ONE COMMUNITY & THE BASKETBALL BRAWL

ONE COMMUNITY & THE BASKETBALL BRAWL

High School basketball season, 1974, a mild winter’s evening in DeKalb County, Georgia, part of Atlanta’s burgeoning suburbs. My buddies, Randy, Paul, and I left the game and crossed Columbia Drive at the light in front of the high school and began walking up Irish Street toward my house, half a mile away. It was dark, but not too dark to see a group of black kids on the corner, fifty yards ahead, their bicycles laying in the grass either side of the sidewalk.

Randy murmured, “Maybe we should go the other way.” Racial violence was everywhere then, but especially in our school where integration had reached about fifty percent. Scrawny eighth and ninth graders like us paused before entering the school restrooms, hand on the door, listening for who was inside before risking a beating.

“Nah,” I said, “It’ll be alright,” and kept walking, right between the bikes.

“Don’t you touch my bicycle white boy!” I began to reply when WHAP! Something, a belt maybe, hit me and it was on. Outnumbered and scared spitless, the three of us broke and ran in different directions. Three black kids chased me across the street and into someone’s front yard.

I call it the basketball brawl, but it was not much of a fight. I managed to dodge most of the blows and skedaddle to the back door and banged on it asking for help. The porch light flicked on, the door opened slowly, and a large African American man looked down at me and said, “Yes?”

I am a dead man! I thought. But he turned out to be a very nice fellow and let me use his phone to call my folks.

That happened a very long time ago yet, every time I walk down a street and see a group of black kids my gut still does a double clutch.

Fast-forward to Georgia State University in the 1980’s. Atlanta’s races had reached an uneasy peace, with the city’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson. Racial violence had declined, but the tensions and many of the attitudes remained. Still, Atlanta was harmony city compared to Memphis, Tennessee, where I went to seminary later in the decade. We could feel the tension and see the hatred in the stares the first week we were there when my wife and I drove into a predominantly black neighborhood looking for apartments. Memphis felt like it was twenty years behind Atlanta.

It’s cliché, but my best friend in seminary, Robert, was a black guy from Augusta, Georgia. We had auto-mechanics in common. He had made the unusual choice—enabled by minority to majority transfer rules of the day—of attending a predominantly white high school. His stories of discrimination and abuse by white law enforcement in Georgia shocked me, but not as much as the fact that his fellow African-Americans treated him like an Uncle Tom for attending our mostly white seminary. Race relations are complicated, I learned. In Memphis, and through my friend, I began to understand what MLK Jr. meant when he talked about the content of our character versus the color of our skin.

Why am I telling you all this? I attended an event titled One Community last week, at the Prizery, our local community arts center. One Community’s mission is: To provide relevant enrichment opportunities and experiences for our community to address racism and diversity issues. My fear, frankly, was that it would be a politically motivated white-bashing party for people full of resentments who wanted to buttress a sense of entitlement. I was pleasantly surprised, met some very nice people, and heard some stories of what it was like to grow up black in segregated schools here in south-side Virginia in the fifties and sixties; stories told with grace, humor, and without animosity. I sensed a longing in that evenly mixed gathering of about 100 people, for understanding and harmony, not hate. Notably, the organizers of the event had invited white people who grew up at the same time to share their stories, but none volunteered. I wish they had.

Why did I attend? As a son of the South I feel no responsibility whatever for the “sins of my fathers.”  Besides my own experiences, I’ve had relatives who were denied career paths because they were, “the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Reverse racism is a thing. But I am also heartily sick of the chaos groups like Antifa are creating in our culture and committed to doing what I can to unravel it. Further, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful antidote to racism that was ever given to mankind. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation, of men to God and of men to each other. We can’t do that by sitting at home and stewing in our own juices. I do not want to stand before God one day and answer, “I had an opportunity to move our community forward and missed it because I wasn’t willing to listen and build relationships.”

At lunch recently with a good friend who is also African American—but prefers to be called plain old Frank—I heard the counterpoint to my basketball brawl, stories of white violence toward blacks that outraged me. And I finally realized, those kids are just as scared of me as I was of them. Isn’t it time we stopped our guts from double clutching and sat down at the table to talk?

