Thursday, May 26, 2011

Atheists Vs. Christians: Can We Treat Each Other Better?


I have an atheist friend named David. We've had extensive discussions about my faith (and his lack of it), and various things I've posted on my blog. We've known each other since we were in high school, and I feel that despite our differences of opinion on matters of faith, we're on pretty good terms. I respect Dave and like him a lot.

Recently I posted a blog with some quotes from physicist Max Planck. I don't think Planck was a Christian in the sense that I understand it (believing that God is personal and desires a right relationship with us, which is why He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins, then raised Him from the dead as the first among many), but based on his quotes he did believe all the scientific evidence points to the fact that the material universe exists because it was designed by a creative intelligence.

I didn't reference Stephen Hawking in this blog, except in the title (which was: "Stephen Hawking: Take Note"). I wrote this title because of my annoyance at a recent very unscientific pronouncement by Hawking (whose intellect and achievements I admire profoundly) that "There is no God." Honestly, I can't see how any scientist who professes to believe in the scientific method and the principles of science can say such a thing with any degree of certainty. It would be like an ant in the Amazon, hundreds of miles from any human civilization, standing atop his anthill and pronouncing "There is no such thing as people" simply because that ant had never seen a human being.

Christians believe God exists outside the physical realm He created. We believe (with Planck and with Scripture) that physical realm itself provides ample testimony to the fact of a designer/creator; but such testimony is a different matter than scientific proof. I really don't think science can and should expect to either prove (or disprove) the existence of God. (Just as science, until they have a time machine, can't actually prove or disprove matters of history, such as origins. They can theorize all they want, but because matters of history are not scientifically reproducible/verifiable, strictly speaking, they can't be "proven.")

When I was promoting this blog on Facebook and Twitter, I confess I succumbed to the temptation (as I often do when trying to get people to read something I have written) of sensationalizing the headline a bit. I said, "Max Planck would be ashamed of Stephen Hawking." Now I'm not 100% convinced that's true (I can't for certain know how a long-dead scientist would have felt about one currently living), but I do suspect based on Planck's quotes (presented in my blog) that he would have had quite a problem with Hawking's recent pronouncement.

My atheist friend immediately jumped on my headline and responded in a way that made it seem to me that I had upset him. He in essence asked, "Why do people always feel they have to put down others with whom they disagree?"

When you disagree with someone, there's obviously a fine line between stating your case and putting them down. I know I haven't always landed perfectly on the correct side of that line, even though my desire is to respect the person I disagree with. In Hawking's case, I do have an immense respect for him (as I do for my atheist friend). I clearly think both of them are wrong, but I wouldn't want to put either of them down.

So, this got me thinking about this whole struggle between atheists and believers, which seems to be heating up even as we speak. As a Christian, I've read a lot of things written by atheists which have made me feel put down, and as David's reaction indicates, nonbelievers apparently often feel that believers put them down too.

So, I decided that this might make an interesting survey. My goal in this survey is not to convince one side of the rightness of the other, but to build bridges of dialogue and understanding and to give both sides the opportunity to feel they have been heard.

I hope to learn how each group feels we could more effectively respect one another and work together to achieve common goals ... and solicit their ideas about what some of those goals might be.

So, please take the brief survey which follows, and encourage your friends to do the same. I'll leave it up for a week, and then discuss the results.

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(Please take this survey only once. If it does not appear above, that means SurveyMonkey believes you have already taken this survey.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stephen Hawking, Please Take Note


Selected quotes by Max Planck, a brilliant German physicist who is regarded the founder of quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918. He was a contemporary of Albert Einstein's. Source: Goodreads.

"All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."

"There is no matter as such — mind is the matrix of all matter."

"Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve."

"Science…means unresting endeavor and continually progressing development toward an aim which the poetic intuition may apprehend, but the intellect can never fully grasp."

"There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other. Every serious and reflective person realizes, I think, that the religious element in his nature must be recognized and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony. And indeed it was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls."

"Under these conditions it is no wonder, that the movement of atheists, which declares religion to be just a deliberate illusion, invented by power-seeking priests, and which has for the pious belief in a higher Power nothing but words of mockery, eagerly makes use of progressive scientific knowledge and in a presumed unity with it, expands in an ever faster pace its disintegrating action on all nations of the earth and on all social levels. I do not need to explain in any more detail that after its victory not only all the most precious treasures of our culture would vanish, but — which is even worse — also any prospects at a better future."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Rapture Survey" Responses

I'm thankful for the responses received to my recent "Rapture Survey." Here are the questions and responses received:

Following are 5 additional text responses entered as a part of the response to question 2:

Move on.
5/20/11 9:07PM

As I understand, Christians are not to guess when the Second Coming will be. People like this Camp should be ignored.
5/20/11 5:42PM

I'm not fond of any of those options really. I don't take lightly what he's espousing - however he is clearly incorrect when viewed in light of the teachings of the Bible. I can't see that he should be allowed to teach/lead people after a stunt like this.
5/20/11 3:30PM

In my sphere of the world, I am not seeing any true Christians taking Mr. Camp seriously. I believe he has already been disavowed.
5/20/11 3:24PM

Camp is milking this for all it's worth. This all comes down to publicity and is consequently making his followers look absolutely foolish.
5/20/11 3:20PM

3. What, if anything, do you think people should do to prepare for the Rapture?

Showing 17 text responses

get saved
5/21/11 9:51PM
Go and make disciples of all nations
5/20/11 10:04PM
Keep following God
5/20/11 9:07PM
>>Believe in God! >>If you don't do that, prepare yourself.
5/20/11 7:59PM

live for God
5/20/11 7:47PM
Lead people to Christ, disciple them and live Holy lives.
5/20/11 7:29PM

Make sure they are right with God, and spend their last day(s) with the people they love.
5/20/11 6:51PM

Count each day as your last and be sure your heart is right before God at all times. We are to be prepared to stand before the Lord and give our account to him regardless of when that is.
5/20/11 6:19PM

Love God and love our fellow men enough to tell them about Him.
5/20/11 6:06PM

If we are not always spreading the Good News to our family, friends and neighbors, we are not doing our jobs.
5/20/11 5:42

Know Jesus Christ as their savior!
5/20/11 4:46PM

Repent and turn to Jesus.
5/20/11 3:30PM

I'm honestly not sure if I believe in the Rapture or not. I feel like whatever the truth is, we need to live the same everyday- devoted to God and His glory. The apostles thought they were in the last days, too, so let's follow their example!
5/20/11 3:27PM

Be ready and live each day for Jesus - we will never know the exact time and day - so expect Him any time.
5/20/11 3:24PM

Nothing. I don't want Camp to influence my behavior.
5/20/11 3:20PM

This question assumes that there *is* a Rapture. However, it's such a new teaching, in Church History terms, that I'm not comfortable using it. There will be a ressurection of the dead; that's about as far as I'm going to go (as per the Apostle's Creed).
5/20/11 3:18PM

Live each day like it could be your last.
5/20/11 3:14PM

Saturday, May 21, 2011

SURPRISE! No Rapture yet. Sigh.

OK, I'm on call for my employer this weekend, monitoring news on the Web, and am writing this about 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 21. I was a little nervous when I discovered I was the one on call for the end of the world. But [insert heavy sigh of relief here] I just realized the time for the end of the world has actually come and gone already in certain places (where it is already or has been 6 p.m. on May 21, like New Zealand, Australia, and Asia ... see ... and guess what?

No megadisasters or Rapture in sight. Alert the media.

Harold Camping's website, not too surprisingly, has "gone dark." (Hmmm ... perhaps he was the only one raptured?)

So anyway, I think now is a good time to ask the basic question: Where did Camping go wrong? Two things jump out at me immediately:

1) NUMEROLOGY. Stay away from it, folks! Camping used a bizarre form of numerology (seeking meaning in the numbers behind obscure things in Scripture and the estimated dates that they happened) to calculate his date for the end of the world. See for the fascinating details. It's the same class of crap that people like that author — whatshisname? — who wrote that stupid novel amplifying various Gnostic heresies and inventing the idea that Jesus, rather than being raised from the dead, was married to Mary Magdalene and that his love child was hushed up by the Catholic church, or some such nonsense, like to espouse. But I digress.

To put it in a nutshell, here's my advice: STAY AWAY from NUMEROLOGY ... and STAY CLOSE to the BRIDEGROOM instead!

2) DISBELIEF and DISOBEDIENCE. Jesus said, "No man knows the date or the hour, but My Father." By saying he knew the date and the hour, Camping was either calling Jesus a liar, or saying that Harold Camping was the Father. Either one of those two mistakes is a bad thing, in my book.

Well, in a way I'm disappointed (I would really like for Jesus to come back), and in a way I'm kind of glad He didn't do it on Camping's terms. But, too bad some crazy old radio preacher got to throw a little more mud in the eye of God's glory. How can we glorify God in the midst of this debacle? One way, I think, would be for us as Christians to make absolutely sure Camping and his ilk never again has a legitimate platform for the expression of his false views. It should be made absolutely clear he's NOT speaking anything in the name of Jesus.

By the way, I'm getting great responses on my Rapture survey (below) ... and, just to be sure you have plenty of opportunities to express yourself, I'll leave it up until 6 p.m. Pacific Time today ... then we can talk a bit about what everyone submitted.

So, now's your chance to be heard! You have a few more hours until the Rapture [survey ends]. Have at it!

Friday, May 20, 2011

SURVEY: Getting Ready for the Rapture

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The (Hopefully Short) Story of My Life

Okay, I've decided I'm going to get a little more serious about writing for this blog on a more regular basis, and using it for a platform for social media experimentation. I'll be conducting a lot of surveys and asking for your opinion on various things, plus sharing my heart about things I care strongly about, such as faith, family and the Bible; growing stronger churches and college groups; compassion ministry; social media and the web; writing and communication; perhaps even cycling and acoustic worship.

Me with the newest member of our family,
precious little Annabelle Ivy!

In the meantime, I thought I should use this particular blog space to give you a little more background on who I am and what makes me tick. (As opposed to what ticks me off!)

Jesus Christ became the most important Person in my life when I was 8 years old. My oldest sister, Sandy, and I were playing in the back yard of our home in Sylmar, California. For a reason I can't remember, I hauled off and popped her a good one, and as she was bawling, I ran from the impending wrath of my mother and hid in a favorite spot, behind a bush on the east side of our house.

As I sat there listening for my mother's inevitable yell, to my surprise I heard another voice. Not literally, I don't think, but sort of a voice inside my head. It went something like this: "This sin problem that you have is only going to get worse and worse unless you let Me do something about it."

I knew what sin was. I had been in Sunday School since I could remember. And I had read the Bible stories about how God was real and entered into human history at various critical points. I also knew exactly what I should do: Confess my inability to save myself, and give my life to the One who sacrificed Himself for me. Pretty heavy stuff for an 8-year-old, huh?

So right then and there, I bowed my head and asked Christ to enter my life and take control. I can still recall the amazing sense of assurance that God was pleased with my request and did exactly what I asked. I was so excited that I got up and ran from that bush to tell my mom what happened, almost colliding with her just as she was running out the back door looking for a behind to paddle. (I'm grateful too for the fact that she was so excited about my news that she even forgot to spank me!)

Learning to Live for Christ

Since that's the most important thing that's ever happened to me, the rest is footnote. Like many young people, I didn't really figure out what it meant to live for Christ until I was a senior in high school. I was fortunate to make friends with a new youth pastor named John Carroll (if you're reading this, John, I'd love to catch up with you!), who took me under his wing and discipled me. I met my future wife-to-be, Darlene, about the same time.

I attended a wonderful Christian college, Biola University, working on the newspaper staff and writing for the PR department, then getting a Bachelor's degree in Communication (journalism/creative writing/Bible). Darlene and I married in 1979, which should also have been the year I graduated, but instead I was on the squeeze-4-years-into-6 academic plan.

After we graduated in 1981, I had a general sense that God wanted me to write. I had entered the annual Guideposts Magazine youth writing contest at my mom's urging, and won it, to my surprise, which provided me with both a newfound interest in writing and also some money for college. I also won a few writing awards in college, including a best personality feature of the year award from the Evangelical Press Association.

So, when I graduated in 1981 I thought I wanted to write for a living, but wasn't sure how to actually make a job of it. Newspapers weren't hiring reporters with six years of education, so after six months of looking my brother and I got a loan and started our own printing business out of our parents' garage.

That evolved into a typesetting-for-the-trade business and eventually into a technology business licensed by the California State University system. At the same time, I worked part-time with the Word Processing Department for a few years at World Vision headquarters in Monrovia, California. Our son Nathan was born in 1983, and our daughter Mandy three years later.

That was about the time I was entering something of a crisis in my life. My business wasn't doing as well as I had hoped, and while I had done some freelance writing and even completed a (still unpublished) novel, I felt like I was in a malaise. We had begun attending a wonderful church in our home town, and were a part of a small group, and I also realized I wasn't seriously committed to the Lord's best direction for my life, but instead was trying to make out of it what I wanted to make.

Holding Fast To God

I remember a night when Darlene, who had a great but very stressful job as a nursing administrator in a hospital, had taken very sick and was hospitalized with pneumonia. I had two children in diapers and no real direction in my life, and I felt at wit's end. I began (once again) reading the Bible, searching for answers. I came across the story of Jacob, wrestling with the Angel of the Lord and saying: "I will not let You go until You bless me!"

I was amazed at his audacity, but more amazed at how God responded. After becoming sufficiently convinced of Jacob's sincerity, He relented and blessed him. Jacob's life was immediately and dramatically changed ... mostly from the inside-out. He exchanged his ambitious, his sneakiness, and self-centeredness for true, God-centered humility. That's when God really began to use him.

So I decided to do the same thing. As exhausted as I was late that difficult evening, I got down on my knees and told God I wouldn't "let him go" until something changed. I proceeded to continue there on my knees, crying out to God, all night long.

It was sometime early in the wee hours of the morning when something happened. I still can't describe exactly what it was. Something changed. Suddenly, I had a sense of God saying, "Okay, if you're serious about this ... if you're willing to be changed from the inside out ... buckle your seatbelt, here we go."

Shortly after that night, I began to seek the places in life where I felt God was present and leading. I got more involved in our church, and developed a close relationship with our brilliant young pastor. He wanted to write books about what God was doing in his life, but needed a writer. I was a writer in search of a message. So we teamed up and wrote two books and a number of other training materials. One of the two did very well, going into multiple printings and even being translated into several foreign languages.

I began to participate in worship leadership and small groups leadership. I became an elder at a church that was the fastest-growing in our denomination, which also planted multiple daughter churches. My wife and I were a part of a church-planting team for one of those efforts. I also sold my business, at the perfect time, and became involved in local compassion ministry, creating a ministry organization whose model was emulated in numerous other states.

A Tangled Web

All this was exciting and fun ... but it didn't pay the bills very well, and my wife grew weary of carrying the financial burden of our family. So, in 1994 I began looking for a full-time assignment utilizing my writing and editing skills. I rejoined World Vision in July 1994 as a creative editor and staff writer.

A year later World Vision put me on a committee of people looking at this newfangled thing called "the Web." That team was asking questions like, "What is the internet? And could we raise any funds on it?" I had learned a few things about the Web during my days with the technology and consulting business, so I wrote a glowing 40-page paper extolling the potential benefits of the internet as a fundraising and communication channel. The committee was so excited that in 1996 they decided to give me a budget and the challenge of creating World Vision's first Web presence. We launched a week before our deadline — April 25, 1997, in order to attempt to communicate the urgency of the North Korea Famine and seek to raise some funds to help people who were starving to death in World Vision's birthplace, the Korean peninsula.

You won't be surprised to hear that the internet quickly exceeded everyone's wildest dreams, and even the optimistic projections of my 40-page paper. For several years I was a one-man internet shop, but after extracting from me a promise to begin World Vision's first corporate intranet, I was granted a few staff and we continued to grow.

Today World Vision's internet presence is one of the top online nonprofit fundraising businesses in the world, and employs many more people than that once-small staff contingent. I have served many different roles with the internet program, related mostly to the intersection of communications and technology. My current assignment is as the New Media Strategist for World Vision's Media Relations Department.

In this assignment I am learning a great deal about social media ... the world of blogging, and of how various tools such as Twitter and Facebook can be effectively leveraged to provide great resources to our friends in the media as they seek to tell the story of how World Vision is serving the world's poor.

The other thing I should mention the Lord has done in our lives relates to our current church, a small but wonderful community of believers in Puyallup, Washington. We have worshiped there ever since we first arrived in the Seattle area in 1995, thanks to World Vision's corporate relocation to this area. After our children were grown and fled the coup, we realized our church didn't offer much by way of inducement for young adults to stick around, so Darlene and I started a college/career young adults ministry. Today we are thankful that this ministry has grown and is very healthy. Hanging around these young people has also been a huge benefit to me personally, as they generally have a much more intuitive grasp of the power of social media than I do as a semi-centarian.

Let's Talk

I can't share everything I am learning here, for obvious reasons, but I would like to use this space to create ways that we can learn and grow together. So please join in the conversation and let me know how the Web and social media have made an impact in your life, and where you think things are going from here!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The High Standard That We Will Be Held To

Are we, as fallen people, capable of doing good things apart from God?

I think the answer is a qualified "yes." Please let me explain what I mean by that.

Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson with children attending a school built by the Central Asia Institute.

We were created in God's image. God is love. We are obviously capable of love. But I do not think we can love, perfectly, apart from God's help, and the motivation He provides for truly loving unconditionally.

An unbelieving soldier gives his life for his country, and a father takes a stand against a mugger to safeguard his family. Or perhaps, a mother who does not know the Lord carries to term a young child even at the risk of her own life. All are acts of selfless love. They are inspired by (godly) ideals, ideals placed into the heart of man by a God who created us in His own image.

That image was, of course, grossly tainted and distorted by sin in the fall. Too often, now, we are capable of the opposite of love ... or perhaps of acts of what we think is love, but what is in reality, at its core, something far worse and not God-like in any sense.

While traveling last year I enjoyed very much reading a book called "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson, the inspiring story of a former mountain climber who began to build schools in impoverished communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, after a failed attempt to summit K2.

So it was very painful for me to watch a "60 Minutes" expose recently which claims that many of the stories shared by Mortenson in his book were either gross exaggerations (at best) or outright fabrications (at worst) -- and that, while Mortenson had indeed helped many poor children by building schools in the area, he hadn't built near as many as he claims, and much of the tens of millions of dollars raised for this purpose by his speaking and his writing and through his nonprofit organization have actually been spent for other, less noble purposes.

Disappointing, if true. (And I'm also naturally suspicious about the media's role in uncovering these seeming inconsistencies.) I think the jury is still out on these claims against Mr. Mortenson.

But I do remember wondering, as I read about Mortenson's philanthropy, of his core motivation. As far as I can tell, he's not a believer, at least not in the sense that you and I classically understand that term. Are nonbelievers capable of doing good things? Yes, of course. But even those good things will be put at risk of being tainted by evil, if the godly motivations for doing them are absent or in question.

Far sadder, of course, is the case of people who should be doing good works as a demonstration of their authentic faith in Christ, but who fail to do so. James writes in the second chapter of his epistle:

 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
   Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds ....
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

If some good can be done apart from God, what kind of good should be done by those of us who claim to be acting together with God?

In other words, how much higher of a standard will God hold us accountable to? There is a great deal of media scrutiny on faith-based organizations such as World Vision, and perhaps deservedly so. If we claim to be loving people in the name of Christ, we had better do so in a manner worthy of Christ -- selflessly, with the high level of excellence, and with the motivation, He demands of us.

We as a church are just beginning this adventure of demonstrating our sincere faith, through our deeds. Through the Elikya Center we are seeking to show God's love to orphans and widows in the Congo. Through KidREACH we are tutoring at-risk children. Through MOPS we are reaching out to young moms with the love of Christ. Through Freezing Nights, the Salvation Army, and Francis House we are seeking to be the hands and feet of Christ to the homeless and vulnerable in our community.

My prayer is that as we seek to do good, we will share the Whole Gospel with the Whole Person, and do so in a manner worthy of those whose motivation is the true grace, mercy, and love of Christ, extended compassionately and without condition to the Whole World. He is holding us to a higher standard! In response to His amazing work in our lives, let's pursue this goal with our Whole Hearts!

Reprinted from Elim Evangelical Free Church's The Last Word.