Posts filed under ‘Current Trends’

A Family Is Shattered

Massacring fourteen members of a Mormon family, including small children by burning them alive, while they were traveling from Chihuahua in Mexico to Arizona in a three-vehicle caravan is unthinkable, but it is, sadly, not uncommon in a nation where violence is rampant and drug lords really are just that – not only lords in a nation, but, in many ways, shadow lords of it. The drug cartels’ leverage over the Mexican government is astonishing.

A 2016 study rated Mexico as second in the world in terms of deadly conflicts, behind only Syria. Another study from just this September listed Mexico as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.  Most of these deaths can be chocked up to the nation’s violent cartels.

The story of this massacre is macabre.  The thought of innocent – and, by all accounts, exceptionally pious – people losing their lives in such a violent way violates our most basic instincts of justice.  Yet, out of this terrible tragedy, tales of heroism are already beginning to emerge.  One 13-year-old member of the family, who escaped the slaughter, hid his siblings from their would-be murderers and then walked six hours to find help.  Violence may be able to overtake lives, but, it turns out, it can’t overtake love for others.

Certainly, we should pray for the survivors and their families.  We should also, however, pray for and call for justice.  Drug peddling is, in its very nature, nihilistic.  It does not care about human morality or dignity, but instead seeks only money and supremacy.  Because drug peddling has no interest in humans, it eventually consumes humans – including the humans who are doing the peddling.  These drug lords may traffic in death to make money, but they cannot escape their own – and often early – deaths, even with their money.

King Solomon once said, “If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things” (Ecclesiastes 5:8). The drug cartels of Mexico do indeed oppress the poor and violate the rights of many.  By doing so, they pilfer justice.  And we have known this for a long time. So, in this way, as Solomon says, I am not surprised by what has happened.

But I am appalled.

But I am also hopeful – hopeful that, even if justice feels denied now, it is really only delayed until later.  For, on the Last Day, Jesus will “stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25) and will not be able to stand sin.  He will wipe out sin – once and for all.

That’s the Day this family needs.  Indeed, that’s the Day we all need.

November 11, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Church’s Durability

The Christian faith has staying power. This is both a biblical promise and a statistical reality. The biblical promise is that Christ’s Church is so strong that not even “the gates of Hades will overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).  The statistical case for the endurance of the faith was laid out by Ross Douthat in a column for The New York Times this past weekend:

Long-term Gallup data suggest that any recent dip in churchgoing is milder than the steep decline in the 1960s — and that today’s churchgoing rate isn’t that different from the rate in the 1930s and 1940s, before the postwar religious boom …

The recent decline of institutional religion is entirely a function of the formerly weakly affiliated ceasing to identify with religious bodies entirely; for the strongly affiliated (just over a third of the American population), the trend between 1990 and the present is a flat line, their numbers neither growing nor collapsing but holding steady across an era of supposedly dramatic religious change.

The case for the Church’s remarkable sociological durability is not new with Ross Douthat. Several years ago, Ed Stetzer, then the executive director of LifeWay Research, argued:

Nominal Christians are becoming the nones and convictional Christians remain committed. It is fair to say we are now experiencing a collapse, but it’s not of Christianity. Instead, the free fall we find is within nominalism.

So, what does all this mean?

For churches whose attendances are dropping, there are no easy answers, but there are some things we can and should consider in light of what we know about churches that are growing. Two things specifically come to mind.

First, pandering isn’t helpful. Hospitality, however, is. Pastors and church leaders have, in some corners, tried to pander to a progressive cultural zeitgeist that has a deep-seated distrust in and disgust at the Christian faith.  These leaders have discounted biblical authority and downplayed Christ’s ipseity.  In their rush to make the Christian faith palatable for the world, they have wound up with nothing to offer to the world.  These churches are collapsing.  In other more traditional corners of the Church, pastors and church leaders often spend more time pandering to longtime donors and power brokers within their congregations than they do reaching out to those who have questions about the Christian faith or to those who are skeptical of the Christian faith.  In these types congregations, traditions often trump mission.  These churches, too, are foundering.

Pandering stymies the Church’s mission.  Hospitality, on the other hand, calls churches into mission.  Hospitality is not focused on indulging people’s whims, like pandering is.  Instead, it is focused on loving them. This is why, when he writes about hospitality, the apostle Paul explains:

Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:13-16)

For Paul, hospitality’s proving ground comes in how one treats their enemies.  How does the Church treat its enemies?  Do we lie to them by telling them what they want to hear like some supposedly “enlightened” and non-orthodox congregations do?  Do we reject them by catering to insiders and their preferences as some other congregations do?  Or, do we love them by living for them as Christ lived for us?  The Church must recover its hospitable spirit – especially to outsiders.

