The Mess We’re In


It doesn’t take a genius to see that morally, the world is in collapse. I received an email message today from singer/songwriter Keith and Kristyn Getty, asking those on their mailing list to pray. Apparently North Ireland is on the verge of legalizing abortion, and the Getty’s are heartbroken that this evil has come to their homeland.

I understand what they’re feeling. But as I read the appeal for prayer regarding this matter, I couldn’t help but think of Romans 1, the last 13 verses, and the progression of evil God said was taking place.

So this afternoon I opened another email that was just as disheartening because it contained an article about the connection between some scientific communities and accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who hung himself in prison in August while awaiting trial. Apparently Epstein was rich, hobnobbed with the famous (a documentary just came out about his connection to Prince Andrew and accusations that he was on the receiving end of Epstein’s involvement in sex-trafficking), and made his money, or a good part of it, by the sex-traffic “trade.”

As if that’s not bad enough, Epstein was generous with his ill-gotten gains. He donated to a couple universities, specifically to scientific programs, to the degree that some noted scientists have either been forced out of their positions or left willingly because they didn’t want to be associated with a program that was funded heavily by a sex-trafficker. Of course discussion and debate also ensued. What made it possible for someone so corrupt to have the access and influence over scientists for so long? Was it the gender imbalance in the science programs or something else?

Pressure to raise money for research, the allure of unrestricted donations for novel ideas and the aura of star scholars may have contributed to decisions that in retrospect look tawdry. Faculty members described responses ranging from horrified reactions to arguments that tainted money could be used to promote social good through research. (The Washington Post)

What has come out of this scandal rather clearly is how the scientific community works. So much research depends on funding, and funding depends on approval. From the same Washington Post article:

Technology scholar danah boyd chose to talk about Epstein last week when she was given an award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“I am here today in-no-small-part because I benefited from the generosity of men who tolerated and, in effect, enabled unethical, immoral, and criminal men,” boyd said.

“Many of us are aghast to learn that a pedophile had this much influence in tech, science, and academia, but so many more people face the personal and professional harm of exclusion . . . (emphasis added)

In order to get approval for research projects, a scientist has to be part of the “in crowd.”

Scientists, especially scientists in academia, are uniquely vulnerable to professional destruction if they stray from the herd. Their life hangs on peer-review. Just look at the vituperation — the ostracism, ridicule, and even hate — rained upon Mike Behe or Jonathan Wells or Guillermo Gonzalez or Bill Dembski or Richard Sternberg or any of the other courageous scientists who had the integrity to question the Darwinian “consensus.”

As the Epstein scandal shows with striking clarity, dissent on matters of importance is forbidden in the scientific community. Scientists will engage in or tolerate all manner of lie and vice to protect their careers. They “go along to get along.” They join the consensus that Jeffrey Epstein is a wonderful patron and his money is untainted, just as they join the consensus that Darwinian evolution is a “fact.” Many — perhaps even most — do not do it because they believe it. They do it for professional survival. (“Jeffrey Epstein and the Silence of the Scientists”)

Which brings me back to Romans 1. The first component the passage identifies in a slide into depraved thinking is a suppression of the truth, followed by things like not honoring God or giving Him thanks, worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, exchanging the natural function for that which is unnatural (I know this is generally believed to be a sexual thing, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it didn’t also include mothers killing their babies), and ultimately refusing to acknowledge God any longer.

All those steps lead to unmitigated evil as listed in the next verses. I don’t think there’s a single one of these that isn’t in the news on a fairly regular basis:

being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful

So you have people hating on Judge Tammy Kemp and even one group bringing charges of misconduct, because she showed compassion to a convicted murderer. In fact, she was taking her cue from the victim’s brother who forgave the guilty defendant and told her to turn her life over to Christ. She told the judge she didn’t know how, that she didn’t know if God could forgive her, that she didn’t even have a Bible to try and find out the answers. That’s when the judge retreated to her chambers and brought out her own personal Bible which she gave to the defendant, now convicted criminal.

Apparently such a display of compassion and mercy is something to rise up against, at least in the eyes of some. Which only serves as evidence of the slide into wickedness brought on by the depraved mind God has given humanity over to. We earned it and now we are reaping the horrendous results of society without God. Christian compassion is a thing to “investigate” and murder is to be put in place by an edict from government. All the while sex-traffickers and pedophiles can move amongst those who are supposed to be thinkers and influence them with their wealth.

The capper, of course, to the Romans 1 list is the final verse declaring that people not only do the same, but also give hearty approval of people who practice such things.

None of this is good news, but the truth of Romans 1 is followed by the truth of Romans 5 and 6, even 7, and especially of 8: “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is a way to escape this mess!

Published in: on October 21, 2019 at 5:50 pm  Comments (12)  
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The Poison Pill Of Culture


This article is a re-post of the one I wrote Monday for my Speculative Faith column.

Considering Travis Perry’s article last week [at Speculative Faith] (“Licking the Chocolate Off Poison Pills: A Comment on Cultural Engagement”), I suppose the obvious first question to ask is this: is culture really a poison pill? I mean, God quite purposefully left Christians in the world (“As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” –John 17:18). He did also say that said culture would hate Christians (“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” –John 17:14) and that we are not to be of the world (“They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” –John 17:16).

Of course, I’m interpreting “world” as “culture.” I’ve heard some scholars refer to it as the system of the world. Kind of like, the way the world operates.

Clearly, from what Jesus said in John, the way the world works is opposed to the way God works, the way Jesus works, and might fairly be considered a poison pill. So today the world preaches (yes, preaches) that we are all good and have this unlimited potential in us, that all we need to do is look within to find it. God says something quite different: we all have a sin nature and need to look to the cross; that when we are weak, then we are strong.

The world also says the one who carries out revenge is the hero, whereas God says, the one who forgives and loves the enemy is the hero.

Another current “truth” the world is currently preaching is that there is no truth. Nothing set in stone. All relative, flexible, contingent. God, on the other hand, specifies that His word is truth, even that Jesus is truth. And that truth is fixed in Heaven. So, truth according to God is not pliable. Not malleable, not subject to our indigestion brought on by a bit of cheese or the feelings we have today that we didn’t have yesterday.

There are so many others: attitudes about sexual promiscuity, pride, greed, lying, gossip, sexual identity, other gods beside the One True God, etc.

So, if there is so much poison in the world, how can a Christian engage culture and not be killed by it? Is the only way to survive to divorce ourselves from anything that could potentially harm us? Or our kids? Our families?

That approach doesn’t seem to explain why Jesus left us in the world instead of taking us out. It almost seems to say, God was wrong about leaving us here because it’s just too dangerous, so we’ll do what He didn’t: we’ll take ourselves out of the world as much as possible.

Not only is it contradictory to what God intended, including the commission He gave believers (Matt 28:19-20), but it doesn’t work. The real problem we are faced with is the sin in our own hearts. That’s why Jesus chastised the Pharisees for cleaning the outside of the cup without cleaning the inside. His answer was not to build a shield around the cup to keep away people with dirty hands or even with evil intentions. His solution was to first clean the inside of the cup.

Key word: first. Matthew 23:26 makes the clear statement that the way to clean the outside is to clean the inside first:

You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

As I see things, the way to engage culture is with clean hands and a pure heart. These we find in God’s word, by cultivating a relationship with Him. Not by keeping a list of songs we won’t sing or TV programs we won’t watch, computer games we won’t play, books we won’t read, etc. In other words, we don’t get clean hands and we don’t carry out the charge Jesus gave us to go into all the world to make disciples, by engaging only part of culture.

What may seem contradictory is that I believe Travis is right: culture that “pushes the envelop,” that walks the edge of propriety, actually normalizes that behavior. I’ve seen this first hand with the issue of homosexuality (I guess because I’ve lived long enough to see our culture do a flip-flop on this subject). My mom, who graduated from college the same year my brother graduated from high school, way back in the 1960s, had a psych textbook that listed homosexuality as deviant behavior (among other inappropriate behaviors). I watched as our culture introduced homosexual jokes into society, then funny but likeable homosexual characters, and ultimately homosexual scenes on TV. All the while our government has passed law after law that gradually aimed, not only at permitting homosexual behavior but at supporting and encouraging its acceptance and practice. Now, here in California, legislators are trying to push through a law prohibiting professional counselors from engaging people who want help with same sex attraction by using strategies designed to help them choose heterosexuality instead.

What does that mean for writers and readers? Do we keep away from culture’s poison pills, or do we sue the pharmacies? Or do we clean our own cups instead?

I believe Travis was actually saying is that there isn’t a one-way-to-engage-culture rule, unless it’s this: “it’s actually normal to embrace a type of sorting process for popular culture and refuse to engage in areas we know are potential problems for us” (Travis Perry).

Refuse to engage in areas that are problems for us! Because it’s my problem, doesn’t mean no one else should therefore engage. Because it is not your problem, doesn’t mean I’m supposed to engage.

But what about the normalization process? I guess I’d add another layer of discernment or awareness: what things might be problems for the culture, for society at large? For instance, was the violence in Schindler’s List an encouragement of mass murder? I don’t see how. Was the promiscuity on display in Mash an undermining of monogamous marriage? I think it was. Was Harry Potter normalizing witchery? Not in the least.

So we can make choices, which must be informed choices. Nevertheless, the real first step is that “cleaning the inside of the cup” Jesus spoke of. In a discussion that includes “friendship with the world,” the epistle of James says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) Note, he didn’t say, Stand up to the world. Go to war against the world. Yes, resist Satan (James 4:7), but the focus is clearly on each Christian being in relation with God and in obedience to Him.

