Thursday, February 22, 2018

Jesus, Billy, & The American Way

I have gone back to the Bible to restudy what it says about the responsibilities we have as peacemakers. I have seen that we must seek the good of the whole human race, and not just the good of any one nation or race.

There have been times in the past when I have, I suppose, confused the kingdom of God with the American way of life. Now I am grateful for the heritage of our country, and I am thankful for many of its institutions and ideals, in spite of its many faults. But the kingdom of God is not the same as America . . .1
~Billy Graham

Rev. Graham uttered those humble, honest words in August of 1979.

I too have changed my way of thinking since the summer of ’79. Back then I didn’t give much thought to peace-making or Christ’s kingdom. Yes, I believed in Jesus but I never considered the tension between Americana and Christ’s claims on my life. No, I didn’t hurt others but neither did I love them like I loved me.

I was selfish and I was seven.

Things change.

Yet Billy’s sentiments are as timely as ever.

Listen to our national conversations. What do you hear?

My way! My rights! My happiness!

Not all that dissimilar to the playground banter of ’79…

Things remain the same.

It’s been a long time coming, but like Billy, I too am finally beginning to see the disparities between the “American way” and the Way of Jesus.

Jesus’ way is the way of agape—sacrificial love. This is not the way of America or any other kingdom of the world.

I wish I could tell you I’ve always followed Jesus and never Americianity. I haven’t.

I wish I could tell you I’m selfless. I’m not.

But I’m changing because I’m growing. And I’d like to do better. How about you?

A final word from Billy:

Christ calls us to love, and that is the critical test of discipleship. Love is not a vague feeling or an abstract idea. When I love someone, I seek what is best for them. If I begin to take the love of Christ seriously, then I will work toward what is best for my neighbor. I will seek to bind up the wounds and bring about healing, no matter what the cost may be.2


2 Ibid.  

Friday, February 16, 2018

Gun Fights

A Facebook friend remarked that some Americans won’t give up guns to save children. The response she received was as swift as it was predictable.

Does that mean you also have to let go of your political party that supports partial birth abortions . . . ? Also you’re gonna have to get rid of wine, beer and spirits since it’s the alcohol . . . that kills kids in unfashionable manners. Also sell your car since most child deaths are caused by cars - not the drivers. Give it all up. Don’t be a hypocrite. Save our children.

Like just about everything these days, emotions are raw on both sides. Still, this brief exchange quickens several thoughts.

First, I’d recommend “letting go” of any political party that supports killing children via abortion or bombing. So, yes, let’s be pro-life from womb to tomb—let go of both major political parties.

Second, guns are lethal by design. A gun’s purpose is sheer force (whether used offensively or defensively). Cars and alcohol are not lethal by design. Thus there are no mass murders by way of Coors and the woods don’t teem with hopeful hunters armed with Hondas.  

Third, I don’t know how anyone can deny that the US has a serious problem with gun violence. And I don’t see how anyone can say—with a straight face—that gun violence has little or nothing to do with guns.

Fourth, admitting gun violence is a problem in no way suggests that politicians can solve it. (I’m not at all convinced they even want to.)

Contra the gun lobbies, I don’t think politicians want our guns. Politicians are interested in one thing: Preserving and furthering their personal power. Our guns are no threat to them.

They do everything they want to do. They take as much of our money as they like. They fight every war they want. They make laws they don’t live by…on and on. Our guns do not deter them in the least.

So why take our guns? They’ve got a good thing going!

Maybe I’m wrong. If so, I suspect a “war on guns” would be every bit as effective as the “war on drugs.” Know what I mean?

So, no, I don’t think they’ll take our 300,000,000 guns and I don’t think they want to.

What they do want is for “gun rights” people to fear them. Why?

Follow the money.

Every year millions and millions of dollars pour into gun lobbies. And guess where millions of those millions end up? Yeah…in the pockets of politicians.

There’s no money in the taking. It’s all in the fearing.

Fifth—speaking of unnecessary fear—the overwhelming majority of gun owners are decent, peaceful, law-abiding people who are in no way a threat to anyone. They shouldn’t be feared or demonized.

Correlatively, how would taking guns from harmless people make the world a safer place?

Sixth and finally, there’s this:

I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. ~Jesus

He’s offering to rid our hearts of fear and violence. He’s talking to gun owners and gun grabbers alike. 

But who in the world is listening? 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Jesus & White American Youth

With all the talk of "White Nationalism in America," I read Christian Picciolini’s disturbing—yet hopeful—memoir of his descent into and eventual escape from racist ideology entitled, White American Youth.

He reflects,

I’d blamed everyone but myself for what I believed had been taken away from me . . . I took my misplaced aggression out on the world, blaming those whom I failed to make an effort to understand, rather than take responsibility for my own feelings and actions. . . .

I ended up blaming others—blacks, gays, Jews, and anyone else who I thought wasn’t like me—for problems in my own life they couldn’t possibly have contributed to. My unfounded panic quickly, and unjustly, manifested itself as venomous hatred.1




These are the words that leap at me.

But surely, dear reader, you know such things are not confined to White supremacists. How much of our national/international conversation squabbling centers upon these very issues?

To what end?

Blame, panic, and hatred inexorably lead to scapegoating.

All social groups, however large or small, would inevitably implode under the force of their own violence and guilt were they not able to find an alternative way of channeling their violence . . . the group avoids self-destruction and alleviates their shared guilt by identifying a common enemy against which they can channel their violence and on which they can place their guilt. . . .This scapegoat is . . . typically selected because it is vulnerable and/or is atypical within the social group in question. Hence, children, the disabled, minorities, foreigners, and people who are otherwise “different” (e.g., left-handed people, homosexuals) have been the most common scapegoats.

Once selected, the guilt of the group is transferred to the scapegoat by placing on him or her all the blame for whatever challenges and shortcomings the social group is experiencing. The scapegoat is then sacrificed . . . thereby restoring harmony within the social group.2

Notice the first three words in the quote above: all social groups.

Would this include the church? Sadly, it does.

Many churches and Christians mirror the blame, panic, and hatred of the cultures around them.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

On Good Friday we see that our violent system of blame and ritual killing is so evil that it is capable of the murder of God. And once we see it, we can repent of it, be forgiven for it, and be freed from it. This is how the cross saves the world.3

Jesus shows us a Way antithetical to the ways of the world. To follow Jesus is to leave blame, panic, and hatred behind; and walk in forgiveness, peace, and love.

We have a Lamb. We don’t need scapegoats. 


1Christian Picciolini, “White American Youth,” p. 240

2Greg Boyd, “Crucifixion Of The Warrior God,” p. 694, 695 

3Brian Zahnd, “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God,” p. 114

Thursday, January 25, 2018

"Pro-life" v. "Anti-abortion"

I worry about the recent surge of power among U.S. Christians, who seem to be focusing more and more on political means. . . . When I ask a stranger, “What is an evangelical Christian?” I get an answer something like this: “Someone who supports family values and opposes homosexual rights and abortion.”

If a century from now all that historians can say about evangelicals of the 1990s is that they stood for family values, then we will have failed in the mission Jesus gave us to accomplish: to communicate God’s reconciling love to sinners.1

Philip Yancey penned those poignant words in 1995.

Well, it ain’t the 1990s but one thing is certain: nobody—with a straight face—associates evangelicals with “family values” today. That ship has sailed. Or sank.

That being said, the Christian Right still opposes gay rights and abortion.

With “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday 2018” in our rearview mirror, I’d like for you to think with me about evangelicals and abortion.


My dad told me something that has always stayed with me. He said that there was no money in finding a cure for cancer [etc.] . . . “There’s only money in looking for a cure,” he said. And he is right. There are billions of dollars raised every year for research and billions more in the sale of medicines which treat the symptoms of these diseases. Why would anyone be so foolish as to dry up the endless stream of revenues?

It’s no different with the abortion issue.

Simply put, the abortion issue is nothing more than a means to manipulate the evangelical Christians in America to vote for Republican candidates.2

Without being conspiratorial, it is true that Republicans have controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government several times over the years. Yet, abortion on demand remains the law of the land. Nevertheless, the anti-abortion crowd keeps voting for them and their empty promises.

In other words, the abortion issue is the Republican Party’s golden goose.

To be clear: I use the term “anti-abortion” instead of “pro-life” because it is my opinion that “anti-abortion” is the more accurate term. That is, most evangelicals, in my experience, are “pro-life” only as it pertains to abortion. They are unabashedly not “pro-life” when it comes to the State’s wars and executions.

Such was not the case with Jesus’ earliest followers.
[U]nlike the Romans, Christians did not hold human life to be cheap and expendable. It was to be honored and protected at all costs, regardless of its form or quality [emphasis mine]. . . .

The intrinsic worth of each individual man and woman as a child of God and an immortal soul was introduced by Christianity.3

From time-to-time we need to be reintroduced to the intrinsic worth—the sanctity—of every human being.

So here goes…

Regardless of who we are, what we’ve done, or where we’re from; we’re loved by God. We know this because He sent us His Son. What more could He possibly do?

Jesus is the highest and clearest expression of God’s heart for us.

So make no mistake: following Jesus leads to more than (but never less than) being anti-abortion. He leads us in the Way of life and love—womb to tomb…and then some.   


1Philip Yancey, “The Jesus I Never Knew,” p. 246

2Keith Giles, “Jesus Untangled,” p. 110 

3Alvin J. Schmidt, “Under The Influence,” p.p. 49, 60

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pride & Prejudice

The proud hold me in utter contempt . . .” (Psalm 119:51). As I meditated upon these words, two prayers came to mind.

The first was: Lord, keep me from pride and arrogance. Help me to be humble.

Pride is sneaky.

C.S. Lewis observes of pride,

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free . . . the essential vice, the utmost evil is Pride. . . . [I]t was through pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

[T]he worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very center of our religious life. . . . If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. . . . If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.1

It seems to me that humility—pride’s opposite—is the fruit of the Spirit (Col. 3:12). So the plea, “Help me to be humble” is in fact a cry for more of Him and less of me.

Now, this doesn’t mean I am to think less of myself. (I fail to see how mulling over what an incredibly horrible person I am benefits anything. Jesus calls me to think beautiful thoughts of Him, not ugly thoughts of me.)

Morbid introspection can be a mental morass.

Thus, the Spirit probably won’t produce His humility in us by us thinking less of ourselves. Rather, as the Spirit does His quiet work in us, we will be thinking of ourselves less. (Yes, there’s a difference between thinking less of oneself and thinking of oneself less.)

The second prayer was: Lord, keep me from holding others in contempt.

How quickly and easily I look down on others!

But if I shouldn’t despise myself; should I despise others?

Hastily dismissing and holding folks in contempt are par for the course in our national—and sadly in our religious—conversations.

The divided political, cultural, and religious climate in our country encourages mutual demonization when we discover unbridgeable differences of conviction. . . . Everywhere we look we see relationships collapsing in mutual incomprehension and demonization. It is so sad.2

My prayer is that we would learn to think, listen, and speak humbly; that we would elevate our thoughts regarding those with whom we disagree.

I’m praying but I’m not holding my breath.

Hmmm. Guess I need to work on that whole faith thingy now…


1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.p. 94,97,99 

2David P. Gushee, Still Christian, p. 100

Friday, January 5, 2018

Jesus & Moral Relevance

Several weeks ago I lamented the hypocritical response of the “Christian Right” to the sexual mistreatment of women and children.1

It’s a new year but nothing’s changed.

Consider this spot-on (and from my perspective heartbreaking) commentary.

Conservatives need to be clear and honest in this circumstance. The strong, moral commitment to the dignity of women and children recently asserting itself in our common life has mainly come from feminism, not the “family values” movement. In this case, religious conservatives have largely been bystanders or obstacles. This indicates a group of people for whom the dignity of girls and women has become secondary to other political goals.

We are a nation with vast resources of moral renewal. It is a shame and a scandal that so many religious conservatives have made themselves irrelevant to that task.2

I assure you, dear reader, such was not always the case. Early Christians were entirely relevant to the cause of women.

“The birth of Jesus,” said one observer, “was the turning point in the history of woman.” Another has noted, “Whatever else our Lord did, He immeasurably exalted womanhood.” Yet neither Christ nor the early Christians ever preached an outright revolution. Rather, it was His example that His followers reflected in their relationships with women, raising their dignity, freedom, and rights to a level previously unknown in any culture.3

Please note: early Christ-followers did not elevate the status of women through lobbying or legislating. No, rather they reflected Jesus’ words and ways in their relationships with girls and women in their actual lives.

So the question before us is: Are we reflecting Jesus in our actions and attitudes towards girls and women in our daily living? (I ask this of females too because girls and women can be absolutely dreadful to each other.)

Finally, for American evangelicalism to enjoy genuine moral relevance, I encourage my friends in the Christian Right to consistently follow Jesus in their homes, places of work, and houses of worship. (CAUTION: Studies have shown that consistently following Jesus can lead to leaving the Christian Right.)

Also, stop backing creepy dudes and perverts.


3Alvin J. Schmidt, “Under the Influence,” p. 122

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Spirit of Christmas

The Spirit of Christmas! Do you have it?

When I hear “Spirit of Christmas” I automatically think of the overall tenor of the season. You know…the Christmas spirit.

Friends, families, foods, and gifts. Parking-lot fights with strangers. Hallmark movies—lots of Hallmark movies. Carols.

Things like that. 

But I’m not talking about a holiday mood. I’m talking about a divine and holy Person.

We usually refer to Him as the Holy Spirit.

You see, God the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christmas. It is He who overshadows the Virgin Mary; fills John the Baptist and his parents; and communicates to and through Simeon and Anna (Luke 1: 15, 35, 41, 67; 2:27-38). He permeates the Christmas narrative.

It’s no exaggeration to say, “No Spirit, no Christmas.”

We can also affirm that the Spirit of Christmas is also the Spirit of the Church. That is, the Spirit who activates the conception of Jesus also energizes the community of Jesus.

Thus, the Holy Spirit lives within followers of Christ individually and corporately. Scripture assures us that He is given to all who are Christ’s: Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, rich and poor (Acts 2).

In other words, when it comes to the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of Christ there are no haves and have nots.

Indeed, Jesus teaches that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give the Spirit to all who ask for Him. The Spirit in turn enables us to help others and delights in developing Jesus’ character within us (Luke 11:13; Romans 12:6-9; Galatians 5:22-23).

So I’ll ask again: Do you have the Spirit of Christmas? Are you daily being filled with Him?

May the love, joy, and peace of intimately knowing Jesus be yours now and always.  

Merry Christmas, dear reader!