Friday’s Fantastic Five!

FridayFantasticFiveFriday, May 24

How Psychiatry Went Crazy – Carol Tavris
The Wall Street Journal reports on the release of the new DSM-5, the Bible of modern psychiatry. This article exposes many of the problems with the psychiatric industry and is a must read for those seeking and giving counsel and treatment.

What Our Words Tell Us – David Brooks
New York Times columnist David Brooks analyzes reports on a Google database of 5.2 million books published from 1500 to 2008. What he discovers about the words we use reveals huge cultural changes that may not be for the better.

China’s Brutal One-Child Policy – Ma Jian
China’s one-child policy has been around since 1979 and since then has caused incredible suffering and oppression. This short article exposes the true nature of the policy and is a must-read for Americans unfamiliar with what is happening.

IRS Morality: Defend Planned Parenthood, Deluge Adoptive Families with Audits – David French
Get ready to be outraged. If you are confused about what the IRS scandal in the news is all about, this article will bring it home. It is a terrible thing when the government uses its power to target and discourage some of the most selfless and sacrificial among us.

The Case for Man/Woman Marriage
A quick and easy two minute argument for why male/female marriage is important to society and should continue to be recognized as such.


Four Thoughts on Women’s Ministry

keep-calm-and-stay-the-courseIf you are in the trenches of serving the Lord by ministering to women, here are four simple things to sharpen and encourage you.

Events are good

Events have a soiled reputation in many women’s ministry circles as marshmallow-y gatherings that produce nothing of worth for the Christian woman. Yes, some women’s events lack vision, are poorly executed and are laced with bad theology, but blanketing all women’s events with this grid is not wise. Strategic, gospel-centered, well-executed women’s events are open doors. They can provide a comfortable environment for non-Christians, opportunities for Christians to use their gifts and they creatively speak to the uniqueness of the female through the lens of the Bible in enjoyable ways. As a general rule, women love events. Put great effort into planning, serving and attending quality women’s events.

Your goal is not to be voted Prom Queen

Some believe serving in women’s ministry, whether in an official capacity with a desk and title or unofficially as a volunteer or teacher, means you are a well-liked, well-known, super-sweet extrovert with a manicure, lots of friends and a knack for biblical truth and fun. You are the woman all the women in your church want to be like, be with and learn from. Every woman, ages 19 to 98, just loves you. These things could certainly be true, but they aren’t always, nor do they ever have to be. Doing ministry correctly often means you make very unpopular decisions. You’ll be misunderstood, misinterpreted and sometimes ridiculed.  You won’t be able to please everyone. When women repent and believe in Jesus, their lives will change and their non-Christian husbands might actively despise you. You will make mistakes and not be forgiven. You might be doing an incredible job with very little energy and excitement surrounding the work. Your goal is to make much of God’s name rather than make a name for yourself.

Not everyone is excited about truth…yet

Have you ever gotten in your car, loaded down with notes, commentaries, possibly a bag of ice-breaking Hershey Kisses and a fat Bible, excited to teach women God’s truth? Have you ever exhausted yourself in that teaching to the point of joyful tears, swelled to the brim with the Spirit, wanting nothing else in the world than to live in that moment? Have you ever then walked back to your car, heavy and tired, because no one seemed to care? Allow God to lift your head. Don’t let perceived or actual apathy curb your zeal for conveying God’s truth. The women you serve need it, even if they don’t know or believe so. Love them, don’t judge them. Be patient, not demanding. Trust God to use your passion and faithfulness over time.

Expect great sorrow and great joy

When you kneel down into the dirt of life with women whom you are ministering to, you will unearth both trash and treasure in their lives. You aren’t trying to avoid one and find the other…you are actively looking for both; some women can’t tell the difference between the two. They are unaware they’ve rooted in a dangerous place and are headed for destruction. You will see great sin. You will hear of situations that make you physically ill.  You will earnestly pine for a woman’s salvation and she will ultimately run from God. You will weep with many who weep. And yet, you will witness the hand of the Lord move and work so mightily you will at times be unable to stand because of His goodness. Women who were once ensnared by the enemy will be released and worship the living Christ. The adulteress and the abused will turn to Jesus and become disciple makers. Homes will change. There will be tears of joy. God’s goodness and provision will overwhelm you.

Don’t let the trash deter you. There is great treasure to be found in the work of women’s ministry. Stay the course, dear sister.


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Friday’s Fantastic Five!

FridayFantasticFiveMay 17, 2013

Sifting through content on the internet can be a bit like drinking water from a fire hose. So is here to help! Each Friday we’ll share the best five items we’ve run into around the web. Each item is worth your time, so check them out!

