Thursday, December 15, 2011

Forgive to live longer

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” (Lewis B. Smedes)

Unforgiveness harms not the offender, but ourselves. It gives control of our lives to the person who has wronged us. Resentment builds a wall that hinders future progress and unforgiveness even negatively affects our physical health.

In a study published on 6/25/11, researchers at Harvard, Duke and Luther College reported analysis of multiple types of forgiveness as predictors of mortality and health mechanisms on longevity. A representative sample of 1,232 adults in the United States ages 66 and older were used to assess forgiveness and health. Statistically significant predictors of mortality risk were found to be unconditional forgiveness by God and conditional forgiveness for others. After controlling for other variables, only conditional forgiveness of others remained a significant predictor of mortality. Association between these conditions led to finding of a statistically significant indirect effect involving physical health. The results of these findings are that conditional forgiveness is associated with mortality risk across the board and this has a significant influence on one’s physical health. [1]

In this study, forgiveness was defined as a “freely made choice to give up revenge, resentment, or harsh judgments toward a person who caused a hurt, and to strive to respond with generosity, compassion, and kindness toward that person.” It is important to note that forgiveness is not seen as condoning, excusing, denying, minimizing, or forgetting the wrong. It can occur without reconciliation with the other party.

Researcher Loren Toussaint has been studying forgiveness for a number of years and, combining his own research with that of others, is convinced that mental and physical health are negatively affected by unforgiveness. When mentally rehearsing a past injustice committed against us, stress hormones are released, raising the heart rate and leading toward possible development of a variety of disorders from major depression to cardiovascular disease. Toussaint has determined that one’s conclusions regarding the perceived wrongs can become chronic stressors. [2]

Other studies have found similar conclusions. Researchers in New York studied data collected from a national survey of 1,629 participants that supported a hypothesized model connecting religiosity, forgiveness and health. Religiosity was found to be related to greater forgiveness, which, in turn, was associated with reduced hostility. Better subjective health was the result of reduced hostility. [3] Australian Psychology Professors Alfred Allan and Dianne McKillop have noted there is extensive evidence that traumatic events can lead to a prolonged hyperarousal and state of negative affect that are deleterious to health. Those who continue to feel aggrieved and refuse to forgive those they blame for the harm suffer the harmful health effects. However, the authors state there is evidence to show forgiveness, with expressions of responsibility and regret can improve recovery and health of patients following an adverse event. [4]

Justifiable resentment is a “cancer on the soul. The bitterness is within you, not in the person who hurt you. Your anger may give you the illusion of power, but it actually robs you of power, drains off your potential, and poisons all your relationships” notes Steven Arterburn. By carrying unforgiveness we “risk remaining behind a wall that will hold you in a bitter and wasted life focused on the past, rather than enjoying the present and moving into a brighter future”. [5]

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

[1] Loren L. Toussaint, Amy D. Owen and Alyssa Cheadle, “Forgive to live: Forgiveness, Health and Longevity“, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, DOI: 10.1007/s10865-011-9362-4.
[2] Ryan Blitstein, “Forgive and Get Healty”,, posted 5 Oct 2009, accessed 11 Dec 2011,
[3] Laura J. Lutjen, Nava R. Silton and Kevin J. Flannelly, “Religion, Forgiveness, Hostility and Health: A Structural Equation Analysis”, Journal of Religion and Health, DOI: 10.1007/s10943-011-9511-7.
[4] Alfred Allan and Dianne McKillop, “The health implications of apologizing after an adverse event”, Int. Journal for Quality in Health Care, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp. 126-131.
[5] Steven Arterburn, Walking into Walls, (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2011), 54-55.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

pigeon droppings and red shift

The Bible starts with, “In the beginning, God created the heavens”. But, what if there was no beginning? Today, we take the “big bang” theory of the universe for granted, but less than a century ago, the steady state theory, indicative of a static universe, was dominant in astrophysics.

An expanding universe is a problem because it leads logically backward to a beginning, which seems uncomfortably close to a creation event. To avoid the possibility of invoking a creator, some physicists have proposed the notion that a steady state theory can still incorporate an expanding universe if new matter is produced, keeping the density of the universe constant. How new matter is produced on a continual basis is unknown and, like the multiverse theory, an attempt to remove the creator with no empirical backing. Evidence is clearly on the side of an ex-nihilo creation event.

To explain very briefly, around 1915, Einstein’s calculations predicted an expanding universe, something which he could not accept and consequently added a cosmological constant to compensate. This renormalized the calculations to show a static universe. When Edwin Hubble discovered the red shift in 1929, indicating the universe is expanding, Einstein retracted the constant, calling it “the greatest blunder of my life.” This was the first major piece of evidence contrary to the steady state model.

