Author Archives: Steve

Conversion Experience? Converting from What?

An interesting point was raised on a private Facebook forum I’m part of. It regards the Christian term “conversion experience.”

For example, I point to my conversion experience as occurring at age 9 at Rhodes Grove Camp in Pennsylvania. However, what was I converting from? I was raised in a strong Christian home, had always attended church, had always been taught the Bible, and had never strayed from that path.

My parents, essentially, had put me on a course which led directly (but not inevitably) to that camp altar in 1967. I didn’t convert “from” anything. It’s not like I was a Hindu or atheist. I was just accepting for myself what I’d been raised with.

I had never thought of this before, and have no replacement lingo to suggest.

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The President’s Prayer Breakfast Speech

After getting home, I read the transcript of President Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. It’s really, really good. He made very strong statements about ISIS, and superb statements about the approach Christians should take. I’m proud to see such words come from my president.

I point this out because, on the way home, I listened to The Five on FoxNews. They used one sound bite in which President Obama used the Crusades to illustrate a theological point about the sin nature. They totally didn’t get it. Clearly, none of them are versed in basic Christianity, else they would have understood what the President was saying. Instead, they treated it as a political speech, and took this soundbite as condemnation of Christianity (which it wasn’t at all). It’s just dishonest, and I feel compelled to say something. Because all night long, the other FoxNews shows are going to be saying the same nonsense, and many of you will be listening. You may assume FoxNews is giving you an accurate report on the speech, when in fact they are giving you a very intentional hack job. It’s what they do.

As a Christian interested in the truth, I read the entire transcript. I often do that with speeches which pundits on either side are criticizing. I want to see the entire speech, with everything in context. In this case, I wanted to read what President REALLY said–not what the FNC pundits tell me he said.

Here is an early part of his speech, in which he set up his theme.

Part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.

As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another — to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife. We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done. We see faith driving us to do right.

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

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Second Thoughts About That Teacher in 1973

We moved to California at the beginning of my junior year of high school. I played basketball that year at Tulare Union High School. Practice went until about 6:30. Since we lived 15 miles away and I had no car, I usually walked a couple blocks to the bookstore on Tulare’s main street and waited for one of my parents to pick me up.

As I stood there browsing through magazines, a short guy with stringy hair wearing gym trunks, a tank top, and flip-flops came and stood besideme. In a whisper, he asked me if I wanted him to perform a certain sex act on me. Being a naive preacher’s kid, I was totally flummoxed, but I managed to mutter a “No.” (Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what he was asking, but I knew it was bad.) He then gently placed his hand on my thigh. I batted his hand away and quickly exited the bookstore, my heart racing.

The next day, I saw him at school for the first time. He was a teacher. Another time, I entered a restroom and looked down the long line of urinals. There he was, along with a very strange student, standing side-by-side at neighboring urinals. Gross. I immediately turned around and left.

That was 1973. I never told anybody about the guy. The idea was unthinkable at that point in my life. Nobody talked back then about reporting things like this. I was new to the school, and couldn’t imagine telling anyone what the guy had said to me. I saw no upside. I didn’t even warn my younger brothers about the pervert (both graduated from that school).

The experience had no lasting affect on me. It left no residue whatsoever (please don’t play amateur psychologist and imagine affects buried so deep that I’m not even aware of them). It was just something that happened, and that I kept to myself. I almost never think about it.

But yesterday I came across an article about a predatory teacher whose signature move was to put his hand on a girl’s knee. So it reminded me of him. Curious, I Googled his name. It turned up a few times. One article identified him as a retired teacher from Tulare Union High School, with a $30,000 pension. So it sounds like he taught at that school for another 30 years and never got caught.

I should probably have done something, but I’m not sure what. Even now.

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The Muslim Name Game

For a while now on Facebook, Christians have felt it vitally important to convince people that Islam is a “Religion of Violence.” When they hear someone say Islam is a Religion of Peace, they go bonkers: THIS MUST BE REFUTED. So they regularly post stories about the many atrocities currently being committed in the name of Islam. Stories we’re all totally aware of. Duh. But they feel it’s vitally important that everyone acknowledge, “Islam is a terrible, horrible, very bad religion.”

Which raises the question: Why are you so passionate about this?

Such arguments go back and forth on Facebook. Someone puts out further obvious evidence of Muslim terrorists committing atrocities. Then people counter with stories from Christianity’s history. The Crusades get mentioned, the Inquisition, the Catholic-complicit genocide and enslavement of native South Americans, the KKK, etc. Round and round it goes. We have people who suddenly declare themselves as experts on the Koran, and who can PROVE that Islam is all about killing infidels.

I’m SO weary of it. Why must a religion of a billion people, most of whom live peaceably amidst practically every nation on the planet, be denounced as a Religion of Violence? Why, my Facebook friends, do you consider this so vitally important?

We all see what’s being done in the name of Islam. It’s horrible. Should we throw that at our Muslim neighbors, coworkers, and others living in our communities: “You realize you belong to a Religion of Violence. Cutting off people’s heads is what your religion is all about.” Would that be helpful?

Should the United Brethren denomination, perhaps, make some official statement about how evil Islam is? “Whereby Muslims did such and such, we hereby declare….”

In Sierra Leone, our church leaders work harmoniously with Muslim leaders. A few months ago we started a school in a predominantly Sunni town, and they welcome us. In Turkey, the organization we work with has been offered property–by Islamic government officials–in which to start a Christian church. Would it be productive if they knew we view them as a Religion of Violence?

I just don’t get it, friends.

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Bush and Nixon – The Winning Combo

This morning Joe Scarborough said that since 1932, no Republican has been elected president without a Bush or Nixon on the ticket (as either president or VP). I mentally traced it back; it’s true. Nixon was there for 4 elections, a Bush for 5 elections. Fascinating.

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The Big Shiny Pipe

I’ve been reading about how a foreign company is using “eminent domain”–basically, condemning good American farmland–so they can build a Big Shiny Pipe. We’re talking about TransCanada, which will build the Keystone Pipeline.

To secure land for their Big Shiny Pipe, they’ve been very aggressive with US farmers, threatening to take them to court and sue for eminent domain if they don’t take TransCanada’s offer. They’ve filed scores of eminent domain lawsuits against the minority of American ranchers who have stood firm, who want to keep the family land they’ve owned for decades.

So, productive land that has provided American jobs for a hundred years, and could continue doing so for a hundred years, will be taken out of production as we employ a few thousand people for two years to build a Big Shiny Pipe.

Is that right?

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Murphy Down Under


I began the day by stepping, barefooted, into soft cat poo placed strategically just outside our bedroom door. It was no doubt Murphy, though I couldn’t prove it in a court of law, especially now that I have decontaminated the crime scene (and my foot). Our long-haired Murphy seems to have difficulty cleaning his nether regions. Even my low-powered olfactory system goes on alert when he enters the room.

So, I did a relevant Google search, and came up with numerous forums in which people discuss this malady, which appears to be quite common. I learned a great deal, including the usage of technical terms like “crusties” and “dingleberries.” People offered a variety of solutions, which included using such items as baby wipes, rounded scissors, Vaseline (you heard me), high-protein food, and fine-mist spray bottles. One person suggested, “Fire–it’s the only solution.”

Stinky Boy, sensing that evil machinations were afoot regarding his tender parts, decided to jump on me and play Lovable Lap Kitty. After cleaning himself everywhere but “down there,” he went to sleep for 30 minutes, sprawled open-faced. I can’t resist lovable, regardless of the smell. However, this afternoon I plan to run my recliner through the car wash.

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“Unbroken” Doesn’t Deserve Petty Christian Sniping


This afternoon, Pam and I saw “Unbroken.” We loved it. And we were impressed, and grateful, for the great extent to which faith was woven throughout the movie. In fact, faith plays far more of a role in the movie than it does in the book, at least over the same period of time which the book covers (ending with Zamperini’s return from the war).

Across the internet, Christians have been griping for weeks (even before seeing the movie) about how the movie doesn’t include Zamperini’s conversion at a Billy Graham crusade years after the war. They cite it as further proof of Hollywood’s anti-Christian bent. I had read some of that spiritual grumbling (there’s a good “b” word which would apply, IMHO). The fact is, though God’s sovereignty was undoubtedly involved in getting Zamperini through the war, his survival had nothing to do with his personal faith–because there was NO personal faith. He was not a religious guy. Far from it. It was largely his own grit and toughness that got him through.

To include the Billy Graham conversion, the movie would have had to continue his life after the war–his marriage, his descent into alcoholism, his consuming hatred, the near destruction of his marriage. That would have been a whole different movie…and a very long one. Angelina Jolie, as director, had 2.5 hours to work with, and even then, she left out a lot of great stuff from the war. If you want the whole story, read the book.

The movie tells the heart of Zamperini’s story–what he endured during WW2–and it ended where it needed to end. And it ended on a triumphant note. But Angelina Jolie, as director, chose to include notes about what followed in Zamperini’s life, especially pertaining to his faith. I thought that was the perfect way to do it. Let’s applaud her for that, not criticize her. Zamperini himself, having seen the movie before his death, said he thought the movie did a good job of not forcing religion down people’s throats.

Come on, fellow Christians. We constantly moan and groan about how society is out to get us. We nurse a persecution complex even though we live in a country more dominated by Christianity than any other country on the planet. When Hollywood puts out a movie which does make serious nods to Christian faith, but we still whine, it just makes us look like idiots. Like people who can never be satisfied. And I guess, actually, that’s what we are. We refuse be satisfied, and we’re very reluctant to praise others for making room for our faith…as this movie does.

Nobody, after hearing our petty bellyaching, decides, “You know, I’d like to be a Christian, too.”

I LOVED “Unbroken,” and I thank Angelia Jolie, Universal, Legendary Pictures, and everyone else involved with bringing this story to the big screen.

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Joseph and the Most Incredibly Perfect Kid

That’s my son, Jesus, out there shooting baskets in the driveway. Good, isn’t he? He’s got a sweet jumpshot.

