL, the Jedi religion has existed the same way all the other religions have existed. Made up of bits and pieces of other religions. Just like christianity was cobbled together from other older religions.

This commenter made a claim against Christianity that is gaining popularity. Mainly that Jesus Christ the man never actually existed, but that he is simply a copycat of several other god predecessors. This notion has really only gained popularity recently in large part due to the Internet film Zeitgeist. I asked the commenter how they reached the conclusion that Christianity was “cobbled together” but have received no response yet. If the reader reached his conclusion based on the same method as that used in Zeitgeist (as I suspect is the case), then there are many problems with making this statement as though it is fact.
There are several claims in Zeitgeist that are completely and utterly wrong. The composer of the film states that several other gods are born on December 25th just as Jesus is born on that date. Problem: Jesus was not born on December 25th. This is a fact that has been known for hundreds of years. The Bible indicates that Jesus was born in the spring. This is a point brought out recently in the book Shocked by the Bible—specifically chapter 1.

There are a number of claims that follow this suite. The claim is essentially that Jesus is just a conglomeration of aspects of other gods. Things such as having twelve disciples, being resurrected, being born of a virgin, etc. are all cited as having predecessors in early “myth gods.” The argument is, therefore, that Jesus is just another in the long line of myth-based gods.

Rather than go point-by-point through the problems in this movie (and there are many), I would like to give you links to some other excellent websites that have already addressed the problems in this film.

Christian Websites:
STR.org
STR.org
STR.org
Always Be Ready
Apologetics 315
Centre for Public Christianity (VIDEO)

Atheist Websites:
Debunking Christianity
The Atheist Experience
The Lippard Blog

Neutral Websites:
Conspiracy Science
What'd you think? 


Serious Spirituality

There was an article last week in the Huffington Post by Jay Michaelson titled Will Spirituality Ever Be Serious? It is an intriguing piece that deserves looking at in full. The purpose of this article by the author is to point out two reasons that spirituality is viewed in a poor light and then offer some ways to correct this.

First, I need to point out that Jay Michaelson makes a distinction between spirituality and religion. Most Christians wouldn’t really see a difference between these two. From what I read in his article the difference between the two mainly seems to revolve around the notion that religion requires some form of regular attendance at a Church, Synagogue, Mosque, etc. Whereas a spiritual practice is something an individual can practice completely on their own. Remember, these are not necessarily his definitions of the two, but that are what I gathered from reading his article.

The first reason he gives for spirituality not being taken seriously is this that “spirituality makes claims to transformation” and he defines transformation as “a growth beyond one’s previous limits.” The problem that he sees is very often that this transformation is really nothing more than a way to please one’s self. In other words, a person deludes his or herself into thinking they are doing this spiritual thing to grow spiritually when all they are truly doing it for is to enjoy one’s self. The second problem that he noted with current spirituality is that it often times “involves a lot of hoo-hah.” Interestingly, he doesn’t just dismiss hoo-hah in spirituality, but criticizes those who “rush to supernatural explanations for entirely natural phenomena.”

Following his diagnosis of these two problems of “messy thinking and self-aggrandizement,” he offers four tips to help bring some seriousness back to spirituality. The first tip he gives is that there must be an understanding that “spiritual work is part of being a well-rounded person.” Part of his explanation of this seems to imply that a person cannot be well rounded if they lack spirituality in their lives.

“If we are serious about spirituality’s worth, then we should be serious about doing it” is Jay Michaelson’s second tip. He believes that people should be as serious about their spirituality as they are about going to the gym; that spirituality is not to be viewed as a hobby.

His third pointer is that “spiritual integrity and intellectual integrity should be allies, not enemies.” In other words, one should be intellectually honest about their spirituality. This means that those who are spiritual should critically evaluate claims from gurus and holistic healers.

His last big piece of advice is that those practicing spirituality need to realize that “the self is the object of the practice.” He likens it to going to the gym; the body is the focus of the workout so people go to the gym even when they don’t feel like it. So to should people practice their spirituality even when they don’t feel like it.

Now, there are some things to note about his article. One thing to take away from this is that spirituality is alive and well in America. There seems to be a pervasive understanding that religion is dead in America and that all too often makes Christians squirm mish. It is very easy to begin a discussion about spiritual matters because a lot of people are still “spiritual” although they may not be religious. I think that Christians will begin to have much more success in their talks about Christianity if they would first begin by only talking about spirituality. After the discussion progresses enough, then one can lead into Christianity in particular.

Likewise, many people believe and want to be better people (a.k.a. well-rounded). If this is why they pursue their particular spiritual practice, push them on this a little. Ask them how that’s going for them? Ask them why that matters? What goal do they have in mind by becoming a better person? Most likely, these will all be difficult questions for them to answer.

