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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

God Loves a Cheerful Giver

“God loves a cheerful giver.”
(2 Corinthians 9:7)

It is interesting to notice that in the Bible, God’s love for his people is almost always said in the past tense with the occasional “everlasting” or “steadfast” modifier attached. While I am positive of God’s love for the saints past, present, and future and that for anyone to deny any of these is to deny the very heart of the gospel, it is still very curious that God’s word only uses the present tense to describe God’s love for us in reference to two categories: cheerfully giving and disciplining those He loves (Pr. 3:13; Heb 12:6; Rev 3:19). While books can be written, (and probably should be), on God’s discipline of those He loves, this article will only deal with giving cheerfully.
For over a decade I have worked everything from retail to restaurants, cafes to coffee shops, and family dining to fine dining, so it is needless to say that I have had a fair share of exposure to the public as a whole. In doing so, I have noticed a troubling trend among Christians in the marketplace. We are, on a whole, far from generous and can be quite tightfisted or at best calculatingly exact. On Sundays following church services around the nation, Christians flood their local coffee shops, cafes, diners, malls, and supermarkets. One would expect that after being in the presence of God and singing praise of his graciousness to us, we would, in turn, reflect that light to others. If I told you that I had been hit by a semi-truck going 90mph but showed not even a single bruise, you would know that I was either lying or the biggest miracle you had possibly ever seen. Yet Christians do this week in and week out. How can we have an encounter with the Living God and walk away unchanged? Sundays should be the best day of work for those of us who find ourselves in situations where we must work. Sadly it is the worst day for nearly every employee in every customer service based industry. Waiter’s around the country know the cliché, “Well, they gave 10% to God so how could they afford giving 15% to me?” This is an indictment upon the church.
Please do not hear that I am a disgruntled server who is fed up with low percentage tips. Please do hear that I am a disgruntled Christian who is very fed up with my witness being damaged week in and week out because of the undercurrent of tightfistedness among my fellow saints. I am a fellow believer who is tired of hearing my faith, my family and my God mocked because my people are penny-pinching and make sure to tip, down to the penny, the absolute minimum they feel they can get away with.
I do not believe that when God said to be a cheerful giver, he had in mind only what we give at church in tithes and offerings, but rather in every area of our life where money is involved. We do not teach our children to share only so they will share with us alone, but so that they will cultivate an attitude of generosity with everyone that they meet. Our Father is the very same with us and with our possessions. We do not teach our children that the best way to share is so exact that they should only share for 15 minutes if the other child only shared for 15 minutes, or to only share their old doll because their new doll is too precious to them and cost too much for us. Nor do we even teach them to share only with someone who has shared previously with them, but rather to share even in spite of the selfishness of others. Again, this is also what our Father wants for us. Imagine if God sacrificed His only Son’s life just for those of us who shared first! Is this not the gospel? That in spite of our sins, Jesus died for us? (Rom. 5:7)
At Bible college, many of may classmates would be confused on the proper tipping procedure. They would sometimes understand why I would tip $25-$35 on a $100 dinner check, even if they would never do it themselves. Yet when I would tip $5 on a $7 or $8 bill they would protest that it was over 50%. I told them then and I still firmly believe that generosity is not slave to a percentage. The difference between 15% and 65% on a $8 bill is only a couple dollars for me but can make a world of difference for my server. The difference between 15% and 25% on a $100 is two lattes at Starbucks for me, but can completely turn the worst night around for a server. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone you know who works for tips.
Buying a drink at Starbucks can average around $3.50. Will it really hurt to leave them the change for our $5? I guarantee that while you wont feel the difference in your wallet, your barista will remember you from then on out. To prove this point, I once did an experiment with two of my local coffee shops. At one I would tip only the coinage that I received with my change, usually around $.30 to $.50. At the other, I would round up to $5 no matter what I got. This would sometimes be a $2 tip but if all I got was a drip coffee it could sometimes be almost $4. At the end of the month I was just another regular customer at the first coffee shop but at the second I knew all the baristas names, their life stories, who had kids, who was taking what classes and was even invited to several birthday dinners and other special events. What a difference in the opportunities that were now available to witness. A couple dollars here and there can smash down doors to witnessing. Maybe it is possible that God knew what He was talking about with this whole generosity thing?
Another common mistake people make is to give out tracts as replacement for a tip or part of a tip. While it is hard to argue with the logic that a clear presentation of the gospel is of more value than the tip could ever be (in the final analysis), I find that in these instances I must. I promise that a generous tip will have a greater impact when placed in tandem with the tract and not replaced by it. If a tract is given with a stingy tip or no tip at all, it will actually bring more scorn upon it than the person may know. Now, some may say that this is the normal reaction of the lost to mock the gospel which they see as foolishness. While this is true for some who will mock it no matter what, it is more common that the person who leaves the tract is mocked rather than the message of the tract itself when they are stingy.
Remember what Jesus said about giving good gifts, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” (Mt. 7:9-10) Your server is hoping for a generous tip, but substituting the tract for it is on par with giving them the stone or the serpent. Imagine that your boss replaced a portion of your salary with catalogues or a magazine subscription that you had no interest in. How many of us would be excited about the new change in our pay scale? Your server feels the same. A tract can be a nice supplement to a tip, but should never replace or decrease it.
A co-worker of mine once had a rare Sunday afternoon. She had Christians who actually knew how to be generous. After three or four tables of 25% tips, a table left a nice tip and a tract. This same woman would have normally ridiculed it with everyone in the kitchen, but I saw her tuck it away with her tips in her purse at the end of the night. She did not convert to Christ right then and there because of money, but old stereotypes of cheap Christians were shattered and she was open to something she would have normally had nothing to do with.
Our Lord said that we cannot serve both God and money. When we pull out our calculators and find out the exact tip down to the penny that we can give to just meet the minimum we show an attitude of heart that we are not cheerfully giving but doing it begrudgingly. When we use a coupon and tip on the total after the discount, we tell the server that we don’t want to be generous with them but want to skate by spending the least money possible. What does a cheerful giver look like? Is it someone with an accountants hat on with a calculator in hand, counting out pennies and rounding down where possible? Or is it someone who wants to bless others in a meaningful way to the glory of God because He was so generous with us?
As a server my witness at work is more dependant on the other Christians who walk through the doors than they can ever know. And I am not alone. Christians in the service industry around the country struggle almost every shift with this. If someone tips 8% after saying “we loved the service and may God bless you,” we hear about it. If someone invites their server to church but doesn’t leave more than a few coins, we hear about it. When someone leaves a tract about the generous love of God but then hypocritically cannot even reflect that generosity themselves, we hear about.
Please take seriously when God says that He loves a cheerful giver. We are not buying converts, but we are smashing down barriers that we have sadly placed ourselves.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book Review

