Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Modern Day Pharisees

The following was written on 9/13/06. It should be noted that I am not quite as optimistic about the state of American Christianity as I was when I wrote this piece last year. In my book, "Reformation: A Biblical Response to Holy War" I will be showing how some of the same tendencies that exist in radical Islam also exist in certain sectors of evangelical Christianity right here in America. The point of the article is still valid though, Pharisees are those who want to rule over others in the name of God.

Question: I was wondering if you would ever do a teaching or side by side comparison of the
Pharisees in Jesus time and the Pharisees in our time. I am very drawn to learn more
about not being a Pharisee.

Thank you for the question. I think your desire to avoid becoming a modern day Pharisee is an admirable one, but I don't think you have much to worry about if you are a sincere Christian seeking to follow Jesus. I have to confess that in the past, I have thrown the word "Pharisee" around a little too lightly, as many others have done. It seems the word is used most often when one particular group of Christians wants to insult another group of Christians. This trivializes the word and loses sight of who the Pharisees really were and what the modern equivalent would be. Even Paul the Apostle when He was persecuting the church was not as depraved as the other Pharisees who were responsible for delivering up Jesus to be crucified (I Timothy 1:13)

First of all, the Pharisees thought that Jesus was demon possessed even though He did nothing but heal the sick and love the poor (John 8:48). They burdened people with rituals and laws and condemned people for not following their rigid demands (Matthew 23:4). They were powerful religious rulers who had married their zeal with the power of the state (John 11:48). They had a strict interpretation of the Old Testament law which did not allow for mercy. They thought nothing of stoning a woman to death for adultery (John 8:1-12). Lastly, they were motivated not by love for God, but by greed, envy, and power (John 11:48,Luke 16:14).

Do we have an equivalent in our day and age? Yes we do. I believe the religious police in Saudi Arabia and the Mullahs in Iran fit this description perfectly. Check out the book Iran: Desperate for God for a description of the Mullahs and Blink by Ted Dekker for a description of the religious police in Saudi Arabia. Of course, the Taliban would also be a fitting description of a modern day Pharisee. I would put the medieval Catholic Church responsible for the Inquisition in the same category. They used religion to condemn and kill rather than to love and save.

Yes, we have religious people with Pharisaical tendencies in American Christianity, but none to the same level as the actual Pharisees in the Bible as far as I am aware of. One safeguard against a Pharisaical spirit is to have an all-inclusive view of God's love for humanity. It is a human tendency to think of God's chosen as us four and no more, whether it is extreme Pentecostals who think that only tongue talkers will be in heaven (a minority view)or Fundamentalist Christians who believe that all Catholics are destined for hell for believing in purgatory and praying for the dead. Surely God is bigger than our theological squabbles! I am not suggesting that all are saved or that docrine doesn't matter. What I am saying is the cross of Christ has far more ability to save than does Adam's sin to condemn (see Romans 5). May we rejoice that our sins are forgiven and extend the same hope to the rest of humanity. When the gospel is such good news, who needs Pharisees?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Notes from Colin Powell's speech

I thought my readers might enjoy reading a few of the notes I took on Colin Powell's speaking yesterday at the convention.

Here are two quotes I found particularly noteworthy:

1. The greatest strength we have to fight terrorism is our openness to the rest of the world. Terrorists can knock down our buildings, but they can not change who we are.

2. Trade is now what is driving the political realignment of the world.

Powell also made the note that troops in Iraq are, in fact, in the middle of a civil war. Powell suggested that America puts the pressure on the Iraqi people and not the U.S. military. Powell also mentioned that he supported President Bush's decision to invade Iraq when he was the Secretary of State, but he felt that the war has been poorly handled.

Powell mentioned how he had a conversation with President Bush on the current Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the conversation, President Bush said, "I've looked into his eyes and seen his soul." Powell responded, "I've looked into his eyes and seen his soul too, and I still see a lot of KGB."

Lastly, Powell left on a note of hope. In Powell's view, there are too many doom and gloomers who only see the negative. If we compare the world today to 50 years ago, the world has improved much. For example: The 800 million people living in Europe who, in the first half of the century fought two world wars among each other, now live in peaceful, stable democracies. In the past 50 years, over 3.5 billion Asians have been liberated and are on the road to economic prosperity.

These were the points I found particularly noteworthy. Discuss!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Want success? Get Jesus!

Today my dad took me to the "Get Motivated" seminar organized by success guru Peter Lowe. The line-up of speakers was like a Who's Who of the rich, famous, and influential. Speakers included George Foreman, Suze Orman, Zig Ziglar, and Colin Powell.

One of the interesting points was how both Zig Ziglar (probably the most famous motivational speaker of our generation) and Peter Lowe, both outspoken Christians, continually used scripture in their presentations.

Growing up in the faith movement I heard some very familiar phrases. Here is a brief list.

1. Our minds are controlled by the words we speak.
2. Our words determine our experience.
3. If you want to change your future, change your words.
4. When you speak, you must believe that what you desire has already happened (Mark 11:24 anyone?)
5. A winning belief is when you know you've won.

Amazingly, Peter Lowe then went into a very standard evangelical gospel presentation complete with references from the Book of Romans to explain how sin has separated us from God. He even used the famous courtroom analogy of a father, who happens to be the judge, paying the traffic fine for his son. For a while, I wasn't sure if I was at a success seminar or a Billy Graham crusade.

Although I have a few mixed feelings about presenting Jesus as the ticket to the American dream, all in all I was pleased that the effort was made to minister the gospel to the hundreds, perhaps thousands of those who would otherwise not step foot inside a church. Talk about creative evangelism.

Please pray that God will give me wisdom to address felt needs with the power of the gospel.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Richard Simmons goes to Washington

Forget Elle Woods from Legally Blonde 2. The new political activist for the day is Richard Simmons the zany Sweating to the Oldies excercise guru known for his, shall I say, less than masculine image. I was thinking about what I wanted to write today when, as always, I got my inspiration from The Today Show. (What would this blog be like without Al Roker and Meredith Viera?) Just a quick tip before I proceed, I learned that the primary way Richard Simmons (who used to be obese) keeps the weight off is to substitute a meal for a salad at least 4 times a week. I've been doing this lately, so it was nice to see somebody confirm it on national television.

According to Simmons, when the No Child Left Behind act was passed, the focus became exclusively on academic performance. Physical Education, unfortunately, was left behind. I have to admit that, during my high school years, I could have done without having to undress with a bunch of other guys in a sweaty locker room-but that's just me. I wasn't too proud of my concave. My guess is that those with a manlier physique probably secretly looked forward to it every day.Richard Simmons is introducing a new bill to restore P.E. as a national priority, thus saving it from being cut from the curriculum in schools across the nation.

I'd like to ask my readers what do you think about physical education being a national priority in our nation's education system? Jokes about Richard Simmons aside (cough....Pete....cough), do you support what he is doing? I'd like to hear what you think.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Living on the streets of Dakar

I thought my readers might enjoy reading something written by my wife, Rhiannon. Rhiannon will be submitting this article for publication to a children's magazine whose topic for next month is Islam in Africa. I believe that God is raising up Rhiannon and giving her a unique ministry in her own right, advocating for children around the world.

Imagine for a moment waking up on a cold, wet sidewalk to the smell of trash and the sounds of a busy street. You are not wearing shoes because you can’t afford to buy them and no one is willing to buy them for you. Your unwashed T-shirt and shorts are full of holes and you skin is covered in dirt. You go for weeks or months at a time without taking a shower. The only item you possess is a large red tomato paste can that you use for collecting change and sugar cubes when you beg. Your family is a bunch of other kids younger and older then you who are living in the same conditions. Imagining this for your self may be difficult, but this is what life is like for 50,000 to 100,000 talibe boys in the country of Senegal. Although there are kids all around the world who live in conditions like this, I would like to focus on Senegal and the talibe, because My husband and I lived in the capital city of Dakar for a year and a half.

Parents who can’t provide give their boys to a marabout (a Muslim sorcerer believed to have supernatural powers) to raise them and provide them with an education. Many people respect the Marabout because of his knowledge of the Koran. The Zatkat in the Koran asks people to help those who do not have the means to help themselves. This is what a marabout is suppose to do. In the past parents would give compensation or gifts and the boys would work as farmers to support the marabout. They would also go house to house in their village reciting the Koran, receiving donations along the way. Today most of the boys are taken out of the villages into the cities where the marabouts can make a better living. A single marabout may have between 20 and several hundred talibes in his care, depending on his reputation.

All Talibes attend Koranic boarding schools called daaras where they learn about the Koran (the holy book of Islam) and how to read Arabic script. Daaras are dilapidated or unfinished houses or animal sheds without roofs, water or electricity. They are filled with germs, rats, cockroaches and even human waste. These schools receive no support from parents or the government, so in order to have a source of income, a marabout will send his talibes into the streets to beg. Any money that the talibe receives goes to support the marabout and his family. Many marabouts require that their talibes meet a certain quota for the day, which is an equivalent of one dollar, and if they do not meet that quota, they may be severely beaten. It is said that the talibes begging is part of their Koranic education. It is supposed to teach them humility, while at the same time offering the opportunity for other Muslims to practice charity.

The real goal of a Talibe is to know the Koran by heart by the age of 15. They have no formal education apart from learning the Koran, no ties to their family, and little chance of getting a job when they are older. Most become a bifal (disciple of the marabout) and spend the rest of their lives on the streets begging.

If you have read this article and feel that you would like to do something about child slavery, continue reading. Free the Children was started by 12-year-old Craig Kielburger. It is a large network of children helping children through education. Go on line to to read about how you can help. 15-year-old Zach Hunter started Loose Change to Loosen Chains. Do a keyword search for Loose Change to Loosen Chains and read about how you can help free modern-day slaves. Since most children become slaves because of poverty, you or your family can sponsor a child through World Vision, Save the Children or any other organization you may find. This will ensure a future for that child by giving them access to education and health care.

There is not much that can be done for the Talibe, because they are property of the marabouts. There are organizations in Senegal that do reach out to these young boys by giving them food, medical care and a shower. Hopefully one day all a Senegalese boy will have to do is imagine like you did at the beginning of this story. Until then many will go to bed hungry, dirty, and exhausted from a long day begging on the streets.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The question of taboo language

Sorry I haven't written for a while. I've been particularly busy researching for my book, "Reformation: A Biblical Response to Holy War." The last post that I wrote, "dung happens" drew an unexpected response from my readers asking me to address the issue of curse words. Since I appreciate the feedback, I'm going to give a brief overview on what I think Scripture has to say on the issue of "cuss words."

The first Scripture that comes to mind is Colossians 3:8 which says, "But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth." Since this is a clear injunction from Scripture, Christians are obligated to obey it. The question then becomes, what is filthy language? Since it would be nearly impossible to put a biblical definition on an issue that depends on subjective judgments; I think that culture, conscience, and common sense come into play here. Given what the common culture accepts as taboo language, I would find it very difficult to justify a Christian using the "F" word for any reason.

Although I can't imagine Jesus or the apostles using words like the "F" word in every day language, I wouldn't put it past Jesus nor the Apostles to use crass language to prove a point. Case in point, Thomas Cahill, a respected New Testament scholar has an interesting translation of Mark 7:18-19 in his book, "Desire of the Everlasting Hills." Cahill quotes Jesus as saying, "What don't you get? Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean, since it doesn't go into his heart but into his bowels, and then passes out into the shithole?"
In the sidenote, Cahill says,
"Usually translated "privy" or "sewer" the word that Matthew chooses is aphedron, Macedonian slang that would have sounded barbarous to Greek ears. Jesus was not bashful about referring to bodily functions, even if His translators are."

I think there is a deeper issue that is far more serious than the question of crass language verses standard language. There is a big difference between saying I fell on my ass the other day and calling somebody an asshole. One is improper etiquette. The other is a form of contempt, something that Jesus strictly warned against. I think the most important Scripture dealing with language is what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.
"And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hellfire."

I think the Christian who occasionally substitutes "ass" for "rear" and "shit" for "dung" has less to fear than a Christian who avoids taboo language, but has a habit of cutting other people down by calling them "stupid" "idiot" or "moron." Contempt is a far more serious issue than bad manners. In my judgment, I think it's best to avoid both. What's important to avoid in this discussion is hypocrisy. I think Jesus would agree.