Saturday, July 09, 2016

A time for prayer

Posted this yesterday over on Facebook:
Praying God's comfort for the families of the fallen Dallas police officers.  
Praying also for the families of the fallen African American men in Louisiana and Minnesota.  
Praying that God will, through Jesus Christ, give insight to our nation so that we may live in peace and have justice.  
I pray for law-enforcement personnel, who have a difficult and important job.  
I pray for those who seek equal justice under the law.  
I pray that the culture of violence will be conquered by the God revealed in Jesus Christ.  
God, "teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine."

Friday, July 08, 2016

Cherish the Past, Let Christ Alter the Present & Future

[This was shared during the celebration of life and memorial for Jack earlier today.]

I only met Jack once, just a few weeks ago, when I spent about an hour with Jenny and him at their home. But I felt I knew a little bit about him before the moment I stepped through their front door. I’ve gotten to know more about him in the days since his passing. This knowledge, limited though it is, has come to me through family he loved deeply and who loved him deeply in return.

His life story is a remarkable one, really.

It’s the story of a young Jack, whose loving dad believed in his capable son. Jack suffered from dyslexia. But his dad found a school that could help his son on the pathway to achievement.

Jack’s is also the story of a man who himself was a fine husband, father, grandfather, and uncle. A man who built a remarkable business with talent and ability, who mentored people--children, fledgling engineers, nephews, even classmates; sometimes a taskmaster, but always affirming. A man of good humor, as I learned as soon as I met him and a friendly man, who reached out to shake my hand and called me Mark from the beginning. (That's rare; I'm usually called other things besides Mark.) A man who continued a tradition begun by his dad which, until this day has taken him and his extended family to Kentucky Lake in June every year.

Jack was a man loved and appreciated by his wife, Jenny, with whom he spent fifty eight years. And he was a man who, among other things, bequeathed a hearty laugh to his sons.

How do you fill the void left by the passing of a man like this? You don’t! You can’t! And it’s right that you should grieve your loss.

But there are two things I think that you should also do. The first is: Learn from his example. Love well. Work hard. Care about people. Laugh heartily. From what I know of Jack, the world could use more of his kind. I think that he and Jenny have done a good job in creating and nurturing more people who are like themselves. Keep learning from their example.

The second thing you can do is this: Put your trust in the God revealed to all the world in Jesus Christ. It’s Jesus (and only Jesus) Who can help us be the kind of people that we were made to be.

You know, we come into this world willfully self-centered. Sin is our default mode. In the book of Galatians in the New Testament, this common human default mode is called “life in the flesh.” According to Galatians--and according to the news you probably saw on TVs or your computer screens this morning, life in the flesh leads the human race to all sorts of destructive, hurtful ways of living.

But when we let Christ into the center of our lives--when we turn away from our sin and set our hopes for this life and the next on Jesus Christ--God unleashes the power of His Holy Spirit to work good in us. Galatians calls this “life in the Spirit.”

The fruits of this life, Paul says, are things like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

I’m sure that there many of you here today who can attest that you’ve seen such “fruits” in the lives of believers in Christ, even though there isn’t a single believer in Jesus who is perfect. Trusting in Christ can change the way we live.

But trusting in Christ can also give us hope for eternity.

A moment ago, I read the Bible’s account of what happened in the village of Bethany after a friend of Jesus, Lazarus, had died. When Jesus, Who had already performed so many miracles and claimed that He and God the Father are the same being, one of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha, greeted Jesus with what can be seen as a note of scorn. Certain of Jesus’ power and oneness with God, Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

We can feel that way some time. Even though we know that death is part of life in this fallen world, we can be angry at God when we lose someone we love. It’s understandable. Deep in our DNA, we know that we were meant for eternity. Death violates the way things are meant to be.

But remember this: You can only be angry with a God you believe is there.

Jesus doesn’t argue with Martha. He understands her grief.

Instead, Jesus makes a simple statement: “Your brother will rise again.” Martha affirms her faith in that proposition. She says that she knows that Lazarus will rise on the day of the resurrection of the dead.

But then Jesus underscores that the resurrection of the dead isn’t an abstract theological proposition. It’s not a religious fairy tale. Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

The God we meet in Jesus Christ has sole proprietorship over the resurrection of the dead. Resurrection is rooted in Him. It is a physical reality given to those who follow Jesus. All who believe in Jesus--the original Greek word in the New Testament which we translate as believe is literally, trust, or we could say, total trusting surrender--all who believe in Jesus have eternal life.

Resurrection isn’t just a promise, then.

It’s a reality as strong as the Savior Who secured it when He died on the cross, taking the condemnation that you and I deserve because of our default orientation to doing and living the way we want to without regard to God.

It's a reality as strong as the same Savior Who did not remain dead, affirming His power over life, death, and all that grieves us in this world.

Jesus lifts the death sentence that hangs over every human life apart from faith in Him.

Romans 8:1 says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” There is hope when we trust in the God of the universe, Who makes it His business to give life with Him now and life made perfect with Him in eternity, to all who turn away from sin and turn to Him each day they live.

Jesus promises that those who endure in trusting in Him will live with God!

