December 17th, 2012 by Admin
That’s right, everything you’ve loved about PositivelyHuman is now over at SturdyAnswers.com.
We’ve redone this blog resource to better serve you. We have a new logo.
Our writing team at SturdyAnswers all have graduate degrees (or equivalent) with an expertise in various fields of study.
This is a new kind of apologetics: integration. We are rescuing apologetics from being merely about philosophy and historical theology. We are eager to give sturdy answers about a wide range of topics to give you more confidence, so you can find the floorboards of your faith stable to stand on… and build a better soul in the process.
We’re also serving MyFaithHurdle.com more strategically as a team so you can hear expert voices on your questions.
Let us know what you think. And we’re always open to new suggestions. Okay, enough chattering about the blog and let’s get to the good stuff.
Welcome to SturdyAnswers!
December 17th, 2012 by L. James Everett, III.
I was going to write about procrastination but I’ll do that one later.
Some of you might be a little weirded-out by this topic. I urge you to stick with this post all the way through.
Today, I’m thinking about 3 things.
1. Winter, the end of the year.
2. Now, the end of history.
3. And the end of us individually, as humans, at the end of life — our death. And I just lost half of my readers with the death thing, but I will plunge ahead anyway, because maybe you’ll come back when you’re ready.
I want you to think about this past year. The seasons, and all that happened to you. It’s over. Was there progress? Was there purpose? The leaves are gone and the wind has picked up. The days are shorter. It’s cold. Is this just a meaningless cycle, only obvious once you’ve seen this same pattern, over and over again?
We could reflect in a similar way on human history — its patterns and cycles, and apparent development. It’s still going on, but we are at the cutting edge of it, because we exist, and those in the less-recent past, are past. Now, today, is the end of history. It’s been a long journey for humans. Most of us don’t understand much about history. Even if one is a history major, or professor, we know a small fraction of what has happened. The sum total of facts of human history are beyond our ken. If you don’t believe me, tell me EVERYTHING you did two Mondays ago, and what it all ultimately means. Good luck. And that’s something you were the witness of, not relying on historical documents or artifacts. Try telling me EVERYTHING you did on a day 20 years ago. Next, tell me what it means. Tell me the point of each thing, and how each thing contributes to the point of some broader, obviously true story of the purpose of human history. Next, tell me the point of Chinese civilization, that is, after you describe it accurately and in detail. Tell me about each Chinese person who ever lived — avoid stereotypes where they don’t capture truth of individuality. Next, tell me why you’re telling me about the Chinese instead of some other people group in the jungle that you or I or anyone has never heard of, because all traces of their civilization have vanished.
And you are just one among about 100 billion people who’ve walked upon the earth. What does all of history mean? Was there a purpose to its development? Is there development? Is there real, not just apparent, progress? (Technological progress doesn’t count as an answer — the mere fact that my iPhone can take pictures — and that it’s outdated as soon as I buy it — doesn’t strike me as in any way obviously purposeful).
I wrote recently asking about the marks of progress. And in that piece, I linked a YouTube debate on whether the universe has a purpose. Some people think that the universe has no Purpose (capital P), because it wasn’t designed by a designer. However, we humans have small “p” purposes, according to this view (called atheism/agnosticism). So, for this view, we individually, and as communities, have purposes. But there is no over-arching, design-plan for human history. We find ourselves here and try to create meaning ourselves. One problem with this view is that it is unclear, or worse, false, that there is any truth to how we should treat people with other “p” purposes that conflict with ours. Adolf has his purpose, and Myriam had her purpose she was trying to create, before Adolf’s smashed Myriam’s to smithereens. Our purposes may have more in common with Myriam’s, or Eisenhower’s, than with Adolf, but we find it awkward that Eisenhower’s purposes, which we relate to now, practically linked up with Joseph’s (Stalin, that is) purposes. It’s awkward because Stalin’s purposes are not our purposes. But they were against Adolf’s. Myriam got crushed. We went to the mall and exclaimed, that’s a good deal, engrossed in our little purposes.
