The Surveillance State

How often we become, or create, the very things we fear.  This is the thought that came into my mind recently regarding the surveillance state.  I have long heard people talk about “big brother” increasingly invading our privacy and how we are living in times reminiscent of the book 1984.  While I do fear intrusive overreach, what I find intriguing is that the surveillance state we fear is not the product of the government.  So, if the G-Men are not the ones acting as “big brother,” then who is?  There are, of course, the obvious culprits in the tech industry.  However, there are also those that are less obvious.  In particular, I am thinking about those people who are obsessed with filming things on cell phones.  I am repeatedly amazed at how so many scandalous moments on the news come as the result of a cell phone recording.  It’s as if we are under constant surveillance.  And, sadly, this might not be too far from the truth.  But it is not the government, it is us, just as the old saying goes, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

This is not to say that video recording is a bad thing.  Indeed, security cameras and vigilant citizens have captured video of criminals and their crimes in a way that allows law enforcement to act swiftly.  At the same time, it can also help to sort out truth from fiction in those moments where two or more sides cannot agree on what was said or done.

No, the whole point of this rambling post is not to condemn video, but to point out that in some instances (and perhaps many) the very things we dread are our own creation.

Road Trip Pit Stops

Have you ever wanted to see a giant metal cross? If so, then the Cross at the Crossroads is the road trip pit stop for you! Standing an impressive 198 feet tall, the cross looms large over everything nearby in Effingham, IL. Located near the intersection of I-57 and I-70, the site also features a Chapel Welcome Center and has a Ten Commandments display around the base of the cross.

Cross

In addition to the Cross at the Crossroads, it is worth pointing out that Effingham is also the hometown of Hodgson Mill (perhaps you have seen there products at your local grocery store). And, if you happen to be a fan of Hodgson Mill, they have an outlet store in Effingham.

For more information about the Cross at the Crossroads, visit: crossusa.org

 

Can the United Methodist Church Survive?

The United Methodist Church is rapidly approaching a fork in the road that has enormous consequences regardless of which direction it chooses.  For years the church has been embroiled in a controversy of its own making.  On the one side are traditionalists who want to turn the church back toward its theology of origin.  On the other side are those who wish to set aside traditional ways of thinking for more progressive.  And, in the middle are those with their heads in the sand hoping the denomination can continue pretending that all is well.

Those in the middle are in a hopeless situation to say the least.  That leaves the traditionalists and progressives to determine the future of the church.  Can the two sides be reconciled? Let me answer this with a clear and emphatic “no!”  When one side or the other speaks of reconciliation in matters of theology, what they are actually saying is, “Come over to my side and we will be reconciled.”

I, myself, am counted amongst the traditionalists.  And, I do think the church needs to split.  Staying together like we are is helping no one.

Now, let me speak briefly to something I typed in the opening paragraph.  I wrote that this controversy is of our own making and I mean every word of that.  Refusing to stand firmly on beliefs only leads to the degredation of those beliefs.  The old syaing goes, “If you let the nose of the camel intio the tent, you let the whole camel in.”   In the same way, when the United Methodist Church refuses to enforce its own Book of Discipline, it cannot help but to collapse under the weight of all that soon follows.  This is where we are now: a camel is in the tent.  It is time to either move on, or learn to live with a camel.

Kids and Apologetics

The concept of parents teaching their kids apologetics has gained a great deal of traction in recent years.  Now, we’re not talking about having a conversation with your middle or high schooler about something that took place at school.  What we’re talking about is training elementary aged children in apologetics.

While I understand why some people think this is a good idea, especially in a culture where children are bombarded with ideas at a far faster rate than most of us parents ever experienced.  My difficulty with teaching young children apologetics is that it seemingly “puts the cart before the horse.”  People should know something about theology before moving on to apologetics.  This should be obvious, but….

In fact, I would say that the logic of studying theology before apologetics applies to anyone who is young/immature in the faith.  After all, we should know what we believe before we go out and defend why we believe it.  To that end, I think parents should spend time reading and studying the Bible with their children.  As a family does this there will be many opportunities to discuss central tenets of the Christian faith, as well as deal with difficulties that they might encounter.

That second part, dealing with difficulties they might encounter as they read study the Bible, is worth highlighting.  My reason for saying this is that the difficulties we have may not be such an issue with our children and, conversely, they may have trouble with things we simply never anticipated.  We are currently reading through the Bible as a family for the second time and I am continuously intrigued by what stands out to my children.

I will wind this post down with a final thought: It is easier to defend something when you know, understand, and love it.  If we simply teach people to defend the faith without a firm foundation in it, then we are simply training intellectual mercenaries who may, or may not, have any loyalties to our faith.

Happy Reformation Day!

In honor of this 500th Anniversary of Reformation Day, I am posting some photos relevant to the occassion.  Enjoy!

The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Of the original, only the four walls remain.  The church has been destroyed multiple times since Reformation.

Sculptures of Luther and Melanchthon inside the Castle Church.  Also in this picture are the graves of the two men. Yes, there are a lot of people buried inside some of those old churches.

Pictures inside the church in Wittenberg that Luther actually preferred to attend.  He spoke at the Castle Church as part of his employment contract.  The Castle Church was, in fact, a private church.

The church in Erfurt, Germany, where Luther was ordained.

An original Luther Bible.  I only wish the picture was a little clearer and did a better job of showing the size of this volume – it is massive.

An original indulgence and various coins that would have been used at the time frame to pay for indulgneces.

