Eternal Revolution eBook FREE on Amazon

It is finally available!

The Eternal Revolution is now available on Amazon.com. And to celebrate, for today and tomorrow, the book is free for the Kindle!

Get your copy of The Eternal Revolution today!

Remember, even if you don’t have a Kindle, the software for Kindle is free for iOS, PC, Mac, and Android.

Please tell anyone you know who might be interested. When you get a chance, please write a review on Amazon or or on Goodreads for the book.

Physical Dead-Tree Copy Coming Soon

I expect to have the traditional, physical copy in July, after layout and printing are completed.

Why Free?

This is a “soft launch” – I won’t begin promoting the book until the physical edition is ready. Having the book go free for a couple days helps it not get lost in the sea of products on Amazon, and if I am going to give it away for a limited time, I’d like to make sure those of you who are following the blog are the first to get in on it.

Besides, I’m confident that you will want to share the book with others, and your recommendation will be worth much more than just asking you for a few dollars now.

So don’t delay: Get your copy, read it, and tell everyone you know!

All For the Glory of God

“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

 

As Christians, we hear the instruction to do everything for, or to, the Glory of God. But what does it actually look like when we do things for His glory, and not our own?

The story of Gideon is a great example of this. The odds were against Gideon’s 32,000  Israelite soldiers from the start, facing the combined Midianites and Amelekites that were too numerous to count. However, even those odds were too humanly possible. God had Gideon challenge and test the men until just 300 remained. Unlike the famous Spartans, these 300 had no allies but God alone.

When instructing Gideon to reduce his fighting force, God’s reason was this: “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ ” When something is to be done for God’s glory, it should be done without personal pride in the accomplishment, and without taking credit for it.

This doesn’t just apply to sports stars and performance artists. It doesn’t just apply to public victory and celebration. It is supposed to apply to everything we do.

Why does it seem that the biggest miracles have all happened in the past? Perhaps we have grown too confident – not just in our own abilities, but in knowing what is possible and impossible. But God is in the impossible tasks He sets before us.

If we set out to do something we know is possible, and achieve it, how have we shown the glory and power of God in that achievement? But if we set out to do what is necessary, against odds that are obviously impossible – then the success can truly be a witness to God’s presence and majesty.

 

 

Christianity is a Fight – J.C. Ryle Quotes on the Good Fight

When I was putting The Eternal Revolution book together, I googled the opening line I had at the time, “Christianity is a fight,” to see if that phrasing had been used before. Only one author stood out in the results: J.C. Ryle, Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, who lived at the end of the 19th century.

Upon finding his homily, “The Fight” which gets going with the line, “The first thing I have to say is this: True Christianity is a fight.”

I filed the link away, then knowing that I was not the first to use such phrasing. I did not want to read Ryle’s writings until I had finished my book, so that I would not be overly inspired by his particular style or structure.

Having finished my book (just some formatting, cover design, and so forth as I write this) I took some time to revel in the homiletic stylings of the late J.C. Ryle. Considering we had the same inspiration to write a challenge to Christians to fight, separated by over 100 years, it was a pleasure to read and find a kinship in the Spirit. You can find the homily here.

If you are looking for just the highlights from Ryle’s fighting words, here are a few select quotes from “The Fight” and other homilies.

“I fear much for many professing Christians. I see no sign of fighting in them, much less of victory. They never strike one stroke on the side of Christ. They are at peace with His enemies. They have no quarrel with sin.–I warn you, this is not Christianity. This is not the way to heaven.”

” The first thing I have to say is this: True Christianity is a fight.

“‘True Christianity’—mind that word ‘true.’ Let there be no mistake about my meaning. There is a vast quantity of religion current in the world which is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster; it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the real thing which was called Christianity eighteen hundred years ago. There are thousands of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday, and call themselves Christians. Their names are in the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage-service. They are buried as Christians when they die. But you never see any “fight” about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring they know literally nothing at all. Such Christianity may satisfy man, and those who say anything against it may be thought very hard and uncharitable; but it certainly is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded, and His Apostles preached. True Christianity is ‘a fight.’

“The true Christian is called to be a soldier, and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death, he is not meant to live a life of religious ease, indolence, and security, He must never imagine for a moment that he can sleep and dose along the way to heaven, like one travelling in an easy carriage. If he takes his standard of Christianity from the children of this world he may be content with such notions, but he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his lines laid down very plainly in this matter. He must ‘fight.'”

“Warfare with the powers of hell is the experience of every individual member of the true Church. Each has to fight. What are the lives of all the saints, but records of battles?”

“Every professing Christian is the soldier of Christ. He is bound by his baptism to fight Christ’s battle against sin, the world, and the devil. The man that does not do this breaks his vow. He is a spiritual defaulter. He does not fulfil the engagements made for him. The man that does not do this is practically renouncing his Christianity. The very fact that he belongs to a Church, attends a Christian place of worship, and calls himself a Christian is a public declaration that he desires to be reckoned a soldier of Jesus Christ.”

“A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within.”

” This warfare, I am aware, is a thing of which many know nothing. Talk to them about it, and they are ready to set you down as a madman, an enthusiast, or a fool. And yet it is as real and true as any war the world has ever seen. It has its hand-to-hand conflicts and its wounds. It has its watchings and fatigues. It has its sieges and assaults. It has its victories and its defeats. Above all, it has consequences which are awful, tremendous, and most peculiar. In earthly warfare the consequences to nations are often temporary and remediable. In the spiritual warfare it is very different. Of that warfare, the consequences, when the fight is over, are unchangeable and eternal.”

“And yet there is one warfare which is emphatically ‘good,’ and one fight in which there is no evil. That warfare is the Christian warfare. That fight is the fight of the soul.”

It is such a blessed and encouraging thing to find such a kindred soul, separated even by time and space. Here’s hoping that you also find these quotes stirring the Spirit within you!

Pagan Christian Churches

Over the past few years, I have been reading some of the trendy business strategy books that have been coming out. I’m not convinced it has been particularly useful, for other than Seth Godin there have been few, if any, that seemed to offer much in the way of advice that should be applied to a Christian ministry.

What has been alarming, though, is the number of case studies that came up about Christian churches. Yes, Christian churches that were being hailed as great examples for business leaders.

Christian Churches as Business Case  Studies

For example, in Made to Stick by Chip Heath, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church is highlighted as a case study – specifically, their profiling of potential “customers” under the name of “Saddleback Sam” and “Saddleback Samantha.” This case study has been cited over and over again in business books for its marketing genius. The profile of Sam and Samantha includes such details as education, income, job type (“professional, manager, or successful entrepreneur”) number of kids, debt level, and so on. The church’s marketing is then tailored to meet this profile “customer” to whom they evangelize.

In Relaunch, Mark Rutland writes about turning around troubled businesses and organizations. He describes the most valuable lessons of his early career from Dr. Paul Walker of Mount Paran Church. According to Rutland, Dr. Walker taught him valuable lessons in leadership. He gives the following examples:

  • The first time Rutland went on stage at the church, Dr. Walker expressed concern that Rutland was not wearing his best dress shoes. Those were Rutland’s only dress shoes, so Dr. Walker told him to get new ones. It was a requirement that a certain level of fashion be reflected in the church leadership.
  • Dr. Walker insisted that professional titles, such as “Dr.” were used. It was for the sake of the congregation, that their were confident in their leaders. “Mount Paran was a congregation of professionals who wanted their leaders to inspire confidence,” summarizes Rutland.
  • Rutland describes Dr. Walker’s reputation from the point of view of area businessmen. One described Dr. Walker as “the best cash flow man in Atlanta.” This had a profound effect on Rutland, who wrote, “I remember thinking, ‘I want businessmen to talk about me that way. I want to be the kind of minister that buisnessmen respect professionally.'”

After leaving Mount Paran, Rutland was hired by Calvary Church in Florida, when the congregation was reeling from money and scandal problems. According to Rutland, the previous pastor was fired by the bank holding the note for the church, and they had final say in the hiring of Rutland as replacement. In the interview process, Rutland recalls that the bankers wanted an account of how he was going to turn things around, and without “any spiritual nonsense.” Rutland writes about the situation, “The borrower, as the ancient words go, is slave to the lender.”

Rutland threatened to move the congregation to a new building and default on the bank’s controlling interest, but he did in fact turn the finances of the church around.

God or Money

I have a hard time reconciling such a vision for Christian ministry with the Bible’s instructions to faithful Christians. Christ told us to go out to all people, not just the urban professionals with white collar jobs. He did not send us forth, telling us to wear not only our best clothes, but the best clothes that are available.

Jesus and his apostles certainly do not seem to be on the same page as to where to find esteem. James writes, “Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Jesus warned that we cannot serve both God and mammon (wealth or money), as we will hate one and love the other. If your pastor is fired and hired by the bank that holds your mortgage, to which of the two are you beholden – or enslaved?

