Thursday, December 20, 2007


As many of you likely know, I am an ordained elder within the Presbyterian Church (USA). Perhaps what is more surprising (for anyone who is familiar with the PCUSA) is that I reside in the Baltimore Presbytery, one of the most liberal Presbyteries within an increasingly liberal denomination. Yet as anyone can tell by reading the information on our site, Ten Minas Ministries is still pretty conservative in its theology.

So I am definitely in the minority in my locale. I have seen the Presbytery disagree over whether or not Christ was divine. I have seen effort after effort made to affirm ordination of practicing homosexuals and endorse homosexual marriage. However, despite being de-sensitized to liberalism by these repeated attacks on the authority of the Bible, even I have been in shock at the actions recently taken by the Heartland Presbytery (another Presbytery within the PCUSA).

For anyone who does not know, the PCUSA is governed in somewhat of a bottom-up fashion. All the churches in the country belong to a “Presbytery”, which is composed of the pastors and some elders from all the churches within a particular geographic region. Those Presbyteries are divided up into “Synods”, and the highest body is called the “General Assembly.”

I have mentioned previously on this blog the decision by the PCUSA’s General Assembly to allow candidates for ordination to express a “scruple” to some component of the ordination vows. The specific context in which this arose is for candidates for the ministry who were practicing homosexuals. They could not promise to live within the covenant of marriage or else in chastity when the PCUSA did not recognize same-sex marriages. This new “authoritative interpretation” allows these candidates to express a “scruple” to this requirement. It then becomes the ordaining body’s responsibility to decide whether the scruple involves something that is foundational to reformed theology. If not, then the candidate may be ordained even in light of the disagreement with some part of the constitutional ordination requirements.

The reaction to this rule throughout the PCUSA has been profound, including many churches deciding to leave the denomination. I do not mean to suggest that these churches came to this decision based solely on this authoritative interpretation. It would be more accurate to state that this was the “straw that broke the camels back,” after a long history of increasing liberalism within the denomination.

The constitution of the PCUSA allows any congregations who wish to leave the denomination to make a request to their presbytery that they be allowed to leave the denomination with their property in order to join another reformed denomination. The property issue stems from a PCUSA rule that states that all churches hold their property in trust for the benefit of the presbytery, so that while the church makes all decisions about how to use that property, ownership of everything (from the church building itself all the way down to the money in the bank accounts) actually belongs to the presbytery.

First Presbyterian Church in Paola, Kansas was one of the many churches that were disgruntled with the way the PCUSA has been spiraling away from Biblical authority. On June 24, 2007, the members of First Presbyterian Church voted 229-83 (200-81 if you discount member under 18 who are allowed to vote on dismissal from the PCUSA, but are not allowed to vote on property issues) to be dismissed from the PCUSA with its property in order to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a growing (and more conservative) Presbyterian denomination.

Keep in mind that this action taken by First Presbyterian Church was completely permissible under the PCUSA constitution. The response from the Presbytery was to remove First Presbyterian’s session from office, stating that they were “unwilling or unable to manage wisely the affairs” of the church and replaced them with a new session who would govern the church in the manner the Presbytery saw fit. The session was notified of these actions via e-mail on November 13, 2007.

The next day, November 14, 2007, a letter was e-mailed to Rev. Kirk Johnston, First Presbyterian’s pastor, from Heartland Presbytery’s Administrative Commission, informing him that he was being placed on administrative leave effective that day. That letter also told him that he was “no longer to perform any pastoral and ministerial functions … among the congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Paola or in any worshipping community within the bounds of Heartland Presbytery.”

Apparently, after receiving this notification, Rev. Johnston stopped performing all duties for First Presbyterian Church. However, he did serve as a guest preacher on three occasions at the newly formed “Lighthouse Presbyterian Church” in Paola. Lighthouse Presbyterian Church is not part of the PCUSA, and in fact is not affiliated with any particular denomination.

Upon finding out that Rev. Johnston had been so bold as to preach the gospel in a church that has nothing to do with the PCUSA, Diane Quaintance, Clerk of the Administrative Commission, wrote him a November 29, 2007 letter informing him that “the Administrative Commission believes that you are persisting in work not approved by Heartland Presbytery, and that by such actions you have renounced jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” Specifically, by preaching at Lighthouse Presbyterian Church, a non-PCUSA entity, the Administrative Commission felt that Rev. Johnston violated the requirement that he not perform any ministerial duties “within the bounds of Heartland Presbytery.”

The matter was referred to the Committee on Ministry, moderated by Brian D. Ellison, which on December 6, 2007 voted to recommend to Presbytery that it find that Rev. Johnston has persisted in a “disapproved work”, has “accepted membership of any character in another denomination” and that he be defrocked, thereby losing his ordination. The “disapproved work” was his participation with Lighthouse Presbyterian Church, which the Committee on Ministry, for the first time, referred to as within the GEOGRAPHIC bounds of Heartland Presbytery, a word that had been conspicuously absent from all previous communications.

Rev. Johnston had something of a history with Brian Ellison. In 2003, First Presbyterian Church (under Rev. Johnston’s care at the time) decided not to send a payment (called “per capita”) to the Presbytery out of frustration with the increasingly liberal slant the Presbytery was taking. The Presbytery found this to be a violation of the denomination’s polity. However, on appeal, during which Ellison represented the Presbytery, First Presbyterian’s decision was vindicated. All per capita contributions are voluntary and cannot be required by a presbytery.

As a result of the recommendation of the Committee on Ministry to defrock Rev. Johnston, a special called meeting of the Presbytery was held on December 18, 2007. At this meeting, the Heartland Presbytery voted 131 to 35 that Rev. Johnston has persisted in a disapproved work and defrocked him. They also voted 148 to 10 that he had aligned himself with another denomination and should be removed from the PCUSA roll. Finally, they voted 108 to 39 that Rev. Johnston’s actions with the Lighthouse Presbytery were “disapproved.” The only saving grace for the Heartland Presbytery was that Rev. Johnston had previously been threatened that all his benefits, including housing, salary, medical and pension benefits would be revoked RETROACTIVELY effective November 19, 2007 (this notice was sent to Rev. Johnston on November 29). The Presbytery voted 143 to 0 to change the effective date of his termination to the date of the meeting, December 18, 2007, and any reference to a loss of his benefits appears to be absent from the final motion (so it appears he may still be entitled to the pension he has earned over the past 15 years of service).

The example that has been set by the Heartland Presbytery certainly resembles totalitarianism. The message to any churches within that Presbytery is, “You’d better not disagree with us, because if you do, we will remove your session from office, assume control of your church, and defrock your pastor.” Keep in mind that the initial action of First Presbyterian Church to request dismissal was completely appropriate under the PCUSA Constitution. Say what you will about Rev. Johnston’s actions, the only thing the session did to warrant removal was ask to be dismissed from the denomination according to the rules of that denomination. The Presbytery had refused their request, and the session stated that they would explore other actions, but no decision as to those actions had yet been made at the time the Presbytery stepped in and took over the church (leading approximately 70% of First Presbyterian’s membership to leave the PCUSA).

As to the order against Rev. Johnston not to preach the gospel within the bounds of the Heartland Presbytery, the first obvious hint that the defrocking was a foregone conclusion, regardless of what Rev. Johnston did, was the suspicious addition of the word “geographic” after Rev. Johnston had preached at Lighthouse Presbyterian, a church clearly not within the “bounds” of Heartland Presbytery as it is not even a member of the PCUSA, let alone the Heartland Presbytery. At a minimum, the definition of the term “bounds” was ambiguous, and defrocking a pastor without even giving consideration to the fact that perhaps the Administrative Commission could have been more clear is absolutely appalling. Do you think that perhaps the Committee on Ministry could have considered that under the original language, Rev. Johnston could reasonably have concluded that he was allowed to preach in non-PCUSA churches, and perhaps simply clarify the matter for him instead of jumping to the draconian resolution of revoking his ordination?

Perhaps even more atrocious is that the Order was ever entered in the first place. Essentially what this Commission told Rev. Johnston is that he was no longer to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. How is that possibly in accordance with the Great Commission that Christ Himself gave us?

Throughout this entire saddening escapade, the Heartland Presbytery has repeatedly demonstrated that they are in no way motivated out of the love Christ has asked us to exemplify, but instead has set out on a vendetta to remove someone who defeated them in their quest to mandate per capita and who disagrees with their liberal desire to ignore scripture as the final speaking authority of God. Let us all pray that this type of vengeful behavior ceases, especially when it is done in the name of Christ.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ken Coughlan speaking engagement

If you are able, we would love for you to join us at Grove Presbyterian Church on Sunday, December 30, 2007 at 10:30 am. Ten Minas President Ken Coughlan will be filling in for Pastor David Wilson that day, and delivering a sermon titled "God's Open Door Policy", based upon the story of the magi coming to visit baby Jesus. Grove Church is located at 50 East Bel Air Avenue, Aberdeen, Maryland. For directions, please visit Grove Church's website at

There will be a coffee hour in the fellowship hall after the service during which Ken would love to meet you. God bless.

Keeping Christ in Christmas

Well, my little daughter showed me just the other day that I must be doing something right. Last year she received a Care Bears Christmas CD, but for some reason or another, we had never listened to it. I found it this past weekend in her playroom, still in the plastic wrapping. We decided to unwrap it and give it a listen (at least it would serve as a change from the Chipmunks which we had been listening to for about 2 hours beforehand). I don't remember what the first song was, but it was relatively innocuous. Then the second song comes on and it is "Joy to the World!" As soon as the singing starts, my daughter and I started singing along. However, much to my dismay, we notice that the words we are singing did not match those coming out of the speakers. The opening line, for instance, had been changed to, "Joy to the World, its Christmas time." What ever happened to "the Lord is come?"

This children's CD had literally taken Christ completely out of one of the most popular Christmas hymns ever. Now don't get me wrong, I do not insist that every single song we sing at Christmas time be a Christian hymn. I'll join in a round of "Jingle Bells" or "Sleigh Ride" any day. But this wasn't just a matter of the Care Bears singing secular Christmas songs. They had taken probably the most famous Christian Christmas song and changed it to remove any semblance of Jesus from it. They had taken a religious song and made it secular.

Now I would suspect that most 5 year old little girls wouldn't care. All they want is to listen to the Care Bears. But my daughter insisted that I turn the CD off. We hadn't even gotten two songs in, but she was so upset that the Care Bears would take Christ out of Christmas (my words, not hers) that she refused to listen.

It is very easy this time of year to get caught up in all the pageantry and commercialism that secular society imposes upon Christmas. But I encourage you all to remember that ultimately this is a birthday party. It is Jesus' birthday party. The slight twist though is that on this birthday, the child himself is the gift, and it is all the guests (i.e., us) who get the best present of all. Perhaps the best present we can give to the "birthday boy" this year is the gift of ourselves. Our time, our talents, our finances ... whatever God is calling you to use for His service. So here's hoping that all of us Christians can have the same spirit my daughter showed, and that we never become so accustomed to the secular holiday that we are willing to go along with the tendecy not only to ignore Christ, but to consciously remove Him from His own birthday celebration.

God bless us, every one.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Difficult questions from children

For starters, you have to understand that my nickname for my daughter is "goose." This started out as "silly goose" and just became abbreviated over time. The other day she and I were having an extensive conversation about whether I would still be allowed to call her "goose" when she is a grown up (by the way, she decided that I could call her "goose" once per day on every day except Fridays, on which I could do it 5 times). As many of you probably recall, I had a baby son in May. So I asked my daughter that if she was my goose, then who was my gander (actually, I was sick and quite tired at the time, so I was somewhat fuzzy-headed and said "gosling", an error that since has had to be corrected). My daughter correctly guessed that if she is the goose, her brother is the gander.

That's just the set up. So my daughter had the day off from school today, and she was home watching one of her favorite TV shows ("Wonder Pets", for those of you who are curious) with her mother. Apparently there was a dog in this show, and that precious little 5-year old of mine, still remembering our earlier conversation about a goose versus a gander asks my unsuspecting wife, "Mommy, what do you call a mommy dog?" Anyone who is a parent has probably been there before. Good luck coming up with a tactful answer to that one.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ten Minas Disaster Relief Project

We’ve had to make a few adjustments around here lately. As many of you already know, Ten Minas has undertaken to help a lady named Jacqueline Spears in Gulfport, Mississippi to rebuild her home damaged by Hurricane Katrina. While we have been a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization since we were formed, and service to those in need has always been part of our mission, this is our first foray into disaster relief. Naturally, we are learning some of the ins and outs as we go.

One learning experience we recently had was about the legal requirements of a tax-exempt organization providing disaster relief. Unbeknownst to me, a tax exempt entity cannot simply raise funds for one particular individual to provide disaster relief. Instead, the “class” of people you are raising money for must either be very large, or at least indefinite in size.

What did this mean for our Katrina House mission? Well, bluntly it meant that we could not do it, at least not as originally envisioned. We cannot legally raise funds solely to help Jackie. When I first found this out, needless to say, I was pretty dismayed.

So I prayed, talked to my wife, and talked to my pastor. Being a lawyer, I always try to reason things out logically, and here is what came to mind. There were 3 possibilities as to why this road block was being placed in our way.

(1) It may have been God frustrating this project because it was not His will. I often pray that if anything I try to do is contrary to what God wants that He will stop it from happening. Of course, this did not seem very likely. Not only is this type of project exactly what God tells us to do in the world, but anyone who has read the story about how this whole thing came about (see for the details) knows why there has never been a doubt in my mind that God called us to help Jackie.

(2) It may have been Satan trying to get in the way. The problem with this theory is that the “speed bump” stems from the laws of the United States, and God has commanded us to obey the civil authorities. So it seems unlikely that this particular frustration comes from Satan. It seems more likely that it comes from God Himself because obeying the law is His will.

(3) The final possibility is that this isn’t necessarily God trying to stop the project, but rather He is trying to “nudge” Ten Minas in a certain direction. Remember I said that Ten Minas cannot legally undertake this mission “as originally envisioned.” You see, we can help Jackie. We just cannot help ONLY Jackie. If we had an overall disaster relief ministry (of which Jackie was simply the first recipient), that would be fine. We could accept applications from other people and move from one project to the next indefinitely.

It would be pretty hard for me to justify not helping Jackie because the only way to do it would be to help even more people as well. If God wants us to undertake more disaster relief, then so be it. Hence, the “Ten Minas Disaster Relief Project” has been born. Due to funding considerations, I am envisioning only one project at a time. When we finish one, we will move on to the next (kind of like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”). But who knows, if the Project grows enough, we may eventually have sufficient funding to undertake various different projects simultaneously.

So we would appreciate any support you can give us, either by way of your prayers or financially. Please visit the website for information on how to donate (there is a link on the right side of this page). Thank you and God bless.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ten Minas now accepts online donations

Ten Minas has now set up an account with PayPal so that you can make secure online donations. You do not need to personally have a PayPal account to make a donation.

We hope this convenience will encourage people to help with our Katrina House project. Please see our website for details. God bless.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Katrina House

We have officially launched our Katrina House mission. For anyone interested, full details are available on the Ten Minas site. Click on the link to the right (which will take you to our home page), then click on the picture of the hurricane to get to the "Katrina House" page. In general, we are building a home for a lady whose home was severely and irreparably damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and we need to raise approximately $50,000.00 to make this happen. We would welcome any assistance you can give, either by way of donations or perhaps fundraisers. You or your church may be able to run a silent auction, car wash, or other fundraiser to help build a home for Jacqueline Spears in Gulfport, Mississippi. All donations to Ten Minas are tax deductible. Please see our site for complete details. Thank you and God bless.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Norma Patricia ("Pat") Burke: March 25, 1927 - September 4, 2007

One of the greatest saints for Christ I have ever met on this earth went to meet Jesus face to face this week. I've known Pat for a bit over two years. She served with me at Grove Presbyterian Church on the Christian Education team. Pat was 78 when she first signed up for the team. As Pastor Dave Wilson observed at her memorial service today, at an age when many people are deciding it is time to be done with serving on committees, Pat was eagerly offering up her service.

She only came to Grove a few years ago. I was speaking with one of her sons last night at the viewing, and he told me that she called him around that time and said she may have found a church. She liked Grove because it was a church of "doers." "It is a small church," she continued, "and the congregation is a bit on the old side ... but we can do something about that." And she did. With Pat's help and guidance, Grove Sunday School program has exploded over the past few years. At the time she joined my daughter (then 3 years old) was really the only regularly attending young child that I can recall. Now Grove has four Sunday School classes for different youth age groups (plus two for adults) and last month we welcomed 25 young kids to Vacation Bible School. We even now have a nursery for children under 3 during both the Sunday School and worship hours. This is the type of work God can do when He calls a soul like Pat to the job.

When our Christian Ed team was first getting started, Pat suggested that I serve as the moderator. I had never even served on a church committee before, let alone led one. But that was Pat. She had a way of nudging you out of your comfort zone without you realizing it was happening, and doing it all with the biggest smile you can possibly imagine so you were comfortable the whole time. And she wouldn't just leave you there, but constantly gave you continued support and boosted your self-confidence.

I got to see Pat on Sunday, 2 days before she went to be with our Lord. My daughter sang "Jesus Loves Me" to her, a memory that her family tells me stuck with her until her passing. Pat's enthusiasm for Christ was unfathomable. If the apostle Peter had modeled himself after Pat Burke's passion for Jesus, who knows, maybe he wouldn't have denied Him 3 times. In Pat's final days, as the inevitable bore down on her, she never denied our Savior and never lost that wonderful smile.

As I type this I know that Pat is enjoying the fruit of her labors. Her work is done. She has heard those words we all long to hear, "Well done my good and faithful servant." Take care of her God. I know you will. As for those of us who remain here on earth, we'll miss her.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I regret to inform you that you will probably start to notice something of a hiatus in the postings on this blog in the near future. Last night I learned of a mission God has in store for this ministry involving rebuilding a house for an unfortunate lady and her son in Mississippi whose home was trashed by Hurricane Katrina and who have not received any assistance from the official relief agencies. I’m not sure how we are going to make this work, but then again Joshua and Caleb did not know how God was going to give them the promised land in spite of overwhelming odds against them, but they still had faith.

There are a lot of details to work out, and we are in the very initial phases right now. But for the time being this mission is going to have to be the primary focus of the ministry. Some of our other projects, like this blog, are going to have to give way in order to make the time for me to pursue this project and not neglect my obligations to my family.

I will still try to put up a few comments from time to time, probably of a devotional nature. I will also try to post some updates on the progress of the project. But the in-depth theological and philosophical debates will probably have to take a back seat for a while. Some of you may recall that I have also been working on a book on the “problem” of suffering (the working title as of today is “Suffering Servant, Suffering Man”), but this will unfortunately also have to be put on hold.

I hope to have a page up on the Ten Minas website soon with some photos of the existing home and details on the project. Right now we are looking for people who want to help out. I cannot do this alone and am looking for other churches, ministry leaders, contractors, etc., who might be interested in joining the “brain trust” for planning purposes. If this is something you may be interested in and would like more information (at no obligation), please e-mail us at and keep looking at the site for the details when they are posted.

Of course we will also need financial support. I will put out more information on this at a later date, but if you feel called to help, you can specifically designate a donation to go towards this project by writing “Mississippi home” in the memo section on your check. Any checks designated in this way will be used only for this project and none of our other ventures. This may be an important point for those of you out there (atheist or otherwise) who may not agree with our theological positions but still would like to help this unfortunate family. At this point, we are estimating that the total cost of this project will run in the vicinity of $50,000.00, but of course, that is subject to change.

I thank you all in advance for your understanding, compassion and prayers. More information is to come. God bless.


The Kindergarten Blues

My precious little 5 year old daughter started kindergarten yesterday. This really is a happy/sad moment for a parent. I’m thrilled for her and what her new school has in store for her. But at the same time I cannot believe that my little baby is not a baby anymore. It was surreal last week when we went to an open house walking through the school. At one point I was standing in the gym/auditorium (one of those gymnasiums with a stage), and I suddenly realized that the day would soon come when I would be sitting uncomfortably in a metal folding chair on that gym floor watching my daughter in some elementary-level performance on the stage while I am snapping photos and beaming with pride. And yet it seems like it was just yesterday that I was watching her cruise around the room in her walker while I frantically tried to shoo cats out of her way before she ran over their tails.

Even though she started school yesterday, it was only a two hour day with her mother going along with her. Today was the first full day, and most importantly the first day she would ride the bus … all by herself. I am used to having to drag my daughter out of bed and forcibly squeeze clothes over her little body before she’ll get going. This morning, though, we had something of a role reversal. She was ready to go 15 minutes early while I was still eating my breakfast. In order to fully understand the scenario, picture this anxious little 5 year old looming over my shoulder saying, “Daddy, I really need you to eat a bit faster,” then later, “Now Daddy, you’re doing a good job, but you still need to eat a little bit faster.” The final one took the cake, though. When her baby brother, who had been sleeping in his bouncy seat, woke up she looked squarely at my wife and me and said, “Now look, with all the yelling you’ve made me do you’ve made me wake up my brother.”

My wife and I recognized ourselves in these little scoldings. No longer were we the ones pushing her out the door, but she was pushing us. Sometimes the best way to realize what we as parents sound like is simply to listen to our kids.

I know there are other parents who have gone through what I am going through today. When my daughter took those first few steps onto the school bus, she turned back, gave me the biggest possible smile, and waved goodbye. Fortunately, I managed to hold it in until the bus was gone so that I didn’t have to explain to my daughter once again about why sometimes people cry even though they are happy.

God bless.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The meaning of life revealed

It seems that humanity as a whole believes there is this grand mystery out there called "the meaning of life." What is it? What is that one thing that can bring meaning to everything we do? How many times do you know that you have to do something, but struggle to "get up for it", looking for the motivation? Human nature is such that we yearn for our actions to have meaning. Take the classic example of an actor. When trying to fully understand why his or her character would act in a particular manner during a scene, they may very well ask, "What is my motivation?" Why? Because to truly act as that character would act, they need to understand what meaning that character would ascribe to their actions.

The problem is that whatever motivates us in one circumstance will not motivate us in others. Whatever we think legitimizes one action and gives meaning to that action will not do the same in other circumstances. The result is that we spend our lives in a constant search for meaning. We are always looking for something new to make sense out of our existence. As we move from one activity to another we also move from one quest for meaning to another.

The perception that this search for meaning is impossibly hopeless has grown to such proportions that it is now almost considered to be an obvious joke. Look at Douglas Adams, author of the "Hitchikers' Guide to the Galaxy" series. In his book, "Life, the Universe and Everything", he creates a fictional computer that is designed to provide the answer to life, the universe and everything. After hundreds of years of waiting, this supercomputer pumps out the answer...42. The poor people are now even more befuddled than before, to which the computer replies that the answer is correct, but in order to understand it, they need to fully comprehend the question. In order to know the question, they would have to design an even more complex machine and wait thousands of years for the calculations. That machine was the planet Earth, which was unfortunately destroyed in order to make room for a new galactic superhighway shortly before it was to identify the long sought after result of its computations. The end result? The quest for meaning is still just as hopeless as it was when we began.

So in light of this seemingly insurmountable mountain, why do I claim to be able to reveal the true meaning of life? Well, the simple answer is, "Because I believe I have found it." So what is this one thing that can give meaning to everything we do? The answer is worship.

Too many of us unfortunately have a very limited view of what worship means. We think that "worship" refers to going to church on Sunday mornings, singing some hymns, listening to the pastor's sermon and saying a few prayers. If we are really broad-minded, we may even lump the prayers of thanksgiving we make at home and saying grace around the table into that category. But what we fail to realize is that our entire lives, every single thing we do, is meant to be an act of worship. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." This is how I am encouraging you to think of worship. Think of every single thing you do throughout the day as an offering to God. Thus, in everything you do, you are worshipping God.

The group Casting Crowns has a song called, "Lifesong" in which they sing:

Let my Lifesong sing to you.
I want to sign your name to the end of this day
Knowing that my heart was true
Let my Lifesong sing to you

Think for a moment about the Old Testament Psalms. These are essentially songs of worship that the Jews offered up to God. They may be praise Psalms or Psalms of thanksgiving. But whatever the topic, they were sent up to God as an act of worship. Casting Crowns are asking you to make your entire life a song, just like those Psalms, and offer it up to God in the same way. Imagine that everything you do each day is written down on a piece of parchment. At the end of the day, ask yourself if God would sign the bottom of that parchment saying, "This was my work."

You do not need to wander aimlessly about, searching hopelessly for meaning in each of your seemingly unconnected actions. What you need is one grand thing that will unify all the facets of your life, so they are not really separate at all. That's our problem. When looking for meaning, we are starting with the wrong assumption about the things we are trying to ascribe meaning to. You see, we want all the different aspects of our life to have meaning, and we think of them all in that way...different. We believe that our goal is to try to find one common thread in all these seemingly unrelated aspects of our existence. But in order to arrive at the one true answer, we need to redefine the question. The various threads of our lives are not meant to be unrelated. Our failure to recognize that is why we constantly fail in our search for meaning. All our actions are supposed to have this one unifying thread in common. They are supposed to be acts of worship offered up to God.

If you reject God, or try to push Him from your life, you will never find the answer to life, the universe and everything. Life as a unified whole only makes sense with God in the picture. Given this simple truth, it is hardly surprising that a world that is more and more trying to push God out of the public discourse and trying to "make it on our own" without Him is at the same time struggling more and more to make any sense out of our lives.

So if you want your life to have meaning, if you want to get out of the never ending circle of futility, give your life as an offering to God. When you go to work, do your job as if you are doing it for God. When dealing with your family and friends, do it as if you are doing it for God. When you interact with strangers, do it as if you are doing it for God. You will soon find that you have uncovered the true meaning of life. This is what we were created for, so ultimately it is the only thing that will bring lasting satisfaction. Just as a child longs for approval from its parent, we are designed with a longing for approval from our heavenly Father. Only when you understand this longing can you even begin to fathom the incredible ecstasy that comes when God signs His name to the end of your day and says, "Well done my good and faithful servant."

God bless you all.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Technical help

I'm not the most techno saavy person in the world, but I do the best I can. I've noticed a trend for people to leave random comments after some of my posts that are basically links/advertisements for whatever it is they want to promote. I do not endorse any of these links and/or advertisements, and I suspect they are automatically posted by a computer as opposed to someone actually taking the time to individually type them in. Does anyone know how I can prevent these comments from being posted and/or delete them after they have been posted?


Monday, July 30, 2007

Bragging on my daughter

Many of you may have caught on, but in case you didn't, you'll note that even though I talk about my kids a lot I quite deliberately never mention their names online. When they are old enough to make their own decision about disclosing their identities in such a public forum, I'll leave it up to them, but for now the overprotective father instincts kick in.

However, most people who have followed the ministry for some time probably know that I have a 5 year old daughter and a 2 month old son. Well, I took my daughter to a friend's birthday party this weekend, and she did something that I simply have to shout out to the world as a proud papa.

The kids were playing a couple of games. The winner of the games got a prize. There was no prize for second place. The first game was musical chairs, and my daughter finished somewhere around the middle of the pack (and was quite distraught when she was eliminated). The second game was a limbo contest. They weren't actually requiring the kids to bend backwards, just get under the pole without touching either the ground or the pole. My daughter had somewhat of an advantage with this contest because she was one of the smallest children there. In the end it came down to her and a boy who was probably 1-2 years older than her.

All of the kids who had been eliminated were still gathered around the limbo pole watching the contest. The pole had gotten pretty darn low by this time (low enough that my bad back ached just thinking about trying to get under it) and my daugher made her attempt to get through. One of the kids said that her head hit the pole as she went underneath. All of the other kids gathered round said she didn't. The poor mother of the child whose party it was (who was acting as judge) didn't know what to do. However, the kids who were arguing in my daughter's favor seemed to be winning the day and Madam Judge was about to let Sarah go again.

At this time, my precious little 5 year old girl walks up to me and says, "Daddy, my head did touch the pole." I tell people all the time that I actually have a pretty honest little girl, but when they hear she is 5 then tend not to believe me. In this case, she knew that by telling me the truth she was going to lose the contest. And believe me, she really wanted the prize (she had seen the winner of musical chairs get a prize and was quite upset that she didn't get one). We told the judge that her head struck the pole and the little boy won the contest. At that point I told my daughter that I was more proud of her for telling the truth than I would have been if she had won 100 contests.

I'm under no illusions that my daughter isn't going to lie to me to get her way in the future, but for this one moment a father couldn't be prouder. God bless everyone.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Free will & morality

This is a follow up to a discussion that actually began on another blog ( It is in response to something Dagoods said there, but as I have explained in the past, I unfortunately do not have time to jump around from blog to blog, so I have to confine most of my comments to this particular locale. Also, in the interest of fair play, Dagoods has a blog of his own for anyone interested at

So here’s the issue for discussion. Dagoods advanced a position on that other blog as follows:

“What the ‘greater purpose’ defense says is that there is something more important than morality. To God. (And due to the complete lack of ability to verify what God finds important, this is all speculation, obviously.) If I do something immoral, what is more important (to God) is that I showed free will. If I do something moral, what is more important (to God) is that I showed free will. Regardless of what I do, God’s greater purpose is fulfilled. Morality is the same as immorality. Like saying regardless of whether I take a train or a plane, the greater purpose of reaching Indianapolis is obtained. Planes are the same as trains.”

And in a later elaboration:
“I see it as a logical consequence of the Free Will defense to the evidentiary Problem of Evil. Christians may not want to say it, but that is what it logically entails. Tell me if I have the answers incorrect in the following questions. I believe the answers (in bold) are the Christian position to the Free Will defense. Could God create a world without immorality? Yes. Would that world have Free Will? No. Does our world have immorality? Yes. Therefore it was more important, in this world, for God to have Free Will than to have a world with no immorality. I am uncertain how one gets around this.”

So is it a necessary consequence of the free will defense that God considers free will to be of greater value than morality? Actually, I believe the way Dagoods phrases the first two questions is incorrect. He seems to be operating under the assumption that we have two separate entities here: (1) morality, and (2) free will. After all, he is saying that (according to Christians), free will is more important than morality. They must then be separate entities with no cross-over between them. But if free will in and of itself has moral value, this comparison doesn’t make any sense. After all, he would essentially be saying “a moral good is more important than morality”, a nonsense statement. In fact, if free will has moral value in and of itself, then all that is going on here when God allows some evil in order to accommodate free will is a weighing of the moral consequences, just like we undergo with any other moral decision. Does the value of allowing free will outweigh the harm done by allowing evil? We can all disagree in our little finite minds about whether or not we think the benefits outweigh the costs in this equation, so to speak. But to say that God believes free will is more important than morality is to separate free will from morality when in fact it is a subset thereof.

I personally believe it is pretty easily apparent that free will has at least some moral value of its own. After all, if I was to bind you up (without cause) and forcibly keep you from going home, going to the grocery store, or doing whatever else it is you desire to do, I think we would all agree that I have committed a moral wrong. So free will clearly has some moral value, which means the locus of our discussion can be on whether the costs outweigh the benefits, but not on whether God believes free will is more important than morality.

Dagoods also said

“I once saw a Christian defiantly proclaim to a non-believer, ‘If you were God, do you think you could make the world any better?’ To which they responded, ‘Sure. All I have to do is create the exact same world we have today, only with one less child dying. Or one less broken arm. Or even one less tear being shed. That would, by definition, be ‘better’ than what God can apparently do.’”

I’ve seen this argument many times, and it strikes me as being more illustrative of the speaker’s unwillingness to make a genuine inquiry into whether God exists as opposed to trying to set up a legitimate standard by which we can decide whether or not to believe. After all, if God really did keep just one more child from dying, or prevent one more broken arm or one more tear, how would you know? This is a standard which atheists like to raise but which we can never know if it was met. So if we can never know if it has been met, is it really a reasonable standard? After all, it argues from the ABSENCE of an activity (i.e., one more child who DID NOT die, one more arm that DID NOT break, one more tear that WAS NOT shed). If these events never happened, how would we ever know they were missing? In fact, someone could easily point out to the atheist who makes this argument, “How do you know God has not already done so?” That’s the problem. It is a statement without meaning because we can never know whether or not the requirements of the statement have been satisfied. In fact, the only way to know if God is preventing any evil or suffering would be if He was to eliminate ALL evil and suffering, but that falls into all the free will problems that have been outlined countless times before (the removal of the concept of evil from this world would also eliminate the concept of good as well, but that is a philosophical discussion for another day).

Finally, a personal note to Dagoods. You mentioned in your post on the other blog that my concept of God hates you. I’m sure you’ve probably heard this before, so I’m probably not telling you anything new, but God does not hate you. He loves you and He is reaching out to you as we speak. I can certainly understand why you would think He hates you, especially with the unfortunate way that some people who claim to be Christians (especially online) spew hatred your way (not meaning you specifically, but toward all non-believers) instead of love and respect. This is an unfortunate tendency for which I myself have “called out” many Christians, but it is not God’s will for how His people are to treat others in the world. To the extent I even have the authority to do so, I apologize to you for any poor treatment you have received in the so-called name of Christianity. It is not right, and I will continue to do my best to treat you and everyone else (believer or non-believer) with dignity and respect.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

2007 Relay For Life

The 2007 Relay for Life of Havre de Grace fundraiser for the American Cancer Society was last night, and it was a resounding success. This was only the 3rd year of the Relay in Havre de Grace. In year 1 it took in $20,000. Year 2 totalled $44,000. So far, Year 3 has brought in over $90,000 and counting. I will have a detailed page on the website shortly with more information and pictures about the event. Its not too late to donate. Donations can still be credited to this Relay as long as they are received by the ACS no later than August 25. See the Ten Minas site for details on how to make a donation.

On a personal note, I would like to congratulate my wife, Mary Kay Coughlan, who has been the Volunteer Event Chair of the Havre de Grace Relay since its inception and is stepping down as Chair. She will be leaving the Relay in a very healthy condition with interest at an all time high, and will be passing it off to good hands in Debbie Leodore. Ten Minas (including my wife) will still be involved in future years, and we thank you all for your support. God bless.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New podcasts in the Argument for Christianity

FYI - Podcasts on lessons 6 through 9 in the "Argument for Christianity" (covering General Relativity and the Kalam Cosmological argument) are now up on the website. Lesson 10 is partially recorded, and should be forthcoming shortly.


Modern day Jewish atonement

I openly admit that I am far from an expert on modern day Jewish theology, but I have done some reading on the subject (as well as partaking of a lot of conversations because the majority of the people I work with are Jewish). I have a logical question that I would like to see if anyone out there (preferably someone with a Jewish background) can answer.

As most people reading this probably know, Christian theology is based upon blood atonement. It holds that blood is necessary for the atonement of sins. The shedding of Christ’s blood made this atonement for us. However, the whole concept of substitutionary atonement and atonement by blood was foreshadowed in the Old Testament by the animal sacrifices instituted by God.

During the time of the Old Testament prophets the Jewish people started believing that these sacrifices were in essence a “get out of jail free card.” They made little to no effort at actual devotion to God, figuring that as long as they made the sacrifices they could keep God happy with them. A number of the Old Testament prophets spoke out against this attitude.

Of course, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, leaving modern day Jews in a quandary. If sacrifices are necessary for atonement, but there is no Temple at which to perform the sacrifices, how are they to make atonement for themselves?

The answer given (to my understanding) by modern Judaism is that God set up two alternative methods of atonement: (1) substitutionary animal sacrifices; and (2) sincere repentance, seeking forgiveness from those you have wronged and confession to God. Today, on Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement), they first prepare ahead of time by confessing and seeking forgiveness from everyone they have wronged over the past year. Supposedly, by going through this process and seeking forgiveness from God, their sins can be atoned for even without an animal sacrifice.

The important question, then, is why would God have ordered animal sacrifices if they were not necessary? The modern Jewish answer to this question is that the sacrifices were one alternative method of atonement, so they weren’t meaningless. But Jews could also opt for the repentance/confession method of atonement if they chose. If they chose the path of trying to walk in God’s law, and confessing their sins seeking forgiveness when they fail, then the sacrifices were not needed.

And here’s my dilemma. We have two alternatives. I will call the first “(1) sacrifices” and the second “(2) repentance.” Supposedly, according to modern Jewish theology, these are two alternative methods of atonement. Modern Jews allow (2) to stand on its own because they use it every Yom Kippur without (1) playing any part at all. But if (1) really is an “alternative”, it too should be able to stand on its own, without any regard to (2). But if we examine the Biblical condemnations against the empty sacrifices that were being made by the Jews, they always suggested that the sacrifices were meaningless to God because the Jews were making no attempt at sincere devotion, or at sincerely following God’s law. In other words, if the sacrifices were to have any meaning, the Jews would first have to be sincerely repentant for the sins for which they were seeking atonement. (2) is a prerequisite to the efficacy of (1). Sacrifices are only effective if they are preceded by repentance. But if this is the case, before we ever get to (1), we have already satisfied the requirements of (2), so our sins are already atoned for before we make a single sacrifice. We are back to the problem of God meaninglessly ordering animal sacrifices even though they served no purpose whatsoever. So how are these really two alternative methods of atonement?

Of course, under Christian theology, repentance is necessary, but it does not eliminate the need for the atoning sacrifice. Repentance will lead us to recognize the need for the sacrifice, which makes our partaking of that sacrifice sincere. So repentance does not make atonement for our sins. That role is played by the sacrifice. But sacrifice without repentance is simply going through the motions and is empty. If I have misstated modern Jewish theology in any way, I would appreciate if someone would clarify it for me. Are these really viewed as alternative methods of atonement, and if so, how do you get around the dilemma I have outlined? Thank you and God bless.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Right on schedule!

Some of you reading this may remember that my wife was pregnant and was due today, May 22, 2007, with our son (we already have an almost 5 year old daughter). Well, right on schedule, our new boy entered this world this morning at 10:27 am. He is 7 pounds and 20 3/4 inches. Thank you God.

I may be somewhat out of commission for a little while for obvious reasons, but I'll try to respond to any of your inquiries as soon as I can. God bless.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Textual Criticism of the Bible

I've got a feeling this post may get an old friend to respond. We'll see. Its basically a simple question. When dealing with the area of textual criticism, what is preferable in order to best reconstruct the original text, many copies or only a few? If there are many copies, inevitably there will be more diverse readings because inevitably human copiest errors creep in when you are hand-copying something. The more copies, the more opportunity for error and the more variant readings (but also the more copies that share something in common, the more likely it is that what they share comes from the original).

With fewer copies you would have fewer variant readings (because there has been less of an opportunity for error to creep in) but you also have less assurance that the portions that those copies share would have come from the orginal text. It seems to me that when someone criticizes the Bible for it's so-called "numerous variant readings" (which I address in an article on the website, and which I do not believe are really nearly as severe as critics make it seem), they set up a standard by which they will never be satisfied. Are there going to be copyist errors? Of course. And the more copies you have, obviously the larger number of errors you will find (because there is more opportunity). But most textual critics will tell you this is actually a strength of the Bible (specifially the New Testament) because a greater number of copies enables us to find more commonalities and reconstruct the original to a greater degree. So what is the alternative? Less copies? Would this please the critic? Not likely, because then they could argue that there is an inadequate sample from which to draw any conclusions about the original text.

So what is better, many copies or only a few? If the former, you have to take the inevitable variants with the number of copies, but you also have to realize that these variants are a direct result of the large number of copies, which actually makes us MORE able to reconstruct the original text, not less.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Understanding the miracles all around us

I recently read "Charlotte's Web" to my daughter, and the following passage stuck out to me. Fern is the little girl who took care of Wilbur, the pig. This is from a scene in Chapter 14 when Fern's mother, Mrs. Arable, is talking to Dr. Dorian because she is concerned that her daughter believes the animals are talking.

"I've been hearing things about that pig," said Dr. Dorian, opening his eyes. "They say he's quite a pig."
"Have you heard about the words that appeared in the spider's web?" asked Mrs. Arable nervously.
"Yes," replied the doctor.
"Well, do you understand it?" asked Mrs. Arable.
"Understand what?"
"Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?"
"Oh, no," said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle."
"What's miraculous about a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "I don't see why you say a web is a miracle-it's just a web."
"Ever try to spin one?" asked Dr. Dorian.
Mrs. Arable shifted uneasily in her chair. "No," she replied. "But I can crochet a doily and I can knit a sock."
"Sure," said the doctor. "But somebody taught you, didn't they?"
"My mother taught me."
"Well, who taught a spider? A young spider knows how to spin a web without any instructions from anybody. Don't you regard that as a miracle?"
"I suppose so," said Mrs. Arable. "I never looked at it that way before. Still, I don't understand it, and I don't like what I can't understand."
"None of us do," said Dr. Dorian, sighing. "I'm a doctor. Doctors are supposed to understand everything. But I don't understand everything, and I don't intend to let it worry me."
Mrs. Arable fidgeted. "Fern says the animals talk to each other. Dr. Dorian, do you believe animals talk?"
"I never heard one say anything," he replied. "But that proves nothing. It is quite possible that an animal has spoken civilly to me and that I didn't catch the remark because I wasn't paying attention. Children pay better attention than grownups. If Fern says that the animals in Zuckerman's barn talk, I'm quite ready to believe her. Perhaps if people talked less, animals would talk more. People are incessant talkers-I can give you my word on that."

There are two points this passage brought to my mind:

(1) Miracles can be seen all around us, just like an ordinary spider's web. As Paul wrote, "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:20) Human nature is to take things for granted that we are accustomed to. When we see something day in and day out, we lose sight of just how miraculous the entire universe really is. In a class I taught recently I asked everyone if they wanted to see a miracle. I promised I could show them one right then and there. When they said they wanted to see one I walked over to the window, pulled up the blinds and pointed outside. Look out the window. There's a miracle! Just because something is part of our everyday experience does not make it any less miraculous when you consider how incredibly unlikely it all is to exist at all. I apologize for not being able to remember who said this (I want to say it was C.S. Lewis, but don't quote me on that), but a slow miracle is no less miraculous than a quick one. Regardless of how long you believe it took for the universe as we know it to be created, the fact that it exists at all is still a mind-boggling miracle.

(2) Mankind has a somewhat egotistical desire to feel like we know (or are capable of knowing) everything. Probably one of our biggest failings is our inability to see our own shortcomings. We don't understand everything. But like Dr. Dorian, we have to realize that we don't know everything and not let it bother us. God is infinite. There is no end to any of His qualities. Man is finite. It is impossible for us to fully understand all there is to know about God. Unfortunately, too many people refuse to accept God (or else they redefine Him and make Him finite) because since they cannot fully comprehend an infinite God, they decide that His existence cannot be proven. In fact, if God is infinite, it is perfectly logical that we should not be able to understand everything about Him. The moment we think we have fully understood Him, we would have proven that He was NOT infinite. Job demanded that God tell him why he was suffering. When God replied to Job, he pointed out just how much Job did not understand, but took for granted and accepted anyway. But for some reason, even though so much of God can be understood, we are still not willing to take for granted and accept those things we cannot understand, just like Job did not understand why he was suffering.

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:
'Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!'"
(Job 38:1-3, 18-21)

Job repented and acknowledged that God gives us more than enough information to justify faith in Him. But sometimes there are questions we will face in this world to which we won't get an answer. We just have to trust Him. After all, He knows far more than we do, and we're in good hands.

God bless.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Ethical Question of God and War

Have you ever wondered how God could order the death of so many pagan nations in the Old Testament? The book of Joshua is the most commonly cited example. When entering the promised land, God told the Israelites to eliminate all the current inhabitants. The latest series of Ten Minas Podcasts answers this question. Check out the "Podcasts/Other Resources" page on the Ten Minas website to listen to this four-part series. God bless.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A minor setback

So I finished physical therapy on March 29. I must say that after I went through the therapy ritual I was feeling pretty great. My back still had little minor twinges every now and then, usually brought on by prolonged sitting (especially in a car), but very minor. I was supposed to have one final appointment with my neurosurgeon to officially release me. However, he was sick and had to reschedule. Had I seen him on that original date I would have told him how great I was feeling and that would have been the end of it.

As it turns out, the appointment was rescheduled for a week from this coming Monday (I had two jury trials in two consecutive weeks, so I couldn't get in sooner). I can't tell you what brought it on. Maybe it was the prolonged sitting through two back to back jury trials. But about a week ago I started noticing a few slightly bigger twinges than before. Then on Wednesday, while in one of the trials, it got a bit worse. I actually took my muscle relaxer and pain medication Wednesday night at bedtime for the first time in over a month (they are "as needed" medicines). Then yesterday I got slammed big time. The best way to describe how my back currently feels is "agony".

Any prayers would be greatly appreciated. I'm still trying to keep up with Ministry business. I hope to have some more podcasts up on the site this weekend or sometime next week. But if you notice things slow down a bit around here, I apologize. I may not be as close to the end of my medical appointments as I'd hoped.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Palm Sunday Podcast

For anyone who was interested in my teaching on the significance of Palm Sunday, but was unable to make it to Grove Church this past Sunday, audio from the class in now posted on the website in the form of four podcasts titled "Jesus: A Different Kind of King." The podcasts are all available for online listening or download free of charge.

The Existential(?) Argument from Suffering...

I want to bounce an idea off some people out there to see what kind of comments I get. Please understand that it is not my intention to get into an all-encompasing discussion about the atheistic argument that the existence of suffering supposedly disproves the existence of the Christian God (I am actually contemplating writing a book on the subject, you know, in all that free time I have).

The point of this post is just to put one solitary idea out there and see what you all think. It is my thinking, unless you can convince me otherwise, that the so-called argument from suffering is at its core an existential argument, not one of logical necessity. Let me explain what I mean by this.

The atheistic argument basically says that the Christian God is supposedly all-loving and also all-powerful. However, suffering exists in the world. If God is all-loving, then He should want to stop suffering, and if He is all-powerful then He should have the ability to stop the suffering. Yet suffering exists. Therefore God, if He exists, must either not be loving or not be all-powerful.

Now I believe there are plenty of problems with this argument that I'm not going to get into now (we may do individual posts later on separate points just so we can stay focused). For the time being, though, I want to ask one question. Does the conclusion of this argument necessarily follow, BY LOGICAL NECESSITY, from its premises. In other words, is the objection due to suffering truly an existential objection, meaning that when someone objects to the suffering they are really saying, "I cannot personally bring myself to accept that a loving God exists in this world" as opposed to, "Because suffering exists, it is a logical certainty that a loving God cannot."

This argument takes into account God's lovingness and His omnipotence, but it fails to take into account His omniscience. In other words, while we are finite, God is infinite. Therefore, we have a limited capability to understand all the potential consequences of an action. God is not so limited.

Rather than "reinventing the wheel", the following paragraphs are quoted from an earlier discussion I had with John Loftus on a similar (albeit broader) topic:

"Probably the most common reason people give for disbelief in God is the problem of suffering, and they use it as though, in and of itself, it disproves the existence of a loving God. But it does not.

Here is a simple illustration. Suppose you are in a room with three other people. Two are standing up against a wall, and in front of them is a man who is holding a gun in one hand and a piece of paper in the other. He turns to you and says, 'You get to choose. Either I will shoot person #1 in the head and kill him, or I will give person #2 a paper cut. What will it be?'

Now I am assuming person #2 is not a hemophiliac and is not going to die from a paper cut. What do you choose? If you acknowledge that the better choice is to give person #2 a paper cut, then you have acknowledged that the concept of a 'greater good' exists, and sometimes some degree of suffering may be justified for the greater good.

This is important because once you acknowledge the possibility of a greater good, you also must admit that it is AT LEAST THEORETICALLY possible that there could be a 'loving' reason to allow the suffering in the world, even if we do not know what that reason may be.

This is crucial to any conversation on suffering because it shows that suffering in the world, in and of itself, does not disprove the existence of a loving God. But far too many people believe that it does."

"It is impossible to conclude from an action alone whether or not it is loving. Allowing someone to give a paper cut to someone else would not appear loving, but in the context I demonstrated, it could be. Is giving someone flowers loving? Generally we would say yes. But if you give them to someone you know to be deathly allergic, that's not very loving. In order to label something as loving or not you need to understand the context.

Actions in this world can have any number of possible consequences. So in order to fully understand the full context of any action, you must be able to understand all the potential consequences. Only an all-knowing mind can do that. Finite human minds can only understand a certain number of forseeable consequences to any action. So we draw our conclusions about whether something is loving based upon the limited amount of information we can process. But it is a mistake to take our inherently limited knowledge and use it to conclude that an infinite mind does not exist.

Isn't it reasonable that an infinite mind would be capable of comprehending more of the consequences than a finite mind? And isn't it then also reasonable that the infinite mind may arrive at a different (and more well-informed) conclusion than the finite mind? So its not that God's actions are not in accord with our notion of loving. We all understand that actions which we may not otherwise consider to be loving can become so depending on the context. God's actions are perfectly in accord with this concept. We are just incapable of understanding the full context. So it is our conclusion that is wrong, not God's."

Now you may disagree as to whether or not there actually is a reason for suffering. That's not the point of the proposition I'm putting out here. My point is simply that the existence of suffering does not per se, as a matter of logical necessity, disprove the existence of a loving God. There could be a "greater good" that we are simply incapable of understanding.

So that's the thought for the day. Please chime in with your thoughts. Does the argument from suffering prove, as a matter of logical necessity, that a loving God cannot exist, or is it in essence an existential objection? As they say on American Idol, the phone lines are now open...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Palm Sunday speaking appearance

If anyone in the area is interested in coming, I will be teaching a brief class on the significance of Palm Sunday this coming Sunday morning (April 1, 2007, which is of course Palm Sunday, making the topic so timely!) at Grove Presbyterian Church at 50 East Bel Air Avenue, Aberdeen, Maryland. The class begins at 9:15 am and runs for one hour. The worship service begins at 10:30 (at which I will be the liturgist in the pulpit with Pastor Dave). Communion will be served. Everyone is invited!

MP3s are here!

Just a little announcement to let everyone know that we now have MP3s available on the Ten Minas site. So far we have 3 podcasts available. One is an interview with Mary Kay Coughlan (my wife), the volunteer event chair for the Relay For Life of Havre de Grace, Maryland, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

We have also begun a series of podcasts on the "Argument for Christianity". So far the first 2 lessons are posted, and we hope to add about one new lesson each week. Soon we will also have some podcasts on Biblical studies and discipleship which may appeal more to believers looking for a resource to spend time learning about God's word.

We are thrilled to be able to provide this new resource. God bless.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

An update for anyone curious...

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting here as much recently. Well, there is a good reason for that. First, those of you who read an earlier post on the subject may recall that I have recently been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis. Basically, this means that the bottom bone in my spine is starting to slip off my tailbone. In order to stabilize the area, the muscles surrounding the bones spasm. This is quite painful. Well, I've been going to physical therapy three times a week (as well as a few appointments for x-rays, an MRI and with my neurosurgeon), so when combined with my work commitments, my church responsibilities, and my insistence on never shirking on the time I spend with my family, internet blogging has unfortunately fallen by the wayside.

I've also been spending some of my time working on what will be the latest Ten Minas project, MP3s that are downloadable from the site. The first few podcasts wil be on the "Argument for Christianity", but we will span out from there, and hopefully cover some discipleship issues as well. Stay tuned for more information on this front.

Finally, those of you who have been following the blog long enough may also recall that we are expecting a new addition on about May 22. My wife is pregnant, and we are reaching the home stretch before our new son joins us. Unfortunately though, due to my back condition, this has complicated things a bit. There has been a lot of furniture moving, etc., to be done in order to get the new nursery ready (among other projects) and I am not allowed to do any of it. I can no longer do any heavy lifting, and I am not allowed to bend over at the waist even if all I am picking up is a sock. God has blessed us with devoted family and friends, though, and for the past three weekends we have had people visiting us and helping out. This, of course, means that I've been doing a lot of entertaining, and not a lot of posting here.

To make an already long story perhaps a little bit shorter, things are hectic right now, and probably are not going to let up any time soon since I will have an infant to care for. I will still do my best to post new thoughts here as time permits and to respond to any of your comments within a reasonable period of time. But if it takes me longer than you are used to, please accept my apologies in advance.

Thank you all for checking in.


Dagoods and 1 Peter 3:15

I just want to put up a quick post to compliment one of the people who has commented relatively frequently on this blog. His screen name is dagoods and he is an atheist. No, I'm not trying to get anything out of him, and there are no ulterior motives to this compliment. Well, maybe just one. I want to use his behavior to make a point that is central to Ten Minas Ministries.

You may have noticed that one of the mottos of this ministry is from 1 Peter 3:15, and it involves giving an answer for the Christian faith "with gentleness and respect." For any of you who are "old pros" at the internet blog/debate scene, you surely know that these terms are often foreign to many a debate. Far too often people become disagreeable simply because they disagree. This is not limited to the theism vs. atheism debate. Go onto any debate blog and you will certainly see an uglier side to people. It seems that when we can hide behind our keyboards and our screen names, our inhibitions drop and we let our inner Lex Luthor shine through.

Dagoods and I have engaged in debates before, both on this blog and on others, and he has always been polite and respectful. But what inspired me to write this little entry was a recent exchange we had on the nature of Hell. In the course of that discussion we got into some topics that very easily could have caused offense. Topics were broached on both sides that could have sent the other party into a frenzy of insults, personal attacks, and to quote a line from "Star Trek IV", "colorful metaphors." But he didn't go there. Don't get me wrong. He did not compromise his position, and he said what he felt he had to say (as, I hope, did I). But he did so without taking personal offense at what I said and without trying to cause personal offense to me.

Dagoods is an atheist (although he does have a Christian background and is probably familiar with 1 Peter 3:15). All too often, though, I see Christians on other blogs becoming insulting and hostile in their comments. This is not what we as Christians are called to do. Defend your faith. Do it passionately. But do it gently and respectfully. Remember that the person you are talking to is one of God's creations as well. He or she is made in God's image just like you. So treat him or her with the respect they deserve. This is one time when many of the internet theists could learn a thing or two from one intelligent, passionate, and yet respectful atheist.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More on the Jesus Tomb...

So I have officially seen the docu-drama myself now (I saw it when it originally aired on Sunday night, but this is the first opportunity I've gotten to write about it). I also feel like I've been "tested by fire". I spent my lunch hour on Monday with a bunch of co-workers, including some very devout Jews who, needless to say, do not accept Jesus as Messiah, one of which was absolutely convinced that this was indeed Jesus' tomb. These people are my friends, but we definitely had an interesting dialogue about how much could really be concluded from this so-called evidence.

If you did see the show, I hope you also watched the Ted Koppel interview afterwards. I'm not sure if they are reshowing this part along with the main docu-drama every time the show it or not. I hope so. If you have the opportunity to watch the Ted Koppel portion, I encourage you to do so, because he illustrates a number of problems. Now moving on to my comments:

A lot of what needs to be said about this documentary I already said in my original post. But upon watching it, there were a few more things I wanted to point out. First, for anyone who watched it, quick, off the top of your head tell me even one piece of evidence they gave that this was actually a family tomb...

You may have guessed it already, but they did not provide ANY evidence that this was a family tomb. They just assumed it at the get go. But it's like a stack of cards. The fact that it is a family tomb is the card supporting the entire rest of the structure. For example, what is the significance of having two people in a tomb whose DNA does NOT match if it is not a family tomb? The producers of this show conclude that they must have been married. But if it wasn't a family tomb to begin with, how can you conclude that they were married if there's no reason to believe they were related to begin with? In other words, they start out by ASSUMING its a family tomb without evidence, then later on conclude, "Well, since we KNOW its a family tomb, these people without matching DNA must have been married." All of their conclusions are dependent upon their starting premise, but they have no evidence for that starting premise. Remove it, and the entire stack of cards falls.

Also, I did not realize when I wrote my last post just how weak the DNA evidence was. All the showed was that these two people did not have the same MOTHER. They could have had the same father. They could have been cousins. They could have been mother/son or father/daughter. In short, they proved virtually nothing.

My wife brought up another good point while we were watching the show. Jesus had a brother named Joseph. Let's assume for the sake of argument that this was Jesus' family tomb. How do we know the "Joseph" in "Jesus, son of Joseph" was Jesus' father and not His brother? Its not exactly beyond the realm of possibility that Joseph would name his son after his brother. And speaking of Jesus' father, where was he? This was a patriarchal society. The producers claimed that Joseph died in Nazareth and was buried there. But if that is true (which, by the way I believe it probably is), it is absolutely inconceivable in this type of society that the rest of the family would have left their father's bones all the way up in Nazareth and completely abandoned him, choosing to buy a family tomb a great distance away and all be buried without him.

Anyone who has read much of my writings also has probably caught in that I like to point out contradictions in someone's argument, and this show was no exception. Did you notice what they first said when discussing the "ornamentation" on the outside of the tomb (i.e., the chevron and the circle)? They said that this is rare, and the fact that they decorated the outside of the tomb tends to suggest that they felt it was someone important inside. Now what about their discussion of Caiaphas' ossuary? Do you remember what it looked like? It was HIGHLY ornamented. This, of course, was because he was the High Priest and was considered to be someone important. How did this compare to the Jesus ossuary? The Jesus ossuary was not decorated at all. In fact, they described the writing on it as "graffiti". It was sloppy! Is this consistent with someone who was held in such high regard? So we are supposed to believe that they decorated the outside of the tomb because he was so imporant, but couldn't even put forth the effort to write cleanly when inscribing his name. Is ornamentation an indicator of social importance or not? You can't have it both ways.

Something that was touched on in the Ted Koppel interview was the so-called "missing ossuary." The producers of the show want you to believe it was the ossuary marked "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." So let's assume for the moment that it was. At the beginning of the show they said that there were 10 ossuaries in the tomb. 6 had inscriptions, 4 did not. Let's count up the names they found on them: (1) Jesus, (2) Marianme (the one they claim to be Mary Magdalene), (3) Mary (supposedly Jesus' mother), (4) Matthew, (5) Jose, and (6) Judah. Wait a minute! That's all six! That means that the other four were unmarked, and whichever one went missing had to be one of those four. In fact, the archaeologist who removed them from the tomb confirmed that the one that subsequently went missing bore no inscription. So even if this "James" ossuary was the missing one, that means that at the time it was in the tomb it had no inscription. In other words, the inscription is a forgery. What a surprise, that's exactly one of the allegations that had been made about it long before this Discovery Channel show ever came out.

My last point deals with Marianme. They claim this is Mary Magdalene because it is supposedly a rare form of the name "Mary", and this is how Mary Magdalene is referred to in the Gospel of Philip. Of course, in the Ted Koppel portion, one of the theologians pointed out that the Gospel of Philip was from the FOURTH CENTURY, hundreds of years after Mary Magdalene was alive. In response, the consultant on the show (whose name I unfortunately cannot remember) said that the earliest transcript he was aware of that used this name for Mary Magdalene was from the second century. Simcha Jacobovici, the investigative journalist behind this whole thing, commented that his father's name didn't change 100 years after he died, so he assumes that if that's how Mary Magdalene was referred to 100 years later, then that was her name 100 years earlier. So what is the problem with this? How do we know about Mary Magdalene in the first place? Because she is mentioned in the canonical Gospels, all of which are FIRST Century documents. It doesn't take a Greek scholar to figure out that if the first reference to Mary Magdalene as "Marianme" is in the second century, that means that she was NOT referred to this way in the first century canonical gospels! So the earliest reference to her do NOT use this name for her!

I could go on and on with the enormous number of problems with this show, but then this would turn into a book rather than a post on the blog. I think enough has been said, and frankly there are so many other people blasting gaping holes in this theory, I think the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. It was an entertaining piece of fiction, but it was fiction nonetheless.

God bless.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

James Cameron's "Jesus Tomb"

Everybody else is talking about it, so I might as well be. For those of you who haven't heard, James Cameron has a new special coming out on the Discovery Channel in which he claims to have found the tomb of Jesus Christ. Why is this significant? Well, he also claims to have found Jesus' bones inside. It doesn't take a brilliant theologian to realize that if Jesus rose in bodily form, and ascended into Heaven in that same form, He shouldn't have left His bones behind here on Earth.

As of the time I am writing this, the show hasn't aired yet (I believe it airs sometime next week), but there have been some advanced screenings for the privileged few (of which I am not one, but I've read some comments from people who were). Here's basically what they found.

In first century Palestine, it was a common practice to lay a body in a tomb for a year, let it decompose, then go back in, get the bones and put them in a "bone box" (or more properly called an "ossuary"). In 1980, a well-respected archaeologist found a tomb containing ten such ossuaries. That's right. I said 1980, 27 years ago. Despite what the advanced publicity may be leading you to believe, this is NOT a new discovery, and has been discredited long ago (as far as being the purported tomb of Jesus Christ).

There were various names on the bone boxes, including "Judas" and two "Marys". But of course the most significant find was a bone box containing the inscription "Jesus, son of Joseph." The Discovery Channel documentary takes the position that this is a family tomb, meaning a family had purchased this tomb and used it to bury all its family members. The suggestion is that one of the "Marys" is Mary Magdalene, she was Jesus' wife, and "Judas" was their son. I know. Here we go with the DaVinci Code all over again.

So where is the proof that this was a family tomb and that this Mary was married to Jesus? There is none. First, a couple things need to be said about the names. "Jesus", "Mary" and "Joseph" were extremely common names in first century Palestine. The Hebrew name "Jesus" (technically "Yeshua") can actually also be translated "Joshua". So whenever you see "Jesus" or "Joshua", it is actually the same name. Yeshua was the 6th most common name at that time. "Mary" was the most common name for females. In fact, 1 out of every 5 females was named "Mary." So finding a tomb with these names in it would be the modern day equivalent of finding a tomb with people named John or Steve. So what? It would actually probably be more surprising if we found a tomb with 10 bone boxes without those names appearing!

What about the so-called family connection? Actually, a family would have to be pretty well off to be able to afford a tomb like this all of their own. Often times people from the same area would simply share a tomb, even when they weren't related, simply to split the cost. Now the producers of the Discovery Channel show claim to have DNA evidence that Mary and Jesus were married. What is this DNA evidence? Well, it is that when they compared the DNA of the bones in the two boxes, they were not close enough to be blood relatives. That's right, they DIDN'T match. So if they weren't blood related, they must have been married, or so the argument goes. Answer me a question. How many people in the town where you live are you NOT blood related to? Now out of all those people, how many are you married to? Basically, I think the proper response to this so-called DNA evidence is, "You've got to be kidding me."

Just a few final notes then I'll sign off. I mentioned briefly that a family would have to be pretty rich to afford a tomb like this. Was Jesus Christ's family rich? Not by any stretch of the imagination. He was the son of a carpenter! It is extraordinarily unlikely that they would have been able to afford such a tomb. Also, where was the tomb? It was in Jerusalem. Was Jesus' family from Jerusalem? No! They were from Nazareth! Jesus was only in Jerusalem for the Passover! Even if His family could have afforded such a tomb it would have been near their family home, not all the way down in Jerusalem!

Finally, what are the implications if this is a family tomb? Basically, Mr. Cameron's show would be insinuating that Jesus' family and/or followers let His body decompose for a year, took the bones, put them in a bone box, placed the bone box in a tomb, THEN WENT AROUND TELLING EVERYONE THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD IN BODILY FORM, ASCENEDED INTO HEAVEN, AND THEY DIED BRUTALLY RATHER THAN TELL THE TRUTH THAT HIS BONES WERE ACTUALLY SITTING IN A BONE BOX! Does this make sense?

These are just a few of the many problems with this theory, and a few of the reasons why it has been long discredited. But shows like this are interested in ratings, and they will definitely get them. But this is not good scholarship, and if you watch the show, please try to do so with a logical mind, and don't let yourself get sucked in by the showmanship instead of what the facts actually show ... or don't show.

God bless.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Social Commentary from "While You Were Sleeping"

OK. So I'm sitting here watching "While You Were Sleeping" with my wife. Basically, we need to get upstairs and clean our bedroom to make room for the bassinet for our new arrival coming in May, and we're just procrastinating. Anyway, there's a scene with Lucy (Sandra Bullock's character) working in the toll booth for the elevated train in Chicago. Her co-worker first hears that she is engaged and asks her whether she is pregnant. Lucy replies that "you have to have sex to be pregnant." Her friend replies, "I thought you were engaged." At this point Lucy becomes quite uncomfortable. The joke is that it should be obvious to everyone watching the movie that if she was engaged, she should be having sex. Lucy hesitantly says, "Well...we're waiting," to which her friend responds, in a somewhat belittling and surprised tone, "Waiting?"

The whole point of this joke is that nobody should reasonably expect that two consenting and engaged adults would wait for marriage to have sex. This is such a preposterous proposition that it is supposed to be funny. Now don't get me wrong, on the whole I really do think this is a cute movie. But I think it is a commentary on the degeneration of the value of marriage that society as a whole now thinks of waiting for marriage as a joke.

