FRANCIS COLLINS FINDS THE LIGHT

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

(John 1:4 NIV)

We call Christmas the season of light in no small part because of the meaning of this verse. But what are we to make of this mysterious word? How was Jesus the light of men?

Famed geneticist Francis Collins’s journey to faith is a good example.

Collins’s credentials and accomplishments are legendary in the scientific community. He headed up the Human Genome Project before serving as the Director of the National Institutes of Health. In 2007 he wrote a New York Times best-seller, The Language of God, which weaves together the story of his work as a world-renowned scientist and his journey from atheism to faith in Christ.

As a young doctor and atheist at the University of North Carolina Medical Center, Collins cared for many desperately sick people who, in spite of their illnesses, had profound faith. He wondered, “why were these people not shaking their fists at God and demanding that (their families) stop all this talk about a loving and benevolent super power?” After all, most of them were dying from illnesses they had done nothing to deserve.

That’s when an older patient, suffering from untreatable angina, asked a question for which he was not prepared, “What do you believe?”

“I felt my face flush as I stammered out the words,” he wrote, “I’m not really sure.”

Collins was in the dark and knew it. He began to question his integrity as a scientist and realized that, rather than consider all the evidence and come to a rational conclusion on life’s greatest question, he had engaged in, “willful blindness and something that could only be properly described as arrogance … Suddenly, all my arguments seemed very thin, and I had the sensation that the ice under my feet was cracking.”[1]

After a long period of searching, which included a review of the world’s great religions, grilling a pastor with questions, and reading C.S. Lewis’s classic, Mere Christianity, the light dawned:

“On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains during my first trip west of the Mississippi, the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.”[2]

Perhaps you can identify with Collins. You know something is out there, something true, and good, and powerful enough to give dying people hope and peace, but you have been avoiding it. That something is really Someone, the light of the world, Jesus Christ.

Maybe you are ready to begin your journey into the light today, or you know someone who is. If so let me recommend C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, the book that helped Collins so much. Then there’s Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith, a modern classic. And finally, if you are of a scientific bent, The Language of God is a great place to start.

[1] Francis Collins, The Language of God (Free Press, 2007), p. 20.

[2] Francis Collins, The Language of God (Free Press, 2007), p. 225

TIME FOR A NEW REVOLUTION: Thoughts on Rampant Sexual Assault

My dad, Schafer J. Skelton Jr., never played flag football. That puzzled us because we knew he was on three Conference and two State championship teams in high school, earning all-state guard honors in 1950. Mom asked him once, when the men at a church outing were dividing into teams, why he wasn’t joining in the fun?

“I play football for keeps,” he said. “If I go out there, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

Dad understood himself well enough to know that once on the field, in the heat of competition, his natural aggression and fierce competitiveness would likely send somebody to the hospital. I wonder if we understand our sexual selves that well.

What does this have to do with the epidemic of sexual assault?

The Bible is clear that from Noah’s son Ham to Harvey Weinstein, men have been guilty of sexual harassment and assault. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s, however, tossed out every warning the Bible had to give. It said that sex is like flag football; everybody has fun, and no one gets hurt. But the headlines tell the tale. Sex is one of the most powerful forces within us.

Ideas have consequences and, as John Stonestreet likes to say, they also have victims. The sexual revolution kicked the referees off the field, pitched the helmets and pads that once protected the players, and produced predictable fruit: millions of women, children, and men have been hurt.

But the men are the primary perpetrators, so allow me to speak directly about them.

As a pastor, my exposure to some of the grimier parts of life is limited. So, I did an informal survey of my wife, mom, three daughters, and two female cousins, asking, “How bad is it out there with men?”

It is very bad, much worse than I imagined. Some of the things men say and do are too foul to print. Combined with the reports we’ve all read about high profile abusers and rapists my first reaction is profound grief. My second is deep anger.

Schafer would have broken their teeth out.

A word to those men, and the ones like them. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.[1] You may imagine that you are too smart to be caught, but no one gets away with it. I urge you to repent and ask Jesus Christ for mercy and forgiveness. If you refuse, do not imagine that you will escape the wrath of God.

But what about the rest of us? The climate is so charged with rancor and suspicion that some men are wondering if they should ever ask a girl out on a date, and some women are wondering if they should accept.

I had in mind a list of practical guidelines for men and women to help cultivate virtue and curb our baser instincts, but anyone can come up with a list of do’s and don’ts. Here at the nasty end of the sexual revolution we need a reason to follow the list in the first place. Rod Dreher reminded me of one in The Benedict Option.

Scripture gives us a reason to respect the bodies of others and refrain from sex until marriage that is much more powerful than the fear of punishment. Our bodies, the complementarity of male and female together, bear the image of God and are thus sacred. Using another human being for sexual gratification without the protective covenant of marriage is, at the very least, to undermine their dignity. Abusing or assaulting another human being for sexual gratification is to desecrate the sacred.

Bottom line, when we see other human bodies as sacred, the rules about how we should treat them, the respect we owe to them, become self-evident and internally energized.

Dreher writes, “… man has a purpose. He is meant for something, to achieve certain ends. When Paul warned the Christians of Corinth that having sex with a prostitute meant that they were joining Jesus Christ to that prostitute, he was not speaking metaphorically. Because we belong to Christ as a unity of body, mind, and soul, how we use the body and the mind sexually is a very big deal.”

“Anything we do that falls short of the perfect harmony with the will of God is sin. Sin is not merely rule breaking but failing to live in accord with the structure of reality itself.”[2]

We have been living contrary to the structure of reality now for over fifty years and the results are obvious. Isn’t it time for a new revolution? Isn’t it time to turn around?

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Pr 15:3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option. Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York, 2017. P. 200.

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

WHY ME, LORD?

We passed and nodded to each other as I exited the Bo Jangles restaurant, the WWII veteran who stormed Normandy on that longest day long ago. He’s gone now, laid to rest with so many of that greatest generation. He raised two sons here, one of whom helped start the Church I serve, and the other I met in Georgia, who connected me with that Church. I’ve had the privilege to know and be mentored by others, WWII and Korean War vets, men who lived a hundred lives in combat before mine ever began. Also, the Vietnam veterans I’ve come to know over the years, some of whom became dear friends.

Why me, Lord? Why was I born between the wars, after Korea, just before Nam? Why did I come of age after it ended, before I could be drafted? I think often of those men and those wars, as well as the men and women of the generation behind me, who’ve been fighting since 9-11, and though I honor them I am also thankful that I did not have to endure combat.

A photo from 2005 rests on the shelf in my office. I’m surrounded by Papuans, reading a Ketengban Bible. A mere thirty years prior they were still stone-age cannibals, living naked in the mountains, killing and being killed, scared of the spirits inhabiting every shadow.

Why me Lord? Why was I not born six thousand feet up the side of an equatorial mountain, child of spear-wielding cannibals? I think about my Ketengban friends, about how far they must travel, generation’s worth, before they will ever have anything like the life I’ve known.

I also think of Jackie, Randy, Doug, and others born ten years or more before me, who limp through life with great difficulty and never without a crutch, each afflicted with polio.

Why me Lord? Why was I born after the discovery of the polio vaccine and other such life-saving treatments?

I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift. I was born in the best country on earth, at the best time on earth, to some of the best people on earth, in one of the best climates on earth, in the most prosperous economy on earth, under the best health care system on earth, equipped with the best Bible scholarship on earth in order to have what I have and do what I do on earth. And so were most of you.

What are we to make of all of that? Only this: Give thanks for the providence of God and let it cause you to seek him and help others do the same.

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.[1]

Happy Thanksgiving!

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Ac 17:26–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

THE SEARCH FOR RELIABLE REPORTING

25 years ago, I asked a friend in the Christian radio business if he knew of anything like National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, but from a biblical worldview.

“No,” he said, “But there is this guy named Rush Limbaugh who is singlehandedly rescuing AM radio from oblivion with his talk show. If you can get past his schtick, he has some important things to say.”

I never did get past his schtick. But I have, along with many other conservative Christians, listened to Rush off and on ever since and been alternatively incensed, offended, aggravated, humored, surprised, and informed. Limbaugh, along with his many imitators, has coarsened public discourse and contributed to the polarization of our politics. He has also drawn back the curtains on the cynical manipulation of the public by those in power, particularly the Clintons, and was amazingly prescient about the success of the Trump campaign. While I agree with many of the conservative principles he espouses, Limbaugh’s crudity, bombast, and inflammatory rhetoric — audience building tools all — are at odds with biblical principles of civic conversation.

Then again, so were Martin Luther’s. But that’s a blog for another day.

Then there’s National Public Radio. NPR does many things very well. From Morning Edition to All Things Considered, NPR succeeds with its breadth of topics, in depth reporting, and literate reporting staff. But more than anything else I appreciate its tone. Unlike its commercial, conservative competitors, it isn’t crude, repetitive, personality-driven or sensationalist, but rational, reasonable, and understated.

The problem, and it is a deep one, is NPR’s Darwinian, post-modern, politically correct point of view. As Juan Williams said in 2010, when he was unceremoniously fired from NPR for mentioning his reasonable fear of Muslims on airplanes, “To say the least this is a chilling assault on free speech. The critical importance of honest journalism and a free flowing, respectful national conversation needs to be had in our country. But it is being buried as collateral damage in a war whose battles include political correctness and ideological orthodoxy.” Williams, no knee-jerk conservative himself, was dead right.

Enter WORLD RADIO and its daily podcast, The World and Everything In It, a thirty-minute radio news program that drops every morning at 5:30 AM. The World and Everything In It, along with the weekend program Listening In, takes the best of NPR, its tone, its breadth, and its intelligence, and presents its news and commentary with biblical objectivity. They call it biblical worldview journalism. WORLD is refreshingly honest about this, unlike NPR, which pretends impartiality as it promotes the PC party line. WORLD’S contributors and regular guests include Cal Thomas, Warren Cole Smith, and John Stonestreet.  Weekly features include legal analysis of cases before the Supreme Court every Monday, Whitehouse Wednesday, and Culture Friday, along with interviews with thinkers and policy makers from all walks of life.

WORLD RADIO is also committed to journalistic integrity. They do the hard work of chasing down the facts, verifying them, and reporting them with balance and without gloss. Like the magazine from which it grew, WORLD RADIO doesn’t shy away from difficult stories. It will report corruption and failure within the evangelical church as well as without, yet without the rancor and insensitivity found in some other publications.

WORLD RADIO is part of World News Group, which also produces the monthly WORLD MAGAZINE and GOD’S BIG WORLD for kids. They also sponsor the Hope Awards for effective charity. Like NPR, WORLD is a non-profit, which works in its favor. It does not let advertisers shape its content. Yet unlike NPR, which is partially funded by tax-payer dollars, WORLD depends on listeners and like-minded organizations for support.

If you are ready for some world-class journalism from a biblical point of view, or looking for a great Christmas gift for information-hungry friends and relatives, I urge you to try WORLD RADIO and WORLD MAGAZINE. Get a risk-free, three month trial at www.getworldnow.com, check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WorldandEverything/, and find them on the web at www.world.wng.org.

SURPRISED BY THE FACTS Reflections on Mass Shootings

This blog began as a reflection on the idea that each of these murderers was a failed male. I was going to talk about our need to call and mentor young men into healthy masculinity. I still believe they were failed males, but there are millions of those that never commit mass murder. The facts pushed me in a different direction.

Where to begin?

With compassion for the citizens of Sutherland Springs, Texas? Yes, of course. Their suffering staggers us. Like the open casket at one’s first funeral we shudder to approach it. But for me it’s more about Pastor Frank Pomeroy.

Every pastor shares the soul-shredding grief of sudden death in his congregation and wonders, “How will I comfort them?” But who will comfort Pastor Frank and strengthen him to serve what remains of his congregation as he mourns his daughter and comforts his wife? I pray for him, that Jesus Christ the brutally crucified death conqueror will meet him in power and in his congregation as each one comforts the other.

What about gun control? Violence as entertainment? Hardening soft targets? The inescapable reality of evil? The biblical case for the use of force? Please click the links for my thoughts on those things. Writing on these topics has helped me, and I hope you, process these events from the biblical worldview perspective.

