The reporter’s “cultural” explanation also fails to explain similar acts of forgiveness. Who can forget the forgiveness offered by Emanuel AME Church in Charleston to the white supremacist killer Dylan Roof? Then there was the multi-colored Jamrowski family in El Paso who forgave the man who went to Walmart to kill Latinos. And some of us remember Corrie Ten Boom, who forgave her Nazi guard after the deaths of her sister and parents and her own terrible mistreatment in Ravensbrück.
People don’t understand it – this remarkable forgiveness. Some are angered by it. But sooner or later people will come to recognize it. It is the mark of the forgiven people of Jesus. Continue reading
People in our church received phone calls, reputedly from the IRS or law enforcement, to inform them they would be arrested within the next few hours because of their tax debt. After setting their hair on fire with threats of arrest, the caller offered to put the fire out. They could avoid arrest and jail time by making the minimum payment required by the IRS. A means for delivery of payment was detailed.
Those calls are, of course, a scam. The receiver’s Caller ID has been “spoofed” and the number of the real caller hidden. A fake, and frequently local, number appears on the caller ID. I’ve even received a call the phone display indicated was coming from me.
The FCC encourages Americans to hang up as soon as they realize they’ve answered an unwanted call. Even better, they recommend not taking the call at all, unless one recognizes the number on the Caller ID.
I registered our phone on the “National Do Not Call Registry,” thinking that would give me some leverage with telemarketers, but we still receive numerous calls each day, often from spoofed Caller ID numbers. I used to stay on the line, wait for a real person, and then tell them that I am on the ‘Do Not Call” registry and politely ask that my name be removed from their database.
That used to work. Not anymore. The last few times I’ve waited for a real person to whom I could make my request, the caller hung up as soon as he heard the words, “I’m on the …” I didn’t even get the chance to finish the sentence. A lot of good it did to get on the registry. Continue reading
When religion is transformed from a response of faith in the God of heaven into an instrument for getting things done on earth, it is disfigured. It may retain the accoutrements of true religion – ritual, liturgy, personal prayer, offerings – but its essential nature has been altered. It preserves “the form of godliness,” as the Apostle Paul put it, while “denying its power.”
For as long as people have been religious – which is to say, for as along as there have been people – this has been a problem. When God ceases to be “the Beginning and the End” and becomes the means to an end, religion becomes a merely human tool.
There are illustrations of this phenomenon in the Bible itself. One particularly revealing instance happened early in the history of the nation of Israel. The Hebrews first identified as a distinct people group during the centuries they spent in Egypt. After their escape from Egyptian oppression and their migration to a suitable homeland, Israel operated under divinely given laws, summarized in what we know as the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments themselves were engraved on two stone tablets and kept in a specially made and ornately decorated box known as the Ark of the Covenant. (Think Raiders of the Lost Ark.) The ark, which was considered sacred, was only to be moved by religious professionals and was never to be directly touched.
As sometimes happens with items of treasured status, people began to think of the ark superstitiously, as if the box itself possessed inherent power. So, when Israel’s war against the Philistine kingdoms began to go poorly, someone floated the idea that the ark could be used to rally the troops, bring God’s favor, and win the war.
The immediate effect of bringing the ark into battle was everything Israel’s leaders had hoped for. Their soldiers were inspired and their enemies were intimidated. But it is dangerous to try to use God as a means to an end, no matter how important the end. The Philistine armies crushed Israel’s troops, forced them to retreat, and captured the ark.
“Do you have a religious preference?” That is what the nurse asked after leading me to the exam room where I was to meet the doctor. There were other questions I wasn’t expecting, questions health care professionals ask nowadays, like: “Do you feel safe in your own home?” But it was the question about religious preference that struck me.
It sounded so odd. “Do you have a religious preference?” as if religion was sold at Baskin-Robbins and comes in thirty-one flavors. Maybe I should have asked her to put down the religious flavor of the month.
Why should people bother to pray? For many people, both religious and irreligious, this question does not seem to have a satisfactory answer. They still pray when desperate – who doesn’t? – but even then, they can’t see the sense in it. If God already knows everything that is going to happen, if he has already decided what he is going to do, our prayers are irrelevant.
One way Christians have responded to this problem is to say, “We don’t pray to change what is going to happen but to change ourselves,” but this answer seems quite inadequate. If nothing changes because of our prayers, then, perforce, the person praying does not change either. If prayer can change the person praying, then it can change other things too. Continue reading
Another young, prominent Evangelical Christian has left the fold. Joshua Harris was 21 years old when he wrote, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” Since being published in 1997, his book has sold over a million copies and has been hailed by conservatives for its guidance in navigating relationships with the opposite sex. Last year, Harris renounced the book. This year, he renounced the faith.
Harris joins other high-profile Evangelical millennials in the flight from faith. Non-Evangelical millennials are also leaving – a recent study suggests more than half are already gone – but they are more likely to drift from the faith quietly, not buzz the deck as they fly away. When people like Harris – people who have made a name for themselves precisely because they were Evangelicals – leave the faith, they make headlines. Depressing headlines.
Why are we seeing this exodus of young Christians, Evangelical and otherwise? Why is it happening now, at this point in history? Can anything be done to turn it around? Continue reading
These people imagine, to misquote Hanani the seer, that the eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the whole earth, seeking to criticize those who don’t do everything perfectly. But the truth lies in the opposite direction. What Hanani really told King Asa was: the eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the whole earth, seeking to show himself strong to those who hearts are fully his. Not those who do everything perfectly. God is not looking for opportunities to criticize but to reward. Continue reading
A few of Jesus’s many commands can be kept, even without faith.
For example, no one has ever sued me for my tunic, so Jesus’s command to give such a person my cloak as well has never been a problem for me. However, the
command to stop worrying has been a problem. So has the command to love my
neighbor as myself, to guard against hypocrisy, to get rid of all bitterness, and to do everything without complaining or arguing.
As it stands, it is simply impossible to check off these and
the other New Testament commands in the way one checks off items from a to-do
list. To consistently do these things and, more to the point, to be shaped in heart and mind in such a way that doing these things becomes natural, a person must have faith. This kind of faith is not mental assent to a doctrine, even a
doctrine about God, nor is it a belief that God exists and that everything will work out in the end. It is not that these things are wrong; it is that they are not what Jesus and his early followers meant when they spoke of faith. Continue reading
God had a plan to undo the consequences of the Fall, to heal and restore humanity, and that plan began with one man: Abraham. His line would lead to a point: the Point-of-it-All. And God would get from Abraham to … Continue reading
That is analogous to telling someone in Iowa that to get to the intersection of Forest Drive and Hicks Avenue in Annapolis, Maryland they must go east. It’s not that it isn’t true; it just isn’t very helpful. Continue reading