Thursday, October 8, 2015

Brief Review: The end is near! This book is not new!

When news headlines start filling up with pronouncements of wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and other natural or man-made disasters, there are few Christians who don’t perk up our end-times-antennas. It’s what we do and that’s okay.

But when these kinds of headlines increase in frequency, then the books offering predictions and interpretations start rolling off the presses and flying off the shelves. Some new. Others old but repackaged.

Everyone wants to get in the last word on the last days.

The easiest way to start a heated discussion among believers is to bring up the book of Revelation (or any end-times-worthy biblical passage of prophecy) and toss out an opinion. Any opinion.

When these kinds of discussions kick up around me, I usually try to walk away or at least remain mum. They, sadly, tend to be no-win situations. Plus, even though I’ve been involved in two books covering the Book of Revelation, this is a tough topic to tackle and I get easily befuddled.

I mean, just the basic four views of the end-times -- historicist, preterist, futurist, and spiritual -- each have their unique definitions and multiple off-shoots of thought.

For example, the preterist view (yes, I know it’s a ridiculously weird word but that’s the way of theology) can be sliced into radical preterism, moderate preterism, partial preterism, orthodox preterism, full preterism, and who knows how many more.

And let’s not forget premillenialism, amillenialism, postmillenialsim, and dispensationalism.

Ah, the lovely lilting language of eschatology! Mishandled it can create the fog of bore.

Which brings us to this book.

In his recently re-issued 1998 book (which is not really a new edition as the copyright page indicates), The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return, R. C. Sproul, Sr. tackles eschatology.

But before I go further, let me offer this caveat: I like R. C. Sproul, Sr.. I’ve read a couple other of his books and really enjoyed them. I don’t always fully agree with his theology, but he’s a good guy.

But this book? Well, my issues aren’t with the content so much as with the style. While the back cover copy calls it a “compelling” style, it actually reads more like a dry dense doctoral dissertation.

Despite its teasing title, Sproul’s book is a far cry from, say, The Late Great Planet Earth kind of read. And it’s not just me who thinks so.

When reading a book for review, I seldom look at others’ reviews when they’re available. But I had to make an exception for this one because I wasn’t clear what Sproul was trying to accomplish. I needed some help.

Another reviewer also had the same problems I was having, stating, “Dr. Sproul seems a bit hesitant to come right out and admit that he believes in the preterist position and so that makes his points seem a little wishy-washy at times.... [This] makes for a passive voice approach at times that lacks clarity...[and] makes for difficult reading at times. The information is there, just not as clear as if he had stated his views plainly then proceeded to explain why he held those views.”


Another reviewer pointed out that Sproul seems to be rebutting Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian, which would imply to understand Sproul’s book it would be helpful to have read Russell’s.

Reading these and other reviews helped clarify a few things for me. Namely, that Sproul is attempting to defend moderate preterism. Also known as, I think, partial preterism, which is also known as orthodox preterism, as per Sproul’s definitions.

He almost comes right out and says as much at the end of the fifth chapter -- about halfway through the book -- when he states, “Moderate preterists, such as those who hold a postmillenial view of eschatology, insist that though the bulk of the Olivet Discourse was fullfilled in AD 70, there still remains a future coming or parousia of Christ.”

If that sentence sets your heart a-flutter, then this will probably be a book you will enjoy and will be worth your time to read accompanied with a strong cup or two of coffee.

On the other hand, if it makes your eyes glaze over, you have no idea what preterism mean,  and you feel a nap coming on, then you’ll want to give it a pass. You’re welcome.

The book was not out of print and has been available on Amazon for about $18 in paperback. Now, it’s got a new cover and a lower price. Go figure. Other than that, it’s the same as the 1998 edition.

Sproul is generally even-handed and fair when discussing views with which he disagrees. Although, he does takes a mild swipe at futurists by lumping them together with references to “Rosemary’s Baby” and Jeane Dixon. Well, then!

He concludes saying, “Debates over eschatology will probably continue until the Lord returns and we have the advantage of hindsight rather than the disadvantage of foresight. The divisions that exist within the Christian community are understandable, considering that both the subject matter and the literary genre of future prophecy are exceedingly difficult. This does not mean that we may push the Bible aside or neglect its eschatological sections. On the contrary the interpretive difficulties presented by eschatological matters simply call us to a greater diligence and persistence in seeking their solution.”


In the meantime, I just ask that books like this actually be written in a truly “compelling” and accessible style when targeted to the general reader. Especially when titled in such a teasing manner.


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

How would you define your views of the end-times? Are you concerned about what is going to happen? Do you believe we are in the end-times now? Why or why not? Leave a comment sharing what you think!

Books I've been involved with:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Are you damaging the cause of Christ & being the mouthpiece of Satan with lazy, slanderous social media posts? Probably.

1 Peter 2:1 is a very instructive verse offering some pretty clear admonishments to believers: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (ESV).

Lumped together are five deadly character expressions: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander.

We are instructed in blunt terms to put these away, meaning to eliminate them from our behavior.

Sadly, in social media especially, the fifth and last one -- slander -- is all too common.

This needs to be corrected.

Avoiding the slippery slope of slander

What is slander? It’s spoken or verbalized libel. Libel means to malign.

To be a little more precise, the American Heritage Dictionary offers these definitions for both terms:
  • Slander: “Oral communication of false statements injurious to a person’s reputation. A false and malicious statement or report about someone.”
  • Libel: “A false publication, as in writing, print, signs, or pictures, that damages a person’s reputation. The act of presenting such material to the public. The written claims presented by a plaintiff in an action at admiralty law or to an ecclesiastical court. See Synonyms at malign.”
Slander by any other name is still slander.

Just recently I saw this meme posted on Facebook (I overlaid the warning text to discourage further sharing):

The posting declared, “STILL worried about a Confederate Flag? This is in Dearborn Mi. Time to pull some heads out of some rear ends!”

The thing is it’s a slanderous, malicious fake. It’s a lie. It’s libel -- slander -- a false publication. A distortion. A misrepresentation.

The sign does not exist in Dearborn, Michigan or anywhere else within the United States. Yet people share the post -- even Christians -- because, well, it seems true, or they want it to be true.

The content of the meme was intentionally created to malign, to be hostile, to be malicious toward all in the United States who are followers of Islam.

But just as it isn’t true that all who call themselves Christians are good, it also isn’t true that all who call themselves Muslim are evil and believe what the this false meme is attributing to them.

Tossing the Golden Rule on the garbage heap

So let me say it again. The posting and sharing of the meme is libelous. It’s simply slander.

The word slander as translated from the original Greek in 1 Peter is defamation, which is defined as “To damage the reputation, character, or good name of by slander or libel.”

This meme just one example of dozens of such slanderous items that are posted by Christians on social media every day. And it needs to stop.

It’s sinful. It’s hurtful. There is no good, biblically supportable defense for posting such damaging piffle.

In fact, this meme checks off at least 4 of the 5 sins cited in 1 Peter 2:1: It’s malicious, deceitful, slanderous -- and it’s hypocritical for a Christian to post such garbage.

Is it any wonder believers get so much hostility thrown back in our faces? It’s time we started doing a little cheek turning and aggressively living out the golden rule.

Three times is a charm

When studying the Bible, it’s a known truth that when something is mentioned 3 or more times, that’s a good indication that it’s a serious issue. In other words, we would do well to pay attention and take corrective action as needed.

In addition to the 1 Peter reference, here are a few more biblical references to the problem of slander:
  • Matthew 5:19 -- For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (ESV).
  • Mark 7:20-23 -- “And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person’” (ESV).
  • 2 Corinthians 12:20 -- “For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish--that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” (ESV).
  • Ephesians 4:31 -- “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (ESV).
  • Colossians 3:8 --  “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (ESV).
  • 1 Timothy 6:4-5 -- “...he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (ESV).

Yep, that’s at least three.

Lazy is as lazy does so don’t be!

I know some who post items they aren’t sure are true or not. Their claimed motivation is to “spark a dialogue” or “get feedback” from friends about its veracity.

This is both lazy and irresponsible.

When you post something you are automatically viewed as supporting or believing in the truthfulness and content of what you post.

If it’s some kind of distortion or outright deceit, then you are accountable for passing along a lie, a slander, a falsehood.

With so many trustworthy resources available at our fingertips, there is zero excuse for not taking the time to research what you want to post.

But if you’re just too lazy and aren’t sure if something is true or not, and don’t want to do the research, then just don’t post it!

If you do post something and then are told by others it’s wrong -- take it down! Leaving it up is a tacit endorsement.

Believers who knowingly or lazily post slanderous or erroneous items damage the cause of Christ and hurt the reputations of all Christians. It makes us all appear stupid and mean.

Working hard for the Devil

In John 8, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees and challenged on some moral issues. He responds by schooling them on grace and truth. In verse 44, he pulls no punches when he declares to them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (ESV).

Satan is the father of lies. He is the tireless accuser (Revelation 12:10).

When we post defamatory, untrue, misleading, accusatory, erroneous, insulting memes and articles on social media, we are expressing the character of Satan, and in no way being Christ-like.

It’s the same as being Satan’s mouthpiece!

Applying simple gracious wisdom

This is something believers need to take very seriously.

There are right and better ways to express our disagreement and displeasure without being dysfunctional or damning.

In the 1930s, Christian businessman Herbert J. Taylor, developed a simple test that can easily be applied against any potential post you want to share.

Taylor and his company were at a crisis point. He was concerned that employees “think right and do right” and that executives “set policies for the company that would reflect the high ethics and morals God would want in any business.”

At his desk he prayed for guidance and then wrote down what came to him which he then labeled “The Four-Way Test.”

This is a test we each should apply to everything we want to share in social media:
  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
I would add one more: For a Christian, if anything we post cannot be supported by Scripture, then it’s off-limits.

If the answer to all four questions is not a resounding “Yes!” or what you want to post is counter to Scripture or biblical truth, simply don’t post or share the information or item.

Just don’t. Period.

By the way, this applies to sharing information that seems innocent and even helpful, but isn’t true or accurate. Passing along false, untrue, or inaccurate information is the same as telling a lie. Always verify everything before you post it. Or else, just don’t share it. It’s better to be safe than a liar.

Love means being able to say you’re wrong & you're sorry

If you have posted hateful and slanderous memes and links, it’s time to take them down, and then go one step further.

You need to apologize to those you have attacked. And to those who have viewed your posts.

This step is essential.

In her excellent book, Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey laments, “When the only form of cultural commentary Christians offer is moral condemnation, no wonder we come across to non-believers as angry and scolding.”

As bad or worse than moral condemnation is slander and it’s kin.

Sharing these kinds of lies puts forth a very ugly and distorted image of Christ, the Christ we are supposed to be reflecting and representing to those around us.

Jesus admonishes us saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13, ESV).

Sometimes, laying down our own life is as simple as not posting something hateful.

It’s time for Christians to start being truly Christ-like on social media and stop working for the devil.

Do you agree or disagree? Why? What are your suggestions for expressing disagreement in a godly, loving manner? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Brief Review: So you think you want to be a pastor

Ah, the life of a pastor. You can set your own schedule. Go hang out in Stabucks all day. Bang out a sermon or two in a couple of hours. And then work only one day a week.

Well, maybe not!

If this is your idea of what it means to be a pastor, you’re way off the mark.

And if this is your idea of pastoring and pastoring is something you are planning to do, then you seriously need to read Jason Helopoulos’ new book, The New Pastor's Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry (Baker Books).

The book offers more than 40 concise and well-written chapters touching on nearly every aspect of what it means to be a pastor, from discerning a calling to handling administrative tasks to managing discouragement.

While this is an excellent resource for new or about to be pastors, seasoned ministers will find value as well. No matter how experienced one is in their field, it never hurts to revisit the basics.

One of my favorite bits of advice offered comes in chapter 10. Helopoulos warns, “It’s difficult for a pastor to grow if he isn’t reading.” He states bluntly, “A reading pastor makes a better pastor.” He specifically encourages pastors to read above one’s ability, to read commentaries, theology, history, biographies, and fiction. Essentially, to read often and widely.

Amen! Preach it!

Other noteworthy cautions are to avoid being super-spiritual, be careful of moving into new things too fast, and be humble but not hesitant in regards to the Gospel.

Anyone in ministry will find something of value in this little handbook. Even laity who read it should gain a better appreciation of how much their pastor is doing, much of it unseen.

BTW: October is Clergy [aka Pastor] Appreciation Month!


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Are you a pastor? Planning to be one? Does this sound like a useful book? Are you a layperson? Do you actively serve in ministry in your church? How do you define ministry? Do you believe all ministry-related activities are the responsibility of only the pastor or other paid church staff? Why or why not? Leave a comment sharing what you think!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Turned on. Tuned out. (#PoetryMonday *)

People don’t like poetry anymore.
It doesn't make sense, they say.
It tends to bore.
The "device" is a much better source
for entertainment and news
and reality and views about life.

Wisdom and insight?
Facebook friends, of course.
Or possibly Twitter for the latest trends
about anything at all that’s important.
What color is that dress?

And thinking deeply is so, you know,
old fashioned.
Don’t think, just do! Be free! Run fast!
Move on to the next big thing!
A crowd-sourced life is your best life now!

There’s just no point
to sitting still, quietly, alone reading
stupid poetry. Let alone
thinking your own thoughts.
We've all got better things to do
and better places to be.
Books and writing and periodic rhyming
Are for the fogies
who are all already slowly dying.
We don’t want to be like them,

          Let's go!


Don't ask.
Just fly before you die.
Who cares where you land?
You can Instagram it when you do!


* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

Technology is a good thing except when it isn
’t. Poetry is great except when it’s boring. And Timothy Leary was a little, well, off. But is all our rushing about a little akin to being high? Drugged. Addled? Is that boring poem really boring or are we just to focused on Instagramming our sandwich too really notice? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Friday, September 18, 2015

And God said , Let there be light: and there was light. (#FlashFictionFriday*)

For Sam, the scariest words in the Bible were in the beginning. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

Darkness. He was not fond of darkness. The mention of a “deep” didn’t help.

Even now at 12,nearly 13, he was intensely scared of the dark, an ailment others, including his family, took advantage of, turning off the lights when he was in the basement, and similar pranks. They howled with laughter while he fought back tears as his heart beat manically.

But the worst times were when he was in his bed in his dark room at night and he had to pee. This required getting out of bed alone and putting his feet over the edge into the living inkiness seething invisibly all over the floor.

A kind of black fog of terror.

Despite endless counter-arguments, he was certain that when the lights went out, “they” who had been there in an alternate dimension, hiding in the light, took on corporeal existence. This form clearly included teeth. Sharp, pointed, flesh-seeking teeth. He read a lot of science fiction and he knew.

He shivered thinking about it. Or was it from the need to pee? Either way, chills spilled down his not-quite-a-child’s spine.

Filled with dread but more filled with the pressure of need, he always managed to get to the bathroom and back in one piece. He was certain there were numerous close calls having felt the brush of claws and heard the horrid breathing of “them” as he scrambled back to bed.

He tried hard not to think about those.

What he thought about a lot was the upcoming campout. His first.

He was excited. He loved tents and was always building them out of the random tarps his dad kept in the basement “for emergencies.” No situation beyond tent-building ever arose so he couldn’t imagine what his dad had in mind.

There were few things better than being inside a tent. A crafted shape of protection defying the formless void with imagination and creation.

On the day of the campout, as the sun set, Sam’s anxieties grew. What he hadn’t counted on was the darkness.

The camp site was well outside of the comfortable town with its streetlights and the warm glow oozing from friendly houses.  In town, a definite non-void, ambient light kept the dark eternally at bay. Except during storms. Then it got iffy battling the darkness with weak-batteried flashlights and shivering candles.

The trees that thickly edged the open areas where the tents were pitched blocked the distant, dim starlight. He realized on his first moonless night of camping under the stars that the darkness would be near total.

The tent to which he was assigned, an old floorless military style mini-house, was furthest from the latrine. While there was the advantage of being away from the odor, it was a small trek to reach it. And there were spiders in every corner.

The latrine was a small room of hobbled-together rough-sawn, weathered planks, propped over a deep hole in the ground. Inside was a built-in wood bench with two butt holes cut out and old toilet seats attached.  It faced away from the campsite toward the black woods where who knew what was watching, unseen.

He emptied his bladder at dusk while there was just enough grey light to maneuver without a flashlight.

Everyone hit the sack after the campfires went cold. It was late.

He shared the tent with five other boys, each burrowed into various styles of sleeping bags plopped on mushy air mattresses or nothing but a plastic ground cover.

He was in the corner that pointed toward the heart of the camp site.

He lay there as the others fell asleep, one by one, their breathing becoming steady and shallow. Outside the blackness of the tent, the insects sang furiously.

He was used to their songs since he lived near a small woods. From a safe distance, their lullabies oozed through his screened windows and lulled him to sleep on warm nights.

This was different. The distance was near, there were no screened windows, and the sound of the chirping and clicks and whistles and other noises he had no words for were nearly deafening. At least at first.

Soon his ears adjusted as he was able to sort through the din and identify the individual songs with which he was familiar.

He relaxed, breathing in the fresh sweet green-tasting night air, but could not sleep. He was excited with veins full of adrenaline.

His first camp out!!!

And then he felt it. The need from below beginning to press into his awareness. His bladder was reaching capacity. And the latrine was way over on the other side of the site.

He prayed desperately for the fluids of his body to just evaporate. He clenched his mind tight trying to will away the pressing sensation. All to no avail. It grew. He really needed to go.

Sam felt around for his small flashlight and his shoes, burrowed deeper into his sleeping bag, turned on the light and put on his shoes. All the while drubbing up his courage. The moving around only served to increase the urgency of needing to go.

He turned off the flashlight, crawled on top of his bag, screwed up his nerve, with flashlight at the ready, closed his eyes in one last prayer, and then lifted the flap of the tent.

He gasped. His heart beat more quickly.

It wasn’t dark!

Stunned, filled with a degree of awe he’d never before experienced, Sam stepped out of the tent, moved to the middle of the clearing, and, standing open-mouthed, slowly turned and stared in wonder at the amazing sight.

What had been dark and menacing trees were now densely covered with lightning bugs. It was as if the stars of the universe had gathered in their camp site.

There was no place, no gap of darkness, where the bugs did not glow and blink.

The wonder of his heart supplanted the fear of his imagination and without thinking of the darkness, he walked confidently to the latrine, was relieved, and then again stood watch outside his tent, grinning, singing in his head along with the insect chorus, until he was too tired to do anything else but cocoon himself in his warm flannel-lined sleeping bag and dream through to the dawn.


* It’s flash fiction Friday! (To learn more about FFF, click here and scroll down.) 
Flash fiction is nothing more or less than a very, very short short story. This one is over 1000 words and a bit rough; I banged it out this morning, although some elements have been hanging around in my head for awhile. What do you think? What was your experience like the first time you went camping with friends? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hate comes far more naturally than we want to believe

Memes are fun and cute and sometimes inspirational or humorous. However, they seldom present sound theological concepts. Although many are taken as such by unsuspecting believers who glibly share them.

For example, I’ve seen this one in various forms, all with essentially the same message:

Awwww. Isn’t that just so sweet? Yes it is.

But is it really true? No, not exactly.

I think this meme possibly came about as a corruption of a quote attributed to Nelson Mandela about racism: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

With the added context that is clearly too much for a simple pithy meme, Mandela’s quote comes closer to being accurate, but is still off. Love does not come more “naturally” than hate.

Or maybe the meme developed from over-stretching the truth that children are born innocent, meaning sinless in the sense of not having committed an act of sin (which is different than being impacted by original sin).

It’s a nice sounding “truism that’s really more of “truthiness-ism” that children love “naturally” and have to be taught to hate.

We like this idea because it means we – all of us – are therefore “naturally” loving. In other words, we come into this world basically “good.” Innocent is not the same as good.

This is the popular myth we attribute to ourselves; that we’re all born good.

But we’re not! Well, not precisely.

This wrong idea even shows up in the courtroom as reported in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article: “’The grand jury report is riddled with emotionally charged language and pejoratives which demonstrate the hostility of the jurors toward Mr. McCauley,"’[Bristol Township's manager William] McCauley's filing said. ‘Hostility does not spring from the air; like hate, it needs to be taught.’” (Emphasis added.]

Well, unfortunately, yes, hostility does, in a manner of speaking, “spring from the air” without being taught.

The reality is that we are born with both the innate ability for hate and love.

Because we are created in the image of God, we are capable of love.  But the full potential of that love remains mostly dormant within us until kindled by a redemptive relationship with God through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because all creation – which includes us – is tainted by sin because of the Fall (original sin), we are “naturally” capable of hate.

In fact, our inherent original sin nature is more active in us than potential goodness until we have an encounter with Jesus and our relationship with God is restored.

Until that happens, our natural badness tends to get the best of any mostly dormant goodness in us.

All we need to do is read the biblical story of Cain and Abel to see the truth in this. Or, just look at toddlers warring over a toy. Or endure election cycles.

Actually, if we are truly honest, all we have to do is search our own motives, examine our own thoughts, and review our own behaviors to see the evil that lurks in our deceitful hearts and too often trips us up.

Even the best of people can be really, really bad in a New York minute. In fact, many “good” behaviors are actually driven by “bad” motives.

When we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that bad and hate come easy. Loving is more challenging.

What is learned, and the skill that needs to be nurtured, is how to be loving rather than to be hateful.

We need to be taught as children and we need to actively train ourselves as adults to choose moment-by-moment to be loving.

Kids can be corrected and taught to love instead of falling back on hate. We, as mature adults, can choose to be more loving than hateful.

Sadly, because of the dire and pervasive effects of original sin, it tends to be easier for us to hate, to be selfish, to lie, to cheat, to steal, to insult, to demean, to be angry, to do and be all manner of unloving things, than it is to love. Especially when it comes to others.

There are countless examples – just pay attention to the news – of kids and adults who were taught to be loving who chose hate which resulted in the most heinous of actions. They chose what came “natural” to them.

Really, without the empowering of the Holy Spirit, true loving is practically impossible. Especially to sustain over the long haul.

The bottom line is this: Left untaught one way or the other, kids will be hateful all on their own. That’s their and our naturally born state.

But through Christ, this can all be changed. It all comes down to making a choice.

Do you believe you were born good? Why or why not? Do you agree or disagree with the point of the post? Why? Do you want to know more about choosing Christ? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Managing our emotions with godly truth: Event, Thought, Emotion, Behavior (ETEB) - with a musical interlude at the end...

I often hear people, in an effort to excuse an outburst, claim they can’t control their emotions. Or if they’ve gotten themselves into a questionable relationship, they throw their hands up and exclaim, “I can’t help who I fall in love with!”
  1. First, while it’s true you can’t control emotions, you can manage how you respond while you are experiencing them. Responding thoughtfully while emotional can lead your emotions in a different, rational direction.
  2. Second, it’s also true that an emotional attraction to another can strike on a whim, we have full control over whether or not we choose to act on that attraction and “fall” in love. In fact, we can choose to be in love with someone even when we don’t feel loving toward them.
Some years ago I ghostwrote a book titled Preparing for Battle: A Spiritual Warfare Workbook (1999, Moody Publishers), authored by Mark Bubeck. It’s still in print and if you’re interested in the topic, you should get a copy. The book is excellent for small group study or for use in Sunday school classes. It’s also now available in an eBook format. Click here to preview more from the book online.

The book incorporates excerpts from Bubeck’s books around which I wrote extensive commentary, tying the concepts together and creating questions and tables, etc. for a nifty little study guide.
TRIVIA: I also created graphics for the book which I thought would be redone “professionally” by their designers. Much to my surprise, they used exactly what I sent them! I didn’t discover this until the book was in print, otherwise I would have put more effort into them.
There’s one section I created for the book and have since pulled together into a Word document to share with several people over the years. It discusses a concept – ETEB – that, when I first discovered it a couple of decades ago, really helped understand how to effectively manage my emotions.

The ETEB model is simple yet profound. I first encountered it in a course developed by Karol Hess while I was living in New Jersey. She captured it in her book (referenced below).  I took the idea and expanded it, grounding it in scripture.

Below is the excerpted section from the book, complete with graphics. With the tools provided in this excerpt, managing difficult emotions will become much easier.




In their book, Maturity is a Choice (1994, College Press) by Karol Hess and Doug McCulley, Hess, Director of Beacon Light Christian Ministries in Watchung, New Jersey, describes a useful model for recognizing and defeating irrational thinking and behaving. The model is based on Rational Emotive Therapy as developed by psychologist Albert Ellis. The model is also known by the initials ETEB representing the steps: Event, Thought, Emotion, Behavior.

As Hess states, “This diagram provides a practical means of mapping our thinking processes and seeing how they affect our feelings and behavioral patterns. It helps identify thought patterns and compare them to the truth, including the truth about God and the facts of any given situation.”

We’ve expanded and adapted the model here:

Stuff happens. Often we encounter situations that are unexpected and over which we have no control. Our only choice is to respond to them in Christian integrity. In the midst of these events, our emotions will be engaged and flare up automatically. These emotions can be positive or negative. In the midst of an event with our emotions on full flare up, we have two choices:
  • either we can react based on our perceptions and emotions, which means to react irrationally;
  • or we can choose to respond thoughtfully to the reality of the situation, with our minds and spirits fully engaged and under the control of the Holy Spirit and Truth.
Reacting irrationally will put us in an escalating “Loop of Irrationality,” where emotions, such as fear, guilt, arrogance, lust, or anger drive our behavior into irresponsible and damaging actions. These further feed our fear, guilt, arrogance, lust, anger, or other emotions which drives more improper behavior, and so on.

Responding thoughtfully will establish us firmly on the “Path of Peace,” where our minds, filled with God’s truth, seek a biblical and Christ-like, self-dying response where our actions are directed by the Holy Spirit. We focus on truth and not on emotions. As we walk out this truth, our emotions settle down and come in line as well.

For example, imagine that you’re at work and you’re working on completing a report that has an imminent deadline. The report is related to a project that’s very important to you involving material that you are fascinated by. You’re totally focused on your work and your back is turned away from the entrance to your cubicle. You’ve purposely blocked out all the ambient office noise, concentrating intently on your work. You’re in your own little world unaware of anything else around you.

Suddenly, without warning, someone has slipped into your cubicle behind you, dropping a binder down on your desk and saying loudly, “Here’s the report you were asking me about last week. Sorry it took me so long to find it!”

You have no control over this event, and your emotions--in the form of your heart in your throat--are fully engaged. Acting out of your emotions you likely would be enraged by the insensitivity of this co-worker who seems to be totally rude and bent on causing you to miss your deadline. If you were to follow through and react, you might yell at them for being a jerk, ordering them to get out of your cubicle immediately. They might then react by shouting back at you calling you a jerk, and so on, as you both huff and puff your way around the Loop of Irrationality.

The result would be a disrupted relationship, a disrupted workplace, and foothold made for Satan to create increasing hostility, hurt, and resentment.

However, taking a moment to think, you realize they are doing what you asked them to do (bringing you the report) and didn’t realize you were so focused. You know this person and you know them to be courteous and pleasant. They would never do anything intentionally to disrupt another’s success. You turn, put your hand over your heart, and say thanks. They realize what they’ve done and are profusely apologetic for startling you. You both have a small chuckle over the incident and everything is fine.

The reality is that they didn’t mean to startle you. However, your emotions are still engaged and your heart is still beating rapidly! Yet, you know there is nothing to be fearful of or angry about, and you turn back to your work. In a few minutes, your emotions and your thoughts are once again totally engaged in your project. All is well as you quietly travel the Path of Peace.

Using the table below, think of types of situations and events that you encounter at home, at work, at church, or somewhere else. Break down the elements of each event, and describe the emotions that you would feel, and the irrational and rational thoughts and behaviors that you might experience and respond with. Also list additional Scriptures that illustrate the truth of each step.

Satan loves to put situations before us that will enflame our emotions. He knows that the power of emotions--both good and bad--can overwhelm our reason and our faith and lead us into sinful and destructive behaviors. Whether we’re caught up by the seductive lie that it just feels so good it can’t be bad, or we’re lashing out in self-righteous anger to get even, acting out of emotions can be spiritual deadly.

Satan knows that our (E)motions can easily subvert the good intentions of our (M)ind and (W)ills. He will attempt to puff up our emotions and thus lead us into conflict, anger, hurt, disappointment, lust, addictions, and more. Only as we submit to the cross of Christ, crucifying the flesh, and bringing our (M)ind, (W)ill, and (E)motions into subjection to Him will be find the healthy balance we need to walk out our faith successfully.

Do you believe you control your emotions or do your emotions control you? How do you experience this? What frustrates you the most about managing your emotions? How important is your faith in helping you deal with your emotions? Do the ideas in this post make sense to you? Are they helpful? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

 Two useful books referenced above: 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Marriage has not been redefined by goats or cows or people & two more points to consider

Stuff has been happening in Morehead, Kentucky and now they have a new billboard to deal with.

As headlines about the new billboard tout, the point is to mock Kim Davis, the county clerk who has refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples. She went to jail for standing on her beliefs.

I’m not going to comment on whether or not I agree or disagree with her actions. Here are some stories that take a look at the issue from different angles you can read if you’re interested and make up your own mind:
What I want to do is, briefly, address the fallacies contained in the billboard.

The billboard message reads: “Dear Kim Davis, the fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we’ve already redefined marriage.” It was put up by an organization called Planting Peace (

At least one news article about the billboard states the message is “an apparent reference to biblical verses that permit the selling of women.”

There are at least three major issues with this billboard.

First, true marriage has not been redefined

The Bible is clear that a marriage is a marriage only when it is a uniting of one man (male) and one woman (female).

This reality was established from the beginning as stated in Genesis 1:27, NIV: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This truth has been affirmed by millions of orthodox biblical Christians for centuries and still is.

While the definition of true marriage has not changed – and can never be changed – the cultural expression of marriage has shifted. This has almost always been true and is especially true now in the United States.

When man (meaning humankind which includes males and females) exercises his God-given freewill as a fallen, sinful creation, things tend to go awry. This, too, started in the beginning, in the Garden.

Even in Old Testament times – as reported in God’s Word but not endorsed by God – to the dismay of God, men took on several wives. Some would additionally maintain concubines – women that were available to them but not considered wives.

The idea of polygamy is found in a variety of cultures even today. The idea of same-sex marriage is relatively new. And now it is a legally defined option for the expression of marriage within the U.S.

But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right, beneficial, ethical, or moral. Particularly for rationally-minded, biblically-grounded, true Christian believers.

That this is a true concept should not be a foreign idea to anyone who’s ever raised a conscious objection to something the law was endorsing.

Second, this is not a biblical reference

There is nothing in the Bible, as far as I can determine, defining marriage as selling one’s daughter for three goats and a cow to a husband. (If you think there is, please point out a specific reference in the comments.)

Perhaps this idea sprang from the practice of some cultures that offer a dowry to the bridegroom at the time of marriage. This is a cultural practice, not a biblical mandate.

In fact, the slogan – and it is only a trite slogan – has nothing to do with the Bible. You can read about how it came to be here: “From the Man Who Brought You Three Goats and a Cow”.

That the slogan is assumed to be taken from Scripture starkly reveals the widespread biblical illiteracy that impacts both Christians and non-Christians alike.

When reading the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, it’s important to, at a minimum, understand that just because something is in the Bible does not mean that it is a law or a mandate or an expectation related to living a Christian life.

The Bible contains stories, poetry, prophecy, revelation, history, and more, including reporting on the cultures of the day. There are many cultural practices that the Bible references that God was not happy with and condemned. He hates but tolerates a lot of wrong-headedness from his beloved creation.

What is revealed through the arc of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is God’s incredible love for and patience with His hard-headed and rebellious freewill-obsessed creation as He reveals Himself and His grace.

Third, peace is not being planted

The name of the organization that put up the billboard – Planting Peace – implies a desire to be peacemakers with those who hold differing positions.

Their website declares: “Our mission is simple: Peace. Planting Peace is a global nonprofit organization founded for the purpose of spreading peace in a hurting world.”

I fail to see how mocking someone plants peace. Frankly, the billboard does nothing but stir up more dissension, inflict hurt, and encourage hate. It is a form of subtle and pointed persecution.

To get a better idea of what a peacemaker is, consider the context surrounding the term in Matthew 5. Or just take a very close look at the life of Jesus.

One thing I noticed about the confrontations of those demanding marriage licenses from Kim Davis in her office is that, while she seemed to always remain calm and respectful, those on the other side of the counter were loud, hostile, insulting, and belligerent toward her. Their anger and disdain for her was palpable, not peaceful.

In fact, articles began to pop up that disparaged her past, attacked her character, and essentially sought to defame her. The attacks were personal and vicious. Again, this is a form of persecution.

Even as she has gone back to work without blocking the marriage licenses her deputies are giving out to same-sex couples, she is still being heckled and insulted. She has entered into a compromise to do the very thing others demanded she do – her job – and yet those annoyed with her faith-based stand are still not satisfied. They don’t want compromise, they want her out. They want blood, not peace.

Kim Davis engaged in peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience (a practice that has been respected and cherished in this country since its founding) and was willing to bear the consequences of her actions (jail) while those disagreeing with her are engaged in non-peaceful, borderline violent, rabble-rousing character assassination.

In other words, while demanding to be treated with dignity and respect, they are denying dignity and respect to Kim, or anyone who supports her. The billboard adds further insult to her injury while adding nothing of value or substance to the debate.

This is all to be expected

For Christians, while what is happening around us is dismaying, it is not surprising. Jesus warned that life for His followers would be tough, saying that, eventually, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death” (Matthew 1:21, NIV). Then he reminds us, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18, NIV).

Paul cautioned, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1, NIV).

True believers are in for some rough times.

In the meantime, unlike those who oppose God and our faith in Him, following the example of Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we must love our enemies, extend them mercy, show them respect, treat them with dignity, provide for their needs, and cover them with prayer (see Luke 6:27-38, NIV).

We must do this even if they put up an insulting, inaccurate, in-our-face billboard right outside our front door.

After all, love wins.

Is it possible to peacefully coexist with those with whom we disagree? Why or why not? If so, how can this be accomplished? Do you believe that faith is a “private thing” and should not influence one’s behavior in society? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts (respectfully) in the comments!!

 Two useful books on the biblical view of homosexuality: 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Three Cat Poems (#PoetryMonday *)

Like an old Jew at the Wall

the cat sits
slightly swaying
to the back of the couch
head bowed,
                  eyes closed
thankful for the cushions
upon which
she is about
to rest.


What the Cat Knows

          The cat
comes up on the bed while I read
          and write a little,
sniffs at the inked lines
          in the notebook beside me,
smells the thoughts,
flicks her tongue tasting them,
places her front paws on the page,
          as if she
feels the vibration of the thoughts,
looks at me,
closes her eyes
          in acknowledgement,


Sun Knocks

As the sun moves around the curve
of the southerly fall sky
it's reaching rays move from my
window to the front door
that pops as the heat warms
the core and metal skin
as if he is knocking to come in
before leaving the sky to
make room for the chasing moon.

The cats would like that;
his coming in to curl up with
them in whatever corner they
decided to sleep, warming
their unshed fur.

* It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

Yes, I have two cats, Peanut and Shadow. They are sisters although you wouldn
t know it from looking at them or watching them. They’re 11 years old. Peanut was the smaller one as a kitten, but not now. Shadow tends to follow me around. While they once would snuggle up with each other, now, for unknown reasons, they hiss at each other when they pass too near. The first poem is about Peanut, the second about Shadow, and the third about both. Do you have cats? Prefer cats over dogs? Have a favorite poem about pets? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Brief Review: The Colson Way: His life, his heroes, his impact

It’s hot outside. The Philly area, where we landed just over three weeks ago, is experiencing its fourth heat wave of the summer. The third occurred just as we were unloading our rental truck, making the back end like a sauna. Not that it’s any consolation, but Cleveland, where we moved from, is hot today as well.

All that to say simply that this is my first post-Cleveland blog post. Which is really neither here nor there, as they say. Still, it seems worthwhile to point out.

But the purpose of this post is not to share about our move. Rather, it’s to offer a brief review of the new book from Thomas Nelson, The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World by Owen Strachan.

The Colson referred to in the title is of course Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship and former Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon of Watergate fame. 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of Colson’s release from prison and the start of his prodigious ministry endeavors.

The book comes with high praise in the form of endorsements from a variety of notables, including Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. Eric Metataxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, penned the foreword.

The book is generally well-written and a pretty smooth read. The primary target audience, as mentioned several times in the book, is Christian millennials. Still, anyone interested in the life of Chuck Colson will probably be comfortable reading the book as it’s primarily a biography.

Oddly though, not once in any description of the book, on the cover or online, is there any reference to the fact that this book is a biography of Colson. The books is classified as “Christian life / General.” The closest mention I could find that hints that this is indeed a biography is in the endorsement blurb by Sean McDowell who calls it an “eye-opening look at one of the most significant Christian leaders of the twentieth century.”

Actually, the book isn’t simply a biography. It’s sort of three books in one:
  • Colson Biography: The heftiest bulk of the book focuses on the life of Colson. For those unfamiliar or only vaguely familiar with the amazing life of Chuck Colson, this is an excellent resource to learn about this very important evangelical leader.
  • Influencer Profiles: Included at key points are profiles or mini-biographies of key influencers in Colson’s life. Several, such as William Wilberforce, R.C. Sproul, Carl F.H. Henry, and Francis Schaeffer, are people who have had a big impact on all of evangelical Christianity, not just on Colson. A couple, such as Rocky Scruton, either had a more direct influence on Colson or are mentioned to illustrate a character trait of Colson.
  • Expository commentary: The second largest chunk of the book is the author’s commentary, offering insights into the challenges facing modern millennial and other Christians. These bits are cast as “lessons learned” from Colson’s experiences. Throughout most of the book, they run only a few paragraphs and, at times, seem as if they were tacked in as after-thoughts. The last couple of chapters are almost entirely commentary with snippets of biography or profile interlaced. The commentary comes the closest to actually delivering on the promise of the book’s title.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad book. Just a tad confusing and a little frustrating. As I’ve said, it’s well-written and an interesting read. But if you’re coming to the book with your expectations set by the title and the marketing descriptions of the book, like me, you may also experience a bit of confusion as you’re reading.

Nowhere is there a clear, definitive declaration or descriptive lists of what “The Colson Way” is. It’s subtly implied through his story.

Likewise, there is no clear, definitive declaration or descriptive lists telling us how to love our neighbor and live in hostile world. Rather, again, this is subtly implied through the commentaries and profiles.

At little less subtlety would have been a positive thing.

While others may be fine with this blending throughout the book, I found it slightly annoying. Fortunately the good writing and fascinating subject kept me going. Hopefully, being forewarned will allow you to enjoy the book even more than I did. Reading it will not be a waste of your time.

The points I believe Strachan is trying to make can be found in two brief quotes from the final chapter:
  • “We are one body working to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples through the plain and simple preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ.”
  • “Not all of us will stand before kings, but our faith, too, must be exercised not only in the privacy of our homes, but in public, in our workplace, schools, governments, playgrounds, and everywhere God would have us go.”
Chuck Colson, in his own way, exemplified these truths brilliantly, no matter what the cost.

BTW: As I wrote this review, it went from 91 and swelteringly sunny to 84 and overcast with rain. I think the fourth heat wave may be broken.


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Do you know much about Chuck Colson? Watergate? Prison Fellowship? Have your read any of Chuck Colson’s books? If so, which were favorites? Why? Would you be put off if a book did not deliver what its title promises, even if the book is well-written and seemed worthwhile to read? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments!