Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

The New Gideons

Had dinner last night with some friends I hadn’t seen in 34 years. How can you not see people for 34 years and be friends? First, and foremost, we share the same hope in Christ. That makes us friends forever. Second, we share a common concern for this nation. By the time we had finished catching up on the last 34 years, we settled on the topic of the future of the country. I have to say we were pretty much of one mind in thinking the future is not bright.

Just consider what has occurred since Barack Obama has taken office: the open acceptance of homosexuality in all of society, now being forced upon us by the courts; an attack on Christian organizations through Obamacare, attempting to make them offer abortifacients; the overall denigration of Biblical morality and the demonization of those who continue to hold up that standard; the overreaching arm of the federal government delving into our lives in ways only hinted at previously; one scandal after another, seemingly without end.

Can this be turned around?

GideonI’ve been reading in the book of Judges. Yesterday and today, I’m looking at the Gideon episode. He was God’s chosen man of the hour, yet he was hesitant and fearful. He had reason to be. His nation was dominated by another and multitudes of his own people had voluntarily chosen to abandon faith in the one true God and had turned to the idols of other nations. The situation appeared hopeless. But then God showed up. I won’t go into all the details, but if you know the narrative, you know that a minority overcame the majority and the tide was reversed.

The Gideon “revival,” if that’s the proper name for it, didn’t last much beyond his lifetime, but it did provide a breathing space and slowed the spread of sin. Upon reading this once again, I’m reminded that the Lord only needs a committed minority to accomplish His purposes. The only real question is whether new Gideons will arise who remain committed to the task He has given. He never promised it would be easy or simple. He never promised we wouldn’t face persecution and ridicule for our stand. He did promise, though, His presence and spiritual reward for those who stay faithful.

Can we reverse what’s happening in this nation? I wouldn’t write this blog or teach or do anything if I didn’t think it could make a difference. Even if I only touch a few lives, those lives can then touch others. We won’t know all the good we did until we stand before Him and see the fruit of our labors.

Gideon’s revival didn’t guarantee Israel would continue to receive God’s blessing. Our efforts can’t guarantee this nation can be saved from its current depravity. Yet we never know how much can be accomplished unless we try. I believe the Lord still looks at the hearts and strongly supports those whose hearts are wholly His. Who knows what He might do if we remain stalwart guides into His truth?

Where are the new Gideons?

On Race & Intolerance

As a Christian, I take seriously the Biblical concept that all men are descended from an original couple, Adam and Eve. Consequently, we are all part of the same family genetically. Sin is what divides people. We tend to cluster around those who are more like us and develop suspicions toward those who are different in physical appearance. Talk of racism always bothers me because I don’t really believe in racial classifications. From the Biblical point of view, there is only one race, and it’s called “human.” The external differences we see are simply testimony to God’s creativity and love of diversity—a word that has been maligned lately due to its misapplication.

What people call racism is actually just a dislike for those who are not like “us.” It cuts across the divide and infects all people, no matter what color they are or ethnicity to which they belong. It’s not the exclusive province of Americans descended from Europeans. The attempt to remedy past ill treatment of blacks in America via affirmative action policies has only created greater injustice and division. Good intentions are not the same as good policy.

That’s why I applaud a recent Supreme Court decision that tore down the affirmative action barrier to equal treatment of all people, regardless of color, gender, or ethnic background. All that decision did was help fulfill the vision of a society in which people are judged by individual merit, not outward characteristics. Naturally, though, there are those who will cling to the old vision:

That's Racist

It’s particularly pernicious when some of those sit on that Supreme Court. Nevertheless, we should rejoice that at least one small step has been taken legally to reverse the trend.

Unfortunately, we still have an administration that uses past inequalities to hammer the current generation. Some find it exceedingly difficult to see anything outside of the “racial” box. Whenever President Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder are criticized, they immediately find refuge behind the racial wall:

Race Cards

Frankly, any other attorney general exhibiting the degree of racial bias Holder has shown would have been out the door well before now.

What’s particularly distasteful to me is that they always speak the language of tolerance, while themselves showcasing some of the most intolerant attitudes imaginable. Whenever Biblical morality is held up as a standard, its advocates are attacked as intolerant. It’s the Christians who are now being portrayed as the intolerant ones, and we are told that our views will not be tolerated:

Tolerant Community

As I’ve noted before, the real battle for the future is not political; the real battle is theological and cultural. Winning the hearts and minds is where we need to focus our attention.

Reading “The Message”: Seeing Scripture Anew

Message BibleI like reading varied translations of Scripture, just to get different takes on how a passage can be understood. Until recently, I’d never looked at The Message version. I’m sure there are some who shrink in horror from something so colloquial, but I stop and think: how might Jesus have come across to the people of His day? Could it be more like this?

For instance, here’s The Message from the gospel of Matthew, the 16th chapter—a quite familiar passage that’s one of my favorites no matter the translation. I found this rather refreshing:

Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat: I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is to to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

And then in chapter 18 of the same gospel, we get this:

Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.

But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time. Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse—and it’s doomsday to you if you do.

Sometimes I do smile at some of the colloquialisms used, but I am reading the Scripture with new eyes lately as I peruse this particular version. The goal is to communicate in language that modern-day Americans can grasp. I think this accomplishes that quite effectively.

God Is Alive & Heaven Is Real

In an earlier post, I mentioned two movies that I hadn’t yet seen, but planned to, and that I would give my view on them after I had seen them. I’ve now had the opportunity to fit them into my schedule and would like to offer a few comments on God’s Not Dead and Heaven Is For Real.

Let me begin by saying I deliberately didn’t read any full reviews of either film; I wanted my perception of them to be fresh, without any particular reviewer’s slant. I did hear from friends that both were worth seeing, but that’s as far as I went in preparation.

Another caveat: there is no movie that is perfect, but one must evaluate based on the overall effect after viewing. I also know that artistic tastes differ; sometimes, though, one’s artistic preferences can get in the way of a fair evaluation. My first degree was in radio, tv, and film production, so I at least have some background in judging artistic quality as well as storyline and character development.

All that said, what did I think of these two films?

God's Not Dead 2I saw God’s Not Dead on Saturday and freely admit I was reluctant to see it at all. My biggest fear was that it would be an in-your-face, awkward, and artistically inferior production that wouldn’t advance the cause of Christ, despite its best intentions. I’m glad to say my fears were unrealized. It dealt with the reality faced by thousands of Christian college students as their faith is ridiculed publicly. It answered that ridicule not by dogmatic indoctrination, but by wrestling with the most basic question of life in an academic setting: the meaning of life if God indeed is real.

Further, it did so by means of an interweaving of a number of personal stories, all culminating in the love of God reaching out to those struggling to overcome their circumstances, doubts, and even anger at their conception of God’s character. While some will undoubtedly criticize the ending as too predictable, too simplistic as the angry professor comes face to face with eternity, I can’t share their disdain. Life is short; it can end in the next minute; you never know.

Bottom line: as I left the theater, I was glad I had seen God’s Not Dead and was thankful for those who worked so hard to present the gospel message in a thought-provoking way. On a scale of ten (everyone does that now, right?), I would give it a solid eight.

Heaven Is For Real 2Then, on Sunday, I saw Heaven Is For Real. It’s based on the book of the same name, which I have not yet read. After seeing the movie, though, I now have a desire to read the account as well. Artistically, this film is superb. The acting cannot be faulted, except by people who see fault in everything. In the few comments I had seen in print ahead of time, I picked up on some criticism of the message, as if it somehow watered down the faith. I was prepared to judge it as a typical Hollywood attempt to be Christian, while falling short.

I was wrong.

As I said to my wife at the end of the movie, I was surprised and delighted at its Christ-centeredness. Jesus is not just a passing mention, and heaven is not merely some kind of white light one walks into. Moreover, the gospel message itself is played out in the drama of a family trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Authenticity pervades the entire enterprise.

The ending, for me, was nearly breathtaking. I won’t say why; I would rather you see it for yourself. What I can say is that as I walked out of the movie, I can’t remember the last time I was so inspired by the love of God and the reality of the person of Jesus. I am not exaggerating when I give a rating of ten to this film. I find it hard to believe a better representation of God’s heart can be put on a screen.

You may not agree with my assessments. That’s certainly your prerogative. But for what it’s worth, you now have my evaluations to compare with your own. Botttom line for me: the Lord was exalted in both productions, His heart was on display, and He can use that to draw people to Himself.

Whatever Happened to Sin, Guilt, & Shame?

I’m hardly the first or only person to comment on how we seem to have lost a sense of shame. There’s rarely, at least among the political leadership, the news media, and the entertainment segments of our society, any embarrassment over actions that used to bring public disgrace. The opposite now seems to be happening: outrageous, disgusting behavior is either ignored or rewarded.

Yet how can one feel shame if one has no sense of guilt over that behavior? Why has guilt gone the way of shame? Let’s trace it back to the loss of belief in sin and one’s accountability before God for one’s thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We used to be a society that had a set standard of right and wrong based on Biblical morality. While that’s not completely gone, we are now experimenting with what a society might be like if it jettisons Biblical morality entirely. We are seeing the wreckage all around.

One of the more obvious symptoms of a deceived heart is the outward acceptance of—no, make that the active push for—homosexuality. What was once considered deviant behavior is now encouraged. When anyone comes out of some kind of supposed closet, society applauds the “courage” it takes to make that public declaration of deviance. We are in the process of redefining right and wrong. Wrong is now intolerance of previously degenerate behavior. It’s the Christians who continue to hold to the former standard of morality who are now perceived as the real threat to societal harmony.

The most blatant example, of course, is same-sex marriage, an oxymoron of the highest caliber. The sad tale of Brendan Eich, who is now the former CEO of Mozilla simply because he made a contribution to the California effort back in 2008 to maintain the traditional concept of marriage as between one man and one woman, is the latest warning to those of us who are not going to bow before the new gods of immorality.

Mozilla

We used to be concerned about genuine threats to the safety of the nation, such as when underground communists were stealing nuclear secrets and placing their devotees in key positions within the government. That’s passé.

Traditional Marriage

Culture can change without the government’s aid. However, when the government is in on it as well, it provides a greater impetus for that change. The current administration has led the way. It began with the refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and gradually morphed into outright promotion of same-sex marriage, linking it to the civil rights movement. We have an administration that picks and chooses which laws it will support. That puts us on the cusp of utter lawlessness:

The Law

Whether it’s the push for same-sex marriage, the attempt to force businesses to provide abortion services, or the desire to silence political opponents through the agency of the IRS, we are at a precarious place. The rule of law is on the verge of extinction because we have destroyed the Biblical concepts of sin, guilt, and shame. Only by restoring those will we restore what we have lost as a people.

Technology & Those Things That Matter Most

In order to stave off misunderstanding, before I get to my main point today, let me assure any and all readers that I really do like new technology. I mean, I’m using a computer right now, and there are still some who haven’t crossed that barrier. I’m not one of them.

TypewriterHow I wish I’d had a laptop back in 1981 when I was completing my master’s thesis. Try typing a 138-page paper in time for graduation, knowing that if you make a mistake along the way, it might require retyping multiple pages. In fact, when I turned in my thesis, a fact-checker found technical errors that had to be corrected within 48 hours or I wouldn’t be able to graduate. The errors required a complete redo of the thesis, which, in pre-computer days, meant I had to hire two typists to do the job quickly.

No, I’m not a Luddite (feel free to Google that, if necessary).

When I teach, I love using whatever technologies might be available to help get the message out. As a new professor, back in the late 1980s-early 1990s, I still didn’t have a personal computer. All my teaching was done via writing on white boards in the classroom. Later, I graduated to the overhead projector and thought I had stumbled across a slice of heaven. Then, when I finally was issued a laptop, in the late-1990s, I discovered the wonders of PowerPoint and my life has never been the same.

I don’t yet have a smart phone. Mine is just semi-smart; I get e-mail without attachments and I don’t want to pay for internet access. My main objection to moving into that realm is purely monetary, not some kind of fondness for former days when all phones could do was call someone. Skype has been a joy, allowing me to connect with family in other places, even halfway around the world.

So why did I go to this length to make it clear I’m not a technophobe?

CellphonesI’m concerned that, in the midst of all these marvelous advancements, we don’t lose either our humanity or our ability to pay attention to anything not techno-oriented. When I’m walking through campus, for instance, sometimes it seems as if all the students are in their own little world. Everyone is texting, talking on their cell, or lost in whatever realm they may be connected to with those wires leading to their ears.

I know this is not just a student issue, but that’s where I live. A few years ago, I took the drastic step of forbidding the use of any technology—laptops, cell phones, whatever—in my lower-level survey courses, the ones that are part of the general education portion of our curriculum. You see, I already have a problem getting students interested in basic American history courses to begin with. Most take them because they are required to take at least one history course of some kind. They don’t really want to be there, so why not spend the time more profitably (in their view) on Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social networking sites?

So I decided to challenge them to see if it’s even possible for this current generation to set aside their devotion to their devices for a 50-minute period and concentrate on American history. Just 50 minutes. Is that too much to ask? For many, apparently it is. I won’t go to the next level and confiscate phones as they enter the classroom, but I will admit to some discouragement. The discouragement is not primarily that I am being disrespected as a teacher; it’s more that they are so unwilling to spend that small amount of time doing something as traditional as listening and taking notes.

My deeper concern is that they won’t be able to communicate in anything but shorthand (u no wht i meen) and won’t develop their powers of thought beyond soundbites. A people that illiterate—and I use that word advisedly—are like sheep to slaughter as they unthinkingly contribute to cultural degeneration and political foolishness.

Just so you know, I don’t have a stringent policy of forbidding cellphones and laptops in my upper-level history courses. For the most part, the students in those courses want to be there, and they seek to add to their knowledge and understanding. But I’m finding those kinds of students to be increasingly rare, at least in my personal experience.

Am I simply a curmudgeon who likes to complain about anything new? I hope not. I also hope I might be wrong in my analysis of what I now perceive as a societal malady. I see the great potential of technology and wouldn’t want to return to typewritten theses. Yet I wonder. What are we losing as we continue on this path?

ConversationA people absorbed in another world might not have time for other people who are staring them in the face. When I have meetings with individuals, whether a luncheon or just a conversation, I set aside my cellphone during that time. I won’t access it. I believe God wants me instead to devote my time to that other person, uninterrupted by the demands of texts, tweets, or Facebook messages. There is a time for that, but not when I’m supposed to be talking with someone personally, face-to-face.

Can we also be so absorbed by these media that we don’t have time for a face-to-face with the One who gave us the intellectual capacity to create the media in the first place?

All I’m saying is that we need to keep our priorities straight. We all need to examine ourselves regularly to ensure we aren’t crowding out of our lives those things that matter most.

A Monday Potpourri

My goal each day is to offer something worthy of your time. I mean, why stop by this blog otherwise? So I usually find some kind of theme, whether spiritual, cultural, or political on which to base my comments. But I freely admit it’s not always easy. Some mornings, as I sit down in front of this laptop, I feel like I have nothing to say to anyone. That’s not good for someone who is trying to maintain a daily commentary, is it?

Every once in a while, I just throw kind of a potpourri at you. Today feels like potpourri day. How about just enjoying some good cartoons together? We can start on the cultural side:

Asking for Olaf

Then we can go with the purely political:

Campaign Slogan

Perhaps a combination of the two:

Faculty Lounge

Future SAT

Spend More

Then there are those that might combine the spiritual, cultural, and political. After all, life is not so neatly compartmentalized as some would like to make it:

Liked Book Better

Noah

And do try to look upon Monday as a gift from God. Every day belongs to Him. Enjoy yourself in Him this day.