You have lost a good man whose influence can be a positive and inspiring one for as long as you live. Cherish that. Learn from his example of a life well-lived! Celebrate his life and its lessons even as you mourn. Thank God for how blessed you were to have Jack in your life.

And trust in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, Who can fill you with the power to live a life of purpose and meaning today; Who gives life with Him that starts now and cannot be brought to an end even by death.

You can live with the same conviction and hope that we see in Romans 8, that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Count on the truth of those words today. Jesus died and rose to make them true for all who trust in Him.


[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Racial Indifference...and My Repentance

The Barna Group has released this bit of polling: "73% of adults agree that Christian churches play an important role in racial reconciliation."

Even granting that some of those Americans are clueless about the Church, its message, or its role--including many Christians--I think that this sizable majority of our neighbors (a way larger number than the number of people who will vote for the winning candidate in this presidential election) are right.

We Christians and we of the Church do have a role in working for racial reconciliation.

My efforts in this area have been in fits and spurts for years.

And I still think that political action is the least important thing that individual Christians can do on any social issue.

Mostly, I believe, that if we can teach, preach, and live the whole truth of Scripture--that all people are sinners in need of the forgiveness and life-changing grace God offers through the crucified and risen Jesus Christ--hearts, minds, wills, and racial attitudes will be changed.

But we are also called to speak words of justice. And in this, I find myself wanting.

As a boy, I was taught to sing, "Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight." I believe that...with all my heart. I preach that. I teach that. I believe that it's a truth that comes straight from my Savior, Who is Lord of all peoples.

And yet, there is more to be done. Not necessarily by the Church or by pastors, but by all Christians energized by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And not necessarily, as I say, by political actions, but in actions of all kinds streaming from hearts made clean and new and eternal by Christ.

I suspect that many of us need to repent when it comes to our racial attitudes, whether they're the attitudes of indifference buttressed by remaining enveloped in our own race cultures or racism itself. Indifference may be the worst of these two things, as horrible as racism is, because, as has been observed, the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference.

In my heart, I'm not indifferent. But I have been indifferent in my praying and, in recent years, in my living. For that, I repent, and ask that God would show me what I can do through Christ, to bridge the chasms between people.

Tonight, my heart is broken by, among other things, the ongoing tensions between black and white America, the continuation of racism and injustice, which we must acknowledge, I think, whether it's determined that what happened in Louisiana and Minnesota were justified police actions or not.

Speaking for myself and, I believe, the wonderful police officers I've known throughout my life, the videos of those two incidents are horrifying. Horrifying! (I think especially of the little four year old girl who was in the car when four bullets ripped into the body of the man behind the wheel.)

But even beyond these incidents, we must acknowledge that there is a barrier between blacks and whites. If you are a Christian--conservative, liberal, whatever, you and I know, brothers and sisters, that, among us at least, race should not be a barrier.

Jesus died for all.

Jesus rose for all.

And all who trust in Him, whatever their race, can have life with Him as they turn from their sin and follow Him.

Tonight, I ask Christ to help me to turn away from my past racial indifference and to show me the way living my life with less indifference and more of the love of Christ.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Is there a "polite persecution" of Christians in the USA?

The phrase "polite persecution" comes from Pope Francis. It's cited in this article from TIME. I have no interest in the political aspects of things mentioned in the piece by Mary Eberstadt, since I believe that the Church should step into the political arena only rarely.

But she cites incidents that seem to support Francis' belief that "polite persecution" of Christians is a reality in the United States:
According to recent Pew Research reports, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as religiously affiliated has shrunk while the percentage describing themselves as unaffiliated has grown from 2007 to 2014. The percentage who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists fell to 63% from 71% during the same time period.

This new vigorous secularism has catapulted mockery of Christianity and other forms of religious traditionalism into the mainstream and set a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs. In some precincts, the “faith of our fathers” is controversial as never before. 
Some of the faithful have paid unexpected prices for their beliefs lately: the teacher in New Jersey suspended for giving a student a Bible; the football coach in Washington placed on leave for saying a prayer on the field at the end of a game; the fire chief in Atlanta fired for self-publishing a book defending Christian moral teaching; the Marine court-martialed for pasting a Bible verse above her desk; and other examples of the new intolerance. Anti-Christian activists hurl smears like “bigot” and “hater” at Americans who hold traditional beliefs about marriage and accuse anti-abortion Christians of waging a supposed “war on women.”

