Polls, Damned Polls, and Statistics

Statistics have always been used to obscure the truth. There’s the famous quote by British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, and popularized by Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Sadly, nothing has changed. In fact, it’s gotten worse.

The problem is that statistics isn’t a popular subject, and many people happily avoid taking any classes that cover the topic. (It was affectionately known as “Sadistics” when I was in college.) We’re easily led astray by official-sounding numbers, especially if the conclusion is one we already agree with. While we (thankfully) don’t need to worry about Chebychev’s Rules, Probability Distribution Functions, or Stem and Leaf Diagrams, we should know how statistics work, and how they can be used to fool us. There are numerous ways in which statistics can be misleading. I ran into one of them while reading the news this week.

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Is God Your Co-pilot?

God is my copilot

Remember these bumper stickers? I haven’t seen one in a while, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps we’ve come to realize that we need to let God be in charge, instead of relegating Him to co-pilot status. We know that God needs to be in the pilot’s seat. Yet, how often we forget!

It isn’t just us. The problem started way back in the Garden of Eden. Look at Genesis 3:1-7. Everything up to this point was good. Adam and Eve had meaningful, productive work, a lovely place to live, and all their needs were being met by God. Of course, it didn’t stay that way.

Satan slithered into view, and challenged Eve with, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Notice that he’s suggesting something that God did not say. In fact, it’s far from the truth. God had provided the fruit for food.

Eve is quick to correct him: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” However, she doesn’t get her facts quite right either. I’ve always wondered—God gave that commandment to Adam before Eve was around (Genesis 2:16-17), so she got her information secondhand. Who added that bit about touching?

In any case, Satan first calls God a liar, then appeals to Eve’s desire for autonomy: “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

How enticing! Once we are like God, we can go our own way, make our own decisions, plot our own course. We won’t need Him anymore. Satan plants the seeds of distrust—God is lying. He is withholding something desirable, something good. He doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

We all know what happened next—instead of trusting God’s love and wisdom, Eve depends on her own analysis. The fruit is safe to eat. It looks good. It’s tasty. As a result, Adam and Eve ate the fruit that God had commanded them not to eat, and we’ve been trying to rely on ourselves, usurping God’s authority, ever since.

Over the years I’ve asked a number of non-Christians why they don’t accept God’s offer of relationship. The answers have varied, but there’s a theme, one that a friend from my high school years expressed best—“I believe in God, but I don’t want Him telling me what to do. I can make my own decisions.” Nothing has changed since the garden.

Even those of us who claim to be believers struggle with this desire to be in charge. We want God to be in our life. We may agree with this alternate bumper sticker…

god is my copilot switch seats

… but when it gets down to the wire, we want God to bless our plans, while we stay in control.

This was brought home to us recently. Pete was asked to look over some plans for the expansion of a well-known ministry. There were plenty of spreadsheets, lots of technical details, and alternate plans for every contingency. It all looked pretty impressive, and their goals were laudable.

But as Pete read, he was surprised and disappointed by what was missing—any mention of dependence on the Holy Spirit. This was a ministry, but their documented processes were no different from those of any secular corporation. Where was their reliance on God?

When asked about the lack of spiritual input, they explained that leaving it all in God’s hands just seemed too fuzzy. Instead of relying on God’s direction, their board wanted everything nailed down, with predetermined procedures and measurable outcomes. In their desire for control, the Holy Spirit was excluded.

Praying for God to reveal His will, then waiting on His answer, feels so… unpredictable. We want to know where we’re going, how we’ll get there, when we’ll arrive, and how we’ll pay for it all. Jesus simply says, “Follow Me.” We want all the facts before we make a decision. God says, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1; italics mine.)

God is asking us to go far beyond trusting what we can see, to trusting Him. He’s inviting us to come onboard without asking about  possible turbulence, the duration of the flight, or planned stopovers (although we do know our final destination). Just hand him our baggage, fasten our seatbelts, and see where He will take us. He guarantees it will be the journey of a lifetime.

 

Adam’s Helper

star helper-001Have you ever read through the entire Bible? I’ve done this several times, and my new Bible—this one with ruled margins for note-taking!—was a good reason to do it again. One reason I commit to reading every page (even the genealogies) is that I can’t skip the parts I don’t like—the parts that make me cringe. Yes, I have some issues with parts of the Bible, but I don’t blame God. It could be that His ways are simply higher than mine, and I can’t possibly see His viewpoint. It could be that I just don’t understand the context. Or, it could be the translation.

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Invoking the Presence of the Holy Spirit

1 Sunset_LakePuebloSP-CO_LAH_0002

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found at the very end of Matthew. It gets me though the hard times, the good times, and all the times in between. It reminds me of my source of comfort, joy, and power. You’ll find Matthew 28:20b at the end of the Great Commission, where Jesus says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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Understanding the Times

What kind of times are we living in? Are you an optimist, believing that the world is getting better and better? Or and things going downhill? What are the problems we face? What are the solutions?

1989-9 Martha Meadows043One of the advantages of accumulating a lot of birthdays is that we gain perspective. We have a longer view, and can more easily see trends. Pete’s 80+-year-old grandmother (right) frequently observed, “The world is going to hell in a handbasket!” Being in our 20s, we thought it was just old age speaking. Now that I’m considerably older, I’m beginning to share her perspective.

Some things are obvious. On a positive note, science and technology have improved our lives to a great degree (and also caused a host of new problems). Due to the civil rights movement, past injustices are being corrected. In spite of the dire claims you hear, the environment is actually much cleaner than it was when I was coming of age in the ’70s. On a global scale, extreme poverty and child mortality are down, literacy rates are rising, and overall, if we look at the standard of living, a majority of people are living healthier and more comfortable lives.[i]

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My Take on Essential Oils

If it’s natural, it must be safe! Right? Not exactly. There’s a common misconception that chemical compounds made in a laboratory are always dangerous, while those assembled by Mother Nature are inherently safe. It would be nice if this were always the case, but it just isn’t so. It’s obvious, if we stop to consider that arsenic and cobra venom, seriously dangerous substances, are both quite natural.

Essential oils are also natural. But, being the skeptic that I am, after hearing from a number of people that essential oils will cure pretty much anything, I started asking two questions: are they effective—do they do what they claim to do—and, more importantly, are they safe? Continue reading

Serving Outside the Church

Last week was our church’s annual SERVE Gala. The staff went all out to let our church volunteers know they’re loved and appreciated, and each of our church’s five campuses singled out a Volunteer of the Year. It was fun, heartfelt, an excellent way to say thank you for all the time and effort members of our congregations invest in our church.

Pete and I were there because we, too, are church volunteers, helping out in a variety of ways. I believe that every churchgoer should serve their church body, according to their gifts and abilities. (Check out Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12.)

But there was something missing, something I rarely see mentioned when it comes time to talk about serving: while helping out at church is important, not all serving should happen in the church.

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