Thoughts on NOVA’s special – The Bible’s Buried Secrets

Today during my five hour car drive up to Kansas, I listened to a WGBH Forum Network podcast on the NOVA documentary The Bible’s Buried Secrets which aired this past week. As with several other NOVA specials in the past, this documentary is available entirely online for viewing, along with extra features which did not make it into the two hour TV documentary. Since I was not able to see this on November 18th, I’m going to be glad to watch the special sometime on my own schedule with members of my family at home in upcoming weeks.

NOVA The Bible's Buried Secrets

One of the quotations which stood out most in the podcast for me was the following statement:

You can’t really inquire when you are dealing with fundamentalists.

This comment was made with respect to Christian fundamentalists, who the speaker (I think it was Dr. Lawrence E. Stager, professor, archaeology of Israel, Harvard) remembered from his childhood growing up in the midwestern United States. He was making a point that it is useless to try and suggest people should seek for the truth / inquire for more information and insight when those people are Christian “fundamentalists.”

I think it is VERY unfortunate when Christ-followers project the impression that they “know all the answers” and have all the mysteries of the world figured out. I am not a relativist or an adherent to postmodern philosophies, and I do believe in both the existence of Truth (what one of my college philosophy instructors used to call “Big T Truth”) and that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I certainly would NOT consider myself “a fundamentalist,” however, if that definition means someone who is not continuing to search for understanding and truth, and acknowledging the limits of human understanding of divine mysteries.

I’m looking forward to watching this NOVA special in its entirety and discussing the multitude of issues it raises. I think Christians should be “seekers” of truth their entire lives, no matter how old or young they are. Based on the conversations in this WGBH Forum podcast, I think our family will have a lot to discuss after seeing it.

My thinking during this podcast was highly colored by the fact I’ve almost finished reading “How to Watch TV News: Revised Edition” by Neil Postman and Steve Powers. Certainly the idea that documentary news like this program is created and designed primarily with the goal of attracting viewers rather than pursuing the truth (which is a point made by Postman and Powers) comes through in the podcast discussion. The sharp time limits imposed by production budgets as well as the producer’s perceptions of what “trailer park America” wants and can cognitively handle were also discussed by the panelists in this podcast.

Often I think people get into trouble when they portray a group of people as having monolithic beliefs and perceptions, when in reality there is actually a great deal of diversity in beliefs, perceptions, as well as customs among members of that group. While I consider myself “a believer” in God and and his Son, Jesus Christ, I also very much consider myself “a seeker” for truth and increased understanding of many topics and issues, including Biblical archeology. I don’t feel threatened in the slightest by the suggestion that as humans, we should inquire more deeply for truth and knowledge, in the context of Biblical history or any other subject. It seems almost unbelievable that Galileo faced persecution and the threat of death by the Catholic Church in the 1500’s when he challenged its heliocentric view of the universe. I do not view the advances of science as correlating to zero-sum losses in the realms of faith and religion. I think it is wonderful to have opportunities to be appropriately challenged to think critically about what I believe and why I believe those things, and I suspect this NOVA special will provide more opportunities to “grapple” with ideas of both faith and history.

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Identity theft and burglary

It has been a bad week for some of my Oklahoma friends. Last Friday I learned one of my friends had his wallet stolen, which included his social security card. Ironically I had just attended a presentation the previous evening by an Oklahoma police officer about identity theft, how to avoid it and what to do if you are a victim. Since I had just heard the presentation, I was able to share what I had heard: File a police report immediately, notify your banks, the FTC, at least one of the major credit card companies so they can put a “fraud alert” on your account, and document EVERYTHING.

Today, another friend had a break-in by some burglars at his house in the late afternoon, apparently just before he got home. He lives in northern Oklahoma City. The burglars took jewelry, a computer and a digital camera, but really trashed his bedroom and several other rooms of the house. The thieves had kicked in the front door, which did have a deadbolt lock. The insurance agent’s repair man said he sees these kinds of break ins at least once a week, and the police don’t even take fingerprints in these cases. Victims are on their own to contact local pawn shops and provide a list of items in case they show up. Rarely are burglars like that caught. We had waited over an hour after they called the police and they still hadn’t come: A burglary is a low priority event compared to other issues the police in the area have to deal with.

My friend and his wife said they felt so violated by this robbery. Who knows who broke into their home? They could have been drug addicts looking for a few small electronic items they could pawn for some quick cash. Amazingly, Oklahoma law does NOT require that pawn shop owners obtain a drivers’ license number or other identifying information from someone selling goods. How dumb is that? I was glad I could assist a little after the burglary in helping videotape and photograph the damage that was done to the house, but overall the experience was pretty depressing and eye opening.