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And, finally, what you have been waiting for… “the door.”  Unfortunately, it is something of a letdown since it is not original.  The actual door was destroyed quite some time ago.  This is the site of that famous door, and the one you see here memorializes the event by including the 95 theses in its design.

Have a blessed day!

A Denomination’s Descent Into Irrelevance

I have been a staunch defender of my denomination (The United Methodist Church) throughout my life as a Christian.  However, that being said, I have also been a witness to that very same denomination’s continuous descent into irrelevance.  I get daily emails from our News Service detailing all the trendy projects that we have gotten involved with or how we have joined in with issues that are celebrity causes.

I am saddened by what has happened, but I cannot say that I am surprised.  What, you might ask, has led this descent into irrelevance?  In my humble estimation there is no clearer answer than that the church has become obsessed with being culturally relevant.

What do I mean by this?  To me, it’s simple.  The church has chosen to alter or set aside it doctrines and discipline in an effort to be more acceptable to the mainstream culture.  While this sounds all well and good there are some serious difficulties that accompany such a strategy.

  1. The church was never supposed to conform to the culture.  From its inception, the church was countercultural.  The membership of the body of Christ is to “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” (Matt. 6:33 KJV) not to seek approval of the prevailing culture.  The church is to be in pursuit of holiness.
  2. By pulling up its theological anchor and allowing itself to be blown about by the winds of worldly culture, the denomination has diminished its identity and become just another unstable institution in an unstable world.  There is a longing out there for something that is consistent, steady, and willing to stand against the currents of our world.  The church has always been a rock that people could stand on during turbulent times.  But when the church seeks to appease the world by forsaking its doctrinal integrity, what you are left with is something built on shifting sands.
  3. Cultural appeasement is a slippery slope.  If we acquiesce to the whims of worldly culture at points A, B, and C, is there a point at which the process can, and will, stop?  Looking at other examples from mainstream Protestantism the answer appears to be, no.

This is something of a gripe session and it is late in the evening here, but it hurts me to see the way we have become obsessed with chasing after all the latest trendy projects while never looking back to make certain that we have not lost our way.

In the pursuit of relevance, we are becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Let us return to our roots and consider our theological foundations that we may be better equipped to engage a hurting world.  After all, if we lose our identity by tossing to the side our doctrine and discipline, then we are just another social group.  And that is not what we have been called to be.

My Top Ten Books for Christians

It seems that there are a lot of “Top Ten” lists of books that every Christian should read.  So, as I sat down this morning, I thought to myself, “Why not make one of those lists?”  With that in mind, here goes my top list:

#1. The Bible.  This may be the most obvious of them all, yet it is strangely missing on a lot of lists.  Without a doubt or hesitation, I can say that every Christian should read the Bible.  All too often people will read books about the Bible while never having read the Bible itself.  I understand you may have to read a book about a time or country that you are unable to visit, but getting your hands on a Bible in most places is not that difficult.  The Bible is the sacred text of the Christian faith and, as such, should be read by adherents of the faith.

#2. Mere Christianity.  This classic by C.S. Lewis is an excellent, understandable defense of Christianity.  Lewis was a remarkably articulate writer who seemed to make difficult concepts very accessible.

#3. Christianity 101.  This book, by Gilbert Bilezikian, was one of the first I read after deciding to get serious about my faith.  I still recommend it to others as a great introduction to the faith. In particular, I like that Bilezikian exposes the reader to different views within the church on a variety of doctrines.

#4. Know What You Believe.  I read this little gem by Paul Little while working on my undergraduate degree at Moody Bible Institute.  To this day, I still think it is one of the more useful books that I have come across.  Between this book and Bilezikian’s, you should be able to get a grasp on the major doctrines of the church.

#5. Know Why You Believe.  This is another book by Paul Little that I think is worth reading, especially for those who are in the early stages of their Christian walk, or those who simply have not thought about why they believe what they believe.

#6. Disciplines of a Godly Man.  I was recommended this book, written by R. Kent Hughes, years ago, and I am grateful that I took the time to read it.  Now, I should note that between the author and his wife, they have books that relate specifically to men, women, and the family, so they have you covered.  While there are many who will put Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, I find this book to be far superior.  In particular, I found it to be the most practical book I have read relating to spiritual disciplines.

#7. Pilgrim’s Progress.  This classic by John Bunyan is another that I read soon after deciding to take my faith seriously.  I am just as impressed today, as I was then, with how Bunyan managed to intertwine the Scriptures into his book.  The man is masterful in that regard.

#8. Evidences of Christianity.  Another classic on the list, this one was written by William Paley.  You may be more familiar with Paley as he relates to the design argument.  This book, however, is a rich treasure trove of information as the author sets out a case for the Christian faith.  His argumentation is methodical and well supported. And, as a bonus, the book is in the Public Domain so you can read it for free.

#9. Reasonable Faith.  William Lane Craig does a superb job of laying out his case for the Christian faith in this book.  For those who might think the content is a little too advanced, his book, On Guard, is more accessible, while still covering much of the same information.  Of the modern apologetics books, this is a great place to start.

#10. The Space Trilogy.  Before there was Narnia, C.S. Lewis wrote a trilogy of books: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.  The books can be purchased individually, or as a single bound collection.  The Books are real treat to read even while dealing with heavy spiritual ideas.  While I particularly enjoyed the first and third books, they are all worthwhile and I can heartily recommend them to any Christian looking for some quality science-fiction to read.

Now, I should close this post out by saying that you can always check out my books 😉

Happy reading!