The book review of David McAfee's book Disproving Christianity: Refuting the World's Most Followed Religion is now up and posted. Because of the formatting and footnotes. I thought it would be best to post it on Scribd as a pdf. file so that anyone who wants to read it can either read it there, or upload the pdf. file and read it on any system that supports that file.

The review can be found at:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/37521446/Book-Review-of-Disproving-Christianity

I hope you enjoy it and are challenged by it - no matter what your worldview may be.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Book Review

I am currently in the process of writing a lengthy book review for David McAfee's book Disproving Christianity: Refuting the World's Most Followed Religion. I am finished with the first draft and right now it is in the process of being edited. Once it is publishable, I will post it here, and on Scribd . (Since there is footnoting and those do not translate well on blogspot, I will probably just link the Scribd file here.) I have also been given some offers by Jake Farr-Wharton, host of The Imaginary Friends Show Podcast, and by Nicholas Bruzzese, one of the hosts of The Skeptic's Testament Podcast to come on and do response interviews to the book and answer some questions about the review. McAfee and I have also very briefly discussed a joint point/counterpoint publication as well as possible public debates. We will see what comes of it. Please keep your eyes open for these and other up coming events.

Monday, August 9, 2010

This is Our King

This is a sermon that I preached on Palm Sunday, 2009 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hinsdale IL.

