A Wider War?

War is a terrible thing. It’s also an old thing. Unimaginably old.

There is evidence in the Bible that there was a war in the heavnelies before there was even an earth. And that that conflict spilled over onto this planet at some point, with horrific, far-reaching consequences.

But every once in a while a war, with all the horror one entails, resolves things. Leaves things more stable and more conducive to human flourishing than if low-level, simmering, festering, attritional, “peace” had continued.

These are my thoughts today as I have a strong sense that war is coming. A war on a broader scale that what we’re witnessing in southern Israel and Gaza. A war that actively involves U.S. forces.

Again, war is ugly. It should not be romanticized, glamorized, or clamored for. But my sense is also that the aftermath of what’s coming, whatever it looks like, will leave things better for a lot of people who have suffered under oppression for far too long.

It’s just a sense . . . a feeling. Perhaps I’m wrong. I hope so.

Here’s what I know with great certainty . . .

God doesn’t cause all things. But He does cause all things to work together for the good of His people. (Romans 8:28) That, I know.

I also know that nothing catches our Heavenly Father by surprise. And that King Jesus is presently ruling in the midst of His enemies. (Psalm 110:1-2) And of the increase of His kingdom, and of peace, there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9:7)

Book Review: Finding the Right Hills to Die On

I was in Scotland. And over a warm brown ale so thick you could almost eat it with a spoon, I was getting to know a Baptist pastor I’d just met. (When in Scotland . . . !) I was looking forward to discussing one of my favorite 19th century Scottish Baptist preachers, Alexander MacLaren.

My companion outlined his journey in ministry for me, and mentioned how he’d started among the “Strict Baptists” but then later took a church affiliated with the “Particular Baptists” before ultimately finding himself in the non-denominational space. He recalled how he had once been asked if he was affiliated with a third denomination—the “Strict & Particular Baptists.” His smiled as he recounted in a gravelly Scottish highlands brogue his playful reply to that question, “Ahhh, I suppose I am a wee bit strict, but I’m not especially particular.”

That conversation revealed to me that over the last couple of centuries, the Baptists of Great Britain have divided and atomized into ever-more granular particles. (With their collective influence diminished with each divorce.) Today there are Regular Baptists, Union Baptists, General Baptists, United Baptists, Strict Baptists, Particular Baptists, and, of course, Strict & Particular Baptists, just to mention a few of dozens. 

Of course, one can easily trace similarly branching family trees among any and every Protestant denomination. It’s tough to make a credible argument that the Body of Christ is under-fragmented.

It seems there is no more deeply entrenched habit among Christians than to fall out with one another over some difference in doctrine. Many of those differences tend to seem quite minor to the dispassionate outside observer. 

Which brings me to Gavin Ortlund’s important book. 

What is indeed “minor?” And what’s a big deal? Finding the Right Hills to Die On is Ortlund’s valiant and extremely helpful effort to at least provide us some tools for answering those questions.

In the first half of this quick and engaging read, he makes a powerful case for what he calls “Theological Triage.” That is an intentional and thoughtful sorting of differences into Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. Before that, he outlines the ditches on either side of the path he’s taking us down. Namely, either being too picky or not picky enough. 

The second half is practical application of the principles he set forth in the first half. He then concludes with a short section titled, “A Call to Theological Humility which, alone, is worth the price of admission. Here’s a quote from that conclusion, one that reflects the very humility for which the author is calling: 

In this book I am less concerned with convincing others of the particular judgements I have made and more concerned that, even where we disagree, we do so in a spirit of trembling before the word of God. This attitude is both the ground and the goal of theological triage.

Gavin Ortlund–Finding the Right Hills to Die On

Here’s why you need to read this book. It is the same reason I needed to.

Most of us have heard the noble bromide about doctrinal differences: “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” 

All heads tend to nod when it is uttered. What few believers know is who first expressed those words. Or when. It was an early 17th century Lutheran theologian named Rupertus Meldenius. He wrote those words in the middle of the Thirty Years War—the conflict that soaked the soil of central Europe in blood over sectarian differences. Estimates of deaths range between five million and eight million souls. 

Which hills to die on indeed. 

What’s the Attraction? How to Comprehend the Incomprehensible.

As you know, last week Hamas revealed itself to be “ISIS 2.0.” As you also know, Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on the 50th Anniversary of the “Yom Kippur War,” and the savagery that followed, sparked celebratory rallies in places like London, NYC, and Sydney. (As well as countless college campuses.)

Because of where I live and what I do for a living, I travel among people who are largely conservative and Christian. So, I’ve seen and heard their questions everywhere recently. Questions I’ve heard from my bride over the last week. Those questions?

Why would people who say they value:

  • tolerance for LGBTQQ+ individuals;
  • equality for women;
  • Abortion access;
  • Socialist economics; and
  • democracy (Now!)

. . . side with Hamas–an Islamic terrorist organization–over Israel? Why would many Leftist organizations in America–particularly those on college campuses–try to rationalize and sanctify the barbarous murder of civilians, including women, infants, and the elderly?

Especially given that Israeli society embodies all of those values in that bulleted list above.

I recently described Tel Aviv and Haifa to a friend as cross between NYC without the skyscrapers and South Beach, Miami.

In a saner world, American Progressives would view Israel as a shining example of what they want America to be. But that is not the world we’re living in. (Below: Gay pride parade in Israel) Again, why?

Gay pride parade in Israel.

Seemingly every Christian I talk to, my sweet wife included, is bewildered and stunned at every image of a Pro-Palestine protest and every instance of seemingly intellgient political leaders who just can’t bring themselves to call murder and barbarism what they really are. Their jaws hang open as LGTBQQ+ activists proclaim support for a medieval system that would happily kill them and all their friends if given the opportunity.

They listen in disbelief as Harvard professors and congresswomen and professional talking heads describe Hamas’ invaders as “resistance” to an “occupation” that actually ended in 2005 with Ariel Sharon’s catastrophic return of Gaza to Palestinian control.

Many are quick to attribute it all to “anti-semitism” but I don’t think it’s nearly as simple as that. The ancient impulse of anti-semitism has spiritual roots that go back to Satan’s rage at a remnant of Israel bringing His destroyer, the Redeemer, into the world. But anti-Semitism is merely a thread in a much more colorful tapestry that is now on full display. To explain what I mean, allow me to regroup and take you back to last Monday.

Sassy Weather Apps and Apologists for Butchery

Monday, October 9 was Columbus Day; and Hamas’ Iran-funded invasion of Israel by air, land, and sea was roughly 48 hours old.

Now, I need to explain that I have a quirky weather app. It’s called Carrot and when you install it you can dial-in precisly how snarky you want it to be, on a scale from “bland,” to “somewhat snarky,” all the way up to “brutal.” I, of course, chose the “Snarky” setting. On typical days, the current weather summary includes a remark like this one, displayed just now as I’m writing this post:

These random comments are usually just goofy. But on Monday morning . . . I wish I had screen grabbed it . . . I launched the app and it said something along the lines of, “It’s Columbus Day. Let’s celebrate the mass murder of millions of people!”

The connection may not be immediately evident, but the view about Christopher Columbus tapped out by the clever twenty-something employee at the company which created Carrot, is very much of a piece with the views of the very groups that view Hamas as the righteous “resistance” in the current war. They have all been drinking from the same poisoned well–both philosophically and spiritually.

It’s groups like: The 1619 Project, BLM, Antifa, Democracy Now!, the mega-corporate champions of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), militant LGBT alphabet soup orgs, the identity poltics obsessed, the “de-colonisers,”and the usual stealth marxists in the major universities and teachers’ unions that have been chugging water from that well for a while now. A couple of generations of young people were raised on it.

The view that Columbus was unambiguously evil and the protests in New York, Sydney, and London celebrating the slaughter of grandmothers and babies in Israel are tiles in the same mosaic picture.

Want to understand why the members of BLM Chicago and Harvard Pride hate Israel so much they’ll cheer the slaughter of infants. Settle in. Stick with me and the world will likely make more sense to you than it does right now.

Clash of Civilizations

Right after 9/11 many smart people suggested reading one particular book if you wanted to understand why Al Qaeda militants flew airplaines into buildings in New York and Washington D.C.. So I did. I’m glad I did so.

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel Huntington came out only five weeks before the 9/11 attacks.

In it, Huntington points out that the world could (and still can) be viewed as a collection of “civilzations.” China, India, Russia, and Subsaharan Africa are all representative of individual civilizations.

There is an Islamic civilization that spans the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Southeastern Asia. And then there is Western Civilization, centered in Europe, with a specific expression of it residing in England, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

All civilizations, including ours, spring from a religious/spiritual foundation.

  • Indian . . . Hindu
  • African . . . Animism
  • Chinese . . . Confucianism and Folk Religion
  • Islamic . . . (take a guess)
  • Western Civilization . . . Christianity

It is significant that Winston Churchill used the terms Western Civilzation and Christian Civilization interchangebly. He understood something that many people, including many Christians, do not. Namely that the spread and deep rooting of Christianity across Europe ultimately created the greatest conditions for human flourishing the planet had ever seen.

In other posts (like this one) I’ve pointed to the work of academics like Rodney Stark and Tom Holland, who have demonstrated brilliantly and persuasively how Christianity made modern science and progress possible. Christianity leads to human flourishing because God is for human flourishing. It is He who so loved the world . . .

Christianity produced a civilization that, as it matured: found slavery abhorrent, elevated the status of women, fostered social mobility (the ability of lower class individuals to rise to higher levels through hard work and ingenuity), and raised living standards for all.

For reasons rooted in the “Unseen Realm” of the spirit, different religions produce different types of civilizations. Even different forms of Christianity produce varying types of cultures or civilizations. You may have noticed that Roman Catholic nations such as those in southern Europe and Latin America get levels of prosperity and stability that are different from the nations with Protestant foundations. Likewise, the Russian Orthodox version of Christianity produced a few of the benefits seen elsewhere, but not all of them.

So let me cut to the big thesis statement of this post and then follow it up with some explanation and defense: Israel is hated by Hamas for the same reason it is despised by American, British, and Australian leftists. They detest Western Civilization, and . . .

Israel is an island of Western Civilization in a sea of pagan, Islamic Civilization.

Which is why the rallying cry for Palestinian extremists and terrorist organizations is: “Palestine Must Be Free, From the River to the Sea.” Over the decades, Palestinian leaders have repeatedly been offered a “Two State Solution” in which they could could operate as a sovereign, autonomous nation, living in peace beside Israel. They have consistently rejected those solutions.

No, for them the only acceptable solution is the removal of all aspects of modernity and Western Civilization from land once controlled by Islamic Civilization.

It’s an expression of the larger “clash of civilizations” that has defined much of the world for the last 30 years. Western (Christian) civilization VS Islamic civilization. And although not expressly “Christian,” Israel is an island of Wester Civ. In a sea of Islamic Civ. And therefore must be eradicated.

That explains why Muslims across the Middle East despise Israel. But it also holds the key to why the BLM-ers and DEI-ers and 2SLGBTQQ+-ers and “decolonisers” in America despise Israel, too.

They all are operating from a (spiritually rooted) deception about Western Civilization. They view it as uniquely evil. They view it as the source of all oppression and slavery and stolen-land occupying.

Again, the roots to all of this are spiritual and connected to a spiritual conflict that has been underway since Jesus, having just restored “all authority in heaven and on earth” to Himself, sat down at the right hand of the Father in order to observe the making of “His enemies a footstool.” (See Matthew 28:18; Hebrews 10:13; and I Corinthians 15:24-27)

This conflict has been playing out for nearly 2000 years.

This hell-spawned hatred for Christian Civilization is the same thing that causes leftists (including feminist orgs and LGBTQ orgs) in the West to by sympathetic to Iran, even though Iran hangs gays and forces women to wear the hijab. And why both the Obama and Biden administrations have fallen all over themselves to cozy up to Iran. (It’s very much the Apostle John’s “spirit of antichrist” that he said was already in the world when he was writing his epistles.)

I don’t view the world through the lens of race, but BLM/Antifa/DEI does–obsessively and completely. Their narrative views Western Civilazation as “White” and as the root of all evil in the world. In their delusion, Western Civ. is always the “Oppressor” and any non-white cultures must be “The Oppressed.”

Take note that the Israeli-Palestinian situation fits this narrative perfectly. The same feminist and gay groups that side with Iran, side with Palestine against Israel.

This is why they furiously hate the very system that has produced all of the things they claim to value. It is why they hack furiously at the branch they, and all of us, are sitting on.

None of that makes sense unless you understand the spiritual dynamics of the (anti-christ) anti-Western cult. And make no mistake . . . it’s a religious cult.

Yes, it’s distressing to watch. But there is comfort in knowing that God determined long ago how this conflict will end. And He is as patient as He is kind.

A Story is Never JUST a Story

Okay this is just for fun. Don’t take this (or me) too seriously here.

Writing and storytelling is my chosen profession. I’ve studied the craft for roughly 40 years. One central thing I’ve learned is we humans are wired to receive and be influenced by story. I know that if I need to persuade you of something or sell you something, I’m much better off telling you a story than bombarding you with information (facts and data).

Jesus knew this. So do the best preachers and teachers. As do the best salesmen and propagandists.

Sometimes the storyteller isn’t fully aware of what he or she is selling. There are themes and agendas that can make their way into stories through psychological, subconcious, and even spiritual pathways.

I once invested several fascinated hours listening to Jordan Peterson unpack the biblical and Jungian archetypes embedded in the children’s story Pinnochio.

All of this, as my wife will attest, makes me always on alert for what script writers and documentarians are trying to sell me. We can’t watch anything on television without me dissecting the worldview, the assumptions, or the agenda of the creators. And a media creator without an agenda is the rarest of all birds these days.

Which brings me to a recent post of mine on Facebook about the trailer for Disney’s upcomng new children’s movie, Wish.

