Thursday, July 29, 2010

The not so fairytale wedding of Charles & Diana

charles-diana-2b It was a fairytale wedding come true for the older members of Generation X, like me. I got up very early on that morning of July 29, 1981, joining a worldwide TV audience of 750 million, to witness the very beautiful twenty-year-old Diana become The Princess of Wales when she married Prince Charles at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England. The wedding ceremony with all of its pomp and circumstance was absolutely stunning.

As is well known now, there marriage proved to be anything but a fairytale. After the lack of intimacy, distrust and infidelity, they were separated and then divorced — exactly the ending to marriage that we Gen Xers expect to see. Today, exactly 29 years after their wedding (and 14 years after their divorce), while certainly disillusioned about marriage, I still find myself believing and wanting to believe in marriage, in a love and intimacy between two people that lasts a lifetime. There is no fairytale romance, wedding and marriage; it does not magically just happen in our real world. It takes love and patience and suffering and hard work to have a great marriage. But this ideal of a love and intimacy between two people that lasts a lifetime, I know it must exist. I know because this is what the Scriptures describe for us — Jesus himself saying, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." (Matt 19:5-6)

Recently, I put together a list of the Top Ten Bible Readings for Weddings. This is a great top ten list which I've posted at in hopes that couples looking to include a Scriptural reading in their wedding will find it. I hope you'll check it out too! Squidoo is a fun and fascinating site... and the more people who visit my "Squidoo lens," the higher my ranking, so help a friend out ;)  My lens has risen from #8335 all the way up to #285 in the "religion" category.

Monday, July 26, 2010

How facts can make things worse

While reading the Toronto Star last week, this headline caught my attention, "How facts can make things worse." Being a big proponent of "the truth shall set you free," I was alarmed at the notion that getting facts can make it worse. How so? It turns out that the article is about a fascinating research project about how presenting facts to politically conservative people in the U.S. can actually cause them to  solidify their wrong position! (If it's too hard to read in the window below, you can find it here: How facts can make things worse.)

After reading the article, I wondered how it might apply in Christian circles. Is it possible that we who value the truth might also be subject to the "Backfire Phenomenon"? What do you think? I'll comment below, but just to review, here are two salient points from the article:

It is known as the backfire phenomenon: misinformed people who are given correct information not only reject that information, but end up believing the wrong information even more strongly.

Part of this response can be attributed to a common psychological phenomenon known as motivated reasoning — when people encounter discordant information [they]wile-coyote-road-runner find a way to deal with that information in a way that doesn’t threaten what they already know or believe.

So does the backfire phenomenon happen in Christian circles? By presenting facts to some wayward Christians do we actually make things blow up even worse? I suspect this is exactly what has happened in the last 40 years with regard to the erroneous teaching about an end times "rapture" of believers. Thanks to Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth it became very popular to believe that true Christians would be raptured to heaven before the outpouring of God's wrath in the last days. Now, in reality, the term "rapture" is not biblical nor is the concept supported in the Bible. There's just no way that Bible verses like Revelation 4:1 support the idea of all believers being taken up to heaven before seven years of wrath ("After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this"). But, when we have tried to correct this teaching by presenting evidence from the Scriptures, it has only made things worse and multiplied the false teaching about the rapture. In fact, it exploded into the best-selling series of Left Behind novels. Now it seems almost impossible to present the Biblical truth on this matter and have it heard. Trying to do so with the novel readers only makes things worse.

What do you think? Are there other examples in the Church where presenting the facts only makes things worse?

Another example that came to mind for me is in those circles where the sovereignty of God has been taught in such a way as to promote a deterministic understanding of reality,Road-Runner leaving us to be merely puppets pulled by God's strings. Though it seems abundantly clear that we are radically free event o run wild, presenting the Biblical teaching on free will — the human power to choose only seems to make things worse (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live" - Deut 30:19; "choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve" - Josh 24:15; "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" - John 3:18; "Whoever wills, let him take the water of life freely" - Rev 22:17). Though the Scriptures clearly teach that humans have free will, presenting these facts to some people only makes things worse and they then support even more extreme versions of determinism where nothing happens apart from God willing it which serves to make God the author of evil (theologically, an unacceptable position rejected by the early church).

Anyone want to weigh in? Is it true that sometimes facts make things worse in the church? What do you think?

Just thinking,
Ken Symes

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pray for the oil to stop

The new containment cap has been installed, but for some unspecified reason the integrity testing has been delayed. I hope and pray that this cap will stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. I know I've been focused on this disaster for a while now, but I do remain very concerned that this crisis is not being taken seriously enough, especially in the Christian community. The water is becoming toxic, ocean life is being killed, and livelihoods are being devastated. Human folly is wreaking havoc with God's good creation. And look at the rate at which it is happening. Watch above to see how the oil is flowing according to the conservative estimate. Start moving the slider to see what the more realistic numbers look like.

bp.oil.containment.cap Please join me in praying that the oil will stop gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. I'm hoping for the best with this new containment cap, but concerned that testing on Tuesday was delayed. God have mercy! Here is a suggested prayer:

We pray today for the preservation of the Gulf of Mexico
   and the lands and waters it touches:
Please stop the oil from gushing into the ocean;
Give them success with this new containment cap.
Guide those who labour to contain the oil 
   that endangers the creatures of sea and land;
Strengthen those who work to protect them;
Have mercy on those whose livelihoods are suffering;
Forgive us for our carelessness in using the resources of
and give us wisdom and reverence so to manage them in the 
   that no one may suffer from our abuse of them,
   and that generations yet to come may praise you
   in the beauty of your creation; 
   through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(This prayer is a slightly revised version of a prayer written by the Rev. Canon Beverly Findley Gibson, subdean of Christ Church Cathedral  in Mobile, Alabama.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Oil spill disaster in the Gulf: How we can know that it is not God's judgment on the US

oil-wave-cp-orange-beach-alabama Previously, I expressed how surprised I was at how little of a Christian response there was to the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, at least based on what I could find on the Internet.
Recently, someone pointed me to a video circulating on the net in which a pastor from Florida claims that the oil spill catastrophe is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy! To be fair, Pastor Carl Gallups would probably say that he does not claim this, but rather asks if it could be the judgment of God and fulfillment of prophecy. (I've invited Pastor Gallups to reply to this posting, and I will post any reply I receive from him. I am very open to debating this with him so that we can arrive at truth.) Let's be clear, to ask a leading question like this is to imply the answer. Most people viewing the video or listening to the original radio broadcast would conclude that Gallups believes the oil spill disaster is God's judgement on the US for turning against Israel. But see for yourself...

The conclusion Pastor Gallups gives in the video sums it up nicely: "April the 19th, Israel celebrates its independence in 2010. On April the 19th, Fox News reports that the U.S. will no longer automatically support Israel in the United Nations. The next day, on April the 20th, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes. Coincidence? Or the hand and judgment of God?" World Net Daily interviewed Pastor Gallups and they got Bible prophecy heavyweight Hal Lindsey (author of The Late Great Planet Earth) to back him up, "I believe this is evidence that when you turn your back on Israel, especially when you've been a supporter, you're gonna see judgments come from God." Really? I object to Lindsey and to Pastor Gallups.

There are at least three good reasons why this horrible disaster is NOT God's judgment on the US: (1) God gave no warning, (2) Fox News isn't presenting actual facts about the US and (3) the Genesis prophecy ultimately concerns the children of Abraham by faith not by land.

1. God gave no warning. Here's how biblical prophecy about judgment works: (1) God decides he must judge the people's sin so He sends a prophet, (2) if the people listen and repent He does not judge them, (3) but if they continue in sin, having been warned,Jonah they are then judged.  Think about the Ninevites, for example. God sends the prophet Jonah and even though his prophetic message is, "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown," when the people repent, God does not overthrow their city. If you think this through, the judgment-punishment must be clearly connected to wrong behaviour if it is to be effective. Philip Yancey illustrates this very well: "Think of a parent who punishes a young child. It would do little good for that parent to sneak up at odd times during a day and whack the child with no explanation. Such tactics would produce a neurotic, not an obedient, child." So regarding the oil spill crisis, where was the warning? How is the US to know that they are being punished for their policy towards Israel if God has not warned them? Wasn't it clear to the Pharaoh of Egypt why the plagues came upon his land? Why wouldn't God warn President Obama? As Amos 3:7 says:
Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing
       without revealing his plan
       to his servants the prophets.
2. Fox News is reporting gossip which cannot be substantiated.  This article fails to meet the standard of journalistic credibility. Let's get real: there was no significant change in US policy toward Israel on April 19 and not even the Fox article is claiming any change took place on April 19. The only sources that Fox News refers to in this article actually deny that any policy change has occurred! Now, here's the real kicker: the Fox News articles claims that the US has a history of using its veto at the UN Security Council on votes against Israel making new settlements in the occupied territories.president-obama Examine the history for yourself and you'll see this is wrong. The US voted for UN Resolution 242 in 1967 which forbids Israeli settlements in the territories and so far as I know the US has consistently called on Israel to stop building these new settlements. Even if what Fox News is alleging about President Obama were true, I don't see how this would be a "major shift in policy" — it sounds rather like a consistent confirmation of ongoing US policy.

3. The Genesis prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and has nothing to do with the modern state of Israel. In Genesis 12, God made this promise to Abraham:
I will make you into a great nation,
       and I will bless you;
       I will make your name great,
       and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
       and whoever curses you I will curse;
       and all peoples on earth
       will be blessed through you. (Gen 12:2-3)
While many (dare I say dispensationalist?) Christians think a prosperous nation of Israel in the promised land is the fulfilment of this promise, they are at odds with the New Testament. (Personally I vote for the NT over and against dispensationalism.) Paul and the other apostles were quite aware of the promises made to Abraham and they saw them as being fulfilled through Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham. In Galatians 3, explaining how this very promise made to Abraham is being fulfilled, the Apostle Paul declares:
Those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Gal 3:7b-9)
The blessing of the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord is how God blesses the nations (ie. Gentiles) through Abraham. And as Christians today carry this message more nations and more Gentiles will be blessed. And, to continue Paul's thought into Genesis 12:3, those who bless Christians who are sharing the gospel will themselves be blessed, but those who curse Christians proclaiming that Jesus is Lord will themselves be cursed — well, Jesus changes our perspective on that, saying, "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:28).  Sorry, there's just no way that the Bible ever gives some kind of blanket promise of blessing to the nation of Israel (past or present). And I would argue that the US should certainly not automatically vote with Israel in the UN. It is a lousy interpretation of Genesis 12:3 to suggest otherwise.boom-sand-cp In conclusion, I want to underscore again what a horrible tragedy we are seeing in the Gulf of Mexico, worsened now by Hurricane Alex. It seems apparent that many mistakes were made, many "shortcuts" taken in the construction of the Deepwater Horizon. Human error, human greed and human arrogance are to blame for this disaster, not God. Pastor Gallups looks at the oil spill crisis and sees the righteous judgment of God; I look and cry for what we've done — clearly not what God has called us to do with this good earth and its resources. What we should be able to hear from the Gulf of Mexico and its beaches is creation groaning for redemption, having been subjected to frustration due to sin (Romans 8:18-25). God help us! Please, Lord, stop this oil from ruining sea and land. Have mercy on us.

For a similar viewpoint: BP Spill: Israel's Revenge?
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