Truth Or Harmony?


When I was growing up, there was a game show on TV hosted by Bob Barker called “Truth or Consequences.” I don’t remember just how it worked, but without truth, contestants were left with consequences—usually involving something sticky or messy.

Interestingly, no one questioned this. No one asked, Whose truth do you want, mine or his? No one asked that the consequences be waved because truth was relative. Truth was viewed as a fixed point, not a sliding scale.

Clearly no one’s playing “Truth or Consequences” today. In fact truth has shrunk in stature.

No longer do our courts try to find out what the truth is in a case — they look now for “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” which might or might not lead to truth. How many people have been imprisoned based on “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” only to have DNA evidence turn up and disprove the previous “proof”? How many criminals have walked free because there wasn’t enough proof to convince a jury there was no reasonable doubt? Good (expensive) lawyers know how to insert that kind of doubt. The point is, our courts are now about winning, not about truth.

Our schools aren’t about truth either. They are about self-esteem and emergency training and anti-bullying and equality for all. Somehow truth has been shuffled down the playlist and may have actually fallen out of the top ten.

Truth disappeared on the athletic field years ago, aided perhaps by a World Cup soccer player scoring a winning goal with his hand or by basketball announcers declaring that whatever contact occurred wasn’t a foul as long as the ref didn’t call it a foul.

Truth is now in the eye of the beholder, or so says the postmodern culture. “Reality” depends on your “situated-ness.”

So the ref standing at mid-court didn’t blow the whistle because from his vantage point he didn’t see any contact; therefore, his reality is, There was no foul.

The guy with the broken nose, however, says, There was contact across my face, which most definitely is a foul.

So there are two truths, or four if you add in the other refs, or thirteen if you add in the other nine players on the court, or forty-three if you add in the bench players and the coaches, or 15,043 if you add in the fans in the stands, or … You get the idea.

What, then, is truth?

Our culture has reduced it to a shifting perspective.

Sadly, many Christians have fallen in line with this thinking. Just recently I heard a conversation in which a group of Christians decried all the disagreements about what to believe. Everyone should just learn to get along!

Well, yes, we should get along. We should learn to respect each other and treat one another as more important than ourselves. We should not enter into discussions to win. We should listen more than we speak. And yet …

Has harmony shoved truth further down the list? For Christians?

Clumping all the old divisive theological propositions into the vast unknown allows us to link arms and sing “Kumbaya.” After all, harmony is a higher value than truth.

Actually, Jesus did put great emphasis on unity, praying for this very thing:

“that they [those who believe in Jesus] may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one” (John 17:21-22)

Clearly if unity was a priority for Jesus, it should be a priority for His followers. But does it rank above truth?

Jesus, you may recall, said that He Himself is Truth. In fact, John identifies the Father as “full of grace and truth,” reports Jesus stating that He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and declares the Holy Spirit to be “the Spirit of truth.”

Jesus also prayed for us regarding truth:

Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.

The unity that Jesus prayed for was predicated on the Truth. He did not consider this to be fuzzy ground. He saw a clear demarcation based on His person and His word. To the Pharisees who did not believe He was the Messiah, he said

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.” (John 8:44-45 – emphases mine)

Truth first, and unity will follow.

Some professing Christians have this backwards. For them recreating the first century Areopagus where men gathered to discuss ideas, is the highest good. The goal of “finding truth,” or in today’s parlance, “answers,” is beside the point. Seeking is the great good, improved only by being in harmony with others in the process.

Few who don’t know Christ, I submit, will go to church on Easter looking for Truth, and sadly, too many pulpits around this country will be silent about the subject.

The subject is not a “feel good” message—this “choose whom you will serve,” drawing-of-the-line between truth and non-truth. It’s not conducive to harmony, which our culture values so highly these days. It demands Christians go against the flow, choose the unpopular side, be in the minority, be out of harmony with those who disagree.

It’s not comfortable. But I don’t think taking up my cross daily is supposed to be comfortable.

This article is a lightly revised version of one that appeared here in April, 2012.

The Issue Of Identity


Setting aside the upheaval that the gender identity crisis has created, especially among the young, I realize we’ve been having an identity crisis of a different sort for years, even decades.

I don’t have the exact timeline, but at least for two decades according to one blog article I read, kids have been receiving participation trophies for involvement in youth sports. One article in the Baltimore Sun ties the proliferation of trophies to the push for self-esteem. “In the 1980s, self-esteem building became an educational priority really kicked off by the state of California.”

Apparently there is some debate about how healthy receiving these awards have been. I mean I read articles in the Washington Post and New York Times that discussed the subject, and the one above is reporting on a league that has decided not to give them out any more. Then there are bloggers defending Millennials who have been called The Participation Trophy Generation.

