What Technology, Science, And Medicine Can’t Solve

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The Reverend Billy Graham passed away this morning at the age of 99. I think the world has lost its greatest servant of God.

Even for the non-religious, Graham is a remarkable figure. He spoke to more people than any other human being who has ever lived, reaching over 42 million people in person, preaching the message of the Jewish Messiah in 105 nations. He reached many kinds of people in different walks of life.

Graham reached me in the strangest of places.

Several years ago he gave a fantastic TED talk to a group of Silicon Valley technologists:

As a technologist myself, I was first surprised to see a preacher giving a TED talk! TED talks are for the technological, the futurists, the skeptics, the thinkers – what could an old fashioned preacher possibly say to this audience?

I was cringing before the video began, figuring it would be cliché old-hat religious pitches.

But Graham’s short 15 minutes on stage was something else entirely.

He first put me at ease with his gentleness and honesty. He acknowledged and praised the wonders of technology and modern medicine – noting how he personally benefited from science and medicine. Of the even-greater potential for technology and medicine, Graham says, “I would like to live in that [great future] age, but I won’t, because I’m 80 years old, and my time here is brief.”

Graham spoke a truth that was hard for me to swallow. In his gentle way, Graham broke a delusion that, I think, holds sway over many lovers of technology, science, and medicine. A delusion that has often held sway over my own thinking.

That truth? He showed that technology won’t – indeed, can’t –  address the worst problem humanity has. Science, technology, and medicine – for all it’s wonders and good – cannot address the human heart and its propensity for evil.

We technologists don’t like to hear this. We self-delude ourselves into thinking technology will solve virtually every problem humanity has.

For example, Google co-founder Larry Page (#9 on the world’s wealthiest people) has funded a company intended to solve death and make humans live indefinitely.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates is eradicating the last holdouts of polio around the world, and is tackling malaria next.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has made virtually every product available to any person with a tap of a finger.

SpaceX’s Elon Musk is bringing humanity to Mars and beyond.

Tech startups aim to disrupt nearly every industry, making life better and easier and more convenient.

Modern medicine has solved numerous diseases through antibiotics, vaccines, and new novel treatments for everything from cancer to heart disease to AIDS.

Science has helped us understand germ theory, the need for sanitation, decreasing illness and containing plagues that would otherwise kill thousands.

Science has shown us how to produce bigger crops yields, reduce draughts and prevent famines through crop irrigation, pest control, automated farming, genetic editing, and more.

The most optimistic thinkers among us believe that science-based medicine will eventually cure nearly every human disease.

And they might be right.

But you know what cannot be cured? The human heart and its bent towards evil.

Graham argues,

“Have you ever thought about what a contradiction we are?

On one hand we can probe the deepest secrets of the universe, we dramatically push back the frontiers of technology…we’ve seen under the sea, three miles down, we’ve seen hundreds of billions of years out into the future [through cosmology].

But on the other hand, something is wrong… [at this moment] we are ready to go to war with Iraq. What’s wrong with this? Why is it there are wars in every generation, in every part of the world?… We can’t get along with other people, even in our own families? We find ourselves in the paralyzing grip of self-destructive habits we can’t break. Racism, injustice, violence sweep our world, leaving a tragic harvest of heartbreak and death. And even the most sophisticated among us seem powerless to break this cycle.”

Why is it that no matter how advanced we are – and what wonders of science and technology and medicine we’ve achieved! – why is it that we’re so evil? Even increasingly so.

Why is it that in the 20th century – in which we saw the invention of the car, human flight, the computer, the internet, the eradication of polio and smallpox and a host of other diseases – why is it that we also experienced the greatest evils the world has ever seen in Nazi Germany and the brutal Communist dictatorships responsible for the death of over 100 million people in a single century?

Where is the disruptive tech startup that fixes human evil?

Where is the vaccine that prevents human wickedness?

(Or, on a smaller scale but more recent headline, why is it that 70% of the worst domestic shootings in US history occurred in the last 20 years, most recently last week’s Florida school shooting which killed 17 kids?)

Why isn’t technology addressing that?

Where is the disruptive technology startup that fixes human evil?

Where is the vaccine that prevents human wickedness?

All silly questions of course: science, technology, and medicine do not and cannot address the worst problem humanity has: the propensity for evil. It doesn’t even attempt to.

“I would like to see Oracle [the technology company] or some other technological geniuses work on this problem: how do we change man so that he doesn’t lie and cheat. So that our newspapers aren’t filled with stories of fraud in business, labor, athletics, and wherever else.”

