About Thad Riley

Follower of Jesus, Friend to vagabonds like me, Husband, Dad, Writer, Runner, Spin Instructor, etc.

A Liberty Dad’s Response to The Red Letter Christians Open Letter to Jerry Falwell Jr

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Dear Shane Claiborne and The Red Letter Christians,

Yesterday, in a small Texas town, a man with a gun walked in and slaughtered men, women, and children. As I write this the death count stands at 26, and there are still victims in critical condition. I can’t imagine the horror of this scene or how this will change the lives of the families and friends of those who were shot. I don’t know how communities ever really recover from something like this. How do they learn to even breathe again?

Over the past week we’ve seen the blogs and social media fired up about a situation at Liberty University involving Jonathan Martin, a man who was removed from the campus for wanting to hold a time of prayer and protest over certain political situations he strongly opposes. From his words, he also has problems with the “counterfeit gospel” he believes Liberty University is preaching to its students. From what I’ve read from Mr. Martin’s social media page, I probably could have quoted even harsher terms.

Two of my kids, Max and Kaitlin, attend Liberty and call the school their home for the next few years. I also spent a few years there in the early 90’s. Max is an amazing dude, and even though he was the strongest guy on his football team in high school, there was never an air of entitlement about him. One of the things I love about Max is his deep kindness towards others, no matter how different they might be from him. He would protect anyone who needed his help, and never has been afraid to put a bully in his place, when necessary. He loves the Lord and his life is a testimony of God’s goodness.

Kaitlin spent the summer of 2016 in the Bahamas working with Bahamian children at a Christian camp. Her life was changed forever as she experienced the world in a completely different way. The pictures of her and those kids still rocks my world, and we are all so proud of the young lady she has become. Liberty has made an incredibly positive impact on her life, as she grows in her maturity, knowledge, and faith. When they call me I’m just so thrilled to here the wonderful things happening in their lives and to experience their joy in this time.

These are two of our six kids. The oldest of the bunch, you might say. They are blazing a trail of lives reflecting kindness, love, generosity, humility, and peace and both of them are 100% sold out to Jesus. As a dad, I couldn’t be more proud.

And as a father of two students at Liberty University, I have a lot to say regarding the recent developments with Jonathan Martin and yourself and the Red Letter Christians. A lot of it actually ties into what happened in Texas yesterday and what you could actually do about it. And I’ll get there in a moment, I promise, but there’s something I want to share first.

About six months ago I joined a Facebook group called the Light Writers (now disbanded), which, for the most part, is a group of writers who we would agree are more liberal minded Christians. I paid deep  attention to the writings of other’s who referred to themselves as “Christians”, yet held views a good bit different from my own. I read their writings carefully, and sometimes prayerfully, and compared their teachings against the teachings of Jesus. But can I tell you what I learned the most? These Christians are too often heralders of labeling and name calling anyone who calls themselves a Christian, yet doesn’t agree with them politically. Right now, in just a matter of moments, I could throw up tons of links to blogs and posts from folks you are connected, who save their harshest words for those they disagree with politically and from a theological standpoint. The hostility was shocking, and I was surprised at the unwillingness to sit at a table and break bread with those they disagreed with. The mocking publicly was probably what concerned me the most, much like the mocking of Jerry Falwell Jr as perpetrated by Jonathan Martin.

Let me be as clear as possible. There are videos all over YouTube, hundreds if not thousands of blog posts, and unending posts on social media of what we might call Progressive Christian leaders mocking, taunting, and rudely speaking of conservative Christians. Matthew 18:15 is thrown into the wind, as platforms are built, books are sold, and somebody’s post goes viral. This is the world you have helped to create, Shane. If you think it’s not, I encourage you to open your eyes and drown in the sorrow of Jesus’ heartbreak as you and your friends harass and harangue conservative Christians publicly. And this is done supposedly in the name of Jesus?

Did you know what was interesting about the Pharisees? They weren’t counter culture at all, actually. In fact, they  were right in line with the culture, and very well  would have voted in line with most of America, and not cared about an electoral college. They promoted works, didn’t they? They promoted all the good they did against what other’s didn’t do. 2,000 years ago they were the experts in heaping heavy and confusing moralisms on the followers of Jesus, and they did it by labeling others and calling them out publicly. Do you see what I’m conveying to you and Red Letter Christians? Do you see how it is impossible to ridicule, mock, and harass others, and still be a follower of Jesus?

