Thursday, December 15, 2016

Joseph and Mary Were Refugees? Really?

Recently I came across a graphic that made an interesting statement:

Interesting and assuredly complete and total nonsense.

If you read the accounts of the birth of Christ, the only people present the evening of the birth were Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. They were all Jewish people.

None of them were refugees.
And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David... (Luke 2:3-4)
Mary and Joseph were not refugees. Joseph was simply returning to his hometown, nothing more.

But, you ask, what of the magi? They were Arabs!

Good question and an accurate observation.

They showed up two years later. They were not present at the manger even though they are portrayed as present at any traditional creche scene.

Therefore, here is a more accurate version of the graphic:

Friday, July 1, 2016

Society of Evangelical Arminians

I have been blessed to be a member for the last two years. You can learn more about them by visiting their website here.

I know that many of my readers are Calvinist/Reformed and though I admit disagreement, it is very respectful and I recognize you as a brother/sister in Christ "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

However, should any of you feel led to change my mind, please read this first and affirm that you have done so. With due respect, that is a requirement for discussion on this matter.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Let's Talk About Psychological Triggers

Recently I've read quite a bit about psychological triggers such as students at a college being traumatized by somebody writing positive Trump statements in chalk on sidewalks. I read an essay about a woman experiencing trauma from watching the cartoon show, Animaniacs, and how it should be removed from the air completely.

Though I acknowledge the reality of psychological triggers for those who suffer PTSD, the concept has now been carried to ridiculous lengths and I find myself in an unusual position that I never asked for.

I just love my Keurig® coffeemaker.

On my doctor visit, I will most likely get a Tetanus vaccine booster.

 I agree with the American College of Pediatricians that certain sexual addictions are inherently self-defeating and even self-destructive.

In November, if the final selection is between Clinton and Trump, I will most likely hold my nose and vote for Trump.

In Christian thought I am Arminian-Wesleyan, I have no problem with old earth creationism, I play table top role playing games (and haven't been demonized once), I enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, (and haven't been demonized once), I only use the New American Standard Bible translation, I don't think 9/11 was an inside job, and I think it's a national shame that most Americans only speak one language.

Now a question for those who are currently offended by any of these statements.

Why did you give me this power and authority over you? Seriously, is the problem with me, or most reasonably, with you that you are so sensitive to disagreement that the writing of one person makes your gut and jaw tighten and you wish there was some way you could shut me up or you are barely resisting a troll attack in the comments section?

I never asked for this power and yet, some of you have freely bestowed it upon me as if I asked for it.

Maybe you need to get off the Internet for awhile and remember what real life is.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Let Us Now Praise Noble Men: Pastor Chris Little

Since the advent of the new years, a number of celebrity deaths have filled the news: Natalie Cole, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Patty Duke, Merle Haggard, and just yesterday, Prince. I am not negating the importance of those deaths. I agree with a quote I found some years ago that was attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: "All death is a tragedy, for if it is not then life has become one."

However, last Tuesday evening, a fellow pastor in the denomination I serve passed away unexpectedly while working in his garden and his death has affected me more than all the celebrities that have passed away since New Year's Day.

I have known Pastor Chris Little since 1996 when he took the helm of Associate Pastor at Mt. Pleasant United Brethren Church (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania). In 2001, he became the church's senior pastor and I would meet him often at denominational events. We were never close friends, but only because we moved in different pastoral circles, but he was a man I liked and respected because of his numerous talents and gifts and we would always greet each other with a hand shake and a smile.

My impression of Chris was that of a talented administrator who had the guts and fortitude to serve a church of 300 members. Being seminary trained, he knew the Bible intimately and there was no doubt he also knew the Author. You can read Chris' obituary here and an affectionate tribute to him here. You will soon be aware this was a man who was not passive in the face of life, but a man who lived it deliberately with purpose. I'm also not surprised that Chris died in his garden as gardens play such an important role in Judaeo-Christianity as places where God meets with people.

