Archive for July, 2006

New Orleans Katrina Response Part I

Two people can say the same thing one as a friend of the object and the other a critic. Bill Cosby speaking on the need of better parenting in the black community and a skinhead speaking in essence saying the same thing comes across differently. Likewise, Dennis Prager, a Jew who is a radio talk show host, and an anti-Semite speaking on an issue related to the Jewish community might say basically the same thing but it comes across differently.

The experience of the speaker and the reason for saying it makes the difference. One speaks as a friend and the other a critic. Against that background consider this statement:

“It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian.”

The speaker is asking why a non-Christian can’t have a life-style in many regards like a Christian without being one. That is, why is it that often the two don’t respond alike.

The maker of that statement was Roy Hattersley, a columnist for the “U.K. Guardian.” Hattersley, an outspoken atheist, reached that conclusion after watching the extensive faith-based organizations response to Hurricane Katrina.

“Notable by their absence,” he stated, were “teams from rationalism societies, free thinkers’ clubs, and atheists’ associations — the kind of people who scoff at religion’s intellectual absurdity.”

Hattersley pressed his point by further stating that Christians “are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others.”

He then made a statement that challenges Christians. “The only possible conclusion,” he said after watching response to the Katrina disaster, “is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make (Christians) morally superior to atheists like me.”

Not all Christians are like those who responded to disaster relief causes resulting from Katrina and not all atheists are like Hattersley. However, his observations regarding compassionate response in this time of need is correct. I have been there helping to cleanup and cook for relief workers as part of the third largest relief group in America, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Agency. The group would be number two if number two didn’t include their numbers among their own. The media gives coverage to FEMA, the Red Cross, and Salvation Army but it is the Baptists who cook for most of them and have the largest number of trained chainsaw teams and counselors. They don’t seek recognition they are there simply because they are moved by compassion and want to help. It is inherent in their faith and that is what Hattersley is commending.

Having written this what is my motive? It is not to impugn those organizations that did not respond but to challenge those who normally do to live up to Hattersley’s observations. It is to commend the integrity of the statement of an individual observant of a need among many of his peer groups. Who said it resonates.

Church: The Change Within Part II

Imitation often makes things dull.

Modern churches have a challenge previous generations did not have. It regards how to deal with diversity. Racial diversity has come a long way. Many churches have several races represented and involved. Educational, economic, social, and cultural diversity have been dealt with constructively. A primary distinction that has become increasingly excluding in some churches is age. It not only involves persons of AARP age but those over or under 45 are crunched.

This is such an issue former dean of the Morehouse School of Religion has written a book entitled: “Our Help In Ages Past…”

In an age when younger people need to be under the influence of a warm family, some churches socially engineer services to remove the influence of the very people who have provided the place where they meet.

To some degree this has been caused by churches trying to meet the changing needs of society. Some older established churches have resorted to imitating certain role model churches. In doing so they have overlooked one major distinction. These role model churches have admirably emerged using their distinct methods which have worked in their culture which is often different for those seeking to imitate them. To use a non-Baptistic statement, “they are dancing with the one who brought them to the party.” These churches were developed using the methods that attracted their membership.

Some older established churches in trying to imitate them have in essence communicated to the older membership we don’t care if you leave the party. In changing the style that attracted the base membership they are eliminating the very things that attracted them. Thus, the older membership is marginalized or completely disenfranchised. What is even more alienating than what is being done is the cavalier way in which it is done. To be made to feel unwanted in ones own “home” is grievous.

This has resulted in many ostracized members not being angry but lonely. A frustration barrier has caused many to look for an atmosphere when they are wanted and feel spiritually comfortable. Their exodus from their beloved long standing home churches is painful. In doing so they have left long time friends and even family members. Many who remain behind experience this loveliness because they to have lost friends. For some the only thing causing them to remain is friendships.

Some older churches are meeting this diversity challenge in a way both groups feel comfortable. It can and is being done by some. The church in general has dealt commendably though not perfectly with the divisive issues of diversity mentioned herein. The people who lead in that cultural renewal are the very ones now being alienated. The wisdom shown and the spirit manifested by these experts in social change in making these changes is often not being enlisted in meeting the current challenge.

Piloting the old Ship of Zion in today’s troubled waters is a challenge. It is a day in which there needs to be ALL hands on deck. Fortunately it can and is being done by some. Sail on! Others having lost their GPS (Gospel Perspective Source) have resorted to being imitators rather than creators and are off course in their cultural sea.

Church: The Change Within Part I

As a minister for 55 years and a pastor for 53 years I love churches and those who comprise memberships. To be a critic of something I love so much is an impossibility. To pretend today’s churches don’t have a major challenge would be to evidence a lack of observation, however. The challenges are multiple and complex.

On relates to age groups. To simplify the issue let’s just divide the body into two parts each having multiple sub-parts.

One is the older membership. Members are checking out of churches in the older age group. Likewise, younger people are staying out or dropping out. Many of the members of the older group have given their lives, devotion, and financial resources to purchase land, build buildings, and develop ministries.

The younger group consists of a smaller number of their demographic body than previous generations. Many are uncertain they want to be a part of organized Christianity though studies show a greater interest among them for things spiritual. To survive the church must reach a larger segment of this body. Faced with this challenge some churches are indirectly if not directly marginalizing the older group giving them the impression they aren’t needed and don’t count. To question this approach is often represented as questioning the will of God.

In a drive to reach the unchurched some churches are un churching the churched. This is increasingly resulting in the older generation giving up and giving in but not giving to the church. That in itself is a challenge. The younger members being attracted are not the givers the older generation proved to be.

New churches begun as contemporary ones are growing using techniques, methods, and messages that attract the younger generation. Established churches that try to sideline their older membership and change their church lifestyle are finding it challenging.

Organizations that study church growth say that a church prospers using either traditional or contemporary styles of worship. The form they are started with attracts people who like that form. To change the form is to take away the very thing that attracted the people. They begin to look elsewhere to find what they had.

Those same bodies that study church growth agree that to change a church’s style has rarely ever worked. Some persons find an exception to the rule and represent it as the norm. They set themselves up for failure by discounting the facts.

In spite of the rush to change some traditional churches have stayed with what worked and by doing it tastefully have prospered. This is even true of liturgical congregations. Many of them are attracting young people by doing what they have always done with quality and good taste. Many youth find their formality appealing.

Churches have a challenge. To prosper they must respect their history in charting their future. There are wonderful examples of churches reaching all age groups. Neither needs to be forfeited.

Creation: Intelligent Design Part II

Dr. Anthony Flew has taught at Oxford and other leading universities. For half a century he has been considered the world’s foremost atheist. The man revered as the world’s smartest atheist has written numerous articles and books arguing against the existence of God. He has long been the darling of atheistic philosophy. His devotees are many.

Flew is no longer an atheist. I don’t want to misrepresent him. Neither has he become a Christian or a proponent of Biblical theology. However, recently he announced he must “go where the evidence leads” and that is to a Creator of enormous intelligence and power. When first reported some atheists tried to blow it off as a false report. Flew has confirmed his atheism is a thing of the past. He affirmed that his former arguments for atheism are obsolete in light of new evidence. Of some of his own writing he said it has become “out of date,” a “historical relic.”

His reason for a change is described by him in this simple way. “I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries.” He further explains this conclusion is a result of new knowledge of cell complexity and genetic coding. In light of this he said, “It now seems to me that the findings of more than 50 years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”

“It has become inordinately difficult,” says Flew, “even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism.” He expanded on this by continuing to say, “The enormous complexities by which the results were achieved look to me like the work of intelligence.”

He reached his conclusions apart from the Bible. He admits being impressed by some scientists who correlate Genesis 1 with scientific knowledge. This has prompted him to say, ”That this biblical account might be scientifically accurate raises the possibility that it is revelation.”

Flew is among the growing number of former skeptics who now see in science evidence compatible with what many who believe in the Bible to be a reality. That is not to misrepresent such persons as believing in the Bible but believing that which parallels what the Bible postulates based on scientific evidence apart from the Bible.

Those who believe the Bible is revelation find certain texts meaningful, such as:

“Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities —-His eternal power and divine nature —- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20).

The Psalmist sang, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all” (Psalm 104:24). Meaning, “You designed them intelligently.”

When there two opposing thoughts one has to be correct and the other not. In the laboratory, if not the court room, the pendulum is swinging in favor of intelligent design. If there is scientific evidence of intelligent design what is to be feared by letting the evidence in the science room? If it isn’t students are deprived of data on which to make a scientific decision.

When science and religion are compatible does the science have to be discarded simply because the two are independently parallel?

Creation: Intelligent Design Part I

There is a concept from which youth must be protected. Persons who try to share it are trashed in an effort to expunge this dangerous concept from young minds. Courts, certain editorial boards, and various special interest groups are aligned in shielding young minds from this ideology.

A growing number of scientists and scholars are offering support to sharing the principle called Intelligent Design. Having analyzed observable data they have concluded it is a plausible concept. To this ever expanding cadre of academicians it is a matter of scientific observation of complex cells, organs, and systems that reveal a design indicating intelligence therein. Many proponents are not religious persons. They have reached their conclusion based on scientific observation apart from any religious premise.

That is a concept considered so threatening to some they not only want to stifle freedom of speech but freedom of thought on the topic. It appears proponents of random evolution feel the concept is so indefensible it must be propped up by court order and spread by indoctrination of it and it alone with no dissenting discussion.

After all if the poster boy of evolution, Dr. Anthony Flew of Cambridge University, could be persuaded the evidence of intelligent design is so strong as to change his mind some high school students might also come to believe in it. Evidently evolutionary inquisitors think that would be opprobrious.

Flew had the integrity to say, “It now seems to me that findings of more than 50 years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.” He expanded, “What I think DNA material has done is show that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements together.”

Unfortunately there was a historical period when people of faith sought to stifle scientific knowledge. Now it is people of science who seek to gag their own evidence.

Where there is design there is a designer. Consider a certain kind of watch. There is a big hand on it. Every time it goes around the face of the watch one time a mid-sized hand goes around one-twelfth of the surface. There is a little second hand that hustles even more. Every time the big hand goes around one time it makes sixty trips around its dial. Those hands work that way every time. Take the back off the watch and the design that enables it to perform like clockwork is observable. It was designed to do so. The logical conclusion is there is a designer who produced the watch.

The elemental observation of the earth rotating on its axis and traveling in its orb reveals there is a design to the process. It is so exact the position of the earth can be determined far in advance. Such a design indicates a designer. That designer certainly had intelligence. Intelligence itself indicates an intelligent source. This cudgel isn’t likely to end soon.