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Welcome to Answers To Tough Questions

ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS (ATTQ) orbits around and is stirred by the great commandment (Mathew 22: 34-36) and the great commission (Mathew 28:18-20).  It’s these twin pillars which have birthed my vision.  Answers to Tough Questions exists to strengthen and come alongside the local Christian church in its mission to make disciples of the nations.  This is accomplished in the following ways: Through Seminars, Preaching engagements, Theology courses, Apologetics courses, Ethics courses, Comparative Religion courses, and online resources which focus on: apologetics, theology, philosophy, and culture.

I’m often asked why I focus on these areas.  Here are the following reasons: Apologetics strengthens the Christians’ ability to evangelize winsomely and boldly. Theology strengthens the Believers’ capacity to grasp the Bible’s core ideas. Philosophy strengthens the Disciples’ facility to think critically. Culture challenges Christ’s Followers to live authentically in its milieu. I’m glad you have stopped by.  Take some time to look around the site and the resources that are available to you and your church.  Please let me know how I can serve you.

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 11-12: A WORD TO THE YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE

 

“Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.” (11:5)

The context of this passage is somewhat unclear to me.  The Preacher begins with the command to “cast your bread upon the water…” (v.1) and “sow seed” (v.6) as perhaps an allusion to the cycle of sowing and reaping which is realized ultimately through God’s activity as the sovereign over all creation.  This is the wonder of life which is designed not accidental, it’s purposeful not meaningless because God is there.  This activity is as much marvelous as it is mysterious, like the formation of a child in the womb or the course of the wind.

It seems that somehow the Preacher commands us to walk in wisdom by trusting in God’s power to multiply our efforts even if we don’t understand all the details.  He continues:

Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. 10 So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.

 In America, there seems to be little rejoicing in today’s youth.  Instead there’s much anger, confusion and despair in a culture given over to self-indulgence, leisure and entertainment.  A life lived for others is increasingly not the norm, the pied pipers of sex, drugs and rock n roll have not helped but rather aided this cauldron of foolishness and we are not the better for it.  Included here are professing followers of Jesus who neither know his book nor his pleasure.

The point the preacher is making is that your Creator is going to personally judge your fleeting life so what are you living for?  The same applies to adults and the old who often refuse to think again in light of eternity.  Throughout this book the Preacher has emphasized the futility of life…if God does not exist.  He concludes chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes with sobering words:

In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. 10 The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.  11 The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.  13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

In the midst of his nihilism, the Preacher comes to the conclusion that God really does exist, therefore the way we live really matters for every act whether hidden or not will be judged by Him.

The way we live does truly matter, the motives of our hearts are actually laid bare before the Creator and all is therefore not vain for God as the author of all life and existence gives these meaning.

The words of this book come from Solomon, noted for being the wisest man to have lived apart from Jesus of Nazareth.  Life without God is meaningless, but because God is there, it is absolutely meaningful even though we don’t understand many things in it.

For the believer in Christ Jesus, this is a wake-up call to follow the Master even when life becomes difficult and pain starts drowning out the truth of God’s revelation in scripture.

For the nonbeliever, this too is an alarm to bend the knee to Christ who will judge the living and the dead.  Understand that the love, comfort, justice and peace you deeply long for can only be found in the Righteous One who perfectly executes justice and mercy and that…righteously!

So LORD, help your people live in light of your existence.  Tenderize our hearts to your promptings, open our minds to your thoughts, empower our lives with your strength, so that we may live this short life apportioned to us with passion, ardor and increasing resolve for the kingdom of God and your righteousness, so that it may truly be said of us when our time is done here on earth that we were people who loved God and neighbor.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 10: A WORD TO NOT BACK DOWN

A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool. If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.”  (Vv.2-4)

 To be a fool is not difficult, but to be wise that is another reality altogether.  When I considered verse 4 at first glance immediately I thought of the subject’s intellectual view which the ruler at first impulse vehemently rejects.  Here, the Preacher encourages the subject to stay his ground, to not back down from his ideational position.

Here, the characteristic of courage before a sovereign (these are King Solomon’s words) can affect the outcome of a subjects request in his favor.  Perhaps that is an aspect of what this text is teaching.  Again, another angle here may be the battle field for to panic in the midst of lethal peril assures defeat, but where cooler heads prevail (generally) victory is within grasp.  Assuredly many other angles can be applied here that I have missed perhaps even misinterpreted the text.

Nevertheless, as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I note the following: First, for the Christian who loves Jesus, the Truth must be prized above the approval of men even a raging king.  Here, courage is necessary for the power a ruler has to wield us harm is real, not an illusion for you might meet your death.

Second, courage under fire is not easy, but is nevertheless the high road to victory under opposition from powerful people, not the converse.  Third, whether an actual battlefield or a metaphorical one of ideas is raging, don’t back down even though you be outnumbered.  Fourth, persuasion does not come from a slothful soul but from the diligent who is trained in righteousness for the watching world to consider and does affect both enemies and allies.

LORD, give us courage under fire when it comes to living out the truth of what it means to be in this world but not of it as your ambassadors.  Whether we be outnumbered and are dwarfed by our enemies resources, grant us boldness before those who mock, blaspheme and hate your name.

(SDG)

Summary of CHAPTER 1: THE JUDGEMENT OF THAMUS (Pgs.3-20)     

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In this chapter of Technopoly, Postman hitchhikes on Plato’s Phaedrus a story about king Thamus of Upper Egypt who before the god Theuth, the inventor of many good things (e.g., number, calculation, geometry, astronomy, and writing), beseeches the king to make these inventions available to Egyptians.  One such invention was writing.  Theuth understands this as a great tool to improve the memory and to acquire wisdom.   Thamus’ response is insightful:

“…the discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practice it…you who are the father of writing, have out of fondness  for your offspring attributed to it the opposite of its real function.  Those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their internal resources.  What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory.  And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.  And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom they will be a burden to society.” (Pgs.3-4)

Postman hits on a vein of profound truth we in our age are confronted with.  It’s the view that information equals knowledge and that knowledge equals wisdom (which is the proper application of knowledge).

While Thamus understands the deficiencies to memory writing would and have proven to bring, he makes two mistakes.  First, he mistakenly thinks that writing would only be a burden to society.  Second, he fails to see the many benefits writing provides.  His failure is one of depth perception for every technology is both a burden and a blessing to society.

From this Postman argues that technologies have both strengths and weaknesses, that new technologies provide one thing and undo another (e.g., the horse and buggy vs. the automobile), that every culture is confronted with new technologies and need to wisely consider their pros and cons.  Moreover, he affirms that when a new technology comes out it will play out the purpose for which it was created and our task is to understand its design, as we embrace it with eyes wide open.  Among the many technologies Postman considers, three of interest are: the computer, the printing press, and the television.

Our computers have brought about great benefits in our abilities to communicate, educate, and conduct commerce.  They have increased the power of large scale organizations to conduct its purposes such as the military, the banks, the airlines, and also the IRS.  A massive negative, in my view, that the computer has brought to the masses is the proliferation of greater institutional control.   For example, our spending habits are digitized through the swipe of our credit cards, through this action companies are empowered to solicit their unwanted product through marketing agencies via junk mail.  As our privacy increasingly vanishes we are reduced to a mere number.

The printing press was created by a devout German Catholic, Johannes Gutenberg, and through it spawned a revolution in the production of books which fostered the rapid development in the sciences, arts and religion through the transmission of texts.  This technology was also instrumental to subvert Roman Catholicism by the Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther.  I don’t suspect Gutenberg was for the Reformers agenda.

The television which has brought about a wonderful way to divert ourselves from the grind of daily life through movies, documentaries and sporting events, has also had a subversive effect on the printed page.  The printed page emphasizes logic (proper thought), sequence, discipline and more, but the television nonsense, passivity, slothfulness, and more.  Postman’s key thought for this chapter I quote:

“New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about.  They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop…something has happened in America that is strange and dangerous, and there is only a dull and stupid awareness of what it is—in part because it has no name.  I call it Technopoly.”

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 9: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS AGAIN

 

 

“For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.  It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.  (vv1-3)

The depths of despair and meaninglessness of life is once again emphasized by the preacher’s view that all human beings die.  It seems that in his view thus far, he doesn’t think there’s an afterlife but extinction.  Whether one is a blasphemer or a bastion of righteousness death equalizes them both and its certainty makes our deeds worthless, insignificant, useless and futile.    

