Category Archives: Christianity

The Folly of Vanity

I know a guy who has some really wonky ideas regarding religion and the afterlife.  In comparison to every other post modern, I suppose his ideas aren’t all that wonky–in fact, they are consistent with just about every other new age seeker.  They are persistent and may be sincerely held beliefs, but they are wrong.

His early years were influence by Catholicism, but I suspect that came from his grandparents and I don’t know how devout he may have been.  By looking at his other endeavors he has encountered over the years, I have to assume that had no lasting impact, save for the fact that he partly attributes his “falling away” from these “oppressive years”.  If he would read his Bible, he would see that he never was a convert as the act of backsliding is evidence that, to quote Todd Friel and Ray Comfort, “he never slid forward in the first place.”  Nonetheless, his rejection of Christ led him to dabble in silliness such as his opinion that all religion is invalid because some practices “such as sun worship” are ridiculous.  I believe that is the Fallacy of Division.  This guy not only perpetuates fallacies, but vehemently defends his logical errors.

He props up his unbelief in the assertion that God is some big meanie because some people living in the jungle may never have the opportunity to hear the Gospel.  However, he argues from the assumption that people are innocent when that is clearly not the case.  We all sin, and those sins make us worthy of hell.  Everyone can look at the world and know that there is an eternal Creator.  Paul makes this point very clear:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”  (Romans‬ ‭1:18-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

It’s easier to reject the truth rather than face it.  Submission to God requires us to deny ourselves. (Luke 9:23) That symbolic death to self runs counter to what is taught in the world.  This guy I know wants to be a big man with accolades.  He wants to be puffed up by others.  He wants people to tell him that he is brilliant when he parrots new age heresy that all religions and all manner of unbelief lead to God.  This guy is a cosmopolitan man of the world and expends great effort to fool himself with his self-styled intellectual grandiosity.  He is drunk on vanity.  Just a cursory perusal of Ecclesiastes would expose his folly.  Everything apart from Christ is meaningless and this person’s entire existence is nothing but chasing after the wind.

Restaurant Sage–Monroe, LA

The widespread flooding brought us to Monroe, LA.  I’ve passed through this city a million times, but when I came to serve with Mercy Chefs, I came prepared to stay a couple of days.

We typically spend fifteen hours a day preparing restaurant quality meals in a mobile kitchen.  It’s hot and we continually have to watch out for hazards.  It’s only a small price we pay so that we can serve those whose lives have been disrupted by disaster.

After a busy day, four of us chefs decided to enjoy a nice evening at Restaurant Sage. We met Executive Chef Blake the day before as he came down to volunteer at our mobile kitchen.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, we demurred when he said there was no check.  At our insistence he sent out a check, but he discounted our appetizers.) 

Louisiana gulf oysters with garlic butter and parmesan.
 He brought out all sorts of food for us to sample from the grilled oysters and crab cakes, to the sage wraps which were chunks of filet stuffed with cheese and jalapeño and wrapped in bacon. Absolutely unbelievable.   Another high point was the andouille and duck gumbo. Chef Blake told us how intricately it was prepared and all of that effort in preparing it was not in vain. It was incredible. 

Jumbo lump crab cakes with green tomato relish and red remoulade.
 Finally, we fell upon the main course. A couple of us fawned over the short ribs, another had the blackened snapper, and I had the soft shell crab with alligator sauce piquant. Everything was great but I have to say the alligator stew was “on point” as one of my fellow chefs kept saying throughout the meal. Next time I’m in Monroe I may have to enjoy another unforgettable meal.


(Top photo consists of soft shell crab and alligator sauce piquant.)

Operation:  Monroe, LA

Somewhere on the order of twenty four inches of rain fell on the great state of Louisiana last week and thousands were affected.  I can’t even begin to imagine how many people lost everything in the flooding.  Here we are nine days later and the water has finally receded from the only road to my house. We had to get creative to get to and from home because of this.  I only had some minor flooding in the living room and I think we cut the pad out in time to rescue the carpet.  My problems pale in comparison to those we are serving this week in Monroe, LA.  

Chef John Stout smiling as he stirs red beans and Chef Gary LeBlanc assembling meals.

As a Mercy Chef, I serve alongside many talented chefs to provide restaurant quality food to victims, volunteers, and first responders.  Our numbers have been increasing daily.  As I headed home today, I was advised we prepared 1000 meals at lunchtime.  The hours are long and the work is strenuous–over two and a half days I worked nearly 40 hours. 