I know t will shock you to learn that I have some thoughts. But first, a couple of disclaimers.

  • I’m not a fan of some online folks who seemingly specialize in trying to get people worked up, freaked out, alarmed, or enraged about {the current thing.} I’ve been pretty focused the last few years on getting my loved ones and friends to chill out a little. So for every one distressing or alarming thing I post, I try to post 20 or 30 uplifting, heartwarming, or funny things.
  • Also . . . I’m not the guy who’s going to try to gin up a boycott. Sure, I quietly boycott a lot of companies and products that make it clear in various ways that they don’t want the business of my “ilk.” (I always wanted to have an ilk. Now it seems I do!) So I take them at their word. But I don’t need all my friends to join me in shunning them. I figure you can make those choices for yourself.

Having said that, I am a grandfather. And I have keen interest in what the popular culture is trying to sell my “littles” this week. So when the trailer for Wish popped up in a Twitter post this week, I watched it. What I saw stunned me. That’s not an exaggeration.

Before I continue, give it a watch.

Cute, right? Typical evil, powerful adversary being taken on by the unlikely protagonist. It’s as old a story as David vs. Goliath.

Actually, it’s a much older story than that.

Watch the trailer again, but this time mentially substitute the term “prayers” when you see “wishes” . . . and see if it doesn’t take on a different tone for you.

This isn’t David vs. Goliath. It’s Eve vs. God. (Seriously, Dave?) Stay with me, let’s break down the archetypes and symbolism here, Jordan Peterson style. Here’s what I saw in this two-minute, twenty-two second clip . . .

Exhibit A: The setting is an island off the coast of Spain. You have a King ruling a kingdom and a people called “Rosas.” The people are literally called “Reds.” In Genesis, the Hebrew word for “mankind” is a’dam (ruddy or red).

Exhibit B: The king has magical (supernatural) powers. And he loves to be adored (worshipped) by his subjects. (Is this a God archetype? And a patriarchial God stereotype, to boot?) Please note . . .

Exhibit C: All of king’s subjects send UP their wishes to the king so he can grant them. But not all wishes (prayers) get granted. The king’s explanation for this is that granting some wishes would not be in the best interests of the wishers.

Exhibit D: Our protaganist is named Asha. Asha happens to be a very important word/concept in the Zoroastrian religion that was prominent in Iran and parts of India before the Islamic conquest. In Zoroastrianism, Asha means truth or rightness or righteousness. The word/name has deep roots in ancient India and Iran, possibly rooted in myths about the cosmic conflict betwen truth and deception/lies.

Exhibit E: Asha is invited by the king to become an “apprentice.” An apprentice is a subordinate learner with delegated authority.

Exhibit F: Asha seems to learn that the king has selfish motives for refusing to grant everyone’s wishes. The King claims to be benevolent and have his subjects well-being in mind, but Asha seems to suspect that he’s really just holding out on everyone for his own vain purposes.

Exhibit G: Asha ends up under some sort of special, luminescent TREE. And there she interacts with a STAR. The brightest one in the sky. She sings: “So I look up to the stars to guide me. And throw caution to every warning sign . . .” We then hear her saying, “Last night I made a wish on a star. And the star answered!”

Exhibit H: The star comes down (falls?) and becomes her guide and empowerer in opposing the wicked king. (As you certinaly know, in biblical symbolism, “stars” represent both angels and fallen angels. And the leader of the fallen angels, Lucifer, is seemingly called a “morning star” in Isaiah 14:12. If this is indeed the veiled metaphor of the film, this chubby, adorable little star that becomes her new mentor (replacing the king) is the cutest “Lucifer” in movie history.

Exhibit I: Under the star’s direction, the newly empowered Asha begins to make “improvements” to the world. We hear the king say, “I believe I have just been threatened.” His queen asks, “Who would dare threaten you.”

Okay let’s sum this up.

Upon my first viewing I saw the metaphor of the Genesis account, but told from Satan’s twisted perspective. In Genesis a girl who had been invited to be the King’s image-bearer and apprentice is led to suspect that the King is holding out her and her fellow subjects. She questions his truthfulness.

A astral being appears and, at a tree, offers her what the King is deceptively withholding from her. Empowered by a different source of “magic” she will make everything better.

Of course, THAT is the big lie the first couple fell for and people have falling for ever since.

Am I imagining things? Perhaps.

Am I suspiciously imposing a narrative that isn’t there? Quite possibly! (But I think I come by my suspicions honestly.)

It’s only 2:22 out of a full-length movie. Will this analysis fall apart when the whole is revealed. I hope so!

All I know is that the Disney corporation has shown itself to be no friend of those who take the biblical narratives and revelation seriously as a source of truth and life. Quite the contrary.

I also know the enemy of our souls has a multi-milennia-long history of trying to portray our loving heavenly Father as precisely the kind of “king” we see in that trailer. Make of that whatever you will.

Again: My hope is that the trailer is tricking us into thinking the king is the bad guy. And that it will be revealed that the star is really the trickster here. It would make it a perfect and brilliant metaphor for the real Genesis story. But given that the folks who created Wish were behind Frozen, that’s a lot to hope for.

UPDATE: Here’s a reviewer for the San Diego Reader who saw precisely what I suspected from just watching the trailer. He says the movie “takes aim at the Judeo-Christian God.” Not surprisingly, the reviewer thinks this is a good thing.

And Amy Nicholson, a reviewer for the New York Times writes: “Oddly — and rather fascinatingly — this is a film about a spiritual revolution. Can Asha, a humanist, convince the islanders to reject the man in the embroidered robe who preaches that he alone is a conduit for miracles?”

Mysteries . . . Solved! Troubling Sayings . . . Clarified! Faith . . . Strengthened!

Have you ever wondered what Jesus drew in the dust when presented with “the woman caught in adultery?” Have you ever winced at Jesus’ seemingly brusque treatment of the Syrophonecian woman with the possessed daughter. Does Jesus really expect us to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand if they cause us to sin? Did Jesus Really call Satan “The ruler of this World?” Jesus Kills a Defenseless Tree? Why? What the . . . 

If we’re being real . . . not religious . . . real . . . we can all admit that, from time to time we read a verse or a passage in the Bible and say . . . “Wait . . . what?” Or, “What was THAT?” That is even true with the “red letters” in our Bibles. Yes, even some of the sayings (and doings) of Jesus are mysterious and, when we read them, they leave us scratching our heads. Those “red letter’s contain a lot of surprises. A few shocks. Even some scandals!

Get it here: https://tinyurl.com/NewestEBook

The Closed Window: Minimizing Regret

Yesterday, it was my privilege to bring a short teaching from Ephesians to a group of precious men at a noontime gathering. I read from this tattered, falling-apart Bible I’ve had for more than 43 years.

As I opened it, I couldn’t help but think about the friend, Steve, who gifted it to me back then, having inscribed the presentation page (see pic).

Steve reached out and reconnected with me in recent years. Said he was living in Norman, Okla. and although he had some health challenges, he’d love for me to come see him some time.

With each invitation he extended, I’d mention that I do pass through Norman on my way to OKC periodically, and that I’d figure out a time to stop and reconnect.

I never did. And here’s the thing.

Today I learned that Steve passed away just the day before yesterday. I had no idea.

As my bride will attest, I occasionally say that a key to living well and wisely is minimizing regret. Well in this case I failed so very miserably.

And that window of opportunity is closed . . . for now. But we’ll have that reconnection some day. And we’ll have lots of time to reminisce about how foolish and hardheaded we all were back in the day. And at least one of us . . . still.

Time . . . is precious.

His Voice Not His Hand: The Discipline of the Father

Not long ago I was leading a discussion about about how God corrects and trains us (disciplines us). The text we were exploring was Hebrews 12:4-17. I pointed out that that many believers have been taught that God is using sickness, lack, pain, and loss as His “scourge” to teach us things and punish us. But we saw that it is actually His Word . . . His voice . . . that He uses to correct and train us. 

I pointed out eight or nine examples from New Covenant scripture in which God’s correction of one of His own was spoken.

What I failed to mention was that we don’t have to speculate. We have a living, breathing example of God’s methods of correcting and chastising . . . in Jesus.

Hebrews 1:3 says Jesus was and is “an exact representation” of God’s nature. He only did/said the things He saw His Father doing and saying. Right? 

Jesus frequently chastised, corrected, and trained His disciples. So how did He do that? Did He hit them? Did He put sickness on them? Did He cause their fishing business to fail? Did He kill a loved one? 

Of course not. When they missed the mark . . . when they failed to have faith . . . misperceived the situation . . . were operating out of the wrong spirit . . . He SPOKE to them. (Sometimes pretty sternly. Sometimes in exasperation. But it was always His voice, not His hand.) 

  • “Where is your faith? (Luke 8:25)
  • “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matthew 8:23)
  • “Allow the children to come to Me; do not forbid them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14)
  • You don’t know what spirit you’re of. (Luke 9:55)
  • “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
  • “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)

Jesus corrected and trained just as our wonderful heavenly Father does. With His voice . . . His Word. That means we can wholeheartedly and confidently resist the works of the enemy and the effects of the Curse.

God’s house is NOT a house divided against itself. Specifically, God isn’t simultaneously redeeming us from and rolling back the effects of the curse on one hand . . . and using those effects as His tools of discipline on the other. 

Time Travel

I’m sure you’ve experienced it. You hear a song you loved three, four, or five decades ago, and suddenly you’re transported to a very specific place and time when you listened to it with full focus.

That happened to me yesterday as CSN’s “Southern Cross” popped up on a playlist of mine.

In an instant I was in an Edmond, Oklahoma convenience store at 3:00 a.m. in the fall of 1983. With a mop in my hand.

I stopped and leaned on the mop handle to listen to this song because it was a favorite of mine. I was exhausted and a little discouraged and had just had several waves of drunks and addicts come through the store. So sailing the seas in the southern hemisphere sounded especially appealing.

This wasn’t a particular high point in my life.

When you’re 23; have changed majors three or four times; have managed to pile up more than 120 hours of college credit without getting a degree; feel reasonably intelligent and talented; and find yourself working the 11p-7a shift at a convenience store . . . it’s safe to say you’re not exactly killing it in life.

The truth is, I’d sort of lost my way a year earlier, had dropped out of school, started working full time, and bought an ’81 Corvette I couldn’t afford.

A few months prior to that “Southern Cross” moment, I’d snapped out of it and re-enrolled in college. I’d also taken a 400/month job as a Jr. High Youth pastor at my church. But I still needed to pay the bills and cover tuition. Thus the graveyard shift at the convenience store, five days a week.

I’d get off work at 7a, shower, go to class and struggle to stay awake, spend a few hours at the church, help with youth services two evenings a week, and sleep a few hours. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

As CSN briefly transported me back to that precise moment yesterday, I had this thought:

I wish I could go back and tell that bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, directionless guy what a great adventure his life was going to turn out to be.

Extraordinary wife. Adult children who love God and like to hang out with us. A growing tribe of littles who call me pop. Meaningful work to do in abundance. And more blessings (spiritual, relational, and material) than I had any rational reason to dream of or hope for back then.

“Keep mopping buddy. Everything’s going to be okay. I promise.”

There is No Fear in Love

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 

Romans 8:15

“The fear of God.” That may be one of the most misunderstood phrases in all of Scripture, yet it is an important one, as the fact that it appears repeatedly throughout Scripture testifies (predominantly in the Old Testament). When most believers see the phrase “the fear of the Lord,” it instantly validates what they’ve likely been taught all their lives. 

Specifically, that God is angry, vengeful, touchy, difficult to please, and more than eager to dole out punishments to those who cross Him. It doesn’t help that many men had a flawed and broken father who was too quick to slide his belt off when faced with any perceived insubordination or infraction of the rules. 

But what if we’ve gotten this concept wrong? I believe we have. Often the best way to understand a concept is to contrast it with its opposite. And the opposite of the “fear of God” is the “fear of Man.” Your Bible has quite a bit to say about that, too. 

For example, in Proverbs, the Bible’s “wisdom” book, we find: “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever puts his trust in the Lord will be safe.” (Proverbs 29:25 MEV) And Paul wrote: “For am I now seeking the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? For if I were still trying to please men, I would not be the servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10 MEV)

When you’re in the grip of the fear of man, the quest for image and status becomes a driving motivator of your life. Your decisions are driven by what others will think or how they will react. You seek approval, validation, admiration, and applause from the crowd rather than the Throne.

In other words, the fear of Man involves caring obsessively about what other people think of you. In contrast, the fear of the Lord simply means caring that much or more about what God thinks about you.  It means having an intense desire to please Him, not because you’re afraid of punishment if you don’t, but simply because you love Him and the thought of making Him smile brings you joy. You want to “live up” to who He has already declared you to be. Paul called this “walking in a manner worthy of your calling.” (Ephesians 4:1)

Think of the “fear of the Lord” as caring more about what God wants to do with you than caring about what other people want from you.” By that, I mean living a life utterly unafraid of anything except the thought of living below your potential in God’s grace. It means rejecting the values of this fallen culture and cultivating a passion for the things God values. 

As with every other aspect of the Jesus life, you’re not on your own in this. Abundant grace is available to empower you to avoid the snare of the fear of Man and to live a life that makes your heavenly Father smile.   

Even so, many believers are afraid to stop being afraid of their Heavenly Father.

And there are plenty of bible teachers and itinerant speakers with books to sell who sincerely believe you should be afraid to stop being afraid of God.

In response to a blog post like this one, many will respond: “Of course, you don’t need to be afraid of God punishing you for being insufficiently good. But you should be afraid of being disqualified for God’s favor, blessing, and protection.”

The implication here is that good behavior, or not ticking God off, is what qualifies you for “favor, blessing, and protection.” Pardon the blunt language but this is a lie. It’s lifeless religion.

People who advocate that view simply don’t have a revelation of where we stand with God by grace.

The New Covenant version of “the fear of the Lord” means not wanting to disappoint our Father simply because we love Him . . . because He’s so wonderful and kind . . . and are grateful to Him. NOT because pleasing him qualifies us for favor, blessing, and protection; and disappointing him disqualifies us for it.

We always and only come to God in Jesus’s righteousness and His qualifications. And that means we always qualify for favor, blessing, and protection!

The religious mind reasons that since we disobeyed our way out of the Garden, we’re going to obey our way back into it. That’s not the message of the Gospel. That’s not “good news.”

Look at Romans 8:15-17 in The Passion Translation:

And you did not receive the “spirit of religious duty,”  leading you back into the fear of never being good enough.  But you have received the “Spirit of full acceptance,”  enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!”  For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as he whispers into our innermost being, “You are God’s beloved child!” And since we are his true children, we qualify to share all his treasures, for indeed, we are heirs of God himself. And since we are joined to Christ, we also inherit all that he is and all that he has. 

The moment we start thinking that our good works (and abstaining from bad works) is what qualifies us for favor, blessing, and protection . . . we are being led “back into the fear of never being good enough . . .” rather than listening to the voice of the Spirit saying. “you have received the “Spirit of full acceptance,” enfolding you into the family of God.

Love is more powerful than fear. And there is no fear in love. (See 1 John 4:18)

If the desire is to not “mess up” and disappoint your Heavenly Father, or hurt others, or hurt yourself . . . then love will do a much better job than “fear” ever will. Which is exactly why Jesus said all of the Law and the Prophets can be replaced with “Love God with all your heart and love others.” And it’s why Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you . . . Love one another.”

Love will do what fear cannot.

If Proof of Alien Intelligence is Revealed: What Then for Us Christians?

Project Aurora

The “If” in my headline above is doing a lot of work in that sentence. I’ve long been skeptical that reports of UFOs were signs we were being visited by advanced alien races. My suspicion has been that anything that couldn’t be explained by natural phenomena was most likely top secret, experimental projects by our government and others.

Please understand, that’s still my presumption.

I was also open to the idea that some of the phenomena people observed was spiritual (demonic) in nature. But if that was the case, no physical remnants of spacecraft or actual aliens would ever be located.

Nevertheless, there are some serious, credentialed, non-loony folks currently saying that our government, and other governments currently hold and are studying pieces of materials and technologies that seem to be of “non-human origin.”

For example, this week an article appeared in the online magazine The Debrief titled, “INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS SAY U.S. HAS RETRIEVED AIRCRAFT OF NON-HUMAN ORIGIN.” The site covers news in the area of tech, defense, and the aerospace industry.

The claim is that our government and a few others have been secretly hoarding and studying these materials in hopes of gaining a military advantage over the others. A new “Cold War” the article called it.

If the assertions in that article are ultimately shown to be true . . . again, note the IF . . . then it will trigger shockwaves throughout Christianity that will make Charles Darwin’s case for a very old earth and gradual development of lower lifeforms into higher ones look like a minor ripple.

As a Christian teacher, it seems almost irresponsible not to at least ponder the implications of such a revelation. So back to the question in the title of this post: “If Proof of Alien Intelligence is Revealed: What Then for Us Christians?”

Not surprisingly, I’m far from the only one pondering this question right now. Here’s a smart blogger I follow, Daniel Sinclair, examining it in a recent post titled: Will Christianity Collapse if Intelligent Aliens are Discovered? And another, Evan Minton, with: What Would Aliens Mean For The Christian Worldview? Both are worth your time. I’ve given this some thought as well. And I have incorporated a few of their observations into mine.

So let’s run a thought experiment . . .

Let’s say indisputable proof emerges next week that advanced, intelligent life exists on a planet other than earth. What then? Will the Christian faith or worldview be critically undermined or invalidated?

The answer is: It depends, but probably not.

The purpose of the ancient book of Genesis—particularly the opening three chapters—was not to answer 21st Century questions about the processes that brought the universe into being. It was to let the Israelite tribes (and ultimately you and me) know that the world and its people are not as God originally intended them to be. That something went terribly wrong. That creation is broken and we are broken. That there was a “Fall.” But . . .

The opening three chapters of Genesis also reveal that God immediately put into motion a plan to make right what had gone so terribly wrong. A plan that culminated in the arrival of another “Adam” who would begin to restore and repair what the first Adam had forfeited and corrupted.

So the Fall is presuppositional to the entire Christian faith. In fact, the late Charles Colson wrote that a biblical worldview had to contain three elements. Creation, the Fall, and Redemption.

What Genesis doesn’t tell us is . . .

the scope of the Fall. We know that mankind was affected. Catastrophically so. In the Genesis narrative, God’s pronouncement of the implications of what Adam and Eve had done makes that clear. We also see planet Earth impacted as well. “Cursed is the ground because of you . . .” (Gen. 3:17)

What is not clear is whether or not the entire universe was subjected to “the curse.” We know that entropy–the tendency of all matter and energy to decay, dissolve, and generally wind down—is a universal law of physics.

Is universal entropy an effect of the curse? That’s unclear. There is the line in Romans 8 about “all creation” groaning in anticipation of the revealing of the “sons of God.” (v. 22) But if . . . IF . . . God created other planets filled with life in this unimaginably vast universe, were they affected by the Fall as well?

God is just. And it would not seem just nor fair to have the rebellious failure on the part of one planet’s stewards bring a curse upon the innocent stewards of other planets.

Which presents a number of possibilities for our hypothetical aliens . . .

Possibility 1: The Fall of mankind on earth did not impact other inhabited planets (if there are any). This might explain why the (hypothetical) inhabitants of such a planet are so much more advanced than ours. Who knows how much the effects of the curse slowed down our advancement and development as a species. That would also mean such interplanetary travelers would be friendly and benevolent. Not unlike angels but, like us, would have natural material bodies and be able to reproduce.

Possibility 2: The Fall of mankind on earth DID impact other inhabited planets. This seems far less likely (or just) and it opens up a whole array of thorny questions. Did the eternally pre-existent God-the-Son, need to be incarnated as one of those other beings to redeem them, just as He had to become one of us? Or, since the Fall happened here, the Son only needed to be incarnated here, but it is now our responsibility to deliver the Good News to the inhabitants of other planets? After all, in the Great Commission, Jesus’ instructions were to preach the gospel “to all creation.” (pas ktisis in the Greek.) Those are the same Greek words Paul used in Romans 8:22 in saying that “all creation” groans to see the revealing of the sons of God. Would it be fair to have the inhabitants of another planet wait many thousands of years for our technology to make evangelizing them possible? Well, there are currently remote tribes on THIS planet who still haven’t been reached by missionaries, and they’ve been waiting 2,000 years.

Possibility 3: The non-terrestrial visitors are highly intelligent and advanced, but were not created “in the image and likeness of God” as Adam and Eve were. Over the centuries, many theologians have wrestled with the meaning of those words from Genesis 1:26-27. They call it the “Imago Dei.” I don’t believe they mean, necessarily that we look like God. I believe being His “image bearers” means we carry a spark of divine Life . . . His “breath.” But more importantly, that we also carry His seal of delegated authority. We represent Him. His intention was (and is) for His people to oversee the earth as His proxy rulers. That means this place belongs to us. But it also means it’s possible that any hyper-intelligent visitors that were NOT created Imago Dei lack the breath of God. This would make them a class of being we do not have here on Earth—essentially an animal that is smarter than we are.

None of these possibilities presents an existential threat to the Christian faith. As long as . . .

As long as we don’t make the mistake that many of my Christian fundamentalist friends have made in the past and continue to make. Namely, the belief that everything that IS has to have been mentioned explicitly in the Bible somewhere. And if it’s not mentioned in the Bible, then it cannot BE. And it if cannot be, then it’s a trick of the devil.

This is where such folks stood when the first dinosaur fossils began to emerge. They didn’t see dinosaurs in the Bible and therefore crafted elaborate explanations for why those fossils weren’t what they seemed to be. Once the evidence became undeniable, then fell back and dug in on new positions and twisted themselves into logical and evidentiary pretzels. All out of a (flawed, in my view) assumption about why God gave us the Bible and how we’re intended to read it.

So here’s where I currently stand . . .

“Currently” is the operative word in that subhead.

I suspect it takes, mathematically, a universe THIS big to end up with ONE place as perfect for life as this gorgeous blue marble is. Which means we’re alone in the material universe. Of course, the material universe is NOT all there is. Far from it.

That time they pointed the Hubble telescope at an “empty” portion of our night sky . . .

Even though the current rumors and speculation swirl around individuals with much more credibility than the usual fringe fanatics who know “The Truth is Out There,” I’m still skeptical for reasons I won’t take the time to go into here.

But if I’m wrong, it won’t shake my faith. Not because I’m prepared to reject any and all evidence that doesn’t comport with my interpretation of Genesis. Not because I would close my eyes and stick my fingers in my ears shouting “LA LA LA . . . I can’t hear you.”

Like the two theologians whose blog posts I linked to above, I’m convinced such a revelation, no matter how unlikely I think it might be, presents no threat to authentic, historic Christianity.

I’m convinced the story the Bible is telling contains room for nearly any eventuality. There is nothing in the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed or any other ancient creed of the Church that would be negated by evidence of intelligent life on another planet.

By the way, I think about these things so you don’t have to.