Gun to Your Head. “Are you a Christian?” What would you say?

We can never know how we would respond to the ultimate threat. But a thoughtful heart check sheds light on what we treasure most.

Pray for RoseburgWhile our choices matter to God, he tells us our motives matter even more. God is always looking at our hearts.

Thinking of what I would say to a shooter pointing a gun at my head was not nearly as revealing for me as pondering why I would say it. As you read these wildly different responses from the candid crew over on Reddit how does it clarify your motives?

Life Is Becoming Entertainment: The 2016 Great Race Survivor Reality Show

If you locked all the Hollywood reality TV writers in a room until they came up with a script that would compare to our nightly news episodes they’d never be seen again. Each evening we tune in to discover what our crazy cast of characters has been up to today. And we are not disappointed.


Just in the last few days…over at the Values Voter Summit the billionaire with the uniquely crafted hair was waving his Bible in the air. Back in July, when asked whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions, Mr. Trump responded, “…if I do something wrong, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

But on Saturday he was all about reading the inscription in his “favorite book” and in his closing remarks held it aloft once more, reminding the evangelical voters, “This is the key.” Except maybe for the forgiveness part?

In New Hampshire a 74-year old socialist, Bernie Sanders, leads Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton 46% to 30%. One of two very smart women in the Great Race made some very curious decisions to take her government email off the grid and wipe her server. (Inquiring minds will be lining up at the October Benghazi hearings to find out why.)

Meanwhile the other very smart woman, Carly Fiorina, was bombarded with condoms at an Iowa tailgate party by supporters of Planned Parenthood. (Really, you could not make this stuff up. But wait, there’s more!)

Captive the Movie: WOW

A serial killer and his hostage grapple with God's purpose in their crashing lives

On March 11, 2005 the Atlanta police locked the city down in a massive manhunt for Brian Nichols, an escaped convict who had bludgeoned his police escort, burst into the courtroom, murdered his judge and, before the day was over, gunned down three others.

Across town a meth addict widow, Ashley Smith, makes yet another promise to her recovery group and her daughter that she will show up clean. Hours later she holds a packet of crystal meth over the toilet…then rolls up a dollar bill and inhales it.

Of all the women Nichols could have captured that that day and forced to hide him, he chose Ashley. Of all the books Ashley could have been reading, the one on her kitchen table was Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

“Read it to me,” Brian orders. The words change both their lives.

90 minutes in Heaven: Is it credible? My movie review

90 minutes“I died on January 18, 1989. Immediately after I died I went straight to heaven. While I was in heaven a Baptist preacher rushed to my lifeless body and prayed for me. At least 90 minutes after the EMT’s pronounced me dead, God answered that man’s prayers. I returned to earth. This is my story.”—Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven, 2004

Maybe you’ve read one of the Christian leaders advising others NOT to go see the new 90 Minutes in Heaven book-based movie, released Thursday. “You dishonor God and the Bible if you need this kind of outside verification.” “Bad theology.”

I don’t think so.

My many reasons why began Friday, March 22nd 2003. I was in the “bullpen” at the Mt. Hermon Christian writer’s conference in California. At break time a handful of us news junkies were watching the US military unleash its “shock and awe” campaign on downtown Baghdad. “I can’t help but notice your limp,” I eventually said to one of the guys. “After twenty-three years of rheumatoid arthritis I limp sometimes too, so my antennae are fairly sensitive to that.”

“Yes,” he replied, “I was in a car wreck.”

Is the Gospel Mainly about Going to Heaven?

New jerusalem JPGWith this week’s release of the movie 90 Minutes in Heaven, heaven is all over social media and the news. I’ll review the movie Tuesday, but today I want to ask you a more important question: Do you think that the “main point” of the Bible and salvation is escaping hell and going to heaven?

I grew up with the Wordless Book—one page black for sin, one red for Christ’s blood, one white for being cleansed of sin, one gold for going to heaven, one green for growing. It is a strategy often used in children’s ministry to explain the salvation message. It has no doubt been helpful to bring many to Christ.

But I think in my own life that gospel message and the children’s ministry I was a part of nurtured a “Salvation is a ticket to heaven” mentality. The main thing was to get rid of my sin, escape hell and get to heaven. I think there were some adults in my life who were trying to cast a vision of being reconciled to God so I could know him, so I could love and enjoy him more. But all the heaven talk kind of drowned it out.

Being a Christian became primarily about the destination, and then learning God’s word, and then obeying– black, red, white, gold and green. And somewhere after that, the relationship and intimacy. Anyone else growing up in a Christian home or church have that experience?

When I was twenty-nine I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. As I tried to live in a world of shattered dreams, chronic pain and limited mobility I lived`more and more from duty and resignation. In his mercy, God met me right where I was, as he always does, and drew me into the intimacy and joy that I was missing. I chronicled that journey in my book Godsight: Renewing the Eyes of Our Heart.

I discovered that there was a name for what I had experienced: “Destination Theology.” I decided to re-read the book of Acts with careful attention to the way Jesus’ disciples presented the gospel. What I found there surprised me.

Jesus Calling: More Thinkers Needed in Today’s Culture

Feeler needs to thinkThe more the world changes from modern to postmodern the more thinkers (and thinking) are needed. In today’s culture it’s going to take more and more courage to stand against the feelings and experiences of other people. If we rely mainly on our own feelings and experiences to base our faith on, how will we have the courage to sacrifice? To go against the cultural flow? How can we grow as thinkers?

We find ourselves in a culture saturated with images–videos, games, selfies, Pinterest, movies, Instagram, TV, even notable quotes are embedded in pictures for heightened impact. And while images capture our attention, we don’t process them the same way we do words.

Three Reasons Why Thinkers Should Feel more

thinker to feelerAre you a thinker or a feeler? If you’re a thinker like me, is growing into more of a feeler something you might want to be more intentional about? If you’re a feeler, how might you inspire a thinker to grow into more of a feeler? Or is that something we can change?

Before we go any further, what does it means to be a thinker? According to the Myers Briggs gold standard of personality testing…you know you’re a thinker if, when it comes to decision making,…

…you make decisions with your head and want to be fair.
…you like to find the basic truth or principle to be applied, regardless of the specific situation involved.
…you like to analyze pros and cons, and then be consistent and logical in deciding, not letting personal feelings get in the way.

You know you’re a feeler if…

The World’s Almost* Best Advice on the Rest of Your Life. No kidding.

Welcome to in this, the official launch week of my Faith and Culture: Live wisely │Love well website. Here you’ll find original weekly posts from a Christian worldview on any topic that helps us  thrive in today’s culture with a confident faith. I also scatter jewels of resources you may not find in Facebook memes.

axstj-successdsc_0808-1013-6142This week’s diamond is the June 2015 Dartmouth University Commencement address from my favorite comic sociologist and New York Times op-ed writer, David Brooks.

You’ll want to invite every 20-30 something you know to listen. You’ll glean great insight into the secrets of success and course corrections for your road ahead. Here’s a Fb Timeline-worthy Ivy Leage speech for all our friends that makes the extraordinary case, with wry humor and standing on reams of research, that what we really need is…steadfast love.

Not just Taylor-Swift good feelings, but love that sends down roots of commitment.  And the moral character that can keep it. The path to exploring your freedom and keeping your options endlessly open is “a path to a frazzled, scattered life in which you try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one.”

A Prayer for Josh Duggar: God’s ruthless exposure of secrets this summer

Ashley MadisonSince I wrote last May about the disclosures of Josh’s inappropriate touching of his younger sisters (and a friend) when he was fourteen and the ensuing scandal, my thoughts turn again to him and his family today.

Now we find out that for years he’s been leading a double life, addicted to porn, getting on the Ashley Madison website that facilitates adultery and has been unfaithful to his wife.

“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have been unfaithful to my wife,” he wrote in a public apology. “As I am learning the hard way, we have the freedom to choose to our actions, but we do not get to choose our consequences. I deeply regret all hurt I have caused so many by being such a bad example. I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”

Sorrow upon sorrow. So disheartening for the body of Christ. And another shot across our bow to turn from our failures and indifference and draw near to a God who reaches out in terrible, loving rebuke to draw us to himself.

This summer I’ve been reading the prophet Ezekiel.  I’ve been struck by how God ruthlessly exposes the sin of his people, especially their leaders, before he brings down horrific destruction.

Back to School, Back to Work: How you can find more joy in work than play


We live in a culture where work is a means to leisure time. Where on Thursday the radio DJ starts celebrating the fact that it’s “Friday-Eve.” But what if God intends us to work…and enjoy it?

Just think: God could have created you as a pleasure machine. He could have created a world, even before the fall, where Adam and Eve did not have to work to tend the garden. (Yes, work came before the fall.)

He could have given us bodies that didn’t get soft from lack of movement. With appetites barely felt. Where we could take endless pleasure in swimming all day every day. Or playing harps. Or video games. Or hanging out on social media. Or watching movies. Or simply sitting in his presence.

But God decided to make you in his image. And God is not a God who takes his greatest joy in leisure. God is a working God. He takes his greatest joy in work. Good work. Always doing something deep and new.

As summer vacation fades in our rear view mirror, and we head back to school and work, these truths will build our anticipation and increase our joy:

When Politicians Fail Us: A Bonhoeffer alternative to doublespeak and cunning…what you can do

Doublespeak Meme

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds.

We have become cunning and learned the arts of obfuscation and equivocal speech.

Experience has rendered us suspicious of human beings, and often we have failed to speak to them a true and open word.

Unbearable conflicts have worn us down or even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?

We will not need geniuses, cynics, people who have contempt for others, or cunning tacticians, but simple, uncomplicated, and honest human beings.

Will our inner strength to resist what has been forced on us have remained strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves blunt enough, to find our way back to simplicity and honesty?” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, Germany, 1943-45)

Until you reach the last lines you might think this quote could be from political outsiders Ben Carson, or Carly Fiorina…or, if it weren’t so eloquent and respectful, even Donald Trump. Simply substitute “political class” for “human beings” in line three.

When Friends Frustrate Us: A Bonhoeffer alternative to criticizing or withdrawing

My Or Your Way Keys Showing Conflict Or Disagreement

How do you respond when people frustrate you? When their vision is smaller, their personalities grate, their pride annoys, their fears quash progress? Our culture nurtures a critical spirit. Social media affords more opportunities (and reinforcement) to vent and complain than ever.

German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew how to speak truth to people in the wrong and how to give grace when the relational issue was more a matter of personality or preference. As the Lutheran Church of Martin Luther fell under the spell of Adolph Hitler, he boldly joined the dissenting “Confessing Church,” becoming one of Hitler’s earliest and staunchest critics. (In Part 2 of this post I’ll review Bonhoeffer’s challenge, “When Politicians Fail Us.”)

But first, the personal challenge. Bonhoeffer’s commitment to speaking truth was tempered by great love. In his book, Life Together, he challenges our Western penchant for radical individualism, even (especially) in the church, and shows us, better than anyone I’ve ever read, how to forbear others who offend and try our patience. How to see and honor the image of God in each person.

Shopping for a New President: Why Strength and Cool without Kindness Can Bring Buyer’s Remorse

Every four years, when we shop for a new president in debate season, we have a history of looking for what we believe is missing in our current president. You can look back from president to president and see the cultural pendulum swinging from one profile to its opposite.


For example, after four years of Jimmy Carter’s malaise and sunset in 70’s American  gas lines, we elected Ronald Reagan to be strong and bring back the morning again.

In the wake of Pres. Bill Clinton’s affairs and slippery I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman deception, we wanted someone who was honest and trustworthy. In George W. Bush we elected a straight shooter with no history of scandal or corruption, and a strong family man.

After years of war on terror, we settled on a president who was less of a “cowboy” and more of a conciliator. Now, after eight years of negotiations with Iran and retreats from red lines, we see a lot of enthusiasm for a strong man again– someone who will Get. Things. Done.

Have you discovered The Stream?

This daily news and opinion digest produced by leading voices from Breakpoint and Discovery Institute requested a reprint of Thursday’s Wilberforce post. So appreciate the insightful writing, respectful tone and Christian worldview. Just launched a few months ago. I’m subscribing and setting as my browser home page. I invite you to join me.

The Stream Wilberforce Screenshot

A Wilberforce Moment: The PP videos and how you can make a difference

Planned Parenthood supporters are leaning on congress and the media to kill the story of what’s really going on inside America’s abortion trade.  Reminds me of how England’s  slave ship owners did *not* want the Brits to see what went on inside the slave ships. We are living in Wilberforce times, no?

amazing grace movie slave ship

William Wilberforce was the British Member of Parliament who led the fight to abolish the slave trade. If you haven’t seen Amazing Grace, the 2006 movie about that struggle, now would be a good time. Especially to see the scene where Wilberforce has arranged for a pleasure cruise of British lords and ladies to pass by the moored slave ship Madagascar. Watch them recoil at the chains and manacles draped across the stern that had recently bound its human cargo. Imagine the stench as they hold their noses.

Ioan Griffudd as Wilberforce calls out from above the manacles, “I want you to remember that smell… remember the Madagascar… remember, God made men equal.”

Wilberforce and his friends in Clapham Circle feel compelled by their love for God and each person he created to not just tell but show the truth about slavery. Thanks to them and the encouragement of Prime Minister William Pitt (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), eventually things change. But only as the public becomes more and more aware of the abominations that are out of sight/out of mind.

In addition to the PP supporters who want to keep hiding the truth from public outrage and legal investigation, I’ve heard too many  conservative newscasters and friends say they do not recommend watching the Planned Parenthood videos because they’re too graphic. Please don’t follow their advice. Here’s why…

An Open Letter to Planned Parenthood: What exactly are you apologizing for?

Nucatola meme2Dear Planned Parenthood,

With great interest I watched your apology in response to the undercover video of your Senior Director of Medical Services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, discussing the sale of human livers, hearts and lungs.

“Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide,” said Cecile Richards, your president. “In the video, one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements.”

Planned Parenthood apologizes for a lack of compassion. Is this a monumental shift in your values? Or an astonishing use of Orwellian doublespeak? What do you mean by “compassion”?

We know what the dictionary means: “Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” (

Compassion is always directed at another person. Please clarify: Whom do you think deserved compassion but didn’t receive it?

Beach Boys, Love and Mercy movie, and the Lost Gospel of Brian Wilson Part 2

Love and Mercy portraitThe funny, sensitive musician has reflected that he lost his sense of humor in the 60’s. Combined with his own insecurities and mental fragility, his quest for drugs-and-music-drenched enlightenment  took a fearful and paranoiac toll. Which makes the redemptive story of Love and Mercy all the more amazing. (view Part 1 here)

In Smile Brian was reaching for music that would take the listener into totally new spiritual experiences–transcendent, epic and yet intimate at the same time. Brian was no philosophical-art-student John Lennon, but in Van Dyke Parks he found a Lennonesque collaborator to put lyrics to the great art and music in his soul.

For months they pulled drug-fueled all-nighters at Brian’s famous piano in the sandbox and conceived a musical mosaic to guide listeners on a journey through American music, beginning at Plymouth Rock and ending in Diamond Head. It would incorporate the elements of earth, air, fire and water as an image of ego death and oneness with the all.

On one of the instrumental tracks Brian worked to created the musical experience of fire–“a dark, booming, reverb-drenched blur of sound.” An “eerie whine that grew into a giant conflagration…the weirdest was the crash and crackle of instruments smoldering for the final time.” Listening to the final cut of “Mrs. O’leary’s Cow,” the musicians marveled at what Brian had produced.

Then, a couple of days later, a building across the street from the studio burned down and there seemed to be a rash of fires in the LA area.

Beach Boys, Love and Mercy Movie and the Lost Gospel of Brian Wilson

Released September 15th on DVD and Amazon Prime...

love and mercy LP poster

So there I was cruising down a woodsy road in the balmy summer twilight, stereo cranked…”You gotta help me Rhonda, help me get her outta my heart bom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom…”

Most of us associate the Beach Boys with summer-soundtrack songs about surfing, cars and girls on the beach. And their staggering 100,000,000 records sold. (More @ my presentations on Brian Wilson and the Quest for Cool here)

Back in the 60’s, outside the music business, we didn’t realize that Brian Wilson, the creative genius who wrote most of their music, was taking his place among American greats like George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Burt Bacharach.

We just knew that when we pulled the sun roof back and crooned along on “Don’t Worry Baby,” something deeper reeled us in: the sheer beauty and increasing complexity of the music.  The constant shifting from major to minor chords that somehow captured our exuberance in the major theme of life’s joys and our longing for love and mercy in a fallen, minor-themed world.

The movie Love and Mercy chronicles the story of Brian Wilson in two narrative arcs. Paul Dano plays twenty-something Brian in the 60’s at the height of his creative genius.

John Cusack plays Wilson in the 80’s—a damaged soul who slips a beautiful Cadillac saleswoman a note with three hastily written words: lonely, frightened, scared. The movie seamlessly weaves together scenes from both periods to show how Brian fell into the minor theme and couldn’t find his way out. Yet it leaves the larger story of why unexplored. 

Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing: A July 4th Prayer for America

The Happy Birthday America celebrations are ramping up. Some of us are not feeling all that festive yet. (Which surprises me—always the optimist, loving my country. So many happy memories of watermelon and home-made ice cream. Family and fireworks.) In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision maybe we can take a cue from the apostle Paul. Maybe it’s a time to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

Grunge flag of USA. Horizontal composition

Lord, we thank you for your good gifts of life and liberty. Thank you for men and women who risked so much to give us the gift of America…
…those who pursued an “errand into the wilderness” to worship in freedom
…the Pilgrims on the Mayflower who “for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country” planted their Plymouth Rock colony.
…the thousands of Puritans who sought to build “a city on the hill”… [where they would] “love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments…that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it”

…the 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence against a world power when they had no great army to fight it and no navy to break the blockade they knew would come
…the 17 who fought in the Revolutionary War and the five who were captured and held as prisoners of war
…the 4 who saw their sons or wives killed or captured
…the 11 whose homes and lands were ransacked, occupied or burned
…the many who lost their businesses or gave their personal fortunes to fund the war

Your Response to Gay Marriage: Seething, Fearful or Soothed?

The Supreme Court released its long-awaited ruling on gay marriage Friday morning. By a vote of five to four it’s now legal in all fifty states. We are living through a tidal wave of cultural change. How do you respond?

Supreme court gay marriage

Maybe you are celebrating the news. Relieved that the issue will not need to be fought out state by state. Glad for your friends who are gay. Maybe you are working hard to show tolerance in this new social reality but, under the surface, are you seething? (Or maybe not under the surface…)

If you are angry, sort it out…why?