Saturday, August 20, 2016

Fortification vs. Domination

A couple of years ago best-selling author, Philip Yancey, remarked that when it comes to matters of church and culture, many Christians fall within two rather disparate categories: Those who favor fortification and those who prefer domination.

It occurred to me that these two camps are captured quite nicely in two hymns, each of which—interestingly enough—is based upon experiences of the United States’ Civil War.

The first reads:
See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on;
Mighty ones around us falling, courage almost gone!

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”1

The other declares:
I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel,
"As ye deal with My contemners so with you My grace shall deal,"
Let the Hero born of woman crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on

Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on2

Can you hear fortifiers anxiously singing their tune and dominators bellowing theirs?

To be sure, there are sincere Bible-believers in both camps. But whereas the fortifier tends to withdraw from non-believers, the dominator seeks to vanquish them. The one eschews contamination and the other embraces coercion.

In other words, the fortifier has only Christian friends and the dominator has only non-Christian enemies.

But there’s a third Way.  

Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

That is to say, the Christ-follower needn’t fear or force other people. Rather, he or she is called to walk with God, empowered by love. No cloistering. No clobbering.

Do you want to be more like Jesus?

Well…He’s the sinner’s best friend. That’s good news for folks like us! So let’s broadcast it in word and deed—as best we can—every day. 

1“Hold The Fort,” by Philip P. Bliss 

2“The Battle Hymn of The Republic,” by Julia Ward Howe

Friday, August 12, 2016

Olympic Witnesses

We both know that our identity is in Christ, and we’re thankful for this opportunity to be able to dive . . . It’s been an absolutely thrilling moment for us. . . . If something went great, I was happy. If something didn’t go great, I could still find joy . . . God’s given us a cool opportunity, and I’m glad I could come away with an Olympic silver medal in my first-ever event.
~David Boudia and Steele Johnson (silver medalists in synchronized diving)

Isn’t it encouraging when world-class athletes on a world-wide stage glorify and enjoy the Lord? Do you suppose Jesus grinned when they boldly and profoundly claimed that their identities were in Him, not in swimming or medaling? (I’d imagine He thought: “Well done, boys.”)

Long ago two other young men faced judges very different from those found at Olympic Games. Their cruel judges threatened them with torture and even death if they ever again spoke of Jesus Christ. But Peter and John answered the Sanhedrin,

Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19-20).

Oh, how this must have thrilled the heart of God!

Now, this may surprise you but I have something in common with these Olympians and Apostles—and so do you: Jesus calls and enables us to be His witnesses.

When it comes to witnessing we tend to think in terms of doing, not being. That is, we often think of witnessing as something we do from time-to-time. But Jesus calls us to not only do but also to be.

We are to be witnesses.

This means we are to consistently think, speak, and act according to His Way. Like the Olympians said, it’s not just something we do, it’s who we are.

There’s no one I’d rather be. How about you?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Surrogates For Jesus

You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;
And you shall be witnesses unto Me . . .
(Acts 1:8)

Last week I determined to go on a media “fast” regarding all things political—Stephen Colbert my only exception. (I mean…let’s be reasonable.)

And let me tell you: The cleanse feels pretty good.

If you’re like me—and it’s hard to imagine you’re not—it’s quite easy to get sucked into or wrapped up in whatever happens to be CNN’s or Facebook’s flavor of the day.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like to be informed. However, obsessively thinking about politics or whatever the news is entertaining informing us with can be, at least in my experience, counterproductive.

Shouldn’t we want our thoughts and worldview to be shaped and developed more by Jesus Christ, than Wolf Blitzer? (If this offends you, please do not hesitate to substitute Wolf with FOX.)

Two things come immediately to mind as to why we should desire this.

First, Jesus is more knowledgeable, wise, powerful, and loving than anyone else. If we truly want to understand ourselves and the world in which we live, why wouldn’t we learn from Him?

Second, we are to be His witnesses.

The force of witnessing was impressed upon me a couple of weeks ago.

While enjoying coffee and a donut, I rather disinterestedly watched a morning show on TV. An actor I don’t know was talking about a show I don’t watch. (Yes, I’m that plugged in.)

But suddenly the interview shifted.

It seems the actor is a surrogate for a well-known political candidate. With pride and enthusiasm he began to tell the politician’s story. He was winsome and articulate. He was no longer interested in talking about anything or anyone else. He only wanted to talk about the life and philosophy of the one for whom he is a surrogate.

After he finished I mused: What if more of us were like this guy—happy and eager to share Christ’s story and His ideas. 

You see, dear reader, Christ’s life is the greatest life. His ideas are the best. There’s no one better to follow. So let’s unashamedly pledge ourselves to Him and His Way. In other words, let’s be passionate surrogates for Jesus. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

American Idols

Best-selling author and professional provocateur, Ann Coulter, is soon to release a book entitled, “In Trump We Trust;” obviously hijacking our national motto and substituting God with Trump.

We may wonder why someone who self-identifies as a Christian would write such a thing.

But I have an infinitely more important question: how many folks do in their heart what Ms. Coulter does in her title—supplant God with something or someone else. 

You see, replacing God with anything or anyone is called idolatry. It’s the breaking of the first of the 10 Commandments: You shall have no other gods before me.

Thankfully, most of us aren’t as crass as Ms. Coulter, but sadly, idolatry is more common than we may think.

John Calvin observes,

 . . . the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols . . . it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God.

What are some common idols?

Obviously, people come to mind. Worship of the self and other humans is always popular. Entertainers (sports personalities, TV and movie stars, Country and Rock musicians, etc.) are often the objects of adoration and praise. The “cult of personality” reaches even into the church.

Ideas may be idols. Think of things such as liberty, socialism, atheism, love, conservatism, environmentalism, liberalism, capitalism, racialism, feminism, patriarchy, humanism, equality, scientism, nationalism, patriotism, and tolerance. All concepts and “isms” are dangerous when absolutized.

Our aforementioned national motto appears on our currency and sure enough…one of the most powerful idols in the world is money. People will—quite 
literally—sacrifice just about anything for it.

Surely there isn’t a more potent idol than sex. The amorphous god of sex saturates our world. How many marriages, families, and friends are slain on its altars?

The god of sports is a perennial top contender for hearts and minds. Few things spark tantrums and tempers, rantings and rudeness, like sports.

And now a “curve ball” for my Christian friends…

I think doctrine—even if it’s correct—can become an idol. Doctrine is not God. If we aren’t careful, we may love the doctrine of God more than the Son of God. The Apostle Paul and many subsequent theologians have pointed out that the knowledge of God—without the love of God—is sure to go bad on us.

These are just a few American idols. Our pantheon of gods is practically innumerable—an unbounded witness to the emptiness within.

Yet Jesus beckons us to follow a different Way. He says, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.”

So let us love and pursue the only living and true God and ask Christ to make us holy and wholly His.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Bombs Away?

There seems to be a crescendo of terror in the West, and every attack is met with angry choruses to “bomb away” our troubles. Why do people persist in believing that bombs are the cure for what ails us?

More killing isn’t the answer. 

In fact, terrorists are enraged and emboldened by our militarism.

Bombs fall. Terrorists rise. It’s the same old refrain.

That is, the more we intervene “over there” the more we experience terrorism “right here.” Indeed, one of the reasons we’re resented and hated is we are meddlesome.

Make no mistake, the Obama administration meddles in Middle Eastern (and North African) affairs as much as any other presidency...Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.

Aren’t we always up to something? 

Many years ago I heard a professor say: When it comes to the Middle East we never leave the dance. We just keep changing partners.

Talk about poor taste in partners!

We actively take down secular leaders only to see them replaced with fundamentalists. (Study the plight of Christianity in Iraq since we vanquished Hussain. It ain't pretty.)

One thing is clear: we can’t end Middle Eastern unrest but we can certainly exacerbate it.


How much of the immigration crisis in Europe and Britain is connected to our interventionism? You see, dear reader, we don't end their wars; we prolong them. (I’m thinking the war in Syria would have been short-lived were it not for our assisting ISIS—ahem—rebels fighting Assad.)

In other words, while pressuring foreign governments to bend to our will, we stress local populations beyond breaking points and voila…we have an immigration problem.

For a very long time we've done a lot in the Middle East. What if we did less? What if we allowed the folks who actually live there to work things out as best they can?

Could we at least think about it?