Graham notes the real origin of the problem, and says that it cannot be addressed by science, technology, medicine, or any other future innovation.

“The Bible says it’s within our heart, without our souls. Our problem is, we’re separated from our Creator, who we call God. And we need to have our souls restored: something only God can do. ‘Out of the heart comes evil thoughts.’ Murder. Sexual immorality. Theft. False testimony. Slander.”

But he doesn’t just quote the Bible to this secular rationalist audience. He cites the rationalist’ own chief prophet, the atheist Bertrand Russell,

“The British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who was not a religious man, said, ‘It’s in our hearts that the evil lies, and it’s from our hearts that it must be plucked out.’”

I wonder how many of today’s rationalists could even agree with Russell’s statement about evil. I suspect very few could without apologizing and redefining terms. In my experience, many rationalists to try to muddy the waters by claiming there is no real evil, no real good. (One prominent atheist author stated that without a Commander, the commandment is useless; without a Lawgiver there is no real law, and morality is subjective.)

Graham mentioned his meeting Albert Einstein, and how Einstein too saw the problem of real evil:

“Einstein made this statement: ‘It’s easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.’”

He shows that beneficial technology can be used for remarkable evil. Technology can be twisted to into something corrupting. Graham noted the early internet and viruses as examples – 20 years later, I’d say it’s worse than that: I am thinking of internet porn, the objectification of women enabled by it (and the corresponding bad fruit of rampant sexual misconduct we are experiencing today), blackmailing ransomware attacks, digital theft, online harassment that has caused people to commit suicide, and the nasty verbal abuse enabled by the anonymity of the web.

Technology is great, but can be used for great evil, Graham says.

The problem is not technology. The problem is the person using it. King David said he knew the depths of his own soul. He couldn’t free himself from his personal problems and evils that included even murder and adultery.

Graham says our heart and our soul is something not measured by science, not addressed by medicine, left untouched by technology.

“And it yearns for God, and something more than technology. And it’s that part of you that yearns for meaning in life, and it seeks for something beyond this life. It’s part of you that yearns for God.”

It was Graham’s yearning for God that led him, in the early 1950s, to desegregate the churches and assemblies where he was speaking. At one notable event, Graham himself walked down and cut the ropes segregating the white and black sections of the audience, and told the people that Christianity is neither white nor black, and that the Messiah is Lord over all.

Graham’s own death today, remarkably, revealed the hearts of people, some for good, some for evil.

While past US Presidents praised Graham, others showed utter contempt:

Why the hate? Evil hearts.

Some folks, particularly secular leftists, felt condemned by Billy Graham’s Bible-based preaching. While Graham boldly preached in the 1950s that “there is no Biblical basis for segregation”, it’s with that same boldness he consistently spoke against sexual immorality as defined by the same Bible: adultery, promiscuity, and homosexuality. For this, some on the left demonize him and celebrate his death today.

Celebrating the death of a righteous man is, well, wicked.

This is the same wickedness of the human heart that is left unaddressed by science, technology, and medicine.

What addresses human evil?

God gives a tangible way to solve evil. It’s not easy. It’s not glamorous.

Evil – the problem unaddressed by science, technology, and medicine – is addressed by God in this way: each person must acknowledge the evil he’s done.

That takes humility. Acknowledging your own faults before God and people. It’s good for the soul.

Then, that person asks for forgiveness – both of God and the persons wronged.

Then, that person makes restitution – both with God and the persons wronged.

Then, that person – now with a softened and humble attitude – changes his behavior. The person is transformed from a wicked person into someone who reflects God’s own character. An angry and abusive alcoholic becomes a gentle, soft-spoken and clear-minded light for humanity. A drug addict turns his life around. A man turns a corner in his life.

We’ve seen this happen a thousand times; it actually works. It’s King David’s repentance. It’s Paul life-turn-around. It’s the message of Jesus and the Hebrew Prophets. It’s a cure for the worst problem humanity has.

And Billy Graham preached that message his whole life. To paupers and Presidents. And to everyone that would listen.

"Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God."

-Billy Graham

The world has lost – for now! – one of its greatest servants of God. His hope in the resurrection – a hope that Jews and Christians share – will one day be realized in full for the great Reverend Billy Graham. May his memory be a blessing for you as it is for me, fine Kineti reader.

The Pro-Torah, Pro-Israel, Pro-Jewish Apostle Paul

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I'm blown away by Paul’s theological thunder in Romans 2. 

In it, Paul says:

  • God judges people by their actions; it's not enough to believe. (vs. 6)
  • Jewish people have divine priority, both in blessing and judgment (vs 9, 10)
  • People who practice the Torah will be justified by God. (vs. 13)
  • The Torah is the embodiment of truth (vs. 20)
  • Breaking the Torah shames God's reputation (vss. 23, 4)
  • Non-Jews who keep the Torah are better than Jews who break it.(vs. 27)
  • God's people Israel includes non-Jews who keep the Torah. (vss. 27, 28, 29)
  • Authentic Jews are Jews who do what the Torah says and walk in a path of integrity. (vss. 28, 29)

In the church, we so often get laser focused on Paul's warning against religious Torah hypocrisy (vss. 21-24), that we forget he's still pro-Torah.

In Paul’s usage here, “Torah” doesn’t especially mean things like kosher and tzitzit and what we often think of Torah. We know this because his argument is that gentiles who never heard of the Torah do by nature the things of the Torah. (And gentiles without Torah aren’t wearing tzitzit!)

So, what is he talking about when he says gentiles keeping Torah? He’s talking about the basic ethical morality – Torah basics – that are ingrained in every human being. Knowing that murder, rape, cruelty, theft, etc. are wicked, despite never having read the Torah.

These Torah basics are inscribed by God on the human conscience. Non-Jews who keep them are better than Jews who break them. (Hence, Jews like Harvey Weinstein are not destined for God’s Kingdom – they know Torah but actively break it without remorse or repentance. Meanwhile, non-Jews who love God and love their neighbor will see God.

Is this an anti-Jewish message? Hardly. Paul comes to the climax of his argument in verses 28 and 29, saying that the authentic Jewish person is one who keeps the commandments of God. Talks and walks Torah.

Prolific Jewish Bible scholar and author Mark Nanos – himself a Reform Jew – argues that passages like Paul’s letter to Rome demonstrate that Paul wasn’t outside of Judaism and Jewish thought, but rather, he was a Jew within Judaism promoting a new kind of Messiah-based Apostolic Judaism:

image“I remain focused on investigating the implications for Jewish-Christian relations of my reading of Paul as a Torah-observant Jew founding Jewish subgroup communities. These "assemblies [ekklesias]" were attracting some non-Jews, but nevertheless dedicated to practicing and promoting Judaism for non-Jews as well as Jews. In other words, I propose to that we should be investigating Paul's Judaism in the intra-communal context of other Jewish groups, including other groups of followers of Jesus, which together with Paul's groups represented a coalition we might describe as Apostolic Judaism.

Nanos may be on to something. Paul reads to me as a pro-Torah, pro-Jewish, pro-Israel apostle of Jesus. Maybe Nanos is right; maybe Paul has been misread in the Christian world for a great deal of time, maybe even going as far to say Paul was promoting a kind of Judaism for Jews and non-Jews.

Returning to Paul’s Jewish context changes the way we read him.

5 Things I Learned About God and Messianic Faith in 2017

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As 2017 wraps up, I’m reflecting on this past year and the things I’ve learned about God and Messianic faith. 5 major items come to mind:

  1. Hebrew Roots is in trouble
  2. Heaven as we imagine it isn’t what the Bible describes
  3. Good works really are good
  4. Family is ministry
  5. Living faithfully is hard

How I came to realize these things, and approaches to address them in our movement, found below.

1. Hebrew Roots is in trouble

“Judah, you are deceived, leading people astray, and you have a demon.”

-A person in my local congregation after I rejected his flat earth views

This year has seen more foolishness from the Hebrew Roots world than I have ever encountered in my 30 years in Messianic faith. In particular, the full embrace of conspiracy theories has made Hebrew Roots an object of ridicule and embarrassment.

Flat earth. Serpent seed. Aliens. Portals. End times date-setting.

imageMy mind paints a picture of wild-eyed UFO hunters and frazzled Crazy Uncles holding “The end is near!” signs.

But this year, it often characterized my own people of faith: Hebrew Roots Christianity.

This year, two people left my congregation over the geometric shape of the earth.

Yes, some of the holy people of God were so grieved that we didn’t subscribe to conspiracy theories that the earth is flat, they left our congregation. The last gentleman who left our congregation over flat earth told me that, because I didn’t believe the earth is flat, I was deceived, leading people astray, and that I had a demon.

Let that sink in.

Hebrew Roots people are dividing over the idea that NASA is conspiring to keep the truth about the shape of the planet hidden from humanity.

Messiah, the Righteous One, God’s humble servant to humanity commanded us to be the light of the world. But instead, we’re fighting (and leaving congregations!) over the friggin’ shape of the earth. What a horrible representation of God’s good name and reputation. God forgive us.

This ocean of foolishness has caused me a kind of crisis of faith. If folks folks in my corner of faith are so deceived, do I really belong here? Is there a place for critical thinking and skepticism in our movement? Is there a place for scholarship, science, modern medicine, and questioning? If not, do I really fit into Hebrew Roots?

It’s gotten so bad that several Hebrew Roots teachers who don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories have ceased using the Hebrew Roots label. One prominent example is a teacher from my own congregation, Ryan White from Rooted In Torah. Rico Cortes, Tim Hegg, J.K. McKee, and numerous others have also distanced themselves from “Hebrew Roots” and now more identify with the more established Messianic Jewish movement. I can’t blame them.

What we need are strong leaders who will not bow to conspiracy theories or other distractions from the power of the gospel of Messiah Yeshua. What we need is mercy and wisdom and  guidance from the King Himself. We need renewal. Hebrew Roots needs to refocus on the Hebraic root of our faith: the Israel-centric gospel of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua. His teachings to Israel. How He kept the Torah given to Israel.

In the short time the Lord has given me to influence folks, I will strive to focus on the gospel of Messiah and avoid the foolish distractions so plaguing our movement.

2. Heaven as we imagine isn’t what the Bible describes

Heaven is not your home. (You were created as a human to function on planet earth, not merely as a soul to live forever in an airy spiritual place.)

Heaven isn’t the final destination. (You’ll be resurrected here on earth and reign with God.)

Heaven isn’t eternal life. (If you’re heaven, that means your body is dead; that would be eternal death.)

Heaven isn’t the “Kingdom of Heaven.” (The Kingdom of Heaven is a circumlocution for “Kingdom of God”, in the same way “Oh my heavens!” is a circumlocution for “Oh my God!”)

Heaven isn’t the “Kingdom of God.” (The Kingdom of God refers to the Messianic Age here on earth when Messiah reigns from Jerusalem.)

The gospels are essentially silent on the airy place of disembodied souls joining God’s spiritual abode. (It speaks often about the Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God, but that refers to the Messianic nation of God on earth.)

Heaven isn’t a guarantee for anyone who said the sinner’s prayer.

So what is heaven?

It’s the abode of God.

Will you go there? Maybe. There’s no such guarantee in the New Testament.

And the disciples weren’t concerned about “going to heaven.”

They were concerned about entering the Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God. That involves resurrecting from the dead when God reigns from Jerusalem. It doesn’t involve dying and going to see floating cherubs plucking harps.

3. Good works really are good

How are we’re supposed to be a light to the world? By doing good works.

What good works? Feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, caring for people in need. Give to charity. Volunteer your time to do good.

That’s a tangible light to the world. Meaning, people who are outside of our faith will see this as good, right, even holy.

The Hebrew Roots sub-movement can produce good in the world and amplify Messiah’s name. It will require us to stop with foolish distractions and do what Messiah told us to do.

This is bad news for the do-nothing gospel that plagues much of Christianity, but good news for the re-emergence of God’s people.

4. Family is ministry

Some are called to be evangelists, some are street preachers, some pastors, some scholars and students.

But some people are called to create and care for a family.

Being a husband and father is a holy calling, as holy and necessary as the Apostle Paul types. It most closely emulates God our Father and Husband to His people.

I was once told by a man in our congregation that I wasn’t following Messiah since I wasn’t preaching on the streets with him or performing miraculous healings through the laying on of hands.

I’ve had other people express disappointment in me when I couldn’t attend their religious event or spend more time in study or prayer with them.

The reason I can’t do those things is I have a family.

My wife and 3 children need me. And they need me to be a present helper, leader, provider, dad and husband. More than you need me to be a prayer warrior, street preacher, or student.

5. Living faithfully is hard

Belief is easy. Works are harder. Living a faithful life of integrity in public and private is the hardest.

I’ve struggled with things in my life and this year it’s more apparent to me.

If you talk God, but fight with your wife, it’s hypocrisy. If you preach self-control, but lose your temper, it’s hypocrisy. Ditto for porn. Ditto for lying. Ditto for stealing in all its forms; like stealing money or time from your employer.

It’s hard to live a faithful life. And I think why so many secular people see us believers as hypocrites is because we actually are hypocrites. And the reason for that is because walking a path of integrity is hard.

We need again a renewal, an actual and authentic help from the Helper, the very spirit of God inside us. At least I do, friends.

These things I have learned this year in my walk with the Lord. What about you?