Category Archives: Religion

Most Influential Pastor?

What pastor has most influenced your life?

I take this question from a recent Mortification of Spin podcast. I’d love to read your answer to it, and I think it would be remarkable if we can get good, 21st-century data on this influence. Wouldn’t it be easy to suppose your favorite pastor or minister has most influenced you when in fact it was someone else, someone whose teaching has defined your life more than you recognize? Someone like your youth pastor so many years ago or the minister at the church you visited for a couple years during your stint in Duluth.

To answer the question, my most influencing pastor has to be the founding pastor of the church I’ve been a member of virtually all of my adult life. I can’t quote many of the things he’s said, but I think many of his expressly taught conclusions as well as his approach to Scripture and manner of handling doctrine have shaped me more than anyone else could have.

What about you?

Image by Helge Leirdal from Pixabay

For His Lovingkindness Endures Forever

A great way to remember the Lord’s work in your life is to write down your prayers and experiences. My pastor has recommended a mementos box to remind you of the stories of God’s faithfulness. Others have recommended keep a diary. I know a ministry leader who has filled up dozens of journals with daily devotions, prayers, and their answers.

World News Group reports on a great-grandmother, Ernesta Wood, who has been writing letters for many years.

Wood’s home displays photos of her 53 descendants, nearly all Christians. Once a week for the past 16 years, she has sent them letters—777 in all, as of July 1—filled with stories. Some are dramatic: Her blind grandmother miraculously saw Wood’s grandfather minutes before he died. Other stories cultivate a sense of God’s presence in less dramatic moments: Once, her parents’ pet birds escaped but returned to their cage before dark, just as her mother had prayed.

Promises Not Made

I’ve seen many critical comments about “purity culture” this year from strangers on the Internet. I didn’t know exactly what they were referring to, but that’s normal when you come into the middle of someone’s conversation, which is what social media allows you to do all day, every day. And you can’t bring a pot of coffee with you. Last week such conversations couldn’t be avoided as everyone on my side of the Internet cafe took up talking about the announced divorce and apostasy of the author of a 1990s bestselling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

The criticism has been as open-ended as the label. I think much of what I saw was from people who were pushing back appropriately on a shame-based rationale they were taught, but many critics seemed to be attacking biblical sexual ethics as a whole. The latter is ridiculous, but I’d like to write about the former for a minute.

Continue reading Promises Not Made

“Why didn’t anyone say anything?”

I wrote, some time back, about “discovering” Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” – years and years after the rest of the world did, of course. And I mourned the man’s death, having found some of his stuff both intriguing and moving. I didn’t know a lot about his personal life, though. Kyle Smith fills in the details in his article about a new documentary on Cohen’s romantic life, over at National Review:

Directed by Nick Broomfield, the new documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is intended as a tribute to the relationship that inspired one of Cohen’s best-known songs. It is actually more of an indictment. In nauseating detail, it documents the damage wrought by open relationships and other errors of the counterculture. Cohen, once he achieved success as a performer, discovered he was the Elvis of bookish depressives and indulged himself with the women who stampeded to his shows. He was living with Marianne while writing songs about hooking up with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel. A friend of Cohen from those years, Julie Felix, recalls, “Leonard was a great, uh, feminist. He said to me once, ‘I can’t wait till women take over.’” Ladies, when a man says this, listen carefully. What is he really saying? Cohen was giving himself a license to treat women badly.

And there it is again, the sour legacy of the ‘60s. And the ‘70s. When I reminisce about those anarchic decades, you must bear in mind (in fairness) that I was not a neutral observer. I didn’t envy the hippies their drugs – I’ve never understood why anyone would want to lose control of their mind – but I envied them the sex. Sex in the Age of Aquarius was a loud party in the next room, keeping me awake all night.

From Leonard Cohen to Charles Manson to Ira Einhorn (the founder of Earth Day who murdered his girlfriend and stored her body in a suitcase), the Sexual Revolution was an era of the manipulation of young women, justified by high-sounding philosophical and psychological claptrap. We’ll never know the cost in ruined lives, ruined health, and actual deaths. (The movie Forrest Gump is one of the few honest treatments in cinema.)

When we look back at that era from the perspective of contemporary sensibilities (which happens rarely, because the old hippies are still around and still determined to hush it up) it’s hard to comprehend. “How could people allow this to happen?” you might ask. “With so many victims, why didn’t anyone say anything?”

The answer is that some people were saying something. Preachers were saying something. Church people were saying something. Small town people were objecting, and farm people.

Uncool people. People nobody listened to. People they made fun of on TV.

Today, the victims are different. My friend Moira Greyland Peat, author of The Last Closet, one of the earliest “guinea pigs” in the Great Gay Experiment, has chronicled how children in “gay families” are subject to sexual abuse far out of proportion to their percentage of the population.

Again, people are sounding the alarm. But we’re not the cool people. The very fact that we don’t parrot the approved public narrative is proof that we’re bigots, and unworthy of a hearing.

We live in a new age of ignorance, I think. Through most of history, information was limited by physical unavailability. Most people knew what their neighbors knew and what their priests told them, nothing more.

Nowadays there’s so much information around, we depend on great information aggregators to choose for us what we’ll hear. We’re back to depending on the neighbors and the priests, only those neighbors and priests are wealthy strangers far away, with their own motivations.

You can’t operate on lies forever. Structures with flimsy foundations must inevitably fall. So the falsehoods won’t stand forever.

I just fear how many more innocent victims will be crushed in the collapse.

LIndisfarne

I’ve been reading a book about Lindisfarne, the English island where (according to received wisdom) the Viking Age began with a brutal raid on the renowned monastery there. The date of the raid is generally considered to be June 8, 793, so we just passed the anniversary (the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives a January date, but that’s unlikely. Vikings didn’t generally raid in the winter).

I’m reading the book because I’m scheduled to do a presentation on LIndisfarne later this summer. I have a lot to learn yet — I find some disagreement in sources. The video above says the original 793 raiders stole the Lindisfarne Gospels book, but the book I’m reading says no, the monks hid it. I do believe I’ve read that the book was taken by Vikings at some point though, so I’ll have to dig a little more into that.

Anders Winroth suggests that the Viking raids were a net good to Europe, as they took wealth that had been stockpiled in church institutions and injected it back into the economy.

I’m sure that was a great comfort to the enslaved monks and nuns.

“A living, breathing, 20th century desert father”

Pastor and author Andrew Arndt shared this quote from that great Christian musician Rich Mullins out of research he has been working on for a book with NavPress.

Arndt quoted Mullins from an interview:

How do you know when God is calling you? Well, for me, for years I tried to avoid loneliness, because it hurt too much. Now I am beginning to recognize that maybe that’s what it feels like when God calls. Maybe when God is calling it hurts. Maybe when God calls us it feels like a pain. And for years I tried to drown and avoid that pain, and fill the ache with stuff that was destroying me. To listen to the call of God means to accept some of the emptiness we have in our lives and rather than always trying to drown out that feeling of emptiness we allow it instead to be a door we go through in order to meet God. And this is where moral purity begins to play in. Almost everything that corrupts us is something we use to fill an ache and moral purity might be nothing more than a call to accept the ache and the emptiness and to allow ourselves to go through it to where God is calling us to go. And the joy of the Christian life is that those aches are met ultimately in Christ.

When we finally pull the lifeline we’ve created to the things we’ve tried to fill our emptiness with, when we say no, it is very scary and we think will we ever stop hurting. My answer is don’t worry about hurting. Realize that this is how badly God wants you and that the hurt you’re feeling – maybe that’s the way it feels when you’re called by God so don’t try to fill or quiet it but ask God to give you the courage to face it and walk through it to him.

Ascension Day


Benvenuto Tisi da Garofalo, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome 1510 – 20

It’s Ascension Day, a very important feast in the Christian calendar, which (like so many important feasts) is little noticed today.

I read something in one of Francis Schaeffer’s books a long time ago that left an impression on me. I’m pretty sure he was citing someone else. The idea was that the importance of the Ascension is (at least in part) that it proclaims the physical existence of Heaven. According to the testimony of witnesses, Jesus had (after the Resurrection) an actual body that could be touched and consumed food. And that body went somewhere. Not to a “philosophical other,” but to some place where bodies can live.

It’s part of our hope of eternity.

Happy Ascension Day.

Sub-creators

A snippet from Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter.

This is from his account of the long night’s conversation among Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Hugo Dyson at Oxford in 1931, which bore fruit a few days later in Lewis’s conversion. It’s tremendously important.

We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil….

Lewis listened as Dyson affirmed in his own way what Tolkien had said. You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened? In that case, he said, I begin to understand.

Logos Theatre steals Past Watchful Dragons

Dwight Longenecker talks about a remarkably good theater group based in an unlikely university that has produced some marvelous Narnia plays.

This is because plenty of religious people have as their true foundation materialistic/secularism and plenty of non-religious people instinctively believe in the reality of the supernatural. . . . I am speaking of the modernists who wear ecclesiastical costumes and spout religious and liturgical language, but whose worldview is materialistic and regard religion as no more than an extension of their preferred ideology or political party but with the sugar icing of religiosity.

The secular materialist (both the religious and the non religious variety) are the most vigilant of watchful dragons, for they breathe withering fire on any sign of the supernatural. When contemplating these dragons, I realize I have more in common with the follower of any other religion that is rooted in a supernatural worldview than I do with many of my fellow Catholics.

“Christianity Comes to the Vikings”

Below, my lecture at Union University, Jackson, TN — in case you’ve been longing to spend an hour with me. It opens with a short introduction by none other than Dr. Hunter Baker.

I was a little disappointed that my PowerPoint slides are out of shot; on the other hand, I didn’t always synch them well (my remote clicker didn’t always get through for some reason).

Probably best for me not to comment on the short portion I’ve personally viewed. I’m generally incapable of objective self-assessment. So judge for yourself.

And then make it viral.

He Made the World by His Word; Why is Salvation by Suffering?

From the sixth century bishop of southern France, Caesarius of Arles, comes this important meditation on the salvific work of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Why the Lord Jesus Christ freed the human race through harsh suffering, not through power.”

He says this is a common question. “Why did he who is proclaimed to have given life in the beginning by his word not destroy death by his word?  What reason was there that lost men should not be brought back by the same majesty which was able to create things not yet existing?”

He would have been able, yes; but reason resisted, justice did not give its permission: and these are more important to God than all power and might.  . . . This then had to be kept in mind: compassion must not destroy justice, love must not destroy equity.  For if He had finished off the Devil and rescued man from his jaws by His majesty and power, there would indeed have been power, but there would not have been justice.

It’s a marvelous sermon, worthy of the week, and brought to us by Ben Wheaton, Ph.D., medieval studies, University of Toronto.

Photo by Robert Nyman on Unsplash

Christ Jesus, A New Hero

“Christ’s death on the cross offered healing to billions over the past 2,000 years—and it also inaugurated a different kind of storytelling. The hero no longer had to be a Hercules whose strength moved huge stones. He could be one who gave his life for another—and then God would roll away the stone. “

World News Group’s Marvin Olasky wonders how many stories have been inspired by the life of Christ. I’d say, not so many that thousands more wouldn’t be welcome.

Call It God’s Judgment

Forty-five years ago a murderous squad of tornadoes mobbed thirteen states within eighteen hours, killing 315 people and injuring 6,000 more.

When catastrophes happen, someone will likely attribute it to God’s judgment on our country at large or the damaged region in particular, saying the sin of those people had become so great that God had to do wipe them out with a grand outpouring of his wrath. That’s misguided but not entirely inaccurate. We should understand natural disasters as part of God’s judgment on our people or our neighbors. Our sin deserves it. For God to remind us of his terrible wrath, which will not ignore anyone, is profoundly merciful.

But a catastrophe isn’t only judgment. It’s mercy for some who have been living in bondage to other’s people sinful control. It’s opportunity for some to trust him, having been unshackled from their self-reliance or material ties. It’s a challenge to some to love their neighbors, to get out of their isolation and rebuild what they can. It’s providential direction for some, who are being forced to move to a new city and begin a new life.

We are too narrow-minded when attributing divine motives to particular events. God’s mind is infinite. His motives for orchestrating any event could be as many as the number of people involved. They could be plans we would understand if we knew them; they could be plans we don’t want to hear. No matter what his reasons, God bids us to trust him.

Great troubles come when we least expect them. We may be at peace in a happy home. At an hour when we think that all is calm, without warning — the darling child whom we love so much, lies dead in our arms! The friend we trusted, and who we thought would never fail us — proves false! The hopescherished for years — wither in our hands, like flowers when the frost comes!

The storms of life are nearly all sudden surprises. They do not hang out danger-signals days before, to warn us. The only way to be ready for them — is to have Jesus with us in our boat.

from J. R. Miller, Daily Bible Readings in the Life of Christ (1890)