As a Christ follower and a pastor, people believe I have all the answers. I don't. The 'why" of things I've never been able to fully grasp, only promises God put in His Word of His own free will that he would make all things right. Why an effective pastor with such impressive skills would be taken is beyond my comprehension. Chris was a young 51 and, to me, seemed to be in wonderful health. He was blessed with a great family and along with his wife was an entrepreneur running The Sweet Shop in Eagle's Mere, Pennsylvania on top of his pastoral responsibilities.

And in the midst of all that life, now we face the fact that there are family and friends and a congregation still mourning and grieving with questions that will remain unanswered this side of glory.

So we honor Chris' life and we cherish our memories as well as commit our own lives to an understanding that as regards life on Earth, there is no promise of tomorrow. But for we who follow Christ, we cling to a promise that stands in the face of all the why questions we have:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Father's Advice to His Son at College

When my oldest son first went to Houghton College, I shared my wisdom of surviving college with him. Your actual mileage may vary

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #1:

It is not unusual to sit through the first day or two of class and think to yourself, "I don't have a clue as to what they're talking about." Rest assured, nobody else in the class does either (and that may include the teacher), but everything does ultimately make sense after the first week.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #2:

Treat college like a job. Spend 8 hours a day on class, homework, study, writing, reading, reading ahead, etc., spend the other 8 hours doing whatever you like to do, and spend 8 hours sleeping. Now there are times when you'll have to dedicate more than 8 hours a day to the college aspect of life (tests, finals, etc.), but on the whole, this is a good plan for success.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #3:

There are three types of people to avoid at college: The student who is there to please his/her parents, the student who is there because s/he had nothing better to do, the young lady there looking solely for her MRS. degree.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #4:

  1. An active social life.
  2. Good grades
  3. Sleep

Choose two. Welcome to college.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #5:

When you are as old as me with a metabolism that flows as fast as molasses on a freezing January morning, you can skip meals. Heck, I could probably skip weeks without ill effect. However, skipping breakfast at your age is a no-no. When I was at college I lived on quick meals and lots of Almond Crush soda. The result was some intriguing vitamin deficiencies. No fun at all.

Eat your Wheaties.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #6:

True story. I went to a STRICT Bible College and ended up having to take a linguistics class as I needed an elective and it was the only one available. Hated the class and there was some minimal friction between the teacher and myself over some disputed grades.

At the final, he walked into the class, took a huge rock, slammed it on the desk and said, "This is how hard this test is going to be."

I turned to the guy sitting next to me and said, "Hey, look. His heart fell out."

The teacher heard me and failed me on the spot.

Draw your own moral.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #7:

It is not unusual for college students to switch their majors and there is nothing wrong with that. It is sad to climb the ladder of life only to discover you have leaned it against the wrong wall. However, unless you can show me a detailed plan of effectiveness with a future, if you choose English, Communications, or Art, I will spend the rest of my life crying myself to sleep.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #8:

You will look back at your college years as the years you had the greatest freedom. Many people use that freedom to make friendships, travel, and learn. Others shipwreck themselves on self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors mistakenly thinking that liberty means license.

"Go for the gusto" is good theology for Christians as long as we understand what moral boundaries are.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #9:

Your deadliest enemy at college: Procrastination.


A Father's Advice to His Son at College #10:

Remember when doing laundry that you should not combine a white load with a dark load or with a colored load. This seems very mundane until you realize how many freshmen are going through their first year with their tighty whities a pastel pink.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #11a:

Here is the only bad news about college: At college you are making new friends, learning new ideas, and seeing life in a new way. You are stretching your wings and you are learning what independence is. When you come home, you will have subtly changed which will cause a shock to friends and family who remember you as you were when you left. Psychologists call this "Reverse Culture Shock." Poets say, "You can never come home again."

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #11b:

Ignore the psychologists and the poets. Where your family is, there will always be home.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #12:

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth. (Ecclesiastes 12:1a)

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #13:

It is easy at college to develop a lifestyle that can function out of balance in the unique atmosphere of university life. However, remember you have a long life after your four to six years and must balance all aspects of your life: spiritual, physical, relational, financial, emotional, mental, vocational, and there is probably one or two more I have forgotten.

