Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hidden Figures

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
                                         Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The movie "Hidden Figures", set in the early days of NASA in the 1960s, does a great job of illustrating the blatant racism so prevalent in American culture at that time. Some of the scenes seem shocking by today's standards; for example, having a "colored bathroom" or "colored coffee pot". Thankfully there were people courageous enough to take a stand against racism and in so doing, changed our culture.

"Hidden Figures" was thought provoking and afterwards I pondered: Are there significant issues in our culture that we may be blind to today? As I prayed about this, the words of the Psalmist came to mind: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body." (Psalm 139:13-16, italics mine)

Alternate Hidden Figures
Dr. Alveda C. King.
Psalm 139 answered my question, revealing a different angle to the term "hidden figures". Unborn children may be hidden to us, but not to God. This brings up a very controversial topic in our culture: abortion. I am uncomfortable with controversy and would rather keep a low profile on such things. But I am immediately challenged by scenes from the movie, where people had the courage to confront racism, even though it was scary and uncomfortable for them.

Interestingly, Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., views the pro-life movement as a continuation of the civil rights struggle. She had two abortions that she later regretted, but testifies she now has peace through God's amazing forgiveness and healing. (1) She is Director of Civil Rights for the Unborn.

 Abortion has been called a modern-day holocaust (2) by none other than Norma McCorvey. You may know her as "Jane Roe" in Roe v. Wade; Roe petitioned for abortion rights in that Supreme Court decision. Norma McCorvey later regretted her role in Roe v. Wade and spent the rest of her life trying to overturn it. Her life was also transformed after coming to faith in Christ. 

Truth and Grace 
The topic of abortion needs to be discussed truthfully but with compassion towards persons in crisis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed it well:

Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.

A great many different motives may lead to an action of this kind; indeed in cases where it is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual. Precisely in this connection money may conceal many a wanton deed, while the poor man’s more reluctant lapse may far more easily be disclosed.

All these considerations must no doubt have a quite decisive influence on our personal and pastoral attitude towards the person concerned, but they cannot in any way alter the fact of murder. (3)
 
Protect the Hidden Figures
Unfortunately the rhetoric surrounding the pro-life v. pro-choice debate is often harsh and divisive. However, as a Christian my conscience tells me abortion is wrong. Should I be silent about this? I think not. As Bonhoeffer wrote: "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."

As a Christian I also believe that people facing difficult decisions about (or consequences of) abortion deserve compassion and help. In Manhattan, Kansas I am happy to support (along with my church) Life Choice Ministries (4), which "exists to serve the needs of women & families dealing with issues of sexual activity and pregnancy crisis". If you find yourself in such a crisis, I encourage you to contact them or someone like them in your community (Note: I do NOT recommend Planned Parenthood).

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
   
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Footnotes:
(1) http://www.priestsforlife.org/staff/alvedaking.htm
(2) Since Roe v. Wade there have been more than 59 million abortions in the US.
(3) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as quoted in Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 472, paragraphing added.
(4) www.lifechoiceks.org/

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Lament for a Pet

And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.
                                                                   Genesis 2:19


Shay always laid on my suitcase whenever I was packing to
travel. It was her way of protesting and saying she didn't
want me to go! I didn't want her to go on her last day either.
Last week I lost my cat of 17 years. About 10 days earlier we had noticed she was losing her appetite. By the end, she wasn't eating at all, and was struggling to walk. Our neighbor, who is also a veterinarian, examined her and said it was time to put her down. Although it was the compassionate thing to do, it was also one of the most difficult decisions I've made.

I spent the last morning of her life working at home with her by my side. The vet came over in the early afternoon to euthanize her at our home, laying on her favorite rug in front of the wood stove. She went peacefully. But watching her die and seeing her lifeless little body on the rug afterwards was hard to endure.

One of my sympathetic friends said the death of a pet is harder for him than the death of most people, simply because pets are so loyal and accepting. A pet is always happy to see you no matter how cruel the world may have been to you. Through this I have been wondering what happens to our beloved pets when they die, especially in view of our faith in a loving and good God.

Do Pets Go to Heaven?
The Scriptures are silent about animal immortality. However, as C.S. Lewis wrote, this silence 'would be fatal only if Christian revelation showed any signs of being intended as a système de la nature answering all questions. But it is nothing of the sort...If animals were, in fact, immortal, it is unlikely, from what we discern of God's method in the revelation, that He would have revealed this truth." Lewis' gave an excellent discussion about this topic but concluded that it certainly seems possible that certain animals (e.g., pets) have immortality. (1)

The Scriptures, Animals, and the Redemption of the Earth
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth....Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind...And God saw that it was good. (2) God spoke animals into existence and called them good. 

My daughter Erin holding Shay
many years ago. Shay brought
much joy to our family.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time...[but that] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (3) Pets are a part of God's creation, which is at present groaning under bondage to decay.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth...God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (4) C.S. Lewis certainly had these verses in mind when he stated his belief that the destiny of our animals is: "part and parcel of the new heaven and new earth, organically related to the whole suffering process of the world's fall and redemption." (1)
  
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. (5)
This indicates there will be animals in the new earth. And as John Eldredge noted (after the death of his beloved dog), if there are lions and lambs in the kingdom, why would God stop there? (6) 

Whither, Little Shay?
The morning after Shay's death, I stood looking out of my third story window at work. Towards the east were dark storm clouds. Suddenly the sun broke through and turned the trees and buildings of the K-State campus a golden color that was strikingly beautiful against the dark sky. God was so present and comforting in that moment.

I believe I will see Shay again, and I hope that she will be on my greeting committee when I arrive at heaven's shore.

Goodbye little Shay, but only for now!

Footnotes
(1) Lewis, C.S. Animal Pain, a chapter in "The Problem of Pain".
(2) Genesis 1:1, 24-25
(3) Romans 8:21-22
(4) Revelation 21:1,4
(5) Isaiah 11:6-7a.
(6) Eldredge, John. "Walking with God".

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Arrival

Advent: the arrival of a notable person or event 

Advent is the season leading up to Christmas. A time when Christians celebrate God coming to earth in human form (Jesus Christ) to save his people from their sins (1). An incredible act of love and humility (2).

The Humanity of Christ
Near the end of his earthly life, Jesus was hailed by people as a king as he entered Jerusalem. Yet as he approached the city, he wept (3).

Earlier, Jesus wept as he stood at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, who had recently died (4).

Jesus' weeping is a powerful example of his humanity. But the reasons why he wept may not be as apparent as you think.

For example, as he approached Jerusalem he wept not for himself even though he knew he would be tortured and crucified within the week.

As he stood by his friend's tomb, he wasn't weeping for Lazarus, for he knew that within minutes he would raise Lazarus from the dead! (5)
'And Jesus Wept' Statue at the national memorial for the
bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Divinity of Christ
Jesus' tears reflect his humanity, but they also reflect his divinity. Throughout the Bible, God expresses grief over the condition of humanity. (6)

At the tomb, Jesus wept when he saw the people sobbing and grieving the death of Lazarus, and a deep anger welled up within him. (7) He wept because he was saddened by their pain and sorrow, but why was he angry? I believe he was angry at death and sin (8), which are the cause of suffering and grief. His response was to exercise his power over death by raising Lazarus.

Jesus also knew that many didn't understand, and some even rejected who he was and why he came. As Jesus approached Jerusalem weeping he said "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—". (9)

The Prince of Peace (10) was entering into their presence, but they knew it not despite his constant attempts throughout his life to explain it.

"but now it is hidden from your eyes.", he continued, "The days will come upon you when your enemies will encircle you and...dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls...because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (11)

Who Do You Say That I Am?
This is a question each of us must answer about Jesus Christ.

When Jesus asked his disciples that question, Peter correctly answered “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (12).

This advent, I urge you to reflect on the arrival of the 'Son of the living God', who came to rescue you from the power of sin and death. (13)

My prayer is that you will recognize the time of God's coming to you, before his weeping stops.


Footnotes

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Politics and a Prayer for our Country

"Come set our hearts ablaze with hope..."
                                                                     Rend Collective

Toxic Politics
The U.S. presidential campaign is in full swing with elections only a few weeks away. If you have been following them, you are probably aware things are a little unusual this year. Indeed, the country seems strongly divided and the atmosphere seems toxic at times. Without going into detail or promoting my opinion, I would rather encourage you to join me in a prayer for our nation in the form of a lively song.

Come, Show Your Mighty Hand...Heal our Streets and Land
Last year an Irish band called Rend Collective performed at Kansas State University. My wife, mother, and I attended and enjoyed their performance. My mother was already well into the throes of Alzheimer's (an awful disease affecting the brain), but she loved their music and sometimes stood up to dance in the bleachers! It was fun to see her heart so filled with joy as they sang.

When I heard their song "Build Your Kingdom Here", I knew I had to share it with you all. It is a fun video and song that I think you will enjoy. As you listen, I encourage you to pray along - and maybe even dance!

Unleash your kingdom's power
Change the atmosphere
No force of hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - My Book Review

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."
                                                                                                                 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Growing up Lutheran, I knew Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who courageously conspired against Hitler and was eventually executed by the Nazis as a result. And I had also read his famous book "The Cost of Discipleship".

But I didn't know much else about him. The biography by Eric Metaxas is a lengthy but fascinating book about Bonhoeffer's life, and a brief history about the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. It held my interest right to the end.

A Christian Pastor Joins an Assassination Plot against Hitler
How could a committed follower of Jesus Christ like Bonhoeffer justify engaging in deception and plotting to assassinate a national leader? The answer is complicated but it illustrates the Christian faith is much deeper than many think. God and His Truth are more than the simple religious legalism of "never telling a lie". Jesus constantly confronted the religious legalists of his day about following the "letter of the Law" but failing to follow a deeper "Spirit of the Law" behind the Scriptures. (1)

Bonhoeffer was an active participant in the
conspiracy to assassinate Hitler in the Valkyrie
plot, portrayed in this 2008 movie.
Bonhoeffer was brilliant and had a respect for "the truth that was so deep"; he did not have a cavalier attitude towards the truth. He was aware of the danger of a belief that "how one tells the truth depends on circumstances", but legalistic religion was being shown to be utterly inadequate against the Nazis and the atrocities they were unleashing against the Jews and others. He believed that to be true to God in the deepest way meant that one's actions could not be separated from a relationship with Jesus Christ; guidance and discernment of one's actions had to come from God. (2)

Religionless Christianity
Apparently some in the modern-day "God is dead" movement have regarded Bonhoeffer as a kind of prophet, given Bonhoeffer's views about religion. However, Metaxas eloquently illustrates that Bonhoeffer was greatly misunderstood in this respect. As a Christian myself, Bonhoeffer teachings on this topic seem completely compatible with Christianity.

For example, given the bleak situation of his time, Bonhoeffer wondered if modern man had moved beyond religion. What Bonhoeffer meant by "religion" was not true Christianity, but rather the "religious" Christianity that had failed Germany and the West during the Nazi crisis. Bonhoeffer preached that Christianity was not about religion at all, but about the person of Christ. Religion is a dead, man-made thing, and at the heart of Christianity is something else entirely - God himself, alive.

In fact, Bonhoeffer taught that "religion" is opposed to Christianity and to Christ because it presents the false idea that somehow we can reach God through our moral efforts. He differentiated between Christianity as a religion like all the others and following Christ, who demands everything, including our very lives. He wondered if it wasn't finally time for the lordship of Jesus Christ to move past the "religious" corners of Sunday mornings and churches and into all aspects of our lives...into the whole world; God is bigger than most have imagined. (3)

A Good Read
There is much more interesting in Metaxas' book. For example:

Churchill was unwilling to cooperate with a Resistance movement inside Germany (of which Bonhoeffer was a part) that was plotting against Hitler and the Nazis.

Site at Flossenburg Concentration Camp
where Bonhoeffer and others were executed
at dawn on April 9, 1945, only days before
the camp was liberated by Allied Forces.
It reads: "In resistance against dictatorship
and terror, they gave their lives for freedom,
justice, and humanity.
After the war, many in England were surprised that there were actually "good" Germans in Germany who had paid with their lives for conspiring against Hitler.

In 1930-31, Bonhoeffer spent a year at Union Theological Seminary in New York but was disappointed by their liberal theology. He finally heard the Gospel preached and its power manifested at Abyssinian Baptist, an African American church in Harlem. He noted the only real piety and power he witnessed were in churches where there were a present reality and past history of suffering; he had traveled in the southern U.S. and was shocked at the racism he witnessed there. The powerful preaching of the Gospel at Abyssinian Baptist was life changing for Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer was engaged to be married but was imprisoned and executed before his marriage.

Facing the End
In the end, Bonhoeffer faced death with courage. Years later the doctor of the concentration camp who had witnessed his execution wrote:

I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, [Bonhoeffer again] said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed...In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.

A fitting tribute to this man of God.



Footnotes:
(1) For example, see Jesus' sermon on the mount in Matthew chapters 5 to 7; see also chapter 23.
(2) A great discussion of this in on pp. 365-367 in the hardback version of Metaxas' book "What is Truth"?
(3) Excerpts from pp. 82-85 and 465-468 (ibid).

Friday, February 26, 2016

Risen - The Movie

“I have seen two things which cannot reconcile. A man dead without question. And that same man alive again
                                                - Clavius, Roman Military Tribune


The Resurrection from a Skeptics Perspective
If you haven't yet seen the movie "Risen", I highly recommend it. With a great cast, impressive production budget, and of course a great story line, you will be entertained and find yourself pondering the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

This movie isn't just for Christians. The producers worked hard to maintain Scriptural authenticity while balancing it with cinematic creativity. They had a broader cross section of cultural society in mind for an audience (rather than Christians only) as they produced the movie, and I believe they hit their mark.


A Personal Journey
The movie is the story of a man's personal journey. Clavius is a military leader assigned with the task of ensuring that three criminals being crucified are dead before sunset, even if he has to hurry it along. He apparently is aware that one of them claimed to be a king of some kind, but he is indifferent. By the time he arrived at the site of the crucifixion, Christ had already died.

To me, the scene of the crucifixion is amazingly haunting and thought provoking. And of course as a Christian I was moved by the depth of love that Christ exhibited for me (and all his followers) by suffering and dying that way. Later in the movie I was also moved by the tenderness of the resurrected Christ towards Peter and Thomas as they wept over their earlier denial and doubt, respectively, of their leader Y’shua (Jesus). It is a beautiful picture of Y’shua's posture towards all of us who follow him, yet are imperfect.

But I get ahead of myself! After Christ's body disappeared from the tomb, Clavius was ordered to find the body at all costs in order to put down a rumor beginning to circulate that the man Jesus had risen from the dead. So Clavius began a relentless search, which required him to play the role of detective. He aggressively chased down and interrogated anyone who had spoken of Christ being alive again, and also searched for his disciples and close followers who may have known where the body was. But the evidence he found was not what he expected, and eventually it led him to write down the words quoted at the top of this post.

The Implications of The Resurrection
This movie is not preachy or cheese ball as some Christian-themed movies of the past have (unfortunately) been. But it does explore a historical event that is foundational to Christianity. For as the Apostle Paul himself said: "...if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1). But he then went on to say: "But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries." (2) If that is true, then the implications of the resurrection are profound for your own life and is at the very least worth serious consideration, including an examination of the strong historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ. (3)

However, regardless of what you think of the resurrection story, this movie is worth viewing.


Footnotes:
(1) 1 Corinthians 15:14
(2) 1 Corinthians 15:20
(3) William Lane Craig wrote an excellent article on the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ at this link:  http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus

Below is a lecture by William Lane Craig on the same topic, presented at Yale University.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why I Write This Blog

...they continually say to me, "Where is your God?
                                                                                                     Psalms 42:3

My high school graduation
picture, 1978, a few months
before leaving for the
university.
My University Experience
When I started attending the university in 1979 I was exposed to ideas that challenged my beliefs as a Christian. The secular worldview was strong, especially in some of my biology and physics classes, and I began to assume that most "educated" people probably didn't believe in God. I certainly doubted if any professors did. The atmosphere was stifling and it was a bewildering time for me.

But there were a couple of professors who I learned did believe in God. Dr. Richard Ikenberry and Dr. Glenn Underhill at Kearney State College (now the University of Nebraska-Kearney), where I started college, were Christians. There is a certain irony in the fact that one of them was a biologist and the other a physicist!

Now, many years later and as a professor myself, I suspect that some students at my campus and other college campuses may experience similar circumstances and feelings as I did. However, I don't want them to assume as I did that "educated" people don't believe in God. In fact, many PhDs and professors have strong faith in God, and I am fortunate to personally know a number of them.
Dr. Glenn Underhill, one of my college
physics professors, who was also
a Christian.

Is Your University Experience Challenging Your Faith?
If you are a college student and your faith is being challenged by the secular environment of the university, you are not alone. As a college student and even afterwards, I wrestled with the claims of secularism/atheism/agnosticism/naturalism firsthand. But my faith in God is now stronger than ever.

It is not all bad to have one's faith challenged. As Timothy Keller said, “Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts... It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them.” The evidence for the Christian faith is amazing (1), and God is big enough to handle your questions. You can make it your own!

It is another thing to have your beliefs maligned or diminished. C.S. Lewis, who was an atheist before converting to Christianity, knowingly said "Atheists express their rage against God although in their view He doesn't exist." That can be confusing to a college student, especially if the criticism is coming from a professor. However, you don't have to take their word for it! I would encourage students to use this as an opportunity to critically examine for yourself the claims of and evidence for Christianity (1).

Why I Write This Blog
Therefore, I write this blog largely to encourage students (and others) who may be facing doubt and unbelief in the face of the dominant secular environment of our western universities and, increasingly, in our culture. Many of my blog posts address this topic.

I also write for those who may not believe in God - or perhaps haven't even considered it. I sincerely believe if they examined with an open mind the evidence for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, they may be quite surprised.

Footnote:
(1)  There is much information available about evidence for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. For example, the authors William Lane Craig (www.ReasonableFaith.org), John Lennox (http://www.johnlennox.org/), Lee Strobel (e.g., The Case for Christ), C.S. Lewis (e.g., Mere Christianity), Timothy Keller ("The Reason for God" and many of his sermons at http://www.gospelinlife.com/), Frank Turek (http://crossexamined.org/), to name a few, all address this in their books and websites.