REMEMBER 3 THINGS ON 9-11

REMEMBER 3 THINGS ON 9-11

On the 18th anniversary of 9-11 as our government breaks off peace negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, I thought it would be good to remember a few fundamentals about dealing with Islamism.

In a 2013 column in USA Today, courageous Muslim physician and author, Qanta Ahmed wrote,

“”The Mosques are our barracks; the minarets our bayonets. The domes are our helms. The believers are our soldiers”

This was the Islamist poem quoted by the mayor of Istanbul, Turkey in December 1997. Charged with using inflammatory speech, he was ejected from office and sentenced to jail by the Ankara High Court.

That mayor, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been Prime Minister and President of Turkey since 2003. During that time, he has slowly but inexorably pushed secular Turkey, a member of NATO, toward an unabashedly Islamist future.[1]

Ahmed, along with other courageous Muslim voices, reminds us of our first fundamental.

BE REAL: ISLAMISM IS NOT GOING AWAY

The Islamic faith as it is understood by Islamists justifies aggression against anyone or any state that can be labeled a threat to Islam. Theirs is a long history.

In 732, barely a hundred years after the founding of Islam, a battle was fought just outside of Paris at a place called Poitiers. Muslim armies seeking to conquer Europe were stopped. For the next 951 years Crusades were called to throw them back. The Muslims countered until finally, in 1683, the armies of the Ottoman Empire were decisively defeated by Polish and German infantry near Vienna. The date? September 11. Bin Laden didn’t choose that date out of thin air;[2] nor did the Benghazi bandits who murdered Ambassador Stephens in 2012.

Westerners assume that the conflict we have with Islamism began in 2001. It began when Islam was founded and it has never stopped. The first thing we must understand is that Islamism and its mission to overcome the Judeo-Christian culture of the west is not going away. Bin Laden predicted that the jihadists would win because they would outlast the Americans. It’s beginning to look like he was right.

Romans 12:17-21 teaches that we aren’t to fear Islam or Muslims. We aren’t to seek revenge for 9-11 or other attacks. Biblically, it is the role of the state to pursue justice and punish evil. As believers we are to love our enemies and seek peace in all of our personal contacts. But we also need to be honest with ourselves and understand that Islamism is not going away. Our children and grandchildren will be dealing with it when we’re gone.

BE ON GUARD: NAЇVETE ISN’T AN OPTION

The second thing we should remember is that loving our enemies and seeking peace doesn’t mean being naïve. We need to be on guard.

In Matthew 10:16-18, just before sending out the Twelve on a mission to the Jews, Jesus warned them not to be naïve. He also told them to speak the truth no matter the cost. The Apostle Paul did the same thing with his protégé Timothy, urging him to “be on guard.”[3]

We need to be on our guard against the mission and the mandate of Islamism.

Most Muslims are like most other religious people in the world: they are concerned with making a living, educating their children, worshiping their god and keeping food on the table. Thankfully, moderate, pluralistic Muslims like Dr. Ahmed courageously speak out in favor of living in harmony with other faiths. But Islamist’s aren’t interested in assimilating into Western culture on an equal footing with other religions.

“Omar Ahmed, the founder of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil liberties group in the United States, believes that Islam must become dominant in the US.”

Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.[4]

Taqiyya is an Arabic word that means dissimulation, permitted deceit. It is allowed in Sharia law in order to promote Islam.[5] Not all Muslims hold to this practice, and Shiite Muslims support it more often than Sunnis, but it is in widespread use today.

Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, but he wasn’t naïve, and he didn’t encourage us to be gullible.

Once Islam gains a foothold through the gradual implementation of Sharia any opposition to it, any attempt to reverse it, becomes in Islamic thought not a defense of the Constitution, not a matter of freedom of speech, and not a defense of religious liberty but an attack on Islam. Any attack on Islam justifies jihad. So be on guard.

BE DILIGENT: MAKE DISCIPLES

The third thing to remember on 9-11 is what Jesus commanded us to do from the beginning: Go and make disciples. The best way to change the world is to change lives.

Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. It has a record of swallowing up whole nations and forcing them to submit. It is relentless in its dogma and determination. It is not going to be stopped at the ballot box, or in the courtroom, or on the pages of public opinion or even on the battlefield. It is a powerful spiritual force. The only thing that will keep it from overcoming the world is a more powerful spiritual force: The message of Jesus authentically lived and faithfully shared.

Sam Solomon (pseudonym) was an Islamic recruiter. His job was to train suicide bombers in Islamic ideology. He became a Christian and in a 2006 interview with Cal Thomas he explained:

“There’s not a single verse in the Koran talking about peace with a non-Muslim, with the Jews and the Christians. Islam means submission. Islam means surrender. It means you surrender and accept Islamic hegemony over yourselves…”

I asked him about the best strategy for fighting it: “It cannot be combated simply by force. It needs to be combated ideologically, spiritually (as well as) through arms.”

That is why it is so important for us to reignite our own commitment to the mission of Jesus. That is why I support ministries like: Answering-Islam.org, which serves Muslims wishing to escape from Islam every day through sound apologetics; the Church-Centric Bible Translation movement, which equips church-planting networks with the tools to translate the Bible for Unreached People Groups; Samaritan’s Purse, which serves places with Muslim populations with the life giving ministry of emergency relief in the name of Jesus, clearly communicating the gospel where ever they can.

Please pray for those ministries and give to them. It is the least we can do in remembrance of this fateful day.

[1] (CASTRATE ISLAMISM. USA Today, Sept. 4, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/09/04/turkey-arab-spring-islam-extremist/2735303/)

[2] Colson, Chuck; Presentation to the Wilberforce Forum Centurions Program Participants, Given March 4, 2006

[3] See Matthew 10:26-28; 2 Timothy 4:14-15.

[4] Sookhdeo, Patrick, The CHALLENGE OF ISLAM To the Church and Its Mission, pg. 15; Isaac Publishing. Quoting Lisa Gardiner in “American Muslim Leader Urges Faithful to Spread the Word,” San Ramon Valley (CA) Herald, July 4, 1998.

[5] Ibid, pg36-37.

THE POUND CAKE HAS LANDED and other thoughts on community

THE POUND CAKE HAS LANDED  and other thoughts on community

The “Smith” boys got arrested last week and I couldn’t help them. My brother is moving this week and I can’t help him either. And the pound cake landed in my office today, but I didn’t bake it.

Those three things percolated in my head this morning as I sat down to write. Though they are unrelated events in a typical week, they share a single thread: Healthy community isn’t optional, and it doesn’t happen by accident. It must be intentionally built.

I’ve been acquainted with the “Smith’s” since they were born. We greeted them as toddlers on our daily walks past their house, one block over from ours. We watched them graduate from training wheels to big boy bikes. I helped them refill their tires once with my air compressor. We waved and said hello every time they passed our house on the way to the basketball court at the park. But we never built a real relationship with them or their parents. Their vandalism—the neighborhood always knew it was them—escalated with age. Now they are under arrest, charged with  murder.

Maybe, just maybe, if I’d hosted that annual 9-11 block party I dreamed of shortly after the terrorist attacks, a relationship could have taken root. Mentoring might have happened. Now I’ll never know.

My brother is moving from the gulf coast to north Georgia this week. He is desperately tired with all the preparations and needs a lot of help to get moved in. I’m too far away, there is no room in my work schedule to go anyway. He doesn’t have a network of friends there yet. I’m hoping and praying the church he visited on one of his house hunting trips will hear of his need and give him a hand.

Healthy community doesn’t happen by accident, it must be intentionally built.

And just in case you were beginning to get depressed, the pound cake has landed, and I didn’t bake it.

We’re not talking just any pound cake here either. We’re talking Ann Chaney’s finest lemon-glazed, melt-in-your-mouth, make you wanna slap your Momma ‘cause she never gave you anything this good! southern Virginia masterpiece of a pound cake. Ann, who has been my administrative assistant for fourteen years, baked it for our upcoming Alpha Course. I’ll never be able to bake anything that good. But I can’t wait to bless our guests with it.

Life is tough and people have free will. We can’t save every wayward boy or help every worn-out brother. But we can, if we are intentional about it, create an environment where relationships can grow, people can hear the gospel, receive the gift of life, and experience the community of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

But it won’t happen by accident. Healthy community must be intentionally built. Sometimes all it takes is a really good piece of pound cake.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. [1]

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Php 2:4). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

MEN ARE FORMED, NOT BORN

The news of men has not been good of late. My friend Tommy died last week. The last I heard he was in the Roanoke Rescue Mission. But in the end, he was homeless, doing crack, meth, and heroin. The drugs took him at 52.

There’s the porn epidemic. As Catholic writer, Benjamin Wiker, has said, “Our sexual environment is about as polluted as China’s air, and the harm caused by such pollution is just as scientifically demonstrable.”[1]

Then there’s the swelling cohort of insecure, indecisive, incompetent young men whose directionless energies are squandered in endless pursuits of, well, that’s just it, nothing special. As Auguste Meyrat recently wrote, they are “hapless chumps” who can “make observations, crack jokes, ask questions…but they cannot make theses and support them.” Women may “friend-zone” these guys, but they won’t marry and have children with them.[2]

And its common knowledge that one of the greatest common denominators for mass shooters (not counting jihadis) is that they are young, alienated men, with absent, abusive, or just irrelevant fathers.

Males are born, but men are formed. And our culture is failing to form them.

Cultural trends for the last forty years mitigate against it. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” founding feminist Gloria Steinem said, and a whole generation of women believed her and did without. That movement, along with constant media mockery of men as sleazy sex addicts or buffoonish oafs, removed much of the motivation men had to become something other than overgrown boys.

Healthy masculinity, the kind that gets tough when the going gets rough and tender when it doesn’t, has also been undermined by hypocrites like Bill Cosby and pedophile priests. But they are only the most famous of a multitude of men who hide predatory natures behind a faith and family friendly mask.

What’s to be done? Specifically, what can the church do? The most important thing we can do is buy into my thesis: Men are formed, not born.

There are definite attributes and specific disciplines that separate the men from the boys that can be passed down from one generation to the next. They have nothing to do with physical or sexual prowess and everything to do with character formation. We can work out the details of how to do that later, but we must buy in first. We must believe that positive masculinity can and should be formed in young men by older men.

Too many fathers and too many church men assume that “boys will be boys” and just let them raise themselves or worse, “let their Momma do it.” That’s not meant as a slam on moms who sacrifice endlessly for their children. But the truth is that young men do not respond the same way to women as they do men they respect. As a result, we have a generation of “feral children,” who—wishing they were real men—have mistaken real masculinity with owning powerful weapons and hyped-up pick-up trucks. Or else mistaken it for feminine virtues that, while admirable, aren’t masculine and therefore do not satisfy the innate need of a male to achieve manhood among other men.

My friend Tommy grew up a feral child. His father abandoned him early in life and rarely offered anything other than criticism for his son’s failings. Like all of us, Tommy made choices for which he alone was responsible. He had multiple opportunities to turn his life around. But I can’t help wonder how his life might have turned out if the right set of men had taken him in and committed to train him how to be a man.

[1] https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/08/04/sexual-pollution-is-a-scientific-and-destructive-fact/

[2] https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/ts-eliot-poem-describes-modern-males-perfectly

HOW TO BEAT BURNOUT

HOW TO BEAT BURNOUT

The Seven Year Itch, a 1955 Billy Wilder film with Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell, surfaced an idea that had burbled along for some time in pop culture. To wit: married couples experience a decline in satisfaction over the first four or five years and, by year seven, tensions have risen to the point that they either divorce or adapt to each other in new ways. Some social scientists pooh-pooh the notion, but others have documented the phenomenon.[1]

I’ve been in the people business a long time and I think they’re on to something that affects not just our marriages, but every aspect of life. Calling it the seven year enthusiasm curve or passion cycle may be more accurate. But knowing what it is and how to deal with it can definitely increase your quality of life, may help you make better job choices, and might even save your marriage.

The burnout cycle in a nutshell: First, initial enthusiasm about a new idea, person, job, or ministry. We find something or someone new and fall in love. Second, energetic commitment to it, we go all in. Third, sustained effort for two or three years, we work hard at the new thing or new love and enjoy it. Fourth, inevitable problems emerge and the new thing starts to feel old, the gears grind, effort required increases as enjoyment declines. We hang on a couple more years, wondering where the love went. Fifth–and this can happen anywhere between years five and seven–the thrill is gone, burnout descends, and we start looking for something new to relight the fires of passion, or else begin casting blame for our unhappiness.

The end of the cycle can get ugly in all kinds of ways. People have affairs, start fights in churches, or jump from job to job, seeking long-term satisfaction at the price of instability and upheaval. (I first learned about this cycle not from the movies, but from a theology professor who had observed the dynamic in some of the more emotion-based expressions of Christianity).

But even if it doesn’t deteriorate into shouting matches, unconscious acquiescence is not the path to peace and happiness. So how do we beat burnout? A few suggestions:

First, plan to bail before you fail. Some things do not require life-long commitment and work better if we plan to step aside at a predetermined time.  I did this as a soccer coach. When my kids were done, so was I. Ministry tasks, volunteer roles, hobbies, these and many more, benefit when we recognize the limits of our humanity and plan to move on to new things before passion becomes drudgery.

Second, identify your non-negotiable’s and plan to replenish your energy. Think of marriage. Think of calling, be it ministry, law, medicine, or business. If it is something worth keeping, it is worth the effort to build emotional and spiritual recovery and renewal space into your life to sustain it. God’s gift of Sabbath is part of this, as was the year of Jubilee for Israel, each occurring not so coincidentally every seventh day and seventh year respectively.

Third, develop long-term goals and short-term objectives that move you toward the goal, and then take time off to celebrate when each objective is met. Celebration replenishes energy.

Finally, and most importantly, build your life and learn to draw your strength, day by day and year by year, on the only one with an infinite supply of energy and passion: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.[2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_seven-year_itch

[2] Hebrews 13:8

EL PASO, DAYTON, & GILROY

EL PASO, DAYTON, & GILROY

Editor’s Note: The most shocking thing about the three mass murders that happened last week is that they are no longer shocking. Heart-breaking, yes, but not shocking. Of the comments and opinions I’ve read on these events, John Stonestreet’s, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, were the most coherent. I’m reprinting them here for your edification. Links to the podcast, the response by Marvin Olasky, of World News Group, and an article I wrote on the topic last year follow. DS

El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy

The Heart of the Matter

John Stonestreet, Breakpoint, August 6, 2019

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.”

Of course, there are evil people. We know that far too well, especially after this past weekend. In fact, that there are evil people out there is the one thing, maybe the only thing, everyone still agrees on. We disagree on who the people are: The evil shooter. The evil racist president. The evil progressives who want to take our guns. So we go on and on, identifying who the evil people are—always them—and we go on and on missing the real problem right in front of our face.

Solzhenitsyn’s point wasn’t, as some argue, that people aren’t really evil. Far from it. His point was that to assume evil exists only in them (whoever our “them” is) and not in us, is just plain wrong. Rather, as he continued: “… the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

The finger pointing that immediately followed the mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton started before any facts were known, and came even quicker than usual. (Let’s pause there… “than usual.” What a tragic way to talk about mass murders.) The finger pointers had already decided who the bad guys were, and many of us joined in on the chorus. So, we tweeted and reported and assumed the evil ones belonged to the other side while hoping they did not belong to ours. If it’s discovered the evildoer does belong to us, we know how to twist and contort and accuse in order to explain any connection away. But, if he belongs to them, we also know how to leverage the tragedy to indict the entire lot.

I say this as a 2nd Amendment guy. I fully agree that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Read the online manifestos of these young men and tell me that they wouldn’t eventually find some other way to carry out their violent fantasies. Even if gun control were the answer, how would we ever go about implementing it? Does anyone really think someone so radicalized to that degree of hatred would trade in their weapons for a gift card?

At the same time, the idea that “the best way to stop bad guys with guns is with good guys with guns” needs to be reconsidered. At face value, I fully agree. What I fear, however, is that those who repeat this idea are working off of old math. When bad guys are willing to target innocents, even children, at schools, movie theaters, churches, festivals, and Wal-Marts… what then? In Dayton, the good guys showed up in one minute, one minute, and the bad guy still killed nine people. Facing that sort of evil, how many good guys with guns will we need to protect us? Where exactly will we need them? Everywhere? That’s called a “police state,” and it’s the inevitable end of any society that sinks so deeply into moral chaos.

If that is our fate, make no mistake, we’ll have brought it on ourselves. And by “we,” I mean us and them. As the progressive left finds new ways to deconstruct the family, reconstruct morality, and scandalize the innocence of children at every level and in every area of culture while demonizing their evil other by state force and financial leveraging, the libertarian right demands unfettered license to say whatever and think whatever and post whatever on 8chan while demonizing its own evil other as the cause for all so-called ills.  All this while the church faces scandal after scandal of its own making.

Yet, we wonder how lonely young men without meaning or moral formation or fathers, who have no way to fulfill their pornographic-fueled fantasies but have access to plenty of self-medication options, could be driven to white-supremacist or progressive extremism.  We need to ask what it is about our culture that’s producing these young men bent on killing and chaos. And we need to ask: Where is the church?

Do we really think we are immune to the historically repetitive realities that have marked every crumbling civilization since the dawn of time? Do we really think we can keep our freedom in a society not only without virtue, but without any of the “little platoons” that form virtue?

Can freedom be sustained where virtue is not flourishing? Chuck Colson asked this every time he spoke the last few years of his life. The answer to Chuck’s question is still, of course, no.

As Chuck said, it’s either the conscience or the constable. Unless we are willing to look at us, to as Solzhenitsyn said, “destroy a piece of our own heart,” our future is increasingly obvious.

