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July 06, 2009

Daily roundup

Praying in Perilous Times

Pastor and missionary Gene Cunningham has written a timely piece on what we can learn from Elijah as we pray for our nation. You can read "Perilous Times Primer -- The Elijah Option" here.

Stop the Tweets!

Twitter A few weeks ago I blogged about the perils of Twitter. Nice to know that there are at least 18 possible arguments against microblogging from moral philosophy.

Take a look and have a laugh. 

July 02, 2009

A Rabbi on the ’Paradox’ of Evangelicals

At the New York Times, in a symposium on The Most Annoying & Pathetic Governor Ever, and just under our own Chuck Colson's contribution, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach opines thusly:

The paradox of American evangelicals is that they are Christian on the one hand and political conservatives on the other with utterly opposing views of redemption. Christians believe that no one is blameless and all must therefore ride the coattails of a perfect being into heaven. But conservatives espouse the gospel of personal accountability. The state cannot save them. Man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow and not by welfare alone.

Is he right? I don’t think so.

This notion that those of us who are both evangelical Christians and political conservatives have incompatible views on redemption is to misunderstand redemption. Or so it seems to me. 

Redemption relates to our standing with God, and is the foundation of the discussion about Salvation. If Governor Sanford is indeed a believer, then nothing he has done in this affair—no matter how destructive and stupid—affects his relationship with God. He is saved once and for all. He is redeemed.

Continue reading "A Rabbi on the ’Paradox’ of Evangelicals" »

Sanford and sons

0624_sanford_460x276 Following up on Stephen's post, as the resident South Carolinian on the Point, I’ve been trying to find the right words since news of our governor’s deplorable behavior became public last week. Everyone knows by now that Mark Sanford is carrying on an adulterous affair with a woman in Argentina, that he sneaked away over Father’s Day weekend like he was part of some cloak-and-dagger spy drama, and that he resurfaced, tearful but resolute on keeping his seat in the State House, willing to spill the sordid details of his story to any reporter who will listen.

Asked about whether he will resign as governor, Sanford pointed to the Biblical example of King David, who engaged in an adulterous affair with Bathsheba. When Bathsheba wound up pregnant, David conspired to cover it all up, eventually murdering Bathsheba’s husband.

What the governor remembers about King David’s story from his Sunday school days is that David continued to rule as king and that, in spite of his failures, God restored David.

The governor seems to have missed or forgotten two key elements to David’s story. First, David was repentant. After Nathan the prophet confronted David through a parable, David wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51: 3, 4, 10 ESV).

The governor has done a lot of confessing over the last week, some of it probably best left between him and God and his wife instead of broadcast for all the world to hear. But what is noticeably absent from his speech since last Tuesday is repentance. The governor says he wants his four sons to see redemption played out in his life, but Paul told the Corinthian church that “godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor 7:10 NIV). Governor Sanford seems sorry only that he got caught, that he put his staff in an awkward situation, and that he can’t be with his mistress.

Continue reading "Sanford and sons" »

July 01, 2009

Daily roundup

June 30, 2009

I know I have forgiven if...

As I read Catherine’s book As We Forgive, it reminded me of the forgiveness issues I have in my life that I daily bring to the foot of the cross. The men and women in her book suffered a great deal; by comparison, my own experiences are nothing. They all have to come to terms with people who did horrific things to them, and I only have to deal with forgiving myself for the poor choices I’ve made in the past.

It made me reflect on the question "How do I know if I have forgiven?" And it revealed once again some of my flawed understanding of forgiveness. Unfortunately, all of us are guilty of such flaws. I wrote down some things to remember about forgiveness:

I know I have forgiven if...

I no longer have feelings of anger or bitterness.
I have asked God to forgive the other person.
I have asked the other person to forgive me.
I have confronted the other person.
I have attempted reconciliation.
I am willing to allow time to heal the wound or get on with life.
I can say “let's just forget about it.”

What's comforting to realize is the fact that I don't have to be flawless to experience God's forgiveness. No one is required to change to be proven worthy of His forgiveness. The only evidence needed is my life submitted to the presence of Christ.

June 29, 2009

Waiting on the Lord

707_jmilton You lovers of literature might want to check out my recent piece on John Milton's "When I Consider How My Light Is Spent" over at the Wilberforce Forum's new website. While you're there, check out some more of the most recent pieces, such as this and this.

(Image courtesy of The Wilberforce Project)

Frustrated with God’s Hiddenness?

Psyche Orual You are not alone.

(Image © Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)

June 25, 2009

An Alternative to the Episcopal Church

WARRENrick_Product.G432L5J5M.1 In a move that demonstrates the unity of traditional values across denominational lines, Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., has embraced the 100,000 Christians who left the U.S. Episcopal Church due to conflicting beliefs

Pastor Warren stated to the new congregation, who proclaim themselves the 39th province of the worldwide Anglican Communion, “We will stand with you in solidarity as God does something new in your midst.” 

This solidarity is one example of the triumph of orthodox Christian beliefs prevailing in the midst of harsh criticism and ostracization from liberal congregations. While some church communities continue to dwindle in membership and participation, conservative and orthodox Christian churches are experiencing systemic growth. 

Clearly, any schism is a tragedy. As Steve Rempe and I have observed, however, in this case we can be supportive of those who left, because they left to uphold the truths of Scripture. They did not leave the Church they loved; rather, they were virtually kicked out. When the “open-minded” movements of liberalism and the sexual revolution lead down the damning road toward condemning Scriptural truths, we can be assured that the institutions upholding these unfounded beliefs will not stand long. Because, after all, when we stand apart from God, we stand without hope.

(Image © Kyle R. Lee for the Dallas Morning News)

June 23, 2009

Stuff Christians Hate (Or Should)

Barefoot Roberto alerted me to the Stuff Christians Like site and the spinoff called Stuff Christian Culture Likes, which are very funny. But this picture made me wince. It wasn't the bare feet thing so much as the rock band plus the words-up-on-a-screen thing. I think there's a reason God repeatedly tells his people to sing (as opposed to appointing a Christian version of a Greek Chorus to sing FOR us at church). As T. M. Moore writes in "Whatever Happened to Singing," "It's curious, but Scripture gives us no specific guidance in how to listen to music. Music, according to the Bible, is not the spectator sport we have made it to be." 

Even when congregations are encouraged to sing along to the music of the band, there is, inevitably, too much focus on the (very loud) singers up on the stage at the expense of focusing one's thoughts on God. And I can't help but think that being up in front of worshipers performing puts the entertainers' minds on themselves instead of the Almighty. ("Do I look okay? How do I sound?")

I can't think of a scriptural criticism of big screens with verses on them, but I hate them anyway. Why do we need these things? If you can read the words on a screen, why not read them out of a hymnal? Does anyone think a big screen makes a church sanctuary look more attractive? And--as my husband, a veteran of a number of church choirs, has noted--without the musical instructions in hymn books, congregations no longer know HOW to sing anything but the simplest melodies. Brent once began singing the harmony of a famous hymn whose words were shown on a screen (a hymn he was familiar with through following the harmony line in hymn books). He was shocked to find that he was the only man singing the harmony. Nobody else appeared to realize there even was one. And the new "praise choruses" (inflicted on us by "music teams") and other contemporary abominations NEVER offer anything but simple (and often sappy) melodies.

There's been a huge loss of depth in church music, and I am angry about it. In A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken writes that he and his wife, Davy, while still unbelievers, used to go into churches to listen to the music. Today, I suspect very few churches would draw strangers in with the beauty and complexity of their music.  

Finally--whatever happened to dressing up for church? What we wear reflects our respect for the occasion. When we meet to worship the One who saved us from eternal damnation--shouldn't our clothing reflect it? It occurred to me recently (when confronted with the wrinkled T-shirt and torn jeans of a worshiper in the pew in front of me) that the only thing people dress up for anymore, at church, is weddings and funerals. They do this partly because they know the bride will KILL them if they show up in jeans on her special day, and also because they know a grieving family will never forgive them if they show up in shorts and thongs at a loved one's funeral. In other words, they show respect for the occasion. So who gave them a permission slip to wear, Sunday after Sunday, the grubbiest clothes in their wardrobe when worshiping the King of Kings?

(Image courtesy of Stuff Christian Culture Likes)

June 22, 2009

Never Alone

Father-and-child I am comforted knowing that I am never really alone.

Coming from a broken home myself, I sympathize with the pain that other children of divorce experience. Unfortunately, divorce is too common a reality, when in fact this a norm that has no normalcy at all. Marriage is meant to be a lifelong covenant union.  Divorce, then, is a practice that goes against what is meant to be normal.

While we can find solace in community with people who experience similar trials and joys, our ultimate community is found in the Body of Christ. Fellowship in the local church is essential for learning truth and sharing one another's burdens. Participating in genuine fellowship reveals that we are indeed not alone in experiencing pain. Instead, we can bear the yoke together in love and truth.

(Image courtesy of Faith and Gender)

A Historic Gathering of Anglicans

CCP-0901_Logo The biggest religion story you probably have not heard about is currently taking place in Bedford, Texas. 

The inaugural assembly of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) convened this morning at St. Vincent's Cathedral. The convention is yet another step in the restructuring of Anglicanism in the United States, which has been in a state of disarray since the Episcopal Church recognized the appointment of a non-chaste homosexual to the position of bishop in 2003.

ACNA, a collection of roughly 100,000 Anglicans in 700 parishes across the United States and Canada, seeks to become the newest Anglican province within the Anglican Communion, the worldwide association of Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England. It has already been recognized by the primates of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCon), representing over 70 percent of active Anglicans around the world. Four dioceses previously affiliated with the the Episcopal Church have left that church body in toto to join ACNA. In addition, a number of smaller Anglican bodies in the United States that previously dissociated themselves from the Episcopal Church have also joined the new coalition.

Bishop Robert Duncan, formerly of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (one of the four Episcopal dioceses to join ACNA) will be formally introduced as archbishop on June 24. Duncan has been a vocal critic of the Episcopal Church in the United States--particularly in regards to its decisions normalizing homosexual behavior. "The Lord is displacing the Episcopal Church," Duncan told the press in 2008.

There are still many hurdles ahead for the nascent church. First, many Episcopal congregations and dioceses that are inclined to agree with the more conservative beliefs of ACNA face legal hindrances to switching alliances, and would be required to surrender church properties and pensions to the Episcopal Church. Also, theological differences exist between some of the various ACNA constituencies on matters such as female ordination. And it is still uncertain that the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams--the Archbishop of the Church of England and titular head of the Anglican Communion--would be willing to recognize ACNA. Williams has expressed dismay with the pending split, and has indicated in the past that he sympathizes with the Episcopal Church's views on sexual matters.

Those interested in following the assembly can do so here.

(Image © ACNA)

June 19, 2009

Technological revolution

I've been following the events in Iran with fascination, all the more because a friend of mine just returned from a mission trip there. As she pointed out, with such a minuscule percentage of the Iranian population professing Christ (0.2%, according to Wikipedia), the young people who are risking their lives for the sake of freedom are, in most cases, risking much, much more--their eternal destiny and a life apart from God. Pray for the Iranians to know the true freedom of the Gospel.

One of the reasons we know so much about what has been happening in Iran this last week is technology. The kinds of things that become useless time wasters for us (who cares what Ashton Kutcher ate for lunch?) are the very things that have allowed news of the post-election chaos in Iran to make it past government censors and a foreign media ban. NBC Nightly News ran a piece last night on several Iranian youth who are attending school here in the U.S. and are working hard to keep their peers back home online despite government bans.


At the same time, over at the State Department, a leftover from the Bush administration has been the driving force behind keeping Twitter online and working with cell phone providers to develop technology that would allow people to access Twitter without Internet service.

I guess this Time piece on geeks inheriting the earth has finally come true. If nothing else, they may help to make the earth a more hospitable place for the people of Iran. We can all hope.

June 18, 2009

Chastity and, um, not Chastity

Lenny-kravitz__1424496c Dawn Eden, author of The Thrill of the Chaste, has two interesting pieces up on her blog. The first includes a link to this article in The Telegraph on Lenny Kravitz's celibate lifestyle:

"It took years to get it right. To actually do it, and really try to walk the walk and not just talk it. It’s not like it’s not important – I think sex and intimacy and all that is very important. It’s just that I’m going to do it with my wife." He laughs. "And not everybody else."

This summer, not long after he turns 45, it will be four years. The final trigger came after a night in the Carlyle Hotel in New York. (His apartment was under renovation.) "I was doing my normal thing and I was with somebody, and I remember waking up in the morning thinking, 'What am I doing?' It’s not that I was all over the place. It’s not, like, groupies or somebody you’d pick up on the street. I didn’t carry on like that. It was somebody that I know. But it was still, 'What am I doing? And why?' And that morning I was just talking to God, as I do, and I said, 'You got to help me to stop this. I just really want to stop this.' And that was the day that it changed."

The second is a post Dawn has written about Chastity Bono's announcement that she will undergo a sex change and become Chaz. Here's a snippet, but the entire post is worth reading at Dawn's blog:

It seems Chastity has always had a hole in her heart that could not be filled. I know what that is like because I have felt it myself. It is only because of God's grace that I have learned, not without pain, to endure it from hour to hour and day to day; to invite Jesus to enter into it, receiving Him through the Eucharist, and to begin, in His love, to learn how the space in my heart can shelter others regardless of whether they are able to shelter me.

I believe that, rather than live with the vacuum, Chastity is seeking to eliminate what she sees as its source. To her, it will be a physical confirmation of an identity she already possesses. Perhaps, in a sense, she is right. "Chastity the girl" may have died a long time ago.

(Image © Jesse Frohman for the Telegraph)

June 16, 2009

Redeeming fiction

My Sisters Keeper Mary DeMuth has a really good article in the current issue of BreakPoint WorldView Magazine on how fiction can bolster our faith, make us think about eternal truths, and generally be in step with a Christian approach to life. Mary just happens to be one of those rare individuals who can successfully write both fiction and nonfiction. I have a copy of her novel Daisy Chain on my reading pile right now and can't wait to get to it. 

I thought about this topic of fiction's impact last night as I finished up a Jodi Picoult novel, Perfect Match. The story involves a parent who kills the man she believes has molested her young son. Picoult manages to walk the reader through the process of thinking about whether something could be morally just and legally wrong at the same time without coming off as preachy and while resisting the temptation to spoon feed the answers. She does this by using a lot of first person narrative and showing her characters wrestling with their decisions.

I picked up Perfect Match because my library didn't have Picoult's book My Sister's Keeper, which is hitting the big screen later this month. My Sister's Keeper tells the story of a girl who was genetically engineered to donate any number of possible things (platelets, bone marrow, a kidney) to her older sister who is battling cancer. It looks like a tear-jerker of a movie, but it also looks like the kind of story that will find moviegoers leaving the theater to find a good restaurant where they can sit and talk for hours about ethics and family and love.

And that, to me, seems to suggest another reason why fiction is important. Imagine debating the topic of medical ethics with your neighbor or co-worker or friend who rejects the notion of a just and good God. Now, imagine how that conversation might be different after reading a book like My Sister's Keeper in your neighborhood book club, or watching the movie with a group of friends.

(Image © Simon and Schuster)

June 15, 2009

Daily roundup

June 12, 2009

Daily roundup

Blackaby’s Reading List

Books3 Since we have been talking about our summer reading, I thought some of our Pointificators might enjoy seeing Henry Blackaby's recommended reading list. One thing you'll note right away: there are no "beach books" here! In fact, working your way through this reading list, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, just might change your soul forever. 

A few of my favorites from the list (beyond the obvious, Blackaby's own Experiencing God) are these:

George Müller, The Autobiography of George Müller
Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

What are some of your favorites from Dr. Blackaby's list?

June 11, 2009

Seeing Jesus Afresh

Jesus Mafa Years ago, when I was going regularly to Russia and Belarus on short-term missions, I invested in a series of A Beka posters depicting Bible stories. The posters were beautifully rendered and were a great teaching aid, whether I was working with children or adults. The posters, of course, depicted Jesus as either white or olive-skinned.

However, once I started going to Africa, I wanted a set of Bible story pictures that would resonate with Africans, from both an ethnic and cultural standpoint. A couple of years ago, I discovered this wonderful resource -- Jesus Mafa -- and ordered a set of their posters, which show a black-skinned Jesus in settings that look like a typical African village.

If you are a white American, take a look at these images and tell me what you think (click here and go through the seven links to see images from Christ's life). Do they change your perception of Christ? Do they give you a greater appreciation for the passages in Revelation which talk about how heaven will be populated with people from every nation, tribe, race, and language? If you are non-white, do these pictures make you feel more at home with Jesus? Why or why not?

(Image © Jesus Mafa)

June 10, 2009

Daily roundup

Self-Defense and Christianity

Book2yel Jason's recent post on a pastor who has urged his congregation to bring their guns to church fascinated me, and brought up a related issue: self-defense. A number of years ago, I spent a week going through a self-defense course led by Sanford Strong, who was once a San Diego police officer in charge of violent crimes. He became tired of investigating crimes where victims could have survived -- or at least sustained lesser injuries -- had they known how to respond to a violent assailant. So he began traveling the country offering self-defense classes.

What is perhaps unusual about my involvement is that it happened because a pastor friend arranged the classes for everyone (kids and adults) who attended a week-long summer camp. A woman in his congregation had been attacked in broad daylight on a busy interstate highway. Fortunately, she was able to get away unharmed. But it made Gene realize that part of his job as "shepherd" was to teach his flock how to protect themselves. So he hired Sandy to come in and conduct a self-defense seminar.

In between the Bible classes one would expect at a Christian camp, Sandy taught us what to do should a criminal confront us; he then had us practice simple self-defense moves against the largest guys there, who were wearing special padded uniforms to keep them from getting hurt. We were all a bit black-and-blue by week's end; but it gave us the confidence to know that, if we act properly, we can greatly increase our chances of surviving a violent crime. (I should add that, as a teacher, I believe it's my job to protect my students should someone come into my classroom and cause trouble. So the training I received goes beyond mere self-defense.)

How many of you have been through -- or would like to go through -- such training? Do you find it consistent or inconsistent with your Christian beliefs? Explain.

(Image courtesy of Sgtstrong.com)

In Search of Saints

Check out Jim Tonkowich's review of A Crisis of Saints: The Call to Heroic Faith in an Unheroic World. The book's author, Fr. George Rutler, evidently has much to say about "saintliness" -- which Tonkowich defines as "the God-given ability to exercise heroic virtue in the face of cultural breakdown." If we want to heal our culture (and I suppose most of us Pointers and Pointificators do), then we must begin with the spiritual renewal of the Church. Rutler claims that "any crisis in culture is a crisis of saints, and no reform is radical enough unless it is a redemption from sin."

The final essay in the book deals with G. K. Chesterton, who was able to demonstrate his saintliness in, "of all places," the journalistic world. The difference between Chesterton and modern media types, according to Rutler, "is Chesterton's subordination of the self to truth. This is far more significant than the breath of knowledge" (though, goodness knows, Chesterton had that, too). 

In closing, Tonkowich offers these encouraging words from Rutler's book: "If there were giants in the land then, there can be giants now. It is, after all, the same land, and we are of the same human stock, and the times and issues are certainly no less important. And God is no less faithful to those who ask...."

June 09, 2009

Chesterton, Anyone?

28thlogo2 Fittingly, while I was contemplating starving men, I received an invitation to the American Chesterton Society's 28th annual conference. It’s being held in Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium, and includes intriguing topics like “Chesterton and Alfred Hitchcock” and “The Dangers of Trifling with Chesterton.”

I’m sure, if you go, you will be ingesting ideas of meaty substance.

(Image © American Chesterton Society)

The Dangers of Proof-Texting and Other Smart Words

Bible2 A few weeks ago, I posted a short blog post about the pictures from the Hubble telescope, the wonders of the universe, and as LeeQuod puts it, "a small dig at the New Atheist types," i.e. the problem of materialism. An interesting discussion ensued. 

Under that post, Rolley recently answered a question posed by Ben W., who had raised the question of the Church's seeming indifference to the problem of slavery. Rolley discusses the problem of proof-texting versus principles, and I thought everyone might benefit from reading his comments.

(Image courtesy of Bible.ca)

Before the Throne of God Above

Need a little encouragement today? Listen to this beautiful song by Selah, and find comfort in the knowledge that our great High Priest is praying for you this day.

"Now that we know what we have -- Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God -- let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all -- all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help." (Hebrews 4:14-16, The Message)

June 08, 2009

Daily roundup

Opening Your Mind: The Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton

Every once in a while, I'll read a descriptive passage which gives me a fit of the giggles, and I got them while reading a brief scene about eating by G. K. Chesterton. 

Chesterton is describing an incident at a luncheon he had with friends. The learned fellows are discussing a "most ultimate and terrible [idea]...whether man can be certain about anything." 

The thing that got me was picturing a fellow sitting at a table laden with delicious delicacies munching way, but never realizing his fork is empty.   

On second thought, perhaps it isn't so funny, because a lack of certainty truly leaves that fellow in a state of starvation. 

Some Devilish Thoughts on Stem Cells

You will recall my mention of a menacing piece of correspondence from Down Under—way Under, which recently came to my attention. What follows is another dispatch that has surfaced, bearing the scrawlings of that hellish mystagogue . . .

Dear Swillpit,

Your latest report on the American front contained an item that is sure to be a watershed for our cause: the government funding of embryo destruction. It seems their decision makers really believe that it’s all in the interest of noble medical goals. Give rein to their folly. Later, we will have an eternity enjoying their shock at how they were played like a hand of rummy.

The quotes in the press clippings you included were particularly stirring. Statements like, we will be guided by “scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” and our decisions need to be “based on the recommendations of experts and scientists outside of politics and religion,” indicate that the guardrails we have been tugging on for centuries are at last, everywhere, crumbling.

Thanks to the efforts of field agents who have been patiently conditioning them with wileful whisperings, I feel that our long-fought outcome is within grasp.

In the not too distant past, the question before them was, “What should be done to improve their lot?” Now, by our incremental influences, they only think in terms of what can be done without regard to whether it should be done. Step by step, we have ushered them along a path which, just a few decades ago, they would have shuddered to look upon, but now course down in full stride! ...

Continue reading here.

A Terror to the Devil

Saint_Columba Check out T. M. Moore's recent Crosfigell article "A Terror to the Devil" -- the story of how St. Columba's contemporaries viewed him (and a challenge to us to become like him). Here's an excerpt:

How did Columba get that way? He loved God and hated his own sin. He pored over the Word of God, giving special attention to the Law and the Gospels. He spent long hours praying and contemplating the unseen realm ... [and] he was a diligent student of Church history, knowing the debt he owed to the martyrs and theologians of the past.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

June 05, 2009

Thought for the Day: C.S. Lewis

"I must often be glad that certain past prayers of my own were not granted." -- C.S. Lewis in Christian Reflections

June 04, 2009

John Calvin, literary muse

RobinsonAuthor Marilynne Robinson has won yet another prestigious award, Britain's Orange Award for a novel written by a woman. 

Robinson was typically modest about the award, saying, "I always suspect that there's someone in some obscure place who has five unpublished novels in a box in her closet. She will die and her executors will publish her novels and she will become the great spirit of the age, and all the rest of us will fall into her shadow."

Perhaps, but in the meantime Robinson stands alongside writers like Flannery O'Connor (another award-winning female) who have managed to write about faith with such artistry that they transcend the usual sacred/secular divide.

Robinson, a professed Calvinist, says:

One of the things that I like about the theology is the assumption that one is flawed. You never do anything exactly right, you never achieve what you aspire to.

That tension, she says, makes great story fodder. Let's hope it inspires her to a few more novels.

(Image © Reuters)

June 03, 2009

Christian Worldview Conversations Can Be Found Almost Anywhere

Drag poster Now I make no recommendation of the new horror movie Drag Me To Hell, owing to its gory violence, dabbling in the occult, and premarital sex references. However, I can say that it was better acted than most films in this genre, with the ability to laugh at itself, while still keeping a few jump-in-your-seat surprises in store throughout.

But what I was most struck by is how it would provide for some teenagers watching the film a springboard into the topic of moral consequences for one's actions.

In the film, Christine (played admirably by Alison Lohman) is a likable young loan officer with a nice, smart boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long). Christine's troubles begin when she is told by her boss that it's her choice as to whether to give a poor old gypsy lady a third extension on her mortgage payment.  

Christine's heart tells her to grant the old lady's request. However, her ambition for the coveted job of assistant bank manager gains the upper hand. Wanting to show her boss that she can make the "tough decisions" necessary for that promotion, she turns the old lady down. Worse, she accidentally humiliates the octogenarian on her way out of the bank, prompting the old lady to curse her.

Continue reading "Christian Worldview Conversations Can Be Found Almost Anywhere" »

June 02, 2009

Music for the soul

Ig5-cover Having recently moved to a new area and gone through the "church shopping" process, I've had ample opportunity to observe some of the different styles of music in churches around my local area, from the staid to the ear-splitting. 

All of which makes me appreciate even more the lovely melodies and harmonies and the thought-provoking and soul-stirring lyrics on the Indelible Grace CDs.  The focus of Indelible Grace is on updating age-old hymns, many of which have fallen out of common use, for a modern audience.

Over at the 9Marks blog, Mike McKinley provided the lyrics for one of the hymns that Indelible Grace has recorded, one that, although written 112 years ago, seems particularly apropos to this time of economic uncertainty:

I do not ask to see the way
My feet will have to tread;
But only that my soul may feed
Upon the living Bread.
'Tis better far that I should walk
By faith close to His side;
I may not know the way I go,
But oh, I know my Guide.

Refrain
His love can never fail, His love can never fail,
My soul is satisfied to know His love can never fail.
My soul is satisfied to know His love can never fail.

And if my feet would go astray,
They cannot, for I know
That Jesus guides my falt'ring steps,
As joyfully I go.
And tho' I may not see His face,
My faith is strong and clear,
That in each hour of sore distress
My Savior will be near.

I will not fear, tho' darkness come
Abroad o'er all the land,
If I may only feel the touch
Of His own loving hand.
And tho' I tremble when I think
How weak I am, and frail,
My soul is satisfied to know
His love can never fail.

(Image © Indelible Grace)

June 01, 2009

Daily roundup

Ah, the pathos: The droning of self-excommunicates

In the last few days a couple of headlines have popped up that have an interesting running theme: excommunication. I’m not talking about the common use of the word, namely expelling Catholics from the Catholic Church. Rather, I’m referring to Protestants breaking communion with a church or religious organization.

A few days ago, the Associated Press reported that Liberty University will no longer recognize the College Democrats club on campus.  Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Hine told the club’s president, Brian Diaz, that the Democratic Party stands against the principles of the university and therefore cannot be facilitated or supported by the University any longer.  Some of the issues that clearly divide the values of the College Democrats from those of the school’s founder, Jerry Falwell, are abortion, socialism, and the gay rights agenda.

Similarly, a little later, the Associated Press reported on the “ousting” of 61 Episcopal clergy due to their opposition to “consecrating” an openly gay bishop. As former Bishop John-David Schofield said, "The Episcopal Church needlessly isolates itself from their brothers and sisters around the world." In this case, though the clergy were officially ousted, it's the Episcopal Church that is ousting itself from the worldwide Anglican Church.

The Associated Press has presented the Liberty University situation as an “ousting,” or a “barring” of participation of a radically liberal group from engaging in communion with Liberty University. I have trouble with this because neither institution has been vague about what it believes. I hope it comes as no surprise that Liberty University, the same institution founded by the conservative Baptist Jerry Falwell, stands firmly against homosexuality, abortion, and socialism. Likewise, the Anglican Church worldwide does not believe in homosexuality as part of God’s plan. 

When both of these institutions align themselves so closely to specific values, aren’t violators of these values ousting or barring themselves? The institutions have done nothing except uphold what they have always believed. 

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The wrath of God: Sunday comics edition

I hadn't read Doonesbury in months, but a panel in this Sunday's strip (the "Reverend Sloan, I've been noticing" panel; the Washington Post doesn't run the first two "throwaway" panels) caught my eye, and I went on to read the whole thing.

How would you respond to some of the points Garry Trudeau raises here? I realize it's hardly the first time they've been raised, but they usually make for a pretty interesting discussion topic, whenever and wherever they're raised.

May 28, 2009

Thought for the day

The very thought of the curse motif of the atonement gets some people angry.  That seems to be true in both classical liberal protestant circles, as well as, with some in the emergent church camp.

In the 1930s Yale Professor H. Richard Niebuhr offered a poignant description of liberal Protestantism’s message then, and I think the emergent church’s message now in his book, The Kingdom of God in America:

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a world without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.

God is not only is a God of love, but He is also is a God of wrath.  He is a God of justice, and He is a God who is true to His word.  Fortunately for us Jesus took God’s wrath and satisfied it so that we don’t have to face it.

Shane Vander Hart, "A Christ without a Cross Is Not Good News," Caffeinated Thoughts, May 28

May 27, 2009

Kim Jong Il: Crazier Than a Bedbug

Amd_jong-il So what do you do when you're 68, have suffered a recent stroke, and worry that any one of a number of your generals would like to assume your throne? Apparently, you throw some crockery against the wall and resume the Korean War.

That's what we appear to be dealing with in North Korea's "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il. It's hard to take a man seriously who, in addition to starving huge numbers of his own people while he airlifts lobster and caviar, has enjoyed establishing 20 concentration camps for political dissenters. Also, Kim has taken a shine to making feature films and operas from his beloved father's writings. 

All this would be purely laughable except that Kim has the fifth largest standing army in the world and now nuclear capabilities. The capital of South Korea, Seoul, is very close to the North Korean border, making it at least possible for Kim to take down millions of people with him should he have a death wish of his own.

Christian worldview question: Is it ever appropriate to ask for God to remove a true tyrant from the scene?Well, while the "love your neighbor" ethic applies to everyone, not just saints, it also applies to all the individual souls whose unfortunate lot it is to be in the path of a human windstorm. Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer finally accepted, after much spiritual wrestling, that having Hitler gone was the only way to save many other souls. 

Bonhoeffer doesn't strike me as merely utilitarian here. Kim needs to be stopped for his own soul's needs, too. He's obviously sick and needs to not have anymore innocent deaths on his record. Beyond anyone's concern for him is the plight of millions, on both sides of the 38th Parallel.

Whether Kim is hit by another stroke or by one of his generals, his removal from power seems necessary for the people of North Asia to have a sigh of relief. A crazy man with nukes and a large army may be one of history's oddities, but here we are. Let's pray that the Lord, who does work in mysterious ways, finds a peaceable way to remove Kim's finger from the nuclear button.

(Image courtesy of GettyImages)

A patient God?

Rachel_06 When calamity lights on the world, the question is asked, “Why would a good God allow such a terrible thing to happen?” Often the best reply from believers in a good God is, “We don’t know.” That, at least, sounds better than “God is punishing someone.”

A thirty-seven-year-old wife and mother in Canada, however, unhesitatingly provides an answer:

Many have asked, "Why? Why is this happening to you?" ...I don't ask why, because I know the answer. And here it is. We live in a sinful world. Bad things happen. But it was not supposed to be this way, and it will not always be this way. God has a plan. He has made a way for sinful people...to be with him in a perfect world. The way is Jesus.... This is the way to know God and someday be free from this world of disease and pain....

So God is being patient, patient so that everyone has the opportunity to repent and to make things right with him. That is why there is evil and suffering in the world, because when he does return to bring judgment there will be no second chances.

Rachel Barkey is qualified to speak so boldly. Last January she was told her cancer had returned and was terminal. Astonishingly, she has used her final days not only to make memories with her family but also to share her profound and resolute faith in a good God publicly: 

I am dying. But so are you. Neither of us knows if he will even see tomorrow. And perhaps the reason that I am suffering now, the reason that God is waiting to bring judgment against all the evil in this world, is because he is waiting for you, for you to acknowledge your sin and to turn to him for forgiveness. Maybe you are the one we are waiting for.

Jesus suffered. God did not spare him. Why would he spare me, if my suffering would result in good for you? If my suffering is the means God would use to bring even one person to himself, it is an honor for me to suffer.

(Thanks to Tim Challies for the link; image © Anastasia Chomlack.)

Don’t teach my kid THAT!

If you think the cross isn't an offense, just wait until the Gideons show up at school. 

One Texas school district is hearing complaints from parents because the Gideons were allowed to leave a stack of Bibles on a table in the school's office where literature and brochures from numerous community organizations was available for students to take. Never mind that the school district was following the law in this matter.

As for the Gideons, I think this is what Jesus would call being "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

May 26, 2009

Handling Temptation

In his book Conformed to His Image, Ken Boa writes about using our identity in Christ to help us resist temptation:

Who we are in Christ is not shaped by what we do but by what he did on the cross and continues to do in our lives. Our performance does not determine our identity; instead, our new identity in Jesus becomes the basis for what we do.... In him, we have been granted great dignity, security, forgiveness, unconditional love and acceptance, hope, purpose, righteousness, wholeness, and peace with God. We may not feel that these things are so, yet Scripture does not command us to feel the truth but to believe it....

When we are tempted to covet, lust, lie, become envious, or succumb to any other work of the flesh, we should say "That is no longer who I am." While we are on this earth, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life will be constant snares, but we are more than conquerors when we remember that our deepest identity is in Christ and invite him to rule and live through us.

BioLogos: Integrating Faith and Science

Tothesource alerts readers to Francis Collins's new organization, BioLogos, where he makes an effort to integrate science and religion.   

Of course, not everyone is happy with Collins's new venture. Evolutionary geneticist Jerry Coynes is protesting that anyone who has religious beliefs should be barred from influencing scientists or from working in the science fields. Coynes rants, "By seeking union with religious people, and emphasizing that there is no genuine conflict between faith and science, they are making accommodationism not just a tactical position, but a philosophical one…By consorting with scientists and philosophers who incorporate supernaturalism into their view of evolution, they erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory."  

May 20, 2009

The Ultimate in NIMBY

We've all become familiar with the concept of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard), though it usually comes up with issues like nuclear waste, garbage dumps, power lines, or new prisons. But now for the ultimate in NIMBY: It's time to find a new home for Guantanamo Bay detainees!

Representative Frank Wolf (R-Virginia), who represents many of the Northern Virginia suburbs where some 17 detainees might be relocated, is having none of it. This is a no-brainer position for any politician who wants to be popular in his district. Few enjoy the prospect of having someone who fought U.S. troops landing literally in their backyard in tony Fairfax.

But whatever happened to "love your neighbor," some may ask. Well, it's true that Jesus preached a gospel that demanded love beyond one's immediate circle of family and friends. However, he also said that we were to "love our neighbor as ourselves." Many in Frank Wolf's Congressional District, including Christians, might well discern that self-preservation is part of Jesus's admonition.

You aren't much good to anyone else if you're hacked to pieces by someone who hates your country.  

Obama knows Catholics better than Catholics do!

When listening to the president's commencement speech before the graduating class of 2009 at Notre Dame, I didn't feel particularly offended. I don't expect much from liberals when it comes to "finding common ground," so as long as he didn't demonize Catholicism I wasn't going to lose much heart. 

That is, until I read George Weigel's recent posting on National Review Online. He lays out an interesting argument that the president decided to tell America what Catholicism is all about. He didn't stop at defining Catholicism. He seemingly went so far as to partition Catholics into two groups:  ObamaCatholics and "the others." ObamaCatholics are gentle, peaceful, unifying, and willing to accept liberal nonsense. 

Here is an excerpt from Weigel's argument:

What was surprising, and ought to be disturbing to anyone who cares about religious freedom in these United States, was the president’s decision to insert himself into the ongoing Catholic debate over the boundaries of Catholic identity and the applicability of settled Catholic conviction in the public square. Obama did this by suggesting, not altogether subtly, who the real Catholics in America are. The real Catholics, you see, are those like the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who are “congenial and gentle” in persuasion, men and women who are “always trying to bring people together,” Catholics who are “always trying to find the common ground.” The fact that Cardinal Bernardin’s undoubted geniality and gentility in bringing people together to find the common ground invariably ended with a “consensus” that matched the liberal or progressive position of the moment went unremarked — because, for a good postmodern liberal like President Obama, that progressive “consensus” is so self-evidently true that one can afford to be generous in acknowledging that others, less enlightened but arguably sincere, have different views.

Whether Catholic or not, it's a scary idea to think that the leader of the political world is now telling one of the largest religious forces in the world what they believe and how they should believe it.

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May 19, 2009

Foster Care Prayer Vigil

Boy 2 soft This week has been designated Foster Care Prayer Week by several Christian organizations, including our friends at Show Hope. More than half a million kids are in foster care in the U.S. on any given day.  Many are there because their homes were unsafe for them to remain in, while others wind up in foster care because their parents have been arrested and there were no relatives available to care for them.

I do hope you'll pray for kids in foster care this week, but there are other ways you can help these children. Becoming a foster parent is the obvious way. Kids in crisis need a stable, safe place to live, and if they can do this in the presence of a family that loves God and models His love to those children, what an impact that could have.

There's another way. I'm in training right now to be a volunteer Guardian ad Litem for kids in foster care, part of the nationwide effort to have an advocate assigned to every child in foster care in this country. You can read more about this effort at the web site for the National CASA ("Court Appointed Special Advocates") program. 

The web site for this year's Prayer Vigil is loaded with other ideas and resources, including a section on why this issue and these kids matter to God. Go check it out--and while you're praying for kids in foster care, pray about how you might get involved in helping them.

(Image © Cry of the Orphan)

May 18, 2009

Christians and entertainment: Open thread

Tv_house_tilt_small On Friday, in Diane's thread on Castle (which was starting to turn into a thread on Nathan Fillion's previous show, Firefly) Andy made an interesting comment:

OK, people, time out. So Tim is OK with watching a show by admitted atheist Joss Whedon, that includes scenes like Kaylee doing the nasty with a mechanic in the engine room, and other characters that include a courtesan and Christian minister that would do the Unitarians proud. But Tim says that's OK because it's not a stumbling block for him. Firefly only "pushed the envelope a bit." If it had aired in the sixties, it would have gotten some network folks arrested. Not to mention that the premise of the show is that East and West have melded, with Buddhism as much or more practiced as Christianity.

This is not meant to be concern trolling, because I am glad that so many Christians share my enjoyment of Firefly, (best show ever.) But for a subculture that prides itself on "in but not of the world," you guys seem a tad co-opted on this one. Not that I see anything wrong with that.

In order to get things back on-topic, I promised a separate thread on Monday morning to deal with this subject, which deserved a thread of its own anyway. So what say you, Pointers and Pointificators? How should Christians set their standards for entertainment? What role should our faith and our morals play? Where have we gotten our ideas about this, and are they valid or do they need to be rethought?

This is a topic to which I've devoted a lot of thought and writing, but I'm going to stay out of it for now, though I may jump in later. I'm more interested in hearing what everyone else has to say. So have at it!

(Image courtesy of DesignStudios)

May 15, 2009

Pretty is as pretty does

Carolyn McCulley, on her Radical Womanhood blog, talks about a woman's true beauty and why so many of us, even in the Christian community, struggle with this concept. She tells a young man whose girlfriend has concerns about her body image:

"I wonder if perhaps you could do more than just compliment her on being beautiful. What about complimenting her when she is doing beautiful things? We always hear that inner beauty is supposed to be more important than outer beauty, but it doesn't seem to get praised as often--which tempts women to doubt the veracity of that statement."

Why do we women doubt the appeal of inner beauty? Well, to be candid, it's because we forget that our Creator is the ultimate arbiter of beauty. We are awash in makeover messages and as such His perspective is often silenced. From TV shows to magazines, we are drowning in Before and After images. At any given time during a day, there's a roomful of people on TV gushing and crying over the physical transformation of some reality show participant. Everybody and his neighbor shows up to applaud weight loss, a new hairstyle, or a wardrobe overhaul. 

But where is the applause for inner beauty? Where are the TV cameras for the Big Reveal of a renovated character?

Carolyn goes on to talk about the example Jesus gave us, when he told his fellow dinner guests that the beautiful thing Mary had done--breaking a jar of expensive perfume to anoint her Savior--would be remembered forever. This was a good reminder for me today to cultivate that kind of inner beauty and to praise those around me--both women and men--when they display the beauty of a godly character.

May 14, 2009

Thought for the day

When it comes to oppression, persecution, and pain, our faith is to rejoice in hardship for the blessing and joy that will eventually result from it, and for the love that makes it bearable and even meaningful.

When you suffer, do you rejoice because God considered you worthy of the honor? It isn't a natural reaction for us unless we happen to be so filled with love for our Savior that any identification with Him -- even a painful one -- thrills us. Aim for that attitude. Nurture that love.

Chis Tiegreen, "Worthy of Suffering," May 14, The One Year Worship the King Devotional

May 12, 2009

’Clueless’ Is the Word

Ppwenski050509 At least some Catholic leaders in this country understand the moral incongruity of a Catholic university inviting the most pro-abortion president in history to speak on its campus. Bishop Thomas Wenski held a Mass of Reparation "to make amends for sins against God" for those Catholics who are outraged with Notre Dame's "clueless" decision to have Obama speak at its commencement service on May 17. 

Those who oppose Obama's presence at Notre Dame point to a 2004 bishops' statement that says, "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." Wenski claims that he doesn't like conflict or fights, but that this case is "egregious enough that we have to be clear. We're standing on principle...." 

Ironically, as I read the second article linked above, it was not the "cluelessness" of the leadership at Notre Dame that struck me: it was the cluelessness of the average American Christian who just doesn't get what all the uproar is about (evidently, 50% of Catholics don't mind). In one sense, the Notre Dame controversy is a small thing: the president will give his speech and the world will move on. But his apprearance at Notre Dame represents the spirit of our age -- a spirit of lukewarm faith and a willingness to compromise with the world rather than a willingness to embrace, however unpopular, our biblically mandated position as spiritual non-conformists (Romans 12:1-2). 

Obama will give his speech, the flap will die down, but -- as Christians -- we will have taken one more step down the ladder of spiritual decline. And most of us will be none the wiser about what we've just lost.

(Image courtesy of Catholic News Agency)