Stuff from last week

I haven’t been posting much recently, partly due to time and partly due to disinclination, but last week a came across a few things I found interesting, that I thought I’d share. The plan was for it to go up on Friday, but the Monday Morning Wife and I had our 10th Anniversary and I got distracted.

Russell Moore spoke on The Gospel Coalition Podcast about the obstacles of religious liberty. Depending on your perspective, it’s not what you think. I thought the points he makes about us looking too much for the government to help us and enforce our view of morality were really good; though he does fail to note the painful irony that some of the biggest pushers for ‘religious liberty’ and government enforced morality are often the most ardent anti-government.

Somewhat related, Theocast talks about losing a generation at church. I’m less concerned than most people, though probably not concerned enough, because I think it is inevitable. We were never a ‘Christian Nation’, whatever that means, but for the most of our history, we’ve been a solidly Christian culture, but we aren’t any more. This means we are shedding some of the cultural only hanger’s on. I guess I should care more, but I don’t.

The other thing that stuck out to me about this particular episode was the lack of political honesty. There is one quick mention/jab about not agree with ‘they younger people’ and their politics, but no real discussion about the impact politics has played on losing more and more young people. When I was growing up, Monica Lewinsky was the worst thing ever, a national moral tragedy. Many of the same people publicly deriding Clinton are now, 20 years later, some of the most vocal supporters of Trump. A democrat being immoral is cause for massive public outcry, but these people really don’t seem to give a shit how many hookers and pornstars a republican bangs. All these leaders have traded in the Gospel of Christ of the promise of power from Christian Nationalism, and we are the lost generation?

I could go on and on about this, because it pisses me off so, but if the ‘church’ keeps acting like questioning the Moral Majority or St. Ronnie is blasphemy, and cannot have adult conversations about political issues such as healthcare, minimum wage, income inequality, etc. without resorting to beating up tired old strawmen or just screaming ‘socialism’, we are going hemorrhage anyone under 65 faster than we can imagine.

Speaking of being somewhat bad with economics, I started a new book – Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give
It seems really good so far, except they seem to think per capita GDP is useful measure, confuse mean for median, don’t accurately represent inflation, and ignore income inequality. I guess this isn’t surprising, because those things tend to get political, and they state at the beginning, they don’t want to do that, for, you know…reasons. Anyway from a Biblical prospective, it is pretty interesting so far, especially the focus on community.

I haven’t written many reviews lately because I’m still trying to power through this – 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology I’m a big fan of theology, and the part where he gets rolling are really good, but it is slow going as it is a bit repetitive, a little redundant, and well, over 400 pages.

Lastly for books, I read Notes From the Underground, which is really interesting, but I have this copy – Notes From Underground And The Grand Inquisitor. I recommend against this as the second half of the books is an excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov (Everyman’s Library), which I already own.

Finally, you may have seen that we moved our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. There is plenty written out there about the political consequences of this, but I found this article from a Catholic viewpoint to be interesting. If you didn’t grow up in the dispensational work, or studied your way out, Christian Zionism can seem really odd, so I appreciate the view from someone else.

That’s all for now, hopefully, I’ll have some reviews up soon.

Book Review: Real Love in an Angry World

Real Love in an Angry World: How to Stick to Your Convictions without Alienating People

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Quick, easy read; short book

Summary
A good, quick summary of this book is somewhat hard to do. Bezet’s main idea is that there are unhappy people out there who are mad and/or judgmental towards Christianity. Additionally, these people come from both ends – those opposed to Christianity, and Christians (or at least those who would call themselves as such, like Westboro Baptist) themselves who think your Christianity isn’t good enough. He spends a little time on Christian who have drifted away from historic Christianity, i.e. denying the validity of the Scriptures, miracles, etc. However, most of the time is spent on the two more angry sides, the non-believers and judgmental believers (for instance, he relates a story of taking his wife to see a Celine Dion in Vegas, and losing a few church members once they found out he was in Vegas).

The book is broken into nine chapters that kind of bounce around on different topics. Everything from picking our battles to loving your neighbor (and just who is your neighbor) to then loving you enemy, to a little bit of history on the Bible. He touches on politics a number of times, but not necessarily specific topics or policy points, mainly just that Christians can disagree with each other while still be Christians, and Christians can disagree with non-Christians while still showing love and understanding. I don’t know how long he has been working on the book, but as it was published near the end of 2017, I assume it is at least partially motivated by the rise and election of Trump.

My Thoughts
Overall, it is a good book. Bezet is a good writer, very personal, and I thought, very humorous. I struggle with exactly who should read this book. For most Christians, it is probably worth your time to read, especially because it is so short. It reads quickly and is funny, his points on how to listen to people and how important it is to really listen, and his continual emphasis on the need to truly love others, are great reminders and points weakness for most of us. I especially like his point about loving others being the second great commandment. He points out that on the liberal Christian and non-Christian side, there is often the comment that we just need to love each other because that is what Jesus said and that is all we need. Bezet rightly points out, this is the second great command, this first is to love God. Part of that love means being faithful to God and His Word.

