An Informal Little Bible Study

Attention DFW readers,

I’m launching a short new Bible study series in our home next week.

Beginning next Wednesday night, February 1, and continuing for the next four Wedneday nights, I’ll be teaching a series I’m calling:

“Honeycomb Lying on the Ground: The Sweet Reality of Living in Kingdom Grace.”

Open to all. 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm.

It is Clear to Me . . .

. . . that Mankind’s oldest and bitterest enemy is keenly interested in dividing people along racial (tribal) lines. It’s his oldest, tiredest, and yet still most effective trick.

Cain Kills Abel

Cain killing Abel.

Tribalism has been the spawning ground of murderous hate ever since the very first farmer grew resentful of the very first rancher back in the Garden.

In a 100-day period back in 1994, somewhere between 500,000 and a million Tutsis were killed by Hutus—most of them hacked to death with machetes—because . . . tribes. Us and Them.

Here in America, tribalism now goes by the more sophisticated name of identity politics. We call our tribes “communities.” The enemy of our souls doesn’t really care who you hate, just as long as you pick a side and let the news and social media fuel your tribal fire.

The devil is a sadistic, twisted kid nudging two hungry dogs toward each in hopes they’ll fight to the death over a scrap of food. I’ll pass.

As a citizen of a kingdom in which race and sex are meaningless concepts (Gal. 3:28), I have only one side to take. The side of love.

Giving Honor Where Honor is Due

I attended a funeral service in the old hometown in Oklahoma yesterday.  Dr. J. N. Baker was of one of the finest Christian men it has ever been my privilege to know. He was 96 when he passed into heaven last week and was buried with full military honors yesterday.

At my house growing up he was a respected and beloved family friend, and very much a surrogate grandfather to my younger sisters. For many who knew him as the former Dean of Students at OSU and then the president of Eastern Oklahoma State College where my parents were on the faculty — he was always “Dr. Baker.”

For the thousands of fighting men who served under him in both World War II and the Korean conflict, he eventually became “General Baker.”

He was born in 1919 in rural southeastern Oklahoma but was orphaned before he was old enough to begin attending the one-room school nearby. One of his daughters noted at his service that he liked to observe: “My parents came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, yet I’ve lived to see men walk on the moon and to hold a powerful computer in the palm of my hand.”

ThunderbirdIn the 1930s he joined the Oklahoma National Guard while still in high school. (Apparently that was possible back then.) For the next three decades he was an integral part of the Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry Division—the Thunderbirds—established in 1920. The 45th was one of the very first guard units called up when the U.S. entered World War II in 1941.

In 1943 the Thunderbirds were part of the tip of the spear in the invasion of Italy, beginning with the amphibious assault on Sicily and then the intense fighting at Anzio and Monte Casino.

This was followed by an amphibious invasion of southern France at Dragoon, then the push across France and into Germany. Ultimately it would be the 45th that liberated the infamous German concentration camp at Dachau.

Their work finally done, the division got to come home in 1945. Five short years later Cold War hostilities erupted on the Korean peninsula. At that point, only 20% of the men of the 45th had fought in WWII, but Dr. Baker was one of them.

Eventually, he became the Thunderbird’s final commanding General, serving from 1964 to 1968.

Three surviving World War II veterans who served with him were there at the funeral to pay their respects  yesterday. Yes, members of ” the Greatest Generation” were in the house — but we’re losing them rapidly. Soon the last of them will be gone.

However, it wasn’t the military man my family knew and loved—although his perfect posture and a meticulous, squared-away approach he brought to every project and enterprise hinted at his training. Otherwise, you might never have guessed his background and rank.

He wasn’t the course, gravely George Patton stereotype. Quite the opposite. He was soft-spoken, humble, gentle, immensely thoughtful, and carried a deep, abiding faith in God.

He a was regular guest at my parent’s Sunday table for lunch after his cherished Helen, his wife of 64 years, died after a long illness that left her blind in her final years.

Whenever someone would remark admiringly about the tender, extraordinary efforts he was expending in caring for her in those years of heartbreaking decline, he would smile and brush them off. “She took care of me for sixty years. It’s my privilege to take care of her now.”

Whenever any of us was home for a weekend visit, it was our privilege to participate in those lunches with him. As the elder statesman at the table, the honor of blessing the meal frequently fell to him.

I remember being deeply impacted by one of those Sunday lunch prayers a few years ago. I can honestly say it changed me.

As we prepared to dive into mom’s pot roast, it wasn’t his prayer’s eloquence or profundity that marked my soul that day. It was the genuine gratitude that welled up out of his heart and flowed from his lips.

“Heavenly Father, you’ve been so very good to us. (long pause) . .  Thank you. (longer pause) Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . “

This was no perfunctory, religious saying of “grace” over a meal. Those repeated thank yous were an offering.

Thank you, Dr. Baker.

I’m grateful to have had the example of a life so well-lived.  Strength in kindness. Confidence in servanthood. Gratitude in selflessness. Cheer in hardship. This was the gold standard of Christian manhood.

Now he has joined that great cloud of witnesses who waits to see how we’ll run the balance of our races.

You’ll have to excuse me now . . . I’m suddenly feeling the need to lay aside some weights.

J. N. Baker (1919-2016)

On the Patience of God

Luther

Martin Luther once wrote:

“God will not be able to bear this wicked world much longer, but will come, with the dreadful day, and chastise the scorners of His Word.”

Luther died in 1546.  God is still bearing this wicked world. And the spirit that moved immature disciples to want to call down fire on those who rejected them still lives, as well.

One Final Word on Trump and This Greek Tragedy of an Election

 

Steve_Buscemi_Armageddon 2

In a climactic moment in the movie Armageddon, a team of drilling experts valiantly attempting to save planet earth from complete annihilation has everything that can possibly go wrong, do so.

When it seemingly becomes clear that the entire universe is conspiring against the success of their noble efforts to save the world, the team member played by Steve Buscemi looks in awestruck wonder at the FUBAR-ity of it all, and the enormity of the tragedy they’re about to witness, and mutters:

“It’s a g#######d Greek tragedy.”

That profane line of dialogue has come to mind on numerous occasions as this election year has rolled along.

What a difference a year makes. A year ago I was optimistic that after eight long, heartbreaking years of watching a great nation intentionally weakened; her standing in the world diminished; and her blood-bought liberties eroded;  we had our best opportunity in decades to put a conservative statesman in the White House. (It’s been since 1980 since we had one of those.)

On one hand, the Democrats were set to put forth the weakest, most flawed, most beatable group of candidates since 1968. Old, tired, corrupt, extreme, unlikable and white.

On the other hand, the Republicans boasted one of the most impressive crops of candidates in living memory. Young, intelligent, articulate, proven and ethnically diverse.

Then came Trump. And everything instantly went to hell.

Early on I dashed off a few thoughts in posts titled, “On Donald Trump,” and “Deconstructing the Appeal of Donald Trump.” This will be my final post on him.

It now seems clear that one of two scenarios is inevitable:

  • Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination and loses to Hillary Clinton in the general election.
  • Or some sort of brokered convention snatches the nomination from Trump with the result of alienating a significant swath of vital Republican voters.

Either outcome puts Hillary Clinton in the White House for eight more years of calamity for America. The only wildcard that might avert this Trump-caused catastrophe is a multi-count federal indictment of Hillary between now and November. Not likely (although appropriate.)

The Enigma of Evangelical Attraction to Trump

In a non-Armageddon-like universe, Ted Cruz would have owned the Evangelical vote. But here in Bizzaro world, he hasn’t. Instead, large numbers of Christians have cast their vote for a profane casino-owning huckster who boasts about the proportions of his genitalia in televised presidential debates.

Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr., FBC Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, Beni Johnson (wife of Bethel’s Bill Johnson), and numerous others are vocally endorsing and defending a man who thinks personal insults like “loser” and “clown” are an adequate substitute for cogent policy arguments.

He has not once given objective listeners a reason to believe has has thought deeply or read seriously about a single issue important to Christians or conservatives.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has doubled down on his promise to “force Mexico to pay for a border wall.” (He can’t. Of course, he knows that. He’s just betting that you and I don’t.)

He has suggested that as President he’d  make China assassinate North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. (Uh, again, no.)

He talks about the presidency the same way liberals and children do, as if the office conveys god-like power. Again, he doesn’t really believe any of this. It’s marketing.

In an email to his subscribers, liberal comedian Louis C.K. recently had a word of warning and advice for conservatives. “He is not one of you. He is one of him . . . He is playing you.”

It’s true. And it’s disappointing to find a significant number of my fellow evangelicals either blissfully unaware of that fact, or bafflingly indifferent to it.

It feels like a tragedy. A Greek tragedy.

The West’s Refugee Dilemma

 

In this moment of history, many of my fellow believers are arguing passionately that the nations of Europe (and the U.S., too) should continue accepting and settling every poor person who makes it to their shores. I’d like to explore that assertion but it will require a couple of long posts to do so. Stay with me. This is important stuff.

wwjd-bracelet

Do they make these in nation size?

A nation can choose to be a welfare state. A nation can choose to have open borders. But no nation can choose both. Not for long anyway. So observed famed economist Milton Friedman many years ago.

The validity of Friedman’s assertion is now being tested in Europe before our eyes. Friedman, math and common sense all argue:

As a nation, to provide a social welfare safety net of services for the poor AND welcome the poor of the world to your soil is tantamount to economic and cultural suicide.

As I write, refugees by the hundreds of thousands are pouring across Europe’s largely open borders and into the generous social welfare safety nets those liberal nations provide for their residents.

The British newspaper, The Independent, published the stunning data visualization below to illustrate the scale and scope of what has taken place over the last few months—and very importantly, where they’re coming from. Each moving dot represents 25 individuals.

If image doesn’t load, CLICK HERE.

One of the striking things about this map is WHERE these refugees are coming from. The narrative is the they’re all coming from Syria and Iraq where ISIS’ reign of hell is rampaging. That’s clearly no longer the case.

By October 20, the number of refugees passing through Greece had surpassed 500,000. This literal exodus indeed began as a result of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and Syria, which in turn is a direct result of President Obama’s foolish, catasrophic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq (as I pointed out in this blog post). But once it became clear that Europe was going to accept refugees, the flood gates opened from all over that half of the world.

Each one of those moving marks represents 25, heartbreaking individual stories. Real people, with real needs, hurts, dreams and aspirations.

However, viewed as a whole, these immigration flows create a self-reinforcing, self-amplifying cycle. Welcoming refugees triggers more and increasing refugee movement. Accept a trickle and invite a flood.

This is precisely what we saw here in the U.S. between 2012 and 2014.. As soon as the Obama Administration made it clear that underage illegals immigrants would be allowed to stay here and helped to establish residency, a tsunami of children and youth began rushing toward the Rio Grande from Central America.

As this PBS report explains, prior to 2012 an average of 8,000 children were intercepted at the border each year. Then word got out that the White House had ordered immigration officials to stop enforcing the laws on the books, especially where minors were concerned.

Many within the American Church—from Unitarians to Southern Baptists—cheered this move as a more compassionate, more humane, more Christian policy.

However, news travels fast. And the law of unintended consequences is merciless.

Minor Migrants 2014

Soon poor mothers across Guatemala, Honduras, and elsewhere were sending their unaccompanied children north, asking them to run a gauntlet of vicious narco traficantes, human traffickers, pedophiles, abusers, jungles and deserts.

We know that in the first half of 2014, roughly 60,000 minors actually made it to U.S. soil. What we will never know is how many did not make it. How many died along the way? How many were pressed into child labor or into the service of the drug cartels?

Accept a trickle and invite a flood.

Here’s a hard truth. Those who, with the best of righteous intentions, advocate for governmental acceptance of the trickle must own their responsibility for the deaths caused by the flood.

Of course, American liberals never, ever take responsibility for the catastrophic unintended consequences of their poorly thought out do-gooding. But my fellow Christians and I should. But back now to Europe . . .

Today many of the same voices of faith are saying the governments of Europe must accept and care for every Middle Eastern and African immigrant that arrives on their shores. They are explicitly claiming that it is the “Christian” thing to do and that governments ought always do the Christian thing.

In other words, many people believe the governments of Europe should put on a giant WWJD bracelet. But is that true?

I believe it is both possible and necessary to distinguish between what an individual Christian should do and what the government of a nation-state should do. Not only is it possible—it’s vital.

I know this sounds heretical, but a government can’t be a good Christian. And I don’t believe it should try.

I’ll explain in my next post.

Another Embarassing Series of Date-Setting Failures

TheEnd

The Three Businessmen of the Apocalypse

It’s been a bad couple of months for the date setters.

Several years of Blood Moons hype did more than sell a jillion-teen books and DVDs and provide the premise for countless breathless interviews on Christian television. It worked millions of my fellow believers into a frothy lather of end-time expectation focused on the Jewish holy days in September.

Tens of thousands of man-hours of research went into building elaborate cases for why the rapture of the Church was likely to take place during or around the lunar eclipse of September 28.

For example, here’s an  site aptly titled, “The Coming Blood Moon Rosh Hashanah 2015 Rapture.” And here’s “Blood Moons POINTING to Rosh Hashanah 2015 for the Rapture…?

Back in May, a writer at this site wrote, “I have no doubt that something major is going to happen in September of this year.” There were tens of thousands of others, of course. Most had the usual disclaimers and qualifiers but still went to great lengths to build logical cases utilizing lots of math, scripture and Hebrew word study.

Let me emphasize that most of these cases were indeed logical and, in their own way, biblical, in that they cited a lot of scripture. Most built a highly persuasive argument that something BIG was likely to happen on 9-13 or  9-23 or 9-28-2015.

All were wrong.

Up next was an online group called E-Bible Fellowship. They built an equally elaborate case the world was “in all likelihood” going to end a few weeks ago—specifically on October 7.

Then on October 8 they posted an article titled, “A response to being incorrect with the prediction that, “in all likelihood, the world would end on October 7th.” (At least they owned up to being wrong. Most end-times hypsters don’t do that. They generally just start looking for the next secret biblical code everyone else has missed over the last 2,000 years.)

Once again, an extensive set of facts, calculations and scriptures were marshaled in support of what the folks at E-Bible Fellowship believed was a nearly airtight argument.

LGPEOf course, we’ve seen this kind of thing repeatedly over the last 45 years or so. When I was an impressionable 11-year-old, a well-meaning Sunday School teacher took me and a group of other boys chapter by chapter through Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth.

I came away absolutely, 100% convinced that I would never reach adulthood. Never marry. Never have a career or children.

As you might expect, this didn’t have a particularly positive effect on my study habits or motivations to prepare for grown-up life.

It’s hard enough to get young people to have a future-oriented vision and make  sacrifices for the future without convincing them that the Bible says they’re not actually going have a future—not on earth anyway.

Here’s why I bring all this up. 

There is a fundamental rule of logic . . .

If logical processes consistently lead you to incorrect conclusions, it’s time to reassess the assumptions (a.k.a. premises, presuppositions, givens) upon which your logic is based.

I learned this valuable truth in a college course in Logic. If one or more of your premises is false, it’s very possible to build a sound logical case and reach a false conclusion. For example, it you begin with the premise that the earth is flat, it’s logical to be wary of sailing too far in any one direction lest you fall off the edge.

88 ReasonsAs I’ve noted, all of those who predicted an imminent Second Coming or Rapture through the decades have built their cases logically. Indeed, Edgar C. Whisenant and the World Bible Society gave us all  88 very sound, very compelling reasons why the rapture was going to happen in 1988.

So, I offer this question:

Is it possible that one or more flawed assumptions or premises is lying unexamined beneath the twisted rubble of all these rigorously researched cases and arguments?

Given the decades of predictive carnage, I would hope we would at least be open to examining the biblical validity of the assumptions that underlie these prognostications. This isn’t a hobby horse I’m particularly interested in riding. But I do have a few thoughts along these lines.

In an upcoming post, I’ll drag one of these “givens” into the light so we can all take a good look at it. But for now, it’s . . .

the-end-of-the-world

 

 

Why Saying, “God won’t give you more than you can bear” Is Pretty Much The Worst Comfort Advice Ever

Job and Friends

Job and Comforters

A few days ago I posted a quick, scold-y note on Facebook after reading this heart-felt and transparent piece by ESPN writer/host Jason Wilde.

In it, Wilde opens up about battling darkness and depression after he and his wife lost a baby about halfway through the pregnancy. In it, without anger or bitterness, he mentions how profoundly unhelpful it was to have well-meaning Christians (he is not one) come up to him and try to help by saying things like, “God only gives you as much as you can handle.”

On Facebook, I linked to his essay and wrote:

Fellow Christians of planet earth: Stop trying to comfort the grieving by saying “God only gives you as much as you can handle.” It’s crappy theology. And it’s not comforting. Stop. It.

I meant that. And here’s why.

The advice (falsely) positions God  as the great cosmic dispenser of misery and suffering. What’s worse, it depicts Him as carefully monitoring just how much misery and suffering we each can handle without completely collapsing under the weight, to keep Himself from over-doing it.

It encourages us to imagine Him viewing our misery capacity as some sort of dashed line at the top of a measuring cup. Should our capacity to handle heartache increase a bit . . . well, then God is surely there with an eyedropper of pain ready to add more until we’re topped off, but never to the point that it rises above the line.

Prometheus, Handling Suffering

Prometheus, Handling Suffering

It’s hard to count how many ways this is wrong. But let me hit a few of the highlights.

1. It misidentifies the source of evil and suffering.

We live in a fallen creation filled with fallen humans operating with the gift/power of free will. The flooded home; the miscarried pregnancy; the child lost to the drunk driver, the housewife with the swollen black eye, the stolen iPhone, and the irritable bowel  . . . all of these and an endless list of other heartaches and headaches are a result of either the one (broken creation) or the other (broken people). And of course there’s God’s raging enemy, Satan, who is actively at work in and through both.

2. God is all about healing pain, not causing it. Restoring, not destroying.

Jesus told us that if we’ve seen Him we’ve seen the Father. (Jn. 14:9) He said that He only did the things He saw the Father doing. (Jn 5:19) Thus, it’s revealing that Jesus broke up every funeral he ever came across. Healed every person who requested it. Wherever he encountered human suffering, He relieved it.

He said the thief (Satan) comes only to steal, kill and destroy. But that He had come to provide abundant life. (Jn. 10:10)

 3. It distorts the concept of God’s sovereignty.

The sad young man from ESPN really believes God took the life of his baby. And every would-be comforter who offered up, “This was part of God’s plan,” or “He won’t give you more than you can handle,” seems to agree. “God did this to you,” they’re affirming. “But cheer up. It’s all for the best!”

One of the most common and disastrous theological concepts loose in the world is the child’s cartoon view of God’s sovereignty that suggests that God is getting exactly what He wants every second of every day in every place on planet Earth. Dear friend, He isn’t.

I wish I could link to a 4-part series of blog posts I did several years ago titled, “Tragedy: The Mother of All Bad Theology” because I addressed this topic in quite a bit of detail there. (Alas, it was lost, along with seven full years of blogging output, in a web site corruption.)

I call this a cartoon view of God’s sovereignty because it’s the way God is depicted in cartoons, Hollywood movies and sitcoms. That He is exercising direct causative or allow-ative control of everything, and can therefore justifiably be blamed for everything.

God gets blamed for a ton of horrific stuff He didn’t do. As some have heard me say on numerous occasions, Romans 8:28 does not say, “God causes all things.” It says God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called . . .”

That’s a very different proposition.

A lost, hurting, dying world is understandably reluctant to run to a God whom they believe to be the author of their deepest pain. But that’s simply not an accurate picture of who He is or why they’ve been hurt.

He is good. And He has gone to extraordinary lengths, at unspeakable personal cost, to meet us at the point of our suffering and offer healing and hope.

jesus on the cross

 

Perhaps the next time an unbeliever has his or her heart shattered by loss, a more comforting  (and more theologically sound) response might be:

“I’m so sorry that happened. How painful that must be. Let me walk through this with you. And please know that you can take that pain to a God who loves you. Because He’s not your problem. He’s your only hope for healing.”