Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Halloween Means To Me

I used to enjoy dressing up as a kid and going out on Halloween to get candy. For me, this was really all the holiday was about – having others admire a good costume, and having something to munch on for a few weeks.

When I grew older, I had to switch to the role of standing at the door and doling out sweets to others. It seemed like a just reward for all the candy I received when I was younger. But something was different as the years went on – I grew more and more uncomfortable with the costumes that were on display, especially anything that had to do with the world of ghosts, goblins, demons and zombies. The feeling gnawed at me more and more over time.

In recent years, our family (all of us, our children included) have discussed this and we all began to have deep convictions about the Halloween tradition. From our viewpoint, it seems overly casual to dress up as Satan or something resembling a creature from hell. After all, as a family we talk constantly about the spiritual battle that rages around us – Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The apostle Paul is warning us that these very forces that we dread and fight in Satan and his servants are here, in this very world with us, fighting against God’s plan. To deny that Satan is attempting to work his plan in our own physical world is to deny what the Scriptures tell us. Satan doesn’t simply exist in some other ethereal plane, awaiting the arrival of stray souls. Like it or not, he is here.

In the same way, I get a feeling of coldness when I pass the business of a palm reader or psychic. We pass one of these on our way to church every Sunday – a prominent sign on the road advertises that you can get started for a mere $5 consultation fee. It reminds me of King Saul in 1 Samuel 28, when he visits the witch at Endor and asks to consult with the dead prophet Samuel. Saul’s life has been heading downhill quickly by this point, but his consultation with the witch appears to be the final straw. Samuel is raised up to speak to him and predicts that Saul and his sons will be dead by the next day. The kingdom of Israel will be taken from his hands and given to David. The army of Israel will be given over to the Philistines. God has had enough.

It concerns me greatly that the thing that tipped the scales of finality for Saul was his dabbling in the spirit world. Indeed, his fall is discussed later in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 – “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death…” The Bible warns of treating the spirit world lightly (Exodus 22:18, 2 Kings 23:24, Galatians 5:19-20). Our culture smiles and plays along with the “fun” that is Halloween. But I wonder who smiles more over some of the costumes and inferences – God or Satan? I fear that God is not pleased with the lightness with which we treat the spirit world.

Those who argue against this thinking say that children don’t know and don’t intentionally represent the spirit world with their costumes, and so it is okay to let them dress up as such. They don’t wittingly know what they are doing. But it is interesting that some costumes are largely off-limits – such as Hitler or the BTK killer. No one is dressing up their children as these characters, because they instinctively know that these things are not to be treated lightly. But Hitler was just a pawn – while Satan is the king of lies. Why treat him as something lesser? No, I think it is exactly Satan’s desire that we unwittingly honor him on this holiday.

And so, our family has decided not to participate in Halloween in any form or fashion. We don’t dress up. We don’t watch horror movies. And, after much thought, we don’t turn on our porch light and pass out candy to others. One of my Christian neighbors opens up their garage to provide a warm, non-Halloween-themed atmosphere – where they give out hot chocolate and encourage others to just sit and talk. I like that. I need to find a similar tradition where our family can be a light to those who need it – without giving in to the satanic influences that abound. Any ideas out there?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Radical Environmentalism – Global Temperature and Sunspots (Part 9)

The current thinking among environmentalist groups and the teaching in our own classrooms is that global warming is caused primarily by human activity upon the earth. In An Inconvenient Truth Al Gore said, “Making mistakes in our dealings with nature can have bigger consequences now because our technologies are often bigger than the human scale. When you put them all together they made us a force of nature.” A book that I highly recommend, State of Fear by Michael Crichton, discusses and puts to rest the assumption made by nearly everyone five years ago - that global warming is a foregone conclusion, and that the reason is well-known and documented by science. It simply is not a fact. Not yet.

But that book was written in 2004, and in a very short period since then, the theory of global warming has come under a great deal of skepticism – both from science and the general public. There is a growing consensus now that the earth may in fact be cooling, or that warming is not really an issue. This has resulted in a change to the wording we frequently see in the news – from “global warming” to “climate change” (outlined in Part 4 of this series).

Since the assumption that global warming is occurring can be cast into doubt in such a short amount of time, is it not also possible that the idea of human activity as the cause of it all is not also open to debunking? There is a definite trend toward more open thinking on this matter. Perhaps something else is at work in the ups and downs related to climate – something completely unrelated to human activity?

One link that is being made to global temperature is the incidence of sunspots. As sunspot activity increases, so too does the likelihood that global temperature will rise. Conversely, periods of low sunspot activity seem to coincide with prolonged decreases in global temperature. An interesting connection has been made between something called The Maunder Minimum and global temperature.

The Maunder Minimum occurred during a 70-year period from 1645 to 1715. During the lowest point of this cycle - for a 30-year period within the Maunder Minimum - astronomers observed only about 50 sunspots, as opposed to what is typically seen today in that amount of time –40,000 to 50,000 occurrences. What is curious about this is that this seventy year period corresponds exactly with the middle and coldest part of The Little Ice Age. This was an exceptionally cold period in Europe and North America spanning from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Glaciers advanced and rivers froze. Some have speculated that Antonio Stradivari was able to get the unique sound from his violins because the wood he used to make them came from trees which went through a very slow growth period during this time frame (he was born a year before the start of the Maunder Minimum and lived to the age of 93). There is a great deal of evidence that the earth was a colder place during this age.

And there is evidence that sunspots were at a low during this point. So…is it correct to immediately assume that sunspots are really the main cause of global warming and cooling? If I made such an assumption, I would be guilty of the same scientific error that people make when they conclude that warming temperatures, corresponding with industrialization and energy use, prove that man is the reason for any climate change that we see. It’s not good science.

There is a real possibility that sunspot activity is the main contributor to global temperature change. Maybe. Take a look at the picture on the right. How could anyone look at that jet of hot plasma erupting from the sun’s surface (called a plasma ejection or solar prominence) – many, many times the size of our entire planet – and not wonder if other forces completely overshadow any effect that man may have on the earth’s surface. The energy release of that one event is likely greater than the cumulative release of energy on Earth by mankind over the entire course of history. Shouldn’t occurrences like this be taken into account when we speculate about global temperature models?

My suspicion is that humans couldn’t change the temperature of our planet if we wanted to. To think we can change it, without hard proof, is nothing but human arrogance. But again, we should invoke good science before drawing conclusions.
Next in this series.......
Back to Part 1 of this series...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ten Thoughts on "Balloon Boy" - or - The Family Who Cried "Balloon!"

My hometown of Fort Collins had another 15 minutes of fame last week…

1) Does anyone else notice the irony? - a family stages a balloon HOAX in order to promote a proposed REALITY show. Makes you wonder about the credibility of those "reality" shows, eh?

2) The next time a child really does get into trouble like this (or my dog accidentally takes off in a radio-controlled airplane), people are immediately going to be less likely to believe it. This stunt has the potential to diminish future REAL rescue efforts.

3) One wonders what was going through the parents minds when the story went viral last week. "They've just shut down Denver International Airport to protect your boy!" --- "Phew – (Umm, I sure hope we don't get caught.)" I sincerely doubt that they expected the thing to go global - which it did. The BBC still has it as a top headline.

4) Think about it - they publicly exploited their own children in a scam to make money. That's despicable....and very sad.

5) No matter what happens, I'll bet "Wife Swap" sees an increase in their ratings (if it’s still on TV – I don’t even know). There's no such thing as bad publicity. Also sad.

6) I fully expect the typical media twist to occur. Pretty soon, people will start blaming the sheriff's department for their handling of the event, and will ignore the root cause - which is the Heene parents.

7) I can't help but feel that the media LOVED this, regardless of the truth. And this is, candidly, how most of the media operates these days. Truth is non-essential. It might even get in the way of a good story.

8) I've never watched "Wife Swap" before this, but I did a little research and found the Heene episode on YouTube. Sick. The only way to end this madness is to stop watching it. Cancel your cable. Use the money for a really nice family night once a month. Make a statement.

9) I'll bet the Fort Collins sheriff's department (and a few others around the country) change their policy to search the whole house next time something like this occurs. By the way, I admire my sheriff and his role in this whole episode.

10) This incident is a microcosm of the deception going on in so many people's lives. It's clear to me that this family needs Jesus. So I'm going to pray for them. Join with me.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More Upside-Down Morals – This Time From The NFL

I don’t typically follow Rush Limbaugh. I’m usually at work when he is on the radio, and sometimes I wonder if he’s more about show than substance. To be sure, he has some right ideas, and he is passionate about them. But I don’t think I’ll be calling him my inspiration anytime soon.

Earlier this week, it was announced that Rush was partnering with another individual to purchase the St. Louis Rams. But within a few days, the NFL revealed that he would not be allowed to bid for the team, due to their differences with some opinions he expressed in 2003. At that time, Limbaugh was serving as a commentator for NFL games on ESPN. What was his “criminal” statement that later forced him to resign from ESPN?

When asked about the prowess of Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb, Limbaugh replied that McNabb was “overrated ... what we have here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback can do well -- black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well.”

What’s so offensive about this statement? Is it any different than watching the media, politicians and individuals expressing delight that we elected a black president last year? No, Limbaugh made a rather benign statement (it’s probably also true). But here is the part that really demonstrates the double-standard. The same NFL which rejects Limbaugh as a worthy owner has no problems with taking back the likes of Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles, participating in a cruel and unlawful dog-fighting ring), or Leonard Little (St. Louis Rams, repeat drunk-driving and manslaughter), or Adam “Pacman” Jones (too many offenses and teams to list).

Two things need to be considered here. First, was Limbaugh’s statement racist, as many claimed it to be? I think it is a stretch to make such a claim – it’s no different than those New Jersey elementary school-children being taught to sing “Hello, Mr. President we honor you today! For all your great accomplishments, we all doth say "hooray!" Hooray, Mr. President! You're number one! The first black American to lead this great nation!” If you believe one of these statements is racist, then you must believe that both are. If you don’t believe that one represents racist thought, then neither one does. From where I sit, both statements imply that skin color has something to do with ability. That thought is at the very root of racism. Why mention skin color at all, and continue to perpetuate the idea that it somehow makes a difference in a person’s ability?

The second point relates to what the NFL considers to be forgivable and unforgivable behavior. Limbaugh’s statement, in my analysis, was neither racist, nor was it untrue. It was simply words, and relatively inoffensive ones at that. But the NFL and the media had a strong reaction to it. Michael Vick, on the other hand, was convicted of a felony and went to prison for twenty-three months. There were some expressions of outrage, but Vick was back in the NFL within months of his release.

When faced with the possibility of Limbaugh as an owner in the NFL, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner essentially banned Limbaugh and stated, "I've said many times before, we're all held to a high standard here… divisive comments are not what the NFL is all about". That same Roger Goodell, when reinstating Vick to the NFL last July said, “I urge you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you and to dedicate yourself to rebuilding your life and your career. If you do this, the NFL will support you….I do recognize that some will never forgive him for what he did. I hope that the public will have a chance to understand his position as I have….I have thought about every alternative, but I think this gives him the best chance for success. We are not looking for failure here. We are looking to see a young man succeed.” Apparently, such sentiment doesn’t apply to middle-aged men.

Limbaugh was eliminated from the NFL for stating something that was true (but maybe unnecessary). Vick was welcomed back to the NFL after doing something wrong (and certainly unnecessary). I don’t get it. Up is down, and right is wrong in this world. And unless those of us who see the hypocrisy begin to publicly point it out, it will continue to be unnoticed by most.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Word on The Cultural Attitude Toward Marital Infidelity

What do Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and David Letterman all have in common? They have all used marital infidelity to enhance their standing.

I do not make this statement to make light in any way of infidelity. It is a breach of trust, breaking a sacred vow made before God in the marriage ceremony. It rips the heart out of spouses and children, and it is a tool to divide and degrade what God has made holy. I have some close friends whose lives have been touched by this topic, and it is easy to see why God provides us with so many warnings. My statements here are not about the act, but about our cultural response to the act.

In 1998 , Clinton finally admitted to an incident with Monica Lewinsky – a young-twenties aide on his staff…

In 2001, Jackson, a Baptist minister, revealed an affair and how he had fathered a child out of wedlock…

Earlier this month, David Letterman dropped the word that he had had sex with multiple women on his staff…

While all of this is terrible for the families and the children who are affected, it is of utmost importance to note that God can forgive these sins. Each of these men has the opportunity to accept that forgiveness and be washed clean. Each of them can humbly accept God’s grace. While God’s forgiveness can absolve the guilt, it is a much harder thing to imagine the offended spouses being able to quickly forgive and forget. I know it’s possible – but it is indeed a difficult thing.

But what really stuns me is society’s reaction to the events. In Clinton’s case, his approval status actually increased with the news of infidelity. Perhaps our culture thought that his sexual dalliance made him more “approachable” – more like the “everyday man” (though I sincerely hope that is not the case). During Letterman’s admission of infidelity on his own television program, the audience laughed and then cheered for him. This seems to demonstrate that marital unfaithfulness has become nothing more than a joke in our culture. Is it a result of our society’s increasing tendency to abandon God and His promises?

Get ready - the statement that really reveals the moral fabric of our culture is what one of Jesse Jackson’s biographers said after Jackson admitted to infidelity and fathering a child with another woman. Marshall Frady, in an incredible declaration, said these words, “It’ll hurt a little, when you’re talking about his moral evangelism with black youth. But this might, as it did with (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) lend him a complexity that enhances the moral grandeur of the man.”

When I read that statement in January of 2001, I was amazed that he could have gotten away with saying it (I saved the newspaper article for the purpose of writing about it at a later date). Adultery, committed by a prominent Baptist minister, could have the effect of enhancing his moral grandeur?! Do I read that right? Doesn’t that seem to be a contradiction? What has the definition of “moral” become?

The news of infidelity has not harmed these three men – in fact, it seems to have made them more popular than ever. Sadly, Frady’s statement may be an accurate description of where our culture is headed…or perhaps where it stands already. It is time for good men and women to stand up and say “No, I will not laugh at what God has warned against.” It is time for us to be committed to helping those who suffer to see that God can heal anything. It is time for us to defend the faith and the principles of God, without apology, and preach that man cannot enhance his grandeur by accepting Satan’s lies. Rather, what truly and ultimately matters is the glorification of God - not ourselves – through our devotion to Him, by yielding to His grace, and by acknowledging that He is Lord of all.

Because this isn’t a laughing matter.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ten Random Thoughts – Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

Incredibly, President Obama came away with the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday. Was it deserved? Has he done anything to earn it? Were others more deserving than he? Does the prize have meaning anymore? Here are ten random thoughts I had yesterday about the issue.

1) I am told that submissions for the prize were due on February 1 (thanks to Carrie Cox for pointing this out to me). That was 11 days into Obama’s presidency. Someone must have had a lot of foresight to nominate him…or else you could conclude that the prize isn’t really going to the most deserving individual. Maybe it’s now just a popularity contest like those student council elections in junior high?

2) Clearly, we have witnessed the dumbing down of the Nobel Peace Prize in our lifetime. I doubt that the committee that awarded the first prize in 1901 would have given the award to someone with so “ethereal” a list of accomplishments.

3) At least the U.S. is going to see some additional tax money from the $1.4 million prize – assuming the President pays taxes. Which is kind of big assumption, considering the taxpaying records of many of his cabinet nominees. Thanks to Sweden and Norway for the cash.

4) Hillary must be livid. She’s the Secretary of State, and she is the one who has to travel to all of those peace-needing, oppressed places for the President. But once again, he gets the credit. The only thing funnier would have been if Bill Clinton had won the prize for his work to free the two journalists in North Korea back in August. That would really send Hillary over the top.

5) I would like to know what the other eligible winners for the prize had accomplished in comparison to President Obama. Unfortunately, the committee doesn’t release the names to the public for fifty years. Check back in 2059.

6) How do you win a prize for peace because you provided HOPE for the people needing it (but no peace as of yet)? That’s what the prize committee announced as their basis for the award. I mean that would be like awarding Al Gore a Peace Prize for making a movie about global warming. Oh, wait…

7) I assume this award was decided before Europe turned on Obama last week and denied him the Olympics in Chicago. Maybe the Nobel committee wishes they could change their mind.

8) This might actually hurt Obama when he comes up for re-election – it will further polarize those who didn’t support him, and will embarrass many of those who did. Even many of his loyal supporters admit that this award was not yet deserved. An astute political move would have been to turn down the award. Then, he would have still gotten the credit for winning it, but he could have silenced his critics who think it wasn’t deserved. Now, he just looks incompetent and arrogant.

9) I ‘m thinking Obama is probably the favorite to win the Heisman trophy this year. And maybe the FIFA World Cup in South Africa next year. After all, soccer really is an international sport.

10) And finally, on a serious note, it is clear to me that the world and its values are upside-down from what God intended. On January 23 – four days into his presidency, and a mere nine days before his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize was due – Obama signed into law an order reversing the ban on the funding of international abortions using U.S. taxpayer money (see picture above). While it was truly a global decision, it is hardly an act of peace. See my thoughts on that act here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What’s In Your Wallet?

The chances are very good that you are carrying with you - right now - a government document that mixes politics and religion.

Does that seem unlikely? After all, we’re told NOT to mix politics and religion. And some have stretched the fear of intertwined church and state to the point that our founding fathers would not recognize our nation today.

The truth is this - the founders fully intended for our nation’s government to honor and reflect God’s ways. I don’t mean just in theory, but to actually invoke His name at the highest levels of government and in our laws. If you don’t believe it, see this post for some incredible quotes from the founders, displaying their attitudes toward God and government.

Even as godless people insist that government should have nothing to do with God, you cannot get away from the history that our nation was founded on a desire to honor God and Jesus Christ. And that history is nowhere more evident than on every piece of coin and paper currency that we carry in our wallet, pocket or purse.

Find a dollar bill, and flip it over to the back. In prominent places, our money still says “In God We Trust” right on it. Every single penny, dime and dollar proclaims those words.

While still looking at the back of the dollar bill, look over to the left at the Great Seal – with the unfinished pyramid and the eye of providence above it. Above the symbol are the words “Annuit Coeptis”, which can be translated literally as “favors undertakings” and which the Seal’s creator explained means He approves our endeavors”. The author also pointed out that the subject refers to the providence of God. It was not meant to be a generic “he” – the designer, and the committee who approved the design, meant for it to refer to the one true God.

Interestingly, when some of the original designs were requested, many of the founding fathers submitted designs of their own. Their sketches and descriptions point very firmly to their convictions regarding God. Thomas Jefferson’s design included an image of the Children of Israel wandering in the wilderness, being led by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night (directly from Exodus chapter 13). Benjamin Franklin’s design came from Exodus chapter 14 – a drawing of Moses extending his hand over the Red Sea, while Pharaoh and his army are engulfed. The caption above Franklin’s drawing read, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God”. What a difference a couple of hundred years make!

I am proud of the inclusion of God into our government. Why would we ever choose to remove Him from our nation’s endeavors? The founders had it right when they gave the nod to “Annuit Coeptis”. When we recognize Him as the one true God, “He approves our endeavors”. Think about that every time you hand a dollar bill to someone. We were meant to be reminded of God’s providence and grace ever time we spend a dollar. And God has promised blessing on us if we remember Him with our wealth. From Malachi 3:10-12 -

“’Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land’”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

This Movie Makes Me Cry Every Time

Ask anyone in my family, and they will tell you that I didn’t grow up to be overly emotional about anything. School plays, separation from family and friends, driving off to go to college – none of these things invoked a great deal of sentiment from me – I think I’m just wired that way.

But in the last few years, I find myself increasingly more sensitive about certain things. A Christian song track or a worship song that I have listened to dozens of times suddenly takes on new meaning and I find myself with tears streaming down my face as I listen in the car (Caedmon’s Call “Mother India” now has this effect). But the primary place where I find myself getting emotional is when I watch a movie with a heart-rending twist in it. The first ten minutes of Disney’s Up! or the last five minutes of Finding Nemo get me bleary-eyed. And, of course, I cried through a great deal of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which I’ve only been able to watch once.

The number-one movie clip – the one which makes me cry every single time - is the very end of Saving Private Ryan. In the modern-day scene in France, where Ryan visits Captain Miller’s grave at the cemetery above the beaches of Normandy, and where he talks to Miller about the sacrifice he made, Ryan turns to his wife and says, “Tell me I have led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” I break down every time I watch the scene. I can’t help it. I’ve included the clip at the end of this post.

That scene inspired my wife and me to visit France in 2003 and to drive to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where we walked the grounds for hours. For me, it was a life-changing experience. While I strolled through the impeccably maintained property, I marveled at the sacrifice made by the 9,387 American military buried there. In an unusual arrangement, they are buried facing to the west (instead of the traditional east-facing method) – all facing toward the United States.

As I’ve said, I cannot watch this movie scene without crying – it happens to me every time. This week, as I watched it again and was working on this piece, I was struck by the tremendous emotion that wells up when Ryan bends down and says these words:

“Every day, I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”
And then I was struck by the imagery that was before me in the video clip. When Ryan is saying these words, he is speaking…to a cross (see 3:30 on the attached clip). It’s as if God intended for some of us to understand that we should think on Jesus’ sacrifice every single day. Was this one of those hidden moments that God uses in a Hollywood movie to get out his message? There have been many times where I have wondered if the moviemaker had any idea of the message they were sending. I think not – sometimes I see glimpses about how things serve God in ways that were not intended. God is more than brilliant.

Shouldn’t we feel the same way as Ryan about what Jesus has done for us? Was his sacrifice any less moving? We watch this movie, and maybe for some of us, a part of our inner being says, “I wish that I were Ryan…that I had such a story to tell.” Ah, people, we do! While we are not called on to “earn” our deliverance, we should view Christ’s sacrifice in the same fashion as Ryan did with Captain Miller. We were certainly lost and doomed. Jesus Christ came to save us, and he did – after much sacrifice. The story of Ryan and Miller has happened to each one of us. Join with me on your knees to cry and be grateful for such a sacrifice. Think about it every day.

If anyone reading this has observed other movie scenes where a Christian message was unwittingly given, likely without the movie director even realizing it, please send it in a comment to me. I’d like to save these up to write about in future posts (I’ll give you credit for submitting it!).