While all is helpful, I think the best use could be for those Christians on the extreme end of the non-loving judgmental side. Those who are the most angry and often express hate. The problem is, of course, I don’t think the people who need it the most would actually read it, and if they did they’d likely just disagree. I guess you never know how the Spirit will move some people, but I remain skeptical. Either way, it might be helpful for you to recognize some issues in your life, and if you see some of these issues in others, it might help you in reaching out to them and helping them to show the love of Christ, while retaining the love for God.

*I received a free copy of this book for an honest review

Payday Lending and the Church

A week or so ago, the small group I lead watched this video at the suggestion of some of the pastors at my church. I had planned to write a little more about it, but haven’t really found the time. This is an industry that preys on people’s poverty and need, and there is a lot of hesitancy to do things to regulate it, mostly because so many politicians have been bought off by the industry.

I especially appreciate the irony of the one Texas city councilmen who said he wished the Federal government would do something (as his excuse for doing nothing).  I figured saying the Federals should tell local cities how to run things would get you kicked out of the Republican Party in Texas.

Another difficulty seems to be that there aren’t great solutions. There are many other issues associated with poverty and emergencies and other reasons people may need more or lack access to traditional credit. I like the attempt here, to cap how much you can take from people and to require more transparency.

I was very happy to see some churches taking the lead in helping to care for the poor. For one, we are literally told to do this in the Bible. Not just the ‘love your neighbor’ type Gospel message, but there is much in the Old Testament, especially the Prophets about fair treatment and wages for the poor. Also, this issue of high interest rates has been something the church has been against for at least 500 years. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin wrote about the problems of high interest rates. Luther called people who take advantage of those in need through high rates as bad as the worst people on earth. Calvin considered the maximum allowable rate to be around 6% (while debatable, the 400% or so payday and title lenders charge now is clearly wrong.)

Check out the video (just over 30 minutes and pretty well done) and go look into rule in your state. See if there is something you can do to curb the abuse.

Book Review: Seeking Refuge

Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis – by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, Issam Dr. Smeir

This is my second review of an advanced copy, so that’s pretty cool. I received this about a month ago through NetGalley, but didn’t get a chance to read it until about two weeks ago.

This book comes out next Tuesday. Go buy it, or pre-order it today. Right now, Amazon has it for less than $9. With all the good info you get at that price, it made me almost upgrade my rating.

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – short, easy. A quick read, but I’m also going to add compelling, especially as you read the personal stories.

My Thoughts/Summary Mix
This is an important and timely book. I think two overarching themes of the refugee crisis often go overlooked. First, the authors make a great case (because they use the Bible) that we should accept refugees. If you are unaware, there are a great many verses related to refugees, strangers and foreigners. Most come from the OT, but, of course, the issue can be fairly easily summed up with – Love your neighbor. Second, the missionary opportunity. You have the opportunity to have people from all over the world, right in your neighborhood, or at least a short drive away. Even more inspiring, many of the refugees would like to go back home. There is no shortage of stories in this book about refugees who became Christians and then went back to spread the Gospel. Continue reading

SBC Calls for Discontinued Use of ‘Confederate’ Flag

Last week at their annual meeting, the SBC did something fairly amazing. They passed a resolution against the confederate battle flag. This is a big deal, as Russel Moore points out that the Southern in SBC isn’t about just geography, or its history. The SBC started due to slavery and whether or not slave owners could be missionaries. Especially as we just passed the one year anniversary of the horrific shooting in the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, you’ll hear a lot of ‘heritage not hate’ arguments and wonder, “who are these people?”

Well, I used to be one. When I was in high school, there was movement to change the Georgia flag. The reasoning being, of course, to remove the symbol of hate. I don’t know if the ‘heritage not hate’ argument came about then, or if it had been in use for a while, but it was the first I had heard it. The thing is, I really believed it. Whether this was mostly due to marketing from companies that sold shirts and other items with the flag on it or the PR campaign certain groups pursued, I’m not sure. It was probably both, plus a big dose of ignorance.

Now, I never owned a shirt or anything with the flag, though I’m sure I have worn one. I wasn’t opposed, though, it just wasn’t my style. When they wanted to change the flag, it bugged me. That had been Georgia’s flag for almost 150 years, or so I thought. I was wildly ignorant about the flag and its history. I guess we felt connected to it the way other people do to the Irish or Italian flags or heritage. Like most adolescents, we dealt with the existential crisis of “who am I?” Part of the answer we found was that flag. Continue reading

Orlando Shooting

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the book How Would Jesus Vote?: Do Your Political Views Really Align With The Bible?

