Category Archives: Religion

Jesus as a Parable

Jesus told parables. Ever think of Jesus BEING a parable?

Back in the 70s, my parents had a filmstrip series called “Parables from Nature.” A record album played while you manually advanced the filmstrip. I’ve always liked how the series defined a parable: “An earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”

James Martin would have liked that definition. I’m currently reading his chapter on parables in “Jesus: a Pilgrimage.” He said Jesus was basically saying, “You want to know what the Kingdom of God is like? Let me tell you a story.”

Then he says this: “Jesus is the parable of God.” God is saying, “You want to understand what I’m like? Let me BE a parable for you.” An earthly story with a heavenly meaning.

I’ve heard this concept in various ways over the years. But I’ve never heard Jesus described as a living parable. It’s a new idea to me, and I like it.

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The Crusades: For I’m in the Lord’s Army

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I learned something about the Crusades that made me laugh, if it’s permissible to laugh about something involving the Crusades.

Since so many folks currently claim to be experts on the Crusades, and I skeptically figure “claim” is the operative word, I decided to educate myself. I found a short book (135 pages) by a real authority on the Crusades, Jonathan Riley-Smith, “The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam.” There are massive, multi-volume histories of the Crusades, but being a simple person, I wanted something short and sweet.

Sure enough, I’m learning, too many people are full of hooey when talking about the Crusades. It’s all very complicated and nuanced.

But I digress from the aforementioned laughing point. It regards how the Catholic Church recruited people for the various Crusades. This is back in the 1100s and 1200s, but it sounds startlingly akin to 20th century evangelistic revivals and missionary appeals.

Church leaders, accompanied by Crusade vets, would travel from town to town holding inspirational recruiting services. Many of these places had never been visited by Cardinals, Bishops, and war heroes, so they were star-struck.

They would emphasize the penitential aspect of the Crusades–forsaking everything, putting your life on the line to engage in this holy pilgrimage to liberate the Holy Places from the Muslims. Do you want to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Christ? Then join our holy Crusade. Demonstrate your unreserved love for God, and watch God return the favor.

They held services which, intentionally, tugged mightily at heartstrings. They would read a letter from the Pope himself. Crusaders would testify to the holiness of the mission and how it had deepened their devotion for God.

Then they would invite men to come forward to dedicate themselves to the upcoming Crusade. It was like an altar call. Peasants, nobles–anyone yearning for a deeper relationship with God, and wanting to be absolved of their sins and get a fresh start–would come to the front and be embraced by church leaders. Probably a few psychopaths, too. A cloth cross was pinned to their clothing; they were to wear it until they returned home, their vow fulfilled.

It was not unlike a challenge to missionary service, inviting someone to leave everything behind to serve God in a foreign land–and perhaps die there.

Here’s the part that made me chuckle. When the invitation was given, the standard order of service required a hymn being sung underneath, probably by a choir. They found that very effective in pulling on emotions. It was not “Just As I Am” or “I Surrender All,” but probably close. Maybe some combination of “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.” In Latin.

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. Billy Sunday was just ripping off the Crusades.

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Do Miracles Require a Charlton Heston Voice?

To learn the do’s and don’ts of healing, you need to watch TV faith-healers in action. Healing someone requires strutting around a stage in front of a lot of people. Healing requires using a deep, authoritative voice to say, “Be healed!” Healing requires knocking somebody in the head so they topple over. Just ask Benny Hinn.

James Martin, in “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” suggests a different approach. He notes that Jesus described himself as “gentle and humble in heart.” With that image in mind, he mentions the demon-possessed man in Mark 1 whom Jesus healed in the temple at Capernaum. We sort of imagine Jesus silencing the demon by shouting loudly in a Charlton Heston voice. But Martin writes: “Isn’t it possible that when Jesus saw the terrible force that consumed the man, he first paused in silent pity, as any compassionate person would do when faced with such torment? Maybe Jesus simply turned to the man and said quietly, ‘Come out of him.'”

There’s nothing magical about tone of voice when it comes to God doing a miracle. At the Bridge at Khazad-dum, Gandalf yelled at the balrog, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS.” If that were Jesus, he could have just wagged his finger and mumbled, “That’s far enough.” No booming voice required.

Now, John says that when he raised Lazurus from the dead, Jesus “called out in a loud voice.” But he didn’t need to. He could have walked up to the tomb, gently rested his cheek against the stone, and whispered, “Lazarus, you can come out now.” And it would have happened. Amazing to think about.

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The Anonymous Missionaries

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Earlier this week, a very impressive young couple visited the UB National Office in Huntington, Ind. They are preparing for missionary service in an “undisclosed” (as we say) country on the other side of the world, where they will train church leaders to be more effective in their work. The husband is the son of a former United Brethren pastor. As a staff, we laid hands on them and prayed for them.

As the denominational communications director, I would love to tell our constituency more about this couple–what they will be doing and where. But for security reasons, they don’t want their names or photos appearing anywhere on the internet–websites, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Such is the case with a growing number of United Brethren missionaries who serve in “restricted access” countries. Some of the most exciting stories I hear come from these missionaries…but frustratingly, I can’t report on them. The most I can do is say, these people are out there, they are dedicated, they serve in potentially hostile situations, and they could use your prayers. God knows who they are.

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Ann Coulter’s Sad View of Christian Missionaries

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I just came across some of the most putrid writing I’ve ever seen, from a person adored by many Christians and who is regularly allowed to spill her sludge on FoxNews. It’s Ann Coulter, writing about Dr. Ken Brantley, the Samaritan’s Purse doctor who contracted Ebola while ministering to Ebola patients in Liberia. Her column is titled, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to ‘Idiotic.'”

Coulter clearly knows nothing about the Great Commission, about the call to missions, about sacrificing for Christ, about serving “the least of these.” Her disgusting column attacks Dr. Brantley for, basically, grandstanding while America burns.

“Why did Dr. Brantley have to go to Africa?…Can’t anyone serve Christ in America anymore?…If Dr. Brantley had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia….If he had provided health care for the uninsured editors, writers, videographers and pundits in Gotham and managed to open one set of eyes, he would have done more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World….

“Serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been ‘heroic.’ We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantley’s ‘unusual drive to help the less fortunate’ or his membership in the ‘Gold Humanism Honor Society.’ Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away — that’s the ticket….There may be no reason for panic about the Ebola doctor, but there is reason for annoyance at Christian narcissism.”

Christian narcissists? Is that her view of missionaries? Of their motivations?

My heroes have always been missionaries. I’ve known and written about two of our own United Brethren missionaries who were subjects of emergency evacuation from West Africa, and about another who died there. Which is why I take this so personally and react so strongly.

Jesus, who called Dr. Brantley to serve Him in Africa, has a whole different view…a view about which Ann Coulter is clueless.

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Why Youth Stay with the Church

I get weary with Christian articles crafted from a negative viewpoint: “How to Turn Off People to the Gospel,” or “Five Reasons Why People Leave the Church.” So it was refreshing to see this title: “3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church.” That’s an article I wanted to read. Here are the three points:

1. They are Converted. They aren’t just “good kids,” but are truly new creations in Christ. “It is converted students who go on to love Jesus and serve the church.”

2. They have been equipped, not entertained. “After conversion, it is our Christ-given duty to help fan into flame a faith that serves, leads, teaches, and grows. If our students leave high school without Bible-reading habits, Bible-study skills, and strong examples of discipleship and prayer, we have lost them.”

3. Their parents preached the gospel to them. In general, kids from Christian homes stay with the church. Just a fact. Obviously, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work with kids from nonChristian homes. But it’s tougher.

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Christians Incognito

One of the things which drives me nuts, as our denomination’s communications director, is that I can’t talk about some of our most exciting work in other countries. If I did, I could cause serious problems for Christians serving there.

We have a number of missionaries serving in “undisclosed” countries–places where “missionaries” aren’t supposed to be. I hear about their ministry, and our constituents would love to know about it. But I can’t communicate what these folks are doing–especially not on the internet.

Every Thursday, we have devotions in our office. Today, we had special prayer for one of these persons. We had solicited prayer requests in advance for this person. But the responses were phrased as “please be thinking about….” That meant “please be praying about….,” but this person didn’t want to use the word “prayer” in an email, which the government might intercept.

Just shows some of the sensitivities Christians deal with around the world–places where real religious persecution occurs.

 

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Colbert Can Talk Intelligently about Faith

I’ve always been intrigued by Stephen Colbert’s knowledge of Christianity. He gives glimpses of this between the punch lines, and he clearly knows how to defend biblical Christianity.

Yesterday the online Christian magazine, Relevant, published a piece called “Six Times Stephen Colbert Got Serious about Faith.” It’s quite revealing.

Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly have been criticizing CBS’s decision to replace David Letterman with Colbert. “An “ideological fanatic,” says O’Reilly. “CBS has just declared are on the heartland of America,” declared Rush Limbaugh, describing Colbert’s hiring as an open “assault on traditional American values” (Rush and Bill, of course, are both known for their deep commitment to marriage).

Meanwhile, Colbert remains married to one woman, is a devout Catholic, teaches Sunday school, and can clearly defend his faith (as he showed this past week with liberal theologian Bart Ehrman). And have either O’Reilly or Limbaugh been to Iraq or Afghanistan to spend time with the troops? Colbert has.

But just because Colbert (like me) holds some views that fall in the “Democratic” camp–views on justice, the poor, immigrants, etc.–he gets lambasted as somehow morally corrupt by hypocrites like Limbaugh and O’Reilly.

I’m not aware of any other TV personality who can talk about my faith as well as Stephen Colbert can, even when cloaked in satire. So yeah, this guy in the heartland of America will watch him.

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Melting Pot America

Interesting: 10% of US heterosexual marriages are between persons of different ethnicities. That’s an increase of 28% since 2000. It’s a positive thing in America to see the melting-pot in action.

Now if only our churches could grab onto the melting pot concept. It’s been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated period of the week. Blended marriages, I guess, is one way to help correct that.

At Anchor this week, in addition to all the Caucasians, we had black, hispanic, and Indian persons in the pews. And a sprinkling of Canadians.

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“Christmas” is for People Not Ashamed of Jesus

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Fellow Christ-followers, we have entered that time of year when we ramp up our evangelistic efforts, shining our light for nonChristians to see. Here are some basic evangelistic techniques to apply during the next six weeks.

  • Insist that December belongs exclusively to Christianity, and that no other faiths have holidays during December.
  • Denounce the use of “Happy holidays” wherever it occurs.
  • Even references to “the holidays” should be denounced. There is only one holiday during December (unless you’re a True Patriot who counts Pearl Harbor Day).
  • Criticize any pronouncements from business or government entities that do not specifically mention Christmas. We can’t tolerate such anti-Christian behavior.
  • Repost lots of Facebook graphics, designed by people you don’t know, which sanctimoniously proclaim your courageous devotion to the term “Christmas.”
  • Even though American society has pretty much extended the Christmas season to the beginning of November, insist that there is a societal War on Christmas.

In this way, a watching world will see our zeal and say, “That is so cool! I want to be a Christian too!”

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