In 1964, another highly significant discovery was made which also indicated the universe is expanding following an explosive beginning around 13.7 billion years ago. Two workers at Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, were experimenting with a sensitive radio antenna and detected persistent, faint microwave radiation. Following a thorough check of the equipment and removal of pigeons that had nested in the antenna (including concomitant “white dielectric material”), the noise remained. Furthermore, the faint radiation seemed to emanate evenly from all parts of the sky. [1]

Penzias and Wilson had discovered the remnants of a massive, ancient explosion. These leftovers are photons initially formed as gamma rays which cooled and expanded through the billions of years to what is now microwave length radiation, maintaining a temperature of about 2.7 degrees above absolute zero. [2] For this discovery, a powerful confirmation of the big bang theory, the Bell Lab researchers received a Physics Nobel Prize in 1978.

What does this mean? This discovery provides another pile on the mountain of evidence for the Creator and for the trustworthiness of the Bible. By combining this discovery with fine tuning of numerous astronomical and geological variables, archaeological discoveries, historical evidence, and other evidence (presented on this website as well as others), we can be thankful the Christian faith is not a blind hope, but is belief based on an abundance of evidence. Moses wrote the book of Genesis 3,400 years ago. Modern science is starting to catch up.

[1] Discovery of the Cosmic Background Radiation, University of Illinois, posted 1995, accessed 24 Nov 2011,
[2] University of Oregon, “Cosmic Background Radiation”, accessed 24 Nov 2011,

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Meditation improves brain function

Claims have been made for years that meditation leads to many positive benefits, from increased creativity to stress reduction. The Bible mentions meditation as early as the time of Isaac, around 3,800 years ago (Genesis 24:63), and many more times in the book of Psalms. But, is there any hard evidence showing physiological results? As recently as this year, at least three studies have demonstrated measurable changes in the brains of people who meditated.

A study by UCLA researchers found that “long-term meditators have white-matter fibers that are either more numerous, more dense or more insulated throughout the brain," according to Eileen Luders, a visiting assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. Though human brains slowly atrophy with age, it may be possible to considerably reduce this natural process through meditation. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a form of MRI which measures the flow of water and tracks white matter (primarily myelinated axons) pathways, was used to examine structural connectivity in the brain. Researchers found, in the brains of meditators, enhancement of large-scale networks including the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes, as well as the anterior corpus callosum and limbic structures. The mechanism causing this effect in meditator’s brains is not clear and the authors cautioned there may have been prior differences in brain anatomy between those who meditate and those who do not. [1] However, the results are significant and intriguing.

Other studies have shown that regular meditation by people suffering from chronic pain can reduce the symptoms, but the mechanism was not previously clear. In a study published April 21, 2011, researchers at MIT and Harvard split subjects into two groups – those who meditated daily and those who did not. One group was trained to focus on a certain part of the body, labeled mindfulness meditation (MM). When they did so, an increased amplitude was noticed in the brain’s alpha waves compared with pre-test data and the control group. (Other types of brain waves which can be recorded via EEG include beta, theta and delta.) Alpha waves are thought to be associated with a state of relaxation as opposed to beta waves, which are more evident during an active state. Alpha waves appeared to suppress distracting and irrelevant sensory information, thereby enabling MM subjects to more effectively regulate the flow of information. And, those subjects who meditated reported less stress. The paper’s author, MIT neuroscientist Christopher Moore, stated “These activity patterns are thought to minimize distractions, to diminish the likelihood stimuli will grab your attention. Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing.” [2]

A team led by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers reported in the January 30, 2011 issue of Psychiatry Research: NeuroImaging that meditation produces measurable structural changes in the brain. Brain regions associated with stress and memory were found to be altered in subjects who participated in an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program. MR images were taken of subjects in the MBSR group as well as a control group of non-meditators before the test period and again afterward. After eight weeks, MR images revealed increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known for learning and memory, as well as structures associated with compassion, introspection and self-awareness. One brain structure showed a decrease in grey-matter density in subjects who reported decreased stress, the amygdala, a part of the limbic system which has been linked with emotions such as fear response and aggression. “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life” stated Britta Holzel, PhD, first author of the paper. [3]

These studies indicate the Designer’s instructions for life prove to be valuable, with brain scans showing physiological benefits. The Psalms mention meditation on God’s works, wonders, statutes and precepts (Psalm 119:15,23,27,48,78,148, and 143:5). God commanded Joshua to meditate on the book of the law day and night (Joshua 1:8) and David wrote that a man is blessed if he delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:1-2). But, who has time to meditate with the busy lives we lead? Perhaps 45 minutes a day (as some in the study performed) is too much to ask, but maybe a little every day is better than nothing. Even more important than the physical benefits, meditation leads to positive spiritual results that affect all aspects of our lives.

[1] University of California – Los Angeles (2011, July 14). Is meditation the push-up for the brain? Study shows practice may have potential to change brain’s physical structure. ScienceDaily, Retrieved Sept. 25, 2011, from
[2] Anne Trafton, “The benefits of meditation”, MIT News, 5 May 2011,
[3] Massachusetts General Hospital (2011, January 21). Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in eight weeks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved 25 Sept 2011 from

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Acts of random kindness and depression

“One act of random kindness at a time.” (Morgan Freeman to Steve Carell, Evan Almighty)

More than 16 million adults in the USA, approximately eight percent of the population, suffer from either major or chronic depression. The estimate is 100 million worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. For some, psychopharmacological treatment can be life-saving and the only way to get out of bed and make it through the day. For many others who are clinically depressed, as well as the millions who suffer from milder or more temporary symptoms, a drug-free, inexpensive, effective solution exists – practicing positive activities. This sounds overly-simplistic, but empirical data confirm the efficacy.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside and Duke University Medical Center, as reported in ScienceDaily on July 28, 2011, studied randomized, controlled interventions with thousands of normal men and women as well as functional MRI scans in people with depressive symptoms. They found that Positive Activity Interventions (PAI) therapy is effective and useful, with the following advantages:
• Benefits those who do not respond to antidepressant medications
• No side effects
• Less expensive to administer
• More rapid improvement of mood symptoms
• Little or no stigma

According to researchers, beneficial positive activities include: performing acts of kindness, practicing optimism, and counting one’s blessings. Two studies specifically tested intentional PAIs in mildly depressed patients and, in one of these, lasting improvements continued to be noticed six months later. The researchers noted that even brief positive activities, which are easy to perform and often inexpensive, can have these lasting effects. Furthermore, short-term PAIs often lead to additional, similar actions, thus compounding the benefits. For example, counting one’s blessings may encourage someone to write a thank you note. Helping someone in need may lead to increased positive social interaction with others, further reducing depression.

Brain imaging studies seem to confirm the studies’ results, leading researchers to theorize that PAIs may boost the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, which have been dampened, thus reversing apathy. This would be a key benefit not usually realized with medication alone. Kristin Layous, the paper’s lead author, remarked “The positive activities themselves aren't really new. After all, humans have been counting their blessings, dreaming optimistically, writing thank you notes, and doing acts of kindness for thousands of years. What's new is the scientific rigor that researchers have applied to measuring benefits and understanding why they work."

“A joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22)
“Be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32)
“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24)

[1] University of California - Riverside. "Restoring happiness in people with depression." ScienceDaily, 28 Jul. 2011. Web. 31 Jul. 2011.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Is the shooter a Christian?

On July 22nd, a vehicle bomb containing fertilizer similar to that used in Oklahoma City was detonated outside of the prime minister’s office in Oslo, Norway. Earlier in the day, a farm supply store advised police that Anders Behring Breivik had purchased six tons of fertilizer. Shortly after the vehicle explosion, Breivik stepped off a boat onto Utoya Island dressed in a police uniform and began shooting young campers. The death toll has risen to 93 in the two attacks. Breivik left a 1,516 page manifesto and multiple news reports were quick to label him a right-wing fundamentalist Christian. Based on some manifesto excerpts, the shooter’s primary antipathy appeared to be directed toward multi-culturalism, especially the influx of Muslims into Western Europe. So, does this sentiment derive from Christianity and does the Bible encourage the use of violence against non-Christians?

The Bible specifically states Christianity is not based on physical conflict or violence: “we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:4). The primary weapons of a Christian are the truth of God’s word (Ephesians 6:17) and prayer (James 5:16). As Jesus was arrested, Peter cut an ear off one the Roman soldiers. Jesus rebuked him, saying “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Jesus then healed the man’s ear. And later before Pilate, Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36)

None of Jesus’ disciples engaged in physical violence; in fact, exactly the opposite. All except Judas and John were violently murdered for their faith and preaching about Jesus. The Apostle Paul was stoned several times and eventually beheaded. None retaliated, nor did they encourage other believers to do so. Rather than advocating violence, Jesus said “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27) and the Bible advises Christians to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). If Breivik was a Christian, he was seriously deluded and completely missed the message of Jesus and the New Testament. His actions and beliefs are not representative of Christianity.

[1] Associated Press, “Excerpts from Norway gunman's manifesto”, 24 July 2011.
[2] Pittsburgh Tribune Review newspaper, “Norway gunfire, blast toll reaches 92”, 24 July 2011.
[3] William Boston, Time World, “Killer's Manifesto: The Politics behind the Norway Slaughter”, 24 July 2011.
[4] Marcus Walker and Katarina Gustafsson, “Attacks Cast Light On Far-Right Views”, Wall Street Journal – Europe, 24 July 2011.

Monday, July 4, 2011

When is your Independence Day?

July 4th, 1776, was Independence Day in the USA for about 2.5 million people, now significant for more than 311 million. More than $197 million in fireworks were imported to the USA in 2010, with $231 million produced here in 2007 [1]. Many other nations have similar celebrations; for example, Estonia declared independence from the Soviet Union on August 20, 1991, (after the first declaration on February 24, 1918 from the Russian Empire). Those are momentous nationally, but more important: What is your personal independence day?

On June 10, 1935, Bob took his last drink of alcohol. He met with Bill, a severe alcoholic, and explained the steps taken to break free from that debilitating addiction. June 10th is now celebrated as the Founding Day for Alcoholics Anonymous. From those inauspicious beginnings came the well known 12 steps and a program that has been used, not only at AA meetings, but many other “anonymous” addiction recovery programs: narcotics, gambling, sex, overeating, and others. It would be impossible - because of the anonymity - to number the millions of people who have found freedom from destructive addictions through this program. And, each one who successfully breaks free can look back to an individual Independence Day that is at least as significant personally as July 4, 1776 was nationally.

There’s another individual Independence Day, of even greater significance. As militia from the original 13 colonies threw off the yoke of Great Britain’s rule, each person faces the decision to break free from the bondage of sin. Jesus began His public ministry by stating He was sent by God to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18). The day Jesus died, He declared independence from the power of the enemy (John 19:30, Luke 10:19) and all who choose to accept Him are free from the power of sin (Romans 6:22, 1 Corinthians 15:56-57). Believers remember the day we became free and anyone else who wishes may do the same (Acts 13:39).

The 12 steps work primarily because they are based on Biblical principles. For example, Step 5 states we “admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Similarly, James 5:16 directs us to “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” Jesus gives freedom for those who accept Him: “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Estonians celebrate two independence days. Some of us need two as well. All of us need at least one (John 3:18).

[1] U. S. Census Bureau newsroom, “Facts for Features: The 4th of July 2011”, < >

Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering those who sacrificed for our freedom

As we fired up the grill this Memorial Day, we remember with gratitude those who fought and sacrificed for the freedom and prosperity we enjoy. The newspaper this morning, like too many other mornings, eulogized six soldiers who were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, Marine Lance Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter was presented with a purple heart for his heroic act of falling on a grenade to protect a fellow soldier. Carpenter lost an eye, most of his teeth and use of his right arm from a grenade blast Nov. 21 near Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Many other stories like this could be recounted.

Many have also given their lives for the sake of the message of freedom through belief in Jesus Christ, a freedom and prosperity that endures forever. Beginning with 10 of the 12 apostles who paid the ultimate price, to Nigerian Evangelist James Abdulkarim Yahaya, who was killed by men suspected to be Muslim fundamentalists. This Christian preacher was murdered in the Kado area of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, by four armed men who broke into his bedroom apartment as he slept and shot him. Yahaya was a former Muslim who converted to Christianity several years earlier. Then there's Missionary pilot Nate Saint and his companions who were killed in Equador in 1956 by Waodani tribesmen as they attempted to bring the message of Jesus. Though this tribe was isolated and cut off from civilization, due to the efforts of Christian missionaries, many came to belief in the Savior. Other stories like this could be recounted.

Similarly to the national Memorial Day celebration, Christians remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In our busy lives, do we take a moment occasionally to ask, “Am I living my life in a way that honors His death?” The Apostle Paul, who gave his life for the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, admonished us to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12) and “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). The best way to honor those who have given their lives is to give ours every day.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Team 6 and specialized weaponry

The success of the operation to kill or capture Geronimo, aka Osama bin Laden, began years earlier with the interrogation of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was captured by U.S. forces and provided false, but useful, information regarding bin Laden’s trusted courier. In 2004, Hassan Ghul was captured and provided the name of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. More pieces came into place in 2005, when Abu Faraj al-Libi was captured. Al-Libi had lived in Abbottabad in 2003 and, when questioned, made up a false name for the courier and denied knowing al-Kuwaiti. Putting all the information together, with Ghul’s being the linchpin, led agents to realize bin Laden’s courier was Sheikh Abu Ahmed, aka al-Kuwaiti. In 2009, they began tracking him and last summer he made a phone call to a target who was being monitored. [1] The rest of the story has been front page news since May 2nd.