Winter confronts us with the question of whether this hope of another spring is just a (friggin) meaningless cycle. Next winter will predictably come, and be like the current one. Is history the same way? Are our lives the same way? Does it come to an end with the oh-so-seen it before inevitable decline and fall of a great civilization — one hell-bent on great deals at the mall, marveling at and hooked by transitory gimmicks, putting off thoughts of its ultimate meaninglessness and purposelessness nature?
Young healthy people in the summer of their lives will eventually confront these questions about their own lives, as we all must.
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Image credit: smashingmagazine.com and usafa.edu
December 10th, 2012 by Dale Fincher
Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from Dale and Jonalyn Fincher’s Advent devotional Opening the Stable Door.
The angels were not the cute ones on postage stamps nor the little baby ones we often see fluttering about nativity scenes. These were obvious, brilliant and startling beings. They came to a field. They came at night. The glory of God shined from them. They terrified, without intention, the shepherds in the field. I’m sure if it happened today SETI would be on the case.
Luke said the sheep herders lived in that field. But Herod the Great lived in the local palace. However, God is not impressed by rank or role. God sees all humans alike, as image bearers with hearts, hands and hair. He sees them for who they are, the choices they make, the character of soul they have become. He sees if they have a posture of humility or pride toward ultimate reality.
Herod (self-proclaimed, “the great”) had no such posture. When he heard the headline from the Magi that a Messiah was born, he said he wanted to know the location too so that he could demonstrate a posture of humility in worship. But as the story unfolds, we find that Herod’s aim was to eradicate the news with infant genocide. Songwriter Rich Mullins echoes Matthew and Jeremiah when he writes about the ancient event:
Rachel is weeping for her children that she thought she could not bear
And she bears a sorrow that she cannot hide. …¹
Imagine the heartache that ripped through the city as lives were taken by Herod, a man filled with contempt for a baby who bore the best spiritual, moral, political and social good news. Herod not only wanted to rid Palestine of Jesus, but had he succeeded, he would have robbed the world of something Herod could have never given: a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
In contrast, the Magi, who were Zoroastrian priests, were not threatened by an announcement of the Messiah, the Chosen of God. They were waiting for the ruler of the world. A prediction of a rare joining of Jupiter and Saturn was recorded in Cuneiform tablets in 8 B.C. Jupiter (which meant ‘world ruler’) and Saturn (which was the star of Palestine) met in the sky known as “the Fishes” (which indicated the last days). This only takes place every 794 years.² That is why the wise Magi traveled from the East in search of Jesus at the capital of Palestine. They wanted the ruler to come. Matthew says they engaged in the humble act of worshipping Jesus, the newborn world ruler.
Still the only formal announcement came to some ordinary guys watching sheep in a field.
I can imagine these were typical blue-collar workers, like the guy who put up my fence or the guy who pulled the stumps from my backyard. It would be strange to my contemporary ears to hear my painter tell me about a birthday announcement from angels that took place in his backyard. I’d be going online to verify the news.
The shepherds witness the most fascinating display of angels every recorded. As bewildered as the shepherds were with angels, they still ran to verify an even more interesting event. Luke says that after visiting the baby Jesus, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Even the shepherds needed to verify the message of the angels. And they met Jesus face to face and believed.
Don’t wait to get a copy of Opening the Stable Door.
¹Jacob and 2 Women by Rich Mullins
²Michael Green, Who Is This Jesus?, 24, 25. This coincidences of stars is not a verification the world ruler will be born every 794 years. Rather, God’s fullness of time, bringing his Son into the world, gave a hint to those who were not told through the Scriptures.
Image credit: flickr.com/photos/21644167@N04
December 3rd, 2012 by Sarah Jackson
We sit on the couch and he tells me about his life group leaders training meeting. “They want us to keep our eyes open when we pray together, to make sure no one gets hurt.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“I guess someone fell over once and got injured while the group was praying.”
He looks at me with mischief in his eyes.
“I know that wouldn’t be an issue in your life group,” he says. “You’d make all your life group members wear helmets.”
I throw back my head and laugh, because he’s not too far from the truth.
The first time I was well enough, after months of chronic illness, to go walking, I fought debilitating anxiety. The first time I drove on the freeway, after the worst of my illness, I battled panic attacks.
It was strange to be so inhibited by fear. Me, the girl who used to run full throttle at hurdles and drive like a maniac, afraid to leave the house.
I didn’t expect to have to battle such pervasive fear on my journey of healing from two years’ illness. It has been so gloriously evident that God has used my loss of health the last few years for gain, so that I don’t have to fear loss anymore. For the Christian, even loss becomes grace, by God’s sovereignty. But I guess my soul is still heaving hard from the blows of the last two years, and my knee-jerk reactions to life reveal the fear wrapped around my heart, like a protective bandage.
This bandage doesn’t actually protect and heal though; it suffocates, like hardening plaster, squeezing the joy out of life.
So I’ve spent this year stripping away fear. I went walking until walking was no longer scary. I drove on the freeway, then I sped, then I weaved.
And the plaster bandage started cracking, loosening.
So that, if you were in my life group, I probably wouldn’t make you wear a helmet during prayer. But if we were to go to the ocean together? I’d have to grit my teeth and race into the water, and swim and swim and swim, and watch fear dissolve.
There’s still so much fear to strip away.
So I’ve been adventuring, in order that the fear of loss — the possibility of injuries, mishaps, and close calls — doesn’t have the power to dictate my living. And fear’s grip keeps loosening.
Last week the grand adventure was mountain biking on a top-of-the-line demo bike. I swear that thing has a brain. Because I’m whipping around a corner a little too fast, but the bike keeps me upright. I’m flying over a hill and the bike lands smooth and steady. I’m cruising over bumps and the bike softens the impact of the landing.
It’s so strange to feel in control, but to also feel some reliable outside force working in conjunction with my free will, saving me from my errant, fearful self.
So I pedal hard, and oh! it feels good to speed and sweat, and whip with the wind.
I pedal faster, accelerating into turns, and every time I think I’m going to fall, the bike keeps me upright. I begin to trust it.
And then it hits me: this feeling of not being as in control as I think I am — of my free will working together with an outside force — is the closest I’ve gotten to experiencing something that, perhaps, sort of resembles the way God’s sovereignty interacts with our free will.
I’m grinning now as I fly around a blind corner, because this analogy is great — this feeling is great: my heart so alive.
But the corner turns out to be tighter than I thought, and I’m deep in thought about God’s sovereignty, and in a split second I’ve careened off the trail, grazed a tree, and flown over the handlebars.
I land hard, and I can’t breath, and the pain is surging, and the vomit rising, and I wonder if I punctured a lung?
And thank goodness I’m wearing a helmet — thank goodness.
My friend races over and I’m gasping ragged breaths, and aching, and it takes awhile before the nausea lessens. And then I’m up. I’m okay and I’m walking toward my bike.
And I’m smiling, and feeling oddly energized. Because of the fall? It wasn’t that bad. I did end up fracturing my rib, but the doctor says it’s a minor injury. And I’m covered in bruises, but they make me feel like I did back when I was knocking over hurdles on a weekly basis. And I’m grinning as I write because it feels so good to be hurting from mountain biking rather than chronic illness, and I love that the girl who panicked over driving on the freeway is chuckling about a cracked rib.
I love it.
And falling? It’s nothing to be afraid of.
And God’s sovereignty? It touches everything. We can’t escape it. Even the falls don’t fall outside the realm of his sovereignty.
Sometimes the falling is just what we need. God knows, sometimes it’s the strength of impact that cracks the plastered fear and lets the heart inhale life.
Wild, glorious gain, that the Father is determined to help us live free and full.
Image credit: sportstar.com
November 26th, 2012 by Ben Dyer
Ben Dyer took ill with literature and philosophy at a tender age and still has regular flare ups when reading. He teaches philosophy and is currently finishing a Ph.D. in political philosophy in Ohio, where he lives with his wife Kari. This article is the first in a series to inform our readers on a richer, more historical look at God and Politics, and a wiser way forward.
Why does politics divide so many Christians when Jesus said so little about it? Have you noticed how often people describe churches as theologically “liberal” or “conservative” rather than in terms of their relation to statements of Christian orthodoxy like the Nicene Creed? Maybe it’s not surprising that people with sincere convictions in the faith should also be sincere in their political convictions as well, but why should our Christian family be reluctant to break bread with one another because of political differences which are not essential to the faith?
The New Testament contains no political treatise in the vein of Plato’s Republic—there is no meditation on ideal justice, a theory of rights, or a plan for political institutions. Jesus says relatively little about politics beyond “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” His disciples seem unable to imagine his Kingdom in apolitical terms in spite of the fact that he’s constantly correcting them. Paul’s most political statement in the New Testament seems to be just a reminder to be subject to ruling authorities who do not “bear the sword in vain.”
This isn’t an accident. Jesus could have raised his banner as a king who would throw off the Roman yoke. The multitudes swelling the City of David for Passover on Palm Sunday welcomed him as just such a king, but Jesus demurred when asked. Although his disciples frequently jockeyed for positions in the anticipated Kingdom, their New Testament letters are not political treatises for the fledgling church. Paul was politically savvy enough to use his Roman citizenship at need, but his project was advancing the gospel, not the formation of a political underground.
What’s going on here? For a guy who cared about the poor and spent time with tax collectors, you’d think Jesus might have said something about welfare states. Paul frequently thanks the fledgling gentile churches for their financial support of the gospel and the church in Jerusalem, but he doesn’t press claims on them in the language of rights, duties, or justice. So why is the New Testament so quiet about politics?
First, although Jesus had been offered all the kingdoms of the world during his temptation, his last exercise of authority, the Great Commission, directed his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” However imminent the Kingdom of God is, it is not yet a “kingdom of this world” in the usual institutional sense.
Second, although Jesus frequently criticized religious authorities, by affirming the Torah, he affirmed the values embodied in the social and political order it described (e.g., reverence toward God, care for the poor, protection of life and property, etc.). Jesus frequently emphasized those values by extending the Law’s requirement to attitudes as well as actions. However, for all his criticism and revision, Jesus’s teachings do not attempt to fundamentally rewrite the political institutions of his day.
Third, although the New Testament closes with an established network of churches and a loose hierarchy organized around the teaching authority of Paul and the Disciples, the writers of the New Testament couldn’t foresee the time when Christianity would inherit the power and reach of the Roman Empire. Such a thing would have been unimaginable to the generations who suffered imperial persecution until early in the 4th century AD. Christians were directed to live commendable lives, but political persecution was expected and endured as an opportunity to share in Christ’s sufferings.
What then were later Christians to do when the spread of the gospel made Christianity—by then a predominantly gentile religion—the official religion of a vast gentile empire established from Mesopotamia in the East to Spain the West, and from Britain in the North to North Africa in the South? Gentile Christians diverged from Jewish law and social doctrine early on. So, without a clear political doctrine from the New Testament, Christian political thought focused pragmatically on the social conditions necessary for advancing the gospel and living faithfully.
This means that whatever our political differences are with others in the Body of Christ, they are in most cases not fundamentally doctrinal. Politics need not and should not divide people of good will who share faith in Christ. Many Christian writers have taken up the pen to address questions of what Christian citizenship should be like, what a Christian state should be like, and how human and divine law are related. Many views have been offered, and (unsurprisingly) they do not all agree with one another. However, they still have a lot to teach us about our current political perspectives as we also try to be both faithful citizens and citizens of faith.