Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A Reformation Is Overdue

It all started while I was reading Tim Holland’s book Dominion. At one point he quotes one of Neitzsche’s observations about Christianity: “The measure of a man's compassion for the lowly and the suffering comes to be the measure of the loftiness of his soul." 

To be sure, Neitzsche didn’t mean this as a compliment. He hated Christianity. He thought the compassion Christianity drew out of people was despicable, enabling the weak to survive when evolution demanded they die. 

This compassion was one of the first hallmarks of the fledgling movement of Christ-followers in the 1st century. The Romans famously complained about how annoyed they were by the Christians taking care of everybody to the point of showing up the government. When early Christian apologists made a case for why hostile rulers should be lenient, they always highlighted the kindness and love Christians had for all people. It’s hardly surprising that the early church filled with women, orphans and slaves – the marginalized and oppressed of the 1st century.  Historian Rodney Stark noted how this sharing of lives has looked throughout church history:

“Christianity revitalized life in Greek and Roman cities by providing relationships able to cope with urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.”
(The Rise of Christianity)

Justin Martyr wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius and described the new Christian believers in this way:

"We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause."

Fast forward 2,000 years.

I posted this quote from Neitzsche on my Facebook page. A couple responses from some long -time friends highlighted a sobering reality for me: the reputation of the church is in trouble. Their comments align with what research is showing, so this is not an anomaly. 

You might think what they have to say is unfair, and you may be right. In fact, I hope your personal experience in evangelicalism makes what follows sounds bizarre. But it still needs to be heard and pondered. No matter what our experiences our with our family, friends and church, we are situated in a huge group in a large nation, and our reputations are intertwined. American Evangelicalism is certainly bigger than us, but surely not unconnected to us.

So I offer this not to say you have to agree, but to beg of you to take seriously how American evangelicalism in increasingly perceived by a watching world. If we want to be part of a church movement whose light shines brightly and compellingly as a blessing to the world, we've got some lamps that need trimming. 

The First Conversation 

Friend: “Oh, I think [Neitzsche] would totally be into American Christianity 2020.” 

Me: “We are overdue a Reformation.”

Friend: “You of all people had me convinced that the awful things people said about conservative Christians were exaggerations that applied to a vocal subset at best. The rallying of white evangelicals behind one of the most corrupt, pernicious, cynical, incompetent, and dishonest administrations in history, I mean... they were right all along, weren’t they?”

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Good Words In The Time Of 'The Troubles'

I got this text from my adopted sister this week. She grew up in very different circumstance than I did, and it has given her a perspective that I value. 

It's timely. 

It's important.

 It's truth.  

* * * * *

I wanted to share something with my friends and family that has been heavy on my heart. I want to ask us all to be praying against the violence that is being threatened in this land. I ask people to set aside differences. I am not able to vote, so I have no particular affiliation with any party. I just have a strong belief in the triune God. I'm calling to ask people to pray in that unity – the unity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

I grew up from ages 5 to 11 or so in Northern Ireland during what is known as “The Troubles.” I experienced at it as a Civil War, so I am very sensitive to what is going on right now.  While things are never exactly the same from one place to another or one time to another, there are some similarities that are just bothersome and concerning to me. 

I hear and see various Christian groups of various denominations in this nation seeming to focus on the need for our secular government to support our Christian ideals and faith, almost as if their faith depends on what the secular government says and does. I'd like to encourage us to think about the fact that our faith doesn't depend on what our secular government does or doesn't do; it depends on our relationship with God and each other. 

I have had the privilege (I guess is how I would put it) of being in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union (when it was still a thing) and other places where the secular government did not back up Christian beliefs. And yet I have to tell you with tears in my eyes that the faith I found in Christians in those places was beautiful. You had to worship often times in dark rooms quietly praising God with one another for fear that you would be killed if you were found out. That's persecution. And yet the faith of these people was beautiful, and it was growing despite the government, not because of their government.

When Pope John Paul II grew up in Poland during World War II, Poland was being pushed on one side by part of the Third Reich and on the other side by the Soviet Union. He was a young priest, but he didn't dress as you would think a priest would dress because it would've been deadly for him and his followers, but nonetheless their faith grew and grew. Eventually he became Pope John Paul II. That was not because he had a government that was so Christian and supported all Christian ideals; it was because he had a personal faith and a personal relationship with God. 