Whether one is devoted to God or to self in the end it doesn’t matter.  This view is dark and utterly horrific to my soul, for it leaves me only to meander pitifully in this existence until I finally am no more.  What despair! what hopelessness, what a tragedy if in fact the preacher is correct.  Now if God does not exist then he is “dead on!”  There is no ultimate meaning in life.

LORD, help me live today as if it were my last one.  Make me a vessel of honor, season my lips with salt and keep my eyes fixed on you LORD so that I may boldly and graciously capitalize on given opportunities.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 8: WISDOM LIGHTS THE FACE 

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“Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.” (v.1)

The wise man is not a common sight these days.  I can attest to my utter shame that I tend to lack much wisdom and it sickens me.  As a result my countenance isn’t radiant, but rather gloomy.  This text supports the notion that happiness is a direct result of wisdom (i.e., the proper application of knowledge to a given situation that is aligned with the design and purpose of God).

Our culture sadly prizes glamour, fame, and stuff not wisdom.  It’s too bad since all of us are daily faced with pressing decisions that often are not easy to unravel.  Paul in his 2nd letter to Timothy reminds the young pastor that the Scriptures (graphe=the inscripturated word of God) “makes one wise unto salvation”.  Note this comes from Scripture, the Word, who according to John 1:1 is the incarnate Son, the 2nd person of the triune God.

The Psalmist somewhere declares that, “In your (God’s) light we see light”.  This I take to infer that the “obvious” is hidden from us when we walk in darkness.  Sin, according to Scripture, has a blinding and darkening effect on our soul’s ability to reason and apprehend the true, beautiful and good.  Could it be that this wisdom which illumines the heart is reflected in the face of one who is wise?

The proverbs say that, “the fear of the LORD is wisdom” and that this wisdom is given by the LORD.  Perhaps the longing for autonomy—which is impossible for finite creatures—actually darkens our pursuit of worthy things.  Clearly from this text in 8:1 a heart filled with wisdom illumines the face, displays the joy on the face of its possessor.  The pursuit of happiness that is so dear to everyone I know breathing misses out on that reality truly when the Word of God is neglected and ignored.  Lord have mercy on me!

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 7: IT’S BETTER TO MOURN THAN IT IS TO REJOICE? 

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There’s nothing new under the sun which includes our bent to avoid the issue of death.  Whenever I talked to my father about death he almost always side-stepped the conversation by changing the topic to one that was more “happy”.  The Preacher’s instruction here is hard to swallow for a society that worships wealth, health, entertainment and the absence of pain.  Death simply decimates those aspirations and reminds us that our appointment with it is looming:

A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
(Vv.1-2)

The house of mourning says the Preacher is “better than” or “preferable to” the “party” because it lurches us into questioning the meaning of life and forces us to confront our inevitable death.  A funeral, not a feast wakes us up to the ultimate issue of life after death which the naturalist denies (ala atheism), or the monist attributes as illusory (ala Buddhism or Hinduism), but Christian theism explains so well in the Gospel accounts and in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

LORD, help us and teach us to live our lives in light of our appointed death today in word and deed.  May we hold on to things loosely in light of eternity as we serve our fellow man for your NAME’S sake, and may we be vigilant.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 6: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS Continued

“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men— a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction.

What is this evil that one with the power resources bring, lacks the ability to enjoy its treasure?    It seems that the Preacher is alluding to something that both the rich and the poor lack: the gift from God to not only be stewards of their lot in life but also to have the capacity to enjoy it.  I think he is saying that the ability to enjoy what we have is not earned, but granted to us by our maker.  Perhaps the reason so many people are miserable is precisely because God has not gifted them with the capacity to enjoy their station in life.

What lessons are here to learn?  First, it seems that to have God’s gifts but not the capacity to enjoy them is evil.  It’s not the way things should be but they are.  So if I don’t know how to enjoy what things I have, either God has not granted me the gift, or He has and I’m too stupid to get it.

Second, this gift as I’ve said before does not come from within me, the creature, but from the Creator.  Here again we are reminded of our finitude and contingent existence which is so needy and the pride within suppresses that truth.

Third, to possess riches and honor on the one hand and to lack the goods enabling us to enjoy them is a severe affliction, it is misery.  Yet the poor can’t relate here in one sense to the burden of the rich.  Perhaps that’s why in the book of Proverbs there are many warnings to cease the pursuit of riches, for without God riches are a cruel abyss of unfulfilled desires.