A Father's Advice to His Son at College #14:

Caffeine can be an asset if it is used responsibly. However, do remember that those whom the gods destroy, they first addict to caffeine.

Christian Fantasy: A Biblical and Rational Defense

Christian Fantasy As Art Form and Educational Tool - A Biblical and Rational Defense

"When literature like The Lord of the Rings is criticized, it is often attacked for being `escapist.' This means we should ask a question. What is being escaped from? As Tolkien once put it, the people who are so concerned about escapism do have a name—we call them jailers." -- Douglas Wilson
As a Christian, as a writer of fantasy, and as a Christian who sees his writing as an extension of his ministry, I was puzzled and eventually appalled by the attacks against the Christian use of fantasy as an art form as well as a method of evangelism and an educational tool. Directed to an essay by Biblical Discernment Ministries attacking Christian fantasy as an unbiblical and godless oxymoron, I will here attempt to answer the points of the attack from a Biblical standpoint. It is assumed the author of the essay is BDM's editor, Rick Miesel. It is recommended you read the essay in its entirety here before you read my analysis.

It is my hypothesis that the writer of the essay:
  1. Misrepresents the literary genre known as Christian fantasy by misdefining it as well as unfairly lumping it with secular fantasy.
  2. Misrepresents what Christian authors communicate without reading their works.
  3. Misrepresents what Christian readers are able to discern.
  4. Sets up straw man arguments using definitions and Biblical verses out of context.
  5. Makes statements that have, most importantly, no Biblical foundations and secondly, no rational foundation.
Miesel writes (from here on, sections taken from Miesel's essay will be highlighted in red):

-  The dictionary defines fable as:
"fantasy/fiction/falsehood dependent for effect on strangeness of setting (as other worlds or times) and of characters (as supernatural or unnatural beings); the setting is usually in a non-existent or unreal world, the characters are fanciful or unreal, or the conflict focuses on physical or scientific principles not yet discovered or contrary to present experience."
And already we find ourselves with a problem. What dictionary did the writer find this definition in? I own several dictionaries with access to online dictionaries and failed to find one that used this definition.

We need a better and unbiased definition. In Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary we read:
Fable applied in the New Testament to the traditions and speculations, "cunningly devised fables", of the Jews on religious questions (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:16). In such passages the word means anything false and unreal. But the word is used as almost equivalent to parable. Thus we have (1) the fable of Jotham, in which the trees are spoken of as choosing a king (Judg. 9:8-15); and (2) that of the cedars of Lebanon and the thistle as Jehoash's answer to Amaziah (2 Kings 14:9).
I'll grant a point to Miesel in that fable is a synonym with the word "falsehood," but points to me that "the word is used as almost equivalent to parable." A lie is "a false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression." A literary fable is meant to make "an edifying or cautionary point." Therefore, a lie is a fable, but not all fables are lies.

Case in point, in the reference to Jotham's fable, the prophet did not attempt to communicate that trees actually talk. Rational men know that they do not and communicating such as truth would be a lie. The prophet was using this "Jewish fantasy" of talking trees to communicate the destruction that was to come upon their hearers for embracing an evil man as their king.

-  Fantasy is especially dangerous for children. While most children in the 1970s knew enough truth to place divination in the forbidden realm of the occult, today's children -- who often feel more comfortable with occult games than Biblical truth -- see nothing wrong with pagan practices. Fantasy movies, like Disney's The Lion King, are good matches for the new earth-centered paradigm or world view that is transforming childrens' views of reality. While God told us to continually communicate truth to our children (Deut. 6:5-7), today's culture trains children to see reality through a global, earth-centered filter. This "new" mental framework distorts truth, stretches the meaning of familiar words, and promotes mystical "insights" that are incompatible with Christianity. Packaged with entertainment, this message usually bypasses rational resistance, desensitizes opened minds, and fuels general acceptance of pagan spirituality (Berit Kjos, "The Spirit Behind The Lion King," 1/95, The Christian Conscience, pp. 32-34).