One of the chapters he covers in the book relates to gun control. I think this is an important issue that many Christians don’t adequately consider. Many people hold the second amendment (well, parts of it) sacrosanct, almost to level (or often above) that of the Bible itself. We really need to consider how far we want to take this. Even now after over 100 people were shot, barely six months after 14 people were shot, and of course not too long since 20 first graders were shot, among other shootings, we can still barely even debate the value of semi-automatic weapons.

I’ve seen numerous politicians and talk-radio personalities say that just because someone is on a terrorist watch list, is being investigated by the FBI, or is on a no-fly list, does not mean that person should have their right to high-powered, high-capacity firearms curtailed, even a little bit. This is terrifying to me. In about 10 minutes one man over the weekend was able to kill 50 people and shoot another 50 or so more. How can we be alright with this? About three and a half years ago 20 first graders were killed plus six adults. Let me repeat that, 20 first graders. Children in first grade. Gun laws have only gotten looser since then.

Obviously, the Bible say nothing about guns. Ask yourself, though, if you reading of the Bible, if your understanding of Jesus and his teachings, really mean you are will to live with the tragedies. We will accept this as a way of life? As a nation we are will to sit through the news every six months or so and watch another story about another mass shooting? Are we really willing to continue to live with 20 dead first graders, or 100 shot, 50 dead in one night, just so people like this guy have the right to do whatever it was he had originally planned to do here?:

By this all people will know…

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. – John 13:35

Jesus said that the second greatest command was to love your neighbor as yourself. Between this and the command to love God, all other commandments would be accomplished. He goes on to tell us who our neighbor is, through the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’. For those whom are unaware, it’s everyone.

With that in mind, I’m not sure what these guys thought they were going to accomplish, or rather, how they thought this could glorify God. Look, even if you think Muslims are the worst thing ever, some great evil, and the greatest threat in the world, this doesn’t accomplish anything. Paul, in Romans, tells us that we do not overcome evil with evil, but with good.

Two guys playing army (or marines) like we did when we were kids, pretending to be tough from far away, while calling for violence and death, does not accomplish good, and most certainly does not overcome evil.

As American’s they have the right to hold the ‘protest’ and to say what they said. We have a legal guarantee to assemble and speak freely. However, one of these guys is a pastor, so presumably, he does this in the name of a ‘Christian.’ That’s what bothers me as a Christian, that they would hold this rally in the name of God, without following his commands.

Luckily, no one showed up. The news yesterday morning in Atlanta was one of concern. You have a few guys urging other people to show up armed and angry. This was disconcerting to police and citizens who worked in the area. In the end, it was just two guys interested in hearing themselves talk, standing alone in front of numerous media.

 

They Sell…the Needy for a Pair of Sandals

6Thus says the LORD:

“For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
7those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;

-Amos 2:6-7a

We have here, God stating that he will not relent in his punishment of Israel for, among other reason, their treatment of the poor and needy. The Israelites valued, whether literally or metaphorically, the needy as worth less than only a pair of sandals.

Meanwhile in America, a new study shows that men in the top 1% of income live up to 15 years longer than those in the bottom 1%. It’s not even that our rich have super long life expediencies, it’s that our poor can only expect to live as long as some of the worst off in third world countries. There are myriad reasons for this, none of which are defensible, that I won’t get into.

Only Nine Percent – The percentage of American Christians surveyed who say that faith impacts their view of lending practices. To be fair, 23% say they haven’t thought about it. Still, that means only one in eight whom have considered the issue, let their faith influence them. I think most Christians would say that faith should influence all decisions and views on public policy practices.

In fact, on thinking about it, 86% said they thought regulators should limit the amount of interest charged. With 55% saying that the maximum charge should be 18%. In reality, the typical charge is about 400%. This is another reminder of how expensive it is to be poor in America.

These are things that American Evangelicals should take seriously and considered with a Biblical view. If we do indeed consider ourselves to be a Christian nation, like Israel was a chosen nation, then we have a long way to go in addressing issues that God felt were series enough to being destruction.

Remember those in Prison

I was watching the replay of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight about prisons and I started getting angry. Obviously, the stories he shows would make anyone angry and, well, sad, embarrassed, etc., but it made me angry thing about the general response from Christians. First of all, I never remember hearing about visitation of prisoners growing up. But worst of all, in the same was we don’t like the camel through the needle, we like to down play our commands to visit those in prison. I have heard it argued that these verses refer to something different. In the Ancient Near East, it was mostly debtors in prison and the only way they could get food would be if family or friends delivered it to them. Now, that could quite possibly be true (though there are many people in jail because they cannot otherwise pay their fines) but does it really matter? Aren’t we using that as an excuse to ignore? As Oliver rightly points out, it is easy to not care because these people are quite literally criminals. If you were a Christian Dictator, is this how you would have prisons?