Some Christian institutions face pressure to conform to secularist ideology—or else. Flagship evangelical schools like Gordon College in Massachusetts and Kings College in New York have had their accreditation questioned. Some secularists argue that Christian schools don’t deserve accreditation, period. Activists have targeted home-schooling for being a Christian thing; atheist Richard Dawkins and others have even called it tantamount to child abuse. Student groups like InterVarsity have been kicked off campuses. Christian charities, including adoption agencies, Catholic hospitals and crisis pregnancy centers have become objects of attack.
Eberhardt goes on to point out that instances like these hardly warrant the overwrought characterization of Christian "persecution" in the US as the equivalent of what happens to Christians in territory controlled by Isil, for example. She's right!
Yet [she says, again rightly, I think] we must also acknowledge that when some Americans citizens are fearful of expressing their religious views, something new has snaked its way into the village square: an insidious intolerance for religion that has no place in a country founded on religious freedom.
I linked to this over on Facebook and received this thoughtful response from Steve, a junior high classmate:
From my experience, there are a number of Christians who are overly sensitive to even the least disagreement of their beliefs, especially when those Christians are loudly calling for everyone to conform, and they call this mild disagreement persecution. That is laughable on its face. I wish people, of whatever or no belief, would be secure in their own selves that they didn't have to seek justification in numbers. Sadly, a lot are not that secure. Jesus himself warned that believers would be persecuted for righteousness' sake, but they would be rewarded for it. So it's rather curious to me why Christians would complain about persecution.
I responded:
Steve, thuggish Christians, a term that should be oxymoronic, are a scourge to the Church. I'm totally opposed to efforts by both the Christian Right and the Christian Left to impose their versions of Christian ethics on society as a whole. Christian ethics are meant to be a voluntary outgrowth of one's relationship with Christ, not a regimen of theocracy. 
And while I don't agree with everything the author of this piece says, the facts she marshals to show the shunning, marginalization, and ridicule to which Christians are subjected these days conforms to my own experiences. To speak openly about one's faith in Christ and belief in the Bible as the definitive Word of God, is to be seen by many as bigoted, closed-minded, irrational, and superstitious.

Some of this reaction--evidenced throughout modern culture--can no doubt be traced to the legalists who call themselves Christians acting as though they speak for Christ on political issues. They engage in an idolatry of a false Jesus--conservative, white, legalistic--who bears little resemblance to the Lord who transformed this one-time atheist to a believer saved by God's undeserved grace through faith in Christ.
There is simply no way to draw a straight line between Christ and a particular political program. People who say otherwise are either deceived or deceivers. I lament the bad rap that people like these give to Christ and Christians. 
When a crowd, their bellies full with food that Jesus had provided to them, sought to make Jesus their political king, he condemned and rejected their impulses. As Jesus said elsewhere, His kingdom has invaded, but is not of, this world. 
That shouldn't lead Christians to quietism when it comes to the affairs of the world. Karl Marx was totally wrong when he described all religion--he especially had Christianity in mind--as an "opiate of the people." Versions of Christianity that lull believers into a passive acceptance of injustice, whether at personal or societal levels, encouraging people to wait for "the sweet by and by," are wrong and faithless. Jesus threw the extortionist currency-exchangers out of the temple for the injustice of their business, all done in the name of God. Jesus wasn't passive and told believers to give to Caesar--the government--what's owed Caesar and to give God what is owed God. Christians are to be active, constructive participants in the lives of their communities, nations, and world. Micah 6:8 in the Old Testament tells believers: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good and what the Lord has required of you, but to love justice and to do mercy and to walk humbly with your God." 
All of this has led me through the years to seek to be a constructive participant in my communities' lives: tutor at a local school; chair of a public school district's levy campaign; member of a county Developmental Disabilities board, another county's juvenile drug abuse prevention task force, and of a county social services commission; president of the board of a countywide Boys and Girls Club; candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives; and so on. 
But not once in these activities have I claimed that the positions I took on policy issues were God's will and that those who disagreed with me were wrong. In fact, I've always tried to make sure people understood that I knew I might be wrong. 
Yet I fear that church bodies and Christian groups who take a "thus says the Lord" approach to public issues have created a backlash against what is, essentially, a cartoon version of Christian faith. 
That is one contributing factor to the subtle "persecution" of Christians in contemporary culture.

Others include: the brainless refusal to examine the truth claims of Christian faith by supposedly intelligent people (I believe that they are intelligent, but willfully ignorant when it comes to what Christianity is really about); the incuriosity of a culture more interested in being entertained and immediately gratified than in probing why they exist and why their world isn't right; and materialism which can insulate people from reality, deluding them with the unspoken belief that they are "gods" to whom life owes them something. 
Of course, many who are bitter and angry with Christians are people who have been mistreated by Christians or gone through hard lives for which there are no easy explanations. To people like these, Christians should listen. Christians should pray for such people. And Christians should seek to bring such people God's love and God's justice. Sometimes the job of Christians and the Church is to clean up the dung spread by others in the name of Christ. (I fully own that I have sometimes, inadvertently and thoughtlessly, been guilty of dung-spreading, by my life and my words. I repent for it.) 
These factors are what I think lay behind much of the sometimes subtle anti-Christian ferocity that exists in the US and the West these days. 
None of it comes as a surprise to me. And we're not suffering like our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world. And sometimes all too comfortable Christians see persecution where it doesn't exist, such as on Starbucks cups at Christmastime. But Jesus warned that Christians would face fierce opposition and spurning for their faith. It's just surprising to see how fierce and uninformed it can be.
Steve answered:
Great reply Mark. I'm going to re-read it tomorrow. I think it's obvious you've done a lot of thinking about this, as have I. Sometimes I think a lot of American Christians have no real understanding, at all, of Christ's teaching. They are great cherry pickers. I try to live and let live. We all have to get through this life the best way we can, and whatever religion or philosophy helps one get through life, I'm all for it. As I said, some people feel threatened when, after offering their religion, the recipient says "no thank you". I believe in "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". No one should be persecuted for their beliefs, ever. Thanks for taking the time to write that response, I am glad for any opportunity to further understand these issues.
Steve is a terrific guy and I am looking forward to seeing him and his wife Kim, a classmate since elementary school, at our high school class reunion later this month. I also look forward to reading his reply.

So, what do you think?

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Great Demon Debate

Yesterday, over on Facebook, I posted a link to an intriguing article by a psychiatrist who also teaches psychiatry at a New York college, on a controversial subject. Titled, As a Psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. And sometimes, demonic possession. It appeared in the Washington Post.

The title is somewhat misleading because in the article itself, Dr. Richard Gallagher says that he doesn't diagnose people as being possessed, only certifies for those who come to him that the cases in question don't lend themselves to a medical diagnosis of mental illness. But Gallagher, like the late M. Scott Peck, also a psychiatrist, is convinced of the existence of demonic possession.

That's provocative enough, of course, coming from a man of science who looked into possible demon possession with skepticism. But Gallagher writes:
The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions.
He condemns those who engage in quackery, treating the mentally ill as though they were demonically possessed. And he claims to know the difference:
A possessed individual may suddenly, in a type of trance, voice statements of astonishing venom and contempt for religion, while understanding and speaking various foreign languages previously unknown to them. The subject might also exhibit enormous strength or even the extraordinarily rare phenomenon of levitation. (I have not witnessed a levitation myself, but half a dozen people I work with vow that they’ve seen it in the course of their exorcisms.) He or she might demonstrate “hidden knowledge” of all sorts of things — like how a stranger’s loved ones died, what secret sins she has committed, even where people are at a given moment. These are skills that cannot be explained except by special psychic or preternatural ability.

I have personally encountered these rationally inexplicable features, along with other paranormal phenomena. My vantage is unusual: As a consulting doctor, I think I have seen more cases of possession than any other physician in the world.

Most of the people I evaluate in this role suffer from the more prosaic problems of a medical disorder. Anyone even faintly familiar with mental illnesses knows that individuals who think they are being attacked by malign spirits are generally experiencing nothing of the sort. Practitioners see psychotic patients all the time who claim to see or hear demons; histrionic or highly suggestible individuals, such as those suffering from dissociative identity syndromes; and patients with personality disorders who are prone to misinterpret destructive feelings, in what exorcists sometimes call a “pseudo-possession,” via the defense mechanism of an externalizing projection. But what am I supposed to make of patients who unexpectedly start speaking perfect Latin?

I approach each situation with an initial skepticism. I technically do not make my own “diagnosis” of possession but inform the clergy that the symptoms in question have no conceivable medical cause.
The article is, as I say, provocative and it has provoked some discussion over on Facebook.

Andrew, a one-time neighbor whose parents are dear friends of ours and who grew up with our son Philp and served as Phil's best man when Phil and his wife were married last year, probably speaking for many, wrote the following:
The people who are being diagnosed as demon possessed aren't getting their mental illnesses treated. Highly highly irresponsible of this charlatan "psychiatrist".
I responded:
I wonder, Andrew, if you read the article. I agree that what you're describing happens. So too, would the author, a psychiatrist and man of science who appears to be open to the facts speaking for themselves.
And also:
Incidentally, the late M. Scott Peck, also a man of science and psychiatrist, was led to a view similar to that of the author on these things. He details his experiences in 'People of the Lie.'
Andrew replied:
I did read the article. And the author obviously doesn't agree with me since he is "diagnosing" people with demon possession. Anyone he decides is demon possessed is not getting the psychiatric help they need. As someone who suffers from mental illness I find it incredibly irresponsible that you're promoting this. You can't pray away depression or anxiety or especially personality disorders and schizophrenia. When I was in the church my treatment was delayed because people in authority told me I could pray it away or that I must be sinning. The church has a horrible history in helping people with mental illness and this kind of unscientific bs just makes it worse.
I responded:
Andrew, he specifically said he doesn't do the diagnosing, but lets others know that there is no scientific explanation for some of the cases he's run up against. He says that in the overwhelming numbers of instances, scientific diagnoses can be made. And he would concede, as I would, that you cannot pray away physiologically rooted instances of anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.

Quacks who say otherwise are destructive and irresponsible. The evidence would indicate to me that this guy is no quack.
Andrew joined (see what a good relationship that we have, that we can talk about something like this and keep talking to each other!):
We don't know what's causing this mental illness - therefore demons seems like a textbook definition of quackery.
My response:
But to the open-minded, other explanations are worthy of consideration.
Andrew's answer:
Being open minded means looking at all the evidence and then coming to the conclusion that that most closely fits that evidence regardless of your previous position. There is zero evidence for demon possession. The author doesn't even bother to present any. He even goes so far as to try to explain away the lack of evidence by talking about how demons are too smart to be recorded on video. In skeptic circles this is called the shyness effect. The same sorts of explanations are given to explain why there are no pictures of Bigfoot or UFOs. So I would ask you to be open minded and follow the evidence where it leads and to acknowledge when there is no good evidence for a claim you're making.
At this, Jeff Schultz joined the conversation, writing:
"Being open minded means looking at all the evidence and then coming to the conclusion that that most closely fits that evidence regardless of your previous position." With respect, I believe that's what this psychiatrist is doing, and what you're unwilling to do. It seems your assessment is based on a purely materialistic view of reality. In that case, then what this psychiatrist is doing is indeed quackery. But what if we don't live in a purely material universe? What if there is a spiritual dimension to reality that can't be scientifically explained, measured, and controlled? The unwillingness to consider that possibility seems like another kind of close-mindedness which would lead to another kind of malpractice.
Andrew replied to Jeff:
What if we don't live in a purely materialistic universe? What if there are Demons? Psychic powers? Faith healing? Show me the evidence for any of these phenomenon and I'll believe it. Seriously. Show me.
But there isn't any, as the excuses in this article suggest. I was a Christian once. I've assessed the evidence. It is lacking. I'd ask you to attempt to do the same.*
Jeff responded:
I don't wish to be difficult or argumentative. You've stated there isn't any evidence. I took that to mean there is no evidence that would satisfy you, especially as you've stated that you also concluded that lack of evidence led you to abandon faith in Christ. Since we see things from such different perspectives, there doesn't seem to be much sense in putting forth reasoned arguments or evidence.
You maintain that believing in the supernatural is baseless and foolish faith that leads to quackery. I maintain the same thing about materialism. But my contention is no more close-minded or inherently dangerous than yours. That's all I'm asking you to consider.
Andrew answered Jeff:
But it is. People are being treated for demon possession by exorcists instead of for mental illness by doctors. You really don't see how that's not inherently dangerous to people?
I answered:
Andrew, I feel that you're arguing against a straw man. At the outset of the piece and in my remarks, the author and I both have said that there are irresponsible flim-flammers treating physiological or emotional disorders as though they were demon-possession. They're to be condemned. And that has zero to do with what we're talking about here.
The psychiatrist who wrote this piece and, as I mentioned earlier, M.Scott Peck, are/were people of science. One came at the subject of demon possession skeptically. Peck was a Buddhist when the reality of demon possession began to impress itself upon him. Both warn that demon possession is rare and that in the lion's share of cases that have been presented to them, the people in question were suffering from psychiatric disorders. (I recommend Peck's book, 'People of the Lie.' By the time he wrote this, he was a Christian, in part because his encounter with the demonic had convinced him of the existence of a non-material world.)

And I agree with Jeff, that the author of the 'Washington Post' article did present phenomenon inexplicable by traditional scientific means.

As to the existence of a non-material world, I commend a book to you: 'Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine' written by a medical doctor, Larry Dossey, not a Christian, who refers to many studies done at places like Harvard Medical Center, in which persons who did not [know that] people were praying for them, experienced markedly greater rates of recovery and lower rates of mortality than persons for whom no one was known to be praying for them. Many dozens of such studies have taken place over time and are highly suggestive of the existence of the non-material.
Just anecdotally, here in Dayton [there's] a hospital where the surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists often ask [if] they can participate in prayer[s] I offer for surgical patients and [attending] medical staff before procedures. The doctors' experiences over the years have convinced them of the efficacy of prayer.
Of course, the only way for a person to believe is to be open to it. Erickson rightly said that the first and most fundamental issue we must face in our lives is trust v. mistrust. I believe that this issue is with us our entire lives. Much about this life can delude us with the notion of self-sufficiency or that we must be self-sufficient. The fact is that it is difficult for us to believe either in the God we cannot see--but who, I believe has been revealed definitively in Jesus--or in the dark powers at work with ferocity in our world.

When I was an atheist, I refused to trust in a God I couldn't see. But, in the people of what became my home church in Columbus, I saw the evidence of a higher power acting in the lives of ordinary people: the man who had dealt with a lifetime of emotional issues who drew uncommon and inexplicable strength--despite setbacks--from Christ as he underwent treatment; the devoted husband who lost his wife yet could say on the day of her funeral how good God had been to him; the seminary student who described the encounter with Christ that led him to go to seminary.

I realized that God is a gentleman. He wants love to be real [to love Him back voluntarily, not because we have to]. He will not force us to acknowledge His lordship or His call on our lives. I came to the God wasn't the Allah of Islam. Nor was He either the indulgently passive deity or the harsh cruel master of popular opinion.

While taking a class called 'Life with God,' trying to understand why the Christians I met in that congregation were so real and so together, I realized that I could only know the God revealed in Jesus Christ by letting Him into my life. I didn't yet believe. But I wanted to believe. I still struggle to believe, [to trust]. I've found that as I open myself to Christ--not the Christ of my imagination nor the Christ of popular preference, but Christ as He revealed Himself to the apostles--I experienced life differently. Christ in me [empowering me and inciting me to do things I can't and am not inclined to do] was and is evidence of a non-material world.

