Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Revisiting Super Tuesday 2008

This is not intended to be a political blog. But quite often, I'm sure, politics will come into it. As Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer so wisely posted in his official blog today:

...politics isn’t the primary way Christians are called to change the world. Love is.Not that Christians can’t be involved in politics. We can. Not that change can’t happen through legislative process. It can and it has. But God did not become man to show us how to vote. He became man to show us divine love, and then to teach us to do likewise. Christians lose the Gospel when we become known more for how we vote than how we love."But if we can change the laws, we can change the culture." Ehhh… not really. Any good student of legal history will tell you that laws don’t shape culture, culture shapes laws.

Back in 2008, I posted an opinion piece on my I Have an Inkling blog, which was also published on Hollywood Jesus. It was titled Special “Super Tuesday” Edition: What DO We Want Changed? With all the craziness this week in politics (with more sure to follow next week), I thought it might be good to re-post the article here. Certainly there are concepts which are relevant to today. Here goes:

Special "Super Tuesday" Edition: What DO We Want Changed?

There are some mistakes which humanity has made and repented so often that there is now really no excuse for making them again. One of these is the injustice which every age does to its predecessor; for example, the ignorant contempt which the Humanists (even good Humanists like Sir Thomas More) felt for medieval philosophy or Romantics (even good Romantics like Keats) felt for eighteenth-century poetry. ... Why should we not give our predecessors a fair and filial dismissal?

So C. S. Lewis began "The Funeral of a Great Myth" (published posthumously in the anthology Christian Reflections, as I mentioned in a recent Blog entry). Lewis realized the wisdom in taking the good from those who have gone before us while we seek to improve and expand our knowledge today. We must be cautious of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" as they used to say.

As we arrive at "Super Tuesday," it seems that every candidate is claiming to be the "Candidate of Change." America seems ripe for "change," and perhaps rightly so. But we must beware of change for change sake.

Jesus was certainly a catalyst for change, but even He said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." [Matthew 5:17 NKJV] "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old." [Luke 13:52] As we seek new and better ways of running government, we must not forget the old foundations.

We must also beware of the tendency of politicians to--how shall I put this politely--exaggerate to try to make a point about their opponent. This has been going as long on as our country has had elections. James Madison, in the Federalist No. 55, 15 February 1788, commented on the mudslinging going on even then:
As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than
the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.

As we seek change, we need to not only be aware of the good of the past, but we must seek the truth in the present. Don't take what your favorite candidate says as the unvarnished truth--do some digging. When Jesus said, "The Truth shall set you free," He was speaking primarily of the truth about Himself. But the principle applies to other areas of life, not the least of which is politics. In this case, we may lose political freedoms if we are not careful to seek the truth. How often lies have led nations into slavery. With much freedom comes much responsibility. Choose wisely.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Pastor reflects on the chaotic childhood which helped shape his life

Review of the book All But Normal: Life on Victory Road

Disclosure: I have known the Thornton family since the early 1970s, attending Twin Branch Bible Church with them for years. While never experiencing first-hand the chaos of the Thornton household, I was blessed by the personal lives of John and Bev through the years, especially Bev's encouragement in my own ministry. I was licensed to the Gospel Ministry at Twin Branch in 1997. This review was recently published on

Growing up, Shawn Thornton had no idea how God was going to use his chaotic home life to shape his future. The story begins before he was born. His parents, John and Beverly Thornton, had just begun to get acquainted when the seventeen year old son of well-to-do parents agreed to take the girl of fourteen on an expedition to Goldblatt's in the new Town and Country Shopping Center. John didn't see the truck as he negotiated his new 1962 Corvair into Miracle Lane. He woke up in the hospital later that evening, and his parents took him home. Bev would remain there quite some time, at first in a coma, and then facing some grueling physical therapy.

John continued to see Bev, and even picked her up for school when she was eventually able to return. However, beside the obvious physical disabilities, Bev's mental state had been permanently affected, and it was soon obvious she would have to drop out of school. John decided to join the military, but corresponded with Bev while he was stationed in Korea. They married when he was on leave in 1966. 

After the honeymoon, John was deployed to Vietnam, where he was when Shawn was born. (A brother, Troy, would come later.) His term of duty ended in June of 1967, just before the North's major escalation when the U.S. suffered its worst casualties.

But a war was already brewing at home. After the accident, Bev was prone to outbursts of anger since the day she awakened in the hospital. As the years progressed, her tirades escalated, involving salvos of both physical objects and vulgar profanity. There were even occasions when she tried to throw herself from the car at highway speeds. However, as the back cover of Shawn's new memoir puts it, "this same woman was also a devoted Bible reader, Sunday school teacher, and friend to the elderly, the poor, and the marginalized wherever she went. How the same woman could be a saint one minute and a nightmare the next was a constant source of frustration for the family."

It all came to a head one night as the police knocked at the door, and after a brief conversation, led Bev off in handcuffs. In one of her fits of rage, she had thrown nearly every loose object in the house, leaving broken glass everywhere. She would spend several weeks in the hospital mental ward. While she was there, she did learn some techniques to help calm herself, and John firmed up his commitment to do everything he could to keep peace, enlisting his two sons to help as much as possible around the house. Despite the changes, Bev was still prone to her outbursts.

As Shawn trained for the ministry, he was becoming sure he understood his mother's problem. He was convinced it had to be a problem with sin in her life she wouldn't let go of. During one Christmas break during his junior year of college, he confronted her. "As long as you have sin in your life like cussing and irrational anger, throwing things and threatening to kill people, you will never be right! Never!" [p.265]

At this point, his father burst into the room. "If you think this approach is going to help your mother, you're dumber than I thought you were. And you will never talk to your mother that way again. It's time you got off your high horse. You are not going to fix her with this stuff you're bringing back here. Now get out of here and never talk to her that way again."

As Shawn walked up Victory Road where they lived, he began to cool off, and started to change his tune. "God impressed on me that the issue was not just the combative spirit in which I approached her, it was that I was wrong," he writes. "Confession and repentance would not 'cure' Mom. Her problems were more complex than my simple formula." [p.266]

On another occasion, John shared with Shawn some research he had been collecting over the years about TBI—traumatic brain injury. At the time, this was a subject that was just beginning to be understood. We know now from research on NFL players more about what such injuries can do. Shawn was beginning to understand her mother's case was not a problem with willful sin, but had a physical cause. This knowledge has served him well in his ministry as senior pastor atCalvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California, affecting the way he deals with people. Combined with his experiences growing up, he is able to empathize and help people in a way he wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

It is so easy for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, who try to order out lives by the words of the Bible, to get on our "high horse" like Shawn did that December day. We think we have it all figured out. But things are not always so simple as we think. Shawn's story will hopefully speak volumes to those who read it. The book has a Foreword by Joni Eareckson Tada and an Afterword by Nick Vujicic. Joni and Nick are both Christians who have what seem devastating disabilities, but have been greatly used by God to encourage others. Add Beverly Thornton to that list.

You can find out more about the book and pastor Shawn's ministry at

Monday, July 4, 2016

Have Christians become what Jesus came to stop us from being?

This post is adapted from an article I recently published on 

Morgan Guyton is a fairly popular online presence, blogging for years under the title Mercy Not Sacrificenow part of the Progressive Christian Channel at Some will immediately balk at the word "progressive," but, although Guyton can be very political at times, his writing does not always fit the typical rhetoric of the Left. As Edwin Tait asserts in his review of Guyton's new book on, "the book is far more than yet another attack on the distortions of conservative Protestantism, and the Christianity it offers should challenge anyone who thinks that 'progressive Christianity' is just a watered-down, culturally accommodated version of the real thing. This is a winsome, beautifully written, passionate presentation of the central truths of Christianity."

"Mercy Not Sacrifice" is, of course, based on Hosea 6:6, which reads in the NIV: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings." Jesus quotes this passage in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7, telling his critics they have not understood the significance of the passage in Hosea. In Chapter two of How Jesus Saves the World from Us (Mercy, not Sacrifice: How We Love People), Guyton points out the word "mercy" in Hosea could be translated "steadfast love" (as in the New Revised Standard Version) or "loyalty"—"the kind of unconditional love that people have within a family." In verse four, God compares Israel's love to morning mist or dew which quickly disappears. God wanted people to be loyal to him instead of going after other gods. The Pharisees thought they were being loyal to God by judging Jesus and his disciples for eating with sinners and plucking grain on the Sabbath. But Jesus says they are not understanding loyalty to God involves how they treat others. "Jesus' interpretation means that the best way to show God steadfast love is not through a stringent life of sacrifice, but by extending mercy to other people."

This is reminiscent of what the Apostle John writes in his first epistle: "...if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?" [1 John 4:20 NLT] We too often forget our love for God is demonstrated in how we treat people. Our devotion to God is shown, not by being nit picky and critical of what people do – as if God needs us to keep people perfectly in line, but by showing mercy. Isn't that how we would want to be treated? As the master in one of Jesus' parables puts it, "Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" [Matthew 18:33 NIV]

The first chapter of the book describes how we are able to love God because of the mercy he has shown us. If conservative Christians have any doubts about the gospel Morgan is promoting in his book, they should be relieved by what he says in the chapter: Worship, Not Performance: How We Love God. There can be no doubt about the author's commitment to justification by grace through faith. He writes, "God loves it when we do our best. god loves hearing us sing our hearts out and watching us perform the deeds of our lives with excellence. But God doesn't want us to do anything out of an anxious need to justify ourselves.... the Christian gospel teaches that instead of being justified by our good deeds or right answers, we are justified by God's grace." He goes back to the beginning with Adam and Eve and discusses how the Fall caused them to lose their innocence and become self-conscious. Humans now learn to hide under "masks of social performance" in order to look good to other people – and to God. Jesus can to save us from that so we could freely worship him instead of trying to perform well enough to be accepted.

Many conservative Christians have forgotten their roots and what the gospel is really about. This comes out in our judgmental spirit and self-righteous attitude toward others. Morgan would call this toxic Christianity. But he doesn't exclude himself as part of the problem, as implied by the "us" in the book's title, "How Jesus Saves the World from Us: Antidotes to Toxic Christianity." In a recent blog post, he gives this humble assessment of himself: "A wicked thought came into my mind when I learned about the shootings in Orlando: This is why people need to read my book. Thankfully, before I could post anything stupid on Facebook, the Holy Spirit convicted me with a second thought: This is why you’re still toxic."

Morgan would be the first to admit he is not perfect. His book is not perfect. But hopefully people will give his book a try in the same spirit of humility he tries to bring to his blog. There are twelve total chapters which follow the same pattern: This, Not That: How We... He describes what he believes are toxic attitudes, what these attitudes should be replaced with, and how we should live. You may not agree with everything he says, but, as someone wisely said, in order to grow, read those with whom you disagree.

More Light Than Heat

This post is adapted from an article originally published on July 3, 2010. 
Photo by Mark Sommer

Storms become more likely as heat and humidity build up in the atmosphere. For those of us who love the cool weather, the past few days of sunshine without the sticky heat have been a welcome relief.

As the atmosphere can become unstable and stirred up by the heat, so harsh words can stir up anger and strife. Gentle, tactful words, however, are like a dry high pressure system keeping the storms away. (Proverbs 15:1)

Too often our society is characterized by more heat than light. An open dialogue about important issues is vital for a democracy, but talk show hosts who deliberately use inflammatory words to create ratings are not helpful. Politicians more concerned about “energizing the base” than solving problems only make things worse by their combative rhetoric. Creative banter can be a good thing, but name-calling and mudslinging do not create an atmosphere where rational decisions can be made.

That is not to say that we should be afraid to speak out on the issues. Jesus and his first century followers certainly made some waves. But they did it in a spirit of humility, with love and compassion. The Apostle Paul wrote of “speaking the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) Sharing God’s love in the spirit of humility is a far cry from self-righteously beating a person over the head with “the facts.”

The recent sunshine and cooler temperatures have been nice partly because we had plenty of rain earlier. Sunshine without rain is only a good thing for a while. The atmosphere needs to get mixed up occasionally or the flowers will wilt and the crops will die. But how much better it is to have a nice gentle soaking rain than thunderstorms laced with tornadoes.

This blog is an attempt to present spiritual matters in a way which creates more light than heat. That does not mean I will never present anything controversial—far from it. But I will endeavor to present facts and logic without resorting to name-calling and tirades. Although not always successful, I try to live by what C. S. Lewis called "intellectual hospitality." For more on this subject, please refer to a post on my companion blog here on See C S Lewis and intellectual hospitality: learning to listen to the opposition.