Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The problem of scientific studies

Welcome back to my ongoing revival of posting.

Yesterday I shared with you the report of a new study on spanking. I ended that conversation with the question of a problem in logic. Here is the article again.

Study: Spanking Increases Aggression

The problem that I identified with the article was in the final paragraph.

Experts suggested that spanking might even be more dangerous to girls than boys because it trains them to be submissive. They said that can open women up to domestic abuse later in life.

The issue I saw is this:
- this article is about the study regarding an increase in aggressive behavior in children
- this article refers to children without any distinction between male or female becoming more aggressive due to spanking
- this article then claims that spanking is more dangerous to girls

Logic demands that the next statement should be: there is an overwhelming increase in dangerous aggressiveness among females. But is that where they go? Nope. Girls become submissive. On top of that, spanking opens women up to domestic abuse.

So is this a reporting problem or a study problem?

Here is something to consider. The Time article does not mention this "result". Neither does the Tulane University press release (where the study was conducted) about the study.

Now, in order to read the study you have to pay for it. And being the cheapskate that I am, that will not happen. But reading the abstract from Pediatrics shows nothing of the female specific increase in submissiveness. It also shows that the study focused on maternal spanking only.

So this comes back to bad reporting. And that is part of the problem of the relationship between scientific research and popular reporting. I say popular reporting because pure reporting is dry and uninteresting. If people read real reporting, they would read the study directly. Popular reporting tries to draw people into the issue they are reporting. And in general people lap it up. The general population does not bother to go and read the rest of the story.

If you read the news this is what you hear:

A new study supports scientifically that if you spank your child at all they will be aggressive, destructive children who are likely going to be bullies. And girls aren't children. They are a subspecies of creature that responds opposite of the findings.

Based on the abstract, here is what the study states:
Results: Frequent use of CP [corporal punishment, spanking] (ie, mother's use of spanking more than twice in the previous month) when the child was 3 years of age was associated with increased risk for higher levels of child aggression when the child was 5 years of age (adjusted odds ratio: 1.49 [95% confidence interval: 1.2–1.8]; P < .0001), even with controlling for the child's level of aggression at age 3 and the aforementioned potential confounding factors and key demographic features.

So what?

Before you react to something, find out the facts. If you read about a study that you don't agree with, go read it or get more information from different sources. Local news is not the only source. And the newspaper/television station/network of your choice will get the facts confused sometimes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Suicide, Death, and a Cross

A few weeks back I preached on the subject of “the unforgiveable sin”. Part of that sermon dealt with the question I received from a member of the congregation about suicide. I have heard in a number of places that suicide is an unforgiveable sin. After making a comment about suicide I stated that I would preach a series of sermons on the subject. I knew that the series would be soon but this became an immediate need in my opinion.

I received so many responses to the comments I made about suicide in a sermon that I had to respond quickly. I have never had as many deep conversations in response to a sermon as I had after mentioning suicide. I believe that this has something do to with the history of suicides or attempted suicides in our community. In the two years that I have been here, I have heard of or known of more suicides or attempts than anywhere else in my ministry. Part of that has to do with being a part of emergency response. And I am not saying that it is more than anywhere else. I have heard of more here than anywhere else I have served.

Maybe part of that is because suicide is a subject we don’t like to talk about. It is a painful subject. There is shame and guilt tied to it. Families who have lost love ones through suicide experience loss that seems even greater or longer than other tragic deaths. In this series I am going to deal with suicide head on. I’m not going to avoid this hard subject or even soften the issues. I am going to deal with it from a biblical worldview. My opinions are only going to be injected when I can’t find an answer. But there is Good News to speak even in a case when someone takes their own life.

But I have to deal head on with some bad news about suicide. Suicide is a sin. I can’t soften that any. Biblically it appears that it qualifies as a sin. Exodus 20:13 (the Ten Commandments) says that you will not kill. There is a lot of debate on whether that is “kill” or “murder”. The best way to understand it is to continue reading in Exodus and into the book of Deuteronomy. Moses explains that if someone dies without intent on the part of the person who hurt them, there is no guilt. If the person commits an act with intention of harming and killing, then there is guilt. Suicide is an act of violence (read that as physical harm) with full intention of harming oneself even to death. Intent, harm, and death means that suicide is a sin under the law.

In the New Testament, some argue that Paul talks about harming ourselves in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. IN some translations it says that anyone who “destroys” the temple of God (our bodies from verse 16) then God will destroy them. Our bodies are the temple where God’s Spirit meets our spirits. If we destroy the intersection where we meet God, then we are cutting ourselves off from that connection. It would be an act of sin. I don’t know all of the ins and outs of that argument. But I believe we can all agree that anything that is hurtful to yourself and others is opposite of God’s will. And sin is doing what is contrary to God’s will, nature, and love.

God’s will is life. God created life. God sustains life. God rewards faithfulness with everlasting life. God heals. So anything that destroys life is against God’s will.

God is a good God. God wants good for our lives. We cannot name all of the good that God does. But suicide is not good.

God is also a loving God. God loves you. No one is so bad that God doesn’t love them. And killing oneself is not an act of love. Jesus stated that the second most important thing we can do with our lives is to love the people around us as we love ourselves. If we don’t love ourselves, we are cut off from our neighbors. Suicide is not an act of loving oneself. Suicide is a sin because it goes against God’s will, nature, and love.

So where is the Good News I talked about? Hang on. We need to hear more about sin.

We act like suicide is some greater sin than others. The church has historically refused Christian rites or burial because they took their own life. We treat those who have died through their own hand as if they are an abomination to life and to God. There are some things that God calls an abomination. The Old Testament lists some of those. I am just going to quote some of the passages where something is called an abomination. This isn’t about judging those things. It is just stating what has been called an abomination.

Leviticus 18:22 – homosexual relations
Deuteronomy 7:25-26 – owning and possessing an idol
Deuteronomy 23:18 – hiring a prostitute
Deuteronomy 24:4 – sleeping with your ex-wife if she’s left her 2nd husband

Some groups make a big issue of those abominations. They claim that God is righteous in declaring those acts abominations. Those who practice such things are rightly judged and deserving of the worst that God can do. But what do we do about these passages.

Deuteronomy 25:13-16 – dealing unfairly in business
Proverbs 6:16-19 - prideful attitude, lying, killing an innocent, devising wickedness, quick decision to evil, uttering lies, spreading strife

Did you see that in Proverbs lying makes the list twice? God hates lying so much that it is a double abomination. But we don’t go around admitting that we are abominable creatures when we tell a little white lie. No, we justify it by saying that no one got hurt. We think that it was just a little one. But there is no room for little white lies in the Proverb.

In the New Testament, Paul loves to list things. Good things and bad things. In Gal 5:19-22 we read:
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Some of those acts we can write off and say, “I’ve never done anything like that.” But we can’t just excuse things like sensuality, doing something because it feels good. We have all broken fellowship with people because we didn’t like them. We participate in gossip. We get angry. Jealousy and envy rear their heads in our lives. And these acts exclude us from the kingdom of God

In Col 3:8-10 Paul writes that …anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,. In Ephesians 2:1-3 he calls these acts the characteristics of the “children of wrath”. Or better understood, anyone who does these things had God’s wrath directed at them.

The point that I want to make is that we cannot put individual sins on a sliding scale. The Bible reveals that sin is sin. There are no sins that are worse or less worse. All sins are despised by God. All sins are acts that put us in opposition to God’s will. And God is a just and righteous and holy God. God has no part in sin and God does not associate with sin.

Paul writes that everyone has sinned. We miss God’s standard. We have not measured up to what God wants. And because of the nature of God, sin leads to death. But God has made a choice to associate with us in a different way; through another person.

Here is the Good News. Jesus Christ died for all sins. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to God. It doesn’t say just the Christians or Jews. It doesn’t say just the good people. It doesn’t say perfect people. It says that God was reconciling the world through Christ. Jesus Christ died for every sin everyone could commit.

If Jesus Christ died only for the small sins, then he didn’t die for much. If Jesus Christ died for the good people, then he didn’t die for much. Jesus Christ had to die for all sins and all people so that every one of us might be saved. And he did it one time to cover all sins and every one’s sins. The cross was a onetime event. Hebrews 9:12 and 23 state that. There is no repeating of the death of Christ. That one event covered everything and everyone who lived, lives, or will live.

And God associates with us through Christ. God reconciles us through Christ. If we are in Christ, we know that forgiveness for those sins. We experience that reconciliation. If we are in Christ in life, we know that forgiveness in life but also in death. The means of that death do not matter. In other words, suicide, even though a person cannot ask for forgiveness for it, has that sin covered under the death of Christ. It is forgiveable. I don’t know how God works that out. But God forgives. The only thing that God cannot forgive is rejecting God’s love and power through the Holy Spirit. Everything else God is able and willing to forgive.

Let me say now that there are some statements in here that may lead to other discussions. The subject matter is that suicide is a sin covered under the cross of Christ. All other topics I will be glad to discuss, but there wasn't enough time or room to go into deep theological rabbit trails. But give me a little credit. If not, we can talk about it.

A whipping you'll never forget

This is making the rounds on the news services and blogs (this was from KOCO TV 5, OKC)

I had to remove the post due to copyright restrictions. But you can read it here.

If you want to start a hot debate on a subject, open up the spanking vs. non-spanking conversation. It will get heated in a hurry. So if you want to jump on this and start something up, here is food for thought.

I was spanked as a child and abused as a child. There was a very clear difference. Spanking resulted from wrongdoing on my part. Abuse resulted from loss of control on my father's part. I'm saying that without any judgment or condemnation. It is the past and I am well beyond that. But I make the point to say that there is a difference between the two.

The spankings that I remember (and there were few) carried with them a deterrence factor. A spanking was something to be avoided, thus whatever resulted in a spanking was to be avoided. Abuse comes out of nowhere. It is completely at the whim of the person who loses control. There is nothing to avoid in the case of abuse.

I suppose what is at issue here is the persons involved. When I am emotionally at the edge of control I know enough to back off. I have spanked my kids but it doesn't happen very often at all. And it does not happen when I am close to being out of control. Nicholas has gotten more spankings (by nature of being the first and by nature of being able to push my buttons) but he is also the least aggressive of the two boys. He is a pacifist to some degree (he doesn't even really like to wrestle or roughhouse; but he plays a mean game of Halo). I really don't see him being more aggressive any time soon.

I believe that spanking has a place in a parent's choices of punishment. It cannot be frequently employed. It cannot be done when a parent is emotionally out of control. It cannot be excessive. And if a parent has a problem with any of those, then find some other way.

What do you think?

But before I leave off let me offer up a bit of a gripe. Go back and read that quote. Did you see any problems logically with what was stated? More tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Religion vs Relationship???

Mind if I rant a little. Actually I left off writing so long ago there probably isn't anyone checking on anything new. So I can rant if I want to. Here it goes.

I'm listening to a radio preacher talk about the sin and the 10 commandments. And eventually he gets around to talking about Jesus Christ being our salvation. Then he throws out the phrase that Jesus died to offer a relationship, not a religion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the letter of that statement. But the spirit is all wrong.

The implication when I hear statements to that effect (and it has really been a rallying cry the last 10 years or so) is that religion is a less meaningful connection that we have to Christ. Relationship is the better connection that we have with the living Christ. And I suppose that works. But the implication is that the old covenant was a religion, not a relationship. That the code of conduct was the means and the end. The relationship was just doing what God said.

And that is where I take a huge amount of exception. I may have made that statement in the past (Christianity is about relationship and not religion) but that was before I understood what God has been about. Did Jesus do anything during his ministry, through his death and resurrection, or after his ascension that was contrary to what God had been doing? Did Christ do something completely out of the box that was revelation? No and no. Christ came to make what God had been doing for centuries a more present reality.

Go back to Genesis. Not the apple and the snake and the naked parts. Look what it says about God. God came to walk in the garden. Why did God come to the Garden? For religion. Management by walk around. NOT!!! Why else would God come into the garden but to find the man and the woman. To commune with them. To have a relationship.

Then fast forward to Abram. God tells this good son to leave his family and walk before God wherever God shows Abram to go. And what does God offer him in return? The satisfaction of a job well done? No, God says, "I will give you greatness, blessing, children, and land." Does this sound like a dry, "do as I say" kind of agreement? It sounds like God cares about what Abram/Abraham cares about, needs, wants. It sounds like a relationship.

What about those silly, immature Hebrew children? The ones that God sits down and says, "Do these 10 things or else?" Listen to what God says at the beginning of this little experiment in religion:

Exodus 6:5-8
5 "Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. 6 "Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ' I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7'Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God ; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8'I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.'" (New American Standard Updated)

This sounds a lot like someone who cares about what happens to the Hebrews. God knows their suffering. God desires to bring them out of that experience and make them aware that it was God who did this for them. It wasn't Moses. It wasn't Pharaoh out of the goodness of his heart. God did this for them. And all God wanted was for them to realize that they were God's people and God was their God. It wasn't about a religion or doing the right thing or even about the 10 commandments. It was about a relationship.

God did everything throughout the Old Testament to make it clear that God wanted a relationship with humanity. When Christ came in flesh, it was to show God's love for humanity. The Word made flesh was not a change in operational procedure. It was clarification of purpose.

And here is a question for you. What was the first thing that those disciples expected of new converts to this "relationship" with Jesus Christ? Religion.

What did Peter and James and John (the relational trio) fuss with Paul about? Things like circumcision, food that should or shouldn't be eaten, holy days, etc. The disciples who experienced the most real form of relationship with Jesus Christ turned that experience into religion. And how long did that take? Half the book of Acts.

So can we say that the religion vs relationship debate has been played? Can we get beyond trying to draw out a forced dichotomy between the two? Can we begin to admit that God has worked at getting us to realize that God has wanted a relationship from the very beginning and that Christians ARE religious people, too?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Oh my poor child.

Growing up, athletics was not my cup of tea. I'm just not athletically inclined. I stink at almost anything sportsy.

Except volleyball. My 2 inch vertical leap is amazing.

Part of me wonders why I wasn't given the athletic gene. But that part is relatively small. I really don't have a passion about athletics.

But Nick loves sports. Basketball is his favorite. And he got to play on a team this year. Right now he is running track. He gets excited about playing on the teams.

The deal is that he got my genetic (lack of) ability when it comes to athletics. Except swimming. He is a natural in the water. That is a sport in which he would excel.

But his lack of natural ability in other sports does not slow him down. (Pun intended) He gets out on the court and chases that ball with joy. He runs and jumps with a love for the activity. And even if he isn't the first place (today he coined the phrase "first to last" to define his position in his heat), I still love to see him enjoy what he is doing.

And that for me is what it should be about. Kids should have a joy about what they are doing. I still don't approve of organized athletic programs for children. I believe they should be allowed to play. Really play. Not forced into "programs". It should be a game and all about play at this age.

Sooooo, now I appear hypocritical. I'm going to these organized (hehehe, like you can organize a few hundred 5th-8th grade boys and girls in the open air across a football field) events. I even worked in the concession stand. And I make the bold statement that I am opposed to organized programs.

But understand this... I love my son. If he pursues every athletic program (which we won't allow, but if he decided to do it) I would support him. If he never makes a basket and comes in "first to last" every time I will still be beside him. And I will always be looking for one thing, "Are you having fun? Is it a game to play?" If he is still in it for that reason, then I'll be there with him.

Monday, April 05, 2010


Yes, I abandoned blogging for a while. A long while. I didn't even post sermons. Is that bad?

So something has to be extremely important to bring me back, yes? No.

Life is about the in's and out's of things we do. And I'm not embarrassed by leaving off of writing.

But you never know what will happen this week.

(And I'm trying to keep the blog from drying up and blowing away.)