What about outrage at the Air Force bureaucracy that failed to post the shooter’s criminal record, the one that might have prevented purchase of the weapons?  I did not give this much thought at first. As we have known since 9-11, terrorists and murderers only have to succeed once. Law enforcement systems must be 100% perfect to prevent crimes, an impossible standard. Someone will always find a loophole in the law, or bypass it altogether.

At least that was my thinking when I began writing.

This blog started out as a reflection on the idea that each of these murderers was a failed male. I was going to talk about our need to call and mentor young men into healthy masculinity. I still believe they were failed males, but there are millions of those that never commit mass murder. The facts pushed me in a different direction.

Under reporting of mental illness and or criminal backgrounds is a major factor in five of the six mass shootings in the last decade (the jury is still out on the Las Vegas shooter).[1] Each murderer was enabled either by laws meant to protect the mentally ill, or by lack of communication between bureaucracies, or by over protective, enabling family members, or some combination thereof to obtain the weapons, plan, and carry out the massacres. The Virginia Tech shooter, the Charleston shooter, the Sandy Hook shooter, the Roseburg shooter, and the Sutherland Springs shooter never should have been able to purchase the weapons they used.

I suspect that there will be some restrictions on gun sales and production that come out of these recent tragedies, particularly of semi-automatic rifles with large magazines initially designed for the military. And that is probably not a bad thing. But it will not solve the problem if we fail to address our inadequate mental health system and criminal background reporting requirements.

[1] Jihadists terror attacks not included as their motives are different.

REMOVING HISTORICAL GLOSS: Metaxas’ Enlightening Luther Biography

Johann Tetzel was being robbed. The Dominican friar and Grand Commissioner for indulgences in Germany was on his way from one very profitable preaching crusade to another when a German nobleman, one who had made a great point of asking whether all future sins could be forgiven if only the right indulgence was bought, cashed in on his prior purchase and relieved the preacher of his purse.

At least, that’s how the story goes.

Yesterday, October 31, 2017, was the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which, according to the 2000 edition of LOOK magazine was the second, behind the invention of the printing press which enabled it, greatest event in the last one thousand years. The story of Tetzel and the robber baron, which is probably mythical, is one of many that Eric Metaxas covers in his excellent work, MARTIN LUTHER: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World.

Although I am only halfway through the book, listening to the audible version, I am totally sold on Metaxas’s ability to make a complicated story not only accessible and informative, but entertaining.

Mailed Not Nailed

For example, everyone knows that a theologian and monk named Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by posting 95 theses opposing the sale of indulgences on the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. (An indulgence supposedly draws on the merit of the good works of Christ and the saints to deliver a sinner from punishment on earth or in purgatory). But most do not know that Luther may or may not have personally nailed the document to the doors, the bulletin board of its day. It could have been a clerk that swung the hammer. What sets October 31st apart, according to Metaxas, is that is the day Luther mailed his theses to his presiding bishop, Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg, with a proposal to call a conference of theologians on the abusive sale of indulgences.

Gutenberg’s Internet

Metaxas also illuminates the fact that, in those early days of the printing press, Luther had no intention of igniting a revolution and no idea of the part he would play in it. He was simply a pastor / theologian and faithful Catholic trying to do his job and protect his parish from oppression and heresy. The 95 theses, written in Latin, would have been indecipherable to most Germans who passed the church doors. They were meant for a limited audience of theological scholars who would have had thoughtful discussions and sent their conclusions and recommendations off to higher authority for approval.

But the printing press was to the sixteenth century what the internet is today. Information transfer went from snail’s pace to light speed almost overnight. Further, with no copyright law in place, Luther could not prevent publishers from pushing his ideas far beyond the boundaries of Wittenberg and Mainz. He was soon embroiled in a battle that he had not planned and could not have anticipated. (He also never made a dime from his writings). Ultimately, Luther saw this series of unfortunate events as providential and embraced his calling as a reformer. But Metaxas removes the gloss of history and helps us see that Luther, like many of us, was a man of his times driven as much by circumstance as by conviction to take up the work which God had prepared in advance for him to do.

I’ve only brushed the surface of Metaxas’s latest, but I hope you will read it. It will give any Christian a greater comprehension of the treasures of grace we possess, the place in history we occupy, and perhaps help us see our calling as well as Luther saw his.