Navy SEALs made the critical assault on bin Laden’s compound using the best weapons available and suited for the specific mission. Although some of the information is classified, as one might expect, against bin Laden, these likely included night-vision goggles and the M4A1 Carbine, standard issue weapon for SEAL operators, which is about 30 inches with the stock retracted, carries a 30 round magazine and can be set for semi or fully automatic. Flash bangs or stun grenades may be used to disorient residents of a target location. Suppressers, which are built into many modern-day weapons, enable easier communication (without loud gunshots) and possibly more stealth advantage. Short-barrel weapons -- such as a shortened M4 or AR-15 assault rifle - allow easier maneuverability in close quarters, around doors and hallways. [2]

Osama bin Laden may have been the most influential terrorist on the planet during this generation. The efforts to stop his destructive influences have been extraordinary. Consider the financial cost, intelligence gathering, and development of highly technical equipment and weapons. As destructive as al-Qa’ida has been, do we as Christians consider the enemy who can bring even more devastation in the lives of people? Jesus told us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). We take great precautions to protect ourselves physically from attacks with airport screening, home alarm systems, dogs, guns and so on. Do we show as much concern for our eternal souls and those of our loved ones? The true enemy of mankind is the spiritual force behind those who commit horrendous acts of evil and he has been masterminding terrorism for thousands of years.

The initial stage in the battle is identification of the enemy. As intelligence agents identified the courier and located bin Laden’s residence, those of us who are Christians identify the enemy, not as people who come against us, but the “forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). And one of the weapons we use is the “word of God” or the “sword of the Spirit” (v.17). Paul goes on to explain the manner in which we fight is to “pray at all times” (v.18).

Francis Schaeffer reminded that “We are locked in a battle. This is not a friendly, gentleman's discussion. It is a life and death conflict between the spiritual hosts of wickedness and those who claim the name of Christ.” [3] And, Matthew Henry informed, “Every true Christian is both a labourer and a soldier, working with one hand, and fighting with the other … never putting off our armour till our work and warfare are ended.” [4]

In ancient times, Roman soldiers used a sword that was not the biggest and heaviest, but most manageable and effective. As a lesson for Christians, “The believer needs a combat knowledge of the Word of God … The sword of the Spirit and prayer are the Christian’s offensive weapons. Once we have Satan on the run, we can keep him from a counterattack by using these weapons.” [5] Are we using our weapons in the ongoing battle against the master terrorist?

[1] Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, Associated Press, “Phone call by Kuwaiti courier led to bin Laden”, 3 May 2011, <>
[3] Francis Schaeffer, The Shelter
[4] Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Nehemiah 4:16-23.
[5] Hal Lindsey, Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972), 226-227.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Is it difficult to maintain one’s faith in God when things go badly in life? Trials certainly test a believer’s faith and it may be tempting to ask, “God, why did you let this happen after all those years of Christian service and church attendance?” Maybe we have tried to live as a Christian, giving up all of the vices, tithing, and doing good deeds, only to have hard times in life cause us to wonder if it was worth it. This “Christian thing” doesn’t seem to make a difference, life is still bad, so I may as well live like I please and forget about God. It appears He forgot about me. Has anyone ever had thoughts like these? Why do some people hold onto faith in God like a lifeline, while others toss it aside with disgust?

This is a complex issue and a simple answer would be trite; however, one component in the mindset of those who choose to retain their faith involves expectations. These form part of a person’s philosophical outlook on life. These perspectives that color our perception of events often take the form of imperatives such as “should” or “must”. For example, “everyone I meet should like me” or “circumstances must always turn out good.” Other beliefs can include “It’s unfair that life is difficult”, “I deserve to be happy”, and so on. Clinical Psychologist Albert Ellis developed rational-emotive therapy (RET), which is based on the theory that irrational beliefs are a cause of distress in life. This is not new: 1st century philosopher Epictetus allegedly stated, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view that they take of them.” The imperatives in our cognitive belief system (“should” and “must”) are generally followed by perceived outcomes or cognitive distortions, such as catastrophizing. For example, “If something bad happens in life, it is a catastrophe.” For this mindset, there is often no middle ground, situations are good or bad, black or white.

Aaron Beck, father of cognitive therapy, listed typical cognitive distortions, some of which include:
• Overgeneralization - making a broad statement based on one, or a few, instances
• Polarized thinking - separating life events into only positive or negative, either a success or total failure
• Selective abstraction - pulling one event out of context to arrive at an erroneous interpretation
• magnification or catastrophizing - as the name suggests, is like turning an ant hill into Mount Everest
• Heaven’s reward fallacy - the expectation that our sacrifice and self-denial will pay off, as if someone is keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.

