Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Review : A fine balance

The title refers to the balance between hope and despair and explores the lives of four people in India from 1975. Three of these four experience a great deal of tragedy prior to the book starting and after meeting these people in the opening pages we are then given each of their histories in the early part of the book.

The middle part of the book explores the relationships between these four people. Given that they come from different backgrounds and lifestyles, there is a lot of tension initially yet circumstances conspire to enable them to bridge the gap and become good friends. For me this was the highlight of the book: that these four vast differently people could live and work harmoniously together, enjoying each other’s company.

In the latter part of the book the characters again face various tragedies. The characters have different levels of resilience when confronted with these challenges and have the choice to hope or to despair.

A fine balance is well written but is a very long story and reading so many tragedies is somewhat overwhelming. The political corruption and injustice in so many of the events is distressing. Mostly though the story is a testimony to people’s resilience yet even so, one of the four does cave into despair.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Academic or relevant

When it comes to teaching, one of the things I really like to do is take something complicated and see if I can explain it simply. This applies whether I’m teaching Sunday School, a small group, or writing a paper for my college course. However, in order to do this, it means sometimes I oversimplify or over generalize which was my experience recently when I handed in an assignment for my college course.

I feel that sometimes Christians are reluctant to get involved in ethical issues because they feel they are too complicated. So for my ethics assignment I took a complex issue, stem cell research, and tried to explain it in terms a 12 year old would understand. The person marking my paper felt my paper was not ‘academic’ enough. I felt like responding but I don’t want to be academic, I want to be relevant.

In my mind this raises an interesting problem. Bible Colleges are places for tertiary education and therefore would like to be ‘academic’ and yet the people we are called to minister to are not necessarily academically inclined. Often my assignments ask me to write for an audience that I would be likely to minister to, yet, if I do this, my assignments are not going to be academic enough to satisfy my lecturers.

An interesting dilemma…

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 13:8

‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ Luke 13:8-9

If you plant a fruit tree you expect fruit. However you realize that it takes time for a tree to mature, to grow roots, and branches that are capable of bearing fruit so you are patient. Nevertheless there comes a time when your patience is exhausted and you decide to remove the tree.

This parable would have been quite challenging for Jesus’ audience because he chose to set this parable in a vineyard with a fig tree. God through the prophets had often used these pictures to refer to Israel. Furthermore Jesus tells this parable immediately after saying, "But unless you repent, you too will perish" (v.5). There are two main points to this parable, one is that God is patient but the other is we cannot take God’s patience for granted.

Jesus is being very confrontational. He expects his hearers to repent and change their ways and he makes it clear that there will be consequences if they don’t repent. One day God will say enough is enough.

Yet the good news of the parable is that God does everything possible to encourage fruit. He will dig around the tree – He will make our lives uncomfortable. He will fertilize it – He will allow unpleasant circumstances all because he wants us to mature, to grow our spiritual roots deep into God and grow spiritual branches so our lives will be fruitful.

God has expectations of his people. He has invested so much in our salvation, our justification, our sanctification. He has provided opportunities for growth, healing, and maturity. It is only reasonable that God expects fruit.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Medical Research

When you start looking into the ethical issues of things like IVF, regenerative medicine, stem cell research you begin to wonder if Christians should be involved in medical research at all. Here's my thoughts:

It was not God’s intention for sickness and suffering to be present on the earth. God created a good world. Sickness and suffering are a result of the fall. Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s prohibitions were often protections against various diseases in an age where efficient hygiene and refrigeration were nonexistent. We also see God’s instructions to care for the suffering and His anger, through the prophets, when God’s people did not seek to relieve people’s suffering.

Likewise in the New Testament we see Jesus having compassion on people and healing many of their diseases and disabilities. In Acts we also see numerous healings and in the epistles there is encouragement to pray for the sick and care for those who are suffering. The message is consist throughout the Bible; we are called to help those who are sick and suffering. We also see that throughout history Christians have been at the forefront of providing hospitals, missionary medical teams, and medical aid to those in need. As Christ’s ambassadors we follow the example he gave us in caring for the sick.

God has endowed many with the medical skill, intelligence, and ability to cure people as well as gifting his own people with healing gifts. He expects us to use the gifts and talents he has given us to help others and relieve suffering. Therefore God does want Christians involved in medical research. He has equipped people to study and work in this area. All truth is God’s and he chooses to reveal his design in creation to scientists. God has given us great freedom but also huge responsibility to use this knowledge wisely and not to exploit it for financial gain, or to give people false hope, or in way to take advantage of vulnerable people.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 12:7

Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows Luke 12:7

We now know that every hair on our head contains our unique DNA so they are therefore, "numbered". However the real point that God is making here is that He does not forget us. He doesn’t even forget sparrows so there is no possibility of Him forgetting us. It is not surprising though that when we look at the world we may feel God has forgotten us. We can feel lost in a world of billions of people. We can feel insignificant and worthless. We can feel our contribution to life is overlooked and meaningless.

Yet God sees things differently. He sees people as the pinnacle of his creation. “We are God’s handiwork” (Ephesians 2:10). God has plans and purposes for us. He thought we were so special that He sent his own Son to redeem us. The reason Jesus tells us that God doesn’t forget us is so that we will not be afraid. The world is indeed a scary place without the knowledge that a good God loves us and acts for our benefit.

When we think of worst case scenarios we leave God out and therefore we feel afraid. Proverbs tells us, “Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side” (Proverbs 3:25-26). Proverbs reminds us that nothing is going to happen that will surprise God. He is with us and He is in control.

God supplies us with the grace to cope no matter what is going on in our lives. We have no reason to be afraid because we are worth more than many sparrows and God will not forget us.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Stem Cell Research

I've written several posts about ethical issues and in this post I want to discuss some more issues associated with stem cell research.

Scientists by nature of their jobs are looking to expand the boundaries of human knowledge and understandably do not want restrictions placed on them by those who have little understanding of science or scientific procedures. However there are ethical dilemmas is in the area of embryonic stem cell research that needs to be considered. Scientists want develop treatments for degenerative diseases and other diseases where the body is not producing the correct chemicals to allow normal function. These types of diseases are not cured through drug treatments because a part of the body has broken down and the only way to fix the problem is to replace the cells that are no longer working correctly. Scientists believe stem cell research will give them this ability.

Embryonic stem cells are created from fertilizing a female egg with a male sperm potentially creating human life. From these cells the scientist extract what they need and discard the remains. Large quantities of these embryonic stem cells are required for research and potentially for treatment. A woman only produces one egg per month and the procedure to obtain this egg is quite invasive. There are drugs which can induce the production of eggs. These drugs are often used in some IVF procedures but they are not without unpleasant and in some cases dangerous side effects. The difficult of obtaining the number of stem cells scientists need is a problem.

It has been suggested that women could be paid for their eggs. Historically organ and blood donations have always been done voluntarily. If medical science start paying for body parts it will inevitable be the poor and disadvantaged who are most likely to agree and there is no guarantee this will improve their standard of living. Furthermore the procedure is known to have side effects and in a small number of cases these can be fatal.

Scientists need firm guidelines as to acceptable protocols in obtaining embryonic stem cells. However writing guidelines which the majority of people will find acceptable is a huge problem.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 11:13

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Luke 11:13

Jesus is teaching about prayer and encouraging his followers to be persistent in prayer. Jesus describes the Father in terms of “how much more”. How much more gracious, loving, caring is God than any human father. Is this our perception of God the Father?

Sometimes our perception of God is that he is a slightly improved version of our own father. The Biblically view is radically different. Our own fathers, as good as they may have been, are fallen people. As we look through the Bible we see God’s care of Hagar, a supposedly insignificant slave. We see his immense patience with his people under Moses, under the judges, and under the prophets. We see his plans for Joseph, Job, and Esther are plans for good in spite of the difficulties they go through. And we see his supreme love in sacrificing his own Son.

When we come to God in prayer it is important to see Him the way the Bible teaches. God may not answer our prayers in the way we would like, but this is no reason to doubt that He will always act in our best interests. There is no reason to doubt that He is not powerful enough or not concerned enough to act.

In regard to prayer the directive is always to ask. “Ask and it will be given to you” (v.9); “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). In the final analysis God gives us the Holy Spirit when we pray because whatever our need is, His Presence in our lives is enough.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Movie Review : The American President pt.2

Continuing the movie review of The American President:

The third issue is ‘just war’. Liberia bombs an American missile base. This scene is included in the movie in order to portray the president as a caring person who is not just interested in political gain. He is reluctant to give this order as he considers the likelihood of civilian’s causalities. No other options are considered and he does give the order. It is called a ‘proportional response’. The movie does not develop this issue any further and by its silence suggests that the retaliation solved the problem. In reality retaliation rarely solves anything. Christians believe the Bible teaches against retaliation. However Jesus does display righteous anger and makes a whip to clear the temple. When people are being oppressed and abused it may be necessary to take offensive action. However in the case presented in the movie this is not the case. It seems likely this attack will only encourages an escalation in violence.

The fourth issue is about family values. The President is sleeping with Sydney and they are not married. In fact, marriage is not even discussed. The movie presents the relationship in a very favourable light. At one point the President does questions his actions but only because he is concerned about losing votes. The movie does not consider the ramifications of this behaviour but was focussed on the whether the American people would be accepting of the relationship. These views are clearly in conflict with Biblical views which teaches that, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4). The relationship between the President’s daughter and his girlfriend is also presented positively without any consideration of the ramifications of the nurturing needs of this 12 years old girl. Looking after children is also a priority in the Bible.

I would not recommend this movie for teenagers as it presents casual sex in a very positive light even though there are no actual sex scenes. The president is presented as intelligent, dedicated, popular, and handsome. Yet as a role model he fails badly but this is excused because he is such a good leader.

However for the mature Christian the movie presents a number of ethic dilemmas which are worth considering. As Christians we need to think about where we stand on gun control, the environment, and ‘just war’. This movie presents each of these issues in a realistic way and thus provides the material for a worthwhile discussion with other Christians.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Movie Review : The American President

As part of my ethic class we were required to write a movie review. It had to be a movie that contained ethic issues. I chose the American President which was an unusual choice given that it is a romantic comedy. However I thought it contained some very interesting ethical issues, besides which, I don't like watching 'serious' movies! Here's what I wrote:

Andrew Shepherd is the president in the movie, The American President (1995) directed by Rob Reiner. Shepherd is campaigning to create legislation to ban assault weapons. He is a widower who becomes romantically interested in Sydney Wade. She is a lobbyist working to introduce legislation which will reduce fossil fuel emissions.

These are the ethical issues: firstly the legislation to ban handguns and assault weapons; secondly the environmental issue of reducing fossil fuel emissions; thirdly ‘just war’ – there is a scene where Liberia has bombed an American missile base and the President has to decide whether to retaliate; and fourthly family values – is the President a good role model when he is sleeping with girlfriend down the hall from his 12 year old daughter?

The first issue, banning handguns and assault weapons, raises the question of whether it is ethical for citizens to defend themselves by carrying weapons. The President believes that restricting the availability of weapons will reduce crime especially amongst drug dealers. This legislation is not carried through in the movie. In reality it is unclear whether this restriction would actually reduce crime. The Bible does not prevent people from carrying defensive weapons. The disciples certainly carried swords. Yet in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus would not let the disciples use them. Jesus advocates “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39); loving and praying for enemies; and trusting God for protection. Carrying swords may have been for protection against wild animals rather than people. So restricting handguns and assault weapons to protect innocent people would be in agreement with much of the intent of Scripture even though there is no specific Biblical teaching preventing people from carrying arms.

The second issue regarding the environment concerns global warming which is taken as a fact. The movie presents the need to reduce fossil fuel emissions as necessary to avoid an environmental disaster. The movie does not discuss the costs of the legislation or the flow on effect to the American people. Too much focus on the environment can create the danger of the environment becoming a type of idol that people worship. However there was no indication of this happening in the movie. The biblical view would also be to look after the environment. However this must be done responsibly and not through scare tactics or at the expense of caring for people or by making the environment an end in itself.

More next time...

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 10:20

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Luke 10:20

In times of success we are not to rejoice because of the victories we experience but because our future is secure. In times of suffering we are not to despair because our suffering is short-lived when we consider heaven.

It is difficult for us to keep this in mind. We are distracted by a thousand thoughts every minute. The immediate demands our attention while heaven seems such a long way off. We want to enjoy ourselves now because future pleasures seem uncertain. To deny ourselves instant gratification feels like a huge risk because we don’t know if we will get another opportunity.

James describes it like this: "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14). We wonder how we can enjoy life before it vanishes. Yet God’s word assures us that this is not all there is.

Paul tells us, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children" (Romans 8:16). We have an inner witness so that we can know, really know, we are God’s children. Paul further explains that God has given us the "promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:14). We have the guarantee of the Spirit living in us so that we know we have a future beyond this world. Paul describes the Holy Spirit as a deposit. As yet we only have a part of all that God intends to give us. Jesus wants us to rejoice in anticipation of that day when all the blessings of heaven will be ours.

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