Second, faith is meant to be deep and go deep inside of us.  In a culture that is, in many pockets, post-Christian, a shallow or simple faith simply will not answer people’s big questions or stand the test of life’s terrible trials.  The studies above show, as other studies have before, that it is people with shallow faith who are falling away from the Church – not people with deep faith.  This means pep talks that pretend to be sermons will not keep people in church – but neither will dry doctrinal treatises that recycle theological buzzwords ad nauseam by pastors who are more concerned with brandishing their orthodox bona fides than they are with communicating Christ.  Only preaching that exposits the content of the Scriptures, explains how the Scriptures concern us and convict us, proclaims from the Scriptures what Christ has done for us, and then calls us to live out of what Christ has done for us will do.  The Scriptures present a deep faith in a clear way.  The Church should do the same.

Obviously, the Church has not done any of this perfectly – nor will it.  But we should consider how we can do things better.  Blessedly, in spite of our shortcomings, the Church will continues to endure because the Church is as durable as the One who died – and conquered death – for it.  Because Christ conquered death, the Church will not die.  He, finally, is the Church’s durability.

November 4, 2019 at 6:15 am 2 comments

Suicide Rates Keep Climbing

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Credit: cocoparisienne from Pixabay 

Suicide has become a national mental health crisis. Story after story bears this out. Take this, for instance, from Brianna Abbott of The Wall Street Journal:

The suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 years old climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention … Around 2010, the death rate of suicides among adolescents and young adults surpassed the rate of homicide deaths, according to the report.

This spike in suicides comes after a period of relatively stable suicide deaths between 2000 and 2007.  And it’s not just young people who are taking their own lives at an exponentially increasing rate. Ms. Abbott goes on to note:

Suicide rates in general have increased in the U.S. across all ages and ethnic groups, rising roughly 30% from 1999 to 2016. 

This is terrifying, especially since we can’t seem to figure out precisely why suicide rates are increasing so dramatically. EJ Dickson, also writing about the latest CDC statistics for Rolling Stone, explains:

Alarmingly, public health experts have no idea why the suicide rate for young adults is increasing so rapidly. “The truth is anyone who says they definitively know what is causing it doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” says Ursula Whiteside, a researcher with the University of Washington, recently told the Washington Post. “It’s a complex problem with no easy answers so far” …

Most mental health experts caution against isolating one “cause” or factor when discussing suicide. Though we know there are certain factors, such as a history of mental illness or substance use, that put teenagers at increased risk for taking their own lives, the mental health establishment simply doesn’t have enough research to draw “firm scientific conclusions” about what causes spikes in suicide, Dr. April Foreman, a psychologist and a board member at the American Association of Suicidology, previously told Rolling Stone. Regardless of what external factors may or may not be contributing, it is “much more likely there are complex things going on in society. We just don’t understand suicide well enough,” she said.

Dr. Foreman’s reference to “complex things going on in society” is ominous. We know monumental societal shifts are taking place. From the ascendency of social media, the overuse and misuse of which has been linked to depression, to the glorification of suicide itself, there are plenty of potential culprits behind these scary statistics, even if we can’t pinpoint precisely how much of a role these culprits play.

With societal shifts affecting how we see the value of our lives – even if their precise effects remain statistically vague – it has become clear that we need a way of seeing ourselves that does not shift with society, but is instead steady in spite of society. Christianity has consistently affirmed and defended the value and dignity of the human person and human life. Our value and dignity are not derived from our status, our income, or even our own feelings about our own selves. Instead, they are grounded in our Creator who, when He created us, called us “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Jesus affirms the value of humanity with a small, but powerful analogy:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

“If God takes good care of the sparrows,” Jesus says, “it should be self-evident that He will take great care of you. After all, if the sparrows are valuable to Him, imagine how much more valuable you are to Him.”

Indeed.

So, if you are feeling worthless or like life is not worthwhile, Jesus invites you to drop the societal estimations of your value and find your value – and hope – in Him. He has given you a life worth living.

October 28, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Is The Bible Reliable?

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Credit: KML from Pexels

Over the past few weeks, there have been some astounding archaeological discoveries related to the Bible.  First, researchers have found possible evidence of the existence of the biblical people of Edom, a people long dismissed by scholars as mythical rather than historical.  Reporting for the Daily Mail, Joe Pinkstone writes:

The Biblical kingdom of Edom was long thought to be a myth, but scientists now think they have found proof of its existence in a controversial new finding. 

Analysis of copper mines and slagheaps dating back to the 11th century BC reveals evidence of improvements to smelting in mines throughout a 60-mile wide region …

Researchers from the University of California and Tel Aviv University concluded that due to its age and location, the authority controlling the mining and smelting could only be Edom, the kingdom which stood in the way of the expanding Israelites. 

