Monday, May 15, 2017

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Friday, April 8, 2016

My Attempt at Fake Christian News

The other day, a friend from my office passed along a link to an article from The Babylon Bee, a satire Christian news site in the vein of The Onion. I thought the fake news story he sent me was funny, and I also thought, I can do that! I thought it might be fun to try my hand at something I don't get to do every day. So I told my coworker, "Challenge accepted," and sat down to write my own fake news story from the world of evangelical faith. What follows is my submission:


Workday Volunteer Inadvertently Trims Church’s Hedge of Protection

ATHENS, GA—George Steinmann, a regular attender at Second Baptist Church, accidentally trimmed the church’s hedge of protection Saturday while serving as a spring cleanup volunteer. “I didn’t realize it was a special hedge,” said Steinmann, 54. “It looked like all the others.” 

The hedge in question, an overgrown Cherry Laurel, had been painstakingly cultivated my members of Second Baptist through years of prayer. Each time someone asked the Lord to provide a hedge of protection, it is believed new leaves sprouted.

“I just don’t feel as safe now. With the rise of ISIS and all the violence in the world, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” said long-time member Doris Bagley, while also noting that the bush is now uneven. 

When asked if this incident would deter the church from holding future cleanup days, senior pastor David Johnson said, “That’s unlikely. This was clearly a mistake, and with new prayers for protection being prayed all the time, I’m confident the hedge will grow back soon.” He then added, “In the meantime, church members are being asked to take whatever precautions are necessary to guard their families.” 

Update: Next Saturday’s volunteer cleanup day will coincide with the recently announced Onward Christian Soldier Gun Show.


So if you haven't figured it out, this piece was not accepted by The Babylon Bee. Yesterday, two days after I sent my article, they published an eerily similar one on the same topic. (Click here to read it.) I'll let you decide which one is better. As for me, I did what I tell my 21-month old son to do when he slips and falls: I tried again. I'll keep you posted. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tashlan at Christmas

"Listen, Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That's why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash."
—Shift the Ape, The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

It's fitting that these words were spoken outside of a stable, the stage on which Shift the Ape hoisted the greatest deception upon the creatures of Narnia in their history. A stable is also the place where, in our world, tradition tells us the Son of God was born and placed in a manger. We celebrate His birth each year at Christmastime, somewhat arbitrarily on December 25. Since every day of the year holds within its hours and minutes reasons for rejoicing over the incarnation, December 25 stands not as the day we (probably) get Christ's birthday wrong, but as the one day we get our celebrations right—or at least the day on which we make a more concerted effort to get them right.

What matters at Christmas is not the day we've chosen to set aside. It's the Savior we celebrate. This year, the greatest attacks on the manger has not come from Hollywood or Starbucks' plain red cups. They've come from two unlikely sources: a tenured professor from Wheaton College, a lauded evangelical stronghold outside of Chicago, and Pope Francis.

Larycia Hawkins, a political science prof at Billy Graham's alma mater caused quite a stir when she announced her decision to wear a hijab in a show of solidarity with Muslims. She said, "They, like me, a Christian, are people of the book." But that wasn't what got her in trouble with her employer. It's what she said next: "And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God."

And that wasn't the only controversial thing the Vatican had to say recently. In a statement, the Catholic Church announced, "Although Jews cannot believe in Jesus Christ as the universal redeemer, they have a part in salvation, because the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." In other words, Jewish people do not need Jesus to be saved.

In both of these cases, the baby in the manger is being ignored, for it is Christmas that destroys these notions. We can confidently say that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God for many reasons, but there is one that supersedes them all: Jesus. Although Muslims pay respects to the Jesus of their traditions, it is not the Jesus of the Bible—the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, and the King of Kings. I'm sorry, Dr. Hawkins, but while Muslims and Christians may both be people of a book, it is not the same book.

When it coms to Jews, we do have a book in common: the Old Testament. But once again the manger demolishes any notion that Jesus is not necessary for salvation. At every stage of His earthly life, Jesus' presence demanded a response. Every person who saw Him had to choose: Is He a peasant baby whose parents weren't married when He was conceived or is He God in the flesh? Is He a carpenter-turned-itinerant-miracle-worker or the long awaited Messiah? Is He a criminal on a cross or the Lamb of God, paying for the sins of the world? Jesus Himself said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24 ESV). And the apostle Paul wrote, "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call upon him" (Romans 10:12).

When we say that Muslims worship the same God that Christians do or that Jews are automatically saved on account of their Jewishness, we rob both groups of Jesus. He is the only hope for the world—for Jew, Christian or Muslim. If we truly want to find something that really unites the world, let's dispense with this nonsense of saying we all really believe the same things or that it doesn't matter what we put our faith in after all. We already have something in common with the power to bring us together: We all need Jesus. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

What the Bible Says About Islam

"Let God be true, and every human being a liar," the apostle Paul wrote (Romans 3:4 NIV). This is the call of the Christian life—to believe God even when it doesn't make sense, when doing so is tremendously difficult, and when everyone else is heading in the other direction. But sometimes believing God is not just about doing the right thing (although it's always at least that). Sometimes it's about believing His Word and allowing it to shape your view of the world.

This weekend, ISIS attacked the city of Paris, killing 129 (at current count), injuring hundreds more, and terrorizing peace-loving people around the world. Paris is not alone. It seems there is a terror attack somewhere in the world every few days.

What is happening here? What is causing this evil? To listen to our leaders, jihad is caused by global warming, the lack of good jobs in the Middle East, the presence of U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia, hatred of our freedom here in the West, cartoons of Mohammed, the salaciousness of Hollywood, and/or our alliance with Israel. Aside from the global warming—that one's just silly—there may be a sliver of truth to the others, but it's like saying traffic is caused by your next-door neighbor going to work. He may be contributing to the problem, but you're missing the bigger picture. 

Jihad is a foundational principle of Islam. Men and women commit acts of terror because they believe their holy book, the Quran, instructs them to do so. While most Muslims are not terrorists, terrorism is still one of the many fruits of Islam. 

But that's still not our answer. Why would someone willingly choose to strap a bomb to their chest and detonate it in a crowded theater? What would make someone kill so indiscriminately? Why would someone choose a path that is clearly so dark and twisted? The Bible tells us that false gods are neither imaginary nor harmless; they are, in fact, demons. Paul, writing to Corinthians about eating food sacrificed to idols, makes this clear: "The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons" (1 Corinthians 10:20).

I know—it's completely offensive to say that someone of another religion is worshipping a demon. But that's what the Bible says.

Consider the alternative: Is it any less offensive to say that millions of people worldwide are worshipping thin air? That's our only other option if we are to affirm Scripture's teaching that there is but one God (Psalm 86:10). And let's give folks some credit. Why would people continue to worship a false god if that god never showed up? There are other spiritual forces at work in our world—and when people call, those forces sometimes answer. Remember when the Lord turned the Nile into blood in Exodus? "The magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts" (Exodus 7:22 ESV).

There is nothing in my worldview that insists Mohammed didn't have an experience with someone claiming to be the angel Gabriel. And I have no reason to believe that Mohammed's own imagination came up with the violent commandments of the Quran on its own.

There are some who claim that Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God, but that cannot be. The Q'uran preaches an ethic that is wildly opposed to the teachings of the Old Testament, where Yahweh revealed Himself to His people Israel. And though Jesus makes the goodness of God even more explicit in the New Testament, the Quran rejects "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6) in favor of Sharia (which incidentally means "way"), a lie, and death for everyone who will not surrender to Allah. There is no way to reconcile Islam with the Judeo-Christian tradition, so let's stop trying.

When dealing with a demon-inspired enemy, we must remember three things: First, this is evil, evil, evil. There is no way to reason with, appease, or outlast such a force. We must not fool ourselves into thinking Islamic radicals will somehow get tired of jihad. They won't, because the real enemy underneath wants to destroy everything good, true, and beautiful. We need World War II-type heroes. We need to be men and women who understand this is an existential threat. And we need to be unrelenting in our resolve.

Second, we can never forget that this is a spiritual enemy. While those killed and enslaved by ISIS, Al Qaeda and dozens of other terrorist organizations are the victims, those who do the killing are also victims. They have been ensnared by a demon—and unless they take hold of Christ, they will suffer in eternity for their crimes. The way to fight a spiritual battle is to draw closer to God, to pray for revival, and to never grow weary in doing good. No bomb alone can destroy this evil.

Finally, we must understand the root problem is Islam itself and not simply the tactic of terrorism. Islamic beliefs, including Sharia law, enslave men and women in shackles to a demon. This is where we must be clear-headed and hold fast to what the Bible teaches. Our task is nothing less than to oppose Islam and those who adhere to its teachings, all the while loving those very same people and praying that Jesus would give them new life. If we really understand the danger of Islam and the demon who inspires it, we cannot continue to pretend that love means building mosques, holding inter-faith services, and making accommodations for the worship of Allah.

God our Creator—yours, mine, and theirs—wants men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation to discover freedom in Him. Islam's greatest goal is to stop such relationships. In fact, Allah wants nothing less than to destroy the people Jesus died for.

But because Jesus died, this too is a battle that has already been won. Terrorism and endless wars are not the end of the story. Those who today worship a demon will bend low before Jesus, side by side with their Jewish brothers. God promises:

In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Egypt will come into Assyria, and Assyria into Egypt, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance" (Isaiah 19:23-25).

I hope I get to see that day.

Monday, November 9, 2015

White Mocha Rage and Its Proponents

It seems outrage is fairly cheap these days. You've probably seen the reports: "Some Christians Are Extremely Unhappy About Starbucks' New Holiday Cups."


I find it hard to believe that any serious-minded follower of Jesus is upset that Starbucks, a decidedly left-leaning corporation, has removed stylized snowflakes and cartoon snowmen from their disposable cups—as if those things constituted a strong gospel message and souls were coming to faith in Christ at the bottom of an eggnog latté. Starbucks is hardly attacking Christmas. The cups are still red and green, the traditional colors of the holiday, and there still available only during the commercial Christmas season. 

Something doesn't smell right about these news stories. It seems there's much ado about nothing, which in and of itself would not be so unusual. Who are the Christians who want to step up the arms race in the war on Christmas? As far as I can tell, this whole thing started with a selfie video made by Joshua Feuerstein, a former pastor turned self-proclaimed "social media personality." Some apparently sketchy things in his personal theology and his approach aside, watch the video for yourself and decide if his outrage is not just an attempt to draw attention to himself, to make his video go viral. 

There are two stories here. One is that there are people out there taken in by this sort of thing, who would see the Starbucks red and green cup, and believe their love for Jesus is being ridiculed. It's not, so that's just sad. 

But the second story is bigger: There is power in the media inflating a story beyond all necessary proportions. Do you know why we're talking about this faux controversy? Because in just 48 hours, the media has fanned the flames, and the perception now exists that this is an actual issue in the evangelical church. It's not. Just stop it. The church may overreact at times, but we're really not doing so on this one. At least not the vast majority of us. 

The next time you're in Starbucks, don't tell the barista your name is "Merry Christmas" so he writes it on your cup. Just wish him a merry Christmas and pray that the Lord would open a way to serve him in the name of Christ so he'd know you mean it.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Chicken Who Crossed the Road

Did you know that Chick-fil-a has a secret recipe for a pork sandwich? It's true. Hidden in a vault at their corporate headquarters, the company has a contingency plan, should the world ever face a chicken shortage of cataclysmic proportions. Chick-fil-a's leadership recognizes that their real business is serving their customers good food in a warm, friendly environment. Chicken is what they're known for, but it's not essential to what they really hope to achieve in the marketplace. So if one day you find yourself ordering up a Deluxe Pork-fil-a sandwich with waffle fries you'll know why.

These days, it seems everything is negotiable at Chick-fil-a. Remember in 2012 when Dan Cathy, the president and COO of the company, said he was "guilty as charged" when it comes to supporting the traditional family? He said, 

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage." I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

He later said, on behalf of Chick-fil-a corporate,

We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. ... We intend to stay the course. .... We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.

Almost overnight, Chick-fil-a became a scourge to the politically correct left and those who support so-called gay marriage. Corporate partnerships with the Jim Henson Co. and Harper Collins Publishers dried up. The mayors of Boston and San Francisco publicly announced Chick-fil-a was not welcome in their cities. And Chicago made moves to block a second store from gracing the Windy City. But despite all this pressure, God seemed to be blessing Dan Cathy for standing by his biblical convictions. Chick-fil-a sales increased 12%, or 4.5 billion—that's billion with a b—in 2012.

But what a difference a few years makes! Today, Chick-fil-a is an official corporate sponsor of Level Ground, an LGBT film festival whose mission is to "create safe space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality through the arts." Seems a bit outside the "We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition. ... We intend to stay the course" mandate set by Dan Cathy. 

They say you are what you eat. I guess Dan Cathy eats a lot of his company's product. "I think the time of truths and principles are captured and codified in God's Word, and I'm just personally committed to that," Cathy said in a 2014 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The bottom line is we have a responsibility here to keep the whole of the organization in mind and it has to take precedence over the personal expression and opinion on social issues." Just two years after the controversy erupted and most of America stood by the company, making it even more profitable, Cathy changed his public statements. No longer is the Bible the final word. Now it's market share. 

If only there were a jackass to stop this chicken in his tracks.

No, I'm not making reference to Donald Trump, and my intention is not to be inflammatory. Dan Cathy is behaving like the biblical Balaam, and I pray that God brings him someone like the donkey in Balaam's story to get his attention and remind him of the truth.

Balaam, for all his faults, heard from God and knew exactly the right course of action to take when Balak, the king of Midian, came to him seeking a curse upon Israel. But Balaam would not go all in for the Lord. He continually entertained compromise. He took small steps toward disobedience, and eventually he found himself an enemy of God. You see, Balaam could not reconcile his calling from God with his desire to increase his personal bottom line. He sought compromise between the definitive word God had spoken and his love of money.

But in the middle of Balaam's ever-so-subtle rebellion, God opened the mouth of his donkey to confront Balaam in his sin. If a talking donkey couldn't get his attention and put him back on the right path, nothing would. In the end, Balaam chose his own destruction. He didn't directly disobey God—he never cursed Israel at the behest of Balak—but he did figure out a way to get some of Balak's money. He told the king how he could get Israel to bring down a curse upon themselves—by tempting them with sexual sin and idolatry (Numbers 31:16).

The Bible warns us about people who follow Balaam's lead: "They have followed the way of Balaam,  the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing ... For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved" (2 Peter 2:15, 17 ESV). The Holy Spirit, through the apostle Peter, is not mincing words. I believe Dan Cathy is a good man, but I believe he's making a grave mistake by compromising his beliefs to appease those who advocate a lifestyle that stands brazenly against the gospel. A few folks may feel better about themselves and about their favorite chicken sandwich, but Dan Cathy is headed down a dangerous path. My prayer is that you and me—and millions of believers across the country—might become the jackass he needs to hear from right now. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Why We Ought to Believe Every Word

Like children who have never missed a meal, who go to bed safe and warm each night, and who are surrounded by the loving reassurances of their parents, when things get tough, we can still have trouble believing that God really will provide for our needs. But here's the amazing thing—the Bible never says God will merely provide for our needs. It says, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9 MEV).

But let's take a step back. Before we approach those things that we can't even imagine, let's consider some of the things God's Word tells us plainly. When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He announced, in part, "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19 NASB). But do we really believe that? Sure, on some level, most of us would say yes. But then why do so many Christians feel captive, oppressed, or that the Lord is angry with them?

And what about what Jesus told His disciples, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12 ESV). Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, turned water into wine, and walked on water, among other things. But how many of us believe that we will do greater things than these?

I ask this not in a spirit of accusation or condemnation but instead recognize that if I'm pointing a finger, there are three pointing back at me. And I wonder if those who have been chastised for not believing the Bible—for not really believing what it says about homosexual practice, adultery, abortion, etc.—would pay attention to the prophetic voice of the church if we truly believed every word. I wonder if they would feel loved if we believed every word—really believed every word—that God has spoken. We would be people of shalom—people who know their Dad has everything taken care of, living as our Creator intended, free to love and not to worry.

Have we missed something? In our efforts to be relevant, accessible, and consumer-friendly, have we lost sight of what Abraham knew—what Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and every lover of God down through history has known? There can be no greater goal than to know God intimately, to experience more of Him with each passing day. In the early church, there was no shortage of persecution, no limit to the cost many believers paid for their faith, but men and women were drawn to Christ because they saw His Spirit alive and active in the church. These early Christians did the things Christ did—they healed the sick (Acts 3:1-10; 5:12-16), raised the dead (Acts 9:40; 20:7-12), and spoke words of prophecy (Acts 11:27-30; 19:6), among other miracles, signs, and wonders. And lest you think these experiences were limited to the apostles and their close friends, try to make sense of 1 Corinthians 12–14, which describes the gifts of average Gentile Christians.

The Bible is clear: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8 NIV). God has not changed. It is we who have moved, who have stepped out of sync with His Spirit.

But maybe this is our moment—our opportunity—to put aside everything else and seek His face. In setting aside our traditions, our denominations, our secondary doctrines, I don't mean we should toss those things in the trash. Rather, what if we just put them down for a divine moment in order to look to Him unhindered, that we might believe every word He has already spoken in the Bible and every word He wants to speak to our hearts? What if we became people who truly humbled ourselves and sought his face (2 Chronicles 7:14)?

What if the Christian life is not merely about sinning less but about loving God more? What if in our attempts to seek His kingdom—some through holiness, some through social justice, and others through evangelism—we've missed the forest for the trees? What if all those trees—good and right and proper as they are—will never bring the shalom we need?

What if seeking more of God is the way to seek His kingdom?