Actually, Jesus isn’t really my son, but–well, it’s hard to explain. Mary’s the mother, but I’m not the father, and neither is anyone else.

Sounds crazy, huh? That’s what most people say. Can’t say I blame them.

Jesus–he’s a fine kid. Always has been. Does his chores without being told a second time, keeps a clean room, never picks on his younger brothers, and gets superb grades in school. He volunteers to wipe dishes and hoe weeds from the garden. Sometimes I catch him out in my shop sweeping up sawdust.

Jesus never complains about going to church. And you may find this hard to believe, but he hates watching TV. Not even cartoons. He’d rather be outside taking a walk, or maybe memorizing Bible verses (he learned to read at age two!).

I know why he’s such a perfect child. God told me in a dream before Jesus was born. You see, Jesus is the Mes–

Oh, forget it. You wouldn’t believe me.

Then again, maybe you will. It’s worth a try.

I had a crush on Mary ever since kindergarten, though she didn’t pay much attention to me at the time. In high school she was Homecoming Queen, a cheerleader, and class president–with lots of guys chasing her. Me–I was just ordinary Joseph.

Normally, a guy like me wouldn’t stand a chance for someone like Mary. But Mary wasn’t like most popular girls. She didn’t party, never went to dances, and turned down tons of dates with guys she wasn’t sure about morally.

And that’s where I shined. We shared a deep commitment to God, and were leaders in our church youth group. We began talking to each other about our spiritual lives, and that developed into a dating relationship. Then we got engaged, and set the wedding for six months away.

That’s when I had this dream. There was this angel in the dream. “Joseph,” he told me, “Mary is going to give birth to a son.”

“Great!” I answered. I don’t normally have conversations in my dreams, but this time I did.

“That’s the good news,” the angel continued. “The bad news is, she’s pregnant right now.”

“W-w-w-what?” We had kept our relationship pure.

“You heard me, but don’t be worried,” the angel said. “Go ahead with the wedding, because the child is conceived of the Holy Spirit.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll find out. Trust me. Everything will be fine. You don’t even have to pick out a name. When your son is born, call him Jesus.”

I woke up in a cold sweat, grateful that it was just a dream. But a couple days later, Mary reluctantly–kind of scared out of her mind, to tell you the truth–broke the news to me:

“Joseph, I’m pregnant.”

It was true after all.

An angel had visited her, too, but in person–no dream. The angel told her the same story, but she didn’t want to mention it to me until she was sure. Well, now she was sure. And within a couple months, the whole town knew it. You can’t hide the obvious.

This, as you can imagine, created quite a scandal. Our parents stood behind us, but hardly anyone else did. Not that I blame them. I sure wouldn’t believe a guy in my situation who said, “We’re clean. God caused the pregnancy.”

I thought about breaking the engagement, but I couldn’t. Mary and I were in this thing together.

Those were difficult months, with people constantly gossiping behind our backs. But we got through it. After the wedding (hardly anyone came), we settled down to married life. Us and Jesus.

I love my son–I really do. He’s not my flesh-and-blood, and things still don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But I love him. We do a lot of things together–ride bikes, go camping, play table games. We’re very close. I’m trying to be a decent Dad.

Not that Jesus doesn’t have problems. Many people consider him an illegitimate child, and being sensitive, Jesus picks up on their negative vibes. He’s got my flair for carpentry, but he sometimes hammers his thumb just like everyone else. Like other kids, he stubs toes, dislikes lima beans (though he doesn’t complain), and contends daily with some neighborhood bullies (he never fights back–just tries to avoid them). So he’s kind of an ordinary kid.

But he’s not really ordinary. Great things await him in the years ahead. I’m not sure just what, but I know I’ll be amazed if I’m still around.

At the same time, I’m a bit worried. I suspect some rough times lie ahead for him. I’ve felt that for years. So has Mary.

But that’s far down the road. Right now, Jesus is a happy kid, and I’m a happy father. He’s still outside, practicing free throws right now, I see. Once, he sunk ten in a row. Looks like he’s worked up a pretty good sweat.

When he gets tired and comes inside, Mary will have some lemonade waiting for him. He’ll take a shower, and then we’ll all settle in for a quiet evening in the living room–one big happy family. Maybe I’ll challenge him to some Nintendo.

He always wins.

(I wrote this sometime in the 1980s for The United Brethren magazine.)

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If God Used Phone Triage Methods

“Dear God….”

Welcome to heaven’s reception desk. Your prayer is important to us. For requests, press 1. For thanksgiving, press 2. For adoration, press 3. For all other prayers, press 4. To hear these options again, press 9.

Press 1.

Your prayer request is important to us. Press 1 if your request relates to physical problems. Press 2 if it relates to money. Press 3 if it relates to family and friends. For all other requests, press 4.

Press 1.

Your physical needs are important to us. If this is a life-threatening situation, press 1. If not life-threatening, press 2. To return to the main menu, press 9.

Press 2.

We are currently experiencing a backlog of requests for physical problems. An angel will be available to help you in approximately [difference voice] 13 [original voice] minutes.

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