I feel fortunate to live in an area where crime is (I think) much lower in frequency. What a helpless feeling to be in your house trying to sleep at night, where hours before burglars had been stealing your jewelry and other possessions. The burglars turned over the bed and even cut into the box springs mattress, looking for hidden money. I think that entire experience would naturally leave someone feeling vulnerable and violated.

Please pray for my friends and others in their neighborhood who have been the victims of burglaries. Thankfully no one was home and no one was there to be injured in an actual altercation with the thieves. If drug addiction did drive them to steal, I pray they will find assistance they need to escape their addiction and stop breaking into the homes of others and stealing to support their habit.

It can be a scary world out there. Times like these remind us that we need to constantly put our faith and trust in the Lord, for He is always with us no matter how dark the valley. I was also glad to be able to be there for my friends. No one should be alone when they face difficult and hard times, including crimes committed against them.

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Compatibility between science and faith

I attended a wonderful Christian men’s conference at Mo-Ranch in south Texas this weekend, and emerged from the weekend with 22 pages of handwritten notes! To begin the work I need to do in processing and reflecting on many of the ideas shared at the conference, I recorded a 30 minute Gcast podcast this evening with my cell phone, which was automatically posted to the web.


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The Sunday School lessons of Dr. Dan Foster, who was our conference keynote speaker, are available online.

Death

A relative sent me this, and I thought I’d share it.

A sick man turned to his doctor, as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said,
“Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.”

Very quietly, the doctor said, “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?”

The doctor was holding the handle of the door; on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.

Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog? He’s never been in this room before. He didn’t know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing…I know my Master is there and that is enough.”

God is good

It has been pretty stressful at times to move from Lubbock, Texas, which I have called home for the past 13 years, to a new community and job in Edmond/Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The worst part was being separated from my family for about 1 1/2 months this summer, before they moved to join me in August, but many things about the moving process are stressful and challenging even when a family is all together.

Throughout this moving process, I have been encouraging my wife and myself with the words, “Don’t worry about the house. God is going to take care of it.” We actually had our Lubbock home on the market since March of 2006, because although we did not know then where He would lead us, we felt certain that we were called to move on to new jobs and new opportunities during the summer. The completion of my PhD coursework at Texas Tech along with many other factors contributed to this family decision. How joyful we were this past week to see the following sign in our front yard in Lubbock!

Our house is sold!

Last Friday we were back in Lubbock signing closing documents on the house. Yesterday afternoon, we received a phone call from our realtor indicating that the buyers had accepted and signed the contract, so at this point we are no longer homeowners. What a relief! Making a house payment along with a new rental payment has been challenging. Now we just have the rent!

I admit that although I KNOW from repeated personal experiences that God does take care of things, and that he does and will continue to care for me and my family, it was still a great relief to sell our home. It was also amazing to see how God worked through this situation. We were prepared to pay about five times more than we ended up paying to close our home– but it worked out that we did not have to pay nearly as much. Our realtor was amazed, and also said that “It was God,” not him. None of us predicted the sale would turn out as well as it did, in fact we all were bracing for a much worse outcome.

So, our challenges continue in our new home and situations, but my primary thought in writing this blog entry is, “Praise God!” God is good all the time, and yet again he has demonstrated his power to act in my own life beyond my own expectations.

I think some people have the mistaken impression that once you become a Christian, you do not struggle or go through suffering anymore. That is definitely NOT true. Struggles, challenges, and even suffering remain a part of our lives on earth for a variety of reasons– but becoming a Christian does NOT make a person immune from these experiences. Being a Christian and seeking to know God’s Son, Jesus Christ, does mean that in all circumstances I know who I can call on for help. Who I call on to take the burdens of my worries and stresses, and who I rely on to see me through each day. Praise God! I am so excited about being free of the debt of our Lubbock home I feel like dancing! 🙂

Podcast3: Step Aside Satan!

This podcast is a recording of a sermon shared by Pastor Leo Wideman at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma on September 17, 2006. The title of Leo’s message was “Step Aside Satan!” His text was from the sixteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew. Leo reminds us all to make sure we are focusing on Christ, and not falling into the trap of the enemy by focusing on ourselves or on the messages the world would have us regard as most important.

Program Length: 29 min, 18 sec
File size: 6.8 MB

[powerpress]

Show notes for this podcast include:

  1. Matthew 16
  2. First Presbyterian Church, Edmond, Oklahoma
  3. “Enter the Mystery” by Michael Popenhagen on the Podsafe Music Network

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Step Into Fear and Swing

One of my favorite guys in the Bible–after Job and Paul, of course–is Simon Peter. Maybe it’s silly to find Peter likable, but what I like about Peter is that he’s so darn fallible. He has the full range of emotions, from fear to courage but never quite sure what to be at any particular time. Like a leaf blown about by the wind, it’s clear that his emotions get the better of him. He strikes me as a man of passion, aware of his fallacies and yet emboldened by the Christ to be better, better than he could imagine for himself.