If, according to God, we are blessed when the world hates us and persecutes us, what does it mean if the world thinks we’re the best cash-flow business in the region?

If King David and Israel were punished for a census, what is the fruit of evangelizing to a target demographic based on economic well-being?

At our churches, are we to be inspired by the Spirit of God, or the professional skills and fashion sense of our ministers?

Pagan Christianity

Anything can become a false idol, and that even holds true for Christ himself. If your identity of Jesus and His message conflicts with the warnings, the nature of His ministry, and His commands so much as to put the esteem of the world before Him, then you are service a false image.

I mentioned Phil Vischer’s description of the “Oprah god” before:  “We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. ” 

Mainstream Christianity in America is something other than Christianity. If we cannot serve both God and money, then we need to ask ourselves: who the hell have we been preaching, praising, and following?

Photo Credit: Tricia on Flickr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samurai of the Wood-Cutting School

Among the last generations of samurai was a teacher named Yamaoka Tesshu. At his dojo, he would have students spend the entire first year perfecting the overhand chop. This was full-time study – and an entire year spent practicing the same move every day.

Critics of Tesshu dubbed his dojo “The wood-cutting school” because of this practice. There may have even been a reference to this as a double-entendre in Akira Kurosawa’s movie Seven Samurai; when we are introduced to Heihachi Hayashida he is chopping wood, later he introduces himself as a samurai “of the wood-cutting school.”

Samurai chopping wood

Ridiculous as it sounds, now and in his own time, Tesshu understood the importance of perfecting even the smallest actions. By having his students repeat the same action for a year, day in and day out, they could subconsciously execute the stroke with incredible strength and perfect technique, without even thinking about it.

As Christians, we too are called to perfect even the smallest things in our lives. “Little white lies” are still untruthfulness. Immodesty or theft of small things is still breaking the commandments. Even if it means revisiting the same virtue, or addressing the same weakness, day in and day out, year after year, we should daily devote ourselves to overcoming the person we were the day before.

Athesim is Dead

In 2009, Joss Whedon created a moderate stir when he gave speech in response to receiving the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism at Harvard University’s Memorial Church. You can see his brief speech below:

Some Christian bloggers protested the blasphemy in his speech, but it should have been the humanists objecting.

“…there’s a lot of best sellers, like God is not Great, or the God Delusion… but I find those books to be, I mean (sigh), well, they’re old news, for me… For me, the important thing is not that we’re right. The important thing is ‘Where do we go from here?’ If we are to have a foothold in American or world society, how do we codify our moral structure without the sky bully looking down on us telling us what to do? I’m here to tell you I don’t really have the answer.”

Whedon echoed the sentiments that G.K. Chesterton had stated decades earlier, when he called Atheism “The supreme example of a simple faith,” and “one of the dead heresies,” – in 1922.

The man says there is no God; if he really says it in his heart, he is a certain sort of man so designated in Scripture. But, anyhow, when he has said it, he has said it; and there seems to be no more to be said. The conversation seems likely to languish. The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement, by which the atheist lived, was an atmosphere of thrilled and shuddering theism, and not of atheism at all; it was an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial.

Irreverence is a very servile parasite of reverence; and has starved with its starving lord. After this first fuss about the merely aesthetic effect of blasphemy, the whole thing vanishes into its own void. If there were not God, there would be no atheists.

To Simple to Be True

To further prove this point, after his insightful proclamation that the New Atheism had nothing new to offer, Whedon offers the only ideas he has – humorous suggestions such as moving the Holy Land to Jamaica, or a new schism or more Popes to make Catholicism more lively (little does he know how lively Catholic politics are!). With nothing new to offer, he sinks back down to the level of defiance. The only thing atheists can build is a rise out of believers.

Certainly, the field of apologetics should prepare for intellectual debate as always, but when your opponent’s case is that he can reasonably prove a negative (which is impossible with logic) or that life originated from inorganic material naturally (a medieval alchemist’s theory which was debunked centuries ago) it is about a fruitless as having a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent.

Atheists decry religion for being a human construct. But if we are all accidents of evolution, products of “survival of the fittest,” how can one human deny another’s claim of racial superiority without resorting to a myth of equality and a human-constructed code of ethics? And if you cannot condemn genocide, what moral code can you proclaim, or what so-called evil can you condemn? Either we are created equal, as the Declaration of Independence proclaims, or we certainly evolved unequal, as Chesterton observed.

At its best, atheism today is about the emotional, not rational, reaction to hypocrisy and bloodshed perpetrated by those who proclaim belief in God. At its worst, it is the passionate and emotional denial of external limits and definitions of morals, usually for personal, not logical, reasons.

So do not fear the simple faith of the atheist; it is not new, it has not grown or developed like a living thing. The most effective way to combat its necrophilia-like allure is to live as Christ taught, not argue with those who may very well be rightfully angry with hypocritical Christians.

 

photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Why the Ten Commandments are not Enough

When it comes time to teach the Christian faith, either to converts or children, it seems that the go-to moral code is the Ten Commandments.

These ten simple rules were inscribed on stone for the people of Israel wandering in the desert, and were part of a larger law given to the people at that time. It is one of the simplest, oldest codes of morality in human history.

For Christians, though, it seems like it is remedial at best. They are not even exclusively Christian anymore – lying, stealing, and killing are generally outlawed in any culture, and no sect is ok with profaning what they hold as sacred or important.

When a rich young man asks him what must be done to inherit eternal life, Jesus first asks him about the commandments. The young man says he has kept them since his youth. Then Jesus tells him to go and sell everything – a command not found in the 10 commandments – and the young man goes away sad. Jesus remarks about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter heaven.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the goats and the sheep. The goats are denied entry into heaven, even though they call their judge Lord. The difference between the two groups is the acts of charity, or works of mercy, that were or were not done. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned. It is not against the commandments to not do those things, but apparently it is enough to deny one entry into heaven.

Put bluntly, you can keep the Ten Commandments and still go to hell.

The world knows this. Christians can keep the 10 Commandments and feel self-righteous, yet still be jerks. Even someone vaguely familiar with the gospels can point out that Jesus was calling people to much more than keeping 10 simple rules.

The 10 Commandments did not pass away or expire. You absolutely should keep them. But keeping them is a baby step for a Christian – like giving an Olympic athlete a medal for finishing a race, or thinking your marriage is great because you don’t cheat on each other. It should be a given. Even as we fail to keep them, and pick ourselves up again, we should be aiming higher.

What then should we teach as moral principles?

I have seen several sources recently point to the Beatitudes. Those are terrible goals, because they are not goals, they are effects. It’s rather like saying the goal is to be happy, when happiness is not an object that can be pursued, but the result or effect of something else.

If you are living as a true follower of Christ, you will be persecuted. But you don’t get there by going into a public place and demanding that people persecute you; if you actually follow Christ’s teachings in a fallen world, you will experience persecution. Then, blessed are you.

The Beatitudes lack the direct command of the commandments or the concrete task list we find in the parable of the goats and the sheep. Thou shalt not kill. Feed the hungry. Blessed are the meek. The first two give you a clear, firm prohibition or instruction, the last one just describes a divine effect for a particular state of being.

We should look to be the kind of people that the Beatitudes describe, but we don’t go about that by trying to force the effects or states of being.

If we want a set of ideals that will take a lifetime to perfect, I suggest we turn again to the virtues – those three chief virtues identified by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13, and the four virtues identified in Wisdom 8:7, otherwise known as the Seven Heavenly Virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Fortitude, Justice, and Temperance.

In them we see how the rich young man may have failed at temperance or justice, but kept the commandments, or how Dives failed to show Charity and Justice to Lazarus, while not necessarily breaking any commandments.

Even more detail, and clear instruction, is found in the parable of the goats and sheep, with a clear distinction that feeding the hungry and visiting the imprisoned are the sort of things that will come up on Judgement Day. In the Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas listed 14 such tasks that are expressed throughout the scriptures, which he called almsdeeds but are better known as works of mercy or works of charity:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead
  • Admonish the sinner
  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Comfort the sorrowful
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive all injuries
  • Pray for all

If we Christians spent our lives doing the works of mercy and striving to perfect the seven virtues in our lives, it would look much different than the lot of us resting on the fact we know and keep the Ten Commandments. Our lives would look a lot more like Christ’s.

Fear is a Terrible Teacher

It seems to be a common refrain: religion is all about using fear to control and educate people.

Fear is the worst way to teach people. It is a last resort of the desperate, bad teacher. Pay attention, or doom on you. Remember this, or doom on you.

It is certainly true that we ourselves, our parents, and our grandparents have been met with some terrible fear-based religious teachers, at home, in school, and in church.

But generally we fear our permanent records, our loss of careers, and falling behind on the track of the American dream – even more than hell – based on fears taught by our elders and educators.

So if we are to write of the Church and religion because of some lousy teachers that only knew how to use fear to teach, we had better write off education and public schools too. Because they haven’t softened or changed tactics in the last 60 or more years.

Modern Prophets

Looking at the old testament of the Bible, it seems like there were a lot more prophets among the people than in modern times. Such an observation begs the question of whether God is withholding such gifts in our own times. If you consider that the events of the old testament played out over several thousand years, prophets were only present a small percentage of the time. Even then, however, can you recall a prophet from the past several generations? Perhaps we’re not paying close enough attention. In reading Joseph Pearce’s biography of G.K. Chesterton entitled Wisdom and Innocence there was a passage that brings to light this possibility. Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect and Minister of Armaments (also author of Inside the Third Reich) wrote in his diary after his imprisonment about some of the reading he had been doing:

April 7th, 1957. Have read a great deal recently. As early as 1904 Chesterton, in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, dealt with the frightening consequenses of a mass psychosis. In this store a pseudoking arbitrarily picked out of the London city directory succeeds in playing on the emotions of a whole people – as Hitler was to do – bringing about the the most absurd actions and reactions. Such books are only read after the fact… I wonder how Chesterton was read in his time, as a kind of prophesy or as an entertaining fantasy? After half a century, at any rate, it is clear that, with the nervous attunement of a great artist, he sensed what the future would be.

All prophesy relies on an understanding of human behavior. Such understanding, if whispered in one’s ear, delivered in one’s dreams, or inspired in an artist comes from a common Source – the only One who can give the gift, or even a talent or knack for predicting human behavior. God has not been silent – we have been deaf and stubborn. Generations from now, historians will look back and be able to pick out those of us who saw foreshadowings accurately and will ponder how their peers received them. Yet I wonder how many prophets among us even recognize their own gifts?

This article previously appeared on an old Eternal Revolution blog. I was hoping to have some big news today, so I delayed the post, but the news has to be delayed a bit longer. 

Christian Thoughts on the Movie and Tale of the 47 Ronin

My family rarely goes to the theater to see movies. Therefore it was only a few weeks ago that I finally got a chance to the 2013 movie 47 Ronin from Redbox.

While I have written a book on lessons for Christians from samurai warriors, this was my introduction to the national legend of the vengeance of the 47 samurai of Asano Naganori.

Despite the modern, Americanized treatment of the story, including witches, demons, and the insertion of an underdog with Anglo-Saxon blood, the gist of the story of the 47 samurai remains the same. When their lord is disgraced before the Imperial Shogun, and forced to commit ritual suicide, the 47 plan their revenge over the course of a year and execute it.

The story is centuries old; it is a little hard to expect not to have it spoiled for you. But as a fair warning, here be spoilers.

While the story of the 47 ronin is considered an great example of the samurai code, bushido, it has some merit for Christians as well, which can either serve as personal example, or as discussion points with your fellow Christians.

Death begets death. There is a saying that he who seeks revenge digs two graves. The ronin know this as they plot their revenge. They know that disobeying an order not to seek revenge, as well as assassination of another lord, is forbidden and they will face the death penalty for their action. Even in this noble (to their principles) example, the wage of sin is death, and the price for their sin must be paid, regardless of the noble intention.

Some Things are More Important Than Death. Understanding the fact that their was no chance of forgiveness for what they were about to do, the 47 ronin set out on their mission regardless.  Honor for their former lord and the house they served was more important than their own lives. They were willing to sacrifice themselves to honor their lord.

Now, how many of us Christians are willing to avoid sin, in which we dishonor God, even to the point of death! Rather, we continually fall and have to amend our lives. Seldom is death on the line – we sacrifice our principles for reputation, work, money, pleasure or some other trivial thing. These samurai traded their lives for honor, and for a fallen human lord. Why do we not sacrifice lesser things for our perfect Lord?

Their is Shame in Being Leaderless. As Americans, we pride ourselves on independence. But as Christians we are called to dependence on God. The samurai understood that there was not shame in dependence, and in this way bushido can illustrate some concepts that are foreign to us. In fact, in the introduction to the 2013 movie it states that while samurai were very highly regarded, to be ronin, or masterless, was to be lower than all other classes. I’m not certain as to the veracity of the statement, but being ronin was a thing greatly feared by a samurai. I have just the smallest hunch this will be a big part of the upcoming film Masterless.