The Royal Wedding

Friday’s royal wedding literally captured the world’s attention.  Two billion people watched Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding.  To put that into perspective, one in three people on the planet tuned in to the royal marriage ceremony.

 

Every major Internet service provider reported record traffic, especially impressive given that the event occurred during off-peak hours.  Yahoo reported that it was “breaking records in terms of traffic and video consumption.”  The royal wedding set an “all-time record traffic for a live video event on Yahoo,” eclipsing the previous record, held by Michael Jackson’s funeral, by 21 percent.  “Requests per second have surpassed previous records set by the Japan earthquake, 40,000 per second at today’s peak, compared to 33,000 per second.”  By end of day Friday, Yahoo’s top two stories — “the dress” and “the kiss” — had “already driven more than 6 million clicks combined.”  On Twitter, the top ten trending words Friday were related to Wills and Kate’s wedding, and Facebook was ablaze with excited comments.

 

Needless to say, when a single event stops the civilized world in its tracks, something of relevance occurred.  Here are the things that stood out to me yesterday as I watched the elegant young couple say, “I do.”

 

First, I believe the unprecedented interest in the formal ceremony reveals a traditional longing lying just beneath the surface of our increasingly casual culture.

 

Modernist thinking spawned a rejection of traditional values.  The rejection was reactionary, rather than creative.  If tradition thought one way, modernists mechanically thought another.  If longstanding custom dressed one way for particular events, modernism – in a predictable reaction – raced to the opposite extreme.

 

This anti-traditional mindset radically shaped modern culture, with one outgrowth being that we are now extremely casual toward almost everything.  Sexual conversations, which were improper in polite company in days gone by, are now standard topics among mixed company.  Crude humor, which was once found among teenage boys or in the sports locker room, is now heard over lunch or anywhere men and women congregate together.

 

The examples are almost endless, with the end result being that very few things are held sacred anymore.  Few events stand out as so different from the norm that they call for special behavior and reverence.  Our newfound casual spirit exhibits itself frequently in casual dress.  Our downplayed wardrobes match our approach to life.

 

By way of example, visit the web site of almost any “cool” new church which is caught up in the consumer-driven approach to doing church.  If the church offers streaming video of its pastor’s sermons, you will no doubt notice that the preacher is not standing behind a pulpit, which historically symbolized the centrality of God’s Word in worship.  In many cases, the modern pastor is actually sitting down on the stage, resting his arm casually on a small table holding his coffee and Bible.  Neither is he dressed formally in a suit and tie; rather, like a puppet mimicking culture’s anti-traditional stance, he dons the obvious: something overtly non-traditional, casual.  Since tucked-in shirts are proper, then, by all means, he will leave his shirt tails hanging out.

 

Lest you think I’m snooty and stiffly uncomfortable, let me say that I love casual clothes and casual moments – in their proper time.  But surely, as wise Solomon wrote, there is a time and season for everything.  Sunday worship of the majestic, holy God who humbles Himself to join us sinners in our sanctuaries surely deserves special attention.  Formal, corporate worship is not the same thing as eating pizza with friends the night before.  Both have their moment and both call for a different attitude and approach.

 

I am not advocating a dress code for church, but I do suggest that we have lost a sense for something grand and beyond ordinary when we remove our suits and dresses and cast aside formality and tradition.  Increasingly, we refuse to see that there are certain occasions and topics which demand special treatment.  We have lost a sense of reverence for God and godliness in our full embracing of the lackadaisical, casual life.

 

Watching William and Kate’s wedding ceremony yesterday, however, prompted me to wonder if people, deep down, don’t miss the tradition and properness we have laughed at and left behind.  The royal ceremony was gorgeous, dripping with tradition, elegance, and timelessness.  The moment became bigger, as it should have, than the participants, and the wedding party and guests approached it with that spirit.  Hearing that kings and queens had been married in that same church (Westminster Abbey) for one thousand years humbled the participants.  It was a cool reminder to our day which celebrates self that we are but one person in a long line that went before us.

 

Seeing the ladies in their lovely hats and dresses; the men in their dapper suits, the military men in their smart uniforms; the ministers in their formal gowns, with William and Kate looking marvelous at the altar, it reminded me that there is still such a thing as special occasions.  And special occasions demand special treatment.  We need formality, because it interrupts normalcy.  Momentous events separate mundane life, charging it with meaning.

 

Life is not casual, twenty-four/seven.  There are times and seasons which stop us in our tracks.  We dress differently and behave more properly.  Hopefully, the pomp and circumstance prompts us to ponder life, to see its everyday nature differently.  We are called, for instance, to worship Christ every day, but God placed upon us a special call for the first day of the week.  What happens to us at worship on the Sabbath should influence the coming week.  Sunday is not Tuesday or Friday, nor should it be.  We should approach it more formally, both in dress and attitude.  The occasional interrupting of our everyday, casual lives with formality and reverence is a healthy approach to life.

 

 

The second thing which struck me about William and Catherine’s wedding is the importance of family.

 

Watching the bride and groom during the ceremony, I couldn’t help but notice that they were very comfortable with one another.  They drew on one another’s strength during the lengthy, extremely public ceremony.  By contrast, footage of Charles and Diana’s wedding (William’s parents) reveals two people who seemed to be strangers.  Their body language betrayed uneasiness and unfamiliarity, feelings which proved in the ensuing years to ruin their marriage.

 

I can’t help but admire Charles and Diana’s sons, Princes William and Harry.  Seeing them in the news occasionally, they appear friendly and approachable, nothing like their father.  I also can’t help but feel sorry for the two young men.  Clearly, their childhood home and family was not happy.  Their parents divorced when they were small boys, and then their mother, Diana, died tragically in an automobile accident, leaving the boys alone in a family which appears from the outside to be cold.

 

Something changed, however, for Prince William.  Reports suggest that he fell in love with Kate Middleton’s family.  Her parents, though fabulously wealthy now, are not noble born, nor did they come from wealth.  The Middleton family appears to be an authentic, traditional family, where Mom and Dad love each other and their children.  Life centers on the comings and goings of the family.

 

William must have been drawn powerfully to the family life which he never experienced.  He and Kate, in fact, have made it clear that they will live alone without servants.  They will cook their own meals and clean their own clothes.  In essence, they want an authentic marriage and family.

 

I find this refreshing in our casual, anti-traditional era.  Just as we have thrown formality aside, we have also cast traditional marriage aside.  Surveys reveal that a sad outgrowth of America’s staggering divorce rate is that children of divorce show very little interest in getting married.  Increasingly, many choose shacking up, and the statistics surrounding living together are atrocious.  Compared to traditional marriage, couples who cohabit face much greater risk of spouse abuse, child abuse, “divorce,” abandonment, poverty, and many other negative experiences.  Is this any surprise?  We can ignore and mock God, but we cannot escape the timelessness and consequences of His laws.

 

 

Thirdly, yesterday’s wedding ceremony reminded me of the value of hard work in a free society.

 

Returning to the Middleton family, royal blood does not flow through their veins.  In English society, they are commoners.  Prince William’s new bride, Catherine, is not officially known as a princess.  But don’t miss that this commoner is, as of yesterday morning, the Duchess of Cambridge.  She is the wife of England’s future king.  She will become a princess.  She is referred to today as “Her Royal Highness.”

 

This fairy tale could never have occurred in many of the world’s cultures.  Mankind, hopelessly prideful and endlessly cruel, is prone to embrace the axiom, “might makes right.”  Many nations are dominated by rich and powerful tyrants who keep the masses ignorant and poor.  With no hope of education and no guaranteed freedoms, these people live and die in squalor.

 

By great contrast, the Western world was significantly shaped by Christian teaching.  This is not to say that Western nations are Christian, but their laws and cultures were influenced for centuries by the Bible’s doctrines.  The inherent value of human beings, for instance, led to the abolition of human slavery.  Freedom and protection for all men created safe societies.  Biblical work ethics and calls for education fostered increasingly trained and industrious work forces.

 

These are Bible-taught maxims which Western civilizations now take for granted but are nonexistent across most of the world.  England, a once great Christian nation (sadly, no longer), nevertheless embraced these profound, godly truths, which explains the rise of the Middleton family from the status of commoners to one which saw Kate Middleton marry royalty yesterday.

 

Ultimately, seeing Kate Middleton standing at the altar of one of the world’s oldest, most ornate and celebrated cathedrals, I was reminded of how we common sinners – Christ’s bride – will someday stand in the presence of almighty God, at the greatest marriage ceremony of all, when Christ – the Bridegroom – comes to take us as His bride.  We who were nothing, with no hope in life or eternity, were nonetheless rescued by God’s amazing grace.  More, He adopted us as His children and has loved us every day of our lives.  Further, He will give us to His Son at the heavenly marriage ceremony, and we will enjoy the celebration at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

 

England’s royal wedding is a beautiful, heavenly portrait of the regal ceremony which awaits you if you are a commoner and sinner, saved by Jesus Christ.

Rob Bell, “Love Wins,” & Universalism

Most people are so absorbed in everyday life that they rarely lift their gaze to eternity.  Rob Bell changed this recently, at least for the thousands of members of his church as well as the endless responders to his splashing new revelation: God will save everyone in the end.  It’s called universalism, an erroneous philosophy that is hardly new but manages to resurrect itself from time to time through well known religious leaders such as Rob Bell.

Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, author of "Love Wins" and proponent of universalism

Eminent scholars, denominational leaders, and pastors have weighed in on the recent controversy, which was provoked by Bell’s bestselling book, Love Wins.  I was content to watch from a distance, though I did take the opportunity to deliver a Sunday evening sermon on why universalism is wrong, a devastating lie born in Satan’s diabolical mind.  But after reading last week’s Time Magazine article (Is Hell Dead?, by John Meacham – April 14, 2011; read it at: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2065080-1,00.html), which is devoted to Rob Bell and his universalism stir, I can hardly keep my pen still!

 

Allow me, if you will, to select a few quotes from Meacham’s article to see if I can expose the lie of universalism and Rob Bell’s latest spin on it.  But first – in case you are unfamiliar with Bell – he is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He is a bestselling author, sought after speaker, and leader in a movement known as the emerging church.

 

"Is Hell Dead?" by John Meacham, April 14, 2011

Now to the article’s quotes and Rob Bell’s sad embracing of universalism.  Meacham, as seen in this first quote, wastes no time in opening the proverbial “can of worms.”

 

“The standard Christian view of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is summed up in the Gospel of John, which promises ‘eternal life’ to ‘whosoever believeth in Him.’  One either accepts this and goes to heaven or refuses and goes to hell.  Bell begs to differ.  He suggests that the redemptive work of Jesus may be universal — meaning that…‘every person who ever lived’ could have a place in heaven, whatever that turns out to be.”

 

Meacham then quotes Rob Bell: “I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian.  Something new is in the air.”

 

Bell’s “massive shift” actually represents the question plaguing the American church today: who occupies the position of center stage, God or man?  The Bible answers this question easily, as if there is no dilemma.  Scripture presents the universe with God sitting at the center of everything; He is God, by definition.  In other words, He created and sustains everything.  He is all powerful and is in charge of His universe.  Like it or not, His purposes prevail, and all creation – including mankind – is subservient to Him and His will.

 

What this means when it comes to salvation is that God’s plan of redemption

Michelangelo's famous painting, "The creation of Adam," clearly depicts God in his traditional role as Creator, with man as a subservient creature

is His plan; not ours.  It was His idea, not ours, that mankind must repent and place his belief in the Gospel.  Whether we like God’s plan of salvation or think it is unfair is irrelevant; again, it is His plan, not ours.

 

So I simply must take issue with Bell, who says, “I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian.  Something new is in the air.” Actually, I cringe at his audacity.  Who is Bell – who is anyone – to suggest to almighty God that we humans are worthy to weigh in with our opinions?  How can a Gospel minister speak with a straight face about “a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian”?  It seems to me that when one questions God’s fundamental deity by usurping His right to make changeless decrees, he has either departed the faith or has grossly elevated his own status.

 

 

The next quote which caught my attention came from deeper in the Time Magazine article.  Meacham writes:

 

“[Bell] believes that…the prospect of a place of eternal torment [hell] seems irreconcilable with the God of love… What comes next has to wait. ‘When we get to what happens when we die, we don’t have any video footage,’ says Bell. ‘So let’s at least be honest that we are speculating, because we are.’”

 

Is the prospect of a place of eternal torment irreconcilable with the God of love?  Bell believes it is, which is why he claims that God will, in the end, save everyone.  Hell, to Bell’s thinking, is too evil for God to be associated with.  We could forgive Meacham, a secular journalist, had he uttered this erroneous statement, but he didn’t – Bell did.  We could forgive almost anyone in the pew for making the comment; perhaps their faith and knowledge of Christ is still infantile.  But church members didn’t raise this dangerous point; Bell did – Bell, a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

So what is wrong with Bell’s assertion that eternal torment is irreconcilable with the God of love?  For starters, it suggests that God is only love.  But what about His manifold other attributes He reveals in the Bible?  What about His wrath, which is the necessary opposite of His love?  If God is love, then He must exercise wrath against whatever opposes His love.

 

The Bible depicts Christ's Second Coming as a frightening event filled with judgment for everyone who rejected Jesus as Savior and Lord

Consider the relationship between God’s love and His wrath, as revealed in the Bible.  God loves sinners so much that He sent “His only begotten Son” to die in their stead.  Jesus endured the wrath of His Father, which sinners deserve.  Seen in this light, what, then, is the logical outcome for sinners who reject Jesus’ redemption for them?  Is it not the wrath which their sin earned to begin with?  If people reject Jesus as their Substitute, will they not quite naturally receive the just penalty for their rebellion against God?  According to the Bible, they most certainly will.  Those who reject Christ’s atonement will endure God’s wrath.

 

Universalism is, therefore, a gross misunderstanding of God’s nature and His Gospel.  The Gospel begins with God’s hatred of anything remotely less than His holiness.  The Gospel begins with the statement from Almighty God that we are all sinners: “For all of sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  “All we like sheep have gone astray – each to his own way” (Isa. 53:6).

 

The Gospel ends with the individual decision – person by person – to respond to Jesus’ command, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Romans 10:13 says, “Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Do it now, because “it is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment.”

And judgment is harsh.  Jesus is pictured during His mighty return to earth as wearing a white robe, stained with the blood of His victims.  He wields a sword of judgment.  Actual judgment is portrayed, with a clear separation of humanity into two groups: those saved by Jesus’ blood and those who were not.  Those who were not are cast into hell, which is shown to be eternal, horrific, literal, and individual.

 

The Gospel is glorious and full of grief, all at the same time.  The Gospel is God’s love for sinners but also His wrath against sin.  The key is for people – one by one – to admit their sin and plead for Christ’s mercy.  The love and the wrath are equal parts of the Gospel.  One without the other destroys the integrity of God’s eternal consistency and cheapens His costly grace.

 

 

The next quote to which I would draw your attention finds Meacham quoting Bell directly again: “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number[of people] who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God.”

 

I cannot deny that we all wish this sentiment was true.  What right-minded person would not want hell to be temporary and for God’s powerful love to win everybody over in the end?  This “Happy Ever After” ending plays well to our Hollywood-influenced culture, but it is simply not true.

 

Further, Bell’s claim that a belief in universalism has sat “at the center of the Christian tradition since the first church” is a complete fabrication with no substantiation from reliable history.  Our ideas and opinions do not become true merely because we wish strongly that they are true.  Neither are they true just because we say they are true.  Bell does not seem to be a simpleton or an outright liar; therefore, I am shocked to hear him make such rash, untrue comments.

 

Bell’s ignorant comment is symptomatic of America’s growing disregard for history as well as its willingness to rewrite history (i.e., revisionist history) to suit one’s desires.  We cannot reach back into history and force it to say what it never said.

 

I say that we cannot, but this is exactly what our culture is doing today.  The

The original $100 bill, showing Franklin wearing a fur coat

U.S. Treasury Department, by way of example, removed Benjamin Franklin’s fur coat from the face of the hundred dollar bill and replaced it with a nicer, less offensive style.  This is a classic case of modern man forcing his views backwards upon history.  The fact of the matter is that Franklin wore fur coats to ward off cold winters.  He had no idea that America of two hundred years later would “evolve” to see the killing of animals to use their fur to stay warm as cruel.  Probably, he would have viewed our modern attitude as nonsense, against nature and logic.

 

Today's, revisionist, $100 bill - Franklin's fur coat has been removed

Whatever Franklin may have thought, we cannot undress him and redress him to suit our ethics.  He wore what he wore.  But ours is now a day when we rewrite history without embarrassment.  We do so with the arrogant idea that we know better than the ancient, unenlightened simpletons; they need us to steer them in the right direction.

 

Rob Bell seems to have been heavily influenced by revisionist history.  He shows no regret at rewriting history or even forcing his desires upon people of history, when they never thought the way he suggests.  Bell apparently feels justified in this approach, because he sees himself as more enlightened and evolved than his ignorant predecessors.  Had they been alive today, he must think, they would think my thoughts, so I will make them think them on behalf of both of us.

 

 

The next passage from the Time Magazine article finds the author himself launching off into utter nonsense.

 

“The dominant view of the righteous in heaven and the damned in hell owes more to the artistic legacy of the West, from Michelangelo to Dante to Blake, than it does to history or to unambiguous biblical teaching. Neither pagan nor Jewish tradition offered a truly equivalent vision of a place of eternal torment; the Greek and Roman underworlds tended to be morally neutral, as did much of the Hebraic tradition concerning Sheol, the realm of the dead.”

“Like the Bible — a document that often contradicts itself and from which one can construct sharply different arguments — theology is the product of human hands and hearts. What many believers in the 21st century accept as immutable doctrine was first formulated in the fog and confusion of the 1st century.”

 

Wow!  Meacham takes off his gloves and doesn’t even attempt to hide his true feelings!  He portrays the Bible as self-contradictory, the product of “human hands and hearts.”  Its teachings, he suggests, were formulated by ignorant, unsophisticated ancient minds.  Doctrines which the church has taught as truth, Meacham claims to be the products of a blending of pagan and philosophical thought.

 

How puzzling to see an educated journalist, whose credentials include being published in Time Magazine, fall for such unscholarly drivel.  Mankind’s greatest minds – both secular and Christian – have sought to prove or disprove the Bible, in terms of its historical authenticity and internal consistency.  As expected, God’s Word has passed man’s strictest literary tests, time and again.  To throw out statements such as Meacham’s only reveals that he is grossly misguided or ill informed.

 

What’s worse, Meacham is dead wrong when it comes to his contention that the Bible does not teach the literal existence of hell, where unsaved people will spend eternity, and heaven, where Christians will live forever.  To narrow the view to a single passage (Luke 16), Jesus opened a window into both heaven and hell.  An extremely wealthy man, now in hell for eternity, is shocked to discover that a poor beggar, Lazarus, is in heaven.  The rich man’s unending agony in hell prompts him to beg that Lazarus can come and dip his finger in cool water and touch it to his burning tongue.  Further, he pleads: “Send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28).

 

The Abbaye St. Pierre de Moissac in France (founded in the 600s) prominently displays this bas-relief of the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Two dogs lick Lazarus' wounds; the rich man dines to the right. On the left sits Abraham with Lazarus in his bosom.

This passage not only poignantly captures heaven’s and hell’s reality but also humanity’s timeless existence in either of these two places.  So to say that Christianity’s ideas on heaven and hell are rooted in “the artistic legacy of the West, from Michelangelo to Dante to Blake,” represents a gross misunderstanding of the Bible’s actual content.  Whatever Michelangelo, Dante, and Blake wrote or painted about heaven and hell was shaped by the Bible’s content, given that it significantly predates the work of these artists.  Sure, their works are well known and have no doubt influenced people’s notions of the afterlife.  But to say that the Church’s ideas on heaven and hell are dominantly shaped by these men’s legacies is utter nonsense!

 

 

The next quote which draws my attention is one in which the author directly quotes Rob Bell again.  Meacham misinterprets a few Bible passages, which Bell claims to teach universalism; then, he says:

“So is it heaven for Christians who say they are Christians and hell for everybody else? What about babies, or people who die without ever hearing the Gospel through no fault of their own? (As Bell puts it, ‘What if the missionary got a flat tire?’).”

 

Bell’s and Meacham’s thinking here follows the tired, worn out line against God’s sovereignty in election.  The Bible clearly reveals that God is in charge, from first to last, of His plan of redemption – nothing is left to chance.  Christ, for instance, does not offer His substitutionary death for sinners, giving them the choice to choose or reject Him at their whim (though this plays well to our consumer-driven society).  No, Christ died particularly for those whom the Bible frequently refers to as the “elect” – those people whom God chose to rescue from hell.  God leaves nothing to chance, ever.  He sovereignly governs His universe, including – specifically including – something as important as redeeming sinners at the cost of the suffering and death of His Son.

Christ died for those whom His Father gave Him out of the world, not everyone. He prayed: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world… Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me…and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:6-10).

 

When people such as Rob Bell suggest that a remote jungle dweller cannot be sent to hell, because the “missionary got a flat tire” and therefore could not deliver the Gospel story, they severely undermine God’s authority in redemption.  Again, salvation is God’s realm; not man’s.  If a jungle dweller “slips through the cracks” due to the flat tire, this does not catch God off guard and prompt His loving heart to break His own rules of redemption and therefore allow the poor man to enter heaven even if he continued to rebel against God’s rule in his life.

 

Had Bell or Meacham merely read the apostle Paul’s great discourse on redemption in the incomparable book of Romans (see Romans 1), they would have discovered that the remote jungle dweller not only knows of God’s existence, but he also knows deep down (because God created him and fashioned him to know) that he owes allegiance to this great God.  Meacham and Bell would also have learned from Paul’s pen that the jungle dweller is not a “noble savage,” almost sinless, but is stained by sin just as much as you and me.  He, just like his ancient parents – Adam and Eve – longs to be a god unto himself.  He has no interest in bowing the knee to God, so he runs as fast and far away from God as he can, sinning his way happily into hell.

 

This Amazon shaman from Brazil knows deep down of God's existence and of his need to honor God. Should God set his saving sights on him, he will come to faith in Christ.

What a sad state of affairs, but it describes us, one and all – it is the human condition (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Rom. 3:23; “All we like sheep have gone astray – each to his own way” – Isa. 53:6).  Only the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient to save the jungle dweller, or you and me.  And should God set His saving sights on you or me, or the jungle dweller, then the missionary’s tire would not go flat.  Or, if it did, he would find strength of resolve to press on, on foot!  God’s love would compel him, and God’s love would sustain Him, and God’s love would save the precious man in the jungle…because God chose to do so.

 

We cannot deny the reality of God’s saving love just because we do not understand precisely how it works.  We cannot arrogantly claim that it is not fair – God is not fair, according to our sin soaked notions of fairness.  We cannot re-write God’s plan of redemption to include the jungle dweller merely because this makes us feel better.  We cannot erase the existence of eternal hell and redefine God’s love by eliminating His wrath, thereby slamming hell shut and swinging wide heaven’s gates to everyone.  We cannot do these things merely because our hearts long for them to happen.  We fashion ourselves into gods when we make these grandiose statements and thereby knock God from His throne.

 

 

The article’s next quote is intriguing.  Deep into the article, Meacham turned his attention to Bell’s upbringing, wondering how his parents and his childhood shaped who he is today.  Bell spoke of his first sermon, of how he removed his sandals before approaching the pulpit.

 

“I took off my Birkenstocks beforehand.  I had this awareness that my life would never be the same again.”

 

Meacham picked up on the comment:

 

“The removal of the shoes is an interesting detail for Bell to remember. (‘Do not come any closer,’ God says to Moses in the Book of Exodus.  ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’)  Bell says it was just intuitive, but the intuition suggests he had a sense of himself as a player in the unfolding drama of God in history.”

 

Isn’t it just a bit showy?  Is Rob Bell identifying himself with Moses?  No one was there, mind you, when Moses took off his sandals; he did it in response to God’s command.  There was no audience.

Isn't it a bit showy to draw attention to oneself so overtly, hoping to appear humble while performing such a public act?

Bell’s Birkenstocks aren’t a huge deal, but they are a perfect example of what many of us aspire to: public notice, something unique to set us apart, something big.  Removing his sandals is a barely concealed attempt at false humility – “Notice me, people, as I do something publicly to humble myself.” True humility doesn’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.

 

Meacham’s words are spot on: “[Bell] had a sense of himself as a player in the unfolding drama of God in history.” Rob Bell is a celebrity.  He pastors a church which draws seven thousand worshippers every Sunday.  He is a leader in the movement known as the emerging church.  His latest book, Love Wins, raced to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.  He is a sought after conference speaker.  Bell has a voice, and people listen.

 

There is nothing wrong with any of these things, but few of us are strong enough to resist seeing ourselves in response to such public notice and acclaim as more than human.  At our worst, we tend to believe too much of ourselves.  Clearly, Bell sees himself as “a player.” What is dangerous is the rest of the quote: “…a player in the unfolding drama of God in history.” Bell apparently sees himself as standing (barefoot) in a position to effect great change for God.

 

Regrettably, the change he hopes to bring is not godly nor God honoring.  In fact, Bell is offending God in the worst possible way.  He is saying, in essence, that God’s Son Jesus is not needed.  He is teaching that Jesus is not the only way to heaven, in spite of Jesus’ claim that “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  He is saying that Jesus’ sinless life, agonizing death, and glorious resurrection were unnecessary.  Nothing could be as offensive to God the Father as these suggestions, but Bell is suggesting them nonetheless.

 

In the end, Meacham’s closing words to his article frighteningly sum up the issue: “This much is clear: Rob Bell has much to say, and many are listening.”

 

Indeed, they are, which is the tragic dilemma, for those who listen to his message will conclude that salvation is not found in Christ alone, by grace alone, and through faith alone.  Bell will open heaven to any viewpoint and every philosophy, which will, in fact, send countless people to hell.

 

Bell’s beliefs render the entire mission and ministry of the Church

Members of Winnetka Heights' mission team packing and giving away beans & rice in Nicaragua

irrelevant.  Why evangelize with boldness, when everyone, as Bell says, will go to heaven anyway?  Why obey Christ’s Great Commission to “Go!,” when everyone will find their own way?  Why feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison as if we are doing these things for Christ Himself (see Matthew 25), when God will allow these people into His heaven anyway, despite our efforts?  Why go to Nicaragua – as our church does every summer – to conduct medical missions, when we can leave these poor, hungry, desperate people to their suffering, knowing that God will rescue them in the end anyway?  Why support over five thousand full time Southern Baptist missionaries, each of whom is serving across the world, when every person from every people group will find the kingdom of God anyway?

 

You get the point: Rob Bell’s universalism does not open heaven to everyone.  It kills the Church’s mission and therefore sentences masses of people to hell.  His misguided heart fools him into thinking he is showing love, when he is personally chopping down Christ’s cross – the only means of salvation.  His ill informed influence opens hell even wider, if that is even conceivable.

Uncle Tom & Black America

Two well known basketball players stand at the center of a debate which raced through the nation’s media last week.  The first is Jalen Rose, forever remembered as one of Michigan University’s “Fab Five” freshmen who took the college basketball world by storm in 1991.  The other is Grant Hill, former Duke University standout and current Phoenix Suns player in the NBA.

Rose prompted the debate with comments made during the recent ESPN special, The Fab Five.

Jalen Rose - former member of Michigan's Fab Five

“Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me.  I felt that they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms. … I was jealous of Grant Hill. He came from a great black family. Congratulations. Your mom went to college and was roommates with Hillary Clinton. Your dad played in the NFL as a very well-spoken and successful man. I was upset and bitter that my mom had to bust her hump for 20-plus years. I was bitter that I had a professional athlete that was my father that I didn’t know. I resented that, more so than I resented him. I looked at it as they are who the world accepts and we are who the world hates.”

Upon hearing himself compared to Uncle Tom, Grant Hill responded immediately.

“To hint that those who grew up in a household with a mother and father are somehow less black than those who did not is beyond ridiculous… I caution my fabulous five friends to avoid stereotyping me and others they do not know in much the same way so many people stereotyped them back then for their appearance and swagger. I wish for you the restoration of the bond that made you friends, brothers and icons.

I am proud of my family. I am proud of my Duke championships and all my Duke teammates. And, I am proud I never lost a game against the Fab Five.”

Grant Hill, current player for the NBA's Phoenix Suns

I am probably the last person who should comment on an argument between two black men, with the Uncle Tom slur sitting at the middle.  I am a white man from Middle America.  But I believe the intensity of the debate, which now transcends Rose and Hill – critical commentary has appeared in such leading media outlets as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, leading periodicals such a Forbes, online fora such as Slate and leading news outlets such as MSNBC – reveals two problems plaguing America, ones that must be addressed.

First, a little history on Uncle Tom.  Sadly, Uncle Tom barely tickles most white people’s memories from high school history or literature classes.  According to Wikipedia, “Uncle Tom is a derogatory term for a black person who behaves in a subservient manner to white people.  The term comes from the title character of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

From what I have been told, calling a black man an Uncle Tom is the worst thing you could say to him.  The term dredges up atrocious memories of slavery.  It suggests that a black man is ashamed of his people and race; he is willing to grovel before a white man to be accepted in his world.

I can’t “feel” the effect of this slur; I can only imagine it.  And what is almost unimaginable is being owned by another human being, having no rights as a person, no promise of a family, no protection under a nation’s laws, etc.  Given the atrocities of slavery, I doubt a white American can feel what Black America feels.  But understanding pride and dignity, I can at least imagine hearing my own people throw a label upon me which suggests I am a coward and sell-out.  I can also imagine the pride which would lead Black Americans to resent people who appear spineless and ashamed of their own race.

Jalen Rose invoked the Uncle Tom slur against Grant Hill, a black man who grew up in a home of affluence and privilege – worlds apart from

Jalen Rose guarding Grant Hill in a college match up

Rose’s inner city upbringing.  Let’s be honest; nothing about Jalen Rose would make his exit from the ghetto and his entrance into the safer, more prosperous world easy.  He faced the world every day with a black, inner city face.  Whether we admit it or not, he stumbled into prejudice before he even had a chance to introduce himself or prove his value as a human being.

Rose’s environment would have taught him how to dress, talk, walk, and view the outside world.  He would have formed his own reverse prejudices, carried them with him, and perhaps, as a result, slammed shut some of his own doors of opportunity.  Surely these factors contributed to his emotional feelings toward elite schools such as Duke and the black athletes who play there.

But my point is not to play armchair sociologist with either Rose or Hill; rather, I would like to address two plaguing problems I believe their Uncle Tom riff displays.  The first is the American media’s tendency to mischaracterize a person, portraying them in a negative light far removed from truth.

In the wake of Jalen Rose’s Uncle Tom comment and Grant Hill’s prickly response, the media whipped the issue into a frenzy, ultimately painting Rose as a rash, angry black man and Hill as a wise, refined gentleman.  Casual viewers or readers were steered toward the conclusion that Rose is impulsive and reactionary, that he unfairly attacked the respectable Hill.  I believe the average person’s opinion of Jalen Rose, upon following the media’s portrayal, would be negative.

The news media carries enormous influence, particularly when its audience has no other source for obtaining the facts of the matter.  This is how the media shapes culture, public opinion, even behavior.  I believe the media painted Jalen Rose in a color that does not resemble the truth.  In fact, having personally watched ESPN’s The Fab Five – in which Rose made the comment – I wonder whether the media pontificators even watched the show.  What appears more likely is that they heard the Uncle Tom sound bite out of context and rushed to judgment.

Inner city Detroit

Watching the program personally, I heard Rose’s comment in context.  He was remarkably honest and well spoken.  He was reflecting back – a man now in his 40s – trying to recall his thoughts and feelings as a teenage boy.  Who can blame him for feeling like Duke University would never have embraced an inner city boy from Detroit?  They probably would not have.  Grant Hill, the cultured son of privileged black parents, was much easier to embrace.  Had I been Jalen Rose, I would have felt the same way.

The point is that the media did not accurately report Rose’s comment in context.  They made it sound as if he is angry right now in the same way he was as a teenager, which may be true, but that is not at all how Rose spoke.  Their reporting left audiences with the understanding that Rose is an angry reactionary whose mouth stirred up trouble that does not need stirred.

Had members of the media actually watched the show, or watched it disinterestedly – without bias – they would have seen a far different Jalen Rose than the one they misrepresented.  What is abundantly clear, hearing Steve Fisher – Rose’s Michigan coach – and his former teammates speak, is that Rose is an extremely caring person.

Take, for instance, the infamous conclusion of the 1992 NCAA championship game, which pitted Michigan’s Fab Five against the North Carolina Tar Hills.  In the game’s closing seconds, Michigan’s Chris Webber snagged a rebound, dribbled the length of the court, and called a timeout.  Apparently, someone from the Michigan bench screamed, “Timeout!”  Hearing their cry, Webber instinctively made the call – coaches often stop the game in the closing seconds so they can craft a final play to win a close game.

Webber's infamous timeout call

Regrettably, Michigan’s coach did not call for timeout, because his team had already used its allotted number.  Like many young athletes, Webber had forgotten or had not kept count of timeouts, and he reacted impulsively rather than rationally.  His mistake cost his team the game.  Calling a timeout when your team does not have one is considered a technical foul, which gives the opposing team free throw attempts as well as possession of the ball.  Michigan never got the ball back.  The game ended moments later.  Chris Webber was devastated.  In video footage of him leaving the court, he appears to be a walking zombie.

Flashing forward to the present, to The Fab Five television special, the viewer sees Coach Fisher and the team remembering the loss.  What you hear is the selfless, compassionate concern of Jalen Rose for his childhood friend, Webber, and for his devastated coach, Steve Fisher.

Rose admits his own pain of loss, but he says that he caught a glimpse of Webber, walking as if dead from the court.  He then saw Coach Fisher, whom the media had portrayed as an average coach at best, successful only because of his star players.  Rose’s heart broke for these men.

Each Michigan player had long since left the court, where the Tar Heels and fans were celebrating, but Rose remained, waiting for his coach, who was politely congratulating the opposing coaches and players.  Coach Fisher tells of how Jalen Rose approached him, hugged him, and draped his arm across his shoulders as they walked together to the losing locker room.  Rose apologized to his coach, told him he was sorry they didn’t win the championship for him, and tried his best to console him.

Rose with Coach Fisher - a special relationship (note the black socks & shoes and baggy shorts which the Fab Five made famous

I ask you; is this typical behavior for a nineteen year old kid whom the media had turned into a national star?  Not at all.  Rose showed remarkable depth of maturity in caring more for the needs of his friends than himself.  He knew he would soon find his friend, Chris Webber, devastated in the locker room.  He knew his beloved coach would face further ridicule from the harsh media.  His heart went out to them.

For those who watched the ESPN special, I believe they could not help but come away with admiration for the man, Jalen Rose.  I for one would relish the blessing of calling him friend.  We all need friends such as Rose, people who honestly care for us – even above themselves.  So to see the national media – which trumpets its own fairness and non-bias – portray Rose as something he is not is aggravating…and revealing.  The media carries immense powers of persuasion in culture; regrettably, its reporting is not always factual and trustworthy.  Read or watch with discerning caution.

Finally, The Fab Five story inadvertently showcased a problem plaguing American society: the rapid imploding of Black American culture.

To portray the five young men who became the Fab Five, the producers understandably drew from the cultural influences which shaped them.  Rap music artists were cited or interviewed, for instance – those whose lyrics glamorize unlawful behavior.  The Fab Five themselves spoke of hating things which the typical American sees as good and virtuous.

While I personally see offense in anti-societal song lyrics, and while I acknowledge the pointlessness of railing against virtues, I have no problem with honesty.  The players were merely revealing their thoughts, feelings, and influences leading up to and including their stardom as the Fab Five.  Had I grown up in a poor, predominantly black, inner city neighborhood, I too would have carried some angst against society.  I suppose the challenge would be whether I could overcome my personal pain and memories in favor of helping those who still find themselves locked in that world.

Three of the Fab Five went on to lengthy, lucrative careers in the NBA – Juwan Howard still plays for the Miami Heat.  Each man is a multimillionaire, light years away from his childhood existence.  I would not suggest for a moment that they do not care for the people of their former neighborhoods and cities; in fact, Jalen Rose is actively involved in inner city Detroit.

Heidelberg Project - Detroit, MI

Watching the ESPN special, however; hearing the players’ comments – including the Uncle Tom reference – I could not help but notice that they missed a golden opportunity to send positive messages back into the cultures of their upbringing.  Intentionally or not, they sent (perhaps reinforced is the better word choice) two messages: professional sports represent the door of escape from the ghetto and, secondly, the “us” verses “them” distinction is still valid and important.

Taking the first message, there is no doubt that becoming a professional athlete provides the means of escape from a poor childhood.  Regrettably, this career path is limited to a minuscule percentage of inner city children.  Professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) hire only hundreds of players, whereas America is populated by close to three hundred million people.  While dreaming of and working toward an NBA career is a worthy endeavor, a child better have a backup plan, because the odds are stacked significantly against him.  Two of the Fab Five, as great as they were in high school and college, were not good enough to play in the NBA.  Each had to settle for something less than his dream.

While The Fab Five special did not glamorize professional sports at the expense of a “normal” job, I believe the men missed a chance to send an incredibly powerful message – given their influence – to kids in the inner city: be good; get an education; obey laws; work; prepare yourself for responsible adulthood.  Sounds boring, but these are the tried-and-true means of becoming productive members of society, responsible parents, and loving providers.

The nuclear family (mom, dad, and kids) is all but dying in Black America.  Teen pregnancy is soaring.  Abortion runs rampant.  Since 1973, over 14.5 million black babies have been killed by abortion.  Every single day, 1,200 black babies are put to death in abortion facilities, making abortion the leading cause of death among African Americans!  Nearly half of all black babies conceived die in abortion chambers today.

Walter Hoy, one of the great African American leaders of our day, says this means that a black child is safer on the streets of the worst neighborhoods in America than in his mother’s womb.  Hoy notes that between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 blacks were lynched by the Ku Klux Klan.  Today, abortion kills more black Americans in less than three days than the Klan killed in 86 years!  American blacks make up twelve percent of the U.S. population, yet thirty-seven percent of all abortions are performed on black women.

The statistics are staggering.  This article’s focus does not allow a full coverage of the many other issues driving a death nail into Black America – fatherless families, gangs, drugs, violence, school dropouts, poor health, and joblessness are among the culprits killing a proud culture.

Jalen Rose and his Fab Five teammates missed a wonderful opportunity to send powerful messages back into the inner city, messages showing that these things must stop for the good of black people.  Instead, they limited their focus and allowed the long-held angst against the world to continue; in fact, I believe they encouraged, legitimized, and incited it by referencing the angst without qualifying their comments.

That the Fab Five teammates felt anger and resentment as youth is understandable.  What would have been great is if they had used their two hours on the national stage – a special watched by millions of inner city children – to speak back into their culture, sending realistic messages of how to take charge of one’s life and community.  Instead, I fear they merely stoked the burning embers of hate and resentment by referencing the problems without giving advice on how to rise above them.

The Fab Five with Coach Fisher - a strong bond which exists to this day

Watching Jalen Rose during the ESPN special and having heard him deliver basketball commentary as part of his current job, I cannot help but notice his engaging personality.  He is one who God fashioned to command attention and lead charges.  He is an astute observer, an articulate responder, and a visionary suggester – one wants to be a part of Jalen Rose’s cause.

Clearly, Rose must be harnessing these God-given traits in inner city Detroit – as part of his foundation – but I believe he could have cast a powerful, positive, culture-enriching message before millions more had he allowed his natural gift – selflessness – to rise above the spotlight of a nationally televised special.  Had he turned his charm, wisdom, and charisma to disadvantaged youth – who were hanging on his every word – he could have lobbed a pass to them that represents the potential for and path forward to real change.

Why is there no looting in Japan?

Almost lost among the tragic headlines coming out of Japan recently was this one: Why is there no looting in Japan?  (The Telegraph, March 14, 2011).  Why indeed?  The earthquake, tsunami, and resultant explosions, fires, floods, etc. have collectively rendered much of Japan broken and inoperable.  According to The Telegraph article, “The landscape of parts of Japan looks like the aftermath of World War Two; no industrialised country since then has suffered such a death toll.”  Why, then, have the Japanese not taken advantage of the situation and looted?

 

The mere asking of this question, and yours and my lack of surprise that I asked it, are very revealing.  We Americans have come to expect looting in the aftermath of mass events which transcend daily normalcy.  Riotous behavior prompted by a hometown Super Bowl victory rarely makes the news anymore.  Theft, looting, and thuggish antics in the wake of natural disasters have become commonplace.

 

Tangled among the stories washing out of Hurricane Katrina are those of unspeakable inhumanity, looting being among the tamest.  Callousness in response to tragedy is certainly not limited to the US.  Chile faced such riotous behavior from its citizens in the wake of last year’s earthquake that it had to send in the military.  Haiti descended into a lawless morass almost overnight.  Additional stories abound.

 

All of this shines the spotlight on Japan’s lack of looting, begging the article’s question: Why is there no looting in Japan?  Unfortunately, the author merely raised the provocative question but did not supply thoughtful answers.  Perhaps his lack of speculation is tied to the West’s embarrassment over the fact that nations shaped by the Judeo-Christian value system should be the first to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Surely the Golden Rule still shapes our cultural impulses…right!  We the people of the “one nation under God” assertion now trample this slogan as easily as we step over a dirty penny – the proud bearer of the majestic claim – on the street.

 

Japan’s response to disaster slaps us in the face!  A significantly non-Christian nation is acting more Christian at this moment than we have since perhaps World War II, suggesting the correctness of the label now applied to America by cultural observers: post-Christian nation.

 

Note the lack of chaotic rebellion in response to tragedy

Without descending into tricky theology, let me see if I can point to one reason Japan is not looting, and, by opposite examination, why we do loot.  The answer is as simple as how the Japanese view individual people in relation to the larger society.  Japanese culture is less individualistic and more community minded.  Consequently, Japanese people tend to be less selfish and “me” centered; they naturally turn their thoughts toward the group and how it is affected.  As one man put it, it’s not “poor me” in response to the devastating earthquake, but “poor us.”

 

Answering how the Japanese embraced this godly truth is a question for another day.  Suffice to say that godly traits bubble up all across the world, manifesting themselves in every people group, for the simple reason that God created all people in His image.  As descendants of Adam and Eve, we all possess qualities (though broken by sin) planted by God Himself.  Consequently, cultures such as Japan’s will sometimes value righteousness, which traces its origin to the creator God, even though they don’t worship the one true God.

 

One of these godly virtues is selflessness, exhibited as a concern for others, particularly for the good of the larger community.  Japanese culture embraces culture-driven selflessness wholeheartedly.  They fail to see its godly origin, seeing instead the logic of selflessness’ fruits.  Nonetheless, they enjoy the benefits, as do all people who adhere to God’s timeless laws.

Working together for the common good as opposed to grabbing what one can get!

 

Japan faces uncertain days of difficulty.  Working in their favor, however, is that the Japanese will work together as they rebuild their lives and communities.  By great contrast, we Americans add the plague of individualistic selfishness to our significant burdens.  We have long since cast down culture-enriching values such as selflessness, sacrifice, helping others, and defending the defenseless.  I fear these godly traits are dying a rapid death, right alongside the World War II generation which is leaving us too quickly.

 

Don’t despair the apparent falseness of Christian truth as seen through the contrast of Japanese and American responses to disasters.  See instead the unshakable reality of God’s divine image manifesting itself in His creatures, even those who don’t acknowledge Him.  See too the biblical truth that merely professing Christ is light years removed from actually possessing Christ.  Christians will strive for selflessness.  Not only does God demand it (for many logical reasons, such as rebuilding a broken nation), but Christ, whom we must imitate, lived out selflessness when He died on the cross to rescue us from hell.

 

Pray for Japan in the coming days, even as you pray for our country.  Keep your ears open for news of how to contribute to their vast need, even as you do the same in response to great needs in our homeland.  Finally, check your heart.  How selfish and “me” centered are you?  Are you part of America’s self-absorbed problem, or are you taking steps to root out selfishness, replacing it instead with others-mindedness?

Battle Cry for Small Churches!

This is a battle cry for America’s small churches!  If you know what “spitting in the wind” means, then you recognize the futility of my battle cry.  In the land of “bigger is better,” “newer is neater,” and “larger is more relevant,” my voice will surely be judged as irrelevant and whiny, if not totally ignored.  More likely, not even heard.  But at the risk of “spit” flying back into my face, here goes!

First, some ground rules.  Ground rule #1 is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with large churches!  So please don’t read into my comments that I dislike big churches.  When I was in seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, I attended a church that is larger than many Oklahoma towns!  What this behemoth congregation achieved as a result of its massive economies of scale was staggering.  My battle cry for small churches, therefore, is by no means a slam against their larger sisters.

Ground rule #2 regards how small is small, when it comes to small churches?  For argument’s sake, I will limit my scope to a church which sees fewer than 125 regular attendees on a Sunday morning.  If you’re into statistics, consider the following (Source: National Congregations Study, 2007):

  • In both 1998 and 2006-07, the average congregation had just 75 regular participants.
  • In both 1998 and 2006-07, the average attendee worshiped in a congregation with about 400 regular participants.

What this means is that most congregations in the United States are small, but more people are in large congregations.  The study reveals an interesting distinction between large and small churches: “More people mean more resources, more staff, and more programming.  More people also bring more complexity: different kinds of staff, more administration and coordination, bureaucracy, formality, and a loss of the personal touch.”

This brings me to my battle cry for small churches.  Can small churches be the antidote to their larger sisters’ “bureaucracy, formality, and…loss of the personal touch”?  I believe the answer is a resounding yes!  Small churches are perfectly positioned to give starving Americans much of what they hunger for.

For starters, small churches are perfect breeding grounds for real friendships.  Interestingly, today’s social media outlets (Facebook, texting, email, Twitter) don’t satisfy people’s deepest longings for genuine relationship.  Scores of people enjoy multiple Facebook “friends” and yet feel all alone.  Missing amid the electronic connection is the human touch.  Ironically, while Americans enjoy far more contact than ever, fewer people claim the gift of a best friend.

It makes sense.  Simple association with lots of people is not friendship.  You can stand in a crowded room and still feel alone.  In her new book, Alone Together, MIT professor Sherry Turkle writes that technology – despite its many obvious benefits – is also threatening to increase our isolation and make us less human.  Charles Colson added, “Experts say e-mail, online games, social networking, and blogs are addicting in part because they are portable, provide instant gratification, and allow us an easy escape from relationships that may be difficult and require a lot more work.”

"Alone Together"

Interesting.  How like Satan, our ancient enemy and hater of all things pure and godly, to tease people away from true relationship with “instant gratification” (a cheap substitute).  How like him to stir up our laziness by tempting us to conclude that genuine friendship is too “difficult,” requiring a lot of “work.”  Therefore, we “escape from relationships.”

In a backwards twist that spells victory for Satan, Americans, who are starved for authentic friendship, fool themselves into thinking they have found it in the sea of social media, when, in reality, they have embraced a cheap substitute.  Many have no true friends.

Genuine friendship requires two things modern life keeps at bay: time and close proximity.  Let’s carry these factors into church size.  Let’s say that someone desires relationship and therefore concludes that a large church offers the statistically best opportunity, i.e., more potential friends to choose from.

Here, they believe, among so many nice and friendly people, they will find true friendship.  Many do; ironically, many, many do not.  Larger churches’ “formality” and “lack of a personal touch” (to quote the study) stand as great obstacles to newcomers finding relationship.  It’s tough to break in when you’re one among so many.  And what happens to those people born with quiet, passive personalities?  True to form, many hang back and languish anonymously.

The choir at the large Texas church I attended in seminary was bigger than the entire membership of the church I grew up in.  My Sunday School department boasted two hundred fifty members.  Among the thousands at worship service, I never recognized the same person twice.  Face it; many, many people will drown in this sea of anonymity, never finding true friendship.

Anonymity is impossible at a smaller church.  Maybe you can hide in a crowd of five hundred people.  You can try to stand out and still end up blending in a crowd of a thousand.  Without regard to personality type, you will be noticed in a church of less than one hundred twenty five people.  Attend long enough, and, following the rules of recognition and familiarity, you will be seen, acknowledged, and potentially befriended.  Persist in coming, and you will see the same people frequently.

By default, you and they will engage in multiple conversations before and after the service.  Chances are great that at some point, you will hear, “Hey, several of us are meeting for pizza after the service tonight.  Want to come?”  What a beautiful beginning to a wonderful friendship!…made possible, because smaller churches, by definition – and by mathematics, for that matter – foster intimacy.  They provide the two factors needed for genuine relationship: time and close proximity.

Friends relaxing on a Nicaraguan beach after serving together on mission in the bush

Small churches’ second benefit follows closely on the heels of the first.  Small churches not only provide great opportunities for making real friends, but they also foster a sense of belonging.

Allow me to illustrate.  My freshman year in college presented me with two options for intramural basketball.  Option one was the invitation by some acquaintances to play on the hot team comprised of several campus studs.  I would have been instantly cool by association.  Option two was the invitation by two close friends to play with them and four others, all of whom were solid, genuine young men – none of whom were college standouts, though.

Being young and desirous of notice, I leaned strongly toward the studs’ team, the one whose games would be attended by pretty girls!  I’ll never forget the advice Steve, my roommate (who was part of the Option two team), gave me.  Wise beyond his years, he asked, “Do you want to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond?”

I didn’t so much care about fish size, but Steve’s notion of pond size intrigued me.  I envisioned swimming around anonymously, ignored, and irrelevant in a large pond of which people made much ado.  And then I imagined the joy of swimming with friends, the close camaraderie made possible by the small pond.  I chose the closer intimacy of Option two and not only never regretted it but also benefited mightily from it.

Life is not a basketball team, but a ragtag team of intramural athletes poignantly typifies New Testament fellowship and family.  I was important to my teammates, both as a player and, much more importantly, as a person.  They cared for me.  The friendship they extended was not based on my popularity or performance, but solely on the fact that I was their brother in Christ.  They weren’t angling for association with me for personal gain…I had nothing to give!  Our laughter, high-fives, and “Great shot!” comments were genuine and spontaneous.  Hanging out after the games, whether over pizza or milk shakes, was real.

And that’s just it!  Don’t you crave something real, something authentic to belong to?  Are you weary of plastic people, meaningless chatter, and the comparison game?  Deep down, how many people do you know you can count on?…not how many Facebook friends you have.  How many people truly give you their time, talk to you on the telephone (not just a quick text), meet you for dinner, or accept your invitation to hang out at your house?  And if anyone actually responds, is the moment awkward, forced?  How long has it been since you felt the amazing comfort, awesome joy, and laughter and giggles that come only from true relationship?

Facebook carries the potential to masquerade as the provider of real friends

Listen, I’m not suggesting you can’t find these things at large churches.  What I know for a fact, however, is that small churches are breeding grounds for genuine friendship.  They foster a sense of belonging like few other sources.

Many people, by contrast, find the wrong sense of belonging at larger churches.  Their idea of belonging revolves around the social benefit of saying, “We attend church at ______ (insert the name of the newest, coolest church)!”  Association with a trendy church feeds their ego.  Belonging, at first, feels great.  Slowly, however, many find that they are merely part of an organization but don’t actually belong to anyone – not a church family – in a meaningful, soul-enriching way.

Speaking of family, a third benefit small churches offer their members is the full orbed family of God.  Frequent New Testament references portray a family, complete with people of all ages, coming from different strata of class, ethnicity, and socio-economics.  Today’s idea of target marketing to a select, homogeneous group of people comes straight from America’s pragmatic business/marketing principles and certainly not the Bible.  The apostles would respond to the modern church’s defensive response that “It works,” by saying, “But it’s wrong.”

While America increasingly devalues the elderly, they remain priceless gems to any church!

Small churches have a wonderful blend of age groups, heavier by percentage, in fact, with senior citizens.  And given the Bible’s abundant praise of the elderly, its exhortations to younger generations to venerate, learn from, and honor them, I suggest that a church is blessed to have gray haired members.  And the gifts and benefits received by the younger members are too many to count.

Once a week, I meet for breakfast with a small group of retired men in my church.  Gathering at a local café, the setting is pure, good old fashioned friendship.  I am their pastor, but I can’t tell you how often I simply lean my chin on my palm and listen to them talk.  The things I hear!…and the things I learn.  Their stories span lifetimes.  They tell of regrets, things they would do differently if they could go back in time.  They speak of how time and effort have made their marriages better.  These seasoned men have reached an age where posing and posturing are useless.  They’re real, and they’re not too proud to admit their mistakes, thereby allowing the benefits to flow down to me.

I think of the impact the elderly couples of my church have on my four young sons.  Recently, I heard the boys talk among themselves about Bob, for instance, who, at seventy five years, still sports a wonderful head of silver hair.  “Bob has great hair,” one of my boys said.  “Yeah,” another responds, “I hope I have hair like his when I’m old.”  Think about that; my sons, who span from elementary to high school, not only know elderly men, but they know them well.  They know them by name, know things about them, and have an appreciation for them.

Here’s another example.  The boys enjoy water skiing, so not long ago I heard one of them mention Ronnie’s slalom ski tricks.  Ronnie is in his 70s!; yet, the boys spoke of him as if they saw his ski expertise yesterday, when, in fact, they had merely talked with Ronnie about skiing.  Though Ronnie hasn’t skied in years, he has built such a relationship with my sons that he commands their respect.

Talk about counter culture to modern America!  But this is the sort of thing that happens at small churches.  Generations which seldom interact today – children and elderly – do so regularly.  Children know their elders by name.  They learn first hand that seniors are “real,” not just old.  The wonderful byproduct of these shared experiences is that kids honor and revere the elderly, rather than seeing them as useless dead weight, as modern society increasingly portrays them.

A final benefit of small churches is that sheep and shepherds know each other well.  One of Jesus’ most helpful and endearing metaphors is that of Christians being sheep in need of a shepherd.  Jesus says of Himself, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  Proof of this is seen in how intimately close He is with His sheep, so much so that the sheep can distinguish His voice from that of a stranger.  He knows His sheep so well that He notices when one out of a hundred has wondered a way, prompting Him to immediately launch a search and rescue mission.  In the end, the Shepherd loves His sheep so dearly that He will lay down His life for them.

When God calls and equips under-shepherds (pastors) to tend His sheep (members of a church), He places before them this stunning, timeless picture of Christ, the ultimate Shepherd.  Personally, I believe that pastors of small churches find a much more accurate and realistic pasture for their work than do their peers who serve significantly larger operations.  To quote the study again, with reference to large churches:

“More people mean more resources, more staff, and more programming.  More people also bring more complexity: different kinds of staff, more administration and coordination, bureaucracy, formality, and a loss of the personal touch.”

These godly pastors are tasked with so much that they are often robbed of their single, God-given job: shepherding a flock of people.  Left with no other options, they add complexity such as multiple staff, which leads to endless “administration…coordination, bureaucracy, formality, and a loss of the personal touch.”

Large churches have much to offer, but their strengths can also lead to weakness

Pastors of smaller churches, by great contrast, live among their sheep.  They and their flock know one another intimately, and the resultant relationships are extremely practical.

I received a call not long ago from a young man I hadn’t heard from in years.  His words were choked with tears, as he asked (hoped passionately) if I could meet with him – that very day on his lunch hour.  Over pizza, I heard the tragic and yet ubiquitous tale of a wayward wife who was shattering her marriage and family.  Ultimately, as time would tell, she persisted in her rebellion and destroyed everything near and dear to her and her family.  This broken husband needed someone who cared to listen to his heart’s cry.

Who did he call upon?  His pastor, who pastors one of the largest churches in our city.  This grieving husband, calling his church office for the first time in his membership, made it only as far as the receptionist.  She asked the nature of his problem and then assigned him an appointment date and time two weeks later, not with the pastor, but with a staff counselor.

I don’t need to tell you how he felt.  He hung up and called the next pastor who came to mind – me.  He needed someone right then and preferably not a counselor he’d never even seen before.  Though we hadn’t spoken in quite some time, he remembered a connection and assumed (hoped) I would still care.

Why, I ask, did he make the assumption that I would care and meet with him?  I believe that deep down he knew I would be more approachable than his big church pastor.  I have noticed that members of larger congregations often view their pastor much like they do the president or CEO of their place of business.  They see him as important and busy.  Even when they’re near him, they feel awkward, perhaps intimidated.  Taken to the extreme, many large church pastors are treated as local celebrities, kowtowed to by the rank and file members of their own congregations.

Does this sound like Jesus’ sheep – shepherd metaphor?  Not at all.  Jesus’ sheep were only nervous and intimidated around imposters and shepherds of other sheep.  The presence of the true shepherd calmed his sheep, put them at ease, and made them feel comfortable and safe.  Small church pastors, in like manner, are close to their flock, approachable.  They know and are known by their sheep.

In the final analysis, when I consider that most people go to large churches, and when I consider that fewer and fewer church members allow faith to effect their behavior (source: BarnaGroup study, 2004 – Faith Has a Limited Effect on Most People’s Behavior), I can’t help but wonder if this disturbing, faithless trend could be reversed if more people embraced smaller churches.  Chances are great that they would find real friends; a legitimate sense of belonging; a true, full orbed family; and closeness with their pastor/shepherd.  These things translate into a life of faithful peace that Jesus spoke of.

My battle cry for small churches is not a call for faithful Christians to leave their larger congregations.  My call is, however, a reminder to the millions of church participants who are languishing in half-commitment, anonymity, friendlessness, and worldliness – things which can fly beneath the radar at large churches – that there is a satisfying, soul-enriching option.  Go find a flock of sheep who knows and is known by their shepherd, and enter the fold!

The Engaged Intellectual

The Engaged Intellectual? Even my title makes me want to yawn!  What in the world is an engaged intellectual, and who cares anyway?  Hopefully, you and I both do.  Let me explain.

Edward Said, who died in 2003, was a Palestinian intellectual who wrote passionately on Middle Eastern affairs.  He was a world class scholar, teaching at Columbia University in New York, but he grew up in Palestine.

Edward Said (1935-2003), distinguished professor at Columbia University

Palestine, as you may remember, is the Bible land.  Once the Romans destroyed the ancient nation of Israel in the year 70 A.D., the Jews scattered worldwide, leaving the former land of Israel – Palestine – wide open.  Then, in one of the greatest miracles in history, the Jews reassembled and reclaimed their land, becoming again the sovereign State of Israel in 1948.

But a vast span of nineteen centuries separated the Jews’ leaving and returning.  Palestine itself became a “many man’s land” in the duration.  The winds of time blew several countries in to control this tiny sliver of real estate.  By the modern era, a group of Arabic people claimed Palestine as home.

Yasser Arafat (1929-2004), leader of the PLO

As you might guess, these Arabic Palestinians were not happy when the Jews returned to reclaim their ancient homeland in 1948, and they have not gone down quietly.  They assembled themselves into the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which Yasser Arafat headed, and they continue to lobby for rights in Palestine, if not actually lobbing bombs.

Edward Said was a Palestinian, living in the United States.  As a literary expert, he used his platform to engage in Middle Eastern issues, arguing persuasively against abusive use of powers.  In everything he wrote, Said promoted an ideal: the notion of the engaged intellectual.

An engaged intellectual is an informed person who responds to the need to speak out uncomfortable truths to those who hold power, whether on the international, national, or local stage.  Said believed engaged intellectuals need to speak out, because the established power bases use their vast resources to control and even manipulate culture.  Left unchecked or uncontested, those in power totally dominate their sphere of influence.

Take the media in America, by way of example.  Those who control America’s media control much in American culture: the news people hear; how they hear it; their take on it; what they watch and listen to for entertainment; what they perceive as normal or abnormal; new buzzwords and catch phrases; stylish clothing; cars of choice, etc.

Consider a current television show which airs on the MTV network: SkinsSkins skirts dangerously along the edge of teenage pornography.  Wildly popular with teens, certain lawmakers are concerned that Skins’ “in your face” raciness is dangerously suggestive to already impressionable and impulsive kids.  Taco Bell organization sensed the parental and even legal concerns with Skins, so it recently pulled its advertisements from the program.

The new Skins classmates

Skins is imported from England, where the viewing public finds the show very socially acceptable.  Why?  Why would Englishmen be more comfortable viewing partial nudity and teen pornography on nationwide television than we are in the United States?  The answer is tied to the fact that England’s established power bases manipulated culture in a morally degrading way by slowly but powerfully producing worse and worse moral media.  Soon, the English people were “controlled,” if you will.  They had grown so used to their steady diet of smut that it became the new norm.

Edward Said would say that England’s intellectuals failed their countrymen by refusing to become engaged intellectuals.  They failed to speak out critically against the power brokers in British society, and now, these decades later, they have all been unwittingly absorbed into the new culture.  They all happily watch smut such as Skins.

Consider another example of how those in power manipulate and then control culture at large, how they actually bend the way people think around to their desired end.  Adolf Hitler and the Nazis serve as a prime example.

We are all familiar with Nazi devastation and cruelty.  What few understand is how Hitler transformed one of the godliest nations in Europe into a willing participant which believed the Nazi rhetoric.  Understand, Hitler and the SS leaders weren’t the ones who personally perpetrated mass evil across Europe.  Ordinary, rank and file Germans performed the evil genocide, person by person, tallying up to the estimated six million people murdered.  German citizens believed in what they were doing; they did it with passion!

How?  How did Hitler take a once godly people and destroy their morality?  He took control of culture and over the course of about ten years reshaped it.  He controlled what information got out and how.  He controlled what people heard and read; eventually, how they thought.

In a powerful psychological move, Hitler whispered loudly, in a hundred different ways, to the German race: “You are superior.” His whisperings found a welcome home in German hearts.  People innately want to believe better of themselves relative to everyone else; it’s part of our prideful sin nature.  Hitler fed this elitist passion in the Germans, and they wanted to believe him.  So they found it very easy to see Jews and other races as inferior, even less than human.  Mistreatment of other people didn’t amount to a moral issue, because, to the Germans, these were sub humans.  Certainly, it made sense to preserve the purest of races, the Aryans.

This 1940 poster advertises the worst of the Nazi anti-Semitic films, “The Eternal Jew.” Hitler utilized relentless Nazi propaganda to sway German opinion.

Hitler effectively bent people’s thinking around to his desired ends, and he did so by manipulating culture.  And importantly, crucially, he immediately silenced those who Edward Said would later call engaged intellectuals.  Not many dared standing up to challenge Hitler’s insanity; he crushed those who did.

How does any of this apply to you and me?  Big deal that people in power manipulate resources at their disposal to shape culture.  Why is it crucial that engaged intellectuals challenge the powerful voices of authority?  We can easily answer these questions, I believe, if we focus our thoughts and strain to see our world through the lens of Scripture.

Let me start with the basics: You are an intellectual!  “Me?” you might question.  Yes, you!  You are an intellectual, even if your high school diploma represents your greatest educational achievement.

How?  When God worked the great miracle of breathing new life into your spiritually dead soul, He placed in you the greatest knowledge of all: your desperate need to worship the God of the universe.  This knowledge represents an ageless wisdom that transcends and confounds the wisest sages of earth.  Though you may not fancy yourself a person of great intellect, you are light years beyond brilliant scientists and scholars if they don’t believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My grandfather was a farmer, a World War II soldier, and then a refinery worker whose education ended at eighth grade; yet, he was wise beyond the world in that he agreed with the apostle Peter who said of Jesus, “You are the Christ!”  My grandfather, therefore, saw the world through the lens of Scripture, and it colored everything he said and did.

You, if you are a Christian, possess the profound truth of the universe: mankind’s sin will send him to eternal hell; his rebellion against God will culminate in a frustrating, meaning-seeking – but never finding – life-wasting existence.  You and your fellow Christians are uniquely equipped to see through the lies and deceptions with which Satan, the “god of this age,” dupes people.

I confidently declare to you, therefore, that you are an intellectual, of the highest order!  But will you become an engaged intellectual?  Will you speak truth into a deceived world?  Will you address cultural issues which our culture shapers have manipulated to fit their desired ends?

Will you?  If not, American culture will continue to erode into further ungodliness.  Remember, godly Germany’s fall occurred in the span of a decade!  Once-faithful Europe is now home to a Christian population that represents, at best, two to five percent of the total.  I believe we in the church have a small window of time in which to become engaged intellectuals in American culture.

“How?” you might ask.  “I’m not a scholar or important government figure.  I stand on no platform from which to speak persuasively.”  You’re correct.  But I’m not suggesting political activism; neither am I making a call to challenge culture, such as boycotting certain TV shows.  What I have in mind is for you and me to become engaged intellectuals in our unique, individual spheres of influence – our own little worlds where we live, shop, attend sporting events, go to parties, attend church, etc.

People in your world are lost and going to hell, and most are blissfully ignorant of this fact.  Many, many people you come into contact with will live their entire life deceived by Satan and by cultural influences he controls.  These people are in dire need of you, who know the truth, to speak powerfully against the powers that shape the way they think and live.

You are intellectual, in the sense that God has now shown you the truth.  You understand how life works, that “life under the sun” (see Ecclesiastes) is futilely meaningless, and that “life under heaven,” – life with God at the center – is the only way to truly live and escape hell.

So, how can you enter your world as an engaged intellectual?  Here’s how: listen to people talk; listen to their “take” on issues that affect our world.  News headlines are chock full of conversation starters that provide a natural platform from which to engage people in conversation.

Just last week, I read an article about eugenics, which is the idea that we can determine who should be born and who should not be born – the idea of playing God.  The most obvious example of a culture which embraced eugenics is Nazi Germany.  One report noted: “In 1939, Germany’s mental hospitals became killing fields.  Gas chambers replaced sterilization as the final solution to the problem of supporting ‘lives not worth living.'”  What most people don’t know, however, is that America led the way long before the Nazis.  Between 1907 and 1927, the United States became the pioneer in state-sanctioned programs to rid society of the “unfit.”  Forced sterilization was the method of choice.

A descriptive page from a "scholarly" report from the American Eugenics Movement

Thirty states enacted forced sterilization laws designed to rid American culture of what Theodore Roosevelt referred to as the “wrong kind.”  And it didn’t take much to be considered “unfit.”  In its first twenty-five years of eugenic legislation, California sterilized 9,782 individuals, mostly women.  Many were classified simply as “bad girls.”  New York was on the verge of making it illegal for those who wore eye glasses to marry those who did not.  The goal was to eliminate people with bad eye sight – the “wrong kind.”  Interestingly, Teddy Roosevelt himself wore glasses!  Isn’t irony baffling?  As it turns out, Hitler was part Jewish!

In the end, Nazi crimes and atrocities exposed the horror of eugenics and the war on the weak it entails.  But eugenics has never gone away.  What Edwin Black (author of War Against the Weak) calls “newgenics” seeks to achieve many of the same goals in a “kinder, gentler” way.  The most obvious example is prenatal genetic testing.  This is how we get Down Syndrome children identified in the womb and kill them.

Think back to your childhood; recall how many smiling faces of Down Syndrome children come to mind.  Stop now and try to remember the last one you’ve seen.  If you’re like most people, you haven’t seen a Down Syndrome child in years…ever since prenatal genetic testing tempted parents to play God and kill their child.

All parents want a healthy, “normal” child.  Only God knows why He allows birth defects.  What I know, however, is that families who welcomed their precious, God-given, Down Syndrome child into their home would fight you to the death if you suggested there is something wrong with their baby!  These children bring great joy and happiness into their family.  Their siblings, through prolonged interaction, learn to love, defend, and help those who are more helpless.  They learn that they have much to learn from a child whom society deems “unfit.”  Down Syndrome children’s smiles light their worlds.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and her husband Todd hold their Down Syndrome baby boy

Who are we to play God with eugenics?  This is just such a conversation that Christians – engaged intellectuals – can have with the people in their world, their sphere of influence.  What better opportunity to prompt people to question the source and value of life, the meaning of existence.  What an awesome chance to speak of the Creator God and His amazing miracle of creating men and women in His image.  What better time to highlight that humankind holds immeasurable value – from conception to natural death?

Life in America is full of opportunities such as this.  Raise, for instance, the topic of the moral debate surrounding Skins on MTV.  Transition into the weird and seldom discussed fact of Hollywood: even though Rated G and PG movies are historically more profitable than Rated R flicks, producers continue to pump out smut.  It is a statistic which begs the question, “Why?”

Ask your friends “why?”  The only answer which makes sense is that the powers-that-be in Hollywood are interested in an outcome driven by something other than profitability.  Could they have an agenda in mind?  Are they willing to lose money so they can attain a higher level goal?  Would they take advantage of their media control to bend the thinking of American culture to meet their desired ends?

The same questions could have been asked of the Nazis.  It cost them far more money to exterminate six million Jews than it would have if they just left them alone.  Clearly, the Nazis had an agenda, and they were willing to invest significant money and effort to bring it to fruition.

Americans are being shaped and influenced by our culture shapers – count on it.  Love them enough, Christian – as an engaged intellectual – to speak forth uncomfortable truths into their darkened minds.  Read, think, and question.  See your world through the lens of Scripture.  Prayerfully engage your friends and acquaintances with the cultural issues that color our day.  Engage your fellow man that he might see the light of truth and throw himself on the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Karma & God!

Famed NBA basketball player LeBron James tweeted on Twitter last week, “Crazy. Karma is a b****. Gets you every time. It’s not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!”  James was responding to the beat down the Los Angeles Lakers handed his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the night before.

First, a little background, just in case you don’t follow the drama of NBA basketball.  LeBron is a freak-of-nature, phenomenally good player.  He was so good in high school that he skipped college ball, jumping straight to the NBA, where he soon dominated the grown men’s game.  This “man among boys” in high school no more than turned around and he was a “boy among men,” schooling them nonetheless on a nightly basis.

After several frustrating seasons in Cleveland, however, LeBron set his sights on a better team in a more exciting city.  Talking behind the scenes with two other NBA stars – Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – the threesome agreed to arrange trades which would land them on the same team: the Miami Heat.

Calling a primetime, nationwide press conference – which ESPN hyped as if it was the Super Bowl – LeBron James uttered a statement that now lives in sports infamy: “This fall I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”

James, Wade, and Bosh are "Heating" it up this year!

In a single moment, James fell from grace in the basketball universe.  The fall resulted from a collection of immature, self-centered missteps by the star, culminating with his ill-chosen, cocky phrase, “take my talents.” As fans discovered that James hadn’t pre-alerted his Cavalier teammates, coach, and owner of his decision; as it dawned on people that his festive, over-produced, nationwide press conference was a bit over-the-top, they turned on him in droves, as only crazed fan-atics can do.

Fast forward to the present.  Things are going great for the famous threesome and their Miami Heat team.  Stumbling a bit at first, the stars hit their stride and have not let up.  Meanwhile, the spurned Cleveland Cavaliers are the worst team in the NBA, with an abysmal 8-30 record…which brings me to the Cavs’ embarrassing beat down at the hands of the Lakers last week (they lost by 55 points!).

Lakers hand the Cavs their worst defeat in team history

Hearing of their loss, LeBron James tweeted the aforementioned message: “Crazy. Karma is a b****. Gets you every time. It’s not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!”

And this brings me to why I am writing about basketball in an article I titled Karma & God: LeBron’s tweet highlights an error we find in everyday culture – religious pluralism, which is the ignorant blending of different religious teachings.  You cannot in the same sentence make reference to karma and God’s all-seeing eye, as if they both peacefully coexist.

Karma suggests an uncertainty to life and existence, a future which is wide open to manipulation by present behavior.  Karma places preeminence upon human control of the universe.  Pushed to its final limit, karma merely mimics mankind’s most ancient pagan religion: self worship.  Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, rebelled against God’s rule, setting themselves up as rulers of their own existence.  Karma picks up here by teaching that men and women can control their own destiny.

Over against the concept of karma, you find God.  And God, by definition, is in total control of the universe.  As R.C. Sproul says, if even one atom dances beyond God’s control, He ceases to be God.

The Bible portrays God as the sovereign ruler of His universe.  He created everything from nothing and governs, not from a detached, sleepy distance, but actively.  We read of the Lord’s minute control over life in Proverbs 16:33 – “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” Even that which we refer to as chance, luck, or fate bow to God’s control, which says, in essence, that they aren’t real.  Nothing but God governs the future.

LeBron James invoked both God and karma in the same breath, when only one can logically exist.  Karma offers no ultimate meaning to life.  Who’s to say that my definition of good karma matches yours?  If not, wouldn’t our efforts to obtain good karma cancel each other out?  Karma therefore spirals into futile meaninglessness, which culminates in hopelessness and despair.

The God of the Bible, by contrast, lovingly governs the universe He created.  He extends great mercy and patience even to the men and women who reject Him and deny His existence.  For those who place their full belief in Him, He extends the gracious gift of eternal life, in spite of their sin and rebellion.  He killed His own Son Jesus as their substitute, and reckons Christ’s perfect record of righteousness to their moral bankrupt account.

These are incomprehensible actions of a God who is in total control but who is, at the same time, unimaginably kind and merciful.  No, karma and God cannot peacefully coexist.  God’s Son Jesus is the only way.  Christ’s claim of exclusivity says it all: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

LeBron’s pluralistic tweet reveals the religious and moral confusion which now blinds our great country.  Paul the apostle described the futile thinking which characterizes our day.  Writing in Romans 1, he said of mankind, “They became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22-23).  We are increasingly a land of fools who have exchanged the truth of God for a lie.

What is our fate should we persist in unbelief?  Paul spoke of the frightening conclusion to people’s long term rebellion: “God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11-12).  Frightening!  When we persist for too many seasons in futile thinking, God finally blinds us to the truth, prompting us to run even faster toward the pleasures of unrighteousness.

As much as I enjoy watching LeBron James play basketball, his tweet on Twitter exposes the futile thinking that now permeates American culture.  We mix metaphors as we combine religions, all the while drifting further away from truth.  Can it be that we are already seeing God send His strong delusion?  Do not people across our nation already show signs of believing what is false?

If you are a Christian, your affirmative answer to the questions above serves as your charge, your marching orders.  As the days grow darker, as worldly wise people reveal their true ignorance, the church holds the only answer that has ever saved: Jesus Christ.  If we are in the final season of human history, perhaps even watching the clock tick down on the fourth quarter, the church’s job is to boldly preach Christ.

Now is not the time to impress the world.  This is not the hour to attract the world.  Today is not the day to mimic the world.  Though the church is falling for these cheap substitutes, they reveal only our lack of concern.  The true church, by definition, knows God’s truth and is not surprised by the darkening days and approaching end.  We alone recognize today’s futility, so we alone should boldly show Christ’s love through mercy ministry and lovingly warn people of hell.

Join me, if you will, in taking Christ out of our churches, carrying Him into the world.  Take advantage of tweets such as LeBron’s to engage people in conversation.  Listen respectfully, but don’t be bashful about sharing the gospel.  Plant the seed of faith and then marvel at what the Holy Spirit might do!

Enticing People to Church – an Exercise in Futility

I heard recently that a church in England abandoned its traditional approach to church music.  Like the Church of Christ denomination in America, this British church had historically rejected musical instruments in worship, favoring instead the lone voices of worshipers.  Recently, however, they “plugged in,” dumping their traditional stance even as they carried new instruments into the sanctuary.

What piqued my interest in the story is not the church’s musical preferences but their motive for making the sweeping change.  The motive was to attract people to their church.  The story behind the motive was a consistently shrinking membership.  The church concluded, therefore, that people prefer music accompanied by musical instruments, so they decided to give the people what they want, hoping to bolster attendance as a result.

Apparently "relevant worship" renders that of other churches irrelevant!

Musical style is a great driver in churches nowadays, but the deeper issue is that of motive.  What motivates congregations?  Enticing more people to church appears to be the motivating goal of choice.  This deeply entrenched mindset is now so pervasive that it has become part of the expected norm of a church’s existence.  Pastors’ effectiveness is judged on the merit of their marketing skills.

One of the many ways that the goal of enticement exhibits itself in America is the barely concealed competition among local youth ministers.  Teens are fickle – everyone knows it (at least this is the prevailing thinking among youth ministers) – so churches conclude that the best way to reach teenagers is to entice them to church by offering give-aways.  Free pizza is so “yesterday” – a kid can get a pizza almost anywhere.  What it takes today is an X-Box game system or some such electronic gadget.  “Come to youth group Wednesday night,” the youth minister advertises, “and you might win a bran new X-Box!”

"This XBOX 360 could be yours!"

This prompts a simple question: Is this how churches must attract people?  Or, perhaps the fundamental question is, Should churches involve themselves in enticing people?

It seems to me that Christ presented the gospel as a command to which people should respond.  Repentance and gospel belief were the only means by which sinners could escape eternal hell.  Jesus never presented His gospel in slick, enticing ways.  As the eternal King of the universe, He lovingly extended the exclusive opportunity for rescue from everlasting damnation.  His presentation was a command, as seen from His words in Mark’s gospel, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Having proclaimed the gospel, Jesus simply left the words hanging in the air, with no subsequent hooks or lures attached at the end.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we see Jesus or the disciples driven by the motive to attract people to their cause.  Nor do we see them define gospel success by measuring how many people responded to their message.  By great contrast, attracting people to churches today seems to be the norm.

Sebastian Heck, a German pastor in Heidelberg, Germany, picked up on this theme in a recent article.  Writing of post-Christian Europe, he said,

“In Germany, Italy, and Ireland, evangelical believers comprise at most one percent of the population.  In countries such as France, Spain, Austria, and Poland, the percentage is even lower.  ‘How can the church possibly survive?’ people in Europe are asking.  ‘Is there any hope for us?’  While it might be tempting to cave in, throw hands up in the air, and abandon the sinking ship, this is simply not an option.  God still has His people there.”

Pastor Heck is right, but he acknowledges that many European churches – desperate in the face of failure – are choosing the same approach as the church in England.  Fearful that they will completely die out, they are doing whatever is necessary to attract people.

Majestic churches such as this one in Germany struggle to exist in godless Europe.

Some churches argue that toning down their theological convictions is the best path forward.  It is better, to their way of thinking, to present only Christ’s more palatable teachings than the whole Word of God.  Perhaps, they think, modern man will embrace at least part of the faith message rather than rejecting all of it.

Have we not already seen the end result of this game in both Europe and America from decades gone by?  This approach merely puts a new face on the old theological liberalism, which grew embarrassed by the Bible’s miracles in the face of mankind’s newfound scientific reasoning.  The prevailing wisdom stated that if man can’t study and tangibly verify something, then it isn’t real.

As a result of this thinking, vast segments of the European and American church took scissors to the Bible, cutting away the supernatural elements.  Left with only a core of Jesus’ teachings, they presented Him, not as the sovereign God of the universe, but as the greatest moral teacher who ever lived.  They promoted church as the opportunity to be the best person possible, learning from the very admirable example of Jesus.

With no true gospel to present, because it was too mysteriously supernatural, the church gave birth to what became known as the Social Gospel: do good unto others because Jesus did so.  While mercy ministry is Christlike and valid, it falls flat unless it finds its source in Jesus’ concern for people’s eternal condition, which the gospel epitomizes.

History repeats itself, as historians rightly contend.  Many of these faltering churches are ignorantly repeating their forefathers’ mistake, editing out entire chunks of Scripture which they feel might turn modern man off to the bigger picture.

Other struggling churches in Europe are turning to pragmatism, an anything goes mentality that suggests that times such as these demand tactics that equate with immediate success.  (The local youth ministers’ battle with give-away X-Boxes fits this approach.)

Still others argue for “thinking outside the box” when it comes to ministry in a post-Christian world, and “by the box” they usually mean the church.  These people lay blame for the church’s demise on the church itself – the actual institution.  Consequently, they believe the best path forward is to abandon the traditional church, replacing it with more authentic offers of true community.

This philosophy has built a massive head of steam here in the U.S.  Known as the Emerging Church, its participants have grown disillusioned with the organized and institutional church.  They are therefore deconstructing the structured church, which, to their way of thinking, draws them closer to the early church model – one of Christian community.

Regrettably, this approach is as full of errors as that of their theologically liberal cousins.  Sure, the organized church has problems.  Absolutely, institutional religion’s history comes complete with errors.  These errors and problems, however, are the direct product of people’s sinfulness, not the church’s inherent structure.  Even a quick reading of the New Testament reveals the God-ordained organization of the church.  To de-structure it therefore is an exercise in godless futility.

Of the many “new” approaches that Europe’s desperate churches are taking, all are looking for a magic bullet that will cut through the rock hard soil of western Europe.  Pastor Heck says, “I agree.  We need this magic bullet.  And we have it, but, alas, I disagree with the pragmatists and progressives as to where it may be found.  It is not to be found in the newest fad but in the nature of the church and the promises given to it.”

Heck is referring to what Jesus said of His church when He promised Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).  While some people debate what Jesus meant by “on this rock,” the clear import of Christ’s promise is that He will build His church!

The church originated with Jesus; it is His.  He is the builder and keeper of His church, and He promised to be with His church, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).  Heck acknowledges,

“Admittedly, Christ’s promise to Peter may seem counterintuitive today, especially in Europe.  But then again, we must walk by faith, not by sight.  We need to rely on God’s promise, draw from God’s strength, and use the means He has given the church.  That is our only hope.  Such a promise-driven approach to ministry cannot ultimately fail because the church will ultimately survive.  This is the magic bullet of ministry if there ever was one.”

Sebastian Heck touched a powerful nerve.  He said that the church must rely on the “means” God has given it.  His reference to a “promise-driven approach to ministry” is an obvious, tongue-in-cheek jab at America’s recent fascination with the “purpose-driven” approach to church.

What are the “means,” the “promise-driven approach” that Christ gave His church?  They are the same means which have been present since Christ started the church: true gospel preaching, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and discipline.  These things serve as the springboard for missions, mercy ministry, evangelism, fellowship, worship, etc.

A church which embraces this “promise-driven approach” to ministry will be protected by Christ in such a way that not even the gates of hell shall prevail against its mission.  This church will not grow self-conscious even if its members represent a Christian population of less than one percent in its given nation.  This church will not fall for the world’s suggestion that enticing people to church is the proper approach.  This church will not equate success with numerical strength.  This church will recognize that it may well be camped out near the gates of hell.  By God’s design, it may exist at the enemy’s door so as to burn brightly before those upon whom God has set His saving sights.

What an awesome privilege it is to be Christ’s church!  How marvelous to be His chosen ambassadors!  May we embrace our Lord and His gospel by standing confidently on the means He bestowed to lovingly extend His kingdom of grace, soul by soul, into this world of spiritual darkness!

Comanche Indians’ Lesson for Modern Christians

American Christians are losing their identity.  This is deeply troubling when you consider that our identity is paramount to who we are and how we live.  Consider that Christ’s earliest followers did not name themselves Christians.  The non-believing world did.

Quanah Parker, the fiercest Comanche of his generation

Early-day believers lived for Christ as “aliens” and “strangers” in the world.  They took seriously the call to live “in the world” but not become “part of it.”  To those watching, this drew the derogatory term, Christian – little Christs.  To the newly branded Christians, this title represented a supreme compliment.  It signified that their unique identity was so manifest to the world that it singled them out and named them.  They were Christ’s and proud of it!

I fear American Christians, by contrast, are working so hard to impress and mimic the world that we are, in turn, losing our identity.  Driven by self-consciousness, striving to emulate the world’s coolness in our lives and worship, we have, by default, surrendered the one thing that makes us unique – our Christ-like identity.

Allow me to highlight a tragic case of identity loss from deep in America’s past – that of the Comanche Indians.  The total destruction of the Comanche’s identity serves as an arrow speeding toward the fate of many American Christians if they don’t take heed.

Of the many tribes in the New World prior to Columbus’ discovery, the Comanches ranked among the lowest and least west of the Mississippi River.  Hailing originally from modern-day Wyoming, they lived in Stone Age squalor.  They were small of stature, poor hunters, and lived a subsistence existence as hunter-gatherers.  Their status and identity, however, were about to change radically.

The Spaniards, having easily conquered and settled giant tracts of South and Central America and modern-day Mexico in the 1500s, pushed their expanding frontier deep into North America.  The foot-bound Indians were no match for horse-mounted Conquistadors.  Inevitably, some of the Spaniards’ rugged ponies escaped and roamed wild across the vast plains.  Their natural affinity for the dry, arid climate was exceeded only by the Comanches’ almost divine marriage with these Spanish horses.

It’s as if God created Comanches for horses.  They captured, broke, bred, trained, and rode horses better than anyone in the world, period.  The first European and American eyewitnesses to the Comanche’s skill with horses were amazed.  Athanase de Mezieres, a Spanish Indian agent described them: “They are so skillful in horsemanship that they have no equal.”  Colonel Richard Dodge led an early expedition that made contact with the Comanches.  He believed them to be the “finest light cavalry in the world, superior to any mounted soldiers in Europe or America.”

A mounted Comanche became an extension of his horse.  Young boys, who received their first horse by five or six years of age, could soon ride at full gallop, reach down, and hoist a grown man from the ground.  George Catlin, a well known chronicler of the west, wrote of a stratagem of war, which was learned and practiced by every young man in the tribe: “He is able to drop his body on the side of his horse at the instant he is passing, effectively screened from his enemies’ weapons, as he lays in a horizontal position behind the body of his horse, with his heel hanging over the horse’s back…In this wonderful condition, he will hang whilst his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his bow and shield and also his long lance 14 feet in length.”  In this position, a Comanche warrior could loose twenty arrows from beneath the horse’s neck in the time it took a soldier to load and fire one round from his musket.

A direct descendant of the Conquistadors' horses which transformed Comanche culture

The Comanche’s unique relationship with the horse totally transformed their identity.  Whereas they had previously been a beaten down people in the mountain west, by the time they migrated to the southern plains and forged their newfound relationship with the horse, the Comanche found themselves immeasurably altered as a people.  Historian S.C. Gwynne wrote, “What happened to the tribe between roughly 1625 and 1750 was one of the great social and military transformations in history.  Few nations have ever progressed with such breathtaking speed from the status of skulking pariah to dominant power” (see Gwynne’s excellent book Empire of the Summer Moon).

The transformation was actualized in the hunt for buffalo.  All Plains Indians relied exclusively on the seemingly countless buffalo herds for their total existence.  Prior to the horses’ arrival, buffalo hunting was a frightening, dangerous pursuit of man against massive beast.  The horse tilted the field dramatically in the hunters’ favor.  Mounted Indians could equal the pace of stampeding buffalos and hurl their lances at close range, ducking away to safety at the last minute.

Given the Comanche’s expertise with horses, they quickly ascended to the supreme hunters on the plains.  No other tribe came close.  The distinction defined them.  An individual brave’s status in the tribe was ranked by his success as a hunter.

The Comanche’s dominance as buffalo hunters soon led to a healthy, thriving, and growing population of Comanche Indians.  Nomadic, following the buffalo herds, they hunted a range that extended from northern Mexico to Kansas, encompassing New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.  Several bands of Comanches, numbering in the tens of thousands, soon ruled the mammoth territory the Spanish named Comancheria.

The inextricable tie between horses and hunting buffalo led to a fundamental change in the economy of the Great Plains: horses became worth more than any other asset.  Leveraging their expertise on horseback, the Comanches attacked the Spaniards and other Indian tribes, stealing horses at will and amassing enormous herds.  Soon, the Comanches were the wealthiest tribe in America.  Gwynne wrote, “It is not uncommon for a Comanche warrior to have one hundred to two hundred mounts, or for a chief to have fifteen hundred.  (A Sioux chief might have forty horses, by comparison).”

George Catlin painted this Comanche village in 1834

Soon, the Comanche’s identity was not just tied to hunting buffalo, but to war.  Now, a brave earned a name for himself and established his standing in the tribe by growing into a strong warrior.  From this point forward, Comanches existed for one reason: to wage battle.  To quote Gwynne: “No tribe in the history of the Spanish, French, Mexican, Texan, and American occupations of this land had ever caused so much havoc and death.  None was even a close second.”

Another author noted, “They were so masterful at war and so skillful with their arrows and lances that they stopped the northern drive of colonial Spain from Mexico and halted the French expansion westward from Louisiana.  White settlers arriving in Texas from the eastern United States were surprised to find the frontier being rolled backward by Comanches incensed by the invasion of their tribal lands.  So effective were the Comanches that they forced the creation of the Texas Rangers and account for the advent of the new weapon specifically designed to fight them: the six-gun.”

What happened to the Comanches?  How could such a dominant people group fade into the dimness of history?  The answer is that their identity was destroyed.  Two things leveled the death blow.  The first and greatest destroyer appeared on the Great Plains in the 1860s: the buffalo hunters.  Gwynne wrote, “Between 1868 and 1881 they would kill thirty-one million buffalo, stripping the plains almost entirely of the huge, lumbering creatures and destroying any last small hope that any horse tribe could ever be restored to its traditional life.  There was no such thing as a horse Indian without a buffalo herd.  Such an Indian had no identity at all.”

Buffalo hides ready for shipment to market

Soaring prices for buffalo hides drove the mass extinction.  The U.S. government was not ignorant of the butchery; in fact, it allowed the virtual extinction to continue as a deliberate political act.  General Phil Sheridan, commander of the Military Division of the Missouri, said, “These men [buffalo hunters] have done in the last two years…more to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years.  They are destroying the Indians’ commissary…For the sake of a lasting peace, let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffalo are exterminated.  Then your prairies can be covered with specked cattle and the festive cowboy.”

Americans, flush with Manifest Destiny, were itching to move west, but the fierce Comanches stood in the way.  Repeatedly, they repulsed settlers and effectively rolled back wave upon wave of westward expansion.  Forty years of Great Plains history is filled with blood, rape, and brutal savagery.  As General Sheridan’s note revealed, the buffalo hunters solved the problem in a little over ten years by driving the Indians’ livelihood to utter extinction; thus, the Comanche’s identity was dealt a death blow.

The Comanche’s second identity destroyer was the white man’s civilization.  Comanche Indians had always been a “people apart,” to quote Gwynne; “fiercely independent, arrogantly certain that their pragmatic, stripped-down Spartan ethic was the best way to live….They were the world’s best horsemen and the unchallenged military masters of the south plains.”

The relentless push of the white man’s invading culture destroyed this.  As Gwynne puts it, the Comanche were “submerged in a sea of the white man’s material goods…Where once the Comanche lived in the purity of the buffalo and all that it provided, now there were the taibos’ [white people] weapons and cooking tools and sheet metal, his sugar and coffee and whiskey, his clothing and calico.  They used his blankets.  They ate food boiled in his brass kettles.  At the core of their identity, they were hunters and warriors – precisely what the white man wanted to deny them.”

Demoralized and unable to find buffalo, pursued relentlessly by military fighters such as the legendary Ranald S. Mackenzie, the Comanches were left with no options.  With no buffalo, their families were literally starving to death on the plains, making them easy prey for the relentless Indian hunters.  Of the tens of thousands of Comanches at their peak, they were soon reduced to a tiny fraction of that number.

Malnourished, hopeless, and in many cases horse-less, they stumbled onto the government reservation in Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma), where white culture and civilization soon swallowed them whole.  Totally defeated, fathers could no longer teach their sons what it meant to be a Comanche: hunting and warring.  Mothers could not teach their daughters the ways of the buffalo.  Elders could not pass down their knowledge of the Great Plains, with its wild canyons, majestic mesas, clear rivers, and endless stretches as vast as the sea.  The Comanche’s identity was destroyed forever.  They no longer knew who they were.

The Comanche’s tragic drama runs dangerously close to what is happening far too rapidly across American Christendom: we are totally losing our unique identity.  Obviously, the parallels are not one-to-one, but the end result is the same.

Scripture is to Christians what the buffalo was to the Comanches: our lifeblood.  Our mortal enemies (Satan and the world he influences) aren’t slaying Scripture in the way buffalo hunters destroyed the Comanche’s lifeblood, but they are landing devastating blows.  They are accomplishing this feat by eroding Christians’ interest in and reliance upon God’s Word to such a degree that most of us totally ignore it.

Hungry Comanches could not have imagined walking next to a buffalo while at the same time ignoring it.  Yet, spiritually starved Christians find it quite easy to pass by a dusty Bible lying on the table and not take notice.  Slowly but methodically, their lifeblood is draining away, because they don’t drink in the words of life daily.

The Comanche’s second debilitating blow came in the form of the all-encompassing white culture.  No longer wild and free, able to chase the roaming buffalo herds, the Comanche were confined to the reservation where they were expected to become farmers and merchants.  Some made the transition quite well and became very “white,” while others refused and huddled in despair inside their tipis.  Try as they might to remain Comanche, it was impossible.  They were gradually sucked into the white man’s world, whether they excelled in that world or drowned in it.

The New Testament warns Christians frequently to beware of the world’s influence, the world being defined as the system of thought which stands in opposition to Christ’s teachings.  The world is subtle and seductive and very adept at luring unsuspecting Christians into embracing its values and lifestyles.  Before long, believers are so immersed in the world’s culture that they have no idea how far afield they have run.  Starved from the lifeblood of Scripture, they no longer hear the Holy Spirit’s warning bells.  They resemble the world and therefore potentially belong to the world.  How frightening for their eternal destiny, because those of the world never belonged to Christ to begin with.

Something must be done to stop this mortal bleeding within the community of faith!  We are becoming unrecognizable as Christ’s followers.  We look and act like the world around us.  No longer do we bear the indelible mark of our Savior.  We don’t know what it means to be Christians.  Our unique identity is passing away.

Sadly, this saga has already played out across vast stretches of formerly Christian Europe, where believers fell prey to the same two destroyers that are attacking American Christians now.  Let’s stop the bloodletting and identity loss in our lives and churches!  Our Savior is too great to deny, His message is to powerful to hide, and eternity is perhaps too near to ignore.

The Illogicality of the New Morality

Two recent news articles demonstrate what I refer to as The Illogicality of the New Morality.  First, a few words on new morality.

New morality suggests the former presence of old morality, or simply, morality.  Without getting lost in why and when, our nation systematically severed its cultural moorings, which were based on the Bible’s morality.  Concepts such as moral absolutes – definite right and wrong – grew outdated.

They were replaced quickly by new morality, which favors situational ethics and morality defined by individuals.  New morality gave rise to phrases such as: “This feels right to me.”; “If it feels good, do it.”  New morality cast out centuries of time-honored, trustworthy traditions that worked.  Into the vacuum rushed an “anything goes” mentality.

What new morality fails to account for, however, is that without regard to how fresh and relevant its claims may appear, it is flat-out illogical.  Consider two recent news stories.

In the first, a December 6th article from the National Journal, Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., stated that he will not resume his 30-year tradition of riding his horse in Tulsa’s annual Christmas parade, because the officials changed its name from the Christmas Parade of Lights to the Holiday Parade of Lights.  “Christmas meant the birth of Jesus Christ,” he said. “That’s what I’m celebrating.  That’s what my 20 kids and grand kids are celebrating.”

Senator Inhofe is right!  I realize we Americans live in a melting pot comprised of people from a plethora of ethnic and religious backgrounds.  How, I ask, however, does this change the fact that Christmas celebrates Jesus Christ’s birthday?  Americans are free to disbelieve that Jesus is God’s Son.  They are free to reject Jesus’ claims of exclusivity.  They don’t have to worship Him at Christian churches.  These freedoms do not, however, erase the fact that a man named Jesus was born two thousand years ago in a hamlet named Bethlehem.  They don’t remove the fact that Jesus influenced Western civilization to such a degree that His followers celebrate His birth two millennia later.

No one forces every American to celebrate Christmas.  No law in our land requires mandatory presence at Christmas parades.  These are voluntary activities which every citizen can freely take part in or not.  Why, then, does the new morality scream so loudly that Christmas celebrations infringe upon people’s rights?  Why are countless cities changing the name of their annual Christmas parades, choosing instead names such as Holiday Parade?  Why are public schools renaming Christmas break to inane holidays such as Winter Break?

There are no answers to my questions of why, because these actions are all illogical; hence, the Illogicality of the New Morality.

Disagree with Christ if you want.  Don’t participate in His birthday celebration if you so choose.  But don’t make the illogical, false step of stealing Jesus’ birthday celebration by renaming it and claiming it as your own.  Don’t take advantage of your employer’s tradition of giving its employees Christmas day off, because that recognizes that Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birthday.  Don’t decorate your Christmas tree and purchase and wrap Christmas presents for your children, because that suggests Christmas commemorates Christ’s birth.

You can’t have it both ways, unless you are willing to adopt the illogicality of the new morality.  Apparently, many people are.

Yet another recent news article highlights the Illogicality of the New Morality.  On December 1st, The New York Times ran the article: LPGA Tour Accepts Transgender Players.  They did so less than two months after transgender golfer Lana Lawless sued the LPGA, saying the organization’s rules that a player must be “female at birth” are outdated and violate California’s civil rights law.

Lana is a 57-year old retired police officer who had a sex change operation (referred to nowadays as sex reassignment surgery) in 2005.  She now wants to compete against women who were born women.

Do I even need to insult your intelligence by pointing out the illogicality captured by this story?  Lana may have gone under the knife, but her physique – her musculoskeletal frame – is that of a man.  On average, men are bigger and stronger than women, which explains the LPGA’s former rule of allowing only players who were “female at birth” to compete.

Logic dictates that Lana will beat her undersized counterparts, because she will be playing on a course designed for women, using her male-born body to compete against players relying on their female-born bodies.  No, it’s not logical.  The new morality, however, is more interested in civil rights violations than logic.

This story would be worth no more than a passing, even humorous, glance if it wasn’t for the fact that the LPGA knuckled under to the new morality’s power and influence.  The LPGA, fearful of appearing archaic and discriminatory, now allows golfers such as Lana, grown men who are transgendered, to compete unfairly against ladies.

Yes, new morality epitomizes illogicality, and yet, for some strange reason, Americans continue to buy in to it, pretending it’s as logical as can be!