If I believe in this guy, if I’m going to be true to who I am, then, dammit, I’m going to act on it. I’m not going to sit here, huddled in fear with everyone else. Command me, Jesus, and I know that I can do it…for if the Living God wills it, how could it NOT happen?
Source: Matthew 14:22-31, Bible

Often, I wish for the black-n-white of a mandate. It’s great when the boss walks in and says, “Do this just like this and take whatever steps need to be taken, irregardless of cost, time, or staff.” But, as you go up the hierarchy of authority, you realize you have less power to wield that authority, and everything is in shades of grey except your integrity.

It’s at these times that I have to come back to Peter, huddling in the boat as the storm rages, and Jesus walks upon the waves. I imagine that Peter didn’t run from his fear all the time. When God was there, commanding him, he stepped into Fear like a boxer, raised his fist and struck back for the rest of us. It’s at these times when the sky is overcast, and everything seems to have a grey tinge, that I remember that if Peter, a simple, weak man who denied Christ 3 times when Jesus needed him most, who displayed less loyalty than a dog…if he can find the courage in God’s Word Made Flesh, then I can certainly find courage as well.

Dammit, I’m not going to sit here, huddled in fear with everyone else. How many people, who had the chance, stood up and overcame their fears to survive 9/11? And, even if death crushed them, at least, they died commanded by the Living God. And…really, what else can a person ask for?

leadership

As I have grown older, I have begun to see others differently. When I was young, I saw only the good in others. My mother and wife referred to this as seeing my values reflected in others…in truth, I wasn’t seeing them, just seeing what I valued.

As I grew older, I became disillusioned. It seemed I had to control others, manipulate them to achieve what would be right for everyone concerned. I only saw the worst, a reflection of my fears.
Now, when I look I see people just like me, fearful and worthy of being loved. So long as I can see them, witness them as they are, recognize the hypocrisy and the desire to do well, and, love them where they are, leadership is less about direction, more about finding the best possible answers together.
This vision flows not from my strengths alone, but my weaknesses, my absolute surrender to the fact that I am a sinner…it is a surrender that does not come easily. God must fight me every day for that surrender, and I yield each time only after a struggle. Thank you, God, for fighting me for Me.

Responsible for others, I have to look, not with my eyes, but with the eyes of the Spirit. I have to see, not what my weary mind wants to see–the ugliness, the bitterness, the disappointment, the humanity. I have to not only see that, but also, the fact that those I am responsible for are flawed, weak, and deserving of Me fighting for them, just as Jesus the Christ fights for Me.

21st Century Gideons’ Guide

One of the things I have always noticed about Gideons’ Bibles in motel rooms is that they include an excellent guide of verses, categorized by topic and issue. A Lubbock friend (Billy Hull) sent me a link to God’s Yellow Pages today, which is like a 21st century Gideons’ guide to the Bible.

The entry that caught my attention tonight was one for “courage.” I blogged earlier today about courage— how it is not the lack of fear, but rather the ability to act despite fear– but this verse (Psalm 27:14) puts yet a different spin on courage that I need to be reminded of.

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Courage, in a Christian sense, also means remembering WHO IS IN CONTROL of this world and what my place in it actually is. I think we often think of “courageous people” as folks who went out and “made things happen” — I at least don’t always think of courage as something that involves God’s will– often I think of it as something that is a product of human will. Certainly the choices we make matter… I think a great part of the Christian walk is the struggle to make GOOD and BETTER choices, when faced with temptations and adversity– but in the end we need to recognize the existance of God’s will and His sovereignty.

I am not sure about others, but I know that I RARELY want to wait. For anything. Waiting is not really considered virtuous anymore, in popular culture. Perhaps it never was, but it seems that it was held in higher regard by previous generations. The emphasis now in our consumer-driven society is to NEVER wait: always buy now, always satisfy your urges with rash spending and impulsive decision-making.

Those are poor habits. The Psalmist reminds us that we should strive to be courageous people– and we should take courage in the strength and in the perfect plan of the LORD. Waiting is difficult for adults, at times, just as it seems excruciatingly difficult for my two year old. Yet in waiting, we all should take heart– and have courage. For we may not know the future, but we know who holds the future…. and we can rest easy knowing that the future is in good hands. 🙂

For additional links like these, refer to the official website of the Gideons and click on “Bible Helps” and then “Help in Time of Need.”

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