Archive | December, 2012

Disaster Relief

31 Dec

The holiday season is coming to a close and for many of us the memories of Hurricane Sandy are growing a bit distant.   The images of her massive devastation are disappearing from the evening news casts and, while relief efforts continue, they are no longer foremost in our minds.

For those affected by the storm and her aftermath, however, this is far from the case.  Volunteers and support often flood in immediately after a natural disaster only to peter off along with the media coverage… yet people’s lives have been dramatically altered and the needs remain for months and even years beyond the initial event.

As you look towards this coming year and begin planning vacations and youth retreats, I encourage you to consider ways in which you can make a difference in the lives of those affected by Sandy.  Take a moment to talk with your pastor about ways in which your denomination is already involved or contact your local Red Cross to volunteer for ongoing relief efforts.

Don’t have the time for a trip?  There’s still plenty you can do!  Organize a fundraiser, become an advocate, or make a donation.  However you choose to be involved, commit to making a difference and encourage others to do the same!

 

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Book Signing this Friday!

30 Dec

From 2-5 PM on January 4th, A.C. Gheen will be signing copies of her book, Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce, at Hastings Books (540 E. 17th St, Idaho Falls, ID).

Retail Ready features a selection of daily meditations based upon the difficult and downright wacky experiences of a retail worker.  Each day’s devotion includes a Scripture reading, memory verse, and lifestyle application challenge to help teens learn to better integrate the teachings of the Bible with their daily lives.  Readers are encouraged to approach their job with purpose, intention, and a good dose of humor!

A. C. has worked as a cashier, freight worker, retail sales clerk, buyer, event caterer, elected official, and Staff Assistant to a U.S. Senator.  Her eight years in youth ministry qualify her to offer teens this uniquely Biblical perspective on what it means to live an active Christian life while achieving success within the secular workforce.

Excerpts from Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce are available online at: https://acgheen.wordpress.com/category/devotions/retail-ready/

Hope to see you there!!

God of Wrath and Love: A Case Study in Doctrinal Non-contradiction Part IV

28 Dec

Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the apparent doctrinal conflict between the order to kill every Amalekite man woman and child (1 Samuel 15:2-3) and the statement of 2 Peter 3:9 that God would have all to be saved.  In Part I we explored the issue of guilt and innocence and the ways in which our presuppositions influence our understanding of these passages.  In Part II, we took a look at the plight of those who weren’t “guilty” through an act of commission, i.e., who weren’t sacrificing children or engaged in warmongering and the options available to them.  And in Part III, we examined the conflict in light of God’s mercy, love, and justice.  This week, we’ll conclude our series with a close look at one of the most important questions of the passage: What about the children and animals?

Before I begin my explanation, however, I need to provide a brief lesson in anthropology (the study of mankind).  Throughout much of its early history, anthropologists engaged in what is known as “etic” anthropology, i.e., they looked at cultures from the outside and drew broad conclusions about what they saw.  While this helped to explain similarities between cultures, it didn’t usually do much to explain the differences.  And, more importantly, it didn’t explain why those similarities or differences existed.

For this reason, “emic” anthropology grew in importance.  By immersing themselves in a culture (usually as a part of that culture), anthropologists could better understand the factors which influenced the people group in question and, through that understanding, were often able to explain the reasons for the similarities and differences.

It’s important to note that one of the keys to performing successful anthropology of any kind is an ability to approach each people group with neutrality and a willingness to acknowledge that what seems different in the group’s thinking or approach to life isn’t necessarily “wrong” just because it doesn’t look like our culture or system of belief.  This can be particularly difficult to do when it comes to highly charged topics like religion or political structure, but it needs to be done if a person really does desire to understand why Christians don’t see a conflict between the passages in question.

Let’s take a quick moment to review what we’ve learned so far and see if we can’t fill out our perspective:

  1. History demonstrates that the Amalekites as a people were not morally innocent.  They were guilty of both child sacrifice and warmongering, leaving us reason to believe the Biblical account that they were the first aggressors.
  2. Even many of the Amalekites who did not participate in these practices would have been guilty, merely because they chose not to speak up or rejected the opportunity to withdraw from the society either through embracing the God of Israel or finding another place to settle.
  3. God gave the Amalekites the ability to know the truth, hundreds of years to embrace what was morally right, and foreknowledge of Israel’s advance against them.
  4. Those who remained likely fought to defend their homes regardless of whether they were male or female and, as such, were aggressors and a threat.

From a Christian point of view, the battle is morally justifiable as a defensive action against a regular aggressor… even if God, Himself, had not commanded it through His prophet.  And yes, even the killing of those too young to participate in the action can be understood as being reasonable given the circumstances:

Many of those who could not participate in combat would have been old enough to remember the lifestyle they’d seen their parents’ exhibit.  The old saying that, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is apropos.  Those who had witnessed child sacrifice, temple orgies, and warmongering would be predisposed to engage in the same activities themselves and, as such, their deaths may be seen as an act of mercy: God preventing them from even having the opportunity to commit the sins of their parents.

And the infants?  I’ll be honest: I can’t answer this one.  Were the Israelites incapable of taking in and supporting additional children?  Was it possible that as they grew, the Amalekite children would feel a deeper connection to the surrounding nations and chose to embrace those crimes as their parents had, despite the fact that they had not witnessed them previously?  Could the complete obliteration of these people serve as an act that benefited the “greater good,” serving as a warning concerning the potential fate of the rest of the Canaanites?  Did their deaths ensure that they would ultimately reside with God for eternity – something that might not have happened had they lived?  Truth be told, as a Christian, I can only claim that I believe the God of the Bible to be just, merciful, and loving… and I trust that whatever happened to these children will prove, in the end, to be just that.

What about the slaying of the animals mentioned in the passage?  The Scripture isn’t clear about the reason for this, but a careful look at the passage reveals that the Israelites were not ordered to kill every animal, but only the oxen, sheep, camels, and donkeys.   Since none of these animals were dietarily forbidden, it is possible that they were slaughtered in order to feed the army.

If you feel like you’re seeing a bit of circular reasoning here, you aren’t alone!  Most of us struggle to wrap our minds around thought processes unlike our own and it usually takes a willingness to sit down with people who think differently, to ask genuine (polite) questions, listen carefully to their answers, and ask further questions to clarify those answers before we begin to understand the way they think and why.  If you aren’t already a Christian, it may take some time to understand the Christian point of view.

Next week, we’ll tackle a follow up question to this article: What does the belief that this destruction was God’s Will mean for Christians today?  Are we to support or, worse yet, engage in genocide?  Should we participate in the murder of children?  These are good questions and we’ll take a look at each in turn.  In the meantime, I encourage you to take some time to examine the views of others (not just Christians) with an open mind and a willingness to learn.  You may be surprised at the understanding you gain!

Not For Sale

24 Dec

Imagine going to the same restaurant for years, then opening up the paper one day to discover that the friendly service you were receiving from the owners “family” was actually being provided by slaves.  What would you feel?  Shock?  Guilt?  Concern?

This is exactly what happened to David Batstone in 2007.  “This was happening in my country at a restaurant I frequented.”  The news story hit so close to home, that David was compelled to do something about it.  After researching the issue of human trafficking, he helped to co-found Not For Sale, a non-denominational non-profit designed to help “re-abolish” slavery in our time.

Visit their website to hear David share his story and learn the facts about slavery for yourself.  Read real life stories about trafficking in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America or visit the Slavery Map to hear about cases near you.  Take a look at Legal Efforts to End Sex Trafficking and then learn about the role of International Diplomacy in putting an end to the slave trade.

