Thankful Thursday: The Forgiveness of Sins

Today I continue my series in which I thank God for the final four things in the Apostles’ Creed, each of which has meant something special to me this year.

Part 1: Then

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,

Whose sin is covered!

How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,

And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

Psalm 32:1-2

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that God forgives sins. From a very early age, I realized that I was a sinner who needed a savior, and that the savior was Jesus Christ. I knew that if I said, “I’m sorry. Forgive me,” He would make me clean.

The full internalization of that truth was another matter. Growing up, I was told most of the right things and did most of the right things. I put my faith in Jesus for salvation, was baptized at a young age, had nearly perfect church attendance, and spent the rest of the week at a Christian school. I knew for certain that I could not earn salvation by works, and that I must trust completely in the sacrifice of Christ. Even so, I never felt like I was one of the really good Christians: the people who closed their eyes when they sang, read the Bible constantly, led people to Christ, and went off to become pastors and missionaries. I did not have the same kind of emotional swells. Continue reading

Sexual Abuse isn’t just Hollywood’s Problem

Photo by Flickr user Prayitno

2017 may well go down in history as the year that Hollywood was revealed for what it really was all along. The past few weeks have brought us a torrent of accusations of sexual abuse and harassment against some of the leading names in American show business, from beloved Star Trek alum George Takei, to comedian Louis C.K. and Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, a host of big names are now fighting to deny (or in the case of Louis C.K., to apologize for) the accusations of misconduct that have been made against them. Then there is the man who practically runs the American film industry: Harvey Weinstein.

It was an open secret for years that Harvey Weinstein would use influence to get anything he wanted, but usually this was viewed in the context of film politics. Yes, Hollywood has a form of politics all its own. Since I was a teenager, I have been paying attention to the yearly series of self-congratulatory awards shows leading up to the Oscars. I have an idea of how the studios campaign for their films. At Miramax and then his own eponymous company, Harvey Weinstein built the most formidable campaign operation that the Oscars had ever seen. His ability to get his films into the winner’s circle was so impressive, one couldn’t help wondering if he was personally visiting Oscar voters in their retirement homes in order to twist their arms. (Yes, most of the voters are old, white, and male.)

There was no question that Weinstein behaved like a strong man, and yet his power attracted the friendship of anyone who was anyone. They all knew that he was pulling the strings. Hosts at award shows would joke about it openly. No one stopped to put two and two together and think, “If this is how this man behaves in general, might he be behaving this way toward the women in his life?” Actually, they did, but they were too terrified of crossing him to say anything. Weinstein had his fingers in so many aspects of the film industry that getting on his bad side was not a good idea for any up and comer. Continue reading

Thankful Thursday: The Communion of Saints

In this month of Thanksgiving, I have decided to do a short series of articles called “Thankful Thursdays” in which I will focus on four things that have been particularly encouraging to me this year in spite of my ill health and emotional ups and downs. When I considered what I should write about, it occurred to me that there could be nothing more perfect than the four things we declare at the end of the Apostles’ Creed: the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. No foursome of blessings could more accurately capture what I am thankful for this year.

The communion I share with the Body of Christ has never meant more to me than it does at this moment in time. As I struggle each day to overcome my physical limitations, I am strengthened by the prayers of my fellow believers.  I find it odd that strangers should take time out of their days to remember my condition and pray for my healing, yet I have received such kind words not only from family and long-time friends, but also new friends and acquaintances around the world. Continue reading

Whitman and the Meaning of Life

The poet Walt Whitman photographed in 1869, when he was about 50 years old.

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

That is one of my favorite poems. It was written by the man who I believe is easily America’s finest poet, Walt Whitman. Like any decent poem, it is a piece of philosophy that calls us to examine one of life’s great mysteries, and what mystery could be greater than the meaning of life itself? Continue reading

Do Baptists have a Right to Celebrate the Reformation?

A painting of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses by Ferdinand Pauwels, circa 1872

Tomorrow we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, dated from Martin Luther’s purported nailing of the Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. It’s been a yearlong celebration, and some might mourn the passing of this Renaissance in Reformation studies. Have no fear! This is only the first of many anniversaries. We can now celebrate 500 years since the Heidelberg Disputation, the Leipzig Debate, the Diet of Worms, The Bondage of the Will, and the first catechisms. I hope I make it long enough to celebrate all the different editions of The Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Unfortunately, there are some people who don’t think I should be celebrating at all, because I am a Baptist. Throughout the course of this year, I have often come across statements such as, “Luther would have called Baptists heretics,” “Baptists have no clue about church history or historic theology,” “Baptists ignore the principles of the Reformation,” etc. Invariably, these statements come from people who hold to one of the confessions that arose out of the 16th or 17th centuries, such as the Augsburg Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, or the Westminster Confession.

Why would people make such statements? Is there any truth behind them? Should Baptists be taking off their party hats and going home with their heads hung low in shame? These questions are somewhat difficult to answer due to the diversity among Baptists. Add to that the fact that by “Baptist”, the Reformed and Lutherans often mean anyone who practices credobaptism (also called “believer’s baptism”). This would force us to include a wide variety of churches that make no claim to being Baptist and may not even have a clear statement of faith.

Nevertheless, I will attempt to briefly address these questions. When people object to a connection between Baptists and the Reformation, they usually have one of the following things in mind. Continue reading

Council of Google Plus: The Homosexual & Gender Emanation

 

I joined the conversation on this week’s episode of the Council of Google Plus podcast to discuss such pedestrian issues as homosexuality, female pastors, submission in marriage, and human free will. Pay special attention for the moment when I get triggered by a comment about the Trinity. Poor Chris! This is a free flowing discussion, so you can see how well I do on the fly. Listen here.

The Girl Empress is on Sale Now

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you probably know that I wrote a historical novel. If you are not a frequent visitor, I wrote a historical novel! In fact, I am working on a trilogy of novels that tell the story of Empress Maud of England as if it were her autobiography. The first one is titled The Girl Empress and is now available as a Kindle eBook for $2.99. You can read it with a Kindle device or using a free Kindle reader app. I know that many people prefer paper books. (I am one of those people.) A print version is in the works and I hope that it will be released in time for Thanksgiving. The timing simply depends on logistical matters. I hope that readers will enjoy the book. It is my first serious outing in the realm of fiction. You can visit the website for this series of novels, known as The Chronicle of Maud, and read more.

5 Things Christians Can Learn from The Great British Bake Off

Title logo from The Great British Bake Off

WARNING: The following might just be slightly satirical.

Earlier this year, when I was feeling too awful to do anything but lay on the couch and watch Netflix, my mother convinced me to check out The Great British Bake Off, or The Great British Baking Show as it’s known in the U.S. for legal reasons. I was expecting to gain ideas for the next time church potluck. I was not expecting to be confronted with so many scriptural truths! Here are five things we can take away from watching GBBO. Continue reading

Out of Egypt: My Four Years Working for a Foreign Government

Celebrations in Tahrir Square on February 11, 2011. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…” – Colossians 3:23 (NASB)

Since I began blogging in earnest, I have occasionally referred to the fact that I spent a period of time in the employ of a foreign government: the Egyptian government, to be specific. It was a fascinating epoch in many ways, and yet thoroughly uninteresting in others. Out of respect for my former employer (and here I mean specifically my first boss), I have said hardly anything about this period in public. However, enough time has elapsed that I now feel comfortable sharing some of my experiences.

In 2009, I completed my Master’s degree and began looking for a job that would pay the bills. I applied to numerous think tanks, congressional offices, and government departments. I even considered joining the CIA. What I did not expect was to see a job listing with the Egyptian Press Office in Washington, D.C., a kind of satellite campus of the Egyptian Ministry of Information. Although I had never been to Egypt and did not speak Arabic, I applied. Shockingly, they invited me to D.C. to interview.

I suspect that there were three things that won me the job: 1) I had a good knowledge of politics and media in the United States, which was what they sorely craved. 2) I demonstrated sensitivity toward their culture and religion. 3) The person who interviewed me had attended the same graduate school as myself.

So it was that on a snowy December day, my parents helped me move all my belongings into an apartment in northern Virginia, from which I would commute to my new position as Assistant to the Director of the Egyptian Press Office. Continue reading

When and How to Criticize an Elder

A few recent controversies have caused me to reconsider when and how we should criticize church elders – that is, pastors or overseers. As someone who often writes about theological topics, I am particularly concerned with how bloggers and other Christian authors choose to respond to well-known elders in the Church. This is certainly a sensitive subject and one that calls for wisdom based on the Word of God.

I myself have made occasional criticisms of various elders on this blog, particularly over the course of the past year. These experiences have taught me some things about how we ought to engage with one another for the good of the Church and in line with God’s commands. I know that I have not always met the high standard that I set for myself, and there are some things that I would change if I was offered a redo. Nevertheless, I hope that what I have to say today will be helpful to both myself and others in the future. Continue reading