The argument seems to be entitlement and learning from not coming out on top versus low self-esteem.

All this has much more far-reaching affects than what anyone may have realized when they first came up with the idea that it would be cool to give all the kids a trophy—win or lose. For instance, some of this “everyone wins” thinking may explain why socialism seems appealing to a certain age demographic. But I have something even more serious in mind.

I wonder if there aren’t serious spiritual ramifications, not just from participation trophies, but from the entire self-esteem push. I wonder if we aren’t training kids to lie to themselves.

I’ve heard more than once, contestants on some “reality” TV game show, like Survivor—people who did something mean or really, really foolish that caused them to get kicked out of the game—say that no, they didn’t regret how they played; they were actually quite proud of themselves for their involvement. At the time, I was confused. I thought, You made such horrible mistakes and you don’t regret even one of them?

But now I’m thinking that’s what we are teaching our kids, and the adults who grew up with this self-esteem emphasis.

What’s also interesting is that teaching our kids to love themselves and that they all deserve a trophy for being on the team doesn’t seem to be producing happier people. Teen suicide hasn’t gone away. According to the CDC, teen suicide has increased in the US by 30% since the year 2000.

Mental Health America, in an undated article, reports,

Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.

Science Daily reported a year ago that “More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression.” We’re talking kids aged 6-17. Six!

Off hand, I’d say, the push for higher self-esteem isn’t working. I mean, what I see is closer to people feeling bad about themselves but unable to deal with the cause because they’re supposed to be winners.

I realize that’s an oversimplification. Like any problem, it undoubtedly has multiple contributing factors. But I don’t think we should ignore the fact that we are living in a culture that tells kids they aren’t sinners, that they do deserve . . . pretty much whatever they want. The word deserve continues to be advertisers’ favorite, I think.

But here’s the truth about each and every one of us. We are made in the image of God, though marred by sin. Not the individual acts of sin we do—those are results, not causes. The sin that we inherited from Adam makes us wonderful image bearers who walk away from the One who created us. We are, in essence, kind of schizophrenic.

But for the grace of God.

He was not content to let us turn our backs on Him without putting into motion a rescue plan. A plan that declares how loved we are, how forgiven, how washed, how renewed, made alive.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

We are the princess, saved by the knight in shining armor. We are the citizens of Metropolis rescued from destruction by the Superhero who saved the day. We are the servant girl pursued by Prince Charming.

The point is, our identity comes because of our relationship with God.

Some years ago I attended a Dodger baseball game with some friends, and our seats were one level up, right behind home plate. They were the very best seats. But I only sat there because my friends had company tickets. I was ushered into the primo section of the stadium, not because of my standing, not because I was someone special. I got there because of who I was with.

That’s an incomplete picture, to be sure, but spiritually speaking, I am not in relationship with God because of my merit. I’m in relationship with God because I am in Christ. I’m with Him.

And where is He? Seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb. 1:3)” And I’m with Him.

That’s actually a transforming identity. No longer dead in my trespasses and sins, but alive, living in freedom from sin and guilt and the Law.

Funny how I could never enjoy this identity if I didn’t first admit that I can’t get there on my own.

What Satisfies


Years ago I read a book by author, speaker, psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb that left a lasting impact. He based his thoughts on Jeremiah 2:13.

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.

God gives living water. We need living water. But instead of staying beside that Fountain that provides in abundance, we take another tack. We go to our own wells which we have to dig for ourselves and which are actually broken and can’t keep any water in them.

This is a great picture of what we humans do.

God offers, we reject. But we still have our basic needs, so we turn to our own solutions.

Just recently I found another passage of Scripture that basically says the exact same thing. This one is in Isaiah:

Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live (55:1-3a)

I’m guessing not many people know the word ho appears in the Bible. It’s an interjection and the Hebrew transliteration of the original is howy. It’s most often translated as woe but sometimes as ah or alas or even O. The point is, it’s not a happy word. It’s drawing the reader’s attention to something that isn’t really a happy circumstance.

I had been reading the first lines as a carnival barker might call out to the crowd: “Listen up, people. Step right up! I have a special you don’t want to miss.” But the following lines are not in that cavalier vein.

Rather, this portion of Scripture is sober and sobering. The offer of water is there, but this is more than water. It’s nourishment. It’s fulfilling. And it’s free. But then the questions upon which the verses turn: Why do you spend money (when you’ve been offered something for free) when it isn’t even anything that will sustain you? I mean, you need food. You need water. But you’re paying out for stuff that will not keep you alive.

It gets worse. You’re working long hours to turn your earnings over to someone selling stuff that gives you no satisfaction. In other words, you’re just as hungry, just as malnourished, when you finish eating as when you started.

Just like the broken cisterns.

What is it with us humans that we pursue empty goals, empty pleasures, empty dreams, empty relationships. If it’s empty, we’re all over it, like a miner panning for fools gold.

We bite on every offer for the next new shinny thing. We buy lottery tickets because, you know, instant millionaire! It looks so inviting. We drink too much because for that moment we feel so good about ourselves. We do drugs for the next high. We dabble or dive into promiscuous sex because it’s candy to our appetites.

On and on. We think we know what will fulfill us. Maybe it’s a younger wife. Or taking a little money under the table. Or cheating on our income taxes. Or a church that says God wants me to be rich.

Who wants a “follow me” message that involves denying myself and taking up a cross. My cross. A place where I am to die to myself. That sounds counter intuitive to fulfillment.

I suppose it is. God is that way. In fact He says as much later in that Isaiah passage:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8-9)

This is where trust comes in. The way things look to me: if I want water, I need to go look for some, dig a well, collect it. What God says: Come to Me. Listen to Me and live.

My efforts give me mud, at best. Zilch, nada, nothing, at worst. In truth, we can’t live that way.

Then why do we spend money for what is not bread and our wages for what does not satisfy?

Are we afraid to trust God? Do we think Jesus was wrong when He said we should take up our cross daily? Do we really think we can do better than God?

The thing is, some people do look as if they are doing fine without God. They appear to have it all together. Except when we look at increasing instances of divorce, drug use, prescription drug use, anxiety, suicide, pornography, abortion, mass murders, homelessness—things that should not be in society if we were all happily fulfilled with our marriages, our jobs, our homes, our friendships.

It really is kind of astounding. As the anonymous quote says, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” That’s where mankind lives. We know going our own way does not satisfy, but we go our own way regardless.

I’d say that could be a result of a person not knowing there’s a different way. Not knowing seems unlikely in our western culture, at least. But I’m coming to understand that many who think they know about God and His way, really are mistaken. They have believed a lie. So they keep rolling the stone up the hill, trying to reach the top, even though it continues to slip into reverse and come down upon us as it returns to the bottom of the hill.

Why do we do it?

The solution to our cracked and broken wells, to our cycle of buying what is not bread and what does not satisfy, is not so complicated.

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Published in: on February 14, 2019 at 6:05 pm  Comments (3)  
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At Odds With Our Culture


Thinking Biblically puts Christians at odds with our culture. How could it be any different? Western culture says humans are their own masters, captains of their own fate. Christianity says, God is our Master and, in fact, Lord of all.

Western society is an odd mix of democracy and equality tangled with one-upmanship capitalism. We’re all equal, which means we don’t care who we step on as we climb our way up the ladder of success. Christianity, on the other hand, has no such confusion. We are to share with the needy, give no bribes, play no favorites.

The world in which we live says we are to protect what’s ours. Build fences (which make good neighbors according to the man in Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”), construct sturdy banks, invent efficient security systems. The Bible says we are to trust God, love our neighbors, give our shirt when someone takes our coat.

Our culture says there’s a drug for all your needs. Feeling a little anxious? Try something to calm you down. Need more sleep? Take a sedative. Not alert in the morning? How about some caffeine in a cup? God says, let your requests be known to Him. Don’t be anxious. Make Him your refuge and your strength.

I could go on and on—about our attitudes toward people of different races or ethnicities, toward those in governmental authority, spouses, parents, bosses, toward discipline, money, enemies, borrowing, work, education. There are a hundred ways Christians should stand out as different from our culture.

The point is, believing God to be omnipotent, sovereign, good, all knowing, and my personal friend ought to change the way I do things. But it seems there’s too much noise drowning out God’s voice, too many activities to crowd out time with our sure Counselor.

I think the bottom line is this: none of us can think Biblically if we don’t read the Bible. Regularly. As though the answers to all the problems we face day after day are within its pages.

I remember one particularly difficult year when I read the book of 1 Peter every day for a week or more. I wanted to hear what God had to say and it seemed like that book had the answers. But as each day wore on, I found myself back with my same attitudes and worries. So I’d dig into 1 Peter again. I wish I’d been better at putting what I was reading into practice, but I hadn’t learned to pray with those things in mind.

I knew God would hear and answer prayer according to His will. I just hadn’t figured out that the Bible told me at least a part of His will. So when He said, “casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you,” I didn’t draw the conclusion that God’s will for me was to cast my anxiety on Him.

It seems rather obvious now. But my learning to think Biblical was and still is, in process.

To be honest with you, I’d prefer to be in the social center rather than at odds with society. I don’t like feeling like an outsider, a misfit, someone who doesn’t belong. I spent too many years as the new kid who’d just moved into town and had to find a way to be accepted.

Now as an adult I learn I don’t fit because my citizenship is in heaven. I have a different mindset, a different allegiance, a different hope, a different strategy, a different goal.