Obviously it is factually descriptive. Most people nowadays don't wait. But what exactly does marriage mean to people today? What is special about marriage anymore? Sex is not reserved for a spouse anymore. By the time most people get married, they have already had at least one if not more sexual partners. So is it the commitment? More than 50% of marriages end in divorce. In fact, many people will advise their friends to just get out of a marriage when the going gets tough. People aren't willing to work at it anymore because they see divorce as an easier option instead of a last resort. If it gets tough, its easier just to give up.

All in all, marriage is just another stage in a relationship nowadays. Its just a thing to "do", like giving you girlfriend your class ring in High School. And it is viewed as just as easy to undo as well. The value that used to be inherent in marriage has deteriorated to virtually nothing.

Remember that marriage is supposed to by the most special relationship in your life next to your relationship with God. There should be things that you share with your marriage partner that you have never shared with anyone else, and you never will. And when you take those vows, its not just a promise to your partner, it is also a promise to God. That is not a promise you are supposed to break. With very few exceptions (I do grant that there are exceptions) you are not supposed to be able to walk away from a marriage. Is it morally right to lie? When faced with that general statement, most people would say "no." But when you divorce someone, you have essentially turned your marriage vows into a lie. But for some reason we think that lie is OK.

Just some food for thought for any of you that are thinking about these issues. If you are considering marriage, make sure you understand what you are promising when you say "I do." And if you are thinking about getting out of a marriage, see your pastor, priest, or counselor first. God bless.

Another example of an atheistic contradiction...

In an earlier post I mentioned that I was currently engaging in a discussion with Jason Hatherly on his blog "Nihloisms" ( Jason is an atheist and an ethical nihilist (i.e., he believes there is no such thing as objective moral truth). I encourage you to visit his site to read the full discussion, but I wanted to quote a brief excerpt from it here. As should come as no surprise to anyone who has read much of what I have written in the past, it is my position that any atheistic position inevitably leads to contradiction. I pointed out one contradiction in an earlier post on this blog. In my conversation with Jason, I came across another one. Below is an excerpt from one of my responses to him pointing out this contradiction.

Now I am sure Jason will be responding to the points I raised here, but he is out of town for the moment. Again, for the sake of fairness, I encourge you to visit his blog to see what he has to say when he does get the chance to respond. But because atheistic contradictions are somewhat of a recurring theme for me, I try to point them out for you when I see them. As a brief lead in, Jason had discussed something called the "Wason Card Test", which he claimed provided support for believing that all morality is derived through the process of natural selection. At the start of the following exerpt, I will briefly explain the Test, then explain the contradiction I believe Jason made:

"Before I get into my next point, I want to make sure we are on the same page about the Wason Card test. Basically, this test presents people with two alternatives, one in which they are supposedly asked to recognize cheating and another in which they are supposedly asked to recognize altruism. Allegedly, people have a much greater ability to recognize cheating than they do altruism. According to evolutionary psychologists, the reason for this is because the ability to recognize cheating is necessary for the survival of society. Therefore, it would be favored by natural selection and most of us today would therefore have an inherent ability to recognize cheating. However, altruism is not necessarily beneficial to society. In fact, people who engage in altruistic behavior would routinely incur personal costs without reaping any benefits, and would actually be weeded out by natural selection. Because cheating recognition is favored by natural selection but altruism is not, we all should have a greater ability to recognize cheating than altruism (because, after all, we are supposedly the result of natural selection). This is claimed to explain the Wason Card test results.

Preliminarily, I think you overstate the strength of this conclusion about the Wason Card test. It is far from universal in the scholarly community. In fact, many scholars believe the results are better explained by deontic reasoning. For example, research by Martin Evans and Young Chui Chang studied whether the altruism example presented by Cosmides in the formulation of this test was actually too muddled, such that people could not actually recognize it as altruism. They presented three alternatives: (1) Cosmides' cheating example, (2) Cosmides' altruism example, and (3) a clearer altruism example. Lo and behold, people were able to recognize alternatives (1) and (3) with equal frequency! Their findings were actually far more consistent with a deontic reasoning explanation that the evolutionary psychology explanation.

Now I am not necessarily endorsing this view. I am simply pointing out that I think you overstate the evolutionary psychologist's position and create the impression that it is more widely agreed upon than it actually is (I do grant that you point out that it is not a universally accepted position, but actually I believe that it would be more accurate to say that it is still a very hotly debated position).

Now turning to the matter at hand, in your affirmative section you argue that the Wason Card results provide additional support to an evolutionary model for morality. Obviously this is only true if the evolutionary psychologist's explanation for the Wason Card results is correct, which is far from certain (plus you would still be faced with all the general problems I illustrated above). But more importantly, your reliance upon the Wason Card test in your affirmative section is actually at odds with one of the positions you take in your defensive section.

You stated that, 'My own position is that moral rules originated in the enhanced survival value afforded by reciprocal altruism. This effect is compounded by the fitness benefits enjoyed by a group that contains some altruists.' But wait a minute. The entire reason the Wason Card test supposedly supported the evolutionary psychologist's view was because altruism was NOT favored by natural selection and cheating recognition was. So in your effort to overcome the problem created by the inability of evolutionary models to explain the origin of moral rules you claim altruism IS favored by natural selection. But in order for the Wason Card test to provide any support for your position altruism must NOT be favored by natural selection. These cannot both be true."

No, you're not losing your mind...

In case something doesn't seem "right" when you are looking at the Ten Minas site and this blog, no you are not "losing it." We have had a makeover. We've changed the look of both the site and the blog. I hope they are both a bit more "eye-catching" now. I felt that the old looks were kind of bland and actually might put people to sleep. If you are so inclined, please feel free to let me know what you think of the changes. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Nature of Hell

Hell is one of the more controversial subjects in Christianity. A lot of non-Christians use this as an attacking point (I've heard quite a few say that they could never believe in a God who would send people to an eternal torment like Hell, so we never even get into the evidence for God because they can't get past this starting point). Complicating this is the different descriptions of Hell contained in the Bible. Sometimes it is referred to as a place of eternal fire and torment. Other times it appears to be a place of destruction or separation from God. So what exactly is Hell?

Anyone who claims to have an obvious answer to this question probably doesn't have a good enough understanding of the scriptures. After all, this is a tough question, and we cannot be afraid to admit that it's tough. But for what its worth I'd like to put my two cents in and offer up my personal interpretation. By no means do I claim that this is 100% the "right" answer. But hopefully it will give you some food for thought, and I believe it is completely consistent with the scriptures.

When analyzing Hell you have to remember two things. First, the name "Hell" is actually our English translation of the word "Gehenna." Gehenna was a real place, not just some spiritual realm. Gehenna was the name of a burning trash dump. People who practiced paganism used to throw their children into the fire as a sacrifice to Molech, a pagan "god". So when Jesus said that people would be cast into "Gehenna", this would have conjured up a very specific image in the minds of His contemporary listeners. They would immediately have thought of themselves being thrown into this burning trash pit for all eternity. Now did Jesus literally mean that people who rejected God would be thrown into this earthly fire pit? No, of course not. It's a metaphor, designed to generate a particular image in people's minds. What image is that? Is it necessary to conclude that Jesus was telling people that Hell was a place of literal fire? I don't think so. My personal feeling (especially when we read these Biblical passages in conjunction with those discussing separation from God) is that Jesus was merely trying to convey that compared to the option of Heaven, Hell is a VERY undesirable experience.

The second important thing you need to remember is that many times the Bible ascribes things to God for which He is only INDIRECTLY responsible. In other words, it will say God did something, but what it really means is that God allowed that thing to happen. After all, God is in control of everything, so He could stop anything from happening. So when something happens, by necessity this means that God allowed it to happen.

In my opinion, this is precisely what is happening when the Bible says God casts people into Hell. He has the power to stop it, but He allows it to happen. Therefore the Bible attributes it to Him. Let me explain in more detail.

God is perfect. Heaven is essentially spending eternity with God. But because God is perfect, we can only spend eternity with Him if we too are perfect. Of course, we are far from perfect, which means that left to our own devices we cannot spend eternity with God. Hell is separation from God. Without divine intervention, Hell is the default destination for all souls after death. So it isn't that God makes an affirmative decision to send people to Hell. That is where we are headed anyway. However, God intervenes to allow us to thwart this default destiny and get into Heaven with Him. He gives us a way to be declared perfect in spite of our flaws. We can do this through faith in Christ, allowing our sins to be transferred to Christ so that He paid the price for them on the cross.

You also need to remember that Heaven is not only being in God's presence for eternity, but it also means submitting to God eternally. For believers, this prospect gives us joy. But someone who spends his or her life rejecting God, and certainly not submitting to Him, would have no interest at all in submitting to Him for eternity. Given the choice between Heaven and Hell, non-believers would probably choose Hell. At least there they could continue to be their own masters instead of having to submit. So it's not necessarily true that Hell is a place of literal flaming torment. But the only way to compare the enormous gap between the experiences of Heaven and Hell is to compare Hell to Gehenna. The difference between our normal life and burning in Gehenna captures the image of the difference between the ecstasy of Heaven and existence in Hell. But in order to appreciate that ecstasy you have to love God. If you don't love God, Heaven actually may be even a worse fate for you than Hell.

So when people say that God punishes people eternally simply because they don't believe in Jesus, they really are missing the point. It's not that God punishes them for unbelief. They are headed for Hell anyway. God actually saves people by offering them a way out of their predicament. Hell is the default. Heaven is the result of God's action.

For what it's worth, that's my opinion. Take it or leave it. It may be completely wrong, and there are certainly better theologians than me who may tell me I've got it all wrong. But if this brief explanation gives you some food for thought, then it has accomplished its goal. God bless.