I myself have had to be treated for anxiety over the years, occasionally requiring prescriptions. Members of my extended family have suffered from depression and anxiety and have received treatment for it. I have met people in my counseling through the years who clearly suffered from mental or emotional issues that required the healing God provides through the medical profession.

I agree with you--I think that Jeff Schultz does too--that it's far more likely that someone displaying some behaviors is medically ill than that they are possessed by demons. But when people exhibiting symptoms similar to the mentally ill also manifest the ability to speak a language they've never known or to in the lives of persons they've never met, common sense, experience, and God's revelation all suggest that something else is going on.

You may choose not to believe it all, of course. I did once. But that doesn't give you license to say that the evidence that has been compiled through the centuries and even more recently in rigorous scientific studies doesn't exist. I think it does exist.

I love you, boy! There's always a place in my heart for you. And, whether you want it or not, I pray for you. Be happy.
Here's Andrew's answer:
I'll just leave this here and leave it at that then. This quote sums up my feelings on the article well:

"By accepting their delusion, you are reinforcing it, making it even harder to treat. You are victimizing the people you are supposed to be helping, by failing in your primary duty as a professional to be detached and evidence-based."

Believing and propagating the lie of demon possession causes real harm to real people. NeuroLogica Blog » A Psychiatrist Falls for Exorcism
That's where the "demon debate" stands at this point. I believe that it's been conducted with love and respect, as it should be.

I'm thankful to Richard Gallagher for his article and to the Washington Post for publishing it. It addresses an important topic.

*Andrew evidently didn't remember that I was once an atheist. It was the people of what became my home church who caused me to investigate the truth claims of Christian faith. I had previously seen them as irrational. But I realize that atheism is even more irrational. It argues, basically, that scientific observation, giving, as it does, information on the processes of life, means that all truth is scientifically observable. Science is important; it answers questions about the what, how, and (maybe the) when of the universe. But it cannot and we cannot reason our way to answering questions of why and who. Nor can it tell us definitively if there is or isn't non-material (spiritual) life.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, July 04, 2016

"If you've had any experience at all with computers, would you really want one driving your car??"

That's a question posed by Annie Gottlieb over on Facebook as she linked to this article about self-driving Tesla involved in a fatal accident. My answer is, "Yes, when you're talking about the right computer."
My experience with PCs has been horrible: They'r unreliable, prone to crashing and early deaths. 
But my experience with Apple products has been amazing. So, if Microsoft were to produce a self-driving car, I would be wary. But if Apple perfects their self-driving car for the market, I would immediately put it on my wish list. 
I love to ride in cars, but I don't care much for driving. Even before there were computers, I remember as a kid fantasizing about having a car that I could enter and simply tell it where to take me. On the trip, I could read and write and think and pray and play music at an incredible volume. 
So, yep I want a self-driving car!
[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

[UPDATE: Writer and editor Annie Gottlieb and I have continued our little dialog on self-driving cars over on Facebook. She responded to what I posted above:

Mark Daniels -- what you are describing already exists in large part. It's called a "train" ... ;))
Smart aleck! :)

She goes on:
I love to drive -- maybe because for a female it was so empowering when little else was (sign o' the times: I dated a couple of guys who wouldn't let me drive their cars), or maybe it's just genetic -- my father and his mother loved to drive (though she had no sense of direction and once left Chicago for New York, only to be surprised when she arrived at the Mississippi River). I also once had the (empowering) experience of minimizing an accident with my driving reflexes. So driving is how I like to be in a car ... though it is also a strain, which us why I also like ... the train.
Annie makes some good points. I responded:
In some places, trains can take you where you need to go--such as if you're a commuter in places like New York, Philly, San Francisco, or Chicago. If I lived in places like that, I'd take the train.

But the train won't work for most of my transportation needs. And even when a train will do (or a plane or a ship), i still need something like a car to get me to the station, airport, or dock.

Now about how you like to "be" in a car: Whenever we travel together by car, my wife drives. She's a self-confessed control freak. Some years ago, a friend loaned us the use of a new house she'd built on a mountain outside of Durango, Colorado. We decided to drive in order to see parts of the country we really hadn't seen before. We took our kids and my mother-in-law. Five licensed drivers in the car...and my wife drove every mile there and back. While we razzed her about that, I didn't mind--I'd describe myself as a confident, if unenthusiastic, driver.

But, here's the thing. In addition to being a control freak, my wife also claims to get carsick if she has to be a rider for long. She HAS to drive, she claims. It seems like a rationalization to me. But this is one manifestation of her control issues I don't mind. It's led to some good trips.

Because my kids were prone to carsickness too--and I never have been--it led to one of the best, most enduring traditions of our longer car rides: I read to my just my wife.

When we took the kids to Disneyworld over twenty years ago, I read all seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia on the way to and from Florida. The practice continues. Right now, on our weekly forays to see our parents I'm reading Jon Meacham's new bio of George H.W. Bush. Yes, there are audio books, but I prefer reading to listening...and maybe that's my way of being a control freak. And I seriously doubt that fellow passengers of the Amtrak would much like hearing me read out loud during their trips.
With all of that said, I think that Brit motor racing enthusiast and one time pub owner--a man with a great name--Mark Daniels, plays the trump card on whether we should worry about riding in a computer-driven car in his comment to this post. He says this to the wary:
And yet most people get on board a plane without realising that it's a computer that's in charge of pretty much the whole flight...

Freedom Through Christ's Indispensable Family

Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18
One of the most commonly overlooked aspects of Christian life today in North America and western Europe is this: Whenever and how we profess our faith in Christ, we are saying, “I am not in this alone. I’m part of the Church. I care about other believers. I’m accountable to other believers. I need other believers to live in the freedom Christ died to give me.”

We chafe under this kind of thinking as Americans. We like to think we’re self-sufficient.

But the fact is, we’re all dependent on countless other people. They produce the food we eat and guarantee its safety,  give us running water and electricity, make the cars we drive and the computers we use, and provide the medical care we need, and so on.

The notion that any of us is self-sufficient is a dangerous lie, dangerous because it makes us think that we don’t need God, when in fact, everything--even safe food, running water, cars and computers and medical care--ultimately comes from God.

The lie of self-sufficiency is even more dangerous within the Church. In fact, it’s demonic.

Romans 6:19-20 reminds believers that we are totally dependent on God for our lives and for the eternal life Christ gives to those who repent and believe in Him: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. [A purchase Jesus made on the cross where He spent His life to save us.] Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (That means with our whole selves!)

And Jesus tells believers in John 15:5: “apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

We need the God revealed to us and the rest of the world in Jesus Christ.

But we also need and are called to sacrificially love those who make up Christ’s Church.

Jesus says to His Church: “ A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” And then, Jesus says: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:34-35] The credibility of Jesus and the Church’s message about new life for all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ depends on whether Christ’s Church sees itself, collectively and individually, as mutually-dependent, mutually-accountable sisters and brothers of faith in Jesus.

Romans 12:4-5, drives home the call to mutual dependency, telling the Church: “...just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

The New Testament repeatedly refers to the Church as “the bride of Christ.” One truth we see from this metaphor is that the believer’s relationship to Christ and His Church is more important than the relationship of a husband and wife. Marriages end at the grave. But the Church endures for all eternity!

We Christians need each other and we are commanded to live in love with each other and in accountability to each other for the sake of Christ’s mission in the world.

But let's be honest: Whether among husband and wife, friends, family members, or the disciples who make up a Christian congregation, conflict happens.

And conflict isn’t inherently bad. Conflict can be creative and lead to new ways of people looking at things and relating to each other, if the parties are healthy, loving, and Christian toward one another.

Over the past several weeks, in this series called Freedom in Christ, we’ve been looking at the words the apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Galatia in about 49 AD. Paul wrote to correct a dangerous heresy, a false belief, that had taken root among some of the Galatian Christians. They believed, in effect, that Jesus’ death on the cross was insufficient to give those who repent and believe in Jesus life with God, that the men had to be circumcised and that all believers also had to add to it good works proscribed by Old Testament law.

There was a conflict in the churches at Galatia between those who believed what Jesus taught--that all who turn from sin and believe in Him are saved and have new, everlasting life--and those who believed that what they did was what saved them. Paul called one the life of the flesh and other, the life of the Spirit. Clearly, the two perspectives contradicted each other. There could be no compromise between them: one was of God and the other wasn’t. It was to correct those who had strayed from God’s truth that Paul had written this letter.

In today’s second, Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18, probably praying that the first sections of his letter had reminded those who had strayed what God’s truth and the way to life really were, Paul wrote to encourage all the Galatian Christians to repent, reconcile, and move on with their life as Christ’s people in the world.

Take a look at our lesson, please. Paul writes: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”

Unrepentant sin on the part of just one Christian disciple in Christ’s Church has an impact on the whole Church. There may be times, then, when it becomes the responsibility of another member of the Church to approach the person engaging in unrepentant sin.

It isn’t easy. I’ve told before about the Christian I knew and respected who used God’s name to make exclamations or punctuate sentences. Finally, I asked, “Why do you use God’s name like that?” “I’m not cussing,” he said defensively. “No, you’re not cussing. But you are using God’s name for something other than prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. That disses His holiness.” The man thought for a moment and said, “You’re right.”

Now, listen: I didn't tell that story to paint myself a hero. (If you knew how much my knees were knocking when I confronted that brother in Christ, you'd know that I'm no hero!) But, hers my point in telling you that story: It was at the moment that I helped that man see the need for repentance for taking God’s name in vain though, that I was in the most danger as a Christian. Do you hear what I'm saying?

It was right for me to be concerned--in Paul’s words “to carry that fellow believer’s burdens”--about unrepented sin. Lovingly confronting him was a way to fulfill Christ’s law that I love others.

But had that little confrontation become an occasion for me to cave into self-righteous crowing, even within my own mind, I would have fallen into sin myself.

We’re to speak the truth in love to help our fellow believers hold onto Christ, not to make ourselves look or feel better than others.

Let’s slide down a few verses now, to verse 7, to see Paul’s warning against self-righteousness in dealing with conflicts and disagreements: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Earlier in Galatians, you’ll remember, Paul spent some time distinguishing between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh.

Life in the Spirit is life lived with the freedom of knowing that while I’m not perfect, as I trustingly turn my sins to Jesus and seek to follow Him obediently each day, the life of faith, I am being saved from sin and death.

The life of the flesh is life lived according to the beliefs of this world. Whether their belief system is religious or secular, people who live life in the flesh look at themselves and pronounce, “I’m good enough to pass muster with God and the universe.”

The Galatian Christians who got circumcised and claimed that their good works would save them were living life in the flesh.

But, Paul was warning, any time we rationalize or forget our own sins while looking down our noses on fellow Christians or other people because we think they’re not as good as we are, we’re sowing our own eternal destruction.

If we want to live in the grace of Christ, we need to extend the grace of Christ to others. Jesus says bluntly in Matthew 6:15: “...if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

In the Church, Paul is saying here in our second lesson, “You must call each other to account. You must call each other to live in the freedom of forgiven sin, helping each other out of the traps of sin and death with which life this life is littered. But you must also forgive. Otherwise, you’ll fall into death too, via the sin of self-righteousness.”

Finally, Paul writes to anyone who may be inclined to say, “Who is this Paul character to tell us how to live out our faith in Christ?” Verse 14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.”

“My only brag,” Paul is saying, “is in the power of Jesus’ cross to crucify the old sinner in me and in all of us, so that the new self can live in the freedom of forgiven sin, new life, and holy purpose."

Folks, nothing else matters! Only faith in Jesus Christ sets us free to live as we were made to live by God. Only faith in Jesus Christ sets us free to live as a vibrant church.

The cross of Christ is our only brag too.

The cross is where freedom comes from, both for individual disciples and for Christ’s Church.

Our common confession is that in order to live in the freedom to be all God made us to be, to claim the victory over sin and death that Jesus won on the cross, we need Jesus Christ and we need His eternal family, the Church. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

"In any art you’re allowed to steal anything if you can make it better, but the tendency should always be upward instead of down. And don’t ever imitate anybody. All style is, is the awkwardness of a writer in stating a fact. If you have a way of your own, you are fortunate, but if you try to write like somebody else, you’ll have the awkwardness of the other writer as well as your own."

That's Ernest Hemingway on writing, the quote excerpted in Brain Pickings from a book, With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba.

Some other pieces of advice on writing from Hemingway:
When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself. That’s the true test of writing. When you can do that, the reader gets the kick and you don’t get any. You just get hard work and the better you write the harder it is because every story has to be better than the last one. It’s the hardest work there is. I like to do and can do many things better than I can write, but when I don’t write I feel like s..t. I’ve got the talent and I feel that I’m wasting it.
These observations interest me for several reasons. The biggest one is that it runs counter to what you think might happen in the mind of an artist who becomes successful. Hemingway is saying, in essence, that when he first started writing, he did it for himself, to give himself a "kick." After he gained success, he wrote to give the reader a kick.

I'm sure that not all artists operate in this way. In the two-hour CBS News documentary on Paul McCartney done in 1989, the musician told reporter Bernard Goldberg that in the early days, the songs he and John Lennon wrote were for the fans. But success, he said--I'm paraphrasing here--had given them license to write in order to please themselves.

Hemingway was saying that for him anyway, it worked the other way around. His discipline as time went on was to write for the reader and not himself.

The other thing that strikes me about what he said in that block quote above is that, though he felt he could do a better job at things other than writing, he had to write.

This may seem indecipherable to some. But to me, in talking about writing, Hemingway was describing a life's calling.  He wrote because that was what he was called to do, even if he may have been a better fisherman, boxer, or accountant.

I once read or heard about a fellow who was contemplating going to seminary with an eye to becoming a pastor. He decided to get the counsel of his own pastor, who told him, "If you can do anything other than being a pastor, do it."

This pastor wasn't telling the younger guy that being a pastor was bad. He was saying one should be a pastor only if the idea of becoming a pastor won't go away.

I often describe how it felt before I "caved in" and went to seminary: It was as if God grabbed me by the lapels and wouldn't let me go until I applied for admission. This happened precisely at the point when I had gotten my toe in the door of the profession I'd always dreamed of being part of, politics.  It also happened when I was on the most solid financial footing of my life. But I could not not be a pastor. It was one of my callings in life.

We all have to put food on the table and care for family members, of course. And we all are likely to have other practical responsibilities. So, there will be times when we have to take jobs we don't like and don't feel passionate about. I once calculated that I'd worked at twenty-eight different jobs before my calling became clear Most of the jobs were part-time and I took all of them mostly to pay the bills or to feed my ambitions, and certainly, with no sense of calling.

But I think that Hemingway's revelation of his compulsion to write and that old pastor's advice to the prospective seminarian probably convey something to us about the work we should undertake in our lives--whether in our full time jobs or in the avocations we pursue:
What good, useful, God-honoring, people-helping thing do you find yourself incapable of avoiding? 
Whatever it is, do that.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]