Finally, visit the Take Action page to develop a customized plan for you, your church, or your community.  Organize a Freedom Sunday.  Discover the story behind the clothes you wear and the chocolate you eat and learn how you can promote ethical sourcing!   Sign up to participate in the Global Forum where you’ll hear from abolitionists worldwide.  Or join the Student Abolitionist Movement or the Underground Church Network where you’ll be encouraged to live out your faith in practical ways that make a genuine difference in the lives of trafficking victims.  And don’t forget to check back for up-to-date news on the progress of global abolition!  Each one of us has the opportunity to make a difference.  The question is: will you accept the challenge?

God of Wrath and Love: A Case Study in Doctrinal Non-contradiction Part III

21 Dec

Today, we’re continuing our four part series “A God of Wrath and Love” in which we’re examining the apparent doctrinal conflict between the text of 1 Samuel 15:2-3 (in which the Israelites are ordered to kill every Amalekite man, woman, and child) and 2 Peter 3:9 (in which God expresses His desire for all to be saved).  In Part I, we took a look at a few of our presuppositions about the passage and how they influenced our view of the Amalekites.  In Part II, we considered the options available to those disinclined to embrace the God of Israel.  This week, we’ll take a look at God’s patience and love and the role that they played leading up to the battle.

Before we begin, however, we must define what we mean by “love”.  For many people, the word conjures mushy feelings of “good will” – something we give to people unchecked regardless of how deserving they may or may not be.  It’s our willingness to turn our heads and look the other way when someone slights us.  In Biblical terms, this is considered “mercy” and it does have an important role to play when it comes to love, especially the unconditional kind.  But it isn’t the only aspect of genuine love and, by itself, it becomes license – allowing an offending party to do whatever they please without fear of repercussion.

Take a look at the shopping mall and you’ll probably see your fair share of children throwing fits because they didn’t get what they wanted from the toy department.  You’ll probably also see a fair number of parents punishing the children for their bad behavior.  Are these children unloved?  Probably not.  While genuine love recognizes the need not to hold the fit against the child (mercy), it also recognizes that this behavior is inappropriate and will harm the child later in life.  (Imagine a full-grown adult pounding the floor of his boss’ office screaming and crying because he didn’t get the raise he wanted!)  A good parent will take the time to discipline the child (justice) in the hope that their efforts will result in a well-adjusted adult, capable of functioning within our society.

It isn’t surprising to think that God does something similar with the people of the earth.  While we tend to focus on the major acts of judgment portrayed in Scripture, i.e., the flood (Genesis 6-9), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19), and the obliteration of entire villages during the conquest of Canaan (Numbers-Joshua), these were only the final punishment after smaller rebukes were ignored.  (In a way, they would not be unlike the adult mentioned in the previous paragraph losing his job after that unsightly tantrum!)

Unlike a parent’s rules which may or may not be evident to the child, the Bible tells us that God’s standards are known to all the people He created:

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”  (Romans 1:20-21)

A few acts of disobedience, however, aren’t enough for God to give up on us.  2 Peter 3:8-9 declares, “…do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  Nahum 1:3 explains that, “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power.”  And we see this demonstrated in the case of the Amalekites.

In the Bible, we need flip only a few pages between God’s promise to give Abraham the land of Canaan and the conquest of the land, yet in reality, over 400 years passed between that promise and the giving of the Ten Commandments at mount Sinai – and another 40 between that and the actual conquest!  Why so long?  “God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:13,16)[1]  If we approach the passage with the presupposition that the God of the Bible is true and that the text as a whole is non-contradictory (we’ll talk a bit more about why even a non-Christian should at least take a moment to attempt to view the text this way next week), we can presume that God didn’t just deal out judgment on a whim.  He gave the Amalekites sufficient knowledge of their sin and plenty of time to correct it – enough for several generations to pass!

For most of us, though, these are just “side issues.”  In the end, the destruction of all the men and women in the city could rightly be anticipated were the invading army to win.  Unlike the Amalekites, who launched an attack against Israel when they were weak and unarmed, the Israelites were coming against a defended city – one in which despicable acts were taking place.  Each of us is aware that most human beings are willing to fight for the sake of their homes and loved ones.   Even many children will stand and fight the enemy (real or perceived) in such a situation and we see this played out regularly in wars fought around the world.  Everyone on the side of the “invaded” becomes a combatant.  Everyone on the side of the “invaders” becomes an enemy.  In a situation in which nearly everyone is an aggressor, the options that remain are to kill or be killed.

But what about those too young to fight?  Those who aren’t old enough to know right from wrong or to make a moral judgment based on anything more than, “My parents said…”?  If you feel there’s a moral conflict here, you aren’t alone.  We’ll tackle this difficultly next week beginning with a brief lesson in anthropology.


[1] Traditionally, the term “Amalekite” was used as a reference to both the Amorites and the Canaanites.  This verse, then, would be a reference to a subgroup of Amalekites.

A Girdled Tree

19 Dec

Read: Galatians 5:1-13

“But the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” – Mark 4:19 NASB

High winds aren’t uncommon in my part of the country and, because of this, those of us who worked at the garden center often advised our customers to “stake” their trees.  Using some rebar or bamboo and a bit of rope, a homeowner could provide a system of support for young saplings until their roots were well enough established to hold them upright… even amidst strong gusts.

Unfortunately, people didn’t always see the need to remove this support system as the trees matured, often leaving wire, rubber, or rope tied tightly around the trunk for many seasons… until this “girdle” literally disappeared into the tree.  Years later, these trees will begin to die and, seeing no apparent reason, their owners retreat to the local nurseries for help.

I was told the story of one consultation in which an employee had taken a trip to see a row of aspens which had been planted ten or twelve years earlier.  The trees had begun to die the previous summer.  First one and then the next until the property owner began to worry about the situation.

Examining the trees and seeing no obvious explanation for their sudden death, the nursery worker asked if he could take a look at one of the deceased specimens.  Cutting the tree open, he found a wire which had been put in place to hold the tree upright when it was just a sapling.  The tissue of the tree had grown around it and the wire was now embedded deep within its heart.  The flow of water and nutrients had been restricted by the wire, weakening the structure of the wood, and killing the tree.

As Christians we often allow ourselves to become girdled just like the trees in this story: allowing our preoccupation with the cares of this world to go unchecked for so long that it eventually chokes out the life offered to us through our Savior.  We must be careful to remove these “worldly wires” before they have the opportunity to prevent us from growing into the people God intended us to be!

Challenge: Most of us have things or people to whom we turn for support.  While Scripture is clear about our need for each other, it is also clear that our relationships (and the activities involved in them) sometimes do more harm than good.  Take a moment to consider your life today: is there anything or anyone who is hindering your spiritual growth?  Confess the problem to God, then commit to taking the steps necessary to prevent yourself from becoming girdled and unfruitful.

Please Convince Me

17 Dec

J. Warner Wallace, a cold case homicide detective, spent 35 years as an “angry atheist”.  Vehemently opposed to Christianity, he decided to apply his crime scene experience to investigating the case for the faith – and concluded that a person should believe not “in spite of the evidence, but because of it.”

The Please Convince Me was designed to document his own journey to faith and to help others along the way.  Check out the blog to read about the continuing journey of the skeptics at Please Convince Me or download the weekly podcast to listen to J. Warner Wallace discuss common objections to Christianity from a detective’s point of view.  Not sure about what you hear?  Why not join the Please Convince Me Facebook group where believers, skeptics, and seekers have the opportunity to tackle tough questions about life and faith in a friendly environment.

Got some time to kill?  Why not check out some of the awesome YouTube videos highlighting both Wallace’s case for Christianity and one of his real-life police stories!  Or, visit the Academy where you’ll find a FREE and fully developed curriculum to help both individuals and groups learn to present their faith in a solid way that will stand up in even the toughest court.

And don’t forget to check out Wallace’s new book “Cold Case Christianity” due to release January 1st!

There’s plenty to see, so take the time to sit down and explore the site.  You may be surprised where the evidence leads!

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