Category Archives: Jesus

The Handmaid’s Tale: Is It Fact or Fiction?

I confess. I got hooked on watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” the past two seasons. I’m not sure of the original attraction, especially since it’s a hard show to watch. I don’t mean the acting or production is terrible; what I mean is that the story is painful to accept. For some, it seems like the setting is too far-fetched to suggest the possibility, but it is possible to see strands of realism flowing throughout the setting and plot.

Margaret Atwood who wrote the story that inspired the TV show said that she had a rule in place as she wrote. She did not “include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time.” In other words, she wasn’t making this stuff up. She merely rearranged attitudes and events that already exist and bundled them together in a new story.

Perhaps that explains my fascination with the show. To be honest, as I watched, I kept seeing the fringes of fundamentalist Christianity. Listen to how Atwood described the Nation of Gilead which is the setting for the story:

The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights—all had precedents, and many of these were to be found, not in other cultures and religions, but within Western society, and within the “Christian” tradition itself. (I enclose “Christian” in quotation marks, since I believe that much of the Church’s behavior and doctrine during its two-millennia-long existence as a social and political organization would have been abhorrent to the person after whom it is named.)Handmaid

            It’s almost as if the story is ripped from the headlines as they say. The underlying premise is that men seize control over women. Look at the current issues as they are dealt with in Gilead.

  • Abortion – In Gilead, men determine how and when a woman becomes pregnant. A woman does not even have access to birth control without a man’s approval.
  • Children – In Gilead, children are separated from their parents and given to those who are more deserving. After watching what our government did recently with immigrant children is it far-fetched to see something like this happening. The Attorney General even defended the practice by quoting Scripture.
  • Rape and Sexual Assault – The lot of a Handmaid is to be raped by the man of the house where she has been assigned. If she is fortunate to become pregnant, she is removed from the child once the baby is weaned. There was no “metoo” movement in Gilead.
  • Subjugation of Women – The nation of Gilead is divided into various castes, and in each class, the women are subservient to the men in that level. This is not unlike many fundamentalist Christian churches today. They allow the Pastor’s wife to be considered an “equal” with her husband, but she is not equal in the sense of function or authority. A favorite Scripture is that there is “neither male nor female” in Christ except when it comes to function within the church.
  • Streets are patrolled by heavily armed guards. Several times they shoot and kill those who step out of line. How often do we hear similar stories today – a man killed by police for being in the wrong place, being somewhere he should not have been.

All this is happening under the guise of God’s Word. When the commander was raping his handmaid (with his wife’s assistance I might add), he quoted Genesis 30, “When Rachel saw that she could not give Jacob children, she became jealous of her sister. She said to Jacob, Give me children or I’ll die!”

When one of the handmaids is being disciplined by holding her hand over a hot stove, an allusion is made to I Peter 5:10, “…but only in suffering will you find grace…”

At a marriage ceremony the words recorded in Genesis, “be fruitful and multiply” are cited as the primary focus of marriage.

As I watch the show, I can’t help but see a possible future for our “Christian” world. I also choose to use the word in quotes like Atwood because I see much of what is happening today under the banner of Christ as being abhorrent to Jesus.

The TV show has already gone past Atwood’s novel, which I’m also reading. For the sake of my own sanity, I hope the current writers choose to bring in a happy ending. However, I’m not sure how that can happen without a complete revolution taking place in Gilead. Perhaps there’s also a lesson for our nation about what has to happen before we can expect everything to be fine in the end.

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Faith Healers

Anyone who knows anything about me is aware that I am physically handicapped. As a consequence of a bout with polio, I have spent my entire life walking on crutches or sitting in a wheelchair. I’m not saying that because I want sympathy—I don’t need or want it. I refer to my physical condition to indicate that I have some experience with the subject at hand.