Decades ago, Francis Schaeffer wisely observed that the US cannot impose a system of governance upon a people who do not have the philosophical foundations to produce or sustain it. (This, I think, was the primary blunder of the Bush administration.)

Maybe we should listen to something other than the hypnotic beat of our own war drums.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

God, Race, & Other Parodoxes

We Americans have much in common and much tearing us apart. This is certainly nothing new.

What is new is 24/7 cable and internet news. The all-seeing eyes traumatize us, bringing every senseless tragedy—no matter how far away—into our consciousness. Yet the technologies that traumatize, oddly enough, also desensitize.

Furthermore, I doubt we’ve ever been more connected and isolated. What paradoxical times these are! Remember Charles Dickens?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness . . . we had everything before us, we had nothing before us . . .

As the folksy “philosopher” Yogi Berra once quipped, “The more things change the more they stay the same.”

Speaking of paradoxes…the news that informs is the news that misinforms.

(This reminds me of a quote from Mark Twain something to the effect: “If you don’t read the newspapers you are uninformed. If you do read them you are misinformed.”)

One ill-effect of ratings-mad, entertainment-driven news is that it focuses on the dramatic and spectacular, ignoring the everyday and mundane. As a result, our perspectives, insofar as they are shaped by media, can become distorted.

For example, would it surprise you to learn that less than 12% of police officers fire their guns at another human being for the duration of their entire career?1 In fact, 95% of NYC police “have never fired their weapons while fighting crime.”2

Thus when it comes to shooting folks it seems our cops are less Dirty Harry and more Sherriff Andy. But you wouldn’t know this from watching the news.

Now don’t get me wrong. I watch and read plenty of news. But when it comes to race issues and the things which make for our peace, I don’t think the media, by and large, is fighting on the side of the angels.

Racial harmony won’t come from more news, but from good news.

I believe the reconciliation we long for can only be found in Jesus Christ. God on the Cross offers the repentance and the forgiveness, the hope and the healing, that all of us so desperately need. God on the Cross collectivizes and dehumanizes no one. Rather, He sacrificially loves every man, woman, and child as the image of God.

He’s shown the Way. It may not be easy, but let’s walk in it.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Jesus & The European Disunion

Before last Friday most Americans (say…85%) likely spent less than 15 minutes of their entire life thinking about the European Union. (I’m not counting the unfortunate folks who’ve subjected themselves to Left Behind movies and John Hagee charts.)

But now the EU and BREXIT are all the rage.

Will this eventually help Britain’s economy? What will be the economic impact on the world and America? Will other EU nations follow suit? Will Scotland secede from the United Kingdom? Will immigrants suddenly boycott Britain? What about Russian aggression? Can Britain’s Got Talent survive another season?

All of these are very good questions. At the time of this writing, we’re barely 24 hours in and already 2 million Brits have petitioned their government for another a referendum—a do-over, if you will.

So…we’ll see.

Presently, my thoughts traverse two tracks...

On the one hand, the libertarian in me applauds BREXIT. I prefer decentralization and small, non-intrusive government. In my opinion, in matters of governance, local and less is best.

But on the other hand, I’m very much aware of the 20th century horrors unleashed, in large part, by unbridled nationalism: 80-100 million human beings slaughtered in two World Wars.

Such atrocities, in the name of God and country, boggle the mind. Hence, history will not allow me to place my faith in nationalism.

Yet I cannot abide the utopian dreams of globalism either. This is to say, neither globalism nor nationalism holds the cure for what ails us. Again, we needn’t be seers of the future—just students of the past—to know this.

Even so, there remains another path; an alternate Way.

Identity (vainly sought in nationalism) and unity (falsely promised in globalism) are most truly and profoundly realized in the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. He did not endorse Jerusalem (nationalism) or Rome (globalism). Rather, He preached the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps you’re thinking: His Way will never work in the “real” world. Oh? Which world do you imagine He came to save if not the “real” one?  

Dear reader, Jesus—not identity politics or globalist visions—is the answer to our personal brokenness and interpersonal alienation. He alone can heal our individual and corporate fragmentation.

So let us pursue, enjoy, and share life together in His kingdom. And may His holy fellowship spread throughout the world—as C.S. Lewis would say—like good infection.