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September 08, 2008

A Call to Public Libraries

Here's another one that may tick off some people. An appeal was sent out recently by PFOX, a group that supports the rights of homosexuals to change, encouraging people to write to their local public libraries and ask them to carry “ex-gay” or faith-based books on homosexuality. The call is for more balance in books and resources on the subject of homosexuality in our publicly funded libraries. For every “gay is normal” affirming book there should be a “you don't have to be gay” book on the shelf as well.

As noted in the appeal, “according to the American Library Association, libraries cannot support censorship and a librarian’s professional code requires them to seek out books that represent a wide range of viewpoints.” Read more here (click on "Ask your library to order ex-gay books").

September 05, 2008

Vilifying the Volunteers

Gustav_volunteers I agree with Jim Wallis on this one -- not on this one (what he says in the first paragraph about a double standard) -- but yes, on this one. So shoot me. I'll even wear Bullwinkle antlers.

Wednesday morning I got an e-mail from a former member of our Sojourners community. Perry Perkins is now a community organizer in Louisiana with affiliates of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). "Perk," as we used to call him, reported on the enormous consequences of 2 million people being evacuated because of Hurricane Gustav, much of the state now being without power, how hard cities like Baton Rouge were hit, the tens of thousands of people in shelters and churches, and the continuing problems caused by heavy rains and flooding. Then he talked about how their community organizers were responding to all of this -- responding to hundreds of service calls, assisting local officials in evacuation plans, aiding evacuees without transportation, coordinating shelters and opening new ones, providing food, essential services, and financial aid to those in most need. Since Katrina, Perry's Louisiana interfaith organizations have played a lead role in securing millions of dollars to help thousands of families return to New Orleans and rebuild their homes and their lives.

Then Wednesday night I heard Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin say that her experience as "a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." The convention crowd in St. Paul thought that was very funny. But it wasn't. It was actually quite insulting to the army of community organizers who work in the most challenging places across the country and have such a tremendous impact on the everyday lives of millions of people. I guess Palin and her fellow Republican delegates don't know much about that. The "actual responsibilities" of community organizers literally provide the practical support, collective strength, and hope for a better future that low-income families need to survive.

Community organizers are now most focused in the faith community, working with tens of thousands of pastors and laypeople in thousands of congregations around the country. Faith-based organizing is the critical factor in many low-income communities in the country's poorest urban and rural areas, and church leaders are often the biggest supporters of community organizers. And many of them felt deeply offended by Palin's remarks. Here are a few of their responses:

Continue reading "Vilifying the Volunteers" »

August 13, 2008

The Monuments that Matter

Wilberforce Chuck talked this week about the anniversary of his conversion to Christ -- and how the decision one man made to share the Gospel with Chuck has led to a "ministry that now spreads all around the world to 114 countries, tens of thousands of men and women coming out of prison being redeemed by the blood of Christ, and then finding their place in community; and the whole Church being sensitized to the needs of the least of these in our midst."

It's an exponential chain of events: from Tom Phillips to Chuck Colson to Prison Fellowship to the work of the many, many women and men now redeeming the culture for Christ around the world.

In a back article from BreakPoint WorldView magazine, he talks more about those "living monuments" that give witness to the legacy of Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint. On a trip to England, Chuck was disappointed not to find a significant monument in honor of the abolitionist who inspired him, William Wilberforce.

Continue reading "The Monuments that Matter" »

August 12, 2008

Into the Light

Chuck_colson As I mentioned yesterday, today is the 35th anniversary of Chuck Colson's conversion to Christ. He reflects today on "BreakPoint" on the past 35 years:

A lot of people have asked me what I think about when I remember back to that hot, humid August night in 1973 when Tom Phillips, then the president of the Raytheon Company, witnessed to me in his home. I left his house that night shaken by the words he had read from C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity about pride. It felt as if Lewis were writing about me, former Marine captain, Special Counsel to the President of the United States, now in the midst of the Watergate scandal. I had an overwhelming sense that I was unclean.

After talking to Tom, I found that when I got to the automobile to drive away, I couldn’t. I was crying too hard -- and I was not one to ever cry. I spent an hour calling out to God. I did not even know the right words. I simply knew that I wanted Him. And I knew for certain that the God who created the universe heard my cry.

Read more, and sign up for your free copy of Chuck's book Born Again.

August 11, 2008

Happy Birthday, Chuck!

Chuck_colsonThat is, Happy (spiritual) Birthday, Chuck! Thirty-five years ago tomorrow, during one night in a driveway, Chuck Colson accepted Christ as his personal Savior. Tomorrow on "BreakPoint," Chuck Colson will reflect on the past 35 years.

In honor of this special anniversary, a number of Wilberforce Fellows, Centurions, and others have paid tribute to the man whose own transformation has led to so many others. Read those tributes here.

And if you would like to express your own tribute to Chuck, share any relevant memories of his inspiration or influence, and/or talk about his book about his conversion, Born Again, which you can sign up to receive for free here -- either what the book has meant to you or how you've seen it make a difference in another's life -- please share your thoughts, stories, and good wishes here!

July 31, 2008

Belfast to Bosnia

Who will bend this ancient hatred, will the killing to an end
Who will swallow long injustice, take the devil for a country man?

In the Post's Outlook section, Dejan Anastasijevic, discussing the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, wrote,

Countries emerging from conflict need swift justice, not decades of tedious trials aimed at establishing comprehensive historical truth. That task should be left to historians. Instead of casting a wide net and spending years examining every single fish, future tribunals should focus on the worst cases with the strongest evidence -- and process them quickly, before politics steps in. And if this raises some eyebrows among legal experts, so be it. Human justice is imperfect, but no justice is much worse.

I'll defer to his judgment about both the International Criminal Tribunal and what happened or didn't happen in the former Yugoslavia. But I'm increasingly convinced that you can either have Truth and Reconciliation or you can have justice but you can't have both. What's more, if you try to have both, you'll almost certainly wind up with neither.

Continue reading "Belfast to Bosnia" »

July 28, 2008

Week of Justice

Dvd_mockup If you happen to be in the greater Washington D.C. area, I will be speaking tonight at the theater located beneath Ebenezer's Coffee House (201 F Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002) after a screening of the documentary As We Forgive. The film is being shown as part of the National Community Church's third annual Week of Justice. This week's topics range from Sweat Shop Labor to Urban Poverty to AIDS to Sex-Trafficking, and how Christians can respond.

Friday night, I also had the privilege of fielding questions after a screening of As We Forgive at The Falls Church. I always learn interesting things from people in the audience who are thinking of their own ways to apply the lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation. One woman approached me afterward and we talked at length about how the lessons Rwandans are learning on how to live again with each other may be much needed in the years to come between North and South Korea. I was blessed by her insights.

I was thinking about posing a question tonight to the audience after they've watched the film. It's a question I've thought about a lot over the past year in writing this book and ties in to NCC's topics. The question is: What is the end goal of justice?

How would you answer it?

By the way, if you never saw the trailer for the film, here it is:

I'd love to see you tonight! If you don't live nearby, check the As We Forgive film website for screenings in your local area or to see how you can set one up.

July 25, 2008

Politicians on Faith and Forgiveness in Rwanda

Senators Daschle and Frist, Mike Huckabee, John Podesta, John Kasich, Susan McCue, David Lane and Cindy McCain attended the Saint John the Baptist Cathedral in Rwanda on Sunday during their trip to Rwanda with the ONE Campaign.

The following is a short video clip I found at the ONE campaign's website from Mike Huckabee. He weighs in on faith and the fight against global poverty.

Continue reading "Politicians on Faith and Forgiveness in Rwanda" »

July 24, 2008

Cindy McCain in Rwanda

Cindy_mccain I'm a little behind on news (just getting back from my honeymoon), but I read today about Cindy McCain's recent trip to Rwanda. Michael Gerson had an excellent op-ed on it in yesterday's Post. He writes that this week's trip was not McCain's first:

Cindy McCain's first visit to this country, in 1994, was during the high season of roadblocks and machetes and shallow graves.

Following a call for help from Doctors Without Borders, McCain had assembled a medical team with the intention of setting up a mobile hospital in Rwanda. Arriving by private plane in mid-April, a couple of weeks into the massacres, she realized that the chaos made deploying her team impossible. At the airport, she paid for the use of a truck and set out for Goma in then-Zaire, where hundreds of thousands of refugees were also headed.

While McCain never saw someone kill another while there, she saw kids carrying AK-47s at roadblocks and guzzling bottles of Guinness. She also told Gerson that she could smell "the smell of death." Read the full op-ed here.

Gerson concludes his thoughts on a potential first lady's visit to Rwanda this way:

Like most of Cindy McCain's life, these stories are generally hidden behind a wall of well-tailored reticence. She values the privacy of her family and resents the intrusiveness of the media. None of her relief work has been done for political consumption or Washington prominence. On the contrary, it has been an alternative life to the culture of the capital -- the rejection of the normal progress of a senator's wife. "It is not about me -- it never has been. I felt it was important -- that I had to do it. I never took government money. It was my own, and I am not ashamed of it."

But all this would have political consequences in a McCain administration. Even if a first lady is not intrusively political, the whole White House responds to her priorities. Cindy McCain has had decades of personal contact with the suffering of the developing world. And in some future crisis or genocide, it might matter greatly to have a first lady who knows the smell of death.

Continue reading "Cindy McCain in Rwanda" »

July 09, 2008

Two Cents

Lomong190 If anyone should talk about human rights at the Olympics, it's Lopez Lomong of Sudan. He went from Lost Boy to member of the U.S. Olympic track team this past weekend on July 4. And very fitting that he qualified on the Fourth:

When Lopez Lomong finished speaking with a group of reporters after qualifying Friday for the final in the 1,500 meters, he said, "Happy 4th of July."

Lomong was not the only athlete at the U.S. Olympic track trials who earned the right to represent his adopted country in Beijing.

But if he paid a little more attention than most to the significance of competing on Independence Day, it has to do with Lomong realizing every day just how incredible his liberty is.

"I came a long way, for sure," he said, "from running through the wilderness to save my life, and now I am doing this for fun."

See, Lomong was captured by government-backed militia in Sudan when he was only 6 years old. If he had not escaped with help from others, he would have become a child soldier. But now, thanks to missionaries, a host family in New York, and others along the way, Lomong will be running for the United States. Read more of his story here and here (HT Thunderstruck). Why running?

Continue reading "Two Cents" »

More Powerful than Napalm

Kimphuc_ap_200 Remember Kim Phuc, the girl in the center of the famous photo at right, running from a napalm attack? Here's what she has to say today:

On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down. I saw fire everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire.

I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way. . . .

The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.

I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.

Continue reading "More Powerful than Napalm" »

July 08, 2008

The Exponential Power of a Goat

Goat2 Last week, columnist Nicholas Kristof answered the questions, "Does aid work?" and "What can I do?" with a story about a girl and a goat.

. . . The tale begins in the rolling hills of western Uganda, where Beatrice was born and raised. As a girl, she desperately yearned for an education, but it seemed hopeless: Her parents were peasants who couldn’t afford to send her to school.

The years passed and Beatrice stayed home to help with the chores. She was on track to become one more illiterate African woman, another of the continent’s squandered human resources.

In the meantime, in Niantic, Conn., the children of the Niantic Community Church wanted to donate money for a good cause. They decided to buy goats for African villagers through Heifer International, a venerable aid group based in Arkansas that helps impoverished farming families. . . .

One of the goats bought by the Niantic church went to Beatrice’s parents and soon produced twins. When the kid goats were weaned, the children drank the goat’s milk for a nutritional boost and sold the surplus milk for extra money.

The cash from the milk accumulated, and Beatrice’s parents decided that they could now afford to send their daughter to school. She was much older than the other first graders, but she was so overjoyed that she studied diligently and rose to be the best student in the school.

Continue reading "The Exponential Power of a Goat" »

July 01, 2008

Daily roundup

June 30, 2008

Mark Earley and Pat Nolan: Prison reform transcends boundaries

Earley_nyt Today the New York Times profiles PFM president Mark Earley and vice president (and Justice Fellowship head) Pat Nolan, focusing on how advocates of prison reform are crossing lines in a way that few had thought possible.

Motivated both by religious faith and a secular analysis of public policy, Mr. Earley and the fellowship’s vice president, Pat Nolan, a former California legislator, have regularly testified before Congress, written op-ed essays and given speeches on behalf of efforts to roll back mandatory-minimum sentencing, equalize penalties for crack and powder cocaine, and offer nonviolent offenders treatment rather than incarceration, among other initiatives.

On the surface a redoubt of the religious right, firmly rooted in evangelical Christianity and conservative politics, the Prison Fellowship Ministries’ liberal position on such issues underscores the increasing irrelevance of such rigid categories.

The group’s role in criminal justice bears similarity to the stance taken by evangelical leaders like Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Southern California, on global warming, AIDS prevention and Third World poverty.

“What’s distinct is that we’re in an ‘Aha!’ moment now,” Mr. Earley, 53, said in a phone conversation. “The crime issue used to be such a driving wedge between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and now it’s not. In the presidential campaign this year, when have you heard crime as a wedge issue? It’s a common-ground issue, and no one would have envisioned that in the ’70s and ’80s.”

Read more.

(Image © The New York Times)

June 16, 2008

Re: I Speaks Russian--Does You Speaks Russian?

Chicken_bone On Tuesday, I witnessed similar desperation. I was taking the girl I mentor to CVS to purchase Father's Day cards. On our way in, I saw what looked to be the typical homeless figure on a stoop outside the store. This man looked a little more disheveled than most, but I didn't glance long, other than to notice a young guy drop a few coins in his cup.

I've had a variety of such encounters, ranging from accidentally dropping coins into someone's drink (and, no, I wasn't trying to imitate Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping) to giving someone money in response to a day of mental anguish over the issue, but have become a little more leery of such gestures since hearing from a former homeless person give an insider's perspective. But this particular guy looked more mentally derailed than most. His clothes were almost in shreds and his eyes roamed in all directions.

Fifteen minutes later, when we emerged from the store, he was gone. Where he sat I noticed the remnants of what I thought was a chicken. "Please let it be chicken," I told myself. My stomach lurched at the thought of this half-crazed guy sitting on the concrete eating . . . something . . . I wasn't sure what.

Was I seeing someone more man or more beast? I didn't know.

I considered the demon-possessed Gerasene in Mark 5 who would cut himself with stones. More man or more beast? All I know is that one touch of the Master put this guy right and unveiled his humanity.

What could I have done for this man-beast? I suppose I could have started by looking behind the bird bones and the half-crazed stare to see glimmers of a man who could also be touched by the Master's hand.

June 06, 2008

The Cochlear Implant: A Kingdom Choice

I just watched Sound and the Fury (2000), a documentary on two families who wrestle over whether to give their deaf children a cochlear implant.

The first family is entirely deaf. Peter, the dad, and Nita, the mom, have been deaf since birth, as well as their three children. During the course of the filming, their 4-year-old daughter Heather asks if she can get an implant. She tells her mom she wants to hear birds chirping, dogs barking, and cars honking.

Since Peter and Nita are so engrossed in deaf culture, a culture that rejoices in the beauty of sign language, they push back against Heather's desire. The end of the film shows them moving to a large deaf community in Maryland and enrolling Heather in a prestigious deaf school.

The other family, Chris and Mari, a hearing couple who have twin babies--one hearing, one deaf--opt to give their deaf son Peter the implant, despite intense criticism from Mari's parents, who are both deaf. A month after Peter undergoes the surgery, his audiologist turns on his implant. At barely one year old, Peter begins to turn his head at the sounds simulated by the audiologist's machine.

As the daughter of a deaf man who received an implant more than 10 years ago, I really struggle to understand how a family could choose to deprive their child of the opportunity to experience the world of sound. I saw the tears in my father's eyes when he heard me play the piano for the first time. I saw how he began to interact more normally in the hearing world. And I have recently experienced the joy of talking with him on the phone.

Beyond that, I think there is a significant Kingdom issue at stake here.

Continue reading "The Cochlear Implant: A Kingdom Choice" »

May 29, 2008

What Exactly Is a ’Centurion’?

You hear Chuck Colson mention the Centurions Program on occasion in the BreakPoint commentaries, and read their articles on our website and their posts at this blog. But maybe you still aren't sure what Centurions are all about?

In the current issue of BreakPoint WorldView, Becky Beane offers an inside glimpse of some of the work Centurions are doing "in the field" after their one-year commitment in the program.

To date, more than 400 men and women have completed their first year of Centurions training. They have been commissioned to carry on the teaching and application of biblical worldview. They are particularly challenged to engage others within their existing spheres of influence and branch out from there.

In this and next month’s issues of BreakPoint WorldView, we will tell the stories of four Centurions. In their time after receiving Centurions certification, they have walked into the unknown and made an impact on their communities. And they have taken their learning and transformed it into practical application to renew the world around them.

First, we will introduce you to Robert Mayes and Bill Peel.

Continue reading "What Exactly Is a ’Centurion’?" »

April 29, 2008

Daily roundup

April 08, 2008

A bleg: Lives of sacrifice

My friend Wendy Bilen, author of the forthcoming book Finding Josie (which I heartily recommend, having read an early copy), is exploring a possible new writing idea. Her book is about her grandmother's life of quiet sacrifice and selflessness, and the research she did for it has inspired her to ask some new questions:

I'm looking for people—regular, non-spotlight people who have committed their whole adult lives to giving to and/or caring for others. I'm thinking about those who have committed all their time, money, or energy (or any combination of the three) to serve other people in some way.

Perhaps it's a person who sunk his life savings into starting a children's home and quit his job to run it.

Maybe it's a "career" foster parent who takes in all the kids no one else wants, such as those with severe medical disabilities.

Or a doctor or lawyer who runs a free clinic in the inner city, making only enough to get by.

Could be it's just a woman who started a company making whoozits so she can give all the profits to feed the hungry.

I'm talking about what the majority of us (excepting, most likely, the folks in question) would consider selfless, sacrificial choices that reach beyond the borders of a job. These are people who do unglamorous work day after day and don't seek (or get) glory and accolades, but once in a while, someone glimpses what they're doing and thinks it's pretty amazing. It's that person you look at and say of with admiration, "Dang, that person is in another LEAGUE."

Continue reading "A bleg: Lives of sacrifice" »

April 01, 2008

Where Is God When It Hurts?

Our church pastor delivered a great message last Sunday about an inspiring story that was in the Washington Post last Easter Sunday (and recently in our daily roundup). It’s about husband and wife Denny and Diana Glusko overcoming together great physical and emotional pain caused by a car accident that left Diana severely paralyzed and Denny completely unscratched.

Despite Diana’s severe injuries, her survival from the accident was a miracle, and through it all, the Gluskos firmly trusted Jesus Christ that no matter what the outcome, good or bad, God would still be glorified. Other people were inspired by their faith. Their daughter said, "I don't understand why God would allow this to happen to her…they not only wore it [their faith in God] easily when life was good but even when life turned on them." This is a great display of how we Christians should respond to our own trials. Commonly, we get stuck asking God “Where are you?" during our times of great pain, when in fact God has always been with us all along the way.

Through our suffering God teaches us His trustworthiness, He comforts us so we can learn to comfort others, and he uses our pain so we can point others to Him (2 Cor 1:1-11). It’s all how we perceive our circumstances. Our view of God during trials determines our response to our suffering. Whether we respond our way or God’s way, our response will help shape the outcome of our trials. Billy Graham once said, “When you come to the end of yourself, you come to the beginning of God.” How will you respond?

March 28, 2008

Daily roundup

March 26, 2008

Daily roundup

February 27, 2008

Prostitution: What a Sad, Sad Business

Here’s an eye-opening report about prostitution and its devastating effects on the people caught up in the deadly business. Thankfully, there is one woman, Kathleen Mitchell, who understands their plight because she was a former prostitute, and started a ministry called DIGNITY to help them escape their sexual prison.

If you think you and your children are immune to the real threat of prostitution, think again. A few years ago in a Reston, Virginia middle school, one young 7th grader tried to start a prostitution ring. Thankfully this would-be pimp was caught before anyone was violated. 

On YouTube.com, there is an 11-part series by one ciphertv documenting girls in this and other countries from all socio-economic classes who prostitute themselves to buy items like expensive sweaters. (Link not suitable for children.)

While stories like these are nothing new, there is good news because God is in the redemption and restoration business. A few years ago, I wrote a piece about William Wilberforce documenting London's crime problem. The streets of the city were teeming with prostitutes, and about a quarter of them were no older than sixteen. Wilberforce and the Clapham group set out to right the wrong and started charities like Kathleen Mitchell's DIGNITY to give hope where there was no hope.

February 07, 2008

Unexpected Results from the Gay Rights Movement

Lynn Vincent, reporter for World Magazine, shares some unforeseen positive effects of the gay rights movement. According to Vincent’s blog, two trends have emerged:

First, it appears that the cultural liberation of homosexuality is also liberating those seeking to escape it.

Second, the cultural mainstreaming of homosexuality is awakening some churches to more compassionate ways of dealing with homosexuality — without endorsing the behavior.

She also added:

Another paradox emerged… On one hand, gay activists have succeeded in convincing the younger generation that sexuality is a malleable trait. On the other: Having been thus convinced, young people are now just as accepting of people wanting to leave the gay lifestyle as they are of those who want to explore it. Once pariahs, ex-gays are finding increasing acceptance, albeit outside the circles of establishment gay activists.

This is evidence that God can bring out positive from something negative (Gen. 50:20). As Vincent reminds us, the book UnChristian reported that Christians are commonly perceived as anti-homosexual. It’s a bad state for the church to be in, but if the positive trend continues the church is on the right track and will return to the Biblical message of love and mercy for all, and change for all who sincerely want freedom from homosexuality. For more on Vincent’s findings, read her article in World.

January 30, 2008

Holocaust at 75

Holocaust_memorial With the marking of the 75th anniversary of the Nazis taking power in Germany, another round of Holocaust stories, memories, and reports are in the offing. Moreover, more monuments to the Nazi victims are going up soon, two in Berlin alone.

This is all to the good, even if some younger Germans have started to plug their ears from hearing too much about German guilt over the course of their lifetimes. Many of them wonder why they should hang their head in shame if they weren't there as perpetrators.

Hopefully, Germans can finally begin to go through the next stage of healing--past denial, past self-hatred and into acceptance. Any human being, not just a German, probably has a limit to the amount of criticism and self-reproach he or she can take at any one time. And if Germany had been forced after World War II not just to reflect on what had happened but to dwell on it to distraction, we might well have had a country filled with nothing but neurotics on our hands.

Some, especially the victims and their families, might well feel that would be just punishment for such a horrific crime against humanity. Maybe so.

But if we wanted the young children from that era to be raised well, then America and the Allies, at least the Western Allies, did the right thing by helping both the victims of the Holocaust and the standers-by.  This proved to be an effective way to get the German people to talk among themselves in a free environment and to come to terms with their collective guilt, their individual guilt as participants, and the guilt of their parents and grandparents.

Continue reading "Holocaust at 75" »

January 29, 2008

Daily roundup

January 04, 2008

Shards of Grace

According to Newsday, a Bronx man died Wednesday from a heart attack while police were arresting him for attempting to break into his girlfriend's apartment. The man was an ex-offender who apparently had fallen back into a drug habit after getting out of prison in 2004 after serving more than 15 years for manslaughter and attempted rape.

What if this man had participated in a Prison Fellowship Bible study during his sentence? What if he had been matched with a caring mentor who would have guided him to make wise decisions after his release? What if he had found employment that would have kept him off of the streets and out of the drug scene? Maybe then he wouldn't have been listed as one of the New Year's first tragedies.

I am very grieved to share with you the harsh reality of this story: Mr. Reed was not only a recipient of Prison Fellowship's ministry over the past twenty years, he was featured as one of this year's success stories in Jubilee, Prison Fellowship's newsletter for donors.

Continue reading "Shards of Grace" »

December 20, 2007

Daily roundup

November 08, 2007

On the Other Side of Lake Kivu...

Take a walk with me back in time to two and a half months ago. Catherine and I are trekking through the lush farmlands behind Lake Kivu, Rwanda. Banana trees dot the landscape and we scramble down dusty paths, between grazing goats and sunbaked huts. Our leader is a young man -- an orphan -- who is guiding us through this pastoral terrain to introduce us to a man who murdered several members of his family during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The afternoon unfolded in a beautiful demonstration of repentance on the part of the killer and gracious forgiveness on the part of the young man. It was an encounter that gave the dictionary definition of "reconciliation" a tender face, a penitent apology, and a miraculous embrace.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the lake in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (you will have to have a subscription to read the full article), trouble was brewing. In fact, the very day after we left, rebel fighting broke out in North Kivu. The conflict involves the very same groups (the Hutus and Tutsis) that clashed just 13 years ago in Rwanda -- the conflict that once pitted these two now-embracing men against each other.

The scabs from Rwanda's scorched history are gradually healing as Rwandans, like these two men, brush aside the ethnic nuances of Hutu and Tutus and ascribe to a higher identity as fellow Rwandans.

Can not Congo do the same before it is too late? Will the world have to watch another genocide rip a nation apart? Will we have to watch another million people slaughtered, before the weapons are laid to rest?

Please pray for Congo. Please pray that the Congolese would see themselves as just Congolese, and not divided ethnicities. And pray that Congolese Christians would be the first to fight for this unity by identifying themselves as fellow Congolese, and fellow Christians.

October 02, 2007

The Ripple Effect

Like Anne and another couple of colleagues, I too went to the Watergate Hotel to see what treasures I could buy. However, by the time I arrived mostly everything was gone, so I left empty-handed. (Now I wish I'd bought at least a picture.)

However, my sojourn at the historic hotel caused me to marvel how unknown individuals and their activities decades earlier would eventually lead to a career which enabled me to raise two children, as well as grow spiritually, intellectually, and personally. I have worked with and met the most interesting people throughout out the last 17½ years at PFM and BreakPoint. I’d liken the historical effect of Watergate to a stone cast into a pond causing widening ripples, but instead of tiny waves of water, there have been waves of people whose lives were changed expanding outward through the decades. Like anything else, the ripples could be for good or evil.

I was around 12 years old when the Watergate break-ins occurred, but the only things I was interested in then were playing with friends, boys, my tan line, boys, and the beach. After most of the media hoopla ended, I mostly forgot about Watergate’s players as other, more interesting events took place in the world. Then in 1990, I started work at Prison Fellowship—and lo and behold a person from history, and an early teen memory, became one of my bosses.

Walking through the rooms of the Watergate Hotel that day, I thought about how different my life would have been had the break-in not occurred and Chuck Colson not been charged. It was through guilt by association and Chuck's own political machinations that he suffered humiliation and imprisonment, salvation and a change in careers, which continued to push those ever-widening ripples through history and brought me to this ministry.

So one never knows what events will transpire through our personal actions and actions of others within our sphere that will cause astonishing ripple effects through a multitude of lives. Will the ripples you cause be for good or evil?

October 01, 2007

Watergate Revisited

Yesterday I visited the Watergate Hotel, which is having a liquidation sale of all furniture, carpets, wall sconces, mini-bars and draperies. The infamous hotel has been sold, and the new owners are redecorating, so everything goes, up to and including the kitchen sinks. I saw people walking out with everything from chandeliers to bathroom fixtures. I myself made off with a Federal-style settee, two large framed prints, and 25 water goblets. Great prices on everything. According to newspaper reports, a monk carted off enough furniture to furnish an entire monastery for a song. One browser discovered a dog-eared copy of Kingdoms in Conflict, authored by you-know-who.

Naturally, as I wandered around pricing desks and coffee tables, I couldn't help thinking of the Watergate's history, and links to Prison Fellowship's fearless leader. The scandal known as Watergate led, for one participant, to prison and grace and redemption and the start of a worldwide ministry.

I happened to see a PF colleague shopping at the Watergate--she found some great deals, too, and not just for herself. (Chuck: I know what you're getting for Christmas!)

September 14, 2007

The Fair Trade

Poster2 "What is your life worth?" asks director Lauralee Farrar in her innovative documentary film entitled The Fair Trade. When Tamara Johnston lost her fiance in a devastating accident, she makes a bargain with God: "Show me a life worth living or I'm out of here." Postponing suicide, she quits her job at Dreamworks to go in search of a meaningful life. Will she discover an answer to satisfy before time runs out? Watch the trailer and read more about the film.

(The film is currently in post-production and should be completed this October. Continue to check back for more information on when and where you can view this exciting new film.)

September 13, 2007

RE: Journey of Forgiveness

Kris, thank you for those moving words. The notion of forgiveness as a journey was something we heard again and again in Rwanda from survivors and people who work waist-deep in the mucky business of peace-making. The co-chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Rwanda, Antoine Rutiyesere, talked to us about that process, not only on the individual level, but on a more macro-level as well. Here's what he said:

If you take a country that 13 years ago was entrenched in the worst ethnic massacre, genocide--1 million people or more died at the hands of their neighbors--and you come back 13 years after and you see people going to the same churches, going to the same markets, going together to the same schools and they are not fighting. They are not even killing each other.  . . . that level of peace is the first sign that reconciliation is in the process.

Why am I saying this? Because the first step to reconciliation is peaceful cohabitation. Because, it’s like when you have a broken bone. The first thing the doctor will do is diagnose the fracture. Then he puts the bones back together; then into a cast; and then you are stabilized for however long it takes for the bone to be together. So I think that’s what we are doing. 

Things are stable. It’s peaceful, but deep inside the healing is taking place slowly, slowly, one individual at a time. A healing there, a repentance there, a restitution there, a change of system there, so it’s a slow process. But looking at the achievement, I am very confident that we are doing a fine job. 

Journey of forgiveness

On the heels of Catherine's and Zoe's excellent posts on their recent trip to Rwanda exploring the topic of forgiveness in the wake of horror and tragedy, Reuters is reporting today that the Pennsylvania Amish community that lost five young schoolgirls and saw five others harmed at the hands of Charles Carl Roberts have made a gift to his widow almost a year after that awful day. A spokesman for the community said, "Many from Nickel Mines have pointed out that forgiveness is a journey, that you need help from your community of faith and from God...to make and hold on to a decision not to become a hostage to hostility."

Forgiveness as a journey is a powerful concept. It flies in the face of the common notion of forgiveness as a solitary act and seems to hit a little nearer the truth. When a grave wrong has been committed, the anger and bitterness are not instantly dispelled with a simple utterance of three words: "I forgive you." I imagine the families of these Amish girls must have faced many difficult days in the year since their children were terrorized, shot, and in some cases murdered. The birthdays of precious little girls who no longer walk this earth have passed by. A new school year has started, with other children walking off to school, lunchbox in hand, while five little girls are gone forever. The five girls who were shot and survived have had to heal from their physical wounds while nursing psychological scars we can only imagine. More than likely, mothers and fathers have been at children's bedsides in the middle of the night, comforting children who were there, who witnessed their classmates' demise. And in a community the likes of which most of us will never know this side of heaven, friends and neighbors mourn together with those who lost so much.

Each milestone that has passed, each night a child has had a terrible nightmare, each setback in recovery that the survivors have experienced has doubtless been a new opportunity for bitterness and anger to take hold in the peace-loving Amish community. Forgiveness was not a one-time act for them; it could not be. Instead, they had to "make and hold on to a decision not to become a hostage to hostility" and they have quietly and wonderfully demonstrated how to hold on to forgiveness and stay on the journey.

September 11, 2007

Lives Juxtaposed in Death

I remember as a teenager when I was studying the assassination of John F. Kennedy, my mom casually mentioning to me that C.S. Lewis also died on that same day, November 22, 1963. My mind couldn’t help but swirl around the juxtaposition of these two interesting figures, of Kennedy and his Camelot, of Lewis and his Narnia.

A few years out of my high school studies of Kennedy, and into college, the world was again transfixed by another death, that of the beautiful Princess Diana. Five days later, on September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa went bravely into the night. Again, the juxtaposition seemed haunting: two very different kinds of princesses, one continually in the spotlight of the world, one a daughter of the King who poured out her life in the shadowy slums of India.

In the summer of 2001, my small church community in Florida had been hovering like moths around the flickering life of one our dear elders, a wonderful man of God, a father of three, a loving husband, who at around the age of forty had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. We’d watched this marathon runner and pillar of our church slip from a state of life-giving vitality to a slim figure in a wheelchair requiring feeding, bathing, and the continual care of his loving wife and church community. In the year of his rapid decline, Mr. Putnam had written to our church regular letters. He called them Pilgrim Putnam’s Progress. In the letters he wrote us about what it means to die well. Meanwhile, he made preparations for his own parting, writing letters for his three children to be opened on their birthdays or on special days of their lives like graduation or a wedding.

On September 11, 2001, our dear friend John quietly went home to be with the Lord after a year of all of us slowly preparing to let him go. Meanwhile, 2,974 men and women who had gone off to work as on any other day never came home. They had perhaps only moments to deal with the reality of their lives prematurely snuffed out. Were they prepared to meet their Maker as was our dear pilgrim Putnam? Only God knows.

Continue reading "Lives Juxtaposed in Death" »

And You Call This Happiness

I’ve said it before (see the comment section), but every time someone mentions a celebrity antic, I shut my eyes, plug my ears and hum to keep from cluttering my mind with more boring and often scandalous trash. However, one of my colleagues emailed a news blurb that caught my eye from the New York Post, titled “Britney a Bust." I contemplated Ms. Britney’s waning fame, and realized the real story is not her sad performance, but the fact that most of us think fame can bring us real happiness. 

Before we list the things that can bring us real and lasting happiness, we first need to list the things which will not make us happy, and thanks to philosopher Theresa Farnan on Thomas Aquinas in Today’s World, I have a handy list of those.

  • Money: is a means to an end and is something that enables us to take care of our bodies. 
  • Honor: recognizes one’s accomplishment, but an award is not a source of happiness because it is only recognition.
  • Fame: is dependent on human opinion, but is not lasting.
  • Power: is the principle by which we do things. It can be used for good or evil, but again, it is not lasting.
  • Health: taking care of one’s self is moral, but regardless of our self-care, sooner or later we become sick and die.
  • Pleasure: is a good, and it accompanies happiness and is closely related to it, but it is not happiness in and of itself.
  • Contemplation: is a source of happiness, but is not internal to us.

Continue reading "And You Call This Happiness" »

September 05, 2007

Q&A with Mark Earley, Day Three of Five: Don’t I Know Him from Somewhere?

Mark_earley Catherine: Now a lot of our readers out there may be scratching their heads saying, “The name Mark Earley is familiar to me, don’t I know him from somewhere?” Can you tell our readers about what you were doing before you came to PFM and how God led you here?

Mark: Immediately before coming to PFM, I served as Attorney General of Virginia for almost four years. Prior to that, I served in the Senate of Virginia for ten years, and throughout all of that time, I practiced law. That’s been my adult life. After serving as Attorney General, I ran for governor of Virginia in 2001 and lost. And about six months after that I accepted an invitation from Chuck Colson to come to Prison Fellowship.

Catherine: You’ve shared before in devotions about what you were studying in your quiet time after you got that call from Chuck and how that changed your mind about coming to PFM. Can you share the story with our readers?

Mark: Well, I wasn’t interested so much in coming to PFM initially because, although I was very enthusiastic about the worldview side of the ministry, I was very unenthusiastic about the prison side of the ministry. I couldn’t understand how it would be worth investing my life in the lives of prisoners, who by my definition were going nowhere, had no future, and had no hope. I had spent a great deal of my time in politics, in public office, figuring out how we could put more people in jail, and keep them there longer, in order to keep people safe. I had a view of prisoners that they didn’t have much hope. But I was reading in the Scriptures over the couple of months that I was praying about the decision and read about Moses. I was struck by the fact that this man who played such a pivotal role in salvation history, prior to being called by God, had murdered a man and fled to the desert as a fugitive. And then I was reading about Paul and was struck again by a man that played a critical role in salvation history—the first missionary, a man who wrote most of the New Testament, and who was someone who had a very violent history, had been a co-conspirator to murder, and yet God called him out to be the chief spokesperson and organizer for the early church. And so I really saw things differently in God’s economy. I saw that it’s really just like God to take people that the rest of the world would say have no future and have no hope and raise them up to be vessels for noble use.

Continue reading "Q&A with Mark Earley, Day Three of Five: Don’t I Know Him from Somewhere?" »

Where Justice Meets Mercy, or Does It?

On Friday night, ABC's 20/20 featured a family with a very shocking story.

Here's the main plot: John and Diane had the perfect marriage, the perfect family, until one day, Diane discovered that John was having an affair with one of his employees. Within a few hours, Diane also learned that John had killed the woman he was having an affair with, and was awaiting trial.

Diane's world crashed down around her, as John was handcuffed and toted away to prison. Diane fell into despair, and attempted to end her life. But instead of killing herself, she and her two daughters found the grace to forgive John through the power of Christ. Diane had remarried, but when she realized she needed to extend mercy to John, she divorced her second husband and remarried John. Today, their family is as strong as it ever was, albeit separated by prison.

This story has received many comments on ABC's website, some praising Diane's fortitude, others criticizing the second divorce, others bashing ABC for seeming to ignore the other victims in the story--the family of the girl who was murdered.

To me, this story shows the utter complexity required to balance true justice with true mercy. True justice doesn't diminish the full impact that someone's crime (in this case, the effect of the murder on the victim's family) has wrought. True mercy acknowledges justice's cause, and chooses to forgive anyway.

No one has the right to force the family of the victim to look in John's face and say "I forgive you." Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. But it's not impossible.

Continue reading "Where Justice Meets Mercy, or Does It?" »

September 04, 2007

Q&A with Mark Earley, Day Two of Five: What’s All the Fuss about Worldview?

Mark_earley Catherine: Mark, it’s great to have you back again on the Point blog. A lot of people out there may have heard you before on BreakPoint radio bringing a biblical perspective on today’s news and trends. Why do you think it is important for Christians to have a biblical worldview and what does that even mean?

Mark: Well, it’s important to have a biblical worldview so that we can understand how to live. It’s important so that we can understand the times in which we live—to see them for what they are: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and to help us understand how we need to be living in them. Without a biblical worldview, you have a kind of cultural Christianity which has very little to do with following Jesus, but has a whole lot to do with what others think religion is about. So a biblical worldview is really critical. Chuck Colson often likes to refer to what Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not one single square inch of the world over which Christ does not cry out, ‘Mine!’” I think if we understand that, we can understand that a biblical worldview is vitally important to living into every sphere of our lives and life in general.

Catherine: In today’s The Point radio piece you mention that one of the most obvious aspects of a worldview is that it’s not for us, but for the world. Can you think of some people you’ve seen who are really allowing their biblical worldview to touch the world around them? What does that look like?

Mark: At the end of the day, Jesus came for the world. I think it’s important for believers to understand that applying a biblical worldview is not to make us smarter, not to make us more smug, or more self-satisfied, but to change the way we live. And it needs to change the way we live such that we live as Jesus did and sacrificially give our lives on behalf of others, serving them. I think we see a lot of people who are beginning to understand that. They understand that a biblical worldview isn’t about a set of political issues or cultural issues. It’s about serving people. We see it in our prison work. In average people who might be mailmen during the day, lawyers, or teachers who are going into prisons in the evenings sharing Christ with those behind bars, discipling them, and helping them to be successful when they reach the outside. On the biblical worldview side of our ministry we see it in the lives of men and women who are developing community projects, whether it’s a teaching project or a serving project, all geared toward demonstrating the love of Christ in the community in which they live.

Continue reading "Q&A with Mark Earley, Day Two of Five: What’s All the Fuss about Worldview?" »

September 03, 2007

Q&A with Mark Earley, Day One of Five: Kingdom Carpe Diem

Catherine: Mark, thanks so much for joining us on the Point blog today. Today is the launch of your new daily one-minute radio program. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the program and why you’ve started it?

Mark: Well, our Breakpoint radio program has been very successful over the years. Many of our radio stations, however, are moving to more of a music format and so they are looking for something that has the same theme and punch of our BreakPoint program, but in a shorter format.

In addition to that, we’ve had such great interest in the Point blog, and we thought it would be a great idea to give people the chance to make their point based on what they’re hearing on the radio everyday, so that we can have interaction and develop a community around that.

Catherine: In today’s The Point radio broadcast you talk about seizing the day for Christ. As President of PFM, I imagine you see a lot of ways in which the people involved in this ministry are seizing the day for Christ. What are some of the activities in Prison Fellowship and in BreakPoint that you’re most enthusiastic about these days? How do you see our volunteers and partners really extending God’s kingdom?

Mark: We see a lot of followers of Jesus around the country seizing the day by getting out of their comfort zones and serving the poorest of the poor right here in the United States and around the world. Some of those poorest of the poor are prisoners and their children. So what really motivates me and what I think can result in incredible change in the lives of those behind bars is the efforts that volunteers are making to visit prisoners, to welcome a prisoner into their church or bible study when they get out, to mentor them, and to reach out to a prisoner’s child through one of our various Angel Tree programs, whether it be Christmas, camping, or mentoring.

Continue reading "Q&A with Mark Earley, Day One of Five: Kingdom Carpe Diem" »

August 08, 2007

Countdown to Rwanda

In just four days (not that I'm counting), fellow Point blogger Catherine Claire and I (plus two other friends) will be taking some time off work and leaving on a jet plane for Kigali, Rwanda, to meet survivors of the 1994 genocide--100 days of brutal slaughter that pitted neighbor against neighbor at the tip of a machete. Not only that, but we will also meet the very men who wielded their machetes against the survivors' family members.

We will meet Rosaria, whose husband and all her children, except the one she carried her in womb, were murdered by her neighbors.

We will meet Saveri, who was a part of the group who murdered Rosaria's family.

And, we will learn how they are able to live again as neighbors. That's why were are going--to discover the secret of forgiveness and reconciliation, not just between Rosaria and Saveri, but between countless survivors and perpetrators of the genocide . . .

Stay tuned.

June 07, 2007

Better Hour Essay Contest for Teens -- win $10,000!

Here's a way for a teen to win some college scholarship money by making the world (or at least a small part of it) a better place and then telling the world how and why it was done!

In the ongoing commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and in conjunction with the Fall 2007 release of The Better Hour documentary on the life and legacy of William Wilberforce, the Wilberforce Project is sponsoring The Better Hour contest for teens to design and execute a service project and then write an essay about it. First prize is a cash prize of $10,000 provided by the John Templeton Foundation, to be presented in May 2008 in Washington, D.C.

Just as William Wilberforce worked tirelessly to better society both through changing public morality and lifestyles and through changing public policy, teen projects can address areas such as modern-day slavery, poverty, political or legislative action, education, or health.

To find out more about The Better Hour contest, The Better Hour documentary, or William Wilberforce, click on the links.

May 29, 2007

Getting Ready for the Feast: A Primer on Works (8 of 8)

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory; for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure -- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Revelation 19:7, 8

The image of clothing appears frequently in Scripture to indicate the believer's responsibility for taking up the good works appropriate to salvation. The psalmist pleads with God to clothe His "priests" with righteousness (Ps. 132:9), and God happily agrees to do so (v. 16). Jesus used the story of a man improperly dressed for a wedding to warn His hearers about how they must appear before the Lord (Mt. 22:1-14). Paul employed the image of changing our wardrobe to urge his readers to put off the old clothes of the unbelieving way of life and to be clothed on with the "new man" of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). John indicates that the saints of God will not be ready for the eternal banquet of glory until they have been properly clothed for the occasion (Rev. 19:7, 8).

The wording of this text echoes the image of Psalm 132. The saints are "granted" to be clothed, as if it were something eagerly sought by them. Evidently, those saints who have been paying attention understand that, when it comes time to meet the Lord, they need to be properly attired. They cannot expect to stand before Him in the old garments of their unbelieving lifestyles. They need "new clothes" -- fine, white linen -- so that they will honor Him at the banquet He is preparing for them. So they seek the Lord for the wardrobe He alone can provide, for unless God is at work within us, making us willing and able to do good works, we shall have no hope of being properly attired for the marriage feast that is even now being prepared (Phil. 2:12, 13). 

Every day is shopping day for the followers of Jesus Christ, as they seek the Lord for the clothing He insists they appear in at His coming. It's not a matter of what we like or may prefer; it's a question of what the Lord will welcome when He returns in glory. Seek the works of righteousness -- outlined in the holy, righteous, and good Law of God (Rom. 7:12) -- that Christ Himself performed, and when the King returns in His glory, to feast with His Bride, then we will be ready for the eternal festivities that are even now being prepared.

This old world itself will put off its worn-out clothing and be made anew. The remnants of sin will be dissolved, and the new heavens and new earth will host the Lord and His Bride in eternal joy. "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God..." (2 Pet. 3:11, 12).

May 28, 2007

Saved Only By Sacrifice

As the days slowly began to lengthen, meaning decent fighting weather was approaching, tension increased. Inevitably the young men thought of death. Few made their thoughts articulate, but Webster dealt with his directly. He wrote his mother, instructing her to "stop worrying about me. I joined the parachutists to fight. I intend to fight. If necessary, I shall die fighting, but don't worry about this because no war can be won without young men dying. Those things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice."

Band of Brothers, p. 55

Band of Brothers is the perfect book to be reading on Memorial Day. Private Webster, in the days leading up to D-day, wrote a letter to his mother back home in Massachusetts. He penned a timeless truth.

Those things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice.

Memorial Day is a time to ponder and reflect on sacrifice. We enjoy freedom because of sacrifice. People like Pvt. Webster and Lt. Dick Winters of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division, who jumped into Normandy on June 6th, 1944, purchased freedom from tyranny and liberated the world from the terror of fascism.

Freedom is precious. Freedom is worth it. True freedom is purchased only by sacrifice.

Continue reading "Saved Only By Sacrifice" »

May 24, 2007

To Confirm Salvation: A Primer on Works (7 of 8)

Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18

James' point, of course, is that it is not possible to demonstrate saving faith, or be assured of possessing it, apart from the works which true faith engenders. Faith is more than intellectual assent. It is even more than tasting the good things of the Lord and delighting in them -- feeling joy or peace or other forms of subjective well-being. These are part of faith, to be sure; however, if these are all that a person possesses as proof of saving faith, they will not suffice. Faith without works is dead, James tells us -- no real faith at all (Jms. 2:26).

In the 16th century Martin Luther struggled with James' letter -- "a right strawy epistle" he said -- because of its unabashed emphasis on works. Luther was laboring to correct a view of the way of salvation that was common among theologians of his day, namely, that our works somehow contributed to our being saved (Roman Catholic theologians of the day, recognizing this same overstatement among certain of their colleagues, were at the same time working to achieve a corrective). Luther at times overstated his position of "faith alone," so much so that he gave the impression that merely confessing belief in Jesus and feeling really convinced about it were all that a person needed to be sure of heaven. The Reformation's insistence on "faith alone" as the means of justification and salvation has led to a kind of "cheap grace" in our own day -- salvation eagerly received but productive of no evidence of a changed life.  It was against this notion that James and Paul -- and, indeed, virtually all the Reformers -- wrote so vigorously.

Some, they knew, will insist that, because they understand and affirm the claims of the Gospel, indeed, have even professed them publicly at a certain place and time, they can be sure of salvation and eternal life. Faith, such people suggest, is a matter of understanding and affirming. But James says the devils do that much, yet, rather than rest assured of salvation, they shudder at the implications for their eternal plight from what they know about the Gospel (Jms. 2:19). Others will say, "Well, it's not just that I know and affirm these things. I really feel the Lord with me, in me. I can practically taste His goodness." Thus they appeal not only to an intellectual affirmation but a conviction of the heart. But the writer of Hebrews tells us that not even that is indicative of saving faith (Heb. 6:4-9). The "things that belong to salvation" (v. 9), the writer insists, relate to works of love done fervently through faith, focusing on the promises of God (vv. 10-12).

Or, as Jesus put it, referring to those who are "true trees" of faith, "Thus you will recognize them by their fruits" (Mt. 7:20). Picking up on such thoughts, the Apostle John declared that the only way we or anyone can know whether we possess true, saving faith is by the evidence of good works that comes out in our lives: "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says, 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 Jn. 2:3-6).

We are not saved by works, but we are not saved without them. Let us give neither ourselves nor our neighbors any false assurances in this matter of saving faith. Mere "faith" -- intellectual assent or heart conviction or both -- apart from the obedience of faith -- faith working through works of love (Gal. 5:6) -- is dead.

May 22, 2007

Briny Fish

Fish Rick Warren used this analogy at the Q Conference (mentioned earlier) to describe how a Christian is "in the world but not of the world."

Ever eat a fish that lived its whole life in briny water? It was immersed in brine, and yet didn't absorb the salt or become salty. Like that briny fish, we should be immersed in culture and yet remain pure.

Here's a paraphrase of some of his key points:

Don't live in isolation or insulation, but in incarnation. When it comes to engaging culture, it's all about you incarnating Christ. The key to engaging culture is humility, integrity, generosity, civility, clarity. It's easy to be relevant if you don't want to be biblical, and you can be biblical but not relevant. Find a balance.  Engaging culture is not programmatic but personal. It's not a strategy but a lifestyle. If you want to be relevant and biblical, and engage those around you, address those topics or issues in culture that will never change -- love, guilt, healing, hurts, loneliness, meaning, purpose.

Q: - In what ways are you biblically relevant to the people and culture around you?

How have you been able to be a briny fish -- in the world, but not of it?

May 21, 2007

Hearing the Cross in Bach and finding Christ the Truth

Yesterday I heard a Persian (from Iran) Christian share his journey from practicing Muslim, to relativist, to Christian. He said that as a Muslim, he had believed in God, loved him, desired to follow him, but found him very distant. So he turned to relativism and New Age beliefs, but lost the sense of the absolute, which he had found in the God of Islam.

An accomplished musician, he was particularly drawn to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and through Bach, regained a sense of the absolute. One day, as he finished playing a Bach piece for his teacher, he was told that his performance had been terrible, even though it was technically perfect. His teacher, not a Christian, said, "You cannot play Bach without keeping the Cross in mind," and that only when he could hear the cross in the piece would he play it as Bach intended.

So the former Muslim, relativistic, unbeliever, at the instruction of his non-Christian teacher, drew a big red cross at the top of his sheet music, and focused on that Cross as he played Bach until he could hear the Cross in the music. To make a long story short, by focusing on the Cross, and hearing the Cross through the music of Bach, he came to know the Christ of the Cross, and today is a leader in his local church.

While Roberto or T.M. or others more schooled in musicology and theology than I can elaborate further, I find this to be a remarkable demonstration of how God has placed the knowledge of truth in hearts and minds, the power of the Cross to speak without words, and the ability of music to express truth, goodness, beauty or lead people to seek the Truth.

Interestingly, while Bach was a Christian and created music for the glory of God, I've also had more than one person tell me that they've come to faith in Christ thanks to the early music of -- Bob Dylan. Not the stuff he wrote after declaring he'd become a Christian, but the music from his early days, because, they said, he was seeking truth, and that search for truth ultimately led them to Christ, who is the Truth.

Have you ever had experiences where music has spoken to you in unexpected ways? Have you seen God in music?

May 18, 2007

Works that Condemn: A Primer on Works (6 of 8)

By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7

Good works, done by faith, in obedience to the commandments of God's Word, will, like Noah's ark, condemn the unbelieving world. We don't like to talk about condemnation (can't we all just learn to get along?). But the fact is, the more that we are distinguished by the good works which God has before ordained that we should pursue (Eph. 2:10), the more people will notice us (as we saw in our last installment), and the more certain of those people will be condemned by what they see.

Noah's ark -- the good work to which he was called in his generation -- created a zone of obedience, righteousness, and salvation, for those who entered into it. All who remained outside were condemned. Now there is no doubt that Noah's neighbors didn't see it that way. Surely they thought him a little batty, devoting so much time and effort to what they would have regarded as a silly work, and having no time to join them in the revelries and distractions of the day (cf. 1 Pet. 4:1-5). But when Noah coupled his good work with the preaching of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), he condemned those who mocked him, or who did not heed the warning of coming judgment. His ark -- Noah's good work -- stood out as a witness to God, salvation, and righteousness, and it condemned all those who looked askance at it.

Just so will it be with the good works we do in obedience to God's Word. It is not our duty as the followers of Christ, as we pursue holiness (2 Cor. 7:1), to put our unbelieving contemporaries at ease, assuring them that they're "OK" in God's eyes. Faith requires that we obey God unto righteousness, and righteousness always puts unrighteousness in relief, exposing it to the light of truth and leaving it bare, naked, and condemned. And for this, Jesus promised, the world will hate us, even as it hated Him (Jn. 15:18-22). Good works, coupled with the proclamation of truth explaining the reason for those good works, must necessarily condemn those who prefer lives of sin and unbelief.

This is not an invitation to offend; we are always called to love others as Christ has loved us, even those who despise us. Rather, it is simply a caveat to the redeemed: pursue good works as the outworking of your salvation, but do not expect the unbelieving world to celebrate your achievement.

May 15, 2007

Works that Stand Out: A Primer on Works (5 of 8)

"'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'" Deuteronomy 4:6

From the beginning of their being a nation, Israel was to understand that pursuing the works of the Law -- not unto salvation, but as the outworking of it -- would make her stand out among the nations. Moses promised that, as Israel kept the commandments and statutes of the Lord, the nations around them would be fairly astonished at what they saw, and would regard them as a "wise and understanding people." Solomon proved the truth of this promise during the early days of his reign (1 Kgs. 10). Toward the end of the Old Testament the prophet Micah declared that the impact of God's people living by God's Law would not only capture the attention of the unbelieving world, but would actually attract others to seek that way of life for themselves (Mic. 4:1-5). Jesus, Who completely fulfilled the Law and commanded us to follow Him, said that, as we did so, we would be like a city set on a hill, a light for all the world to see (Mt. 5:13-16). The message is consistent throughout Scripture: live by and walk in the good works of God's Law, and you will stand out before the watching world.

But when we minimize the role of the Law in the life of faith, or ignore it altogether, and when we reduce faith from fruitfulness in good works to feeling good about ourselves in the name of the Lord, then we end up with a situation such as Ron Sider describes in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Not only do we not stand out, but we are so much like the people in the unbelieving world around us as to be practically indistinguishable from them. The Church today is not that which is depicted in Psalm 48: a towering haven of holiness and beauty, the joy of the whole earth, a force for righteousness from which all her enemies flee in terror, a people so close to the God they worship and serve as to be practically identifiable with Him -- His Body. We are a people on the margins of society, scorned by intellectuals, academics, and pundits, morphing and warping like chameleons in an effort to appeal to our increasingly indifferent neighbors, and awash with the flotsam and jetsam of materialism and pop sensuality. All in an effort to be relevant, all the while emerging into newer and more troubling forms of irrelevance.

Do we want our neighbors to notice us? Let's stop trying so hard to be just like them, and begin concentrating more diligently on being just like our God.

May 14, 2007

More theology with T. M.

Point blogger T. M. Moore has a new article up at the BreakPoint site with an intriguing premise: Christians today are "the most Christian-educated generation of believers in all of Church history" -- but that education isn't working. How do we know it isn't working, why isn't it working, and how can we change that? Find out in "The Fruit of the Word."