Category: Culture

Don’t let Christian Superstars shape your Theology

How many times have you heard, “Ms. So-and-so Celebrity just gave their heart to Jesus. That’s going to have a huge impact for the Kingdom of God.”?

 We were all once baby Christians – and baby Christians rarely make a huge impact.  Like us, a “superstar’s” friends and family (and fan base) are going to watch them closely, to see if the change they acknowledge in their life is real and lasting and is something that others might want to emulate or avoid.  The one major difference the celebrity faces is a greater degree of exposure, and therefore greater external pressure to revert back to their “old man.”

 Sadly, the “Superstar” is expected to have it all together and have all the answers from day-one; and that’s never the case.  For one thing, they didn’t have it all together before they came to Christ – that’s why they (just like the rest of us) needed Jesus.  All they had was good PR and a successful agent that kept their weaknesses, their insecurities and their indiscretions from leaking to the media.

 I’ll never forget the day I heard Bob Dylan had become a Christian.  I grew up in the folk music era and played most of his songs on my acoustic guitar.  Even when Dylan upset much of his fan base when he went electric in the mid-’60s, I stuck with him.  In the late ‘70s, the Jewish-born Dylan, unhappy with his personal and artistic life, turned to Christianity.  The man who had warned us “Don’t follow leaders / Watch the parking meters” was now admonishing us with, “There’s only one authority / That’s the authority on high.”  And he started evangelizing with alarming venom. “Are you ready, are you ready? / Are you ready to meet Jesus?” he demanded to know back then.  Touring in ‘79 and ‘80, Dylan wouldn’t even play any of his older, secular works, and he delivered declarations of his faith from the stage, such as: “Years ago they said I was a prophet. I used to say, ‘No I’m not a prophet.’ They’d say ‘Yes you are, you’re a prophet.’ They finally convinced me.  Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer.”

 But after a couple of albums in this vein, he began to retreat from evangelizing and struggled to re-find his artistic feet.  Dylan’s embrace of born-again Christianity was unpopular with some of his fans and fellow musicians.  Shortly before his murder, John Lennon even recorded “Serve Yourself” in response to Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.”  By 1981, Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times that “neither age (he’s now 40) nor his much-publicized conversion to born-again Christianity has altered his essentially iconoclastic temperament.”   And by 1985, his wretched, inebriated appearance at “Live Aid”, along with a series of poor albums, was enough to get him roundly dismissed once again as a figure from the past: “an aging star of no contemporary cultural significance.”  Now that he’s in his 70’s, it’s nice to look back and see that his music has always reflected his career-long intimacy with, and adept deployment of the King James Bible.  Hopefully he’s still serving God!

 Michael and Lisa Gungor, recent Dove Award artists were born in Christian households.  But in the last couple years they’ve questioned long-held religious beliefs.  They’re now even using the lyrics of their songs to publicize their unbelief.  “Stories that we lived by, defined ourselves with, but can no longer believe in,” they now refer to as mythological.  The Gungors are now working with Pastor Rob Bell (author of “Love Wins,” where he exposed his own unbelief and doubt in Scriptural authority by denying the central Christian doctrines of hell and eternal judgment) – and various poets.  The Gungor’s music is accompanied by spoken word poems on religious themes.  But doubt and unbelief is expressed throughout: “What if we made this stuff up because we were afraid of death?” It’s amazing that they nevertheless recommend church or spiritual exercise, on the rationale that “sometimes just showing up, spices in hand, is all it takes to witness a miracle.”  How they can still be “inspired by Jesus,” the One Who upheld the authenticity of Scripture, including the stories they now doubt, is beyond me.

 There have been some recent notable salvations, including the likes of liberal news anchor Kirsten Powers (a contributor to USA Today and a columnist for Newsweek/The Daily Beast, and a Democratic commentator at Fox News.)

 Writing for Christianity Today, Powers’ explains how her attitudes toward Christianity changed by listening to her Presbyterian pastor.  She describes his preaching as “intellectually rigorous, weaving in art and history and philosophy, … usually bringing Jesus in at the end of the sermon to tie his points together…. I thought of it as just an interesting lecture….  Keller made the case for Christianity. He also made the case against atheism and agnosticism…. one night in 2006, on a trip to Taiwan, I woke up in what felt like a strange cross between a dream and reality. Jesus came to me and said, ‘Here I am.’ It felt so real.”  Fortunately, she attended his wife’s Bible study to get a stronger foundation in Christ.

 The notoriety of “stars” such as Powers gives them a following and a voice.  She fearlessly declares that she is pro-life.  Then she has even asked her Twitter and FaceBook followers to contribute to the Catholic Knights of Columbus fund to assist Iraqi Christians and Yezidis.  But a “star’s” fame also gives them a platform to propound possible error.  Powers recently used her USA Today column to write an article entitled “Christianity’s new look on gays.”  She based her liberal stance not on the Bible, but on a book written by “Reformed” New Testament professor James Brownson and another book written by evangelical gay Christian Matthew Vines.  Both men contend that the issue of sexual orientation represents new data that the church needs to consider. “Christians did not change their minds about (the sun revolving around the Earth) because they lost respect for … the authority of Scripture. They changed their minds because they were confronted with evidence their predecessors had never considered.”

 The problems attendant to notoriety and fame are nothing new to the Church.  Paul spoke about it in his first letter to the Corinthians: “… you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?  For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?”  Paul and Apollos were some of the superstars of the 1st Century Church – and many people had begun to look to their works and to favor one or the other over even their true foundation:  “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase…  For we are God’s fellow workers; … let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

 Babes in Christ have a story to tell – their testimony – how they were drawn to their Savior and the impact He has had on their life.  And each such story is powerful.  However, it’s mature Christians who make the greatest impact for the Kingdom of God, not the babes, even those with big names.

 Until a person is fully established in Christ and the knowledge of His Word, the Bible, and its inerrancy, they are too prone to attack and failure.  The old adage, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” is true also for the Christian believer.  We’ve seen it time and time again.

 It’s wonderful that Bob Dylan, the Gungors and Kirsten Powers have made a commitment to Christ, and have their eternal salvation guaranteed.  But I pray that these and other celebrities who find a home in God’s Kingdom, exercise wisdom and restraint when they are asked on the big stage to make declarations on matters of Christian doctrine.  For their public status also elevates them to positions of greater accountability.  So they must take greater care to always confirm that whatever they declare aligns perfectly with the written Word of God.  His Word is spiritually, not carnally discerned and not open to re-interpretation based on changes in cultural, social, scientific or political biases and opinions.

Medical Science accidentally discovers another Biblical Truth

I’ve mentioned many times in this blog how I attend a Saturday morning men’s prayer group and how it provides such great inspiration and encouragement and wisdom that I can use throughout the week.  This past Saturday was no exception – and the one thing that made the greatest impression on me was a simple story a gentleman told of how, since his now two-year-old grandson was born, he has recited to the lad “You are a good boy.”  Then this past week the little boy for the first time repeated those words: “I’m a good boy.”

 This is something I too have tried to engrain in my own three grandchildren, in my imperfect way, encouraging them that they are good, that the little things they do are done well, that whatever they scribble on paper is beautiful, and that they are loved regardless of their behavior.

 Of course many “realists” will point out, that man’s grandson and my grandkids are going to face many future challenges.  They’ll be tempted from all sides: peers, things they’ll see and hear in the media, their liberal educators, even the public school curriculum which is designed to lead them down deviant paths.  While that’s all true, it doesn’t take anything away from the spiritual law that I simply call the Law of Words.

 About 3070 years ago, the Law of Words was recorded by a God-inspired King Solomon in what we now call the Book of Proverbs, chapter 18, verse 21: “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.”  The Law of Words is no less valid and operative a spiritual law than the law of gravity, the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics and the law of aerodynamics are valid and operative laws of our natural world.  And finally, many 21st Century secular doctors and psychologists are beginning to recognize the Law of Words as a legitimate principle of life: that the words we speak and hear impact us physically, emotionally and mentally, and can even be manipulated to cause changes in each of these areas.

 The World of Psychology (the Internet’s longest-running psychology & mental health blog) recently did a review of Words Can Change Your Brain, a book written by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman.  These experts on neuroscience and communication contend that “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”  They explain the science of how positive words can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our frontal lobes and promoting the brain’s cognitive functioning and propel the motivational centers of the brain into action and build resiliency.  Conversely, hostile or negative language disrupts specific genes that play a key part in the production of neurochemicals that protect us from stress, increasing the activity in our amygdala (the fear center of the brain).  Angry words even send alarm messages through the brain and partially shut down the logic-and-reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes.  According to the authors, using the right words can transform our reality: “… the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain. Functions in the parietal lobe start to change, which changes your perception of yourself and the people you interact with. A positive view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others; whereas a negative self-image will incline you toward suspicion and doubt. Over time the structure of your thalamus will also change in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings and we believe that the thalamic changes affect the way in which you perceive reality.”

 This is a highly scientific explanation for what the Bible states in simple language from cover to cover.  The Word of God of course was not written primarily to enhance our understanding of science, but to prepare God’s people to live counter-cultural lives, and to be thoughtful, engaged lovers of wisdom, and lovers of God and neighbor.

 A millennium after Solomon, Jesus cautioned His disciples as well as the people who were contending with Him: “… every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  His apostle James later said it a little differently as he talked about the power of the words we speak: “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.”  And the great 20th Century Christian author, university professor and lecturer C. S. Lewis put it in terms of belief, when he said: “We are what we believe we are.”  As a student of the Bible, Lewis clearly understood that, by extension, we will say we are what we believe we are.

 A Life Lesson: Preach to yourself what God intends for you to become

 An amusing characterization of the Law of Words is the British medical comedy drama series “Doc Martin,” which just completed its sixth season on public television.   The “anti-hero” of the show is a gruff, ill-mannered, cold and abrasive doctor whose lack of social skills offends many of the villagers who are also his patients.  We eventually learn that his behavior is the result of his upbringing (or lack thereof) by parents who, though they sent him to the best schools and wanted him to succeed, always focused on his deficiencies and made sure he knew about them.  His parent’s intentions may have been good, but the results were not.

 Obviously it’s preferable that a person be taught this principle and be encouraged from childhood to see themselves as the person God created them to be and to strive to become that person.  My friend’s grandson will never forget the words, “I’m a good boy,” even as he struggles through the temptations the world, the flesh and the devil bring before him.  He’ll always know that his PaPa and his God are standing with him to help him get through them.

 Yet even adults can benefit and change once they know the truth, that they were created in the spiritual image of their God.  People who are taught to say, “I’ll never amount to anything” or “I’m no good” are right.  Yet if those same people are taught to recognize and declare: “God created me for greatness, for a heavenly kingdom, even here on earth, and for an important purpose in God’s plan,” they are even more so right.  Even if a person (like Dr. Martin Ellingham) didn’t have anyone else to encourage them in their childhood or adult life, once they learn the benefits of preaching to themselves the words and promises that God has declared over them, they will begin to see those promises realized in their life.

 Progressives, especially Christian progressives are prone to ridicule the Law of Words as a far-out “name it and claim it” theological heresy or something that those weird “faith preachers” have made up.  No!  It’s right out of God’s written Word.  In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis states: “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

 What say you?

Witnessing both to small and great (an Acts 26 Moment)

 When I was an 8th grader in St. Gertrude Catholic School I distinctly remember studying several saints who were martyred for their faith.  At the age of 14 I made a commitment to God that I would never deny Him, even if I had to die for Him.  And for the next several years, I fully expected to be called on to prove my faith in that way.  I may not have been “saved” at the time in a Romans 10:9-10 way; but I believe God nevertheless honored that commitment and kept lining up my life accordingly, drawing me closer to Him, and preparing me.

 Perhaps that’s why, after I actually began studying the Bible many years later, that I was drawn to the words of Jesus in Luke 12:11-12.  “Now when [not “if” but “when”] they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say.  For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.

 This past couple of weeks has made me realize that I and other Christians in the western Church are closer than most believe to the moment of putting our very lives on the line for the defense of the Kingdom of God.  What was once a “comfort zone” is quickly drifting towards a “zone of persecution” akin to what the Church in Asia, Africa and the Middle East has been experiencing for some years.  This became evident as I engaged representatives of a local governing body in much the same way that the Apostle Paul engaged the Roman Governor Festus and King Agrippa, as he defended not only his own innocence, but, more importantly the Gospel of Christ.

 I felt like I was living an Acts 26 moment.  Paul declared, “… I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”  My Festus/Agrippa stand-in was a Sterling Heights city council member who assaulted both the authenticity of the Holy Bible and its Supernatural Author.  To him, and anyone else who might read my words, I launched a defense of the Word of God, via a few emails.

 For a brief time, the Galilean leaders bantered back and forth with Paul.  In spite of, and maybe even because of Paul’s strong arguments, both the Governor and the King brought the discussion to an abrupt conclusion.  Now as he thus made his defense, [Governor] Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!”… Then [King] Agrippa [probably sarcastically] said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

 In my case, after lengthy debate all further discussion was turned off just as abruptly: “John, you truly do launch a strong defense of your beliefs.  But I could never support a God that would authorize the murder of innocent children.”  His latter comment most likely referencing the Almighty’s Old Testament command to Israel to cleanse the Promised Land of all idolaters and those who engaged in sexual immorality.   In earlier discussions this local leader had challenged the authority of the Creator and Maintainer of the Universe and declared he was not accountable to Him in any way.

 If and when you are put in this same position, just remember what Jesus told His disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.  He who hates Me hates My Father also.  If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.  But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’”  John 15:18-25

Man’s Justice defies God

I was tempted to title this week’s blog “The biggest loser;” for that was the conclusion of an 18 June 2014, meeting in the municipality that I frequent to shop, to bank and to worship.  For on that date Sterling Heights became the 36th municipality in Michigan to pass a law that “protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents and visitors from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment,” under the guise of a nondiscrimination ordinance.   The trend is obvious, as across the country, nearly every week local leaders are bowing to the pressure of LGBT advocates to put a stamp of approval on their lifestyles, as evidenced by recent votes in Nashville, Bozeman, and Houston.

 I attended the Sterling Heights council meeting the night before the vote; but I already knew what to expect – as I’d engaged some of the members via email conversations over the weekend.  They had been well prepped by the LGBT alliance.  The expression of opinions, both in my email exchanges and at the council meeting, were for the most part respectful.  What I found most disconcerting though, was that the “pro” ordinance representatives didn’t seem to have any qualms using Almighty God to either justify their position and the lifestyle it endorsed, or to criticize those who disagreed with them.  But as I explained to the young man sitting next to me at the meeting, it’s disingenuous to claim God’s endorsement of their position, while denying the truth of God’s written Word.

 But this too is a trend.  We saw it first with respect to out-of-wedlock sex, as society in general, including many “saved” Christians were brain-washed by pop culture to believe it’s no longer fashionable to make a formal commitment of life-long vows to the one with whom they live.  It didn’t take long for this digression from divine law to accelerate to acceptance of both same-sex unions and abortion as an alternative to life.

 These days, even the Church is becoming a target of this radical secularization.  Pastors of sports stars, politicians and entertainers who publicly violate Christian principles constantly defend their famous congregants for supporting ungodly causes and on-stage outrageous behavior, validating their actions.  And entire denominations (e.g.: Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches) seem more intimidated by the criticism of the world and the media, than they are fearful of their Creator.  Opening up morality to interpretation is none other than a straight forward denial that God is our Objective Moral Agent.  As the author of a recent Christian Post article so well stated: “God’s leaders are called to preach the Word, not hand out permission slips excusing people from it.  Is there grace and forgiveness?  Absolutely!  But only for a repentant heart!”

 Calling Evil Good

 Medicare now covers change of sex surgery, the President proclaimed June, LGBT month, and Time Magazine’s recent Cover Story was on Transgenders.  Planned Parenthood (America’s biggest abortion business) recently began using scripture to deceive, launching a “40 Days of Prayer for Choice,” then following it up with a “Pastoral Letter to Patients,” making the stunning suggestion that most faiths support the decision to kill an innocent unborn child.  “… clergy and people… from all denominations support women making this complex decision…. you’re not alone.  As religious leaders from a number of religious traditions, we’re here to support you in your decision… If you’d like to speak with a clergyperson, your local Planned Parenthood health center can refer you to someone who will be supportive of you and your decision.”

 A 25 year-old woman who works at the Cherry Hill Women’s Center in New Jersey was awarded a cash prize from a pro-abortion group for submitting a 3-minute video of herself allegedly having an abortion as an entry in the “Abortion Stigma Busting” contest.  She even has the audacity to call it “dangerous” to involve an adolescent’s parents in the decision.  The competition was co-organized by the Abortion Care Network and the 1 in 3 Campaign, a project of Advocates for Youth, which advocates for adolescents’ access to abortions without parental notification or consent.

 Jesus spoke about a time in the future when the world would be just as evil as it was before the world-wide flood and before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Paul also warned his young pastor Timothy to expect to suffer persecution, because “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”  Eight centuries earlier Isaiah warned: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

 The Church: a time of persecution

 Persecution of Christians is occurring on a more massive scale than ever before in our 2000 year history.  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that Christians are targeted for harassment in 151 countries-three-quarters of the world’s states, more than any other religious group.  Similar findings are reported by the Vatican, Newsweek, the Economist, and the 60-year-old Christian support group Open Doors.

 Very few cases actually get press coverage; like Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman and mother who recently gave birth in prison. Raised a Christian, but after officials learned that her long-absent father was a Muslim, she was sentenced to death for apostasy-for leaving Islam. Her marriage to her American husband was declared void, and she was convicted of adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes to be administered before her execution.

 Another case receiving attention is North Korea’s sentencing of a South Korean missionary to life with hard labor.  He was convicted of espionage and trying to start a church.  The Chinese government’s demolishment of the 3,000-member Sanjiang church in Wenzhou on April only got in the news because it was an approved, government-registered church.  Another 20 official churches in the area have had all or parts of their buildings removed or demolished, and hundreds more are threatened with destruction.

 We’ve all read about the 250 Christian girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria and forced to convert to Islam.  But hundreds of other girls and women have been systematically kidnapped in Egypt from Coptic Christian families and forced to marry Moslem husbands and convert as well.

 This same persecution has come to the “friendly” shores of America

 Conservative and Christian web sites are systematically blocked at public elementary and high schools.  Public universities are taking nondiscrimination policies to illogical extremes to prevent Christian student groups from forming and/or functioning on campus.  Others are demanding that gays and atheists be allowed to join and hold leadership positions in these groups.  And students, high school and college, are put into uncomfortable positions to defy their teachers and administrators who seek to prohibit them from praying, reading the Bible, or thanking God for their talents and blessings.

 We all know about the Christian businesses that are fighting the rules imposed by the Affordable Care Act that would force them to violate their spiritual beliefs and consciences.  And we’ve read about the bakery and the photography studio that were each taken to court under nondiscrimination laws, because they believed that making a wedding cake and photographing the ceremony for gay marriages were violations of their Christian faith.  The baker was even ordered to attend “sensitivity training” to properly brain-wash he and his staff.  Even a so-called conservative state like Texas has municipalities that attempt to shut down home Bible studies using zoning ordinances.

  As Pastor Rick Warren argued recently in a Christian Post interview, the day will come, and may be near when pastors and other Christian leaders will have to go to jail for defending the faith.   He cited college groups, zoning laws and Hobby Lobby in pointing out that religious freedom in America is being attacked on all kinds of fronts.

 And where are our Church leaders when we most need them?

 It’s sad that some of the greatest wisdom on this issue has come from good, though secular leaders – both past and present.

 In his day, Winston Churchill saw the Nazis as a threat to “Christian civilization.”  Later, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher remembered an era when there was greater comprehension of the broad consensus around Judeo-Christian values. “I think back to many discussions in my early life when we all agreed that if you try to take the fruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither.  And they will not come again unless you nurture the roots.”

 Current British Prime Minister David Cameron wants an even larger role for religion in the UK, and desires his nation to be regarded as a Christian country. “People who advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality,” he said last Easter.

 “If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be one nation gone under,” said American President Ronald Reagan.

 Even former KGB officer and now Russian chief of state Vladimir Putin understands the “interrelated” connection of religion and government.  “First and foremost we should be governed by common sense” based primarily on “moral principles,… however, it is not possible to have morality separated from religious values,”  Putin said in a 2007 Time interview.

 Fortunately, we have a few strong Christian Davids like John Piper, willing to take on the media and the culture changers of our time.  When a transgender advocate argued in a national magazine:  “People need to be willing to let go of what they think they know about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Because that doesn’t necessarily mean anything inherently;” Piper responded firmly and unequivocally, that this reasoning is compelling only without God.  He quoted William Ernest Henley, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”  Then he expanded, “God, the wise, loving, purposeful creator and designer of human life is the One who connects biological nature and sexual identity.”  God’s divine nature is revealed in the physical, material universe.  So much so that Paul says in Romans, “So they are without excuse” when they “exchange the glory of God for the glory of the creature,” or when they “exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.”

 Piper adds that Paul then draws the parallel with human sexuality.  “Just as physical nature reveals the truth about God, so physical nature reveals truth about sexual identity.  Whom we should worship is not left to our preferences, and who we are sexually is not left to our preferences.  Both are dictated by God’s revelation in nature.”  So if a human looks at the world and chooses to worship a creature rather than the Creator, he is without excuse. “And if a man looks at his own body and chooses to play the part of a woman, or a woman looks at her own body and chooses to play the part of a man, they are without excuse … Genitalia is a revelation of God’s design.”

 Were there more Church leaders willing to be more forthright and clear in their language and more willing to risk their personal lives and reputations for the defense of the Word of God, there would be less confusion in the ranks of their congregations, or on our city councils.

Imperfect Christians should stop complaining about imperfect movies that at least try

I don’t see a lot of movies – at least not until they come out on DVD/BR.  I have a couple of reasons: first, I prefer the comfort of my home to the cold, unsanitary, and uncomfortable quarters of a cinema; second, there aren’t many decent and intellectually honest films worth two hours of my time coming out of Hollywood, or wherever they make films these days.  Waiting until a film comes out on DVD/BR gives me the opportunity to read various critiques and hear other people’s opinions, before I commit to watching it myself.

 Still, there are three films that have been released this Lent/Easter season that I’d like to see over the next few weeks: Son of God, God’s not Dead and the Russell Crowe movie Noah.  I find it interesting that the Christian community is universally behind the first two films; while a significantly large majority of Christian leaders seem to be literally frozen with fear of the spiritual damage forthcoming from the Noah movie, should their congregations view it.

 On the one hand, Christian leaders complain that Hollywood makes so many godless films – then when they undertake a Biblical blockbuster, these same leaders complain that the non-believing producers and directors don’t constrain themselves to the word-for-word storyline of the Bible.  I think it’s a sad commentary on the unsatisfactory job these leaders must have done in educating their members on the Word of God, that they worry that they’ll be so easily led astray by the artistic license a director takes to fill gaps in a Biblical event, not addressed by the scriptures itself.

 They seem to quickly forget that no movie ever gets all of a biblical story exactly right. Even The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, two of the most acclaimed Biblical epics of all time, didn’t get it all right.  Cecil B. DeMille and company took a great deal of license with their respective  Exodus and Crucifixion /Resurrection events.  Nevertheless, most Christian “old-timers” have seen both and appreciate the efforts put forth by the producers.  Expecting movies, many of which are working with scant source material, to stick strictly to the biblical storyline is preposterous.

Suppose Noah went literally by the book.  Would audiences spend $10 or more to listen to Noah preach for what represented 120 years, then watch Noah and his family sit around in the cabin of the ark, taking time out daily to feed and clean up after the animals, for the 40 days it rained, followed by months of floating until the water receded and a bird was released to provide evidence that the earth had started replenishing again?  I don’t think so!   Paramount, at the demand of Christians and Jews who viewed a first cut of the film, added an “explanatory message” to the advertising: “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”

 I’ve even read several blogs where Christians focused on Russell Crowe’s sketchy religious background, as a reason to avoid the film.  The man is clearly not perfect; but neither was the woman brought to Jesus for stoning.  In a 2007 article in Men’s Journal, he revealed that, because of some religious ambivalence on his parents’ part, he and his brother grew up with very little spiritual influence in their lives.  But Crowe did have his two sons baptized in the chapel he built in Australia for his wedding. “My mom and dad decided to let my brother and me make our own decisions about God when we got to the right age. I started thinking recently, `If I believe it is important to baptize my kids, why not me?”

 He obviously lacks direction in his spiritual life, and he’s not following any specific doctrine, but he’s searching.   He even acknowledged he’s been doing a lot of thinking about the Bible’s Ten Commandments.  “I just have this thing where I look at the Ten Commandments and think to myself, that seems like it was written by somebody other than a human being… it just seems like if we adhered to those 10 really basic rules and applied them to everything—even traffic rules and parking fines-we could take thousands of laws off the books. There are some pretty fundamental things in there: respect your parents; don’t kill people; do to others what you’d like them to do to you. That, to me, sounds like a foundation on which to build a society.”

 Russell Crowe sounds like a lot of people that wander into our local church, seeking an answer to the problems they’re going through and the tugging on their heart-strings that they feel whenever someone mentions the name of Jesus.  Films like Noah give a Christian with boldness an opportunity to discuss these things with their buddy at work, an old class-mate they run into at the mall, or even with cousin Susie who’s living an alternate lifestyle and has no interest at the moment in going to church.

 I recently heard a useful quote: “The Gospel travels more easily over a bridge than over a chasm.”  Think of Biblically themed movies as cultural bridges for the Gospel.  Walk over the bridge; don’t blow it up like it was the Bridge on the River Kwai.  Affirm the good rather than criticize the erroneous.
 Be optimistic that our support will ultimately lead to a better product.

It doesn’t do any good to be angry about a Hollywood film that may or may not accurately depict who Noah talked to and argued with while he was building the ark, and who may or may not have helped him.  There are too many more important issues related to your friend’s, your family member’s and your acquaintances’ salvation.   Critical believers tend to alienate unbelievers, even those who are considering the claims of Scripture.  Peter says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” He doesn’t tell us we should berate everyone and everything we don’t find aligned perfectly with the Bible.

I admit, if this were a movie about the life of Jesus, and the producers had taken dishonest liberty with His lifestyle (such as The Last Temptation of Christ did several years ago), my response would be much different.  It is much better for Hollywood to explore themes surrounding characters of the Hebrew Bible and miss by a little.

I was recently reading a Christian news article which raised an interesting Pauline scenario, which is very apropos to this subject.  Imagine how different Mars Hill would have been had Paul been like many 21st century American Christians.  “As I look around I see you are very, very religious. This, of course, is a terrible thing. Look at all these altars. You people are blind and you don’t even know it! You have altars to cows, horses, and false gods of every ilk!  Look. Here’s an altar to an unknown god. What a waste! I cannot believe God has not smitten you all with boils and unimaginable plagues. You ungodly, pagan, unrighteous, rebellious, blind, deaf, dumb, false god worshiping bunch of liberals! You should tear down all these altars including the one to the god who will be named later! Just believe in Jesus.  Morons!”

We all know this is not how that conversation really went.  On the other hand, if you’re not sure, check out the 17th chapter of the book of Acts. 

Reading between the lines of a one-liner

I’m a FaceBook novice.  I’ve actually had an FB page for a few years; but it pretty much languished most of that time – my immediate family and a couple buddies my only “friends.”  Then this past October a fellow author and advisor suggested that FB was one vehicle to get more exposure for my written works – and I came out of the closet.  Barely five months into FB, I count my “friends” in the multiple dozens, not the hundreds or even thousands that some of my acquaintances have.

  As I spent more time in FB, I was surprised to discover that most people communicate in one-liners.  I found that unusual; especially since, unlike twitter, it doesn’t seem to have a character limit.  Oh, they may attach a personal picture, a humorous video or a document from a professional or ministerial website that conveys their own heart-felt feelings about a subject; still few seem to have much to say beyond that.  I guess that’s why most reviewers respond only with a “like” checkmark or their own one-liner, which amounts to little more than a LoL or an affirmation of the original statement.

What interested me more though, is that, even with one-liners plus attachments, over a relatively short period of time I was able to see a person’s soul begin to emerge out of their daily posts.  And in that short time, I found FB becoming less of a tool for me to get “exposure,” as had been suggested by my compadre, than a window into the human soul.  In five months I think I’ve become pretty adept at reading between the lines of one-liners to identify when something significant is going on in a person’s life, and he or she needs to be lifted up in prayer and/or encouraged.

You might question, “How can you arrive at such interpretive positions based on so limited a sample size or brevity of words?”  My response is that I have a statistical background – in a former profession, my employer used to spend millions of dollars to make improvements to a product based on as few as ten or twenty test units.  “But we’re talking about human beings here??”  Yep!  We are!  And that’s what makes it so special – but also so predictable.  Mankind’s nature hasn’t changed appreciatively since he was created 6,000, or 10,000, or whatever years ago.

I feel fortunate to have a diverse company of FB friends – who represent a cross-section of this nation’s spiritual backgrounds and beliefs, political affiliations, economic status and social interests – and I love every one of them.  Yet people are people – each with a soul (mind, will and emotions) – and I see each exposed every time I’m on FB.  For a while that was about an hour every day – though I’ve backed off that frequency of late.

As a person’s character emerges, one usually sees a consistency in motive, attitude and mood – so that any significant variation stands out.  I know that there are some interesting personality types who actually use FB to challenge others by making outrageous claims that they don’t adhere to personally – but even for these people a pattern usually emerges over time.  I’m sure others have seen such patterns in my few posts and comments.

I feel honored when a “friend” specifically asks for me to join with them in praying for a need on behalf of a friend or family member; but I’m more amazed at how the Holy Spirit uses this secular tool to reveal the personal needs of people who don’t ask for and may not even know they need spiritual help.   I’ve adopted FB as an extension of my ministry work – to encourage those who are going through a difficult time and in privately interceding for them.  I encourage other Christians who are on FB, to think beyond the social media aspect.  Be sensitive to your “friends” posts, and even to their comments to another’s posts; for a word of knowledge can come from the Spirit of God in unexpected ways.

Should I care if the Pope tries to undo 6000 years of Biblical history?

A few weeks ago I got an email from a Nigerian billionaire philanthropist who had randomly picked ME to share some of his wealth.  All I had to do was provide him with much of my personal information, plus a password to my bank account, so he could make the money transfer.  I relate this to make the point that not everything that comes across your desk, be it email or a press report, is 100% reliable.   Everything needs to be referenced and cross-referenced from multiple angles, before it is accepted as fact.

 Recently a friend re-published on FaceBook a 2013 news article entitled: “There Is No Hell Fire; Adam & Eve Not Real – Pope Francis Exposes.”  The content was about a supposed speech the Pope had made at the “Third Vatican Council” which stated the Catholic Bishops were reassessing all the doctrines of their church, and that the Pope personally was questioning the authenticity of the Bible, and the doctrines of creation, salvation and final judgment.  Since I had never even heard of a “Third Vatican Council,” I doubted that the statements were accurate.  I figured, at a minimum, the statements had to have been taken out of context.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in a glass house like the President of the U.S. or the Catholic Pope, with everything you do and say documented, parsed, and dissected by both a friendly and an unfriendly media looking for something controversial to report.

My first reaction to the content of the article was a little sarcastic and weak: “Should I really care if the Pope tries to undo 6000 or so years of Biblical history and thought?  After all, he’s just another human being.”  But then the Lord reminded me about how even the apostles dealt with issues like this in the first century church“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”  St. Paul dealt with the issue firmly and loudly:  “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”    He was so enraged that any Christian leader would even dare to preach a false Gospel that he repeated the statement.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9

My heart went out to the several (mostly young) people who had submitted comments on the supposed “Catholic Church’s reassessment of doctrine.”  Most assumed that the Pope’s words were accurate, and one after another comment applauded these pending changes to doctrine that would trivialize sin and remove all consequences for bad behavior, and that would open the doors of heaven to humanity in general, whether or not they even believed God existed or that He had sent His Son to be tortured and to die for them.  I recalled Jesus’ own anger with leaders who endanger their people’s eternal salvation because of false teachings: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.  Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”  Matthew 18:6-7

I decided that, yes, I really do care if the Pope (or any other person of influence) tries to undo 6000 years of Biblical history and thought.

Fortunately, as I researched the content of the article, I found that it was a 2013 internet hoax.   The original source was a blog called Diversity Chronicle, which contains a disclaimer in bold type: “The original content on this blog is largely satirical.”  Unfortunately, a number of national and international news media republished the “Pope quotes” from a nonexistent “Third Vatican Council” speech as fact.  Even though the hoax was eventually exposed by National Catholic Register, a Catholic news magazine, months later the false statements still have traction, and pop up occasionally in places like my friend’s FaceBook page.

It’s interesting that the article attached to her FB page actually was from a Nigerian website called “naijaurban” that publishes music, entertainment gist, Nigerian national news and daily events.  The site contained such additional high caliber content as: Bad Girl Actress Anita Joseph Flaunts Her Things in new Photos, Kim Kardashian shows her butt is real, My Boyfriend’s Father is very good in the Bedroom, and Woman, 23, Grows Beard like a Man.

In hindsight, the satirical “Pope” article may sound ridiculous and silly – and those who relied on it as accurate may now feel foolish – but, in point of fact, it revealed the hearts of many “in-name-only” Christians who are not committed to the truth of God’s Holy Word.  The ones who originally published such trash, and the ones who carelessly republished it, are accountable for the millions of souls they may have caused to offend God.  Each individual is responsible for his or her own behavior; but those in positions of influence, including the media have greater accountability.

On behalf of all those who have either not previously fully committed to the Lord, or who have not fully committed to accepting His written Word as truth, or those who have caused other hearts to be drawn away from such a commitment, I repent for this national and international sin and encourage each one affected by it to do the same.  We serve a merciful and loving God who says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Man’s Wisdom won’t cut it

Usually I get my BLOG topics from something I’ve read or heard the previous week.  This week I actually asked God to give me a dream about what I should write about.  And I had a dream last night – so, hey, why not?

 I was in a classroom – seemed like it was a college philosophy class or something similar.  The professor said he wanted each student to describe how we handled challenges in our lives.  He emphasized there were no wrong answers.  One at a time people began standing up and talking about themselves.  I only remember the last two.  One said when they heard something a person said that they didn’t like or that offended them, they’d blast them back – not holding anything back.  They said it was a great release.  Everyone in the class applauded and the professor smiled.  The next person said they had several addictions they dealt with, like alcohol, pornography and food.  They said their approach was to face them head-on, to prove that they could defeat them – keep them in a closet where they could reach them, to prove to themselves that they wouldn’t touch them.  Everyone in the class applauded and the professor smiled.

At that point the professor said that’s all the time we had, and the class stood up to leave.  I stood up and began speaking over the commotion.  It died down.  “I used to think it was necessary to respond to everything that offended me.  But I found it only built walls between me and the other person.  Now I hold my tongue until I can talk to them calmly.  And I tried to face my addictions head-on.  But I found if I kept a chocolate bar in the pantry – I’d eventually eat it.  If I kept a picture of a naked woman in a drawer, I’d eventually open that drawer.  I never had an alcohol problem; but if I did, I don’t think I could trust myself keeping a bottle of booze where I could reach it.  I have to avoid the thing that’s bothered me in the past.  I have to keep it out of my house.”

No one applauded my remarks and they all turned and started walking out the door.  As I passed the professor, he didn’t say anything, but didn’t seem happy.  I said, “I’m going to fail this class, aren’t I?”  And I woke up.

I’m sure I know the source of the world philosophies espoused by the students in my dream.  I don’t typically watch day-time talk shows; but I admit that, last year when my wife and I were babysitting my daughter’s twins while she was teaching, we often had the TV on and caught several such as Hallmark’s Home and Garden show, the Marie Osmond show and Steve Harvey.  Frequent guest were often so-called experts on various problem resolution subjects, and rarely did anything they say align with God’s Word.  In my dream I didn’t quote the Bible, nor did I say, “Thus saith the Lord,” but, as I meditate on it, in essence that’s what I was doing.  And I thank God for that firm foundation.

Man’s wisdom, which is typically what is espoused by the people that get the largest audiences just won’t cut it.

Experts say, stand up and defend yourself when you are offended by someone’s words.  Whereas the apostle Peter said, “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”   In other words, defend the Word of God, and not yourself.   St. Paul advised us to “avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.”  James added that with the same tongue we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”  And wise King Solomon said: “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly,… but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.”

Experts say, face your troubles head-on in your own strength.  But Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong”, in Christ, not in his own strength.  He advised his young friend Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”  And God spoke to Paul and told him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”   Paul’s advice to the Philippian church was, “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”  It’s just foolishness to face any trouble in your own strength or to hang onto friends, possessions and habits that have been the source of your past bad behaviors.

I’ve just talked about two simple examples of the “counseling” day-time TV audiences feast on every day, and how it usually conflicts with the written Word of God.  Men and women who are “in the world” will always turn to the guidance of the world, because it tickles their fancy.  It “seems” right.  Christians ought not be so foolish.  We are responsible for every word we allow to feed our minds.

A Christmas Message: Who do YOU say I am?

In past years I’ve taken the first warm weekend in November to hang my outside Christmas lights on the house and bushes – but this year that first warm weekend came with rain and heavy winds.  The next weekend the temperatures dropped below freezing – then more heavy winds and rain.  Then came the snow, and finally freezing rain.  I threw in the towel on putting up the outside lights and settled on dragging the artificial tree with the built-in lights from the basement to my living room.

 This has been a unique Christmas season, in ways more unusual than simply an early arrival of winter weather – in fact, the most unusual in my lifetime.  On display for the world to see have been the contrasts between light and darkness, good and evil.  Front page news stories of the generosity of much of humanity have been juxtaposed with accounts of the consequences of evil and violent actions by a few nuts.  The bright colors and joyful Christmas hymns have filled the air at shopping malls, while a few rebellious nonbelievers demanded and obtained the right to set up displays of demonic creatures and words of hate.

I’m not sure why, but this Christmas season my mind keeps going back to the instance in the life of Jesus where He first asked His disciples, how the general population described Him.  This event is described in three of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, so it must be pretty important.  Jesus interestingly got several answers to His question: “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  But when He asked them, “Who do YOU say I am,” Peter answered unequivocally: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  I realize Peter was one of the three Apostles who are described as Jesus’ inner circle – who, along with James and John probably spent the most time with Him and received more personal training.  But even the general population of the time saw the marvelous and miraculous things He did – and heard many of His teachings first-hand.  How could all not come to the same conclusion as Peter?  How could they be so confused as to believe Jesus was a former prophet risen from the dead, rather than the One who He both claimed and demonstrated to be, “the Christ, the Son of the living God”?

Last weekend the house that my youngest son and I co-own experienced a partial electrical failure.  It wasn’t totally unexpected – for I knew when we bought it, we’d have to eventually replace the dilapidated fuse box with a modern circuit breaker system.  But the timing for the $2000 expenditure wasn’t convenient.  Yet, on Tuesday, as I parked my car outside his home and walked up to meet and pay the electrician for the work, I heard a voice shout out from a sidewalk in front of one of his neighbors, “Jesus is Lord!”  It took me a few seconds to locate the smiling face of the mailman, and to realize that he’d seen and was affirming the message that my oldest son had plastered on the rear window of the car.  The man’s acknowledgement of Jesus as God put everything in perspective – and I thanked God that the electrical problem that was burdening me financially, had not caused serious property damage or endangered the lives of my son or his buddies that lived there.  This mailman knew the proper answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am.”

Then on Wednesday, I prepared to attend a celebration of a friend’s life, who was taking an early retirement.  Not sure of what Mike’s plans for the future were, I was moved to give him copies of the two books I’d written this year, along with a note encouraging him to always keep busy, “because even us techies have something to offer society and God.”  Several hours later, after he’d arrived home and opened the gift, we talked, and he shared that God had spoken to him and told him to retire four years earlier than he’d originally planned – that God had work for him to do, helping less fortunate people, and writing a book about the many miracles in his life.  He said my note and gifts were just the confirmation he needed, that he’d made the right decision.  I’m positive Mike knows the proper answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am.”

Earlier that afternoon, as I walked into the small hall that he’d chosen for his retirement celebration, I was enthusiastically approached by several people whom I had worked with over the years.  One was a woman who looked familiar, but for the life of me, I couldn’t either recall her name or how we knew each other – but she seemed to know me and wanted to know everything I’d been doing the last couple years.  Out of the blue, she began to tell me in great detail about her own spiritual life – which consisted in going to seers and fortune-tellers, participating in séances that called up deceased loved ones, and in worshipping saints.  My spirit churned inside.  When she finally took a break from talking I felt I needed to at least caution this woman (whose name or the circumstances of our relationship I still couldn’t remember) about the dangers of dabbling in the occult.  I’d barely gotten out the words, when it was apparent that I was no longer “Mr. Nice Guy” in this woman’s eyes.  With a vicious and loud voice she upbraided me: “Who was I to judge her?  Who was I to tell her she was on a wrong path.”  Fortunately, at that moment God had mercy on me, as the host of the celebration asked everyone to be seated so he could open with prayer.  For the next two hours, as we shared a meal and as we listened to the many congratulatory speeches and presentation of awards, I prayed that some day, before it’s too late, this woman would learn and receive the proper answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am.”

Two days later, Friday evening I attended a Christmas dinner at a friend’s home.  The “price” of admission was a bag of groceries that my friend would deliver to an outreach center that feeds and houses needy people.  Most of the people in attendance were active members of a Christian denomination that I had once been a part of.  As a result, much of the conversation focused on doctrinal and personal issues and traditions associated with that denomination.  As some of the discussion got personal and negative, in particular with respect to named leadership, I unsuccessfully attempted to change the subject – and finally determined that I should just leave.  I’m so grateful in this season to have local church leadership that I have nothing but the greatest admiration for,  and peace and unity in the congregation.  On my way home, I thought about these brothers and sisters in the Lord, whose hearts I’m sure are truly seeking after God and doing much to help their fellow man.  Still I wonder if they might not be a little put off by the question, “Who do you say I am,” and describe a Jesus that’s at least a little different than He described Himself.  I sincerely hope not!

The next morning I attended our men’s prayer meeting.  Right on cue, an associate pastor began to describe an encounter several years earlier between himself and a Christian brother who was a member of another congregation.  As they casually discussed some doctrinal issues, it became apparent that they each had a vastly different understanding of the doctrine of salvation and the role of the Holy Spirit.  The other “brother” actually said he felt like punching the man who is now my pastor over the disagreement.  Fortunately it ended peacefully – but again I wonder, why can’t we all answer the question the same, when asked, “Who do you say I am.”  We may give the same generic answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God;” and that’s important – but more than that, we should accept everything He said about Himself and what He said He delegated to each one of us, His followers.

That afternoon I was called upon to lead worship at a Christmas luncheon and prayer meeting.  The speaker at the meeting (who incidentally and proudly was my oldest son) challenged each of us to take the Good News of Jesus to the people God has placed around us, family members, friends, neighbors, and even strangers we meet at the mall.  He spoke about the many people he meets on college campuses and in business establishments who claim to know Jesus, but their Jesus is often much different than the One described in the Bible.  Their Jesus accepts alternate lifestyles as normal and doesn’t judge or punish sin.  I think what keeps him going, aside from his deep conviction to the Word of God, are the few people who start out not knowing the Jesus of the Bible, but who are convicted by the Word they hear preached and eagerly seek to know this real Jesus and make Him the boss in their lives.

Sunday morning was a traditional and uplifting Christmas service at my church.  I found it interesting that, near the end of my Pastor’s message he pointed out that nearly every religion outside of Christianity claims a part of Jesus, but not the whole.  Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet, but not the Son of God.  Hindus accept Jesus as one way to their millions of gods.  As my Pastor gave his altar call, he too asked the question: “Who do YOU say Jesus is?”

Jesus unequivocally claimed He was Divine and equal with God.  He claimed to have authority to forgive sins – and He behaved as if he really was the person chiefly offended in all offences.  He claimed to have always existed with the Father and that they were One.  And He insisted He would come back to judge the world at the end of time.

For more than two centuries, preachers and Christian apologists have used an interesting argument called “the Trilemma” to get people to consider Jesus’ question that He asks each one of us: “Who do you say I am.”  One of the earliest presentations of the argument was by the Scottish preacher John Duncan around 1860: “Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine.  There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.”  The argument was widely cited in various forms in the nineteenth century, including by the American preacher Mark Hopkins in his book Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity (1846).

One of the more famous applications was by the former agnostic turned Christian theologian C. S. Lewis.  He popularized the argument on BBC radio and later published it in his book, Mere Christianity.   “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say.’  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the devil of hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.””  C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, revised edition, New York, Macmillan/Collier, 1952, p. 55.

In his book that describes his examination of the historical evidence of the Christian faith that led to his conversion from agnostic to Christian, Josh McDowell restates Lewis’ argument and comes more to the point.  “Jesus claimed to be God.  He did not leave any other options.  His claim to be God must be either true or false and is something that should be given serious consideration….   Who you decide Jesus Christ is must not be an idle intellectual exercise.  You cannot put Him on the shelf as a great moral teacher. That is not a valid option.  He is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.  You must make a choice…. The evidence is clearly in favor of Jesus as Lord.  However, some people reject the clear evidence because of moral implications involved.  There needs to be a moral honesty in the above consideration of Jesus as either a liar, lunatic, or Lord and God.”  Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, revised edition, San Bernardino, Here’s Life, 1979.

But what if there are other unmentioned alternatives?  Two such alternatives often cited by some liberal theologians such as Bart Ehrman are that Jesus as described in the gospels is a legendary figure, or that we don’t know for sure what Jesus claimed about Himself.  Another theologian, N. T. Wright, comments that Lewis’s argument “doesn’t work as history, and it backfires dangerously when historical critics question his reading of the Gospels.”

As for myself, I’ve read The Conquests of Gaul, by Julius Caesar, in Latin.  I’ve read many of the thoughts and works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other ancients.  I’ve read English translations of Homer’s The Iliad and the Odyssey.  Yet the paper trail, or should I say the scroll and tablet trail for the 66 books that make up the Bible is much more vast, unbroken, uncompromised, more current and free of substantial errors than any other ancient document.

Lewis himself actually considered and discounted that the accounts of Jesus were legends: “I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing.”  This and other “additional alternatives” often necessitate (1) an outright denial of the infallibility of the Word of God, (2) an intentional ignoring of the vast archive of evidence for the Bible’s authenticity, or even (3) a mangled reading of the words of Jesus.

Still, other Christian apologists, such as William Lane Craig, in his book, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, revised edition, 1994, agree with the trilemma proposed as a “valid argument,” but nevertheless regard it as “unsound”:   “An example of such an unsound argument would be:  ‘Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.  Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic.  Therefore, Jesus is Lord.’  This is a valid argument inferring one member of a disjunction from the negation of the other members.  But the argument is still unsound, because the first premise is false [i.e.: that there are only three alternatives]: there are other unmentioned alternatives, (for example, that Jesus as described in the gospels is a legendary figure), so that the trilemma is false as it stands.”   p. 39.

But as Craig continues to explain, it really doesn’t matter.  “… when a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God…  Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa… The Bible says all men are without excuse.  Even those who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit.”  pp. 35-37.

“What, then, should be our approach in apologetics? It should be something like this: ‘My friend, I know Christianity is true because God’s Spirit lives in me and assures me that it is true. And you can know it is true, too, because God is knocking at the door of your heart, telling you the same thing. If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will give you assurance that the gospel is true. Now, to try to show you it’s true, I’ll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that’s my fault, not God’s. It only shows that I’m a poor apologist, not that the gospel is untrue. Whatever you think of my arguments, God still loves you and holds you accountable. I’ll do my best to present good arguments to you. But ultimately you have to deal, not with arguments, but with God himself.’”  p. 48.

It is my desire also that all men and women come to this same understanding that Jesus is God and Lord of All, and open the doors of their hearts to His knocking.  Like the brilliant apologist, Craig, I too may have bad arguments – but that does not give anyone the excuse to ignore the truth that God made evident throughout His creation.  Every human being is accountable for his or her decisions.  And this is the most important decision of all: “Who do YOU say I am?”

A natural dilemma requires supernatural tools

 Not long ago I received a kind comment to one of my blogs from a college student.  Quite distinct from the subject of the blog that the young person had just read, he or she described a dilemma that so many of their generation face – one which they hoped I would soon address.  Most college students today are focused on just getting through school.  Then when they graduate they are faced with trying to survive on their own in a difficult economy.  Yet the financial marketplace tells them in both situations that they need a good credit history to initiate “standing” before they can get the credit they need to take that first step forward in life.

 This is a dilemma I never had to deal with when I was in school.  Four decades ago it was a much different economic and social climate.  My parents, products of the Great Depression, engrained in me a mind-set of “put off purchasing or doing anything you don’t have the cash in-hand to pay for.”  Yet the subject is one that I have first-hand knowledge of, through my three kids – as each have had various degrees of financial turbulence in their lives, which began in their college days.

Still, I was tempted to avoid the request, because it is a complex issue and there are so many good Christian men and women who have already written excellent books on the subject of managing finances.  Then I attended Wednesday night service at my local church.  I’m not saying God spoke to me – but somewhere in my pastor’s message an urge was triggered in my heart to try to address the young person’s plea.  I’m not sure if the student is a Christian or not, but nearly everything I write takes a Biblical approach.

 Finances are a very important part of Christian living

 Many times Christians are tempted to poopoo the importance of money.  Very often they misquote a famous scripture as “Money is the source of all evil.”  That’s nonsense!  It’s the “love of money” that the Apostle Paul warns is a source of evil.  Money itself is a necessary ingredient in God’s plan for mankind.  That’s one of the reasons it’s talked about so much in the Bible.  What it really comes down to is whether we use money or money uses us.  Are we slaves to it, or do we think of it as a tool to help us and the Church carry out godly purposes?

Individual motivation is always one of the most important factors to consider when it comes to our obtaining and using any material thing God desires to bless us with.  Our motivation always has to be directed at doing what is pleasing to our Lord.  And to know what is pleasing to God, we must study the Bible, His written Word.  The following are just three things the Bible tells us are pleasing to God:(1) working and providing for ourselves and for those whom God has given us to care for; (2) educating ourselves and our families as we prepare for our God-ordained purpose in life; and (3) spreading the gospel.  Yes – even the spread of the Gospel throughout the world requires money.

 Byproducts of faithful and obedient Christian living

 Yet, so much of what we worry about, or seek God for should be byproducts of what is normal Christian living.  In several places in the Gospels we hear Jesus tell His followers not to worry about the basics in life: what we are to eat, what we are to wear, where we are to lay our heads at night.  If we put God first in everything we do, He’ll take care of us.  He’ll meet our needs.  These are byproducts of our faithfulness and obedience to God.

But what about getting the funds to pay for our education?  What about getting a car to drive to a part-time job at WalMart?  Are these basic needs?  It probably won’t matter once we learn to imitate some of the great men and women of the Bible – for then we’ll have all the tools we need to accomplish these goals as well.

 Tool Number One: Get Wisdom

 Take Solomon for example.  This son of the Israeli King David was once given the option by God to choose anything he desired.  He chose to be blessed with exceeding wisdom.  Later, when he wrote the Book of Proverbs, he recommended to his own children and to anyone who would later read these works to ask God for wisdom.  Why?  Why didn’t Solomon choose riches or good health or long life?  Because getting wisdom is a first principle for getting all the other desires of your heart.

What is wisdom?  Wisdom is not just knowledge.  Wisdom is the correct application of knowledge – to your personal benefit and that of everyone around you.

Wisdom is also insight, or the ability to discern when someone you are dealing with (e.g.: a salesman in a store, or a person who sends you a credit card application in the mail or a person who calls you on the phone trying to get you give out your personal information) intends it for your good or for your harm.

Wisdom will help you to order your steps when you have to multitask: when you have to finish that lab report and write that term paper, and study for your chem exam, all due on Monday, knowing you have to work twelve hours over the weekend, but you promised that beautiful girl down the hall you’d take her out for pizza on Saturday.

Wisdom also is the foresight to recognize that single people who have sexual relations introduce all kinds of complicating factors into the relationship and into their future lives – factors that they’ll never be able to walk-back.

Wisdom is a check in your spirit that tells you when to walk away from a disagreement – before either of you say or do something you’ll regret.  The list goes on and on.  And it’s a tool God wants you to have and to use.

 Get a clear perspective of the problem – there’s always a solution

The pressure of financial problems is immense – and we need the tools to be able to see beyond and through the pressures.  Wisdom is just one of those tools.  There are so many more that can guide a follower of Christ through the challenges of life.  Two more are what are called revelation gifts of the Holy Spirit: the Word of Knowledge and the Word of Wisdom (different from natural wisdom.)  There are no shortcuts to learning of these spiritual tools – you have to read and study the Bible – but the task is made magnitudes easier if you associate yourself with a good Biblically-based local church.  Paul explained it well in his letter to his new young pastor, Timothy: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

 A personal tool

Let me share with each believer reading this blog a personal tool.  A friend of mine shared this with me a few months ago.  Mike went through the Bible and collected many of the promises God has made to His people regarding His desire that we find favor in everything we seek to accomplish and with regard to resolving every challenge we face in life.  He calls it a “Daily Favor Confession.”  There’s no magic in the words.  It’s simply our proclamation that we believe and trust God that He is going to fulfill every promise He has made on our behalf.  By speaking this confession at the start of your day, not only are you putting God first in your life, but you are also building self-confidence that will enable you to face your challenges head on, with the knowledge that the Lord is by your side guiding you.

 In the Name of Jesus, I decree from this moment forward, to see myself the way God sees me.  I am highly favored of the Lord.  I am crowned with glory and honor.  I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.  I am reigning as a king in life through the one man Jesus Christ the Messiah.

In Jesus’ Name, I declare by faith that I walk in divine favor.  I have preferential treatment, supernatural increase, restoration, prominence, petitions granted, laws changed, policies and rules changed and battles won which I do not have to fight, all because of the blessing and favor of God in my life.

In Jesus’ Name, every morning when I rise, I will speak and expect divine favor to go before me and surround me as with a shield, with goodwill and pleasures forevermore.  Doors are now open for me that men have said are impossible to open.  No obstacle can stop me, and no hindrance can delay me.

In Jesus’ Name, I am honored by my Father, as I receive genuine favor that comes directly from God.  I am special to Him.  I am the object of His affection.  I am the apple of His eye.  I am blessed and highly favored of the Lord, in Jesus’ Name.  Amen!