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 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28

The other day I did something I do less and less these days. That is, I turned on the “talking heads” on radio and TV to find out what nasty volley of words was being lobbed back and forth in the latest skirmish in the “culture wars”. Of course, not much had changed. Gay rights, Michelle Bachman’s latest verbal misstep, and various politicians and special interest groups claiming the moral high ground or insight into where we’ve “gone off course as a nation” dominated the conversation. Nothing new (or of interest to me)…

However, due in large part to some recent reading and studies I’ve been doing, the whole thing just struck me as fantastically odd. In my mind I can picture all of the pundits, politicians, and religious political activists, standing out in a field yelling back and forth at each other (none actually listening to one another) and in the distance on darkened skies is coming what demographers are describing as a “cyclone irresistibly sweeping south” (Van de Kaa, International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 5 2001: 3487) whose winds will drown out all the arguing, bickering, and political power grabs, ultimately showing them as ineffective in winning these culture wars. Demographers will tell you that this battle was over decades ago, and, while certainly won in the realm of ideology, the decisive strategy that came from these ideologies was one no-one considered until relatively recently, when it was too late. This proverbial ship is too big to turn around.

Around the end of the 19th century French scholars and demographers began to take note of the drastic downturn in birthrates in their country. American scholars began to notice and examine the same phenomenon near the end of the second world war. Later, in the 1980’s, demographers noticed yet another downward shift in birth rates. These began to be labelled as the first and second “demographic transitions”. These transitions were easily measured and quantified in every western nation. The results?

“Fertility has dropped below the replacement level -sometimes by a substantial margin- in virtually every population that has moved through the demographic transition. If future fertility remains at these low levels, population will decline in size and age rapidly” (Bongaarts, J., 2001, Fertility and reproductive preferences in post-transitional societies. Pp. 260.)

So what is the cause of these falling birthrates among modern western nations? Demographers the world over are mostly in agreement that as countries transition into “Postmodern” societies where there is “complete control of fertility” combined with individualism and the ultimate goal of “upward mobility”, then “couples appear to lack the motivation to have more than one or two children” (Van de Kaa, D. J. 2001, Second Demographic Transition in Industrialized Countries, pg. 2). Crudely and simply put, once a nation attains “modernity” (specifically, including the “postponement of marriage, preference toward cohabiting over marriage, increase in judicial separation and divorce,  legislation permitting sterilization and abortion”, Van de Kaa, 2001, Pg. 9 ), they are able to give full vent to their personal desires for comfort and self-fulfillment, to which having children is a major inconvenience and obstacle. Inevitably, these countries slip below the cultural sustainable birthrate of 2.1 children per family and begin to age rapidly and die off as a people. At that point, immigration becomes the vehicle by which modern nations remain populated, a phenomenon also well documented in “modern” western nations.

I recently read several books and published studies in which an increased alarm is being expressed among the “non religiously affiliated” (atheists, secular humanists, agnostics, etc.) with regard to these global demographic trends. The reason there is an increasing alarm among these groups is that if you observe falling birthrates among some groups you have to ask yourself the question, “if these people are not having children, then who IS having children”?! The logical conclusion is that whatever group has the highest and sustained birthrates, that group will eventually dominate the society. The answer? Religious “fundamentalists” of all stripes the world over.

While reliable statistics are somewhat hard to come by, the general picture is that in North America and Europe “non-religious” groups have recently achieved the largest numerical gain in absolute numbers (American Religious Identification Survey, New York University, 2008) , but globally, both by conversion and birth rates, it is Christianity (particularly of the evangelical/pentecostal brand), Islam, Hinduism, and fundamentalist sections of other religions who maintain sustainable birthrates and dominant conversion rates (American Religious Identification Survey 2008, Encyclopædia Britannica 2005, Pew Forum Religious Demographic Profiles 2005, “The List: The World’s Fastest-Growing Religions. Foreign Policy Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2007). Furthermore, we’re seeing that the opposite is true among atheists and other “non-religious groups”. According to reports from the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, 75% of Atheists in the U.S. are childless (Pew Forum U.S.Religious Landscape Survey, 2008). In countries, like Austria, where the religious affiliation of the parent is tracked this also holds true (In Austria the birth rate of atheists is around 0.85, way below the cultural sustainability level of 2.1.).  Add to this the fact that the #1 determinant of a child’s religious affiliation is the religious affiliation of the parents, and you have a pretty dim outlook for the future of the “non-religious” and their hopes of winning the “culture war”.

In his recent and significant book, “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth” (and to save you the trouble of reading the book, his conclusion is “yes, they will”), Professor of Politics at the University of London Eric Kauffman notes:

“In an analysis of European data from ten west European countries in the period 1981-2004 I found that next to age and marital status, a woman’s religiosity was the strongest predictor of her number of offspring. Many other studies have found a similar relationship, and a whole school of thought in demography — second demographic transition theory — suggests that fertility differences in developed countries are underpinned by value differences, with secular men and women unwilling to sacrifice career and lifestyle aspirations to have children and have them early.” …”According to the World Bank, the nations with the largest proportions of unbelievers had an average annual population growth rate of just 0.7% in the period 1975-97, while the populations of the most religious countries grew three times as fast” – Erik Kauffman, “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth”

Author Casper Melville paints the picture even more plainly:

“…the assumption that modernity leads inexorably to a lessening of religious belief and a day when we are all rational humanists, is wrong – there is something about our current form of liberal secularism that contains the seeds of its own destruction. Since the birth rate of individualistic secular people the world over is way below replacement level (2.1%), and the birth rate of religious fundamentalists is way above (between 5 and 7.5 depending on sect), then through the sheer force of demography religious fundamentalism is going to become a much bigger force in the world and gain considerable political muscle. Literalist religious conservatism is being reborn and we secular liberals are the midwives.”  – Casper Melville, “Battle of the Babies”

What we’re seeing in the world today is not really a completely new phenomenon. In fact, in many ways it is a recapitulation of the dominance Christianity eventually experienced in the first few centuries A.D. I am currently in the process of reading a fantastic book, “The Rise of Christianity”, in which noted sociologist Rodney Stark successfully (IMHO) challenges some of the popular assumptions among theologians about how Christianity gained such widespread acceptance in the Roman Empire. Previously quoted author Eric Kauffman also picked up on this:

“In his remarkable book The Rise of Christianity, the American sociologist of religion Rodney Stark explains how an obscure sect with just 40 converts in the year 30AD became the official religion of the Roman empire by 300. The standard answer to this question is that the emperor Constantine had a vision which led to his conversion and an embrace of Christianity. Stark demonstrates the flaws in this “great man” portrait of history. Christianity, he says, expanded at the dramatic rate of 40 per cent a decade for over two centuries, and this upsurge was only partly the result of its appeal to the wider population of Hellenistic pagans. Christian demography was just as important. Unlike the pagans, Christians cared for their sick during plagues rather than abandoning them, which sharply lowered mortality. In contrast to the “macho” ethos of pagans, Christians emphasised male fidelity and marriage, which attracted a higher percentage of female converts, who in turn raised more Christian children. Moreover, adds Stark, Christians had a higher fertility rate than pagans, yielding even greater demographic advantage” – Erik Kauffman, “Breeding For God”

So at the end of the day, the talking heads are free to yell at each other all day long. Words and the exchange of ideas are certainly not unimportant, but they are not what will “win the day”. Atheists, secular humanists, and liberal idealogues have “sealed their fate” by being really good at adhering to their doctrines of self-fulfillment.  Their downfall will not be in failing to “pass on a better world to the next generation”. Rather, their downfall we be in failing to produce a next generation at all!

Before we Christians get too smug about our demographic dominance we would do well to consider that in the U.S. the birthrates among Christians is not significantly better than that of the non-religious. Why? Because we too have bought into the prevailing cultural winds of comfort, self-fulfillment, and upward mobility. We have stopped filling our homes with children in order to make more room for our idols. We have only our Mexican immigrant population to thank for the fact that Christians barely cling to a culturally sustainable birthrate in the U.S. (not to mention the fact that in the U.S. Christians are well behind Muslims, Mormons, and others in birth and conversion rates!).

It’s not a coincidence that’s God’s first instruction to humanity was “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…”.


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Halloween 2010

It was the best of holidays, it was the worst of holidays…

It was the best of holidays – After years of sore and messy arms, the idea of applying power tools to pumpkin carving finally dawned on daddy! So much easier…

It was the best of holidays – I hate digging out pumpkin guts. I finally have a child old enough to do it for themselves!

It was the worst of holidays – Two of our three trick or treaters contracted the flu on Halloween. On Halloween! What are the chances? Jude only made it to seven houses before having to retreat back to his position as a pathetic ball on the couch where he had spent the entire day.

It was the best of holidays – We got a fifth straight year of use out of a $10 costume. Eliza was our third generation purple dragon. She had no idea what was going on, but she figured out quickly that if she walked to a door she got candy. She probably thinks this will be the norm from here forward every time she visits someones home.

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I’ve been fortunate enough in my life that I’ve been surrounded predominantly by people who are smarter, wiser, and more sanctified than I. I’ve had a great many friends and leaders who have either mentored me directly, or from a slight distance, through their teaching and examples. Some of this has been by my own design in choosing who to spend my time with, but I also would have to admit I’ve been incredibly blessed by no doing of my own.

Every once in a while you run into an issue where those you respect either seem to give conflicting advice, or where there is not clear agreement on how to approach an issue. The other day as I was painting my wife’s bathroom I was thinking about one of those issues.

Side note: If you’re ever painting a room and wondering if the color might be a little too audacious, I’ve discovered that two year old children are great barometers. If, when painting, a toddler makes their way in and the immediate reaction is wide eyes accompanied by “Oooooooh!”, you might want to think about toning down the paint palate a little…

As I was saying, I was thinking about one of those issues of disagreement. I had a teacher who had a significant impact on my life that always used to preach “right belief produces right action”. Basically, if you get your worldview and theology correct, it is guaranteed to produce Godliness in the individual.  Later in life I had another mentor that taught me differently. He always used to say “right information + wrong attitude = wrong conclusion”. He believed that even if your theology and worldview was correct, if your heart had not matured in love and the fruit of the Spirit you would likely not live a life of significant spiritual impact; you would likely be a legalistic person lacking proper motivations for the works to accompany your faith.

We see this played out in the encounter of Moses with Miriam and Aaron in Numbers 12. Miriam and Aaron challenge and speak against Moses because he had married a foreign woman, which was forbidden by God. They were correct in their assessment and understanding. However, because of the pride and disrespect for God’s chosen prophet (and friend), God’s anger is against Miriam and Aaron. Right information, wrong conclusion. It was an issue of the heart.

As I’ve gone on in life, it has been my experience that the teaching of my latter mentor has been more true. In fact, if you pushed me, I might go so far as to say “right action produces right belief”. Many would jump up and slap you for saying such a thing because that line of thinking often produces social justice movements or the like that are detached from the saving proclamation of the eternal gospel. However, it has been my experience that without the actions of prayer and communion with the Holy Spirit, we do not perceive truth rightly nor do those beliefs take root in hearts and begin to work themselves out in expressions of love.

I think this is what we have produced through the culture of spectator Christianity we have developed in the west. We have churches full of people who are fiercely loyal to dogmatic theological systems, leaders, and scriptural interpretations, but many are still angry, hypocritical, and bitter people bound to all manner of sin. It does not surprise me that Christians by the drove ingest the  self-righteous preaching of profiteers like Glenn Beck. The format of heavy on “truth”,  pitched with healthy doses of pride, arrogance, sarcasm, anger, and disrespect is perfect for those who are used to letting others tell them what is “the truth” and whose hearts are not formed through prayer so that they would even recognize or be bothered with the steady diet of spiritual toxicity emanating from their TVs and radios.

The result? Believers gain copious amounts of knowledge and truth, and then take” a stand” for that “truth” with picket signs, political power plays, and the occasional bullet in the head of an abortionist. Actions completely foreign to Jesus & the Apostles, and in contradiction to the scriptures.

This is why I am so thankful for The Prayer Sanctuary recently launched at Bethany Church. It is a physical statement that we as a church recognize there is no substitute for time spent in the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit to conform our hearts and spirits into the likeness of Jesus. There is no escaping what your dietitian says: “you are what you eat”. Or perhaps in more spiritual terms, “what you behold, you will become”. If the daily news, celebrity obsession, violent games, the American dream, and Glenn Beck are the diet of your spirit, then what limited truth you manage to perceive from the meager 30 minute weekly sermon you ingest will be worked out in your life through an unrenewed (if not degenerate) mind and heart. Much of your life will likely be marked with the axiom “right information + wrong attitude = wrong conclusion.”

God’s method for the renewal of our minds, strengthening of our faith, and the revelation of truth in our hearts is so simple it appears foolish to our modern, sophisticated minds. Sitting and meditating on scripture, communicating with the Holy Spirit, and letting our thoughts be filled with the glory of God is just too simple. Not to mention unfathomably time consuming in lives that are so cluttered and overwhelmed with “important” things to do, watch, or own. It’s so simple that very few do it, or do it long enough to reap the rewards.

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You go girl…

This is an absolutely incredible speech given by Gianna Jessen, late term abortion survivor, as she addresses members of the Australian Parliament a couple of years ago.  What jaw dropping boldness combined with a sweet gentile spirit this gal has.

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Classic Homeschooling

Flashing the "peace sign" outside of the tabernacle. What a humorous photographic memento of a strange and wonderful childhood that will make.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas may have it’s giant Jesus and Nashville, Tennesse boasts a 12′ bronze Billy Graham, but Hudson, Wisconsin has a scale model of the Old Testament tabernacle! Try suggesting that for a public school field trip at your next PTA meeting and see what type of lawsuit you end up with!

One of the perks of homeschooling is the ability to vacation whenever works for you, and to field trip wherever you please. Who could find a better bible class lesson than to visit the tabernacle itself!? Too hokey, and too fun! Fitting the homeschooling stereotype if we ever did…

If my memory is correct concerning the rituals and punishments surrounding God’s instructions on tabernacle etiquette, then my children would have been put to death about 40 times over in their “full contact” tour. My photo essay documents the various violations possibly requiring death sentences.

Desecration of the bronze laver

Since a number of friends asked for a report of what the place was like I thought I would just make this little post.

The tour, while somewhat hokey and a little surreal, was certainly educational. Struck me as something out of an installment of Garrison Keillor’s tales of Lake Wobegon. Maybe I should drop him an email…

The simple fact that the model is to the biblical scale makes an impression. For someone who is a visual learner, I found that walking through the exhibit really brought to life the imagery and daily tasks accomplished in the space. I can much easier envision what type of working quarters the dozens of priests would have had and what it might have been like to slaughter thousands of animals in such a space. Yeeesh.

Reading through the biblical accounts is livelier when you have actually walked around and touched replicas of the various elements; the bronze altar, the menorah, the dimensions of the gold covered Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant therein. Pretty interesting.

Desecration of the Altar of Incense

It also helps to have a great guide. Ours was a wealth of knowledge and factoids. A truly quirky Old Testament nerd. He was actually a retired seminarian trained in Hebrew. So it made for great commentary and insight. Seemed like he was pretty likely to have an answer for any question you could devise.

The tour starts with a video that, while educational, is a little bit slow and plodding to keep the attention of the little ones. Fortunately it’s done in the large meeting room of the ministry (Teens For Christ) so there’s lots of room to putz around.

One of the best aspects of the tour is that all proceeds from the tour’s suggested donation goes 100% to purchase malaria vaccines for AIDS orphans in Africa. Good stuff!

The Abomination of Desolation. Flashing gang symbols at the Ark of The Covenant

All in all it was a really fun outing and I think we all learned something! I know I picked up a couple of tidbits and really valued the insights from the

guide and visual lessons added to my own bible reading. I give it a “thumbs up”! The tabernacle will be gone in mid-October, so check it out while you can! More info at the Teens For Christ website.

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The Birthday Boy with his "birthday cereal"

We woke up to a power outage this morning, but our festive spirits were not dimmed! Jude still thoroughly enjoyed the birthday tradition at the Willcock household – the permission to choose a box of total garbage cereal to enjoy on your special day. At Wal-Mart Jude wisely selected one of the worst offenders, “Cookie Crisp”. His sisters also greatly appreciated this opportunity to indulge themselves.

My little guy is 5 years old! My, how the years fly…

He already has plans to save the universe from evil with the help of his trusty light-sabre. He’s got “the moves” to back up the talk too! You should definitely swing by for a demonstration of his inter-galactic crime fighting prowess. The show is worth the trip.

Little man – big ambitions.

It’s Tacos for dinner. At our place, you pretty much get to choose the entire menu on your birthday, no holds barred. I’m guessing there will be line-ups for the lavatory tonight…

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Below is a video of a conversation between Josh Harris, Mark Driscoll, and Francis Chan. Mark and Josh ask Francis some tough questions about his recent decisions to significantly downsize his lifestyle, give away most of his income, and resign as pastor of his church in order to spend  time working in the third world and eventually starting a new ministry working with the poor in L.A.

I appreciate Francis’ comments about his motivations for doing what he is doing, particularly the work that the Lord has done in his heart to birth a desire to live a radically generous and sacrificial life. Personally, I have recently been profoundly impacted in my own heart with a new sense of the fear of the Lord. The greed and pride that permeates our lives in the west has made me fearful of the judgment of God we’ve invited upon ourselves. It moves my heart to seek the Lord for mercy and a “sober-mindedness” in order to live righteously and generously in a culture that wars at every step against it.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1Cor 3:11-15

Francis reminds me in his comments that the love of God for humanity is the greatest of all motivators. Sometimes I find it hard to balance the two sides of the coin of God; he is both the bridegroom and the judge. On one side he loves me (and all of mankind) with unconditional and passionate love, and on the other, he commands us to live righteously and tells us that there will be a Day of reckoning in which even believers may “suffer loss” if we have lived foolishly and unwisely. At times I find myself driven by God’s kindness and mercy to me that I want to, in turn, give to others. Other times, I find myself in a holy reverence of our God, the “consuming fire” that makes me fearful of the gross sin and dark motivations of my heart that displease Him. Both are needed, but fear of the Lord separated from love leads to a joyless life. I appreciate the reminder from Francis.

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