Chef Buddy raking a much needed break.
 
As I lay in bed reflecting on the past few days my body, my swollen hands, aching back, and angry feet remind me that I’m going to pay for it.  But I’m in my bed.  I’m not cramped in a Motel 6 relying on the kindness of strangers to meet my basic needs.  I’m in my warm home listening to my sixteen year old daughter practice her piccolo solo.  

My friends are still serving in Monroe as the need is great.  We don’t do anything special.  In comparison to other disaster relief ministries one might think we don’t do much at all.  And they would be right.  We provide a meal.  It’s intransient, yet a hot meal brings comfort in crisis. 

Chef Lisa peacing out while Chef Blake prepares apple Brown Betty. I’m the joker washing dishes.
 I’m reminded of Luke 14:12-14:

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” 

M3 along with its companion cooler trailer.
 That’s what Mercy Chefs does.  

An Almost Lost Opportunity

I was downtown this afternoon looking for the courthouse as I had jury duty.  I was actually looking forward to the experience even though it upended my daily circus of picking kids up at three different schools.  Fortunately, my father-in-law was able to step in so I could fulfill my civic duty.

I was waiting at the crosswalk as I was running uncharacteristically late–I had twelve minutes to get inside, through the metal detector, and downstairs to my appointed room. From nowhere I heard someone yell my name.  I scanned the faces on the street and saw one I recognized–except the street made it more grizzled and it was buried under a matted beard.  It was Graham, a man I met while working at the rescue mission.

When he was staying at the mission, he always hunted me down to talk.  Sometimes I was really busy in the kitchen, but I always tried to spend a few minutes with him when he wanted to chat.  This time I didn’t have time for him.  I felt terrible leaving him but I was due in court.

I sat down with two minutes to spare with Graham heavy on my mind.  I wondered if I could track him down afterward.  I watched the clock wondering how many hours I would be delayed and the impossibility of tracking a man down in the streets.

A woman walks in and calls roll.  Then, the judge walks in to tell us that all of his cases had been resolved this morning and that we are all released.  That’s it.  Any other day I would have felt cheated, but I was elated as I hurried out to find my friend.

I scanned the streets and Graham wasn’t there.  I was determined to find him, so I started walking.  I walked three or four blocks and just as I was about to give up, I spotted him across the street.  I’m sure I looked foolish yelling and flailing my arms to capture his attention, but I was glad to see him.

He was thin.  I asked him if he had eaten and he said no.  I don’t know if he hasn’t eaten since breakfast or last Tuesday, but I invited him to eat lunch at Subway nearby.

He talked about everything.  He talked about his old lady and that he is going to be a dad soon.  He said that he has been watching people to see how they treat their kids as he wants to be the best father around.  He told me about how a marine sneaked into his camp and stole his wallet.  He told me about his gun and his knife as big as a broadsword he keeps at his camp for protection.  I certainly don’t believe that there are covert operations at his camp, but I do believe that he has a pregnant “old lady.”  I also believe him when he describes how he is invisible on the street.  He hates the emptiness he feels when people look away.

That’s when I realized that one of the most important things I could have given him–far more important than cash or food was dignity.  I don’t know what it feels like to be ignored by society.  I’ve never been treated like a stray animal and I’ve never had anyone cross the street to avoid the discomfort of being near me.  But he has.

I believe providence is what brought me downtown.  I also learned how fleeting opportunities can be.  Let’s not squander them and please pray for Graham.

Two Sizes Too Small

Growing up, Christmas was a mixed bag. True, I got presents, but they came at a cost. Along with the gifts came strife between my parents–not just at Christmastime, the constant threats of divorce from my mom along with the manipulation from my dad kept our household in turmoil. It’s just that this nonsense was amplified around the holidays. They finally divorced when I was in my early 20s–about 20 years too late.

After I finally grew up and left home, I coped with the hurt by emptying bottles of booze. For years. During this time, I eliminated my parents and siblings from my life. That wasn’t difficult because we were never close. 

Maybe five years passed before I somewhat repaired what little relationship I had with my mom and sister. Up until around six years ago I was a godless heathen. I committed to attending my grandmother’s funeral four years ago before I realized that her son–my dad, would be in attendance.

Surprisingly, we made amends and he would remain in good standing as long as he would respect my boundaries. Sadly, both of my parents lost their minds November 4 by demanding that they bring my now-estranged meth-addicted sister for a visit. Against my better judgment, I agreed to this precarious arrangement under duress only for them to cancel their plans the following day replete with vitriol and shenanigans–all of this after I already told my children that they will be seeing three special gifts.