So, how can irrational beliefs be countered? Books have been written on these topics, but we'll be brief here. The first step is to recognize and admit the problem by thinking about what we’re thinking about. We need to act as our own counselor and ask ourselves leading questions, such as “If X happens, will the world really end?” or “Because X happened, is my life over?” The irrational beliefs – and logical conclusions – must be disputed with reason. A second step involves changing our language, even if it is only in our head. For example, “should” and “must” can be replaced by more reasonable language, such as “If X happens, it will be difficult, but my life will not end and God will help me to recover.” As a caveat here, it is understood that some people go through very difficult circumstances in life and this is certainly not meant as a quick solution.

Concerning the issue of expectations, a man who lived long ago and suffered many difficulties said: “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” This was spoken in response to the man’s wife who instructed him to “Curse God and die”. This is exactly what the enemy of our soul tells us when things go bad: “Curse God, He’s not helping you. If He even exists, He let you down.” As Al Pacino said to Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate, God is “an absentee landlord”, not really helping people. But Job did not accept that irrational reasoning and, instead, “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:22). The matter of expectations is vital. If we expect life to always be good, it will be easy to lose faith when things go badly. But, even Jesus did not promise an easy life: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). James stated, “Consider it all joy … when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2) and Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice … you have been distressed by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). If we expect difficulties at times in life, our faith will not be destroyed when they come. And, we have the promises that God will take us through the trials and reward perseverance. King David expected trouble at times: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous”, but he also expected help from above – “but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” After Jesus warned his disciples to expect trouble in the world, He said, “take courage; I have overcome the world."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

True hero killed in Jerusalem bus bombing

Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your master’s happiness. (Matthew 25:23)

Mary Gardner, originally from Orkney, Scotland, spent 20 years working with Wycliffe Bible Translators in the West African nation of Togo where she completed a translation of the New Testament for the first time into the language of Ife, which is spoken in Togo and Benin. She then planned to also translate the Old Testament into Ife and had just spent six months studying Hebrew at the Homes for Bible Translators near Mevaseret Zion, close to Jerusalem [1]. On March 23, 2011, a bomb exploded at a bus stop in Jerusalem, injuring about 30 and killing one person, Mary Gardner. This was the first major bombing in Jerusalem in seven years. A bag had been left on the pavement near the central bus station [2]. The language of Ife (also known as Ana, Ana-Ifé, and Baate) is spoken by about 182,000 people in West Africa [3]. The people in Togo and Benin who pick up a New Testament, for the first time now in their native language, may forever be grateful for the work of Mary Gardner.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. (Matthew 5:12)

Wycliffe Bible Translators have made more than 700 translations available since they began in 1942, with several hundred more currently underway [4]. John Wycliffe was a reformation leader who completed a translation of the first English Bible from the Latin Vulgate in 1382. After he died in 1384, Wycliffe was declared a heretic and his bones were disinterred, burned and thrown into a river.

[1] Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Mary Jean Gardner”, 23 Mar 2011,
< >
[2] BBC News, “Jerusalem bus bomb: Mary Gardner’s family pays tribute”, 24 Mar 2011,
< >
[3] Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International.
[4] Wycliffe Bible Translators, < >

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Speaking the truth in love?

Well, he went ahead and did it. We reported in an earlier post (9/12/10) that Reverend Terry Jones, Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, had decided not to burn the Qur’an. He apparently had a change of mind and, on March 20th, Jones served as judge in a mock trial of Islam’s holy book, which was found guilty of “training and promoting terrorist activities … death, rape, torture of people worldwide”. [1] The latest news reports indicated that at least 20 have been killed and dozens more injured during protests in Kabul, Afghanistan. Following a sermon at the Mazar-e Sharif’s blue mosque, mobs formed, threw stones and breached the U. N. gates. Protesters chanted anti-American slogans, burned an effigy of President Obama, burned tires and blocked highways in other parts of Afghanistan.

