Dec 11, 2015

The New Atheists Have No Need to Worry

Whenever I see pictures of billboards from atheistic organizations or other advertisements from them, I tend to snicker a little to myself.  It is not at the beliefs of atheists because some atheists are sincere in their objections towards God and the Christian faith (besides other religions), which actually helps me to be rational about what it is that I actually believe and hold to be the Truth.  Now, although I have admired, in some instances, the 'work ethic' of some atheist activists (if I may refer to them in that manner), I still feel as though they put too much energy (in my humble opinion, of course) in encouraging naturalistic ideals in every aspect of society.  I am sure that many of them feel that it is of the utmost importance to destroy any hint of religious ideology in the public square, especially when it comes to education and policy-making on Capitol Hill.  Though I can understand the call to activism when one feels that their beliefs are just (as I believe that I have been called to live out and share the Gospel message of Jesus the Christ), I feel that when the odds are stacked in your favor by the push of pop culture philosophies, why work so hard to push your agenda.

If we look at secular entertainment to see how much the Christian impacts it, then the atheist should notice that Christians do not impact it much, if at all.  Now, yes, Christian artists and Christian moviemakers can still be successful in these postmodern times and possibly hold some influence (i.e. Christian Hip-Hop artist Lecrae), but art created by Christians typically seem to be relegated as for the "religious" crowd and not as worthy as more secular works when the time for accolades is handed out.

Musicians and movie stars have carved out a nice little niche for themselves as influencers to young people.  Entertainment channels, like MTV, VH1, and BET, invite stars with songs about partying and doing drugs.  Besides initial backlash and controversy for allowing it, they continue to invite these artists back and praise them for their "artistry," if what and how they perform can actually be considered art.

I honestly believe that certain popular acts do way more damage to Christian ideals than some arguments levied against Christianity by irreligious types.  Way more young people will accept the ideas from a Miley Cyrus or a Taylor Swift than knowing the beliefs of a Dr. Richard Dawkins or a Sam Harris any day.  More young people will follow the direction of the elite of Hollywood than the scientism of the well-known New Atheists with their Oxford and ivy league school backgrounds.  One may imagine that it is easier to get a philosophy over to young minds in a 3-minute song and a flashy video than it is by way of a 40-minute lecture and an opinion-filled tome.

This is not meant to be condescending, but it seems to me that the New Atheists forget to take delight in the irreligious-ness of the famous crowd.  They are doing way more for the kingdom of humanism than their skeptic counterparts seem to be.

Dec 2, 2015

BOOK REVIEW - "Aborting Aristotle: Examining Fatal Fallacies in the Abortion Debate"

[This is a book review on ABORTING ARISTOTLE written by Dave Sterrett (of Disruptive Truth).]


This book is very helpful in understanding the prolife position of the abortion debate.  What makes it worth reading is that it doesn't just pile on some religious rhetoric for why babies should be valued, but Sterrett does an excellent job of taking the very words of prochoice advocates and showing the lack of solid foundations to many of their arguments.  There is nothing like taking the very arguments of your opponent and deconstructing them until there is a pile of ethically-bankrupted ideas laid bare for all to behold and flee from.  If a major aspect of philosophy is to think well, then Sterrett shows why it is of the utmost importance to think well before making a decision on the abortion debate.  It is true that ideas have consequences, therefore, any idea accepted in public, be that in a place of law or a doctor's office, should be evaluated for its reasonableness.

Unfortunately, the rationality of an idea is sometimes not fully thought through or cared about in contrast with what ranks highest on an imaginary scale of what makes some people happy or satisfied, as opposed to seeking to do what is ethically right.  Also, new ideas tend to push aside older, more traditional ways of thinking when the newer ideas seem to go with the mood of modern times, but as Sterrett explores in this book, that is not always a good thing.  Especially when it comes to the philosophical work done by thinkers, such as Aristotle and Aquinas, it is ultimately a crime to adapt to just push aside the groundwork they have done in the realm of metaphysics and ethics.  Although science has come a long way since the time of Aristotle, it has not necessarily done away with his thinking on what is rational and what is virtuous to society.  Therefore, if empirical data shows that there is life beginning at the formation of a zygote in the study of embryology, then why does it seem to be irrational to many that others consider abortion to be morally wrong?

Mr. Sterrett points out that for many, on both sides of the aisle, life begins at conception.  Peter Singer, an ethicist and a defender of abortion, was to have written: "...there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being. (p. 2 - in the Introduction)"  So, if Singer can see and science can show when life starts, the problem is not a matter of what is physical, but what is metaphysical.  We now get into reasons behind thinking of human beings as persons or if there are distinctions to be made about 'personhood' that the pro-abortion thinkers may believe are not intrinsic to unborn children.  In this book, particularly in the 8th chapter, we see how personhood may be viewed by those who oppose the views of prolifers, but have a hard time giving a time when human beings 'develop' their personhood or what personhood entails inside of a pro-choice ethicist's ontological viewpoint.

This book was a great read and a helpful one at that.  If a person (like myself) is a bit if a novice at some of the philosophical language, you may have to get a good dictionary or not be afraid to do some reach on the Internet.  Besides possibly struggling with some concepts out of a lack of knowledge of them, there is plenty of information in these pages that encourage some rational reflection on Aristotle and others and their thinking on what it means to be human and the value in being human, whether fully aware of one's self or not.  Sterrett's work should be given to every pro-life advocate to strengthen their arguments and convictions about life; it should also be given to those of the pro-choice movement to help them thoroughly know if reason is on their side.  I believe their eyes would be open to the truth that reason and truth are with the opposing team.

Nov 11, 2015

The Decline of Christianity in America

[This is the "paper" that I delivered to a group of students (from South Georgia State College) and other citizens from the community of Coffee County, Georgia.  I did not go into every point in depth (due to time restraints), but hopefully it will encourage readers to think.]

            On the topic of the decline of Christianity in America, I must state that it is a truth that cannot be disavowed by those who claim to be adherents of this particular religion.  Though it is not necessarily a major jump, there are numbers that show it is in a steady decline, especially for those who are in the millennial generation.  If anyone believes that this topic is a falsehood, then you would not have to go far, all you would have to do is go to the vast number of churches in Coffee County, Georgia, and ask them the number of converts that they have seen in the past year.  Then, you can ask the Christian groups or clubs on South Georgia State’s campus and see how many students are actively involved with their meetings or group activities.  But it is also not just about the numbers; it is not just about the converts, it is also about the way that people are truly living when they claim to be Christian.  Therefore, you can ask any number of people about the behavior and actions committed by supposed Christians and see if they cannot immediately tell you about actions that are not in alignment with some of precepts that are stated in Christian beliefs.  So, personal anecdotes may give us some insight in the lack of robust Christian influence in the times in which we live, but there has been research done to back this assertion.  You can look up information and studies done by Lifeway Research, a branch of the Southern Baptist Convention, or the Pew Research Center, which is a think tank, based in Washington, D.C., that gives statistics on the trends that are shaping the United States and the world.  These words were found from a study on the Pew Research Center’s website from November 3, 2015:

The share of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, while still remarkably high by comparison with other advanced industrial countries, has declined modestly, from approximately 92% to 89%, since Pew Research Center conducted its first Landscape Study in 2007.  The share of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists has dropped more sharply, from 71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014. And the percentages who say they pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion to be very important in their lives also have ticked down by small but statistically significant margins.

The falloff in traditional religious beliefs and practices coincides with changes in the religious composition of the U.S. public. A growing share of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, including some who self-identify as atheists or agnostics as well as many who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Altogether, the religiously unaffiliated (also called the “nones”) now account for 23% of the adult population, up from 16% in 2007.

Pew Research Center surveys consistently show that not all religious “nones” are nonbelievers. In fact, the majority of Americans without a religious affiliation say they believe in God. As a group, however, the “nones” are far less religiously observant than Americans who identify with a specific faith. And, as the “nones” have grown in size, they also have become even less observant than they were when the original Religious Landscape Study was conducted in 2007. The growth of the “nones” as a share of the population, coupled with their declining levels of religious observance, is tugging down the nation’s overall rates of religious belief and practice.  (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/)

Then, I found an article from the Lifeway Research titled, “American ‘Millenials’ are Spiritually Diverse,” that recorded these words back on April 27, 2010:

Two-thirds of American “Millennials” – those born between 1980 and 1991 – call themselves Christian, but far fewer pray or read the Bible daily, attend weekly worship services, or hold to historical positions on the Bible and its teachings.

These are the findings from a wide-ranging August 2009 LifeWay Research study of 1,200 Millennials in the United States.

The study found that 65 percent of Millennials identify themselves as Christian, while 14 percent say they are atheist or agnostic, 14 percent list no religious preference, and 8 percent claim other religions.

Thirty-one percent of Millennials pray by themselves at least once a day, while 20 percent never pray. Only 8 percent pray with others on a daily basis, compared with 65 percent that rarely or never pray with other people.

In response to the question: “You read the Bible, Torah, Koran, or other sacred writings,” 67 percent of Millennials say they rarely or never do. Only 8 percent read the Bible or other sacred texts on a daily basis, although, in total, 21 percent do so at least once a week, and 34 percent do so at least once a month.

One in four Millennials attends religious worship services once a week or more, but two out of three rarely or never visit a church, synagogue, mosque or temple.

Twenty percent meet with others at least monthly in a small group to study the Bible or other sacred texts, but 80 percent rarely or never do so. A slight majority (53 percent) disagree (strongly or somewhat) that the Bible is the written Word of God and is totally accurate in all it teaches.

“The research shows us that religion and its practices are decreasing and becoming increasingly privatized among the Millennial generation,” said Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. “With fewer people attending worship services or praying with other faith adherents, it is not surprising that the religious landscape of our culture is changing with the maturation of the Millennials.”  (http://www.lifewayresearch.com/2010/04/27/lifeway-research-finds-american-millennials-are-spiritually-diverse/)

So, even the research is showing that there is a clear shift in holding to so-called Christian values.

            Now, the reason or reasons for this change, I believe, are many.  I do not see one specific factor that is sweeping Christianity under the rug so-to-speak, but many issues, although I will deal with what I believe to be one major cause at length in a moment.  One factor that Christianity may be in decline is due to the direction of the culture and many young people being influenced by reality television shows, music, and other celebrities and their many ideologies.  Another factor that may be put forth by some irreligious people (and this is just one because there are many atheist thinkers with a wide array of arguments that they believe shakes the foundations of religious institutions) would be that religion’s decline is due to humanity’s evolution.  Some may argue that mankind positing belief in a God was a part of mankind’s lack of understanding or gaps in his knowledge of the universe and humanity’s origins.  Therefore, they may believe that the more empirical evidence that we have for naturalism, which may be defined as “a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted (I got this definition from an Oxford online dictionary),” the less there is a need to posit there being a God when certain data is being interpreted as not affirming any belief in a supernatural Creator.

            Now, even with the previous two factors adding some fuel, it is my honest belief that what is causing Christianity to experience some small flames is in some cases its devotees appear to be not completely sold out to what they believe, so they compartmentalize their supposed faith for specific days of the week and not every day of their life; representing it in a way that others may see as hateful (as has been shown in some major historical moments); or the divisions that it seems to cause among so many of its believers.  If you take notice to the factors that I am putting out, then you will notice that all of these are relational issues.  Now, I hate to sound demeaning to Christianity, but if I may look at it as a “product” for sale for a moment.  In order for a salesman to push his product for people to buy, he must make his product sound better than the competitor’s.  Also, the salesman must look the part, look good, sound good, and give the feeling that he uses his product himself, so much so, he may claim that he is a new person from having used it.  Well, in some ways, the adherent of Christianity, the follower of Christ, should be as committed and as convicted about their faith as the salesman is about his product, and even more so, if the Christian believes that there are eternal implications to accepting their faith as truth.  The Christian then cannot go about life and the relationships in some sort of boring routine.  If you have read even a bit about Jesus and His life, you will see that He took people very seriously.  He loved His disciples.  He healed the sick.  He blessed prostitutes when others wanted to stone them.  So, He truly shows by His actions and His Words that He……valued people.  When people think back about the history of Christianity in America, they think about those who claimed Christianity as having backed slavery, they think about those who were said to have been Christians as looking down on women’s rights, denying minorities’ rights, high rates of divorce, hateful speech, molestation cases, among other so-called sins.  Now, hypocrisy does not necessarily make a belief system false, but it does cause others to see it as unworthy of their time and invaluable to society’s issues.  So, even if Christianity is true, the lives of its believers are what will give it lasting power for generations to come.

            I will conclude with a quote from the great Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement, who believed in nonviolent civil disobedience and had a huge influence over Dr. Martin Luther King.  Gandhi was once to have said: “I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christian.  Your Christian is so unlike your Christ!”  This was and is a powerful statement to any person that says that they follow Jesus.  Jesus was unlike those around Him, even those who considered themselves to be religious and following God’s Law.  Therefore, the Christian ought to be unlike the world around him or her, if he or she is to be truly a follower of this Jesus.  So then, maybe, the Christianity that is in decline, will give way to a Christianity that is truly a replica of the Jesus of old and not a man-molded Christianity filled with abhorrent things.

Nov 5, 2015

The Beauty Of God and The Beauty Of Being In Christ [Sermon]

[With this post, I decided to put up the very words of my second sermon and the link to the sermon below, so everyone may listen to it and read it at the same time.  I just hope that these words may bless someone to the glory of God.]

Sermon Link:  https://archive.org/details/01TheBeautyOfGodAndTheBeautyOfBeingInChrist

THE BEAUTY OF GOD AND THE BEAUTY OF BEING IN CHRIST (Sun., Sept. 13, 2015 – 6pm)

Tonight, this message will be more topical than expository in approach because it is my sincere hope to leave you all with a sense of urgency, about the importance of having a relationship with God that captivates you.  Also, when you and I are truly abiding in Christ, it then becomes supernaturally natural for us to express the beauty of God in a way that is for His glory alone (I say ‘supernaturally’ because it is of God and ‘natural’ because although it is something by God, it has manifest itself in us in such a way that it is not contrived by us and we do not have to conscientiously think it out or put forth some amazing effort to show it).  For example, let’s say that your spirit is a car and in need to filled up, it is what God fills you up with that will keep your spiritual motor running without you having to make it happen yourself.  You see: one thing that makes God beautiful is that He causes us to bear much fruit when we abide in Him.  Meditate on Jesus’ Words from John 15:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

Brothers and sisters, please check to see if you are bearing this kind of fruit and if you are having this kind of joy, if the answer comes back to “No,” then please get on your knees and ask the Lord: “Why my life does not reflect these things?!”

            I continuously suggest to my Sunday school class, and others that I speak to, that we ought to desire an eternally captivating relationship with our Christ, not just temporary changes that come from following certain precepts set forth by God.  This message has been placed on my heart, I believe, because we have seen, and we see, so many lukewarm folk in the Church and/or leaving the Church.  I believe the degree of lukewarm-ness in any life is due to a lack of understanding the abundant life that is Christ and finding temporary pleasures elsewhere as opposed to the lasting satisfaction the soul receives from the Savior.  Think about it: “When you find something good that you like, or even love, you tend to go to it time and time again.”  You might say that when you are near it, you tend to surrender to its calling.  So much so, it becomes evident to others that you have a deep affection for that very thing.  Think of it like this:

“Now, Ladies, please do not answer this question.  I have heard what can happen to a man that mistakenly asks this very question to women.  Gentlemen, you do not have to raise your hand, but the question is this: ‘How many of you would be considered overweight’?”

Now, besides the fact that you and I should desire to grow in discipline in our eating habits and our health, one may say that you have never left a table without getting your fill.  Someone might say that you would never be caught leaving a table without being satisfied.  Another might say that you have returned for 2nds and 3rds and maybe even 4ths, until you had room for no more.  Lastly, if you are like me, you probably can no longer hide your gut, which means it is visible that you are overweight and you like eating until you are satisfied.  Now, let’s translate this picture to the Christian life and the all-satisfying power of Jesus the Christ.  When you and I abide in Christ, He will give us more than enough to keep us satisfied, and sometimes more than we can hold.  Was it not David that said, in Psalm 23: “You [God] anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.”?  It is this satisfaction or “meal” that you and I will then see that we cannot get anywhere else.  We may then be like Peter, who was responding to Jesus’ question to the disciples about them leaving him like the others that had already done so, when Peter said in John 6:68-69:

68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

You see then we will want to go again and again to Jesus to be fed by Him.  Be fed by Him through His Word, through Prayer, through Praise and Worship, and through the Fellowship of other Like-Minded Believers.  When you are filled with an overflow of Christ being so Abundant in your life, for the Glory of God, others will take notice of how “overweight” you are with the things of a Mighty and Magnificent God.  If you are a parent, it is vitally important that you show your child that it is a delight to know Jesus as one’s personal Savior.  I think many parents have raised their children up to know the commandments, to know many legalistic traditions, to know the Great Commission by heart, to learn a lot of Bible stories, and to “go to church.”  But they forget to tell them that you don’t go to church; you are the Church, and when you fall in humble adoration of God, you don’t have to wait until Sunday to Worship Him, you can praise Him and Worship Him whenever and wherever.

            Whenever I read of some supposed famous person that “left organized religion because it was too confining or restricting,” it continuously saddens me that there was a possibility that they were not shown the freedom that is found in Jesus Christ.  Many folks come to worship services for so many wrong reasons that are not founded or based in Scripture, so they end up leaving for some weak and emotional reason.  It is not that their motive is not understandable in some instances, but that same motive tends to lack understanding of what faith and hope in Christ is.  You see when our relationship with God is out of order, then our faith and our theology crumbles under the weight of misguided emotions and inane falsehoods.  I would hope that more of us would tell folks like those “famous people” that even in Scripture, you will see that it was just not rules to be followed for the faithful, it was Who [God] it was that set the rules in place.  “Rules” or precepts that were also designed to give us freedom from pain and freedom from fleeting earthly pleasures that lead to sin, and to keep us holy and pure and desiring a holy union and alliance with our most Righteous Creator.  I am loving, going back through the Psalms in my own private reading and seeing how King David would fail and would rise in his own walk with God.  You can look at Psalms 51 and see that after Nathan the prophet calls David out on his sin with Bathsheba, David knew to Whom [God] he needed to turn to and to Whom it was that illuminated his heart and gave him life.

1 Have mercy upon me, O God,

According to Your lovingkindness;

According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,

Blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions,

And my sin is always before me.

4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,

And done this evil in Your sight—

That You may be found just when You speak,

And blameless when You judge.

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,

And in sin my mother conceived me.

6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,

And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Make me hear joy and gladness,

That the bones You have broken may rejoice.

9 Hide Your face from my sins,

And blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,

And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,

And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,

And sinners shall be converted to You.

But did you catch that 13th verse?  It is not just for us to receive this beauty of God for ourselves, when you become captivated by all that God is, and all that He does for you, and all that He has done for you, and all that He will do for you, and all that you are and find in the Christ, you become convicted about others hearing and knowing this Truth as well.

[Thinking about the 13th verse causes me to go back to memories of my grandmothers when I was a child.  Every Sunday we were at worship.  As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even a question back then.  You went over to Grandma’s house; you were going to worship on Sunday.  Of course, it took me years to realize that it was not just going to worship on Sunday, but living out worship throughout the week.  I was blessed as a child that I had four godly women – my grandmothers, my mother, and my 2nd mother - that had and have today amazing voices that love singing of the mercies of God.  There were days during the work week that these ladies enjoyed singing God’s praises and sharing with me about God’s Word and showing me what it meant to humble one’s self on his knees in prayer.  Then, like a fool, I got older and I left the Church and wanted to enjoy those pleasures of the world like the prodigal son.  And it is interesting that another woman would come along and show me what it is to be converted to God.  This woman, like my grandmothers and my mothers before her, has a wonderful voice and enjoys the Lord and being in the Lord daily and God revealed Himself to me again through her and I have got to Thank Him for providing me with Julia Phillips as my wife for the rest of my life’s journey.  So, I am grateful to God for my earthly father, who is a godly man after the Lord’s heart, but I also have to praise God for these 5 women that desired to teach me, a true Transgressor, the ways of my God.]

Watching joyful Christian people, who were not perfect in and of themselves, encouraged me to know God deeply.  I had to know what is it that caused David to write in Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are 
right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is 
clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they 
than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

You and I should point others to the truth that is only in our Lord by having our words and our actions match.  Joy-filled speech and joyful living has a way of catching people’s attention, only let it be to God’s glory!

            So, the beauty of God lies in the unbelievably liberating freedom found only in Christ and His beauty lies in His willingness to connect with us for our benefit.  Because for you to even desire to be in an eternally-captivating relationship with God, an invitation from God has to be given, and how big of an invitation could you ever receive than the one being held up, on the Cross.  Have you ever thought about how fascinating it is: that the Creator of the known and unknown parts of the Universe desires to love you as your Heavenly Father?  He’s not just some Deity sitting back in some sort of cosmic recliner, as some early philosophers believed, and letting us foolish mortals just have our way on this planet.  He is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the Creator, with a Divine Will, and an Overwhelming, Omnipotent Love, which sees through the dirt of his creation and finds Himself a lost little jewel.  Baffles my small mind, and I know that it strikes people as amazing as well.  It made me think of a Christian singer named Lauren Daigle singing:

I am guilty

Ashamed of what I've done, what I've become

These hands are dirty

I dare not lift them up to the Holy one

You plead my cause, you right my wrongs

You break my chains, you overcome

You gave your life to give me mine

You say that I am free

How can it be, how can it be?

Clearly this is beautiful to the Christian who has been humbled enough to know that they are in need of saving and the God that is bigger than their imagination is the one for the Job.  Or what about when Francesca Battistelli sings:

I don't need my name in lights

I'm famous in my Father's eyes

Make no mistake

He knows my name

I'm not living for applause

I'm already so adored

It's all His stage

He knows my name

The singer is to sing, and the Christian is to live, these words out loud and joyfully.  What else can a person do when they realize they serve a living God in all of His Majesty and Holiness, but reveal it to others!  We may reveal our love for God in different ways!  George Handel, the German composer of classical music who lived during the 18th century, revealed it by writing his great oratorio, Messiah, and Michelangelo, a legendary painter and sculptor, amongst other things, who lived during the 15th and 16th centuries, created a work or art for all to see for ages to come in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.  It is not all about how you show the beauty of God in your life, but it is that you show it.

            In conclusion, the beauty of God is revealed in Christ’s working and abiding in us in His Miraculous Ways.  This beauty becomes the source for us to draw inspiration, transformation, and sanctification from, as we are molded into Christ’s image.  May we all turn back and remember the God that we serve, grab hold of His Beauty to never let go, and may it radiate from us and draw people to imitate us only as we imitate Christ!  Amen!

Oct 26, 2015

To be Young, Christian, and Black (African-American)

Recently I was listening to the podcast of the Trackstarz (the conversation starts at 16:10) and the question was asked, "Are Black people really Christians?"  I must admit I was slightly taken aback (in a good way).  Not because I felt offended in any way, but because here are young, Christian African-Americans, who are taking the time to think about what it really means to be Christian.  In my opinion, this is a loaded question for a number of reasons, and I am glad that the group conversed about this topic from a number of different angles.  Being that I am young, Christian, and African-American, I felt a need to touch on some points that I thought were important.

At the beginning, one brother (I believe to be called "Seantana") brings up the fact that some people believe that they are Christian in a sense by birth or culture or relation to a grandparent.  This is truly a problem because it shows that somewhere in their education, whether by family or Sunday School or the pulpit, they were not shown that being a Christian is not just showing up for church on Sundays, but accepting Christ as Lord and expressing his Lordship over your life in every aspect of your life.  The Christ once said that He is the Life (John 14:6), so one should not take that to mean that Jesus is only for a certain time of the week and can easily be put up on the shelf somewhere until next week.  Of course, this makes me feel that Christianity in America today is becoming a lot more like what Judaism had become years before.  I have heard many times that some celebrities and other less-known folk will refer to themselves as "secular Jews," since they accept their historical heritage and some of the rituals, but decline any belief in the Deity of Judaism.  It seems that more young people are desiring to do that today with Christianity in some sense.  They may like Jesus because He seems nice and loving and all that jazz about treating people nice, but to say that He is Lord over their life and to live completely for Him, and be faithful to worship Him among fellow believers is not right up their alley.  Unfortunately, the understanding that being a Christian means a life in Christ and living against the ways of the world and popular culture is falling on deaf ears and being lost in translation.

 

This question also makes me think of an old picture (as you see right above) that I once saw on a social media site some years back.  I am not sure where the comedian, Chris Rock, was to have made the statement about African-Americans being Christian.  I guess he would be arguing that we (Christian African-Americans) are forgetting the history behind how our people came to accept Christianity as a religion.  I once posted the picture on my own Twitter account and sent it to him (which I wasn't really expecting a response) and although I cannot remember my words today, I would say to him or any other person that those of us "thinking" Christian African-Americans have thought our faith through and see Christ as being the Truth, despite our ancestors being given partial truths of the Gospel by evil slave masters that had an evil and confused way of understating God's Word.  There are times when the Truth still stands out, amidst the falsehoods that encircles it.  For example, capitalism as an economic system for our country may be argued as the right system for private owners to make the most wealth without extreme control by the state.  So, if capitalism is "truth," then you couldn't completely argue it away based on the egregious and evil acts done by its grossest disciples.  Focus on Jesus first and the history surrounding Him and his actions and words, then go forth formulating thoughts on what Christianity is and what is its purpose and validity.  If you come up with an idea of Christianity based completely upon the ways of an imperfect adherent of Christianity, then you leave with a faulty view of Christ who actually defines perfectly what Christianity is.  This is why I believe that studying one's Christian faith should be done with the help of Bible-based Christian theologians, Christian philosophers, Christian apologists, and Christian scientists, because they will help you in your thinking about, living out, and defending your faith.

At another time the podcast points out how so many of our young people (I mean Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, etc.) do not take the faith of earlier generations seriously because of the lack of Christ-like living at home and the emotionalism that runs rampant in the "Black church."  This is no surprise to me since I remember thinking similarly when I was a teenager.  I was amazed at how many people could shout and stomp and dance on Sunday, but you never heard of them or saw them crack open a Bible during the week.  As a matter of fact, during my college years, there was a time when I knew I was living in outright rebellion against God, and I never claimed to be a Christian to others that I hung around.  I thought to myself many times that it would be hard to tell folks of my love of the Lord when I was showing them that I loved marijuana, alcohol, and chasing women far more than anything else.  I mean I knew enough Scripture to know that there was no need in me vocalizing about my faith, if my faith was not shown in my walk.  If I am to take the Grace of God seriously, then I should surely know that I cannot live continuously in sin thinking that I am covered by the Blood of Jesus, so I can do what I want, as long as I pray and "repent" later on.  This would go completely against what Paul wrote in Romans 6:12, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By  no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"  We (true Christians) should show ourselves to be true to what God has called us to be, which is many things (and one is the Royal Priesthood which I  preached on not too long ago - https://archive.org/details/01TheRoyalPriesthoodAndTheJoyOfBeingChosen).  We must remember that we are to be examples to the world of righteous and holy living.  Some folks will hate us because we do not back the direction that the culture is going, especially issues surrounding our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and the women's rights to choose to have an abortion.  But I do not want people not coming to Christ because I am not giving faithful imitation of Him.

The last thing that I wanted to touch on is the way Christianity is portrayed in entertainment.  It is my opinion that when what you do during worship becomes useful for the routine of a comedian or a hilarious scene in a movie or television show, it is time to rethink your worship.  When I first saw the movie, The Blue Brothers, as a child, I fell in love with it because it was funny and it had great music.  But then I took another look at it when I became a young adult and had a deeper faith in the Lord and had my worldview shaped a bit more by other thinkers.  One scene in particular got my attention and had James Brown in it as a singing pastor.  The music got to going with the organ and drum beat and the massive choir got to singing and then they start bringing out all of these dancers to move to the music as if they were "in the spirit."  That's when it hit me: too many people look at this as Christianity.  Feel good soul music that captivates you for about five minutes, but is completely void of substance that is real and lasting.  Jesus captivating one's life is not some momentary thing that needs to be sparked by a good note from an organ, but His captivating the Christian's life is an eternal thing that is "jumpstarted" and continuously sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We misrepresent what it is to worship the Lord and revere Him when we let ourselves become entertainment to the culture.  Television shows, like "Black Jesus," (which I have not seen, but I have heard and read about it and do not feel the need to see it) will never take our Lord seriously if we ourselves play with God's Name and do not care enough to imitate Christ with a Bible-based life that is rich and robust. 

Can you really be Christian and think of Christ as only worth your time on Sundays?  Can you really be Christian and think that it not important to represent Christ daily and to every young person that you meet?

Can you be Christian and African-American?  Really?!  Of course you can!  But only when your skin color or culture or family ties are not defining your faith, and you know what it is to have a relationship with the One who gave you your skin color, culture, and family.  Jesus is past the foolishness!  Are you?

Oct 13, 2015

YOU CAN'T "STRATEGIZE" SPIRITUALITY

1 Corinthians 3:7 = "So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (NIV)"
John 6:63 = "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you--they are full of the Spirit and life. (NIV)"
John 6:65 = "He went on to say, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.' (NIV)"

We, the Church, indeed are in strange times when it comes to the lack of faithfulness of many people in going to corporate worship.  Also, the lack of openness of many nonbelievers to patiently wait while the Gospel is being shared with them is all the more abundant today it seems.  It is a sad and distressing sight to see so many empty pews on any given Sunday, especially when you are trying to be true to Christ's instruction and invite others to come worship with you continually to no avail.  Now, although we live in times where this is the case all over America, we should not die to the hope that we ought to have in Christ and give up on the Great Commission.  That being said, we should desire to connect with others wherever we go and find ways to invite and share the Gospel with our "un-churched" brothers and sisters.  Being creative with our invitations can be a good thing, but I would urge us to be very careful in thinking that we could "strategize" an increase in the numbers that darken the Church's doors and to not forget that we, in and of ourselves, cannot bring the "numbers" in anyway.  If that is what God Wills to do, then it Will be done in His Way and in His Time by the movement of His Spirit through His Church.

Once I sat in a meeting and quietly listened as one leader encouraged the group to think about how it may invite more folks into fellowship and worship.  One older person rather abruptly (in my opinion) asked for a "strategy" from the leader.  The person felt strongly about their point that the group needed some kind of plan for getting more people to come into our walls.  I, for one, did not appreciate the way they stated their point (they later apologized by the grace of God), but I also felt the need to make an argument for why there is no top "strategy" to get folks into the church, and to urge Christians to be careful not to forget about what should come after we are able to encourage others to worship with us.  The decline in numbers of people in churches has been happening everywhere in western society, but it is a nuanced issue that has to be carefully studied.  No one should think that there will be a one-size-fits-all type of plan that will get your church booming just because it worked for a well-known pastor in some big city or suburb somewhere.  I have read before that in many cases that many people fall away from the Church due to some relational issues in which they were hurt in some way.  Then, in my opinion, there are too many "churches" in one community, so people may not know where to go, or they go where they are most comfortable culturally or socially, and forget to do a spiritual (and biblical) check when they visit different places.  I live in the Bible Belt, a place where people will have "churches" side by side each other, right across the street, and where there can be up to 4 or 5 "churches" in a square mile of each other.  Huh?!  I do not believe that this is biblical at all, but I may argue this point at another time.  Also, people argue over insane things today, like should we sing contemporary Christian songs or straight out of the hymnal.  Then, churches may split off from one another because of the foolishness of the so-called "Pastor", who may be a wolf in sheep's clothing, but the "flock" would not know if you told them because they do not believe in the importance of knowing God's Word for themselves.  Yes, I could go on and on and on.  My point is that to want a strategy to gain numbers of people back in the pews is a bit dangerous to me, if that is the only goal in mind.

I know a plan is good to have to get everyone on board to see how we may best reach out to brothers and sisters that are not saved or do not have a church home.  But I would also suggest that in any given outreach "strategy" that the Church ought to be careful to not just go for Heads, but go for Souls.  I think in some ways it is not terribly difficult to get large numbers into churches, or something similar to a church (think "Joel Osteen" and many prosperity gospel preachers like "Creflo Dollar").  Think about it: there are many who claim to be servants of Christ and lead "churches" with attendance that could rival some sports venues, but when you check their theology, it sounds like something to celebrate in an end zone, instead of joyful celebration and living that is to be for a lifetime and into eternity.  What I'm trying to say is: "You can't strategize spirituality!"
Numbers can come week in and week out, but we must be careful to not allow for a great number of bodies in the four walls of a sanctuary to fool us in believing that lives are being changed.  I have heard people say before that if they could put on a certain event or run a ministry a certain way that they could have a place hopping with people.  Excuse me!  Let us not forget that it is God alone who enables us to come to Him and who gives the growth of any place of worship.

Besides, people "accepting" Christ and getting baptized out in the open, may not be a true and exact image of what has taken place in their hearts.  Some people think that in going before the Church and saying that they accept Christ as Savior and getting baptized that their work is done.  It is as if some so-called Christians think that just accepting the Lord is enough in this walk with Christ.  Not even close by a long shot.  Obviously we do not work for salvation, because it is through Grace Alone that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8), but we work because of this gift of salvation given to us.  I have not heard of many being effective in sharing the Gospel by way of staying bolted to the pew.  We are to be active in our praise and worship of and our living in Christ.  Therefore, the life in Christ is an active and a joyful one of sharing the Good News to anyone that we come into contact with, while we are continually being transformed into the very image of our Savior.  Again, how can anyone do this activity while sitting is beyond me.  But, here is the kicker: how can they, those who are new to Christ or new to the Church, know better, unless we train them better.  It is beneficial to letting new believers and new members that finding a ministry to be involved with is vital to being in the Body of Christ.  It should be encouraged that to keep the Life of Christ flowing in you, you must be actively attached to the Vine (Jesus) and abiding in Him.  For a person to not be active in the Body of Christ, a person will appear to think it to be of no importance or that person has a huge lack of understanding of what it means to be in Christ.  This goes back to my point that you cannot strategize spirituality.  We should desire to not just increase tithers in our churches, but desire a deeper love of the Lord ourselves, which should spark in us a need to value others so much that we pour our lives (as we imitate Christ only) into them to help them see that without Christ they can do nothing and are doomed to Hell and the joy that they are missing out on.

So, to strategize, or not to strategize?  Is that the question?  Not necessarily?  A better one might be: "How do we strategize in a Spirit-guided and Christ-centered way for God's Kingdom and His Greater Glory?"

Jul 28, 2015

A Serving of Joy Juice: Be a Joy-filled David!

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May 15, 2015

To The Christian Movie-Goer and The Christian Actor

Let me start this off by saying that I love movies and I love podcasts.  Love podcasts more though because I find out a lot more information this way and movies typically are for entertainment.  So, I try to listen to a lot of podcasts just to help my own thinking.  I listen to a few more than others, and recently I posed some questions to one podcast in particular - A Clear Lens - and they responded in this episode: http://clearlens.org/2015/05/15/podcast-14-movies-euthanasia-the-mindbody-problem/ - and I really appreciated this particular episode and their responses.
The questions were:
What movies are appropriate for Christians to watch?  What secular movies are appropriate for Christian actors to be a part of?
Though my brothers at the A Clear Lens podcast responsed, they also turned the questions back around on me...the questioner.  How dare they, right?  I  kidding, of course, but I decided to take these questions and respond to them myself and hopefully use Scripture to back my beliefs.  I will tackle each question (separate from the other) and try to unpack in my conclusion why I think these questions are important.
What movies are appropriate for Christians to watch?
As Christians, we must remember to go back to the Word of God to direct, not only our actions, but our thought processes and motivations behind those actions.  I continue to think about the eighth verse of Philippians the fourth chapter, where Paul is giving some final exhortations to the Church in Philippi.  The verse says: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."  Paul encourages them to think, and to think on these specific things.  Clearly, Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, felt that it was important to tell them to focus their thinking on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy.  There are a lot of movies out there that desire to give a certain level of reality in what is shown through its scenes and its actors.  The movies that are predominantly put out by Hollywood have no deep desire to affirm Christian values, but this does not mean that Christians should not see them necessarily.  It does mean that Christians should take time to evaluate whether or not it is appropriate for them to watch whichever movie that is providing some interest to them.  Thank our Father that there are critics and movie reviewers (such as Let There Be Movies or Movieguide) out there who watch films as soon as they come out and can help Christians with their decision to avoid certain movies.  We should be very careful to let certain kinds of what some may consider "art" to be in our minds.  There can be "noble" things and "admirable" things depicted in films.  For example, I have seen The Avengers: Age of Ultron twice now and I think it is admirable that specific characters would fight evildoers "for the greater good" of humankind and to protect them.  The movie also shows how two characters can make a transformation from bad to good, which the Christian should understand by our being transformed by the only Good that matters, which is our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Yes, there is cursing in this movie, too much of it, and Captain America is made fun of for calling out "bad language," but I think the good far outweighs the bad.  You might feel differently about that and if you are convicted by that then you should avoid this movie.
In any case, Christians need to be more selective of what we watch and why we watch them.  I am grateful that my father would take me to see great movies when I was a child, but he never let me off the hook by just enjoying the movie.  He would ask me my thoughts on the movie, like why did I like or why was it entertaining, but then he would have me put on my "Christian lenses" and evaluate the movie from the perspective of our worldview.  Many times though, he had done his homework before he even bought the tickets.  (Thanks, Dad!)  Movies now show way more sexuality than what is needed today in my opinion.  I think back to the classic era of films when you didn't need nudity to sell a film.  In western society, because of the Sixties with everyone turning on and turning out, or whatever the saying is, sexuality was put into the mainstream.  I have had movies that I saw from the 1960s and 1970s that showed more nude women and the lines between pornography and art were being blurred all the time.  Now, it seems like it is an essential part of making movies in modern times. Honestly, if you and I know that we struggle with lust and we find out that a famous actress will be in a movie scantily clad or naked, then we should rethink if that is the movie for us.
What secular movies are appropriate for Christian actors to be a part of?
With the entertainment industry as secular and graphic as it is today, I believe Christians who are actors and artists should do a lot of soul-searching before going out for casting calls today.  I would love to hear one day that a bunch of Christian businessmen and businesswomen and Christian artists have gotten together to create a Christian version of what Hollywood is.  Since that might not ever happen, then the Christian should again figure out what is appropriate for them as a believer first.  You are not an actor, who just so happens to be a Christian.  Let us remember that we are called to be a "holy priesthood" (Read all of 1 Peter 2).  Be reminded that Christ is first, and all else is second.  Therefore, you are a Christian first, then you are an actor or an artist.  Now, I know that this can mean less jobs for you, and no jobs for many of you, but is the Lord God not good enough to take care of you?  I was encouraged by a missionary today that I should ask God to help me trust Him more.  This is not meant to be preachy, but I just desire to encourage more Christian artists to stand up for Christ first: the fame and the money is not everything.
I am not and will not condemn person for doing secular movies because I do watch many that have actors and actresses that are kissing each other in them.  But I would be very careful on the parts and projects that I chose.  Famous stars have ended up divorced because they have found "happiness" with a new person that they met on set.  Please be intentional to be faithful to your God and ask him to guide your desires and how you may express yourself artistically without sinning against Him.
Conclusion:
These questions are important because the entertainment industry in many ways has more influence than the Church.  If you ask many children, dare I say most children, who are they a huge fan of, I would not be surprised to hear the name of some famous person as opposed to mom and dad.  We, as older Christians, do play a major role as examples of how to live in Christ to younger Christians.  I do not want my brothers to grow up with faulty logic and bad theology guiding them and pointing back to their older brother as a reason why they thought certain things were okay for entertainment.  The thing that I have noticed more the older I get is that whatever we do today with our "freedom" will directly touch the lives of the next generation.  Whenever I see people get outraged at the actions of a famous person today, let's say Lady Gaga as an example, I automatically think back to our parents and grandparents thinking that the actions of Madonna were okay for their time.  Everything that is called art, is not art, or should not be valued in the same way that we value Bach or the painting of the Mona Lisa.  Christians can participate in art too, but we should be motivated by desires from on High.
Ask yourself these questions: Are movies and art just for the nonbeliever?  Does it really hurt me and/or others if I watch certain things?

Mar 8, 2015

Christian and Gay? What's Your Motivation?

[This Presupposes that You're a Christian.]

     Where did you first get the idea that being "gay" was okay?  Where did you first find the idea that a person might be "born gay?"  Where did you initially read or study God's Word and think to yourself (as you struggled with thoughts of same-sex attraction): "This works with the attractions that I have been having lately!" These questions are not necessarily what you should have been thinking before, but I am just using these questions to point to a deeper issue that worries me in the Christian community.  Therefore, it will NOT focus on building arguments for or against the belief that Christians can be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and/or can or cannot be married.  No, brothers and sisters, this will delve into an issue that definitely needs some discussion, prayer, and honest self-reflection.  The question is: is being a Christian that claims to be gay, an honest issue from a deeper desire to be more Christ-like from inside the Church to outside, or is it a push from outside the Church to conform a supposedly Christ-like image to a more culture-accepted reflection?

     Now, this question can and should actually be asked of any thing that comes from our surrounding secular society and is trying to find its way into the hearts of the saints and the Church.  What I mean is: there seems to be in many cases that Christians find things that they like on the outside of the Church, then they find in some way or another, it conflicts with some aspects of their faith and from there they find it best to re-read the Bible and re-think what they believe to see if this new thing will fit into their worldview.  As far as I know, I have not heard of a bunch of Christians in any century that got together, and studying God’s Word found that homosexuality might just work in some contexts.  Where has it been written that a major Christian group (before these postmodern times) had spoken of and written of same-sex attraction as being another way of life for a person claiming to be in Christ?  This is an honest question and not coming from a place of sarcasm.  I might end up learning something new if my question can be given an honest answer.

     But at present age, we as Christians are continuing on a trajectory that I believe will continue to do more damage than good to what we say to others we believe in.  This writing will not be one that wants to condemn others, but encourages thoughts about the implications of rewriting and "reworking" certain truths to mold them to what is going on outside the Body of Christ.  I do not believe this is just a "Christian gay" phenomena and we all must be careful of doing this, no matter if it deals with sexual orientation or the hobbies you like.  Let's say, for example, you like the idea of getting a tattoo.  Is this desire one that comes from a deep desire to be conformed to the image of Christ, which is Scriptural, or did you think the bodily artwork of a person that you knew was worth you going out to get your body "inked"?  Oh sure, many will take their "ink" and "give glory" to God with Scripture on their arm, and I must admit it does look interesting, but it was not something that was initially started by Christians, and the world did not pick up on some new "Christian artform."  What disappoints me is that Christians will see what is going on in the world, then try to flip it and put a little spiritual stamp on it.  But the world knows better, and they know where it came from first.  Again, this is not to condemn or demean anyone, only to encourage us to really evaluate our motivations for doing the things that we like or even struggle with when it comes to aligning our very lives with the Word of God.  When doing a deep analysis of one's own desires, all the while asking God to shape you in a way that He sees fit, that glorifies Him and gives you a striking resemblance to the Savior, you (and I) might just find that we had not wanted to be as conformed to the image of Christ found in the Bible (from Genesis to Revelations) as we thought we had.

Do you enjoy something that is prevalent in society, but not typically in the Body of Christ?  Do you desire to participate in that very thing?  Ask yourself: What is my real motivation?

"Romans 12:2 NIV
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Jan 31, 2015

BOOK REVIEW - NOT GOD'S TYPE: AN ATHEIST ACADEMIC LAYS DOWN HER ARMS by Holly Ordway

     From start to finish of Not God's Type, Holly Ordway gives an honest account of her exploration into Christian theism (specifically Catholicism) from atheism, all the while reflecting on different writings that influenced her thinking and change of heart.  She writes in a way that is very "simple" (I use this word loosely), not to write that her thinking was weak, but that her writing is welcoming to any person who is a novice to the philosophical arguments for the existence of the God of the Scriptures.  Although Ordway is not writing this book as textbook on the Gospel-sharing technique, her relationship to her fencing coach is a lovely example for all Christian people of how to connect with others with different worldviews from one's own view of God.

     Dr. Ordway's love for fencing plays quite an important role in the book, from her participation in the sport (and her connection with her coach, who got her thinking about Christian theism) to her using some aspects of it as analogy of sorts to shed light on her steps toward, and ultimate conversion, to Christianity.  It is very interesting that a person who had a love for the same sport that Ordway deeply loved is the one who helps her, as a sort of 'guide', to gradually changing her ideas on God and what she had for so long considered the truth.  This part of book shows how atheists and theists actually can connect with each other in other adventures in life.  In too many narratives and discussions, one may get the feeling that there is an ever-widening gulf between theists and atheists.  But here in the words of Ordway, we see how believers and nonbelievers can have a respectful and loving dialogue with one another on the "big questions" of life, such as the existence of God and the logic in following Jesus the Christ.  This is not what she is necessarily going for, but it something that did catch my attention.

     This book is a good read for anyone that desires a simple and honest narration of a person who shows that being an intellectual does not have some "anti-religion" prerequisite to it.  Dr. Ordway's casual walk from lacking a belief in God to proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ is worth the time of any Protestant (like myself) or Catholic.  For some Christian Protestants, there might be a problem in reading a book by a Christian Catholic, where she expresses her conversion to Catholicism, but if one can mentally leave their denomination at the door, they might just take something away from reading this semi-autobiography.  The book is presenting the possibilities for how people may come to Christ are endless.  It is beautiful that we (the Body of Christ) are such a rich tapestry of believers and our testimonies and stories and thinking should and does reflect this.