I wish you were on a plane right now. Sitting next to your new friend, Jerry Falwell Jr. The man you would have reached out to in love and peace. The two of you could be our conservative and progressive Christian leaders on your way to Sutherland Springs, Texas to pray for and sit with those who are broken and fighting off feelings of hopelessness. What would it look like if you two men could walk into a room together, arms wide open and to just be the best of all of us to a broken and hurting community. Sure, you and Jerry Jr might have startlingly tough conversations on the plane there, but it would be worth it, wouldn’t it? Would it be worth it to actually build a real relationship with someone you completely disagree with in so many ways?

But we don’t build relationships on stages and in public forums, do we?

The obvious intent of the Red Letter Christians is to stand in front of thousands and try to one-up men like Jerry Falwell Jr, and then seep your influence to the students of the largest Christian university in the world. As a father of two current students, let me be frank and say you haven’t earned the right to be heard, and if you think you have, you need to go back and really take a look at the toxic narrative you’ve helped build. You have taken cheap shots from the cheap seats, Shane, and so have the Red Letter Christians.

You could stand up today, Shane, and say enough is enough. You could persuade your friends to stop these divisive, harsh, relentlessly belligerent and hate-filled monologues, and fill the air with the goodness of Jesus and a new hope for all Christians in America. You could be the pivotal person in uniting the Progressives and the Conservatives, and be a voice of kindness and compassion for everyone, including those you staunchly disagree with.

Let me be as clear as I can be. Until you and your friends can stop this blindingly toxic narrative against Conservative Christians, you don’t deserve a seat at the table. We want to focus in on those who need Jesus the most, those who want to know more about him. We want to bring hope and goodness and peace to our world, and we know the source for all of that is Jesus. I’m not for Jerry Jr or anyone else wasting their time saddled down in conversations folks who have been so disrespectful before you even  uttered a word face to face. Do you see any of what I am sharing with you?

Let me also share this – there is no scenario Jerry Falwell Jr wouldn’t be about the toughest hombre in a debate. He speaks in front of thousands on a weekly basis, and was a practicing lawyer for decades with a degree from the University Of Virginia Law School. His skill set, education, and experience would make for an excellent debate with you and your friends, I’m quite sure. But, I’m still against it, at least until you can preach peace for all Christians.

I will pray for you, Shane, The Red Letter Christians, Jonathan Martin, and all of your friends. Even though you all have been quite busy as you tie up heavy burdens and lay them on more conservative Christian’s shoulders, and won’t lift a finger to help, it doesn’t mean that I’ve given up hope. And sure, I understand the context of Matthew 23, but go back to what I shared about the Pharisees one more time and ask yourself why so many of us are speaking out against these antagonistic attacks by Progressive Christians. This is exactly what you and your friends have done when you oppress those you disagree with in your toxic and belligerent attacks publicly. Again, if you think I’m exaggerating, I can supply endless links. But you and I both know I just don’t need to.

And this is why you and Jerry Jr aren’t on that plane to Texas today, isn’t it? You have found your enemy, and you want to stand with your “Goliath” and slay him in front of as many people as possible. In front of as many Liberty University faculty and students as possible.

My final thought is from the scripture you reference in your open letter to Jerry Falwell Jr  –

“From Isaiah 58 to Luke 4 and Matthew 25, the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ speaks prophetically against false religion that props up injustice.”

Is this the only Jesus you know?

What about Jesus words, as I mentioned earlier in Matthew 18:15? Or in Luke 6:35 when Jesus says “But love your enemies, and do good to them” or in Luke 6:31 when he says “Do to others as you would have them do to you”.  Do you feel you and your friends have honestly love Jerry  Fallwell Jr and those who disagree with you as Jesus says to in Matthew 22:39 – “Love your neighbor as yourself?”

You aren’t on a plane to Texas today because you haven’t earned it. Your passion for this public forum is proof you care more about a big platform than caring about the hearts of those you could change for the glory of Jesus.

I could go point by point of your letter and refute much of what you said in it, but I won’t. Until you seek peace, I vote you don’t get a forum. Until you can come together with us in love, we will remain divided, though we are ready to speak at peace with you when you are able.

I’ll pray over this, and the entire situation this morning. I promise, and I will lift you and the Red Letter Christians up in God’s love and grace right now.

But first, I’ll pray for Texas.

 

In Christ’s Love and Hope,

 

Thad Riley

Star Wars Final 2 Movie Predictions

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In what may go down as my most controversial blog post to date, here are my predictions for the next two Star Wars movies, the next of which, The Last Jedi, will be released on December 15th of this year. Sure,  I have watched some videos and red some threads on Reddit about what could happen, but I couldn’t truly find any predictions to my liking or actually big enough to be of epic proportions. I am going into this, however, with zero research regarding specific rumors.  These are simply my interpretations of where we are headed based mostly on the previous six movies. I will do my best to order this thoughtfully. Here goes –

– In the last Jedi, a new tension will greatly rise in the relationship of Kylo and Rey, to the point where they are actually falling in love. This is very Beren and Luthien (From Tolkien), a relationship of opposites, yet very pure in heart. We will actually be cheering for this relationship in movie 9.