Is Jones responsible for the deaths and rioting? There are two parts to the answer. First, those who committed the violent acts are responsible – not Jones. Humans have a pathological propensity to blame others for our own actions, claiming “I did this because he did that”. The truth is that each of us makes our own decisions to act and no one else is responsible. On the other hand, Jones knew his actions would lead to violence. In fact, he was warned last September by International Director of the World Evangelical Alliance, Geoff Tunnicliffe, whose organization represents millions of evangelical Christians worldwide. He told Jones at that time, “"If you continue with your action and violence occurs, pastors are killed, churches are burnt down, would you actually come with me and sit with widows and explain to them why you had to take the action you did?" [2]

Many prominent Christians have denounced Rev. Jones’ actions and we concur. Whereas a strong case can be made that Islam and the Qur’an have led to much violence from the 7th century and until present times, provocative acts like those of Jones are counterproductive. The Apostle Paul instructed believers in Corinth to proclaim the message of salvation, “giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited” (2 Corinthians 6:3). He instructed Titus to “be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds … dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:6-8). As followers of Christ today, we should consider our actions by the standard: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

[1] Pittsburgh Tribune Review, “Quran protest enrages Afghans”, 1 Apr 2011.
[2] Jerome Socolovsky, Voice of America, “Religious Leaders Appeal for Calm After Quran Burning”, 5 Apr 2011,

Sunday, April 3, 2011

good mood = good health?

“Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down” (Proverbs 12:25)
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)
“Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

Happiness is related to health and longevity, according to Ed Diener, University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology and senior scientist for the Gallup Organization, as reported in the journal Applied Psychology. Diener teamed with Micaela Chan, University of Texas at Dallas, to review studies of subjective well-being (SWB), which refers to an individual’s life satisfaction, absence of negative emotions, optimism, and positive emotions. They analyzed experimental trials and long-term studies to evaluate the health status of people who were stressed by natural events. The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of eight different types of studies and reached the conclusion from each type that a person’s SWB contributes both to longevity and better health among healthy populations.

People experience sad moods or joyful emotions because they attach an evaluation to events in their lives as to whether theyse are going well or badly. The researchers found that SWB is a broad category that includes a diversity of phenomena ranging from general optimism to low anger to work satisfaction. Positive moods, joy, happiness, life satisfaction, hopefulness, optimism, and sense of humor predicted longevity and were associated with reduced risk of mortality in healthy populations. Diener and Chan controlled the analyses for socioeconomic status and health at baseline and they cautioned that causality could not be definitively established because initial unmeasured states of health could not be measured exactly. However, they did control for many of the plausible variables. Furthermore, the large populations, coupled with the longevity of some of the studies, lend credibility to the results.

The data appear to be statistically significant because quite a few studies have large sample sizes and subjects have been followed for several decades in some cases. A small sampling of the many studies are listed briefly here:
• One study followed nearly 5,000 individuals for more than 40 years. Those who were most pessimistic as young students age tended to die earlier than their peers.
• An even longer study, which followed 180 nuns from early adulthood to old age, found that those who wrote positive autobiographies in their 20s tended to outlive those who wrote more negative accounts.
• Optimism and positive affect were positively correlated with improved immune response.
• Higher levels of depression and anxiety predicted coronary heart disease in healthy subjects in 11 of 11 studies analyzed.
• Many studies found that stress, anxiety, and depression are associated with deleterious changes in the cardiovascular system.
• A review of physiological pathways indicated that negative emotions enhance production of proinflamatory cytokines, which may be associated with Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease.
• Low SWB was found to be related to telomere shortening, which resulted in physical ailments due to errors during cell replication, and were most often associated with major depression and old age.

Diener and Chan’s meta-analysis found: “In sum, moods and emotions are consistently found to be associated with biological measures such as blood pressure, cortisol (stress hormone), and inflammation, as well as indicators of disease such as artery wall thickening. The researchers found that "the overwhelming majority of studies support the conclusion that happiness is associated with health and longevity."

Does this mean we should all strive to become Pollyanna-like, smiling as the world crumbles around us and ignoring anything negative in life? Maybe the subjects in these studies were simply too naive to recognize all the evil in the world? That is hardly the case due to the very large sample populations and sheer number of studies analyzed. Recognizing the bad, but choosing to see the good in life, is biblical. For example, the Apostle Paul, writing from a harsh prison cell in Rome, stated, “even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (2:17) and “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4) Biblical advice seems to be corroborated – at least for physiological benefits - by empirical data.

[1] Ed Diener and Micaela Y. Chan, Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 2011, 3 (1), 1–43 doi:10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.
[2] Diana Yates, “Study: Happiness improves health and lengthens life”, University of Illinois News Bureau, 1 Mar 2011,

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


If you’re in the car frequently, but bored with the local radio programs, get tired of listening to music on the iPod when exercising, or would like to hear something intellectually and spiritually stimulating, you may want to check out Unbelievable? This Premier Christian Radio program, brings together Christians and non-Christians in a civilized debate format. Also, believers with different viewpoints discuss some of the most difficult issues of our time. Some of the most respected and well-known atheists, agnostics and Christian scholars respectfully debate a wide range of issues, providing listeners with some of the best arguments and rebuttals on all sides. A few of the many guests have been: Richard Dawkins, Bart Ehrman, Peter Hitchins, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, and many others. Weekly podcasts are available for shows dating back to 2007, so there are numerous topics from which to choose. I subscribe to the podcasts through iTunes, which are free of commercial advertisements. To check it out, search Unbelievable Premier Christian Radio or use this link:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Showing team pride

Steeler religious experience
The service at church this morning was a very religious experience, but not for the reasons we usually think of. The congregation, similar to many others in the area, was very prominently adorned in black and gold. The Steelers in the Superbowl makes for a powerful spiritual experience – when they win. Churches in Green Bay may have been adorned this morning with plenty of green and yellow. While it’s great to show support and root for the home team, this brings up a question: How do others recognize that I’m on God’s team. My clothing? Jewelry? Church attendance? How should non-Christians notice my faith?

Tradition states that early Christians who, facing persecution, were able to identify fellow believers in Christ by use of the simple fish symbol. The ancient Greek word for fish was IXθYΣ (or IXOYE). This was allegedly used by followers of Christ as an acrostic meaning Iesous (Iota) Christos(Chi) Theou (Theta) Huios (Upsilon) Soter (Sigma) or Jesus Anointed God’s Son Savior. These symbols have been found in 1st century Roman catacombs. Other persecuted believers today may use similar symbols. However, in free societies today, there is no need to keep one’s faith secret.

Christian clothing
In some regions of past Muslim dominance, Christians (“People of the Book”) and Jews were instructed to wear different types of clothing to distinguish them. At one point, this included wearing of yellow clothing for Jews, while Christians were to wear black and dark blue. Although these colors of clothing included yellow and black, it is doubtful they would carry the Steelers trademark today. Some Muslim jurists at the time advised that Christians and Jews should be recognizable by different shoes, such as one shoe of one color and the second shoe of a different color. The dhimmis (infidels living within Islamic territory) were also advised to tie a bell on their feet at the public baths so as to be distinguishable from Muslims. [1]

Shining lights
Jesus told His followers, “Let your light shine before men” (Matthew 5:16). How is that done? Jesus continued, “in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven”. Good works are a primary method of shining our light. John wrote, “let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18) There’s nothing wrong with Christian symbols, shirts or bumper stickers, but our deeds should speak loudly of our faith. Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Christian team colors are shown by good works performed out of love for others.

[1] Andrew G. Bostom, Editor, The Legacy of Jihad, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005), 218-219. Excerpted from Risala-yi Sawa’iq al-Yahud, “The Laws of Jizya”, Muhammad Al-Majlisi (d. 1699).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

View from above

It’s hard to believe the Star of David remained in plain view in the Islamic Republic of Iran more than four decades, on top of the Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran. No one noticed until it was spotted recently in an aerial shot on Google Maps. Apparently, Israeli engineers placed the symbol on the roof when they built the facility in 1955. Once alerted to the Jewish symbol, Iranian officials made plans – not surprisingly - to have it removed.

Relations between Israel and Iran have been severely strained in recent times. Iran's nuclear production was set back about a year with the development of the Stuxnet worm, reportedly by the Mossad, Israeli intelligence. “According to the New York Times, the Stuxnet worm included one component designed to send Iran's centrifuges spinning out of control and another to record normal operations at the nuclear plant and then play them back so that everything would appear normal while the centrifuges were tearing themselves apart.” [1] Civilians on both sides would prefer cold wars to be fought with computer worms rather than bombs and guns.

On January 16, 2011, the New York Times reported a joint U.S.-Israeli effort in developing a model of the Iranian nuclear process at Dimona, in the Negev region, laying the groundwork for countering Iranian nuclear production. There’s a lot of history in the Negev. Abram and Lot traveled from Egypt to the Negev (Genesis 13:1) and Moses sent spies into the Negev (Numbers 13:17). After 3,400 years, spies are back in the Negev.

The Star of David is a humorous (to some) example of a very important spiritual principle – the need to have a heavenly perspective in life. We can miss things on the ground that Google Maps can spot from the air. It’s easy to go about our lives, being concerned with the cares of this life, as Jesus instructed:
“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with … the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap” and “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14 and 21:34).
Each of us needs to ask a question: Am I weighted down with the worries of life or am I living with a view from God’s perspective? There's probably a star above we haven't noticed.

[1] Ewen MacAskill, “Stuxnet cyberworm heads off US strike on Iran”,, 16 Jan 2011.