PRAY WITH YOUR BOOTS ON: The National Day of Prayer

PRAY WITH YOUR BOOTS ON: The National Day of Prayer

The ruined city lay bare and defenseless before all enemies. Two miles of massive stone wall battered into tons of rubble, ten gigantic gates gouged out by fire, and perhaps more important than all, a pummeled and demoralized people waited and longed for a leader to turn it all around.

Nehemiah was that man. Against clever, well-connected political foes and threats of violence he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and the morale of his people in fifty-two days.

The Book of Nehemiah is the personal memoir of the governor of Judah during the second half of the fifth century BC. It records his success in an impossible task, one that many others before him had failed to accomplish. He began his task with prayer, prayer with his boots on, we might say.  Nehemiah 4:7-9 tells the story:

“When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repairs of the walls of Jerusalem were going so well—that the breaks in the wall were being fixed—they were absolutely furious. They put their heads together and decided to fight against Jerusalem and create as much trouble as they could. We countered with prayer to our God and set a round-the-clock guard against them.[1]

Not what we normally imagine when we think of prayer, is it? We pray as a last resort, often expecting things to go downhill from there. Nehemiah prayed and posted a guard saying, ““Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”[2]

America isn’t in the same sad state as Jerusalem was, but we face difficult problems that could quickly take us there. Massive and ever-growing national debt threatens our economic security, race continues to divide us, the epidemic breakdown of the nuclear family undermines the future, the vanguard of the new sexual orthodoxy threatens anyone who disagrees,[3] the opioid epidemic rages, and political polarization stifles effective government. All of these seem insurmountable, not to mention ISIS, North Korea, nuclear-armed Iran, and increasingly belligerent Russia. We need God’s help more than ever.

As we approach the National Day of Prayer on May 3, we would do well to follow Nehemiah’s example: pray and keep our boots on. I invite you to join me and hundreds of others from our community at Halifax County High School Auditorium at 6:30 PM this Thursday evening. Then go out and keep doing the family strengthening and community building things that will ensure our nation’s future.

[1] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Ne 4:7–9). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[2] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Ne 4:14). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[3] http://www.breakpoint.org/2018/04/breakpoint-california-to-ban-books/; http://www.breakpoint.org/2018/04/the-point-chick-fil-as-infiltration-of-nyc/

JUSTICE FOR JACK: Religious Freedom in the Furnace

JUSTICE FOR JACK:  Religious Freedom in the Furnace

While sexual assault charges dominate the headlines, destroying careers and political prospects alike, the results of an assault on every American’s freedom of conscience are being weighed in the Supreme Court of the United States.

Jack Phillips’ Colorado bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, is named after his favorite Bible verse, Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (NLT) Jack’s dream was to use his artistic baking skills not only to provide for his family and serve his community, but also to bring honor to God through his every day work.

Because of that conviction, Jack made it a policy not to create artisan cakes to celebrate things that ran contrary to his religiously informed conscience. All his customers were able to get custom made cakes for their celebrations with Jack’s nearby competitors, so Jack’s convictions were never a problem until two men asked for a custom-made cake for their wedding ceremony in 2012.

Jack’s legal team, Alliance Defending Freedom, explains what happened next.

“Jack offered to sell the men any pre-made cake in his shop, but kindly explained that he could not use his artistic talents to custom-design cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies. Like millions of people across the globe and throughout history, he affirms the biblical teaching that marriage is the sacred union of a man and a woman. Designing a cake for them would force him to violate his conscience.

The men swore at Jack and stormed out. He endured weeks of threatening phone calls and emails. His family and his employees have also been abused.

But that was only the beginning. Jack received notice from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC). He was being sued, accused of violating the state’s nondiscrimination laws.

The commission ruled against Jack, fined him, and tried to force him to violate his conscience.

“I haven’t singled out that one issue as something I won’t do,” Jack says. “I don’t make cakes for lewd bachelor parties; I don’t make cakes to celebrate divorce; I don’t make Halloween cakes, or anything involving witchcraft.”[1]

The CCRC also ordered Jack and his staff to design cakes for same-sex wedding celebrations, go through a ‘re-education’ program, implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and file quarterly ‘compliance’ reports for two years to show that Jack has completely eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

In response, Jack stopped baking custom cakes, losing 40% of his business and laying off employees as a result.

Jack’s story is reminiscent of the biblical Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel chapter three. As Jack refuses to bow to today’s politically correct sexual orthodoxy, so those men refused to bow before a political ideology that exalted the creature above the creator. As Jack faces the loss of his livelihood and life-savings, Daniel’s friends faced the loss of their lives. As Jack stands on his biblically informed conscience before the most powerful court of our time, they stood resolute before the greatest power of theirs, saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”[2]

Yet Jack does not stand alone; we are in the furnace with him. His fate is ours. If the Supreme Court rules against him, then religious freedom will cease to exist in the United States. Your freedom to obey your religiously informed conscience in your business, your profession, your education, your children’s education and associations, your affiliations, and yes, even your church, will be confined to the dictates of the new sexual orthodoxy. You will be forced by law not simply to tolerate, but to celebrate things that conflict with your conscience before God.

What can you do? Four very important things:

First, pray. This is first and foremost a spiritual battle.

Second, take a stand. Let it be known that you support Jack. Write if you are able, share this post or posts from the organizations listed in the notes[3], or at the very least go on social media and say, “I stand with Jack.” Supreme Court Justices are human too. They read and your voice matters.

Third, give money. Order brownies from Jack’s bakery. Send him cash. Or send money to ADFLegal.org to help them fight.

Finally, be informed and informative. Share the sermon podcast, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE FURNACE, listed here: http://www.fccsobo.org/files/fccsobo/Podcasts/September%203,%202017%20.mp3. Become knowledgeable on these subjects and learn to give a sound-bite on why the biblical worldview of human sexuality is good for everyone and why religious freedom is the fundamental freedom.

[1] Adflegal.org/jack phillips story

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Da 3:16–18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Adflegal.org/jack phillips story

DISCERNMENT IN THE D.C. GLADIATORIAL GAMES

Politics is blood-sport where power is the prize and those who play it will stop at nothing to win.

I learned that ugly truth in a beautiful room in the house of one of the power players in Washington D. C. The owner, whose issue is tax reform, was not present, but had made his home available to another special interest group for a meet-and-greet. I was attending their conference as a guest who could offer an evangelical perspective on their issue.

As I sipped my drink and circled the room I came upon an older, white-haired gentleman, erect, clear-eyed and almost elegantly dressed compared to the rest of us. This old gent looks nice enough, I thought; I bet he can give me a real feel for their movement. So I introduced myself and asked something innocuous like, “I’m new to this. Can you tell me what drew you to this movement and what how I might help?”

With little more than his name and state as preamble he said, “Young man, this is about power plain and simple and I am willing to break your legs in order to get that power and defend my rights and achieve my purpose. If you are not willing to do the same you don’t belong here.”

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. If that’s what this is about, I thought, count me out. But that happened about ten years ago, and the more I watch the D. C. gladiatorial games, the more I believe he was right. While there are a few “Mr. Smiths who have gone to Washington,” honest people seeking to serve, we are witnessing a ruthless battle for power into which all have been swept. Those who have it want to pursue the agenda for which they were elected. Those who do not have it want to stop those who do and will fight dirty to win.

The question for us is: who is telling the truth? Answering that requires the biblical quality of discernment. It is what Solomon asked of God when he became king of Israel, “Give me a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”[1]

Discernment is the ability to see the character beneath the costume. It perceives the chill in the kidnapper’s eye as clearly as the fear in the real mother’s when threatening to split the disputed baby in half, as Solomon did in his most famous case.[2]

Like Gamaliel, who reminded the Sanhedrin of the fate of earlier messianic movements when he stood to speak on behalf of Peter and the apostles, discernment sees the whole context, remembers the rest of the story, not just the parts on momentary display.[3] It reads between the lines of testimony and sees that what is not being said is as important as what is.

Sound judgment also distinguishes a partisan player from an honest broker, a manipulative speech from a straightforward question, and a witch hunt from an authentic investigation. As Megan Basham, who attended the Comey hearings, reported on World Radio this morning, “Everything sounded so scripted that all the drama was taken out of it. The only thing that raised journalists’ eyebrows was Mr. Comey’s admission that he had leaked information to the press via a Columbia Law professor.”

No one person has access to all of the facts, so discernment in the D.C. gladiatorial games depends on reliable reporting based on biblical objectivity, or the “God’s-eye” view. It is impartial, fact-filled, and thorough and recognizes that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account,” including the biases of the reporter. [4] 

For that I can only recommend WORLD Magazine and World Radio’s The World and Everything In It podcast. You can get a risk-free three-month trial membership by going to www.getWORLDnow.com.

[1] 1 Kings 3:9 NIV

[2] 1 Kings 3:24 NIV

[3] Acts 5:34-39

[4] Heb 4:13

TRUMP AND THE DECLINE OF ABORTION

The inauguration of Donald Trump as the forty-fifth president of the United States is just two days away and many Americans still cannot believe it’s happening, or how he won in the first place. Some say, “The Russians did it!” Others point to corruption in the Clinton camp that predated any FBI investigation. Most, however, miss a critical moment in the last debate when Mr. Trump described late-term abortion, and called it “not acceptable.”

Clinton’s connection to and unconditional support for the abortion industry were pillars of her campaign. Trump’s statement, connected to his promises to repeal Obamacare– which promoted, mandated, and funded abortion at every turn–and to nominate conservative justices to the Supreme Court, who will no doubt hear more challenges to abortion rights, probably did more to persuade conservative evangelicals to hold their noses and vote for him than anything else.

Regardless of Mike Pence’s and other notable evangelicals’ support, whether or not conservative Christians have made a deal with the devil remains to be seen. I give it a fifty-fifty chance of being just that. What is clear is that the cultural winds are shifting away from abortion and in favor of life.

Some notable facts are worth mentioning:

The callousness and corruption of the abortion industry have been exposed in stories like that of late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell, and Planned Parenthood’s sale of baby parts for profit. Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist who catered to immigrants and minorities in a grimy inner city clinic, was convicted on three of eight counts of murder for taking the lives of infants who survived birth in his facility. A documentary movie about Gosnell and the abortion industry, American Tragedy, has been produced and is now making its way across the country.

Planned Parenthood representatives were filmed making deals for baby parts, and bragging about how careful their abortionists were to preserve vital organs for research during the process. The mammoth abortion provider viciously fought back against the producers, The Center for Medical Progress, managing to have them arrested and charged for tactics developed by news organizations like 60 Minutes. But all charges were dropped and, most importantly, the truth got out.

The Freedom of Choice Act, which Mr. Obama promised to sign in his first term, and would have made it illegal and actionable in all fifty states to restrict abortion in any way, never made it out of committee.

Twenty states have passed incremental restraints on abortion and more are on the way.

Obamacare and its onerous mandates requiring all insurance plans to fund and all healthcare providers to offer abortion, have been resoundingly rejected in a national election.

Most encouraging of all, abortions in the United States dropped below one million for the first time in over forty years.

Those of us who have prayed, paid, and worked to end abortion for the past forty-four years have much for which to give thanks. But we dare not put our hopes in this, or any other, president or politician. We need to keep praying, keep paying, and keep working until every human life, inside the womb and out, is equally valued.

BEYOND CLINTON AND TRUMP

Thirty-six years ago tonight I met with half a dozen college friends, as I had for weeks, to pray that God would make Jimmy Carter a one-term president and give us Ronald Reagan for two. I have been thinking theologically about and actively involved in the political process ever since and I have never been so disgusted with its results. Yet three-plus decades do provide perspective.

It is no sin to advocate for any policy in American life derived from the biblical worldview. But it is a sin to make an idol of political parties or individual politicians, be they liberal or conservative. If Christians are guilty of that then God has been very gracious to disillusion us with the two golden calves now running for president. The catalog of each candidate’s crimes is too long and oft repeated to list. Their policy positions and governing philosophies are just as problematic, if not downright terrifying. Neither is fit to hold the office, but barring a miracle one of them will.

What to make of it then, and how best to move forward with hope? I offer the following.

First, maybe it’s good that the masks have come off. Feckless evil used to hide behind press-filtered layers of sophistication in our political process. Now we are seeing the porn culture that began in the 1950’s, and the death culture born in 1973, and all of their progeny in the open at the top. Now we are seeing the shear lust for power without the polite veils. Perhaps we will grow sick enough of them to consider real change.

Second, maybe we will finally come to understand that politics is downstream of and politicians draw their power from culture. When the spring is filthy the river is foul.

Government is at best a blunt instrument enforcing the values already approved by the many. We will not reduce the rot at the top of our country until we change the hearts of our countrymen. That will take much more than a change at the White House. It means changing the culture from the bottom up. It means creating culture that is better, more attractive, and life giving than the sick stuff now being sucked up by the masses.

Third, pray for politicians, but put no hope in them. God’s specific instruction for us is to pray for all who are in leadership so that we can live godly lives in peace and quiet. But our hope is in Christ and Christ alone, in the gospel that alone can change the hearts of men and women.

Finally, take the long view. Understand, as Robert E. Lee did near the end of his life, that, “The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”

SOFT TARGETS: The Orlando Massacre

 

“Trapp in bathroom … he coming … I’m gonna die.”

Those final texts from Eddie Justice to his mom moments before he was killed early Sunday morning will forever define the Orlando Massacre, the Islamic terrorist attack on the gay nightclub, PULSE.

At least they will for me. My heart broke when I read them.

Two thoughts flashed through my mind when I first read Eddie’s words amid the breaking news of the shooting: Islam again! And, Soft target!

They were quickly followed by, what on earth were all those people doing in such a crowded, unsecured, place with few exits, drinking, dancing and partying? Were none of them armed? Did they not know this was the eve of Ramadan? Are they unaware of the threat environment in which we all live? PULSE could just as easily have been FCC, or any church in the nation. Jihadists hate Christians as much as they hate gays. It could also have been a veteran’s parade, a Memorial Day service, any soft target that represents the full freedoms of America.

Some may think I’m blaming the victims for thinking this way. It’s true; my dad taught me long ago that nothing good happens in a bar after midnight, and I’ve never regretted heeding that advice. But hear me out.

I’ve learned not to trust my initial thoughts on something like Orlando until more reports come out, but having now reviewed them, I think I was right. The shooter clearly linked himself to Islamic Jihad during his crime, and PULSE, even though it had an armed off-duty police officer who tried to intervene, was definitely a soft target.

Of course, those are just the basics. There’s much more to it, like the shooter’s earlier visits to the bar, his alleged attempts to pick-up gay men, his trips to Saudi Arabia, two prior FBI investigations into his activities that drew a blank, and the list goes on.

Related issues include gun control, the theological foundations of Islamic terror, and the biblical understanding of the use of force. I’ve written extensively about these things and will provide the links below.

But for now I think Americans of all stripes need to do three things.

First, we need to reach out in love and service to the gay community. They are really hurting and they need to be reassured that all Americans, including and especially evangelical Christians, hurt with them. Scripture says to overcome evil with good. Chic-Fil-A has led the way by breaking their famous “closed on Sunday,” policy in Orlando to serve the wounded and their care-givers. We need to match it.

Second, we need to keep our government official’s feet to the fire about the politically correct institutional, administrative, and investigative limits that have been imposed on the FBI and other Federal law enforcement entities that prevent them from following up on legitimate leads in order to avoid so-called discrimination against Islamic Americans. The Obama Administration bears principle responsibility for hog-tying law enforcement in this area. I don’t fault Mr. Obama for following his principles, but he needs to realize when he’s wrong.

Finally, all of us need to tell ourselves the truth about the nature of the Jihadist, and other violent threats, on soft targets. This danger pre-dates 9-11, has ramped up since then, and will not go away simply by wishing it were not so. How we choose to prepare for that threat is up to each individual and institution, but until the threat environment changes we need to be prepared to meet it, or else to stay out of soft targets.

Links to other articles:

ISIS IN PARIS -https://daneskelton.com/category/islam/

STOP THE SHOOTINGS (thoughts on gun control)  – https://daneskelton.com/category/guns/

RESISTING EVIL IN A VIOLENT WORLD – http://www.fccsobo.org/rwt-blog-39101