This paragraph is a good example of how the author of this essay puts up straw men to knock them down. Defining "fable," he immediately jumps to the word "fantasy" makes a statement that it is "especially dangerous for children" without any supporting evidence and then lumps Disney's The Lion King into the hopper with all Christian fantasy.

So with that in mind, let's first do what the writer refused to do and define the word "fantasy:"

n. pl. fan·ta·sies
  1. The creative imagination; unrestrained fancy.
  2. Something, such as an invention, that is a creation of the fancy.
  3. A capricious or fantastic idea; a conceit.
  4. Fiction characterized by highly fanciful or supernatural elements. An example of such fiction.
  5. An imagined event or sequence of mental images, such as a daydream, usually fulfilling a wish or psychological need.
  6. An unrealistic or improbable supposition.
If fantasy is especially dangerous for children, it is amazing that the majority of children survive childhood! Children are certainly blessed with a creative imagination (#1) and in their play with toys, they definitely indulge in #2. And even in some of the most conservative Sunday School literature, I've seen Biblical truths illustrated with animal characters, so #4 is present. Children daydream. There's #5. Yet, the author against all reason only accepts #3 as his definition which means he himself is practicing definition #6. I will refer back to this later. Now let's really walk on the side of illogic.

-  Most true Christians would recognize fantasy, such as the movie Star Wars, as being extremely wicked (in this case, sorcery -- "The Force" being equivalent to black magic and white witchcraft). Yet, apparently, when we call it "Christian," this somehow sanctifies what we do with our minds (imaginations), or what we allow our minds to entertain. For example, one can look in any issue of the Christian Book Distributors Fiction Catalog and find the most outrageous fantasy literature, yet it is all dubbed "Christian." The following is taken from the CBD Fiction Catalog, 9/94 premier edition:

(Note here the charge that all Christian fiction is based on the same premise of Star Wars and other secular fiction.)
" ... now there's no more compromising for those who love Christian fiction, because you are holding the key to your next escape-from-it-all right in the palm of your hand ... CBD's brand new Fiction Catalog? It's filled with the latest and the best refreshing, thrilling, inspiring, wholesome fiction for you and your family" (p. 2).
Christian Book Distributors does not define Christian fantasy. They are in the business of selling books. What then follows is an unintentionally hilarious description of Christian fantasy by judging each work from its promotion blurb. The author has not read these works. He knows them only by their advertising! Is this rational, Biblical scholarship?

Wholesome? The following is a sample of that which CBD considers "wholesome." [Much of this type of writing comes from medieval mysticism, which God hates (cf. Deut. 18: 10-12).]:
(a) Millennium's Dawn, by Ed Stewart (p. 25):

"June 2001. The future never seemed brighter for Dr. Evan Rider and his new bride, Shelby, as they prepare to embark on the honeymoon of their dreams. But the dream quickly becomes a nightmare as a long-buried secret shared by three college friends erupts, engulfing the couple in a sinister plot of blackmail, terror, and betrayal."
(Millennium's Dawn is neither a Christian fantasy nor medieval mysticism. It is an example of another type of fictional genre, but the writer doesn't care. He tars everything within reach with a broad black brush in gleeful abandon.)

(b) Till We Have Faces, by
C. S. Lewis (p. 34):

"The unlovely Orual, eldest daughter of the King of Glome, becomes so consumed by her mingled love and jealousy of her beautiful half-sister that she makes a complaint to the gods -- and receives an answer she did not expect. This novel, possibly Lewis' best work and the one he considered his own favorite, is his compelling rework of the myth of Cupid and Psyche." [Sound like something you could want your children to read -- about "the gods"?]
(Yes, it does. If Miesel had actually taken time to read Till We Have Faces he would have learned that C. S. Lewis was using an ingenious literary device called allegory to make several important points about man's relationship with God and the subtlety of sin, especially pride. I do not know of any instance where somebody was lead into occultism by reading the works of C. S. Lewis unless they were already immersed in it or were mentally ill.)