Speech on Religious Liberty – R.R. Reno
This fantastic article takes a look at the forces eroding religious liberty in the United States and many of the emerging legal, political, and cultural trends that threaten to erode it further. A must read for any believer who values their free expression.

Rob Bell’s Ginormous Mirror – Mark Galli
This is not a review of Bell’s book, but is rather a look at how American Christianity’s fascination with “experience” has turned the faith into an empty, self-seeking quest. Read this and be encouraged and challenged.

FactChecker: Does ‘Abba’ Mean ‘Daddy’ – Glenn T. Stanton
A lot of us have said this before, but when Jesus says “abba” is He really referring to God as “daddy”? This is a helpful read that gives us insight into Jesus’ relationship with His heavenly Father and by extension, our relationship with Him as well.

Tragic Worship – Carl Trueman
What kind of reality do we portray in our worship services? Do they connect with the truth of our situation or paper over it? Carl Trueman applies his penetrating and blunt analysis to what is missing in much of the worship experience of today’s churches.

Kermit Gosnell’s America: What His Trial Really Reveals – Al Mohler
Gosnell’s trial has come to an end, but much of the nation is still unaware or indifferent to what happened in his abortion clinic. This story reveals the true nature of the abortion industry and forces us to wrestle with moral questions we thought were put to rest.

The Pursuit of Happiness May Not Be Going Well

unhappyAmerica has become a test case for the unbridled pursuit of happiness. Our culture places the individual – with his or her dreams, desires, wants, and needs – at the center where other cultures and times have placed family, religion, or community. But in our place and at our time it is the individual and his or her happiness which is supreme.

Selfishness and self-indulgence used to be vices; self-denial and sacrifice were virtues. Today it has been reversed. The greatest sin is to deny oneself; to not embrace what may potentially bring happiness and self-fulfillment. The good, moral person is the self-seeker who refuses to be held back or burdened in the pursuit of their desires. The new saints have climbed to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and donned the crown of self-actualization.

Thus, everything has become a means to the end of personal happiness and fulfillment. If children make you happy, have some; if they get in the way of your dreams then terminate the pregnancy. If a career makes you happy, chase it; if it gets in the way of your desires then go back to school. If marriage makes you happy, commit to it; if it gets in the way of your plans then divorce your spouse. If church makes you happy, attend it; if it interferes with your lifestyle then switch congregations. If a consumer product makes you happy, buy it; if something better comes along trash it.

The individual and their happiness is the center of American culture. In theory, this should produce a flourishing society full of happy people. But there may be problems with our happiness project. Our society is increasingly tasked with helping people cope with their “happy” lives. Ronald Dworkin points out in a 2010 Policy Review essay that the United States has seen a hundredfold increase in the number of professional caregivers since 1950. We have 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 105,000 mental health counselors, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, 30,000 life coaches, and hundreds of thousands of nonclinical social workers and substance abuse counselors as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, anti-depressant use among Americans increased 400% between 1994 and 2005.

The latest piece of news is also troubling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and reported by CNN, for the first time in history more people died in 2010 from suicide than from car accidents. There were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides. The suicide rate rose 30% from 1999 to 2010 for Americans ages 35-64 with the rate rising nearly 50% for men in their 50’s. According to Julie Philips, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University who has published research on rising suicide rates, the current numbers are, if anything, too low. She says suicide is “vastly underreported…we know we’re not counting all suicides.”

The causes of suicide are complex and my purpose is not to attribute it to any particular factor or give it any singular explanation. However, increasing suicide rates and demands for caregivers and psychotropic drugs do give hints that there is trouble.

Something is broken in the American pursuit of happiness. Something all the technology making life easy and all the entertainment streaming at us cannot seem to fix.

Yet in the Christian worldview, happiness and fulfillment are not goals we aim for but effects found while aiming after greater goals. Those goals include love for God and love for others (Matt.22:37-39). Chasing these goals demands self-denial, sacrifice, and letting go of our individual desires for something greater. Blaise Pascal said it well:

“There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.”

This is not a trite “get God and be happy” answer. Many have “gotten” God only to turn Him into yet another means for their selfish pursuit of happiness. It is the difficult truth that only in surrendering our lives to something other than individual fulfillment will we ever find happiness.

There are signs that something is broken in the American pursuit of happiness. There are hints that its culture idolizing the individual and his or her fulfillment may be poisonous. The road looks promising, but its end is only destruction.


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Friday’s Fantastic Five!


