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.Leave a comment
Nik 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.”Leave a comment
Starbucks is drawing criticism from Christians for putting coffee in plain red cups bearing the Starbucks logo. Although the color indirectly calls attention to Christmas, please DO NOT commend the company, because it doesn’t go far enough–the cups do not include the word “Christmas.” This, obviously, constitutes a total rejection of our Lord.
Therefore, as Christians, we MUST CONDEMN STARBUCKS. This will cause Starbucks employees and customers across the world to want to become Christians. If Starbucks will no longer carry the banner of Christianity, then America is doomed to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. So rise up in holy protest against Starbucks in order to fulfill the Great Commission in our lifetime!Leave a comment
You have the president, then the vice president, then the Speaker of the House. There seems to be some confusion as to whether Paul Ryan, as Speaker, is second in line to the President, or third in line. So let’s clear this up.
There is a line at the Porta-Potty. The President is INSIDE the Porta-Potty. Outside are the Vice President, who will enter when the President leaves, and behind him is the Speaker, who is having doubts about how long he can hold it.
The LINE has only two persons. The Vice President is FIRST in line, and the Speaker is SECOND in line. The President is NOT IN THE LINE at all. He is inside, which is where the others want to go, literally.
So the Speaker is not THIRD in line, he’s SECOND in line. Consider yourself informed.
But please don’t ask me to explain how the British royalty system works.
<Alert: amateur theological musings ahead.>
As far as I can tell, the Israelites didn’t observe the Sabbath until Moses descended Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments. I imagine, as Moses read through the commandments, people accepted the first three as no brainers–no other gods, no idols, no using God’s name in vain. Duh.
Then Moses read the fourth commandment, which was new information.
“What? We can’t do any work on the Sabbath? One day out of seven, we just sit around doing nothing? Are you serious?”
That’s what the adults said. I’m guessing that teens throughout the tribes went, “Awesome! We’ve got the coolest god EVER!”
Every sabbath–no chores. It said so very plainly–you can’t make your sons and daughters do any work. Play time!
That’s what I would have thought, anyway.Leave a comment
I hate to spoil every time travel movie you’ve ever seen, but your misconceptions must be corrected. For the sake of science.
When Michael J. Fox goes back in time in “Back to the Future,” he goes back to the exact same location. Just like what happens in every other time-travel movie. But the thing is, it’s NOT the exact same location. The earth, in its journey around the sun, was not in the same location in 1955 that it was in 1985. It fact, it was millions of miles away the earth’s orbit covers nearly 600 million miles).
So rather than find himself outside the Hill Valley courthouse in 1955 (or 1885 or 2015, depending on the movie), Marty McFly would actually find himself in outer space gasping for air.
This, of course, applies to the Terminator movies, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, miscellaneous Star Trek movies and TV episodes, and the entire “Time Tunnel” TV show from my childhood.
Whether you go back or forward in time, you’ll end up somewhere in the dead of space. So when somebody invites you to take a ride in their time machine, I advise caution. Just my opinion.Leave a comment
If the Pope is standing right in front of me, I’m going to look AT him–not at a little picture of him on my iPhone screen. Like so many people did last week.
The world does not need another wobbly, grainy video clip of the Pope meeting people in a crowd. But if that’s what you want to do with your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…well, it won’t be the last stupid decision you make. You’ll get your piece of amateur video. But you won’t be able to tell people this:
“I looked into the Pope’s face, and he looked into mine, and our eyes met.”
Consider the encounter from the Pope’s perspective. You weren’t someone who cared about meeting him, but a person who cared primarily about recording a moment in time to replay for people later.
If I were approached by Chuck Swindoll, or Bon Jovi, or Toni Morrison, I would want to focus on them–and trust the experience to be recorded in my memory. I would cherish the personal encounter and whatever personal connection we made. My first instinct wouldn’t be to grab my cellphone and launch the video app.
On my wedding day, when I watched my beautiful bride come down that aisle, I’m glad I was looking into her eyes and fully taking in the moment…not glued to a tiny computer screen. Live in the moment. It’s a concept being lost by people with smartphones.
Of course, if the person is Donald Trump, then you need to keep your eyes diverted to your cellphone. Because even Moses was not allowed to actually see the face of God, “for no one may see me and live.”Leave a comment
I read the transcript of Pope Francis’s speech to Congress. I tend to do that, rather than let pundits slice and dice a speech and tell me what the person said. In this case, the Pope didn’t say anything earth-shaking. And yet, it was great hearing words like these in the public sphere.
Here are some of my take-aways.
- Overall, he was very affirming of America, the American people, and the values on which America is built.
- He was not preachy. He made his points without being (too) pointed.
- It was a positive, hopeful speech–not berating humanity for falling short, but encouraging humanity to do well.
- There were statements conservatives will dislike, and statements liberals will dislike.
- Although the Pope has every right to be prophetic, he didn’t go that route. He avoided correction and condemnation. Instead, he stated his case with gentleness, softly prodding us in the direction he wanted us to go.
Here are a few quotes I drew from the speech (but I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself):
“We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject. Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.”
Discussing American Indians to make a point about immigrants: “Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past.”
“We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12).”
“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”
“In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream. God bless America!”Leave a comment
Watching coverage of the Pope’s visit, I’m torn over a few issues.
I love watching the rituals Catholics have built around the faith. I find something very beautiful about them, an attempt to attach meaning to even mundane elements of worship. And yet, I’m glad we United Brethren don’t do them.
I like the robes, hats, and other garments. I remember watching a UB man be ordained while wearing shorts–the guy clearly didn’t think it was all that big a deal. That would never happen among Catholics. But I’m glad we don’t place importance on how people dress, and I don’t mind seeing my pastor preach in bluejeans.
I am awed by Catholic cathedrals; we visited St. Peter’s in the Vatican back in 2000, and it blew me away. So much beauty, majesty, and symbolism. But I’m glad we don’t invest that kind of money in our church buildings.
Ambiguity is okay. It’s not necessary to decide definitively that one way is good and the other is bad.Leave a comment
I participate in a private Facebook forum which includes a fellow who really really dislikes Christians. He regularly posts stuff he finds on the internet which he thinks makes Christians look bad.
The other day, he posted the internet graphic above, which consists of supposed quotes by Founding Fathers. It includes this quote from John Adams:
“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all.”
John Adams did, indeed, write those very words. It was in a letter to Thomas Jefferson. But here’s the quote in its context:
“Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all!!!’ But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company.”
I’ve seen some of my Facebook friends–white evangelical Christians, primarily–likewise post stuff they find on the internet without checking its veracity. Sometimes what they pass along is merely untrue. Other times it is racist or hateful idiocy, far from the spirit of Christ.
I’ve come to detest these internet graphics (especially the ones which tell us to “share if you agree”). I much prefer that people take the time to write out their own thoughts, and let people react to them. It seems that people have lost the ability to put together their own ideas in intelligible sentences. Instead, they scour the internet for junk that affirms their views, and then “share” it with no more personal comment than “This is good.”
Come on, people, think for yourself. Put some words together out of your own brain. If you’re my friend, Facebook or otherwise, I want to know YOUR thoughts, not the thoughts of some anonymous person who knows how to use Photoshop.Leave a comment