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Sailors in trouble for the Bible

Navy Investigates Sailors Imposing Christianity

IMG_0024In case you missed it, our old friends at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a complaint on April 6 alleging that Sailors are proselytizing in Japan by having a Bible on the POW/MIA memorial table. According to the MRFF, that amounts to pushing Christian beliefs onto unsuspecting persons. The seven-page complaint was filed on behalf of 26 service members and DoD civilian employees who were offended by the display. They suggest that the Bible present (representing the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded one nation under God) forces people to agree with the display.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported on the story. This is probably a slam dunk. While I found several instances of the Bible being present in the display, including the Navy Live website, I doubt it will remain that way for long. Makes me wonder if anyone from the MRFF will come hunting for my rank because my daughter put a Bible on our display in Navy housing (the irony here is that my daughter used an “Apologetics” version of the Bible). I don’t know the legal ramifications for that, and I’m not particularly interested to learn them. Nevertheless, I’m sure we’ll learn soon that the Navy has decided to officially remove the Bible from this display and update the protocol.

I want to make three points about the complaint.

  1. The MRFF is a nuisance. I’ve written elsewhere about how they file complaints on behalf of non-Christians who have gotten their feelings hurt. The only thing I’m wrong about in that statement is that apparently, “Christians” also get their feelings hurt. Everyone’s opinion counts but the Bible-believing Christian, in the MRFF’s eyes.
  2. I don’t think they’ll be a nuisance for long. By saying that, I don’t think they’ll go away. Instead, I think they’re going to become a bigger tool used by the adversary to hinder Christianity in the military. I think this because, in this complaint, one of the things they want is for the Navy to investigate the situation and to, “assign appropriate disciplinary measures to those responsible.”
  3. The founder of MRFF states that 16 of the 26 persons in the complaint self-identify as Christian. I’d be curious to know more about this Christianity of theirs. I’m very disturbed that they handed the leadership of the Okinawa hospital over to the wolves. While I don’t know if they tried to get the Bible removed from the desk and felt they had no alternative (which they did…plenty of alternatives), or why they would have wanted it removed in the first place, but complaining to an unbeliever, who will make a spectacle of the Bible instead of treat it with respect, is a bad move.

To be perfectly clear, the MRFF is about removing Christianity from America’s military. Just like China’s decision to prevent the online sales of Bibles, the MRFF should not scare true believers. God understands fully what has happened here, knows the ramifications, and is at least one step ahead, at least eternally speaking.

For additional research, look at the following locations that include the Bible in the presentation:

Navy Live

American Legion

VFW

Wikipedia

Would love your thoughts…and as always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Beijing doesn’t want your Bibles

China has made a move that most dispensationalist Christians would say they’ve seen coming for years. Beijing has banned online sales of the Bible in a move certain to put additional pressure on the Chinese underground church. You can read the NYTimes article here.

With Christianity’s gradual increase in China, though our faith still only makes up roughly 6-10% of the total population, the communist government has continued to ramp up its plans to dampen the fire. A regulation preventing the sale of Bibles online (they are already heavily regulated in physical form) is just the latest move. China used to meet the underground church with blunt force, often arresting pastors and levying fines against parishioners. In more modern times, Chinese authorities pressure discovered churches to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (China’s authorized church).

I’ve read the tenants of this authorized faith and on the surface, it doesn’t sound half bad.  However, my biggest concern is that the state authorized church means that the state, which is certainly not friendly toward Christ and his church, can stamp it out any time it pleases. More likely, of course, is that it just keeps the communist thumb on them to prevent the sort of growth that appears to be happening in the underground church.

According to the NYTimes article, a Vatican source suggests that this could be the opening salvo in a new, broader crackdown. Again, the dispensationalists would have no problem believing this to be true. As a premillennialist, I certainly believe this is very possible. While China has been fairly open on some economic issues in order to become the powerhouse that Russia could never be, Beijing has not shown the same interest in religious matters.

China is listed as #43 on the Open Doors World Watch List for 2018. One would assume that it will at least hold on to that number with a move like this, or even move up a number of slots. I’ll update this as further events unfold.

I should add that I don’t want this to scare or anger any of my readers. Our ultimate (and only) hope is in God. I do not believe he is surprised by any of this. Indeed, as a premillennialist, I believe that he is fully aware of every move that the Chinese government is making, just as he is aware of the Soviet efforts before them. I am not advocating any action on our part except to pray for those affected. We do not know them, but we are brothers and sisters and will get to meet them someday. It is our duty and our privilege, and as such I call on all Christian believers to pray for those affected by the curtailment of Bible sales in China.

A final thought as I close: America is beginning its slow move to this end as well. Bibles are still easily available, but I’ll show you tomorrow just how fragile the situation is becoming in America.

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

The Happy Giving of Tithes and Offerings

IMG_7493I’ve struggled a lot with tithing and giving to church. Maybe you have too. I vacillate between wanting to give above my tithe (but not somehow succeeding) and believing that God has given me permission to give whatever I want/can give. There’s a problem there that I want to address.

I find that these things (want/can) come only after I have paid my bills, eating my fill of junk, and bought my [insert frivolous purchase here]. My want/can never seems to happen before I’ve received my paycheck…only after everything has been paid.

Truthfully, I’m only now getting to where I am at least paying my tithe back to God. We have done it to the dollar this year (so far). It’s the only resolution I’ve managed to keep to this point. In fact, paying my tithe is the only spiritual thing I’ve managed to accomplish this year. I’m way behind on my daily Bible reading, though there is hope there that I can still finish the Bible this year if I get on it. My daily prayer life has not gotten better, either.

Instead, I’ve begun to be obedient. God said to give a tithe, and thus I am giving it. I realize he also said a lot of things that I’m not having a lot of success with. The point is spiritual progress. Just because I’m not obedient in all aspects of my life doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to tithe properly. And so I do.

And I’m not even giving above what I tithe, at least not yet. But I want to. I want to emulate the Israelites in Exodus 35:21- “And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments.”

They gave…How often do I give? How often do I give above what I’m already bound by scripture to give?

I realize that this doesn’t affect my overall standing in eternity, insofar as eternity itself is concerned. However, could I see an increase in my standing with God, and with my prayer life, by being obedient? And more than obedient…by giving more than I already do?

We’ll see. As an aside, I’m not out to make myself better than anyone else. I’m fully aware of my deficiencies. But maybe this can serve as a call to me and you that we should give more and ask fewer questions.

Would love your thoughts…and as always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Presentation at SET High School

DSCN2714I was so blessed to present a workshop for students at SET High School in San Diego, CA on getting published. The class was “Writing as a Career” and while I don’t yet write as a career, I am on that journey. Since I’m a few steps ahead of these students, I was invited in to talk about that process.

One of the coolest things is that, before he really knew I was doing this, my son Timothy signed up for the class. It was interesting to see how he interacted in class, and I hope interesting for him to see his old man’s passion.

The entire idea of a class about writing for a career intrigues me, and I wish I’d had that opportunity growing up. I asked Ava Lennon, the educator for SET High School who teaches the class, why she did so and she responded, “I want to help students find their voices through writing. So often, English in general can be a turn-off for students, but a class like this enables students to see writing in a new way!”

Despite being a published author, the mechanics of English are complex and difficult (for me) to grasp. It’s nice to see a teacher striving to make the written language more accessible and understandable to students.

I’m also happy to present to these students because I get to relive that intense excitement of seeing my name in print. You know what? That fire still gets me deep in the chest each time my name appears on the page. Even after 16 credits in over a dozen periodicals, it still gets me like the first time in Pentecostal Messenger back in the spring of 2000.

That’s the main thing I wanted to show the kids. They all need something to carry them through the writing dry spells. Unless they learn the kind of ambition it takes to be a published author, and unless they learn to kindle that fire within them, they will not be successful writers. It is that fire…that ambition…that separates authors from the unpublished.

Ms. Lennon invites outside speakers in because, “my students deserve to hear from a variety of different published authors. If they are truly to succeed, they need to talk to people who have struggled, who have gone through the hard times, but who have persevered nonetheless.”

This is the sort of attitude that I believe my teachers had when I was a child. It was a different form (Girard, Kansas didn’t have a lot of published authors when I was young), but when Mrs. Johnson let me take home a laptop to write my stories, it was to foster this perseverance and to start seeing my stories on the page. These are things I’ll always be grateful for, and I hope these students will be likewise grateful for Ms. Lennon.

Continues Lennon: “I want them to see themselves in others. I want them to hear about different perspectives. I want them to LEARN.”

You don’t get better than that in a teacher.

I’m so grateful to Ms. Ava Lennon and SET high school for letting me share my passion for writing with the students and to talk through the writing and publishing process. Words cannot really describe the joy in my heart as I answered questions from the students.

I hope to have many opportunities like this in the future, both at SET and other venues. If I can help just a few people, my son included, gain success in their writing ventures, I’ll be as happy as a lark (that’s a simile, in case you didn’t know that)!

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Tribute to Chris Gennaro, an Expendable Christian

Chris Running

I used to run with Chris Gennaro and his wife, Michelle. In fact, it was they who got me interested in running long distances. We’d often train together on Mission Bay in San Diego and I ran with them during my first two half marathons. Through running, and learning about their desire to be missionaries in Africa, I grew to love them both. In particular, Chris made a lasting impact on me as a husband, father, friend, and Christian.

Be that as it may, I never would have thought I’d take so long to get over someone’s death. Others have bothered me, but Chris’ death troubled my spirit way down deep, where my innermost thoughts live and where, I suspect, my darkest doubts lie as well. I can tell you this: I had never prayed so hard and with so much faith as I had prayed for Chris. I have never prayed for anything that important since, and probably never will again…not without a heavy dose of faith delivered first from God.

processed by IntelliTune 4.5 on 06032013   153559 with script EDIT RGB to Gray

Chris Gennaro, missionary to Lesotho, contracted encephalitis in January 2013 and passed on 16 February of the same year. He and Michelle, along with their six children (two adopted from orphanages in Africa), had moved to Lesotho to work in God’s harvest. He had just started really ministering to the people of Lesotho…his people. I remember that because it was one of my prayers. “God, don’t let him die now. He just got to really know people!”

I don’t know how many people prayed prayers like that, but it was in the hundreds. Try as we may, we couldn’t stop the mighty hand of God from carrying out his will in Chris and Michelle’s lives. Chris Gennaro had become expendable in God’s plan. Like those who are killed for their faith, my dear friend died in the harvest field.

As I read her story and think back to the moment, this is where Michelle and I take separate roads in our grieving process. Her story of course, is far more important. I watched a woman of God struggle with intense emotions, yet she came through on the other end trusting God more. It was no surprise, then, that she went back to Africa as a teacher to missionary kids. She now resides in San Diego and supports Africa Inland Mission (AIM) as the Southwest region mobilizer.

I had to take a different path in my faith due to Chris’ death, which has taught me several things over the years. I’d like to share them with you now.

First, it taught me that the grieving process can take years to get over. I’m not his widow, and I can’t imagine what she goes through. What I do know, as someone who loved Chris, that his death has been very difficult to move on from. Not all the time…but definitely some of the time.

Second, it’s hard to trust God with big prayer requests when he seems to have let you down. I prayed hard while Chris was sick, but as the days went on, it became clear that he wasn’t going to make it. While his family sang hymns on the night of his passing, I was preparing my resentment against God. My faith changed a lot that day. I remember standing up in my office when I learned that he’d passed, walking to my door, and shutting it. That day, I also shut the door on God for a long while. My rebellion was substantial.

I remember, as Chris was dying, that a song got into my head and wouldn’t leave me. It’s by Brian “Head” Welch, of Korn fame. Here are a few lines from the song “Paralyzed:”

Why is my love so cold? No more will I pretend
Gasping for air as you’re slipping through my fingers
Don’t kiss me goodbye, please don’t leave here
The smell of sacrifice, Your disappearing whispers
I cannot grasp how my life inside just withers
Don’t kiss me goodbye, please don’t leave here.

Those words hurt so bad when Chris died.

Third, I learned that God is still God even when I feel like he isn’t. Just because I throw a tantrum doesn’t mean that God comes down from his throne. He is still very much Lord of all even when I don’t want him to be. Sometimes, I feel the weight of that majesty and sometimes I feel the blessing from it, but one thing is constant: it’s always there. He does not rely on me in order to stay the King of the universe. As I struggled in the last five years to understand God and his love, his majesty seemed to grow even more dominant. It was as if I was to feel the constant pressure of his glory until I came around.

Another song comes to mind now as I remember the struggle. It is called “Hands in the Air” by a group called The Waiting. Here is a sample of the lyrics, but really the entire song is simply amazing.

Light from my window sill, make my way to the door
I hang my head and still, I know you’re wanting more
Over the threshold now, I move across the yard
All that my will allows, my every step is hard
Now in the garden I carve out six feet of space
There make my will comply, lie down upon my face
Been toe to toe too long, I’m tired of fighting You
I see You were too strong ’cause I am black and blue
But now I understand a loser’s due to win
How every dying man is sure to rise again
So I raise my left hand one, I raise my right hand two
Under the morning sun, my spirit cries to You

I’ve come to understand that God is so much more powerful than I will ever be and that is good. I’ve also come to understand that I might never comprehend how God wields his power, and that is also good. If I were to know too much, I might decide to try to influence it more than I should.

This has helped me believe in God again as my Lord. It has also allowed me to see my friend Chris as an expendable Christian who burned out giving Glory to God, which is the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IN THE WORLD. Anything I leave here on earth when I go must likewise simply exist to give God glory. If it gives me glory, or if my legacy is just mine, then it is worthless.

As the Apostle Paul said in Acts 20:24 –

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

I remember one day, while running with Chris (Michelle had been unable to join us), he began to share some frustrations with me about the missionary planning process. He just wanted to get to Africa as soon as possible! I wish I had that fire…that determination…that said I would burn at both ends for God, so that, even in my death, I might hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Rest well, my friend. Until we meet again…
As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Pray for North Korean Athletes!

342px-Olympic_rings_without_rims.svgThe Winter Olympics, hosted this year in South Korea, suddenly provide American Christians an opportunity to do personally what we’ve only been able to do in abstract for years: Pray for North Korean people’s salvation.

Plenty of intrigue surrounds the North delegation to the South Korean-hosted games. Everything from the history of their involvement (last time Seoul held the games, the North blew up a plane and tried to one-up their neighbor), to Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to stand for the North Korean delegation (not intended to spite the North), to the grim reality that North Korean athletes will be tackled if they attempt to defect weight heavily on the games. Here’s an overview of what you can expect to see with the North’s involvement in the games.

All gamesmanship aside, these olympics present a unique opportunity. While it isn’t the first games that the North has participated in, it is the first time the North and South have integrated on this scale. Just think about a Christian on the South Korean women’s hockey team and her ability to give short snippets of the gospel to her North Korean partners! Their minders (government officials who are specifically designated to translate, provide security, and keep the athletes in check), cannot be with them on the ice, BUT THE GOSPEL CAN!

Christians in the free world have a responsibility to pray for the lost, and reach them when we can. Here’s a very unique opportunity, both to pray and to witness, for those who are given the glorious opportunity!

We should also pray for Vice President Mike Pence, a professed believer, who has an amazing opportunity to calm the rhetoric of our two nations and instead, as a Christian, present the gospel to the North Korean delegation. What an opportunity!

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

If Facebook Causes thee to Sin…

 

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29)

I suspect that this post will surprise you because you all know how much I love posting on Facebook.

Lately, however, I’ve come to realize that, like the sin Jesus talked about so harshly in Matthew, I’ve had to change my thoughts on social media. My primary reason for tearing out social media is because I waste a considerable amount of time scrolling through the feeds of my friends and pages that I follow. It’s not that my friends aren’t doing fun things (or amazing things, or sad things, or infuriating things!), it’s just that I don’t need to know every last thing you’re doing. You don’t need to know everything I’m doing either.

Let me give you an example of the above: Do you know that I like to run? Of course you do. I used to post just about every run I accomplished. It could have been a slow run, a long run, a quick jaunt, or whatever. It doesn’t matter what it is, I post it. And I had a friend who used to make fun of me for that, and he was right…I just never realized the gravity of it.

Then there’s the issue of wasting time. Did you know that there’s literally a Facebook page that’s called, “Bored Panda” and another one called, “I waste so much Time?” I know them very well, I click on posts from them all the time. I’ve never “liked” those pages, but enough friends post them that I see the feeds. And don’t get me started on fake news…

And that’s not all, folks! Facebook allows me to engage in idle conversation and rude discussions. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve attacked someone on Facebook? How many times I’ve crossed the line in conversations in Facebook? How many times I’ve wanted to cross the line in conversations? If Matthew 12:36 is true, then I’ve got to clean up what I say and do, and that includes removing a temptation like social media.

I started my process by closing down my Pinterest account. Then I closed down Twitter. After that last one, I almost immediately felt less angry. I’ve become convinced that Twitter is just one big shouting match. I’m glad to be done with it. Then I had to decide what to do with Facebook.

This is my story, not yours! Please don’t think that I might be judging you. I know that most people don’t struggle with the same temptations I do. I realized that I needed to step away from Facebook’s personal page and messenger. How long I fast social media is up to God, my wife, my accountability team, and myself. However, I’m not walking away from all aspects of the social media giant.

As an author, I use Facebook to help share my stories. I have a page of over 1300 “likes” that I use extensively to promote my writing. I realize that, if everyone suddenly felt like I did about social media, that I’d quickly lose a major promotional source. But that’s not a reason to keep something that causes me so many other problems. My wife, who is my link to the Facebook page, doesn’t share my issues with social media, but if she suddenly did, then the page would shut down altogether.

And then what? Well, I’m not completely sure, but I’d figure it out.

At first, I thought, “but how will I get my news?” And then I remembered that I subscribe to the daily newspaper. I actually help pay people to be journalists. I’ll be fine. Then I thought, “but how will I know what my favorite authors are doing?” Then I remembered that I can sign up for their mailing lists and actually see less overall noise. By the way, you can sign up for my monthly mailer too!  I also wondered what I’d do without my friends updates. Then I remembered I can text you and call you!

You may see me as a hypocrite. That’s ok. I sometimes think that about me too. And, in fact, I’ve thought of myself as a hypocrite for some time. I’ve known that Facebook causes me problems (more than I’ve listed above) and that I needed to close down my account. Yet I balked at actually carrying through what I knew needed to happen.

The simple fact is that Facebook causes me to sin. I’d much rather enter heaven answering the questions God has with, “And then I closed Facebook down.”

I’ve lived without an active Facebook account for just short of two weeks as of this writing and I haven’t died yet. However, I always reserve the right to return if I must. I don’t think I will any time soon, however, because the truth is that I’ve become far more productive in its absence. And peace like a river floweth…I could watch the Super Bowl last night without yelling at my friends on Facebook or Twitter. What a change!

If you decide that you also need to leave social media, I hope you will find a way to stay connected to me and this ministry of writing! Send me a text, leave a message in the comments section, or give me a call! Above all, do what needs to be done, and enjoy the effects, whatever they are.

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.