Sifting through content on the internet can be a bit like drinking water from a fire hose. So is here to help! Each Friday we’ll share the best five items we’ve run into around the web. Each item is worth your time, so check them out!

Your Church Is Too Small – Sam Freney
You’ve bought the music, sung the songs, and felt the influence of the Hillsong movement and its conferences and churches, but what lies behind it all? Sam presents a balanced and thoughtful critique that is a good read for anyone familiar with Hillsong.

What We Talk About When We Talk About God – Michael Kruger
Rob Bell’s new book didn’t make as many waves as his last, but it continues his project of replacing traditional Christian faith with vague spiritualism. Anyone who has followed Bell or who is impacted by his influence should read this helpful review of his new book.

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain – Joe Carter
This is a frank, non-graphic discussion of pornography addiction, so use caution as you read and share. However, for anyone who struggles, has struggled, or is ministering to those struggling with pornography (which includes most young men) this is a must read.

How to Survive a Tornado – Brett & Kate McKay
Having developed a more personal relationship with tornadoes since moving west, I found this article particularly helpful. Do yourself and your family a favor and read this before the next time the National Weather Service blesses your area with a tornado watch!

Journalist Covering Gosnell Abortion Trial Becomes Pro-Life
Information has always been the friend of the pro-life cause. When abortion is unmasked like in the Gosnell case, all the euphemisms and justifications collapse.

Mother’s Day: Not Just for Mothers Anymore

momTraditionally, many churches go to great lengths to recognize moms on Mother’s Day.  It is a great day, but can isolate the barren, those who have lost children, single women, and those whose children have abandoned God and their parents. In your congregation this Sunday, many women will sit next to you in the pew, heavy with these quiet realities.  What about these women? Is there room for them on this special day?

Regarding philosophy of children, we are working with a broad spectrum complete with two extremes. As a I write, abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is on trial for the murder of four babies, one adult woman and hundreds of counts of illegal abortions over the last ten years in his “house of horrors” located in Philadelphia. Americans are postponing parenthood longer than ever before to work, travel and live. Simultaneously, there is a revival and reclaiming of parenthood among evangelicals, praise God. Christian couples are more actively pursuing parenthood both naturally and through adoption. Even in this goodness, however, there is an extreme.

Some Christians don’t consider you a true parent until you birth four children in as many years. The argument has moved past birth control and on to, “Is there a reason for a woman to ever quit bearing children?” Others relentlessly chase after parenthood in hot (sometimes idolatrous) pursuit, believing life without kids would be impossible. Just as they have become inconveniences for our world, have children become ultimate for Christians?

Children truly are a blessing and inheritance from the Lord as the Psalmist wrote. However, the reality is not everyone will be a biological parent. Paul wrote the Corinthian church and told them he wished everyone was single; this path, if done in a Christ-like manner, leads to childlessness. Bareness is a recurring theme throughout Scripture and the Lord does not always choose to reverse it. If children are ultimate for Christians, how can God allow this?

In his book This Momentary Marriage, John Piper writes: “The purpose of marriage is not merely to add more bodies to the planet. The point is to increase the number of followers of Jesus on the planet.” His statement is affirmed by Christ Himself. In a speech to His disciples, Jesus said,

 “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”- Mark 10:29-30.

Here, in acknowledging that we are called away from even our children to serve Him, Jesus affirms that the gospel message transcends parenthood. It is ultimate, not children. Regardless of whether or not we are gifted with biological children, God has called every Christian to the task of spiritual parent as they make disciples.   Toward the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul made this request: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well (16:13).” Paul recognizes the value of his spiritual mother and honors her in his letter.

Mother’s Day is a good celebration, lest we forget to include every mother. Christian woman, whatever you state this Mother’s Day – whether a van full of car seats, college tuition bills on your desk or a house all to yourself- God has called you to be a spiritual mother to someone. Maybe the kindergartners you teach Monday through Friday. Maybe some teen girls who sit on the back pew of your church. Maybe the woman in the cubicle next to you. Ask God to equip you for this task and embrace it. Church member, encourage mothers this Sunday…all of them.


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Slaying Popular Myths and Misrepresentations of the Crusades

crusadesHistory helps define us. Whether a person knows a lot of history or a little, what they do know shapes their understanding of themselves and their world. Blacks in America are shaped by segregation and slavery; Jews by Israel and the Holocaust. America’s view of government is shaped by both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Kentucky Basketball and Alabama Football are shaped by their histories of coaches, players, and victories.

Since God reveals himself in historical events and even entered history Himself, Christians – more than most – are shaped by history. Whether it is Roman Catholics standing on centuries of accumulated tradition, Protestants extolling the courage of pioneer missionaries, or a twenty-something looking back on his fundamentalist upbringing with angst, Christians look to the past to define their future.

The problem with history is it can be adjusted. By including some pieces and ignoring others, we can create a history that fits our liking. That might mean tweaking a story so the church looks ignorant and dangerous, collecting all incidents of religious violence and presenting them without context to encourage secularism, or labeling certain periods to make us think more highly of them (the Enlightenment) or think less highly of them (the Dark Ages).

The Crusades of the 11th to 13th centuries are one example. Few historical events stir the consciences of Christians and ignite their opponents more than the Crusades. Nearly 2,000 Christians have participated in the Reconciliation Walk, a journey retracing the route of the first crusade during which apologies are offered to Jews and Muslims. In the year 2000 Pope John Paul II offered an apology for the church’s history of violence, most notably the Crusades. A brief search of atheist websites finds the Crusades invoked repeatedly as evidence of the inherent violence of religion. After Anders Breivik – a terrorist in Oslo, Norway – linked his crimes to the Crusades, Bill Maher couldn’t help but opine, “Christianity is perfectly capable of coming out of its dormant phase and once again becoming the violent, bloodlusty religion it was under the crusades.”

Are the Crusades the darkest sin of the church, requiring an apology from Christians and excusing hatred directed toward the West? Do they reveal the true end of all religious devotion and unmask what lies in the hearts of fundamentalists? In a word, no. History is far more complex than popular portrayals of the Crusades reveal. Let us look at three myths about the Crusades that fuel both apologies and animosity.

Myth 1: The Crusades were an unprovoked attack on a peaceful and enlightened Muslim world. Ancient Christianity flourished in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Minor. The cities of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Damascus, and Carthage were centers of church life and leadership. However, by the 8th century, Christianity was on its way to extinction in all of these places because of an upstart new faith – Islam. Islam did not win converts by persuasion; it won them by conquest. All non-Muslims were expelled from the Arabian Peninsula. Then Syria fell to the advancing armies, followed by Persia, much of India, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily, southern Italy, and Spain. The Christian populations often faced the choice of conversion, slavery, or death. Others were taxed severely and prevented from building churches, praying or reading Scripture aloud, riding horses, or being armed. Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land were seized, sold into slavery, and tortured. Muslims were poised to overthrow the Byzantines leaving the door wide open to Europe. As Rodney Stark points out, “…by the time of the First Crusade, Christendom had been fighting a defensive war with Islam for more than 450 years.”

Myth 2: The Crusaders went because they wanted land, wealth, and blood. If they had wanted wealth and land, the Crusades were a poor way to pursue those ends. If profit was their goal they would have responded to Pope Alexander II’s call to drive the Muslims out of wealthy Spain. Instead, they sold their holdings, borrowed funds, and impoverished themselves to make the journey. The Crusader kingdoms themselves were kept afloat only by support from Europe. So why go? Europe’s knights and nobles, in the words of Stark, “were both very violent and very religious.” The promise of the Pope that their sins would be washed away and that they could rescue the very place where Christ had walked was powerful. Most would lose their lives and gain nothing in return. Of the 130,000 who left in the first Crusade, only 15,000 would survive to Jerusalem.

Myth 3: The Crusaders’ crimes were excessive in the era in which they lived. The Crusaders had been taught since childhood to make war. They were violent, they looted, and they plundered – and this was normal for war in the 11th century. It is easy to pass judgment standing on nearly a thousand years of moral progress but much harder to imagine the world in which these men lived. They didn’t get a nice paycheck and pension for their service. They were not well-supplied and well-disciplined. And the Muslims they fought against were just as cruel if not more so. Baybars, Sultan of Egypt, after taking the city of Antioch ordered all the inhabitants enslaved or killed. 17,000 men were murdered and tens of thousands of women and children were made slaves. Much of the conduct of the Crusaders was barbaric by today’s standards, but normal for the time in which they lived and often exceeded by the armies they fought.

Does this mean the Crusades were good and the Crusaders right? No. It simply means history is complex and its events must be understood within their context. It means both apologizers and criticizers need to proceed with more caution. It means popular views must be overthrown in favor of accurate views. The Crusades shape many Christians’ and non-Christians’ views of the faith. Let us be sure it shapes us and them correctly. Stark summarizes it well when he says:

The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot, or converts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims. The Crusades are not a blot on the history of Christianity.


Many of the insights for this article came from this excellent book:

triumphThe Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion by Rodney Stark, published by HarperOne, 2012.

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