(c) The Song of Albion, by Stephen Lawhead (p. 33):

"Wolves prowl the streets of Oxford. A Green Man haunts the Highlands. A breach has been opened between our world and the Celtic Otherworld and anything, anyone, may now enter [sounds similar to Poltergeist, one of the most wicked movies ever produced]. But it's Lewis Gillies, an American graduate student at Oxford, who reluctantly stumbles through. In the savagely beautiful Otherworld, Lewis finds himself caught in an epic struggle between light and darkness -- a struggle that will determine the fate of his own world. Memorably penned with vivid and poetic imagery, Lawhead's breathtaking reworking of Celtic myth will keep you reading long into the night" [no doubt, and right into the DARKNESS! -- the Celtic civilization is the culture from which we have received much of our modern day
Halloween practices.]
(Like Miesel, I have not actually read this work, so unlike Miesel, I cannot comment on it with integrity.)
Isaiah 32:6 describes error against the Lord. All lies are against God (1 John 1:21; John 8:44). Satan is the father of lies. Since fantasy is not true, then it is a lie! We have been duped into thinking there is some spiritual gray realm out there in which something can be neither true nor a lie. It's just called fantasy! But fantasy is made up of lies, deceit, and unreality, all wrapped up in a pretty (or sometimes, not so pretty) package.

We've covered this. I know of no example of Christian fantasy that is communicated as a description of reality. C. S. Lewis would have been shocked with the idea that he was communicating that Narnia was a real place (The Chronicles of Narnia). Walter Wangerin, Jr. would have called the men in the white coats if somebody had accused him of telling people that roosters and dogs actually talk (The Book of the Dun Cow).

Miesel then tackles The Lion King condemning Focus on the Family's endorsement of the movie and then makes the outlandish statement: "Besides the spiritism in the film, ask yourself a question -- "Do animals talk?" Just on this fantasy alone (animals talking) it is a lie."

Miesel has now moved from the role of essay writer to a mindset that almost smacks of paranoia. Does he actually believe that Disney was trying to convince people that animals could talk? And if Disney was actually insane enough to make such a statement, does Miesel actually believe that people are gullible enough to strike up a conversation with Fido?

At this point Miesel slips gears and again judges Christian books by their CBD advertising blurb. I cannot comment on The Guardian, by Jane Hamilton or Darien: The Guardian Angel of Jesus, by Roger Elwood as I have not read them and I will not judge a person's works unless I have read or seen them directly, but I can make one comment:
(a) A Skeleton in God's Closet, by Paul L. Maier (p. 25):

"Move over, Indiana Jones! In this novel, Harvard archaeologist Dr. John Weber has just discovered a shocking secret -- Jesus' bones. The evidence [an obvious denial of the resurrection] seems incontestable. When word of the discovery leaks out, pandemonium ensues and millions abandon their Christian faith. But which is the hoax -- the archaeological find or the Resurrection itself?" [How can this be edifying?]
I have read this book. If Miesel had read the book instead of the blurb, he would he learned that 1) the book was not presented as a fantasy and 2) its purpose was to teach the reader how archeology functions as a science and supports the truths of Scripture, affirming the fact of Christ's physical resurrection from the grave.

Remember when Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out? People believed it! Fantasy gets people to fantasize about reality. It is a slippery slide into lies unknowingly.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was marketed as science fiction and like Poltergeist, another movie Miesel mentions, presents a worldview against Christian teaching. Therefore, they have no bearing on the discussion as they are not Christian fantasy.

