Being on the Receiving End of Gossip

We’ve all been there.

And it hurts.

People love to gossip. It’s hard wired into fallen human nature.

Someone once said. “A lie can make it halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on.” And we all know the joke (containing a great deal of truth): “Christians don’t gossip; they share ‘prayer requests.”

Years ago, I was on the receiving end of a “gossip mill”. It was demoralizing. None of it was true. But trying to address it was futile.

A friend told me that attempting to address every slanderous word said about you is like releasing a huge bag of feathers into a strong West Texas wind and hoping to catch each one. It simply can’t be done.

It brings us a degree of comfort knowing that King David, described in the New Testament as a “man after God’s own heart”, spent much of his adult life dealing with people who maliciously slandered him. David knew all too well the sting of betrayal. He laments, “It is not an enemy who taunts me— I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me— I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend.” (Psalm 55:12-13)

Certainly, there are situations where we are able to track down the source of the lies and confront them. No doubt, we’ve all, at one time or another, been saddled with that awkward task. But, that is the exception; not the rule. Because, most often, the “source” from which the gossip originated is ghost-like and efforts to find them is a complete waste of time, not to mention emotionally exhausting.

Solomon, although far from a perfect man, was, at one time the Bible tells us, the wisest person on planet earth. Having authored most of a biblical book of poetry called Proverbs, he warns the reader over and over again to be careful about what words come out of our mouths. This particular topic is one of the meta-narratives of the book’s 31 chapters. For example, Proverbs 6:16-19 lists “seven things that are an abomination to the Lord.” Five of the seven are directly related to gossip.

But Solomon offers this sage advice in response to gossip: “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” (26:20) When you stoke a fire it strengthens. When you ignore it – it dies out. The meaning here is clear. Don’t waste your physical and emotional energy trying to “set things straight.” Leave it alone.

And never forget: a person who gossips to you will gossip about you.

Below is a poem I heard a preacher recite a long time ago. It is powerful.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

“My Name is Gossip”

I have no respect for justice, I maim without killing;

I break hearts and I ruin lives; I am cunning and malicious and I gather strength with age;

The more I am quoted the more I am believed; My victims are helpless;
They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name or face;

Tracking me down is impossible; The harder you try the more elusive I become;

I am nobody’s friend; Once I tarnish a reputation it is never the same;

I wreck marriages and I topple governments; I ruin careers and I cause sleepless nights, heartaches, and indigestion; I make innocent people cry on their pillows;

I make headlines….and headaches;

Even my name hisses….my name is Gossip.

Our Incomprehensible God

Psalm 139, which includes the familiar, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” is a beautiful song/poem written by the ancient Jewish king, David.

In verses 11-12, David is contemplating the impossibility of escaping from God’s love, care and sight. He writes,…

“I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.”

Put your mind on “pause” for just a moment and think that through.

To God, there is no darkness. None. Not even a shadow. Anywhere.

And don’t mistake what David is saying for God owning a pair of really cool “night vision” goggles. That’s not the meaning of the text. What David is doing his best to communicate in limited human language is that everything – every human body, thought, action; every atom, every quark, every nebula, star, etc. is fully exposed in God’s sight.

This is, as are all attributes of God, well beyond mere human logic, reason and intellect. (By the way, keep in mind that the existence of God doesn’t go against reason, but simply goes beyond reason. There is a difference.)

Final thoughts….

1) Jesus (God in flesh) referred to himself, among other metaphors, as the “light of the world.”

Darkness has been defined in philosophical circles as “the absence of light.”

God is 100%, pure, terrifying, holy light.

Matthew, quoting Isaiah, wrote, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light…”. John wrote, “God is light. In him there is no darkness at all,” and “The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Simply put, when Jesus entered time and space he completely spoiled Satan’s “darkness party.”

2) Because of the biblical truth above, we have hope. And that changes everything.

Whether it be hurricanes, wildfires, broken relationships, mental illness, the pain of loss, etc., – because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb – the Light has “overwhelmingly conquered.”

When Satan attacks you with pain (either physical or emotional) remember that God has provided for us a light with “infinite lumens”:  His Word.

…which is why David wrote: “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Our True North: the Word of God

After our son, Jordan, took his life the earth shifted underneath our feet. Our world was turned upside down.

We soon took scripture printed on copy paper and taped it to every door-jam, every mirror, every cabinet door – you get the idea. (A few of them are in the very spot we placed them 4 years ago.)

So, while the enemy assaulted us with lies: “life for you is over; your marriage is over; your son’s death is your fault; there is no God; etc….”, we made a conscious choice to focus on what we knew to be true: the infallible Word of God.

Both Matthew & Luke record the “showdown in the desert” between Satan and Jesus. Even a cursory reading reveals that, in light of Satan’s lies, Jesus responds with a single, devastatingly powerful weapon: the Word of God. Satan fled in defeat.

The same happened in our home. Oh – I’d be lying if I said it was easy. The spiritual battle was intensely brutal. But, in the end, Satan, the “father of lies”, was rendered impotent when confronted with the Truth.

Throughout this ordeal, my family learned – on a deeper level – what Jesus meant when he proclaimed, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Psalm 119 is almost entirely devoted to the exaltation of God’s Word. In verse 28, the psalmist prays, “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.”

Are you confused? Hurting? Afraid? Tired? Lost? Find your “true north” in the powerful Word of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, nick

Racism & the Bible

You’ve no doubt heard about the White Supremacists/KKK Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the violence that ensued resulting in one death and many seriously injured. (Of note, every organization represented in the United States – regardless of how unpopular & hateful their views – has the constitutional right to assemble peacefully and benefit from their right to free speech.  But that is a topic for another article.)

As a youth pastor, I would periodically teach on the topic of racismRacism (which can originate in any race toward another race) is, in my experience, taught/passed down rather than learned inherently. Like a disease (not terminal, mind you, since it can be un-learned), racism infects the right and biblical thinking of individuals.  I use the adjective, biblical, since, tragically, I’ve visited with a few people over the years claiming to be Christians who are angrily racist.

Racism was rampant in the Bible as the biblical writers, for example, record the hatred Jews had for Samaritans (and vice-versa) as well as the Egyptians forcing the Hebrew people into centuries of slavery.  Some erroneously accuse God of endorsing slavery since we read about slavery in the Bible, and Jesus and Paul never openly condemning slavery.  That is a sorely irresponsible interpretation.  Always remember: just because the Bible records something doesn’t necessarily mean the Bible approves of what is being recorded.  There are numerous heinous acts recorded in Scripture.  Why?  Because it’s the story of God’s pursuit of fallen man – and God never sanitizes the depravity of fallen man (us).

When Jesus & Paul commanded us to “love your neighbor as your self” their clear meaning was that “neighbor” represented all humanity.  Addressing the equality of every created human being, Paul writes to the Galatians, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. In short, racism is sin.

NYT best-selling author/historian, Eric Metaxas, one of my favorite biographers, tweeted:

“Like my heroes Wilberforce & Bonhoeffer, I see racism as the antithesis of the love of Jesus for all. So White Nationalism is satanic.”

Well said, Eric. 

Solo Deo Gloria, Nick 

Doubting God (it’s ok to do that :))

John the Baptist was described by Jesus, himself, as the greatest prophet to have ever lived. (Luke 7:28)

Yet, it’s John, while suffering in prison and awaiting execution, that asks his friends to go find Jesus and ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)

Author/professor, Andre Resner, rightly stated, “The struggle with God is not a lack of faith; it is faith.”

Does the painful stuff of life sometimes make you wonder about God? If it does – it means you’re perfectly normal. You’re in strong biblical company.

God has no problem shouldering our doubt. Give your doubt to him – every last ounce of it. Peter, an eye-witness and close friend of Jesus, put it this way: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Who is Jesus?

“Who is Jesus?”  It’s the most important answer a person will ever give to a question.

Most of us are familiar with former atheist/Narnia author, C.S. Lewis’, famous “trilemma” recorded in his classic apologetic, Mere Christianity:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

It may surprise some who are not familiar with the gospel accounts that the question of “Who is Jesus?” is nothing new.  In 1st century Palestine people were asking the same question people are asking today: “Who IS this guy??”

In his gospel, John records, “While some said, ‘He is a good man,’ others said, ‘No, he is leading people astray.” (7:12) Later, in 8:25, the Jews ask Jesus incredulously, “Who ARE you??” Again, in 8:48-53: “The Jews answered [Jesus and said], “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?…Who do you think you are??”

In their book, Putting Jesus in His Place, Robert Bowman & J. Ed. Komoszewski write, “Interpretations of Jesus are fraught with bias. He’s a powerful figure people want on their sides – and they’re willing to re-create him in their image to enlist his support….Frankly, it’s hard to escape the feeling that our culture has taken Jesus’ question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’, and changed it to ‘Who do you want me to be?”

Not sure who Jesus is? For one, he is a gentleman; he will not impose himself on you, but allows every human being to decide for themselves who he is.

Read Mark’s & John’s biographies (gospels) of Jesus in an easy-to-read translation. Try either the New Living Translation or the New English Translation. Both are solid. Then, check out Philip Yancey’s award-winning, The Jesus I Never Knew, Lee Strobel’s, The Case for the Real Jesus, or Josh & Sean McDowell’s short classic, More than a Carpenter. What you will find is a man so real, yet so fascinating, only God could have thought him up.

Set aside others’ opinions. Honestly investigate Christ’s claims, and see if you don’t begin to hear the Lion of Judah roar.

For Narnia, Nick

Freedom of Religion? Yes. Freedom of Biblical Christianity? Not so much.

I customarily do not address politics in this publication.  We all have our convictions and opinions where politics is concerned.

Having said that, the issue of religious freedom is a bipartisan issue clearly supported by the United States Constitution – and I have no reluctance for speaking to, or defending, that freedom.

The big news last week was the attack on religious freedom by two U.S. Senators.  The person under religious attack was Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Russell Vought is an alumni of Wheaton College, a strongly evangelical Christian school.  Approximately a year and a half ago, a Wheaton professor, Dr. Larycia Hawkins stated that Muslims and Christians worship the same God – which is, according to the message of the Bible vs. the message of the Quran, blatantly false.  (For a brief explanation of the exclusivity of the world’s major religions click here.) While still a professor at Wheaton, Hawkins had written, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book.  And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Wheaton College terminated Dr. Hawkins. As you can imagine, a firestorm of debate ensued.  One of the editorials written in the weeks that followed Dr. Hawkins’ termination was one by Mr. Vought  explaining the discrepancy between Islamic and Biblical theology.  You can read that editorial here.

At Mr. Vought’s confirmation hearing last week, two Senators – Bernie Sanders & Christopher Van Hollen Jr. – asked probing questions about Mr. Vought’s Christian faith.  But they didn’t stop there.  What followed was an overt attack on Mr. Vought’s Christian faith and how, in the senators’ opinion, Mr. Vought’s faith makes him unqualified to serve in public office.   The attack on Vought’s Christian faith was done under the guise that his Christian faith might impede his ability to treat people fairly.  You can view the the exchange between Sanders & Vought below.  It’s less than 3 minutes in length.

Clearly, Senator Sanders’ implication is that one’s faith should be a litmus test to serve in public office.  This is where the real firestorm exploded.  Sanders defiantly defended his comments by saying, “In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”  So, here Mr. Sanders makes a fundamental mistake:  he defends one of the world’s religions (Islam) and attacks another (Christianity).  It is significant to understand that, both, Islam and Christianity make exclusive claims for truth.  But, alas, only Christianity gets attacked.

And, speaking of Christianity, Senator Christopher Van Hollen Jr., offered this convoluting comment.  Speaking to Mr. Vought, he says,

“I think it is irrefutable that these kinds of comments suggest to a whole lot of Americans that, number one . . . you are condemning people of all faiths. I’m a Christian, but part of being a Christian in my view is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God. . . .

I’m happy the senator said, “…in my view…”  Because, clearly, the Senator is sorely unfamiliar with his Bible.  He is justified in saying that “there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God.”  No one disagrees with that.  However, according to the Bible, there’s only one way to know the God of the Bible: through faith in his son, Jesus Christ.

The Huffington Post defended Sanders’ statements, creating their own version of logic.  The author, James Zogby, wrote:

It is Vought, not Sanders who has used a religious test to support the firing of a tenured professor. His demonstrated intolerance is a disturbing trait for someone in public service. Vought may claim that all are “worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs”, but when it came to Professor Hawkins, a fellow Christian, Vought behaved quite differently, precisely because her description of her faith did not comport with his narrow interpretation of Christian theology.

Zogby’s logic is myopic and erroneous.  Dr. Hawkins was teaching non-Christian doctrine at an expressly evangelical Christian college, and was not running for public office.  (I would invite Mr. Zogby to try and teach non-Islamic doctrine at an Islamic school and see what happens next.) Comparing the two stories is an argument based on Zogby’s errant logic, biased opinion and gross ignorance of the biblical gospel.

As expected, the ACLU, quickly jumped to Sanders’ defense by writing:

“Religious freedom is such a fundamental liberty that the framers of our Constitution enshrined it in the First Amendment. That’s why it’s so disturbing that Trump continues to pack his administration with appointees like Russell Vought, whose views threaten that very freedom.”

Once again, every world religion is given a pass – except Christianity.  The hypocrisy was deafening.  And the world noticed.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention responded to Sanders’ comments.  He said:

Senator Sanders’ comments are breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant — both of the Constitution and of basic Christian doctrine. Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office in defiance of the United States Constitution. No religious test shall ever be required of those seeking public office. While no one expects Senator Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution.

Sen. James Lankford (I’ve met Senator Lankford) warned that Sanders’ comments come “dangerously close to crossing a clear constitutional line for how we evaluate qualifications for public service.”  He continued,

“The First Amendment is crystal clear that the federal government must protect every American’s right to the peaceful and free exercise of religion.  We cannot say we have the free exercise of religion and also require people to practice their faith only in a way that government officials prefer.”

Emma Green, writing for the secular publication, The Atlantic, defended Vought:

It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. Sanders used the term “Islamophobia” to suggest that Vought fears Muslims for who they are. But in his writing (in his editorial for Wheaten College), Vought was contesting something different: He disagrees with what Muslims believe, and does not think their faith is satisfactory for salvation. Right or wrong, this is a conviction held by millions of Americans—and many Muslims might say the same thing about Christianity.

As you can imagine, Twitter blew up over this story.  NYT Best-Selling author, Eric Metaxas, tweeted,

“What [Sen. Sanders] did was in fact so bad, and so un-American, that we should be demanding his resignation.  It is a stunning moment in our history.”

And the conservative news site, The Federalist, disseminated all the jargon by tweeting simply, “Senator Sanders doesn’t think Christians are fit for public office.”

A friend of mine from HBU (he lives in the beautiful state of Vermont – the state Sanders represents) wrote a blog entitled, Senator Bernie Sanders and the Inverse Religious Test for Civil Service.  He writes, “Dear Senator Sanders,…

“…a worldview that affirms all other worldviews to be true is a contradiction in and of itself because it is evidently not true that all worldviews can be simultaneously true… The issue is that when you hold certain beliefs, you are espousing a particular worldview, and that worldview is inevitably at odds with other worldviews… You claim to embrace tolerance, but you are in fact being intolerant of Mr. Vought simply because of his freely chosen religious beliefs. That is hypocrisy.”

In the Washington Post, Jim Wallace wrote an editorial with the following subtitle: Democrats could stand to know more about religion.  Christians also need to express our beliefs without vitriol.  After reading Wallace’s article, I found it’s Wallace who needs to learn more about what Jesus said and did.  He would find this:  the gospel, by its very nature, is offensiveIt tells us we’re hopeless sinners in desperate need of a Savior.  And it tells us that those who die, having not professed their faith in Christ, will stand in judgment of hell You can’t proclaim the gospel of Jesus and count on everyone liking you – just ask Jesus.  They crucified him. 

Senator Sanders exposed his true motive during the hearing.  He has little interest in religious freedom – if you’re a Christian.  Additionally, he has no concept of the fundamental differences between world religions.  Finally, he is accusing Mr. Vought of making daily decisions based on his convictions when he is doing the very thing: deciding to attack Mr. Vought based on his own convictions. Religious or not, do we not all live our lives based on fundamental principles in which we strongly believe?

Let me be perfectly clear – if this story were turned around 180 degrees, and an evangelical Christian Senator had attacked the religious convictions of a political nominee representing a different religion, I would be writing the same opinion piece on behalf of the individual who was being marginalized and harassed.  If you don’t like someone’s religious faith or worldview – and they’re running for public office – don’t vote for them.  But, we must never personally attack them because of their faith or suggest they are less of a person solely because they don’t hold to the same convictions/worldview we do.

The moment we allow this to take place in government is the moment Religious Freedom will be a thing of the past.

I titled this blog “Freedom of Religion? Yes.  Freedom of Biblical Christianity?  Not so much.”  Here’s why:  (1) I use the term “biblical Christianity” because the term “Christian” is widely used and, as such, means different things to different people.  For instance, in this blog both, Dr. Hawkins and Senator Van Hollen Jr., refer to themselves as Christians while, apparently, holding to doctrines not taught in the Bible.  (2) While some might prefer to remove religious principles from any and all decisions made by those serving in public office, it is logically impossible to divorce someone’s decisions from what they believe – we’re not robots.  

We all have convictions, beliefs and principles that drive our daily decisions and make us who we are.  Senator Sanders, here, defends Islamic faith, while attacking Christian faith.  If this is true (and I don’t see any other way to interpret it), then Senator Sanders – and those who defend his statements – represent those who, according to their words, believe in the freedom of religion – as long as it’s not the Christian faith.

In sum, if Senator Sanders were to read a Bible I suspect he would never have attacked Mr. Vought’s Christian faith. For, he would see in the gospels that, although Jesus clearly states he is the only way to God, he never imposed his convictions on a single person.  On the contrary, he preached the truth and left the decision to trust him solely up to the listener, even when his message resulted in many people choosing to no longer follow him.  Jesus never compromised the truth of his message (and this made him a lot of enemies), but he treated all people equally, with love and respect.

All the way to the Cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick