LISTEN TO YOUR SQUEAKERS

LISTEN TO YOUR SQUEAKERS

“Dad,” my daughter sounded worried over the phone, “I hate to tell you this because I know you just checked, but my brake pedal just went to the floor when I was on the expressway.”

This kind of thing did not use to be a problem. As a former ASE certified service technician, I had always been able to repair the family cars, usually cheaper and faster than a local shop. But now my girl’s life was in danger because I had missed a critical diagnosis on her last visit. Not only that, but she was five hours away in a big city. What would have been a $300 job at home became a $750 repair bill. It stung my ego because I had missed the warning signs, but I was happy to pay it to make sure she was safe.

That mistake reminded me of a spiritual lesson from King Solomon that might save us all a lot of heartaches if we can hear it.

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23 NKJ).

For many years, General Motors products equipped with disc brakes had “squeakers.” Squeakers are small flat wear indicators made of flimsy spring steel attached to one end of each inner disc brake pad in a set. When the pad wears down to within a few hundredths of an inch of the backing plate, the squeaker contacts the rotating disc and emits a high pitched squeal. When you hear the squeak, you know it’s time to replace the brake pads. If you don’t, you’ll soon have the stopping power of a greased bowling ball, and a simple $150 repair can rapidly become a $750 repair or worse, a car wreck.

King Solomon’s admonition, along with many other verses in Scripture,[1] is a reminder to pay attention to the state of our hearts, to listen to our spiritual squeakers. They’re warning us of little problems that can become big ones in a hurry. But they aren’t quite as noticeable as the ones GM uses, so I’ve listed a few below.

You know your heart is squeaking:

  • When gossip is easy, and prayer is hard.
  • When you’re spouse is annoying, but your colleague is alluring.
  • When conflict makes more sense than reconciliation.
  • When vengeance seems more logical than forbearance.
  • When fear and foreboding replace faith and courage.
  • When lust looks lovely, and purity seems pathetic.
  • When devotions are dull, but distractions are dynamic.

We could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

Listen to your spiritual squeakers. Put the brakes on runaway desires and ask God, “What’s missing? Where do I need a little soul maintenance? What has dulled my relationship with Jesus Christ and made me insensitive to his warnings?” He’ll help you replace the worn-out parts and keep your spirit healthy for the long haul.

[1] 1 Timothy 4:16a; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 5:8;

IS GOD ALWAYS ANGRY?

IS GOD ALWAYS ANGRY?

Is God angry with us all the time, or is he something we never expected?

“When the person from whom I have the right to expect nothing gives me everything.” That’s Michael Card’s working definition of the Hebrew word no one knows how to translate: HesedAnd here’s the bottom line: If you don’t know hesed, you don’t know God.

Pronounced with a hard h, hesed is the missing link in most people’s understanding of the God revealed in the Old Testament. Every bit as powerful as “holy” or “righteous” or “just,” we often miss hesed because several English words are usually required to translate it. Thus, the title of Card’s book: INEXPRESSIBLE: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness (IVP Books, 2018).

Lovingkindness, a word coined by Miles Coverdale in his 1535 translation of the scriptures and borrowed by the translators of the King James Version, comes close. But it also, as Card explains, reveals the “linguistic gravity” of hesed, its tendency to draw other words into its orbit and the necessity of using them to understand it.

Truth, mercy/compassion, covenant, justice, faithfulness, goodness, favor, righteousness are the eight words most commonly surrounding hesed and filling out its meaning. But perhaps most important is that hesed is how God revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Then the LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed:

Yahweh–Yahweh, is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in hesed (covenant-loving-kindness) and truth, maintaining hesed (covenant-loving-kindness) to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Exodus 34:6-7 HSCB.

Hesed became a refrain, a foundation for songs and prayers down the long centuries of the Old Testament; the reason that, despite their sin and disobedience, the Israelites could boldly ask for what they knew they did not deserve.

He revealed his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel. The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in (hesed) lovingkindness. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever.  He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Ps. 103:7-12.

What makes the God of the Old Testament unlike any other god, is that, despite Israel’s rebellion, God keeps covenant through sheer kindness. Card traces that kindness through the Old Testament with Moses, David, the Psalms, the prophets, and that ultimate expression of human hesed, Hosea. Then, though the actual Hebrew word does not appear in the New Testament, he anchors it in the life and teaching of Jesus who was full of grace–the New Testament’s closest parallel to hesed– and truth.