So many times I hear Christians talk about what Jesus would do. I'd like us to think about what he did do. He never encouraged his followers or disciples to overthrow Rome and take over the Caesar; instead, his focus was on the church or synagogue at the time and its leaders who we're not teaching their people the right thing. They seemed to be more out for themselves and their own power and glory. 

Jesus himself seem more concerned about those who had faith or said they had faith rather than the immoral government that they all lived under. Anyone who knows about Roman history knows that Rome was highly immoral and didn’t follow what we would now consider Christian ideals (at the time Jewish ideals). He focused on relationships with people and confronting church leaders who were misguiding their people. He met with sinners and ate with them, helping them to see they could be different. 

That's what Jesus did. He never stormed the government or complained about how immoral it was. That was to be expected in some ways - it was a secular government, not a church organization. I'd like us just to think about that for a minute. 

The real weapon we have as Christians is not guns or other things that could cause harm - even words that cause harm. It is our prayers, our ability to have communication with God and ask him to look on the church and other Christians and help them wake up and realize that their faith doesn't depend on the government being righteous, holy or not immoral. It depends on us how we relate to one another. Jesus calls us to love our enemies as well as our friends and our neighbors. It seems to me we have no ground to ever be violent, hateful or ugly to others, be they friend or foe. 

God says we can have all kinds of gifts of knowledge but if we don't have love, it’s as annoying and unhelpful and banging a gong or cymbal. And friends, I feel like I hear a lot of gongs going off. God says he is our ultimate judge, and he will judge us in the end for how we behave now. He kind of makes it clear.

But at this point, it's not the time to separate the bad from the good lest we lose the good along with bad. He lets us know that in the end we may be surprised, because we will claim that we said, “Lord. Lord,” and he will say, “I don't know you. I came to you when I was sick and in prison and other such things, and you turned me away.”

We don't need to let people walk all over us, but in our attempts to be right or holy we shouldn't walk all over others either. We are not responsible for how others believe; we are responsible to bear witness of God by how we act, by our language, by our actions, by our love, compassion, and mercy, and by holding people accountable for their own behaviors. 

So let's pray together for this to end because God's already made it clear for generations and generations that is what he wants. 


Saturday, January 2, 2021

2020 Conspiracies That We Can Finally Retire

A Christian cold case detective, J. Warner Wallace, posted an excellent podcast detailing how he evaluates conspiracies, something he does consistently in his line of work. I highly encourage you to listen to it. I will also point you toward a video (with notes) that I recorded this past year on Christians and conspiracies. 


In a world awash in lies, innuendo and rumor, people of truth are in short supply.  Let's work hard to build that number. If you see that a news source on which you relied promoted or defended these conspiracies, I encourage you to find a new source of news. 


#1. COVID-19 will go away when the election is over. 

It’s actually gotten far worse. I’ve been compiling info for a while. While I have no doubt politicians on both sides of the aisle were trying to turn this pandemic to their advantage, COVID-19 was never merely a political game. It’s always been very, very real, as experienced by the entire world.  


#2. COVID-19 lockdowns are an excuse to arrest pedophiles / trafficked children will be rescued on the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy / kept safe in COVID-19 field hospitals.  

While I appreciate the renewed concern over the horror that is human traffickingCOVID-19 was never a ploy to disrupt a pedophile cabal. It was a real pandemic that has swept the globe and has so far killed over 1.8 million people. The ships left with no rescued kids on them because that is not why they were sent. Same with the Samaritan's Purse field hospital set up in Central Park. It was not there to rescue children being held in underground tunnels. 
 
#3. Hillary will be arrested for running a cannibal pedophile ring.

 Q has been wrong about this since 2017, as well as so many other things. If Hillary deserves to be arrested, it's not because she is involved in a cannibal pedophile ring. The 100,000 sealed indictments for all the other pedophiles didn't exist either. 
 
#4. COVID-19 is being used to turn us into a cashless society. 

There were legitimate reasons cash flow was short (cash-oriented businesses were shut down), and we are pretty much back to normal. Cash has been a huge part of not just our day-to-day life but in economies around the globe, and we have every reason to believe it will continue to be. 

To give you an idea of to what degree cash remains vital, in 2019 “consumers used cash in 26 percent of transactions… Cash continues to be used extensively for small-value purchases, representing nearly half of all payments under $10 and 42 percent of payments less than $25.” 
 
#5. There will be microchips in the new vaccines.  