Lastly, I think we need God’s strength, even though we may not be rich, to enjoy our lot in life by remembering that it is God alone who gives life and possessions meaning.  May we delight in the LORD today, as we seek Him for our own good and the good of others.

(SDG)

Book Summary__ TECHNOPOLY: The Surrender of Culture to Technology By Neil Postman

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Whether or not it draws on new scientific research,

technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science

PAUL GOODMAN, New Reformation 

Prescript

It’s no secret that western civilization and the global community are enamored with and have benefitted much from the many technological advances from the last century.   The most popular technological marvel is that pocket computer we carry around called the “smart-phone”.   To call an inanimate machine “smart” seems ironically “stupid” because persons, not machines design the input and output of the parts.  People think and do, machines just do.

Historically, man-made machines (tools) always attempt to make life better, safer, and the unthinkable (to most of us) possible.  While there is much good that comes from human ingenuity, it’s also accompanied by a great down side most of us don’t consider.

The late critic and communications theorist, Neil Postman who chaired the Department of Communication Arts at New York University in, TECHNOPOLY: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, considers how historically the inventions of man have shaped the rise and fall of empires, changed the ways in which commerce is conducted, and how society has been positively and negatively impacted by them.  The wisdom in this book is as applicable today as when it was first authored in 1992.

INTRODUCTION: Pgs. Xi-xii

Postman in his introduction explains that most people think that technology is a staunch friend because first, it’s made life easier, cleaner and longer, and secondly because of its lengthy, intimate and inevitable relationship it has with culture.  But technology is a friend that asks for trust and obedience without inviting a close scrutiny of its consequences.

The fact is that this friend has a dark side where its’ uncontrolled growth has resulted in the destruction of the vital sources of our humanity.  Technology has created a culture void of a moral foundation; it’s undermined certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living.  In a nutshell, technology is both a friend and foe.

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 5: HOW TO PROPERLY APPROACH GOD

This chapter starts off warning against being foolish when approaching God in worship:

“Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God. (Vv.1-6)

Our demeanor here seems to be foolish and evil if we think that our primary function of worship is to “offer” religious duty to God (as if He needed anything from us).  The sacrifice of fools prevents them from principally “hearing” the law of the LORD when it’s read and explained.  There are several lessons I have derived from this text.

First, my heart must first be instructed through God’s self-disclosure in Scripture through my mind before any offering I give is acceptable to God.  That is, clear instruction on God’s intended meaning in Scripture precedes and is to inform the worshipper on how to approach this great God.

Second, if primacy to the aforesaid is not given, then idolatry will follow which at its core takes God’s name in vain (i.e., misrepresents His nature and character) and leads the devotee into bondage because God’s truth is substituted for a lie.  Right doctrine is necessary for right living.

Third, the fool apparently parades his folly through much “speech”.  That is, the fool has forgotten to consider that true worship can’t be bifurcated or separated from the knowing and doing dynamic.  It is the two-sided coin of acceptable worship before God for when we don’t follow through on what we have vowed (promise made), sin results.  For as the standard of truth, goodness and beauty, God always does what He says and says what He does.  His people are to follow suit.

What a difficult concept for us to consider and live out in a culture that largely de-values truth telling on the one hand (e.g., P.C. speech), but deeply longs for it on the other hand.  Jesus said that believers must be people whose word can be counted on:

33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”   (Mt.5:33-37)

The fourth lesson is that it’s better to refrain from speaking than to proceed and to sin (v.6).  I have often dishonored people and God with my speech.  This human malady has been around since the beginning of time and is out of control through our social media forums.  Believers need to be very careful how they speak about people with whom they disagree for human beings are precious image bearers not accidents of evolutionary theory.

Of all the created order, what separates human beings from it is the capacity we have for communication through words.  It is the instrumentality of words that the soul reveals ideas which have the power to either edify or decimate individuals, communities, provinces and even nations.

Like many of you, I’m prone to much speech.  My tone, timing, and audience make the art of communicating well difficult to master.  But believer and unbeliever alike will give an account to God for every idol word that comes out of our hearts.  This is sobering and worthy to consider.

(SDG)