And there are a couple of ways to build common ground. He points out that spiritual integrity and intellectual integrity should coexist. I think most Christians would agree with this statement. We see no conflict between spiritual integrity and intellectual integrity. In fact, most Christians I know desire for their to be unity in these two areas because it brings a peace to one’s mind about their beliefs. If we read in the Bible that things were one way and then observed that they were not so, then that would cause doubts and an unsettled faith. His last point can also be used to build common ground. Not because we believe that self is the object of practice, but because we believe that one’s faith/spirituality should be taken seriously.

There was only one thing I really took exception with in his article. About half way through the article, he seems to imply that “fundamentalists” are not taken seriously because they too “interpret their experiences incautiously.” My first problem is with his use of the term fundamentalist. This is a term that seems to be thrown out there a lot in the mainstream media and I think that the understanding of the term by non-religious people is far different than what the term actually means in religious circles. For example, anyone who believed that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven is labeled a fundamentalist by the mainstream media. However, this is almost a universal belief of Christianity—regardless of denomination. Fundamentalism in Christianity is one who believes a particular point of doctrine is essential to salvation. For example, there are some that believe that a person is not saved until they are baptized. This is a “fundamentalist” view. Likewise, there are some that believe only a certain translation of the Bible can be used because all other versions are heretical; this is a “fundamentalist” view. So there is a vast difference between what Christians label as fundamentalists and what mainstream media labels fundamentalists.

I am not so naïve to believe that there are not Christians who do interpret their experiences incautiously, but I do not think that Christians as a whole make this mistake. Any more than I would look at spiritualists who lack a real commitment and then cast all spiritualists in that light. Furthermore, even if the vast majority of Christians did this; it does not make the claims of Christianity false.
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America's Opinion on Abortion is Changing

The Pew Forum on Religion released the results of a new pole they conducted concerning the topic of abortion. The results are very interesting and give some insight on how Christians can better conduct themselves in the debate over abortion. One of the more interesting points of the article was:
This shift in attitudes is also evident on other measures of public opinion about restrictions on abortion. For instance, four-in-ten Americans (41%) now say they favor making it more difficult to obtain an abortion, up six points from 35% in 2007. Similar movement is seen on the question of whether it would be good to reduce the number of abortions in this country; in 2005, 59% of respondents agreed it would be good to reduce abortions. Today 65% take this view, an increase of six points. And three-quarters (76%) continue to favor requiring minors to obtain the permission of a parent before having an abortion.

This gives three important points of information. First, many people truly want to see the number of abortions performed to go down. Second, there is an overwhelming consensus that minors should be required to get parental consent before being able to obtain an abortion. Third, a good number of people want to make it more difficult to obtain an abortion in the U.S. What does this mean for us in the debate? Well, in order to answer that question one more thing from the article must be quoted.
The survey also reveals continued polarization over abortion. Even as the public expresses support for finding a middle ground, most Americans are quite certain that their own position on abortion is the right one, with only a quarter (26%) saying they ever wonder about their views on the issue.
Nearly everyone is convinced that they are 100% correct on their position. In order to bring about change in their minds, we first have to affirm their position in such a way that does not compromise our own position. That is where those three important notes come into play. We as Christians would love to see it become more difficult to obtain an abortion, for the number of abortions to decline, and for minors to be required to have parental permission before obtaining an abortion. So we begin on these points. Ask the person whom you are talking with if they would like to see the number of abortions reduced. Explain to them that you would also like to see this happen. Spend some time discussing this building common ground with the individual. After they see you aren’t some “religious nutjob,” they will be more open to hear your other points.

You can even use that to lead into other topics they would most likely agree with you. Ask them if they would like to see those abortions already being performed become safer? Chances are they would agree and support this.

Ask them if they support our President’s stance on abortion? The Pew Forum poll discovered that about 40% of Americans don’t even know Obama’s position on the issue. Dovetail into explaining his decision in January of 2009 to lift restrictions on abortions. Then ask them if they support his decision to allow tax-payer money to fund organizations overseas who “performs or actively promotes abortions.” The problem with this is the fact that there is no oversight. These overseas clinics could be killing women left and right from bad medical practices and taxpayer money is funding it.

There is a shift taking place in our culture concerning the issue of abortion. I think this is because the issue is no longer one of those abstract issues. Many Americans personally know someone who has had an abortion. They now know what women undergo; not just physically, but emotionally—and the emotional trauma is often far worse than the physical trauma. There is more sensibility coming to the issue. There truly is a desire by many to reach a common ground on the topic. I wrote a book review some time back on Common Ground Without Compromise. It is an excellent resource and I would once again recommend it to anyone looking to find better ways to approach the abortion debate. An excellent website with many resources on the abortion debate is the Life Training Institute. The best reasource, however, is simply to get out there and engage people and their views.
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