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

Sinners Not Seeking Truth Hate Jesus (and Us)

Within the Christian subculture of those who love Jesus and keep 'traditional' churches at arm's length, there is a false belief that has become almost an axiom for the movement. It goes like this:
"People without Jesus will want to know Jesus because we love them, do good things for them, and accept them."
Embracing this philosophy has sadly led many evangelicals to cast off speaking anything defined as 'truth.' It has led Christians to start 'new churches' that are designed never to offend anyone. Though Jesus said, "the Truth will set you free," it seems modern Jesus followers are afraid to say 'God has made us for a purpose,  and He has the exclusive right to tell us how to live our lives."

As a result, modern Christians often look and live the way the world looks and lives.  In a recent scientific survey that tracked Christian sexual morality, a stunning conclusion was reached:
"Churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage are more likely to think pornography, cohabitation, hook-ups, adultery, polyamory, and abortion are acceptable."
Interesting. The world sees nothing wrong with hook-ups, adultery, polyamory, or abortion, and professing Christians who support 'same-sex marriage' tend to look and live a great deal like the world. Dr. Mark Regerus,  associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas and the author of the survey, concluded that it is reasonable 'to expect continued change in more permissive directions' within the modern church.

I propose that those of us who follow Jesus in the 21st century are missing the expectation that when we live and speak like Jesus lived and spoke, we will be hated without a cause.

Jesus was friend to sinners. He ate with the tax collectors and the prostitutes. He was good to them. But He always spoke the truth. Likewise, He was kind to the Jews, but He never hesitated to tell them where they were missing God. Those who sought Him out were seeking Truth. But a large number of people 'hated' Him.

Jesus told us He was 'hated without a cause' (John 15:25). That means He loved people so much that He was unafraid to tell people the truth. He was always going about 'doing good.' He was always loving and accepting of people. But He never hesitated to tell people those things that would set them free from their destructive self-indulgent lifestyles. For this reason, He was 'hated without a cause.' In this same chapter (John 15), Jesus says three things about those who are called His followers.

(1). "If you belong to the world (i.e. 'a system of living that is anti-truth and anti-Christ'), the world will love you" (John 15:19a).
(2). "But I have chosen you out of the world, and you belong to Me... this is why the world hates you" (John 15:19b).
(3). "The world will persecute you because they persecuted Me...for they do not know Me" (John 15:20-21)

He then concludes: - "They hated me without a cause" (John 15:25).

Churches have an obligation to be 'seeker friendly,' but we make a very horrible and strategic mistake if we equate being seeker friendly with being 'fond to sinners' who aren't seeking.

We Jesus followers are to be kind and loving toward those who think and act as if same-sex marriage, adultery, pornography, cohabitation, hook-ups, adultery, polyamory, and abortion are normal and acceptable. We also have the obligation to speak the truth to them.

Expect to be hated like Jesus was hated - 'without a cause.'

Agenda Check: Gospel Coalition and ISIS Brutality

Gospel Coalition editor Joe Carter wrote an article yesterday questioning reports that ISIS terrorists were murdering and mutilating women and children in Syria and Iraq. I'm sure Mr. Carter and others have good motives, but disputing the brutality of ISIS is similar to Europeans denying Hitler's massacre of the Jews in World War II.

Monday afternoon, August 11, 2014, Senator Tom Coburn, United States Senator from Oklahoma, told a large crowd at the Enid event center that the Central Intelligence Agency has shown him photographs of over one hundred men, women and children that have been brutally murdered and beheaded by ISIS terrorists.  If the Gospel Coalition wishes to argue that 'adult men' have been beheaded, but there are no public photographs that women and children have been mutilated in this manner, I would remind Mr. Carter what he already knows to be true:  All life is precious, regardless of age or gender.

I think Senator Coburn has much more direct knowledge of the happenings in the Middle East than an evangelical on-line editor attempting to ascertain the truth of ISIS brutality from his office in New York. In my opinion, Mr. Carter and the Gospel Coalition have rushed to judgment - again. I will not presume to know the agenda of the Gospel Coalition, but it cannot be denied that there is one.


(Edit: After re-reading the last sentence above, it seems to imply that the agenda for the Gospel Coalition could be a negative one. I apologize. Mr. Carter has commented on this post and clearly stated that his agenda is to insure that false reports are not circulated via the Internet. I believe him.)

Icing ISIS: Different Solutions for Church and State

When northwest Oklahoma was settled overnight in 1893 by the largest Land Run in world history, beautifully portrayed in Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's 1992 movie Far and Away, a large number of German Mennonites, refugees to the United States from Russia, settled various cities. Thus, there are town names in northwest Oklahoma like Kremlin and Meno, and there is a large pacifist population, for Mennonites oppose all war on the basis that any violence is contrary to the Christian faith.  

Ironically, here in Enid, Oklahoma we have Vance Air Force Base. Many of the members of Emmanuel Enid are pilots with the United States Air Force. Several have left our church and are now in the theater of war in the Middle East. One of them is now directing all air missions in Iraq as the United States government is attempting to stop the brutal and inhumane terrorist activities (warning: graphic content) of the  Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS or ISIS).

There are no easy answers on how to stop ISIS.

Yesterday, my wife and I read an incredible article by the founder and president of Preemptive Love, an organization devoted to helping all of humanity in Iraq. Jeremy Courtney makes the argument that the way ISIS can be stopped is for Christians to do everything they can to love the people of Iraq, including the radical Muslims. The essence of being a Jesus follower, according to Jeremy, is "loving one's enemies." He writes:
"It’s not violence or pre-emptive strikes that terrify the terrorists. They need violence to be done against them to justify their cause. But pre-emptive love — shown through heart surgeries or simple hospitality — upends our simplistic stories and threatens hatred everywhere. Or, in the words of the fatwa issued against our work: 'We must stop [these heart surgeries] lest it lead our children and their parents to love their enemies!'" 

I agree with Jeremy.

However, as I read his article, I couldn't help think about the men in northern Iraq and Syria who've been crucified by ISIS for being Christian. I couldn't help but think about the non-Muslim women and children who've been raped and beheaded or in some cases, buried alive. I couldn't help but think about the men, women and children who have fled for their lives and are starving and dying of thirst on Mount Sinjar

I'm not sure a heart surgery performed Preemptive Love on a child of a caliphate cleric helps those people in immediate danger of rape, murder, beheading, and other horrific and inhumane acts perpetrated by ISIS.

But an FA-18 airstrike can ice ISIS in their tracks.

I must admit I struggle in this area. I want so badly for everyone to live and act like Jeremy Courtney. I follow him on Twitter. I'm donating to his ministry. I believe in what he is doing. But I don't feel badly for paying taxes in order that the United States can have a military that is able to stop murderers and terrorists bent on holocaust.  Am I less a follower of Jesus Christ because I believe in living my life like Christ lived His, but supporting a government that will intervene in a humanitarian crisis and bomb the ISIS terrorists?

I don't think so. Listen to Scripture:
"For government rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of government authorities? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for the state is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for the state does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection to government, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake.…" (Romans 13:3-5)
Most Christians miss that last phrase of Romans  13:5.

"...for conscience' sake..." My conscience will not allow the thought of men, women and children being tortured and murdered by ISIS. I support Israel, the United States, and any other government in any effort to stop brutal terrorism.

It's why the church and the state shall remain separate till Christ comes. The church brings mercy; the state brings wrath. Those who call for the state to show mercy on evil doers have made the mistake of mixing the mission of church and the state. Christ's Kingdom now only resides within individual hearts. What a beautiful thing to see a heart transformed by God's grace to be able to love one's enemies. There is, however, no biblical or logical inconsistency with a Jesus follower turning his cheek privately toward his enemy, but at the same time supporting a government that strikes the cheek of the evil doer.

Blame Is Not a Game: JD Hall, Ergun Caner, and the Tragic Suicide of 15-Year-Old Braxton Caner

"The bell tolls for me..."
I have never met JD Hall or Ergun Caner.

My heart goes out to both men.  My wife and I are sending a check to Ergun and Jill Caner to help them with any unexpected expenses associated with the tragic suicide of their fifteen-year-old son, Braxton. The note we attach will remain private, but it expresses to them our prayers on their behalf.  No answers. No wisdom. Just an expression of love and support.

In my office I keep a file of suicide notes from all the suicide scenes where I've ministered as a police chaplain to family members left behind. Every now and then I go through and read them. Every time I read a note, I remember a family with whom I've shared an experience of pain. The most agonizing part of working a suicide is the conversation that must take place with family members of the deceased. 

I cannot remember ever talking with a family when I did not say something along these lines:
"I know you are hurting. I wish I could take your pain away. I can't. But what I can do is tell you that you are not to blame for the death of your loved one." 
I would then explain that in the coming days some friends, co-workers, and even a few family members will begin  playing 'the blame game.' Ignore them. It won't be easy. However, every time someone attempts to place blame, remember what I am about to tell you right now: 
"The only person responsible for this death is the one by whose hand this life ended."
When I heard about Braxton's suicide, my heart broke. It broke for the Caners. It also broke for another person - JD Hall.

During the first week of July I read about an on-line Twitter exchange between JD Hall and Braxton Caner. It was brought to my attention by Peter Lumpkins who wrote about it.  The tweet exchange between JD and Braxton occurred over the course of just a few minutes, consisted of a handful of back-and-forth tweets between Pastor JD Hall and 15-year-old Braxton Caner, and ended just as quickly as it began. It never should have happened. The exchange is still a matter of the public record. Anyone can read it. Pastor JD Hall never should have 'called out' Braxton Caner for 'immorality' via Twitter (why does JD get to define 'immorality' for Braxton?). Pastor JD Hall never should have asked Braxton if "he spoke Arabic at home" (Come on).  Pastor JD Hall never should have told Braxton to 'call him if he ever wanted know the truth about his father" (I don't blame Ergun for wanting to punch Pastor JD).

It was stupid behavior on JD's part. It was foolish behavior. I would call it sinful and selfish behavior.

A few years ago, the same thing happened to me and my kids. We were attacked for 'immorality,' 'dishonesty,' and 'hypocrisy.' I am not unfamiliar with people attacking a 'high-profile' person with whom they disagree through their children. It's not pleasant. It's not Christian. I get it.

I did not know JD Hall, so when I read Peter Lumpkins, I went to JD Hall's blog to read what he had to say about the Twitter exchange with Braxton. Surprisingly, I read an apology. When I looked at the time line, I noticed that the apology was posted less than 48 hours after the Twitter exchange took place. Here's what JD Hall wrote:
"As I said on Friday's program, I regret pointing people to the material or behavior exhibited on Caner's son, Braxton's Twitter account. That was a distraction, and I should have contacted Caner about it. I did reach out to one of Caner's associates, but apparently didn't give enough time for him to amend the situation. Again, I should not have done that.
I've asked for people "chapter and verse" why it's wrong to point out publicly his already-public behavior. I've thought a lot about it. Proverbs 17:9 says, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Well, Caner and I are not exactly, "close friends" but the point is salient. While it was in no way an "attack," Braxton wasn't a public persona even though his tweets are public, and now even more are aware of the various things mentioned in the above blog post. Likewise, I shouldn't have interacted with the boy those couple times once the original tweet was made.
Finally, I gave credence to the rumor in a tweet relating to Caner's marriage which I should not have mentioned, even in passing. That, I will go so far as to say is sinful. So, thinking my email address already blocked, I've reached out to a mutual friend of Caner and myself to give an apology to make sure he gets it. If someone wants to beat me over the head with this apology or the way it's worded, then I apologize for that, too."
When I heard that Braxton died, my heart went out to the Caner family and to the Hall family. Last Sunday, right before the early service at Emmanuel, I googled JD Hall, found the contact number for his church in Montana, and called. The person on the answering machine said, "Hello, this is Jordan... "so I thought I might have the wrong number. However, after realizing that the J in JD was probably Jordan, I left a message, telling Jordan I was praying for him and his family. Remember, I've never met or spoken to Jordan (the name used by his friends).

Jordan called me back Sunday night.

I spoke to a hurting man.  The death of Braxton has hit him hard. At the time, not much had been written on-line about JD being responsible for Braxton's death. The only thing I had read was from an atheist website. Yet, I told Jordan that it was more than likely that in the coming days and weeks a number of  people would write articles about Jordan being 'responsible' for Braxton Caner's death.

Jordan Hall is no more responsible for the death of Braxton Caner than Ergun Caner is responsible for the death of Braxton Caner. I gave the same speech to Jordan Hall that I've given for decades to family members of loved ones who have died. If someone says to me, "But wait a minute, JD Hall is not a family member of Braxton? Why does he need to be told he is not to blame?"

Because he is a human being who had an interaction, albeit unwise, with a young man who committed suicide. All of us have 'unwise, foolish, and stupid interactions with others'  Not all of us commit suicide. Pastor JD Hall is a brother-in-Christ with Braxton. He did have a relationship with Braxton - albeit a poor one via social media. JD Hall needs to hear the same thing the family of Braxton Caner should be hearing. I'm sure, like every parent, there have been 'unwise, foolish, and stupid exchanges" between the Caners and their kids - just like there's been some between my wife and me and our kids - but Jill and Ergun Caner are not responsible for Braxton's death.

I remind those Christians who disagree with me about JD Hall not being responsible for Braxton Caner's death of three things:

(1). The Twitter exchange was stupid, foolish and unwise, but anybody who would quantify the exchange as cyber-bullying probably needs to be shown other examples of cyber-bullying.
(2). Jordan Hall apologized within 48 hours of the exchange.
(3). Nobody knows why Braxton Caner committed suicide, and assigning blame to Jordan Hall and/or Ergun Caner is both unwise and unhealthy for everyone involved.

I am not a friend of Jordan Hall. I am not a friend of Ergun Caner. I am a brother-in-Christ to both. My heart broke when I heard of Braxton Caner's death.
"Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee..." John Donne, Meditation 17
Friends and family of Ergun Caner may feel the need to blame JD Hall. Friends and family of JD Hall may feel the need to blame Ergun Caner. People who have personally experienced the subtle power of spiritual abuse and who have no relationship with Jordan or Ergun may be quick to blame Jordan Hall.

Blame is not a game.

Only God knows why Braxton Caner took his life. My encouragement is to lift up the Caner family in prayer, as well as the Jordan Hall family in prayer, and spend our time focusing on how we can help both.

The Folly of Demanding Repentance

“Conviction of sin is one of the most uncommon things that ever happens to a person.”
Oswald Chambers.



For a very long time I've tried to put my finger on why I'm bothered by much of what is called Christian blogging. It's not the act of blogging which disturbs me (of course not); nor is it the efforts to expose untoward behavior of Christian leaders and Christian ministries; nor is it the defense of high-profile Christians who come under the intense scrutiny of others.

I think I was finally able to pinpoint what bothers me about Christian blogging. It came to me this past weekend.

It's all the 'demands' for repentance. Everybody wants everyone else 'to repent.' Church members are demanding church leaders repent. Church leaders are demanding church members repent. High-profile Christians are demanding discernment bloggers repent, and discernment bloggers are demanding high-profile Christians repent. Blogs expose Christians who have lied, and demand they repent. Christians who have been 'attacked' on blogs demand bloggers repent of their bullying. Everybody demands everyone else repent.

It seems to me we like playing the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict people of sin (John 16:8). When the Holy Spirit stirs a person’s conscience, it is not relationships with others that bothers him, but his relationship with God
“Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil." (Psalm 51:4)
I wonder if we began to understand that true repentance in another person will only spring from our goodness towards that person, then maybe we would stop demanding that anyone else repent. Maybe if we would simply seek to be kind towards sinners, then maybe we would become an instrument for real repentance.

Of course, that doesn't  mean we 'hide, or cover, or enable' sin in other Christians or Christian ministries -- but it does mean that when we expose what we believe to be wrong, we always speak the truth in love, and we seek creative ways to be good toward those of whom we are writing.  It means that instead of always 'demanding' others repent, we would personally delight in doing good toward those who are in sin -- even our enemies.

If "it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance" (Romans 2:4), then maybe that should be 'good' enough for us.