“It’s difficult for us to imagine how a being who is infinite in power submerses that power in kindness,” writes Card. “But a deep realization of this aspect of God’s hesed is as revolutionary for us today as it was for Israel … It dismantles that nagging imagery of the angry God of the Old Testament. That perception simply has no place in a biblical understanding of who God is.” God does get angry with us, but anger is not what defines him. It builds slowly and recedes rapidly because he is rich in hesed.

INEXPRESSIBLE is easy to read. The chapters are brief, the stories are captivating, and for those who want to go deep, the footnotes and resource material are easy to use. If you are hungry to know more of God’s love, you need to know hesed.

THE BRUNETTE JOGGER AND BOSTOCK V. CLAYTON COUNTY

THE BRUNETTE JOGGER AND BOSTOCK V. CLAYTON COUNTY

We were taking our morning walk on an early June beach vacation when a runner approached from the opposite direction. But something looked wrong. I couldn’t tell what at first, but as the person neared, I thought, that’s a huge woman. She was at least six-feet four-inches tall, in pink and blue running gear, wearing large dark sunglasses, brunette, shoulder-length hair not in a ponytail like most female runners, but flopping around her face, large breasts bouncing in rhythm with each step. Not an ounce of fat, powerfully built. But something’s not right, I thought. Then it hit me. That’s not a woman. The proportions are all wrong. The shoulders are too wide, the hips too narrow, the leg muscles too well defined. And that’s a wig partially obscuring a man’s strong jawline. That’s a man trying very hard to be a woman and failing.

I felt sad for the man. Statistics show that almost everyone who attempts transition, surgically or otherwise, from one gender to the other ends up with the same level of depression or worse that drove them to that drastic step in the first place.

Fast-forward to June 16. I pulled up the news to read the following: Supreme Court Re-Writes 1964 Civil Rights Act: Title VII to Include Sexual Orientation.

My heart sank. I have followed the legal aspect of our culture’s struggle to understand and accommodate people with sexual orientation and gender identity issues for over 20 years. I believe the Bostock decision will be the single most destructive force in civic life for the next fifty years. Its adverse effects on our Constitutional rights of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression will be enormous.

As this blog is too short to explain all the reasons why I believe this, I have referenced several articles in the footnotes[1] that will explain the case, the court’s decision, and the legal ramifications that are likely to follow. I urge you to read all of them and think through what this means for you, your walk with God, your children, your business, your profession, and your country. Followers of Christ must love everyone the same, but we must not be shallow in our thinking about these things. The consequences are too significant.

Instead, I offer the following brief but practical outcomes I believe most likely to flow from Bostock.

Biological men will be allowed by law to participate as women in every female designated space in society, bathrooms, gyms, dressing rooms, athletic competitions, etc. It will be against the law for you to insist that boys and men stay out of your daughter’s bathrooms and other private spaces in any school, nonprofit, or other entity that accepts government funds. If your local public school wants to host a cultural event with drag queens dancing for grade-school children, you will not be able to object.

As transgenderism gains legal status, its popularity will grow among vulnerable, school-age populations. Driven by social contagion and peer influence among friend groups, Great Britain has seen a 4400% increase in referrals for girls wanting to be boys.

Biological men and same-sex oriented people, in general, will now be treated by law as a privileged class, eligible for every civil, educational, and legal advantage extended to racial and ethnic minorities by Title VII of the civil rights act of 1964. Business owners of all types who have scientifically sound and or personal religious convictions against the hiring of gender disoriented people will have no recourse in the law. Religious schools that refuse to bow to this law will lose accreditation and nonprofit tax status as well as eligibility for student loans, vouchers, and education savings accounts.

Due to her personal history of sexual assault and domestic abuse, Harry Potter author and committed feminist, JK Rowling, has come out strongly in opposition to the transactivist movement. Rowling is not a Christian and supports much of the LGBT movement. But her charitable foundation concentrates on helping biological women and children, including female survivors of sexual abuse, overcome the “visceral sense of the terror” she remembers from her past. I’ll give her the last word.

“But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume. ‘Woman’ is not an idea in a man’s head. ‘Woman’ is not a pink brain, a liking for Jimmy Choos or any of the other sexist ideas now somehow touted as progressive. Moreover, the ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning. I understand why trans activists consider this language to be appropriate and kind, but for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating.”

[1] High Court Delivers Big Win for Transgender Rights; After Bostock: liberties setback or liberties apocalypse?; Transgender employees v. Christian Business Owners;  The Aftermath of Bostock: A Cultural Seismic Shift.

DON’T SCREW UP A Father’s Day Reflection

DON’T SCREW UP A Father’s Day Reflection

Back in the ’90s, when the Christian men’s movement was booming, and books on godly masculinity were flying off the shelves, I attended a men’s conference with several well-known speakers. Among them was Steve Farrar, author of the bestseller, Point Man: How a Man Can Lead His Family.

One of the small-group exercises popular in the break-out sessions of those conferences was to develop a personal mission statement and then share it with the group. The conference speakers did the same and shared theirs from the podium.

Several leaders gave thoughtful, spiritual-sounding personal mission statements. Then Farrar walked to the mic, complimented the other guys on their profound thinking, paused a moment, and said, “Mine goes like this: Don’t screw up.”

The room exploded in laughter. I forgot the other men’s statements before I got home, but I’ve never forgotten Farrar’s.

I have three grown daughters, and I made plenty of mistakes as their father, but by the grace of God, they still love me, still walk with Christ, and are doing quite well in the world. Sunday is Father’s Day, and in the spirit of Steve Farrar, I offer the following advice on how not to screw up.

Be their father, not their friend. Project calm, resolute authority. Authority is not the same as authoritarianism, and this blog is too short to go into all that implies. (See John Rosemond’s works for that). But remember, kids feel safer and grow up healthier when a strong and kind man sets the boundaries for their lives and enforces them. Now, we are friends.

Set the spiritual example. I’m a pastor, and my wife is an educator, but it may surprise you to learn that we never, except for Advent devotionals, had family Bible studies. I know that works for some families, but for many kids, it just feels forced. My daughters saw their dad, almost every day of their lives, sitting in his chair with his Bible or some other good Christian book open, communing with his heavenly Father, and their mom, on the floor in her room, her Bible and journal in her lap doing the same.

Speak calmly when correcting. I think this was what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote, “ Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”[1] Children are remarkably sensitive to the power in a man’s voice. I can’t count the number of times my daughters thought I was yelling at them when I felt I was calmly giving direction. A shouting father frightens young children and demeans older ones. Projecting authority is about the way you carry yourself, your integrity, and consistency in discipline, not about screaming at your kids.

Affirm them as often as you can and keep your criticism to a minimum. My daughters do not complain about this with me, but I cannot count the number of men who’ve told me over the years how hard it was to get their father’s approval. Constant criticism cripples’ children, even years into adulthood. It is OK to teach them to strive for excellence, but perfection belongs to God alone.

Release them to God. The hardest thing to know is when they are ready to take full responsibility for themselves. And the hardest thing to do is let them go to experience the full consequences of their choices. The trick is to start early, with little things, and work up to the big ones.

I’ll leave you with another quote from Farrar: “Satan’s strategy in the war on the family is to neutralize the man…You were appointed to be head of your family. Like it or not, you carry the responsibility. You are the point man.”

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 3:21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

A LIZARD NAMED MELINDA and other thoughts on neighborliness

A LIZARD NAMED MELINDA and other thoughts on neighborliness

If you are heartsick at all the hatred and strife going on in our country right now, I have an encouraging story for you.

My wife and I recently returned from a beach vacation. It will come as no surprise to those who understand ministry life that I do my best not to look pastoral on these trips. I wear shorts, sandals, and sunglasses everywhere, along with a big hat. I don’t shave. I keep to myself and do things that recharge my emotional batteries. And except for sending a few photos to my immediate family, I also disconnect from email, news, and social media.

Even so, it was hard to miss the headlines about police brutality, racial strife, and riots. Tybee Island, Georgia, where we stayed, is just outside Savannah. We couldn’t help but wonder how that old southern town would be affected. Would there be sullen looks and incivility between the races?  But when we stopped at a visitor center staffed entirely by African Americans, we were greeted with smiles and great courtesy.

The same was true on the beach, where the racial mix is relatively even. Every African American individual or family we encountered, in fact, everyone black or white, seemed to make it a point to make eye contact, smile, and engage in polite conversation.

Then one morning, I got up at 5:30 and walked out to the beach to enjoy the sunrise and take some pictures. I found my spot and just stood there facing east, letting my inner thoughts bob like a kite in a capful of wind.

Several people were out by then, jogging, strolling, and some just standing like me, waiting to meet the sun. Then along came a smallish barefoot man maybe thirty-five years old, round John Lennon glasses, long black hair in a double segmented ponytail down his back, scruffy beard, grey shorts, loose-fitting beige short-sleeve shirt. He walked with a quick, nervous gait, a slender stick like a cane in his right hand, and made a beeline toward me up the sand berm. As I kept my eye on his cane, I thought, six o’clock in the morning, and I’m about to be hit up by a homeless guy.

“Excuse me,” he said, “but are you a pastor?”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. “What did you say?”

“Are you a pastor?”

Only two beings could have told him that. I wonder which one it was, I thought. 

“Yes.”

“Well, so am I. Latter-Day Saints, you know, but it’s all the same. Are you the pastor of…” He named some church nearby that I missed.

“No.”

It was about that time that I noticed the ten-inch lizard—perched would be the wrong word, more like molded—onto his left shoulder. I guess I hadn’t seen it before because it was facing backward and blended perfectly with his shirt, tail hanging down another eight inches or so across his chest, utterly still.

“What’s your name?” I asked, thinking, this guy is right out of Lewis’s The Great Divorce. I wonder if it talks to him?

“Louis.”

“And who’s your friend?”

“That’s Melinda.”

“Oh.” I considered taking his picture but felt it would be impolite.

“Well,” he said, “don’t let the (garbled in the wind) get to you. It’s the new millennium, you know!” And off he went into the morning gloom, Melinda staring over his shoulder, never having moved a muscle.

I’ve been reflecting on that encounter ever since. It occurred to me that everyone we met on that trip, black, white, Asian, Latino, and even a guy with a lizard on his shoulder who I thought was going to ask me for money, acted with an extra measure of courtesy and civility toward one another. It was refreshing.

So, when the world is full of hatred and strife, and you feel helpless about it, remember, we cannot solve the world’s problems. But we can love the neighbor that is right in front of us—even the ones with pet lizards on their shoulders.

RECOMMENDING THE SEA

RECOMMENDING THE SEA

Turmoil. Grief. Anxiety. Are you acquainted with any of these? Of course, you are, especially during this pandemic. How do you soothe them? Where do you find solace? Allow me to recommend the sea.

Few things soothe my soul like the sea. Visiting the shore is an opportunity to engage with God through the majesty of his creation on a level that is difficult to achieve in a neighborhood crowded with houses. The sea’s voice is unmatched by any other except possibly the sky – but that is an article for another day.

Standing on the shore, facing out to sea feet planted inches from the breaking waves with the world of men behind and nothing but sun, sky, and water before, the disrupted parts of your soul begin to settle.

I think I know why. See if you agree.

The sea is expansive. It speaks of the omnipresence of God, massive, immense, all-encompassing, filling the field of view until it disappears over the horizon. The largest ships look like tiny toys across the distant waves.

The sea tells us nothing is too big for God. Nothing happens that is outside of his perception. Nothing happens in our life that is beyond his field of view.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast. [1]

The sea is constant, ever-moving yet never moved. It speaks of the unchanging God. The shore is never silent. Even on dead calm days, the quiet lapping of water on sand or rock is present. It is unchallengeable, indisputable, unchanging. On stormy days it reminds us of our storm-tossed lives. But even then, it does not change. The waves gather and curl and crash into each other and finally spill themselves onto the sand to instantly disappear, their fury spent, their conflict gone. So too our lives but the sea, the life upon which all others depend, lives on.

God is constant. God does not change. Our lives toss about, curling and crashing into one another, spending our energies in furious conflict. And then they are gone, the fury spent, the battle finished. But God remains.

The sea is mighty, often challenged, but never conquered. You can feel it, standing there at the top of the tide. Your visceral senses tell you, “this thing can go where it wants and take you along with it.” When sun and sea, pressure, and temperature meet in perfect hurricane pitch, nothing can stand in its way. Only God is more powerful. He marks the boundaries of the sea. It travels not one inch further than his will. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. (Ps 33:7 NIV)

The sea is majestic. It speaks of the omnipotent God. Nothing he has called us to do is beyond his power to help. Without his permission, nothing can reach past the boundaries he places around our lives.

The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea– the LORD on high is mighty. (Ps. 93:3-4 NIV)

Turmoil, grief, anxiety, make a longer list if you want. I recommend the sea. Nothing is too big for God. Nothing changes God. Nothing is too powerful for God.

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Ps 139:7–10). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

MAKE EVERY EFFORT

MAKE EVERY EFFORT

 

This is a solemn but a glorious hour. I only wish that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly over all Europe.

For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence, which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity.

We can repay the debt which we owe to our God, to our dead and to our children only by work—by ceaseless devotion to the responsibilities which lie ahead of us. If I could give you a single watchword for the coming months, that word is—work, work, and more work.

Those words, spoken by President Harry S. Truman, 75 years ago this week, opened his speech marking VE Day. If that last line sounds gloomy, remember, the whole world needed rebuilding, and the Japanese had not yet surrendered. The task was huge, but America met the challenge.

Just as Americans met the challenge back then, we need to meet the challenge of resuming normal life now. We have work to do. The virus is not yet wholly defeated, and much requires rebuilding. It also means that no matter what we think about the coronavirus and our various responses, we must preserve our unity.

I’ve been thinking hard about this, as we consider exactly how and when to re-open our church building and resume regular worship. Ephesians 4:1-3 primarily occupied my mind.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.[1]

“Make every effort,” sounds like Harry Truman’s exhortation, does it not?  Here’s a breakdown of what it will take to meet the challenge of maintaining our unity as we resume communal worship.

First, practice humility, the art of seeing ourselves as we are, not as higher or more important than others, but not as everyone’s doormat either. It just means, “Wake up and smell the coffee: the world doesn’t revolve around you.”

Second, practice gentleness. Meekness is the old word. An often-misunderstood concept, meekness is not “weakness,” not “milk-toast-ness.” It is not a lack of confidence or living in constant fear of hurting someone’s feelings. It is strength under control. It is the picture of a powerful horse responding to the merest nudge of his master’s knee.

I was born into a home with a big yellow tomcat named Amenhotep, “Teppy” for short. My parents bought the cat for my older brother, who was born six feet tall and 200 pounds so that he could learn how to be gentle with me.

Some of us are stronger than others. Be gentle with each other.

Third, practice patience.

A young father in a supermarket was pushing a shopping cart with his little son, who was strapped in the front. The little boy was fussing, irritable, and crying. The other shoppers gave the pair a wide berth because the child would pull cans off the shelf and throw them out of the cart. The father seemed to be very calm; as he continued down each aisle, he murmured gently: “Easy now, Donald. Keep calm, Donald. Steady, boy. It’s all right, Donald.”

A mother who was passing by was much impressed by this young father’s solicitous attitude. She said, “You certainly know how to talk to an upset child—quietly and gently.”

And then bending down to the little boy, she said, “What seems to be the trouble, Donald?”

“Oh no,” said the father. “He’s Henry. I’m Donald.”[2]

Patience is the ability to endure, putting up with things that make life a little complicated and just carrying on. Be patient with each other.

Fourth, forbearance. Patience emphasizes bearing up under a load; forbearance is about self-restraint, holding back from comments or actions which may be justifiable but ultimately undermine unity.

Everyone knows Winston Churchill, but not everyone remembers Lady Astor, the first female member of Parliament, who was also anti-Semitic and part of the appeasement crowd who opposed Churchill. The two were known for verbal jousting.

Astor is reported to have said, “If you were my husband, I would poison your tea,” to which Winston replied: “Madam if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

That might be fun, but it isn’t the way to maintain unity.

Forbearance practices courtesy, “the oil that lubricates the fine machinery of civilization.” It recognizes that each of us is a fragile, imperfect creature. Forbearance fuels unity.

“There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,”[3] wrote the apostle. Therefore, make every effort to keep that unity in the Spirit through the bond of peace.

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Eph 4:1–3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] John Huffman, “The Fruit of the Spirit Is Patience,” PreachingToday.com

[3] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Eph 4:4–6). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

WHO DO YOU TRUST?

WHO DO YOU TRUST?

Years ago, preachers learned to do their work with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. If we are not connecting the sacred text to what is happening in the world, we aren’t doing our jobs. Now the internet, smartphones, and tablets substitute for physical newspapers, but the task is still the same. We need a steady stream of reliable reporting, relevant stories, and biblical worldview analysis of events to speak with any relevance.

But, as John Stonestreet recently wrote, “Information comes at us in waves, with conjecture in the place of facts and assertions in the place of arguments.” Who can we trust?

Last week’s blog, READING THE TIMES, explains how to sort the wheat from the chaff in our media. Today, I thought it would be helpful to recommend a few of the sources I count on each week to inform my sermons and this blog.

THE WORLD AND EVERYTHING IN IT is the daily news podcast from World News Group whose mission is biblically objective reporting. Often referred to as NPR from a Christian Worldview: Each weekday morning, enjoy daily radio news, interviews, commentary, and original features reported from the field. Today’s Washington Wednesday interview, Beijing Unmasked, with foreign policy analyst Will Inboden is a great example. Nine minutes with no commercial interruptions. You won’t get that in-depth on any evening news broadcast. Inboden served in the State Department and the National Security Council under former President George W. Bush. He’s now executive director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin.

I’m a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and have confidence in the integrity of their reporting. Find their main website at https://world.wng.org/ .

Breakpoint, the five-minute daily podcast from John Stonestreet and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, is not a news service because it does not provide original reporting. But it does offer daily biblical worldview analysis on all kinds of things in our world. Producing the consistent quality of analysis and biblical commentary they provide is not easy, but they do it daily. Their April 17 article, The Viral Pandemic of Distrust and Misinformation, is a great example. I highly recommend it.

Christianity Today, the magazine and media organization founded by Billy Graham, is also a reliable resource for reporting on things of concern to believers around the world. It sometimes lacks the stringent objectivity that Editor In Chief Marvin Olasky imposes on World. Still, they have a broader scope than World publish authors from a larger cross-section of the Church than World.

Other news and analysis sources I follow online include NPR, National Review, Foxnews.com, The Wall Street Journal, CBSNews.com, WDBJ7.com, and news.google.com, which aggregates news from several sources. These require much more scrutiny for fact-checking and editorial point of view but can be useful in gathering multiple perspectives.

“He who answers before listening, that is his folly and shame…The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” Proverbs 18:13 & 15.

READING THE TIMES: Separating Fact from Ideological Cheerleading

READING THE TIMES: Separating Fact from Ideological Cheerleading

If you enjoy Fixer-Upper as we do, you know that there is a formula for the popular TV show. A family-friendly couple is looking for an all-American home in Waco, Texas. They view three houses Chip & Jo have selected for them. Joanna wants to open the floor plan and remodel the kitchen, add crown molding, and of course, shiplap. Chip cuts up for Joanna’s entertainment. Demo Day! Half-way there and, oh no, there’s a problem! Last day and Joanna has to work late. Chip drops by with the kids. The big reveal!

It is enjoyable if you like that sort of thing, but it is not real. It’s scripted. It follows a specific narrative arc or storyline every time. Viewers know what is going to happen; we just enjoy watching it unfold. Entertainment is the mission.

Entertainment is not, or should not be, the mission of a news organization. Still less propaganda: information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.[1] Reliable reporting follows the facts wherever they lead. Propaganda follows a predetermined narrative.

Discerning the difference between infotainment (entertainment masquerading as news), propaganda, and reliable reporting is a critical skill for every citizen, but especially Christians. God is the God of truth. His children are responsible for discerning it as well as spreading it, for making decisions based on it in the marketplace, on social media, and especially in the voting booth.

Here’s a brief how-to.

Watch for predictable storylines. All reporters begin with a theme, a unifying idea that guides their questions and structures their stories. But when facts fail to support it, the theme must change. Truth-telling reporters will do that. But dishonest reporters force the facts to fit the theme, magnifying those that do and minimizing or else ignoring those that do not.

Example: When every weather story somehow supports man-made Climate Change theory, you may be seeing propaganda. When every review of a press conference makes your favorite politician out to be a genius, you may be hearing propaganda. When every story you see about unwanted pregnancy centers on women’s health, ignoring the rights of the child, you are watching a narrative as predictable as Fixer Upper, but with reliably deadly consequences.

Watch for generalities, the glossing over of inconvenient facts. Reliable reporting uses concrete detail, specific examples, and defining quotations from qualified experts willing to go on the record. When you read, “some experts say,” or “studies show,” you are reading generalities. If the topic interests you, dig deeper before you share it online.

Watch for something for sale. Most magazine reporting, especially in special interest mags and online sites, is just long-form advertising. Much Christian magazine reporting does the same thing, except that instead of selling a product, it is selling a ministry. Ministry Watch Magazine and World Magazine are exceptions. Search their archives on a ministry before you buy-in.

Watch for alternate worldviews. Journalists striving for objectivity should cite several different sources to support a theme. But if those experts share the same worldview, they are only “balancing subjectivities.”[2] Reliable reporting seeks out several perspectives.

Watch for commentary masquerading as journalism. Conservative commentator Cal Thomas got it right in his January 24, 2019 analysis of media coverage of women newly elected to Congress:

“Especially in the Trump era, media have displayed increasingly naked ideological cheerleading. Any fair examination of major newspapers—from the front page, to the editorial and op-ed pages—proves the point.

If there’s any hope of getting out of the political mess we’re in, journalism must return to a focus on facts, not fanfare.”

And Christians must learn how to discern the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Dictionary.com

[2] Marvin Olasky’s term.

 

 

RISEN: A Day Without Death

RISEN: A Day Without Death

At the end of Act I in the 2016 film, Risen, a cynical Pilate probes his Tribune, Clavius, “Your ambition is noticed. Where do you hope it will lead?”

“Rome. Position. Power,” says Clavius.

“Which brings?”

“Wealth, a good family, someday a place in the country.”

“Where you will find?”

“An end to travail. A day without death.”

But death reigns in Risen, as an ever-present element in the Roman Tribune’s life. He is either delivering it, mourning it, trying to prove it, or outrun it as the film unfolds. I think that’s what makes it my new favorite Easter movie. It does not shrink from the stark reality of death and the impossibility of escaping it.

Risen follows the tradition of The Robe and Ben Hur by inserting a fictitious historical character into the Biblical narrative as an eyewitness to events. And while it doesn’t aspire to the epic proportions of those classics, it is a good story well told.

Joseph Fiennes (Luther 2003, On Wings of Eagles 2016) turns in a phenomenal performance as Clavius, the Roman Tribune charged by Pilate (Peter Firth) with insuring that Jesus stays dead, the Sanhedrin remains mollified, the mob remains pacified. And Caesar stays in the dark about all of it. The cinematography is excellent. The plot is believable, the film is well-paced, and even though special effects got the shallow end of the budget pool, the script and the acting more than made up for it. Pilate’s cynicism is palpable, but not overdone, as he and Clavius play a high-stakes game of political chess with the equally cynical High Priest. We come away reminded of how quickly truth goes by the boards as the players manipulate the message in a never-ending battle to shape public opinion.

Risen does have several historical flaws and anachronisms. Except for the High Priest once a year during the Yom Kippur ceremony in the temple, Jews would never speak the name, Yahweh. Mary Magdalene appears as a redeemed prostitute, another commonly made historical error. And those concerned with fidelity to the biblical text will note a glaring omission in the words of Jesus just before the ascension. But these are minor problems, offset by biblical faithfulness throughout the rest of the script and an excellent supporting cast. Watch especially for the drunken guard’s testimony in the bar.

Far more important, however, and ultimately more moving than any of these things is Fiennes’ Clavius. He is utterly convincing as a man’s man intimately acquainted with the brutal parts of life on a fallen planet. The moment he catches the disciples in the upper room is worth the price of the film. It’s the most compelling portrayal of a cynical man’s encounter with the risen Christ I’ve ever seen. And everyone who watches will struggle with him to reconcile two irreconcilable things: “A man dead without question, and that same man alive again.”