My mother told me a long time ago that it would break her heart when I saw a preacher named Oral Roberts on TV healing people. She told me that she couldn’t help me understand why that kind of healing never happened for me. If healing was the result of prayer, then something was wrong because I know my parents prayed endlessly for me.

When I was a teenager, a group of friends insisted that I go to a revival meeting with them in downtown Denver. The preacher was a man named Morris Cerullo. I had never heard of him, but apparently, he had a reputation for healing people. I wasn’t too excited, but I went with them. When we arrived at the arena, we couldn’t get in because the crowd was too large. Perhaps if my friends had been more like the men who cut through the roof to get their friend around their crowds to see Jesus, things might have turned out differently for me.Faith Healers

As I came to recognize God’s call to the ministry, one of the biggest challenges I faced was my physical limitations. Friends encouraged me in different ways. Some assured me that God would provide and make it possible. A few others suggested that it meant God was going to heal me and allow me to walk. That would have been quite a jump start to ministry.

While in college to prepare, some well-meaning friends organized a special prayer meeting for my healing. They gathered around me as I sat in a chair and we all prayed. I can honestly say that as far as possible, I believed. I remember thinking it was important that I take the first step, so I mustered up as much strength as possible in my legs and tried to stand. Instead, I fell to the floor.

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The Danger of a Christian Nation

Our current President’s campaign slogan was, “Make America Great Again.” Many Christians jumped on board because they understood it to mean, “Make America Christian Again.” This belief is based on the notion that when America was a Christian nation, it was a great nation.

We need to be careful in hoping for a Christian nation. It’s been tried before, and it doesn’t turn out well for the church.Christian Natioin

The early church was born in a very unchristian environment. In fact, our founder was put to death by political leaders in an effort to stop the movement. If you’ve read the New Testament, you know it didn’t work out that way. Within a very short time, we are told how new converts were added every day until it became the talk of the town.

The church continued to thrive in that hostile political environment for decades. In fact, it turned very hostile when Roman Emperors tried to eliminate it entirely by killing as many professed Christians as possible. The church continued to thrive.

Finally, a Roman Emperor, Constantine became a Christian. He probably didn’t really. More likely it was a political move, but you can read that history for yourself. It’s reminiscent of how our current President has used Christians as a political tool.

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We Need to Demand Better

Last week the Texas Rangers played the Los Angles Angels in California. One game ended when a Ranger slid into the Angel’s shortstop trying to break up a double play. It was a hard slide, and the infielder received a small cut from the runner’s spikes. The crowd was angry, and a fight almost broke out.

The next night, that infielder who had been cut by the runner’s spikes, slid into the Ranger infielder in an attempt to break up a double play. The crowd once again came to life; not with anger this time, but with glee. The attitude among baseball fans is if your guys does it then it’s a dirty play. If our guy does it, then it’s just good hard baseball.

The same attitude prevails in politics.

One of the issues of discussion floating around social media this week was the crude, racist remark made by TV actress Roseanne. This was followed up a couple of days later by a similarly crude, hateful remark made by Samatha Bee on her TV show. Let me begin my discussion by listing what I see as similarities with the comments and then the differences.

Similarities:samatha bee

  • Both were inappropriate
  • Both were expressions of anger and hate
  • Both were public
  • Both were directed toward a public figure
  • Both are the kind of things we don’t want our children to say
  • Both were made by women who have a history of making crude comments
  • Both apologized within hours of making the comment

Differences:

  • One had racial implications, the other did not
  • One was made within the context of a TV show, the other was on personal time
  • One was made by a Republican, the other by a Democrat
  • One resulted in immediate loss of job, the other didn’t

Arguments Made:

  • The apology by one was more sincere than the other
  • One only apologized because she lost her job
  • The racial comment was worse because it was directed against a whole race
  • The other side is unfair toward my side
  • One has a longer history of saying terrible things

I’m sure you could come up with more under each category. But, here’s the thing that disturbs me. It’s not surprising that Republican-leaning folks are supportive of their teammate, and it’s not surprising that Democrat preferring folks are supporting theirs. I expect that; in fact, I would be shocked if that were not the case.

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Conundrum

I posted this article five years ago. Unfortunately, it’s still relevant. 

It has been nearly a month since the terrible tragedy of the school shooting in Connecticut and the debate over gun control is still raging. That is a good thing because it is a discussion this country needs to have. However, like with many other issues in this country (abortion, gay marriage, federal deficit, taxes, et. al.), we have a difficult time with discussion. Most of us simply fortify our current beliefs and try to shout louder than those who believe differently.

One of the culprits in this inability to discuss issues is that we have lost the art of compromise. When two sides are unwilling to make any compromise then we are wasting our time trying to negotiate anything. When everything is either right or wrong, black or white, then we have no room to give, even an inch. Often, Christians are the worst. Since we believe that we hold the corner on all truth then anyone who disagrees with us must be wrong. If you have the “right” position on an issue, compromise would be foolish.

Now, before we dive into the issue of gun control, I need to state my own bias. I am not a gun fan. I do not own any guns. There is a handgun out there somewhere registered in my name but it was stolen years ago (a long story). I wouldn’t be surprised if someday the police knock on my door and say a gun registered to me was used in a crime (although I hope not). I witnessed a man accidentally shot by policeman’s handgun many years ago but it was only a minor injury. I have never fired a gun other than a BB gun. For several years I worked at a police department but I never got comfortable even though I was surrounded by guns.conundrum

Our family did not have any hunters. My father was not an outdoorsman. We never talked about guns and I have always suspected it was because of his war experiences. He saw enough killing to last a lifetime. But I have never been an advocate of banning guns completely. I understand the sporting use of guns for hunting and recreation. That is the sum total of my experience with guns.

When it comes to the debate about gun control, the most basic starting point of agreement is that all of us, unless you are an extreme radical, believe in gun control up to a certain point. In other words, if there was absolutely no gun control, we would have inner city gangs and redneck militias walking around with rocket launchers and other methods of mass killing. The question is not do we want to control guns but where do we draw the line.

Before choosing up sides on the issue, let me advance the notion that there are really two foundations that determine our decision making. It is a problem because United States Christians find themselves with a foot on both foundations. Let me try to explain.

As a citizen of this nation, it is important to protect our rights and fulfill our obligations. It is frequently and perpetually pointed out that the Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns. If the criterion for decision making is the necessity to protect constitutional rights, it is hard to argue for gun control. All the arguments citing self-defense, hunting, maintaining order, protection against tyranny, and others make a good point if you are a citizen of this country.

On the other hand, as a Christian, our source of authority for making decisions is not what is good for this country. We live as residents of another kingdom and we arrange our lives according to a different standard. Consequently, if we make a decision based solely on God’s Word, it is possible (and quite likely) we will come to a different conclusion than if our sole criterion is our United States citizenship.

I am somewhat disturbed that so many Christians are passionate in their stand against any type of gun control. My concern is that they make the same arguments made by non-believers – self-defense, citizen rights, constitutional provisions, etc. I have been a student of the Bible for many years and I have a difficult time finding much justification for being so adamant about owning a gun.

Jesus spoke of loving our enemies, forgiving those who wrong us, turning the other cheek, laying down our lives. Historically, His followers have been persecuted, even to the point of torture and death, without fighting back. I don’t like it and I will be honest, my human inclination is to fight back when confronted. Turning the other cheek and giving up my “rights” is not easy. I can understand the urge to fight to protect those we love. I get that!

But I can’t envision Jesus “packing heat.” I understand some will point to Jesus’ words in Luke 22:36 where He instructed His disciples to sell their coat and go purchase a sword if they did not have one. That would make a pretty strong statement if that is all He said. However, I don’t know of any reputable biblical scholar who would use this verse to advocate having an armed citizenry. (For a thorough discussion on this verse read here.) When one of His disciples actually used a sword in self-defense, Jesus told him to put it away with the warning that those who use a sword will die by a sword.

Without going into a protracted theological discussion and biblical exposition, I will simply say that I can’t find any justification for followers of Jesus having weapons with the purpose of harming others. I am not talking about guns that are used for hunting or even for sport, but to carry weapons around in our vehicles or strapped to our belts just in case we need to shoot someone (or even scare them off), does not seem like a justifiable position for a servant of Jesus. (For a good discussion about Christians and self-defense read here.) Personally, I have no problem with military or police who are armed, even if they are Christians. They are acting as agents of the state, which has been given permission by God to avenge evil (see Romans 13).

So, here is the conundrum faced by believers who are also citizens of the United States. Is our source of authority going to be the U.S. Constitution or the Word of God? In most instances, they are not at odds with one another, and we should rejoice when we can live consistently with both. However, when they are, we must make our decision carefully. When we chose to follow Christ, it was a choice that superseded any other authority in our lives. It was a choice to give up our rights and claims and to follow Him only.

My non-Christian neighbor may have the right to arm himself in self-defense. However, do I have that same right to keep a weapon around the house for the sole purpose of killing another person if necessary to protect my family and my stuff? Does my choice to follow Jesus override my freedom to be armed?

I don’t know how to guarantee that another school shooting will never occur again and I am pretty confident no one else does either. I hope the discussion of the issue continues and I pray our politicians will find the wisdom to make good choices along with the courage to make difficult decisions. I also hope that as followers of Jesus we can make a clear statement that His way is often much different from the ways of the world.

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Gullible Christians

There have been far too many articles written explaining why Christians have thrown their support behind Donald Trump. There’s nothing about his lifestyle, attitude, demeanor, language, or actions that should be appealing to anyone who professes a commitment to the “narrow way” Jesus called us to follow. Yet, polls make it clear that it was Christians who provided the margin of victory in his election and even today polls show that the majority of Christians continue to stand with him.

Why?

There are many reasons but let me offer one that I’ve not heard from anyone else. I’m not professing to any political brilliance or unique insight. In fact, I’ve always lived by the concept that if you espouse an idea no one else holds, then it’s probably wrong. But I’m going to throw caution to the wind, as they say, and put it out there anyway.

The first thing I need to say is that Donald Trump is nothing more than a con man.

A con man like Victor Lustig who lived in the early part of the 20th century. He is known for selling the Eifel Tower to a scrap metal dealer for $70,000 (a handsome sum in 1925), a box (several of them, actually) that printed genuine hundred-dollar bills, and even conned gangster Al Capone out of thousands of dollars.Snake Oil

Lustig has long been considered at the head of the list of con men. But now, Donald Trump has taken the art of the con (pardon the pun) to even greater heights. Rather than scamming a scrap dealer out of thousands of dollars he is scamming the entire country (probably even Russia at the same time).

He won the election with promises to accomplish whatever people wanted to hear. If health insurance was your concern, then he was going to replace Obamacare with a plan that would cover everyone for less money. If jobs were an issue, then he promised to reinvigorate the coal industry, bring foreign jobs back home, and provide money for big companies to invest in employees. If worry about safety kept you awake at night, then he promised to eliminate terrorists, crack down on drug dealers, and throw more people in prison.

“Step right up, folks, I’ve got the miracle cure for whatever ails you.”

You can hear the medicine man hawking his elixir every time Trump holds a rally or press conference.

Everyone knows he lies incessantly. He tells people what they want to hear, and they leave happy, and he forgets he even had the conversation. He tells people what they need to hear in order to give their support.

Unexplainably, Christians are his most passionate supporters.

I think it’s because Christians are the most gullible people in the world. The dictionary definition of gullible is “easily persuaded to believe something.”

Let me provide examples of Christian gullibility.