How can a lie be used for evangelism, worship, or anything else godly? By its very nature, fantasy removes the person from the Truth (reality) and moves them into a realm away from God. This ungodliness is well depicted in the CBD Fiction Catalog, where it says on page 2:
"It's been said that reading fiction is one of the best ways to 'escape' from the cares of everyday life. Since the beginning of time, great thinkers and writers (even Jesus himself) have been inspired to create allegories, parables and epics, as well as the good, old-fashioned novel itself. What a tragedy to think we have to settle for fiction that merely grabs our attention, but lacks the values and spiritual insight we could carry with us when we return to the 'real world.'" [Again, the move from fantasy to reality.]
Personally, I wish Miesel had quoted a better expert than the CBD catalog. He could have attacked the essays of C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, Franky Schaeffer, T. S. Elliott or H. R Rookmaker. I will let the reader deduce as to why he did not.

Again, beating a very dead horse, if fantasy is presented in all its conception as truth, it is therefore a lie, but if used as an art form using allegory, hyperbole and symbolism, it is another form of a sermon and must be judged on the message it conveys. This is why Philip Pullman's atheistic His Dark Materials trilogy is evil and C. S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces is spiritually edifying. It is called, judging a work by its fruit.

And what about the claim that Jesus' parables and the allegories in Scripture, or figurative speech, are parallel to the use of fantasy? No! The Bible's parables, allegories, and figurative speech are not about fantasy at all. They are all about Truth!

Just like well-written Christian fantasy. Its parables, allegories and figurative speech always point to the truth of God's Word. No Christian writer would say that his or her story is an end in itself, but like any good sermon, point the way toward the Word of God, both written (the Bible) and living (Jesus Christ).

If a Christian is loving the Lord with all his MIND (imagination), he will be dwelling on truth, reality, His Word, and Him, NOT FAIRY TALES AND FANTASY!

Agreed. I would be concerned about a Christian who does nothing but read Christian fantasy just like I worry about a Christian who spends all his time watching baseball or washing his car or writing diatribes disguised as essays without doing the necessary research.

After a few more paragraphs on how people are too stupid to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and attacking John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress as a work of godless fantasy and myth (if that has not destroyed his credibility for the reader than Dear Reader is hopeless) he then attempts to make the following points.

  1. Parables are not fables.
  2. Allegory is symbolic, not mythical -- Gal. 4:22-31 (real/real)
  3. Figurative is not mythical -- John 6:53-63 -- Jesus does not fly out of the realm of reality. In fact, He uses such explicitly (real) language that people are having a hard time understanding Him. Yet, He explains that He is speaking in a figurative way (John 6:63).
  4. Dreams and Visions are not untrue stories -- Daniel 7:1ff; 8:17 refers to truth; 8:26 ("is true"); 9:21 (writing of Truth). These are not untrue stories (fables). Ezekiel 1 &10 -- these are real creatures!
Wait a minute here. There's another term here tossed out for the first time that he has failed to define. Let's go back to the dictionary.

n : a traditional story accepted as history; serves to explain the world view of a people.

Again, a myth is the same as a lie. It is a story that is presented as truth, a historical event that happened in time and space. Pilgrim's Progress is not a myth. It is an allegory that symbolizes the need for every person to embrace the salvation of Jesus Christ and his righteousness. Bunyan may not have dotted his theological i's and crossed his creedal t's the way Miesel would have liked, but Miesel cannot deny the important role Bunyan's allegorical sermon has played in the Christian conversions of countless people. Long after this blog and Miesel's misanthropic essay have long faded into time, Bunyan's testimony of the saving grace of Christ's work on the Cross of Calvary will still be used of God to win souls, imperfect as it it may be.

In closing, it requires an abstract mind to understand allegory and symbolism. I could suppose that Miesel has a concrete mindset and is therefore unable to appreciate what Christian fantasy represents and how it is communicated. If so, then Miesel has done Christendom a great disservice, masquerading an emotional preference as spiritual truth.

My advice to the writer of Christian fantasy is to remember that it will not be Rick Miesel sitting on the bema seat of Christ. If God has given you a gift of storytelling to be used for His glory, then remember the words of the author of Psalm 45:1:

"My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer."