When White Guys with Guns Take Over Federal Property

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Some amusing comments being posted on Twitter about Ammon Bundy and his merry band of militia in Oregon.

  • Every successful revolution starts with the takeover of a closed visitor center with gift shop.
  • So just to be clear, these are the good guys with guns, right?
  • So a bunch of white guys are on Native American soil crying about wanting their land back from a tyrannical and oppressive system.
  • Occupying a backwoods federal building is a brilliant way to speak truth to…4 stoned hikers just looking to pee inside.
  • Wait, men are playing in a park with actual real guns?
  • In order to avoid potential bloodshed, authorities urge the militia members to remain white.
  • White men with guns stealing land? Never heard of such a thing.
  • So does this mean I’m allowed to grab a gun and “occupy” any federal building I want? God I love being white.
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Are all Evangelicals Caucasian? Sort of, According to Politicians.

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For me, “evangelical” is a theological term. Definitions vary in nuance, but usually involve belief in the authority of the Bible, a rebirth through faith in Christ, and evangelizing the world. Various statements of faith, such as the one from the National Association of Evangelicals, capsulize evangelical beliefs.

But for politicians and pollsters, “evangelical” is a sociological term. I only recently became aware of this (duh!). When pollsters (of either party) say “evangelical,” they mean “white, politically-conservative Christian.” When Republicans talk about courting their “evangelical base,” they are talking about white Christians. And as an NPR article points out, this emphasis on Republican evangelicals can make it seem that all evangelicals are white. Notice: when news reports mention evangelicals, they typically use a clip from a suburban megachurch.

For pollsters, it’s mostly about race, not theology There are millions of black evangelicals and Latino evangelicals. Down the road from Anchor is Zion Tabernacle, a wonderful black church. We’ve held joint services with them several times, and I’ve played keyboard with their worship team. Marvelous folks. In ways, more evangelical than we are.

But Republicans include Anchor, but not Zion Tabernacle, in their “evangelical base.” Nor do they include some of our own United Brethren churches that consist of immigrants from Jamaica, West Africa, Latin America, and Haiti.

I really dislike that politicians divide evangelicals. The people they teach you to disdain as “liberals” may have the exact same theological beliefs that you have. You may sit next to them in church. And you’ll worship God alongside them throughout eternity.

This distinction–theology vs. sociology–is a distinction I just recently became aware of, thanks to a couple articles–an excellent NPR article from mid-December, followed by a shorter piece by Jonathan Merritt (one of my favorite Christian writers) in The Atlantic. I recommend both.

Don’t let the political world tear the unity of the Body of Christ.

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My 30-Year Grudge Against Florida Football

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I was in Phoenix in 1986 when the Miami Hurricanes and Penn State arrived for the Fiesta Bowl, which would decide the national championship. My parents then pastored a United Brethren church in Fountain Hills, next door to the Fiesta Bowl, and I was “home” for Christmas. Both teams were undefeated, but Miami was the overwhelming favorite.

The classy Penn State players arrived wearing suits and ties. Meanwhile, Jimmy Johnson’s Hurricanes swaggered off the plane wearing combat fatigues. It struck me as tasteless, and totally turned me off.

What a joy to watch Penn State win 14-10. Miami got their comeuppance from a team with the most boring uniforms in college football. And 30 years later, I still desire comeuppance.

That 1986 Fiesta Bowl display forever soured me on all Florida college football. I never root for Florida, Florida State, or Miami. I put them all in the same box–arrogant, and in need up a good whupping. Not even Tim Tebow can redeem Floridian football in my mind.

I know it’s irrational, like saying all Muslims are terrorists. But that’s how my mind works. And please, at my advanced age of 59, don’t try to convince me otherwise.

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An Iraqi Martyr in Mosul

This year I’ve been reading the stories of many modern-day Christian martyrs. They greatly inspire me, and give me a different perspective on the fear-mongering which afflicts American society. In reality, we live in a country with amazing Christian freedom. We don’t understand what real persecution involves, and what it means to be obedient in the face of death. But many Christians around the world live with this constantly.

This morning I read the story of Shukri, an Iraqi Muslim from Fallujah–charismatic, witty, the type of person everybody likes and enjoys being around, who makes you laugh. The life of every party. He became a Christian, along with his family, through the witness of other Iraqi Christians. They, in turn, led many others to Christ.

Then they felt God definitely calling them to the ISIS stronghold of Mosul. In ancient times, Mosul was the city of Nineveh, where God called Jonah. They viewed themselves as following in Jonah’s path.

So the entire family moved to Mosul, and Shukri began distributing Bibles in a mosque. One morning, during his private time of worship, he sensed God telling him, “Today is the day you will see me.” He told his wife this before he left for the mosque. Sure enough, he was accosted on the street by a group of ISIS men, horribly tortured, and then killed.

But he was exactly where God wanted him to be.

His wife stayed. She led two couples in their apartment building to Christ, and before long, 23 believers were meeting for worship in the middle of the night. The family was eventually forced to relocated to Erbil. But she wrote, “Many more are interested in knowing our wonderful Savior. They are desperately afraid of ISIS and need the hope the Gospel gives them. By staying in Iraq, we show that Jesus is our Protector and that we do not fear the sinister works of men.”

(From the book “Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where it’s Not Safe to Believe.”)

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Happy Thoughts

Providing Christmas cheer. I received an email from American Patriot Daily News Network, whose tagline is “Helping You Live the American Dream.” It began with these happy thoughts for the holidays:

“It’s like handing your enemy a loaded shotgun — and then wrapping your mouth around the barrel…Buried in the sea of refugees flooding the United States lurk the bloodthirsty ISIS thugs who stand ready to bring the barbaric brand of terrorism to our shores. And unless you act today, I’m worried this madness will not stop until our country starts pulling severed heads off the streets and dead bodies out of the rubble.”

Apparently, to stop the impending carnage I must sign their petition and send them money. The only question is…who exactly are you?

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At the Dentist’s

This morning I had my semi-annual dental cleaning. Lonnie has been my hygienist for at least ten years. She’s very gentle…which is such a contrast to her predecessor.

The previous hygienist came from a long line of prison wardens, but broke from the family business. She always attacked my teeth with a vengeance, intermittently asking me, “Is it safe?” She’s the only hygienist to keep a barber’s strop hanging from the chair, which she uses throughout the ordeal to sharpen her instruments. Her goal, which she always accomplished, was to reduce me to tears. That always made her smile in an evil sort of way.

The cover story is that she left to have a baby, but my understanding is that shadowy government operatives offered the chance to refine her techniques at Guantanamo. In fact, I heard that her efforts yielded information which led us to bin Laden. So in a small way, I feel I contributed to history and national security and should, perhaps, receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for my suffering.

Anyway, I do appreciate Lonnie. Getting my teeth cleaned is, now, a somewhat pleasant experience. (I may have exaggerated somewhat about her predecessor.)

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“We Salute the Rank, Not the Person.”

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I grew up with a deep respect for the office of President. It’s how I was raised, in a different time. It doesn’t mean I’m a fan of everyone who holds that office–by no means. But each one has been THE American president–MY president. I think of the line from Band of Brothers, when a rival of Major Winters tries to walk past without acknowledging him. Winters stops Captain Sobel and admonishes, “We salute the rank, not the man.”

I personally choose to believe that every president has had the country’s best interests at heart. They also all lie, possess enormous helpings of ego and ambition, and exhibit numerous other characteristics a Christian must label as sin…yet each one is MY president. I can dislike, even detest, certain policies and actions they advocate (abortion and torture come to mind)…but still MY president.

So I have great difficulty with the way so many people, Christians and nonChristians, demonize and mock President Obama. It goes way beyond what was directed at GW Bush. One Christian lady here on Facebook recently blustered, “I call him Lucifer.” The way I see people talking about President Obama far exceeds the vigorous policy discourse we cherish in America. He’s a Muslim, a communist, a nazi, not really an American, out to destroy Christianity, the anti-Christ, a traitor, against everything our country stands for. Such baseless demonization is, to me…unbecoming of a Christian. It grieves my heart.

That’s not how I was raised. And I refuse to give in to it (though I’ve crossed my own lines sundry times). Whether the next president is President Clinton or President Trump, that person will be MY president–and YOUR president. I will have profound disagreements with either one. But IF you choose to believe the Bible, that person will be the authority “which God has established.” It’s a biblical concept I don’t understand, and I want to point at all kinds of tyrants and say, “But what about…?” Yet it’s right there, in Romans. Deal with it.

Though I will voice my policy differences with conviction and with every writing tool at my disposal, including heaping spoonfuls of sarcasm, I’m gonna salute the Office of President. And I can’t do that while demonizing the person who holds the title. The Presidency belongs to all Americans, not just to whatever party occupies the White House. As an American, respecting the Presidency seems like the patriotic thing to do. And as a Christian, it just seems right.

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The Woman in the Burger Joint

12346569_10153453637563558_1718509235430568008_nPam and I ate at Five Guys (Times Corners) on Saturday. As we ate, a young woman–late 20s, I figured–came in wearing a hijab and what I will describe, in no doubt unlearned lingo, as Middle Eastern attire. As she picked up her order, one of the employees, a young black fellow, engaged her in brief conversation. She responded with a big smile and abundant personality.

As she ate, I kept glancing her way. She was just an ordinary young woman eating a cheeseburger and fries while reading a book. Yet she also represented the fears and hatred of so many Americans. I considered going over and asking her if people in Fort Wayne ever gave her a hard time about being Muslim, but I didn’t. I assume she endures some of that, like derogatory remarks thrown her way from passing cars.

Another thing occurred to me. Everybody in that restaurant knew she was (most likely) a Muslim. Nobody knew I was a Christian.

As the woman finished her meal and headed for the door, the young black man behind the counter called out, “Thanks for coming, ma’am.” He didn’t say that to anyone else–just her. I’m going to guess that he was trying, in a small way, to compensate for the attitude of so much of society. Good for him. We should all think that way.

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Reporting from the War on Christmas Frontlines

Please, please, enough with the, “I know it’s politically incorrect, but I’m gonna say Merry Christmas.” Let me just stipulate in advance that, yes, you are a remarkably spiritual person, as is everyone who says Merry Christmas. It is, indeed, the mark of a true Christian. In fact, there is no better way to win the world to Christ than by shouting “Merry Christmas!” on every street corner. But I think people have gotten the idea, and we can back off just a bit without undermining the Great Commission. Some people might even view us Christians as a little less annoying.

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Does God Guarantee Our Safety?

insanity-of-godNik Ripken spent six years ministering in Somalia, including during the Black Hawk Down episode. When he went, there was not a single church in all of Somalia, and not enough Christians in the country to fill a small church. When he left, there were only enough to fill a pew. His organization would feed a village, and the next day, Muslim rebels would attack and slaughter villagers BECAUSE they accepted help from a Western organization. Any Western organization was assumed to be Christian, and anyone working for them was suspected of being a Christian (which is why Ripken almost entirely employed Somalis with solid Muslim credentials).

Ripken would share his work with other Christian organizations. They would acknowledge the need, but would decline to get involved because of safety and security concerns. He understood, but….

One of the most profound spiritual experiences of Ripken’s life was when he and two other Westerners shared a clandestine Lord’s Supper with four Somali Christians. A few weeks later, all four Somalis were ambushed and killed in separate, simultaneous attacks. Death threats followed, and nearly all Western relief workers pulled out; within two months, their number plummeted from 70 to 4.

Ripken writes, “We stayed because we were convinced that Jesus was still there. Long ago, Jesus had explained that whatever we, as His followers, did for ‘the least of these’–the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the naked, and the persecuted–we did to Him. We believed that we were ministering to Jesus in the least of these throughout Somaliland.”

But eventually, he, too, left–in despair.

Ripken’s experience in Somalia led him to ask, as he states in the introduction, “Does God, in fact, promise his children safety?” He says he grew up with “the idea that obedience to God’s call would result in a life of safety and security.” He was told, as I remember hearing myself, “The safest place to be is right in the center of God’s will.”

To answer that question, Ripken decided to interview Christians who had lived under persecution–Russians during the communist years, and present-day Christians in China, Muslim nations, and elsewhere. Over a period of years, he visited many countries and interviewed nearly 1000 Christians who had lived under persecution. He tells many incredible stories in “The Insanity of God,” the best Christian book I’ve read this year. I highly recommend it. The book blew me away.

In China, Ripken encountered Christians who asked him if people in other countries knew about Jesus. That’s how isolated they were. Few house-church leaders had their own Bible. House-church leaders would meet clandestinely, and before leaving, they would rip up a Bible and give each house-church leader one complete book to take home. Ripken saw this happen.

Going to prison for three years was extremely common for Chinese leaders, almost an expected right of passage–the seemingly inevitable result of obedience to God. They viewed prison as their seminary. One large house-church movement, when Ripken visited, had over 400 members in prison at that time. Christians lost jobs, families were separated, and they faced incredible suffering and hardship.

Does obedience to God guarantee our safety? Absolutely not. But among these terribly “unsafe” persecuted Christians, Ripken discovered a dimension to their faith that was lacking in the West. They were partaking in the sufferings of the Lord–not the little things we in America inflate into a War on Christianity, but hardcore suffering and persecution. Although they knew obedience to Christ was unsafe, they obeyed anyway.

Ripken writes, “Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the Risen Jesus.”

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