Monday, March 28, 2016

Very early, the morning after (#Poetry Monday*)

He is risen. The tomb is empty. Almost.

The angel, waiting, folded the grave clothes,
looked around, neatened up this and that.
He chuckled to himself, thinking about
how the guards had fallen down
when he showed up to move the stone.
They dropped like stones. Then scattered
like startled dazed rats.

Now, he waited.

He knew the women were on their way
and they would be the first to hear the news.
The good news. The great news.
The news that, even to him, was amazing.

“He is risen!”

He recalled how, at The Birth, in another cave,
he and a few others had startled some shepherds
outside the little town of Bethlehem.
The shepherds seemed to have more courageous
hearts than these guards, he mused. Interesting.
Anyway, then the news was different.

“He is born!”

He didn’t really understand all this being born
and being dead stuff. It was such an alien concept,
very hard to get clear on. But he felt he at least
understood the basics as well as his bright comrades.

And now, he waited. This time he would deliver
the news alone. Quietly. There was no need to
terrify the women. They’d been through enough.
What they needed now was confirmation
and assurance.

All He had told them was true. All of it.

Just as had been done with the shepherds,
he decided he would open with some version
of “Fear not!” He practiced a few variations
out loud and then settled on, “Don’t be alarmed!”
What next? Keep it simple and direct, he thought.

“He is not here!”

What else? Oh yes, he should remind them of all
He had taught, somehow capture it in a nutshell.
You know, just enough to help them resurface
all their memories of their times with Him.

And he knew gentleness was the best approach.
That’s why he had been selected. He was powerful
when power was called for, as it was when he
rolled away the stone and made an impression
on the guards. The earthquake was a nice touch.
But he also knew how to be more intimate
and soothing. He was made for this moment.

The women arrived.

They were carrying spices and more for the body
and they were clearly startled when they saw him.
As gently as he could, with open hands extended,
welcoming, calming, he spoke.

“Don’t be alarmed. He is not here. Just as He said,
He has risen.”

Well, he spoke words to that effect. The point wasn’t
the specific words, but the message behind them.
And the women appeared to understand. They seemed
able to quickly grasp what they were seeing,
remember all He had taught, and put it together.
Others would have a harder time.

The women left quickly, amazed and breathless,
but not in fear or flight as with the guards.
Rather, nearly giddy with delight and awe and urgency.
They hurried back to the others, to the eleven,
bearing this most great good news.

“He is risen! Really! Go! Look!”

He is risen, indeed, thought the angel.
And now the women and the others were off
on a most interesting journey. The Spirit
was up next. That’s definitely going
to be something, he chuckled to himself.

He knew Jesus was busy with a few
final tasks. Tying up loose ends,
as he believed humans might say it.
He looked around the cave, the empty tomb,
once more. Satisfied that everything
was in order, he vanished.

Outside, in the garden, the wind
began to blow.

* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. What are you thinking about, meditating on, mulling over this Easter season? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments! 

Just for fun:

This poem is included in this collection:

Friday, March 25, 2016

A raucous cross-holiday meditation: J’adore!

At Christmas we sing, “Oh come let us adore him.”

Let us? Really?

This implies hesitation. Seeking permission. Looking around at others, shrugging our shoulders in bewilderment, and saying, “Well, I will if you will.”

Maybe even waiting for someone else to go first. “Are you sure we’re allowed to, you know, adore him? You go ahead. I’m right behind you.”

No, no, no. That’s not the idea at all. After all, it’s Easter and He is risen! Now He’s up and out from the grave, was dead but now isn’t.

So, come! ADORE HIM! NOW!

You know, now in the sense of a Jack Bauer command.

“Down on your knees! Do it! Now!”

Not that someone is standing over us with a gun to our head. No, not like that.

Rather, this is something that should be exploding from within us. Like the eruption of a grateful volcano. Like resurrected life bursting from the grave.

“Finally! It’s Him! The One to whom I owe it all! There He is! Right there! Now, I can adore Him! I must!”

Yes, exclamation points by the bushel are appropriate for this.

ADORE HIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Say it loud. Say it proud. Shout it for all to hear.




There is no other Love, no other Object of our fickle affections Who deserves such an intense degree of plain, unadulterated, unfiltered ADORATION!

Deep, ardent, reverent, unabashed adoration.

Run past the manger. Kneel at the cross. Marvel at the empty tomb. Look up in wonder. Feel the gratitude surge in your heart.

Then, without missing a beat, without restraint, without shame...


He is risen!

What are you thinking about, meditating on, mulling over this Easter season? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Easter-ish thoughts: Nose hairs, balding heads, knee pains, terrorism, politics, sin & Jesus (A very short post)

The Psalmist tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

It’s a lovely thought.

Until I get out of bed in the morning and my knee hurts in a way it has never hurt before for no particular reason.

Then I hobble to the bathroom and look in the mirror at the hair that’s left my head and is now creeping out of my nose and ears.

These are fearful things and I wonder why they are happening.

But I doubt that’s what the Psalmist was getting at.

All in all, I do believe we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Fearful in the sense of “very great.” Wonderful in the sense of, well, very wonderful! Or, “inspiring delight, pleasure, or admiration; extremely good; marvelous.”

I can get on board with these definitions.

As for the nose hairs and bad knee, I blame these on Adam and Eve.

The Fall messed things up for all of us in ways we can only begin to imagine. Everything is not quite what it should be. Doesn’t function as smoothly as intended. Especially as aging brings us closer to our earthly end.

Because of The Fall -- the source of “original sin”-- everything is disordered. Out of whack. Maladjusted.

The consequences are myriad.

On the lesser side of impact are nose hairs and balding. Our genes and atoms aren’t exactly what they’re supposed to be so annoying stuff happens in our bodies. As well as in nature in general, which gives rise to disease and the like.

Greater consequences are terrorism, sex trafficking, bizarre politicians, and all that’s ugly and bad in the world. All things driven by the evil, Fall-impacted intentions of sin-bent people.

Okay, that’s putting it simply, but it’s still accurate. And gets to my point.

Even in the midst of all that is dark, mean, ugly, and just downright awful, because we all have within us the image of God -- imago dei -- we are not left hopeless.

We are not the random victims of a mindless happenstance universe.

Satan slinked into the Garden with the intention of destroying all that was good about God’s amazing, perfectly designed creation.

But then, God sent His Son, Jesus, to provide solace in the midst of suffering. Hope for the broken. Light for those needing a way up and out. Salvation for the lost.

All creation still groans awaiting the full and final resolution of what Christ accomplished on the cross.

But for us who turn to Him, right here and now, we have the grace and mercy of God to comfort us, redeem us, transform us, and prepare us for the day when knees will no longer ache and hair will grow only where it’s supposed to.

Until then, I’ll wear a cap as needed, clip unwanted hairs, pray for the afflicted, advocate for the harmed, resist evil through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and worship the God by whose hands I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

He is risen!

Additional Reading:

What are you thinking about, meditating on, mulling over this Easter season? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments! 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring greening (#Poetry Monday*)

Lower-level limbs
show buds; a fog of spring growth
on gray skeletons.

* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. 

Allegedly spring has arrived, although with a bit of a nip. Still, things are beginning to green up and even blossom. What is your favorite season? Does this short haiku match up to your experience with the coming of spring? Share your thoughts (and maybe your own haiku?) in the comments!

This poem is included in this collection:

Friday, March 18, 2016

No you really can’t be whatever you want, nor should you try: Intentional versus whimsical

We are a people who demand choices. And then are promptly stifled when confronted with more than a few.

Even at Baskin Robbins, where they  used to proclaim “31 flavors” and have since produced more than a thousand flavor variations of ice cream, the number one choice is still vanilla.

Endless choice is not always a good or truly desired thing.

It’s like telling a child they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up.

Writer Austin Kleon rightly assesses that “Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying”

I guess parents intuitively know this when their child starts saying she wants to be a fireman or a policeman, then redirecting her to “better” choices. In essence narrowing them yet still insisting to the child, “You can be whatever you want to be. Just not that.”

Or maybe there are darker motives at work. Who knows?

Little engines have tracks

But still, we insist that even as adults we can be whatever we want to be! To claim otherwise is to be stifling say some.

Like when Christians claim that everyone is created by God with a purpose. That the way to succeed in life is to determine God’s will for who we are to become in Him. That God made you to be something special.

“Hogwash!” agnostics and atheists and even some “believers” will shout. “We’re not limited by some mythical or arbitrary God!”

Yet these un-delimiters, like directive parents, will promptly advise turning to personality inventories, aptitude tests, and talent assessments to help determine your best fit now when it comes to a major, a mate, a job.

But, of course, you’re still free to be whatever you wish!

Even Christians get carried away, waving the banner of Philippians 4:13 in the faces of perceived skeptics and naysayers telling them they probably shouldn’t pursue a proclaimed endeavor.

“But!” they object, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. Don’t you dare tell me what I can’t do! My God says I can do anything!”

Big trucks versus low bridges

However, what Paul meant by “all things” does not mean “anything.” Nope.

Putting the verse back into its context makes it clear he was explaining that he was, with God’s strength, able to endure the hardships and challenges he encountered while doing the specific thing God had called him to do.

The reality is that we can’t be anything we want. And we can’t do everything we want. Nor should we frustrate ourselves trying.

A plethora of influences will play into the choices of a career or a mate available to us. Geography, family, education, physical make-up, and so much more all play a part. And that’s okay.

When we try to go down a path that’s really not suitable to us, things don’t go well.

There’s a low bridge eventually.

Willing nilly on a whim

Someone posted the photo above on Twitter a few weeks ago. I copied it and posted it on Facebook. Both with and without the added scripture.

Without the scripture, the photo garnered several “Likes.” With it, it was ignored.

I’m sure it left more than a few wondering what the heck I was getting at! “Oh, there goes that Stephen again!” is probably a thought that passed through their momentarily distracted minds.

Well, what I’m getting at is that we shouldn’t tell our kids (or ourselves) they can be or do whatever they want to be when they grow up. Rather, we should pay attention to their personalities, their interests, their dreams and help shepherd them toward realistic and very suitable choices when it comes to vocation and careers.

And, of course, we should be shepherding them within the context of biblical knowledge while discipling them and nurturing their relationship with God.

For us who are adults, we need to kill the idea that whatever we want to do we can do.

Unless we are very certain that what we want to do is what God has shaped us for and called us to do. Then, yes we can! Of course we can do that specific thing that God is calling us to do.

But the idea that we can run around helter-skelter, changing careers, shifting ministry focus, and adjusting our identities willy-nilly is not even close to what God intends for us.

We are not to live our lives whimsically, but rather, intentionally. Otherwise we’re implying that either God didn’t get it right when He shaped us, or He’s changing His mind like a wave tossed on the sea.

Narrowing away from the broad road

Matthew reports Jesus saying, “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, HCSB).

The primary meaning here relates to salvation and entering the kingdom of God. But I think there’s more to it than that. This is a hint about how we are to live our lives. How we are to allow our hearts and minds to be shaped.

It is an echo of Paul in Corinthians:
  • “‘Everything is permissible for me,’ but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permissible for me,’ but I will not be brought under the control of anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12, HCSB).
  • “‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything builds up” (1 Corinthians 10:23, HCSB).
The bottomline is that we need to rein in our desires, allow God to reign over our focus, and discerningly set our hearts on the one thing He is directing us toward.

Keeping our options endlessly open only creates unmanageable distractions. Not to mention engendering false hope.

Paul explains, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

The Amplified version puts it like this: “For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].”

Søren Kierkegaard stated, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

Life has God-ordained limits. Living within them actually enhances our capabilities to be effective. Instead of being overwhelmed by anything and distracted by everything, zero in on the one thing that’s best.

What is that one thing? As Jesus stated, “ first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:33, HCSB).

That’s probably the best place to start.

Centering our life on anything other than Christ, allowing our whims to drive our focus, believing that every choice is a good option, will only lead us down multiple rabbit trails of futility.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking inside the box. We just need make sure it’s the right box.

Do you believe it’s more important to keep your options always open or narrow your options to a few best bets? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve stated in this post? Is it a good or bad thing to always believe you can be whatever you want to be, do whatever you want to do? Which mindset is more biblical in your opinion? Why? What problems (wrong attitudes, bad behaviors, inappropriate desires) do you believe can result from being confronted with endless choices? Or do you believe choice is always good? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Brief Review: Understanding & addressing the pain of abuse

In his new book, Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation (Baker Books), Dan B. Allender writes, “The fact is there is nothing about our spirituality that doesn’t intersect with our personality; there is nothing about our personality that isn’t a reflection of our spirituality.”

If this strikes you as a negative thing, Allender is quick to offer the assuring reminder that “Jesus intends to stand against every accusation and claim made against us.”

Allender, professor of counseling psychology and former president of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology in Seattle, Washington, goes on to share, with great sensitivity and insight, guidance on recognizing, acknowledging, and healing from sexual abuse.

The book, a combination of help and memoir, is a follow-up and companion to his 25-year-old classic in the field, The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse.

The back cover of Healing the Wounded Heart states, “If you are one of the millions of people who have suffered abuse in the form of rape, incest, molestation, sexting, sexual bullying, unwanted advances, pornography, and more, you know that hope doesn't come easy and healing can seem impossible. Dan Allender has been there--and he's spent twenty-five years helping other victims of sexual abuse walk the path toward wholeness.”

Additionally, this is an excellent book for pastors, counselors, and others who want to better understand and be equipped to address the issue of sexual abuse with others seeking help. A workbook is also available.


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.

Have you read other books by Allender? Other books on the topic of sexual abuse? What are some of the better resources you can recommend on the topic? What has been your experience dealing with the issue in your church? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Simple Simon rebuffed: Come let us adore Him

The Sadducees were so cute when they encountered Jesus. Perhaps it would be better to say they were so clueless.

The ruling class of the day, arbiters of social mores and religious practice, it’s easy to imagine them walking around with their noses perpetually up. Because they tended to look down on all those around them.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were a little more down to earth. A little. They were often at odds with the Pharisees, but one gets the sense they were a little jealous. The Sadducees tended to move in higher circles, wear the latest fashions, hold the better positions.

While there was competition, there was also, probably, some emulation. After all, to raise oneself up, the easiest route is by looking down on others.

For example, take Simon the Pharisee as characterized in Luke 7.

When he appeared on the scene, Jesus became a common problem for both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Jesus was equally a source of interest and annoyance.

Unlike most others they dealt with, Jesus could not be cowed or boxed in by the Sadducees or Pharisees. They weren’t sure what he was about or how to deal with him.

So I imagine it was a combination of curiosity and reconnaissance that motivated Simon to invite Jesus to dinner. After all, the wisdom is to keep friends close and enemies closer, right?

The whole tone of the story recounted by Luke shows Simon exuding a kind of complacent inquisitiveness. He wants to learn more about what makes Jesus tick, but he also wants to avoid any appearance of taking him seriously.

His interactions with Jesus are measured and cautious, a inquisitorial aloofness.

After Jesus tells Simon a story of two forgiven debtors, he asks Simon which of the two is most appreciative, “Which will love more?”

Simon nonchalantly answers, “Well, I suppose, you know, the one who was forgiven the larger debt?” One can almost hear the up-talk in his flippant response.

He supposes? Really?

At least Jesus gives him some credit for his answer.

But let’s back up and look at why Jesus presented this parable to Simon. It was a bit of a scolding, although it’s not clear Simon understood that immediately.

It was customary when one had guests to their home for the host to offer them water to wash the day’s dust off their feet. Beyond its practical applications, it was also a sign of respect.

Simon had not extended this simple, common courtesy to Jesus. This offers a striking clue to Simon’s attitude toward Jesus.

As they were dining, “a woman of the city, a sinner” enters the scene. One can only imagine how she managed to get into Simon’s house. Perhaps she had been there before? I don’t know.

But the story makes clear that she came after learning that Jesus was there. It’s as if she were compelled by an unseen force. She had to get in. She had to see Jesus. She had to complete her mission. Nothing or no one was going to stop her.

She brought with her expensive ointment, an alabaster container of precious aromatic oil.

She presses in to find Jesus, probably unnoticed at first. She sees him, goes straight to him, anoints his feet with the oil, weeps prolific tears that mix with the oil on his feet which she kisses, and then uses her long hair to wipe them clean.

Just take a moment to reflect on this scene.

The woman is mindless of what any think of her. Jesus gazes at her with grace and patience. And Simon is flummoxed, not sure what to do, but thinking, “Okay, this is weird. I know this woman. She’s a whore. If Jesus were a true prophet, he’d know the kind of woman she is, wouldn’t let her touch him, would shoo her away and have her tossed back out in the street where she belongs.”

In the midst of this odd scene, Jesus calmly looks up at Simon and says, “Let me tell you a story.”

And then he launches into the parable of the two debtors who had their debts forgiven. One was forgiven a lot. One was forgiven a little. Which leads to the question Jesus poses to Simon, “Which will love more?”

Simon was a Pharisee. He viewed himself as righteous. What forgiveness did he need? The required temple sacrifices took care of that problem. He sought adoration from those he respected and envied.

Simon neither understood his deep need of forgiveness nor who Jesus was.

The woman, on the other hand, understood her place very well. She knew who she was. She knew what she was. And she knew in her deep need she required something more than what the Pharisees and Sadducees offered.

Her heart was soft with awareness of her need and when Jesus showed up, her heart knew he was the answer. He was the source of the forgiveness she craved. He was the way to a better life. He offered the truth that could change everything.

And so, in response, she adored him. She, a mere street wench, adored and worshipped the Christ. From the wealth of her poverty, she adored him.

She knew the weight of her sin. She knew the depth of her need. She knew who Jesus was.

When we deny our sin, we deny Christ. We deny the meaning and purpose of his death and resurrection. We deny the truth of his message. We become Simons.

Not only was Simon unaware of his own needs, he was dismissive toward the impact of grace on others. He was not impressed with the parable Jesus told, he was not happy about the woman’s behavior in his house, and, frankly, he was not too keen about Jesus.

When it came to true faith, genuine religion, and sincere service to God, Simon was a simpleton.

That night, the “woman of the city, a sinner” gained her place in the Kingdom of God. Simon, by all appearances, gained his in another, lesser, would-be kingdom.

Frankly, I would rather be a forgiven derelict than a clueless simple Simon. And you?

Come, let us truly adore him.

Do you acknowledge the debt you’ve been forgiven? Do you identify with Simon or the woman? During this Easter season, will you come and adore Him? Or just ignore Him? Share your thoughts in the comments.

For more art similar to that above, go to A Sinful Woman Washes Jesus’ Feet: Chinese, Japanese, Mayan, Cameroonian art.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Ten “its” for writing fast & writing well *

When confronted with a nearing deadline, these tips will keep you from getting hung up.

Gene Fowler said, “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Know the feeling?

Those of us who do it, love it, but writing is not without pain. Especially when the deadline is only hours away and the article you need to write is one of several items on your day’s plate.

It’s one thing to be a writer, it’s another thing to write. For many, writing well in a compressed period of time seems impossible. But you can write quickly and write well. Here are ten “its” that can help.

1. Know it. Good writing derives from clarity. Clarity comes from knowing what you’re writing about. What’s your purpose? What’s the point? What are you trying to prove? What’s the central idea?

2. Research it. Collect your facts and examples. Do your polls and interviews. Research thoroughly before you begin writing. Get what you need to address who, what, when, where, why, and how. Be sure to verify names, titles, and anything else you’ll need to include. Writer’s block is almost always due to inadequate research!

3. Organize it. Make a map connecting each piece of information. Make a simple or elaborate outline – whatever works for you. Write the headings on 3 x 5 cards and organize your research (clippings, notes, etc.) beside each card. Try using the AIDA structure: create Attention that engenders Interest that stirs Desire to take Action.

4. Write it. Quickly. Stack your research and start writing through the pile as fast as you can. Don’t worry about transitions or try to write perfectly the first time. Relax, have fun, and get something on paper. Just keep writing all the thoughts that occur as you work through your research, even if they are incomplete. If you’re blocked, do more research!

5. Leave it. Walk away. When you’ve exhausted your research and feel you’ve written yourself out, stop. Take a break. Let it cool off.

6. Clean it. Good writing is concise. Use no more and no fewer words than necessary. Cut the fluff. No matter how magical a phrase seems, cut it if it doesn’t fit the flow. Rewrite and rearrange your paragraphs. Often a buried paragraph makes the best lead. Double check your facts and attribute all your quotes.

7. End it. Say what you need to say and then stop! Stick to the point and don’t write past it.

8. Speak it. Read what you’ve written out loud and fix what doesn’t sound right. The ear hears what the eye misses. You will be amazed at how this dramatically improves the quality of your writing.

9. Release it. Know when to let it go. Stop tweaking it to death. You’re good at what you do so have confidence in what you’ve written. It’s good. You’ve done your best and it’s time to move on and do it all over again! Deadlines are forever.

10. Print it. And be proud! After all, you are a writer.

Yes you can write it well and write it fast! I learned the truth of this in my first “real” journalism job. I’m sure if you just sit and start writing, you’ll be amazed at how much comes out. And I’m serious when I say nearly all writer’s block happens when you’ve not done enough research. Do you have other tips or advice for getting it done quickly? Share your thoughts in the comments!

This article is taken from my book where you will find a lot more practical advice on how to improve your writing:

* Title trivia: “Ten 'its'” = tenets. Get it?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Wasting freedom (#Poetry Monday*)

I swear!
Aren’t I cool?

(Or do you take me for a fool?)

I love those edgy
dirty words.

I use them all the time.
They’re so sublime.
I feel like such a sailor.
To my faith, meh,
a bit of a traitor.

But still
I like to fill
the air around me
with a wordy filigree
of words so undainty
as to make your
thinned hair curl.

I especially like to hurl
salty insults at those
whom I loathe.

It makes me feel so powerful
and free.
Would you like to hear an example?
One, two, three
here goes....

Just kidding.

I’ll stuff the bawdiness for later
when I’m with cooler urbanators,
fellow civility quakers,
enlightened like me.

Have a blessed day!

* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. 

I dont like swearing. Especially really crude swearing. I would rather read a bad poem that have to put up with bad language. And I don’t buy any (or at least most) of the arguments supporting it’s use in any context. Do you? Coarse language should be off limits for those who identify as Christians. Of course, supporting Donald Trump should also be off limits for believers... Anyway, what do you think? Do you cringe when you hear or read foul language? Or does it not bother you at all. Sound off in the comments! Just keep it clean ;-)

This poem is included in this collection:

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Street skirmishes, politics, personal preferences, non-essentials & foolish bloody faith fights

Politics, it is said, can bring out the worst in us. And note the “us.”

We pick sides, and this year the sides have been legion at times. Once picked, we defend “our man” or “our woman” or “our cause” with vehemence.

At moments it seems like one giant virtual street fight. Verbal knives, chains, and guns are drawn. Everyone starts swinging, going for blood, or worse, in for the digital kill.

It’s at these times that I’m thankful this happens mostly in the not-so-OK corral of social media. Feelings are hurt but lives are spared. Albeit barely at times.

Thank goodness for small mercies.

It’s enough to put a lot of people off politics all together. The contentiousness is not attractive and definitely not viewed as productive.

In between the big-leap election years, bloody skirmishes can always be found in other arenas.

Beyond the brutal ugliness of politics

A couple of weeks ago, Tim Challies, a generally good guy, posted a cute little quip on his Facebook page, stating, “I never get tired of hearing about Alistair Begg’s visit to a megachurch. ‘I feel rotten, that’s how I feel. What have you got for me?’”

I never get tired of hearing about Alistair Begg's visit to a megachurch. "I feel rotten, that's how I feel. What have you got for me?"
Posted by Tim Challies on Wednesday, February 24, 2016

 The video he pointed to is this one:

In the video, Begg goes on a minutes-long rant about his on-a-lark visit to a larger, apparently well-known church. The service opened with a flourish and from there on was apparently quite rambunctious.

This, combined with the staging and perceived vapidness of the worship leader’s comments, set Begg’s teeth and more on edge. Added to this, it seems, by his own admission, Begg was already in a bad mood. (Frankly, I believe he was prepared to react as he did being biased against this type of worship.)

Like Challies, Alistair Begg is also a generally good guy (although when I listen to him speak in my mind I’m seeing Craig Ferguson). While I’ve not met Challies, I have met Begg.

While I was living in Cleveland, I was privileged to be one of a group from Metro Alliance Church who, at the invitation of our pastor, Juri Ammari, attended the 2010 Basics Conference: A Conference for Pastors on Preaching held at Begg’s church. It was a great experience.

The event included participation in a regularly scheduled church service. It was a good service but of a style that I was not drawn to. I never visited Begg’s church after that.

Nor did I make a YouTube video ranting about those style elements of the service that I was not drawn to. Ultimately, I have no issues with Begg or his church. He is a good guy and his is a good church; they are solid on substance.

I may not like your style but it's your substance that matters

To me, when it comes to my faith, substance -- the whole contextual substance -- of a service and the church that holds it, is far more important than style.

But, given that God created me (and you, and Begg, and Challies) with distinct personalities that have style preferences, I do make decisions about where I regularly worship with that preference in mind.

We all do it. And that’s okay.

What’s not okay is bashing each other over style variations. Or, just as bad, over non-essential doctrinal differences.

By non-essential I mean those finer points of doctrine that make our chosen belief systems unique and interesting, especially to us and those who agree with us, but that in no way at all determine our suitability for heaven.

They don’t add to or subtract from our salvation, sanctification, redemption, and all those central truths that make up solidly biblical, orthodox belief.

It’s when we -- and by we I mean Christians, especially those who fall into the accepted definition of true evangelical -- put style on the same level as substance that we get ourselves into trouble.

And the fights over these ephemera get absurdly bloody.

Begg’s rant is just a mild warm-up to what he really thinks of those who don’t worship as he prefers.

Put up your doctrinal dukes!

I’m not a theologian but I do enjoy reading and talking about theology. Still, I’m not an expert. But I know some stuff.

There are, as far as I can determine, two overarching theologies or doctrinal positions currently prevalent. You can label them as you wish.

One is Calvinism (aka Reformed) and the other is Arminian (which has nothing to do with Armenia).

From each of these massive limbs of well-rooted belief systems, many smaller branches have sprouted, each a variation on the theme of their limb. I’m not going to address these variegated offshoots. I’m hanging out only on the main limbs for now.

I lean Arminian. Always have, although I didn’t always know what Arminian meant. I’m still learning.

While I lean Arminian, I hang out with a lot of Calvinists of varying hues and stripes. They’re good people and I have no real issues with them. Usually.

There’s much about the Reformed way of looking at things I agree with and can embrace. But there are some finer points I’m just not convinced of, but these need have no impact on being able to enjoy fellowship with those who hold them.

Why? Because on the essentials -- those very critically important core truths that make up the heart of biblical orthodox belief -- we firmly agree.

Sadly, there are those in both camps who aren’t so amenable to agree to disagree, but insist that the other embrace everything they believe, or otherwise they are “wrong” and thus, outside of their self-drawn circle of orthodoxy.

More than once I’ve been reading a book written by a Calvinist that was good stuff. Until they suddenly started addressing, in a very much in-your-face manner, the narrow specifics of their Calvinist view while taking not-so-subtle swipes at Arminian belief.

At these points, the books are spoiled.

Can’t we all just get along?

In a previous (and relevant to today’s topic) blog post I wrote:
Francis A. Schaeffer stated that, “Though genuine Christians may, and in fact do, disagree over certain points of Christian thinking, there are absolute limits beyond which a Christian cannot go and still stand in the historic stream of Christianity.”
He agrees that there is room for variation of expression within these absolute limits, explaining “we should picture a circle within which there is freedom to move.”
Calvinists and Arminians are both well within that circle.

Scot McKnight mentions that some use the image of a “village green” while he uses the image of “a big tent”:
“The evangelical tent is big enough to welcome under its shade Calvinists and Arminians, anabaptists and charismatics, Anglicans and Methodists and Baptists, and I love it when Catholics and the Orthodox join.”
Whether circle, village green, or tent, we have a mandate about getting along within it.

Just before Jesus was crucified, he declared to his followers,
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, HCSB).
In the foreword to his excellent little book, The Mark of a Christian, which is essentially an exposition of these verses, Francis Schaeffer states,
“Christians have not always presented a pretty picture to the world. Too often they have failed to show the beauty of love, the beauty of Christ, the holiness of God. And the world has turned away.”
This is not a good thing.

The whole world is watching

Years ago, a church where I was a member was in crisis over what was essentially a stupid non-doctrine related issue. I’ll spare you the details. Things were getting heated. Emotions were out of control. It was getting personal and ugly.

Broken-hearted at what was happening, I felt compelled to write an open letter to the Board and the congregation. I quoted a lot from Schaeffer’s little book. The main thrust of the letter was, we’re not looking so good to those in the community we’re supposed to be ministering to.

My letter was ignored. The fight went on. The church split. And I’m not sure that the wounds are totally healed to this day.

The same kinds of mean-spirited skirmishes break out within the greater church on a regular basis. Voices are raised. Books are written. Sermons are preached. Arbitrary lines are drawn. And spiritual blood is needlessly spilt over thinly sliced doctrinal ephemera.

The laying on of hands is not meant to be fisticuffs, real or metaphorical!

Meanwhile, out there in the world to which we are called to be light and life, all that’s seen is ugliness and death.

And the world turns away. This should not be. There’s room at the cross for all which is where we should be leading the lost.

McKnight closes his excellent post stating:
“My brothers and sisters, because God in his mercy has made room for all of us at the cross and at the table, there’s room enough for all of us on the village green. Grace would make it so. We might not be able to agree on theology or in some of the finer points of our confessions, but the village green — evangelicalism — is covered by a big tent, and there’s room for all of us who call ourselves evangelicals.”
Yes, indeed.

As we watch in horror and decry the insanity, meanness, and downright brutal nastiness of our American political scene, let us not become self-righteous. Just as bad and worse plays out within this blessed milieu we know as the Body of Christ.

It’s neither healthy nor attractive when it does.

And yet we lament the downward spiral of church attendance and the increasing numbers of “nones.”

Perhaps the first place we need to make changes is within our own hearts and minds, avoiding even the appearance of this evil.

How about it?

Okay, I’ll agree, Begg’s rant isn’t that bad, and I can agree with some of his points. Still, was it necessary to share from the pulpit? Does this kind of thing further the Gospel of Christ? Does it advance the Kingdom of God? Does it draw people to salvation? Could there be more appropriate and less public forums for addressing these kinds of issues? Shouldn’t all churches be focused on communicating a message of salvation and fostering an environment of biblical discipleship rather than seminars on how to choose the sides among the faithful? Please share your thoughts, nicely, in the comments!