Sodom - A Salvation Story

This is a sermon that I preached on the Sodom narrative in Genesis 19. I preached it at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hinsdale, IL last year.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ahaz at the Crossroads - Isaiah 7:1-17

This is the sermon that I preached on August 1st at my church (Church in the Canyon, Calabasas CA). I had several requests to post this for people who were unable to make it or live far away. 
I hope it blesses you.

The Great Debate - Part II

This is Part II but wow, the resolution on this one turned out pretty poor because I tried formatting it to use up less space. But the audio should sound the same.

The Great Debate - Part I

My bad... This is part one even though the graphic says that it is part 2. But really, this is part 1.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity

In his recent post in the online journal American Thinker called “Secularism Ongoing Debt to Christianity,” Secular Atheist and author John D. Steinrucken made quite a surprising admission. One only need to read the title of the article to see that what followed was a drastic departure from the normal anti-religious rhetoric coming from more prominent Atheists and Secularists. And what a change indeed. Rather than claiming that “religion poisons everything,” Steinrucken actually asserts that religion, more specifically the Judeo-Christian conviction, actually is the efficient cause for the wide-spread liberty and freedom that secularism has enjoyed in the West since its inception. Not only does he assert that Secularism was fostered in what could loosely be called “Christendom”, but actually that the fate of Western Secularism is intertwined with the survival of the Judeo-Christian worldview in the West as well. As goes the latter, so goes the former as it were.

What is most striking about his article is the forthright admission of the inability of Secularism to ground any kind of moral standard. This has been a topic of interest on RL for quite some time now, and on this, Steinrucken seems to be on the side of the faithful. Score one for the home team. Now, before all my fellow theists get too elated, Steinrucken is not making the case that such morals are REAL, only that the BELIEF in objective morals, such as can only be grounded by religious convictions about the justice of God, objective truth, and the real and universal value of human persons, is pivotal to the survival of a free Western society.

To that end he says, “Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist! The best answer we can ever hear from secularists to this question is a hodgepodge of strained relativist talk of situational ethics. They can cite no overriding authority other than that of fashion. For the great majority in the West, it is the Judeo-Christian tradition which offers a template assuring a life of inner peace toward the world at large -- a peace which translates to a workable liberal society. ”

Well put. Later he even goes so far as to say, “Secularism has never offered the people a practical substitute for religion.” He briefly alludes to the failed attempt at Secular utopias that ended up causing some of the worst crimes against humanity ever perpetrated in the history of mankind. Those secular attempts for utopia, “when actually put to the test, have not merely come to naught. Attempts during those two centuries to put into practice utopian visions have caused huge sufferings. “ Sadly, we have no want of examples that affirm his statement – Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany, Hoxha’s Albania, Castro’s Cuba, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and on and on. It is no small thing that the most secular century has been, hands down, the bloodiest century in human history – a fulfillment of Nietzsche’s dark prediction that the death of belief God would mark the beginning of the most violent era in human history. People would replace their faith in God with faith in the state – “barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods” as he called them.

We get a sense that Steinrucken has read Nietzsche and has imagined the same fate. What most people don’t know is that Nietzsche did not only make a prediction about the 20th century, but also the 21st - and it doesn’t get any better. Nietzsche saw that the 20th century would at the very least have some residual moral sentiment left over from the 19th century and such a sentiment would curb the barbarism. The 21st century however would have no such sentiment. He predicted a “total eclipse of values.” If it was so easy for the Secular Utopias to marginalize, then criminalize, then euthanize vast swaths of their citizens even with residual values, how much more easy will it be to do so when values are entirely passé? However, where Nietzsche saw the inevitable, Steinrucken desires to avoid such a societal collapse.

Here again I must remind my fellow theists not to get too excited. Steinrucken is not advocating for some widespread conversion to faith. His point is that it is in the secularists’ best interest to see to it that the moral grounding found in the Judeo-Christian tradition is preserved. This is because should secularism do away with that foundation, and then one day find itself in disfavor and itself under the thumb of some radical ideologue hell-bent on purging society of the godless and the infidel, the secularist will have no one to defend them because no one will be left to decry the real injustice of it all.

I will end where he ends, “It is not critical that they themselves believe, only that they should publicly hold in high esteem the institutions of Christianity and Judaism, and to respect those who do believe and to encourage and to give leeway to those who, in truth, will be foremost in the trenches defending us against those who would have us all bow down to a different and unaccommodating faith.”

Article found at: http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/03/secularisms_ongoing_debt_to_ch.html

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mr. T gets it right again! Watch out Chuck Norris!



On so many anti-theistic and atheistic blogs there are tons of image jokes about theists. Just thought I'd ebb the tide a little bit.

Question about Evolution

Honest And Open Question

I have always had a question for evolutionists of the Neo-Darwinian persuasion that I have yet to have cogently answered.

I thought of it when reading Coyne’s Why Evolution is True. Coyne states,

“if evolution meant only gradual genetic change within a species, we’d have only one species today—a single highly evolved descendant of the first species. Yet we have many… How does this diversity arise from one ancestral form?” It arises because of “splitting, or, more accurately, speciation,” which “simply means the evolution of different groups that can’t interbreed.” - Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 5-6.

Here is my question, if speciation involves mutation that creates a new species that can no longer interbreed (since otherwise all life really would all be one genetic species with only varied morphology), then how does an advantageous mutation get spread?

If parent species A births an offspring B with such a significant mutation as to be a new species and incapable of breeding with species A, then how would B reproduce? Would there need to be the EXACT same mutation at the same moment in history and in the same geographical location so that male-B would find female-B and copulate?

I really do hope that someone can explain this since this is one problem with evolution that just seems so fundamentally flawed that I doubt no one has addressed it. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Logical Arguments for the Existence of God

There are many arguments for the existence of God that I believe are both valid and sound. However, some I think are more compelling (or should be) than others.

The following are what I believe to be the best logical arguments for the existence of God:



The Transcendental Argument:

1. Laws of logic exist and are binding on human thought.
2. If there is no God, 1 would not hold.
3. 1 does hold.
4. Therefore God exists.

(this is the abbreviated version. For a full version see: http://www.carm.org/transcendental-argument)



The Ontological Argument (Plantinga’s “victorious” model):

(Your understanding of this model will be greatly influenced depending on your understanding of modal logic.)

Definitions:

Maximal excellence: To have omnipotence, omniscience and moral perfection in some world.

Maximal greatness: To have maximal excellence in every possible world.

1. There is a possible world (W) in which there is a being (X) with maximal greatness.
2. But X is maximally great only if X has maximal excellence in every possible world.
3. Therefore X is maximally great only if X has omnipotence, omniscience and moral perfection in every possible world.
4. In W, the proposition "There is no omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being" would be impossible—that is, necessarily false.
5. But what is impossible does not vary from world to world.
6. Therefore, the proposition, "There is no omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being" is necessarily false in this actual world, too.
7. Therefore, there actually exists in this world, and must exist in every possible world, an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being.



The Moral Argument:

1. Real moral obligation is a fact. We are really, truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil.
2. Either the atheistic view of reality is correct or the "religious" one.
3. But the atheistic one is incompatible with there being moral obligation.
4. Therefore the "religious" view of reality is correct.



The Argument from Conscience:

This is actually not a formulated argument, but a follow up to the moral argument if someone objects to real or objective morality. We can then point out that they will all, no matter their convictions, universally accept that we should obey our conscience. Besides the fact that this actually functions as a universal, objective, obligation (“we OUGHT to obey our conscience”) we can still ask where did conscience get such an absolute authority—an authority admitted even by the moral subjectivist and relativist? There are only four possibilities.

1. From something less than me (nature)
2. From me (individual)
3. From others equal to me (society)
4. From something above me (God)

Let's consider each of these possibilities in order.

1. How can I be absolutely obligated by something less than me—for example, by animal instinct or practical need for material survival?
2. How can I obligate myself absolutely? Am I absolute? Do I have the right to demand absolute obedience from anyone, even myself? And if I am the one who locked myself in this prison of obligation, I can also let myself out, thus destroying the absoluteness of the obligation which we admitted as our premise.
3. How can society obligate me? What right do my equals have to impose their values on me? Does quantity make quality? Do a million human beings make a relative into an absolute? Is "society" God?
4. The only source of absolute moral obligation left is something superior to me. This binds my will, morally, with rightful demands for complete obedience.

Thus God, or something like God, is the only adequate source and ground for the absolute moral obligation we all feel to obey our conscience. Conscience is thus explainable only as the voice of God in the soul.



The Argument from Desire:

1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
4. This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Response to Werleman Post on Morality

A quick response to a blog posted by Courtenay Werleman on his blog (http://rationalists.wordpress.com/2010/02/02/morality-is-subjective-done/):

First, his summation of the theistic argument (known as the transcendental argument) is a poor representation (if “representation” is even a proper description) of the actual argument. Though any of you who are actually familiar with Werleman and his argumentation style should not expect anything else since he more often than not degenerates to ad hominems or straw men where he “summarizes” his opponents arguments in such a manner that makes them less than they actually are in order to be able to easily dismiss them.

Second, he then goes on to make his own hypothetical argument (I call it “hypothetical” because his premises do not function as premises but as unsubstantiable claims). He says that “if God exists, then it would would be in God’s interest and within his capacity for all human beings to know his ethics perfectly.” While it is within His capabilities, it is not necessarily true that it is “in his best interest.” This is something that Werleman would find convenient, but it is not a necessity.

It is also interesting that God HAS actually made his ethics known to all humanity. The fact that we do not know “God’s ethics perfectly” is precisely what, in Christianity, is called sin. Werleman wants to affirm heads while denying tails. The problem is that one comes with the other. God HAS revealed His will to all humanity AND we don’t know perfectly his will because of our sin. Werleman wants to create a false dichotomy that it is either one or the other when in fact it seems likely to be both.

Thirdly, Werleman shows that he claims to be a rationalist but in fact does not even understand basic logical forms. How so? When his 1st premise plays no function in the syllogism and is thus, by Occam’s Razor, unnecessary. Also his syllogism is set up in the following modus tollens:

1. If p then q.
2. Not-q
3. Therefore Not-p.

The problem is that premise 2 (not-q) is actually not a direct negation of q. Notice q is “then it would be in God’s interest…” while in premise 2, God’s interest is not mentioned. In order for the syllogism to be valid, premise 2 would have to be altered to read “It is not in God’s interest…”. This, while it would make the syllogism valid, however would make it blatantly unsound. It would argue that if God exists, it would be in his interest to do q. But in order to negate q, one must presuppose God’s interest in order to deny God’s existence. It would be unsound because one would necessarily presuppose God’s existence in order to say what is/is not in his interest, within an argument to deny his existence.


Fourth, Werleman argues that God revealing something to some and not to others is unfair and in contradiction to God’s benevolence. This again does not seem necessary. Justice does not always require uniform application to all people. Imagine the ramifications of this in our every day life if we really believed this to be the case. This is only a stipulation that skeptics pull out when they think it will help their argument. (Yet here we should again point out that God HAS in fact revealed his “ethics” to all both in the imago dei and in his revelation. Werleman wants us to ignore the 500lb gorilla in the room.)

Werleman then poses several dilemmas. By doing so he shows that he has actually not thought deeply about these issues and does not know the difference between objective moral values and situational ethics, where we have the dilemma of reconciling several objective moral values when they collide. See, what Werleman seems to miss is that these dilemmas are only dilemmas within a system of objective morals. Lets look at the Trolly example. Why is it a dilemma? Because we recognize that two objective morals are conflicting. But one could ask Werleman, who believes that morality is relative, WHY this is a dilemma if either response would be equally moral since both would be the absolute correct decision relative to the person? Werleman PRESUPPOSES objective morality even when he attempts to dismantle it.

Finally, Werleman shows, yet again, that he not only cannot dismantle the theistic argument, but that he really does not even understand it. Is the argument that the basis for morality is the Bible? NO! The argument is that the basis for morality is the ontological nature of God Himself. Werleman reveals nothing about the theistic argument or the nature of God, but rather that he is a fundamentalist for anti-theism who is completely unable, or maybe even simply uninterested, in dealing with the logical arguments, evidence, and reality that is placed before him.