Only Christ can restore this mess. We must be about His work of restoration.

Breakpoint Podcast; Marvin Olasky, World News Group Editor in Chief; Is Your Son the Next School Shooter?

 

AN ALIEN IN YOUR DRIVEWAY

AN ALIEN IN YOUR DRIVEWAY

If an alien from outer space landed in your driveway and asked, “What are all those buildings in your town with pointy spires and crosses on top? What is that about?” Could you answer accurately?

That’s the question C.S. Lewis—author of the Chronicles of Narnia—and Oxford College Chaplain, Walter Hooper, knocked around one day. “We wondered how many people, (who did not flee) apart from voicing their prejudices about the Church, could supply them with much in the way of accurate information. On the whole, we doubted whether the aliens would take back to their world much that is worth having.”

Hooper and Lewis were speculating because at that time, in the mid-twentieth century, several autobiographies of former bishops and preachers had flooded the market explaining why they could no longer accept the faith. Lewis believed that much of the ignorance of true Christianity was due to the flood of “liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel.”

Nothing much has changed. Today, many people reject Christianity because of prejudice. They’ve been disillusioned by a bad Christian or injured by a fraudulent one and rejected the faith out of anger. And a spate of recent statements and books by former evangelicals such as the late Rachel Held Evans, and former pastors Rob Bell, and Joshua Harris contributes to confusion. “If professionals can’t follow it, how can I?”

But as Hooper writes in his preface to God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics by C.S. Lewis, “…it is impossible to decide whether Christianity is true or false if you do not know what it is about.” Spiritually hungry skeptics must ask themselves, “Am I rejecting something I fully understand? Or am I using negative examples as an excuse not to investigate it?”

If you are ready to learn what Christianity is about, Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, is a good place to start, as is Lee Strobel’s, The Case for Faith. But if you prefer talking it out among friends you would enjoy the Alpha Course. It’s a ten-week introduction to basic Christianity that’s designed to encourage questions and build friendships with others on the same journey. Our church is hosting its ninth Alpha Course this year. If you come, we promise to feed you well, treat your questions with respect, and above all, not treat you like an alien from outer space.

WHY ALPHA?

WHY ALPHA?

If you long for meaningful community you know that social media only goes so far. People long for real connection. That’s one of the reasons we run the Alpha Course. It brings people from all walks of life together and builds friendships. For eleven weeks we enjoy a meal together, watch a very interesting presentation on some aspect of the faith, break for coffee and desert and then have discussion groups for about 30-40 minutes. Even people who are not Christians enjoy it because of the relationships that are built.

Most Americans have a smattering of knowledge about the faith, but a surprising number don’t really know the basics.  Although there is no test and no college credit, Alpha is educational. Anyone attending Alpha will come away with a much better, more comprehensive understanding of Christianity. Guests can ask any question they like, express any opinion they have, and they will not be ridiculed or scolded.

Another plus about Alpha is that the whole thing is very relaxed, encouraging and fun. I think that’s because the developer, British pastor Nicky Gumble, started out as an atheist and is very sensitive to the feelings of people who have a hard time with faith. The new videos, hosted by Toby Flint and Gemma Hunt, are all available online here, and are phenomenally well done. Alpha does present the basics of the faith and encourages people to believe, but there is no pressure.

Alpha has been around for over thirty years and is a worldwide phenomenon, so it feels like you are part of something big with lots of support and you are. Alpha is a way for the whole congregation to get involved in sharing their faith with their friends without putting them on the spot or asking them to act like salespeople or expecting them to be experts in the field of apologetics.

That’s how Christianity grew in the first place, not through crusades and revival type events, but small groups of friends discussing what they’d learned about Jesus. The Alpha Course builds on itself. People come on the course, find out about Jesus, become believers and get excited about sharing what they’ve learned. Then they naturally want to bring their friends to the next course.

The first group that attended Alpha at our church was very diverse. One African American lady saw a bumper sticker on my car and asked me about it in the grocery store. She came and brought her sister. One man said, “I came to the course thinking I was already a Christian. But I had terrible anxiety, and anger, and depression issues. I couldn’t sleep at night. On the third week of the course I prayed along with the guy on the video and a huge burden lifted off me. I’ve not had those troubles since and I sleep like a baby. I believe I became a real Christian that day.” Another lady attended the course with her husband. Her understanding of Jesus completely changed, and she was baptized. Her husband, who had never attended a church, began to believe that not all Christians were nuts, and started attending regularly.

So, if you’re looking for something deeper and ready to explore life with good friends, try Alpha.