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2019—a new beginning. My heart is filled with hope and also lament—the makings of a David-styled patchwork psalm from my own heart to God.
God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day, Psalm 7:11.
As I look into this new year, read the news and take the stories and research to heart, I too feel indignant. And deeply sad. Lord how can it be that…
…56 million a year are dying from abortion, almost four times as many as from heart disease and stroke (the next leading cause of death). These little ones are human beings, yet, for no scientific reason, they are denied personhood by American law that promises to protect life.
…Entire groups of school friends are cheered as heroes with soaring social standing for surgically altering their bodies to match the “gender” they want to be. The doctors who will cut off breasts and penises and dispense powerful hormone therapy drugs are seen as “compassionate.”
…If a gay student wants to change his sexual feelings to like girls, THIS is unspeakable and taboo. And any therapist who would help altering sexual desire simply by talk therapy is “dangerous.” Guilty of a “barbaric” and “cruel” practice.
Angels, shepherds, wise men, Jesus lying in a manger–we know the story so well. But it’s been sweetened up, romanticized, censored, stripped of its violence and desperation through the years. It’s good to go back to the original sources and renew our appreciation of the extreme drama of the story.
Here are 9 questions to challenge you and your family to worship a God who would orchestrate such an amazing story to reconcile us to himself. (You might enjoy using one each night as a conversation starter at dinner. You can even include these questions in a larger game of Advanced Christmas Trivia to share at Christmas gatherings with additional categories like music and history using this free download.)
Click through for answers
Oh the irony: we give thanks and bask in the contented glow of food and family, only to wake up and launch into Black-Friday–the starting gun for fulfilling long Christmas lists on short budgets. ‘Tis the season of discontent.
Family gatherings may mean hours of navigating broken relationships and difficult people. Or the aching absence of those we love. Holiday festivities constantly invite us to measure our looks, dress, domiciles and social skills against others far more gifted or well-endowed.
It’s the perfect time to read or refresh our reading of Ann Voskamp’s book, 1000 Gifts. I read her book seven years ago and it changed me. Ann describes herself as a “woman who speaks one language, the language of the fall—discontentment and self-condemnation, the critical eye and the never satisfied.”
But she took a dare to list 1000 gifts in her everyday experience. In the midst of piles of dirty laundry, piles of dirty dishes, squabbles among six children and her husband’s concern over the viability of their farm in the great recession, Ann began to train her eyes to see God’s gifts and record them on her blog.
This Thanksgiving I give thanks for Ann’s book, and in the Christmas season ahead I’m refocusing on three deep insights that have radically altered my life and will prepare our hearts for a Christmas of contentment and joy.
I queried my politically engaged friends about what top two or three values would most determine their vote and received a wide range of thoughtful answers. For example, one friend said, “sanctity of life, respect for the rule of law/constitution, and the danger of social engineering with dark money.” Several mentioned “respect for others, especially those you are working with.”
Many mentioned “immigration.” Some mentioned “democracy vs. authoritarianism,” “populism vs elitism,” and “jobs not mobs.” Others want to vote for “Christians.” Others greatly value the candidates’ stands on “education,” especially at the state and local level.
By far, the biggest vote getter was…
1. The body is only a clump of matter. A wet machine that we can use as an instrument for our own purposes.
2. The design of our bodies is completely by chance. Tells us nothing about our purpose.
3. I am not my body. The real me is my mind, will and feelings.
4. The value of our bodies depends on if they can function at a certain level.
5. A baby is a human life from conception, but not a person until it can function at a certain level.
6. Life is no longer worth living or caring for unless our bodies can function at a certain level.
7. We can have sex with our bodies, detached from love and trust, and still enjoy the ideal of human flourishing, including rich and lasting intimacy.
8. My thoughts and feelings of sexual attraction are more important than the biology of my body.
9. My thoughts and feelings about my gender are more important than the biology of my body.
10. The highest purpose of marriage is to protect the “personhood” of the adults, not the well-being of the children.
Answer: They are all based on assumptions about the human body that devalue the body and fragment human nature.
Nancy Pearcey’s new book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, addresses each of these secular assumptions and shows how a Christian worldview of the body and sexuality is more reasonably aligned with science and evidence. And how it resonates more deeply with our longings for integrity, meaning and joy in these intimately personal areas of life.
Few Christian leaders have impacted me as deeply as Bill Hybels. As a pastor’s wife, Bill’s vision for the power and nobility of the local church changed my understanding of what my life was about: “The Church is the hope of the world.” “There’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.” His contagious passion energized me to be more creative and invest more deeply in the church Jesus loves.
So along with tens of thousands of others I groaned at the news that several women have accused him of sexual sin. And not just any women. Extraordinarily gifted women leaders that I watched him encourage and elevate in his own church ministry: Nancy Beach. Nancy Ortberg. Vonda Dyer.
What follows is a summary with links of this sad business and a bit of my own struggle to come to grips with these accusations.
While the accusations were brought to the Willow Creek Church elder board four years ago, after two investigations that found no evidence they broke publicly in the Chicago Tribune newspaper on March 23rd:
Last week my preparation to speak on behalf of a ministry to victims of human trafficking landed me in a gang training seminar.
Officer Z, head of gang investigations in Lexington County in South Carolina, shot straight with us about the situation here, and maybe where you live as well.
Lexington is a nice middle-class suburb of Columbia, 80% white, 15% black, 6% hispanic 5% foreign born. The median home value is $144K. 89% have a high school diploma. 39% have a BA or higher. Officer Z gave us a reality check about the presence and threat of gangs “right here in River City.”
Things I was surprised to learn about gangs:
A few weeks ago the movie A Wrinkle in Time was released to DVD. According to Catherine Hand, the producer, “We had to take the essence of the emotional story—e.g., why did this happen in the book?—and explore how to give it a new look but with the same meaning…We all loved the themes, the characters—the essence of the story. And I hope audiences will agree that we stayed true to that essence.”
Hand was friends with the author, Madeleine L’Engle, so I had hopes she would have honored her intent. But this is one audience member who would have to regretfully disagree. While she kept the same characters and plot as the book, she managed to completely co-opt the meaning.
When it’s hot outside one of the coolest things to do is watch a movie. Aside from going well with popcorn and cold drinks, movies go very well with discussion, because every movie has a message. Every writer, director and producer has a worldview, a view of truth about the way the world works. And it always finds expression in their movies.
A good movie discussion will tease it out and help us think about how it lines up (or doesn’t) with a Christian worldview. What is the movie’s message? Is the message true? Movies are best enjoyed in families and community where we can ask 10 Key Worldview Questions (below) and more.
Movies don’t just tell us ideas, they show them in the context of a story. A well-told story can connect with our hearts in ways that facts and precepts do not.
C.S. Lewis has said that we have two ways of knowing: imagination and reason. By engaging our imaginations, stories/movies can torch our desires, making an end run around our reason. So we need to take a closer look at stories to see how they line up with our reason and belief. (If you look at Lewis’s life, it’s interesting to see how he stopped writing books on apologetics and started writing books working the same Biblical ideas into stories.)
America’s birthday comes at a good time this year. In the midst of escalating cultural and political tensions, the Supreme Court resignation of Justice Kennedy has thrown gasoline on an already hot fire. The anniversary of our founders love for America and their great sacrifice to establish and protect it calls us to recommit ourselves to the same love and sacrifice. How? Quite simply…
…every one of us can take time from our busy schedules to serve and pray.
Many of us as evangelical Christians tend to live in suburban bubbles isolated from the people who cannot afford to be our neighbors. July 4th calls us to love America by reaching out to fellow citizens who need our time and attention, our prayers and our touch.
Our normal default is to focus our service on our families and our churches. But we can’t just fiddle while Rome burns. We need to challenge ourselves to reach outside our bubble and serve the very people that the Lord Jesus loved to touch. The very people whose needs are often championed by political activists with whom we disagree. Refugees. Prisoners.
What has the Lord gifted you to do? How can you take it to people at the margins?
Here in Columbia, South Carolina I have the privilege to go into prison with a team from Columbia International University. Once a quarter we take in a meal for about 40 prisoners and eat with them. One of the guys last Wednesday said “This is so good. I haven’t eaten fried chicken in 20 years.”
Reading through the Old Testament book of Judges lately and I’m struck by how God raised up Samson to make Israel great again. The Angel of the Lord visited his barren parents and promised them a son who would “begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” As auspicious a beginning as John the Baptist.
God’s Spirit “rushed” upon Samson and enabled him to kill Philistines who had been oppressing Israel for forty years. When he called out to God for strength, even for water, God provided. He empowered Samson to slaughter 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, then cracked open a rock to replenish him with water. Samson judged Israel 20 years and is included in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith.”
And yet, Judges 13-16 portrays him as a strongman who was a narcissistic liar, a womanizer, an arrogant and boastful loudmouth, cunning and shrewd, thin-skinned and bent on mayhem and revenge.
This case is so important for freedoms of religion and speech still to be determined, including your own freedoms, that it’s worth reading this short summary of what the Justices actually said in their own history-making words.
Last week a happy Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, celebrated his religious liberty at the Supreme Court. Maybe you read headlines like, “Court rules in favor of baker who refused to make wedding cake for gay couple.” As you read these excerpts of their opinions below you will grasp so much more of the issues, context, and future challenges to our freedoms than just reading headlines and short quotes. (My words appear in italics.) Here’s a powerful example from Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinion:
“Phillips told the couple, ‘I’ll make your birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same sex weddings.’ It is hard to see how this statement stigmatizes gays and lesbians more than blocking them from marching in a city parade, dismissing them from the Boy Scouts, or subjecting them to signs that say “God Hates Fags”—all of which this Court has deemed protected by the First Amendment.
“Moreover, it is also hard to see how Phillips’ statement is worse than the racist, demeaning, and even threatening speech toward blacks that this Court has tolerated in previous decisions. Concerns about “dignity” and “stigma” did not carry the day when this Court affirmed the right of white supremacists to burn a 25-foot cross; conduct a rally on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday; or circulate a film featuring hooded Klan members who were brandishing weapons and threatening to ‘Bury the niggers….’…The First Amendment gives individuals the right to disagree about the correctness of Obergefell and the morality of same-sex marriage.”
On May 19th Great Britain’s Prince Harry married American Meghan Markle. As soon as it ended, the TV commentators swooned : “The whole room was filled with happiness.” “It’s enough to make me believe in love again.” It was a joyful occasion. The prince was dashing. The bride radiant in her tiara. But there was also a beautiful subtext woven into the ancient ceremony that may have contributed to inspiring people to want to get married…stay married…even believe in love again.
In today’s cynical hook-up culture, it lifts our spirits to see a bride and groom promise to love and cherish one another till death. While almost three billion people around the world delighted in the beauty of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s marriage ceremony, I wonder how many of the guests and viewers really grasped the deep truths woven into the familiar words.
A speaker by speaker, song by song, verse by verse summary, with brief commentary, of Billy Graham’s funeral in Charlotte, NC on March 1, 2018.
To me, it felt a little bit like the days after 9-11. The enchantment of this world was momentarily broken, and the curtain pulled back on the ultimate reality of what is good, true and beautiful. Thank you, Billy Graham, for pointing the way home in life and death.
Setting—Tent for 2,300 people positioned for the view to perfectly frame the Billy Graham library/museum, an enlarged dairy barn-styled building with a silo beside it. And to the left, the relocated dairy farm-style home in which he grew up. Barely pinkening redbud trees line a split rail fence.
It could be the cameras, but it looks like everyone is in navy. (the new black?) President Trump. Melania. The Pences. Ben Carson, N. Carolina governor. Nikki Haley. Sen. Ted Cruz. Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Max Lucado. Beth Moore. Jewish yarmulkes. Orthodox Patriarch in black headgear. A missionary to bedouin tribes and other missionaries, unknown to us, but some of the “great ones” in God’s kingdom.
Linda McCrary-Fisher sings “Until Then” to open the funeral and David Bruce, Graham’s executive assistant, welcomes guests.
Donald Wilton-Pastor of First Baptist Spartanburg gives Scripture reading and invocation. He reads from Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Graham joined his church in 2008 and Wilton has visited him weekly in recent times. He travelled w/ the family to Washington and will conduct the graveside service.
Hymn-“All Hail The Power of Jesus Name.” Billy’s family singing lustily without programs. Pres Trump and Pences using programs. And I’m singing along too.
Yes, #metoo. Thankfully not the seriously damaging kind. Even so, I remember how in years past I felt all the feelings that have been swirling around since the reveal of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predations launched the movement in October…Surprise. Disgust. Did that really happen? Did he really say that? Put his hand there? Why didn’t I say something?
On the Mexico City Metro I did. I turned and glared and called the groper out (quite loudly!): “Que poca educacion tienes!” How little education you have!
But in my 20’s when it came to my boss’s boss, an elected official, sad to say, I simply tolerated the continuous flirtations and jousted back. He was three times my age and a very powerful man in Texas. I played the game and I’m sorry I did. Also sorry I didn’t graciously tell one of my best friend’s husband that his p—- joke wasn’t worthy of him.
You probably saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in protest for Right to Life and women’s empowerment last weekend. On Capitol Hill the Democrats in their trench shouted, ‘Protect Immigrants!” while Republicans in theirs shouted, “Protect citizens! Protect the military!”
And we watch. War-weary, just wanting these people to do their jobs and run the government. The shutdown shut down, but the “cultural war for the soul of America” as Pat Buchanan first described it, continues—this daily battle over “who we are and what we stand for as Americans.”
Did you hear any of the speeches from the Senate floor? It was as if Democrat Schumer and Republican McConnell each described the shutdown from totally different planets. As my gut tensed I wondered, “How will this war ever end?” It used to be that the war was fought during election season and now it’s fought every day.
Suddenly, unbidden, words and images flooded in…
In December Dr. Bandy Lee, a Yale Psychiatry professor and the editor of a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, was invited to address congressmen and women about accusations that Trump was unfit to hold the office of president. And when, in a tweet to Kim Jong Un, Trump boasted about his “bigger nuclear button” she released a statement:
“We write as mental health professionals who have been deeply concerned about Donald Trump’s psychological aberrations…We believe that he is now further unraveling in ways that contribute to his belligerent nuclear threats.”
The movement began with a petition, first circulated as his campaign began, with now almost 70,000 signatures of health professionals who have violated their professional ethics because they believe they have a “duty to warn.”
While most are focusing on attacking or defending President Trump’s mental stability, I was struck by what a corrosive assault it must be to the man’s soul to see this conversation gaining momentum. How should we respond?
When the Christmas dust settles and it’s time for a holiday outing, Darkest Hour is that rare film that not only entertains but inspires. Yes, I laughed at the good comedic writing and delivery when my girlfriends drug me to Thor Ragnarok. But our culture offers so much cotton candy and not too many feasts of rich food.
Darkest Hour explores the life and death decision Winston Churchill faced as soon as he became prime minister: whether to negotiate for peace with Hitler and his formidable war machine or prepare to fight an enemy that was gobbling up more of Europe every day they deliberated.
Gary Oldham is the Meryl Streep of male actors–he totally disappears into his characters. Two hundred hours in the makeup chair for this movie and he IS Churchill. The campy villain of The Fifth Element has pretty much disappeared. Oldham plays Churchill with plenty of cheek and bravado, but also as the intellectually gifted statesman, Inspirer in Chief and grand master of the King’s English that he was. He may win an Academy Award for this performance.
Take a peek at our Apples of Gold power point below. Based on the invitation (in Titus 2) for older women to mentor younger women in kindness, loving their husbands and children, hospitality and other big issues, we gathered for 7 weeks this fall for cooking lessons and Bible Study.
Liisa and Judi, our cooking mentors taught us how to make everything from pulled pork to cheesecake, how to choose olive oils and knives and whip up a perfect mug of frothy coffee. Then, after Bible study and discussion, they served up the yummy lunchtime results of their labors–the perfect setting for going deeper on our topics.