Part of me would like to pull in and find a comfortable place with like-minded people where I’m understood and secure. Except, then I’m not positioned to accomplish my goal or live out my strategy or demonstrate my hope or allegiance.

In short, thinking Biblically isn’t easy. It puts me at odds with my culture. And that’s actually as it should be.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in January, 2014.

Published in: on January 3, 2019 at 5:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Upside Down Commands


Like other elements of society, the Church follows trends, even fads. They might show themselves in worship styles or catch phrases (how many times have I heard a preacher “unpack” a passage of Scripture? 🙄 ) Those are certainly harmless. Less so, however, are the shifting points of emphasis which seem to change with the winds of preference.

One such shift has been toward creating “seeker friendly” (also a catch phrase) churches, which, in my opinion, seem to miss the point of believers assembling themselves together weekly. Then too, of late there’s been a noticeable increase in the attention churches are giving to service. No longer do we want to sit on the sidelines, but we are admonished to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” in our community.

And we don’t stop with admonishing individuals. We are organizing programs and partnering with para-church organizations to feed children, care for orphans, tutor those struggling with literacy, provide clothes for the needy, beds for the homeless, medical and dental care for the poor.

In short, we’ve left the comfortable pews behind and have made a determined effort to charge out into the highways and byways to reach the unreached through our good deeds.

“About time,” some say. The church in America has been trying for far too long to create a safe, wholesome place where our needs are met and our sensibilities aren’t offended. We’re overdue for a little boat rocking. In fact, the whole thing needs to be turned upside down.

There’s a lot of truth in that position, which, I’m discovering, is the place where a lot of error starts. Just as in every other area, we must look at Scripture and take our lead from God, not from what sounds good, and certainly not from what is currently trendy in the church.

So what does God think about caring for the poor and orphaned and widows? He’s all for it!

Problem solved? Not so fast.

There’s something He’s even more all for. He’s all for us loving Him. That’s the first commandment, the greatest one, according to Jesus. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Then and only then are we to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems to me we are in the process of flipping the order of the two commands, as if doing for others is more important than loving God.

Over and over the people of Israel were admonished to love God or fear Him, then to obey and serve.

Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12).

So here’s the critical point. It is in loving God that we will genuinely be concerned for serving others. It won’t be a passing fancy or a program that we’ll swap out for another one later on down the road.

No, if we love God with our whole being, we will want what He wants, go where He sends, do what He says. Loving Him seems like the only sure way we will end up loving our neighbor self-sacrificially. After all, these are the people the One we love passionately came to save. Why wouldn’t we in turn love them too? Isn’t that the way it works when two people love each other—they take on each other’s interests and passions. They pay attention to what they had never cared about before.

So, sure, it’s time the church in America became less self-satisfied and self-centered. It’s time we stopped loving ourselves more than we love God. But the answer isn’t to try to make ourselves love other people more than we love ourselves. That might be an admirable goal, but it has the commands Jesus enumerated upside down. Unless we do the first, we won’t be doing the second either—not the way we could or should. We’ll simply be trending.

Re-posted from the original article published November, 2011.

Published in: on October 9, 2018 at 5:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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Speaking The Truth In Love Is Not Victim Shaming


I don’t want to write this post. I really, really don’t. But we in the church have picked up the verbiage and values of our culture, and it shows itself in the most ugly way.

First, the problem. In patriarchal societies, sinful men will act sinfully and they often sin against women. That’s a fact, and it has been since Adam first blamed Eve for his own disobedience.

In contemporary western culture, however, we have taken a strange turn. When men sin against women, to counsel women how they can protect themselves, is “victim shaming” and ought not to be done.

Here’s where all this is coming from. On Monday someone in a writers’ Facebook group drew our attention to a Publisher’s Weekly article about four Christian writers’ conference presenters who have been accused of and/or investigated for sexual misconduct.

One of the many people who commented said this:

The code of conduct [which conference directors are beginning to include for their staff] should apply to everyone–male and female, attendees or staff. Some of the clothing I’ve seen is really questionable, especially at a Christian conference. Not that it gives the other person any rights, but get a clue, folks. Don’t wear suggestive clothing!

Well, this opened the floodgates to the “victim shaming” accusation:
* What a sad, victim-shaming comment.
* I would love to think we’ve gotten past this way of thinking. Wow.
* that you think clothing choices lead to (and excuse) male misconduct is both shaming to women and insulting to men. [Never mind that the commenter specifically said: “Not that it gives the other person any rights.”]
* when I see someone implying that a woman brought abuse on herself because of how she dressed or what she did all my niceness goes out the window. It is never ever the victim’s fault.

And on the comments went, most taking the stance that any word to women was victim shaming. I admit, the comment was blunt and in my opinion should have carried a tone of compassion and love, but it caused me to think.

As a result, in another discussion of the PW article, I made this comment:

One thing that has dismayed me is that when someone says women can be discerning and can do something to shut down predators, their comments are considered “victim shaming.” How are we to have a conversation that will help young women if we can’t say anything about what they should do in response or as a precaution or to enhance discernment?

A friend of mine took the time to give a thoughtful answer:

The time to tell women how to protect themselves is not when we are discussing predators. It makes it seem as if we’re shifting blame. That comes during other discussions, not during the focus on predators.

It’s like when someone’s kid dies drunk driving. You don’t start lecturing on how bad it is to drink and drive to the grievers. You grieve with them and comfort them. Later, another time, another forum, you can be active in speaking against intoxicated operation of vehicles and heavy machinery.

But when women are talking about their pain and abuse is not the time to say, “Well, don’t stand so close, don’t be alone in their room or in an elevator, don’t sit next to them at a table if you know they tell racy jokes or touch a lot, don’t smile when you feel uncomfortable, speak up, etc.”

But . . . the comment that drew such ire was not directed to the victims. It specified that the men had no right to do what they did. And if not when the incident surfaces, then when?

I’d make this comparison. What if a serial rapist was on a university campus and had not been caught. This has actually happened. It isn’t a pretend scenario. On the news there will often be careful instructions about how women on that campus should call security if they must walk alone at night, stay in groups, even carry mace. Is that victim shaming? Of course not. That’s giving sensible instruction about how a woman can discourage an attack on her person from the rapist.

So I have to wonder, why are a clear warning and some helpful insights considered victim shaming? Why can’t we talk to women who may find themselves in a vulnerable situation about what they can and should do to protect themselves?

I think of Joseph, and one of the PW commenters actually mentioned him, when he was propositioned day after day by his boss’s wife. It wasn’t his fault, the commenter pointed out. So very true. But what did Joseph do? He ran!

Clearly that woman had power over him, but Joseph didn’t “go with the flow” or decide that she was just harmlessly flirting with him or that he could get further ahead if he let her have her way. He made a decision that what she was pressing him to do was wrong before God, and he left.

Reminds me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:18a—“Flee immorality.”

Today we talk about having boundaries, and in my opinion, that’s just another way of saying flee. Keep an inappropriate relationship at arm’s distance, or further, if necessary.

I know when I was young, I would have appreciated some wise counsel in this area. Because I was naive and stupid. I actually faced a couple scary situations, largely of my own making. Well, sure, not that the guys involved were free to have their way, but because I gave them the wrong impression—that I was available and willing. I was just goofing around, having fun, and these were strangers who I never saw again, but the situation could have had a very different ending, but for the grace of God.

Reminds me of a time I was taking a neighbor’s son home from school. He kept flashing gang signs out the window. I finally pulled over and told him in no uncertain terms that what he was doing could get us killed. Not that a real gang member (my neighbor’s son was not) would have the right to attack someone flashing signs at him. But the end result would be the same: we’d be innocent, and dead.

That may sound extreme, but listen to women who have faced abuse or harassment. They will say how much it has affected their lives, their marriages. We’re talking about something dangerous, so to basically say, Don’t tell women how to keep this man who wants to exert his power over you from doing so because that is victim shaming, in my opinion simply perpetuates the problem.

I get that the women who are suffering, who are dealing with confrontation and with forgiveness, and what all that means, don’t need to hear what they could have done in the past. That isn’t helpful to them. But it would be greatly helpful for the women coming along behind them to know that they don’t have to expect the same to happen. There are boundaries that the can draw, even if it means they lose something temporarily, as Joseph did. Sometimes there’s a cost, and that can be intimidating. Which is why we should talk about these things instead of hiding them under cover of the world’s “victim shaming” accusation.

What Is Cultural Christianity?


I heard a pastor on the radio talk about cultural Christianity, but I thought his answer was fairly incomplete. Basically he said that in the US many years ago most people knew about Jesus, and a lot of people were saved, even people you thought maybe you could share the gospel with.

Well, that was only partly right, I think. I think Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus explained cultural Christianity more correctly.

Growing up as a Muslim and as a second generation American, Nabeel understood Christianity more from what he learned at home than he did from any personal encounter with Christians.

Eastern teachers have taught the Muslims that the West is Christian, that its culture is promiscuous, and that the people oppose Islam… I remember pointing out to [my parents] that the people dressed provocatively on television might not be Christian, and their response was, “What do you mean? Don’t they call themselves ‘Christian’? Don’t you see them wearing crosses?” If I argued that some of them may be Christian in name only and might not even believe in God, they responded that this simply meant they were Christians who don’t believe in God. They did not categorize religion with belief but with cultural identity. (pp 80-81, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus)

Those who are culturally Christian do things that Christians do such as celebrate Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving. They might even go to church from time to time. They might pray at meals, like the Reagan family does in the TV program Blue Bloods. They might wear crosses and even send their children to a parochial school. These are traditions they keep because they’ve been raised in tradition, but they have no personal understanding or belief in Jesus and His saving power over sin. Their “Christianity” is only culturally deep. It doesn’t reach their heart or change their life.

The radio pastor is an evangelist and I respect him a lot, but he was talking about cultural Christianity as if those who have the Christian tradition were in a better place than people who have no familiarity with who Jesus is.

I think the opposite is true. People who think they know about Jesus, who picture Him perpetually as a baby in a manger or as a bloody figure on a cross, don’t understand the gospel. But they think they do. So they don’t have a grasp of the fact that they need to listen to someone who teaches what the Bible really says.

Many cultural Christians actually deny Christ and turn their back on Him. Oh, I’ve tried that, they’ll say, and it doesn’t work.

Doesn’t work? What did they think a relationship with God was supposed to “do for them”? They are behaving like consumers. They went out shopping for religion, bought the one that seemed to promise the most, then found it wanting.

Christianity isn’t like that, but cultural Christianity is.

That’s the problem. Too many people, and not just Muslims, but atheists, too, think they know what Christianity is when they only have a nodding acquaintance with cultural Christianity. I like to refer to cultural Christianity as pretend Christianity, though the latter term also includes false teachers and cults and “progressives” who say they believe, but who deny Jesus in one way or another.

Christianity has become a kind of catch-all term and it breaks my heart that one aspect of it is culture that is permissive, greedy, immoral. Those things have nothing to do with God’s holiness and goodness and righteousness. It’s as Nabeel said: a great travesty that Muslims—and I would not be surprised if other people groups made the same mistake—associate Christianity with the American culture they see on TV.

The thing is, I think we in the Church need to make an effort to “come out from among them.” We need to be different, not by being weird, but by being more like Christ. No one should be surprised to learn that someone is a Christian. By our good works, by our speech, by our love, people should recognize that we not only have been with Jesus but that He lives in us.

FYI, you can pre-order Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, 3rd edition, from now until Aug. 20 and receive some bonus material at the website set up for Nabeel, who died of cancer a year or so ago.

God’s Patience


Back in the first century, some of the new converts to The Way, were starting to get antsy. I mean, Jesus said He’d be back, but so far, nothing had changed. Wasn’t that a sign that they’d simply believed a lie?

The same accusation gets thrown out today, more likely from atheists, though: If there really is a god, where is he? Why hasn’t he showed himself? Didn’t he say he was coming?

The truth is, God specifically said in His word that He was not delaying His return as some people think, but He is actually waiting.

Waiting? Waiting for what?

For the completion of the Church. He’s been waiting for us and for any people who come to Christ after us:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 2:9)

Some people see God as intolerant and impatient, but the opposite is actually true, as Paul clearly stated in Romans:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4)

If the problem is not God’s, then it must be us people. Paul makes that clear, too:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS (Rom. 2:5-6; emphasis mine; all caps indicate a quotations of an Old Testament passage)

It’s really silly for people to point the finger at God and say that the mess we’re in is His fault. Suffering, for example, or evil, death, hell. God’s fault, they say. He’s too cruel to be believed.

But these kinds of indictments against God are actually a sign that we are getting closer and closer to the end, to the judgment. Scripture makes it clear that as we move further from God we will flip the script and call evil, good, and good, evil. So our good and holy God? With more and more frequency people say that He is the opposite of who He actually is.

It’s bad enough that what psychology—not religion or theology, though those disciplines undoubtedly concurred—used to call deviant sex, is now legalized, protected, celebrated, promoted. Evil, good.

Or how about the strange idea that a person can simply decide what sex they are. Never mind that there are all these physical gender markers. Never mind that once upon a time feminism faulted society for creating gender attributes. Now a person can simply declare that they “feel” like a male or like a female, never mind what gender they actually are. Never mind that they mutilate their bodies in order to become who they feel like they are. This too is nothing but the script turned on its head.

I haven’t mentioned abortion or sex trafficking or pornography or greed (it’s just business) or anxiety or addictions or any number of issues that are no longer sin. They have either become good or they are a sickness, out of our control—certainly not sin.

At different times when God was going to bring judgment on a place, He waited until “the fullness of time”—until sin had become the operating system that dictated the cultural behavior and beliefs. Nothing’s changed.

God is in the process of giving Western 21st century culture exactly want we want—enough rope to hang ourselves. Which is good news and bad news. It’s good news because it means those who God’s been waiting for are almost all in the fold. It’s bad news because we are surrounded by the sins of a culture that no longer believes in sin.

Our job is cut out for us, I think. As long as God delays His coming, He’s showing His patience and His kindness toward those who need to repent because “[He] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4)”

That’s the God Christians serve, not the false caricature thrown out by those who don’t know Him.

Published in: on August 9, 2018 at 5:46 pm  Comments (10)  
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