What’s Below the Waterline?

Most had already gone to bed, some perhaps still reading in their staterooms when the ship shuddered violently. A chunk of what 3000 years earlier had innocently begun as accumulated snow, eventually broke off from a glacier in the Arctic Ocean. Several hundred feet long, what made the iceberg so deadly was its height–most of which was invisible. Rising just 50-100 feet into the air, it boasted a massive but unseen root that may have descended 1/5 of a mile beneath the waves. On April 14, 1912 it sent a ship marketed as “unsinkable”to the bottom of the sea in less than three hours, killing about 1500.

90% of an iceberg’s force lies hidden below the waterline where its mass and muscle stabilize the ice and serve as a crude rudder. Scientists recently estimated that the Titanic killer weighed 75 million tons. Despite its own size, a vessel of 52,000 tons plowing into it at full speed stood no chance.

Iceberg thought to have sunk the HMS Titanic

While we race to understand and defeat an ominous virus stalking the world, America is on lockdown. With US cases at half a million and 20,000 deaths, we’re following state orders to stay home and wear masks. The most dire predictions suggest the nation’s death toll could reach 250,000. Many are worried–and not just about getting sick or even dying, but about how to feed their families if they can’t work. What does America’s future look like if JPMorgan turns out to be right and unemployment reaches 20% or more?

Though the official news is bleak–and what we’re hearing from friends and family may have us even more rattled, the virus could provide Christians with an unexpected gift: a diagnosis. Could this be a chance to discover what’s below the waterline of our faith so we can strengthen it if needed? The apostle Paul confessed that the terrible time he went through “crushed” him, “overwhelmed his ability to endure”, and that he “expected to die” (2 Corinthians 1:8). But looking back on those terrifying days, he realized that God had been up to something: “…as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Good times can camouflage the tinsel strength of our faith, but often bad times are brutally honest.

Two months ago we were as oblivious to danger as the guests on the Titanic; enjoying good food, good drink, good friends, a great voyage. And then, impact. We have jobs but can’t work; schools but can’t attend; church buildings but can’t gather for Easter. And the most prosperous nation the world has ever known can’t find or make enough medical masks, ventilators, gowns, or even hospital beds. As you filed for unemployment, listen to the news, watch the battering your budget’s taking, get cabin fever, miss your friends and try to explain what’s happening to your 8 year-old daughter, what are you discovering lies beneath the waterline? Has your faith proven formidable and muscular, or does it appear to be a somewhat lightweight version of what you thought it was? In His great love for us, God sometimes leads us to relocate our confidence and satisfaction in Him–not in a life marked by smooth sailing on a glassy sea, but in one whose waters are littered with icebergs. This is a big one, but it could turn out to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Man of Conviction, Man of Courage, Man of Sacrifice

Absalom Jones just wanted to pray. Thanks to faithful evangelism by him and his friend Richard Allen, the number of African members at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, had grown substantially. Anyone of any race could become a member of St. George–and despite slavery being something of a norm in colonial America in 1791, Africans were sometimes invited to preach. But as the non-white membership grew, others grew nervous. And on that Sunday when Jones and others tried to pray on the first floor, the ushers pointed to the balcony. As lay ministers for the black congregants, Jones and Allen had organized a mutual aid society for those in need, and their group had generously helped raise money for the church’s new balcony. With the balcony’s completion, its purpose now became clear: segregated seating. James 2:3-4 speaks about a

Absalom Joneschurch segregating according to economics, but the rebuke applies to every way of separating people : “If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’–well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?”

When the ushers tried to forcibly move Jones, he and most Africans walked out the door. It would be another year until the completion of a new African Church of Philadelphia, which then affiliated with the Episcopal Church. In 1794, when it called Absalom as pastor, Rev. Jones became the first black priest in America.
This is black history month and Christians like me in need of ample amounts of sunscreen would do well to broaden our historical horizons. Jones‘ life and ministry is a great addition. In addition to being a great Christian leader in the church, so he was at home. Jones pestered a number of Quakers (all abolitionists) to buy his wife’s freedom from her master–while he remained a slave. True, there was a practical reason to begin with her. She had to be set free before they had children, or by law they would have became property since their mother was a slave. But if a woman was free, so were her children–regardless of the father’s status. She became a free woman in 1778, but it would be another 6 years before Absalom too was free. Leader, provider, protector; just what a husband’s called to be.

Christians & Food & Faith & Fellowship

Please don’t judge me but I don’t eat enough vegetables. And I eat more potato chips than I should. Then there are some friends with the self-discipline of a SEAL who NEVER stumble, never sneak so much as a cookie. Living in a land of plenty with plenty of food options, food–and what can or should be eaten–not only become upper tier decisions but yardsticks for measuring each other. Stacy Reaoch shines the light of the gospel on our choices and chastenings–sometimes of others–but sometimes ourselves.


On Alert

Doing some research for an apologetics (defending the faith) series I’ll be preaching starting January 2020, I stumbled across author and blogger Natasha Crain. Wow! She has a fantastic website crammed with resources for parents trying to help their children with answers to common questions either they have–or will have the first time they encounter a friend who does. The following post is a wise callout to Christians about what we discussed yesterday: be discerning who you follow.

Help, my adult child is breaking my heart!

Some of you read the title and began to weep. You remember when your son was seven, or when your daughter was ten and you had such high hopes for them. You love the Lord and want to serve Him–and that’s what you wanted for him/her too.

But somewhere it all went south. Maybe it was in his late teens, maybe in her early to mid-twenties, but despite all that you’d done right as a parent, promises you’d heard from teachers saying X + Y always = Z, were broken.

The son of pastor and prolific author John Piper was on the run from Christ and his family for four years. I can only imagine the groan of grief that must have coursed through John’s heart when he joined his elders in excommunicating Abraham.

Having long since been reconciled to Christ and his family, Abraham has some wise counsel to offer other parents whose adult children are breaking their hearts. https://jimdaly.focusonthefamily.com/12-suggestions-for-loving-a-prodigal-child/

Missionary: No Halo Required

You collide with the gospel everywhere: your church, maybe your parents/family, your friends–even internet podcasts.  Is it even possible in this age of hi-tech communications that there are still billions who have never bumped into the gospel.  Ever.  Nor will they.  They don’t know any Christians, none live near them and no Christian knows their language.  Who will love the Jat people, the Hui, the Pashtun, the Ansaris, or the Kap people enough that they will sell all, sell out, and set out to live among them so that these frontier peoples can learn that Jesus died for their sins too?

May 19, 2019 will be Keystone’s mission conference, “To Congo, with Love”.  And on May 12 I will speak on being “On Mission for the Whole World”.  Every day the number of people who don’t live near any churches or have any Christian friends–who have never heard the gospel, grows.  A few years ago, it was 2.8 billion.  Now it’s 3.15 billion.  Praise be to God for indigenous missionaries evangelizing their own, but the need and God’s call for the West to serve the unreached, has not been cancelled.  What if God called you?

Maybe you so idealize missionaries that you think sainthood-or near sainthood, is required.   Mission biographers can contribute to this nonsense by portraying their subjects with an angelic glow.  The stories of some past missionaries have been so polished that no one can measure up.  That’s why Kathryn Long may have done the world a service by publishing “God in the Rainforest: A Tale of Martyrdom and Redemption in Amazonian Ecuador”.   I think very highly of Elizabeth Elliot but as reviewer Madeline Arthington shows, she was just a regular woman that–thanks to God’s grace, was greatly used in spite of her very human flaws.  https://www.imb.org/2019/04/22/after-jim-elliot-good-bad-ugly/

Lies Sufferers are Told

Not only is the teaching of the Prosperity Gospel widespread (it has conquered so much of Africa and Latin America that in some places it is the only version of Christianity known), it traffics in half-truths and outright lies.  Sufferers endure the worst.  Initially some see hope in PG claims but in short order, are devastated by unfulfilled promises that heap unfounded blame and guilt onto the shoulders of those already at the end of their ropes.

Tragically, elements of the immensely marketable but sometimes sinister teachings of people like Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen and Fred Price,  have slipped unnoticed into the thinking of many Christians.  While nearly all Christians believe God can and still does do miracles, PG advocates say He’s promised to.  Always.  If only you have enough faith.  Or do quality praying.  Or have a large number of people praying.  Or obey perfectly.  Or…

At the age of 38, Duke Divinity School professor Kate Bowler has stage 4 colon cancer, a battle she’s waged for several years.  The author of Blessed, a well-researched 2013 book on the Prosperity Gospel, she made this observation in 2016.  The “Prosperity gospel is a reflection of American avoidance of our finitude. Their denial of the inevitability of death taught me something about American confidence. Americans want to be in control. Self-determination is a theological good. It’s really hard when it comes to the fragility of the end.”

Battling the PG lies, Vaneetha Risner reminds us how horribly wrong we can be–and how horribly hurtful to others when instead of a worshipful “let God be God” message, we take one to our suffering friend like,”If you just do it right, you’ll be healed/get your marriage back/have a child/child will live/the job will come through/your stocks will go through the roof…”  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/just-have-more-faith?utm_campaign=Daily%20Email&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=70927869&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–MJVPy9__xfBwp2bDZbQ05IywU55yfPCd2j3bjuX5lToSh6f47iX2zi2cyQdyYy4fu6AByLIeU19tnv3EOVkLihILt_De2pKth-3IPueE3YLmTaFs&_hsmi=70927869

They’re worth it, Moms

Looking back now I wonder what I was thinking when I quit my job and began a journey through higher education that would take 7 years.  Especially since we were young parents of not one, but two–soon to be three children.  When we struggled to pay the bills on my part time salary, we kept eating because Betty did childcare in our home and held down other part time jobs.  It’s not what either of us preferred but we made it work; she’d go to her job and I’d take care of the children.  Then she would watch them if I was at my job or in class.

Back then there was tension between working moms and stay-at-home moms, with some of the SAH moms accusing the rest of neglecting their children.  With some indignation the rest fired back that since they could (thanks to ability and/or education) they were going to do more than simply be a mother.

I don’t observe the same crossed arms today but I do think it’s impossible to overstate or too often repeat the high calling of being your children’s mom.  I hope you’ll find this encouraging: https://jdgreear.com/blog/everyday-faith-3/

RX for Voters

[November 9, 2016]

You happy, elated, jubilant, validated…?

Or are you stunned, terrified, anxious, worried, ticked off…?

You think as a Christian you’ll have an advocate in the WH…?

Or wonder how you’ll be able to make clear that the faith you have isn’t the sort that he claims to have?

(I wrote much of this post immediately after Donald Trump was declared the winner in 2016, but never published it.  Now that we’re halfway through his term maybe it can be of benefit since I still hear a lot of conflicting voices about the election–and the Trump presidency, from followers of Jesus.)

The 2016 election was the first one in which I saw evangelical Christians (ones who believe the Bible’s true because it’s God’s voice, and that people are forgiven of sin only through trusting Christ) so divided over who to vote for.  Although the faith vote usually leans one way, that wasn’t the case in 2016.  Believers’ fervor went both directions with multiple reasons why Trump or Hillary was the only choice for a Christian.  Initially, evangelical lion Wayne Grudem publicly vouched for Trump with a detailed justification, then withdrew his support in the wake of the Access Hollywood video.  Early on several Gospel Coalition stalwarts urged evangelicals to vote Hillary, but supporters of each candidate admitted the race pitted “two flawed candidates” against each other.

Here we are 2 years later with a national sentiment still very divided about the original vote–and the current administration.  Especially with Trump having appointed 2 originalists to the high court, some Trump supporters feel vindicated and remain convinced being a man who doesn’t care what people think is the best kind of person to be president.  Meanwhile, while his political opponents despise him they look back on 2 years of bizarre tweets and White House dysfunction and salivate at the easy win they think lies ahead in 2020.  They dismiss Trump’s 60 million voters as uneducated buffoons who will likely be unable to tilt the table his way in 2 years.  If they can just hold out for that time they’re confident they can then consign his throwback immigration, anti-choice, and transgender policies to the trashheap of history where they belong.

When I originally penned this post we could have had the discussion around what all of this means for Christians who will be voting, but now it’s time to have it around what it means for Christians to be thinking, feeling, and living.  Trump may be president for 2 more years–or 6, but whether you see that as good or bad, Yahweh of Israel is going to be God forever.  Bible people know that in his management of the  world’s kingdoms, God “…gives them to anyone he chooses.” (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32)  He chose Donald Trump.  And Barack Obama.  And George Bush.  And Bill Clinton.  “Why?” is not our concern.  He did.  And if you believe the same One who is the Election-Decider is your Savior, it should bring comfort.  Your emotions should not depend on how things go, but on Who controls how things go.  What He’s doing with Mr. Trump may turn out to be a blessing to our nation, or a judgment upon it.  We do not find hope in the arms of our elected officials, but in the arms of the One who rescued us from judgment through Jesus.

These are days to read the Word more than the world’s newspapers-or newsfeeds; to pray for our nation’s leaders more than to expect them to do what we want; to pray more for the moral fiber of the church than the moral fiber of the land (for, what good can we be to the land if we are broken ourselves?).

Killer Law & the Demon Lord

The signing date wasn’t accidental.  Governor Cuomo made it law on the very day that the Supreme Court decided 46 years ago that abortion was an American right.  Something owed every citizen like free speech, the right to vote, to be regarded innocent until proven guilty.  In the Empire State if a pregnant woman’s life is in danger from her pregnancy, she can now legally end her baby’s life at any time during pregnancy–including right up to full term rather than the previous limit of 24 weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Steward-Cousins crowed, “We’re saying here in New York, women’s lives matter. We’re saying here in New York, women’s decisions matter.”  Attorney Sarah Weddington who successfully argued Roe V. Wade before the Supreme Court was on hand to gush to gathered assembly, “Thank you for what you’ve done for women.”

But what have you done TO children?!  Women’s lives and decisions matter but helpless children’s don’t?  Let’s not pretend that the only mom who will abort is the one who’s at death’s door.  On Tuesday the chances of making it out alive for each child growing in a New York womb became less likely.  Little one, although you did not request your beginning I must warn you that there’s a chance you’ll be exterminated if your mother–or father finds you’re a threat to their relationship, or an interruption to education or job or travel, an inconvenience, an unaffordable expense, or some other less-than-mortal reason.  Don’t count on making it out alive.

Governor Cuomo sees himself an innovator, a visionary blazing a path for other states to follow.  After signing the legislation he ordered state landmarks like One World Trade Center to be lit up in pink to–and I quote, “Shine a bright light forward for the rest of the nation to follow.”  Satire specialists at the Babylon Bee issued an article on this travesty with the title, “Demon Lord Clearly Visible In New York Senate Chamber Applauding Legalization Of Abortion Until Moment Of Birth.”  In the article was a photoshopped pic of a spirit being in the balcony.  Or was it photoshopped?  Maybe it’s impossible to photograph demons but make no mistake about it: ONE WAS IN THE ASSEMBLY CHAMBERS.  Or hundreds.

Most of us do not live in New York, cannot call those state senators about this wicked and horrible offense against heaven and humanity.  But we can pray for our own state, for our own politicians, and share our views respectfully (1 Peter 3:15-16) via emails and calls.  We can make reasonable arguments to our cousins, classmates, and colleagues at work.  Americans are roughly split down the middle on abortion.  A few % points here and there and that changes.  Educate yourself so you can educate others.  See https://abort73.com or https://www.frc.org/brochure/the-best-pro-life-arguments-for-secular-audiences or https://prolifetraining.com/resources/5-min-pro-life.

In your conversations, show others the grace you’ve been shown in Christ.  Chances are that of the four women you meet, one will have had an abortion so shaming and blaming is not the way to persuade minds.  And the only thing that screaming at others does is drown out–for the moment–the sins we’re guilty of.  They’re sinners, we’re sinners.  We should get along well.