Never, ever, ever, ever, surrender

I did a short post the other day that I would not longer be doing political commentary. Don’t take that to mean that I have ANY intention of backing down from the fight for our nation, our culture, and the hearts and minds of our citizens and community. I will never surrender. I am just going to use different tactics outside federal politics. The keyword there is federal. And I shouldn’t say I will NEVER write about the federal government or political candidates again. If a viable third party arises I might or if Ted Cruz or a Conservative like him (Ben Sasse) makes a presidential run, I would.

But Presidential politics and its cabal with the media is just too broken for me to waste my energy on any further. Trump’s nomination will be proof of that. If this nation nominates him in the midst of all these crises we are facing, then the electorate is worse off and more easily manipulated than I thought.

On Refugees, Christian Duty, and Moral High Horses

I don’t have time to write my own thoughts about the Syrian Refugee crisis. Other duties demand my attention for the next couple of weeks. But my friend Richard Nelson, who I have previously co-authored with, does an excellent job of summarizing my stand here. The uncharitable behavior I have seen on Facebook in recent days aimed by Christians at other Christians is disappointing to say the least. Funny how those who advocate for compassion towards refugees, seem a bit short on that compassion for their fellow American Christian brethren who may hold a different opinion on the efficacy of the screening process and of the magnitude of the security risk. Also, since when is bringing the refugees to America the only option available to us? There is much more we can do to provide aid and relief to these people who we all agree have great needs other than that.

What I Witnessed on the Banks of the Jordan

digital rendering of a lighthouse

Last week my family and my church experienced tragedy that we could barely conceive when we lost our youth pastor Michael Cruce, his wife Monica, and their two teen sons Joshua and Caleb. The pain was nothing short of breathtaking. I made the trek down to the banks of the Jordan where the living can’t cross, and now, two weeks later, I am still moved by what I witnessed there.

I witnessed a little girl in foster care that the Cruce family had taken into their home over a year ago and who they had loved so dearly and sweetly, not traveling with them. The foster care service had to place her with another family during the Cruce’s vacation time. The center unknowingly placed her with close friends of Michael and Monica, friends the little girl had known and loved. She is with them still.

Having been asked to serve as media spokesman, I witnessed miracles when individuals in the media, most of whom cover tragedy daily, were so touched that they cried as we spoke. There was the eye contact with a deputy who led the funeral procession in which he projected great compassion and sympathy. Dozens of adults, who had once rebelled against what Michael and Monica taught, came to the funeral and spoke eloquently of the positive impact the couple had on their lives. And then there were emails and texts, thousands and thousands of them, from around the world.

People die every day in this sometimes cruel world, so why did these four humble people, who never sought celebrity or limelight, touch so many on such a deep level in both life and death?

One might guess that it was because they were “nice” and that they did good deeds or they genuinely cared about people. All of that is true, but it seems an inadequate explanation. Perhaps a connection was made because they were innocent victims. But tens of thousands of innocents die daily in wars and conquests, yet this loss of life doesn’t seem to connect strangers across space and time.

The loss of this family did.

This leads to another question. How could the pain of this horrible tragedy be constantly interrupted by the beauty of love that this family gave or received?

Suppose for a moment that what Michael, Monica, and the boys believed were true. Suppose that the primary ethic that they dedicated every waking hour to wasn’t just their opinion, or their way of making sense of it all, or their selection from a cornucopia of hundreds of supposedly equivalent belief systems? Instead what if what they believed was really, really, real? What if, rather than having simply chosen a path, the Cruces had instead reached a point where they grasped the ultimate reality of the universe as it exists?

What if there really was a benevolent creator God instead of an angry deity, ready to rain down punishment that some belief systems speak of? This God doesn’t cause car wrecks that kill, or diseases that ravage, instead, he created a paradise for humans, his creatures, to thrive in. But something went horribly wrong and a contagion called sin entered the heart of created man. What if, as Natalie Grant brilliantly wrote in her lyrics, the sacred had been torn away from us because of sin yet we had all survived. Only now the Creator who is holy and the Paradise which is perfect and does not contain sin, is separated from us by a vast chasm. Chesterton likened our time here on earth to Robinson Crusoe. We are forced to make do as best we can with the good things that were left behind from the ship, from the paradise.

But God doesn’t just leave us here to fend for ourselves. In addition to the good things in life, the provisions, God gave us a more important provision that can breach the chasm and connect us with him. If we accept this provision, his son Jesus Christ, we can relate to him from here in the foreign land where we are shipwrecked.

If all that were true, wouldn’t it explain an inherent connection between us, the creatures? If we are all created by this same God and we all became stranded in this foreign land in the same manner, then that would explain eighteen thousand social media messages from around the world. That would explain how, as I stood on the bank of the Jordan, along with others who were seemingly strangers, we felt a deep connection. All of us were connected because we were stranded there, unable to cross, shipwrecked as it were. Therefore the compassion from a deputy, the kinship with a reporter as tears streamed down our faces, the massive relief that a little foster girl would be loved, are much more than mere empathy. Instead they are deep connections that we the created, share. This passing reminded us of our mortality but more than that it reminded us of a common past and a potential future. At the same time the beauty of these connections, and the balm they provided in the midst of great pain, were gifts that allowed us to have a peek back across that river, toward home and the love that we can know there.

C.S. Lewis wrote of these moments. I conclude with his words:

 

In speaking of this desire for our own faroff

country, which we find in ourselves

even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am

almost committing an indecency. I am

trying to rip open the inconsolable secret

in each one of you—the secret which hurts

so much that you take your revenge on it

by calling it names like Nostalgia …

The secret also which pierces with such sweetness that

when, in very intimate conversation, the

mention of it becomes imminent, we grow

awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves;

Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty

and behave as if that had settled the matter.

 

The moments of compassion in which we

thought the beauty was located will betray us if

we trust to them. The beauty was not in them it only

came through them. And what came through them was longing.

longing for the scent of a flower we have not yet found

for the echo of a tune we have not yet heard

longing for a country that we have not yet visited.

Little Chapel, Harrisburg

I had a wonderful experience at Little Chapel in Harrisburg Illinois this past Sunday night. I don’t know what it is about this community but they have always been so gracious to me and supportive. This was my 4th trip to speak there in the past few years and my first at Little Chapel. I have also met with the book club there which is always very enjoyable.

Don’t let the name fool you, Little Chapel is not little. It was a large modern church with an excellent praise band and a great facility. Pastor Ed Neoneon was a wonderful host and mentor. I have enjoyed getting to know him through some phone conversations and emails. He came up and prayed for me both before and after my talk. I find that so uplifiting when a pastor does that. I know all prayers are powerful but there is something special about being prayed for by a body of believers who are in agreement with the prayer. Special mention to my friend and former co-worker David Martin. David introduced his pastors to me and what I am trying to do and I am most grateful.

Regarding current events, I shared a quote with the congregation, here is part of that quote. The writer is speaking about the Christians living in ancient Rome and how Paul exhorted them:

Thus the apostle wrote to Chritians living in Rome, living in a culture every bit as decadent and depraved as our own, our television having become like their games, spectacles of eroticism and violence….

This latest killing by the movie producers son makes me think of that quote. How many of these monsters must we create before the culture at large sees the error of our current trajectory? How many have we already created that have not yet acted on their evil intentions.

Recognize something. This is not sickness, though the boy apparently had a condition. It is not a result of the gun or in this case the knife he used as a weapon. This is what evil looks like when it is given an open invitation to be a constant companion in a life.

The culture bombards these kids with filth and violence and this is the result. It’s not that Satan has a foothold in a young life, it is that he has established permanent residence with no let up. Like you, I ask, where are the parents? But this is so pervasive now…all you can do is arm the child with the sword, shield and helmet that Paul wrote about and pray with fervor that they hold fast to those when they are out of your sight.

And make no mistake. None of us are immune. Not now. Not in this culture. The escape for the Christian male television viewer used to be sports. But try watching a game now. Try and avoid the borderline pornography in a hamburger commercial for Pete’s sake!  As for violence, any detective show or crime scene show now has as much profanity and violence as the worst R movie of ten years ago. Beloved this DOES have an affect on you. It does on me.

In my writing, it is so tempting to fall into the trap. “make this scene a little steamy” the voice says, “You will sell more books that way.” Or “Make this scene a little more bloody, it seems too mild the way it is now.”

That’s because we have all become so desensitized.

I’ve been listening to Dr. Ben Carson lately on his book tour. He has done a lot of radio interviews. His Mom took control of her two boys when he was young and only allowed two television programs a week. The rest of the time they had to read books. I am thinking Mrs. Carson may have been on to something. I’ve set a summer goal of reading one non-fiction and one fiction book a month this summer. Hard to do while writing another book myself. But so far I have read three in the month of May.

I’ll close with a reminder from Pilgrim’s Progress. The words belong to Hope and he is describing when he first had to confront his sin. It applies to all of us and what we let into our eternal souls through the window of our eyes:

“I endeavored, when my mind first began to be shaken by the Word, to shut mine eyes against the light thereof.”

If You Want to Enjoy A Wonderful Easter

Please join us this Sunday for a very special Easter Worship Service this Sunday at Rosebower Baptist Church in Reidland. We have just celebrated the one year anniversary of our new Pastor Justin Mason and are so excited about the ways that we see God moving in our midst.

I anticipate a great service on this the most special of all holidays. The day Christ conquered death!! Please join us. Services are 9:45 Sunday School and 10:45 Worship. I would love to have you visit the SS class I teach. Co-Ed’s for Christ. We are on the second floor. Anyone can point you in the right direction.

Review: God’s Not Dead

God Is Not Dead

God Is Not Dead

 

My wife and I just got back from watching the movie “God Is Not Dead”. I won’t spoil the story for you by telling you much about the plot itself. I will say I went in with some fears and some preconceived notions. I am happy to report that my fears were not realized and my preconceptions were wrong.

One of the things I work hard to avoid in all my writing is producing pabulum (that’s a bland cereal baby food for you younger generation folk). Let’s face it, the squeaky clean, everybody gets saved by the end of the story, stereotype has plagued Christian entertainment more often than not. I was afraid God Is Not Dead would fall into that trap. Likewise, sometimes the quality of production of Christian movies is much lower than the average Hollywood fare.

This movie avoided the stereotypes and I thought the acting was a cut above many Christian movies I have seen. (Don’t get me wrong, I liked all those movies too for what they were.)

This was one of the better Christian movies I’ve seen and the producers made the absolute most of their 120 minutes. I speak most often on Christian apologetics myself. And I applaud the screen writers for touching at least a bit on each of the primary arguments in favor of a creator God and against atheism. They even had the courage to strongly contrast the loving God of Christianity with the Allah of Islam. I am actually amazed that this movie even made it into theaters. But I am glad it did.

There were some things that we could pick apart that I didn’t care for in the screenplay but these were not theological in nature, more story teller issues and they were minor and not worth mentioning here.

I highly recommend this movie.

A Muslim, A Pope and A Politician (Formatting Corrected)

 

The article below ran last week in the Washington Post. The author of the column Mr. Reza Aslan (who is Muslim and yes that does matter in terms of his interpretations) is also the author of a best-selling book on Jesus. In contrast, I am not a best-selling author. I am merely a lowly kinda sorta okay selling author. Despite that I have been intending to write a critique of Mr. Aslan’s book. The only thing that has prevented me from doing so is that it would require me to read Mr. Aslan’s book, which I have zero interest in doing. That is because having read Mr. Aslan’s column below, and having now seen Mr. Aslan on multiple television interviews, I am certain that the conclusions he draws in his books are complete and utter poppycock.

Being an author myself, and one who is interested in marketing books and getting my name out there, I can’t blame Mr. Aslan for jumping on the recent controversy regarding the Pope. In case you missed it, the Pope recently made some comments (I went to the source and read the comments myself) that could only be interpreted as a bit socialist in nature. I am a Protestant, so the Pope’s comments don’t hold particular sway with me. But they do for millions of people around the world, so what he puts out there publicly is a big deal. My comments below do not speak to Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin. Instead my focus is on the overall arguments of Mr. Aslan which are consequently the same arguments that are being made by many liberal Christian theologians in our modern world.

I have included my remarks in italics. If you want to read Mr.Aslan’s column in full without my commentary, see the Washington Post website which is where I found his article.

If Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin don’t like the pope, they won’t care much for Jesus

Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are starting to sour on the new pope.

In response to Pope Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation, in which the pontiff denounced “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” these two paragons of the far right – both of whom regularly invoke the teachings of Jesus to bolster their own political views – have suddenly turned their backs on the man whose actual job description is to speak for Jesus. This is a gross overstatement. I looked up both of their comments and it was clear that their issues were with what the Pope said so publicly, not on the man or his office.

Sarah Palin complained that Pope Francis sounded “kind of liberal”
in his statements decrying the growing global income equality between the rich and the poor (she has since apologized).

Rush Limbaugh went one step further. “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope,” he harrumphed into his giant microphone.

Limbaugh, in his trademarked conspiratorial style, speculated that the pope’s tirade against “widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion” must have been forced upon him by somebody else. “Somebody has either written this for [the pope] or gotten to him,” he said.

Limbaugh is right. Somebody did get to Pope Francis. It was Jesus.

Self-styled “defenders of Christianity,” like Palin and Limbaugh, peddle a profoundly unhistorical view of Jesus. Indeed, if you listened to those on the far right you would think that all Jesus ever spoke about was guns and gays. First of all, I don’t believe that either of these two have set themselves up as a “defender of Christianity” but they can fight their own battles. I do consider myself such a defender however, so I can state that Aslan’s statement here is silly.  I have never made such an argument and neither has any apologist I can think of. This line is included in the article strictly to be sensationalist and to appeal to the stereotypes of the average Washington Post reader.

But even many modern Christians who reject the far right’s perception of Jesus Okay timeout. I am so tired of hearing this phrase, “the far right”. There is no viable “far right” in this country and hasn’t been since the reconstruction period following the civil war. Methinks Mr. Aslan is being disingenuous and trying to hurl epithets. However, assuming he is sincere then like most extreme left individuals, he sees what would have been a centrist just thrity years ago, as a person of the so called extreme right.  tend to hold an inaccurate picture of the historical Jesus, viewing him as some kind of celestial spirit with no concern for the cares of this world – a curious assertion about a man who not only lived in one of the most politically charged periods in Israel’s history, but who claimed to be the promised messiah sent to liberate the Jews from foreign occupation. Where to begin here? There is so much in these few sentences that is so easily refuted.   First of all, no Christian that I have encountered in any denomination believes that Jesus is a celestial spirit. What Aslan is describing is deism. One could not be a Christian and be a deist it would be a logical impossibility. Second, at no point, did Christ ever claim to come to liberate the Jew’s from the Romans. In fact he was constantly correcting his followers when they had such notions. Christ came to liberate men from sin and to give them access to the Father and eternal life. He transcended politics then and he transcends politics now. This popular view of Jesus, which I challenge in my book, has dominated Christianity ever since the days of the Holy Roman Empire. No it hasn’t. I cannot imagine what Aslan is talking about. No such view of Jesus is prevalent in either Catholic or Protestant circles. I recently finished reading a volume on ancient church history. I don’t see this view in church history either.

It is not difficult to see why. After all, if you think of Jesus as an apolitical, pacifistic preacher of good works whose only interest was in the world to come, then you can domesticate Jesus’ radical teachings and more easily accommodate him to your own political or economic agenda. Now we see Mr. Aslan’s Muslim sensibilities coming out. For it is Islam that tends to politicize Jesus and in so doing attempts to diminish his deity. So Aslan is engaging in projection here (accusing his opposition in the debate of that which he himself engages in). Likewise, the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus that is preached in most evangelical churches, IS concerned with our eternal souls and the world to come as well as our current joy, peace and submission to him. It is precisely his eternal and omniscient nature, that DEFIES domestication!

You can be millionaire megachurch pastor Joel Olsteen, preaching a “prosperity Gospel” that claims Jesus wants to you drive a Bentley. You can be Republican congressman Steven Fincher, citing Jesus to denounce welfare and food stamps. You can be libertarian icon Rand Paul appealing to Jesus’ teachings to advocate ending foreign aid. Or you can be a marketing opportunist like Aslan who is jumping into the fray in order to sell your poorly researched book.

The truth is that Jesus’ teachings were so revolutionary that were he to preach today what he preached 2,000 years ago, many of the same preachers and politicians who claim to promote his values would be the first to call for him to be silenced. This may be true but it is clear that Aslan has a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus taught.

Jesus did not preach income equality between the rich and the poor. He preached the complete reversal of the social order, wherein the rich and the poor would switch places. Utter nonsense. Jesus’ concern regarding the rich was that the comfort purchased by their riches would blind them to their need for him as savior. That is why the poor would be rich. It was because the poor tend to be more likely willing to humble themselves before the cross. Riches can create in some an attitude of self-sufficiency that is detrimental to that needed humility.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be fed. Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall soon be laughing” (Luke 6:20–21).

These abiding words of the Beatitudes are often remembered as a promise of vindication for the poor and the dispossessed. But that is because few bother reading the verses that follow.

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you laughing now, for soon you will mourn” (Luke 6:24–25).

Jesus is not simply describing some utopian fantasy in which the meek inherit the earth, the sick are healed, the weak become strong, the hungry are fed, and the poor are made rich. He is advocating a chilling new reality in which the rich will be made poor, the strong will become weak, and the powerful will be displaced by the powerless.

“The first shall be last and the last shall be first” (Matthew 5:3–12).

While modern Christianity has tried to spiritualize this message of Jesus, transforming his revolutionary social teachings into abstract ethical principles, it is impossible to overlook the unflinching condemnation of the wealthy and powerful that permeate Jesus’ teachings. The reversal of the social order that Aslan is so obsessed with, is promised in the Kingdom to come, not necessarily on this earth. If that were the case, then why weren’t the followers he was speaking to at that moment on that Mount, made rich before they died? If the promise is what Aslan claims it is, then Jesus failed to keep his promise to those listeners. But Jesus never fails. He promised they would be rich in the life to come precisely because they had believed on him as Messiah. As for the so called condemnation of the rich, see my comments above. (And by the way, the first sentence of the paragraph above misuses the term “spiritualize”)

“How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23).

As one can imagine, such a radical vision of the world would have been both profoundly appealing for those at the bottom rungs of Jesus’ society, and incredibly threatening for those at the top. The fact is not much has changed in two thousand years, as Palin and Limbaugh have proven.

Yet if these “culture warriors” who so often claim to speak for Jesus actually understood what Jesus stood for, they would not be so eager to claim his ideas for their own. In fact, they’d probably call him a Marxist. This is very nearly open heresy. To say that Jesus would have advocated a political system that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions is beyond offensive. In Marxism the state must be supreme in the life of the individual. In Christ’s teachings, he must be supreme. The two  belief systems are completely contradictory.

Mr. Aslan has an agenda here. It is not to enlighten people of some heretofore unknown secrets about Jesus life. It is he who is attempting to turn the Holy Christ into a political toy to be used to further political aspirations. Aslan’s attempt is based on falsehoods and a perversion of the context of Holy Scripture. I denounce him.