Friday, July 11, 2014

Objective Morality: The Worst Thing Ever?

(I read an article today - book review actually - that got my wheels spinning. Link to the book review here).

I often wonder, if moral relativists (who are almost universally atheists) are convinced that morality is a purely a product of our evolutionary brains, why are they so adamant that everyone know about it? Why write papers, deliver lectures, write books about it? Our ape "cousins" do no such thing. They don't seem to be concerned with whether or not morality is incidental or inherent. They don't seem offended by anything that happens in nature.

Come to think of it, I've never seen any animal offended by anything that happens in nature. Why do other animals not cry against the atrocities they witness? Why ARE there no atrocities in nature? Why do we film animals eating one another, but warn of graphic footage when human beings are involved in similar violence? Why is it okay for humans to eat animals, but not to eat other humans?

Theists are compelled to promote objective morality based upon their view that humans are a special creation, a higher-than-animal creature, fashioned in the image of their Divine Creator, who endowed us with an eternal soul, and intrinsic moral value (among other things).

What compels the atheist and the moral relativist to "make converts" to their view? It seems contradictory to nature's law for creatures of survival (like us really advanced apes) to have any conscious view of morality whatsoever, much less a conscientious one.

Why is it that humans have developed this self-awareness and moral compass not evidenced by other species? How does self-awareness and morality (which, whether objective or not, undeniably exists) promote survival? Seems to me that moral sensitivity, which is nowhere else evidenced in nature, is a great detriment to our better good.

If evolution is true, we should stop wasting time trying to figure out how we developed the moral gene, and spend more time and resources trying to identify and eradicate it. Morality seems, to be, a great faux pas of evolution, stifling to progress.

Here are some questions for the person who thinks that nothing is objectively right or wrong:

Is it wrong to deny moral relativity? 
Is it evil to accept the concept of objective morality? 
Should I accept moral relativity?

A moral relativist cannot answer any of these "Yes," since morality is (according to him) only the product of evolutionary circumstances. Objective morality doesn't exist, so the questions are moot.

If he answers any of these "No," then he denies his own cause as irrelevant. So much for writing books, giving lectures, and making converts.

If morality is merely the product of the evolutionary mind, then evolution is true and God is false. But if that is so, then how stupid we are as a species to obsess over it. We could be busy surviving - killing one another and storing up flesh in our genius electric-powered ice boxes for the next long winter. Oh, I guess the argument against that would have something to do with industrialization and the acquisition of "spare time," something our baboon grandparents didn't have, but I digress. Instead, we're in classrooms pondering the "why" of morality. Talk about baboons! If only they knew what we silly human-apes were doing, sitting around in those classrooms reading books about the evolution of morality!

However, if morality is the product of a divine Creator who endowed the human species alone with it, then moral relativity is objectively false, and God is true. And if that is so, then human beings are not apes at all, but rather are a special creation, a higher-than-animal creature, fashioned in the image of their Divine Creator. And it is through Him that we possess our sense of moral awareness.

And THAT is worth writing books, giving lectures and making converts.

Friday, May 2, 2014

5 Things I Wish I Had Done Differently in My First Ten Years of Ministry

Waiting to speak
Most people who know me know that our family is moving in just a few short weeks to a new opportunity in Massillon, OH. There are many things I have wanted to say over the last year as this process has transpired, but in weighing all those thoughts and words, I've found that I have very little to say. I've been doing more praying and contemplating than talking because I simply haven't known how to say or what to say.

A few months ago I sat down and wrote this blog post out, but neglected to publish it, because that's what I do. I probably have as many unpublished posts as published ones. But today, I looked at it again, make a couple tweaks, and here it is. I hope it is worthwhile to you.

I've spent a lot of time reflecting since I announced my intentions to resign (last September) in Prestonsburg. A lot of time reflecting on how I got here - I mean, how I ended up in ministry at all, and how I ended up in Prestonsburg. I've given tremendous thought to God's providence. And I've been reflective of what God has helped me accomplish for Him, and how He has used me for His glory and purpose.

And along those lines, I've also given a lot of thought to things that I wish I had done differently. So here's a list of those things, which is certainly not exhaustive:

1) I wish I had been more involved in local evangelism.
Studying to teach or preach between 5 and 6 times per week is taxing. Add to that bulletin preparations for the last 6 years, and being integral in several other areas of work through the years (involvement program, education program, and other such things), and the intervention of visiting and funerals and such, and it left me little "walking" time for evangelism. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I did what was asked of me here, and I did it to the best of my ability. And, I didn't do NO evangelistic work. I'm thankful to say we knocked a lot of doors, did a lot of correspondence, made a lot of contacts. I spent time trying to help others learn how to evangelize, and was always looking for tools that would help us accomplish evangelism as a congregation. I just wish I had done more. And there are times I had no control over that, and times that I did.

2) I wish I had been more organized
I have kept fair records, but not what I should have. Last year, I did some detailed records of what and where and all that, and I was scared of what I'd see. When I totaled everything out, I was actually relieved to see that I was actually not taking enough down-time, and there were some imbalances that needed correcting. Of course, it's water under the bridge now, but now that I'm aware, I can strive to be more effective and accountable to myself and others in my next work.

I used to carry around little pocket-sized notebooks all the time, to help me remember things, to make lists, etc. I got away from that for some reason (I guess just laziness and habit), and it showed. There were times I dropped the ball, forgot things - even somewhat important things - because I wasn't as organized as I should have been. I need to put that notebook back in my pocket and be honest with myself that my memory is not likely to get better with age. If I am going to keep up with what's going on for the next 37 years, it won't be because my mind is so sharp, it will be because I made a conscientious choice to be more mindful and organized.

3) I wish I had been more prayerful. 
I wouldn't say that I'm not a prayerful person. I don't spend four hours in solid prayer every morning as Martin Luther supposedly did. I don't think I could. Maybe I should, I don't know. But I'm not referring to quantity anyway; I'm referring to quality - my sense of priority.

There are many seasons I can look back on and realize that I didn't go to God first regarding some situation. There were times that I got prideful and thought I could just figure it out on my own. I'm stubborn like that, but I'm trying. I know, intellectually, that I'm nobody, and without God, I'm useless. But sometimes I forget that.

Perhaps that is youth and immaturity. Fair enough. But knowing better should mean doing better. I've never met a person yet who was completely satisfied with their prayer life and habits. It is a discipline, and one in which I see plenty of room for growth.

4) I wish I had pursued a stronger relationship with my elders. 
As I leave Prestonsburg, my relationship with the elders is certainly as good and as strong as its ever been. I'm thankful for that. Being asked to participate in the preacher search was a humbling experience in many ways, not the least of which was simply be asked to do so. Perhaps, in hind sight, I had more of their trust than I often assumed.

Overall, I could have been better about pursuing a closer relationship with them, on a personal level. There are always many factors that play into this relationship, but I definitely could have been better and more communicative at times. The Prestonsburg elders are fine, upstanding men. I am proud to say that I have served along side of them, and I hope they would say the same about me.

5) I wish I had done more to promote the training of gospel preachers
When first we moved to eastern Kentucky, Bear Valley (BVID) had an extension school at one of our sister congregations (which is no longer operational). I wish we had been more promoting of the training of young men to preach.

I am grateful for preaching schools that function under the oversight of local elderships (like my school, West Virginia School of Preaching). But I am also a firm believer in refining that movement in all local congregations. I strongly believe that all congregations should stress the need for the training of gospel preachers AND elders.

I am so thankful for the work in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, and God giving me the opportunity to be a part of it. One of our elders once said to me, "I've been here for forty years, and it would absolutely kill me for something bad to happen to this congregation." This congregation is full of people who feel very much the same way. Including me.

We will be leaving Prestonsburg shortly, and while our membership will no longer be here, our family always will be. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I'm glad she didn't listen to me

Last Sunday afternoon, my wife took a nap. Okay, so that may not sound like much to you, but my wife is NOT a "napper" (me? I don't get many, but I'm all for 'em). She has been on antibiotics several times this year for different things, and she has shingles. She has missed the better part of 2 weeks' work in the meantime. 

Infomercial alert: "But wait, there's more!"

As if this weren't enough, a frozen water pipe burst in our upstairs bathroom on January 8, flooding our boys' bedroom (adjacent to the upstairs bathroom), destroying our living room ceiling, the laminate flooring in two rooms, and hardwood floors in another. Our house has been in chaos, needless to say. 

Currently, there are air movers, dehumidifiers, and air purifiers sitting all over the house, running 24/7, making it very loud and annoying us to pieces. The kids have practically nowhere to sit or move around, school is at a standstill, and laundry was backed up so bad we had to take it all to the coin laundry the other day to catch up (and it took, like, a lot of coins). 

At this point, we'd all like to take a nap...and wake up when it's over. 

She didn't listen to me
So last Sunday, when she took a nap, I knew she was really wiped out. When it came time for our church's evening services, I did something I don't often do: I encouraged her to stay home. 

But against my counsel, she dragged herself out of bed, and came to worship with the saints, children in tow, anyway. 

That evening, long waxed the preacher (yours truly) about the Golden Rule, and loving others as yourself. The flow was good. The progression of points, natural and even. I didn't make too many noticeable mistakes. And for a sermon I had prepped less than usual (see above), as it drew to a close, I was just glad to have survived it. 

As always, I invited any who would to respond to the Lord, or who might need a special season of prayer. What I didn't expect was to see my wife responding. 

Wait. It wasn't my wife. Well, it wasn't just my wife. It was my wife...with one of the children in tow. Our nine year-old daughter, tears in her eyes. 

My immediate thought was, "What's this? Is something wrong? Why are they moving up front?" Then, it hit me. 

None of them alike
As of last Sunday afternoon, 3 of our 6 children have obeyed the gospel. Our oldest three, age order. Not one of them ever responded during a worship service. All of them came to their decision  at some other time. And all of them spent several days giving signs, initiating conversations, talking about possibilities. 

Hannah (then 6), Emma (then 2)
But Emma was so different (okay, so that shouldn't have shocked us!). Although there were signs of unrest lately (that are even more clear looking back), they were not as visible as the other children's had been.
But Sunday night, it was too much for her to bear, and it became immediately visible to us all. 

After I talked with her on the front pew for a few minutes, it was obvious she was ready. She knew exactly what she was doing and why. It took a bit, and I happened to notice our song leader take an extra verse (maybe 2?) to give us a little time (boy, conscientious song leaders are worth their weight in gold!).

So I finally got up to address the congregation. I was speechless. 

I started to talk, and almost had no idea what to say. This is what I do! This is my livelihood - and I couldn't arrange a single coherent thought to put into words. 

So I finally gathered my wits enough to ask her to affirm her faith in the Lord, which she readily did. And with that, our fourth child, was baptized into Christ. 

Some things that have struck me since then
One thing that struck me almost immediately that night was that our daughter was doing exactly what we had prepared her for since before she was born.

Let me assure you, I have had plenty of moments of being downright pitiful as a father. I have lost my temper, been egotistical, too sensitive, not sensitive at all - you name it. I have had days where I swung for the fences and missed every pitch. 

But we have always kept our focus in the same place: heaven. We have painstakingly chosen to emphasize spiritual things in the lives of our children. The Bible describes children as arrows in the hands of a mighty warrior (Psa. 127), so we believe that parents have a tremendous responsibility to chart the trajectory of their children's spiritual lives.

So when my daughter responded to the gospel, part of me was not surprised at all. 

However, the other part of me realizes that we are only servants who have the privilege of making her familiar with God's drawing power through the gospel

Neither this daughter nor any of our other children who have already obeyed the gospel were coerced into doing so. They were given the freedom to understand it and ask questions, and make their own choice, which they have done. And we could not be more grateful to God for giving them the opportunity to do so. 

And about my wife's nap
Of course, the other thought that occurred to me later that evening, was, "What if my wife had stayed home like I had encouraged her to do?

While I was preaching, for the most part, my wife wasn't listening (hey, no punch lines). She was answering questions and quieting the concerns of our daughter's tender heart. She was offering encouragement and guidance to her as she struggled with her sense of the eternal, and her place in it. 

Not long ago, I was called upon by someone who needs to obey the Lord. At the end of our discussion, this person was certain what they needed to do, but chose to put it off until the church's next meeting, much to my dismay. I encouraged this person that the devil would almost certainly find away to intervene between that night and the next opportunity of our meeting, and not to put it off. But they would not. 

To this day, the season has not come again. 

You may be tempted to think I'm going to offer this up as a parable about bringing your family faithfully to the assembly of the church. Let me answer that this way: I'm certainly not going to argue against it. 

To this day, I've never once heard an elderly Christian say, "You know, we just spent way too much time attending worship and Bible classes." 

But I have heard many parents say, "I wish I had emphasized our children's spiritual life more while they were growing up. I wish I had attended more regularly. I wish we would have prioritized differently." 

That's one regret we decided long ago that we'd never have, if we could help it.

My wife didn't listen to me that night. And I am so thankful for that. She listened to the Lord. And by doing so, she was able to listen to our daughter, who had been listening to Him, too.