  • Jim Jones. The infamous cult leader who led 918 of his followers to commit suicide, began as the pastor of a Methodist Church. Many of his followers thought they were following a Christian teacher, even to the point of killing themselves.
  • Joel Osteen. Tens of thousands of people gather to hear him preach every week and hundreds of thousands buy his books. Osteen is nothing more than Norman Vincent Peale on steroids. He has taken the notion that everything is good because God is good and turned it into a multitude of devoted acolytes who line his pockets with gold.
  • Prosperity Preachers. They twist Scripture to support some cockamamy doctrine that God wants all of us to be prosperous. They then use that teaching to sucker people into sending them millions of dollars, even though they spend it on private jets and luxurious houses. The real doctrine they preach is that God wants them to be wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
  • Christian Businesses. I learned years ago not to do business with anyone who promotes themselves as a Christian business. It is often used as a gimmick to make people feel like they are doing something spiritual when they buy their product or utilize their service. Over the many years of my life, I’ve been cheated more times than I can count. However, the clear majority of those times it was by a professing Christian. Even in the work I do now, I have a policy of not doing a job until I’ve received payment primarily because I’ve been cheated by Christians I wanted to help.
  • Amway. This company deserves special consideration because they turned soap distribution into a multi-billion-dollar business with the help of a Christian-infused pyramid scheme. When I was a teenager, I was recruited by a man to sell Amway. I paid the fee, ordered some soap, and got to work. He wanted me to contact all the women in the church where my father was pastor and get them to sign-up. It was one of my first lessons about doing “Christian business.” I’ve heard folks describe Amway meetings as revival meetings, complete with Christian testimonies and altar calls. However, I’ve never met anyone who actually made money as an Amway distributor, but Christians keep signing up.

The reason I know Christians are most gullible is because I’ve been one of them. It’s built into our beliefs. We want to be giving, help the underdog, minister to the needy, and care for the poor. Those are all good things. But in doing so, we have allowed ourselves to be gullible.

Neither am I suggesting that Christians are the only ones who are gullible—there are gullible people all over the place. It’s just that Christians seem to excel as this skill.

Every pastor has a file cabinet filled with stories of people who came to them or the church for assistance only to learn that they are running a scam. It happens every day. The reason is because we are gullible. We fall for con men often.

Donald Trump understands this as well as anyone. He knew if he promised to appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposed abortion, Christians would flock to his side. He allowed preachers to gather around him with anointing hands because it made a great photo opportunity that would make its way to churches around the country.

He’s selling snake oil and Christians are drinking it by the gallon.

Victor Lustig convinced Al Capone to give him $50,000 to invest in a sure-fire project that would double his money. Lustig took the money, stuck it in a closet for two months never intending to invest, and then returned it to Capone explaining that the investment failed but he wanted to return his money. Impressed with Lustig’s honesty, Capone gave him $5,000.

Trump is running the same con on Christians, and they are so gullible that they praise his honesty and continue to provide support.

I have little hope that things will change. At this point, Christians are so far out on the limb in support of Trump that they would have to swallow too much pride to turn away. In fact, in order to cover the fact they were scammed, they say things like pastor Robert Jeffress recently proclaimed that Trump’s immorality doesn’t matter. I can’t think of one previous pastor of the church he pastors who would have said anything resembling that remark.

We should all be aware of the danger. Sons of some of the most influential moral Christian leaders of the past, i.e., Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, have become some of the most gullible.

The phrase “snake oil” originated with Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. They brought a medicinal product that was made with oil from a Chinese snake, and it actually had beneficial properties. However, an entrepreneur, Clark Stanley, used rattlesnakes to create his own medicinal oil which was eventually proven to be useless. In fact, his product didn’t have a drop of snake oil. Before he was exposed, he sold thousands of bottles to gullible customers.

P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum and Baily Circus reminded us “there’s a sucker born every minute.” After more than 100 years, the Barnum and Baily Circus folded the tent last year. Yet, the circus didn’t really shut down, it simply moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Con men always leave bruised and battered people in their wake. Our country will survive, and we’ll find a way to regain our integrity and reputation in the world. However, I’m not so confident the American church will be as fortunate.

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The Greatest Christmas Gift

Leaving church on Sunday morning with a new outlook on life was not a common experience for Walter. He normally ended the hour of worship with a growling stomach and acute anxiety that he had missed the opening kickoff. But, today was different. Something the preacher said captured his attention.

He didn’t mind going to church, even though he would not classify himself as a steadfast believer. Walter had no doubts about the existence of God, and he rarely disagreed with anything spoken from the pulpit; he just had other interests. He enjoyed church because he loved sitting next to Sally. She was the love of his life, the apple of his eye, and every other cliché you can think of. More often than not, they would even hold hands for a good portion of the hour.

The amazing thing of Walter’s strong affection for Sally is that they were not young teenagers in love. Walter and Sally had been married for forty-two years. Yet, he was just as anxious to sit at her side as he had been when they first met as college freshmen. The years had brought them closer. In fact, since Walter retired six months ago, they spent most of their time together, and he had never been happier.Christmas-Gift

It was the first Sunday of Advent, a time that Walter always enjoyed. He loved everything about Christmas, especially the gifts. For Walter, giving a present was a process, including shopping, wrapping, hiding, and opening. His greatest joy every Christmas morning was to watch expressions as family and friends opened the gift he meticulously picked for them. For Walter, the first Sunday of Advent was the signal that Christmas was almost here.

The sermon by Rev. Wilson was about the gift of God that we celebrate at Christmas. He pounded home the notion that God’s gift was the greatest ever. He defined that gift as loving those who are unlovable. Rev. Wilson was not known for his oratory skills, but whenever he worked at it, he could be as convincing as any car salesman pushing an extended warranty.

Whatever he said on Sunday, he certainly captured Walter’s attention. In spite of the fact that Walter had been attending church for decades and that he had heard hundreds of Christmas sermons, something about the words of Rev. Wilson captured his interest. Like a child entering a toy store, Walter’s mind was racing with possibilities.

He decided that Christmas was about loving the unlovable. This was revolutionary to Walter. He had spent his whole life giving to those he loved. He could not remember ever giving a present to someone who was unlovable. He had never even given it a moment’s thought.

Walter and Sally put on their coats as they walked toward the church foyer. Leaving church was always tedious for Walter because Sally liked to stop and visit with too many people. She was accustomed to Walter tugging on her sleeve like a bored child. On this Sunday, Walter walked off and left Sally. He was in a hurry to speak to Rev. Wilson.

Waiting his turn in line with the complimenters and complainers, Walter finally reached the preacher. Walter stretched out with both arms and grabbed the Reverend’s hand.

“Pastor, you really spoke to me today,” he blurted out as he shook the minister’s hand like a rag doll.

“Thank you, Walter,” said Rev. Wilson in a tentative voice, “I was just trying to say what God laid on my heart.” He was somewhat stunned because he did not remember his words ever having an impact on Walter before.

Almost before Rev. Wilson finished his sentence, Walter said, “Pastor, I’ve got an idea about Christmas. You convinced me that Christmas is about loving the unlovable. That’s what I am going to do!”

Not sure what Walter had in mind, Rev. Wilson said, “That’s good to hear Walter. It’s always good to know that someone is listening when I preach.”

“Pastor, this is my plan. I’m going to find the most unlovable person in town, and I’m going to love them. That will be my Christmas present to them.”

You could still hear some skepticism, or perhaps it was simply reservation in Rev. Wilson’s voice, “That’s great Walter. I’ll be glad to help. Just let me know what I can do.”

Walter didn’t hear the last few words because he had already turned to look for Sally. She was finishing her conversation as Walter seized her arm and escorted her out the front door toward the parking lot.

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