– A big twist is that Rey will turn to the dark side, or so it will seem, and it is Kylo who leaves to follow Luke. Towards the end of the Last Jedi Kylo watches helplessly as his mother is killed by Snoke’s ship, and Kylo is done with the First Order. Finn tried to save Leia, and for his efforts he is promoted to General at the start of the Ninth movie. Finn is force sensitive and has some powers of sight, but that is all. He is not a Jedi. Kylo, in the meantime, abandons Snoke and is done. He has seen the dark side destroy his parents, and his grandfather, and he is done.

– The end of The Last Jedi will go out just as the identity of Snoke is about to be revealed. First, however, we are surprised there are not one, but TWO (you only will hear this from me!) Sith Lords. The second is an advisor to Snoke, and has great, almost unmatched power. But he wants Snoke in charge, so he can cause chaos on his own terms throughout the galaxy. We learn this second Sith Lord actually raised Snoke from the dead, and so Snoke is attached to him for the rest of his days. This is the end of second movie, but at the beginning of the third we are stunned to realize Snoke is actually…

– Darth Vader! He is back, and he was raised from the dead by the evil Sith Lord, Darth Plagueis. Plagueis (referred to first by Palpatine in episode 2) was the Sith Lord who trained Palpatine, long before even episode 1. It was Palpatine who killed Plagueis, or so he thought. Plagueis is best known for having power over death, and uses the dark side of the force to do such things. At the end of movie two we are left with the shock of Rey joining Snoke (Vader but we don’t know it yet) and Plagueis (we have no clue here either). All of this is revealed early in episode 3.

– Rey is actually the granddaughter of Palpatine, and this is why she is so powerful. Vader and Plagueis torment her endlessly with her grandfather’s past, and convince her it is her destiny to  follow in his footsteps. But she loves Kylo and has great problems with her own turn to the dark side.

– Luke is almost killed by Snoke and the other Sith Lord at the end of two when he goes to save Rey, but he escapes (due to Kylo in a crazy move at the last second) and they plan to save Rey and stop the two Sith Lord’s.

– Vader (once revealed in movie 3) puts the helmet and Vader gear back on, and leads the First Order into one great final battle against the new rebellion, led by Luke, Kylo, and Finn. Rey seems to stand with the First Order, but in the end will turn and fight in a glorious 3 against 2 battle (Rey, Kylo, Luke vs Vader and Plagueis). Luke dies, and Vader and Plagueis are finally destroyed once and for all).

– Somewhere in movie 9, the setup will begin for a new series of Star Wars movies, but I believe first they will go back to more ancient times, to the first days of the Jedi.

So, this is it. These are my best predictions of movies 8 and 9 in the Star Wars Series. What do you think? Feel free to ask questions!

 

An Open Letter to Jonathan Martin

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Dear Jonathan,

Yesterday a few friends and acquaintances shared your post from Facebook regarding your removal from Liberty University during the Johnnyswim concert on the evening of 10/30/17. Let me share from the outset that I attended LU from 1993-1994, right before I ventured across the country to serve at Willowcreek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. After being part of the initial launch team and then community with the Axis Ministry at Willowcreek, I moved from the Chicago area and have been a bit of vagabond since. Today I live in New Hampshire, and have called some diverse and not-so-diverse areas of the country my home. I feel uniquely blessed to have so many wonderful friendships with so many different folks.

After reading your statement a few times, I prayed the following prayer about the information you shared publicly –

“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Thought it cost all you have” (Proverbs 4:6-7).

After praying, I then messaged two of my kiddos who attend Liberty at this time, trying to wrap my head all of the info that was out there. I did maybe a little more research than necessary before I wrote this letter to you, which I felt you and Liberty University both deserve.

What might be a surprise is that my friends who shared your post support your views regarding Liberty, and from what I’ve observed during this season of political unrest, these friends definitely are not supporters of the President or Jerry Falwell Jr. However, I can also attest none of these friends attended Liberty University or lived in the Lynchburg area. I am grateful for their views, whether they are in line or fiercely opposed to my own. We have shared robust, yet quite respectful dialogues, and they have challenged my persuasions in many areas, as I hope I have theirs.

Jonathan, I share all of that to simply let you know I am open to your response, as I pray you are open to mine. So, let’s get to the heart of the matter here as proficiently as we can.

On January 8th, 1956 missionaries Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Nate Saint were slaughtered by the spears of ten Aucas Warriors, the same tribe they had been attempting to reach. Jim’s journal entry from October 28th, 1949 shares his belief that this missionary work is more important than their very own lives. Jim cites Luke 9:24 when he wrote “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Filled with the knowledge and guidance of specific scriptures, these men’s hearts were full and they brought an unstoppable force of love, salvation, and peace to a people who would first greet them with wonder, and then soon after murder them as they stood defenseless on what had once seemed like peaceful ground. Later, as we all know, Elisabeth Elliot and other missionaries returned to Aucas tribe, casting away their deep agony and pain, replaced by a fire to preach the good news of the Gospel of Jesus.

These brave men and women did something you and I may never do – they risked their lives and livelihood to follow Jesus. Folks like us…well, we do a lot of this stuff behind a computer, Smartphone, or tablet. I’m not saying your feet weren’t firmly planted at Liberty University. I’m simply saying being escorted from the Green Room and off the campus of a private university isn’t exactly martyrdom.

When I attended Liberty, I was told by three local colleges (Randolph Macon, Sweet Briar, and Lynchburg College) I would be thrown off their campus and potentially prosecuted for my Friday night activities. Basically, a group of friends and I started going onto these college campuses and walking up to random students and sharing our testimonies with them. It was a very laid back approach to evangelism, but when I was formally asked to leave those campuses, I chose to never return. My friends did, though, and there were students that began a relationship with Jesus because of their efforts. It simply wasn’t about me.

None of these schools were “afraid of free speech”. Just because these schools didn’t want me on their campus to share the greatest story of hope the word has ever known, doesn’t mean they do “not easily tolerate robust dissent.” Are you aware of the following speakers who have been given a public forum at Liberty University? Here’s a brief list –

  • The Late Senator Ted Kennedy
  • Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Governor Tim Kaine
  • Writer Donald Miller
  • Writer Bob Goff
  • Democratic US Senator Mark Warner

Hillary Clinton was invited to speak, just as Bernie Sanders did, but she rejected the invite. In my humble opinion, she should have grabbed onto this opportunity, but I guess this doesn’t matter so much anymore.

Let’s get real about this list – a school simply doesn’t have a list like this if you are afraid of the engaging in a thoughtful discussion. Liberty University obviously isn’t making decisions driven by fear or narcissism, but out of loyalty and respect for those who have come before us.

Jonathan, your Instagram post was the very first thing my son sent to me when I mentioned your name, and to say it was condescending to students like Max and Kaitlin is an understatement.

“(Referring to Liberty University) It’s ground zero strategically for the counterfeit faith that is sweeping many evangelical churches right now.”

“Our goal will not just be to antagonize, but to see renewal and transformation.”

I love the renewal and transformation part, but antagonize? Really? These are just a few of the words you’ve shared publicly before setting foot on the campus.  What I can’t seem to find, though, is a single link to scripture in what you’ve shared. If I missed this, could you provide the link? It seems to not be there. And if you think for a second those two yahoos of mine aren’t free thinkers, than you don’t know a thing about my kids. Or their friends. Or the faculty. And can I ask you a simple question –

Why are you accusing my children, and over 15,000 students and faculty at Liberty University for holding onto a counterfeit faith, when you haven’t spent any legitimate time with them? When you haven’t lived in Lynchburg, taken a class at Liberty, or built long term relationships there? Why not follow the lead of the great men before you, such as Jim Elliot? If this is your passion, you would move to Lynchburg and start a new ministry there reaching Liberty students and the faculty there and enthusiastically convey a non-counterfeit gospel. If this is so important to you, why not make it a permanent decision? You’ve stated this has been something you can’t let go, so I vote you don’t. Here’s a few words of encouragement from the scriptures –

“For this is what the Lord has commanded us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth” (Acts 13:47).

“He said to them ‘Go into the world and preach the gospel to all creation’” (Mark 16:15).

“Declare his glory among the nations, is marvelous deeds among all peoples” (1 Chronicles 16”24).

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and off the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

 

Since you’ve consistently spoken of the character of Jerry Jr, I want to share with some words about his Dad, Jerry Falwell Sr. These words come from a man who hated and then grew to love Jerry Sr, founder of Hustler magazine Larry Flint –

“In the years that followed and up until his death he’d (Jerry Sr.) come to see me in every time he was in California. We’d exchange personal Christmas cards. He’d show me pictures of his grandchildren. “

“I always kicked his ass about his crazy ideas and the things he said. Every time I’d call him, I’d get put right through, and he’d let me berate him about his views.”

As much as Jerry Falwell Sr. was mocked and ridiculed, he never tried to twist or temper his words to please the masses, or even his friends. He never fought dirty or took cheap shots, and he never attempted to leverage his brilliance or position to gain notoriety. As his friend Larry Flint conveyed several times, his primary passion was found in the eternal and for all of his friends to personally to deeply experience a relationship with Jesus.

Here’s the trick of it all. Jerry Sr could have been a pretty darn good smooth talker. If you don’t believe me, check out some of his talks given at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, UCLA, and Notre Dame. If you can find it, the talk he gave at Harvard Law School went down as one of the greatest speeches given in the 1980’s. On that list also is Ted Kennedy’s speech at Liberty University.

Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

This was the deepest calling on the life of men like Jim Elliot and his friends. This is the legacy that Jerry Sr left with his good friend, Larry Flynt, and thousands of men and women who knew him. This is not the call of those, however, who only use words to convey their doctrinal assumptions to a world desperately clawing for things like peace, love, and hope.

Jonathan, I have 2 simple questions for you. First, would you have done any of this if no one else was watching on social media? How can we know this from the narrative you’ve built? Honestly, is this about a platform?

And my final question is this – why are your posts filled with so many words, yet so very little scripture? Even as I browse the comments from your post which garnered the attention, it’s more like reading about someone who had a bad customer service experience buying a refrigerator, rather than the overflowing love that comes from the Gospel of Jesus. Your followers and friends aren’t electrifying this narrative with the words of God, but with conjectures and melancholy melodrama.

As I mentioned earlier, I live in New Hampshire, but I will contact my children today and we will gather with you in Lynchburg in prayer as you go down whatever path you think God is leading you. I’m sure they can bring a ton of their friends. They’re all really great folks.

The ball is in your court, Jonathan. If what you’ve said has teeth, my hope is that you’ll go to Lynchburg and make it your home. Change like this doesn’t happen through social media and showing up at an event. You referred to Jerry Jr’s alignment with darkness, so let me encourage you with the words of one of the greatest men who has ever walked this earth –

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can.” Dr. Martin Luther King.

So, let’s do love and do it well.

In Christ’s love and truth,

 

Thad Riley

 

Guest Blogger Josh Duggan – Rewriting Your Identity


In the 1990’s America Online mailed me a disk that awarded 30 free hours of connectivity to the world wide web. I encountered online personality tests and surveys for the first time as well as the concept of “identity-seeking” — and this concept captured my imagination. The term, identity, comes up in social discourse about gender identity, and in Christian circles about our identity in Christ Implicitly or explicitly, identity-seeking or identity-forming takes up a large fraction of what we humans do with our lives.

A quick review of the beginning of human history will reveal a progression of events: An act of creation occurs. An entire world and life is given as a gift and a blessing. A model of love in a family unit is established. The very first offspring comes up with a different model, as he kills his brother.

Human tradition continues to drive us to *define* ourselves and our world; each in our own way to grasp at authorship and authority. All of what we see played out in the struggles of our society is the result of the past and continued attempts to pick up this pen and rewrite ourselves in at we might imagine is our own image. In our minds we have driven down the streets of self-actualization, self-determination, self-esteem, and other glorifications of the self. This is the logical outcome when man directs his own life. We seek, in turn, to create our own world, our own morality (or “tolerance”) to impose, and our own relationship ethic.

Or, alternatively, God blesses us and imposes his external system on us; and we obey and worship.

Once one of these systems is chosen, a process is set in motion. Romans 1 elucidates the progression, starting with, “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (v.21 ESV).” and culminating with the characteristics of the lost society, ” . . . foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless (v.31)” It’s the classic fallacy: “If I ruled the world, it would be a Utopia.” The truth: If any of us ruled the world, it would be tyranny, injustice, and ruin; just our individual brand of it. An important aside here, do not mistake the outcomes (the observable behaviors and traits of the human-defined society) for the cause of the trouble (refusing to honor God as creator and give thanks).

Here is the problem for our race. We desperately want to be loved and accepted. Moreover, we want to be loved for who we are, not for what we might do to earn it . . . . and deep down we know that we are unlovable. We employ all kinds of strategies to avoid this disturbing truth, and even make all kinds of changes to our “identity” just to create a diorama where we can dream that we are not so horrible; that we could be loved despite the fact that we fall so short on so many levels. We imagine we can do this because *we* are the authors and we define success, and beauty, and love . . . . but that sad road is a dead-end street . . . . Until we hear that a bush burns on the side of the road . . . . And we turn aside to see this thing . . . . And we find out that we are loved in spite of what we have become, and that priceless stamp of our creators image on our persons cannot be erased because it is sealed with his own blood. He offers to take upon himself all of the justice and well-deserved wrath that we have been wildly successful at earning. Even at our ugliest and most objectionable, we are somehow beautiful to God; one of his more incomprehensible characteristics, that he could love his enemies so much *before* they turn to him. He died for the ungodly, not for the ones who aren’t as bad or the ones who started turning things around. A glance at Romans 5:6-11 will show this powerfully and concisely laid out:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a god person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Seek — stop rewriting — your identity. Try the following start to your day:

“God I acknowledge you as my creator and king. Thank you.”

The Ents are going to War (and so are we)

TT-favorite4Without daring to glance to my right, I gently placed my popcorn down on the open seat next to me, and leaned forward with my eyes practically burrowing a hole through the giant screen. In all of my thirty-two years, never had I been so enthralled in one cinematic moment. Almost two decades years after I first read the books The Lord of the Rings, the ending of this film had become everything I hoped it would be.

“Come, my friends. The Ents are going to war. It is likely we go to our doom. Last march of the Ents.”

Fifteen years later, chills still sweep through me as I sit in this big, red chair watching this iconic scene once more. As Treebeard and his fellow Ents march into war, their enemy had no clue what kind of violence and destruction was heading their way. The Ents wouldn’t have gotten into the fight, however, if it wasn’t for the burning of the trees happening in the forest around them.

“Many of these trees were my friends,” their leader Treebeard muttered in disgust, just moments prior. This destruction was simply too much for him to bear.

Do you ever feel a little like Treebeard, repulsed by the carnage of words burning in our world today? For me, this is what I am experiencing more and more as I hear the heresy and devaluing of the scriptures from so many folks who say they love Jesus, but want a theology all for themselves. As the Ents held precious the lives of the trees around them, many Christians passionately cling to God’s word as truth, and hold precious the lives affected by the false teachings of our day. Heresy is when someone claims to teach from the scriptures, yet deliberately changes core doctrinal truths to fit better into their ideas or into the current culture. And it’s actually pretty evil.

Let me share briefly about the evil of false teaching, and how it is impacting our culture today. First, though, imagine coming over to my house on a scorching hot day and asking me for a cup of water. I go into the kitchen, and unbeknownst to you, I grab a cup of water, and throw it in microwave for about a minute. My music is turned up, and you’re in my living room not suspecting a thing. I also chuck in two clear chunks of plastic, that look just like ice and hand it to you in a temperature modifying cup. As you lick your lips, you reach out to take it from me, give me a quick “thanks” and what you thought would be a cool cup of water turns out to burn your lips, tongue, and the back of your throat. You spit it out and are about to punch me in the face when I say, “Hey. This is water. It’s good water. There’s nothing wrong with your water. Maybe you don’t like the temperature, but it’s still good water. “

Let’s be real now. The story of Jesus is based upon our need for a Savior because of our sin, which has separated us from God. Jesus, however, created a path to God the Father, through his perfect life, crucifixion on the cross, and glorious resurrection. All of this was done for you and me and the rest of mankind. By falling on our knees and rejoicing over our part of the story within this beautiful gospel, we can know for all of eternity we will be in paradise with Jesus.

The most popular heretical teachings of our day have two main ingredients thrown into the  pot. First, they preach a gospel that is incomplete, one that doesn’t involve hell or any type of separation from God. The iconic scriptures, such as John 3:16 and Romans 6:23, play second fiddle to a compromised Gospel, one based in the culturally relevant philosophical teachings of man, all while ignoring key biblical truths. Hell is never going to be a popular topic, yet it is a quite necessary conversation in teaching the beautiful Gospel of Jesus.

Second, false teachers today will play manipulative games with sin, most commonly sexual sin and the sins associated with life, such as abortion. While many of us rejoice in the freedom from sin the Gospel of Jesus delivers, false teachers want to rejoice in something else – You! It is just so true! Folks, I am all for the big hug, but I’m not interested in worshiping anyone else but Jesus himself (Seriously this idea of worshiping myself is getting uncomfortable now so I’ll just step away now. Yikes!).

Treebeard and the other Ents marched forward to not only protect what they found precious, but to also defend those who were too weak or immature to defend themselves. This is the great calling of those who are mature followers of Jesus – we defend our brothers and sisters from heresy and false teachers. We do this just like the Ents, with the “rock and stone”, that is the rock solid foundation we find in God’s word. We speak in truth and with love of course, but we do not sacrifice one for the other. We are not called to sit back and turn away from the battle before us, but we are to engage, protect, and yes, attack the heresies. For those we love. For those who are precious to Jesus.

And then we march forward into the pure,  beautiful, and glorious story of man’s redemption.

Dinner with Friends and Parachute Pants

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I was in sixth grade at the school’s monthly roller skating party when my skate slipped and my legs went sprawling in two different directions.  Before I could even scream in the horror of the moment, my white Fruit of the Looms were now visible to each and everyone of my classmates. I had split out the whole crotch of my parachute pants.

Mom couldn’t fix them. Heck, Alice from the Brady Bunch couldn’t make this right. Mom just kept shaking her head saying, “I should have known better than to buy you pants made out of nothing. I’ll tell you, this would never happen in your Toughskins!”

Toughskins. Yes, this epic disaster threw me back into my Husky size 14 Toughskins, fresh off the shelves of Kmart, and my mother never bought me another pair of parachute pants again. But all my friends had parachute pants and they were wonderful.

Envy reared its nasty head, as boy after boy showed up at school in their new parachute pants, and I in my Kmart Specials. I loved everything about my parachute pants, from the look to the feel, but none of it mattered. Sixth grade boys live in the prison of clothes chosen by their parents, and mine had secured me into solitary confinement with little help of reprieve.

You know what? I still get that feeling sometimes. I got it once when an old friend’s bestselling book was nominated for an award. Or when another friend qualified for the Boston Marathon. I got it when a wealthy friend posted a picture standing with someone pretty famous, who I’m pretty confident isnot waiting with bated breath for a selfie with me. I got it when a friend ran faster than me, and he hadn’t been running as long. It’s this thing and out of nowhere it can erupt on you at the most bizarre times and in verypeculiar ways.

Envy.

The scriptures, fortunately, have a lot to say about envy, and I for one am quite grateful. As little screen time as the topic gets in our cultural landscape, the Bible pulls no punches and dives straight in.

“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2).

Well, that’s some pretty happy stuff about me and my envy issue. Parachute pants or not, that pretty much cuts to the core. But wait, there’s more –

“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30).

Years ago a friend of mine came and confessed his envy of me and apologized for the way he had been treating me. I was like “WHAT???” First, this guy was really good looking and successful, and everyone loved him, yet he found something in me that caused him to experience envy on a deeper level. I more than forgave him, and also tried to learn from him, to understand how he had come to allow envy to influence the way he treated me.

In my world, envy could stem from knowing a dad who has done a better job of supporting his kids in sports or in their academic achievements. It could harass me about being a better writer, someone who gets more clicks or likes and those always coveted comments that read “I totally connected to this.” Sometimes it rears its nasty head in strange and random ways, like spotting a guy driving a Ferrari or a group of friends out having a great time. “Boy I wish I had a bunch of friends to go laugh and have fun with tonight. I wish my life was like theirs.” Sometimes envy kicks the door down when a man provides great wealth for his family in a way I have never been able to. And will probably never will.

Its Smeagol wanting the ring. Or King David killing Bethsheba’s husband. And in the words of Judas when he questioned the actions of the lady who poured perfume all over Jesus’ feet. It is always shameful. Always ugly. And always leaves a feeling of void, especially if we ever get the “thing” we were truly envious of.

Envy isn’t a materialistic void, as much as it is simply worshipping something that was never intended to be worshipped. When our hearts take us down the path where we are filled with envy and longing, we need a “worship reset” to readjust our inner core, our spiritual self. Through the consistent practice of studying the scriptures, we not only reset our spiritual base, but we also provide our hearts with a passion that is good, and just. Here’s an example from 1 Chronicles 16:23-25 –

“Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods.”

When worship of Jesus increases, envy decreases, because our passions are redirected towards a God who passionately loves us, and wants us to be in a loving relationship with him. As we study the Bible, listen to Christian worship music, or engage in our local church, our hearts are captured by what is good, what is pure, and what brings life not death.

Envy, the worship of what you don’t have, brings death to marriages, friendships, reputations, and so much more. Worshipping God, however, brings light and life, first to your heart and then to the hearts of others. It provides a constant reminder of who we are and who God is, and when we practice the worship of God, we are left amazed and entranced, and also left wanting little else.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).

The English Patient, Titanic and Here’s My Favorite Christian Movies

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Do you remember the movie The English Patient? Boy, I sure do. In 1997 it won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director. It also holds the distinction of being the only movie I’ve seen where more than half the crowd was booing and heckling as the credits rolled. It wasn’t a just a bad movie, it was the worst movie I’d ever seen and I don’t think I’ve ever felt such an overwhelming relief than when it was over. Soon after I saw the much ballyhooed film, The Titanic, which also won Best Picture and Best Director, but in the year after The English Patient. The Titanic also makes my most hated list, due to the obvious ending (c’mon, you all knew Jack was going to die) and the fact that I just didn’t like Rose. She seemed bratty and her storyline didn’t feel very legit, but maybe that’s just me overanalyzing stories again.

If we jump into the movies I have loved, like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and The Matrix, I think we can agree for the most part we’ve had to endure the brutal aftermaths of movies that obliterated our hopes of another cinematic work of perfection. With zero thanks to The Hobbit Movies, Star Wars Episodes 1 through 3 and Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, you and I had our greatest of expectations smashed as we shoved the popcorn down our throats in the horror of bad storylines, over-acting, and casting mistakes that will never make any sense.

Let’s be honest. How many times has Hollywood let us down on the big screen?

Whenever I sit through a bad movie, I get a bit ticked, because I’ll never get back the money and time I’ve wasted. There are almost zero redeeming qualities in movies today, except for a few which might inspire or educate us. In comparison to Christian movies with a positive message about Jesus, even if the movie is pretty low budget and horrible, I’m often left with feelings of hope, being challenged, and God’s love and acceptance despite our own brokenness. There are many movies with a Christian theme that have impacted my life, so here is my ranking order of the best Christian movies I’ve ever seen. And along with this, I will include the Rotten Tomato Ratings from Critics and Users.

  1. Facing the Giants (13% Critics/85% Actual Humans with a heart, also called the Audience Score) – Even though their entire budget was about what it costs for us to take our six kids out for ice cream, this is one of my favorite films of all time. From a great script, to a little shaky but heartfelt acting, to an ending that will have you clutching the arms of your sofa, this is the best of the best. Watch this with an open heart, and you won’t be let down!
  2. Courageous (30% Critics/86% Audience Score) – The follow up to Facing the Giants with Alex Kendrick as the star did not disappoint. There is one scene that might be the best original comic writing I’ve seen in years, and the ongoing tension throughout the movie kept me on the edge of my seat. The thoughtful storyline about being a father has some awkward moments, but I wonder if those aren’t because of what we have lost in our country as fathers, and our lack of initiative to be leaders in our homes. This is a must see movie, with a few surprising twists.
  3. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (42% Critics/87% Audience) – a light hearted romp through a familiar feeling narrative, that continued to make us laugh, question, and even cheer a little throughout the whole movie. There are no car chases or high impact scenes, just a very well-acted, heartfelt story that brings that satisfied feeling as you’re pulling out of the theatre parking lot. The lead actor, Brett Dalton, was perfectly cast as the wayward son/Hollywood wanna-be, working on his comeback, while figuring out his life. This is the first Christian movie The World Wrestling Entertainment company has produced, and it leaves us hoping there will be more.
  4. The Island aka a Russian film titled OCTPOB (63% Critics/81% Audience) – Although this film was well received by some critics, it has never been given its credit due. The subtitles take a little getting used to, but after a few minutes, it feels like a movie spoken in the language of Russian is quite fitting. It’s a sad, but inspiring tale, and almost akin to The Dead Poet’s Society, which I appreciated, but still found a little disappointing throughout. The Island rarely let me down, and when I found out the lead actor (a former Russian Rock Star) actually lives on this island in Russia, I was even more in awe. By the way, it’s free on Youtube!
  5. War Room – (33% Critics/87% Audience) –This movie bounces cleanly from tension to heartache to humor, and the acting is the best of any Christian movie I’ve seen. It all flows well together, as real life collides with the promises of God, as prayer takes center stage throughout this movie. There is a deep brokenness exposed in its most revealing moments, especially towards the end, but not as much as Courageous, which was almost too heavy at times. This might have been my top movie, but its climactic scenes didn’t leave me catching breath, as was the case withFacing the Giants and Courageous. But the directing, acting, and story were all top notch.
  6. Flywheel – (too low budget to make Rotten Tomatoes) – This is the first movie from the Kendrick Brothers, and has the most heart of any low budget movie in the history of film. From top to bottom you can see the director had little to no money to make a movie, but this was the launching pad into his next movies.
  7. The Passion of the Christ (49% Critics/80% Audience) – This doesn’t even feel like a normal movie, so I’m barely sure how to rank this. As far as cinema goes, this is the closest we can get to the final days of Jesus before his great ascension into heaven. Though The Passion is brutally violent, I wouldn’t hesitate bringing kids age twelve and up to see it.

If you haven’t noticed, the Audiences are high on these films, while the pros pan them. The critics continue to dismiss the inspirational messages, and the impact it makes on moviegoers lives. If you’re looking for the English Patient or Titanic or even the movie Chicago (which I hate only because it won Best Picture over the Fellowship of the Ring), then none of these movies are for you. For everyone else, add these to your library and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

In closing, here’s a few more Christian themed movies, in no particular order –

  • Soul Surfer
  • God’s Not Dead (the original)
  • Fireproof
  • Chariots of Fire
  • Amazing Grace
  • One Night with the King