I read it on the Internet so it must be true – right?

There are lots of places to get your news and information these days – CNN (leans left), FOX (leans right), NPR (leans intellectual), the Internet (leans – everywhere), gossip magazines (leans to the gullible & bored), the government (leans politically expedient) and then you own personal experiences which although definitely lean true, they might not be the whole truth.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate my point.  In just the last couple of days Barbie has been told that Michelle Obama is really a man and that Barak is gay.  Follow that up with the “breaking news” there is a project in Alaska called HAARP which “they” are using to cause (among other things) the drought in California and the earthquakes in Oklahoma.  The sinister motive behind the infamous “they” is to cause everybody to move out of California and return the fertile valleys to Government lands and the earthquakes, which center around Cushing, are an effort to disrupt the oil industry and once and for all stop the Keystone Pipeline project.  It didn’t take much checking to find out that the HAARP project was scrapped in the last few years due to lack of success and funding and earlier this year the entire project was deeded over to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.   And here is the really scary part, the people who told Barbie of these ridiculous conspiracy theories were “mature” adults (55 years+) one of whom works in education at a local university and another attends our church.  The internet was cited as the source of these stories when Barbie asked.  I did some checking (on the internet) and the Michelle/Barak story was originated by none other than the trusted investigative reporter Joan Rivers.

By the way, I am not going to discuss either these issues here (or anywhere else for that matter), but I would like to discuss the fact that just because you read it on the internet doesn’t make it so.  I have read or listened to numerous reports or rants about the proposed acceptance of Syrian refugees in recent days. They have covered the gamete from “they are part of a well planned Trojan horse” to keep out at all cost to “God is love” and because of that fact it follows we should let them all in.  Most notably have been numerous reports that there is little to no risk in letting them in and especially the widows and orphans because the vetting process is almost foolproof in weeding out all (current) jihadists.  There are likely elements of truth in all these angles.

I would like to share a story directly related to this discussion from my own personal life experience – not off the internet.  When Barbie and I first lived in Israel in the late 70’s things were drastically different from today.  It was very common for the population to tramp (hitchhike) all over the country accepting rides from whoever stopped, whether Jew or Arab.  People didn’t think twice about shopping in East Jerusalem, the Arab quarter of the Old City, Bethlehem or Gaza.  If you rented a car you could drive wherever you wanted with no concern beyond a flat tire.  Yes there were occasionally terrorist attacks, but in most cases they were carried out by jihadists who had snuck across the border from Jordan or Syria in the hours before the attack.  In other words, the vast majority of the Arab population were living and loving life in a peaceful co-existence with their Israeli occupiers.  Fast forward to the early 90’s when we lived there for a couple of months as part of YWAM (Youth With a Mission).  Imams from the surrounding Arab countries began to garner greater and greater control over the Arab population in Israel to the point there were significant security concerns at many of the traditional tourist locations such as Bethlehem, Jericho & Hebron.  And a visit to Gaza was totally out of the question.  The team we led got a pretty good feel for the deteriorating situation as we spent a lot of our time in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  We were strongly cautioned about taking our rental van into predominantly Arab sections of the country as ambush attacks on cars with Israeli tags were on the rise.  Barbie and I have been able to visit Israel a couple more times in the last 20 years to include a spring trip last year.  Now there are walls, fences and checkpoints everywhere, you are forbidden from taking rental cars into many areas and a population that some 30 years earlier was not radicalized has been, in just one generation, transformed into what may well be a radicalized majority who are carrying out knife, car and gun attacks (some by women and young boys) almost on a daily basis from Arabs within the country.

You see, to truly understand Islam, you must understand the huge influence the main Imams have over their “flock”.  Not too unlike prominent Christian leaders such as the Pope, Billy Graham and Joel Osteen have over trends in Christianity – some good and some not so good.  In Islam, there are a significant majority of the Imams calling for jihad.  Take note that one thing that has been missing in response to the recent terrorist attacks has been any broad scale denouncing of them by the Imams of the Islamic world.  Yes, there have been some Arabs who have denounced these acts, but what has dominated the headlines are things like what happened a couple of days after the Paris attacks when Turkish fans booed and shouted Allahu akbar during a moment of silence to honor the Paris victims before a soccer match between Turkey and Greece.

So is there risk is bringing the refugees here?  Yes, there are absolutely great risks and anybody who dismisses the cautions claiming there is little to no risk either doesn’t understand Islam, has little interest in learning or they read something on the internet to the contrary.

Having said all that, as a Christian, I must try and view this situation through God’s eyes and a heavenly perspective.  The US is not my real home, I hopefully count my life on this earth as no value for the sake of the Gospel and what if all this is part of Gods grand plan to bring those in desperate need of the Gospel right to our door step?  As one who has been involved in mission work in the Middle East, I can tell you it is very difficult if not forbidden to do mission work over there.  And this refugee challenge might just be a golden opportunity for the Church to strategize together for the sake of the Gospel.  What if Churches across this country offered to sponsor refugee families on a grand scale?  Not to cram the Gospel down their throat, but to love on them, serve them and help them get jobs and housing in a strange new country.   What if?

I love and am challenged by the story of the Moravian missionaries Dober and Nitschmann who went so far as to sell themselves into slavery in order to bring the Gospel to the West Indies in 1732.  There was of course great risk for them to do that, and although there is risk in bringing Syrian refugees to American soil we too could echo the cry heard from Dober & Nitschmann from the bow of that ship as it pulled out of that German Harbor –

“May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!”

No easy answers – this is way above yours or my pay grade!

There is a legitimate debate going on right now in the US over Syrian refugees.  At least I am calling it legitimate.  I have been surprised at how many don’t see any legitimacy in the debate because the answer (to them) is so obvious and simple.  And I am not speaking about only one side, both sides “see” so clearly as to be dismissive, rude or accusatory to the “other” side.  Barbie and I even had someone unfriend us yesterday because we would not enter into the bombastic and inflammatory manner they were taking.  It wasn’t even that we disagreed with them but rather the rude and arrogant method of delivery.

So is this an Old Testament argument, a New Testament argument or somewhere in between.  Some have tried to reduce the debate points down to “God is always Love” or “If you don’t protect those in your own family, your are worse than and unbeliever”.  Both of those points are true but neither of them fully encompasses this debate.  Please do not reduce the compassion for refugees or the security of the US to a “one liner”.  Even between Barbie and I there are strong leanings to the different sides.  And all of this speaks to me of a few things, patience, learning, listening, respect and most of all the Holy Spirit.

I will tell you that I am not the type to quickly to cut out of my Bible those parts in the Old Testament where, because of the evil of their religious practices, God ordered entire peoples destroyed to include women and children.  But at the same time I will never discount the over arching theme in the New Testament that there is none beyond the reach of God’s love.  Some might see these themes to be in contradiction.  But because we also know that God never changes, we have to accept that in fact they are not in contradiction and we must wrestle with that reality and find the balance.  Were those people destroyed because their spiritual DNA was so far gone that it had to be wiped out so it couldn’t spread?  Could that then have been a loving thing to do to protect many future generations of God’s people from those evil influences in nearby villages.  If that same story was repeated after Jesus’ sacrifice was made would God have ordered a different outcome.  That may well be.  In the NT we see Jesus telling a woman, properly sentenced to death for adultery, to go and stop doing it after her executioners leave.  But later we witness God killing a husband and wife “just” for lying.  Are you duly confused by now as to how God does things? (Isaiah 55:8)

On accepting refugees, Republicans are leaning to a pause or a big no which challenges Christians which probably lean more towards yes.  Most Democrats along with Obama lean yes mocking Republicans as being afraid of widows and orphans.  Yet it was a woman who blew herself up this morning in France wounding 5 officers and a special on PBS last night highlighted how ISIS is training kids as young as 4 to become jihadist.  Then today in Turkey and Honduras there were 13 Syrians, with suspected ISIS ties, arrested while posing as refugees trying to get to Europe and North America.  And consider our cherished value of “’Give me your tiredyour poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” boldly inscribed on the Statue of Liberty combined with exhortations in scripture to take care of the poor and homeless (paraphrased) and you have the makings of a real dilemma.

I am not a bigot if I choose the safety of my family first and my wife is not naive if she leans towards opening our borders.  But we both would show our shallowness if we were not able to listen to each other and with prayer and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit endeavor to flesh out God’s plan.

This is great risk either way.  There is great risk if some of the refugees follow the likes of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Chechen refugee who came here as a little boy who was not radicalized and after his family began to follow the American dream he decided to bomb the Boston Marathon.  And what are the risks if we close our borders?  Perhaps that is a cost that will be felt in unknown ways other than terrorist attacks.

So if you are still determined to throw out your quippy one liners, then you really don’t understand or appreciate how complicated this discussion truly is.  And if you are given pause by this Blog then join me and countless others in praying that God will give our leaders and our military the wisdom from on high to deal mercy and justice for all concerned.

What is an extremist? Can it mean the most committed?

This word is bantered about a lot these days referring mostly to Muslims.  I suggest we take a step back and ask the question also about a different religion such as Christianity alongside Islam and compare the most conservative (or radical) views and their most common modern day expressions.  What in your mind constitutes a Christian or Muslim extremist?  (I will exclude from any discussion the Westboro Baptist Church as virtually all other Christians would quickly denounce them as wrong and an anomaly)

Jesus says love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you. Matt 5:44  & to turn the other cheek Matt. 5:39

Islam says O you who believe! Take not my enemies [the disbelievers] and your enemies as awliyaa’ [friends, allies, supporters, assistants etc.], showing affection towards them… (EMQ al-Mumtahanah, 60:1) & O you who believe! Take not for awliyaa’ [supporters, friends, allies and helpers] your fathers and your brothers if they prefer disbelief to Belief. And whoever of you does so, then he is one of the zaalimoon [wrong-doers, oppressors etc.]. (EMQ at-Tawbah, 9:23)

Are there verses in the Old Testament of the Bible which suggest a more violent approach to the enemies of God? Yes!

Do some of the earlier writings in the Koran have a milder approach in their dealings with outsiders? Yes!

Does the New Testament or later writings of the Bible suggest a change to the law of grace & mercy and a better way instituted by Jesus? Yes!

Do the later writings of Mohamed change into very narrow teachings with significant orders relating to forced conversions, violence, murder and jihad?  Yes!

I could insert countless scriptures from the Bible or verses from the Koran but suffice it to say that almost anything “can” be justified from both with enough spin and I am pointing out some of the most obvious results of the two different religions when it comes to being the most committed.

In modern Christianity we consider the most radical (and honorable) Christian to be the one who goes to the jungles of Africa to live in a mud hut in order to be a witness for Christ or to bring the gospel to an unreached people group.  The reason we believe this is because this “extreme” form of discipleship was carried out by only a handful of the New Testament believers, many of whom lost their life in efforts of love towards the lost which can even be the case today for missionaries in some parts of the world.  And it would be hard to find any church-going believer who would denounce or criticize those missionaries because they generally consider them to be more committed or extreme in their beliefs than they are.

In modern Islam, at the largest and the most reputable Muslim universities, the later teachings of Mohamed are still taught right alongside the earlier teachings and those who are considered the most ardent or faithful followers of Islam embrace those more radical or extreme tenants of Islam.  This is why you generally do not hear any broad denouncement of acts of terror against non-believers.  Is it because they secretly admire them for doing what they are unwilling to do?  Perhaps, but I think fear might play a role as well.

Do people cringe in fear when they hear an extreme Christian is headed their way?  Perhaps, but not in fear of their life.

Do people cringe in fear when they hear an extreme Muslim is headed their way?  Almost certainly and almost certainly in fear of their life.

Could any moderate pew warming Christian or even a recent convert be radicalized to become a missionary in a very short period of time?  Yes, and they might actually go to try and bring good sanitation and the gospel to those in need in some remote part of the world or they might start a soup kitchen in the inner city of America.

Could any moderate Muslim or recent convert be radicalized to become a jihadist in a very short period of time?  Yes, and there are countless documented cases of just that happening with them becoming Jihadist or martyrs.

Does modern day Christianity or the New Testament promote violence?  No.  Do most all Christians and the New Testament promote mercy and grace?  Yes.

Do Muslims promote violence?  Some do it openly and others are passive aggressive about it.  There are some who are not invested in the violence but will rarely speak out against it.  Do some Muslims promote peaceful “co-existence”?  Yes, but there are plenty of documented cases where some of the formally peaceful were radicalized and become suicide bombers.

Do some Christians “cut out” or ignore core teachings of the Bible like homosexuality, gossip or fornication or maybe even mission work.  Yes, but then they are aware of that fact or consciously try and spin it that they are not honoring what they view as some of the more restrictive or “radical” teachings in the Bible

Do some Muslims ignore or not practice the more extreme tenants of Islam such as Jihad?  Yes, and in doing so they understand they are not honoring the later, and considered by some to be the most important, teachings of Mohamed.

Is it possible for Christians to be able to live peacefully in a non-Christian country?  Yes, but I must admit it is becoming a challenge.

Is it possible for Muslims to be able to live peacefully in a non-Muslim country?  There are documented cases of this happening for short periods of time, but history tells us that peaceful success is not generally the case in the long run.

Will all Christians become missionaries? No, but some will, perhaps you own neighbor.

Will all Muslims become Jihadist or martyrs?  No, but some will, perhaps you own neighbor.

Why are Christians who become radicalized to the point of becoming missionaries not accused of hijacking the religion of Christianity?

Why are Muslims who become radicalized to the point of Jihad accused of hijacking the “peace loving” religion of Islam?

Martyrdom in Christianity means sacrificing so non-believers might live.

Martyrdom in Islam means sacrificing so non-believers will die.

Bottom line, it is possible for any Christian to become committed/radicalized to the point he might head off on peaceful missions worldwide where he might give his life in sacrifice to save others.

Bottom line, it is possible for any Muslim to become committed/radicalized to the point he joins Jihad and become a martyr as a suicide bomber attempting to take the lives of others.

As believers we must pray for Muslims and reach out to them with the gospel.

As governments, they may be required to reach out and touch radical Islam in a different way.

Too good to be true?

This is a follow-up blog to the one I wrote yesterday about the inability of secular society to stomach true Christianity in their midst.  Again, as I have written several times, this has nothing to do with tolerance, equality or getting their cake baked.  They simply cannot swallow the idea of a judgmental God who also stands at the ready to redeem and save any who would humble themselves.

Several years ago Barbie and I read together Ben Carson’s book Gifted Hands.  It was truly an inspiring book on several levels.  He was born into poverty and rose to the absolute pinnacle in the field of pediatric neurosurgery.  As an inner city youth he rose faster than any one before him to the top of the ROTC program in high school.  But most importantly, as an angry black youth, he rose out of his rebellious, angry and hatful attitudes as a result of a salvation experience with Jesus.

But to non-believers, this is myth and cannot happen in real life!  It’s just a story, and it must be discredited at all cost in order to preserve our right to do as we please.  So bring on the attacks and deep investigating into the life of a teenage boy while in grade school some 50 years ago.  They simply cannot reconcile that someone displaying good character today could have once tried to attack his mother or stab a relative over 5 decades ago.  It’s not possible, it sounds to ….. how can I put it ….. fantastical.  And of course we don’t believe in fantasy, right!

No, we don’t believe in fantasy, but we do believe in a redemptive God who can turn even the worst of us around and cause His light to shine.

And it’s not only the liberal left who are out to discredit Ben’s changed life.  Just this week in an interview with Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump totally dismissed any possibility of it being a redemptive God story stating that the only thing that can bring that kind of change to someone is pills or drugs.  I guess that also says a lot about Trump’s understanding of Christianity – which he claims some form of adherence to.

No, here again is a prominent public figure unashamedly modeling Jesus and His life changing redemptive power and this narrative is totally incompatible with unaccountable secular humanism.

As for me, I choose to see this as a wonderful example of the unlimited potential of Christ in the life of Ben, me, you or anyone who would yield to Jesus.

too good to be true

Starbucks & Christian foster parents – full disclosure!

Frankly I am sick and tired of sitting idly by and watching the brainless sharing of post which spew forth lies and hypocrisy by the un-churched liberal crowd towards Christians.  It is no secret all these attacks have little to do with fairness, equality, getting their cake baked, keeping abortion protected or even the separation of church & state. This has everything to do with the quandary they find themselves in.  One the one hand they do not want any semblance of a Holy God (i.e. Christians) staring them in the face on a daily basis whether on the street, at the office or in the press.  Why you ask?  It is actually very simple.  God placed in every person the inherent knowledge of right and wrong and to be confronted by it or reminded of that reality by the 10 commandments, missionary outreaches or those advocating adherence to biblical instruction or character proves to be very uncomfortable for those outside the church.  But on the other hand there are real problems out there that need to be addressed like alcoholism, feeding the homeless, taking care of foster children, adoption, etc. etc and they have far less interest in getting down in the dirt with these issues so they try and “shame” Christians into stepping up to these challenging social situations through artfully crafted “outrage”.

Let me use a metaphor.  Let’s say you have chosen to divorce yourself from your wife who happens to have a large, extended and wealthy family.  The reason you filed for divorce is because of irreconcilable differences, i.e. you do not agree with her more conservative lifestyle which you perceive to be restrictive and judgmental.  But now you are confronted with a new problem of seeing her family at various places around town on a daily basis.  Deep down you know your ex and her family are good people but in order to feel good about being the one who left the marriage your only option is to constantly attempt to throw her and her family under the bus.  That is until you or someone in your circle has a financial crisis they have little capacity to solve in which case you try and shame your ex’s family into helping out because deep down you know how “rich” they really are.

Such is the case recently with one of those “gotcha” sound bite post mocking Christians for the ONE Christian who posted the Starbucks cup video pointing out that we should be focusing on something of true importance instead like serving as foster parents.  Here are the facts, as if the facts matter, to those who have distanced themselves from the Christ.

Neither I nor any other Christian I know has the least problem with Starbucks holiday cup.  The “outrage” is totally fabricated in an attempt to mock Christians.

fake outrage

And when it comes to foster care and adoption here are the facts from a recent Barna Group Survey.

5 percent of practicing US Christians have adopted children compared to 2 percent of all US adults

3 percent of practicing US Christians are foster parents & 31 percent have seriously considered fostering a child compared to only 2 percent of the general US population and only 11 percent of those have considered it.

Although there are not specific stats for homeless shelters, I did find several reports to the effect that the vast majority of homeless shelters were started by, staffed by or owned by Churches or other non-profit Christian based organizations.

And I shouldn’t even need to point out that the Church totally dominates assistance for alcoholics with programs like AA and Celebrate Recovery neither of which charge for the program.

Organizations started and staffed by Christians also dominate feeding programs both domestic and abroad as well as sponsoring the majority of clean water and well digging projects in 3rd world countries.

So practicing Christians (representing only about 30% of Americans) are more than twice as likely to adopt or be foster parents.

Just in our immediate family on Barbie’s side there have been dozens of foster children cared for and 8 of Barbie’s 32 nieces and nephews are adopted – that’s 25 percent.

Am I perfect? Heck no!  Are Christians perfect? No, but only those who actually step up to the plate will have both the chance to hit a homer or on occasion even strike out.

So do the facts really matter?  They should!  I suggest “the proof is in the pudding” and we all should be judged by the exhortation to PUT UP or SHUT UP!

Leading from “behind”

Yes, I know I have addressed this issue before, but there have been some recent developments that should give renewed cause for consideration by church attendees, pastors and elders.  In the past I have tried to exhort us – the Church – that skinny jeans/leggings are not pants, are not modest and absolutely should not be seen in the church much less on the platform.

leggings are not pants jesus

I must confess my disappointment though about my previous blogs on this subject as from all indications there is little agreement with my opinion (i.e. – no comments, likes or shares).  But now even the un-churched and secular society seems to be coming around to my way of thinking.  Elana Fishman of “Style” recently wrote an article entitled “Is it ever OK to wear leggings as pants?” And just this week one of the most trending videos on the internet is a sweet southern lady exhorting all that leggings are not pants.

Also this week Carey Burgess was sent home from her South Carolina public school for her too short skirt.  Let’s be honest here, school systems didn’t set skirt lengths because they don’t want to see varicose veins, it’s because it’s a concentration issue for the boys getting distracted by those “veins”.  Here again secular society understands why modesty is necessary.  Here is the actual skirt that got her sent home.  I have been addressing leggings and skinny jeans and here the unchurched trumps my exhortation banning skirt lengths that would be considered long in some churches.

short skirt

Why is the world now leading the way in encouraging modesty?  Wouldn’t this be the responsibility of the Church as we model Jesus and scripture instead of the latest sexy garb?  There is no lack of clarity in scripture exhorting modesty in dress amongst those who minister before the Lord (on the platform at Church) and modesty among Christians in general?  So why is the Church not leading this most recent modesty trend instead of those in the world?  I should point out that the world could just as easily be trending full on nudity next week/month/year.  And just to prove my point that the line between leggings/skinny jeans and just plain old going naked has been so badly blurred, they recently did an experiment where they painted skinny jeans on the naked bottom half of a model who then proceeded to walk around NY and nobody could tell the difference because frankly there is in fact little difference.

most amazing man

And why is wearing modest clothing a Godly thing (this goes for both guys and girls)?  Because according to scripture there is VERY harsh judgment awaiting ANYONE who temps or causes someone else to stray or sin.  Whoa, back the sin trolley up a bit – SIN???  Yea, so here is where I get real honest with all ya’ll.  When I was a young, testosterone driven teenage boy in Jr. High I remember all us guys challenging the girls to wear the tightest jeans possible.  The winning test was whether we could tell if a quarter in their hip pocket was heads or tails.  You might ask, “Why were young boys so interested in George Washington and eagles”?  I can assure you we had no interest in numismatics and neither was our motive monetary.  No, our motive was the same millennial old base motive that challenges all men (except perhaps the dead or dying) and that was to have our fancy tickled with big ole eye full.

Over time, the Lord has been faithful to give me mad skills when it comes to avoiding these kinds of lust driven traps.  You see, like Job, I have made a covenant with my eyes to not look at any other woman that way except my wife.  But I live in America where guys are confronted countless times every day to give lingering looks at immodest dress whether on a billboard, TV add or out in public.  For example, I ride my bike most days along the River Parks trail where there is a constant supply of “eye candy”.  I have disciplined myself to simply look down at my front tire when passing other runners on the trail.  I refuse to give Satan/sin an opportunity.  But what do you do when confronted by immodest dress at church?  I attended a conference recently at a local church and I left wondering if there could be any skinny jeans or leggings left on store shelves anywhere in Tulsa.  And it wasn’t just the young people as there were those who were much older and who shouldn’t wear tight fitting anything for other obvious reasons.

sack of potatoes

And then there was the ….. how do I say this graciously …. rather big and tall young person wearing the tightest possible jeans on the platform of a church leading worship.  I of course did not give any lingering looks, but I did have a lingering question.  Where on earth was this girl’s mom as she was walking out of the house that morning to go anywhere, much less to church and be ministering before our most holy God?

leggings are not pants pic

I know there are many who will disagree with me here and I am pretty convinced I am on the right side of Heaven on this issue even if not on the “right side of history”.  But like the interview with Ben Carson this week when asked why he holds such a rigid position against abortion and his answer was “I’m a reasonable person. And if people can come up with a reasonable explanation of why they would like to kill a baby, I’ll listen”.  Well, if someone can come up with a reasonable explanation as to why it’s right and appropriate to model immodest anatomy hugging clothing in church, I’ll at least listen.