"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Friends: Help Team ENID Win the Fireball Race

I have a number of friends who read my blog from around the world. I need your help. Would you go to this link and VOTE for TEAM ENID as the fan favorite team for the National Fireball Race? They are Team #6. Nearly 70 teams are in a race across the southwest to raise awareness about missing children, and Lord willing, help us find some kids who've either been taken or abducted against their will. All the racing teams will be in Enid on Tuesday night for a banquet in Convention Hall with several hundred people in attendance. It would be great to bring Team ENID to Enid with the MOST VOTES FOR VAN FAVORITE! Even if you have never been to Enid, know nothing about Enid, I'm asking you to go and vote -- because you read a blog that originates from Enid! Dr. David and Aaron are friends, and I can't think of a better way to help them in their great cause than to get complete strangers to go and vote for their team! So, take 30 seconds and go to this link and VOTE FOR TEAM 6 - TEAM ENID! Thank you! The Fan Favorite Team gets a huge amount of bonus points that will help them in the end.

We Face a Monstrous Evil: Terrorism in Oklahoma

Before anyone calls me a hate-mongering Islamaphobic because of the title of this post, let me remind everyone that I have many Muslim friends. I have spoken on several occasions to Muslim gatherings, and I believe all Muslims in America should enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and every other liberty that Americans cherish. Now with that those obligatory caveats out of the way, let me get to the point.

Alton Nolen, the man who beheaded 54-year-old grandmother Colleen Huford and was in the process of beheading other women in his former workplace in Moore, Oklahoma before he was shot by an off-duty reserve deputy, is a radical Muslim terrorist. He is shown in the picture above standing in front of the  Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City building in northwest Oklahoma City three weeks before he beheaded Mrs. Hufford. Nolen's Facebook page was updated with a photo of a beheading around the same time period.

According to this report, Nolen attended the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City three weeks before the beheading and posted on his Facebook, "At The Masjid (Mosque)Today For Jumar 9/5/2014 & Peforming Wudu!!!” Wudu is a water ritual in preparation for formal prayers. Suhaib Webb, an Imam with ties to former Al Qaeda mastermind Anwar al-Awlaki, served as the leader of the Islamic Society in OKC in years past. Suhaib Webb now serves as Imam of the sister organization of the mosque attended by Boston Marathon bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Let that sink in for a moment before I show you where the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City is located.

The large intersection in the map above is that of Interstate 44 (east/west) and what we in Oklahoma City call Hefner Parkway (north/south). The circle to the left of the map is the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. Anybody know what the circle to the right is? It is the state headquarters for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

In the state that had not one county with a majority vote for Barak Obama in the last election, in the state known for its large population of evangelicals, in the state that promotes the values of individual liberty and kindness to one's fellow man, in the state in which I was born and have lived all my adult life, we have a mosque with ties to radical Islamic terrorism just a couple of miles away from the state headquarters of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

Read carefully for yourself the ties to the Muslim Brotherhood within Oklahoma City. After reading, I'd like to ask you a few questions.

(1). Who was the bomber who accidentally detonated the bomb he was carrying and killed himself in 2005 while waiting to enter Oklahoma's Memorial Stadium during an Oklahoma football game, and what were his ties to radical Islam?
(2). Why are so few people taking seriously Timothy McVeigh's ties to radical Islam in the months prior to bombing of the Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City in 1995? For more information about McVeigh's radical Muslim ties, read Stephen Jones' Others Unknown. Mr. Jones was McVeigh's attorney, but was fired because McVeigh 'wanted sole credit for the bombing' and didn't like the work his attorney was doing in uncovering the Muslim radicals who assisted  McVeigh. The OKC bombing had extreme parallels to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
(3). Have you ever been told the number of Oklahoma detainees held by the Justice Department after the World Trade Center bombing in 2001?  According to my friends in law enforcement, there were several Islamic radicals in the Oklahoma City area who had ties to the World Trade Center hijackers, many of whom were held in jail and interrogated for months.

Winston Churchill had a difficult time convincing the world that Nazism was a 'monstrous evil' in 1940. We are living in a day when too many in leadership are having trouble getting their heads around the 'monstrous evil' in our midst. The fight against radical Islam is no longer something overseas. The evil is amongst us. With that in mind, Oklahomans ought to consider the following:

(1). Don't begrudge the increased security and very thorough checks of purses, bags, and other items when you enter Thunder games, or Oklahoma football games, or other public events. There's a reason for all this, and I'm not sure Joe Public understands the serious nature of what is happening.
(2). Maybe an apology ought to be issued from those who castigated our state congressmen for passing a law that forbids Sharia Law from ever taking effect in the state of Oklahoma, a law reversed by the Oklahoma State Supreme Court. Maybe we ought to elect more politicians who are not afraid to call it like it is and consider removing judges who seek to legislate from the bench.
(3). Women in our state should become informed activists when it comes to opposing radical Islam, and you should do it now. Run for city council. Run for the local school board. Campaign hard for people who represent your values, particularly those who understand that women have a role to play in leadership within our society.

According to co-workers at Vaughn Foods where Colleen Huford lost her head this week, Alton Nolen was arguing in the previous days about the legitimacy of stoning women for offenses against Allah and the Koran.

We face a monstrous evil. It is the radical, fundamental Islamists who demand subservience to Islam, a world caliphate, and death to those who oppose them. I know from experience that not all Muslims teach this or believe this, but until we wake up to the evil in our midst, we will find ourselves with more shed blood in the grocery aisles of our communities.

The above photo is not the result of work place violence. It is the result of Islamic radicals terrorizing our great state. Until the government owns the problem, we will find ourselves in ever increasing levels of terrorism within our borders.

Avoiding the Herostratic Temptation of Christian Blogging

The Gerasa Temple of Artemis
In early 1863 John Wilkes Booth told James H. McVicker, a fellow actor and manager of McVicker's Theater in Chicago, that there would be a "glorious opportunity for a man to immortalize himself by killing Lincoln." The statement, made a full year before Booth actually assassinated the nation's 16th President, included a historical reference which seems to justify Booth's intentions. He told McVickers:
"The ambitious youth who fired the Ephesian dome outlives in fame the pious fool who reared it." (Source: The Detroit Free Press, April 18, 1865)
Booth never attended college, but his understanding of ancient history would surpass most college graduates today. The 'dome' to which Booth refers was the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Nobody knows the name of the one who built it, but the name of the one who destroyed it by fire is infamous.

Herostratus (pronounced 'hero-stra'- tus) torched the Temple of Artemis on July 21, 356 BC, the very night Alexander the Great was born, prompting Plutarch to speculate that Artemis was too preoccupied with Alexander's delivery to save her burning temple. The Ephesians sentenced Herostratus to death and forbade anyone from mentioning his name; but the world, just as Booth suggested to his friend, seems to exalt the names of those who destroy rather than those who build.

The name Herostratus is now used in languages around the world for those who are seeking fame at any cost, something called herostratic fame.

There is the temptation in all of us to gravitate toward the fame associated with destroying what others built. The kingdom is being built by God's people. Sometimes the craftsmanship of what is being built is shoddy. Other times the builders themselves are flawed. Blogging has done Christians a great service in helping us understand the issues and problems within the Kingdom.

However, I don't wish to be a Booth. It's never my desire to be known for tearing down what others have built, regardless of how dysfunctional it may be. I'd rather be known for what I'm for rather than for what I'm against. I'd rather people understand what to build and how to build, rather than what needs burned and how to burn it.

I'm not sure, however, that most people enjoy reading how something's built. For example, in my last article on James McDonald and how he wrongly (in my view) invests spiritual authority in elders, there were 'thousands' of hits from all over the world. However, toward the end of the article I offered a solution to the problem by posting a PDF that explains how to have a church where Christ alone is understand to have all spiritual authority. There were only a few hundred downloads of the object which would help build something good.

Regardless, it's my desire to never expose a problem (as I see it) without offering a solution. I'd rather be unknown and try to build something good for the Kingdom than be the famous guy who is well-known for destroying what someone else has built, regardless of how dysfunctional the building is.

You Can't Forgive Foolishness: James McDonald on 'Spiritual Authority' Invested in the Church Elders

Christianity Today reports that James McDonald, pastor of Chicago's multi-campus Harvest Bible Church, has apologized to his church for the public discipline of three elders last year. The elders were disciplined in September 2013 after speaking out against a “culture of fear and intimidation” and a lack of transparency in the church, including their concerns over nearly 60 million dollars in construction debt.

Pastor McDonald and a majority of the elder board publicly disciplined the three elders. In speaking to the church about these men in September 2013, the elders and Pastor James McDonald were very expressive and deliberate in describing these three men to the congregation at Harvest Bible Chapel. They used phrases like:
*"What the men are saying is Satanic to the core and must be dealt with very directly."
 *“We warn the people of Harvest Bible Chapel to separate themselves from these false messengers."
*Please avoid these former Harvest elders at all costs lest you incur great detriment to your own soul.”
Unless you have been on the receiving end of intentional character assassination from leaders of an institution who are fearful that you may disrupt their plans, it is difficult to imagine the pain inflicted on these three 'disciplined' elders and their families, as well as the damage done to their reputations. Harvest Bible Chapel members should be grateful that their pastor apologized for the above character assassination statements, and should forgive him based upon his repentance.

Unfortunately, the real problem at Harvest Bible Chapel has yet to be addressed. The people of HBC should be asking the question: "Why were we our elders ever in the position of making such statements about these three men to us in the first place?"

The answer to that question is seen in the foolish theology regarding 'spiritual authority' held by the pastor and elders of Harvest Bible Chapel. Their views can be clearly seen in the prefacing words Pastor James McDonald used when the majority of elders publicly disciplined the three minority elders in September 2013 (you may watch the actual video if you desire):
"I just want to remind you that God has entrusted spiritual authority to the local church."
"We believe that (this) authority of the church is invested in the elders."
"When the elders speak collectively in agreement, they speak for God to our church."
"That's about as serious as serious gets."
"These elders are now going to speak on behalf of God to our entire church."
The elders then proceeded to explain why the minority caucus of elders in their midst were 'Satanic to the core,' were 'false messengers,' and everyone was to avoid them lest "you incur great detriment to your own soul."

Truth be known, Harvest Bible Chapel members, the problem at your church is not that three men were publicly disciplined because they were asking for greater transparency and financial accountability. The problem is that you have leaders who tell you that when they speak they are speaking on behalf of God. That's yet to be addressed.

Spiritual authority, according to Jesus, is never invested in titles, positions of power (think elders), or other offices within an institutional church. Jesus was clear about this.
"Jesus called all the followers together. Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the non-Jewish people love to show their power over the people. And their important leaders love to use all their authority over the people. But it should not be that way with you. If one of you wants to become great, then he must serve you like a servant" (Matt. 20:25-26).
The apology that still needs to occur to the people and congregation of Harvest Bible Chapel would sound like this:

(1). We apologize for saying that we always speak for God, when the truth is, we are all susceptible to our own personal agendas, our own selfish desires, and other inner conflicts that sometimes prevent us from ever hearing from, much less speaking for, our God.
(2). We apologize for teaching you that spiritual authority is invested in titles and positions within the local church, rather the New Testament truth that spiritual authority is always invested in the giftings, service, and love of Christ's people, regardless of title or position.
(3). We apologize for setting up ourselves as vicars of God on your behalf. Though we told you in September 2013 that it we were speaking for God, it should be obvious to you that (a). God never makes mistakes, and (b). God never has to apologize. We repent of thinking more about our positions and titles than what God thinks of them.

Now that would be a refreshing New Testament apology. However, Pastor McDonald and the elders don't yet see that the real problem is their view of 'spiritual authority.' In my opinion, the greatest problem within the evangelical Christian church is this foolishness regarding spiritual authority.

I'm not sure you can forgive foolishness until it is at least uncovered and called what it is. For help with the New Testament teaching of spiritual authority in the local church download this free PDF.

'The Identical,' Shoddiness, and Faith Shaming

Periodically I vent when I write. I truly don't like it, but sometimes inner irritation bursts out like 'Old Faithful's' waters. Prepare yourself for a written geyser.

The faith-based family move The Identical is currently in theaters. It features some well known Hollywood actors, including Ray Loitta and Ashley Judd.  Last night my wife and I were thinking about going to see a movie, and I did a quick search on reviews of The Identical. Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the movie a 5% rating, one of the lowest ever in the history of the movie review service. Interestingly, the audience gave the movie a respectable 76% rating. I thought we might go based upon the audience appraisals.

As I began to read the reviews, I thought something along these lines, "Well, maybe Hollywood just doesn't understand faith-based, family value movies like The Identical."

Then I read that Christianity Today gave The Identical one star out of five.  The review is worth reading. Words like 'lame,' 'surreal,' and 'odd' are sprinkled throughout the review. Again, not having seen the movie, I am not passing judgment, just information. Christianity Today's review gives a synopsis The Identical in four closing paragraphs which are worth quoting:
Weirdest of all, when Ryan  has a rock-bottom moment and goes to a bar and orders a whiskey (thus proving it’s a genuine “rock-bottom moment”), he is confronted and comforted by a dwarf. The little man, played by Danny Woodburn (an actor with dwarfism best known for his Seinfeld role as Kramer’s volatile friend Mickey), actually says to Ryan, “You’re lookin’ for somethin’, aren’t you? Let me give you a hint, Ryan Wade. It ain’t here. But keep lookin’. You’ll find it eventually.”
It’s lame dialogue, yes. But you won’t really care. Because you’ll be dwelling on the fact that there was a specific filmmaking choice to have a dwarf, shorter than the barstool, suddenly appear out of thin air, just to give a pep talk to our hero at the film’s climactic moment. It’s so strange and surreal and startling, it’s as if Rhett Butler had said, “Frankly, my dear, pull my finger.” Or if Darth Vader had told Luke, “I am your father’s chiropractor.” It’s just head-shakingly odd.
 If you really want to see a great movie about twins separated at birth, re-watch Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Or either version of The Parent Trap.In press materials, The Identical describes itself as “a redemptive movie,” “a captivating story about a family restored, and a life discovered,” and “a drama . . . that powerfully explores two questions that constantly tug at our souls: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I here for?’”
But it doesn’t answer the question that’s tugging at mine: When I hit rock bottom, will a kindly, wise, cliché-spouting, hippie dwarf come and save me too?

Surprisingly, I was still inclined to see the movie, even after reading Christianity Today's review. What soured me, and what gave rise to my inner angst was an article I read by an irreverent comedian who took to task the movie's producers. I found myself agreeing with the irreverent comedian.

The producers of The Identical are telling Christians that 'The Identical" is a wonderful faith-based, family movie! They are putting the first 15 minutes of the movie on-line - for free - and declaring:
Mainstream film critics did not care for ‘The Identical,’ while Christian reviewers and audiences loved the movie. We are putting the first fifteen minutes online to let you decide for yourself.
I went to the official website for The Identical. Immediately I was turned off. Like many modern evangelical Christians, the producers of The Identical seem to be under the impression that if you make a movie that doesn't glorify sex or violence, make use of generous profanity, or flaunt nudity, then Christians should love the movie!

Not even close.

Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." C.S. Lewis quoted Aristotle, and then opined, "The devil understands this well. Thus his strategy is to gently nudge us in the wrong direction. He knows that if we truly saw where we were headed, we would immediately turn away. So, he just softly leads us in the wrong direction, knowing that momentum is a difficult thing to change."

Christian filmmaking seems to be headed in the wrong direction. Evangelicals seem to have not yet developed the habit of producing excellent films, settling for shaky dialogue, shoddy acting, and sharing the belief that Christians will be 'shamed' into seeing such Christian movies because we are in a 'culture war.'

That doesn't motivate me. Evangelical Christians above all others should be producing the most stunning artistic expressions of film and music that our world experiences!  Think of Bach and Beethoven. Think of Tolkien and Lewis. Forget the division between 'secular and sacred." If the universe is all God's then the arts are all His and are sacred.

It is the cheesy that denigrates God, and demotivates me to see a movie. Cheesiness is just as cheesy whether it comes wrapped in nudity or fully clothed people; with hellish curses or mind-numbing banal blessings that both take God's name in vain; with gruesome violence or cheesy heavenly visions. I don't wish to see cheesy, even if the package comes wrapped with a faith-based, family bow around it. Even more, I'll never go see a movie where Christian producers shame me into believing I should see it - in spite of its shoddiness - because we are in a 'culture war.'

After reading the attempts by the producers of The Identical to shame Christians into seeing it, I came to the conclusion I have more in common with an irreverent comedian than I do reverent Christians when it comes to watching poorly crafted movies. Give me professionalism. Give me excellence. Don't make an excuse for the absence of either, particularly if you are a follower of Jesus Christ who radiates the glory of God and sustains the universe by the power of His Word.

He deserves better.

And so do we.