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Are 'customized babies' our future?

Credit: santypan via FotoliaUS doctors in Mexico recently helped Jordanian parents give birth to a baby boy. The fact that three nations were involved in this event is not what's making news today. It's the fact that three parents were.

The mother carries a genetic condition that usually causes the child to die within two to three years. The couple has already suffered four miscarriages as well as the death of two children. This time, doctors combined the DNA from the mother's egg with healthy mitochondria from a donor egg, creating a healthy new egg they fertilized with the father's sperm. The result is a baby with 0.1 percent of the donor's DNA but without the genetic defect that would have killed the child.

Technology is not only making possible designer eggs, but designer sperm as well. For instance, the London Sperm Bank has released a mobile app that lets women filter potential sperm donors based on ethnicity, occupation, personality type, eye color, etc. Women can also create an alert that will notify them when a donor with their preferred characteristics becomes available.

Doctors can already warn prospective parents if they are carriers of genes that cause Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, sickle cell disease, Tay-Sachs, and other disorders. We can imagine a day when potential mates are chosen for their genetic capacities and reproductive potential.

Millions of so-called "test tube" babies have been conceived through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Scientists can test embryos for a variety of diseases, then implant healthy embryos and freeze or discard the rest. Soon they may be able to test for capacities such as intelligence and body type.

The ethical implications of "customized babies" are staggering.

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Transgender man gives birth to child

Andrew Matthews via APA transgender man has given birth after conceiving a child with his transgender wife. Fernando Machado was born a female; his partner Diane Rodriguez was born a male. Neither has completed sex reassignment surgery. As a result, the transgender man was impregnated by his transgender wife and bore a child.

Gender identity issues are increasingly in the news these days. The Wall Street Journal reports that sex reassignment surgery is becoming more common as a growing number of hospitals offer the procedure and insurance companies provide coverage. And efforts are underway to encourage more children to question their gender identity.

For instance, Washington State public school curriculum will begin teaching kindergarteners to "understand there are many ways to express gender." By grade five, students will be taught to "identify trusted adults to ask questions about gender identity and sexual orientation." We are likely to see more such initiatives: The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network received a $1.425 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control in 2011 to promote the LGBT agenda in public schools at taxpayers' expense.

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Conformed or Transformed? 3 keys to God's best for your life

Credit: charcomphoto via Fotolia

A Washington State trooper stopped a driver recently for an HOV lane violation. Why is this news? The driver had a larger-than-life cutout of Donald Trump's head attached to the passenger seat of his car.

It's not unusual in election years to see politicians' heads in all sorts of strange places. I'm sure there will be a run on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump masks for Halloween. People have probably been impersonating politicians as long as there have been politicians.

When it comes to the most famous Person of all, however, imitation is more than an option—it is an imperative.

A familiar text

I preached my first sermon forty years ago. My text was Romans 12:1–2. While I hope I have changed in positive ways over these four decades, my love for this text has remained constant. It is one of the passages God has especially used in my life.

The text is familiar: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." We could spend hours with these remarkable words, but let's focus in this article on three critical keys to God's best for your life.

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Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez: a legacy of joy

Credit: Debby Wong, Alan Diaz via APSunday was a day of mourning for many. Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer and rising star pitcher Jose Fernandez both lost their lives before the afternoon came to a close, the former due to complications from heart problems and the latter in a tragic boating accident. And while the two could not be more different in many ways, the shared date at the end of their tombstones is not the only thing these two figures had in common.

Palmer, who passed away at the age of eighty-seven, was one of the most beloved golfers the game has ever known. His ability to relate to people from all walks of life and his genuine appreciation for those who supported him helped usher in the golden age of the sport. The US Golf Association described him as their "greatest ambassador" who "inspired generations to love golf by sharing his competitive spirit . . . The game is indeed better because of him, and in so many ways, will never be the same."

Baseball had similar hopes for Fernandez, who turned twenty-four in July. He was a Cuban immigrant who tried three times to defect to America before finally finding success on a fourth fateful journey, in which he also saved his mother from drowning. He spent two months in prison following one failed attempt, but said that his transition to life in America as a fifteen-year-old who spoke no English was far more difficult. As ESPN commentator and Miami Herald columnist Dan LeBatard describes, his was a story of success that gave generations of fans, and especially those of Cuban descent, hope and a reason to care about a team that had frequently betrayed their emotional investment.

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What would God say about last night's debate?

Credit: David Goldman via APThere's much debate this morning over the results of last night's presidential debate. Since undecided voters will likely decide the race, today's Wall Street Journal is focusing especially on their response. And CNN is fact-checking the debate and discussing its implications for the race.

My question is different: How does God view the debate and what it says about America? I think he would respond in at least two ways.

One: He is grieved by the divisiveness of our culture.

Today's New York Times actually understates the tone of the event: "Trump and Clinton Press Pointed Attacks in Debate." From the email scandal to the birther issue, the candidates spent a great deal of time attacking each other. In this sense, they represented the nation they hope to lead.

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Why are our politics so divisive?

Credit: David Goldman via APIs America more divided than ever?

Pew Research Center polling would say that we are. More than four in ten Democrats and Republicans say the other party's policies are so misguided that they pose a threat to the nation. Things are getting worse: today, 91 percent of Republicans have unfavorable attitudes toward Democrats; in 1994, only 74 percent held such attitudes. On the other side: 86 percent of Democrats have unfavorable attitudes toward Republicans today; in 1994, that number was only 59 percent.

Another Pew poll found that 88 percent of blacks say America needs to continue making changes for blacks to have equal rights with whites. Only 53 percent of whites agreed. Whether the issue is same-sex marriage, transgender bathrooms, euthanasia, or a host of other social topics, we seem to be a nation split in two.

Why has our culture become so divisive? One answer is the way we address the problem.

What's your worldview?

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The Magnificent Seven: a movie review

Credit: Evan Agostini via APThe Magnificent Seven is a remake of the 1960 film of the same title—which was itself an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 classic Seven Samurai—so originality was never a likely goal to be achieved. Still, the fast-paced action and all-star cast, featuring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and a number of other actors who all do an excellent job with their characters, make for a highly entertaining movie that's surprisingly family friendly as well. While the body count is high, there's little in the way of seeping wounds or unnecessarily bloody casualties. The swearing is minimal and everyone is fully clothed throughout with no sex beyond a few brief allusions to call girls in the saloon.

The plot centers on the small farming town of Rose Creek, whose inhabitants have the ill-fortune of residing in close proximity to a gold mine run by the relentlessly evil Bartholomew Bogue. Boque's attempts at taking the town through intimidation and violence work quite well until the recently widowed Emma Cullen hires Denzel's Sam Chisolm to rescue them. Chisolm, a bounty hunter by trade, then proceeds to put together an unlikely team of miscreants and good-hearted bad guys to help in the endeavor.

Each character has his own reasons for helping the town, some more noble than others, but the why matters little in the grand scheme of things as each plays his part and the group is improved as a result. As Christians, we could do well to remember that fact when trying to work with other believers to accomplish God's will.

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A surprising fact about tonight's debate

Credit: Mary Altaffer, Chuck Burton via APTonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is expected to be the most-watched political broadcast in American history. One reason is that the race is so close: a new poll puts Clinton ahead of Trump by two points, 46 percent to 44 percent. This is well within the margin of error. Among registered voters, each candidate has 41 percent support.

But another factor is the huge number of "undecideds" at this late stage of the campaign. Nearly 20 percent of voters say they are undecided or plan not to vote for the Democrat or the Republican. What they do on November 8 will likely determine the election.

Pollster Frank Luntz explains that these voters are undecided because they know a lot about both candidates but don't like either one. As a result, the surprising truth is that the Americans whose impressions of tonight's debate matters most are those who are least impressed by their options. Luntz likens them to children living through a bitter divorce: they are "watching with a mixture of fear and disdain as their parents argue, knowing they will soon be forced to choose with whom to live—a decision with no good outcome."

I think such a view of the election mirrors a larger anxiety in our culture today.

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What Japan's rent-a-priest service says about us

Credit: Drobot Dean via AP

We often bemoan the commercialization of religion around Christmas time, but that's nothing compared to Japan's new rent-a-priest service. Buddhists looking for a priest to officiate funerals or deliver other rites can now turn to Amazon.com, rather than their local temple, to find the help they need.

While it may seem strange to us, and troublesome to many religious figures in Japan, it makes sense. Why should religion be any different than other industries if all we really need is someone to perform a service we can't do ourselves? We call a plumber when a drain is clogged and a roofer when we have a leak. For many in Japan's increasingly secularized culture, lighting incense and chanting sutras for the deceased is no different.

And, as Jonathan Soble of the New York Times points out, "The priests and their backers say they are addressing real needs. They assert that obosan-bin [priest delivery] is helping to preserve Buddhist traditions by making them accessible to the millions in Japan who have become estranged from the religion." They may have left the temple, but they still want to keep their heritage. Is our culture much different?

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Broken engagement creates Disney princess

Credit: DPark PhotographyBrooke Lowry found herself single three weeks before her engagement pictures were scheduled to be taken. It was too late to cancel the photography session, and her dresses had already been chosen and tailored. So she decided on a solo shoot at Disneyland. Her pictures are amazing. Her attitude is even more remarkable.

She describes the day: "It honestly couldn't have been a more beautiful experience, and I was filled with the peace and comfort that only comes from above. I'm so glad I decided to go through with the photos, and more importantly, I'm so grateful for the smallest acts of daily kindness that make all the difference in a broken world."

I'm grateful for Brooke's gratitude, a gift of encouragement in the midst of challenging days. Perusing this morning's news: Protests continued last night in Charlotte as the mayor imposed a midnight curfew. Yahoo says hackers stole information from 500 million users. A strong earthquake struck southeast of Tokyo. Another migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean, killing at least forty-three people.

As difficult as the news is, tragedy can be used for good if it turns us to faith in God and service to others.

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