This partly why I’m typically grinch-like around the holidays.  The rest of my grinchiness comes from the pain from my AS which is my constant companion.

Fortunately, my family is going to Dallas this weekend to spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ to serve the homeless with Mercy Chefs. Through service, I’m reminded of the true meaning of Christmas which ultimately points to the cross.

So for those who have a nightmarish family, when your heart feels two sizes too small–look to the cross.

Authentic Cliché

When I hear the term “authentic” in reference to faith, I die a little on the inside. It’s been reduced to a Christian cliché along with terms like “real” and “relevant”. The truth is that we are trying too hard at branding ourselves as if Jesus is a product to be consumed.

We are all hypocrites. We are all broken. It’s time that we stop trying to look like the world in an attempt to lure goats into church. Watered down gimmicky theology saves no one. It damns them. To preach “love” without preaching repentance is not loving at all. To share a pseudo-gospel where God wants you to have “your best life now” inoculates people from the real Jesus.

It’s time we stop telling half-truths in an attempt to make Jesus palatable and share the whole Gospel which includes Jesus’ command for repentance so that people might be saved. We can be loving and compassionate in sharing the truth, but if we confuse “niceness” with love by ignoring the seriousness of sin because we are scared of hurt feelings, we are complicit in the subsequent damnation of the very people we are trying to save.

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/has-authenticity-trumped-holiness-2

Witnessing to Witnesses

This morning I was greeted by two Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They were trying to give me some pamphlet when I said that I was a Christian.  One of the guys responded that people have a misconception about Jehovah’s Witnesses.  He said that they are Christians and that we believe the same things.  I set the record straight by telling him that we share a lot of beliefs, but the differences that we have are eternal.

I quoted John 1:1 and then told him what his bible says.  The difference is a simple article.  A doctrinally sound translation says, “the Word was God.”  The Witnesses’ translation says, “the Word was a god.”  

For thirty minutes we discussed the differences in our view.  They believe that Jesus is the Son, but not God.  Then one of the gentlemen quoted Colossians 1:15 to prove Christ’s position as the firstborn of all creation, not God.  In my studies, I have come across CARM which I believe explains this verse not as a matter of physical position, but as a matter of headship.  Genesis 25 establishes this by naming Jacob the firstborn over Esau even though he was physically the second-born.  Bible.org has an extensive explanation of the prototokos concept.

I gently told them that they were going to hell if they do not believe that Jesus is God.  I told them not to take my word for it.  I advised them to read other translations.  Even better, with the Internet, they can easily see what was written in the Greek and the Hebrew.

I don’t know if I was able to reach them or not, but at least they heard the truth.  We live in an age where we don’t want to offend or hurt feelings, but regarding eternal matters, we must not be squeamish. It seems that people only want to emphasize some “permissive love,” which is not loving at all.  God is not some zen swami witch-doctor who teaches hippy love.  God will judge us all accordingly and I would not want to end up in hell because someone did not want to undertake the distasteful task of telling me that I’m wrong and must repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

We are tasked with proclaiming the Good News.  Let’s not forget to warn of the bad news.

On the Kentucky Canard

I have seen a lot of news regarding the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses in protest to the homosexual “marriage” debacle.  To be honest, I don’t know what to think about Kim Davis and her refusal to carry out her duties.  

As a Christian, my knee-jerk reaction was to simply obey the law of the land as dictated in Romans 13.  After all, she could resign to satisfy her conscience.  Then I read Matt Walsh’s article and determined that my initial response may have been rash.

I’m still considering Romans 13–specifically Romans 13:2, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”  At the risk of sounding circular, all rulers are ultimately appointed by God.  History is rife with unjust rulers and government, but are we forbidden from ever opposing the government?  

I’m aware that many people are in agreement with same-sex “marriage”.  Even many professing Christians support this movement.  I’m left wondering if they are even familiar with the Bible or if they are rejecting parts that they feel are unreasonable.  If they reject parts of the Bible, why accept Christ’s resurrection?  Why believe at all?  These people are already demonstrating that the Bible is untrustworthy.  All that aside, this particular situation should focus on Kim Davis’s conscience.  Even if she is wrong, should she be compelled to violate her conscience?

Had Davis simply resigned, we would not be having this discussion.  This is a perfectly reasonable response and her conscience would be unblemished.  I think this is the approach I would have taken.

I also have to consider Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego and the firey furnace in Daniel 3.  They could have bowed to the idol and avoided the furnace.  They don’t have to mean it, they just have to obey the law of the land, right?  Their dilemma was whether they should obey God or man.  They chose the former so Nebuchadnezzar cast them into the fire.

Ultimately, I believe this is an individual matter for the Christian.  I think one could construct a biblical case to support Davis’s resignation or her decision to refuse to issue marriage licenses.  The Bible does not consent to the participation in the commission of sin, though.

If anything, I think Davis’s conviction (however misguided it may or may not be) is commendable.  How many of us would crumble so that we could avoid jail or even an unpleasant glare?  Do you have any convictions worth defending at any cost, or is it all relative?

Imago Dei

I saw a homeless man guarding the entrance to the Walmart parking lot the other day.  I brought him some cold water and a gift card, but I also sat with him and spoke with him for ten–maybe fifteen minutes.  

I just got off work so I still looked presentable in my khakis and without my trademark baseball cap.  My nose told me that James–he told me his name was James–was probably sweating off a hangover and needed a shave, but he felt human again as someone was willing to listen to his story.

Several people shoved cash into his hand as they passed, and no fewer than five cars opened their wallets to him.  It was so unusual that James joked that he needed to keep me around as his good luck charm.  I estimate he collected twenty bucks in ten minutes and I’m left wondering if my presence made a difference.  

Do people give more if a “respectable” man is in the presence of a homeless man?  If so, are they motivated by some collective altruism or is it out of guilt?  I don’t know but James didn’t go hungry that night, and he told me that he was going to pool his money with some homeless friends to get a hotel room.  Perhaps he did get a room.  Perhaps he had a hot bath and enjoyed the a/c for the evening.  Perhaps he watched Pawn Stars or Swamp People.  

I don’t know what he did that evening, but when we hugged and parted ways, he saw what I saw.  I didn’t see a homeless guy or a seedy character I needed to guard against.  I saw a man created in God’s image and I hope he never forgets that.

Of Course There Is A God

Relationships can and do change once you repent of your sins and put your trust in Jesus Christ. The change is so radical that sometimes relationships die.  I know this firsthand as I have at least one friend that fell away months after my conversion.  Don’t get me wrong, this Negative Nelly was actually a drain on me spiritually for a variety of reasons, but mainly because he wanted change in his life but was essentially unwilling to leave his house.

It’s not easy finding a wife while hiding at home.  You have no right to declare unhappiness if you refuse to do anything other than play video games in the dark.  Christianity aside, you cannot expect any sort of happiness when the closest thing you have to a bride is a screenful of pixels and your narcissism keeps you from being bothered with others’ needs and fears.

I occasionally check out his musings on his YouTube account to see what new thing he is raging about.  I find it unlistenable as he peppers his tirades with profanity and he is always yelling.

James Burns, former friend and host of The James Burns Show, fancies himself a political pundit and adroit social commentator.  That’s terrific, but when he wades into the realm of religiosity, I actually have something to say when I witness so much error placed upon a mountain of fallacy and wishful thinking.

According to him and his latest jeremiad, he describes how he has been Catholic, a reincarnationist, a formerly born-again Christian, and is now something of a pantheist and panentheist with a dab of mysticism and animism.  He changes beliefs more than he changes underwear.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up deleting his philippic, and I certainly don’t recommend spending a quarter hour listening to his anemic screed, but if you want to hear what it sounds like to rail against God, be my guest.

I found this podcast troubling, but the most disconcerting allegation is that he claimed to be something that he is not, nor ever was.  He said that he used to be a born-again Christian.  If genuine, no one can undo his second birth any more than his first birth.  Clearly his theology is demented, but once false Christian claims (though unintentional) are made, it is time for somebody to set the record straight.

If someone becomes a born-again believer, it is impossible to become an unbeliever.  Jesus says, “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”” (‭‭John‬ ‭10:28-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬)  If this is true, then no one can snatch them out of Jesus’ hand.  That includes the individual.  If I truly belong to Jesus, I cannot unclench His grasp.  If I was able to wrestle away from Jesus to become an unbeliever, God is not omnipotent and nothing is sure.  Not only would that make God puny, but it would make Him a liar as well.  If Jesus cannot keep this promise, how can we trust that there is any measure of reliability in the Bible?  You can’t.  But that doesn’t keep this man from building his house on sand.

At the 2:13 mark, Mr. Burns establishes his premise on a fallacy by asserting that the United States is predominantly a Christian nation. If we rely on the Pew Research Center, we see that 70.6% of Americans claim to be Christian, while the Barna Group determined that 38% of Americans are unchurched, or those who have no religious affilitiation.  This only records claimants, but according to his littany of belief systems over the years, one only needs to decide what flavor of belief he will hold for the day.  Now, do either of these statistics show us the percentage of real Christians (those that agree on biblical essentials)?  Certainly not.

The Barna Group conducted another study to get an idea of what Americans believe about Jesus.  The study reveals that 92% of Americans believe that Jesus was a historical person.  That is promising.  But then the study shows that only 56% of Americans believe that Jesus is God.  That one is problematic.  Worse still is the fact that 52% believe that Jesus committed sins.  According to the Bible, Jesus is God and never committed any sin.  If we narrow our scope, we can see that according to this study only 48% of Americans are potentially born again.  I’m certain the real figure is much lower.  This information shows that Mr. Burns is pulling his “facts” out of a hat because we certainly are not “predominately Christian.”  I doubt we ever were, unless only a declaration is all that is necessary.  In that case, I’m a black woman.

At the 2:42 mark, he fleshes out his false belief system.  He perpetuates the Genetic Fallacy, and adds that morality, raising a family, working hard, and being a great (yes, he said great) friend should count as something.  At 3:03, he loses his temper when he says having the wrong religion will land one in hell (I’m assuming this is according to the Bible).  At 3:15, he makes the absolute declaration, “I, for one, cannot fathom a god that would punish good people who were born in a religion that was not ‘his truth,'” which is an example of the Personal Incredulity Fallacy.  Mr. Burns tipped his hat.  He is angry at God.  He also makes the false assumption that people are good.  Jesus says, “No one is good except God alone.” (Matthew 10:18 ESV)  Romans 3:10 says, “No one is righteous.  No, not one.”

Mr. Burns relates how he tried really hard to be a Christian by reading the Bible, praying, and being good.  In essence, he thought he could do all of this work so that he could save himself.  Paul explains this in Ephesians, “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.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)  Paul then writes in his letter to Titus, “[Jesus] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…” (‭‭Titus‬ ‭3:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬)  The text is clear–we cannot save ourselves.  Any works we perform for this purpose are in vain.

As his animus escalates, he almost comes unglued at the 4:25 mark when he declares that it is possible for all views to have some truth.  So now he is an intolerant pluralist.  Which is it?  You cannot be intellectually lazy and just accept whatever enters your brain as long as it runs contrary to Jesus.  Do all roads lead to heaven?  It is self-refuting as that would include Jesus as a way to heaven.  Yet, Jesus declares that he “is the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)  Even if Jesus is mistaken, his claim refutes the assertion that “all roads lead to heaven” as both are definitive claims.  Either Jesus is telling the truth, or both claims are false.

At 5:57, Mr. Burns stands on yet another fallacy–the False Dilemma.  He states, “Either we are all god’s children…or there is no god.”  This guy just cannot make up his mind.  (If you would like to see more of his fallacy schizophrenia, click here.)  It makes just as much sense when I say, “the mail didn’t run today, therefore I’m Ringo Starr.”  It’s okay to believe intellectually feeble reasoning, it’s just reasonable to keep it to yourself.

To illustrate Mr. Burns’ confusion, he decides upon pantheism at the 7:05 mark, changes his mind to panentheism at the 7:30 mark, and at 8:00 he throws in speciesism for good measure.  At 8:12, he begins to abandon all reason as he unveils his inner mystic with his Jeff Foxworthyesque vision reminiscent of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy set in a bus station.  At this point my head explodes as I have never experienced a cacophony of fallacies before.

At 10:21, Mr. Burns explains that “God wants you to feel…blessed for not being born [disabled]”–which is the Appeal to Emotion Fallacy.  He asserts that we have heard this before–a mixed fallacy of sorts–the Bandwagon Fallacy based on something that may or not be anecdotal.  In a sense, the False Bandwagon Fallacy.  If we consult the Bible, John 9:3 says that God allows sickness and disability to glorify Himself.  The works of God are displayed in weakness and disability.  God did not cause this.  All illness and disability can be traced back to Adam.  We are broken because of sin and it is God’s desire to redeem us.

I could go on, but attributing our lives to god, aliens, and/or luck (at 10:40 and 13:22) just seems silly and contrived after running the fallacy gauntlet.  This is the house built on shifting sand instead of the Rock of Christ.

Image courtesy of Cory Doctorow.