The book of Genesis refers to the Edomites, who were thought to be descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau.

That’s incredible.  But that’s not all.  In another fascinating find, archaeologists uncovered a 1,500-year-old fresco that depicts Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 people.  Rory Sullivan reports for CNN:

A colorful mosaic recently found in an ancient church in Israel appears to depict a miracle Jesus is said to have performed nearby – the feeding of the 5,000 – archaeologists say.

The discovery was made in the “Burnt Church” in Hippos, an archaeological site on a mountain a mile east of the Sea of Galilee. The church was built around 1,500 years ago and destroyed by fire in the early 7th century AD.

Christian scholars have long argued that the Bible is a remarkably historically reliable document.  These recent finds simply contribute additional credence to these claims.

Of course, findings like these do not answer every question or criticism people have about the Bible.  But they should at least lead us to consider just how truthful this book just might be.  The peoples and places of the Bible seem to be exceptionally archaeologically accurate.  So, perhaps we should wonder: What else in this book is accurate?  Could the miracles described by the Bible be factual?  Could the teachings proffered by the Bible be wise?  Could the God confessed by the Bible be real?  Could the Bible be what it claims to be – divine revelation?

Archaeological discovery can help us verify the Bible’s accuracy.  But the Bible claims to be much more than just accurate.  It claims to be authoritative.  It is meant to guide and shape our lives.  As the Psalmist puts it: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).

It is important to ask the of the Bible: did the events described therein happen way back when?  But it is just as critical to answer: how do the events described therein apply to me now?  For the Bible is not just a history book.  It is a helpful book.  And it is not just a helpful book.  It is a holy book.  May we treat it as such.

October 21, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Hatred, Kindness, Truth, and Love

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Credit: hurk from Pixabay 

This past Wednesday, Jews across the world celebrated Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. But things turned deadly for a group who gathered to celebrate at a synagogue in Halle, Germany, when a gunman tried to force his way into the house of worship. He was not able to breech the doors, but still managed to kill two people nearby. The gunman has since confessed that he was driven by anti-Semitic beliefs.

This shooting, of course, is deeply saddening – not only because of the devastation the community of Halle has endured, but because it really isn’t that shocking that this shooting occurred. Shootings like these have become all too frequent as hatred like this shooter’s has become all too common.

But hatred does not need to carry the day.

In another story that made the rounds this week, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was criticized when she was spotted sitting next to former President George W. Bush at an NFL game last weekend. Some accused Ellen of betraying her politically and morally progressive bona fides by being friendly with a conservative former politician. For her part, Ellen vigorously defended her friendship with Mr. Bush, explaining on her show:

I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have … Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, “Be kind to one another,” I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean, “Be kind to everyone, it doesn’t matter.”

I believe Ellen is generally correct here. But I also know that Jesus’ call goes much further than Ellen’s comments. He not only calls us to be kind to others regardless of whether we are like or unlike them, but to actually “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Ellen confronted her detractors with a commendation of kindness. Jesus challenges the world with His command to love.

Love, of course, does not mean that we cannot vigorously debate and disagree. Indeed, we should. The truth is worth our debates and disagreements. But defending the truth and loving others are not mutually exclusive propositions.

This takes us back to the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement reminded Israel of a dark truth: they were sinners who deserved death. Animals were sacrificed on this day as a picture of what human sin deserves. But the Day of Atonement also revealed to Israel God’s great love for them. For He gave to them what they did not deserve and could not earn – forgiveness and life. Truth and love met on the Day of Atonement.

As a Christian, I, too, have a Day of Atonement. But it did not happen on Wednesday of this last week, or on a special day that rolls around once a year. Rather, it happened on a Friday 2,000 years ago and serves as the once-for-all atonement that I need for every one of my sins and that the world needs for every one of its sins. The apostle Paul describes this Day of Atonement thusly: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood – to be received by faith” (Romans 3:28). The cross was my Day of Atonement. And Jesus is my sacrifice of atonement.

What truth does Jesus’ atonement teach me? That I am a sinner in need of forgiveness. As Paul writes, just verses earlier: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Why did Jesus become a sacrifice of atonement for me? Because He loves me: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). In Jesus’ work on the cross, truth and love meet.

It strikes me that the synagogue shooter could have used both some truth and love. The truth is that his anti-Semitism is deeply sinful. He needs to know that. But he also needs love – a love that would lead him to put down a gun and instead pick up a cross and follow the One who loves everyone.

October 14, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Hug of Forgiveness

It was the hug felt round the world.

When Brandt Jean, the 18-year-old brother of Botham Jean, who was murdered by Amber Guyger, asked if he could hug his brother’s killer, the courtroom flooded with tears.  Mr. Jean’s hug capped an extraordinary – and, honestly, supernatural – expression of love, compassion, and forgiveness toward Ms. Guyger.  When Mr. Jean first took the stand last Wednesday, he was supposed to, following Ms. Guyger’s conviction, offer a victim impact statement – something common in cases like these.  But Mr. Jean’s impact statement was unlike any other and is worth recounting in full:

If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you.

And I don’t think anyone can say it – again I’m speaking for myself and not on behalf of my family – but I love you just like anyone else.

And I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you. And I wasn’t going to ever say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do.

And the best would be: give your life to Christ.

I’m not going to say anything else. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.

Again, I love you as a person. And I don’t wish anything bad on you.

I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please? Please?

I’m not sure how he did it, but Mr. Jean managed to honor his brother’s memory, extend forgiveness to his brother’s killer, and invite her to trust in Christ, all in a matter of moments.

This was a complicated case.  Ms. Guyger claimed she shot Botham Jean because she believed she was entering her apartment while accidentally entering his.  When she saw him, she thought he was an intruder and was afraid, so she shot him.  At the same time, there was plenty of evidence introduced at the trial to call into question her character.  She, herself a police officer, was having an affair with another married officer, to whom she also sent several racially tinged text messages.  Then, she shot an unarmed black man.  There were plenty of reasons Mr. Jean could have been suspicious of her and angry at her.  Instead, he decided to extend forgiveness to her.

As conversations about Mr. Jean’s offer of forgiveness have ricocheted across cable news networks, I heard one commentator worry that Mr. Jean had extended to Ms. Guyger “cheap grace.”  I would respectfully disagree.  There’s nothing cheap about the grace Mr. Jean extended to Ms. Guyger.  The grace Mr. Jean extended came at the cost of his brother.  And there’s nothing more valuable than a life.

But, I suppose, this is the way grace always works.  For the grace that God extends to us comes at the cost of God’s Son.  And there’s nothing more valuable than His life.

There’s a lot of pain – especially along racial lines – that has bubbled to the surface because of this murder.  Ms. Guyger’s ten-year sentence feels to many like justice denied.  And make no mistake about it: justice is important.  Crime and time go together appropriately and importantly.  But it also must be understood that what Mr. Jean offered in that courtroom was not injustice.  It was something totally outside of justice.  It was Jesus.

To Mr. Jean, I offer my condolences.  What happened to your brother is not only tragic, but sinful.  But to Mr. Jean, I also offer my thanks.  For what you did in offering forgiveness was not only inspirational, it was incarnational.  You brought Jesus into that courtroom with you.  And a whole nation noticed.

October 7, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Is the news stressing you out?

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Credit: Roman Kraft on Unsplash

It’s been a wild week in politics. President Trump has found himself enmeshed in controversy over a phone call he had with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine. In a summary transcript, which was released by the White House last Wednesday, the president speaks briefly to the Ukranian leader about former Vice President Biden, suggesting that he look into an accusation that the vice president impeded a Ukranian investigation into a company on whose board his son sat.

The phone call has ignited a firestorm, with Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against the president, claiming that his conversation with President Zelensky amounts to a demand for an investigation of a political opponent in exchange for U.S. aid.

It’s been a wild week in politics. But, of course, this past week hasn’t been the only wild week. It seems as if some scandal, controversy, or outrage is continually brewing in the White House, Congress, or Supreme Court.

All this political adversity is affecting some people’s mental health. A study of 800 people conducted by Kevin Smith, a political scientist professor at the University of Nebraska, found that:

Nearly 40% of respondents said that politics was a cause of stress in their lives. About 20% reported losing sleep, feeling fatigued or being depressed owing to politics.

Between 10% and 30% of the respondents said that politics took an emotional toll on them, by causing anger, frustration, hate or guilt, or caused them to make comments they later regretted.

About 20% reported that politics had damaged their friendships. 

The histrionics of politics, it seems, is having an outsized influence on our lives and relationships. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not just the perpetual political panics of the daily news cycle that are affecting us, it’s the place of politics in our hearts.

When politics become primary to us, its influence over us becomes immense. We begin to believe that each political crisis becomes the final political crisis – the one that will undo once and for all our culture and our future. So, we become edgy, angry, and suspicious of anyone who does not share our political sensibilities.

The call of Christianity is to submit to Christ as Lord over all – even over our politics. We do not need to fear the vicissitudes of politics, for no political upheaval is so great that it can pull us out of Christ’s care. This should provide us with a sense of peace, hopefulness, and perspective that reminds us that we should ultimately be more concerned with someone else’s faith than with someone else’s vote. For no matter how we vote now, there is only One to whom we will bow on the Last Day. No matter what is happening in Washington, in Christ, we can find peace.

September 30, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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