Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas message from Aaron

I hope this post finds you happy and in good health. Rhiannon and I have just finished opening our presents and are looking forward to going over to my Aunt Rose's house in a couple of hours to enjoy the annual Christmas Turkey and gift exchange with the extended Taylor family. Rhiannon will start making her world famous corn casserole in a few minutes-world famous at least in the Taylor household!

As we're all supposed to do this time of the year, I've been reflecting a lot about the true meaning of Christmas over the past few days. My heart goes out to the worlds pastors who have to find new shades of meaning and spiritual insight every single year as they prepare their Christmas sermons to deliver to their congregations. Being that it's Christmas day, this message may be a little late for pastors and missionaries looking for last minute enlightenment, but it's not late in terms of relevance for the new year.

First I'll start with what we all know and understand. Unless your last name is Scrooge and your first name is Grinch, you probably realize that Christmas is about the generosity of giving and not the vanity of commercialization. With the slew of Hallmark and ABC Family Christmas specials this time of year, I find it odd that even Hollywood sells the message of faith, family and values this time of the year.

This next thought may be a bit Pollyanna-ish, but I think that both sides of the "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" war need to lay down their arms and take a breather, if not for political and theological reasons, then at least for practical ones. Having to correct people every time they use a holiday greeting that you don't like can get exhausting after a while. As much as I would like to continue my soapbox on this one, you can consider that a freebie.

The real message I'd like to share with you this Christmas is this. In light of my debate with a radical jihadist in London and my recent trip to the West Bank, one of the ideas that has turned my world upside down and caused me to reevaluate nearly everything I have held dear in terms of my identity and values is the idea that one of the central themes of the New Testament is a complete and utter rejection of the value of exercising earthly power and authority over others. When Jesus said, "The meek shall inherit the earth," the people of His day knew exactly what He meant. On the day of judgment, those who will be left standing are not the Caesars and the centurions, but the cooks and the carpenters. Practically the entire life and ministry of Jesus conveys the idea that the Kingdom of God belongs to the powerless, not the powerful.

Jesus said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them." In an age where politicians, even sincere politicians, are all-too-eager to invoke the name of Jesus as a stamp of divine approval upon their bid for the White House, I think a re-evaluation of the role of the Church, and how the Church interacts with earthly power is in order. Just as not everything that glitters is gold, I have a feeling that not everything that calls itself Christian is truly Christian.

Jesus was born in a stable and raised the son of a carpenter. He never levied a tax and He never waged a war. Although He could have used His birthright as heir to the Davidic throne to "restore the Kingdom to Israel", He deliberately chose not to. Instead, He put the priority on taking on the form of a servant and establishing God's true kingdom in the hearts of men. He had no earthly agenda but to love and to serve, especially those who lived with a different set of values than His own. Jesus managed to befriend the tax-collector, the zealot, the Samaritan, and the prostitute alike, calling them to repent.....without pursuing an earthly agenda to push them to the fringes of society.

As we head into the new election year, I think it would be wise for us all to remember that the world's only true "Christian" king (or ruler or politician or whatever term you would like to insert to denote earthly power) died on a wooden cross, suffering for the souls of the very people who were crucifying Him. May the example of Jesus be the true inspiration for us all to build a better world as we head into the new year.

Merry Christmas,


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Good news in Iran

I just received a report from Caleb Project's monthly newsletter. Here is what it said about Iran.

It is estimated that at least two million Farsi-speakers watch SAT-7 PARS in Iran regularly. In the nine months SAT-7 PARS has been on Iranian television, countless people have come to Christ in this predominantly Muslim nation.

Many believe this Christian station is the most watched satellite channel in Iran. One listener said, "I have not read the New Testament, or the Torah, because there is none in Iran, but Jesus Christ has made a home in my heart. I beg you to tell me how I can leave [my religion] and come to the religion of Jesus Christ because besides him, no one else has my life in their hands."

Too often we in the West tend to think of the Muslim world as a monolith, as if everyone is locked in their beliefs with little desire to change. The reality is, more Iranians have turned to Christ since the Ayatollah seized power than at any other time before.

It helps to keep things in perspective when we watch the daily news. There is hope for the future.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Governor Huckabee: Will you go on record?

It's been an exciting past few weeks for Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist minister turned Governor of Arkansas. Just a few short weeks ago, Rudy Guliani and Mitt Romney were the undisputed frontrunners of the GOP with Senator John McCain and Fred Thompson trailing closely behind. With Guliani's marital problems and Romney's Mormon faith, evangelicals haven't had a candidate they can call one of their own. As every political commentator knows, this has been a huge problem for the Republican Party since evangelicals form the largest voting block of the GOP base. If Karl Rove and the nation's 60 million evangelical Christians have been silently praying for a savior, it seems the savior has arrived in the form of another southern governor with humble beginnings.

Now that Governor Mike Huckabee is a frontrunner in the race along with Guliani and Romney, it seems that everyone is talking about religion-again. What is the role of religion in public life? What is the meaning of separation of church and state? What is the definition of a religious test? While all of this may seem like deja vu, it seems that leaders of the Christian Right are singing a different tune this time around. Case in point. Did you ever think you would hear the late Jerry Falwell endorse a Mormon for president with the words, "We're not electing a pastor in chief, we're electing a commander in chief"? Or how about the same words coming from Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptists' religion and ethics commission? The other day I even heard Richard Land use the words "pluralism and diversity" on CNN when asked about the Mormon question. Even more bizarre, did you ever think the day would come when Pat Robertson would endorse a man twice divorced and Catholic in name only? Aside from the occasional Christian Reconstructionist or Patriot Pastor in Ohio, it seems that the leaders of the Christian Right have finally conceded that separation of church and state isn't a tool of the devil used by liberals to undermine the Christian faith, but is, in fact both Christian and constitutional.

While I'm glad that Christian Right leaders are taking a softer tone on the role of faith in politics, there's something that is still bothering me. With all this new talk about not putting political candidates through a religion test, it seems that the important religious questions are being overlooked or shall I say....Left Behind? To illustrate my point, let's look at the religious differences between Huckabee and Romney. If Romney is true to his Mormon faith then he believes that God once started out as a man, that Jesus and Lucifer were once brothers, and that good Mormons will be populating celestial planets in the afterlife. Huckabee, on the other hand, if he is true to his Baptist faith, believes the Bible is the Word of God, that salvation comes by grace through faith, and that Jesus is coming back soon. If I had to pick which of these two belief systems I'm most comfortable with occupying the Oval Office, I'd have to pick the first one-and I'm saying that as a committed evangelical Christian who also believes the Bible is the Word of God, that salvation comes by grace through faith, and that Jesus is coming back soon. Does this sound a bit bizarre? Let me explain.

If a Mormon occupying the White House believes that God started out as a man, that Jesus and Lucifer were once brothers, and that good Mormons will be populating celestial planets in the afterlife, how much would these beliefs affect his or her policy decisions on things like the Middle East conflict, nuclear disarmament, or America's role in the U.N? . If, on the other hand, you have a president that subscribes to the Left-Behind version of Christianity made popular by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, how would that affect his or her foreign policy decisions? Given that Tim Lahaye has recently endorsed Governor Huckabee, that Governor Huckabee has publicly stated that he "enjoyed" reading the Left Behind novels, and that Tim Lahaye recently sent letters to pastors in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina inviting them to an all-expense paid trip to hear Mike Huckabee speak, this question is far from theoretical.

Let's review the Left Behind Series. In Tim Lahaye's Left Behind series, the anti-christ seizes power by taking over which institution? You guessed it-the United Nations. Who allows the evil anti-christ to rise to power in the Left Behind novels? You guessed it again. A weak democratic president. Where does the evil anti-christ set up his headquarters for his evil empire? Modern day Iraq. How does the Anti-christ seize the reigns of power? This should come as no international nuclear disarmament treaty. Combine this with the idea that Jesus can't come back until the dream of Greater Israel is realized and that will give you a fairly accurate picture of the Left-Behind world view.

This, by the way, is not an endorsement of Mitt Romney. When it comes to foreign policy, Romney can speak for himself. All I'm saying is that when it comes to analyzing a candidate's religious beliefs, we should be asking the questions that really matter. So here are a few questions I would like for Governor Huckabee to answer.

1. Governor Huckabee. Do you support the expansion of Jewish Settlements in the West Bank?

2. Governor Huckabee. Does your particular interpretation of Scripture preclude a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

3. Governor Huckabee. What is your view on the role of the U.N. in international affairs?

4. Governor Huckabee. Do you believe the Bible prophecies an imminent attack on the state of Israel by an alliance of Russia and Iran?

Will Governor Huckabee go on record regarding any one of these issues in the near future? Will anyone be asking him these questions in the next debates? For the sake of us all...Let's hope so.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Christian Right and the Pledge of Allegiance-Is There a Contradiction?

This is a revision of an earlier post I've written.

Imagine a grade school student from China who goes to a public school and is asked to swear an oath to the Chinese state every day along with the rest of his or her class at school. Imagine that the young boy or girl refuses to participate due to the fact that he or she is a Christian and does not want to declare allegiance to anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ. I wonder how the average American Christian raised in a conservative evangelical church would view this scenario? I imagine that millions of Christians in America would not only admire the grade school student, but would probably use him or her as an example in Sunday School on how to take a stand as a Christian against a godless secular culture.

Now let's imagine another scenario. Imagine a young boy or girl in America attending one of the thousands of Christian schools throughout the nation. Imagine that a young boy or girl decides one day to politely decline in saying the pledge of allegiance along with his or her classmates. I wonder how the average American evangelical Christian would view this scenario? Given the political firestorm over taking "under God" out of the pledge, I imagine that the reaction of the same millions of Christians who thought the Chinese boy or girl was a hero would be decisively different than over the Christian child refusing to participate in the American pledge of allegiance. I further imagine that many would even question if the student was a Christian at all. After all, so the thinking goes, America is a Christian nation.

Does anyone else see a problem with this? To many American Christians, a child who pledges allegiance to China is considered idolatrous, but a child who pledges allegiance to America is considered a patriot. Speaking as an American evangelical myself, I have to ask what does this say about how we as American Christians view ourselves? For many Christians, the idea that America is not a Christian nation is tantamount to blasphemy. I find it odd that the same people who would applaud a Chinese or a Russian for refusing to swear an oath to a secular state see no problem with wrapping an American flag around a cross in the front yards of their churches.

For the record, I'm not saying necessarily that it's a damnable sin to say the Pledge of Allegiance, although I do think the issue should be looked at more carefully. Although it's true that the Bible says, "Give custom to whom custom is due," it's also true that the New Testament repeatedly prohibits taking oaths. Given what the New Testament actually says about taking oaths, (namely, that a Christian isn't supposed to be making them) isn't it a bit odd that one of the key issues of the Christian right involves keeping the words "under God" in an oath to a nation/state?

Why does this contradiction exist? I think it's because the average American Christian from a conservative evangelical background associates patriotism with following Jesus. To confirm this truth, we need look no further than "Christian" talk radio. I actually heard a "Christian" talk show host one time tell a U.S. Marine "Remember, when you serve in the U.S. Military, you're serving Jesus." As odd at this statement might sound, turning Jesus into an officer of the U.S. Marines, for many of my friends and colleagues, the statement "soldiers in Iraq are doing the will of God" seems to flow off their lips without a second thought.

Should a Christian associate America's cause with God's cause? I don't think so. The truth is that America is a mixture of good and bad, just like many other nations. We can't claim a special relationship with God more than any other nation can. Although our pilgrim forefathers believed they were making a covenant with God when they entered this land, we have no reason to believe that God entered a covenant with them. Biblically speaking, any alliance between the Kingdom of God, which always looks like Jesus taking on the form of a suffering servant, with a version of the Kingdom of this world, (however new and improved the version of the worldly kingdom is) is an unholy alliance-and for good reason. Ask a typical native American Christian whether he or she believes that God gave the continental U.S. to white Europeans for the purpose of advancing the cause of freedom and liberty and you might get a totally different answer than you would hear from one of Ohio's Patriot Pastors.

As a missionary who has traveled the world many times over, I've met many Christians from other countries who have asked me why so many American Christians associate patriotism with Christianity. Not being one who likes to mix words, I tell them the truth. Americans read the Bible with cultural blinders on.....just like everyone else.

As for those who would venerate a Chinese student for refusing to pledge an oath to China but marginalize a Christian kid for refusing to pledge an oath to America, I'm not sure if they'll like what I have to say, but for a Bible believing Christian, the response to this anomaly should be obvious. Our first and foremost loyalty should be to Jesus Christ. Although we need to honor and serve our country as good citizens, to equate love for Jesus with love for country is nothing short of idolatry.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Releasing my inner sissy-revised

Now that I’m married and no longer collecting manly points to attract the opposite sex, I can finally bare my soul to the world regarding a long repressed childhood memory. Here’s the scene I’d rather deny than reveal. I am 11 years old. I go to a small private Christian school that throws parties for sixth grade graduations. I’m in a limousine with my 11 classmates and the girl that I’ve had a crush on for the past three years is in the arms of another man… who happens to be the most popular kid in my class.

Want to guess what I did in that limousine? You guessed it. I did exactly what jolted love-sick romantics should never do….at least according to the rules of Hollywood. I released my inner sissy and balled like a baby… in front of every single one of my classmates. It was the most humiliating experience of my life up until that point. Here’s the part that makes the story even more embarrassing. Another girl in the class felt sorry for me and decided to "go out" with me (Going out was the term used for a steady relationship back then. I have no idea what the term is today). It wasn't until several weeks later that I realized our “relationship” was a sham. Come to think of it, that was a really nice gesture on her part….even if it was a little misguided. After that summer I never saw my first “girlfriend” again.

What could possibly motivate me to share this story with you? Well, apparently, confession is the "in" thing right now. All over the country, people are sharing their stories through websites, blogs, coffee-houses, and various other venues. Some are confessing their most embarrassing moments, others are confessing their deepest, darkest sins. Still others are confessing their disappointments and frustrations in life. I saw on the Today Show a letter a man sent to a confession site that said, “I wish my father would love me for who I am, not for who I’m not.” It seems that everyone is telling their secrets. The question is-why?

Well, I can tell you one reason-it's Biblical. The Bible says that Christians are supposed to, "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." It seems that the secular world is catching up to what the Bible has been saying all along. As a Bible-believing Christian, none of this comes as a surprise to me. In an age where the most-often repeated phrase is, "I'm a spiritual person, but I don't believe in institutional religion" should we expect anything different?
As much as our generation rejects “institutional religion”, the truth still remains that none of us were created for isolation. All of us need to have people around us who love us and won’t judge us for who we are and what we have done. As imperfect as the institution of the Church is, a place for soul confession is exactly what Jesus and the Apostles had in mind. The Apostle James had it exactly right when he said, “Confess your sins one to another that you may be healed.” If the Church really is an institution of redeemed sinners, what better place could there be to bare your soul?

Calling all Christians! Let's give the world a run for its money. It’s confession time!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Willfully blind

Once a month I get a newsletter from Christ for the Nations magazine. Receiving this magazine is a mixed baggage for me because, while most of the magazine focuses on the work of CFNI graduates and the great things God is doing around the world though them, in nearly every issue there is commentary on Israel and the Middle-East conflict.

This issue is no different. In Jeffery Seif's column O Little Once Christian Town of Bethlehem
Dr. Seif, a former instructor of mine, laments the fact that so few Christians remain in Bethlehem. Not only is Bethlehem becoming barren of Christians, it's also becoming barren of people.

As to be expected, Dr. Seif puts the blame for Bethlehem's economic depravity squarely on the Muslims. The Israeli army is, of course innocent.

Just so you can see what I'm up against, here is Dr. Seif's evaluation of the situation.

As is to be expected, many blame the Jews for those statistics-even the victims. As with just about every other problem on planet Earth, Jews are seen as the principl culprits. Demonic-inspired Jew-bashing aside, unreported-or under-reported anyway-are the abuses that Christian Arabs suffer under the administrations of their Islamic Arab overlords, pressing them to seek better lives for themselves outside of Muslim jurisdictions. This is the real problem. The Palestinian Authority seems either unwilling or unable to assist Arab citizens of Christian persuasion.

While we remember Jesus' birth and sing tunes anticipating "peace on earth and goodwill toward men," let us all remember how Christian brethren are suffering in the land of Jesus' birth, and let us pry for them. Mindful of that, let us not delude ourselves with the popular, politically correct fantasy that by ceding more and more real estate to Muslim terrorists, we are purchasing peace for the peoples of the Middle East. It may sound good in theory, but is not borne out in practice; it, in truth, is just another ploy to detach Jews from their ancestral homeland.

Dr. Seif, has it ever occured to you that the economic starvation and mass exodus from Bethlehem might possibly be due to the gargantuan-sized wall the Israeli military has built around the city? The problem with Dr. Seif's thesis is that it doesn't reflect the views of the average Palestinian Christian. During my trip to Bethlehem, I talked to many Christians and all of them put the blame on the Israeli military occupation for making their lives difficult. Not one Christian I talked to said their primary problem was with their Muslim neighbors. What I heard from them was, in fact, the opposite. Every Christian I talked to, even evangelical Charismatic Christians, identified their struggle with the struggle of their Muslim neighbors. While I don't deny their could be some discrimination between Muslim overlords and their Christian subjects, every Christian I talked to agreed that Christians and Muslims live together peacefully in the West Bank.

Even more disturbing is the length that Seif goes to automatically rule out the view of anyone who questions his if criticizing the Israeli military's heavy handed policies is equivalent to "demonically-inspired Jew-bashing."

Such rhetoric is typical among people who only see what they want to see. Instead of reasoning with someone sees a situation different from you, all you have to do is say he has a demon.

Works every time for the ignorant.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Between ordinary and extraordinary

I've been thinking a lot lately about the phrase, "God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things." While I've written on this topic before in my post, "In Defense of Ordinary" in which I make the point that God uses ordinary people to do ordinary things, but ordinary things really matter. This time I'm coming at it from a different angle and I'd like to enlist my readers for some input.

The problem with the "ordinary people...extraordinary things" idea is that once ordinary people do extraordinary things, then they are no longer considered ordinary, which begs the question whether they were really ever that ordinary to begin with. Another problem is that the examples are so far removed from the every day Christian experience, they hardly seem relevant. Case in point...when was the last time you or I walked on water or healed a crippled person from our shadow? I don't think any of us, at least not anybody I know personally, can call Peter ordinary. If we are honest with ourselves, we'll probably have to admit that normally, God uses "extraordinary" people to do "extraordinary things." In my mind, people like Moses, David, Peter, and Paul fall into this category. This doesn't mean that extraordinary people don't have ordinary faults or don't often come from ordinary beginnings, it just means that extraordinary lives come from extraordinary people.

What I'm lookin at now are examples in the Scriptures in between ordinary and extraordinary. Examples where an ordinary person does something either extraordinary or something just a cut above average, and, yet remains ordinary.

The first example that comes to mind is Ananias. Here is an ordinary disciple who God uses to baptize the Apostle Paul....and then we never hear about him again. To me, Ananias is a perfect example of an individual who falls into the category somewhere in between ordinary and extraordinary. Ananias did something extraordinary, but remained an ordinary person. Could it be that the Holy Spirit put this story in the Bible to show us that even people who are truly ordinary can occasionally do something extraordinary and remain ordinary at the same time? I don't know about you, but I'm glad there are characters like Ananias in the Bible. If all we had were Peters and Pauls and Davids, there really wouldn't be much hope for the vast majority of the human race who long to transcend run-of-the-mill ordinary existence.

I'm sure there are many, perhaps better, stories in the Bible to illustrate this point. Can you think of any?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Virtue, villian, and the complexity of reality

If it seems like I'm conflicted in my feelings regarding the Christian right, I am. By now it should be obvious that I feel a Reformation needs to take place in American Christianity, and a significant part of this Reformation demands the rejection of core philosophies and beliefs held by the so-called leaders of the Christian right (at least the ones that have the attention of the secular media anyway). After writing "Pro-Life Killers" yesterday, I feel it's necessary to bring some balance into the discussion. I think it's wrong for anybody to focus so much on the negative side of one particular group of people as to completely overlook the positive.

The truth is, while many who would call themselves "liberal" despise the Christian Right for not caring about poverty related issues, the ironic thing is, some of the most active people in the world in addressing poverty related issues are right wing conservative Christians. I'm not the only one who has noticed this. One of the things that Stephen Marshall, the director of Holy Wars, learned through his "hanging with the fundamentalists" was that the "fundamentalists" are some of the most active people on the ground when it comes to disaster relief. Just like I've chastised my own side on many things, Stephen has also chastised his "left-wing" friends for merely talking about Global poverty issues and railing against the "fundamentalists", while the "fundamentalists" are actually the ones on the ground clothing the poor and feeding the hungry.

My point is this.

People are complex. If we look at the spectrum of good people in the world verses the bad people in the world, most people are somewhere in between and, as much as I hate to admit it, that includes Christians. I can rail all day long against the hypocrisy I see in so-called "conservative Christianity", but if that's all I see, I'm dead wrong. The same holds true for those on the "right" who criticize those on the "left."

As much as I've observed people around the world from different races, colors, and religions, the truth seems evident to me that most people (regardless of their background) are a combination of virtue and villian.

Not only are people complex, but morality is complex. Not only is morality complex, but so is religion. Not only is religion complex, so is the Bible. Not only is the Bible complex, interpreting the Bible seems to be the most complex.

If you're frustated by the complexity of reality, you're not the only one. Sometimes I've wondered why God would make reality so complex, but then I think to myself, if I substitute the word complex for interesting, then it doesn't sound so bad after all.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pro life killers?

Unless you've been living in a box, you've probably heard of Joe Horn, a 61 year old white male who shot two dark skinned males (who looked African American but are in fact of Puerto Rican descent)for breaking into his neighbors' house.

If you haven't read the story, read this first.

Joe White wasn't in any physical danger himself, and neither were his neighbors since they weren't home at the time. The 9-11 call clearly indicates that White intended to kill the two men when he walked out the door even though the 9-11 operator repeatedly told him to stay inside.

If the men had broken into White's home while he was present, then a case could be made for self-defense.

But this isn't what happened. Joe White took matters into his own hands and shot the two men point blank.

As I was watching footage of the clash between black protestors and the white neighbors, I couldn't help but think about the irony of it all. No, I don't think it can be proven that this was a racially motivated crime, but yes I think what Joe White did was wrong. The 9-11 operator was right. Human life is more valuable than possessions. As a Christian, I shudder to think about the fact that these two men, if they had been allowed to live, could have turned their lives over to Christ at a point in the future, but now the opportunity has been snuffed out. At least for these two men, judgment triumphed over redemption.

It saddens me that so many of the neighbors, and those in the surrounding neighborhoods stuck up for this man, especially knowing that this area is one of the most conservative Christian areas in the country. 70% of this particular county voted for Republican Tom De Lay and I'll make a bet that many of them voted for him solely for the reason that De Lay is pro-life. It also saddens me that so much of the commentary I've read on this subject, again by conservative Christians, feel that what White did was the right thing.

No, I don't think the law should treat Joe White the same was as those who kill for "less noble" reasons, but isn't it odd that so many who call themselves pro-life are so eager to defend the right to kill?