So, there are no microchips in the vaccinesIf there were, you would know it. You could see them with your naked eye. The needles being used to deliver vaccines aren't big enough for a chip to pass through. If they brought out and used a needle of sufficient size, you would know something had gone terribly wrong. According to Dr. Wilbur Chen, an infectious-disease scientist at the University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health, "Even the smallest version of RFID chips are rather large, such that none would ever fit into a vaccine needle." 


#6. Vaccines are the Mark Of The Beast.  Be at peace, fellow Christians. The writer of Revelation was giving a carefully worded commentary on the state-mandated worship of Nero required to enter into trade guildsA vaccine is not the means by which you sell your soul.  Writing at the Logos Academic blog,  Matthew L. Halsted, notes, 

"I know of no reputable biblical scholar or theologian who would endorse that the COVID-19 quarantine or a vaccine is related to the “mark of the beast”. For starters, in Revelation, the “mark of the beast” is by no means a medical procedure. Most likely, it’s not even a physical or visible mark at all. Contrary to some of the more fear-inducing theories that have in the past gained steam in some evangelical circles, the “mark” is not at all something that could be accidentally taken either... the mark of the beast is a mark of loyalty and devotion to the beast."  
 
#7. 5G is causing the coronavirus. It’s not.   It’s just…not.   Seriously.


#8. Bill Gates wants to kill people with vaccines. He doesn’t. Read this and click on the links it provides. You may have valid reasons not to like Bill Gates, but he is not trying to kill people with vaccines. 


* * * * *





 

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Sacrilege Of Syncretism: Why We Cannot Confuse The Kingdom With The Empire

I’m writing about something that I never dreamed would be an issue with which American Evangelicals would wrestle: should we or should we not promote or even join an insurrection if President Trump does not stay in office? Should we perhaps even join a movement for conservative states to secede from the United States, even if the cost is a violent uprising that could turn into a modern Civil War?

 Lest you think I am exaggerating about this being a viable option right now, allow me to point toward a few conservative politicians and prominent evangelical leaders whose voices represent millions[1] before I move on to some pastoral observations.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

A Brief History Of Christmas

The history of Christmas fascinates me: how it started, why we celebrate the way we do, what all the symbols mean, and what we can learn from church history about what Christians should celebrate and what we should be cautious about. So, for better or worse, here we go. 

Keep in mind that there is a LOT of competing information out there about the history of Christmas. I have worked to find the truth, but my presentation is only as good as my sources, which I hope were reliable. 

Monday, November 30, 2020

COVID-19: My Little Library Of Statistics And Analysis

For months now, I have been slowly building a document of COVID-19 resources when I run across things that catch my eye: a post on social media that I wanted to check;  an intriguing news story floating through my Flipboard feed; friends who work in the medical field post heart-breaking updates on their work in hospitals, only to be dismissed as if they must be lying. Sometimes I read articles (rightly) criticizing the inconsistency of public health organizations over time, or the words vs. the actions of politicians who said one thing and did another. Sometimes I simply wanted to know more about how to first re-open and then keep open our church in a way that offers a reasonably safe and accommodating space.

Whatever the reason, I built this document over time. It represents a pursuit of knowledge; I am well aware it's not the end of it! And as serious as I believe the coronavirus to be (as you will see), I’m not curled up in a ball quivering in fear, as anyone who knows me can attest. I assume I will get it at some point (as most of us will); I assume I will be like most people in my demographic, and when I do get it, it will be somewhere on a spectrum short of fatal, and likely relatively mild, though it's definitely unpredictable. [1] So that’s not why I compile stuff like this. I just want to know what’s true about the world. 


Oh, and one other note. 


I am interested in the stats and the science for the purposes of this post, so I don' have anything about politics or freedoms or the constitution here. Those are important topics for a different time. They just aren't my focus here. You can write that one :)


At to the science, it has obviously and publicly evolved over time around the entire world. It’s frustrating, and it can understandably make us leery of trusting authoritative voices, but it’s how science works. It's not a sign of a nefarious plot. I am far more confident in the science now than I was six months ago, for sure. I’m also sure three months from now doctors and epidemiologists will know even more, and will have pivoted yet again in some way.  


With that in mind, if you want to add to the discussion by agreeing or disagreeing - and I would like you to add to this, because I want to pursue truth as I build this database -  post links and offer thoughtful insights from your research and experience. I don’t mind being thoughtfully challenged. I’m not a big fan of being called stupid or deceived or ‘sheeple.’ That line of discussion will not be pursued. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

An Election Day Prayer

God of Sovereignty, we believe there is no outcome we choose tomorrow that falls outside of your permissive will[1] (and perhaps your decretive will[2]). May this lead us to peace in the midst of an election storm. 

  

God of Freedom, we pray for the wisdom to follow the principles of your preceptive will[3] and vote such that we move our nation toward a land of spiritual, moral and relational plenty and not famine. 

 

God of Life, inspire all leaders we elect tomorrow at federal, state and local levels to value human life from the moment it begins until the moment it ends such that all people are given the opportunity for a flourishing life. May our leaders have the ability to “see” the unborn, the weak, the poor, the powerless, the oppressed, the overlooked, the overwhelmed, and the despairing, and may they have the wisdom to rally the nation to lift the imago dei who are floundering as a signpost that points toward the “life more abundant” that is offered in Christ (John 10:10). Position your church to be shining on the hill when that signpost points our way. (Matthew 5:14)

 

God of Love, inspire all of our leaders to guide us in attitude, action, word and deed to build communities grounded in the kind of love that echoes God’s love for the world: service, sacrifice, honor, commitment, generosity, humility, grace and truth that begins with “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) and encompasses all. May we, your church, truly model what it means to love God and love our neighbor, and may that holy commitment be the conscience of the nation. 

 

God of Creation, guide our leaders to take care of your lovingly crafted creation that you declared to be ‘very good’, as so many ills in the world follow from soiling natural wealth you have given to us. Lead them to enact policies that steward your creation for our good and your glory. (Genesis 2:15)

 

God of Humanity, enable our leaders to recognize the imago dei, the image of God (Genesis 1:26), that which gives value, dignity and worth to every human being. Guide them to attitudes, words, and policies that show honor to your image wherever it is found, which is in everyone, with no exceptions. 

 

God of Justice, build those we elect such that the good, true, and noble in the world and in your Word seeps into their hearts and minds and compels them to seek justice. Your prophets remind us that God requires His people to do this (Micah 6:8); surely it is good advice for us all. When there are individuals or groups who have suffered from injustice, may our leaders work to right that which has been wrong, restore justice to those who have been wronged, and build systems that protect and promote the presence of justice in the world.

 

God of Mercy, your prophets remind us that mercy must come with justice (Micah 6:8), as the cross of Christ so prominently made clear (Psalm 85:10). May the hearts and minds of our those we elect lead them to the compassionate use of justice, seeking measures that stop both evil and the evildoer such that chaos of sin is minimized in the world, while moving us toward being a culture that values restoration and reconciliation whenever possible.

 

God of Peace, as we your people preach of the peace with God made possible to all through Christ (Romans 5:1), help our leaders to love all kinds of peace more than any kind of sword (Matthew 10:34), both literally and figuratively. 

 

God of Hope, inspire our leaders to enact policies that, while the church preaches Christ to make spiritually crooked paths straight (Luke 3:5-6), give hope to those who are hopeless, that give relief to those in oppression, that make a way for those who feel trapped. 

 

God of Grace, you have offered grace through Jesus in both this life and the next (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our political leaders cannot give an underserved mercy to souls, but they can give it in so many practical ways to the bodies of those who are lost, sick and dying. May it be another signpost. May we yet again be shiny,  illuminating the source of all grace.


God of Truth, inspire our leaders to love truth wherever they find it, and may that truth point them toward the One who is the Truth (John 14:6)



[1] God permits things to happen in a free world. 

[2] God decrees things to happen.

[3] Precept-ive, not perceptive. God reveals His will for the world through precepts, such as the 10 Commandments, or principles such as those found in the Sermon on the Mount.

Friday, October 9, 2020

A Memoir Wrapped in Quotes

I have been humbled by how many people graciously went out of their way to read, interview, and write reviews of a book I wrote in the aftermath of my father's death from cancer.  It was an attempt to take an honest look at grief, disillusionment, faith and hope. A review at CSI  offered some kind words:
In a grief memoir, I expected to find romantic poets, crusty theologians, and maybe a mega-church youth pastor or two. Instead, each chapter began with quotes from some of my favorite writers: Elie Weisel, J.R.R. Tolkein, Stephen R. Donaldson, Neil Gaiman, C.S. Lewis, Dostoyevsky, Stephen King, and Voltaire. And the quotes were thought provoking and, above all, authentic, adjectives that also describe the memoir that comes wrapped in these quotes.  

If you are interested in the book, click on the picture in the right hand column of this blog to go to the website, or just go to amazon.com.