A Land of Images

Southern California is home to Los Angeles, sometimes called the City of Angels. Hollywood makes its home here along with a large portion of the entertainment industry. This is the place for images and image-makers. Some of the local radio stations interject the following quip in between songs, “Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world.” That in itself creates an image of this city in the minds of listeners. Thousands of people flock to Los Angeles for the glitz and the glamour. Of course, glitz and glamour are merely artifacts or side effects of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. It seems to me that I can describe Los Angeles as a city of images.

The reason that I bring this up has to do with something that I read in the Bible. I have been reading through the Old Testament (OT) book of Jeremiah for a one-year, Chronological Bible Reading plan. I came across the following verse: “…For it is a land of images, and they are mad over idols” (Jeremiah 50:38b, ESV). Now, the immediate context of this verse and passage centers on the future judgment coming upon the nation of Babylon. The Spirit of God inspires Jeremiah to characterize this ancient, world empire as a land of images filled with men and women who are mad over idols. I could not help seeing the parallel to Los Angeles.

I live in a city of images filled with people who are mad about them. Billboards line the freeways and streets of Southern California. Everywhere I look I see something vying for my attention. The steady flow of images is like an avalanche upon the soul. I understand the point behind marketing and advertising; however, there is something desensitizing about them. Commercials, television programming, movies, magazines, radio programming and more all have the ability to suck the life out of human beings. The images coming through these various forms of media become idols. These are the men and women to admire and/or to follow. Eat these foods, consume these drinks, and life and energy return to your body.

For the Christian, his life and energy issue from the Lord not the world. In Jeremiah’s day, big bad Babylon set the tone for its citizens and those it conquered. King Nebuchadnezzar and his successors made sure that devotion to Babylon’s ethos remained wholehearted under penalty of death. For example, the famous account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego illustrates this perspective quite clearly, but their miraculous deliverance by the Lord also highlights his ultimate sovereignty over all kings and kingdoms (Daniel 3, ESV). There is relief for God’s people in godless nations, but this is not a principle for living in the kingdom. Sometimes the Lord delivered his people, but other times he did not as in the life of Isaiah, John the Baptist, Stephen, and the apostles Peter and Paul.

I do not bring this up to broach the subject of suffering and the corresponding theological problems that ensue. The key point to remember is that Stephen and John the Baptist enjoyed an earthly, covenant relationship with the Lord like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. All of five of these men enjoy the blessed, heavenly fellowship of the Lord’s presence as I type this up. They are in heaven awaiting their glorification at Christ’s second advent. Most, if not all, of Babylon’s citizens and rulers cannot say the same. The Lord raised up Jeremiah in order to warn this ancient empire about its impending doom. This demonstrated his love, his mercy, his longsuffering, and the certainty of his coming judgment.

If the Lord did not hold back his earthly judgment upon Babylon and its people, there is no reason to expect future relief judgment day. I realize that such rhetoric sounds alarming and harsh, but that day is coming. All of the warnings and admonitions from Christ, the apostles, and Christians throughout human history testify to the absolute certainty of judgment day. When I think of my current city, Los Angeles, I feel the sorrow of the Father’s heart toward this city and its people. Open their eyes and hearts Lord by your Holy Spirit in order to receive your truth and Kiss the Son. Grant your people, Lord, the grace, humility, and boldness to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the message of reconciliation. Amen.

“Biomedical research, then, promises vast increases in life, health, and flourishing. Just imagine how much happier you would be if a prematurely deceased loved one were alive, or a debilitated one were vigorous — and multiply that good by several billion, in perpetuity. Given this potential bonanza, the primary moral goal for today’s bioethics can be summarized in a single sentence. Get out of the way. A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as ‘dignity,’ ‘sacredness,’ or ‘social justice.'”

 

(Steve Pinker, The Boston Globe, “The Moral Imperative for Bioethics,” 1 Aug 2015)

The New Bioethics: “Get out of the Way”

“My friend says that life begins when the egg and sperm join together. I say that it begins when a baby takes its first breath. Which of us is right?

“All kinds of people — theologians, philosophers, scientists, lawyers, legislators, and many others — hold very different views about when life begins. In fact, both the egg and the sperm are living things before they meet and join. There’s no real argument there.

“The really hot question is, ‘When does being a person begin?’ Most medical authorities and Planned Parenthood agree that it starts when a baby takes its first breath.

“Some of our oldest religions have changed their views about this question many times over the centuries. Today, some people sincerely believe that being a person begins when the egg is fertilized. Some, just as sincerely, believe that it begins with birth. And lots of others believe it begins somewhere in between.

“What we are all sure about is that a pregnant woman is a person. We know for sure that she has morals, feelings, human needs, and a conscience. Because of this, we know that she is the only one able to make a decision about her pregnancy options. She does it based on her own needs, ethics, and religious belief about when being a person begins. It would be wrong to force her to observe someone else’s religious belief.”

 

(Planned Parenthood, Pregnancy Q & A page)

 

Planned Parenthood Q & A – “It is a Person After Birth.”

An Ending and A Beginning

I’m nearly done with the second day of my final week at Otto Nemenz International. I have worked here for over three years, and it has been life-giving to work for a company committed to a strong foundation of business ethics. My previous employer made things up as he went along. No one could pin him down regardless of the situation. He prized his neck too much. Of course, this meant that his employees ended up skewered by his clients. Boy, do I remember those days all too well. If my former job was a harsh, wasteland, then my time at Otto Nemenz has been like an oasis: fresh water, cool breeze, plenty of food, and shade. In fact, what could bring such a wonderful time to an end?

In my case, I start classes at Talbot School of Theology next week. Three weeks ago, I sat down with my boss regarding my upcoming, Fall schedule. There was no wiggle room available. It was either job or school. I expressed to my boss that my Fall plans were set in stone. My last day would be Friday, August 21. It felt weird at first to know that this was it. In my heart, I knew that this day loomed on the horizon. When I started Otto Nemenz three years ago, I had a strong impression that this job would not be permanent. It did not take me long to excel, and earn a pay raise by my sixth month; however, something shifted inside of me during that time. This took place as I met up with my trusted friend and mentor, Dio Yang.

I have known Dio for ten years. We met while attending the Westside Vineyard together between 2005 and 2011. Dio lead the Men’s Ministry at the church in addition to leading a weekly bible study. I respected his leadership and admired his knowledge, wisdom, and understanding about the Bible and doctrine. Around 2011, Dio stepped down from both of his roles at the Vineyard while retiring from his architecture business. I had moved onto to another Vineyard church, but I kept in touch with him. One day Dio asked me if I would be interested in meeting up with him every other Saturday to pray, talk about life, and study the bible together. I said yes.

There wasn’t anything strictly formal per se about our time together. Dio and I had a loose structure of talking about current struggles, praying for one another, and digging into God’s word for knowledge and wisdom for our lives. He showed me a few methods for studying the Bible. One of those I utilize as my bread and butter approach; although, I recognize the importance about using a different bible study method to keep things fresh. Whenever Dio and I completed a word study or a book study, he tasked me with writing a 2-3 page paper on what I learned and how it applied to my life. One day a light went on inside of me as I realized that I loved reading, studying, and writing about the Bible. I recall telling him that I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life.

If my memory serves me right, I remember a brief discussion with Dio about seminary in 2012. He recommended Talbot unequivocally over and against Fuller Theological Seminary and The Master’s Seminary. I considered the latter early in my search, but I found them a little too strident and cold in their communication. Fuller was a vague blip on the radar screen, but their embrace of theological liberalism is spiritually dangerous. Why spend three years and thousands of dollars listening to professors undermine God and his word if I will not tolerate that within a local church? Southern Seminary was the other serious contender, but they are in Louisville, Kentucky. At this time, my wife and I do not see the Lord leading us away from California.

What all of this means is that the Lord has lead me to this current place. It is a place that has both an ending and a beginning. In some sense, my job ends, but it also begins in a new way. The Lord used Dio to instill in me the spiritual discipline of personal, Bible study and its application to my life. Out of that simple activity grew a strong passion for shepherding others in the same way whether in a seminary or church setting or both. I am the Lord’s vessel. He has outfitted me a certain way for his kingdom, which excites me to no end. There is a weight in responding to God’s call to preach and teach his word. It sobers me. I will end this post with two verses, which keep ringing in my ears:

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5-6, ESV)

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1, ESV)

“About one out of five couples who come to HRC Fertility, a network of fertility clinics in Southern California, doesn’t need help getting pregnant. Instead, they come for what is called family balancing, or nonmedical sex selection. ‘They usually have one, two or three children of one gender’ and want their next child to be of the other sex, said Daniel Potter, medical director of HRC Fertility, which includes nine clinics.”

 

(Sumathi Reddy, The Wall Street Journal, “Fertility Clinics Let You Select Your Baby’s Sex,” 17 Aug 2015)

Nonmedical Sex Selection or Family Balancing?

“When I analyze this particular topic from a purely human, rather than a journalistic, point of view, all kinds of contradictory feelings emerge. Taking one’s own life is such a drastic and irrevocable step that a part of me cringes at the mere thought of it. But on the other hand, if we are indeed masters of our destinies, then the manner in which we choose to die should be a personal decision. Interestingly enough, we do not deprive our sick and suffering pets of a merciful death. Isn’t it cruel not to extend the same compassion to human beings?”

 

(Helena Bachmann, USA Today, “Voices: Defending Switzerland’s Right to Die Law,” 9 Aug 2015)

Masters of Our Destinies

Talking about God in a Secular Home

PBS News Hour hosted an intriguing interview earlier this week between author Wendy Thomas Russell and Jeffrey Brown. It is roughly six minutes long, and you can listen or read the transcript here. The subject of the interview concerns Mrs. Russell’s recently, published book titled, Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious. According to the author, her book came to life after a conversation with her young daughter while driving, who professed God as her creator and the creator of all people.

Mrs. Russell is refreshingly honest in her response to Mr. Brown by saying that her daughter’s declaration about God “…struck me. I was really caught off guard by it.” She goes on to explain to the interviewer that she stumbles through the rest of the conversation with her daughter at a loss with what to say. Both Mrs. Russell and her husband do not espouse a belief in God or in any religion. They are non-religious parents who have committed themselves to raising their daughter in a secular home. Despite the secular, home environment, Mrs. Russell’s daughter expresses a viewpoint completely contrary to her upbringing.

According Mrs. Russell, her conversation with her daughter is commonplace for many parents endeavoring to raise their children in secular homes based on secular ethics. She even goes so far as to say that the discussion about God between secular moms and dads and their kids is turning into the new, taboo subject. By comparison, talking about sex is a cake walk. This is a fascinating interview for all those concerned about the impact specific worldviews have upon culture and society. For someone like myself, who professes Christ as his Lord and Savior, this raises several issues and questions. I will focus only on Mrs. Russell’s very last words at the close of the interview. She says and I quote:

“I see a difference between guiding your child to be a moral person, an ethical person, a self-respecting person, a critical thinker. Those are all really important things.

“Guiding them to believe in a certain way, in a certain God or a certain prophet, that is not so important. I really want to focus on what people do in life and not what they believe, because if we can judge people on their actions, and not what we think the reasons behind their actions are, it makes for a more tolerant world and a better world.”

I heartily affirm Mrs. Russell’s desire and goal to see all parents raise their children as moral, ethical, self-respecting, and critical thinking human beings. In fact, I view the role of fathers and mothers as essential in developing the child’s moral and ethical foundation. When the family breaks down, or the relationship between one of the parents and child ruptures, the brokenness that flows out of that dysfunction is quite destructive and widespread. In some cases, the family dysfunction reverberates down through the generations like a dirge. It is also true that specific beliefs and values have a way of forming a child into who they become. This is where I take issue with Mrs. Russell’s last words and her overall perspective.

There is something downright naive, or even dangerous, about Mrs. Russell saying to the interviewer that “I really want to focus on what people do in life and not what they believe.” In her own words, she has separated belief from action, or created a false dichotomy between the two. This perspective of hers has proven to be ridiculous throughout all of human history. For example, the Nazis acted the way that they did according to specific beliefs about themselves and the human condition. The same is true for the slave merchants and slave owners who devised the slave trade based on beliefs that denigrated the dignity and worth of their fellow human beings.

For the sake of argument, suppose for a moment that I held to the same view as Mrs. Russell that what a person does is more important than what he or she believes. If I were to apply this principle toward assessing the Nazis, then I could not hold them accountable for their beliefs only for their actions. This is like saying treat the symptoms of the disease rather than the disease itself. No one in the medical profession worth his or her salt would advocate such treatment. Medical doctors go after the root cause or causes of any illness whether or not they succeed in eradicating it. I think it goes without saying that Mrs. Russell’s view is ethically, morally, and socially unacceptable.

Before I wrap this up, I want to touch upon one final point. It is my conviction that Mrs. Russell’s secular view downplays the depravity of the human heart including her own. By making a false distinction between a person’s beliefs and actions, she oversimplifies the complexity of human nature. When Mrs. Russell points out the different ways of parenting between indoctrination and guidance, her underlying thrust is that human beings are complex as are the issues pertaining to morality, ethics, and culture. Things are not painted in black and white. Moms and dads should guide their children rather than spoon feed them.

Again, I have no problem agreeing with Mrs. Russell up to a point. Unfortunately, she paints with very broad, brush strokes, which blurs over the real influence that one’s beliefs exert upon our choices and actions. The KKK do what they do based on clearly, defined beliefs. I would even argue that there are faulty desires at work, too. In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus taught that murder occurs in a person’s heart before he or she commits the act (Matt. 15:18-19; Mark 7:20-23, ESV). This means that the condition of my heart (the inward life) matters a great deal with respect to how I live (the outward life). The secularist, like Mrs. Russell, has no way to account for the evil that lurks within the human heart. Her view turns a blind eye toward it, which endangers everyone including her kids.