Harry Potter and the Old, Old Story

In a recent article published by the Religion News Service, Tara Isabella Burton introduces the Harry Potter series, writing:

It’s a book nearly everybody knows, many of us nearly from birth. We reference it in our daily lives. We use its complicated moral systems to define our social and political stances and to understand ourselves better. Once we have read it, and learn the lessons considered therein, our political attitudes alter, making us more welcoming and more caring to outsiders.
Activists quote from the stories on placards to make their points at protests. Hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people have written their own narratives in response to these foundational myths.
I refer, of course, to the “Harry Potter” series.

She refers to the statistics that show that 61% of Americans have seen at least one Harry Potter film. That statistic juxtaposed with the mere 45% (a little more than 50% for US Christians) who can name all four Gospels is a bit shocking. She observes, “it’s no stretch to say that Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff are better known in American society than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”

She offers a reason for the ubiquity of Harry Potter in that it was published during a time of a massive, earth-shaking transition. In the years before the publication of the first volume and the fourth, internet use increased 500%. So, she argues, the popularity of the fiction series resembles the Bible in that, just as the rise of the printing press enabled the Protestant Reformation to put Scripture in the hands of the masses, the Harry Potter books grew in prominence during a time when the masses were introduced to a new media—the world wide web.

And again, she’s not wrong.

Of course, she argues that this is the manner in which the Harry Potter “most resembles” the Bible. And that conclusion is where I must beg to differ.

In a 2007 article published in the Telegraph, J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, acknowledged that they were inspired, in fact, by the Bible. Rowling, who was raised in the Anglican Communion, but now a member of the Church of Scotland, was quoted as having said, “the religious parallels have always been obvious.” In a different interview altogether, she made those parallels explicit, explaining that Albus Dumbledore is “John the Baptist to Harry’s Christ.”

She explained her reasoning for avoiding the question until the moment of her interview in the Telegraph (she had just released the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) to her attempts to avoid spoiling the ending: “I never wanted to talk too openly about [the influence of the New Testament on the series] because it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”

So, the argument that the Harry Potter series resembles the Bible most due to providential timing ignores the most glaring parallel—one was patterned after the other!

So, when Burton concludes that the Harry Potter series has supplanted the Bible as the common mythological foundation of understanding for the new generations, Christians should take notice—if only for the purpose of considering her claim further. She presses her argument to conclude that, in light of the obvious fantasy and fiction that describes the Harry Potter series, “fewer and fewer of us need to believe in a text to take it, well, as gospel.”

The question that discerning readers should ask is, “Does her conclusion follow from her argument?”

In a world that fails to observe the author’s own declaration that her stories (creative as they may be) are patterned after the Gospel narrative, the historical similarity between the Reformation-era printing press and the advent of the internet age seems reasonable.

But, if we allow the author’s own admission to raise the issue, it becomes more clear why this story resonates with the new generations (and many from the older generations as well)—it is built from the pieces of the story of salvation. The elements in play over the course of Rowling’s stories reflect the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Is it a simple re-telling? Obviously not.

But perhaps it resonates so clearly because it speaks to genuine needs and longings of the human heart. And the answer to those needs isn’t found in a book of spells, in the waving of a wand, or in the Room of Requirement. Harry Potter’s journey over the course of Rowling’s books (and movies) brings him from a childhood discovery of his place in the world to an encounter with evil that rescues a people with whom he identifies.

Perhaps it resonates so powerfully because it resembles so closely “the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”

Are You Consuming Food Porn?

One October at Oklahoma State University, proud I made it to class early, I walked up to the professor smiling and some students and asked what they were discussing.

Food porn.

Immediately, I knew I had walked into the wrong conversation. I awkwardly excused myself.

At the end of October the situation happened again. I overheard some of my fellow students discussing the Saw movie series as a new genera—torture porn. At this point, I no longer knew the proper use of the term porn.

I thought porn described “adult” content and movies only. I was wrong. A commercial for an enticing pizza, leisurely spinning around until its full reveal, with a hand grasping for a slice and disembodied baritone exclaiming, “oh, yeah!” That’s food porn (think every Reese’s commercial during Halloween).

The term porn no longer denotates or connotes anything sexuality explicit; porn now describes the superlative of enjoyment.This new definition of porn changes the connotation of porn from a deviant behavior to a norm. Originally, the term porn was transliterated from the Greek, pornéros. Pornéros means evil. The Greek term carries with it a connotation of malicious behavior.

Until recently, the connotation of porn has followed its literal meaning—deviant behavior. This is no longer the case. Even Christians are using the term with a positive meaning. The shift in definition rides upon the wings of the relatively new access to pornography. The old anecdote of sneaking into a (sinful) father’s sock drawer for a secretive glance at his Playboy magazine is now antiquated. What had once been spoken of in hushed tones is now played for laughs in family television programs.

The United States is currently debating the positives and negatives of porn and pornography. Some states (Utah, Virginia, South Dakota, Tennessee, Arkansas) have begun to treat the excessive viewing of pornography as an addiction. While modern psychology does not yet agree on whether porn is addictive, Zitzman and Butler (2009) concluded, “the detached, objectifying, exploitive sexuality of pornography directly impacts attachment trust, eroding any safe expectation of one’s partner being faithfully for the other.”

Zitzman and Butler help illuminate my point. Porn indulges in an imaginary world and brings harm to the real one. As we increasingly use porn to describe our food, movies, sports, and general pleasures, we are ultimately approving of overindulging in the realm of imagination—enjoying a detached, objectifying, self-indulgent, and exploitive fiction.

Porn as a superlative of pleasure replaces societies attention to true virtue with an addiction to the fictional. We no longer recognize the boundaries between the real and unreal. Once our minds have had their fill of sensuality, we are left with what we have in reality—nothing.

What porn promises is a superlative. It delivers nothing. At best, the only thing a porn-saturated culture can do is continue to push the boundaries of its own fiction, an attempt to find greater gratification. Food porn presses food beyond the necessity into gluttony. The boundaries press forward, but the fiction remains hollow. Christians, better than anyone, umderstand the fleeting nature of pleasure.

Consider Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The Passion of the Christ was incredibly graphic, but few would describe it as torture porn. The allure of porn’s fiction and pleasure died at the cross. Jesus’s death was not imaginary. We receive no sensual gratification from it. The cross exposes the emptiness of earthly pleasure; it reveals man’s pleasures as grotesque. A porn-saturated culture counsels us to feed the hunger of our hearts with imaginary sustenance. Just as PlayMobile food feeds no one, so a porn saturated culture cannot satisfy. “For apart from [God] who can eat and who can find enjoyment?” (Ecc 2:25).

We need to mature beyond our porn culture—a moratorium on our fascination with imaginary and vain pleasures, realizing “mature content” is not mature. Our society must stop using the word porn with positive connotations (food porn, music porn, etc.). For the well-being of our relationships, we need to regard porn as one of the greatest evils to be shunned, not a superlative to be enjoyed. Instead of taking pleasure from the fictional dismemberment of people into the individual parts desired, we ought to enjoy dwelling together, loving holistically. If we would finally uncover our fascination with food porn, then only the hideous nature of gluttony would stand naked before us.

Letters From Dad, pt. 1

What is the purpose of masculinity? With so much talk concerning toxic masculinity, often we forget the positive sides of masculinity. News-media, TV shows, and all sorts of movies are now asking if masculinity is even necessary. Yet, within these same media sources, stories depicting fatherhood have tended to flourish (most recently seen in Aquaman‘s $1 billion intake). The time is ripe for a reexamination of Christian fatherhood. This series, Letters From Dad, focuses on letters which Christian fathers have written to their sons. These letters help reveal the heart of Christian fatherhood, as they seek to guide their sons through the Christian life. My hope is to encourage fathers and my fellow Christians and to provide a reminder of how important fatherhood is to the maturation of a young man.

Our first letter comes from Samuel Wesley to his son John Wesley (the founder of Methodism). John and Charles Wesley had written their father in 1732 seeking advice concerning The Holy Club. The Holy Club was a group of young Oxfordian students who were concerned with living life as pious Christians. At the time, John and Charles believed most Christians didn’t take their faith seriously. The Holy Club focused on waking up early, praying separately then together, reading the Scriptures, and reading the early church fathers, so that they “would not lean on their own understanding.” Nominal Christians at Oxford began to see John and Charles as extremists; they began to persecute John and Charles. While the persecution at Oxford was mild, it caused John and Charles some distress. John was concerned the Holy Club had gone too far and sought his father’s advice. The letter below is Samuel’s reply to John’s concerns over persecution.

In the letter Samuel seeks to strengthen John in three ways: 1. He encourages his son with scripture, 2. Samuel reminds John of how he is praying for him. Samuel does not want John to become proud of his accomplishments for God, 3. He offers John fatherly wisdom in handling worldly persecution.

Read Samuel’s letter below,

December 1,

“This day I received both your [letters], and this evening, in the course of our reading, I found an answer that would be more proper than any I myself could dictate; though since it will not be easily translated, I send it in the original. “I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”* (2 Cor. vii. 4.) What would you be? Would you be angels? I question whether a mortal can arrive to a greater degree of perfection, than steadily to do good, and for that reason patiently and meekly to suffer evil. For my part, on the present view of your actions and designs, my daily prayers are, that God would keep you humble; and then I am sure that if you continue ‘to suffer for righteousness’ sake, though it be but in a lower degree, ‘the spirit of glory and of God’ shall, in some good measure, ‘rest upon you.’ Be never weary of well-doing: never look back; for you know the prize and the crown are before you… Be not high-minded, but fear [God]. Preserve an equal temper of mind under whatever treatment you meet with from a not very just or well-natured world. Bear no more sail than is necessary, but steer steady.**

Samuel’s letter encouraged John and Charles to continue their pursuit of obeying God. The result of Samuel’s guidance produced the two of the finest men in Christian history. John and Charles strengthened The Holy Club and were eventually joined by George Whitefield. Between the revival preaching of George Whitefield and the influence of John Wesley’s Methodism, Samuel Wesley’s letter of encouragement impacted the history of the American Church deeply. Later, when John completed his multi volume compilation of all his works, he was sure to include his Father’s letter of encouragement within the introduction.

Fathers, let us take Samuel’s example. Let us strengthen the faith of our children with the encouragement that comes from the Word of God. Children need reminders we are praying for them (make sure prayer is happening). Only after we’ve allowed God to speak to our children, then out of that wisdom comes fatherly advice. Samuel saw his role as the spiritual leader of his children, even when John and Charles were adults. As Christian fathers, we need to keep our commitment to leading our children well.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he shall not depart from it” Prov 22:6.

*Samuel Wesley quoted this verse from the Greek. This is what he means in writing, “I send it in the original.” I have supplied a translation from the NIV.

**The letter is printed in full in The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 1., 8–9.

Four Things Every Southern Baptist Owes Adam Greenway

Yesterday, the presidential search committee of the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary announced their candidate for the ninth president of the institution—Dr. Adam Greenway. The trustees have called a special meeting, scheduled next week (26–27 February), for the purpose on voting for his candidacy.

At present, Dr. Greenway serves as the dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is a graduate of Samford University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv), and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (PhD). Additionally, he earned a masters degree in nonprofit administration from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame in 2016.

His friends and colleagues speak very highly of his qualification and his character.

Dr. Paul Chitwood—the newly-installed president of the International Mission Board—said, “Both Adam and Carla love the Lord and walk in integrity before Him. Should the Lord call them there, the Great Commission and the local church will be front and center at Southwestern Seminary and I will be praying, ‘Thank you, Lord, for answering my prayers and the prayers of Southern Baptists by giving us one of your best to lead us!’”

Likewise, Dr. Albert Mohler—president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—is quoted as saying, “I’ve had the joy and privilege of working with Adam Greenway for well over a decade now. He is a remarkable Christian with a demonstrated heart for ministry, a clear vision for theological education, and he represents all of the convictions and character that Southern Baptists look to in a national leader.”

In 2011, I published a series of posts expressing my reasoning for returning to seminary in general, and Southwestern in particular. My affection for Seminary Hill is well-known. I have been blessed with the opportunity to build deep friendships with many of my classmates and professors. After earning an MDiv in 2014, I completed the PhD program in 2018. Today, I have the honor of teaching on campus in an adjunct capacity.

And so, with an abiding appreciation for my alma mater and a desire to see her flourish into the future, I’d like to offer four things I think every Southern Baptist owes Dr. Adam Greenway should the trustees approve him as the ninth president of the seminary.

We owe him (and his family) our prayers.

Dr. Greenway will be taking on the responsibility of leading an institution that has faced various difficulties in recent days. Some will take that as an opportunity to cast blame upon the former president or the trustees—something I refuse to do, in part because I not find it neither warranted nor helpful. Rather than seeking to attach blame, it would be much more beneficial to offer our prayers on the new president’s behalf. Let us pray that the Lord will give him wisdom and discernment—that he will be empowered to make changes deemed necessary and prudent and that he will be strengthened to resist the throngs of those offering opinions and making demands without the requisite information.

Let us pray that the Lord will guard his heart and his family, There is not much greater responsibility than the oversight of thousands of men and women who will proclaim the gospel in churches across Texas, the United States, and the ends of the earth. And we know that those entrusted with the greatest responsibilities are the prime targets of the Enemy and enemies of that glorious gospel.

We owe him our encouragement and confidence.

As we should speak to our Father in heaven privately on Dr. Greenway’s behalf, we should also speak to Dr. Greenway (and of him) with words of encouragement. In the press release posted by the school of his candidacy, words of affirmation are offered by Mohler, Chitwood, O. S. Hawkins, and the chairman of the Presidential Search Committee, Danny Roberts. In coming days and weeks, may each of us offer our encouragement to Dr. Greenway as he takes the helm.

We owe him our availability.

It is one thing to offer encouragement. Doing so merely costs us words. But we owe the next president of Southwestern more than words. We owe him our availability—our readiness to step in and join him in the task of leading the school in whatever manner necessary. For some, that will entail an availability to send students. For others, that means helping encourage other Southern Baptists to fund the work of the seminary. For others still, it may mean special gifts or invitations to him to speak or anything else. That which is important is an availability and willingness to step into whatever gaps he identifies and needs us to fill.

We owe him our patience.

Southern Baptists have never been known to withhold our opinions. Yet, I’m reminded of James’s instruction, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19, CSB). When a young pastor asks me what changes he should make during his first year at a church, I tell him to take the first 9–12 months as an opportunity to learn about the church and understand why they’re doing things the way they are. Any changes he chooses to make during that period are made without a good understanding. And yet, many new pastors feel the pressure to change something—to make an impression—during those first months. Often (not always, but often), that pressure comes from families in the church who have a pre-existing agenda and view the pastor’s first months as an opportunity to make their move. While a seminary is not a church, it is not unlike one in that manner.

Let us offer Dr. Greenway our patience as he settles into the President’s Office. Let us offer him the time necessary to discern the state of the seminary and to search the heart of God for the best way forward. That may very well take a different path than some of us (any of us?) believe it should. When it does, we owe him our patience.

We owe the next president of Southwestern our prayers, our encouragement and support, our availability, and our patience. The Presidential Search Committee of the trustees has made a unanimous selection. The trustees will vote next week. Should the Lord call Dr. Greenway to the office of the seminary president, may every Southern Baptist be willing to extend these four things to him.

Southwestern press release

How to Start a Family Devotion in December

December is coming! And with it many reminders of the holiday season. For many Christian homes, December presents an opportunity to close the sacred/secular divide. Many have had a full year of Bible study and devotions at church groups, but have yet to cross the barrier into family devotion time. In this post, I’d like to suggest a reading plan for bringing the actual story of Jesus home this Christmas. First, allow me to suggest some practical advice for starting a family devotion.

Keep it Short and Sweet

If you have young children like I do (5, 2, and 7 months), doing a family devotion at all may feel like an impossibility. We can hardly get everyone in clean jammies, let alone to settle down enough to read a section of Scripture. Don’t let the fear of family devotion time keep you from having a time devoted to God. Right now, our family devotion time lasts less than 10 minutes each night. We read a small passage of Scripture, let each child have a question time, review the story, then pray together. Don’t let devotion time become a grandstanding for theology or give a 30-minute lecture on the meaning of a Greek verb. Let the time reflect the age and maturity of your family.

Don’t Wait

There are a million reasons for not starting a family devotion. So your kid is 15 and you’ve never done it before. Its awkward. It’s not cool. And no one has any clue what they are doing. That’s okay! Obedience trumps awkwardness every time. Satan will let you have whatever excuse you need to stay out of the Bible. Open God’s Word, start small, and stay regular. Don’t wait to start, let this Christmas season open a new chapter in your family worship time.

Sing Something

While I may have particular delusions of grandeur day dreaming winning American Idol, no one in my family is a particularly gifted singer. Despite the squeaks and squawks coming from the Wegener household, we still try to sing at least one Christmas hymn together at home after devotion time. This personal family worship time is not going to win any awards, but it is going to honor God. Sing a hymn together through December. If you need to, put on a recording and sing along. Let praising God for the birth of Christ be a sweet ending to each December day. This personal family devotion time will help children connect with worship at church.

Don’t Pick on a Family Member

Don’t pick on any child or family member during devotion time. This is not a time for exposing sin and embarrassing a kid. If something came up during the day and you need to address it, make sure to do it the biblical way and go speak to that person directly first (Matt 18:15). Nothing will cause resentment for devotions to God like turning family time into the Spanish Inquisition. Some devotion material will naturally bring up sin issues in the home. Don’t shy away from those moments, but make sure to point the finger at yourself first and often. Husbands, as spiritual leaders of the household, we cannot come across as the most holy of our home. We need to be made of the same common clay as our children. Let them know that you struggle with sin as well. If you have to pick on or expose anyone’s sin, let it be your own sins first and foremost.

Suggested December Reading Plan

Below I would like to suggest a December reading plan of the gospel. Adjust the plan for the age of your family. Get a translation (not a children’s story book) the youngest person can understand. If you get behind, don’t fret—just try again. Emergencies happen. Extraneous circumstances come up. Remember, family devotion time won’t happen by accident. Make it the routine not the exception.

Download the reading plan here.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from our little corner of the internet. We’re grateful for you.

May each of us set aside some time in the midst of the chaos and the turkey to remember all that God has done and be thankful.

We’ll be back next week.

Three Ways to Redeem Thanksgiving

When it comes to Christmas songs, I’m a post-turkey kinda guy. As soon as Black-Friday hits, its beginning to look a lot like Christmas in our house. However, I ran into a unique problem this year. When we started Pandora radio, we found a “Thanksgiving” channel. Intrigued by the notion of Thanksgiving songs, we started playing the channel. To my surprise we began hearing, “Come Fly with me,” with Frank Sinatra dominating the Thanksgiving airways! Apparently, Thanksgiving songs have long been given a coup de grace.

Why don’t we sing about being thankful? At Christmas time, its easy to sing a secular song about the joys and doldrums of the weather or emotional ties to a warm fire. But when it comes to being thankful, we need to be thankful to/for someone. The problem lies with the human condition. We are naturally a self-centered idolatrous people. It is easy to be generally thankful; it is hard to recognize a true and personal God for whom we ought to be thankful. Not being thankful to God on Thanksgiving is simply a symptom of the secularism that pervades our home life.

Recognizing God at Thanksgiving

At Thanksgiving dinner our children will say they are thankful for their parents and various trappings and we’ll have our customary prayer. Yet, the largest portion of our Thanksgiving conversations will belong to football, Black Friday deals, and inventing reasons for a second piece of pie. God, in many American households, will get a prayerful name drop but little more concerning him will be welcome.

We all recognize that materialism continues to encroach on our giving of thanks. We know our society continues to progress in the sickness of consumerism. Yet, many of us adopt the secular Thanksgiving motto, “the best way to be thankful is to have more stuff to be thankful for.”  Our Christian families can push back against this materialistic tide. We can use Thanksgiving as a launching pad into the advent season.

Some Suggestions for Thanksgiving

1. Ask family and friends how God has blessed them this year
This isn’t an opportunity to brag or correct errant prosperity gospel theology; this is an opportunity to reflect on how God provided for our families. For my family this year, God provided us a church and a home here in Georgia. Personally, I am thankful that the gospel is reflected so beautifully in my wife. My children have grown in knowledge and understanding of Jesus. Thanksgiving is a proper time to recognize these blessings.

2. Spend time praying for politicians, rather than critiquing them
No doubt many of our families are divided over who should hold office. We could don our MAGA apparel or make sure the conservatives in our family feel-the-bern this year or we could agree to pray for our leaders (without backhanded comments). No doubt each one of us has a good reason to sit down at a glutton’s feast of slander and disdain for politicians. A godless Thanksgiving concerns itself with proving our cousin’s social policies are insane but a God-filled Thanksgiving is about being thankful to God for our cousin. Find a way to be thankful to God for people with whom you disagree.

3. Avoid complaining and arguing
We need to remember that God’s Word tells us to, “do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). Yes, the rolls got left out this year. Yes, the turkey should have been thawed long before the oven was preheated. Yes, our parents, in-laws, cousins, uncles, aunts, etc. are still the same people we had to deal with last year. None of these factors negate or change God’s Word. Its time to set a Thanksgiving precedent for obeying this portion of God’s word—Do everything without complaining or arguing. Remember, critiquing each other is not the same as being thankful for each other. God has been so abundantly merciful with us this year, maybe its time to extend that mercy to family and friends at the dinner table.

Why I Vote

There are two things you should never talk about at Thanksgiving: religion and politics. Since Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away, let’s go ahead and do both. Though some will argue for splitting the two up, it is important that both religion and politics continue to keep a civil discourse together. For Christians, participation in government, including the right to vote, is an important means for achieving a society that protects fundamental God given rights. Below I discuss some personal reasons for why I vote.

Influence Local Government

I hear often, “its just one vote what does it matter –  it won’t influence anything.” Let’s ask for a moment what just one vote represents. A vote represents the influence which one person has in government. If I get the privilege of casting only one vote, what have I influenced? After all, one grain of salt hardly makes a difference when baking a loaf of bread. However, if the baker forgets to put just a fourth of a teaspoon into the mixing, the entire batch won’t turn out right. We must understand this, our country is run by votes! If we are in-tune with the needs of our community, then our vote – our influence – is doing more than making one tick mark on the ballot; our influence is garnering the will of the people for the improvement of our local community. Therefore, we can actually measure the good we have done for our cities through the democratic process. We can reflect on and change the policies of our towns. My vote is a personal plumb line for measuring foundation of our society’s principles.

Integrity

If we cannot be true to our convictions in the voting box, then we are not true to our convictions. A vote may not make so much a difference where you are, but it does say something about who you are. Take for example the issue of abortion. There is a large chasm of difference between someone who claims a pro-life stance and someone who votes pro-life. Yet under the guise of separation of church and state, many Christians do not want to take their ethics and morals to the voting booth. They don’t want to ‘impose’ on others. The person who says, “I cannot take my religion to the polls,” advertises his  hypocrisy. His beliefs are little more than virtue signaling. The most basic action any Christian can take towards building a moral and ethical society is with her vote. Removing the Christian influence from the public arena is not just putting our light under a basket, it is snuffing that light out altogether.

Just and Humble Leaders

I long for our nation to be led by just and humble leaders.  Who are the great men and women of our day? Who are the leaders going to be? Often our political officials strut around with heads too large to bend their neck to an ordinary task. But just and humble leadership in office begins with just and humble voters at the polls. Our elected leaders are nothing more than mirrors reflecting ourselves. We ought to remember that in the United States the people rule (or at least should rule) and if the people are moral and just in ruling, we do not need the “greater” men and women in office – we just need a common person who is willing to serve. When I go to vote, I am not looking for a great name like Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt. If a man or woman is not great before they serve in an office, they won’t be great when they secure it. Therefore, I am looking for the honest humble servant. Since we do not need men and women who are ambitious for an office but rather ambitious for service, then I (as a voter) need to be ambitious for serving. Serving our nation begins with my one vote.

Do we really believe that our nation is made great by those serving in an elected office? Our revolution was not won by an epoch of uncommon men and women. Our government was not founded on the belief of a ruling class. No, we are a nation of the ordinary mundane everyday men and women. Our elected officials are hewn from the same quarry as our, builders, nurses, lawyers, and artists. No matter our birthrights, economic status, or education, we all gather together on one equal playing field. We all hold exactly one vote in our hands – one vote that speaks volumes for the state of our influence, integrity, and humility as a nation.

Learning to Trust

Remember when you first learned to swim? As a father of five, I’ve spent my share of time at the pool beckoning my children to jump in. I would re-assure them each time. “Jump in! Daddy’s got you. I won’t let anything happen.” And, eventually (and sometimes after much coercion) they would jump in. And like most fathers do, depending on the child, his temperament, and/or his capability, I would challenge them differently.

In my Christian walk, I’ve found that particular portrait—a loving father calling his child to jump in and trust him—to be very meaningful. In many ways, I see so much of my relationship with my heavenly Father in that light.

But much in the same way that my sons express their frustration that I treat one of their brothers (or their sister) differently than I do them, in my own moments of difficulty, I find that the Lord tends to treat his children differently as well.

For some, he never lets their heads go underwater. He calls them and they jump as best they can, reaching out for him and he catches them. Then, they splash the water and complain a little because the water got in their eyes and their goggles didn’t stay up.

For others, however, he does that thing where we jump in and swim and swim and he just keeps backing up!, all-the-while saying, “You’ve got this, champ! Just keep kicking.” But he doesn’t ever actually reach out and grab us until we’ve swallowed half of the pool and have begun to sink to the bottom.

I’ve seen the Lord handle other brothers and sisters in Christ like I might handle my younger boys. There’s never a doubt that they are safe and secure in his hands. Even when they hit the water, their splash is tempered by his catch.

My experience, however, has been much more like the second example. When he says “jump,” it doesn’t take me long to get airborne. But as my arms grow weary from swimming and I can’t kick my legs hard enough to remain afloat, I find myself reaching out with sheer desperation. And then, without warning, at just the right moment, he steps in and takes hold of me.

And each time I think of my experience in that light, a few points come to mind.

Just jump!

However you may envision the future—however you may think the Lord is going to respond to your faith—whether you believe he’s going to catch you before you even touch the water or if you think he’s going to keep back up—if he calls you to jump, the only proper response is to get off of the ground.

We have all had those moments when we have known with complete certainty that God has called us to something that required his intervention to succeed. It may have been a ministry initiative. It may have been a church revitalization effort. It may have been as simple as a gospel encounter. When he calls us to jump, our task is not to calculate the distance and wind speed. Our task is simple—get airborne.

Just swim!

Once you take that initial step of faith and dive in, he may catch you. And in that moment, you experience the wonderful sense of his care. But he might not catch you immediately. He might allow you to hit the water—even to go under for a brief moment—and you might surface looking for his hands.

Start swimming. Look for his face and move in that direction. The Christian life was never intended to be “easy like Sunday morning.” Paul described it as labor—even describing his own work as a struggle. Concluding his letter to the churches in Galatia, he encouraged them to “not grow weary” in their striving (Gal 6:9). Contrary to what some may believe, effort is not at odds with grace.

Even in your striving, he still watches over you.

Trust him in the air and trust him in the water

When calls us to jump out toward him and our feet leave the deck, it demonstrates our faith. When we hit the water and he seems to be backing away, our swimming once again demonstrates our faith. In either scenario, our heavenly Father is watching over us.

But, lest we forget, fathers do not call children to jump out to them for the sake of catching them, or even for the sake of not catching them and watching them struggle in the water. Two reasons come to mind:

  1. To teach children to swim.
  2. To teach children to trust.

Today, you may find yourself at the edge of the pool and you know beyond a doubt that he is calling you to jump. Stop running the calculations in your mind. If he’s calling, jump.

You may find yourself airborne in this very moment. He’s called you to do something and you’ve taken the first steps of obedience. You’ve leapt into the air. Trust that he’s going to catch you.

Or, you may be swimming at this very moment. Your eyes have grown wide because you still don’t sense his hands. Your heart has begun to race because, in that brief moment of panic, you begin to think your trust may have been misplaced.

It isn’t.

At just the right time, he’ll grab you. And he’ll lift you up. And all your effort—all your striving—all your labor—will have been worth it because you’ll be safe and secure in his hands.

Keep swimming.

Should the church #believewomen?

Mayella Ewell falsely accused Tom Robinson of sexual assault, but Tom was found guilty. While making an attempt to escape prison, Tom was shot dead. Do you remember Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird? It was one of my favorite books growing up. In the novel Mayella truly had been assaulted; she was a survivor. But Tom was not her attacker and she knew it. Atticus Finch, Tom’s Lawyer, could do little to reconcile Tom before the court. Lee wrote, “Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case.”

As the #believewomen movement grows, To Kill a Mockingbird puts an important question before us:

How do we protect the abused, while maintaining a presumption of innocence?

Harper Lee’s 1960 fiction shines a light on 2018 issues. When Tom Robinson was accused, he was considered guilty because of his race. If the court of public opinion is mistaken as a court of justice, the innocent are often destroyed. So how should the church respond in cases like the one presented in To Kill a Mockingbird?

This question isn’t a mere hypothetical. As recent events have proven, even the church is not exempt from both abuse and false accusations. When accusations come forward, and those who have been abused should feel safe coming forward, who should the church believe: all the accusers or all the accused?

Even the attempt to answer such a question inherently alters the role of the church. The church is no longer the Bride of Christ but assumes the gavel of the Judge. In doing so, she assumes a role reserved for her Bridegroom, Jesus (Matt 28:18, Acts 10:42). Only God knows the secret courts of men’s hearts. In a world full of hurt and pain, Jesus assures both the abused and falsely accused a just heavenly court where sin will be punished. Meanwhile, God gave the church a specific role: healing wounds—not judging them.

The Judge or The Bride?

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18

When accusations arise, the question for the church isn’t “who should we believe” but rather, “how can we bring about reconciliation—how can we make things right?” In such cases we would do well to remember the church is the Bride and not the Judge. As the Bride, the church points to the only True Judge—Christ. He alone is the truly Just Judge. His Bride, the local church, seeks to restore the abused in him; in her, the abused find a empathetic embrace. Women who have been sexually assaulted and abused ought to find care in the church. The Bride of Christ can and does provide shelters, safe places, and counsel for assaulted women.

Having addressed those who are abused, we must also talk about protecting those falsely accused. False accusations are the minority of cases, but they need reconciliation too. We must remember that Jesus was falsely accused, sentenced and executed before a court largely influenced by public opinion. The Bride, therefore, must be very judicious before making public statements concerning any accused party. Premature public declarations of innocence or guilt threaten to change sanctuaries into courtrooms and altars into witness stands. In order to refrain from putting on the judge’s robe, the church should allow for outside investigation for accusations against her ministers.

In God’s court, all truth will be established. Yet here on earth, some of the guilty will go free. Lamentably, not all of the abused will receive earthly justice. Some of the innocent will be punished. Therefore while the Bride points to God’s ultimate justice, she must embrace and bring healing to the children of God. The local church—the embassies of God’s kingdom—must offer the healing balm of the gospel to the deepest wounds of the heart.