Thank God For CNN

I knew that I shouldn’t watch it but I did anyway. My kids were in bed and the house was quiet and dark. The week ahead looked busy so this was likely the best opportunity I would have to see it. My gut told me that this would not end well. But I didn’t let that stop me.

That night, my wife and I sat down to watch a new show on CNN called Believer where each week Reza Aslan finds a new religion to be condescending toward. The episode we were about to watch focused on the relationship between Vodou and Christianity in the small country of Haiti.

The show didn’t disappoint. When it was over, I was disappointed. That’s because Christians were presented as religious crusaders for daring to build hospitals in the nation that is saturated in corruption and poverty. Vodou, on the other hand, was presented as grossly misunderstood. If you’re keeping score at home, the religion that motivates people to build hospitals is bad and the one that gets people to sacrifice pigs to demons is good. The last few minutes of the show looked like a commercial for Vodou.

This should come as no surprise from a network that spends millions of dollars producing and promoting documentaries in an effort to, “find the real Jesus.” In the CNN lexicon, “finding the real Jesus” is code for the Jesus of the Bible being fake. That’s right. The church has gotten it wrong for two thousand years now. Thankfully, CNN is here to tell us the truth.

We should be very quick to examine CNN’s version of the truth. This is, after all, the same network that likes to feed debate questions to presidential candidates of a certain party in order to help them to prepare beforehand. Truth, we should all know by now, isn’t so high on CNN’s list of priorities. It appears that trying to discredit Christianity is.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve noticed that CNN doesn’t take time out of its regular programming each year when Ramadan rolls around to, “find the real Mohammed.” You know, the rapist and child molester. Some of that could be out of fear. CNN probably doesn’t want the same fate that their counterparts at Charlie Hebdo suffered. To them, Christianity is a much easier target.

That’s because, in large part, Islam is built on the blood of the so called infidels. Christianity is grounded in and saturated with the blood of Jesus. In our world, acts of terror are much less offensive than God dying for the sins that we committed.

Islam is advanced by the sword. Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword (Matthew 26:52-53).

If anyone, even a bestselling author with his own show about religion on CNN, ever tells you that all religions are the same, you can be certain that they have no clue what they are talking about.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t an appeal to boycott CNN. I watch CNN regularly and if you care about getting a glimpse into the secular worldview, I suggest that you do the same. Just know that you are being lied to.

But don’t let those lies get you down.

The book of Acts will help you to put CNN and their constant jabs at Christianity into perspective. Slander and persecution are the fertilizer from which the church grows. Acts is filled with accounts of the church being persecuted. And the persecution is much more intense than anything CNN has thrown the church’s way. But notice what happens after each instance of persecution. The church grows exponentially.

After the disciples are mocked and written off as drunks, three thousand people were added to the church (Acts 2).

After Stephen is martyred, Saul, the man who helped to make it happen, becomes a follower of Christ (Acts 7 – 9).

When Paul is kicked out of one region, he moves to another one and gospel growth follows (Acts 17).

And so on.

Christian, don’t let opposition, slander and media misrepresentations about your faith get you down. Be encouraged and know that it is from this that real growth comes. For a few decades now, some churches have tried to grow their numbers through gimmicks and give aways. At best, all those techniques ever do is draw a crowd. Real growth, or discipleship, comes when the church keeps its course through opposition.

CNN is no threat to the body of Jesus Christ. In reality, they are like a kid kicking over dandelions in the front yard. He thinks he’s getting rid of the weeds but all he’s really doing is making them spread.

So thank God for CNN.

image credit

Bad News

Just because the Olympics are over doesn’t mean that you can’t watch gymnastics on TV. All you have to do is turn on the news.

On Thursday morning I watched the folks on CNN contort themselves to make Hillary Clinton look better than she really is. It didn’t take too long until I finally had enough so I switched it over to Fox News. Over there they were doing backflips to try and explain away Donald Trump’s latest act of foolishness.

Christians are people of the truth. Being people of the truth in today’s climate requires quite a bit of work. If you care about finding out what’s going on in the world, you have to be your own editor.

That means that you can’t just listen to the people who only say nice things about your favorite candidate or political persuasion. If all they ever tell you is what you want to hear, you aren’t getting the full story. That’s the best case scenario. More than likely, you’re just being lied to.

A few years ago, I wrote for a small sports website. The website was owned by and named after a prominent athlete. Guess what the managing editor told us about the stories we wrote. Don’t say anything that could hurt the guy who signs the checks.

The major news networks are a lot like that. The only difference is that the checks are bigger and the people signing them are much more powerful and influential. That means that the major news network that pays it’s bills by attracting an audience of a certain political persuasion will not spend a lot of time covering a story that would make that certain political persuasion look bad.

That’s where your job as the editor comes in. You have to back up the stories you hear with your own research and facts you already know to be true. It’s not enough to believe something just because you wish it were true.

There is no doubt that CNN leans a bit to the left. But you don’t correct that by getting all of your news from www.billybobsconservitivehideout.tv. While we enjoy all of the benefits that come with having more access to information we have to remember the other side of that coin. More people have access to giving you their information. And they don’t care if it’s true or not. They just want your click. Or money. Or vote.

But you care more about the truth than any of those things.

As Christians, we should not only be concerned about the truthfulness of the information we receive but also the information we pass along. If our non-beliving friends on social media frequently find us posting articles about how Hillary and Donald spent the weekend playing cards with Tupac and Elvis, good luck trying to get them to believe you when you tell them about a man who was born of a virgin, rose from the dead and is coming back to earth.

If the truth matters, and it does, than we should make the effort to look for it rather than having some lesser version of it fed to us. And we should be careful not to put our name on something less than the truth.

“Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy.”

Joseph Pulitzer wrote those words on the wall of his newsroom.

Joseph Pulitzer died. Sadly, it appears as though his three word code of ethics for reporting the news died with him.

There are still shreds of accuracy left in journalism.

But you have to go looking for them because if reporters are too generous with their accuracy, it might not make the people who sign the checks too happy.

Be your own editor.

image credit

The Summer Of Rage And The Trembling Of Satan

13697247_10209992906082420_4183446180345324779_n

Three more police officers had been murdered. Details were still coming in. I turned off the television and loaded my family up in my truck. As we drove, I thought about all of the violence that we have seen in our country this summer. That violence was the reason why I was driving with my family.

Last week our church decided to do something about the division in our country. We knew that we needed to pray but we didn’t want prayer to be the crutch that kept us from actually engaging the community. And we didn’t want to fall into the trap of writing angry Facebook posts in ALL CAPS and then patting ourselves on the back for “telling it like it is” or for not being politically correct as if that’s all the world needs.

So we decided to have a cookout. I know. What a shock. Baptists planning something involving food. Don’t judge. We had our cookout in a community that is mostly black and we invited the police. I was afraid when all of this was being planned. I was afraid that people wouldn’t show up. On the way over, I was afraid that the latest shooting in Baton Rouge would keep people away.

It didn’t.

I don’t know how many people came to our cookout. I do know that we prepared for 400 people and there weren’t a whole lot of leftovers when it was all over. And, when it was all over, I knew that I had just experienced one of the highlights of my pastoral career.

There were old white men who listen to Willie Nelson talking and eating and laughing with old black men who like to listen to Al Green.

There were white police officers throwing footballs and racing with little black kids.

There were high ranking members of my community’s police force making themselves available to answer tough questions.

Never once did I hear the phrases Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. No one said anything about Sean Hannity or Al Sharpton. People just ate. And laughed. And talked.

 

You know, the stuff we used to do a lot before we started getting our tribal marching orders from Fox News and CNN and our favorite talk radio host or blogger.

The world is an angry place. Tensions are high. Blood is spilling. And people are looking for someone to lead. The words used to describe Israel in the final verse of the book of Judges could very easily apply to America today.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25 (ESV)

Some people’s eyes tell them that killing police officers is the right thing. For others, it’s more angry, divisive rants, sometimes in the name of Jesus.

If ever there was a time for the Church to be what Jesus called us to be, it’s now. If all we ever do is pick sides in a divisive culture, all we’ll ever bring the culture is sugar and more darkness. Jesus calls us to be salt and light. When we are obeying his command, we care less about proving a point or electing our guy than we do loving our neighbor. And if you really want to love your neighbor, you have to go to your neighbor. I think that the Church forgets that sometimes.

But when the Church remembers that, I believe that Satan trembles. I know that in our highly advanced day and age, talk of the devil is seen as silly. I’ll tell you what’s silly. Watching people who don’t believe in the devil, or even evil for that matter, trying to look smart while failing to come up with an explanation for all of the bloodshed during this summer of rage is what’s really silly.

When the Church forgets that we wrestle not against flesh and blood or budget plans or house bills or political opponents but against “cosmic powers over this present darkness” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12) it’s no wonder that we fail to have any influence in the world. Forget about losing the culture wars, we often lose the spiritual wars because we don’t even know that we’re in one.

Church, you must remember that your primary enemy is not the Black Lives Matter protestor or the police officer. Your opponent is the Thief who aims to steal and kill and destroy. And lately, business has been pretty good for him.

It doesn’t have to be that way. But that means that we have to step away from our tribe, away from our keyboard activism and across the street or over the railroad tracks to our neighbor’s house. It’s been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step. Well, the journey of gospel-centered peacemaking begins the same way. People who live next door to each other but who in reality are a thousand miles apart from one another can come together when the Church takes the first step.

It may be a step with a Bible in hand or it may be a step that’s made while carrying hamburgers. But it’s a step that needs to be made.

There are people who are profiting off of the divisiveness in this country. Their book sales and Facebook likes and poll numbers reach new heights while we burn one another down. It’s up to the Church to put a stop to this. The Church should be the first to say to those who profit off of divisiveness that their business is not welcome in our communities.

Yesterday afternoon, while police officers in bulletproof vests raced barefoot kids, I got to see what happens when the Church takes the first step. It was a beautiful sight and I pray that there are many more steps to follow.

As we were cleaning up yesterday, I had several people come up to me and say that we need to do this kind of thing more often. I agree. Our communities need it.

The talking heads will always talk.

The social media activists will always ramble on.

And things will always be the same.

But when the Church acts like the Church, that’s when we begin to see things change.

That’s when people come together.

That’s when Satan trembles.

And that’s when Jesus Christ is glorified.

photo taken by Casey Harpe

My Fellow White Folks

5876194508_89104d9956_b

My Fellow White Folks,

Please stop watching the non-stop news coverage of the Baltimore riots. I know that some of you like to stay informed. That’s a good thing. It’s an important thing. But you can do it by taking fifteen minutes to read a few articles about what’s going on instead of staying up all night to watch it on TV. What you are constantly watching is not informing you. It’s programming you.

The video clip of those black teenagers throwing trash cans at white people is programming you.

The clip of rioters cursing the cops, the country, the government, grandma and apple pie is programming you.

You are being programmed so that we can all be divided.

And as is usually the case when mass groups of people are programmed, it’s all by design.

If there’s one thing that our government has shown us it’s this. As much power as they have, it’s never enough. They want more. And if there’s one thing that history has shown us, it’s this. It is much easier to take liberty away from people when they are fighting against themselves. Enter the classic white versus black paradigm that you are watching every night on the news.

See, when you feast on that clip of the trash can being thrown at the white person or the rioters burning a police car, you begin to think that what you are watching is a representation of all blacks. You may not want to think that. You many not even believe that. But, slowly and surely, the programming is being done.

Eventually, in your eyes, every black person becomes a police car burning, grandma-cursing thug.

And then you fail to see the black father who spends his weekends running back and forth between fields so that he can see all of his kid’s games. You fail to notice the black mother who models Christ-likeness by following her husband’s lead and modeling grace for her children. You look past the black couple working who knows how many jobs so that their kids can get a better education and enjoy a better environment.

And do you know why you don’t notice any of that? It’s not because it isn’t happening. It is. It’s because the news isn’t showing it. Can you remember the last time there was a special report on the news about a husband, regardless of race, running home to help his wife cook dinner before taking the kids to practice? And if there was, would you stay up all night watching that?

We all have our stereotypes. We can either do the hard work of breaking free from them or we can reinforce them. Reinforcing stereotypes is easy. All you have to do is watch the news instead of paying attention to the reality outside of your front door.

For a moment at least, forget about the black people you’re seeing on television. Instead, pay attention to the ones around you. The ones you actually know, live next to and work with. Chances are high that they are much more similar to you than you think.

They don’t want anything to catch on fire.

They want peace.

And they want to be left alone by Big Brother.

Just like you.

I don’t know what we can do for peace. But I do know what we can stop. And it doesn’t require us to stop being white. So by all means, drive a big truck. Listen to Hank. Watch Seinfeld. Embrace your whiteness. A culture where everyone pretends to be the same isn’t much of a culture.

But please stop gorging yourself on the news from Baltimore. Instead, if you haven’t already, take the time to develop a relationship with a black person. It probably won’t stop what’s going on in Baltimore. It almost certainly won’t change the world.

But it just might change your heart.

And deprogram your mind.

image credit

Parents, If You Want Something To Be There, Something Will Be There

Lego

One of the best parts about having kids, especially boys, is that you get to play with Legos again. When someone sees a 40-year-old man playing with Legos by himself, they call the authorities. When someone sees a 40-year-old man playing Legos with his 8-year-old son, they call it good parenting. Hooray for good parenting!

Several months ago, like a lot of other good parents, I took my kids to the theatre to see The Lego Movie. We loved it. They thought it was hilarious. So did I. But there was something else that I liked about it.

I liked the message.

As I saw it, the story was about the importance of bravery, non-conformity, creativity, friendship and being a good dad.

It turns out that I was all wrong. Well, at least according to a few Christian parents on the Internet. As they saw it, the movie was an attempt to feminize boys, make them dependent on the government, turn them away from religion, huff gasoline, kick grandma and lock the dog in the deep freezer.

I grew up in the era of hidden messages. Preachers used to visit my childhood church and play Led Zeppelin records backwards. Find the nearest vacuum cleaner, turn it on and try pronouncing this word in a deep loud voice.

Warweepfloogojamma.

That’s what everyone in the room heard. Well, everyone except for the traveling anti-rock and roll evangelist. He heard, “Satan wants to make your kids huff gasoline, kick grandma and lock the dog in the freezer.”

Suddenly, everyone was terrified. So they all burned their rock and roll records. Remember those Columbia House mail outs you used to get where you could buy 12 albums for a penny? The reason why those things worked so well is because people like me used it to buy back all of the music they burned when they were kids.

But sometimes the message is there. Sometimes, you don’t even have to play things backwards to find the bad message.

In college I was in a popular children’s store in the mall. There was a large television playing a popular children’s cartoon. My friend said something about there being hidden sexual symbols in the movie. I laughed it off. One of the employees overheard our conversation and interrupted. I thought we were about to get thrown out.

Instead, he affirmed my friend’s theory about the hidden messages.

“Oh yeah. That stuff really is in there.”

And then he grabbed the remote to fast forward to all of the parts in question. He was right. It really was there. And then he gave us a mini seminar on subliminal messages in children’s movies. I just hope that the three-year-old girl who just happened to be there watching her favorite movie has gotten all of the therapy that she needs.

I’m not denying that there are evil messages in movies and music. I’m just denying that those evil hidden messages are in all movies and music. That’s where discernment comes in. A lack of discernment will convince you to let your thirteen-year-old spend hours and hours alone in his room “doing homework” on the Internet. A lack of discernment will also lead you to believe that every form of entertainment not endorsed by Jonathan Edwards is sent from hell for no other reason but the destruction of your children.

Here’s the problem with discernment. It requires work. You can’t be both a lazy parent and a discerning one. Laziness is nuking all forms of entertainment, news and other media. Discernment is using a scalpel to cut out what does not belong so that what’s okay can be more fully enjoyed.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out The Lego Movie. It’s really good. And it’s out on DVD so if you don’t have kids, no one will know that you watched by yourself. If you do have kids, and they start kicking grandma and locking the dog in the deep freezer, it’s probably not the movie’s fault.

It might just be yours.

But not many parents want to do the hard work that comes along with self-examination.

It’s much easier to find something from a movie to blame it all on.

And rest assured, if you want something to be there, something will be there.

The Reason Why A Lot of Christian Art Is So Bad

I saw a good many Christian movies while I was growing up. With very few exceptions, the following was true of each movie.

1. They were about the end of the world.

2. They were filmed in a church basement in 1972.

3. They were terrible.

Absolutely terrible. The Fast and the Furious terrible.

Well, that’s not fair. Imagine if someone tried to make The Fast and the Furious with a quarter of the initial budget, took out all of the cars and had Paul Walker play every character. That’s more like it. Terrible.

But why? Why does Christian art have to be bad? Wasn’t there a time when Christians actually shaped the culture with their art? What happened? Why did we start to settle for carbon copies of what the mainstream culture was doing two years before? And why am I asking so many questions?

A few days ago I saw a trailer for a soon to be released movie on the life of Rich Mullins. Rich was a solid Christian who also happened to be a solid musician. He was ahead of his time and he died when he was still making some of his best music. His life is a good story and hopefully it will play well on film.

But what really caught my eye was what other Christians were saying about the preview.

“Wow! Bad theology in that last line.”

“Oooh. I can’t believe they put that in there.”

“Straight from hell.”

And that’s why a lot of Christian art is so bad. There is the tendency to think that every song and film that is produced and every book that is published should be a systematic theology, saying everything there is to say about the gospel. This also explains why 75% of the Christian books coming out today follow the same template.

1. Put the word gospel somewhere in the title of the book.

2. Refer to Tim Keller and/or John Piper 15 to 20 times over the first seven pages of the book.

3. Take an idea that was originally developed by Tim Keller and/or John Piper and pass it off as your own.

But I digress.

For the most part, the best way to destroy a piece of art is to use it to prove a point or preach a sermon. Sure, you’ll have your supporters but the art will usually be bad.

“I just love that picture you painted of Jesus flying with an eagle with the complete text of Romans written out beneath it.”

“That sure was a powerful movie. Now, I’ve seen better acting on early episodes of Saved By The Bell and I think the editing was done on equipment from Soviet Russia circa 1957. But what a great message!”

Wouldn’t our art be better if, instead of trying to lay out the gospel message in every single production, we just allowed the gospel message to shape what we produce? That does not involve compromising the message of the gospel. It just means that we do a better job of applying the gospel to what we create.

My son recently drew me a picture of a couple of superheroes. This is not how I responded when he gave it to me.

“Crap! This is heretical crap! What does this have to do with creation, fall and redemption?! Now go and make me another cross and don’t come back until you’re done, pagan.”

Instead, the picture is hanging above my desk. And when I look at it I’m reminded of a boy who was created in the image of God with a story to tell. And, with pencils and crayons, he told it well.

Christians will always have stories to tell. But to do those stories justice, we must tell them with excellence.